One of the Liberal Party’s safest Victorian seats, Higgins (formed in 1948—49) has hosted a string of high-profile representatives: including Harold Holt (1949—1967), John Gorton (1968—1975) and Peter Costello (1990—2009). With incumbent MP Kelly O’Dwyer set to retain a 5.4% margin (post the 2010 election and pre-redistribution the margin was 6.8%). Higgins is largely neglected by the media and political cycle. But I’m interested in exploring what a blue-ribbon seat looks like during an election campaign. Is the seat so safe there isn’t any substantial debate? Are the local Leader papers canvassing the policies of each candidate, or does the real political action occur within councils?
I see this coverage as a discussion for the sake of public discourse, rather than to push an agenda. The electorate of Higgins requires intelligent analysis and hard reporting. My coverage will step away from partisanship to look at Higgins from all perspectives—dominant and marginal. It will seek truth, not ideology.
Higgins is an inner-metropolitan seat covering the suburbs of Armadale, Ashburton, Central Park, Darling, Hawksburn, Heyington, Kooyong, Malvern, Malvern East, Prahran, Tooronga and Toorak. It also covers parts of Camberwell, Carnegie, Glen Iris, Hughesdale, Murrumbeena, Ormond, South Yarra and Windsor.
According to electorate surveys from 2012 and 2013, the private health insurance rebate and support for non-government schools remain top concerns. This is unsurprising, given almost all of Higgins’ 43 schools are private. Opposition to the carbon tax remains high, while opposition to the mining tax has risen over the past year.
Fears around border security have also skyrocketed. Support for local business remains steady, but is not a high priority compared to cost of living pressures. Interestingly, the cities within Higgins—Stonnington, and parts of Glen Eira and Boroondara—form part of Victoria’s six most prosperous municipalities.
Tackling local crime and mental health investment remain low priorities. Environmental issues are considered least important. Same-sex marriage is perhaps Higgins’s most divisive issue, with equal rates of opposition and support.
Higgins enjoys a relatively high voter turnout, between 92 and 94 percent— excluding the 2009 by-election—and low rates of informal votes, between two and three percent.
Incumbent O’Dwyer ascribes to ‘big-l’ Liberal policies, with the exception of her support for same-sex marriage. She tows the party line on asylum seekers, and the carbon and mining taxes—despite conceding human activity contributes to climate change. Prior to the Liberal leadership spill in 2009, O’Dwyer also supported then-leader Malcolm Turnbull’s Emissions Trading Scheme.
O’Dwyer opposes Labor’s amendments to the private health insurance rebates, despite her party supporting part of the changes. She also opposes the Gonski and childcare reforms around universal access and the National Quality Framework. The Liberal’s hold is secure but not as strong as it once was. Since the 2004 election, the party’s margin has fallen 3.4%.
Labor is putting forward first-time candidate, international student advocate and 2010 Young Victorian of the Year Wesa Chau. She is part of ‘Labor for marriage equality’, and is campaigning for Swinburne’s Prahran (TAFE) campus and a rail link from South Yarra to Kensington. Chau also founded the Australian Federation of International Students in 2002.
The party has traditionally run relatively low profile and first timer candidates in the seat with the exception of the 2009 by-election, where it abstained. The past two elections have seen small but ultimately insignificant swings to Labor, which has not won more than 31 percent of the vote over the past decade.
The Greens are putting forward James Harrison for one of its strongest seats. The party grabbed 17.9 percent of the Higgins vote in 2010 and 32.4 percent in the 2009 by-election. The Greens also enjoyed a boost in last year’s council elections, with three candidates elected across the Stonnington and Glen Eira city councils.
But Harrison was the centre of controversy earlier this year after failing to declare his candidacy when quizzing opposition deputy Julie Bishop on climate change on ABC’s Q&A. Fellow guest Greens leader Christine Milne also failed to declare Harrison’s position as she used the question to defend the carbon pricing and $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corp.
It remains to be seen whether The Greens will manage to maintain the 7 percent swing in their favour from the 2010 vote.