Seat du jour: Macquarie

Macquarie consists of a fairly even balance of the Liberal-voting Hawkesbury River region and the Labor-leaning Blue Mountains, but the Liberals have held the upper hand since a favourable redistribution in 2010.

Located on the western fringes of Sydney, Macquarie combines two geographically and electorally distinct areas separated by the Blue Mountains National Park: the solidly Liberal-voting Hawkesbury River area around Richmond and Windsor, and the largely Labor-voting communities on the Great Western Highway in the Blue Mountains, notably Springwood and Katoomba. It has not been affected by the latest redistribution. The seat has existed in name since federation but has changed substantially over its history, having originally been concentrated on Bathurst and Lithgow. Those areas came to be accommodated by Calare after the 1977 and 1984 redistributions, the latter of which also transferred Penrith and St Marys from Macquarie to the new seat of Lindsay. Macquarie briefly recovered Bathurst and Lithgow between 2007 and 2010, when Calare moved deep into the state’s interior to cover the abolition of Gwydir, and the Hawkesbury area was transferred to Macquarie. The changes helped Labor gain the seat in 2007, but with their reversal in 2010, together with the statewide tide against Labor, it returned to the Liberal fold. It has since been held by Louise Markus, who had previously been member for Greenway since 2004.

Macquarie’s most famous former member is Ben Chifley, who was born and raised in Bathurst and elected in 1928. Chifley was voted out in the 1931 landslide, and twice failed to recover the seat before finally breaking through in 1940. It was thereafter held by Labor without interruption until the party’s twin disasters of 1975 and 1977, then recovered when the party’s performance improved in 1980. Ross Free held the seat from 1980 to 1984, when he moved to newly created Lindsay. The slender margin left to Labor in Macquarie was erased by a slight swing to the Liberals at the 1984 election, and the seat was held for the next three terms by Alasdair Webster. Maggie Deahm unseated Webster by a margin of 164 votes amid Labor’s unexpectedly strong performance in 1993, but her margin was easily accounted for by a 6.5% swing to Liberal candidate Kerry Bartlett in 1996. Bartlett’s margin progressed from 4.1% at the 1998 election to 8.9% at the 2004 election, after which the redistribution pulled the rug from underneath him.

Labor had a notional margin of 0.5% going into the 2007 election, to which another 6.6% was added by Labor candidate Bob Debus, a veteran state government minister who had held the Blue Mountains seat from 1981 to 1988, and again from 1995 to 2007. Meanwhile, the Hawkesbury area came to be represented Louise Markus, a former Hillsong Church community worker who won the seat of Greenway for the Liberals for the first time in 2004. Redistribution then inflated her margin in Greenway from 0.6% to 11.0%, of which 4.5% remained after the 2007 election. The effect of the 2010 redistribution was even more pronounced, effecting a 10.2% shift to Labor in Greenway while all but eliminating the Labor margin in Macquarie. Her task in moving to Macquarie was simplified by Debus’s retirement, and she secured the seat on the back of a relatively mild swing of 1.5%, to which she added a further 3.2% in 2013.

Louise Markus’ religious background has been reflected by socially conservative views on same-sex marriage, but she would not go on the record with how she voted in the September 2015 leadership spill. Talk radio broadcaster Ray Hadley accused Scott Morrison, who is said to be close to Markus, of failing to use his influence to marshall Markus’s vote for Tony Abbott, as part of his strategy of playing both sides of the fence. Markus had been dropped from the front bench by Abbott after the 2010 election, having served in the previous term first as a shadow parliamentary secretary, then in the outer shadow ministry. She looked set to face a preselection challenge ahead of the coming election from Sarah Ricahrds, a local party branch president, but she withdrew shortly before the vote was due and left Markus unopposed. For the third election in a row, Markus will be opposed by Susan Templeman, Left-aligned principal of media training company Templeman Consulting.

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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