Seat of the week: Cook

To mark today’s Miranda state by-election, a tour of the corresponding federal electorate of Cook, held safely for the Liberals by Scott Morrison.

UPDATE (Morgan poll): The latest Morgan multi-mode poll, which will be reporting fortnightly for the rest of the year at least, is a better result for the Coalition than the last, having their primary vote up 1.5% to 43.5%, Labor’s down 2.5% to 34.5%, the Greens up a point to 10%, and the Palmer United Party steady on 4.5%. As was the case in the previous poll, there is an implausibly huge disparity between the respondent-allocated two-party result (51.5-48.5 to the Coalition) and that using 2013 election preferences (55-45), and as was the case last time, I can only conclude that something is going awry with the latter calculation. My own modelling of preference flows from the recent election produces a result of 51.5-48.5 from these results, exactly the same as the Morgan respondent-allocated preference figure.

Blue and red numbers (if any) respectively indicate booths with two-party majorities for the Liberal and Labor parties. Click for larger image. Map boundaries courtesy of Ben Raue at The Tally Room.

Cook covers southern Sydney suburbs to the south of the Georges River, including Kurnell, Cronulla, Miranda and Sylvania. The electorate was created in 1969 to accommodate post-war suburban development, the area having previously been accommodated by Hughes from its creation in 1955 and Werriwa beforehand (an unrelated seat called Cook covered inner southern Sydney from 1906 to 1955). There has been little geographical change to the electorate since its creation, its boundaries being set by Botany Bay and Georges River in the north and Port Hacking in the south, but its character has transformed from marginal mortgage belt to affluent and safe Liberal. The seat’s inaugural member was Donald Dobie, who had won the hitherto Labor-held seat of Hughes for the Liberals with the 1966 landslide, but he was unseated in 1972 by Labor’s Ray Thornburn. Dobie again contested the seat in 1974 and 1975, suffering a second narrow defeat on the first occasion and winning easily on the second. Thornburn followed Dobie’s example in twice recontesting the seat in 1977 and 1980, but like all future Labor candidates he was unsuccessful. Dobie prevailed by 148 votes when the Fraser government was defeated in 1983, and the closest margin since has been 3.5% in 1993.

Dobie was succeeded upon his retirement at the 1996 election by Stephen Mutch, who had been a member of the state upper house since 1988. Mutch fell victim after one term to an exercise of power by the party’s moderate faction, which at first backed local barrister Mark Speakman, who had been best man at Mutch’s wedding nine years earlier. The resulting dispute ended with the installation of another noted moderate, Bruce Baird, who had been a senior minister through the Greiner-Fahey NSW government from 1988 to 1995. Mutch’s demise greatly displeased John Howard, who pointedly failed to promote Baird at any point in his nine years in Canberra. It also did not help that Baird was close to Peter Costello, and was spoken of as his potential deputy when fanciful leadership speculation emerged in early 2001. After reports that growing Right control of local branches was putting his preselection in jeopardy, the 65-year-old Baird announced he would bow out at the 2007 election.

Even before Baird’s retirement announcement there was talk of him being succeeded by Scott Morrison, former state party director and managing director of Tourism Australia. According to Steve Lewis in The Australian, Morrison boasted “glowing references from a who’s who of Liberal luminaries, including Defence Minister Brendan Nelson, Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull, former Liberal president Shane Stone, Howard’s long-time chief of staff Arthur Sinodinos, and Nick Minchin, the Finance Minister and another close ally of Howard”. However, it quickly became clear that such support would not avail him without the backing of the Right, which had been successfully courted by local numbers man Michael Towke. Imre Salusinsky of The Australian reported that Morrison was further starved of support when moderates resolved to resist Towke by digging in behind their own candidate, Optus executive Paul Fletcher, later to emerge as member for Bradfield.

The ensuing preselection ballot saw Towke defeat Fletcher in the final round by 82 votes to 70, with Morrison finishing well back in a field that included several other well-credentialled candidates. However, Towke’s preselection success met powerful resistance from elements of the party hierarchy, whom conservative Sydney Morning Herald columnist Paul Sheahan credited with a series of damaging reports in the Daily Telegraph. The reports accused Towke of branch-stacking and embellishing his CV, culminating in the headline, “party split as Liberal candidate faces jail” (a defamation action brought by Towke against the paper was eventually settled in his favour). It was further reported that Towke had been the victim of a whispering campaign relating to how his Lebanese heritage would play in the electorate that played host to the 2005 Cronulla riots (Towke’s surname being a recently adopted Anglicisiation of Taouk). The party’s state executive narrowly passed a resolution to remove Towke as candidate, and a new preselection involving representatives of local branches and the state executive duly delivered victory to Scott Morrison.

Morrison was quickly established as a senior figure in a Liberal Party newly consigned to opposition, winning promotion to the front bench as Shadow Housing and Local Government Minister when Malcolm Turnbull became leader in September 2008 and securing the high-profile immigration and citizenship portfolio when Turnbull was deposed by Tony Abbott in December 2009. He further gained productivity and population after the 2010 election, before having his political role sharpened with the title of Immigration and Border Protection Minister following the 2013 election victory.

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.

2,307 comments on “Seat of the week: Cook”

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  1. Why is the Labor ACT Government introducing gay marriage laws that are illegal under Aussie law??

    Why are they wasting taxpayer dollars with their shenanigans?

  2. Great news from the ACT on marriage equality.

    Even if it gets overturned this time, its inevitable. Conservatives will end up on the losing side of this one, as they are with basically all social issues. The principle of equality always wins in the end when, and least when it comes to individual rights.

  3. On Hockey – didnt he oppose the ALP lifting the debt ceiling by a mere $50b?

    LOL. Welcome to the umpteenth of eleventy inevitable reversals, shoe-smeared in the stools of hypocrisy.

  4. Just wanted to thank,you all for,your posts. I had a hip replacement this morning and this site is one of the only four that I’m interested in.

    Thank you all. 🙂

  5. [
    Sean Tisme
    Posted Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    Why is the Labor ACT Government introducing gay marriage laws that are illegal under Aussie law??

    Why are they wasting taxpayer dollars with their shenanigans?
    There is a court case first.

    Why haven’t the Liberals got the guts to overturn them in parliament instead of taking a chance on a high court challenge.

    Answer, because they know for sure they would lose if they went the parliament route.

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