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”

Comments Page 1 of 38
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  1. [Prime Minister, it’s time. Time for you to quit. As this Parliament draws to its close, it’s time for you to recognise that, for all your achievements, you are leading your government and your party to an electoral defeat of unprecedented disaster.
    As painful as it must be, it’s time for you to stand aside for the good of your colleagues, for Labor people everywhere, and for the nation itself. The plain fact is that Australians are no longer listening to you.]

    Read more:

  2. [ rummel
    Posted Saturday, June 22, 2013 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    Rudd is crazy to take over now. He will be blamed for everything when it all goes wrong]

    He will be blammed for averything anyway, and justifiable so.

  3. Morning all. Mike Carlton is right, Gillard must go or Labor will. Don is right too, Carlton is not the caucus. But Carlton was only speaking about what was for the good of the nation. Caucus seems to be thinking about what is for the good of individuals’ careers. Where those two things differ greatly, the voters will soon sort out the difference.

    Personally, I disagree with Carlton to a point. I think it is too late for Labor to win under Rudd or Gillard. Rudd will stop Abbott controlling the Senate too and wrecking the joint. That is the best case outcome now.

  4. [6
    Posted Saturday, June 22, 2013 at 7:09 am | PERMALINK
    Wow, the push is on for Kev……..
    When did Mike Carlton become a wheeler dealer with Caucus?]

    It’s a big shift for calton to shift to Kev. The media conspiracy is almost complete lol.

  5. [Possum Comitatus ‏@Pollytics 18m

    Today’s forecast: Fine and sunny, light to moderate south to south east winds – Maxtreme Unhinging warning. Wear a helmet

    I suppose today we will see pages and pages from the Rudd spear throwers out in force redoing their tired old lines.

    It would be loverly to know how many are Liberal hacks trying to set the horses free.

    Ruddstoration seems to have taken a new stage, we have had a go every month for three years, please, please, validate our crap.

  6. And from the Land of the Free –

    Trust the scatterbrained Moichell Bachmann to put her oar in!
    An App to explain what Repugs men when they say certain words.
    Some more cartoons on the Repugs and immigration.
    This is a worry.
    Russell Brand gives some morning TV hosts areally good serve.
    United Airlines cements its position at the BOTTOM of the ladder for airline reputation.

  7. frednk

    [It would be loverly to know how many are Liberal hacks trying to set the horses free.]

    it is against Liberal election interests to have Kev back. Kev brings back opportunity and the quality of the unknown in terms of Liberal election chances. Gillard is a sure bet for election wipeout.

  8. [BK
    Posted Saturday, June 22, 2013 at 7:29 am | PERMALINK
    And good morning to you too, rummel.]

    Had a fatal MVA last night. Always a sad event, though it was our first for a very long time.

  9. rummel
    Posted Saturday, June 22, 2013 at 7:29 am | Permalink


    It would be loverly to know how many are Liberal hacks trying to set the horses free.

    it is against Liberal election interests to have Kev back. Kev brings back opportunity and the quality of the unknown in terms of Liberal election chances. Gillard is a sure bet for election wipeout.]

    Yes no doubt that is why we had Christopher Pyne lying about events and his contacts.

  10. “@markjs1: RT .@razhorses: Boycott Fairfax. Disrespect to the PM has gone too far. Do not buy or click online to #Fairfax #auspol #FairFox”

    Will be interesting to see how much this damages Fairfax.

    Personally I think the paywall will do more damage

  11. Putting aside Labor leadership woes and on the governance bit ASIC and the CBA scandal really does expose a long running unfixed problem. ASIC is pathetic on corporate prosecution. It is a glaring weakness. ASIC is regulator, an advisor, an educator, but a lousy policeman. It is compromised in this role by having far too many finance insiders in its ranks. No doubt they are reluctant to jail the lawbreakers among their former colleagues. Also there is a structural problem. The enforcements and prosecution group is tiny and weak- less than 100 staff. See

    Governments can posture all they like, but ASIC today is little better than APRA was when HIH collapsed.

  12. rummel
    That’s never a good thing.
    Living in the Adelaide Hills there are unfortunately a lot of single car accidents and casualties requiring extrication by specialist CFS Brigades.
    It’s about 18 months since our brigade actually attended a fatality incident, a callout I was not involved in.

  13. Socrates

    [but ASIC today is little better than APRA was when HIH collapsed.]

    And little better than the NCSC it replaced.

  14. guytaur
    [Posted Saturday, June 22, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    “@markjs1: RT .@razhorses: Boycott Fairfax. Disrespect to the PM has gone too far. Do not buy or click online to #Fairfax #auspol #FairFox”

    Will be interesting to see how much this damages Fairfax.

    Personally I think the paywall will do more damage]

    “The Age” has got to the point where you can’t even buy the thing if you want to.

    It does suffer from Labor’s problem. If I want to read right wing crap I will buy the sun. If I want to vote for right wing nutters I will vote Liberal.

    No use being second best. I happen to think it is great Gillard has turned labor into something useful.

  15. If nothing happens next weekend and Julia is still PM, can all those that support Rudd get behind Gillard. If you aren’t prepared to do that, then piss off. Don’t care about popularity contests.

    I’ve had enough of the continuous undermining of a leader, who because she is a woman and threatened some insecure men with small @@@@@ (be it media, business or politics). The idea of a woman being in the highest office in the land does not sit well with a majority of Australian men, who are sexist and racist.

    Tell all right wing nut jobs, have there been any scandals in this parliament? Has legislation been passed successfully?

    If so, then what is the problem with Australian people? Low unemployment, low interest rates, low inflation, one of the top performing economies in the world – what more do you arseclowns want!

  16. Just come in from Dinner with my friends and some of their friends here on Jersey, they brought up how lucky we are to have a Prime Minister like Julia Gillard this with no prompting from me, I explained what is happening over here and Old Rupe”s vendetta, what is surprising some of the friends voted Conservative
    ive over here. They put it down to that dreaded M word but I mentioned NBN and what it entails. A very insightful conversation

  17. Ctar1

    Agreed. An organisation cobbled together from dysfunctional components is hardly likely to achieve administrative greatness without a major change in people or some serious internal retraining.

  18. Good morning all.

    Yes frednk, we will have pages and pages of R*dd fanaticism, not just for the next week, but for as long as the man remains in Caucus and continues his loathsome whiteanting.

    He is just like Tony Abbott: Gimme the job or I’ll wreck the joint.

  19. The Age editorial is not exactly enthusiastic about Kevin, but, like many Labor supporters, fears an Abbott government:

    [Australians deserve a representative Parliament of diverse ideas. They deserve authoritative and inspiring leaders, who command with compassion and respect for all. They deserve a government that can clearly describe a future Australia of which we can all be proud – not one that will divide, marginalise or exclude. They deserve more than to be thrown scraps of policies couched in negative terms, or policies that are not properly scrutinised and debated. As it stands, the Coalition is being given a free run by a Labor Party which is tormented by its own frailties; too many of the Coalition’s proposed policies, some little more than slogans, are sliding through.

    The opposition under Tony Abbott has contentious policies on the carbon tax, the mining tax and schools funding; these are just the start of it. Yet Labor under Ms Gillard has been unable to step up to the contest. Mr Abbott is being allowed to run almost entirely unchallenged with his preposterous claim that a Coalition government would ”stop the boats”, in part by turning back the pathetic trail of rickety vessels laden with asylum seekers. This is a potentially dangerous and deeply dispiriting approach. Labor’s inability to unscramble this sloganeering is damning.]

    Read more:

    If they can see this so clearly, why do they not insist on more policy discussions in their editions.

  20. On another substantial policy topic, the death of Aussie manufacturing there is an excellent article in the NY Times about why iPhones are not made in the USA. It is relevant to our problems, which extend far beyond just the dollar and wage costs.
    [Not long ago, Apple boasted that its products were made in America. Today, few are. Almost all of the 70 million iPhones, 30 million iPads and 59 million other products Apple sold last year were manufactured overseas.

    Why can’t that work come home? Mr. Obama asked.

    Mr. Jobs’s reply was unambiguous. “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” he said, according to another dinner guest.

    The president’s question touched upon a central conviction at Apple. It isn’t just that workers are cheaper abroad. Rather, Apple’s executives believe the vast scale of overseas factories as well as the flexibility, diligence and industrial skills of foreign workers have so outpaced their American counterparts that “Made in the U.S.A.” is no longer a viable option for most Apple products.]

    We have the same problems here plus even greater mismatch in economies of scale. We do small niche stuff, like mining or winemaking equipment, quite well (and win export work without subsidy). But if we are serious about large scale manufacturing, then we need to change a lot. I assume that in fact we are not serious, and government policy is merely political posturing. If so then please Kim Carr, can we not waste six billion $ on the posturing next time?

  21. [They deserve more than to be thrown scraps of policies couched in negative terms, or policies that are not properly scrutinised and debated. ]

    What a joke! As a major newspaper in one of the country’s largest capital cities, what role does it see itself playing in this regard?

    As I said last night, it’s nothing more than a good old stoke at the flames of R*ddstoration hysteria.

  22. Further to 32, it is not just China. I did a study in SE Asia last year, and observed similar things in Thai and Malaysian factories. They have to compete with China and Singapore. We cannot beat them, and should not try outside of niche markets.

  23. [guytaur
    Posted Saturday, June 22, 2013 at 7:32 am | PERMALINK
    Good Morning


    Thanks for proving the point we know Liberals have all those attack adverts lined up for Rudd]

    And good morning to you guytaur. The lib adverts are written and spoken by Team Gillard :devil:

  24. Goodbye and good riddance:

    [Washington: In perhaps the most startling example of the recent advances of the gay rights movement in America, one of the nation’s most prominent religious opponents of homosexuality has dissolved itself, issuing a long and detailed apology for the harm it caused during its 37 years of existence.]

    Read more:

  25. The BoF government is well and truly beholden to the numpties. This is just emblematic of the hold the shooters and fishers have over his government:

    [Sydney independent MP Alex Greenwich had tried to get the duck removed from a hit-list of species approved for culling by the O’Farrell government.

    But on Thursday, Greenwich’s bill went down – leaving him, and many in the conservation movement, lamenting what they see as the growing stranglehold of the Shooters and Fishers Party and the Nationals over Premier Barry O’Farrell’s environment policy.]

    [The row turns partly on what the duck eats. It consumes only insects. Yet it has been included on a list of seed and plant-eating birds deemed threatening to crops, particularly rice. ”This bird does no harm other than that it associates with the wrong crowd,” argues Evans. ”It is the farmers’ friend, not foe.”

    He and Greenwich believe the only reason the pink-eared fowl ended up on the hit-list is because the hunting lobby wants to engineer a roll-back of the 18-year-old ban on recreational duck-hunting in NSW – and the government is quietly obliging by tinkering with feral animal control legislation.]

    Read more:

  26. And how’s this for numpty logic:

    [Shooters upper house MP Robert Borsak says the claim is ”nonsense.” The changes, he says, are part of a ”science-based management program for ducks, quails and pigeons”.

    And being on the target list will benefit the bird, he maintains, because farm owners, instead of treating them like “rubbish … will be happy to have ducks there because people will be coming and shooting them”.]

    Being on a hit list is good for the bird because people will shoot them. Jeez, who the hell votes for these morons?!

  27. [Malcolm Farr ‏@farrm51 16m
    the idea Tony Abbott had to give permission for a Labor leadership change is one of the most original political concepts I have come across.]


  28. [Mike Carlton ‏@MikeCarlton01 3m
    I gotta say the Labor trolls are a change from the Tory trolls I usually get.]

    [Preston Towers ‏@prestontowers 2m
    @MikeCarlton01 They are a little more polite and less sexual in their insult attempts, in my experience
    Retweeted by Mike Carlton]

  29. Abbott knows the only chance he has is Gillard not to be pm at the election

    Newsltd/abbott coalition is so desperate

  30. [Malcolm Farr ‏@farrm51 16m
    the idea Tony Abbott had to give permission for a Labor leadership change is one of the most original political concepts I have come across.]

    Is he taking a shot at someone like Chris Kenny or Piers? It sounds like the sort of inanity those two would come out with.

  31. This is newsltd ltd/abbott last throw of the dice

    When it fails for the 500th time , Gillard wins the election by default

  32. ‘fess

    [because farm owners, instead of treating them like “rubbish … will be happy to have ducks there because people will be coming and shooting them”.]


    The last thing ‘farm owners’ want to attract is idiots with guns on their property.

  33. No wonder the coalition supporters are frustrated, they can not debate labor supporters with policies

    They can not debate labor supporters with any facts

    They can not debate labor supporters about who is the better leader out of labor or liberal

    There is only one strong Leader which is Julia Gillard

  34. The only facts which the the coalition supporters can debate is

    1- Abbott is newsltd’s puppet
    2-Abbott is a coward
    3-Gillard owns Abbott every single time
    4-Abbott will lose the coalition the election

  35. To make news ltd/abbott coalition feel better

    The pro coalition media has to continue with the repetitive nonsense

    And hope the fantasy polls will get people thinking are they real

    when technically opinion polls are always wrong , this far out from an election

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