THE Latrobe Valley, once Australian Labor Party heartland, now sits within some of the safest Coalition seats in Australia, with Valley voters turning away from the party in droves at Saturday’s election.
The shift in allegiances was evident right across Gippsland and McMillan, which together cover the Valley and its surrounds.
It sent a strong message to the federal ALP it can no longer rely on towns like Moe, Morwell, Traralgon and Churchill to deliver it favourable swings.
Long-standing Liberal member for McMillan Russell Broadbent was still in shock yesterday at securing a win so convincing that the historically marginal seat now has a 12 per cent margin in the Coalition’s favour.
McMillan achieved the highest swing towards the Coalition in Victoria, almost double that of other healthy pro-Coalition swings.
Gippsland, a traditional Nationals stronghold, is likely to now rank as one of the safest in Australia with Nationals Member of Parliament Darren Chester further building on his strong 2010 result with a 4.8 per cent swing, bringing his margin to about 16.25 per cent.
The result was a devastating blow, in particular, for the primary votes of ALP candidates Jeff McNeill in Gippsland and Anthony Naus in McMillan.
Mr McNeill suffered a swing of about 8.5 per cent away from his party while Mr Naus’ was even harsher, at 10.6 per cent.
Both ALP candidates recovered some ground once preferences were counted, reducing the swings against them – on a two candidate preferred basis – to 4.8 per cent in Gippsland and 7.64 per cent in McMillan.
The high-profile Palmer United Party, which managed to capture about six per cent of the national vote, did not fare as well locally, picking up less than five per cent of the vote in Gippsland and McMillan, but its impact was still significant given it was expected most PUP voters would preference the Coalition.
In both seats the Greens remained the third most influential force, with candidate Malcolm McKelvie picking up 7.5 per cent of the vote in McMillan and Scott Campbell-Smith securing 5.4 per cent in Gippsland.
While the Greens recorded slight swings against them in both seats this time around.
Speaking with The Express yesterday Mr Chester and Mr Broadbent said they were “humbled by, and appreciative of” the support they had gathered.
In traditional pro-Labor Moe booths Mr Naus clung on to just over half of the vote, but Mr Broadbent narrowed the margins significantly.
In Moe west, for example, Mr Broadbent gained a 12.98 per cent swing toward him, securing 46 per cent of the vote.
It was a similar scenario for Mr Chester in Morwell booths, where he predominantly gained swings towards him, one as high as 10.7 per cent.
In every Traralgon booth Mr Chester easily secured more than half of the vote – in some booths his vote was as high as 66 per cent.
The MP said the Valley vote showed Labor had “deserted its traditional blue collar base” and could “make no credible claims to represent this community”.
He cited the carbon tax and the ALP’s proposed, but later dumped, ‘Contract for Closure’ policy as measures “viewed by workers and their families as an attack on their jobs”.
Mr Chester said Labor had “paid a high price for taking orders from the Greens” and the new government now faced a “huge task” to “restore confidence in the Latrobe Valley”, which he was “determined” to see happen.
Mr Broadbent paid tribute to the efforts of his 22 year-old ALP opponent, saying the diminished ALP vote in McMillan “was not due to his efforts… he was a recipient of a national and local mood”, adding Mr Naus was “very genuine in his approach and should be congratulated on his work”.
Reflecting on his own success Mr Broadbent said, though the enormity of it had “staggered” him and not yet “sunk in”, he also believed McMillan voters – including those in Moe – had shown loyalty to a local member who had long supported them.
“They know, when it comes to the crunch that I will stand up for them without fear,” he said.
Mr Broadbent has held McMillan for a total of 11 years, including an uninterrupted stint since 2004.
Saturday’s result, however, was unprecedented as the seat has only ever been held by relatively slim margins by either major party.