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Is it Pesuttover? Liberals worried about Warrandyte by-election despite holding seat for 35 years

Updated: Aug 12, 2023

The state by-election in Victoria is being held on August 26.

Voters in the Victorian state seat of Warrandyte are headinh to the polls on August 26 after the resignation of Liberal MP Ryan Smith.


Warrandyte covers the suburbs of Park Orchards, Wonga Park, Warrandyte and parts of Ringwood on the outskirts of north-eastern Melbourne.


On a federal level, the seat is represented by the seats of Deakin and Menzies, both held on a harrowing number of less than 1% for the Liberals. In the Victorian upper house, they're represented by 2 Labor MPs, 2 Liberal MPs and 1 Green MP within the North-Eastern Metropolitan region.


The Liberal primary vote stands at 47 percent against Labor's 33 percent. After preferences are distributed, the 2PP becomes 54 vs 46.


A Liberal source has told 6 News that they and "lots" of other party members believe the party will lose the seat, despite holding it since 1988.

 

History


The seat, first formed in 1976, started off as a safe seat, held on 11% by minister Norman Lacy of the Liberals. However, the high election result deteriorated the following election to 6%, before being gained by Labor, with the state itself falling under Labor's control and their leader, John Cain Jr.


Though, with former premier Jeff Kennett as the face of the Liberal party, the Liberal party regained the seat in 1988 with Phil Honeywood as the candidate. Jeff Kennett

s landslide in 1992 resulted in a colossal 15% swing towards the coalition, the biggest Warrandyte has ever fared. This safe status for the coalition has remained untouched all the way up to 2018, falling below 50% of the primary vote for the first time since 1988 and just below 54% of the two-party preferred count. The 2022 election saw little change in results.


As for minor parties, the Greens have lay dormant at between 10-15% since 2002 when they first contested, peaking at 14% in 2006. Both iterations of the Family First party, and the Animal Justice party have also polled above the 4% mark at occasions.

 

Candidates


Jack Corcoran (Sustainable Australia)

Nicole Ta-Ei Werner (Liberal)

Greg Cheesman (Freedom)

Cary De Wit (Democratic Labour)

Wai Man Raymond Chow (Independent)

Morgan Ranieri (Independent)

Colleen Bolger (Victorian Socialists)

Richard Griffith-Jones (Family First)

Phillip Jenkins (Independent)

Maya Tesa (Independent)

Tomas Lightbody (Greens)

Alan Menadue (Independent)


2022 candidates


Ryan Smith (Liberal)

Naomi Oakley (Labor)

Deepak Joshi (Greens)

Richard Vernay (Family First)

Nicola Rae (Animal Justice)

Cynthia Pilli (Independent)

 

Analysis


Firstly, it's important to keep in mind that it's unlikely that the Greens have a chance to overtake the Liberals on primary votes, with a whopping 30% difference between the two parties. Interestingly, figures point towards the seat being one of the wealthiest in the state. Similar wealthy suburban seats (albeit on a federal level) have increasingly voted for Labor and the Greens in recent years (such as Chisholm and Hotham, with the former flipping to Labor at the last election), while wealthy electorates that are characterized as more urban have seen big swings to the Greens and 'teal independents', like Kooyong, or Macnamara, where the Greens only narrowly lost out on gaining the seat.


The biggest story from the by-election so far has been Labors decision to not contest the seat. Even with most of their voters likely heading to the Greens, it is likely the Liberals, or various other minor parties, will still pick up a sizable chunk of votes, enough to safely barricade the Greens from winning the seat. Because of this, their only shot of winning the seat is through picking up former Liberal voters.


Another question to be asked is whether there is an underlying personal vote for the retiring MP Ryan Smith, who is coming up on 17 years as the member for Warrandyte. Whether this personal vote may be only about 1 or 2%, or something much bigger that could flip the seat to Greens once removed will only be found out on election day.


The Aston by-election in April could also be very useful for figuring out any type of swing that occurs, if at all, to the Greens. The seat, technically the safest Liberal seat in Melbourne (held on just 2%), saw a huge 6% swing to Mary Doyle of Labor, easily enough to flip it, and the first time Labor held it for more than 30 years. Warrandyte has similar demographics, and is also in a relatively close location compared to the rest of Melbourne. However, some of the issues in Aston simply do not apply to Warrandyte, most importantly Labor's choice to not stand.


If the Greens were to successfully gain the seat (which, although unlikely, is a possibility), it would spell disaster for the Liberal party, and especially state leader John Pesutto. In his short term so far, he's already been embroiled in scandals surrounding Moira Deeming and their clash on transgender rights. It's speculated that this was the leading cause for Ryan Smith's resignation.


Similarly, the Victorian branch of the Greens have dealt with an ongoing controversy surrounding claims the party is rife with 'transphobic views'.


Lastly, there is a chance that the Greens could end up bringing the TPP closer than it ever was against the Liberals, even though they are considered to be more distant from the values of the Liberals than Labor. The main correlation that could show this is that of the 2008 Mayo by-election, which occurred in very reminiscent circumstances. The incumbent Liberal member resigned from the seat, with Labor choosing not to contest. Because of this the Greens ended up as the main opponent against the Liberal candidate. The Greens ended up bringing the seat to a margin of 3%, closer than Labor has ever achieved in the seats more than 20 year existence. Whether the Greens will seriously contest the seat, in prospect of a win, is unknown.


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