Seat of the week: Parkes

Parkes covers much of the deep interior of New South Wales, which has become secure territory for the Nationals following the decline of the Labor stronghold of Broken Hill.

The western New South Wales seat of Parkes is an all but unassailable stronghold for the Nationals, being held for them by a margin of 18.9% by Mark Coulton, the member since 2007. As redrawn by the redistribution proposal published last week, the electorate takes in almost exactly half the surface area of New South Wales, encompassing most of the Queensland and South Australian borders and the population centres of Dubbo, in the south-east of the electorate, and Broken Hill, in the far west.




Parkes was created with the enlargement of parliament in 1984, at which time it was centred on Dubbo and Bourke. Regional population decline has since necessitated its expansion, most notably in 1993 when it took Broken Hill and the deep interior from abolished Riverina-Darling, and in 2007 when its eastern neighbour Gwydir was abolished. The latter redistribution left Parkes looking more like the old Gwydir than its own former self, supplementing Dubbo with entirely new territory through Narrabri, Walgett and Moree to the Queensland border, while Bourke and Broken Hill were respectively transferred to Calare and Farrer. Parkes has since extended back to the western interior in two stages, gaining Bourke from a heavily redrawn Calare in 2010, and Broken Hill from Farrer with the latest proposal, adding around 14,600 voters. Other transfers in the latest redistribution include 8,500 voters around Gunnedah from New England, while 20,000 around Mudgee and Wellington have been transferred to Calare. Labor’s strength in Broken Hill is the main contributor to a drop in the margin from 22.3% to 20.4%.

The area now proposed for Parkes is largely contiguous with the electorates of Gwydir and Darling as they existed between 1922 and 1977. Gwydir was held by the National/Country Party without interruption from 1949, but Darling was a Labor seat by virtue of being dominated by Broken Hill, the decline of which over recent decades has eliminated Labor as a force in western New South Wales. Riverina became highly marginal when it absorbed Broken Hill upon the abolition of Darling in 1977, being won by Labor on its debut and then by the Nationals in 1980 and 1983. Labor also came extremely close to winning Parkes when it took over Broken Hill in 1993, but its position steadily deteriorated from there. The Liberals polled only 9.9% when they last fielded a candidate upon the retirement of Michael Cobb in 1998, and they did not repeat the exercise when Cobb’s successor Tony Lawler bowed out after one term in 2001, or when Lawler’s successor John Cobb moved to Calare in 2007.

The member since that time has been Mark Coulton, a former Gwydir Shire mayor who spent his first term in parliament as a shadow parliamentary secretary, but has since had to settle for the position of Nationals whip.

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.

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