Fierce contest expected in classic swing seat of La Trobe

Street art on the side of the art deco Cameo Cinemas in Belgrave, Victoria in the outer metropolitan federal seat of La Trobe. Photo: Zainah Mertakusuma

Street art on the side of the art deco Cameo Cinemas in Belgrave, Victoria in the outer metropolitan federal seat of La Trobe. Photo: Zainah Mertakusuma

Key Facts
• Jason Wood is the incumbent representative contesting La Trobe
• A “marginal” seat which has the potential to swing either way.
• La Trobe is one of 30% of seats in which the competition between the ALP and Liberal party will determine which of the major parties will form government.
• Education, roads and cost of living are the greatest concerns for this electorate.

Historically unpredictable the seat of La Trobe has the propensity to swing either way.”

Named after Charles La Trobe (1801-1875) – the first Lieutenant-Governor of Victoria (1851-54) – the electorate of La Trobe is categorised as ‘outer metropolitan’, covering the south eastern fringe of Melbourne and parts of the Dandenong Ranges. This electorate is made up of part of the Cardinia Shire Council, part of the Casey City Council and part of the Yarra Ranges Shire Council.

The division of La Trobe encompasses an area of approximately 562 square kilometres ranging from Boronia in the north-west to Gembrook in the east and Officer in the south-east. The main suburbs covered by this electorate include Beaconsfield, Belgrave, Berwick, Boronia (part), Macclesfield, Mount Dandenong (part), Narre Warren (part), Ferny Creek, Gembrook (part), Officer, Olinda (part), Pakenham Upper (part), Sassafras, Tecoma and Upwey.

Over time, the electorate of La Trobe has shifted east, losing Ferntree Gully to Aston and Belgrave, Mount Dandenong, and Macclesfield to Casey. However, La Trobe has gained Pakenham and Nar Nar Goon from McMillan, which in turn increases the liberal margin from 1.5% to 3.2%.

Historically, the seat of La Trobe played a decisive role in the election of the Whitlam Government in 1972 falling to Labor for the first time with a 10.2% swing. It was returned to the Liberals in 1975 and back to the ALP in 1980 with Peter Milton’s defeat of Liberal member Marshall Baillieu. It changed hands again at the 1990 election but saw a stable decade for Liberal member Bob Charles over the decade that followed with his original winning margin of 1.4% progressing to 2.4% in 1993, 1.4% in 1996, 1.0% in 1998 and 3.7% in 2001.

The demographic of the electorate of La Trobe includes a population of 156,965 people with 49.6% of that population being male and 50.4% being female. There are roughly 2.9 people per household with the median weekly household income sitting at $1,724. The median age for the electorate is 37 with 53.4% of the population being married. Families with children make up 54.5% of the population and families without 30.8%.

Seventy per cent of the people in this electorate were born in Australia with their ancestry ranging from English, Australian, Irish, Scottish and Italian. 58% of the population is working full-time, with 32% working part-time, 4.6% away from work and 5.4% unemployed.

Professionals, technicians and trade workers, clerical and administrative workers, managers, community and personal service workers, sales workers, labourers and machine operators and drivers make up the workforce in La Trobe. More than seventy per cent of the electorate travel to work using a car with 7.6% taking public transport.

 

The iconic Puffing Billy steam train draws thousands of tourists and locals to Gembrook, Victoria in the outer metropolitan federal seat of La Trobe. Photo: Zainah Mertakusuma

Incumbent MP, Jason Wood (Liberal Party) has held this seat since 2013 and previously held this seat between 2004-2010, following the retirement of Bob Charles. In 2010, Wood was defeated by Labor candidate Laura Smyth and the electorate of La Trobe was one of only two seats that the Australian Labor Party (ALP) gained from the coalition in an election where the ALP had lost ground and its parliamentary majority. However, Jason Wood won La Trobe back in 2013 with a 5.7% swing and was re-elected in 2016.

Due to its unpredictability, the division is currently considered to be a marginal Liberal seat. In order for the ALP to take the electorate of La Trobe, it would need a swing of four percentage points. La Trobe is considered a classic swinging seat and is one of the 30% of seats in which the competition between the ALP and the Liberal Party will determine which major party will form Australia’s federal government.

Jason Wood is a former counter-terrorism police officer who has lived in the electorate all of his life. He first won the seat in 2004 following the retirement of Bob Charles however, he lost the seat to Labors’ Laura Smyth by 1,600 votes six years later, then returned back to the seat in 2013. In this electorate, Wood needs to tackle a wide variety of issues ranging from weed management, bushfire control and sustainable tourism development. He has said that the greatest concern for the people of the electorate are roads, claiming that a survey of his electorate would find that more people are concerned about the Monash Freeway than the Melbourne metro public transport project.

His opponent from the Labor Party is Simon Curtis, a Beaconhills College teacher who emphasises the priorities of the residents of La Trobe as being the quality of education for their children. Curtis claims that healthcare and education are at the top of the list for the people of the electorate and that the cost of living is a concern, particularly for members of the older generation.

Another opponent is Amy Gregorovich of the Greens – an undergraduate student studying Environmental Science and Human Geography. She positions herself and her party as a progressive alternative to the major parties. The focal points for this electorate according to Gregorovich are a safe community and looking after the environment. Gregorovich emphasises housing affordability, road congestion and environmental conservation including forest management.

Ultimately the seat of La Trobe has the potential to swing either way in terms of the major parties but also has the potential to see many of the population vote for the Greens or another minority party to send a message to the major parties. The quintessential swing seat, it is likely to be at the forefront of campaign efforts and has the potential to help win the election for either of the major parties, should they accurately tap into the views of the voters of La Trobe.

Candidates

Esther Baker (One Nation)
Simon Curtis (Labor)
Duncan Dean (United Australia Party)
Amy Gregorovich (Greens)
Jason Wood (Liberal)