Clarence by-election: November 19

Eight months after its crushing state election victory, Barry O’Farrell’s government faces its first electoral test next Saturday with a by-election in the north coast seat of Clarence. In the absence of any particularly high-profile independent challengers, the poll is unlikely to present too much difficulty for the incumbent Nationals. However, Labor has sportingly decided to enter the field despite the drubbing it received in the electorate at the March state election, and there are suggestions they might at least enjoy some electoral dividend from local dissatisfaction over the coal seam gas issue. However, it might equally be expected that federal issues such as the carbon tax and pokies reform will result in any Labor revival being fairly subdued.

Clarence’s main population centres are Grafton (situated on the river which gives the electorate its name) and Casino, and it covers the coast from Corindi Beach north to Broadwater. Traditionally a conservative seat, it only fell to Labor with the 1981 landslide and when Harry Woods tenuously held on from 1996 to 2003 on the back of a personal vote built up as federal member for Page. Labor’s current member for the latter electorate, Janelle Saffin, did very well at the August 2010 federal election to record a slight majority in the booths covered by Clarence (a small number of which are in Nationals MP Luke Hartsuyker’s seat of Cowper). Labor took a particularly heavy hit in Clarence amid the devastation of the March state election, suffering swings of 19.8 per cent on both the primary and the two-party vote. Their candidate finished a distant third behind independent and Clarence Valley mayor Richie Williamson, who polled 17.0 per cent to Labor’s 10.2 per cent. In Labor-versus-Nationals terms, the two-party margin went from 11.6 per cent to 31.4 per cent.

Apart from the two Labor interruptions just noted, Clarence has been held by the National/Country Party since it was re-established as an electorate in 1927. Labor’s member after the 1981 election was Don Day, who lost the seat to Nationals candidate Ian Causley in 1984. Causley served as member until he gained Page from Woods as part of John Howard’s 1996 federal election victory. The defeated Labor member, Harry Woods, then filled Causley’s state vacancy after picking up a resounding 14.0 per cent swing at the subsequent by-election. This added a handy buffer to what had previously been the Carr government’s one-seat majority. In 1999 Woods came within 143 votes of losing the seat to Nationals candidate Steve Cansdell, a signwriting business operator and Grafton councillor. Cansdell secured the seat on his second attempt when Woods retired in 2003, picking up a small but decisive 1.7 per cent swing, to which he added a further 6.5 per cent in 2007.

The current by-election was initiated when Cansdell resigned from parliament in September after admitting he signed a false statutory declaration to avoid a speeding fine. His successor as Nationals candidate is Chris Gulaptis, a former Clarence Valley councillor and mayor of Maclean, and unsuccessful Nationals candidate for Page when he sought to succeed Ian Causley at the 2007 federal election. The other candidates for preselection were Richie Williamson, the aforementioned independent candidate from the state election; his council colleague Karen Toms; Stuart George, son of Lismore MP Thomas George, whose run hit trouble when it emerged his company Capital Car Sales was in liquidation; Alumy Creek farmer Fiona Leviny; Grafton solicitor Paul O’Connor; and Maclean restaurant owner Jason Cleary. Labor’s candidate is Peter Ellem, a policy adviser to Janelle Saffin and former editor of the Daily Examiner. The remainder of the field includes two independents – Wade Walker, a former paramedic who is calling for an upgrade to the Pacific Highway, and Stewart Scott-Irving, a frequent independent and one-time Labor candidate with a modest electoral record – along with nominees of the Greens, the Christian Democratic Party, the Australian Democrats and the Outdoor Recreation Party.

More info available from Antony Green; this site will as always offer live coverage of the by-election count on Saturday evening.

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.

10 comments on “Clarence by-election: November 19”

  1. No idea really why Labor would even bother. They’re clearly still at a low ebb and this is a strong Green seat….they’ll be happy not to finish 3rd.

  2. Strong Green seat? They got 6.9% at last election against a state average of 10.8.
    The tree hugging and wind chime manufacturing mainly occurs 100km to the north – this is the archetypical Nationals coastal seat and while Labor can win it in exceptional circumstances they will be lucky to get a primary of 20%

  3. [Yes, not at all sure why Labor is wasting their money – easy victory to the Nats.]

    Nationals candidate, Chris Gulaptis is not very popular in this area. Although the ALP candidate Peter Ellem will not win he should increase the ALP vote.

  4. Some memories of when Harry Wood got up – there were both push and pull factors. Harry had been a good federal member but had been swamped in the 1996 landslide – so he had good recognition factor to begin with. Conversely the Nationals candidate was a disaster – he lived in Coffs Harbour and had a reputation for white shoe shonkiness. The result – a swing of more than 17% to the government was a real surprise and marked the turning point for Carr.

    It was even more of a surprise because Carr’s first term had not been going well particularly in regional NSW. Those who believe that the ABC has an anti-Labor bias will be interested to know that the local ABC announcers had been officially reprimanded for giving free plugs and travel advice to residents who travelled to Sydney in the equivalent of “the convoy of no confidence”. I remember that the ABC morning program on the Friday before the election was filled with callers who were confused by the believe that this poll would end the government (Carr did have a 1 seat majority but Clarence was a coalition seat and the result was irrelevant to the government). I lived in Coffs at the time but travelled through the electorate on the way to the Gold Coast on the day of the election and was surprised at the number of Harry Wood core flutes in front yards – I had an inkling that something was up.

    What does this have to do with Saturday? Nothing – Labor can win in the right circumstances but not this Saturday – a 2pp of 65/35.


    [Antony Green’s Election Blog
    November 18, 2011
    Where the Clarence By-election will be Decided

    As I explained in a previous post, there is likely to be a substantial swing to Labor at this Saturday’s Clarence by-election simply because of how poorly Labor polled in the district at the state election in March.

    That becomes even clearer when you look at the results in different parts of the electorate. Around 40% of voters live in and around Grafton, 15.5% in Casino, with other major centres further down the Clarence River with 9.0% at Maclean and 9.4% in Yamba.]

    More in the article

  6. Not long back from Booth duty in McLean. The ALP sent us 34 Young Labor helpers from Sydney. We had 3 of them at our Booth, very nice young men, they travelled the 650 km to Grafton on Friday and arrived late at night, from 9pm were then sent out to do a Door/mail drop and were up at 4:00am to set up the Booths in the Electorate. The Nationals were very well represented in the McLean area and there were a total of 5 of us at the Booth I helped in.
    However I feel that the Young Labor helpers were let down, as they were left to their own devices with no food and had to make their own way and pay their own costs to the Electorate. These are the future of the ALP for gawds sake.

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