UPDATE (8/4/2013): Essential Research has Labor up a point to 32%, the Coalition steady on 49% and the Greens down two to 9%, with two-party preferred steady on 56-44. Perceptions of the economy have improved (good up 10 points since a year ago to 45% and poor down three to 26%). Those who answered good or poor were respectively asked why the government wasn’t popular, and what it was that made them think that given low unemployment and inflation. Strong support was also found for taxing superannuation earnings and contributions of high-income earners, at 55% compared with 35% opposed.
Known prior to the 2010 election as Prospect, the western Sydney electorate of McMahon covers two distinct suburban areas separated by Prospect Reservoir and semi-rural areas immediately to the west. Closer to the city are the suburbs of Greystanes and Fairfield approximately 30 kilometres from the CBD, together with Bossley Park and the Wetherill Park industrial area immediately to the west. These areas collectively account for about 80% of the electorate’s population. In the north-west of the electorate are the City of Penrith suburbs of St Clair and Erskine Park. There is a wide variability in ethnic diversity among the electorate’s suburbs, with English speakers accounting for over three-quarters of the population in St Clair and Erskine Park compared with barely a fifth in and around Fairfield, home to large Arabic and Vietnamese populations. This is broadly reflected in income levels, with family income in the former areas roughly double those of the latter.
Prospect was created at the 1969 election, at which time it covered Liverpool some distance to the south. It was drawn closer to the city with the expansion of parliament in 1984, which saw Liverpool accommodated by the new seat of Fowler. Labor has held the seat at all times, but a weakening trend has been evident since a 5.8% swing in 2004 reduced the margin to 7.1%. This was doubled by the swing to Labor in 2007, but a 6.0% swing in 2010 brought it back down to 7.8%. The area covered by the electorate turned from red to blue in the 2011 state election landslide, the only holdout being Fairfield (the majority of which is in McMahon’s eastern neighbour Blaxland) where the margin was reduced from 20.4% to 1.7%. The swings in Mulgoa, which covers St Clair and Erskine Park, and Smithfield, including Bossley Park and surrounding suburbs, were over 20%.
Prospect/McMahon has been held since 2004 by Chris Bowen, the previous members having been Richard Klugman until 1990 and Janice Crosio thereafter. A member of the New South Wales Right, Bowen served his political apprenticeship as chief-of-staff to state government minister Carl Scully. He was promoted to the front bench in 2006, and on the election of the Rudd government became Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs. His elevation to cabinet came when he filled the vacancy created by the resignation of factional colleague Joel Fitzgibbon in June 2009. He at first assumed the human services, financial services, superannuation and corporate law portfolios, before being delivered the hospital pass of immigration and citizenship after the 2010 election.
Chris Bowen emerged during the current term as one of the principal agitators for Kevin Rudd to return to the leadership, and he was discussed as a possible contender for Treasury and/or the deputy leadership if Rudd’s challenge in February 2012 had succeeded. He emerged unscathed from the reshuffle that followed, and was reassigned to Chris Evans’ portfolios of tertiary education, skills, science and research when Evans bowed out in February 2013. After the collapse of a second bid to draft Kevin Rudd the following month, Bowen forestalled imminent dismissal by joining fellow Rudd backers Martin Ferguson and Kim Carr in an exodus from cabinet.
The preselected Liberal candidate is Ray King, police superintendent for the Liverpool area who served in the same capacity in Fairfield from 2005 to 2008. Fairfield councillor Frank Oliveri had initially been considered the front-runner, but he withdrew amid an Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry into non-disclosure of election fundraising ahead of the 2007 election. Other contenders for the preselection were Casula real estate agent Joe Romeo and the candidate from 2010, Iraqi immigrant and Fairfield grocery store owner Jamal Elishe.
A ReachTEL automated phone poll of 630 respondents in the electorate, conducted in early March to coincide with five days of campaigning in western Sydney by the Prime Minister, found Bowen to be heading for a heavy defeat with 31.8% of the primary vote against 52.5% for the Liberal Party, panning out to a 62-38 Liberal lead after preferences. A further question on how respondents would vote if Kevin Rudd was leading the Labor Party had the Liberal lead at 53-47.