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”

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  1. Nostradamus, in Australia we call “ridings” electorates, OK? Why a Canadian is bothering himself or herself with sledging at an Australian election site I cannot imagine. Do I come and lecture you about whether the Grits or the Tories will win Glengarry-Prescott-Russell?

  2. I love Canadian electorate (riding) names:

    Haute-Gaspésie-La Mitis-Matane-Matapédia
    Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam

    And they change them between elections just to keep everyone on their toes.

  3. Adam,

    I think Jacaranda Avenue is one of those weird tendril of ever-expanding streets in the Baulkham Hills-bordering on Castle Hill area (which would have previously (might still be) part of the Mitchell electorate). I’ve got some clients around this area, and have some experience getting lost within the sprawling housing developments, with the many street names absent from my two-year old street directory.

    While most of Mitchell would be Liberal heartland, in the area I am thinking about there are lots of young families, lots of NES background migrants, I wouldn’t be surprised if Labor did surprisingly well in these booths (close to 50-50). Anyway rather than rambling on, I think you’ll find the street on

  4. Adam. You seem to be in the know re ALP candidates. Any sugestions as to why Anette Ellis is running again in Canberra. She is a lovely lady, but age and ill health concerns would seem to have curtailed her potemtial to contribute to a possible ALP Govt in any serious manner.
    It would seem a logical decision to allocate Canberra to a true high flyer who could bring real heft to the caucus, seeing as Cbr is the sort of place that would embrace an outsider if that was required. Cbr population is made up of imports to a large extent. Also its margin would allow such a person to throw their weight into other more marginal electorates.
    I would appreciate any comment you might have.

  5. Astrid (Greens) O’neil. Good luck with your candidacy in Parramatta. To both you and Bill Weller all the best. I admire people who support the democratic process to the extent of getting involved as candidates. Much braver than spectators like me.

  6. I should also say I did some scrutineering work for Kim Wilkie in one of the retirement homes within that labyrinth in 1998; when the AEC visited to enable residents to vote early.

    So, qualifying my remarks about the imperfect method the AEC might use for recording the addresses of its own booths, there can be no doubt it is an amazing organisation insofar as it does its best to enable everyone to vote. A model bureaucracy (no irony included).

  7. I know this threat is about Parramatta, but what IS happening with Paterson? A set held by Labor in 98 – 01, lost narrowly in 2001 and the totally blown out in 2004. Methinks it should be a potential pick-up by Labor with even the most modest of swings to Labor nationwide. (I think the 2004 was inflated).

  8. Coming from Blacktown (many years ago, to be sure), I recognize much of the shift that is happening in the parramatta area. During the 70’s, the area of blacktown now within this boundary could not be considered anything other than working class. The fact is, the people traditionally working class people that populated the place during the 70’s have moved on as the area has become more commercialized. It is now considerably more conservative than it was as compared to 30 years ago. But with that is the ‘growing up’ of their children, and their recognition of environmental and IR issues. It also now has an incredibly large affluent asian immigrant population, especially south parramatta road.

    With no recognizable candidate (the only liberal one having burned that bridge) I see a slight shift to Labor in this seat. National security and interest rates won’t have he same pull in the area so much as IR laws and housing affordability. I also foresee a significant shift to independants in this area.

  9. Never, never underestimate Howard’s capacity to win an election – he might be sneaky and the most cynical vote buyer in Australian history, but he’s won 4 elections on the trot, and could very well win a 5th.
    The takeover of the Devenport hospital is just the start!
    And, winning 16 or 17 seats in one hit is a hard ask for Rudd, never mind what the polls might say currently.

  10. My parents live in Paterson next door to an ex-Labor MP (state). Based on what he tells me they are not all that confident of winning it. “If a big swing is on then maybe” is his comment.

    Cadman’s no chance of causing much damage in Mitchell IMO. I think he’s viewed as a useless time-server even by most of the people who have benn giving him such thumping majorities for so long.

  11. Good luck Astrid in Parramatta – I met you last time at Glenwood shops, and I thought you were pretty cool! (She’s certainly not a flake, Isabella) I hope you get your deposit back, send a few preferences Julie Owens’ way, and make a few more people back the v. impressive Ms Nettle. I heard Kerry speak at Politics in the Pub a couple of weeks ago and she was excellent. As I mentioned in a previous post, things are not good for Louise Markus in the Hawkesbury. Kerry Bartlett was a hard worker and local and very popular. LM on the other hand is seen as a ‘blow in’ she has also said all the wrong things on local issues. Some local identities have refused to back her, which is interesting in itself. Perhaps they want Markus to lose, so they can put in their own candidate next time.

  12. You’d have to say that recent events in Tasmania have made Franklin and now Braddon less than certain Labor wins.

    Looking at SA, maybe the Prime Minister will take over the Modbury Hospital (to save Makin), the Lyell McEwin Hospital (to save Wakefield), the Flinders Medical Centre (to save Kingston and Boothby), the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (to win Hindmarsh) and the The Royal Adelaide Hospital to win Adelaide).

  13. Hmm, Interesting comments about Markus. I personally think she’s done quite well for herself and will hang on even in the nastiest of swings. From what I’ve heard, she has a good public image and might soothe some voters temperamental with Howard.

    Back onto Parramatta, it really lies on the faultline between two arcs of Sydney, the leafy, middle-class North Shore and the not-so-leafy, not-so-middle class Western Suburbs. Owens might be safe this time round but another redistribution could see her shift uncomfortably north again.

  14. If it was that easy to win marginal seats by duping the voters with federal “takeovers” of hospitals, I’m sure someone would have thought of it a long time ago … Maybe I’m just way too cynical.

  15. Phil, apparently a recent poll in Tas indicted really bad news for the chances of the coalition. Such a move by Howard will only make the result slightly closer in one seat. Maybe an honourable loss rather than a shellacking (excuse the spelling if incorrect).

  16. The question is will the average person see Howard’s hospital intervention for what it is, a vote buying exercise. I’m guessing most will and they’ll be extremely sceptical about his intentions to carry this on after the election if he is returned. I heard Abbott on the radio this morning. Believe me there is much to be sceptical about. Mitchell began the interview thinking this was the beginning of a great idea and finished the interview believing nothing else will happen. Me too.

  17. Truly the people of devenport wouldnt care if the intervention was a craven vote getting exercise, they still have their hospital, so they got exactly what they wanted from the government, who cares about the motivation, people care more about outcomes.

  18. Gary,
    There’s an interesting point in to-day’s Crikey about the Devonport Hospital pork. The problem is apparently that the population in the area is insuffcient for full-scale hospitals at both Burnie and Devonport. If Devonport is upgraded, Burnie’s viability is likely to be at risk. Burnie which has a bigger population than Devonport is also in Braddon. So, the intervention may well be counter-productive even in the narrowest of vote-buying terms.
    Those claiming freedom of speech in their contributions to William’s blog should probably be aware that we are guests, and his hospitality costs him. That, to me, is sufficient justification to “play nicely”.

  19. Coming from Blacktown (many years ago, to be sure), I recognize much of the shift that is happening in the parramatta area. During the 70’s, the area of blacktown now within this boundary could not be considered anything other than working class. The fact is, the working-class people that traditionally populated the place during the 70’s have moved on as the area has become more commercialized. It is now considerably more conservative than it was as compared to 30 years ago. But with that is the ‘growing up’ of their children, and their recognition of environmental and IR issues. It also now has an incredibly large affluent asian immigrant population, especially south of parramatta road.

    With no recognizable candidate (the only liberal one having burned that bridge) I see a slight shift to Labor in this seat. National security and interest rates won’t have he same pull in the area so much as IR laws and housing affordability. I also foresee a significant shift to independants or minor parties in this area.

  20. Personally, I think the Greens are going to poll strongly in this electorate, and that can’t bode well for the coalition. It really is the ALP’s to lose.

  21. The notional Liberal majority in Parramatta results largely from the addition of the booths from Greenway, which swung sharply in 2004 because of Labor running a Muslim candidate and because the outer suburbs didn’t like Latham. These booths will swing back to Labor this year even if there is no general swing. My view is that this is still a Labor seat, and Labor has the advantage of incumbency. Robinson still has no campaign website, nor has the NSW Liberal Party done anything but list his name in an obscure corner of their website. This doesn’t look like a candidate or a party that expects to win Parramatta. Owens will win easily.

    In the interests of balance I have now booth-mapped three Labor electorates: Cowan, Swan and Macquarie.

  22. I think other posters have suggested that the demographics of this seat are moving away from Labor. Certainly that’s true in the north of the electorate, where it runs into the the Godzone of the Hills District (my sister lives there, and she reckons she’s the only Labor voter in her street!). The southern half of the electorate is much more Labor – lots of renters, migrants and workers.

    Where this seats ends up in the long run depends largely on future redistributions – if the AEC swings it north, it will become another Mitchell (like Greenway seems to be becoming), if it goes souths it will be a rock-solid Labor seat like Reid. At the moment it straddles both areas, but it’d surely be a bit of a long shot for the Libs to win it this year. I haven’t heard one (serious) commentator suggesting that they would, curious for a seat with such a small margin.

  23. How is Parramatta these days ? I used to enjoy riding the jetcat along the river and dropping in at the Abbotsford rowing club for a drink. But thats probably more fitting for a thread on “Lowe” 🙂

  24. Actually Hugo, with the opening of the train tunnell north, I believe there will actually be a gradual shift towards the ALP as more people move into the area. Macquarie U is a good university (my partner studied there), but was always hampered by the fact that there was no train access, and this limited its appeal to a lot of people. With that now changing, I expect rental accomodation will become more available, and this will, in turn, lead to more lower-income people moving there.

    That, or I expect an entirely new electorate will be made. There are a lot of people in this area now, and this is only going to increase.

  25. The Liberals have almost no hope of winning Parramatta. It will be one of the first to go, especially when interest rates go up next week as the almost certainly will.
    Oakeshott Country: Yes you are correct. The reason I didn’t answer before now was that I was going through, and largely recycling, voluminous files from the 1988 campaign, would you believe. Most of my original stuff from my office is already in the state archive.
    Pseph: You are most likely correct. Many Greens voters had declared that they were going to vote Labor but they won’t now. Untold people have asked me how to vote now that Kevin Rudd has sided with John Howard on the forests and the pulp mill. 8% is a realistic figure and more in the Senate.
    One more point, there are indeed life-long Liberal voters who will not be voting Liberal this time.
    It’s good that the abuse has been removed.

  26. Parramatta will fall easily; the Libs have got no hope in this seat, and they know it. With Labor at 61% 2PP in NSW according to the last Newspoll analysis, the Libs have to worry about defending bigger margins.

  27. Further to Adam’s comments, I would also suggest that any new change in interest rates will shift Parra further towards the ALP, and it’ll hurt a lot of people out in Greenway too (I’m thinking the long line of housing along Windsor and Richmond Roads – they’re all mortgaged up to the hilt). This stuff in the US about loan defaulting hurting the housing market hurting the stock market does have resonance here. Housing affordability (one of the points of policy differentiation for Rudd) IS a big issue in western Sydney, but I’m not sure if either of the solutions so far put forward will really help that much. That said, if federal money went into public housing (like states should have been funding) it might actually alleviate this. Pressure to release more land in inaccessible areas with no services just makes little sense, and I think people will start to question the desirability of living in Bringelly or Dapto.

  28. The media have been very careful to hide the fact that ‘sub-prime mortgage’ collapse actually means US voters mortgaged to the hilt and defaulting on very dodgy loans, much like the people of this seat.

  29. Adam’s site says 25% of the electorate in Parramatta are paying off a home and 25% are from NESB.

    If there is an interest rate hike of /5 of a percent those 25%^ paying off thier mortgage won’t be too happy with JWHs mob I would have thought. I wonder how the Haneef affair went down with the significant NESB sector of the Parramatta community as well. How many ‘muslims’ live thereabouts ?

  30. Also interesting at the last election, the informal vote was 8.5%. While a lot of this would have been Liberal voters like my mum, who wanted to vote for John Howard, but couldn’t countenance voting for the self-righteous performer Ross Cameron, this is probably unnaturally high. But even considering the informal vote dropping to around 4-5%, this goes straight back to the local member, offering the quite significant benefits of incumbency.

    Bill the Greens got 5.3% in Parramatta, I’d say you’ll probably get around 6.5% in this seat (absorbing some of the Liberal for Forests vote, and a tiny little more) but it’s not really Green territory.

  31. Adam sez: “The notional Liberal majority in Parramatta results largely from the addition of the booths from Greenway”

    There are 12 booths moving from Greenway to Parra. These are the booths on your map to the west of an imaginary north-south line drawn through Metella Road and Seven Hills North (and including those booths). In 2004 the 2PP split was 9744 to ALP and 9715 for the Libs which includes Prospect which you have listed but not as far as I can see included on the map. This is a tiny and weird booth which should left off the map. It holds the distinction for being the booth which has recorded the highest ever vote for a Christian Democrat candidate

    The really big swings to the Libs came in the booths that have stayed in the almost all new Greenway (like the Kellyvilles) and those which have moved to Chifley (like Dean Park) where they won’t make a difference to the outcome in either.

  32. Just to explicate further it was some of the safest booths for the 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.

    These booths are in “old” areas and why they swung so much might be the fact that there was a very high informal vote in those booths which was the case all over Greenway

  33. Adam: re Dapto – no, I was talking about living a long way from where you work (2hr commute to Sydney, and local jobs keep disappearing), a rail service that has at times been so inconsistent as to be worthless (and doesn’t actually go to where you need it anyway), cheapISH land that STILL gets the fumes from whatever someone wants to pump out down Pt Kembla way (or expanding power stations at Tallawarra – at least the new ones will be gas-fired). Remember the PRC copper smelter was shoved through by an act of state parliament against the wishes of locals across Pt Kembla, spewed out its pollution before then closing anyway. Steel smelters etc still do throw hot ash/gases/pollutants out, schools are still substandard (except if you go to one of the new Commonwealth-funded private schools), an overstretched Illawarra Health Service. No, cheapISH land may be available in Bringelly & Dapto, but services aren’t. Jenny George is a good decent person AND local member, but that doesn’t change the issues in her electorate. Oh, and I mentioned Dapto because its slated for 20,000 houses (Leppington-Bringelly 90,000). And I LIKE Wollongong…

  34. What’s Rudd going to do about Franklin? I suspect they’ve done some polling down there. If it looked like Kevin Harkins would cost them the seat, they’d disendorse him. And Harry Quick campaigning with Hockey and the Liberal candidate will probably upset a lot of Labor voters in that electorate. Is Harkins really the union heavy/ogre he’s been painted by the media?

  35. I haven’t seen any recent polls done on the Parramatta seat, but in both the PortlandBet and the Sportingbet individual electorate betting at the moment the ALP (Julie Owens) is the favourite to win the seat at the Federal Election:

    PortlandBet have the ALP at $1.44 and the Coalition at $2.58 in the seat

    SportingBet have the ALP at $1.24 and the Coalition at $3.70 in the seat.

    Oh and here’s something for Snoopy (and his various aliases) to ponder:

    Nationwide, ALL the major polls (real polls, not self-selecting post-in ones) so far this year have had the ALP leading the Coalition in BOTH the Primary AND 2PP voting intentions. This was certainly NOT the case this far out from the 1998, 2001 and 2004 federal elections.

    Even ALL the betting agencies – which in 2001 and 2004 consistently had the Coalition as favourites to win – NOW have the ALP as favourites to win this year:

    Centrebet: Labor = $1.65, Coalition = $2.25
    IASBet: Labor = $1.62, Coalition = $2.30
    PortlandBet: Labor = $1.63, Coalition = $2.20
    SportingBet: Labor= $1.60, Coalition = $2.30
    SportsBet: Labor = $1.60, Coalition = $2.30
    SportsAcumen: Labor = $1.60, Coalition = $2.32

    And the odds have SHORTENED for the ALP in the last month or so! In fact they’re the shortest odds for the ALP so far this year!

    So if I’m right JWH (and his lapdog Snoopy) will be in the dog-house come Christmas.

    But don’t worry Snoopy (and JWH?) … you can always emigrate to New Zealand, where I predict that the Opposition National Party led by John Key will trounce Helen Clark’s Labour Government in the September election next year!

    Snoppy, you can then be John Key’s poodle and blog to your heart’s content on the pro-National KiwiBlog website (

    So says Kiwipundit!

  36. Albert, I stand corrected on the Greenway booths.

    STROP, I doubt it. It’s not in Labor’s interests to have the Quick situation inflamed further. I have no local knowledge but Franklin looks a worry despite the poll a month or so ago showing Labor well ahead. There is still the possibility that Harkins will have to be replaced and that won’t be a good look. To be fair to Quick, he warned from the start that Harkins was a bad candidate, although that doesn’t excuse his appearance with Hockey and Goodwin.

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