Higgins by-election

December 5, 2009


Higgins was first created in 1949 when the Parliament was expanded in size. Its first member was Harold Holt, who had previously been Member for Fawkner in the same part of Melbourne. Holt was a minister in the Menzies United Australia Party government at the beginning of the Second World War.

Holt returned to the ministry in 1949 as Minister for Immigration. He became Menzies’ Treasurer in 1958 and became Prime Minister upon Menzies’ retirement in 1966.

Holt disappeared in sensational circumstances in December 1967 while swimming at Cheviot Beach in Victoria. Higgins was won by new Prime Minister John Gorton in a 1968 by-election. Gorton had previously been a Senate and was required to move to the House of Representatives.

Gorton held the seat continously until the 1975 election. Following Malcolm Fraser’s accession to the Liberal leadership Gorton resigned from the Liberal Party and sat as an independent. At the 1975 election he stood for an ACT Senate seat and Higgins returned to the Liberal Party.

Roger Shipton won the seat in 1975 and maintained his hold on the seat until 1990, when he was challenged for preselection by Peter Costello. Costello held the seat from 1990 until his 2009 resignation, triggering the current by-election.


Higgins covers suburbs in the inner south-east of Melbourne. Its suburbs include South Yarra, Prahran, Toorak, Malvern and Glen Iris. Most of the seat is covered by Stonnington LGA, as well as southern parts of Boroondara LGA and small parts of Glen Eira and Monash LGAs.

Higgins covers the entirety of the safe Liberal state seat of Malvern. It also covers about half of the marginal ALP seat of Prahran. Higgins also covers parts of three other seats: marginal ALP Burwood, safe Liberal Hawthorn and safe ALP Oakleigh.

Political situation

The Liberal Party has held Higgins ever since it was created in 1949. In that time, the seat has never gone to preferences. The Greens polled 10.75% in 2007, slightly down on their vote in 2004. It’s a reasonably strong vote for the Greens, but it’s hardly a very strong seat for the party.


The Liberal Party has preselected Kelly O’Dwyer, a former Costello staffer. The Greens have preselected public intellectual, climate change campaigner and internet censorship advocate Clive Hamilton. The ALP is not running a candidate.

Other candidates are ‘independent climate sceptic’ Stephen Murphy, Fiona Patten, the convenor of the Australian Sex Party, Isaac Roberts of the Liberal Democrats, David Collyer of the Australian Democrats, anarchist and frequent candidate Joe Toscano, Steve Raskovy of One Nation, independent transport lobbyist Peter Brohier and John Mulholland of the Democratic Labor Party.

2007 result

Candidate Party Votes % Swing
Peter Costello LIB 43,761 53.61 -1.59
Barbara Norman ALP 25,367 31.08 +0.58
Michael Wilbur-Ham GRN 8,777 10.75 -0.60
Stephen Mayne IND 1,615 1.98 +1.98
Mary Dettman DEM 990 1.21 -0.61
Penny Badwal FF 627 0.77 -0.06
Genevieve Marie Forde IND 265 0.32 +0.32
Graeme Meddings IND 227 0.28 +0.28
CEC 0 0.00 -0.31

2007 two-candidate-preferred result

Candidate Party Votes % Swing
Peter Costello LIB 46,559 57.04 -1.72
Barbara Norman ALP 35,070 42.96 +1.72

Booth breakdown

I have divided polling booths in Higgins into four groups.

  • West – Toorak, Prahran and South Yarra
  • Central – Malvern
  • South-East – Malvern East, Carnegie
  • North-East – Glen Iris, Burwood, Camberwell

As the following chart shows, the ALP won a majority in the South-East, while the ALP polled slightly above average in the West and North-East. In the centre of the electorate the Liberals polled over 60% of the two-party-preferred vote.

There is not a great range in terms of Greens primary votes, although the strongest areas are clearly in the western extremes of the seat in the suburbs of Prahran, South Yarra and Windsor, where most booths recorded a Greens vote of 13-16%. The highest Greens vote was at South Yarra, with 18.98%.

Polling booths in Higgins. Central in green, West in blue, North-East in red, South-East in yellow.

Voter group GRN % LIB 2CP % Total votes % of votes
West 11.47 54.97 19,718 24.16
North-East 10.89 55.55 14,838 18.18
Central 9.19 62.08 14,092 17.26
South-East 10.52 49.78 10.199 12.49
Other votes 11.11 59.92 22787 27.91

“Other votes” includes postal, pre-poll, provisional and absent votes, as well as special hospital votes and those cast at Victoria University in the Melbourne CBD.

Two-party preferred votes in Higgins at the 2007 federal election.

Greens primary votes in Higgins at the 2007 federal election.

About the Author

Ben Raue is the founder and author of the Tally Room. If you like this post, please consider donating to support the Tally Room.