Seat du jour: Bennelong

The Prime Minister’s electorate of Bennelong covers the northern shore of the Parramatta River from Gladesville west to Ermington, extending north through Denistone and Ryde to Epping. While the Ryde area has leaned to Labor in the post-war era, riverside suburbs to the south and east have made Bennelong a fairly safe seat for the Liberals since its creation in 1949. In this time it has had two members, Sir John Cramer until 1974 and John Howard thereafter. The narrowest Liberal margins were 0.8 per cent at the 1961 election, 2.4 per cent in 1972, 4.5 per cent in 1974 (when Howard was elected) and 3.2 per cent in 1993. However, redistributions and demographic changes have steadily weakened the Liberals’ position. When John Howard became member, the electorate extended east through Lane Cove to Chatswood and the Howard family abode in Wollstonecraft. This area was progressively lost as the electorate was redrawn with the expansion of parliament in 1984, the abolition of Dundas to the west in 1993 and most recently with the loss of a New South Wales seat going into the current election. Bennelong has taken on its share of the burden by absorbing Labor-voting Ermington and Melrose Park, previously in Parramatta, along with a smaller Liberal-voting area in Beecroft from Mitchell to the north. The three redistributions respectively cut the Liberal margin by 2.9 per cent, 3.5 per cent and 0.3 per cent.

Bennelong two-party booth votes from 2004, with suburbs colour-coded to show the proportion of residents whose dwellings are being purchsed. The electorate-wide figure is 28.0 per cent compared with 32.2 per cent nationally.

The other major change in Bennelong has been an influx of immigrants from China, Hong Kong and Korea, with the electorate ranking second only to safe Labor Watson for number of persons born in China. In holding the line against this influx, John Howard has found himself the only Liberal MP holding a seat in the top 20 list for non-English speakers. As indicated on the map below, the Asian communities are most heavily concentrated around Epping, Eastwood and Marsfield in the electorate’s centre and north, where particularly big swings to Labor were recorded in 2004. In the wake of Kevin Rudd’s show-stopping performance at APEC, George Megalogenis of The Australian wrote of “an increasing confidence in Labor ranks, and a sense of dread within the Government, that many of Bennelong’s more recent Chinese arrivals are favourably disposed to Rudd”. Megalogenis had earlier written of Labor research detailing the seat’s complex ethnic mix: This decade Bennelong has seen a rapid influx of new, mostly Asian migrants with the suburb of Eastwood transformed into a vibrant Korean community. Chatswood – split between the divisions of Bradfield and North Sydney – is another suburb on the north shore where there has been a concentration of new migrants in recent years. In Chatswood these migrants are mostly Chinese and Japanese … It’s not the case that the resulting new electors are ALP voters – at the last federal election they broke slightly in favour of the Libs, but they have replaced generally WASPs, who tended to break two to one against the ALP.

More broadly, the electorate is highly sensitive to economic concerns, with George Megalogenis of The Australian placing it high on a list of seats beset by “the double whammy of higher interest rates and capital loss”.

Bennelong booth swings from 2004, with suburbs colour-coded to show the proportion of residents who speak Cantonese, Mandarin or Korean. The electorate-wide figure is 17.6 per cent compared with 2.6 per cent nationally.

Talk of a Howard defeat first emerged from the realms of idle speculation at the 2004 election, when anti-Iraq war activists made the electorate the focus of their “Not Happy John” campaign. Office of National Assessments whistleblower Andrew Wilkie ran against Howard as the candidate of the Greens, prompting talk that he might secure Howard’s defeat either directly or by feeding preferences to Labor’s Nicole Campbell. Wilkie ultimately finished well to the rear of Campbell with 16.4 per cent of the vote, with Howard going untroubled on 49.9 per cent. The two-party margin was nonetheless shaved from 7.8 per cent to an uncomfortable 4.3 per cent, a swing not unlike those in the Liberals’ other inner Sydney seats of North Sydney and Wentworth. This time the high-profile candidate comes from the Labor camp, in the person of veteran ABC political journalist Maxine McKew. Talk of McKew entering Labor politics first emerged in 2001, when party heavyweights proposed moving Julia Irwin to the state upper house so McKew could be accommodated in Fowler. Speculation reached a new pitch when McKew resigned from the ABC last December without announcing plans for her future. The bombshell announcement that she would run in Bennelong came in February, a decision influenced by the calculations of McKew’s partner of 17 years, former Labor national secretary Bob Hogg. Hogg was recenty quoted by Imre Salusinszky of The Australian saying the plan was preferable to taking a safe seat as it would leave McKew “not owing any group or sub-group or individual for the privilege of being the candidate”.

Two-party vote recorded in Bennelong booths at the March state election. Two-party figures were not available from the electorate of Epping, so estimates have been derived from upper house figures. Suburbs are colour-coded to indicate median family income, which is $1510 across the electorate compared with $1171 nationally.

Galaxy (4/11, 800) 52 48 47 46
Morgan (19/2, 394) 55 45 42.5 41.5
Galaxy (13/5, 800) 52 48 47 44
Galaxy (12/8, 800) 53 47 47 44
Morgan (17/9, 472) 53 47 45.5 42.5

Five Bennelong polls have been published since McKew’s announcement, which have pointed with remarkable consistency to a narrow victory for Labor. These are shown on the table to the left, with the number after the date showing the sample size. In the first week of the campaign, Imre Salusinszky wrote in The Australian that Liberal internal polling confirmed these results, showing McKew’s two-party vote in the low 50s. In August, Michelle Grattan wrote in The Age that “Liberal sources” considered Howard to be in greater danger than Malcolm Turnbull in Wentworth. As ever, Dennis Shanahan of The Australian offers a more encouraging view for the Coalition, reporting half way through the campaign that the seat “would appear to be safe, at least according to party sources on both sides”. Howard’s difficult position has had many noting the precedent of the only previous Prime Minister to have lost his seat, Stanley Melbourne Bruce, who lost Flinders in 1929 as part of an electoral debacle which resulted from disastrously unpopular industrial relations laws. A more hopeful precedent is the 1972 election, when many were tipping Billy McMahon would lose his seat of Lowe, then held by a margin of 4.9 per cent. McMahon was able to limit the swing to 1.9 per cent, half the statewide average. His government was nonetheless defeated.

NOTE: This item was previously published last week on my Crikey blog, which didn’t get past the experimental stage. The most recent plan was to junk their blog architecture and use WordPress instead, but even that might be too hard at this late stage. I will start investigating alternative hosting arrangements in light of today’s technical problems.

ANOTHER NOTE: I know this is a big ask, but please keep comments on this thread tangentially related to Bennelong. More general discussion should be directed to the other threads.

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.

210 comments on “Seat du jour: Bennelong”

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  1. Rudd’s language skills are seen to be a plus for McKew, but I’m not convinced. (Trying my very best to negotiate the issue of race)
    My experience suggests that incumbency, experience, age and an aversion to change are all powerful drivers in the same demographics.
    Anyone else care to (carefully) comment?

  2. Whilst we all would love Maxine (though I have my doubts to what sort of politician she will be) to win I wouldn’t write off the Prime Minister just yet.

    Labor need to keep working hard on this seat right up to polling day.

  3. Howard hasnt been on triple J since ’01. He is a vindictive little s. Maxine has a distinct advantage, she gets to campaign in Bennelong without distraction, its her full time job atm. Shes at every public event, and has everything that is popular about the alp past and present, save for Rudd, rolling in and out of the area to help.

  4. The man has to go.

    “From welfare state to opportunity state”

    What hypocrisy. He’s offered an $800 hand-out to anyone with a child in high school – without being means tested. This goes beyond middle-class welfare, it’s upper-class welfare. While our public education system is being systematically under-funded and worn down, the rodent is lining the pockets of his rich mates. Is anyone else outraged by this?

  5. Prof — it’s not “upper class welfare”, it’s a kind of dodgy education voucher. Now if only the state govts. would introduce vouchers so the system would work properly!

  6. Perhaps a definition of ‘on topic’ needs to be determined? Chris, I have a lot of respect for your opinions, but that opening post was really a bad way to set the tone.

    This thread is going to be amusing to watch.

    I think that Howard will keep this seat, while losing the election. Watching Maxine on TV ‘dancing’ (I think that’s what she was trying to do) with a Kevin 07 shit on made me cringe. I tend to agree with mumble, who pointed out a few months ago that the ALP would have been better off putting a ‘nobody’ in the seat and hoping for an upset. I don’t think the added media attention has helped the ALP all that much. Just my thoughts.

  7. Yes – it would be a lovely irony if Howard was done over by the Asian vote considering his 1988 remarks and his adoption of Hanson-lite. If there is a huge swing on, he will probably lose Bennelong, but if the swing is smallish, he will just just hang on. No matter, Maxine will be the next member for Bennelong after Howard, now or later.

  8. Many people claim that Howard will retain his seat including Shanahan.

    Whereas all the polls published so far have Howard losing.

    This seat will be line ball, however I think Maxine has done a good job in Bennelong and far better then an unknown.

    My view is Howard will get done by his own past wedges. From the Iraq war, to his xenophobic views, to Workchoices and finally to those who couldn’t be bothered voting again in a by election.

  9. Just how entrenched are the Exclusive Brethren in Bennelong? What type of school do they have there? How will they benefit from the education handout?

    And didn’t JWH recently promise special lighting to his supporters?

  10. If anyone wants my opinion, I could do with a little less frivolity in comments. I have taken to deleting the “yay, me first” comments that some have been leaving when I put a new post up. That kind of thing is appropriate for the Saturday open forums at Larvatus Prodeo, but not here.

  11. Yes Max give the man respect for all those people he introduced work choices to.
    Give the man respect for the AWB wheat board scandal. Give the man respect for sending troops to Iraq. Thats just the start.

  12. Hmm, didn’t mean to post my last comment, but I’ll complete it by saying both the ALP & LIb teams are well co-ordinated, with Team Maxine in front. Good report which was quite objective.

  13. It is not necessary for Howard to lose Bennelong for a lot of damage to be done to the Party’s electoral hopes.

    It is only necessary for it to look like Howard’s going to lose Bennelong.

    There are a lot of voters out there who are Howard fans. They would probably vote for him if he was leader of the Labor Party. Just like some radio listeners follow Alan Jones around, no matter what station is employing him, they’d follow Howard around, whichever electorate or party he was in. But these Howard lovers don’t necessarily love the Party. And they don’t necessarily love Costello. In fact quite a few of the (quite sensibly) loathe Costello.

    If they can be convinced Howard is going to lose, or that chances are that he’ll lose in Bennelong, there will be a positive reason for them to switch their vote to Labor.

    That is why these polls and any discussion regarding Howard’s poor chances in Bennelong are so important to Labor’s chances outside Bennelong, i.e. the country at large.

    That is also why Labor is targeting Howard’s imminent retirement in their ads. Their ads don’t specifically say “Howard will lose Bennelong”, but they do say he won’t be getting around much any more (as the old song says), even if he wins in Bennelong but retires in the near future. In other words, Howard’s retirement… more accurately… the possibility that Costello will ascend to the throne without having to fight for it, after Howard’s retirement might be worth a good couple of percentager points to Labor.

    Post Script: Finally Costello got himself another captive audience – the Liberal Party election launch – and did he go The Smirk, or what? The man’s such a loser. He doesn’t realise that they only laugh at his jokes when they’re tied to the chair.

  14. will rudd visit bennelong, i hope so
    labor is on the right track with ad’s high lighting howard retiring
    a rudd visit and a spray of pork might just get her over the line

  15. 19 Bushfire Bill
    The whole Launch thing was so evangelical it was sickening. (I don’t suppose the ALP version will be any better).
    It sounded on the radio like Pastor Costello had a list of the jokes printed and circulated so that everyone knew where to hiss, boo and laugh. Garret was the nominated punching bag too.
    Back to Bennelong.
    I think the damage nationally has already been done:
    That a public figure was prepared to stand against him showed he wasn’t invincible and forced him to confront it. Without McKew in place I’m not sure the whole post APEC leadership debacle would even have happened.
    Given the appalling campaigning that’s been going on on the Libs side I’m not sure that it’s reall tied Howard up that much. He’s better campaigning on what people can remember of him, rather than his recent performances.
    Locally, there’s no doubt Maxine has her work cut out. Today’s Launch could be the final straw for Howard in his electorate – he just didn’t perform at a totally stage managed event.
    Will Rudd have the time to place the final dagger in Bennelong before the 24th?

  16. I’m in Bennelong, and was surprised in 2004 when we went up to vote to find Howard there at the polling place. I can’t stand the man, but me and my son (then 2) shook his hand – he’s still the PM.

    My personal dream this time round is that he loses by 1 vote, so that I can say it was my vote that put him away for good.

  17. I expect that it will be very difficult getting to the polling booths in Bennelong on polling day. My understanding is that both Maxine and John are inundated with helpers. Maxine’s supporters hoping to have some part in John’s downfall and John’s supporters looking to get noticed.

    The comparison with the State Election results is very interesting – there is a large difference in the voting in the Ryde and Parramatta state electorate but only small differences elsewhere. It is very interesting to see how well John Watkins has done. How much support is Mr Watkins giving Maxine? That may help her as well.

  18. Education vouchers are prime Friedman doctrine – the Chhicago School. See Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine- a strategy to weaken public schools.

  19. There’s no doubt that this is a seat shifting towards Labor if you look at the demographics. Reminds me of Lowe 10 or 20 years ago.

    I think Labor has a chance of winning this seat if there is a big swing on in NSW. I don’t think a state wide 2PP of 51, 52 or maybe even 53 will be enough, although if you look at the polls showing a 2PP average vote of around 55%, you’d have to say that Labor is a strong chance.

    The state seat of Ryde was marginal at the the 1995 election, although once Labor won a landslide in 1999 and 2003, the margin went into the stratosphere. It’s also interesting that the Liberal Party primary vote actually fell in the 2007 election, even though there was quite a reasonable state wide swing. More evidence of this area shifting away.

  20. Is this subsidy a tax deduction or an outright gift, a la baby bonus?

    My girlfriend (migrant from HK) says that poor Chinese people are generally mercenary rather than left-wing – which seems to indicate the interst rate question might be stronger in Bennelong than on average?

    I notice in my trips to the seat that most of the banks advertise in Chinese in their windows.

  21. Election night looks like being a very long night for the Rodent and Hyacinth in Bennelong.

    The election is turning into a referendum on the Rodent not only in Bennelong but in the other 149 electorates.

    My dream result for Bennelong is for the Rodent to “win” it on the night but to lose the seat once all the special votes are counted some days later! It’ll save on a by-election. Mind you the Rodent losing on the night won’t be so bad – just imagine the Rodent holding Hyacinth back as she tries to land a punch on Maxine. :-O

  22. Election night looks like being a very long night for the Rodent and Hyacinth in Bennelong.

    The election is turning into a referendum on the Rodent not only in Bennelong but in the other 149 electorates.

    My dream result for Bennelong is for the Rodent to “win” it on the night but to lose the seat once all the special votes are counted some days later! It’ll save on a by-election. Mind you the Rodent losing on the night won’t be so bad – just imagine the Rodent holding Hyacinth back as she tries to land a punch on Maxine. :->

  23. I’d long thought Rattus would hang on, but now I’m calling it for Maxine. The swingers aren’t stupid. If it’s obvious they’re voting for a by-election they’ll save themselves the bother. Poll numbers like today’s at the end of next week will sound the death knell in Bennelong.

  24. Howard losing Bennelong is the side-show.

    Punters outside Bennelong deserting the Liberal Party because Howard looks like losing Bennelong are the Main Event.

    One – Howard defeated in his own seat – delivers a certain schadenfreude at his rejection by his own constituents.

    The other delivers götterdämmerung to the Libs and victory to the ALP nationally.

    Howard Lovers versus Costello Haters: about 1% to 2%… say 130,000 to 250,000 votes. The 2001 election – for example – was lost by less than 10,000 votes. This is why Bennelong is important… not to Bennelong voters, but to the country as a whole. All politics may be local, but as far as Bennelong is concerned, any politics is national.

  25. One imponderable:

    Might Bennelong constituents vote for Howard in the plaintive and forlorn hope that Maxine McKew returns to Lateline on Friday nights?

    “My head says Labor, but my heart says ‘come back Max'” sort of sentiment…???

  26. Taffy’s comment reminds me of Peter Garrett’s near-miss as a Senate candidate for the Nuclear Disarmament Party in 1984. No doubt Midnight Oil fans who preferred that he stick to his day job made the difference.

  27. Another possible factor here is the Chinese christian vote, those I’ve met and worked with are fairly committed christians. Same with the koreans, quite strong on their religion.

    Howards close ties with the Exclusive Brethren and the recent press about these ties could work against him.

    As for the sympathy vote, Howard showed no sympathy to the Tristar workers who were not allowed to retire with dignity.

    It will be a close call and fascinating to watch. The inclusion of the labor voting Ermington and Melrose Park makes it more so, how much stronger will these areas be now without Latham as the leader.

  28. If Possum is right (my god, “if”?), then the cash rate pump for Labor can take a week or two to flow through the polls, and so we might yet have a ‘surge’ to come on the tail of that great bit of news for the Rodent.

    There’s plenty of mortgage belt in Bennelong to be polishing up the baseball bats, and as many have pointed out, it’s going to be vote for the lame rodent now, sans government, or cop a by election.

    Loyalty won’t get much of a look in.

  29. Its true we are not an opportunity state under Howard we are more welfare than we have ever been. Catering to the spoilt has cut our own future throats. Howard’s policies have NOTHING TO DO WITH OPPORTUNITY, THEY HAVE ALWAYS BEEN TAILORED TO KEEP HIM IN POWER.
    (except the GST).

  30. Gerr – Actually, I believe we entered the OPPORTUNISTIC rodent state as soon as JWH was elected and have been paying for his cynical opportunism ever since.

  31. Win or lose Maxine made John spend a long time in Bennelong, time he didn’t have to campaign elsewhere.

    I think she will win the seat–the by-election factor will clinch it

  32. Geez, if it is widelty known that Howard might not make it in Bennelong, ppl will vote AGAINST the coalition in droves for fear of a Costello govt. Labor should advertisie this fact if it holds.

    Given this year, the interest rate rise, Iraq, the not sorry sorry, the majority of his front bench wanting him to go, Howards ridiculous plea to be re-elected then anointing Costeloo (of all ppl – he might as well have anointed Peter Andre)and now possibly losing bennelong – this really is the Perfect Storm.

    Actually you know exactly what it is? Its the story of Scrooge and the ghosts of elections past coming to haunt him, unfortuanely there will be no redemption for this rodent.

  33. Howard is giving EVERYONE no matter how well off, that 800$ rebate for shooling, what he FAILS to understand is tht the issue of education expense is real for sure, but negotiable, its the QUALITY THAT HAS BEEN DESTROYED BY HOWARD,

    THE INVESTMENT IN QUALITY OF EDUCATION _ HOWARD doesn;t understand cause hes a MORON, he hate intellectuals he hates anyone smarter (most ppl) or taller than him (all people). The only thing Hoawrd has in abundance is RAT CUNNING.


  34. The polling results point to a Labor win in Bennelong. I wonder why so many – myself included – persist in thinking that Howard will hang on? When you think about it, if you were unhappy with Howard and happened to be enrolled in Bennelong, you’d have a very direct opportunity to vote against the Howard government. The rest of us only get to express our views about Howard indirectly, and in my case, quite ineffectually, I’m sure.

    I’ve talked myself into putting more faith in the polls. I feel so much better. Howard will get rolled in Bennelong.

    Just a note about the Chinese approach to things. I think there are several inter-acting impulses. First, my Chinese friends and acquaintances will tell you they love thinking of themselves as Aussies, so they will be thinking about the country in the way Chinese people think about such things: they will think of their own financial independance and welfare, the security of their families and friends and the strength of the country. They are much like everyone else in this respect.

    The other fairly well-ingrained characteristics of the Chinese are to respect authority and to be cautious about promises – the promises they make to others and the promises others make to them. They are not automatically trusting – indeed, to generalise – they are sceptical. So when someone in authority makes a promise to them about money (like a promise about interest rates) and then breaks it, they will feel very let down, even angry. In all likelihood, they will not show the world how they feel, but they will express themselves in a ballot like all true Aussies.

    If I’m right, even my conservative, hard-working, thrifty, privately-inclined Chinese immigrant friends can be expected to vote for change.

  35. I live, study and work in Bennelong. And the support for Maxine that I see around me every day is overwhelming. On my 5 minute drive to work, I drive past at least 10 Maxine posters in front of people’s houses. I’d say just about every street has at least one house with a Maxine poster. Everybody I speak to is voting Maxine – and these are not necessarily long-time Labor voters, these are voters who have previously voted Howard. I think it will be tight, but I think she’s going to do it.

  36. I rate Howard slight favourite to hold his seat. Rudd will have to counter the liberal package delivered today. Honest bribes will beat reasoned argument each and every time. Looking ahead, the ALP might have to win 4 seats in the 5%+ swing range to avoid what might be a depressing result. It could be a long night. And a huge kick where it matters to the ABC for keeping it a complete secret that today’s liberal launch would be shown on their web site. They’ve completely lost the plot. I can understand why it wasn’t on the box. Loyalty to their legions of The Bill fans. Commendable, what. Get real, Auntie.

  37. Rudd WILL visit Bennelong. This will have been planned for quite a while for maximum impact. I’d say next Monday. No distractions – Howard will be off somewhere else. Rarely is there an opportunity for an opposition leader like this. It’s exquisite and momentous.
    This will be to great fanfare and coincide with the current campaign against Howard’s uncertain future and the likelihood of Costello slipping in without going to the people. It will dominate the evening news and I can’t wait.
    As to Maxine’s chances, I think the last few days will tell the tale. If Rudd is still where he is now, then 90% of waverers will jump on board (nothing like backing a winner) – Howard will be finished and Maxine will have a very easy win 53 or 54. If labor has a bad (but not catastrophic) week then Howard might just win 51/49 but still lose the election. I’m convinced Howard can get more than 51% 2PP and that’s only if absolutely everything goes his way.

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