Page covers the north-eastern corner of New South Wales beyond the Tweed and Byron-oriented seat of Richmond. The main population centres are Ballina on the coast, Lismore and Casino further inland, and Grafton to the south. The electorate was created with the enlargement of parliament in 1984, from an area which had historically been divided between Richmond and Cowper. At the 1993 redistribution it exchanged Ballina for Nimbin and its counter-cultural surrounds, but these changes were respectively reversed at the 2001 and 2007 redistributions. The electorate has newly absorbed Wollongbar and Alstonville, inland of Ballina, from Richmond.
Demographically, Page ranks near the bottom in the nation for median family income and near the top for unemployment. It is also marked by large numbers of older voters and a correspondingly small number of mortgage payers. Labor’s strongest area is Lismore, the remainder providing fairly consistent support for the Nationals. Lismore and the coastal north-east went against the grain in swinging to Labor at the 2004 election, a spillover of the local trend that saw Labor’s Justine Elliot unseat Larry Anthony in Richmond. My maps of booth vote and swing results can be viewed at Crikey.
Page was won on its creation by Ian Robinson, who had held Cowper for the National/Country Party since 1963. Like his party leader Charles Blunt in Richmond, Robinson was a surprise casualty of the 1990 election, at which he was unseated by Labor’s Harry Woods following a 5.2 per cent swing. Woods held on in 1993 by 193 votes before inevitably suffering defeat in 1996. The new Nationals member was Ian Causley, previously member for the state seat of Clarence which Harry Woods then proceeded to win at the by-election to fill Causley’s vacancy. Page did not swing greatly on Causley’s watch, but the Nationals have benefited from redistributions which added 1.0 per cent to the margin in 2001 and 1.3 per cent this time (from 4.2 per cent to 5.5 per cent).
With Causley now retiring, the Nationals have nominated Chris Gulaptis (right), a surveyor and Clarence Valley councillor of Macedonian extraction. Gulaptis won over half the first preference vote at preselection ahead of Kyogle mayor Ernie Bennett, Ballina councillor Sharon Cadwallader, radio presenter Neil Marks and Lennox Head GP Sue Page (not part of the Earle and Don Page clan), who has had to settle for the less promising prospect of Richmond. The field originally included former cabinet minister Larry Anthony, who was defeated in Richmond in 2004, but he withdrew in March saying the ambition’s there but the impact it would have had on the family would have been just too much for them.
Labor’s candidate is Janelle Saffin (left), who was a Lismore-based member of the state upper house from 1995 until the 2003 state election, when she withdrew from preselection after it became apparent she would not retain a winnable position on the ticket. She then resumed work as a human rights lawyer, taking up a position in East Timor in 2006 as adviser to Jose Ramos Horta. Saffin won the Page preselection ahead of Peter Lanyon, Labor’s state candidate for Lismore in 2003 and 2007, Southern Cross University lecturer Isaac Smith and law student Adam Atkins. There were reports the state executive wished to override the rank-and-file ballot process and install Clarence mayor Ian Tiley as candidate, but this evidently failed to win support from the federal executive.
Labor’s optimism about its prospects on the north coast was indicated when it dumped its candidate for Cowper, having come to the view that the seat could be won with a sufficiently appealing candidate. Kevin Rudd has twice visited Page in the past fortnight, making a health policy announcement in Grafton last week and appearing in Ballina on Tuesday to promise $1.5 billion in upgrades to the Pacific Highway. The Prime Minister appeared in Grafton three days before the election was called, announcing $1 billion in Pacific Highway funding and $18 million to upgrade the town’s base hospital if a local board was established to run it. Yesterday saw a visit from Mark Vaile, who promised to fully fund a bypass at Alstonville (matching an earlier commitment from Labor) and upgrade the Bruxner Highway intersection as part of the government’s plans for the Pacific Highway.