Seat of the week: Canberra

Labor lost its grip on the electorate covering the south of the national capital amid the wreckage of the Whitlam and Keating governments, but there have been few suggestions it will go that way again this time.

The electorate of Canberra covers the southern half of the national capital together with the bulk of the Australian Capital Territory’s thinly populated remainder, with northern Canberra accommodated by the seat of Fraser. Both seats were created when the territory was first divided into two electorates in 1974. The Australian Capital Territory had been a single electorate since the expansion of parliament in 1949, but its member only obtained full voting rights in 1968. A third electorate of Namadgi was created for the 1996 election, accommodating Tuggeranong and its surrounds in Canberra’s far south and pushing the Canberra electorate north of the lake to include the city’s centre and inner north. However, the previous order was reinstated when the seat entitlement to slipped back to two at the 1998 election, in large part due to Howard government cutbacks to the federal public service. The two ACT electorates presently have enrolment of around 130,000 voters each, compared with a national average of around 96,000.

The Australian Capital Territory electorate was won by an independent at its first election in 1949, but was held by Labor after 1951. Kep Enderby came to the seat at a 1970 by-election and carried over to Canberra in 1974, serving as Lionel Murphy’s successor as Attorney-General in 1975. He was then dumped by a 10.4% swing to the Liberals at the December 1975 election, and for the next two terms the seat was held for the Liberals by John Haslem. The seat’s natural Labor inclination finally reasserted itself in 1980 with the election of Ros Kelly, who served in the Hawke-Keating ministries from 1987 until she fell victim to the still notorious “sports rorts” affair in 1994. Kelly’s indulgent departure from parliament a year later was followed by a disastrous by-election result for Labor, with Liberal candidate Brendan Smyth gaining the seat off a 16.2% swing.

Smyth unsuccessfully contested the new seat of Namadgi at the 1996 election, and Canberra was won easily for Labor by Bob McMullan, who had served the ACT as a Senator since 1988. The reassertion of the old boundaries in 1998 caused McMullan to move to Fraser, the Labor margin in the redrawn Canberra being 5.1% lower than the one he secured in 1996. Canberra went to Annette Ellis, who had entered parliament as the member for Namadgi in 1996, while Fraser MP Steve Darvagel agreed to go quietly after a brief parliamentary career which began when he succeeded John Langmore at a by-election in February 1997. Ellis added 7.2% to an existing 2.3% margin at the 1998 election, and held the seat safely thereafter.

In February 2010, both Ellis and McMullan announced they would not contest the election due later that year. Large fields of preselection contestants emerged for both seats, with the front-runner in Canberra initially thought to be Michael Cooney, chief-of-staff to ACT Education Minister Andrew Barr and a former adviser to opposition leaders Mark Latham and Kim Beazley. However, Cooney shortly withdrew amid suggestions Kevin Rudd was ready to use national executive intervention to block him. The eventual winner was Gai Brodtmann, a former DFAT public servant who had established a local communications consultancy with her husband, senior ABC reporter Chris Uhlmann. Together with Andrew Leigh’s win in Fraser, Brodtmann’s win was seen as a rebuff to local factional powerbrokers who had pursued a deal in which the Left would support Mary Wood, adviser to Housing Minister Tanya Plibersek and member of the Centre Coalition (Right), and the Right would back the Nick Martin, the party’s assistant national secretary and a member of the Left, in Fraser. However, Brodtmann was able to build a cross-factional support base of sufficient breadth to prevail over Wood by 123 votes to 109.

The Liberal candidate for the coming election is Tom Sefton, a Commonwealth public servant who has served in Afghanistan as a commando officer. Sefton polled a respectable 4.2% as a candidate for Molonglo at the October 2012 Australian Capital Territory 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.

1,897 comments on “Seat of the week: Canberra”

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  1. alias@1428

    As for questions closer to earth, I’d like to join the chorus in welcoming back Bemused. He is in sparkling form, I see.

    Thanks alias, but I think you are either exaggerating or taking the mickey out of me. 😉

    I had a good laugh a few days ago when you were accused of being me.

    I do agree with most of what you write but you are wrong on 457 visas.

  2. guytaur

    The polling doesn’t support your contention as to how the loss of the Gillard cabal and the Ruddsteration would be seen by voters.

  3. [shows

    I know what revolving leaders does. NSW revolving leaders proved it.]
    Going back to Rudd would not be the same for these reasons:
    1) It would be going back to a leader
    2) It would only be the second leadership change in 3 years.
    3) Many people still think Rudd should be leader and don’t understand how / why Gillard became leader in the first place
    4) Rudd is far more popular than Gillard so most people COULDN”T CARE LESS that Labor changed its leader because they would’ve changed it to a much more popular person!

    Have a look at the Liberals! They had 4 leaders between 2007 and 2010 election, but they almost won the 2010 election! Do you think voters cared that Abbott was their 4th leader in 3.5 years?

    [Making Rudd PM again will be seen not as righting a wrong, but an admission of defeat.]
    That’s absolute bullshit. You simply don’t understand how unpopular Gillard is. Your problem is you just talk to yourself instead of getting out and talking to people in the real world. It is as if you are repeating the same crap over and over again in order to convince yourself of something!

    [FYI PMJG is the most popular leader of the major parties.]
    Not true! Abbott is now more popular than Gillard.
    [Howard was not liked but he still won elections.]
    This is idiotic! Even at the 2007 election Howard was much more popular than Gillard is now! And Howard never suffered a 2.5 year stretch of polling as bad as Gillard has endured during this term. Howard’s polls only started to tank after WorkChoices came in, but he still remained reasonably competitive until Rudd became leader, it was only for about the last 10 months that Howard and the Coalition really started to suffer in the polls, but for a lot of that period Howard was actually more popular than his party!

  4. Sky’s are clear now, and super moon is out. Except the moon is now too far in the sky to determine its superdom. 🙁

  5. NSW revolving leaders and Rudd v Gillard is not the same thing. As shows said, Many people will see it as the restoration of the guy they voted for as PM in the first place. It will be greeted as a good things if we are lucky enough for the change to take place.

  6. [The polling shows the past not future]


    Do you know how absurd that above statement is?


    People who are going to vote on Sept 14 are telling pollsters that they do NOT like Gillard and are going to vote for Abbott.

    Hell, the stupidity and delusion here holds no bounds!

  7. “TONY Abbott has opened his biggest lead ever over Julia Gillard as preferred prime minister as Labor’s primary vote fell below 30 per cent for the first time in a year.

    With parliament entering its final sitting week before the election, the Opposition Leader now leads the Prime Minister by 12 percentage points after trailing by 30 points as the preferred prime minister when Ms Gillard became leader in June 2010.

    Ms Gillard’s support as preferred prime minister dropped from 35 to 33 in the latest Newspoll survey, conducted exclusively for The Australian on the weekend.

    Labor’s primary vote dropped below 30 per cent – by just one point to 29 per cent – for the first time since July last year when the carbon tax was implemented.”

  8. I have no doubt some people have been parking their vote with the Coalition or Undecided, but with the possibility of Rudd coming back (“I voted for him”) will vote Labor.

    I doubt it’s enough to win but it won’t be a wipeout.

    It’s all futile anyway unless he actually challenges.

  9. silky

    Many excuses were made to justify those leadership changes in NSW.

    None of them worked. Same as you lot talking restoration. Its just what you think not what voters think. The most common I have heard is voters wanting Rudd back so they can vote him out.

    Anyway it does not matter its all fantasy because caucus is sticking with PMJG

  10. Centre

    Yes for some reason people think that there will be a great change in community feeling within three months in spite of over two years of bad polling.

    Its time for some to bring out the German and some bull butter

  11. Er, what? They’re leading with the preferred PM numbers?

    Could the regular numbers be even more fascinating, perhaps!

  12. [Shows

    Morgan is with trend and contradicts Neilsen]
    Which Morgan!? Morgan Face to Face is a load of crap that shouldn’t be trusted. It has something like a 3 or 4% skew to Labor.

    You are so delusional that you think it makes sense to just pick the best poll for Labor and ignore the rest!

    GROW UP, this is childish nonsense!

  13. Yes, this is as expected alright. Ever since June 2010. Still, it’s internal control of the party that matters, as we’ve been told. Not mere election wins.

  14. According to Nielsen, JG receives primary support from 24% of male voters. If Newspoll is consistent with Nielsen in this respect, then primary support among female voters for JG has fallen to about 33.5%.

    How much worse do the polls need to be before caucus addresses the matter of the leadership?

    [Labor’s primary vote dropped below 30 per cent – by just one point to 29 per cent – for the first time since July last year when the carbon tax was implemented.”]

  15. If it’s true that Rudd or whoever is waiting to see if this poll is terrible for Labor before acting, then that result will do it.

    If nobody challenges over the next week or two, then it’s clear nobody wants to be stuck with the role and Gillard will be leader on September 14.

  16. During the February 2012 challenge, several Ministers in the Gillard camp launched scathing and unprecedented attacks against Rudd, frankly no worse than any the MSM or Coalition will launch. They have not moved the general view that people continue to tell pollsters that they prefer to Rudd to any of the alternatives from both parties. So I do not buy this idea that Rudd’s popularity would immediately collapse under pressure from the MSM and Coalition.

  17. ‘Where did all the LNP votes go? Palmer?

    17% of the electorate in “Others”.’

    Many of whom are just waiting patiently for Rudd to get his old job back so they don’t have to vote for Abbott.

  18. deblonay@1594

    Nice to see you back on deck..and at a most “interesting  time

    Did you follow te debates on PB while in exile ?
    Good Luck

    Thanks deblonay, it’s good to be back.

    Yes, I did my best to keep up and have been enjoying watching the unhinging by the Gillard cultists.

    I don’t always agree with your posts 100% but they are always interesting. A pity you were lost to the ALP.

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