Seat of the week: Parramatta

With the Poll Bludger’s threadbare federal election guide nearing completion (to be fleshed out further in coming months as much as time permits), the time has come to reactivate the dormant Seat of the Week series. We return with the seat of Parramatta, where Labor member Julie Owens’ 0.8 per cent margin has turned into a notional Liberal margin of 1.1 per cent following the redistribution. The electorate now covers an elongated strip from Carlingford and Dundas west to Kings Langley and Blacktown, with the southern boundary running just south of the Parramatta town centre.

A quarter of this territory consists of an area gained from Greenway to the west, from Grantham and Prospect north through Seven Hills and eastern Blacktown to Kings Langley. The new area follows the rest of the electorate in that the northern part is strongly Liberal (as are Winston Hills and Carlingford to the east), while the remainder leans to Labor (as does Wentworthville and Parramatta itself). Similarly, the North Rocks area gained from northern neighbour Mitchell went 62-38 the Liberals’ way in 2004. Elizabeth Wynhausen of The Australian writes of a “faultline” through the electorate which separates Sydney’s poorer south-west, including Lebanese and Iranian enclaves at Harris Park and North Parramatta, from “stolid Winston Hills in the north”. Much of the former area, including 29,000 voters in Westmead, Harris Park, Rosehill, Rydalmere and Dundas, has now been tranferred to the electorate’s southern neighbour, Reid.

Parramatta was created at federation, shrinking over time from Sydney’s broad north-western outskirts into the immediate area of the town itself. A conservative stronghold until 1929, it was held for the first 20 years by Joseph Cook, who served as Liberal prime minister from June 1913 to September 1914. Labor’s only win prior to 1977 came with the election of Jim Scullin’s government in 1929, when their candidate Albert Rowe picked up a 13.4 per cent swing. This was undone with a vengeance when the Scullin government was defeated in 1931, when the seat swung 19.5 per cent to the newly founded United Australia Party. Subsequent members included Sir Frederick Stewart, who served as External Affairs Minister for one highly eventful year from 1940 to 1941; Sir Garfield Barwick, Menzies government External Affairs Minister and Attorney-General, and later controversial Chief Justice of the High Court; and Philip Ruddock, who began his parliamentary career when he won the seat at a by-election in September 1973, adding 7.0 per cent to what had been an extremely narrow margin in 1972.

The watershed in the seat’s history came with a 1977 redistribution that effectively changed the existing seat’s name to Dundas, of which Philip Ruddock became the inaugural member, while creating a new seat of Parramatta that extended deep into Sydney’s Labor-voting west. The newly safe Labor seat was won by John Brown, the koala-hating Hawke government Tourism Minister who is remembered for inappropriate use of his ministerial desk. Brown resigned as minister in 1987 after misleading parliament and quit politics in 1990, when he was succeeded in Parramatta by Paul Elliott. Redistributions in 1984 and 1993 returned the seat to the marginal column by pulling it back to the east, reducing the margin to 1.0 per cent ahead of the 1993 election. Elliott was able to increase his margin on that occasion, but the 1996 election proved a bridge too far, with Liberal candidate Ross Cameron picking up the seat with a 7.1 per cent swing.

Despite sometimes making the news for the wrong reasons, Cameron held Parramatta against the 1998 GST swing (a relatively mild 1.1 per cent) and a highly unfavourable redistribution in 2001, which added much of the area now being returned to Reid. He was rewarded for the latter success with a parliamentary secretary position, and looked for all the world like a promising up-and-comer. Unfortunately, his career went into meltdown two months out from the 2004 election, when he felt compelled to tell Fairfax’s Good Weekend magazine that he had committed numerous infidelities throughout his married life, including a present affair which was under way while his wife was pregnant. Cameron became one of only three Coalition MPs to lose his seat (the others being Trish Worth in Adelaide and Larry Anthony in Richmond), suffering a small but decisive 1.9 per cent swing.

Labor’s winning candidate was Julie Owens (right), classically trained pianist, chief executive of the Association of Independent Record Labels and owner of an unspecified small business. Owens is associated with the Left faction, having won preselection with support from factional chieftain Laurie Ferguson. When speculation emerged that Ferguson’s neighbouring seat of Reid might be the one for the chop when New South Wales was cut from 50 seats to 49, Ferguson openly mused that he might have to fall back on Parramatta. While that was not to be, Owens was done a poor turn of a different kind by the redistribution, and must now pick up another swing in order to retain her seat. After much speculation that former navy officer Tim Bolitho was the front-runner, the Liberals have preselected another former navy man in Colin Robinson, who now works as an electrician and is a member of the Electrical Trades Union. A certainly lack of urgency surrounding the Liberals’ search for a new candidate was noted, prompting suggestions that the party is not wildly optimistic about its chances.

See Crikey’s marginal seat guide for my precision-tooled electorate maps marking 2004 two-party and swing results in each individual booth.

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.

132 comments on “Seat of the week: Parramatta”

Comments Page 3 of 3
1 2 3
  1. Is Harkins really the union heavy/ogre he’s been painted by the media?

    Media reports had the Harkin’s issue (he is yet to face Court ) being used by the Coalition in their media campaign to support their ‘evil union thugs’ theme if he gets convicted.

    This would, supposedly, have implications for Labor with the general electorate, not just the voters in Franklin.

    I don’t know if the general electorate are paying that much attention to Howard’s ‘evil unions’ rhetoric. It didn’t appear to get much mileage earlier this year despite the media footage of union ‘thuggery’ splashed across the media. If ‘union thuggery’ is Howard’s key theme he is kidding himself.

  2. Surely there are other possible candidates to replace Harkins at short notice?
    Because the seat has a 7% margin, I guess the Labor hierarchy aren’t too worried about losing it, even if their endorsed candidate is “a lemon”, as Kerry O’Brien described him tonight.

  3. I would take him (Harkins) out and diffuse any potential campaign fodder for the Coalition, but I don’t know about the back room squabble it might create which would could turn it into a ‘Cook’ for Labor. Messy, all in all.

  4. I could not agree more Adam- it was inexcusable for Harry to do this.. If anything he should be standing with the ‘Greens’ candidate if they have one. Labor people don’t stand with a astrocious conservative party that wants to americanise our public health, education and our industrial relations systems.
    If Harkins is cleared then i think this may wash over but if he is not and that is the risk the party has got itself into here than it probably will need another candidate and that is where the problem lies why take the risk and preselect this person.. oh well i suppose it was either a deal or a payback which is unusual within the Labor Party cough, cough..

  5. Franklin is NOT a safe Labor seat. Bruce Goodluck held it from 1975 and 1993 and would still hold it today if he wanted. The 7% majority is a majority for Quick, not for Labor. Fortunately for Labor Tasmania seems to have turned bigtime against Howard (WorkChoices no doubt) which may save the day.

  6. Adam,

    I notice that earlier you advised that you have completed the Polling Place map for Macquarie. I have tried to find this on you web site without out luck.

    Do I need a white cane and a dog or have you, as yet, not posted this map on you site.

    In respect of Parramatta (the city not the electoral division), it always appeared to me to have a large NES population. I worked there for many years and it seemed that those who spoke English as a first language commuted there each day for work practically in places like the Jessie Street Centre and Westmead Hospital.

    Rightly or wrongly I got the impression that locals that spoke English as a first language also commuted each day out of the area.

    How many of the NES population that are citizens is debatable.

    There are different enclaves of immigrants throughout the area. There are Middle East Groups around Harris Park and Africans around Toongabbie to mention two. The top part of the electorate that borders the divisions of Berowra, Mitchell and Greenway are more like those areas than the bottom half of the division. There appears to be a fault line right through the centre of the division that roughly follows the Parramatta River, then the M7 and Richmond Rd (very roughly).

    I don’t live in the area (being one of the commuters that came in every day) so I don’t have any feedback on the local member. But from an uninformed point of view it appears that all those divisions that follow the rail line and the Great Western Highway are going the same way. As an example the division of Lowe was once a safe Liberal seat (once held by Prime Minister Sir W McMahon till 1982). The seat then jumped back and forward between Liberal and Labour until the current member won it in ’98 for Lab.

    I would suspect that the same would happen in Parramatta however if the current member is as good as everyone here is suggesting maybe that shift in the thinking of the Division has occurred and is locked in.

  7. to Kiwipundit: I’ve just been reading Nicky Hager’s book on the 2005 NZ election & Don Brash – a fascinating description of “doing what it takes”. The book extensively covers Brash’s transformation from right wing ideologue to centrist politician. In the context of Australia, this obviously can’t happen to Howard, as he’s already shot the bulk of his right wing bolts (so to speak), but I wonder how this might apply to Rudd? In amongst the “me-tooism” is there a further agenda? Tonight on 7.30 Report, O’Brien asked him straight out about the me-tooism, and Rudd completely deflected the answer onto what Howard is doing (and in the process talked about how he, Rudd, was setting the agenda, which is undoubtedly true). O’Brien did not follow this up, which is a shame, because I think, like Brash, there is a great deal of unspoken policy desires behind the comforting smile. What they might be, and in what direction they will take Australia, we might possibly glean from Rudd’s comments that he agreed with ALL the underlying economic fundamentals that Howard would espouse (placing a completely deregulated labour market to one side for the moment).

    Sorry, this doesn’t have much to do with Parramatta, except if you’ve walked down Church Street past the Westfields (all 5 floors & 2 blocks of it) you see alot of empty shops. What economic prosperity there is can be seen in the gaudy consumerism of the Westfields, in the aglomeration of wealth and the very real transient-ness of other business.

  8. I suspect from Rudd’s take on the Quick/Harkins dilemma for him on the 7.30 Report tonight that he’s doing a bit of dodging and weaving – fairly deftly done- in the hopes that the legal process might take care of any more sticking it into the unions in the interest of being seen as not being run by the unions type thing. Got to hand it to the Ruddster, not only is he a media tart, he’s a gooood media tart; Kerry O’Brien was not giving him any quarter tonight , but he performed. Don’t misunderstand me. I still suscribe to the old notion that it doesn’t matter who you vote for, you elect a polititian, but frankly, given particularly, the totally evil new police powers proposed, anyone but Howard as far as I’m concerned. The Devonport Hospital – good grief, what blatant opportunism & heat up the BBQ for the pork to come. What would be very interesting is to hear from people who know something about the Parramatta electorate about how the differing demographics of the area might be responding to issues such as these. Might I also add a hope that people who wish to post here would get the message that most of us have no interest in ridiculous exchanges of insult and mere assertion. As others have noted, youn can be partisan without being obnoxious.

  9. The Lib executive met on Monday and put off a decision. They seem to be deadlocked: the right won’t back down and everybody else is determined that Towke must go.

  10. Labor has a very good chance of retaining Parramatta, along with picking up at least Lindsay and Page, where popular sitting members are retiring. Page is on the North coast of NSW by the way, next to Richmond which Labor gained last time. Also Labor will pick up Macquarie which is notionally Labor held, although has a Liberal MP.

    If Labor wins the election, Labor would win Wentworth, Eden-Monaro and maybe Dobell.

  11. Adam said:

    “Franklin is NOT a safe Labor seat. Bruce Goodluck held it from 1975 and 1993 and would still hold it today if he wanted. The 7% majority is a majority for Quick, not for Labor. Fortunately for Labor Tasmania seems to have turned bigtime against Howard (WorkChoices no doubt) which may save the day.”

    Which is correct up to a point, as Adam always know his seats very well.

    However, in 1993 Harry Quick had little or no profile and it is very questionable that Goodluck could have survived the anti-Hewson swing to the ALP in Tasmania in 1993 or to have ever returned (I think he lost state elections in the exact same seat since, but I am happy to stand corrected). Goodluck’s chicken suite and crazy/brave act was becoming very tiresome and obnoxious for many of his constituents. Franklin, like many seats is influenced greatly by state and national trends, by issues (e.g. employment, interest rates, industrial relations), much like many other electorates.

    Finally, my memory tells me that Harry was a very quiet (though reasonably hard working) local member (obviously with lots of visits to bingo halls) from 1993-2001. It’s only the last few years that he has let himself off his perch and has become a minor celebrity for having a go at the deserving (roosters) and all manner of others (deserving or otherwise).

    Very sad to think of Goodwin sneaking in because the ALP can’t find a candidate with a personality and the appearance of some integrity in the community.

  12. Lol Adam,

    I dare say some people may see you as the dead centre of reasonableness. Clearly this is not the case.

    Despite your assumptions I am not a member of the Liberal Party.

    I think there is not much to add on Cook and Lindsay. I am v.interested to see if Haneef and Devenport come up in the polls – Is Howard going to do a Harry Truman and run against the do nothing States? No doubt a focus group near you is considering this very question.

    As for you STROP, you may not be a party member but your definitely a fellow traveller. Your humility viz a v Adam is touching – I am sure he is glowing as he reads it.

  13. Albert Ross Says:
    August 2nd, 2007 at 7:57 pm
    “…ALP in Greenway that swung the most against them eg like those in Maryong Hts, St Michaels and Dean Park but the majority of votes polled was still safe for the ALP.”

    My cousin works in maryong, and works as a fabricator in that area. He doesn’t work for a union, and never has, and has never claimed a dole check in his life. He’s a family man, and bloody good one.

    But I can assure you, his understanding of AWA’s, and what they will BECOME, under a conservative government, leaves no doubt in his mind. Me… I’m different… for a guy like me, they just lead to higher wages… but for people that are not in the kind of negotiating position of myself, they are anathema.

    The swing towards labor from this area will be massive.

  14. Pi sez “The swing towards labor from this area will be massive.”

    Yebbut the swing will only serve to comfortably return ADSWHIFP*, Roger Price in Chifley.

    Like his colleagues in the old Greenway and Lindsay before it changed hands, Price has done nothing for his electorate with the possible exception of assisting with changing the ALP’s mind on the SSA at Badgery’s Creek in the late ’90s.

    It would be better if some of those who drifted from the ALP would vote for the Greens.

    The Greens in western Sydney used their preferences tactically in the recent State election and among other things refused to preference that other oxygen thief in Blacktown, the Funky Gibson, in a gesture that has had ramifications in that the ALP in the area now realises that they cannot take Green prefs for granted.

    A higher Green vote from left supporters even if the prefs do go back to the ALP would go some way into putting a bit of spine into the ever more centrist ALP.

    *ADSWHIFP = another dumb seat warming hack in Federal parliament

  15. Lindsay you all ask? You haven’t read the Sydney papers? Some links:,22049,22158038-5001021,00.html

    Karen Chijoff ran for the Liberal Party in Mulgoa in the March 2007 state election against the Minister for Western Sydney, Minister for Fair Trading and Minister Assisting the Minister for Commerce Diane Beamer. Beamer suffered a – 5.5% swing and Morris Iemma relegated her to backbencher status on April 2nd. Mulgoa is roughly transposed over 50% of the Federal seat of Lindsay.

  16. Sydney Westie Says:
    August 3rd, 2007 at 12:01 am

    “Karen Chijoff ran for the Liberal Party in Mulgoa in the March 2007 state election against the Minister for Western Sydney, Minister for Fair Trading and Minister Assisting the Minister for Commerce Diane Beamer. Beamer suffered a – 5.5% swing and Morris Iemma relegated her to backbencher status on April 2nd. Mulgoa is roughly transposed over 50% of the Federal seat of Lindsay.”

    I live in the seat of Lindsay which has also seen the very pro Labor sections of St Marys added to the seat.While Mulgoa may have 50% of size in the electorate it has nowhere near 50% of the population.Labor will win this seat and the reasons will be WorkChoices,high fuel costs,rising food prices,and if there are any interest rate rises.Jackie Kelly was popular.Is the Liberal Candidate?

    I suggest you go to the Aust Elec Commission site and check the results for the last Fed election for the booths at St Marys,Claremont Meadows,Kingswood etc and you will see why Labor will win.Kevin Rudd is not Mark Latham,and we have had four interest rate rises and no falls since the last election and in this “battler”,mortgage belt seat this means a lot.

  17. The state seat of Penrith had one of the biggest swings to the ALP in the recent state election(probably because of opposition to Work Choices).
    Apparently, a lot of teachers/nurses/union members, and people adversely affected by Work Choices reside in the Federal seat of Lindsay, which takes in Penrith. I think it’s a certain gain for the ALP on election day.

  18. Evan

    I think there was an abnormally large anti-ALP swing in Penrith at the previous state election, so this might have been a rebound of sorts.

    Having said that i think a combination of the redistribution (which has added St Mary’s and removed most of its semi-rural area) and the depature of Jacki Kelly makes this a very hard seat for the Liberals to hold.

  19. Just a quick word on Franklin – it’s not that the ALP can’t find a better candidate than Harkins, its that the Left faction of the Party can’t find a better one. Both the Right and Left have put up some very questionable candidates for this election. Harry Quick was never gonna be happy with the selected candidate, because Harry is an independent among ALP factions – from what i hear, his staffer, Roger Joseph really would have (at least electorally) been the best bet, but the factions wouldn’t have it. Both the right and left of the ALP have been consistently undermining the few remaining non-factional ALP members to the point of destruction. This year’s election see the departure of most of the remaining independents in Federal Labor.
    Bob Sercombe got knocked off for Bill Shorten.
    Rod Sawford is retiring.
    Harry Quick is retiring.
    Kelly Hoare got knocked off for Greg Combet.
    Ann Corcoran got knocked off for Mark Dreyfus.
    Gavan O’Connor got knocked off for Richard Marles.
    In terms of truly independent non-factional members, that leaves Bob McMullen and Nick Sherry (Sid Sidebottom maybe, if he regains Braddon)

    Of course, people will have their own opinions about the relative value of some of those switches – I won’t comment on that – but the more interesting issue is how this factionalism will play out in the long run.
    Of the candidates mentioned above, most people would say that Shorten and Combet at least are good choices – however ALP will have rising concerns over coming years with some of the others, should they get in – Harkins will not prove himself a popular local member if he gets in – he doesn’t know the locals and doesn’t work hard enough to get to know them. The danger with people like these is a steady erosion of the vote until we see a razor thin margin in a few years/terms.
    I think the same is true of Mark Dreyfus in Isaacs – good to have a high profile QC instead of another union hack, but Dreyfus is in a bind if he doesn’t focus hugely on increasing the margin in Isaacs – as a lawyer who chooses to continue living in Higgins, it’s hard to see him consolidating the local vote via perpetual campaigning – this is particularly true if he is as obsessed as people say about becoming Attorney General.
    Any thoughts anyone?

  20. I am a resident in the electorate of Parramatta and Julie Owens hasn’t said boo to a goose since falling over the line on Greens preferences in 2004. She’s totally ignored my suburb of Winston Hills. We need someone who’s going to be active in the electorate, unlike Ms Owens.

  21. Braz – define boo.
    Just wondering if Owens spends more time on the needy of her electorate than those who would sit comfortably at their computers bagging her out.
    Sorry if that sounds aggressive, but i don’t know what some folks considera hardworking MP – surely its not defined by number of media appearances is it? The number of ribbons cut, the number of certificates given to local scouts etc.?
    I’ve seen this time and again (more often aimed at female MP’s notably) and i really wonder wehat people mean when they say these things. Care to elaborate at all?
    In my mind, its a bit of a paradox – a good MP works to lift the lowest in the community, to bring them into the communal fold, if you like – yet, the more time a good MP spends doing that, the more likely their public profile is to sink.
    There are no votes in representing the unseen – does that make it unworthy work?
    Any thoughts.

  22. Braz sez:

    “I am a resident in the electorate of Parramatta and Julie Owens hasn’t said boo to a goose since falling over the line on Greens preferences in 2004. She’s totally ignored my suburb of Winston Hills. We need someone who’s going to be active in the electorate, unlike Ms Owens.”

    Firstly the ALP picked up the majority of preferences from all parties except the Liberal party running dogs, the Christian Democratic Party including Family First. So your point about fall over the line on Green prefs is tosh – it was just that there were more of them and the Greens candidate who increased the vote by 2.21% was the lsat to be eliminated.

    Secondly why would Owens pay much attention to Winnie Hills a suburb with a made up name that votes agianst their own best interests ie. solidly Liberal and sends their kids to private schools in areas outside the electorate. She turns up at my kid’s school in Toonie all the time and she’ll get our vote – solid.

  23. Optimist wonders what makes a good local MP.

    I would image a good local MP is seen in the Electorate and is willing to concentrate on the things that actually impact on people in the seat, also a good local MP is someone whom will when needed take a stand on an issue of national importance.

  24. It would be completely wrong to automatically assume that this seat is moving towards the ALP simply on the basis of increasing population from NESB’s.

    Whilst it is true that the seat contains a high proportion of voters from a NESB, it’s also true that major chunks of this group have been shifted into the neighbouring seat of Reid, particularly around the suburbs of Harris Park, Granville and a lesser extent Ermington into Bennelong.

    Whilst it does also pick up suburbs around Seven Hills and Blacktown, it also picks up Liberal friendly and more “Anglo” suburbs such as Kings Langley, Northmead and a little more of North Rocks.

    Ultimately this seat is a classic marginal and one that the Liberals should now hold if it wasn’t for two factors with the 2004 poll, that being Ross Cameron deciding to out himself as family man who cheats on his wife and the liberals for forests (read ALP) dodgying up the ballot paper and confusing 985 people who thought they were actually voting for the Liberal Party (final margin after preferences 1157 votes).

    Whilst Cameron lost the seat he should have won in 2004, on all other levels, he ran a professional and well funded campaign with the assistance of a number of hardworking individuals. However, with Cameron out of the way, the Liberals needed to find a candidate with a profile and ability to match his campaign fundraising skills. Sadly, the most likely candidate for this seat, David Elliott, moved out of the electorate and made a spectacularly unsuccessful run at the Mitchell preselection, leaving the party stuck with a choice between two duds.

    Owens, on the other hand has certainly lacked the profile of her predecessor, however, her ability to be diligent and not go out of her way to offend anyone speaks volumes for her chances of gaining the 1.1% swing required for the ALP to hold the seat.

    This time around, Labor will gain a further swing and hold onto the seat. She will see some good swings toward her in the Dundas Valley, Telopea areas, as well as along the rail line between Parramatta and Seven Hills. The real challenge here will be for the Liberal candidate to cling onto as much of the traditional Liberal vote as possible and keep the swing to a minimum to give them any hope of winning the seat at the next election.

  25. I have just moved from Parramatta to Kings Langley.

    Same electorate widely different demographics.

    Quite frankly compared to the amount of campaigning Julie Owens is doing you wouldn’t even know the Libs are running.

    It seems they are already writing this off to the Libs.

    Greenway is remarkably similar even though the Govt has the sitting member.

  26. Don’t know if someone else has pointed this out already it, but “Australian” comment in profile on Lebanese and Iranian “enclaves” is rubbish. In Harris Park, the Lebanese born are only 5.5% and the Iranians only 58 people (!), and in North Parramatta 2.7% and 3.4% respectively. Do some research journalists!!!!

  27. Ms Owens won overall in the booths that came over to Parra from Greenway04 especially the big booths around Sevo eg. Metella Road where the swing was 12.34%, Grantham Heights 13.93%, Seven Hills North 16.57% and even though behind in Kings Langley the swings were of the order of 6% to her. She even picked up the seriously wierd Prospect booth.

    I was right. You were wrong.

Comments are closed.

Comments Page 3 of 3
1 2 3