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. 4 Corners and the ‘Undecided’; stupid is just ….. too complimentary. If you ever wanted to gain an understanding of why Howard has been successful watch this ‘show’.

  2. There he was, Mr Rudd, all bright and shiny on the tele tonight, in soothing tones assuring, “We will not match their spending.” He has now enlisted the RBA to his cause. More power to Mr Rudd, I say. “Inflation? Rising Rates? You want them? Vote for Mr Howard!”

  3. Kirribilli 149, True enough on the question of why is the ABC chasing televisual disasters in the last 2 weeks of the campaign? Presumably the Board told them to, but that’s not the point. You can’t wriggle away from the smugocracy claim so easily, they are not thick (even if they make you feel good about yourself), they, up until about Jan 07 were AVERAGE Aussies and they deserve more than smartarsery if they are going to be won over. Now I like a psepho joke as much as the next person and I have always enjoyed the wit and insight of your posts so far (your blog name is a cracker) but don’t use your scant pepper to pick on the salt.

  4. Bah Humbug. The 4 corners program was selective not representative. If only 5 people vote for Howard at this election I would be able to do a 4 corners show on them. It means absolutely less than nothing.

  5. OK, can’t sleep tonight, not sure what it is, I ate a whole pack of mentos out of boredom today at 4:00pm and now I’m itching all over and can’t sleep

    Asanque at 92 – I think the basic function of the ALP is act as the political wing of the union movement. The ALP will never stray far from this core raison d’etre, although other peripheral issues tend to get associated with the ALP, like Health care and education, they will never be at the heart of the ALP.

    By the way, Asanque, where did you come up with your Nom de plume? Is it some foriegn word we should all know? Seriosly, I’d like to know, I’ve even Googled “asanque” and I’m none the wiser

  6. Cognizant as I am, Blogmaster, of your strict policy regarding things “frivolous” as articulated clearly in comment 15 of the present thread, I humbly submit the following before retiring for the evening.

    Chris B Says:
    November 12th, 2007 at 5:27 pm
    Go Maxine, kill the rodent.]

    Elmer”Maxine” Fudd as Brunhilde from The Bugs Bunny Show stands resolutely at dawn outside Kirribilli House. Cue Valkyrie Wagner music……

    “Kill da Woe-dent! Kill da Woe-dent!”

  7. [OK, can’t sleep tonight, not sure what it is, I ate a whole pack of mentos out of boredom today at 4:00pm and now I’m itching all over and can’t sleep]

    Watch Vaile’s speech from the launch again Squiggle, that will have you drifting off in next to no time.

  8. This is probably my third response to the national part of this website.
    I enjoy reading all the comments particularly when you all get into analysis.

    I did comment a couple of weeks ago that I thought that if the 2PP was around 8 to 10% next week that Maxine would win Bennelong. I am feeling increasing confident each day.

    I must however comment on the derision directed to the participants of 4 Corners tonight.

    What ever you think of their education levels it is the responsibility of the Labor Party to convince them a change of vote is required. If that cannot be done it rests squarely on the shoulders of the party as a failure. To denigrate them is elitist and exactly resembling the type of society Howard has promoted.

    If you dont agree with them continue the fight to convince them a better world exists.

    I wonder if that is the Rudd world though?

    Personally I prefer Latham, loser that he was.

  9. Kuwashima and SIEV XI,

    Sorry, for not responding earlier. Its an interesting question,

    I think part of the answer in 2007 for me is that fortunately, there has a been a better alternative to the ALP at each election since 1993 and I have not had to question my position.

    Kuwashima, there are two parts to your question:

    1) I might let bygones be bygones if I was certain the ALP had transitioned away from what it was in 1993-1996. I don’t know much of what TOny Blair did with “new Labor”, but my sense is that the ALP will need to move past its union-core strucutre to become a valid alternative at all elections, and not just a preferred choice at the “its time” elections. In other words, if the ALP was sufficiently different from the beast that oversaw my personal poverty, then a reconciliation is on the cards. A simple change of personell won’t do it though

    2) I agree with JWHs view that the Libs will manage an economy better but I reach that conclusion by looking at today’s environment, and not by comparing interest rates over 3.5 decades. I acknowldegde and forgive the selective use of historical interest rates from both sides of politics, they are both guilty of using dumbed down messages. Instead, I have made up my own mind from the information available.

    Its like the man said, “who do you trust”

  10. Thanks,Alan H…never a betting person, but now enrolled with Sportingbet with the $30/$100 you suggested. Annoying that they phoned my mobile with ads/offers,however.

  11. Congratulations!!! Another excellent coverage of the seats that count by William.

    Voted the Bests election coverage on the net. (Andrew Landeryou comes second for comments and information but in a different league)

    It would be great if Maxine wins the seat. She is without doubt one of the best political ABC journo’s turn Polly around. She has added spice to this otherwise boring campaign. Go girl go.

  12. I went to a function in Eden Monaro (Queanbeyan) today at which Bob hawke spoke. Afterwards whilst speaking to another attendee I overheard Hawke tell Steve Whan the local state member that Maxine would “shit it in”.I don’t know what info he has access to that we wouldn’t, bur he is certainly very busy campaigning in the marginals.

    Off topic a little, but at the same function I overheard the ALP candidate Mike Kelly tell someone that at a function at Narooma on the south coast, he got a crowd which “had to turn about 200 away because the hall was limited to 500 for safety reasons”. This is an extraordinary figure for anyone at a country town.

  13. Mike Cusack @ 165.

    That is just Hawke’s speak. Bob Hawke has no idea, never has, he was an overall embarrassment of the 1980’s If it was not for Keating he would never have run the country. Strangely enough I have more respect for Fraser nowadays then Hawke. But I still remember November 11, 1975… Lets we forget..

  14. To P&A!!!!

    Yes I strongly believe there is a responsibility that by far the majority of the people who contribute to this site have to be visible in our communities and work to get people past the what do I get syndrome. I know a lot do and have been successful in this campaign over many months but let’s face it Howard has been successful because he sells to the “What’s in it for me” voter.

    Does Labor want two terms because they can or seven terms because the philosophy is right. I want seven!

  15. No,Colin,
    I wrote
    “Hear,hear…whatever happened to the common good”

    ..and then being conscious of being an ‘arriviste’/amateur, decided to delete!

  16. My memory is still of the Briggs (Galaxy) radio comment that he believed Howard would lose. He based that on the fact that the three Galaxy polls were several months apart and all came out about the same (McKew 51-49 or 52-48 2PP).

    His assumption, especially with the last one the same, was that there’d been no movement over that time. He saw that as very bad news for Howard.

    It sounds very much like the national figures of 55-45 also not moving much over time. Perhaps the 4-point difference is the Howard local member recognition factor, or maybe it just reflects the increasingly marginal demographic.

  17. Why are Ryde & Gladesville the Labor pockets north of the river as Strathfield is the Liberal pocket to the south? if Labor wins Bennelong it will like Lowe (or Ryde & Strathfield at the state level) become a seat which Labor usually wins. Howard is polling worse than Turnbull which suggests that he is losing the yuppie ‘reublican Liberals’ who are sticking with Turnbull.

  18. Either way you look at it, Maxine will be Bennelong’s MP in just a couple of months. Should the Coalition lose, can you really see JWH hanging around? There’ll be blood on the tiles in the Liberal dressing room, and the rat will be the first to go. He may even resign on the 24th/25th.

  19. 117
    Hilton Says:
    November 12th, 2007 at 11:42 pm
    This is certainly a site which attracts a lot of the scum of the feral movement, the un-Australian filth of this election.

    Just thought you’d pop in and prove your own contention eh Hilton?

  20. Howard on Radio National this morning: “I expect to retain my seat!”
    Either he’s privy to Liberal internal polling we haven’t seen, or the silly old goat has lost touch with reality.
    Go Maxine!

  21. Let’s hope jthe deportation of the Korean woman (Lateline last night) gets a lot of coverage in the Korean press. May sway some Korean voters in Bennelong.

  22. Thanks Mr Squiggle.

    Understand your reply. It makes much sense – compared to the notion of an oath never to vote one way again in sickness and in health as long as you both shall live.

    I do disagree somewhat with your analysis, I think economic management will be much of a muchness – the Libs’ spending spree will put massive inflationary pressures on the economy, so they have traded their economic credibility for election bribes in my view (although I agree Labor is not much better). You might consider the Libs will manage the economy better – I prefer to take Ross Gittins’ line that Swan will know about as much as Costello did on day 1 at his first treasury briefing. That does not spell doom for the economy.

    On the second issue of union domination – I can understand this also. Although I again take a different viewpoint – it was Hawke who first started the pro-business anti-union agenda the Libs now hail as visionary with degregulation etc. I suppose a pro-union person in power can achieve more anti-union policy co-operatively than an anti-union person can. Hence I tend to disregard the union scare.

    Thanks for the comments.

  23. Albert @ 138

    No I missed 4Corners, and you may be right. But I think there’ll be enough people who will realise a vote for Howard is a vote for doing it all again in February to get Maxine home.

  24. Squiggle at 156 – Fair enough. I guess we’ll find out how Rudd controls the unions IF he gets in.

    As to the nom de plume, its not a foreign word per se, but I’ll leave it mysterious for the time being 🙂

    Squiggle at 162.
    I can acknowledge your viewpoint about Labor, but going on your oath, you appear to be someone of strong moral principles. That is why I’m bemused as to your support for the Liberals where Howard has no such honour.

    I can’t imagine you would be the type of person to say “I will never ever” do something, and then do it. Because you appear to be the type of person (similiar to myself), that places great importance in honesty and the truth.

    Given rising inflation and interest rates (somewhat due to the world economy), I’d seek further information from you as to what makes Howard a better economic manager. From what I can see, the massive pork barrelling from both sides and failure to invest in infrastructure and skills are large black marks against the Liberals.

    I can’t see anyone seriously trusting the Liberals on anything given their past record. Its a fail on almost every single policy area.

    That is why I advocate I vote for minor parties as opposed to the major parties until we get more accountability and more policies aimed at actually bettering Australia.

  25. Maybe this should go in the Bennelong thread, but there’s just been a small movement to Maxine on Sporting bet, but we’ll know all the others on Jackman’s site after noon today.

    It’s been rock steady for days, so is this the beginning of the Rodent’s slide down the punter’s pole/poll ?

  26. One should not get too carried away by either polls or one’s own prejudices when trying to predict election outcomes. If the polls are to be trusted, it is only insofar as they are predicting some swing back to the ALP. But to estimate the likely size of this swing I’d prefer to rely on 2 other factors: history and common sense.

    History implies that the 2pp vote for Labor, if a change in govt happens, will likely be in the 52%-53% range. The It’s Time election of 72 delivered 52.7, the silver bodgie in 83 achieved 53.2. I personally cannot see those figures being exceeded this time. The economy is not in the state it was under Fraser in 83. Howard is in no way the ineffectual leader McMahon was in 72.

    Looking at the Pendulum, the 16 seats most likely to change hands takes you down to Dobell. But to expect all of these 16 marginals to switch is to succumb to self-delusion. There are 2 basic reasons I say this. First, Bennelong and Wentworth would have to be coalition losses. For obvious reasons, one has to doubt this would happen. Second, there is likely to be a surprise coalition hold among the other 14 most-marginals. History shows us that there will always be a seat or two that goes against the trend.

    Therefore, I think its likely that Labor will need to win at least 3 seats in the 5-6 plus range. And there are only 7 of them, Deakin to La trobe. After that you’re in 6% plus. That is the south col of Rudd’s Everest.

    Of course the swing won’t be uniform – and in fact the ALP should hope that the swing is as un-uniform as possible. It may need to snare a seat or two out in the 7-8% range.

    In my opinion this election will come down to a wafer-thin margin. Encumbancy, the donkey vote, blatant bribery and mental coin tossing will all influence the outcome. Most of all, Rudd should not rely on voters being either rational or idealistic. He should consider boosting his own repertoire of promises at Wednesday’s launch. He would be foolish to allow his bid for power to be finessed at the 11th hour by the tried and true tactics of his conservative opponent. Assuming his pragmatic instincts and nerve hold, I’m predicting a cliffhanger. The sun will probably fade in the west for one of the main parties. Which one I leave in the hands of my fellow citizens. The main question is whether the supplies of beer hold out for the night’s finale, and whether we’re all still friends in the morning..

  27. Given the average of something like 50 or 60 polls for the whole year is 54-55% to the ALP on two party-preferred, Howard needs both a dramatic narrowing (preferably a collapse in the ALP’s primary vote) and for him to hold on to the marginals.

    On history, Hawke won in 1983 when seats like North Sydney didn’t want to know Labor. This time Labor will get votes from both people disenchanted on interest rates and workchoices who deserted in ’96 and defecting Liberals who’ve had enough of Howard.

    Remember two big issues are environmental and the Greens are likely to do as well if not better than last time. Note the only recent primary changes seem to be Labor to Green not Labor to Liberal (I am disregarding predictions that Labor will get 51% nationally, that is simply too high).

    How many of the marginals Howard can hold depends on the local dynamics interacting with the national tide. I expect Solomon, Braddon and Dobell to fall pretty late, if Howard is to hang on he probably has to hold at least two of them. The trend suggests that is just too hard.

    Remember that Howard was the safe pair of hands last time against Latham. Now Howard has offended a lot of people on interest rates and workchoices, which combined with a heap of other things that have mounted up creates a critical mass of opposition. I expect Labor to clean up a lot of the seats in the 5-7% range like Blair, Robertson and Herbert.

    There will be some huge swings in that 7-8%+ bracket, the only question is will they tip Labor candidates in. I think they will if those candidates come across as capable performers such as in Sturt. Some seats like McPherson and Macarthur may swing big but it does not take much to chop a 15% swing down to 10-11% so Labor will only pick up those seats if something go really pearshaped. A lot of interesting seats might be getting more pork next time though.

    Some of the individual seats are likely to be close, but the actual result is likely to give Labor a pretty decent majority. That closeness in most seats will keep WA in the contest.

  28. Asanque,

    Unsure if you are still on this thread,

    How do I support Howard, when he has no honour? You would need to establish the premiss of the question before I could answer it, does John H have no honour?

    Why do I think the libs are better managers? I could never expect the ALP to deregulate the Labor market to allow unemployed a greater shot at doing the same job for cheaper wages than the incumbents. IN terms of fiscal management, I would never count on the ALP to religously persue surpluses and carry a philisophy that individuals are better placed to choose what to do with excess funds than governments.

    I agree the lack of investment in infrastrcutre is a huge black mark against the libs though, golden opportunities are being passed over

  29. Mr Squiggle:

    I’m surprised you do not know John Howard’s record.
    Here are a list of dishonourable acts off the top of my head.
    1. “Never ever” GST
    2. Children Overboard
    3. Non-core promises
    4. Iraq War debacle – lied about the premise of the war
    5. Failure to hold anyone accountable for AWB and failing to provide an inquiry into government responsibility
    6. Deliberately lying 3 times in relation to his claim about interest rates
    7. Ignored fundamental human rights re: David Hicks

    In terms of labour deregulation, wasn’t the ALP responsible?

    In terms of economic management, running constant surpluses is irresponsible as constant debt. It means the government is taking too much money from us and not investing it.

    The Costello debt furphy is something I’m happy to discuss in further detail if required.

  30. #189

    1. He changed his mind, opened the GST to public debate and won a mandate from the public in 1998.
    4. Even Kevin Rudd said back in 2003 that there was “absolutely no doubt Saddam has weapons of mass destruction”.

  31. 1. No public figure especially the leader of a political party should make a statement that is something that he is unable to retract. If he does, it means he is stupid, incompetent or corrupt.

    And by mandate, do you mean, did not win the popular vote?

    2. Kevin Rudd was wrong. However, John Howard was the Prime Minister and took us into an illegal and disastrous war. The buck stops there.

  32. 1. We live in a Westminster system. I suggest you google that and educate yourself 🙂
    2. How can you guarantee that Kevin wouldn’t make similarly poor judgements when PM?

  33. 1. I realise that, but seeking a mandate is one thing, a clear blatant lie is another.

    2. I can’t. However, you can take a proven liar vs an unproven one.

    I know who’d I prefer any day of the week.

  34. Asanque,

    The way this blog moves on to new issues, there is little chance you will come back to this, but I would like to respond

    1) Like Justin, I think the upfront approach from JWH of announcing a GST as part of his platform before the 98 election was an act of honesty and integrity. Basically, his “never ever’ pledge was reviewed by the public, tested and reviewed from every angle and was voted in at the 98 election. Today, the GST is a giant yawn, it doens’t effect me in the slightest

    2) My memory of the children overboard issue is that there weren’t actually any children overboard. What’s the problem here? What is the crime that justifies claims of dishonour? I find the claim that a Prime Minister did not have direct knowledge of children in the water and relied on advice from ministers or public servants to be entirely plausible.

    3)non-core promises – needs more examples please

    Oh bugger it, if you read this, let me know on a more up to date thread and I’ll come back

  35. The Asian vote is lost to Howard anyway. What Howard should do is something he has done so well in the past i.e. make some comment that Australian values are being eroded by non white immigration and that the Coalition is the only party that can defend those values. That way he stands a good chance of gathering many bi-partisan white votes. Note that he has already tried this tactic ( Citizenship test, Sudanese migrants) but wasn’t brave enough to go further.

  36. Just a comment as a Bennelongian who has voted against Howard in the last two elections (since I was eligible) – the fact that Maxine is a HUGE bonus in this campaign because know that Bennelong knows Howard is retiring, potentially for a by-election, but definitely for a nobody; whereas Bennelong can chose a new strong local member that will have a voice within the Labor party, and most likely the Government.

    I think John Howard’s retirement plans play alot stronger in Bennelong than in the rest of the country, he’s told everyone else who will replace him as leader, but not told his own electorate what will happen with Bennelong. Maxine will scrape through with the finest of margins.

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