Sunday, November 28, 2010

Eastern suburbs swing it for Liberals

A LIBERAL tide yesterday swept across Melbourne's crucial eastern suburban marginal seats and the south-eastern sandbelt, taking at least five seats from Labor, with up to six more in the balance.

It was a very different election in the equally crucial regional city seats that Labor has ruled since 1999. South Barwon has fallen to the Liberals, but midway through the count, Labor was hanging on to the rest of its territory albeit marginally.

The Greens' challenge to Labor in the inner city appeared to have been sunk by the Liberals' decision to give preferences to Labor, with only the seat of Melbourne still an outside chance.

With roughly half the votes counted, the election outcome remained in the balance with a massive 550,000 postal votes and up to 400,000 postal and absentee votes still to be counted over the next two weeks.

These votes are likely to shift the figures posted last night in favour of the Coalition and Greens candidates, altering the two-party preferred vote by as much as a percentage point in their favour.

But on early trends, the Liberals might not need them. Needing to gain 13 seats to win, they already had seven clear victories and a chance in up to 20 others.

In the biggest swing of the night, Gippsland East independent Craig Ingram was crushed by a 20 per cent swing to Nationals' candidate Tim Bull. Mr Ingram had held the seat since 1999.

As predicted, the Liberals swept to victory in most of Labor's eastern suburban marginal seats. Mount Waverley, Gembrook, Forest Hill, Mitcham and Burwood had all clearly fallen with the count at the half-way mark, returning to the Liberal Party that had held them for most of their life.

Some had a particular significance for Labor. Mitcham was the first gain, won in 1997 in a by-election under John Brumby's leadership. Burwood was Jeff Kennett's old seat, won after he quit politics in the wake of his 1999 election loss. Forest Hill, won in 2002 by former ski champion Kirstie Marshall, marked the high watermark of Labor's support.

In the south, the Liberals had won Carrum and were leading in Prahran, Bentleigh and Frankston.

But Labor was still holding on to the crucial battlegrounds in Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo, which have been the other pillar of their ability to hold government.

It won clear victories in both Bendigo seats, with Employment Minister Jacinta Allan holding on to Bendigo East with only a 2 per cent swing against her. Agriculture Minister Joe Helper was also retaining a narrow but secure lead in Ripon.

But Seymour the scene of the Black Saturday bushfires and the north-south pipeline appeared to have fallen to last-minute Liberal candidate Cindy McLeish.

Labor held a 22-seat majority in the old Assembly. In 2006 it won 55 seats to the Coalition's 32, with Gippsland East independent Craig Ingram the lone cross-bencher.

It looks like no independent will be in the new Parliament. In Mildura, Nationals MP Peter Crisp held off a challenge from Mildura mayor Glenn Milne, and in Brunswick, former federal MP Phil Cleary won only 12 per cent of the vote.