If Victoria was the jewel in the Liberal Party’s crown as Sir Henry Bolte once described it, Melbourne’s eastern suburbs represented the large cushion-shaped diamond at the very centre of the Queen’s Imperial State Crown.
The Liberal Party had come to rely on voters in Melbourne’s affluent east and south-east to blindly support the blue team on election day, freeing up crucial resources for more marginal fights.
In the Bolte era it could be safely assumed that the Liberal Party would win seats in Melbourne’s affluent eastern and south-eastern suburbsCredit:Eddie Jim
Then came 2018 when the good folk of Hawthorn, Portsea and Mont Albert turned their backs on the Liberal Party, apparently disenchanted with policies that simply didn’t resonate. It was carnage. The Liberals lost a dozen seats across both houses of parliament making the road back to government all the more challenging.
To make matters worse, the proposed redrawing of electorate boundaries released on Wednesday will make any Coalition victory all the more difficult.
Massive growth in the north and west of Melbourne has prompted the Electoral Boundaries Commission to abolish and merge seats in Melbourne's east in favour of new seats on Melbourne’s outer fringe, which have traditionally favoured Labor.
But the Liberal Party’s woes don’t end at Glen Waverley, the latest boundary changes are also expected to hurt its chances in the regional seat of Ripon which is edging closer to Ballarat and away from rural areas.
The Liberals also look in strife in the marginal Liberal-held seat of Hastings which will take in Balnarring, Tyabb and Langwarrin after the boundaries shift, moving it into the Labor Party’s column.
To make matters worse, many of the middle-ring suburbs like Bentleigh, Mordialloc and Eltham which have been up for grabs in the past, have become heavily populated, gentrified and experienced an influx of tertiary-educated professionals who are more likely to vote Labor.
To be in with a chance the Liberal Party will need to start to win back some of the crucial bayside electorates know as the sandbelt seats of Mordialloc, Carrum, Frankston and Bentleigh
The proposed changes will make it harder for the Liberal Party to win back the seat of Frankston which it lost in 2014 but could give it a chance in Carrum.
The proposed changes will make it harder for the Liberal Party to win back Frankston.Credit:Joe Armao
More Liberal voters from Oakleigh and Cheltenham will move into the Bentleigh electorate which may also make for a slightly closer contest.
But in short, the new boundaries and shifting demographics are a diabolical mix for the Liberal Party. An initial analysis by Labor strategists has the government retaining or even boosting its current majority in the state parliament under the new boundaries.
This dilemma has prompted the Victorian Liberal Party to do something it’s never done before and look over the West Gate Bridge and north of the Yarra ahead of next year’s state election.
Recent polling by Resolve Political Monitor, conducted exclusively for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, offered the Liberal Party a small glimmer of hope.
It revealed that Victoria was the only state where support for the incumbent government had slipped during the pandemic, with Labor's primary vote dropping six percentage points since the November 2018 poll.
It still leaves Labor in a winning position but it perhaps offers a two-election path to victory for a Liberal Party bereft of hope.
Party strategists believe many of the voters that have abandoned Labor live in outer-suburban Melbourne and were disproportionately affected by the months and months of restrictions put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19.
This has prompted the Liberal Party to pitch policies palatable to voters in seats like Melton, Point Cook, Tarneit and Werribee which the Coalition has traditionally ignored.
These were the sort of seats where problematic wannabe Liberal candidates were trialled but rarely made it to polling day. This is unlikely to be the case next year.
Liberal and Labor insiders believe the latest boundary changes will see Labor's margin cut in Melton. While it may still be out of reach for the Liberals it could be picked up by a strong independent candidate forcing Labor to divert resources to this once-safe seats.
The Liberal Party will potentially require a two-election strategy to win seats in the west but it knows that these seats will be key to any future victory.
Middle and outer Western Melbourne have experienced large inflows of middle class professionals moving to areas such as as Sanctuary Lakes where the Liberals will be focusing much of their attention ahead of next year's poll.
It’s a similar plan to the one that delivered Scott Morrison his unexpected election victory in 2019 as he tapped into the aspirations of middle Australia in suburbia.
Sticking to it’s tried and true electoral strategies of the past simply won’t work. If the Liberal Party ever wants to occupy the offices of 1 Treasury Place it will need to woo voters beyond Melbourne’s east.
Annika Smethurst is state political editor for The Age.
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