Margin: Liberal 4.8%
Location: West Gippsland, Victoria
In a nutshell: McMillan was a marginal and seemingly endangered Liberal seat going into the 2007 election, but sitting member Russell Broadbent – who has had his share of ups and downs over the years – did outstandingly well to limit the swing against him to 0.2 per cent. Labor has nonetheless re-endorsed its candidate from 2007, Christine Maxfield.
Electorate analysis: McMillan extends from Pakenham in Melbourne’s outer east through West Gippsland to the outer reaches of the Latrobe Valley, and along the coast from Wonthaggi through Wilsons Promontory to Welshpool. Despite Labor’s strength in the Latrobe Valley coal mining towns of Moe and Morwell, rural areas kept McMillan in Coalition hands from its creation in 1949 until 1980. Arthur Hewson held the seat for the National/Country Party from 1972 to 1975, but it returned to its customary Liberal ownership with his defeat in 1975. A long-term drift towards Labor is evident in results from this period, leading to a close result in 1972, a relatively mild anti-Labor swing in 1975, and finally a 6.2 per cent swing that delivered the seat to Labor’s Barry Cunningham in 1980. Cunningham was swept out by the statewide backlash that cost Labor nine Victorian seats in 1990, but recovered it by a slender 0.4 per cent margin in 1993. This was not enough to save him even from the relatively modest shift in Victoria at the 1996 election, at which Liberal candidate Russell Broadbent picked up a 2.5 per cent swing.
Broadbent is a former self-employed draper and Pakenham Shire president who has become known for his liberal position on asylum seekers. He first came to parliament as member for McMillan’s western neighbour Corinella for one term from 1990 to 1993, when he was defeated by Labor’s Alan Griffin. When Corinella was abolished in 1996, Griffin moved to his current seat of Bruce and Broadbent successfully tried his hand in McMillan. Broadbent again experienced the sharp end of life in a marginal seat in 1998, when a 2.7 per cent swing delivered the seat to 25-year-old Labor candidate Christian Zahra. Zahra added 2.3 per cent to his margin against the trend of the 2001 election, before emerging a big loser from a redistribution that transferred Labor-voting Morwell and Traralgon to Gippsland, while adding conservative farming and coastal areas south through Leongatha to Wonthaggi and Wilson’s Promontory.
Zahra was left needing a 2.9 per cent swing to retain his seat, but a 2.1 per cent swing the other way saw it change hands for the fifth time in six elections. Thus began a remarkable third stint in parliament for Russell Broadbent, who performed very strongly in limiting the swing to 0.2 per cent in 2007. This formed part of an apparent trend against Labor in Gippsland in recent times. Certainly the party does not seem to have blamed its candidate, Christine Maxfield, who has again won her party’s endorsement. Maxfield’s support base is in the Right faction Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, and her husband Ian held the corresponding state seat of Narracan from 1999 until his defeat in 2006.
The JWS Research-Telereach poll conducted during the final weekend of the campaign, covering 400 respondents in the electorate with a margin of error of about 5 per cent, had the Liberals leading 52-48.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.