Margin: Liberal 8.2%
Location: South-Eastern Melbourne Fringe, Victoria
In a nutshell: Flinders lost its distinction as the only seat ever to be lost by a serving prime minister with John Howard’s defeat in Bennelong on 2007. It has become somewhat more solid for the conservatives since Stanley Bruce’s went down in 1929, having last been held by Labor briefly from 1983 to 1984.
Electorate analysis: Flinders has existed since federation, gradually shrinking over time into its present location around Westernport Bay and at the tip of the Mornington Peninsula. The combination of rural territory and quality coastal real estate, the latter increasing in relative influence over time, has kept the seat in conservative hands on all but three occasions, the most memorable of which involved Prime Minister Stanley Bruce’s defeat at the 1929 election. The resignation of first-term Fraser government Treasurer Phillip Lynch in 1982 precipitated a momentous by-election that November, in which Liberal candidate Peter Reith held the seat against feeble anti-government swing of 2.3 per cent. This sealed the fate of Bill Hayden who was deposed as Labor leader by Bob Hawke two months later, on the day Malcolm Fraser announced the 1983 election. That election saw Reith defeated before by Labor’s Robert Chynoweth before he had assumed his seat.
With the enlargement of parliament in 1984, Chynoweth moved to the slightly safer new seat of Dunkley, and Reith recovered Flinders with a 1.5 per cent swing. Reith retained the seat with fair-to-middling margins until he retired in 2001, after an eventful five years as a senior government minister. Reith’s successor as Liberal member was Greg Hunt, whose reputation as an up-and-comer was confirmed with his promotion in January 2007 to parliamentary secretary to the Foreign Minister. He rose to the front bench after the election defeat, assuming the highly significant climate change and environment portfolio.
Labor had a late personnel change in Flinders when their initial choice of candidate, Adrian Schonfelder, withdrew late in the first week of the campaign. The reason given was that a car accident he had been involved in on the Friday left him “shocked and incapacitated”. However, Schonfelder had made waves earlier in the week when he suggested Tony Abbott’s conservative social positions were “influencing people to take their own lives”, for which he was compelled to apologise.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.