Another seat of the week: Sydney

Labor’s deputy leader Tanya Plibersek continues to look secure in the seat that covers central Sydney, although the Greens appear to loom as a threat over the longer term.

The electorate of Sydney covers the southern shore of Sydney Harbour around the city centre, including Pyrmont and Glebe immediately to its west and Woolloomooloo and Potts Point to its east, and extends southwards through Surry Hills, Newtown and Redfern to Rosebery. The latest redistribution has transferred the Balmain peninsula to its western neighbour, Grayndler, removing an area that has been in the electorate since its creation in 1969. This is balanced by the gain of Woolloomooloo, Potts Point and Darlinghurst at the eastern harbourside end from Wentworth, along with a smaller transfer encompassing parts of Camperdown and Newtown from Grayndler. Reflecting the growth of inner-city living, the area lost (22,000 voters around Balmain and Annandale) accounts for more voters than the areas gained (13,000 from Wentworth and 4000 from Grayndler). The changes have been slightly to the advantage of the Greens, who gain 1.8% on the primary vote, with Labor down by the same amount.




Sydney was created with the abolition of the West Sydney and East Sydney electorates in 1969, which had existed alongside each other since federation. The boundary between the two ran through the city centre until 1949, when West Sydney took over the city and its immediate surrounds. Inclusive of Jack Beasley’s wins for Lang Labor in the 1930s and 1940s, West Sydney was won by Labor at every election through its seven decades in existence, while the conservatives’ only win in East Sydney after 1910 came in the landslide of 1931. Billy Hughes held West Sydney for the first 17 years of its existence, and such was the electorate’s fealty to Labor that he felt compelled to find a new seat in Bendigo when he and his supporters split from the party in 1917.

The boundaries of the Sydney electorate have been roughly similar to those of today through most of its history, the exception being the period from 1977 to 1993, when the city centre was at the eastern end of an electorate that extended westwards to Leichhardt. Labor has at all times been secure in the seat, with margins over the Liberals ranging from 13.8% in 1996 to 30.7% in 1972. Its inaugural member was Jim Cope, who had previously held the seats of Cook and Watson, which included the area around Rosebery. Les McMahon succeeded Cope in 1975, and in turn made way in 1983 for Peter Baldwin, who remains best remembered for the savage beating he suffered amid a round of factional warfare at the turn of the 1980s.

Tanya Plibersek came to the seat upon Baldwin’s retirement in 1998, having previously been a staffer to Senator Bruce Childs. Aided by the patronage of the “Ferguson Left” sub-faction, Plibersek rose to the shadow ministry after the 2004 election, and served as Housing Minister during Labor’s term in office from 2007 to 2010. She was twice promoted in the second term, moving to the human services portfolio immediately after the election, and then to health following Nicola Roxon’s retirement in December 2011. Following the 2013 election defeat was elected unopposed to the position of deputy leader, and has since served as Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister. Her Greens opponent at the election will be Sylvie Ellsmore, a Marrickville councillor and native title lawyer, who won preselection ahead of local activist Bruce Knobloch.

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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