Seat du jour: McMahon

The patch of western Sydney covered by McMahon is not quite as secure for Labor as it used to be, to the extent that Labor heavyweight Chris Bowen was contemplating a move next door after an unfavourable redistribution proposal.

Held for Labor by Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen, the electorate of McMahon covers two distinct suburban areas separated by Prospect Reservoir and adjoining semi-rural areas. At the eastern end, about 30 kilometres from central Sydney, are the town centre of Fairfield, the Smithfield-Weatherill Park industrial zone and surrounding suburbs, accounting for around three-quarters of the electorate’s voters; and in the north-west are the City of Penrith suburbs of St Clair and Erskine Park. The redistribution has cut territory south of Wetherill Park, sending 22,000 voters around Bossley Park to Fowler, and pushed it eastwards into Merrylands and Guildford, adding 15,000 from Blaxland and 8000 from Parramatta. A further transfer adds Minchinbury at the north-western end of the electorate, adding 4000 voters north of the Western Motorway who were formerly in Chifley. The electorate was called Prospect prior to 2013, when it was renamed in honour of the late former Prime Minister, Sir William McMahon.




Prospect came into existence at the 1969 election, covering territory that had previously been divided between Mitchell and Werriwa in the east, and Macarthur in the west. The area is today distinguished by wide variation in ethnic diversity, with English speakers accounting for over three-quarters of the population in St Clair and Erskine Park compared with barely a fifth around Fairfield, home to large Arabic and Vietnamese populations. This is broadly reflected in income levels, with family income in the former areas roughly double those of the latter. Labor has held the seat without interruption since its creation in 1969, Chris Bowen’s predecessors having been Richard Klugman until 1990, and Janice Crosio thereafater. However, the Labor margin has been pared back by swings to the Liberals of 5.8% in 2004, 6.0% in 2010 and 2.5% in 2013, punctuated by a 7.1% swing to Labor in 2007. Labor’s hold appeared to be further imperilled with the draft redistribution boundaries were published last year, proposing that Fairfield be removed to Fowler by setting Smithfield Road as the south-eastern boundary. This would have pared the margin back to 2.1%, which reportedly had Bowen eyeing a move to Fowler, whose member Chris Hayes could have been accommodated in Werriwa with the retirement of Laurie Ferguson.

Chris Bowen served his political apprenticeship as chief-of-staff to state government minister Carl Scully, and with the backing of the Right won preselection to Prospect in 2004. He was promoted to the opposition front bench in 2006, became Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs with the election of the Rudd government in 2007, and was elevated to cabinet in June 2009 in the human services, financial services, superannuation and corporate law portfolios. After the 2010 election he was delivered the hospital pass of immigration and citizenship, before briefly reassigned to tertiary education, skills, science and research in February 2013. A month later he formed part of an exodus from cabinet resulting from the collapse of a bid to draft Kevin Rudd to the leadership, together with Martin Ferguson and Kim Carr. When Rudd finally toppled Gillard in June, Bowen was appointed Treasurer. He has retained the Treasury portfolio in the shadow cabinet, and spent nearly a month after the 2013 election as acting Opposition Leader pending the outcome of Labor’s leadership election between Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese.

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: McMahon”

  1. Labor knows that the strength of incumbency should help them in seats that could be potentially vulnerable. It’s why it makes sense to keep Chris Bowen in McMahon(5.4%) rather then moving him into Fowler (12.9%). Bowen has been one of Labor strongest frontbench performers, and I’d be surprised if the electorate hasn’t taken notice and he will likely improve on his margin at the next election.

  2. Looking at the map, you can see why Labor fought hard to overturn the draft boundaries. Take out central Fairfield and McMahon would be close to a 50-50 seat.

    I still think Labor should accomodate a talent like Bowen in as safe a seat as they can. McMahon will probably lose Fairfield at the next redistribution, and the area has begun flirting with the Liberals at state level. It would be silly to have him bogged down trying to hold an increasingly shaky seat if he is in a senior (or even leadership) position.

  3. I don’t think we can really predict what will happen in the next redistribution, which could be three terms away. A perusal of the booth map would suggest the problematic inclusion in McMahon isn’t Fairfield, it’s the disconnected western end.

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