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. 49
    new aussie Says:
    November 12th, 2007 at 8:25 pm
    I rate Howard slight favourite to hold his seat….I can understand why it wasn’t on the box. Loyalty to their legions of The Bill fans…

    Having absolutely no interest in watching the Lib “launch”, I’m so glad they didn’t bump The Bill.

    Btw new aussie, from where did you migrate? (Just curious..)

  2. Hi all,

    The thing that strikes me about William’s brilliant maps is the amazing disjunct between the votes between the 2004 Federal and the 2007 State election at the booths in a swathe from North Ryde , in a NW direction through to Epping. Mid to high 50% Liberal turns into mid to high 50% Labor. This is in contrast to the booths from Gladesville, west to Ermington, where the percentages stay more or less the same, although with a drift to Labor. I don’t know what this means, but I have a suspicion it means something.

    I commented on an earlier thread that this must be a bugger of a seat to poll, because of the extraordinary demographic diversity. Near the river (they call it THE HARBOUR) in Gladesville and Putney there are houses worth $3 million. Not 1 km away there are little fibro bungalows, inhabited by renters. In Ermington there’s a lot of Housing Commission , and in Meadowbank and Top Ryde, a repellent ugliness of 60’s and 70’s low grade walk-up 3 and 4 storey ‘junk’ home units. Add to this many Asian immigrants, from quite poor to filthy rich. Getting a representative sample, and deciding on weighting must be a near impossibility.

    Added to all of the above is the slow permeation to the typical uninterested voter, of ‘the Coalition are going to lose’ vibe. I am sure that this will cause a sufficient number of ‘back a winner’, and ‘do we really have to have a by-election’ punters to think, “Why not vote for that Maxine bird, she seems to be alright.” They are not voting for a Prime Minister now, just (maybe, but he’s not sure) half of one or, more probably, an early retiree. I mean, why would you bother?

    All in all, I think Johnny’s gone, stuffed, had it, rooted, buggered, no hope. Just wishful thinking?


    Alan H

  3. as the handle says i work a train in the mornings out of eastwood station i sometimes talk with the people on the platform most not all want to see maxine win

  4. 52
    Alan H Says:
    November 12th, 2007 at 8:45 pm ..All in all, I think Johnny’s gone, stuffed, had it, rooted, buggered, no hope. Just wishful thinking?…

    all of the aforementioned, Alan. He’s cactus or I’m not a crazy optimist.

  5. I’ve moved into Bennelong, and lately I’ve seen both Howard and McKew.
    Frankly I can’t vote for either but I don’t know who to vote for. Bored though I am with Howard, I don’t trust McKew – or more specifically, McKew’s mob, the ALP, which I don’t think has much since the days of that subcreature Keating.
    So what do I care about?
    I care about unemployment and the skills shortage – the problem is that in many sectors bosses want skills learned in the workplace, not in the classroom, so this stuff about an “education revolution” is a waste of money; governments should be supporting bosses who are prepared to take on unskilled people, particularly older people who have long left school and don’t care about ever setting foot in a college again, and train unskilled people on the job for at least twelve months. Bosses should be encouraged to train people themselves, as many people can’t afford traditional college or uni training.
    I care about traffic congestion. Neither side is prepared to tackle the chronic car dependency in our major cities that costs the economy billions of dollars in lost productivity as people are stuck for longer in traffic jams. Never mind that public transport is a State responsibility – somebody’s got to get in there and do something, and I don’t care who does it! And because both NSW Labor and the NSW Libs care little about public transport, I reckon that a vote for Howard is also an endorsement of that tree-hugging transport-hater Barry O’Farrell as much as a vote for McKew is an endorsement of that Labrador-puppy-face-like bloke Morris Iemma.
    I swear that had I had the capacity, I would’ve stood as an Independent in Bennelong myself. I might add that I would’ve voted for the late Peter Andren had cancer not cut down his career and now his life – I knew what he did and while I didn’t always agree with him, I would’ve preferred him any day to either the Coalition or Labor. RIP, Peter – this Sydneysider misses you.
    Now I’m buggered if I know how I’ll vote.

  6. Forgot to add in my last post that the bookies odds in Bennelong have been showing reduced odds (as related to his real chances) for Howard since betting opened on Bennelong. Liberal cash has deliberately and systematically maintained a short price for Howard.
    This was essential for Howard to have any credibility. Just imagine the Coalition in the position of having its leader as the outsider. It has probably cost less than 100k to achieve this. A small, and absolutely necessary, price.
    Maxine’s chances are much better than the odds on offer and was wondering when the penny would drop with punters.
    You’ve just got to look at those 5 polls and the anecdotal evidence to smell the Liberal backroom boys at work.
    All you Labor punters out there, get amongst these never-to-be-repeated odds.

  7. William you must be complimented on laying this out so clearly. I had also been one of those who thought Maxine McKew was doing a great job, but that somehow Howard would find a way to hang on in his own seat, even if it cost the rest of us taxpayers billions in pork. But the reality is stark: it is close yet Howard has trailed in every Bennelong poll this year, by at least 2%. And the Galaxy poll sample (800) was reasonable. He is in serious trouble. On current trend he may not easily find 3% in the next two weeks.

    Given the PM’s ongoing practice of residing in Kirribilli in North Sydney electorate, perhaps Maxine should adopt a local slogan:

    “Elect a Resident for Representative in Bennelong”

    It has a nice ring to it 🙂

    If he does lose, an incoming government should charge him market rental for Kirribilli from the election date to his departure. That shoudl reduce teh cost of hsi superannuation for the rest of us by a few $K.

  8. Do not underestimate the power of door-to-door visits in an electorate. This is all to Maxine’s advantage in Bennelong and will add to the effect from interest rates and Howard’s xenophobia wrt asians. I expect Maxine to take it (just) after absentee and postals are all in.

  9. I agree with “Liberal Sources” who claim Bennelong is more vulnerable than Wentworth.

    I think Maxine will win – especially as the talk is getting very quickly to one of defeatism in the Liberal ranks – the stench of death comes on quick and strong.

    But the question is, if McKew wins, what next? She would have to be a chance of a parliamentary sec position. Any idea of her major policy concerns (and no that isn’t to suggest that she has none, but does anyone know if in her past she has shown say a bent for the arts, environment etc)?

  10. Bryce, we’ve had a little campaign on here to sign up to SportingBet for their $30 minimum, and plonk your $100 free bet on Maxine. Just uses up a little bit of the Liberals war-chest to keep the prices looking OK for Johnny. You won’t lose your $30 if you put it on Labor, on the nose, and Maxine’s price is just lovely ($2.80 when I did it).


    Alan H

  11. It must be said that there seems to be an absolute disconnect between the information posted by William about Bennelong – particularly the small but consistent poll leads to Maxine – and the betting odds, which are offering almost $3 for Maxine. Possible reasons as I see it:

    1. Bookies are not paying attention to external factors and don’t care about their biggest individual seat market. (Wouldn’t think so)
    2. All of the bookies have a vested interest in keeping Howard in that they feel is more important than profit, so are spinning for him. (Again, unlikely)
    3. There is inside information which contradicts all we know and is driving this market. (Unlikely)
    4. Liberal strategists are spending campaign money to keep the impression that Howard is ahead here. (The closest for me!)

    So get a bet on Maxine while they are still carrying on with the money flushing at Liberal HQ.

  12. Folks,

    I know its great fun imagining a world where John-boy loses Bennalong, but I find it helpful to look at the results for last election here.

    Even after the massive “not happy john” campaign of ANdrew Wilke, Howard’s primary vote was 49.89%. Basically, if only 90 more people voted for him, the seat would not have had to go to preferences.

    When the seat did go to preferences, he picked up 12% of the andrew wilke vote.

  13. Mr Squiggle: I bet a lot of Liberals are looking at the last election in hope.
    However, they are still stuck back in 2004.

    Newsflash: We are now in 2007, payback time.

  14. Is it me, or was the coverage of the election campaign on the 7.30 Report a bit lame tonight? What I mean is Kerry didn’t even get to interrogate anyone tonight.

  15. Hi Squiggle, please read my 52, and look at the maps, and take on board that JWH is not going to be PM, and that by the Election date, everybody will know it. See if you can figure out a few reasons that he might, just possibly, lose 2.4% of the 2PP vote he got last time. If you can’t, then good luck to you! I’ll stick with my opinion, I think Johnny’s gone, stuffed, had it, rooted, buggered, no hope.


    Alan H

  16. Anyone see on Mediawatch just now that Caroline Overington sent emails to Newhouse’s ex in Wnethouse asking her to direct her preferences to Turnbull because it would make a better story, and that that Turnbull was a better candidate???? Unfreaking believable from a supposed journalist. Fark me dead.

  17. Asanque – I tend to vote for what could be delivered in the next three years, rather than look back in anger, but that’s just me. If you need revenge, cool, OK

    Alan – saw your post, and thought about it for a while, its why I looked at the numbers for 2004.

    Each election there seems to be some romantic notion of a surprise win, a cinderalla story, an outside chance at a hung parliament, whatever.

    In 2007, the story is the hue over McKew

    None of these things ever happen really.

    My guess is that it will be tight, but Maxine will concede by about 10:30pm

    What odds can I get at the moment?

  18. Mr Squiggle: So you are voting Labor then I presume.

    Because all Howard has to offer is a mid-term retirement, broken promises and a lot of pork.

  19. Monica Attard (media watch) has gone out on a high, gob smacking! We all knew the Shamaham, Glug Glug and Janet were filthy, but Overington has topped them all. I wonder what sort of media watch we’ll get next year with that lightweight Trioli in charge?

  20. Mr Squiggle : A valid point, but how does that hold up to the polls, all of which show the ALP ahead on both TPP AND Primary? Which portion of voters do you believe these polls are missing? Or do you believe people will say one thing but then vote the other way?

  21. 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.

    Well, William, may I suggest a Campaign Launch thread?

    I have not read, well. much at all, but I suspect I know what I will see.

    Otherwise, we just hang on any thread.


  22. from Aunty, FYI,

    “How To Vote – An independent candidate in one of the most crucial, marginal seats to be decided at the election says a senior reporter from The Australian tried to persuade her to direct her preferences to the sitting Liberal member, Malcolm Turnbull. Caroline Overington of The Australian emailed the candidate saying that Malcolm Turnbull would be a loss to the parliament – denigrating the value of the ALP’s George Newhouse as a potential MP.”

  23. Asanque – I have taken an oath, I will never vote Labor again. I survived 1992 and 1993, but only just. The most the left can hope from me is a vote for the greens, although I’ve previoulsy confessed to voting for Peter King last election in Wentworth.

    Matt – its a good question. I think a large chunk of people who have not made up their mind yet will vote for Howard. If I try and think like someone who doesn’t care too much about the result, someone who hasn’t made up thier mind yet, I find myself thinking that I’d stick with Howard on election day.

    As long as John-boy is within a point or two of Maxine, my guess is he will get over the line on the day. I have no science to support my view, its largely a gut instinct

  24. 86 Crikey Whitey, fairanuff, Tingle was impressive on the tube the other night (ABC Lateline), left the ‘biographer’ in her wake, he was a bit of a dolt I thought. And apologies to Mr Bludger for being off message.

  25. [83 Crikey Whitey, John Laws theme music, pissah!]

    No, it is NOT Herb Alpert’s El Presidente (Law’s theme).

    To me it sounded like some sort of Royalty free Music.

  26. #62
    Why muck around with 2.75. I plan to do $30 on the nose for Maxine ( a sure bet) and my $100 goes on Higgins (Smirky @ 8.00) or North Sydney(The Hick @ 7.00) to go down.
    I was going to go for Mayo(Downer) but he seems to have vanished from the betting. I’m undedecided at the moment but favor Smirky as I think his demographics, and his demeanour, could spring a surprise.

  27. Dario at 66 & 67

    I also watched mediawatch. CO is a shocker- but not unexpected given that she works for GG. Atleast JA does not pretend to be unbiased! These people have no ethics or shame.

  28. Mr Squiggle:

    [Asanque – I have taken an oath, I will never vote Labor again. I survived 1992 and 1993, but only just. The most the left can hope from me is a vote for the greens, although I’ve previoulsy confessed to voting for Peter King last election in Wentworth.

    I don’t vote Labor either. I believe the two major parties leave a lot to be desired. However, whilst it is easy to dislike the politicians that form part of a party, I never really saw the need to dislike a party. I dislike John Howard and the Coalition merely because of their policies, especially in Iraq and their constant lies and broken promises. Once Howard goes, I would consider the Liberals again.

    If Rudd follows the Howard pathway of lies and no accountability, my side support for him vanishes also.

    For the record I am undecided about my vote, but it will most likely go Greens with preferences to the ALP. As opposed to informal last election.

  29. Just curious.. Say Howard is ahead in Bennelong but it becomes obvious early on the 24th that he will loose the national contest. Can he concede his seat or does he wait out the night then retire a few weeks later?

    Seems pointless hanging in there and causing a bye-election

  30. I grew up in Bennelong (Howard came to my school once or twice), and I think it’s very winnable for Labor, especially with the general polling trends as they are. Both the seat and the district have changed out of recognition from when I lived there, and all of these changes (the successive redistributions, the influx of Chinese and Korean migrants etc) work to Labor’s advantage in the long run.

    I suspect Bennelong is set for an era when it’s a classic marginal, most likely being held by the party that wins government. It is an extraordinarily average area – quite literally, as it comes out pretty much in the middle of any demographic trend you care to mention. I’ve often wondered if it is in fact Howard’s personal vote that has kept this seat from becoming a swing seat over the last decade or two, but it looks like even that won’t be enough to save him this time.

  31. Mr Squiggle at 78.
    ‘In 2007, the story is the hue over McKew.

    None of these things ever happen really.
    Each election there seems to be some romantic notion of a surprise win, a cinderalla story…
    My guess is that it will be tight, but Maxine will concede by about 10:30pm.’

    The hue over McKew
    Is glowing and new
    The lovely Maxine
    Will provide us our due
    Regret and what rue
    Old PM, oh adieu!

    Tabitha’s Auntie Crikey.

    Oh, and Maxine’s glass slippers are a perfect fit.

  32. Re. How the ethnic groups (various) may be viewing the election will in all probability be not very different from any reasonably well educated group. People coming here from overseas tend to be mostly well-educated and able to read the media “between the lines” having had practice in doing this in the controlled press in most Asian countries. Am an ethnic myself (SEAsia) and have had the dubious joy of reading the Singaporean and Malaysian press which, sadly, the MSM in Australia is now resembling. (I heared a Polish friend say the same thing about his experience of the Communist regime press being similar to what he was experiencing here from a supposedly “free press”.)

    Given that, I expect they will have a similar the range of political attitudes as the rest of the country according to their life experience and philosophical bent. Most Asian cultures place a very high value on ethical dealing and on education as having intrinsic value as well as being a means of making one’s way economically. Countries like Taiwan and Korea spend have excellent public education systems – far better than their private institutions. To them the way education has been used to create a social divide by the Howard government would not be viewed as ethical use of taxes collected from the whole community.

    There’s reason to be optimistic. Idealists are not identified by their ethnic origin. Nor are crooks and charlatans.

  33. Pancho @63 don’t forget the mug punters who will vote for Howard in his electorate either out of hero worship or because they just can’t accept that he could lose or because they heard the bit about only one PM ever losing his seat before. Add to that the public perception and media spin.

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