Seat of the week: Watson

The inner suburban seat of Watson is on the long list of Sydney seats where Labor is considered in danger of a once unthinkable defeat – potentially cutting short the career of one of the government’s senior figures.

Watson covers inner suburban territory roughly 15 kilometres south-west of central Sydney, from Strathfield and Burwood Heights at the city end to Greenacre and Lakemba further afield. The electorate was called St George from its creation in 1949 until 1993, reflecting the unofficial name of the Hurstville, Rockdale and Kogarah area of Sydney which it formerly encompassed. Watson was drawn further away from its traditional base when the redistribution before the 2010 election abolished its northern neighbour Lowe, from which it absorbed southern Strathfield and Burwood Heights. It also gained Greenacre, Mount Lewis and part of Punchbowl to the west, which were formerly in Banks, while in the south it lost Earlwood and Kingsgrove to Barton and Hurstville to Banks. This left only the voters in the City of Canterbury, accounting for barely half the total, to carry over to the newly redrawn seat. The affected areas were a mixed bag electorally, the changes serving to reduce the Labor margin by 1.9%.

The electorate of St George was for much of its history a classically marginal middle suburban seat, frequently changing hands until Whitlam government minister Bill Morrison recovered it for Labor in 1980 after being unseated in 1975 (the unsuccessful candidate in the intervening 1977 election was Whitlam’s son Antony, who had served in the previous term as member for Grayndler). Morrison was succeeded in 1984 by Stephen Dubois, who retired when Watson was created in 1993 as part of a rearrangement that abolished St George and the Bondi-area electorate of Phillip. Labor accommodated Phillip MP Jeannette McHugh in Grayndler, while Right faction heavyweight Leo McLeay moved from Grayndler to Watson. Meanwhile, Labor’s grip tightened thanks to demographic change which has left Watson with the highest proportion of non-English speakers (72.8%) of any electorate in the country, most notably through the concentration of Lebanese at Lakemba and Chinese and Koreans at Campsie. However, the trend to Labor sharply reversed amid a Sydney-wide backlash at the 2010 election, which reduced Labor’s 18.2% margin by exactly half.

Watson has been held since McLeay’s retirement in 2004 by Tony Burke, who had entered politics the previous year as a member of the state upper house. McLeay had long hoped that his son Paul would assume the seat upon his retirement, but the strength of support for Burke within the Right compelled him to abandon the idea. Paul McLeay was instead accommodated in the state seat of Heathcote, which he held from 2003 until he joined the Labor casualty list at the 2011 state election. Burke meanwhile won swift promotion to the shadow ministry in 2005, going on to serve in cabinet as Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister in the Rudd-Gillard government’s first term and as Sustainability, Environment, Water, Populations and Communities Minister (further gaining arts in March 2013) in its second. Burke has been a resolute supporter of Julia Gillard’s leadership, and spoke publicly of the “chaos” of Kevin Rudd’s prime ministership when he launched his unsuccessful challenged in February 2012.

The Liberals have preselected Ron Delezio, a businessman who came to national attention after his daughter Sophie received horrific injuries in separate accidents in 2003 and 2006. Delezio ran in Banks at the 2010 election, picking up an 8.9% swing against Labor’s Daryl Melham, and unsuccessfully sought preselection there again for the coming election.

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.

3,840 comments on “Seat of the week: Watson”

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  1. The profoundly depressing reality is that Turnbull is able to effectively hold a public debate with Abbott on some of the nuance of Coalition policy – such as turning boats back in this latest instance – simply because Julia Gillard has become such a magnificent gift to the LNP that they can simply take a monumental victory completely for granted. How much starker can the situation be than if your opponents are holding a rather civil discussion on the various policies they will implement when they achieve their inevitable victory?

  2. Who cares about Australia V Jordan. Richmond V Adelaide is the main game. Can the Tiges win and entrench their position in the Eight ?
    You betcha they can.

  3. The poster Rex Douglas ventured the thought the other day that post election Kevin Rudd should be expelled from the ALP. On one hand, I can sympathise with that sentiment – on the other hand, it would make him some sort of martyr – and leave him free to construct some sort of new political force. Better for him to be left sitting impotent on the back bench. Better still, work to make sure Joel Fitzgibbon loses his seat.

  4. [So did the prospect of a return to Rudd lift Labor in the polls?]

    Labor did have an improvement in Essential this week – now 54 to 46.

  5. alias
    “The profoundly depressing reality is that Turnbull is able to effectively hold a public debate with Abbott on some of the nuance of Coalition policy”

    You obviously missed the Fraudband Launch from the Foxtel Studios. What a mishmash of half truths, outright rubbish and misleading nonsense leading many to believe that Abbott will sell the NBN to Murdoch. Certainly Turnbull’s Fraudband will be slower, far more expensive and not meet the upload speeds required.

    Provide a reference to where Abbott has held a cogent public debate, please?

  6. it really is clutching at straws to bring abortion into the election campaign. in a tight squeeze play the gender card that will work. desperate stuff.

  7. MMG

    You miss my point entirely. I agree with you on Abbott. In the case of Turnbull, I believe he imagines that he can turn Abbott around on rolling out the fully Monty once they are in government. Mark Day made a very coherent case for this in a column a month or two ago.

    In some ways, Gillard’s utter ineffectuality at engaging the public has rendered the NBN debate largely irrelevant, like so many other debates that ought to be potent but are lost in the gloom of the Gillard death wish.

  8. “it really is clutching at straws to bring abortion into the election campaign. in a tight squeeze play the gender card that will work. desperate stuff.”

    ‘Cos Tony won’t like it.

    All together now:


  9. Tiche pleads..: ” You know I speak the truth.”


    (but, by christ!’re always very busy handling all your “other stuff”!)

  10. [it really is clutching at straws to bring abortion into the election campaign]

    Must have gone down a treat with Joe de Bruyn and the SDA faction – how to piss off some of the faceless men that put you there.

  11. “In some ways, Gillard’s utter ineffectuality at engaging the public has rendered the NBN debate largely irrelevant”

    Rubbish. Have a look at whirlpool or delimiter. Abbott and Turnbull continue to flounder and bullshit which will bite them.

    How about Abbott’s $1,000,000 per year expenses habit? Betcha neither he nor anyone else in the LNP want to debate that!!

  12. the spectator

    [it really is clutching at straws to bring abortion into the election campaign]
    Umm because the Mad Monk reckons ’The problem with the Australian practice of abortion is that an objectively grave matter has been reduced to a question of the mother’s convenience.’ and …..

    [Let’s be clear on Tony Abbott’s attacks on abortion
    29 October 2012]
    [12 October 2012

    But there is one aspect of Abbott’s attitude to women that is not open to interpretation. Throughout his public life Tony Abbott has held passionate beliefs about abortion. During his days as a student politician he was a fierce anti-choice campaigner, but in the course of his parliamentary career Abbott has consistently reiterated such values.

    This anti-abortion rhetoric was put into action in 2006 when, as Health Minister, he attempted to block the passage of legislation giving Australian women access to RU486 – a drug that the World Health Organisation regards as a safe alternative to surgical abortion. During the ensuing debate Abbott asserted that “every abortion is a tragedy” and that the current rate of abortion was “this generation’s legacy of unutterable shame.”]

  13. Gillard’s desperate resort to the abortion debate is highly reminiscent of the Romney campaign in the US last year, with a different angle of course – but the same nauseatingly predictable scraping of the bottom of the barrel to try to use a potentially divisive social policy issue to pull in a few votes.

  14. Reith says if he was in Julia Gillard’s shoes he’d slash his throat, nice.

    I take it he’d try the shoes AFTER he tried the underwear!?

  15. MMG

    How can the NBN debate be anything but irrelevant? The only issue out there right now is: Just how big will Abbott’s victory margin be? Will the LNP control the Senate? How many Cabinet ministers will be wiped out by the anti-Gillard tsunami.

  16. Abbott’s logic is weird. A mad rooter while at Uni, but no contraception and no abortion.

    He takes no responsibility for himself or his actions at all!

    Nothing has changed since.

  17. alias,

    i always thought abortion was a legitimate social issue to debate and discuss.

    What are the Libs afraid of?

  18. alias,

    While you’re ranting, a debate about Australia’s future might break out.

    What are you Libs so frightened about?

  19. Turned on the tele to ABC. 24. out of interest…soon as the name Reith came up I turned it off again….when will the ABC. ever learn?…..: You don’t serve shit w/ salad!

  20. I agree Julia is clutching at straws, she is desperate, Time someone taped her on the shoulder and said resign.
    Only Rudd can win Labor the next election Julia is good at the policy stuff but a hopeless campaigner and leader.
    If Labor is wiped out then the argument will be why didn’t we do something?
    And what will happen? Their will no coming back in one term no chance so we get terrible workplace reforms and a 12 percent GST. Put simply the Unions will be stuffed.
    Why is Shorten supporting Julia because he wants to be leader, and PM but Shorten is no leader and will not win an election. He is not overly attractive and i rarely see him smile.
    Leaders only come along now and again, Leaders who have the looks and personality, Looks help significantly in winning elections Rudd has this quality. Why do people pick and buy trashy magazines with attractive people on the front? Why does Murdoch have page 3 girls because looks sells and wins over people.
    Julia does not and is seen as dishonest by people, Rudd is not.
    Julia has not been in front in one poll since being Leader other than one during the last election but in the end she nearly lost.
    Rudd was always in front in the polls. If the Labour Party and unions are to survive a wipeout then they must change leaders simple.

  21. GG

    Of course abortion is an issue that is up for legitimate debate if there are proposals out there, or hints of proposals, from either side that might vary the status quo. Correct me if I’m wrong, but there are not.

    All I’m saying is that it’s pretty clear that McTiernan is scrabbling around in the bottom of the barrel. He’s done the xenophobia line with the 457 visa stuff, and that didn’t get Labor very far in terms of improving the primary vote. Now he thinks: By jingo! We can run a scare campaign on abortion, riffing off Abbott’s Catholicism etc.

    Well, it might get them a few votes here and there, though I strongly suspect that all the women with these sort of concerns are already well and truly rusted onto the Gillard train wreck.

    My main point is that it’s indicative of the level of desperation in the Gillard camp.

  22. [A mad rooter while at Uni, but no contraception]
    Sowed his wild oats Monday through Saturday and prayed for a crop failure on Sundays.

  23. muttleymcgee

    [Nothing has changed since.]
    I have linked this before but in case you missed it you can see how right you are. Tony Abbott declared “Father of the Year” at uni and a Mary Whitehouse fanboi to boot what a loser. Except for more rat cunning he has not changed at all.

    [‘Father of the Year’: How Abbott’s abortion stance rendered ridicule

    Just one year after he had walked out on his pregnant girlfriend, who gave her baby up for adoption, as SRC president Abbott addressed the crowd of more than 1000 students where, it was reported in Honi Soit, to “hear Abbott speak is to think he has shares in a baby clothing factory and an adoption agency. Authoritarian meanness, not even beneficial paternalism, is Abbott’s line”. He “claims to have the right to tell others whether they should have children”. In Honi Soit Abbott was accused of “cowardly, anonymously” standing in a group making comments at passing women who supported abortion, “not willing to interject separately –]

  24. Yes Bill Shorten will be deciding whether Gillard is PM or not… not Julia.

    He knifed Kevin, he can knife Julia at his time of choosing.

  25. alias,

    Suck it up princess! Gillard is entitled to frame the debate any way she chooses.

    You can rant and rave some more. But, basically Gillard is very accurate with her description of the outlook of the a possible Tony Abbott lead Government.

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