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.
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