Today’s episode of Seat of the Week brings us to the second-most marginal electorate in the country, the southern Adelaide seat of Kingston. Kingston was created when parliament when enlarged in 1949, and has consistently covered the outer coastal reaches of the metropolitan area. This meant Glenelg and Brighton in the early days, the southernmost suburb of Hallett Cove being the only area still in the electorate today. Glenelg was hived off to since-abolished Hawker in 1984, and Brighton went to Boothby in 1993. It now extends from Hallett Cove and industrial Lonsdale south to the outermost beachside suburbs of Moana and Port Willunga, and to the McLaren Vale wine-growing district further inland. Most of the population is in the north of the electorate, around Noarlunga, Reynella and Morphett Vale. As my maps at Crikey demonstrate, this area is divided between a Liberal-leaning north-east and a Labor-leaning south-west. Labor is also strong in the thin strip of coastal suburbs further south, which also record strong support for the Greens, while the McLaren Vale area provides the Liberals with their two strongest booths.
As befits a seat that has moved with the mortgage belt, Kingston has been extremely sensitive to the tides of electoral fortune. Despite having a notional Labor margin of 6.8 per cent upon its creation, it was swept up with the landslide that put the Menzies government in power in 1949. Pat Galvin gained the seat for Labor in 1951, and was re-elected with varying margins until 1966. It was then caught up in the statewide convulsions of 1966 and 1969, which produced double-digit swings first to Liberal and then to Labor in both Kingston and South Australia as a whole. The Liberals thus held the seat for one term before it returned emphatically to Labor. Kingston subsequently changed hands with the next three changes of government, being held by Grant Chapman during the Fraser years (he returned as a Senator in 1987) and Gordon Bilney thereafter. A former Democrats leader, the late Janine Haines, made an audacious bid for the seat in 1990 but failed to beat the Liberal candidate into second place, recording 26.4 per cent to the Liberals’ 33.0 per cent and Labor’s 37.1 per cent. Bilney was edged out in 1996 by a relatively mild 3.4 per cent swing to Liberal candidate Susan Jeanes, who had too little fat on her margin to withstand the GST backlash of 1998. Labor’s David Cox recovered the seat for Labor with a 2.5 per cent swing, prevailing by 763 votes.
A Labor-friendly redistribution followed by a small swing increased the margin from 0.5 per cent to 2.4 per cent in 2001, but the next redistribution went the other way. With South Australia’s representation cut from 12 seats to 11 at the 2004 election, Kingston was made to absorb the McLaren Vale area, giving the Liberals what proved to be a decisive 1.1 per cent boost. Requiring a further 1.4 per cent swing to topple Cox, the Liberals picked up roughly 2 per cent in the northern part of the electorate. However, this was very nearly balanced out by a sharp swing to Labor in wealthy McLaren Vale, consistent with the much-touted doctors’ wives effect. Another notable feature of the vote was a strong 5.6 per cent for Family First, who outpolled the Greens and delivered the Liberals a better-than-usual preference flow. Cox held a narrow lead on election night, but this was whittled down and eventually overturned as pre-poll and postal votes gave the Liberals a 119-vote victory.
The incoming Liberal member was Kym Richardson (left), a police officer, former SANFL player and sports manager whose clients included AFL star Byron Pickett and test cricketer Jason Gillespie. The party had initially approached another football identity, Adelaide Crows player Nigel Smart, but he remained committed to playing out the 2004 AFL season (Smart went on to unsuccessfully contest the state seat of Norwood at last year’s state election). According to The Advertiser’s Tom Richardson (presumably no relation), Richardson’s backers included Susan Jeanes and two locally based state members, Bright MP Wayne Matthew (since retired) and Mawson MP Robert Brokenshire (since defeated). Labor’s candidate for the coming election is Amanda Rishworth (right), a psychologist and former organiser for the Right faction Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association. Rishworth was Labor’s candidate for Fisher at the state election, and was preselected unopposed in Kingston as part of a factional arrangement. Contrary to my normal practice, I should also make mention of Greens candidate Bill Weller, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union activist and prolific commenter on this website.
At this stage of the game, the portents for Kym Richardson are not good. In his assessment of the electorate’s demographics, Adam Carr notes a high proportion of manufacturing workers, a relatively low average income and a high proportion of dwellings being purchased, making it prime territory for a backlash over WorkChoices and interest rates. Two electorate-level polls conducted by The Advertiser bear this out: Labor recorded leads of 56-44 in January, before Kevin Rudd had established the national polling ascendancy he has enjoyed since March, and 57-43 late last month.