Seat du jour: Wakefield

Wakefield has existed as a seat since South Australia was first divided into electorates in 1903, but was changed almost beyond recognition when the state’s representation was cut from 12 seats to 11 in 2004. It now covers the outer northern Adelaide industrial centre of Elizabeth (formerly the basis of abolished Bonython), the satellite town of Gawler, the Clare Valley wine-growing district and a stretch of Gulf St Vincent coast from Two Wells north to Port Wakefield. Elizabeth marks the first incursion into Adelaide of a seat that traditionally covered the Murray Valley and the Yorke Peninsula, which were respectively transferred to Barker and Grey. My 2004 booth result maps for Crikey paint a clear picture of support for Labor in Elizabeth and Liberal in Clare and the rural areas, along with a less pronounced leaning to the Liberals in Gawler.

Labor’s overwhelming dominance in low-income Elizabeth gave the redrawn electorate a notional Labor margin of 1.5 per cent, compared with a 14.7 per cent Liberal margin from the 2001 election. Wakefield had only previously been won by Labor in 1938 and 1943, and by the Country Party in 1928. It was otherwise held by the prevailing conservative party of the time: the early Liberal Party, the Nationalists, the United Australia Party and the modern Liberal Party. Neil Andrew became member in 1983, serving as Speaker from 1998 until his seat was effectively pulled from under him in 2004. After considering the obvious option of challenging Patrick Secker for preselection in Barker, Andrew instead chose to retire. Labor’s candidate in 2004 was the homeless member for abolished Bonython, Martyn Evans. Evans began his parliamentary career as an independent, winning the state seat of Elizabeth at a 1984 by-election after contentiously failing to win Labor preselection. He rejoined the party in 1993 to serve as Health Minister in Lynn Arnold’s minority government, and replaced the retiring Neal Blewett as member for Bonython at a by-election in 1994.

The job security entailed in this offer was shown to be deceptive by the 2004 redistribution and the following 2.2 per cent swing to the Liberals. This was driven by a Labor slump in Elizabeth which outweighed small positive swings in more affluent rural areas, delivering a narrow 1010-vote victory to hand-picked Liberal candidate David Fawcett (left). Fawcett had previously been an army officer for more than 22 years, most recently serving as commanding officer at the RAAF’s research and development unit. In February 2006, The Australian’s Matt Price wrote a profile on Fawcett which is not holding up too well 18 months on: it speaks of the likely re-election of a highly credentialled member who had persuaded locals to preselect him three months after he joined the party on a whim. This was compared favourably with Labor’s “nasty, narrow, cloistered, limiting, repulsive, infested, depressing and ultimately suffocating union gene pool”, then believed to be condemning it to certain defeat. More recently, the Sunday Mail’s Rex Jory wrote on August 19 of talk in Liberal circles that Fawcett might be enlisted as a future state party leader after his likely defeat in Wakefield. It was suggested he might attempt to recover the Gawler-based seat of Light, lost to Labor’s Tony Piccolo last year, or succeed Ivan Venning in the safe seat of Schubert in the Barossa Valley.

Labor’s candidate is former state party president Nick Champion (right), a one-time employee of the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association and a protégé of its powerful state boss Don Farrell (who will head Labor’s South Australian Senate ticket). Champion’s preselection does not appear to have faced any serious opposition. He has recently been preparing for his presumed future career with a position as adviser to the state Industrial Relations Minister, Right faction colleague Michael Wright.

NOTE: Please keep comments on this thread on-topic.

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.

34 comments on “Seat du jour: Wakefield”

  1. I tend to think of Wakefield as a new electorate. The 2003 redistribution abolished a safe Labor seat (Bonython) and a safe Liberal seat (the old Wakefield) and created a new marginal seat in their places. A good result for democracy you might say. Or at least a good result for election observers.

    Wakefield should be a straightforward gain for Labor at this election.

    Assuming he does win, should Nick Champion stick around for a couple of terms, that ‘job security’ you speak of might well return. The next redistribution will likely see the ever expanding Grey eat into the northern part of Wakefield. A quick glance at that booth map makes plain that that would hurt the Liberal position. It would see Wakefield more resembling the old Bonython. That’s assuming SA retains its entitlement to 11 seats.

  2. I was pretty surprised when the Libs won this seat at the last election, I think the ALP were a little bit complacent. Given the demographics of the seat it should always be a tight contest and difficult for either party to win, but with the SA climate the way it is things are looking prettty grim for Fawcett.

  3. The ALP were VERY complacent at the last election – I think they just assumed that Martyn would win because has was a sitting member (albeit not in that seat).

    The Libs very cleverly tapped into the uneasiness about interest rates and Latham’s leadership and at the booths in and around Gawler – where Fawcet concentrated much of his electioneering (and never exactly the epicentre of Labor support at the best of times, I might add) – the swing to the Libs was marked. In the end it was a close win, but one that the ALP should have been able to predict and they should have worked much harder on the campaign.

    Since his election, David Fawcett has worked very hard to keep a high profile in the community, especially around Elizabeth, Munno Para and Gawler, but I think in an election where “the swing is on”, he will easily be swept aside in favour of Nick Champion (who, admittedly, isn’t doing a whole lot just yet).

  4. Gawler was my origins back in the 50s, albeit I had little political knowledge then. I was interested in your observation that it is now Liberal. It probably reflects the growth in the last generation where the wealthier have preferred the slightly more rural atmosphere to the urbanised outlook of Elizabeth. (Ironically our family went the other way!)

    Then, the State member (Jack Clark) was Labor, but the federal seat (also Wakefield then) was Liberal. I suspect that Gawler was then Labor-leaning, although Clark later moved to Elizabeth, but was swamped by the rural vote to the north.

    Thanks for the current info, chinda63. It sounds as if Fawcett is/was an energetic local member. Unfortunately, Labor has a history of taking some its safer areas for granted. At least this time they know they have to earn it, even if, as seems likely, it does fall in the general swing.

  5. I have been lucky enough to see Champion in action and he is very serious about winning this seat. The loss of Kingston and Wakefield in the last election has really spooked the SA ALP Right and they are not taking any chances.

    From memory Champion starting doorknocking in January and has been going pretty much solidly since.

    Given that Kingston is all over except for the counting, and Farell is a guaranteed senator, I expect a lot of resources will be going into this seat.

  6. given the uneven nature of this seat It is quite possible that Labor can
    win by virtue of an excellent vote in the Elizabeth suburbs even without
    picking up an extra vote any where else
    I suspect ” work choices” would be unpopular in that area of the electorate

  7. Mark Peel wrote a great book on Elizabeth. Lots of british migrants from 50s and 60s, the people you would expect to be attracted to Howard in 2004 but will snap back this time. Maybe Elizabeth is like the Spencer gulf towns and the likelihood is that they too will snap back, although Grey is probably too rural for Labor to win.

  8. i live right in the middle of Wakefield, believe me there’s no ifs or buts about it– it’ll go labor, i have a lot to do with the Italian community in Gawler and they have turned labor with a vengeance, Gawler in the past was market gardens and olive farms so the Italian presence there and in Salisbury is extremely high, the mayors of both Salisbury and Gawler councils are Italian with the Salisbury mayor standing as labor candidate in Trish Worth’s seat, the Italian community here is inter related so when one family turns so do most of the others, i certainly dont think it’s maybe — it’s just by how much.

  9. Fawcett has no chance, which is a shame really. I’ve seen him in action at a couple of events and he is one of the best of a pretty pathetic bunch. The thought of him moving to a safer state seat would be good, as Rann has no opposition here in SA.

  10. just as an add on Tony Zappia the Salisbury mayor has presided over some great things here including building world class wetlands well before water and climate change became fashionable, theyve been held up as an example of what can be done, this is the second time Tony has been a candidate, the Latham factor went against him last time but he’s an immensly popular small businessman so he should win that seat this time.

  11. Champion is a strong candidate that i expect will win Wakefield – my concern is the growing number of ALP MPs backed by the SDA – the SDA is the most conservative union in the country and in terms of its approach to social policy, is more naturally aligned with the Liberal party – bit scary.

  12. Notwithstanding “Optimist”s views on the natural alignment of social viewpoints (apparently the ALP has always been the party of gay rights, abortion on demand and no-fault divorce, just ask Arthur Calwell or James Scullin) Wakefield WILL go Labor at this election.

    The performance of the ALP at the 2004 poll can be summed up with the words “two pensions”…Martyn Evans had a State entitlement as well as a federal one and was more interested in his wine cellar than campaigning. He subsuquently ignored the elizabeth areas, like all politicians presuming his personal recognition was higher than it was, and lost needlessly.

    The campaign also left 10,000 postal and pre-poll forms sitting in the local post office for 2 days after the election was announced. As these were slated to be mailed to the heavy Labor areas of in the electorate, getting in second with thousands of voters must have had some impact as well.

  13. Where are all our other lefty mates today? Embracing the APEC day off I suppose. I will miss their ramblings.

    Wakefield will be an easy gain back for the ALP. Even after distibution the Liberal margin is only 0.7% for this election. The ALP will pick up 3 seats in SA next election giving them 6 in total.

  14. Re (13),

    William requested us to keep this on topic. Therefore, we are taking an early siesta waiting for the Morgan poll at 1pm and will take up residence there as soon as William posts that thread ;-D

  15. Champion is one of the biggest right-wing hacks I’ve come across in the SA Labor movement – beholden to one of the most ideologically bankrupt unions, who are closer to the right wing of the Liberal Party on most issues other than worker’s rights.

  16. I suspect the ALP will win more seats in SA than just the 3 marginals. I think they will win at least one of Boothby and Sturt- if not both. On average most polls for SA are showing a minimum 8-10% swing. This is greater than the swing needed in both Boothby (5.4%) and Sturt (6.8%), so you don’t have to be a genius to work out that they are at least going to be very close (both these seats would make good “Seat du jour” material.) I live in the seat of Mayo and even here people are seriously pissed off with Howard, but unfortunately I think Downer is well and truly safe.

  17. I admire your passion Kev but I think you are a little dellusional to think that they will gain more than three seats.

    The last time there was a swing in SA of more than 5% it was the 1975 defeat of the Whitlam government. Prior to that it was 1969. I think history and the stats are against more than 3 seats.

  18. SAVoter,

    That’s just cr_p. Champion was Kate Ellis’ campaign manager, winning that seat from the Liberals against the tide in 2004. I saw him that night. He was in tears at the overall result nationwide – taking no pleasure from the personal kudos the Adelaide result would bring, he was instead shattered for the country, for working people, for Labor and the union movement.

    Right-wing hack? He might be more moderate than yourself, but he’s put his heart and soul into the cause of Labor, and pejorative terms like you use are massively unfair.

    One could characterise some positions of the more left-wing unions as closer to the Greens or the Socialist parties than the ALP, but that would distract this thread into internal factional partisan squabbles, and it’s not the place for it. Suffice to say that, like beauty and terror, ideological purity is in the eye of the beholder.

  19. Wakefield is a shoe in for the ALP, as is Kingston and Makin. Sturt is going to be tough because of the well known incumbent in Pyne, although with a decent candidate in handshin is a 50/50 chance for ALP. I think the sleeper seat this election is Boothby for two reasons – a strange paradox in that the challenging candidate is far more well known than the current member and with a margin of only 5.3% a strong national swing will put this seat on a knife edge on election night. Interesting to see odds for sturt and boothby have dropped significantly in betting stakes too.

  20. I live in Mayo myself, so I’m hoping against hope that Mary Brewerton can peg back more than 10% of Dolly’s margin. He seems to be severely on the nose in the electorate and she is a more than credible candidate. I’d just like to see his face on election night when he cops the largest anti-Liberal swing in the state…

  21. There is nothing wrong with the SDA. Unions represent their members, and the members in retail are not militant. The SDA remembers the politics of class, not the politics of identity. If the Labor Party gets taken over by the Left, it won’t win this seat or very many others. It’s been there before – it’s not going back.

  22. Although I don’t live in this constituency, I am familiar with it. We provide services to the development community and there is tremendous growth in this area. Many people who would probably like to be closer to town are buying out this way and I would have thought there are many young families with challenging mortgage payments.

    This is definitely a constituency in transition, with an increasingly urban growth pattern as Adelaide expands to the north. The Northern Expressway will make this area easier to access and will likely contribute to further urban growth.

    As a former member of the SDA, I felt that they provided very good value for their members. No doubt this has helped the leaders to advance their careers. Bernard Finnegan, Assistant Secretary was appointed to the Upper House in South Australia and Don Farrell, the President is due to be coronated to the Senate. Not bad for Union Hacks. Who will run it now that they are gone?

  23. Don’t write Fawcett off just yet. I was shocked to see him at my train station just a couple of months after the last election. He’s been there another 5 or 6 times since. I hear he’s been at local shopping centres for years too. All that work has got to count for something.

  24. I agree, Howard might be down and out for the count but this Fawcett chap might still hold on.
    I’ve seen him at my train station too and I keep getting regular updates in the mail from him.
    I’m pleased for once to see a MP “campaigning” during their whole time in office, not just at the election time. Haven’t seen much from the ALP fellow except a few generic, glossy brochures.

  25. The SDA remembers the politics of class, not the politics of identity.

    If that were the case it would be fine.

    However the fact is that the SDA does lobby both publicly and internally within the ALP for conservative positions on social issues like IVF that are not obviously connected with its industrial role.

  26. However the fact is that the SDA does lobby both publicly and internally within the ALP for conservative positions on social issues like IVF that are not obviously connected with its industrial role.

    Indeed. It is a powerhouse of the catholic working right of the ALP in SA. Linda Kirk’s loss of preselection for the Senate in SA despite being a sitting Senator has a lot to do with her failure to be sufficiently anti-feminist on issues like birth control.

  27. That’s just cr_p. Champion was Kate Ellis’ campaign manager, winning that seat from the Liberals against the tide in 2004. I saw him that night. He was in tears at the overall result nationwide – taking no pleasure from the personal kudos the Adelaide result would bring, he was instead shattered for the country, for working people, for Labor and the union movement.

    I know what he was last election, thanks. He treated ‘outsiders’ (i.e. non-SDA approved ALP members) like gophers/non-people. It was great, you could see how much he cared when he waltzed in, gave a bunch of orders, and waltzed out again.

  28. David Fawcett deserves far more acknowledgement in Wakefield than he receives. He is truly tireless! EVERY week he is at Elizabeth shopping centre and various train stations, not just for 30 mins but from 9 – 9pm I kid you not! now I have not seen any other members do that before! He has been doing it since he won and he is an intelligent, compassionate man who has really worked his guts out for the community and achieved an incredible ammount in such a short time, I am certainly voting to keep him on because I care about my local community.
    Well done David!

  29. SAVoter – Linda Kirk lost her endorsement because of a disagreement she had with Don Farrell’s wife, who used to work in her electorate office. It had nothing to do with her parliamentary performance or ideological position on anything.

    You piss off The King (or his wife), you’re dead meat. It’s as simple as that.

  30. What is it with the SDA kiddy signature collectors the “King” has endorsed for Kingston and Wakefield and the Australian flag in the background, wasnt Pauline has the last one to wrap herself in the Flag

  31. 1. SA Seat Predictions Part 3: Wakefield
    I first have to admit, I don’t feel as comfortable predicting this one, as the nature of the seat is much more heterogeneous than most of the other adelaide seats, taking in areas such as elizabeth, to rural areas around gawler and angle vale.
    There is also evidence to suggest the local member David Fawcett is quite hard-working, which might well save him from the sort of swings that are likely to be seen elsewhere in Adelaide. Also, in parts of the seat, I don’t see workchoices being the issue it may well be elsewhere.
    For the reasons above, I think Wakefield will move less to labor than the state average, but when you are on a margin of 4/5 of bugger all, you’re still dead.
    So, a labor gain, with a 2PP swing of 5%.

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