Melbourne Ports: An electorate divided?

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Melbourne Ports MP, Labor’s Michael Danby, popped up recently on the Bolt Report television show to weigh into the leadership tussle between Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. Since 1998, Danby has represented Melbourne Ports, the electoral division that includes St Kilda and surrounds. This media appearance by Danby got us thinking more deeply about Melbourne Ports. What is the geographic profile of this electoral division? What are the voting patterns? An examination of the electoral geography can give us some clues.

At face value, Melbourne Ports is a Labor stronghold. The name ‘Melbourne Ports’ conjures up an image for some of a traditional Labor working class heartland. In support of this, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) has held the seat since 1906. More recently, the two-party-preferred results from the 2010 Federal Election show that Danby (ALP) finished with around 57.6 percent of votes compared to Kevin Ekendahl (Liberals) 42.4 percent. As a result, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) currently classifies Melbourne Ports as ‘fairly safe’ for the ALP. We believe, however, there are reasons as to why Melbourne Ports is not the Labor stronghold that it seems.

For a start, two-party-preferred results can mask the actual level of support for a political party in the House of Representatives because to win a candidate has to obtain either an absolute majority through first preference votes (50% +1) or an absolute majority after the distribution of preferences. In the case of Melbourne Ports, Danby has always relied on the distribution of preferences to win the seat for the ALP (elections of 2010, 2007, 2004, 2001, 1998).

Data on primary votes from the 2010 Federal Election also confirms that results were close, with Danby (ALP) receiving around 38.2 percent compared to Kevin Ekendahl (Liberals) 37.8 percent (we have rounded the figures). Of the minor parties, Sue Plowright (Greens) received around 20.7 percent, Christian Vega (Australian Sex Party) 2.2 percent, David Emmerson (Family First) and Gregory Storer (Secular Party of Australia) a paltry 0.8 percent, and 0.4 percent respectively.

The closeness of the result between the ALP and the Liberals stands out, as does the high primary vote for the Greens relative to their nationwide vote of 11.8 percent. The importance of the minor parties is evident here, as Danby relied on preferences from minor parties to win the seat, in particular the Greens.  AEC figures indicate that Danby from the ALP received 84.1 percent of Greens preferences.

Another issue is that the House of Representatives operates under a single-member electoral system of geographical units (electoral divisions) which, in effect, are defined by drawing a boundary around an area. This means that an electoral division can contain a diverse spread of suburbs (and voting patterns) within its boundary. In the case of Melbourne Ports, along with St Kilda, it includes St Kilda East, Balaclava, St Kilda West, Ripponlea, Elwood, Albert Park, Caulfield, Caulfield North, Caulfield East, part of Elsternwick, Middle Park, Port Melbourne, Southbank, South Melbourne, and parts of South Yarra and Docklands.

To undertake a spatial analysis of voting patterns at a scale smaller than an electoral division, we have analysed the primary vote at the level of polling place catchment across Melbourne Ports. We have focused on the thirty-one polling places located in the electoral division and open on the day of the election. With this, we are working on the assumption that most people vote at the polling place closest to where they live. To show voting patterns at the suburban level we have combined the results where a suburb had multiple polling places. For example, the six polling places in the suburb of St Kilda form one titled St Kilda.

Findings show little spatial variation in the voting patterns for the ALP in all but South Yarra where its percentage is much lower. For the Liberals there is greater variation, with South Yarra having the highest percentage of Liberal votes closely followed by Caulfield. The lower percentages of votes for the Liberals are in St Kilda, St Kilda East/Balaclava and Elwood. The Greens, for a minor party, show a strong primary vote in pockets of Melbourne Ports, in particular St Kilda, St Kilda East/Balaclava and Elwood. The lower percentages for the Greens are in Caulfield and Port Melbourne.

With all this, the Liberals outpolled the ALP in the suburbs of South Yarra, Caulfield, South Melbourne/Southbank and Albert Park/Middle Park. The Greens outpolled the Liberals in the suburbs of St Kilda and St Kilda East/Balaclava.

Our examination of the electoral geography of Melbourne Ports shows that, while the ALP currently has a consistent pattern of voter support across the electoral division, there is a spatial pattern to parties seriously challenging their 106-year hold on the seat. This is coming from Liberal votes in ‘well off’ areas and in the east of the electoral division. To complicate matters further, in the southern end there is also a challenge to both Labor and Liberal from the Greens, with whom the ALP has recently relied on preferences to win the seat.

A host of factors including demographic, socio-economic or social class characteristics may well explain these spatial patterns of respective votes. Unfortunately, space does not permit us to an examination of the association between these, or any other, characteristics and levels of voting support. Suffice to say, Melbourne Ports is not the Labor stronghold that it once was and it may well be a space to watch in the future.

Table 1: Primary votes across Melbourne Ports (%)

(Federal Election 2010)    

ALP

Liberal

Greens

Suburbs
St Kilda

38.4

24.4

29.6

St Kilda East/Balaclava

39.9

25.5

27.7

Albert Park/Middle Park

37.2

38.1

19.3

Caulfield

35.4

45.0

13.3

Elsternwick

38.5

37.6

18.0

Elwood

38.2

28.5

27.4

Port Melbourne

43.4

35.0

14.7

Sth Melb/Southbank

36.9

38.6

17.8

South Yarra

28.5

47.3

19.6

Melbourne Ports

38.2

37.8

20.7

* Source: AEC data. Categories (suburbs) compiled by Coote & Smith

By Matthew Coote & Erin Smith

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