Seat du jour: Berowra

The northern Sydney Liberal fiefdom of Berowra is set to pass on from the Father of the House, Phillip Ruddock, to Julian Leeser, former executive director of Liberal-aligned think tank the Menzies Research Centre.

The safe Liberal seat of Berowra in northern Sydney is to be vacated at the coming election by current parliament’s longest serving member, Phillip Ruddock, who entered parliament in 1973 and came to Berowra in 1993. The electorate combines a populous southern end consisting of affulent suburbs in Sydney’s outer north, including Pennant Hills, Cherrybrook and western Hornsby, with national parks and thinly populated territory out to the Hawkesbury River in the north. The latest redistribution adds two areas in the west and east of the southern end of the electorate, respectively encompassing parts of Castle Hill (from Mitchell) and Thornleigh and Normanhurst (from Bradfield), each of which accounts for between 3500 and 4000 voters. The changes have had no effect on the Liberal margin.

Berowra was created in 1969 from an area that had been accommodated by Mitchell during a period of rapid development from 1955 onwards. The Liberals have held the seat at all times, the smallest margin having been 8.9% at the 2007 election. It was held for the first term of its existence by Tom Hughes, Attorney-General in the Gorton government and father-in-law of the current Prime Minister, who came to the new seat upon the abolition of his existing south-western Sydney seat of Parkes (no relation to today’s rural electorate of the same name). Hughes was succeeded on his retirement in 1972 by Harry Edwards, who was in turn succeeded by Phillip Ruddock in 1993.

Phillip Ruddock was first elected in September 1973 to the seat of Parramatta, where he picked up a 7% swing at the first by-election faced by the Whitlam government. When Parramatta was divided down the middle at the 1977 redistribution, Ruddock assumed the reasonably safe new seat of Dundas, which took the old Parramatta’s eastern end. Dundas was abolished in 1993, and Berowra absorbed its particularly wealthy and conservative area of Dundas around Beecroft, while most of the rest went back to the now Labor-held seat of Parramatta. A potential stand-off was avoided through the retirement of Harry Edwards, allowing Ruddock to complete his transition from marginal Parramatta to safe Berowra.

Ruddock’s positions as Immigration Minister and Attorney-General made him a key figure in the Howard government, and there was some surprise at his determination to serve three further terms beyond its demise. Liberal branches in Berowra became a focus of considerable activity in anticipation of his retirement, with the growing strength of the religious Right a cause of concern to both Ruddock and his ultimate Liberal successor, Julian Leeser. Ruddock indicated he would be interested in replacing Bronwyn Bishop as Speaker in August 2015, but the party instead turned to Victorian MP Tony Smith. Now aged 72, Ruddock finally announced his intention to retire in February, amid doubts he would have been able to retain his preselection if he remained.

Julian Leeser easily won the ensuing preselection ballot with 97 votes in the first round, compared with just ten for local barrister Robert Armitage, who came second in a field of four. Leeser is a former executive director of Liberal-aligned think tank the Menzies Research Centre, and has more recently been director of government policy and strategy at the Australian Catholic University. He is of Jewish background, and has variously been said to be factionally unaligned or attached to the Centre Right. Leeser’s first bid for preselection was when Bredan Nelson retired in the neighbouring seat of Bradfield in late 2009, in which he was defeated 60-51 in the final round by Paul Fletcher.

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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