Seat of the week: Eden-Monaro

This fortnight’s Seat of the Week is Eden-Monaro, renowned throughout the land as the “bellwether” seat that invariably goes the way of the party that wins the election. It is not immediately obvious why it should have this reputation, as its record in this regard is far exceeded by Macarthur, which has gone with the winning party at every election since its creation in 1949. One reason is that Eden-Monaro’s broad mix of elements make it arguably representative of the state at large, if not the entire country: it includes suburban Queanbeyan, rural centres Cooma and Bega, coastal towns Eden and Narooma, and agricultural areas sprinkled with small towns (as well as the ski resorts at Thredbo and Perisher, which have many visitors but few voters). Furthermore, the area covered by Eden-Monaro has been remarkably little changed over the years, whereas Macarthur’s varying fortunes have largely been determined by redistributions. Eden-Monaro’s boundaries have always been defined by the ocean in the east and the Victorian border in the south, and its relative population decline has roughly cancelled out the effects of the increasing size of parliament.

The most significant aberration was when it acquired a north-western spur that took in Goulburn between 1934 and 1977. The 1998 redistribution left it with boundaries that were almost identical to those it had before 1913; the current redistribution, which saw New South Wales lose a seat, has for the first time expanded it westwards to include Tumut and Tumbarumba, formerly in the safe conservative seat of Farrer. These areas produced a two-party Liberal vote well into the 60s at the last federal election, and their addition has seen the Liberal margin increase from 2.2 per cent to 3.3 per cent, despite the loss of the Liberal-leaning Batemans Bay area to Gilmore. Labor’s strongest area remains the Canberra satellite town of Queanbeyan, not counting its outer suburb of Jerrabomberra where the 60/40 split in Labor’s favour is reversed. The coastal area can be divided into a finely balanced northern half, including Narooma and Moruya, and a strongly Liberal south, including Eden and Bega. Cooma and other inland towns are also solidly conservative. The 2004 election produced little change in voting patterns throughout the electorate, with the Liberals recording an overall swing of 0.4 per cent.

Eden-Monaro was held by conservatives of various stripes for all but one term until 1943, the exception being Labor’s 40-vote win when Jim Scullin’s government came to power in 1929. Allan Fraser won the seat for Labor with the 1943 landslide and held it against the tide in 1949 and 1951. He was defeated in 1966 but was back in 1969, finally retiring in 1972. The loss of his personal vote almost saw the seat go against the trend of the 1972 election, with the Country Party overtaking their conservative rivals for the first time to come within 503 votes of victory. The Country Party again finished second in 1974, this time coming within 146 votes of defeating Labor member Bob Whan (whose son Steve unsuccessfully contested the seat in 1998 and 2001, and is now the state member for Monaro). However, 1975 saw the Liberals gain strongly at the expense of the Country Party as well as Labor, and their candidate Murray Sainsbury won the seat with a two-party margin of 5.6 per cent. Sainsbury held the seat until the defeat of the Fraser government in 1983; the same fate befell his Labor successor, Jim Snow, who was swept out by a 9.2 per cent swing when Labor lost office in 1996.

The seat has since been held for the Liberals by Gary Nairn (left), who cut his political teeth in the Northern Territory as president of the Country Liberal Party in the early 1990s. Nairn moved to Queanbeyan and joined the Liberal Party in 1995, moving swiftly to secure preselection at the following year’s election. Within a year of entering parliament he landed a significant role as chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, but he then had to wait until October 2004 before being made a parliamentary secretary. Nairn was further promoted to the outer ministry position of Special Minister of State in January 2006, in which capacity he has expanded his authority in relation to electoral matters. He has also had to deal during the current term with the loss of his wife Kerrie to cancer, at the age of 53.

Labor made national headlines in April when it announced its candidate would be Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Kelly (right), a military lawyer who had been credited with efforts to warn the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade about the AWB kickbacks scandal, and the Australian military about possible abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. Kelly was installed as candidate a week after the party’s national conference empowered the state executive to appoint candidates in 25 key seats over the heads of the local party branches. The preselection process had already been considerably delayed because the party did not wish for it to coincide with the March state election. The front-runners to that point had been Kel Watt, a former political staffer linked to the Right faction who had been the candidate in 2004, and Andrew Beaumont, a Treasury official who had won backing from former member Jim Snow and Fraser MP Bob McMullan. The high-profile independent mayor of Queanbeyan, Frank Pangallo, said in April that “senior party figures” had encouraged him to throw his hat into the ring, due to what Andrew Fraser of the Canberra Times described as a “growing feeling” that Beaumont and Watt “might not have what it takes to win”. Less fancied candidates were Graham Shannon and Toni McLennan, both public servants.

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.

197 comments on “Seat of the week: Eden-Monaro”

Comments Page 1 of 4
1 2 4
  1. Nicely done 🙂 Eden-Monaro will indeed be a very interesting seat to watch come election night.

    One point though, isn’t Farrer a Liberal seat, not National?

  2. Does Kelly have any connection with the area? I’m not sure that a seat like Eden-Monaro is the best place to install another ‘celebrity candidate’. They’d have been better off putting him in a safer Sydney seat like Chifley or Fowler, and getting a well-known local to stand in E-M .

  3. The following are the current average polling results for ALP TPP% from Newspoll, Morgan, AGBN and Galaxy, from Jan 1 to date (dates approx):

    06-Jan-07 57.0
    20-Jan-07 55.9
    03-Feb-07 55.8
    17-Feb-07 57.1
    25-Feb-07 58.2
    06-Mar-07 59.8
    13-Mar-07 59.8
    18-Mar-07 59.4
    02-Apr-07 58.8
    16-Apr-07 59.0
    01-May-07 58.9
    13-May-07 58.3
    20-May-07 56.8
    24-May-07 56.3
    27-May-07 56.0

    If you make a linear trend line out of all of these and project it forward to election time, the result is pretty flat and predicts a TPP at the election of about 58%.

    But, adding the recent Galaxy and Morgan polls has begun to reveal a distinct tendency for the TPP to drop. If you look backward along the graph, it now conveys the distinct impression that John Howard’s much hoped-for tip point (or at least a maximum for the ALP) occurred in early March.

    Then, if you make a trend line out of the figures from early March on, the trend drops sharply until it reaches a value of about 50.5% at election time. That would be line-ball for seat balance.

    When we get 4 month’s trend post-March, the trend (up, down or flat) will probably be locked in. In 1996, we had 1 year of “flat”, in 1998, we had 6 months of “slightly up” and in 2001 and 2004, we had 6 months of “down”. In all cases there was not much disturbance of the trend, notwithstanding (e.g.) Tampa and the handshake.

    If the recent Galaxy poll is really very aberrant and corrects itself next month, all of this is out the window and will just go to show how wobbly the statistics are.

  4. I think the reason no-one talks about Macarthur as bellwether anymore, even though as you say William its record is much longer, is that no-one thinks Labor can win it this time. As you said, its boundaries have changed substantially; so have its people (and their wallets).

    Parties sometimes confuse cause and effect with these bellwether seats. They think if they win this seat they’ll win the election and so throw more money than is warranted.

    Agree with Marcus, Labor should have put a local in.

  5. If Gary Nairn was president of the CLP in the NT and moved to Queanbeyan where he joined the Liberal Party in 1995, you could hardly call him a local. Anyway, where does Mike Kelly live? Canberra?

  6. Looking at the booth by booths from 2004 in E-M much of the swing to the ALP appears to have come from the coastal booths around Batemans Bay, Moruya and Merimbula – areas that have large numbers of retirees and may have been attracted by Medicare Gold. If that was the case, it is likely that Gary Nairn’s majority of 3.3% may be understated by 0.3 – 0.5%, small but significant in a marginal seat.

  7. “The 2004 election produced little change in voting patterns throughout the electorate, with Labor recording an overall swing of 0.4 per cent.”

    Nope – the other way around. The 0.45% swing was to Nairn, in 2004, not to Labor.

    “… where he joined the Liberal Party in 1995, you could hardly call him a local.”

    Except that he had a holiday home at Adaminiby for the 15 years prior to his preselection and he consequently spent a good deal of his time in Eden-Monaro each year. Except that he actually expanded his surveying business to Queanbyan in 1994 (not 1995) to look for a greater slice of Government work. Remember: he moved to the region for business, not for preselection. He was subsequently asked to run by local Libs and, don’t forget, that he eventually went on to beat five other people in the preseletion, something that the Lawyering Colonel didn’t (couldn’t?) do.

    “Anyway, where does Mike Kelly live? Canberra?”

    Yep – he’s never lived in Eden-Monaro in his life. Can’t even correctly pronounce the name of the electorate: it’s ‘mon-AIR-oh’ not ‘mon-AH-ro’ – the former is a place, the latter is a Holden. The only claim for local interest he makes is that his great grandfather is buried here.

  8. Phil Robbins,

    Fair enough I suppose re Nairn, although I doubt he was as much of a high-profile candidate as Kelly.

    I still maintain that Labor tends to get it wrong with putting big-name candidates in marginal seats (Cheryl Kernot anyone???). If they really want to utilise these people’s talents they should install them in safer seats, and put hard working locals into the marginals (particularly country seats which don’t respond well to blow-ins). In recent times, the Liberals have tended to do this pretty well, and it’s strange that Labor hasn’t learned to do the same.

  9. Would anyone be too offended if I replied on the Julia “Medicare Gold” issue? A view has been put on this which I feel needs to be responded too.

  10. Hi Esj, I bow to Mr Bowe’s wishes but I think it is a psephological topic if only because of the way Mad Mark and his advisors butchered its presentation. Perhaps rather than letting this descend into a policy debate you could be allowed to reply and I promise not to respond.

  11. OK lets ignore the policy merits – which I think is a fair starting point for these discussions.

    It was driven by the need for “bold” and “visionary” policy because of a view that Labor needs these things to excite voters as a so-called reformist party.

    I think the 2nd element was a desire to be seen to be doing something big because of the nepotistic smell about Labor.

    As a result the turkey known as Medicare Gold was hatched by Ms Gillard. I think it fell apart because the ethical issue was Labor giving free health care to the super wealthy over 70’s.

    It encapsulated the modern Labor dilemma – what does this party actually truly believe in? What is the truly die in a ditch issue of belief? What is worth losing an election over?

    Medicare Gold stank to high heaven because it showed this is a party without soul. Presumably Labor thought destitute 68 year olds deserved free medical care too? What should 80 year olds have got – Medicare Platinum?

    If it was such a good policy why did they bury it unceremoniously too !

  12. If you’re trying to interpret the South Coast retiree vote it’s useful to know where they come from. Without having seen any numbers I would imagine a disproportionate number of retirees in the area would come from Canberra and would have brought their (largely Labor) voting habits with them. The Liberals also did surprisingly poorly in Bega at the state election – essentially no swing, and that was coming off a base from 2003 of no sitting member and a bitter pre-selection which ended up with an independent running and polling quite strongly – with those factors removed in 2007, and the statewide swing, you’d have expected a strong swing to the Liberals but it didn’t happen.

  13. It was a very good policy and should never have been buried, far better than giving millions or billions to a dysfunctional private health system.. what a rip of this is.. whilst people sit on waiting systems with have this rip off! and private insurance continues to increase prices for health cover.. far better to provide a free system for all.. instead of champagne and three star meals..

  14. In recent times since Allan Fraser all members for Eden Monaro have had personal votes, this didn’t stop changes of members when a government fell
    eg 1983 and 1996. The recent state election figures combining Bega and Monaro would suggest a labor Victory in E_M was quite possible. I think this is really a bellwehter seat

  15. I don’t think Kelly can be called a “celebrity candidate.” Hands up who had ever heard of him before his candidacy was announced? He is not a TV newsreader or popstar, he is a lifetime professional soldier. Since I know his son quite well, I have met Kelly and heard him speak. He is a very tough nut as well as extremely smart.

    It’s true that in a country seat not being “a local” will count against Kelly, and of course Nairn will exploit that for all it’s worth. But EM is probably less “rural” in its political outlook than most country seats, because of the proximity of Canberra and its overlap into Queanbeyan. This will be offset by Kelly’s impeccable credentials on national security issues. I doubt even Downer or Nelson will have the nerve to argue the toss on Iraq with someone who spent a year as the senior Australian in the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad.

  16. I think the issue is: is this person some kind of high profile blow-in those clowns are foisting on us? That negative sentiment usually outweighs allure the other way (although a police/soldier’s uniform is generally worth a few votes).

    Nairn may have been a blow-in (or not, as his shy and retiring staffer Dr Phelps tells us) but if he was he was a low profile one, as most are. It’s the “famous’ people you’ve got to worry about.

    The only “famous” candidate I can think of that did well was Pat Farmer (2001). Does anyone know if he was a local? (I suspect yes.)

  17. Again excellent detail William.
    The redistribution did not do Labor any favours. One wonders what will happen at the next redistribution across inland NSW as the drift to the city accelerates as a result of the drought/global warming.

  18. IMHO placing Kelly in Eden-Monaro is a good tactical decision. Given his background it will be hard to attack him on national security issues, and Rudd will use him to show that he (Rudd) understands those issues as well as Howard. However, he is not a shoe-in, which saves safe seats for people closer to the ALP core, letting high-profilers like himself and Maxine McKew create a stir and waste Liberal Party time/money/energy on combatting them (Howard will be distracted by McKew and the Sydney media focus, and I suspect that Nairn will want a reasonable share of Ministerial attention for his seat too).

    Like Wilkie’s campaign in 2004, it also highlights a potential deficit area in Coalition policy which the ALP will try and exploit, and lastly I wouldn’t be surprised if it had a ‘rub-off’ effect in the ACT, with some ACT residents being swayed to vote ALP by his proximity. This might then have a flow-on an effect in the Senate, as Gary Humphries is sitting closer to a quota.

  19. I agree that not being a local will count against Kelly, but I don’t think he’s a “celebrity candidate”, as Adam rightly points out, he is not a famous person.

    To answer Peter Brent, I am sure that Pat Farmer was basically a local, in that he was from the Camden / Campbelltown region. Whether he actually lived in Macarthur I don’t know, but he was local enough for a city seat.

  20. ‘showed this is a party without soul.’ I’m not going to argue the call on Medicare Gold.

    But the is a party without soul is something that is going to be relevant in Eden-Holden car as it will be in every electorate in Australia.

    Edward I’m sure you will be familiar with this quote:

    Therefore, the success of the Labor Party at the next elections depends entirely, as it always has done, on the people who work.

    I try to think of the Labor movement, not as putting an extra sixpence into somebody’s pocket, or making somebody prime minister or premier, but as a movement bringing something better to the people, better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people. We have a great objective – the light on the hill – which we aim to reach by working the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand. If it were not for that, the Labor movement would not be worth fighting for.

    Joseph Benedict (Ben) Chifley – 1949

    For more than 100 years this has been, and it remains our soul. You forget it is not just a political party, like some, it is a movement. I think what you are trying to get at is the difficultly in applying and balancing this in the economy Keating created. Rightly or wrongly as a whole country we are where we are and candidate selection and policy formation, even when headed for the light on the hill is not easy. Spin spin is easy. Policy, good policy that makes the lives of Australians (and dare I mention Iraqi’s) is not easy.

    Medicare Gold highlights that.

    It is an admirable idea, surely you cannot argue with that. Can we afford it? I don’t know! Was it sold well? I think not.

    If Howard has taught us anything it is that we sneak up on the light on the hill, while saying we are camped at the cosy campfire at the base. Baby steps baby steps.

    Neither party machines will admit it but people do love a candidate, from either side, with real passion for the local area, even in urban areas. Just it is very hard for a candidate to make an impact at a local level in a very large suburban seat where there is not so much community.

  21. I enjoy reading that Kelly is a soldier and will sock it to Downer over Iraq, then I remember the words “Swift Boat”

  22. Further comment: why don’t Australians make a bigger thing of pointing out chickenhawks. I can’t believe the Howard Government so full of “Vietnam-Age” Ministers, none actually managed to go. A bit like Cheney, they had “other priorities”

  23. Correct me if I’m mistaken, but my impression is that Medicare Gold was a stinker because, in its best traditions, the ALP had been short of the backs of envelopes when costing the proposal. At least I cannot recall the Coalition’s claims of the true cost being refuted.

    A smarter policy might have been to give the 80+ group a pension bonus, on the grounds that they wouldn’t be drawing it for too long – a similar principle in other words to Chancellor Bismarck’s introduction of the age pension at 70, an age by which most Prussians were dead.

    About 50 per cent of the total medical costs in a lifetime occur in the last six weeks of life. So further medical subsidies to the aged could be very expensive, means-tested or not.

  24. Well Black Jack your analysis is simply economic side and maybe you are right, I suspect no-one was going to waste time refuting anything the Government says in an election campaign, it would have less credibility is just left alone.

    Back to the light on the hill your economics driven proposal is actually designed to not help people, Medicare Gold was designed to help people. There is a subtle difference there.

  25. Met Mike Kelly at a function in Canberra this week. V impressive. He’ll win – easily.

    Why? The Libs have never been more on the nose in the ACT in the 30 years I have lived in and visited the place. Given that the Feds are the major employer, the depth and bitterness of the mood is truly astonishing. A lot of cynicism even amongst people you’d expect to be supporters about waste and featherbedding that borders on the corrupt. Local business people can’t compete with the wages the Feds are paying and are struggling for staff. It was said that if you’re warm and upright with no skills or qualifications you’ll still start on $50K in the public service just to shuffle paper for the next ad campaign.

    Now this mood doesn’t stop at the ACT border. A lot of these people actually live in NSW on acreage plots or in the semi-rural towns like Bungendore. In Queanbeyan, Nairn needs to win the more upmarket Jerrabombera booth (where he actually lives) and I’d be very surprised if he didn’t suffer a pretty big swing there. If there’s any sort of swing to Labor in the rest of Queanbeyan then Nairn is gone.

  26. Calling Mike Kelly a “celebrity candidate” doesn’t really fit – I’d just call him a really good candidate. I doubt he is particularly well known in any electorate, compared to, say, Peter Garrett or Maxine McKew or Malcolm Turnbull. I reckon Marcus and Mumble are over-weighting the value of being a local.

    He looks really competent. So, what is wrong in putting him up for a marginal and definitely winnable seat like this one? Particularly when putting his life experience up against that of a professional politician, who only became a local when he first won the seat.

  27. Didn’t Mike Kelly purchase a house in E-M with the intention of moving in a few months ago? That makes him as local as most politicians.

  28. Saying you have to be local to run is silly. Most Australians move several times over the course of a lifetime, and move between states, cities and towns – I think there is no people on earth who move so often as we do, or live so far from our birthplaces!

    Blow-ins ARE representative of teh common people.

  29. Military candidates are little help if their party has a perceived disadvantge on national security, remember John Kerry. Didn’t Kernot do well to win Dickson in 1998?

  30. Pat Farmer was a Campbelltown local prior to running for Parliament, although I’m not certain if he lived in Macarthur (as opposed to Werriwa), I think he was, but not sure. He definitely was involved in the local community, I remember him being involved with my brother and sister’s local Catholic school in Eagle Vale near Claymore.

  31. Geoff

    Cheryl did win Dickson in 1998 and from election night onwards worked very hard at losing Dickson …. Poor Cheryl was unfortunately sold a pup in what was possibly a very clever ploy to destabilise another party on the same side of the political spectrum.

    Ah, Gareth Evans one success in opposition ….

  32. Thanks for Pat Farmer info.

    I reckon at election time people think first about which party they’ll vote for. In this case it’s better for the opposition to have someone no-one’s ever heard of, eg Gary Nairn in 1996, even though he actually was a blow-in.

    It’s not about whether someone is just a blow-in, but whether they can be portrayed as such someone who they’re flying in. Kelly, who’s getting lots of attention, can be portrayed like this. Nairn was presumably a nobody so he couldn’t be portrayed as anything.

  33. Cheryl Kernot scraped home (by 176 votes) in Dickson in 1998 only because her name recognition gave her a majority of prepoll votes. Other Labor candidates in close contests missed out.

  34. Comparing Mike Kelly to John Kerry is absurd. Kerry served in Vietnam over 30 years ago, became prominent as an antiwar activist, then became a professional politician. He lost to Bush because (like most US Senators) he is a pompous blowhard and because he failed to convince voters he would make a better president than Bush, which you wouldn’t have thought was very hard. Kelly is a career soldier who has quit to stand for Parliament, a very different thing. He is much more comparable to Jim Webb, who won a Senate seat in Virginia last year.


    St Paul on Lateline tonight – confirmed Julia MEDICARE GOLD has blown it on IR and confirmed the dead set obvious UNIONS are finished and the ALP needs to cut them lose.

    Passion, brains and courage in spades – Labor’s lost leader

  36. No, no, Keating was too right-wing for Edward, he wants a *real* socialist as Leader. The transparent way Liberals like Edward boost Gillard so as to puff up what’s left of the Left and make trouble for Rudd is so risible it’s hardly worth pissing on.

    I agree Gillard is very talented and could well have been leader had she not been silly enough to join the SL. The same could be said of Tanner.

  37. The ALP should never have rejected the Keating philosophy, but reject it they did, and were proud of it. Another thing to thank Simon Crean for.

  38. Keating. If Rudd fails, they had better trigger a by-election somewhere and get him back into parliament.


  39. Ah Adam,

    I just have a sneaking suspicion that you may be looking down the barrel of another three years of blogging.

  40. IMHO, the tragedy of Keating was that he did not have the opportunity early in life to tool around a university. If he had, he would have been more sceptical than he was about economic theory, and its modellers and forecasters.

    As a consequence, despite a huge and perhaps unique intellect, he was diffident about taming the excesses of the Pure Treasury Line. Nobody before or since has been as brilliant in articulating the Line, a talent that perversely worked against him.

    As a result, he accepted advice that burned the guts out of the economy at the time.

    But he could make a come-back. He would still be younger at the 2010 election than Howard is at this one.

  41. Paul Keating is one of my political heroes!
    How I used to look forward to Federal Parliament in the early 1990s when PK was at his eloquent and crude best, flailing the Liberals.
    It’s a pity I missed LATELINE last night. I agree with what Keating said.
    Gillard is a dud, the ALP ought to ditch the ACTU, Rudd should dump the policy agenda he inherited from Beazley.

  42. Black Jack,

    Neo classical economic theory has been proved right time and again. It saved the UK, Turned the US around and prevented Australia from going into recession when everyone else did.

    THe reason Keating lost wasn’t the economy or the recession, or even his arrogance.

    It was reconcilliation and the republic. Had he left them alone he probably would bot have had a fighting chance in 96

Comments are closed.

Comments Page 1 of 4
1 2 4