Seat of the week: Stirling

Welcome to the first episode of a new series in which the key seats for the federal election will be put under the microscope. And what better place to start than in the Perth northern suburbs electorate of Stirling, which was home to your correspondent from the ages of two to 23. Stirling was created at the 1955 election to cater for post-war suburban expansion, and roughly assumed its current dimensions following a redistribution in 1969. Subsequent growth in Perth’s northern corridor has been accommodated by drawing in the once semi-rural electorate of Moore, and through the creation of Cowan when parliament was enlarged in 1984. Stirling now extends from Scarborough, Trigg and North Beach on the coast through the light industrial areas of Balcatta and Osborne Park, on to low-income Balga and Mirrabooka and the more affluent Dianella nearer the city. This chart compares Labor’s two-party results since the seat’s creation with the corresponding state and national results; the figures in boxes indicate shifts resulting from redistributions.

This map shows the two-party vote by suburb at the 2004 election: red indicates a majority for Labor and blue for Liberal, with the size of the number varying as a rough indicator of the number of votes cast.

In its original incarnation, when it extended inland all the way to Guildford, Stirling was a Labor-leaning marginal held for all but one term by Harry Webb (not to be confused with this Harry Webb) from 1955 to 1972. The 1969 changes produced a 3.4 per cent shift that made the seat notionally Liberal, but Webb comfortably held the seat on the back of the 1969 pro-Whitlam swing, only to lose it in 1972 when Western Australia substantially bucked the national trend (another Labor casualty being Forrest). Ian Viner held the seat for the Liberals from 1972 until 1983, surviving by 12 votes in 1974 and going on to serve as Aboriginal Affairs Minister in the Fraser government. Stirling has since been remarkable for its adherence to the statewide swing, as indicated by this chart showing the deviation from the state and national swing to or from Labor. The range between plus and minus 2 per cent is coloured as this is within the standard deviation for Western Australian electorates from the statewide swing; notably, Stirling has fallen within this range at every election since 1975. In other words, Stirling has been of above-average averageness for 12 elections in a row.

In line with Labor’s strong overall performance, Stirling changed hands when the Hawke government was elected in 1983, with Ron Edwards winning the seat from Ian Viner. Despite an unfavourable redistribution in 1984, Edwards held the seat by narrow margins at the next three elections, surviving by just 234 votes in 1990. He finally lost to high-profile broadcaster Eoin Cameron in 1993, when WA again bucked a national pro-Labor trend. Throughout this period the coastal suburbs assumed an older and more Liberal-friendly profile, but this was counterbalanced by a series of redistributions beneficial to Labor, the most recent of which added Balga and Mirrabooka in 2001. Labor was thus able to regain the seat in 1998, when Cameron was defeated by Jann McFarlane.

Stirling changed hands for the third time in five elections in 2004, after another swing consistent with the statewide result. There were instructive variations in the swing within the electorate: a clear “doctors’ wives” effect can be discerned in the coastal suburbs, in contrast to the strong swings to the Liberals in lower income areas further inland.

The Liberals’ success came despite the embarrassing withdrawal of their candidate Paul Afkos eight months earlier, when it emerged he had borrowed $300,000 from a man he knew to be a convicted drug trafficker. Afkos stood aside and was replaced by Michael Keenan (right), real estate salesman, state party deputy director and former adviser to Amanda Vanstone and Alexander Downer. Labor suffered a slightly less dramatic embarrassment during the campaign period, when McFarlane told a talk radio caller (who proved to be Liberal activist Michelle Poor, later to run as the party’s candidate for Balcatta at the 2005 state election) that the party’s tax policy might need adjusting.

Michael Keenan has kept a fairly low profile in his first term in parliament, perhaps because his shaky hold on his seat has prompted him to tend to local matters. He faces a formidable Labor opponent in former SAS officer Peter Tinley (left), who was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2003 after serving as deputy commander of the Special Forces Task Group in Iraq. He earlier served in Afghanistan and as the operations officer when the SAS intervened during the Tampa crisis. Tinley made headlines in November when he described the Iraq war as a “strategic and moral blunder”; he was promptly approached to run by Kim Beazley, then entering his final week as Labor leader. This thwarted the ambitions of Jim Murie, an official with the Left faction Communications Electrical Plumbing Union, who withdrew his nomination shortly before the preselection vote in February.

UPDATE: Mr Q at Eagles Flying High has helpfully overlaid the above map with state electoral boundaries.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

108 comments on “Seat of the week: Stirling”

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  1. Phil Robins Says:

    April 28th, 2007 at 12:00 pm
    People outside SA would certainly recognize the family name, but they wouldn’t associate it with politics. Nuff said.

    That description would have (then) perfectly fitted Labor’s candidate for Boothby in 2004!

  2. The most illustrious non-political name in Adelaide is Bradman, but in his unfortunate absence a Chappel would do. Greg is only 58.

  3. I believe your secret is out on the 59-41 thread, Phil. 😀 Nicole Cornes, perhaps?

    I have to admit that I was thinking of big ‘family names’ in South Australian footy, and whilst I thought of Graham Cornes the idea of him running for Parliament struck me as ridiculous. 😉 What does wife Nicole have to offer?

  4. Can’t confim or deny. But Nicole Cornes has a weekly column in the Sunday Mail, she’s an attractive mother of two young children and she’s a mature age law student who regularly gets distinctions. Definitely not a union hack.

  5. # Phil Robins Says:
    April 28th, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    Can’t confim or deny. But Nicole Cornes has a weekly column in the Sunday Mail, she’s an attractive mother of two young children and she’s a mature age law student who regularly gets distinctions. Definitely not a union hack.

    My wife is an attractive mature age student all of 29yo ( doing masters in primary health care ) regularly gets and has got distinctions and is not a union hack. To me its allot to offer but unlike Cornes my wifes not rich or married into fame.

  6. “I’m sure there’s a good pack of IT-competent Greens around who could help you design a top-notch website. Good luck.”


    This one was knocked up in a few minutes a few weeks ago

    For the record the Greens vote in Mount Druitt has increased by 177% since 1999

  7. As for not being a union hack, Phil – certainly not. However, considering the quality of candidates being recruited by Labor around Australia (Dreyfus, Gray, Parke, Tinley, Combet, McKew, Daniels) and having read some of her articles… is this who SA Labor calls a ‘star candidate’?

  8. Cornes hasn’t been picked so that she will win, she has been picked because she will get coverage due to her name that the Libs will have to match with paid advertising, I imagine Bill will be happy as a fair chunk of the Libs campaign funds will have to be shifted from Kingston to Boothby

  9. I think that Nicole Cornes will be a very good fit for Boothby, especially in the aspirational Adelaide Hills and beachside suburbs. Let’s face it, Boothby has been a Liberal seat since 1949. Labor is hardly like to win it with a raging left-winger. The Cornes clan is better known than any other family in Adelaide. The name crops up every day in newspapers and on radio and TV. Nicole’s candidature is the front page splash in today’s Sunday Mail: NICOLE RUNS FOR LABOR. Inside is a sympathetic two-page spread. Husband Graham is a key member of 5AA’s high-rating daily sports programme and he has a rather philosophical sports column in The Advertiser every Saturday. He also has interests in the motor trade. Over the years he’s been mooted as a possible Liberal candidate but in the Sunday Mail today he says: “I had always voted Liberal until the last two elections but my allegiances have swung dramatically.” Graham’s sons Chad and Kane are stars with the Port Adelaide AFL team. Nicole says: “I voted for John Howard in the past but now I think it is time for a change.” Her weekly column in the Sunday Mail is certainly not heavyweight material but it does reflect the views of the “beautiful people” who are influential in Boothby.

  10. Well, it’s a matter of horses for courses, Bill. We now await with interest the announcement of an ALP candidate for Sturt. Meanwhile, here’s a look back to the days when Boothby was a Labor electorate:

    Labor’s Egerton Lee Batchelor was elected the first member for Boothby in 1903. Batchelor had been the only Labor MHR elected in South Australia in the nation’s first federal election in 1901, when the whole state was one multi-member electorate. Before entering federal politics, Batchelor, a former railway engineer, had established his reputation as Minister of Education and Minister of Agriculture in the Holder government from December 1899 to 15 May 1901. The Labor Party supported his serving in that Liberal government so that the public could see that a Labor man could do the job. In 1903 Batchelor was offered the safe Labor seat of Hindmarsh but in the interests of the party opted for the riskier seat of Boothby, where he polled 55 per cent to defeat former premier and fellow foundation MHR Vaiben Solomon. In 1904, Prime Minister John Christian (Chris) Watson selected Batchelor as Minister for Home Affairs in the world’s first national Labor government. Batchelor was unopposed in Boothby in 1906 and served as Minister for External Affairs in the Fisher Labor government from 1908-10. He was easily re-elected in 1910 but died suddenly in 1911 and Boothby fell to the Liberals in a by-election that year.

    Another Labor man, the German-born butcher George Dankel, won Boothby back in 1913 and retained it in 1914 but naturally, given his heritage, did not contest the wartime election of 1917, when the seat fell to the Nationalists.

    Labor’s next victory in Boothby was in 1928 when the stone-mason John Lloyd Price – son of Tom Price, the first Labor man to be Premier of South Australia (1905-09) – scraped home by 84 votes. He boosted his margin in 1929 but then got caught up in the big Labor split over how to deal with the Great Depression. He joined the Independent Australia Party and held Boothby in 1931 as a candidate for the anti-Labor Emergency Committee. He was re-elected under the Liberal and Country League banner in 1934 and 1937 and as a United Australia Party member in 1940, dying in office in 1941.

    Sir Archibald Price (no relation to J.L.Price) won the 1941 Boothby by-election for the UAP but was turfed out by Labor’s Tom Sheehy in the general election of 1943. Sheehy, a building contractor, trailed on primary votes but got over the line largely on the preferences of the popular Communist candidate, Dr Alan Finger. Sheehy improved his winning margin in 1946 but apparently did not like the subsequent redistribution and switched to the new seat of Kingston, which he lost narrowly in 1949. The Liberals won Boothby in 1949 and have held it ever since.

  11. I’m noticing the ALP are pre-selecting a better range of people than in past Elections and better matching them with seats, they appear to be learning.

    Boothsy will be a touch seat but only as in the ALP haven’t put the resources in that they look like they will this time.

    A bit like the Liberals in Lindsay in 1996, but I’m not convinced the ALP can win this seat at this stage.

  12. Cornes is the “Paris Hilton” candidate. Boothby isn’t an electorate full of idiots, so her candidacy means Southcott will enjoy a swing to him.

  13. Nicole Cornes (unlike Paris Hilton) had humble beginnings and has achieved much that an aspirational electorate will recognize. Flinders Uni political analyst Haydon Manning says : “The Cornes name is so well known in SA it is a brand name. It might be enough to win the seat.”

  14. Shes not a member of the ALP? thats a great way of picking candidates. Id hate to be in the Botthby branch and overlooked by a non member

  15. Good move.

    Boothby’s not a quintessential marginal. More of a typical Liberal seat.

    Not unwinnable however: a quasi-celebrity candidate may just be the thing to tip this seat to Labor given the right conditions.

    As for being a recent Labor convert, the ALP spin should be simple enough: “We need the votes of people who have previously voted for John Howard. It therefore makes perfect sense to stand at least one candidate who has previously voted for John Howard.”

  16. I agree with David Walsh as far as to say Boothby is not ‘unwinnable’, and that the selection of someone of Cornes’ ilk is hardly surprising. I think the underlying theme of the ALP campaign has been that it’s time for a change, and that goes some way to reinforce the parties’ selection.

    But seriously, the situation is typically ridiculous. Rudd’s been sold a political pup (see doorstop on ABC news for reference) by Foley and the state party who are becoming increasingly known for their ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. I mean this is as cruel as the current crop of reality tv. Shoving a naive, inexperienced outsider into the harsh reality of a campaign under the moniker of a serious challenger.

    As Bill Weller mentioned, congratulations to her on earning a solid GPA while looking after a tot, but that doesn’t spell competency in this arena. It’d be nice if Rudd started being serious, gave us a candidate that lives in the electorate, is passionate about their beliefs and knows how to articulate her them in front of a camera.

  17. * Yes bill, richy rich candidates is how we win richy rich seats. People in the Adelaide Hills are not going to vote for Fred Nurk of the Boilermakers Union (and yes I know Norm Foster won Sturt but that was 37 years ago). Unlike the Greens, the ALP is actually trying to win seats, and the choice of non-stereotypical candidates is a good way to do so. Like this colonel we are running apparently in Edn-Monaro, and McKew and Tinley.
    * More broadly, this strategy creates a “bandwaggon effect” – everyone, even SAS colonels and former Liberal voters, are getting with the Ruddslide. This is clever politics folks. It worked very well in Victoria with Kirstie Marshall.
    * Archibald Grenfell Price always used the given name Grenfell, and he wasn´t knighted til after he left politics, so he should be called Dr Grenfell Price in this context.

  18. More on SA:

    FORMER Young South Australian of the Year Mia Handshin is this week expected to be named as Labor’s federal candidate for Sturt, setting her up for a battle against Minister for Ageing Christopher Pyne for the eastern suburbs seat.


    Labor believes both Boothby and Sturt are winnable seats and, as such, is targeting them as marginals. Party sources said state Labor was cashed up and would be diverting substantial resources into both Boothby and Sturt.

  19. How do other blogsters feel that the ALP conference went? I realise that the commentariat is wistful for the good old days of union stoushes, but I suspect that, as a vehicle for launching the Rudd For The Lodge campaign, it served its purpose well.

    I guess the next set piece is the budget, and it’s pretty crucial for both sides. Rudd’s reply will in reality be much more significant than the weekend just gone in the greater scheme of things. I think he still needs to reassure the great unwashed that he won’t send the countrty broke.

    However, the budget is also the government’s last chance – if the people aren’t going to listen to you while you’re handing out wads of cash, it’s unlikely they’re going to at any other time.

  20. Nicole Cornes has started shakily but she’s smart enough to improve rapidly. Mia Handshin, ten years a weekly columnist with The Advertiser, is more assured at this stage. Alexander Downer is carrying on about Labor’s opting for celebrity over substance. But wasn’t it the Liberals who selected the cyclist Hubert Opermann? The runner Pat Farmer? The gold medal shooter who failed to hit the target in Ballarat? The criticism used to be that Labor was picking party hacks instead of people with real life experience. You can’t win, it seems. Anyway, some outstanding candidates are flocking to Labor this time.

  21. Hugo, will bribery work this time? I agree, if the Liberals don’t get a signifigant bounce in the polls from tax custs, they are stuffed!
    According to today’s SMH: Greg Combet will get Charlton(N.S.W), Colonel Mike Kelly will get Labor preselection for Eden Monaro, Kevin Rudd wants a seat for George Williams(Academic and Constitutional Law expert) in N.S.W, and Julia Irwin will be another N.S.W MP to be dumped.
    If the swing is on in SA, seats like Boothby and Sturt could be winnable.
    At the very least, Labor would want to take Wakefield, Kingston and Makin off the Liberals.

  22. IS it just me or does it bother anyone else here that a person being put up as a candidate of any ilk (and apparently a law student to boot) who apparently lives in South Australia can get away with saying that she voted for John Howard?
    Is she enrolled to vote in Bennelong?
    Ok, I know a great many people don’t differentiate but surely we could expect more of hopeful politicians (and law students who apparently garner the odd distinction)???
    Or am I just crazy???

  23. You can tell the Labor conference went well. The journalists are scathing of Rudd and Labor, particularly those who write for the Australian. It seems we have Labor versus business, political journalists and newspaper proprietors. Is this payback time and will it have any effect on the average person out there? I personally very much doubt it. Only political tragics like myself take any notice of this BS.
    Just an aside, I managed to score a gig in the latest Newspoll survey. Anyone else been surveyed by any of the pollsters?

  24. I’ve never been surveyed by a polling company, but I worked for one for a few years.The one thing that I learnt is that responses as to how likely people are to change their minds are meaningless, while I was never allowed to try i was fairly certain that I could change at least a third of respondants votes with just a few comments

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