Seat of the week: Grayndler

Seat of the Week’s inner Sydney two-for-one special takes us to the seat of Labor Left titan Anthony Albanese, who is looking increasingly troubled by the rise of the Greens.

Held since 1996 by Deputy Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, the inner west Sydney seat of Grayndler has been exceptionally strong for Labor since its creation in 1949, with their lowest margin relative to the Liberals having been 9.7% amid a Labor heartland rebellion in 1987. However, recent years have seen the Greens emerge as a threat, as the old working class has made way for the new inner-city bohemia. After progressing from under 5% in 1998 to the low twenties in 2004 and 2007, the Greens exceeded the Liberals for the first time in 2010, by 25.9% to 24.2%, and finished 5.4% behind Labor after preferences. However, a 2.9% drop in the primary vote prevented them from repeating the feat in 2013. Two electorates held by the Greens at state level, Balmain and Newtown, encompass areas covered federally by both Grayndler and neighbouring Sydney.




On its new post-redistribution boundaries, Grayndler encompasses Leichhardt in the centre, northern Ashfield in the west, northern Marrickville in the south, Annandale in the east, and the Balmain peninsula in the north. The latter two areas have been gained from Sydney, adding around 25,000 new voters in total, which is balanced by substantial losses in the west (12,000 voters around southern Ashfield to Watson, and 3000 around eastern Croydon to Reid) and south (where Barton gains 12,000 voters in Hurlstone Park, Dulwich Hill and Marrickville south of the Bankstown line, together with St Peters further to the east), along with a transfer of around 4000 voters in parts of Camperdown and Newtown to Sydney. The changes slightly raise the bar for the Greens in overcoming the Liberals, the two parties respectively having lost 1.5% and gained 2.4%. The draft boundaries proposed still more substantial change, adding further harbourside territory on the Drummoyne peninsula from Reid, at the expense of further losses around Marrickville to Barton. Anthony Albanese initially contemplated a move to Barton, which on the boundaries proposed would have been a solid Labor seat with little threat from the Greens, while also accommodating his traditional base of Marrickville. However, the adjustments in the final determination have caused him to hold his ground.

Grayndler has existed in name since 1949, but Marrickville has been its only consistent feature through that time. It originally extended southwards to Tempe and Mascot, while the northern parts of today’s electorate were accommodated by the since-abolished seats of Dalley, Evans, Parkes and Martin. The abolition of Dalley in 1969 reoriented Grayndler to the north, but it was then drawn westwards when Evans was abolished in 1977, extending from Ashfield and Dulwich Hill in the east to Belmore in the west. It moved back to more familiar territory in 1993 when the abolition of beachside Phillip drew both Sydney and Grayndler eastwards, and it has encompassed Marrickville, Leichhardt and Ashfield since that time. The Balmain peninsula has never previously been part of Grayndler, having been in Dalley for most of the period from federation until the seat’s abolition in 1969, when it was absorbed by the newly created seat of Sydney. Dalley and Sydney were successively held by Labor candidates of one kind or another without interruption from 1910 onwards.

Grayndler was held for the first 26 years of its existence by Fred Daly, who had previously held the seat of Martin from 1943, and would ultimately serve as a minister through the Whitlam years. Daly was succeeded for one term by Tony Whitlam, son of the recently deposed Prime Minister, before he made a dismally unsuccessful attempt to move to the seat of St George (today named Watson) in 1977. Grayndler was then held briefly by Frank Stewart, who was succeeded upon his death in 1979 by Leo McLeay, a NSW Right faction powerbroker who had a controversial stint as Speaker from 1989 to 1993. With McLeay’s retirement in 1993, the seat was held for a term by Jeannette McHugh, who had held the abolished seat of Phillip since 1983. With McHugh’s retirement in 1996, the seat passed on to its present incumbent, Anthony Albanese.

Albanese emerged as a figure of influence while working as a staffer to Hawke government minister Tom Uren and NSW Premier Bob Carr, and in time became identified with a Left sub-faction distinct from that associated with Julia Gillard, whose leadership he opposed at every opportunity between 2010 and 2013. After entering parliament in 1996, he progressed to shadow parliamentary secretary in 1998, the outer shadow ministry in 2001, and the shadow ministry itself in 2004. He served throughout Labor’s period in government from 2007 to 2013 as Transport and Infrastructure Minister, and he replaced Wayne Swan as Deputy Prime Minister when Kevin Rudd finally returned to the leadership in June 2013, defeating Simon Crean in a party room ballot by 61 votes to 38. He also added broadband, communications and the digital economy to his ministerial workload at this time.

Following the September 2013 election defeat, Albanese was one of two contestants in the first ever Labor leadership vote that was open to the party membership. Albanese won the party membership ballot ahead of Bill Shorten with 59.92% out of about 30,000 votes cast, but this was overcome by Shorten’s 55-31 victory in the caucus vote, translating into a 2.02% margin after a 50% weighting was applied to each component of the vote. He has continued to serve in infrastructure and transport in the shadow ministry, and also holds the tourism and cities portfolios. His Greens opponent at the next election will be Jim Casey, state secretary of the Fire Brigade Employees Union.

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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