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.


  1. Paul, you’ll need more than a distinctive policy on net censorship to attract votes, and as Stewart says, social democrats and social liberals are different, indeed, social democrats would presumably support net censorship.

  2. The Democrats policy on climate change has been presented in the Senate for twenty five years. This leadership in climate policy was recognised by the Climate Change Coalition which preferenced the Democrats in the recent election.

  3. Presenting a policy in the Senate for 25 years is quite different to actually campaigning on it. The Greens have been campaigning on it for as long as they’ve been in the Senate (Jo Vallentine speaking on it in 1990 comes to mind). But in the lead up to Copenhagen wouldn’t it be better to be banging the drum on it? Or are you waiting to get back into the Senate? No, if you were serious about it you’d be campaigning on it, not resting on your laurels. And relying on the CCC as an arbiter of good policy?!?! Purleeze!

    I agree, Nick, social democrats probably would support net censorship, as an extension of the state into the private sphere. My sense of Hamilton is that he is a social democrat, and his move into the Greens may yet suggest a future trajectory of the party.

  4. Stewart J – that’s a bit unfair – the Democrats campaigned on climate change and many other environmental issues both in and outside parliament over the lifetime of that party. It’s fair enough for you to prefer the Greens, but to imply that the Democrats didn’t campaign on climate change is ridiculous. Also, to accuse Paul of just resting on his laurels after his strong record of campaigning on environment and social justice issues over the last few years is just insulting.

    That said, I’d be shocked if Hamilton and the Greens don’t finish a solid second in Higgins. If they can push their primary vote to over 30% it would be a fantastic result for them, but anything over 25% would still be really good. I think that every candidate running in the Higgins by-election should increase their primary vote on their 2007 vote, and that the ALP vote splitting everywhere really shouldn’t be surprising. There are some major party voters who naturally prefer the other major party over any minor party, and unless a really strong independent emerges who the Greens can trade preferences with, it won’t be a repeat of Mayo or Cunningham.

  5. Even if there was a really strong independent candidate it wouldn’t be a repeat of Mayo or Cunningham – the Liberals win the seat on primaries, and the seat doesn’t swing with the general trend. The Greens will pick up most of the Labor vote, I would think, and if a strong independent turned up they might share some of the usual Labor vote, but they won’t make inroads on the Liberal vote.

  6. Rebekka, that’s a very good point. The Liberal vote in Higgins is not only high, it’s incredibly stable. I think the Greens will pick up most of the Labor vote, but certainly not all of it. I think it would have been interesting, given the current circumstances of the Liberal party, if the ALP had run a strong candidate to see if the ALP would have made any inroads into the Liberal primary vote. I think if there’s any federal liberal seat in Victoria that could end up being taken by a minor party candidate it’s more likely to be Goldstein than Higgins or even Kooyong.

  7. Missed my point Polly – its one thing to say “we’ve got a strong record on climate change” and another thing to be out there campaigning. Sorry, but taking cheap shots at other candidates, and using the old tactic of pulling people down instead of relying on your own policies is a bit much.

    As for resting on their laurels, I was referring to the party not the person – I actually want the Democrats to be out there campaigning on real issues, but not just as a parliamentary party. My long standing criticism of the Democrats has been that it was for too long confined to the Senate or state upper houses, and saw its role solely as an arbiter between the ALP & Liberals. For me thats too narrow a space for effective social change, but fits the ‘social liberal’ tag quite neatly. If the Democrats wish to be a credible voice now it has to be outside parliament, and that means doing the campaigning. However, over the last few years I’ve heard the Democrats spend too much time complaining about the Greens and precious little on getting stuck into the issues. The Democrats have legitimate policies so why not promote them instead? I also asked who the Democrat candidate was (its David Collyer BTW) which would have been useful info for people here. But I notice that Collyer’s first press release after announcing his candidacy is one attacking the Greens. So be it.

  8. Hah, well I’m glad to see some people are far more derogatory about Hamilton than I’ve been. I’m not sure that making himself the ‘anti-Clive Hamilton’ candidate is really the best platform. Despite what I’ve said about Hamilton, I don’t think it is ever a good campaign strategy to spend all your time talking about your opponents – you should be drawing contrasts by making positive statements about your positions, preferably without even referring to the opponent or the opposing position. Whilst I may agree with his position, I can’t say I agree with the way he’s presenting it at all.

  9. Stewart, sorry – but you were responding to Paul and it sounded like you were addressing him. I accept that you meant the party as a whole. However, Paul has campaigned on climate change and other environment and social justice issues for many years – as have many other Democrats, both in and out of the parliament, during the history of that party, including your newly endorsed candidate for Brisbane. It’s simply wrong to claim otherwise. Of course, you can argue that the Greens have been more effective with their campaigning (and I’m sure you will 🙂 ), but it’s just not true to claim that Democrats haven’t done *anything* on the issue outside parliament.
    As for how the current Democrats choose to run their by-election campaign – that’s a matter for them. However, I don’t see how criticising the policies of a candidate who isn’t going to be elected over criticising the policies of the candidate who is going to be elected will help them all that much. It seems to me they would be better off trying to attract disaffected ALP and Liberal voters to get the Liberals primary below 50% and then hope that the combined Green/Democrats vote will be enough to elect one of them.
    I personally think that this is extremely unlikely to happen, though.

  10. @Nick C
    Hi Nick, I basically agree with you here (and despite arguing with Stewart – I’m planning on voting for Richard Di Natale in the senate next year because of the Greens strong record on human and civil rights, as well as climate change). I think it’s fair enough to criticise the policies of other parties, but you’ve also got to put forward your own policies and campaign for them.

  11. My point, Polly, is that recycling commentary from media releases isn’t being out there campaigning. don’t doubt that Paul has been campaigning in the community (however you might define that). But as I don’t know him, I wont comment on his activities. Now Greens HAVE been more effective in promoting themselves as campaigners – perhaps because thats where they have grown from, and where most members I know still spend their time.

    So thats why I want the Democrats to rediscover their campaigning roots – if thats what they intend to do. The Democrats as a party may now see itself as a centre-left party (not centre or centre-right as some of the previous Senators appeared to think) or even a left wing party – then I would expect a critique to match that, of both the ALP & Liberals, not just the Greens. As a centre-left party, who is their constituency and to whom are they appealing? In Higgins this must be those swinging voters who are social libeal in character. If it is social democrats they are approaching, then doesn’t Conroy’s plan fit their notion of the state? If it is left-ALP voters, is this is the key issue for the voters? Or is that they are trying to distinguish themselves from the Greens? The question I have then is what are they standing for, and who do they wish to attract?

  12. Stewart says: Democrats as a party may now see itself as a centre-left party (not centre or centre-right as some of the previous Senators appeared to think) or even a left wing party

    Centre Left. Maybe some of their eoonomics but their social issues makes then as far left as you can go. (right along side the extreme green) Hence the transition from the Democrats to the greens by many of their rank and file.

    Quite simply in the latter days they were considered a very progressive left wing party and I have seen nothing to hint that they have changed in anyway.

    I just cant see a place for them anymore except in the extreme left with the greens.

  13. Stewart:

    I have just heard a rumor that a certain minor party may be standing a candidate by the name of yep…. you guessed it…..

    Peter Costello

  14. Yeah, that candidate was gonna be me. I even rented a house in Higgins so I could look like a local and the whole deal, but after the way you guys dumped Oz as your candidate in Bradfield I withdrew in protest.

  15. The characterisation of the Greens (and Democrats) as “extreme left” is simply wrong. If you mean they are a long way from your politics, fine, but while some Democrats may have styled themselves as centre-left, I would have said Andrew Murray was centre-right, possibly also Cheryl Kernot. This would place them as social liberal, looking for increased personal freedoms, smaller government intervention into the economy, and a progressive social agenda. That seems to fit. A left (redistributive) economic position such as the Greens have is hardly extreme. It does not abolish the market OR suggest a command economy (although some would argue that perhaps they’ve both done their dash – note Tom Nairn in the latest Arena). However, it also asks us to fundamentally reassess our relationship with the environment. This means that, in terms of how we (people) exploit the world/resources around us, the nature of the exploitative relationships with the ecologies we live within, and how we then treat each other.

    The only “extreme” part about the Greens (or the Democrats for that matter) seems to be that they don’t agree with the major parties on asylum seekers, climate change, indigenous people, the environment…I could go on.

  16. Hey, and I thought I’d been good not buying into the crap (anymore) about Willagee (and the ex-Green candidate, turned ALP-preferencer)!

  17. Nick C

    As far as I knew Simon was always the Candidate in Bradfield.

    I was aware or that for many months and have no idea who oz is. Did he contest Pre-Selection in Bradfield

  18. Stewart J

    The economic policies of the DLP are certainly centre left.
    They cover mixed economy, anti economic rationalism. Workers particapation in ownership. (including Co-ops) They were the first party to have environmental(responsible) policy and fought against the white Australia policy. They introduced the bill for equal pay for women and one would have to have very extreme ideas to consider these policies to the right.

    We hold a traditional view on family and support the decentralisation of government. Certainly not a centralist view held by the ALP and the LIberals and the greens.

  19. The AEC has published the complete list of Higgins candidates in ballot order at: http://www.aec.gov.au/Elections/supplementary_by_elections/2009-higgins/candidates.htm

    What’s interesting is that the John Mulholland is listed as the DLP candidate for Higgins, yet the DLP’s website at http://dlp.org.au/campaigns_2.html says they are not running a candidate: “Due to anomaly in the registration of candidates with the AEC, Mr Dominic Farrell, the candidate pre-selected by the DLP executive to represent the DLP at the Higgins By-election has been unable to stand.”

    Looks like there may be a split going on in the DLP.

  20. Or maybe it’s my browser playing up, because it’s back again. Either way – it’s interesting. John Mulholland actually polled really well for the DLP in the 1999 Holt by-election (over 7%), but I think a significant amount of that vote was due to confusion with the ALP and having the donkey vote. They polled less than 4% in the Isaacs by-election in 2000. I wonder whether any voters in Higgins will confuse the DLP with the ALP? It’s demographically very different, so it should be less of an issue.

  21. The only thing I can say is that the endorsed candidate for higgins was
    Dominic Farrell.

    The Website is being updated to allow all the states to come online.
    SA is now a registered party and other states are seeking state registration.

    The campaign in higgins was very well prepared with over 30 full time workers and campaign managers.

    Perhaps this is John’s parting jesture. He controlled the party for many years and simply will not let go. The AEC was well aware of the problem but decided to take of week off.

  22. Ziggy, I’m actually genuinely shocked. So, correct me if I’m wrong, but what John Mulholland has done is not only fail to meet his obligations as the DLP’s Registered officer with the AEC by refusing to nominate your properly endorsed candidate, he has then gone and nominated himself as the DLP’s candidate? If so, that’s a massive breach of trust and highly unethical. I’m really surprised because I’ve met him several times over the last 10 years and he seemed completely dedicated to the DLP.

  23. I’m sorry, but I’m ROFL. Who’d’ve thought this ongoing thing would end up exposing some major rift in the DLP. Congratulations Ben, another scoop!

  24. Polly

    Exactly. The nominations were presented to John Mullholland by the Victorian secretary and was met with excitement around the country.
    Dominic was to stand in this By election and again in 2010. He had just completed his uni Degree in Primary school teaching and had the support of many of his mates so it was to be exciting times for the DLP.

    His break before commencing work would have given him the time to really have a go at it.

    We have a number of younger candidates under training and this was to be the first of a new look younger DLP. A Sad but only temporary setback.

  25. Extraordinary scene at the Climate Change candidates forum in Glen Iris last night.

    Dr Hamilton was unimpressive. His disconnection with the audience and, it seemed, with the nitty-gritty of climate change politics itself, reached its low point when he insisted that he had never heared of the Climate Change Coalition, much less why they favoured the Democrats in 2007.

    At least he attended this rare candidates event, unlike the Liberal candidate who wasn’t available, even though organisers offered to schedule the event to suit her.

    David Collyer of the Democrats was the outstanding candidate on the platform. His talk and response to audience questioning showed concern about climate change and he presented the Democrats practical measures to address it. He was annimated when condemning the negotiated exemption for the agriculture industry.

    The Sex party’s Fiona Patten continued to impress, acknowledging her limitations of policy details.

    While the DLP did not attend, One Nation participated with humour. Dr Toscano was entertaining and suitably radical for an anarchist.

    Independents took policy positions ranging from climate change sceptics to … I was not really sure what.

  26. I’d say Hamilton could get 30%. Despite what other commenters may say, Hamilton is the only non-Liberal candidate with any decent profile, so must attract a large chunk of the Labor vote, because they’ve got no one else to vote for. Most of these voters won’t know enough about him to be turned-off by anything about him that some more engaged people may not like, and besides, as I said, there’s no other candidate most of them will know, they’ll respond primarily to the Greens’ label as something familiar.

  27. Well, according to the dream I had last night, O’Dwyer gets a surprising 64% of the primary vote to Hamilton on 22%. Somehow I doubt that’s likely.

  28. Anything could happen. It’s now a referendum on Tony Abbott more than anything, with climate change the second issue. Couldn’t really find any better battleground for the Greens to fight on.

    That Kelly O’Dwyer is a young moderate woman, three things that Abbott isn’t, will probably help the Libs divert attention from Abbott (even if she does look like Bronwyn Bishop).

  29. deconst Says:
    Prediction: 50.01% to Clive Hamilton, multiple recounts called for, controversy extends into the new year

    Your dreaming. The libs will come in over 50% on the 2PP.
    The only help the greens may get is the sex party preferences.
    The DLP have the reverse Donkey and one nation have them third so even if they pick up 3-4% each that would be 7-8% flowing to the liberals before the greens.

  30. Ooh, the reverse Donkey vote! Good work.

    Um, surely any reverse donkey vote to the DLP will go to the Greens ahead of the Liberals, since the Greens are below the Liberals on the ballot?

  31. John Mulholland is recognised by the NSW Branch of the DLP.
    The Australian Electoral Commission has continued to recognise John Mulholland against all written challengers.

    The AEC rulings are satisfactory and are enough for me.

  32. Sour grapes from the alleged executive in Victoria against John Mulholland and his continuing and original Executive. The rivals publicly told everyone that there was no DLP candidate in Higgins when there really was. Case of sour grapes.

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