Melbourne by-election, 2012

July 21, 2012

Cause of by-election
Sitting Labor MP Bronwyn Pike resigned as Member for Melbourne on on 7 May. Read the profile for the seat of Melbourne at the 2010 state election.

Margin – ALP 5.8%

Incumbent MP
Bronwyn Pike, 1999-2012.

Inner Melbourne. The seat of Melbourne covers the Melbourne CBD and surrounding areas. It covers all parts of the City of Melbourne north of the Yarra River, as well as small parts of Moonee Valley and Yarra council areas. Melbourne covers the suburbs of Carlton, Carlton North, East Melbourne, Flemington, Kensington, Newmarket, North Melbourne, Parkville, West Melbourne and parts of Ascot Vale.

There was a district with the name “Melbourne” in the original Victorian Legislative Assembly at the 1856 election, before being abolished in 1859. It was recreated in 1889 as a single member district that has existed ever since. The seat has a long history of being held by the ALP, who have held it continously since 1908.

The recreated Melbourne district was won by Geoffrey Carter in 1889, and was won in 1900 by Labor candidate Edward Findley. Findley was expelled in 1901 for seditious libel after publishing an Irish article criticising the King in a radical union newspaper that he edited. He lost the following by-election, but went on to serve in the Senate from 1903 to 1917 and again from 1922 to 1928.

The 1901 by-election was won by Conservative candidate James Boyd, who supported conservative state governments, including serving as a minister from 1907 to 1908, when he stepped down. He was elected as a federal Liberal MP in 1913 and served until his defeat in 1919.

Melbourne was won by Labor candidate Alexander Rogers in 1908. He held the seat until 1924. He was succeeded by Thomas Hayes, who held the seat until 1955. That year, he left the ALP and joined the new ALP (Anti-Communist), the precursor to the Democratic Labor Party, but was defeated at the 1955 election.

The seat was then held by the ALP’s Arthur Clarey from 1955 until 1972. In 1972, Melbourne was won by the ALP’s Barry Jones. He held the seat until 1977, when he resigned to run for the federal electorate of Lalor, which he held until his retirement in 1998. He served as a minister in the Hawke government and went on to serve as National President of the ALP.

The seat was then filled by Keith Remington from 1977 to 1988, and Neil Cole from 1988 to 1999.

In 1999, Melbourne was won by Bronwyn Pike. She served as a minister for the entirety of the Bracks and Brumby governments. The seat of Melbourne was considered very safe in 1999, with Pike winning 63.8% of the two-party vote. In 2002, the Greens first stood in the seat, running Dr Richard di Natale, who polled 24% of the primary vote and reducing Pike’s margin to 1.9%, which remained almost exactly the same in 2006. Di Natale went on to stand for the Senate in 2007 and was elected to the Senate at the 2010 federal election.

The Greens had come close to winning in 2002 and 2006 on the back of preferences from the Liberal Party. In 2010 the Greens stood barrister and human rights advocate Brian Walters. At the 2010 federal election, the Liberal Party continued their track record of preferencing the Greens ahead of the Labor Party in Labor-Greens inner-city marginal seats in Sydney and Melbourne, which saw Adam Bandt elected as the Greens MP for the federal seat of Melbourne.

Bandt’s election, and the ensuing hung parliament which saw the Greens in the balance of power in the Senate and Bandt sharing the balance of power in the House of Representatives, triggered a backlash in the Liberal Party. In the Victorian state election three months later, the Liberal Party reversed their position on preferencing the Greens. In the inner-city Labor-Greens marginal seats of Melbourne, Richmond, Northcote and Brunswick, the Liberal Party preferenced the ALP ahead of the Greens.

In the seat of Melbourne, Pike suffered a swing of almost 9% on primary votes, with 4.5% going to the Greens and 5.9% going to the Liberal Party. This resulted in the ALP on 35.7%, the Greens on 31.9% and the Liberal Party on 28%. Despite the swing away from the ALP and towards the Greens and the Liberal Party, the Liberal preference decision helped Pike increase her two-party margin over the Greens from 1.9% to 5.8%.

Overall, the Liberal-National coalition won a narrow victory over the ALP, with 45 seats to the Coalition and 43 seats to Labor, with no seats going to independents or minor parties. Pike has followed the trend of other senior Labor MPs John Brumby and Rob Hulls in resigning from her seat, triggering a by-election.

Political situation
Melbourne has been held by the ALP continuously since 1955. The seat has been a very weak seat for the Liberal Party, with the Greens providing the main opposition to the ALP in this seat. At the 2002 and 2006 elections, it was the strongest seat for the Greens. In 2010, Brian Walters polled the highest primary vote in the state for the Greens, and it was the second-best seat for the Greens after preferences.

The 2010 results in Melbourne almost turned the seat into a three-cornered contest, with the third-placed candidate less than 8% behind the first-placed candidate on primary votes. This raised the prospect at the by-election of the Liberal Party coming in the top two. In such a progressive seat, this would almost certainly result in Greens preferences flowing to Labor or Labor preferences flowing to Greens. Such a scenario would effectively make Liberal preferences irrelevant, with the race being decided by which left-wing candidate comes in the top two. This scenario played out in Balmain at the New South Wales state election in 2011.

However it now appears that the Liberal Party will not stand. This will remove the question of which way the Liberals will preference, and turns the by-election into a head-to-head race between Labor and the Greens.

No Liberal candidate will mean that Liberal preferences will likely flow more strongly to the Greens than in 2010, although much less strongly than when the Greens received Liberal preferences in 2006. This probably will cut off 2-3% from the Labor margin of 55.8%. This margin will then be achievable for the Greens if they gain a modest swing. The ALP has performed much more strongly in Victoria following their defeat than in New South Wales or Queensland, and is only slightly behind in statewide polls. This suggests that the Labor vote will not collapse. However the Greens vote is strong in Melbourne and the work of federal member Adam Bandt in the electorate will likely be a boost to the Greens. All in all this seat could go either way.

Andrew Crook at Crikey reports that Melbourne City councillor Jennifer Kanis is tipped as the likely successor to Bronwyn Pike as Labor candidate. Possible Greens candidates include former candidate Brian Walters, former councillor and Adam Bandt staffer Rose Iser and Melbourne City councillor Cathy Oke.

2010 result

Bronwyn PikeALP13,11635.67-8.89
Brian WaltersGRN11,73531.92+4.51
Luke MartinLIB10,28127.96+5.88
Rory KillenSEXP1,0612.89+2.89
Peter LazzariIND2310.63+0.63
John PerkinsIND2010.55+0.55
Maxine FensomIND1420.39+0.39

2010 two-candidate-preferred result

Bronwyn PikeALP20,51055.76+3.88
Brian WaltersGRN16,27344.24-3.88

Booth breakdown
Booths in Melbourne have been divided into four separate areas. Booths in East Melbourne and Carlton have been grouped as “East”. The three North Melbourne booths, along with Parkville and Hotham Hill, have been grouped as “North”. The three booths in the Melbourne CBD and Docklands have been grouped as “Central”, while Flemington, Kensington and Newmarked have been grouped as “North West”.

The Liberal Party topped the primary vote in Central. The Greens topped the poll in the East, while Labor topped the poll in the north and northwest. When you look at the second map, which shows which party topped the poll in each booth. The Liberal Party won the three booths at the southern end of the electorate. With the exception of one booth in Carlton, the remainder of the seat was split between Labor in the west and the Greens in the seat.

Also posted below are maps showing the Labor-Greens two-party vote, as well as the primary vote for the three main parties.

Polling booths in Melbourne at the 2010 state election. Central in yellow, East in green, North in Red, North West in blue.

Voter groupLIB %GRN %ALP %ALP 2CP %Total votes% of votes
North West21.2328.0442.9362.615,65415.37
Other votes28.1830.7033.1153.1814,41039.18

Polling booths in Melbourne at the 2010 state election. Booths are coloured according to the party that topped the primary booth: Labor in red, Greens in green, Liberal in blue.

Two-candidate preferred votes in Melbourne at the 2010 state election.

Labor primary votes in Melbourne at the 2010 state election.

Greens primary votes in Melbourne at the 2010 state election.

Liberal primary votes in Melbourne at the 2010 state 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.