Seat of the week: Gilmore

Joanna Gash is taking her personal vote into retirement after 17 years, but Labor still has its work cut out in her Liberal-leaning south coast New South Wales seat.

Gilmore covers a stretch of southern coastal New South Wales, starting in the north with Shellharbour and Kiama at the southern tip of the Illawarra, and extending southwards through Nowra to Ulladulla. According to the 2011 census results, Gilmore has the equal second highest median age out of the 150 House of Representatives electorates, along with the fifteenth lowest median family income. Such is its combination of urban Labor and conservative rural areas that it is actually the wealthier areas where support for Labor is the strongest.

Labor has only won the seat once since its creation in 1984, and has trod water electorally despite very favourable redistributions in 1993 and 2010. Both involved the addition of territory in the Illawarra, most recently with a gain of 20,000 voters around Shellharbour to counter-balance the transfer of the Batemans Bay area to Eden-Monaro. That turned a Liberal margin from the 2007 election of 4.1% into a notional Labor margin of 0.4%, but the Liberals easily retained the seat on the back of a 5.7% swing. This was especially concentrated in the Illawarra booths, where margins that had been inflated by a working class backlash against WorkChoices in 2007 were slashed by around 10%.

Gilmore originally extended deep inland through Goulburn to Young and Cowra, and was held for the Nationals by John Sharp from 1984 to 1993. Sharp moved to Hume after the Nationals-voting interior areas were transferred to it in 1993. Gilmore absorbed Labor-voting Kiama in exchange, which made Labor competitive for the first time and further weakened the Nationals relative to the Liberals. A 1.1% swing to Labor at the 1993 election saw their candidate Peter Knott emerge a surprise winner, with the Nationals only able to poll 5.1%. The Nationals left the field clear for the Liberals at the 1996 election, at which Knott’s 0.5% margin was obliterated by a swing of 6.7%.

The incoming Liberal member was Joanna Gash, a Wingecarribee councillor who had been hand-picked by the party’s state executive to target what at the time was a key front-line seat. Despite retaining a fairly low profile nationally, Gash achieved strong electoral performances both in 1998, where a swing to Labor of 2.2% compared with a statewide result of 4.1%, and especially at the 2001 election, at which a swing in her favour of 10.1% was the biggest in the country. Labor’s candidate on that occasion was Peter Knott, attempting a comeback two elections after his defeat in 1996, who was reckoned to have aided the Liberal cause by asserting American foreign policy had “come back to bite them” in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Further evidence for the Knott effect was provided by the 4.6% correction in Labor’s favour in 2004. Labor picked up a further 5.3% swing in 2007, roughly in line with the state average, which reduced Gash’s margin to 4.1%.

In January 2012 Gash announced she would be scaling back her political career by running for mayor of Shoalhaven in the September local government election, at which she was duly succeeded with 63.2% of the vote, and bowing out of federal politics after serving out her term. Gash’s simultaneous performance of both roles in the interim had internal critics calling for the newly introduced regime excluding state parliamentarians from serving in local government to be extended to the federal sphere. George Williams, University of New South Wales law professor and unsuccessful Labor preselection candidate, further raised concerns that doing so might fall foul of the Constitution’s injunction that federal members must not hold an “office of profit under the Crown”.

The new Liberal candidate is Ann Sudmalis, a former Kiama councillor and staffer to Gash who won a fiercely contested April 2012 preselection with the backing of her old boss. Opposing Sudmalis was Andrew Guile, a Shoalhaven councillor and education administrator who was supported by Kiama MP and factional moderate Gareth Ward. Guile had also once been a staffer to Gash, but the two had since fallen out. Sudmalis prevailed at the preselection vote with the support of 16 delegates against 10 for Guile, along with four for Grant Schultz, Ulladulla resident and son of Hume MP Alby Schultz, and one for Catherine Shields, a marketing consultant from Meroo Meadow. Guile went on to run against Gash in the mayoral election but polled only 5.7%, while still retaining his ward seat.

Labor’s candidate for the third successive election will be local party activist Neil Reilly, who was preselected unopposed. Reilly was initially rebuffed by the party’s national executive before the 2010 election, which rejected his endorsement by local branches and installed former South Sydney rugby league player David Boyle. However, fierce local resistance to the move prompted Boyle to withdraw. The Nationals threatened to field a candidate as it positioned itself for coalition negotiations, with the highly visible former rock singer Gary “Angry” Anderson mentioned as a potential contender, but the arrangement eventually reached has left the seat vacant for the Liberals.

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.

1,383 comments on “Seat of the week: Gilmore”

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  1. Leroy@1347

    GhostWhoVotes ‏@GhostWhoVotes
    #Nielsen Poll 2 Party Preferred: ALP 48 (+1) L/NP 52 (-1) #auspol
    9:30 PM – 21 Oct 12

    wela wella wella.

    The ghost is back in the game. Muchas gracias!

  2. sprocket_

    Neilsen is right on the trend noticed over most polls. Their monthly polls have been very steady, and have lacked the random element of news poll lately, although as Possum pointed out overall they follow the same trend.

  3. Leroy@1347

    GhostWhoVotes ‏@GhostWhoVotes
    #Nielsen Poll 2 Party Preferred: ALP 48 (+1) L/NP 52 (-1) #auspol
    9:30 PM – 21 Oct 12

    Good stuff. Now to consolidate that and build further.

  4. [This little black duck
    Posted Sunday, October 21, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    crikey went into meltdown for 2 minutes. Grassy knoll?]

    Poll result, to many past?

    Nice result, unhinging at the Australian should continue nicely.

  5. TLBD & MM,

    I’d forgotten about hrair. Definitely a repressed memory thing – Watership Down is one of the most frightening books that I have ever read.

  6. [Possum Comitatus ‏@Pollytics

    This week will be more unhinged than usual. Assume the crash position to survive the rhetoric ]

    some predictions.

    More instructions tweeted from Rupert in his NY penthouse.
    More boat beatups.
    Meltdown over MYEFO
    Abbott to say something stupid.
    24hr news cycle to shorten.

  7. [Possum Comitatus ‏@Pollytics
    Trend as of last Sunday 47.6/52.4 ALP/Coalition, now…RT @GhostWhoVotes: #Nielsen Poll 2 Party Preferred: ALP 48 (+1) L/NP 52 (-1) #auspol
    9:34 PM – 21 Oct 12

    Possum Comitatus ‏@Pollytics
    This week will be more unhinged than usual. Assume the crash position to survive the rhetoric
    9:40 PM – 21 Oct 12]

  8. So, as far as I can tell, we’ve got a Neilsen at 52-48, a couple of Morgans floating around the 51.5-48.5 area, an Essential officially at 53-47 though the most recent component of that is almost certainly a point or so closer, and a Newspoll that was sitting on 54-46 after the Margie blitz.

    I’d say we’ve got a contest on our hands. Bunch all those polls together and leave Newspoll on the ‘pending’ pile seeing as so much has happened since they last published, and you’re looking at something just a touch closer than 52-48.

  9. That 10 point lead Gillard has now opened up is significant. I think it is now enough to put Abbott under a lot of pressure.

  10. Rudd’s “verges on sexism” comment in relation to McKew is just stupid and a little too clever by half.

    I assume Kev, nobody is suggesting you ghost wrote it because Maxine couldn’t (we all know she is a journo you know) but rather so you could colour the events with your own spin.

    Not that I have heard that anybody in the govt has even remotely suggested you have.

    Oh and Nielsen should be another nail in your coffin.

  11. I just had a look at the Pollytrend 2PP graph. It was 57-43 in mid-May. So in five months it’s come in about 5 points. For the moment, we shouldn’t be hearing any report on polling qualified with, “but of course the polls still indicate the Coalition would win in a landslide”.

  12. [And the friends and relatives of the 21 sailors killed on board the HMAS Kuttabul in Sydney Harbour on 31st May 1942 by a Japanese midget submarine.]

    The Big Ship, great to hear from you again.

    Didn’t someone more recently comment that in regard to such episodes, “Shit Happens!”?

  13. Evening all.
    [#Nielsen Poll 2 Party Preferred: ALP 48 (+1) L/NP 52 (-1) #auspol]
    [#Nielsen Poll Preferred PM: Gillard 50 (+3) Abbott 40 (-4) #auspol]

    Excellent. Rudd forces eating a shit sandwich for the 5th or 6th week in a row now.

    With any luck they’ll realise the game is up and get behind the current leadership.

  14. Only one “just war” ever for Australia
    I have no doubt that the 2nd world war left Australians no option but to fight for our survival faced with Japanese agression
    I was a school boy at that time and I recall a time of total national unity under John Curtin’s Labor Govt
    In my family John Curtin was regarded as a secular saint and my Mother and Grandmother wept bitter tears on his death… a day to remember…surely our greatest PM

    The Sudan campaign.the Boer War..and all those actions in the 1st WW were not in any way to do with national survival

    Australians in all those wars and conflicts were pawns of the British politicians and their local lackeys ,Hughes being the most notable and the most evil and vicious

    The Labor Movements great victories in the fight in 1916-17 against conscription were of great importance
    Hughes would have sacrificed a generation of young men on the killing fields of France
    All the other wars were a waste of time and lives…Korea/Vietnam and the present engagements…all at the behest of our more recent imperial overlord …
    …we have been at the behest of foreign powers and young Australian men have died at their behest for little gain

    ..and those politicians who have aided and abetted them are fit only for our contempt and scorn…including the present ones who sujpport the Afghan commitment

  15. Wow, Abbott is clearly worried about the polls. He has held a press conference in order to call asylum seekers illegal boat arrivals again.

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