Seat du jour: Watson

Tony Burke remains secure in his seat in inner southern Sydney, despite a heavy swing to the Liberals in 2010 followed by a milder one in 2013.

Held by senior Labor front-bencher Tony Burke, the electorate of Watson covers inner suburban territory roughly 15 kilometres south-west of central Sydney, from Strathfield and Burwood Heights at the city end to Punchbowl and Lakemba further afield. The electorate was called St George from its creation in 1949 until 1993, reflecting the unofficial name of the Hurstville, Rockdale and Kogarah area of Sydney on which it was then centred. Watson was drawn further away from its traditional base when the 2010 redistribution abolished its northern neighbour, Lowe, from which it absorbed southern Strathfield and Burwood Heights, while losing Earlwood and Kingsgrove in the south. The current redistribution adds 12,000 voters in Ashbury and southern Ashfield from Grayndler in the east, 3500 in southern Punchbowl from Banks in the south-west, 3000 in northern Kingsgrove and Beverly Hills from Barton in the south-east, and 3000 in part of Lidcombe from Reid in the north. This is balanced by transfers of 13,000 in southern Strathfield and Burwood to Reid, and 5000 in southern Campsie and Canterbury to Barton. The changes have boosted the Labor margin from 6.8% to 9.2%.




The St George electorate was the classic middle suburban seat for much of its history, and it frequently changed hands up to 1980, when Whitlam government minister Bill Morrison recovered the seat two terms after his defeat in 1975. The unsuccessful candidate at the intervening election in 1977 was Antony Whitlam, son of Gough, who had held Grayndler in the previous term. Morrison was succeeded in 1984 by Stephen Dubois, whose retirement in 1993 coincided with an electoral rearrangement that abolished both St George and the Bondi-area electorate of Phillip, and created the seat of Watson. Labor’s member for Phillip, Jeannette McHugh, was accommodated in Grayndler, and Right faction heavyweight Leo McLeay moved from Grayndler to Watson. By this time, Labor’s grip on the seat had tightened due to demographic change that has left Watson with the nation’s third highest proportion of non-English speakers, most notably through the concentration of Lebanese around Punchbowl. There was nonetheless a particularly big swing against Labor amid the Sydney-wide backlash of 2010, which cut the existing 18.2% margin exactly in half, followed by a further 2.3% swing to the Liberals in 2013.

Tony Burke has held Watson since the retirement of Leo McLeay in 2004, having entered politics the previous year in the state upper house. Burke won swift promotion to the shadow ministry in 2005, and went on to serve in cabinet as Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister in the Rudd-Gillard government’s first term, and as Sustainability, Environment, Water, Populations and Communities Minister (further gaining arts in March 2013) in its second. Burke was a resolute supporter of Julia Gillard’s leadership, and spoke publicly of the “chaos” of Kevin Rudd’s prime ministership when he launched his unsuccessful challenge in February 2012. Rudd nonetheless refused to accept Burke’s resignation after the success of his leadership challenge in June 2013, instead persuading him to accept the challenging immigration, multicultural affairs and citizenship portfolio. Since the 2013 election defeat he has served as Shadow Finance Minister.

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.

6 comments on “Seat du jour: Watson”

  1. I’m having a few issues with getting boundaries to appear on my electorate maps at the present. Anyone who thinks they might know how to sort out problems in Google Maps API can feel very free to get in touch (pollbludger – at – bigpond – dot – com).

  2. Interesting observation EST, but the next labor op leader is 12 years minimum away. He is a wonderful performer, I agree, but by then he will be overtaken by the likes of Jason Clare and possible others.

  3. William,
    Thanks for the Watson post.
    There is one small error in the post. The Lebanese population isn’t concentrated in Lakemba.

    At the 2011 census, the most common countries of birth for residents of Lakemba were Bangladesh 13.4%, Lebanon 5.2%, Pakistan 4.2%, Vietnam 3.9% and India 3.8%.

    Lebanese born people were concentrated in Greenacre/Chullora (14.6%), Punchbowl (14.4%) & Wiley Park (14.1%).

  4. Leo Macleay should always be prefixed by the term ‘Leaping’. He managed pass on poor parliamentary performance to his son, the former State Member for Heathcote.

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