Seat du jour: Fowler

Based around the Vietnamese community centre of Cabramatta in western Sydney, Fowler has swung convulsively at consecutive elections, but such is Labor’s stronghold on the seat that very few noticed.

Fowler covers an area of western Sydney centred on Cabramatta, whose Vietnamese community causes the electorate to rank number one in the country for residents speaking languages other than English. While the seat’s safe Labor status causes it to be overlooked on election night, it offered remarkable results in both 2010 and 2013 for those who cared to look, swinging 13.8% to the Liberals on the former occasion and 8.0% back to Labor on the latter. The 2013 result caused the Liberal candidate, Andrew Nguyen, to complain the party had disrepected the electorate by refusing to allow him to talk to the media. The latest redistribution has dramatically changed the shape of the electorate, while still leaving it centred upon Cabramatta. In the west, all its territory beyond Elizabeth Drive has been transferred to Werriwa, accounting for 45,000 voters, or 43% of the total. The loss has been made up for with gains in the south, where it absorbs Liverpool, Chipping Norton and Warwick Farm, adding around 13,000 voters from Hughes and 5000 from Werriwa; in the north-west, where 22,000 voters around Bossley Park are gained from McMahon; and in the north-east, where 7000 voters around Fairfield East are gained from Blaxland. The changes cause the Labor margin to drop from 16.8% to 13.9%, mostly due to the gain of Liberal-voting Chipping Norton from Hughes.




Labor has had a secure hold on Fowler since it was created with the expansion of parliament in 1984, being held first by Ted Grace until 1998, and then by Julia Irwin until 2010. Irwin was backed by the old guard of the NSW Right, notably Laurie Brereton and Leo McLeay, but became chiefly noted as a critic of Israel. Her decision to retire in 2010 resolved a headache for the party, which had been absorbed by a game of musical chairs resulting from the effective abolition of Laurie Ferguson’s seat of Reid. Ferguson was at first determined to be accommodated in Fowler, but a deal was in force reserving the seat for a Right faction that also dominated local branches. He was instead made to settle for Werriwa, which at first displaced its member Chris Hayes to highly marginal Macarthur. Irwin’s departure created an immensely more attractive opening for Hayes in Fowler, also allowing local favourite Nick Bleasdale to contest Macarthur for a second time (albeit unsuccessfully).

Chris Hayes entered parliament at the February 2005 by-election in Werriwa after the resignation of Mark Latham, having previously been an official with the Right faction Australian Workers Union. He has been a fairly low-profile figure through his parliamentary career, although he has held the position of chief party whip since May 2013. When the draft redistribution boundaries were unveiled in October last year, there were suggestions Hayes might have to make way in Fowler for Chris Bowen, since the originally proposed boundaries had his rock-solid Labor base of Fairfield transferred from his existing seat of McMahon into Fowler. This could potentially have sent Hayes back to Werriwa, which is to be vacated at the election by the retirement of Laurie Ferguson. However, the final boundaries reversed the Fairfield transfer, instead bringing Fowler up to its required enrolment level through the gain of Bossley Park.

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.

3 comments on “Seat du jour: Fowler”

  1. That plan to accommodate Bowen here should be kept in the back of Labor’s mind. They dodged a bullet at this redistribution, but McMahon is not getting any safer. If they see him as a long-term prospect or even future leader, he should be given a seat like this.

    Whatever the overall result, the booths transferred from Hughes and McMahon should swing strongly to Labor, since I’m sure the Liberals will put little effort into campaigning here.

  2. As I have stated in my other post, Labor believe they can retain seats of McMahon and Grayndler if they keep their incumbents of Chris Bowen and Anthony Albanese there. They can’t afford to throw seats away on future leader prospects just on the first signs of trouble.

    Kim Beazlay always managed to hold the fort of Brand down, despite it looking vulnerable when he was leader.

  3. I am not sure that Beazley is the best example. He moved from Swan when it became too marginal for a potential long-term leader….Swan was the “McMahon” and Brand was the “Fowler” in his case.

    Plus there were no safer WA seats around. Perth (Stephen Smith) and Fremantle (Carmen Lawrence) also had senior long-term frontbench candidates, and all the other seats were highly marginal. That’s not the case in NSW.

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