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.