Seat of the week: Canberra

The Liberals once won the seat covering the southern half of the national capital at a by-election during the terminal phase of the Keating government, but they wouldn’t be holding their breath waiting for it to happen again.

Red and blue numbers respectively indicate two-party majorities for Labor and Liberal. Click for larger image. Map boundaries courtesy of Ben Raue at The Tally Room.

The electorate of Canberra covers the southern half of the national capital together with the bulk of the Australian Capital Territory’s undeveloped 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, which pushed the Canberra electorate north of Lake Burley Griffin to include the city’s centre and inner north. However, the previous order was reinstated when the seat entitlement 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 enrolments of around 140,000 voters each, compared with a national average of around 105,000.

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, succeeding Lionel Murphy as Attorney-General upon his appointment to the High Court in early 1975. Enderby 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 easily won for Labor by Bob McMullan, who had served the ACT as a Senator since 1988. The reassertion of the old boundaries in 1998 prompted McMullan to move to Fraser, the Labor margin in the redrawn Canberra being 5.1% lower than the one he had secured on the short-lived boundaries 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 that 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, since which time the seat has returned fairly consistent results with Labor margins ranging from a low of 7.0% in 2013 to a high of 11.8% in 2007.

Both Ellis and McMullan announced they would not seek another term six months out from the August 2010 election. Large fields of preselection contestants emerged for the two 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 preselection was seen as a rebuff to local factional powerbrokers who had pursued a deal in which the Left was to support Mary Wood, adviser to Housing Minister Tanya Plibersek and member of the Centre Coalition (Right), which the Right was to reciprocate in Fraser by backing Nick Martin, the party’s assistant national secretary and a member of the Left. However, Brodtmann was able to build a cross-factional support base of sufficient breadth to prevail over Wood by 123 votes to 109. Following the 2013 election defeat she was promoted to shadow parliamentary secretary in the defence portfolio.

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.

1,955 comments on “Seat of the week: Canberra”

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  1. [ Joe Hockey to joint party room: “The Labor party has no values … We are the party of values; they are the party of rhetoric.”” ]

    I wonder if anyone will come back to him with a comparison of legislation passed by the Abbott Govt, vs Gillard Govt at this point in the cycle??

  2. [1830…The Big Ship]

    The WA Libs know how to pick ’em. Cash, Bishop, Johnston, Jensen, Cormann, Porter…we are up to our necks in reactionary dimwits.

  3. It’s all good and well for Richard Marles to present to the NPC but he needs the courage to tackle Scott Morrison in the Parliament.

    Morrisons management of the centres in PNG and Nauru has been inept and he needs to be held to account in the parliament.

  4. I am still wondering why the Greens are not congratulating Morrison for putting an end to the drownings. He stopped the boats and he stopped the drownings.

    This is a side benefit of the policy. Of course we don’t know how many, if any, have drowned since 18/9/2013 but it is certainly much less than before.

    But I don’t think Scott Morrison is too worried about drownings and certainly not those who hear the dog whistle. The purpose of the Coalition’s policy was to get turkeys to vote for Christmas.

  5. Is Hamilton Smith one of those wishy-washy milque-toast SA Liberals who isn’t man enough to rub shoulders with the He men of the modern liberal party?

  6. [Morrisons management of the centres in PNG and Nauru has been inept and he needs to be held to account in the parliament.]

    It is extremely difficult to hold a minister to account if parliament even under the most favourable of circumstances. With Bishop as speaker it is neigh on impossible to hold a slippery character like Morrison to account.

  7. Stunning development in SA politics and Govt.

    Mr Hamilton-Smith perhaps is showing up one or two federal libs for their past lack of courage. 😉

  8. [Former Liberal leader Martin Hamilton-Smith has quit the party & defected to become a minister in Labor]


  9. Tom Hawkins

    Marles has facts on his side.

    If he is incapable of forming an effective line of questioning with the solid facts on offer, he should return to the backbenches.

  10. Victoria and possible others

    That should get you the Chris Graham interview about the scholarship.

    If not, try this procedure:
    “youtube channel 10 studio ten”
    When you get that page take the “Studio 10 – Youtube” option and the Frances Abbott topic should be on screen or listed in the RHS sidebar.

  11. [1853
    Peter of Marino

    Briefly @ 1787

    Oh dear ! She would make a shearer blush…]

    She makes many a roustabout cringe, P. She is a Liberal Princess too, an heir to her father, George Cash, one-time President of the Legislative Council. Talk about born-to-rule.

  12. Rex

    Have you observed Bishop in the chair? If a question makes a minister uncomfortable she rules it out of order. You could put Keating up as shadow minister and even he’d struggle to grind the minister down in QT.

  13. Briefly quoted me:

    FB@ 1181… I also believe we should have some way of evaluating “wealth” derived from lifestyle — so as to ensure that people who were substantially advantaged in practice contributed aptly, regardless of what their notional wealth/income on paper suggested.

    then continued:

    This proposition relies on the idea that a dollar in the hands of one person may not be worth “the same” in the hands of another person. Such thinking buys into Ayn Rand’s fallacy. Dollars are dollars. We have to eschew the metaphysics of evaluating extra-monetary lifestyle “wealth” effects.

    I am not interested in metaphysics. I’m interested in markers of tangible wealth. You will recall, I feel sure, many examples of ostensibly bankrupt wealthy folk living a lifestyle that is out of keeping with their apparently impecunious condition.

    There were several years during which I paid more income tax than Kerry Packer.

    For the life of me, I cannot see why it makes sense to increase regressive taxes when they drive the need for additional transfer measures. Why not just keep indirect taxes as low as and simple as possible and focus on maintaining the integrity of the direct tax system?

    I would say that the difficulties attending that exercise are very considerable. A tax on luxury cars, for example, is most unlikely to be regressive, since few people on low-middle income can afford to buy luxury cars. Very few poor people live in Point Piper, and although some might, they could try proving that they were indeed poor, if they wanted to.

    Someone whose bank account(s) is/are turning over 300,000 per annum but has an official annual income of $50,000 or who is getting loans exceeding that is undoubtedly cheating — pretending to be poor but plainly wealthy.

    So it isn’t metaphysics, but compliance I’m talking about.

    Allowing that we agree to tax ourselves at some level, the main design criteria of the tax system should be it orders production and distribution in ways that maximise economic welfare.

  14. [1900

    @sprocket___: @chriskkenny Former Liberal leader Martin Hamilton-Smith has quit the party & defected to become a minister in Labor

    It’s easy to suppose he will not be the last Lib to hit the ejector button. One thing is for sure: the current hoax is not your grandfather’s Liberal Party.

  15. Oops … messed up block quotes and left in last paragraph, which Briefly composed …

    Allowing that we agree to tax ourselves at some level, the main design criteria of the tax system should be it orders production and distribution in ways that maximise economic welfare.

  16. [I think it should have been disclosed but the rules are too slack.]

    Good on Fredex for the link. One panelist says wtte: “It’s really just a matter of hypocrisy.” Maltida’s Graham retorts: “Breathtaking hypocrisy.”

  17. Tony & Joe rally the troops..
    must be really bad news ahead .

    Hockey presented the budget was “a test of character” from which he and the prime minister “will not flinch” and claimed Liberal supporters had been “relieved” that the party was true to its values.

    Hockey’s address was described to the media as “inspiring” and “Churchillian” and backbenchers were said to have commented about the budget:

    “This is the fight we had to have. This is the reason for being here.”

    I think the cigars & striped suites have gone to Joe’s head! Churchillian indeed

  18. MTBW – thanks. its the sore head that brings it out. But I see your point. I like that he is in the mix. I once suggested that Clive becoming a new father MAY have changed the leopards spots. We have seen a lot of the Good Clive recently. We will see.

    The way he has structured his party around himself is concerning.

  19. I am not accusing Abbott of corruption but having a body – particularly after the grange goings on- tightens up things and could investigate things. It seems 100% clear it was not a merit based scholarship and that is what Abbott said it was. That gives an appearance of illegitimacy – if everything is above board there would be no need to sneaky and hide what went on – would in fact almost certainly have protected daughter if it were above board.

  20. Tom Hawkins

    Defeatism isn’t the answer.

    Shorten has taken it up to Abbott.

    Chris Bowen has taken it up to Hockey.

    Marles needs to step up or step back.

  21. [Hockey’s address was described to the media as “inspiring” and “Churchillian” and backbenchers were said to have commented about the budget:]

    This sounds like a typical DPRK “news report” about the utterances of Kim Jong Un.

  22. [Defeatism isn’t the answer.]

    Of course it isn’t. Unrealistic expectations aren’t the answer either. This will a long, slow game. If you are expecting anything different then you will continue to be disappointed.

  23. BW

    [1600 deaths is ‘mere eyewash’?]

    No. The issue of “boats” (more precisely “border security”) being about “drownings” or “deaths at sea” was mere eyewash. Precision is important in these things. If people want to do nasty things to people fleeing brutality they should at least be candid about their motives.

    [Your attitude may explain why you guys were content to use your BOP to maintain the drownings regime {to end the coerced rendition and cautionary public abuse of children and other vulnerable people regime}.]

    You erred, but I corrected that for you.

  24. fredex@1910

    Thanks for the link to the tv discussion. It is interesting to note that, on the basis of a quick google, Billie Whitehouse, like Frances Abbott, would seem to be employed at the Institute, as “Alumni Manager” (given that Frances is an alumnus, perhaps Billie is her manager).

    But I do find it odd that, apart from Chris Graham’s mention of this on TV, there has been no other reporting of this latest tidbit anywhere else: even at New Matilda. I wonder why this is? Perhaps further information has come to light which shows it not to be correct?

    A further interesting thing is that Chris Graham seemed to suggest the possibility of a third scholarship having been awarded. (Perhaps a “third woman”: it’s all starting to get a bit like Philby-Burgess-Maclean!)

  25. [Fran Barlow
    Posted Tuesday, May 27, 2014 at 1:52 pm | Permalink


    1600 deaths is ‘mere eyewash’?

    No. The issue of “boats” (more precisely “border security”) being about “drownings” or “deaths at sea” was mere eyewash. Precision is important in these things. If people want to do nasty things to people fleeing brutality they should at least be candid about their motives.]

    As if 1600 drownings are completely irrelevant.

    The tide of Greens’ crocodile tears about the drownings has gone out, now that the drowings have stopped.

    But when the drowning were happening we had S H-Y emoting about the drownings.

    Greens, as usual, having it both ways.

    You guys could at least have the honesty to acknowledge the facts that Morrison has stopped the boats and stopped the drowings.

  26. Fran@1915…making the indirect tax system more onerous does not make administration of the direct tax system any easier. It just diverts resources, makes the system more complicated and, depending how things fall, will depress production and real wages. That is, it will make the welfare outcomes worse than they otherwise would be.

    I reckon we probably agree that we should use the tax system to optimise welfare across the income/wealth spectrum. One way of achieving this is to keep things as simple as possible.

    To take your example of luxury cars, there is a tax on these vehicles. But whether it falls on private taxpayers or not depends on the direct tax system – on FBT and on what kind of deductions from personal or company income are permitted in relation to vehicle costs. In reality, tax collected by indirect measures is at least partly and possibly is wholly refunded by concessions in the direct system.

    Tax laws are already incredibly lengthy and complex. There’s probably no more than 1,000 people in the country who are properly conversant with the whole, and many of them work in private legal and accounting tax practices. It would be desirable if we could make the system simpler to comply with and enforce rather than the opposite.

    Reforming negative gearing would be a simple start. Applying uniform taxation to super contributions and earnings would also be simple and would help.

    We do not need to make the system a lot more complicated to make it better serve the goals of equity and efficiency.

  27. meher
    I’m developing a lot of respect for this Chris Graham fella.
    When this issue emerged I checked him out and some of his past work, focusing mainly on helping to start up NIT.
    Very impressive.
    I presume he was around when ASIO raided NIT during the Howard years.

    On this issue I reckon he’s playing it very smart.
    He has got us on the drip feed.
    Something yesterday, something today. a teaser for tomorrow. Interest builds.
    Good for New Matilda and good for us if we can get an alternative source of information that contrasts to the MSM pap.

  28. Um… Essential (even taking into account its rolling nature) is the same now as it was the week before the Budget?

    Seriously? Time to kick them to the curb. The internals don’t seem to be marrying up to the headline (if Abbott’s standing has ‘collapsed’) numbers…


  29. So… it seems the keepers and custodians of the traditions of the Westminster System, are going to play strictly by the fine print?

    They always do this.

  30. PS: It’s also interesting that Channel Ten of all places chose to run this story and have Chris Graham appear on their show.

    It seems to me that the PM and his team are currently doing their best to intimidate the media out of reporting this story any further: “don’t bring family into it”, etc, etc. A reasonable tactic(albeit arguably a hypocritical one).

    The way the media operates nowadays, it’s hard to know what stories they will run with and what they won’t. But I would have thought that the revelation (if true) that the only other such scholarship ever awarded was to the owner’s daughter was a massive story: not just in terms of the PM’s reputation, but also in terms of the credibility of the burgeoning private enterprise tertiary education sector: a sector which has received relatively limited public scrutiny in the past few years (the last occasion being when it became apparent that many of the intense English language colleges were operating as a backdoor way of migrating to Australia).

  31. briefly @ 1902

    [he WA Libs know how to pick ‘em. Cash, Bishop, Johnston, Jensen, Cormann, Porter…we are up to our necks in reactionary dimwits.]

    Dawkins Deliver Me! What a disastrous lineup of duds and drones. I’d rather have a box of dead fish than a raft of imbeciles like that lot as my representatives.

  32. Tom Hawkins @ 1917

    [Essential 52:48 (again)… Seemingly a stagnant pool of irrelevance.]

    There is something seriously amiss with their methodology, in my view. It has to be the online panel they are using – Your Source – and they must have such a small pool of engaged panelists that they are going back to the same people too often. How else to explain the lack of change when all other pollsters are picking up substantial movements.

    Time for William to tweak ‘BludgerTrack’ to take into account this ongoing Essential house effect?

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