Orange, Wollongong and Canterbury by-elections

Background detail and live coverage for today’s trio of New South Wales by-elections, including the Nationals-versus-Labor contest in Orange.

Live count commentary

# % Swing Proj. 2PP
Janelle Bicknell (Greens) 2629 5.6% -1.0%
Scott Barrett (Nationals) 15039 31.8% -34.2% 49.4%
Philip Donato (SFF) 11193 23.7% 50.6%
Kevin Duffy (Independent) 3086 6.5%
Scott Munro (Independent) 4419 9.3%
Bernard Fitzsimon (Labor) 8688 18.4% -5.0%
Dianne Decker (CDP) 1594 3.4% 0.9%
Ian Donald (Independent) 620 1.3%

Thursday (later still). Antony Green has the results of the preference distribution.

Thursday (later). The distribution of preferences has ended with the Nationals 66 votes in front. Shooters Fishers and Farmers have issued a statement saying a recount will be held tomorrow, and they are hoping/expecting it will show up the anomaly noted below.

Thursday. I stopped following the late count, which failed to produce anything groundbreaking, but am now bumping the post due to commotion emerging from the count as the preference distribution is conducted. Shooters finished with an 84-vote lead on the notional preference distribution, but it now appears the Nationals candidate is 60 votes ahead during the preference distribution proper. However, the Twitter account of the Central West Daily says “it’s thought a bundle may be switched”, which presumably might mean the Nationals are being credited with 50 votes that ought to have gone to Shooters, in which case Shooters would be ahead by 40 votes when it’s corrected.

Sunday 6pm. The Nationals are still in the race thanks to very strong results on today’s counting of pre-polls and postals, and they have slightly improved their position on the most recently added booth-level preference results. We’ve had 5877 pre-polls, to go with the 9779 from last night which came from Forbes, and they’ve favoured Nationals over Shooters by 40.1% to 18.5%, while the gap on postals is 43.6% to 13.0%. That’s blown the primary vote gap out to 8.1% from 5.6% last night, and the Shooters’ projected winning margin is down to 0.6%, which doesn’t account for a likely trend to the Nationals on whatever late votes remain (particularly postals). So a lot depends on whether any pre-poll booths remain to be counted or how many postals we can expect, both of which I’m not sure about.

Sunday 5pm. There have now been 10 booths out of 38 completed in the notional Nationals-versus-Shooters count, and they point to a modest winning margin for the Shooters. Preferences so far have gone 35.5% to Shooters and 13.6% to the Nationals, with 50.9% exhausting, which I’m projecting to a winning margin of 1.5%.

End of night. Antony Green reports there are about 6000 pre-polls outstanding from Parkes and Forbes, which the Nationals will be hoping might widen the gap further. However, the number of postal votes should be quite modest, since there were only 1126 last time. So the Nationals have very limited opportunity to build on what currently looks like an insufficient primary vote lead, unless there is a remarkably high rate of exhaustion on preferences from Labor and minor candidates. Kevin Bonham notes that Labor’s how-to-vote card was backed by a union campaign to put the Nationals last, which would seem to bode ill for them.

11.09pm. 1537 iVotes have favoured the Nationals, adding 0.4% to their primary vote lead.

10.44pm. The Nationals have been given a steadier with the addition of 9805 pre-polls, of which 30.9% have gone to the Nationals and 21.7% to Shooters. This gives Shooters a hill to climb on preferences, and the Nationals will be hoping it gets steeper with postals.

8.57pm. The NSWEC has pulled the Nationals-versus-Labor count, so those numbers are “stuck”. We have all the numbers from the polling booths, but there could possibly be postals or pre-polls to come this evening.

7.53pm. Only one booth left to come in Orange. From memory though, I think you get a large postals result later in the night at New South Wales by-elections.

7.46pm. Orange High booth doesn’t change the primary vote margin much, but my delayed update of the two-party projection has the Nationals winning margin relative to Labor down below 5%, as little as that now means.

7.40pm. Bletchington booth in Orange a good result for SFF, pulling the Nationals primary below 30% — three more to come.

7.34pm. Only four booths left to report now from Orange, where SFF continue to do at least as well in large large-reporting booths as the earlier small ones.

7.30pm. Another good SFF result from the large Canowindra High booth. To recap: the two-party results shown above are Nationals-versus-Labor, which are clearly redundant because Philip Donato of Shooters, Fishers and Farmers is well clear of Labor in second place, and close enough to the Nationals candidate on the primary vote that he will the seat unless something very surprising happens with preferences. Meanwhile, Labor are cruising to victory in Canterbury, and are doing well enough in Wollongong despite a 33.4% vote for independent Gordon Bradbery.

7.24pm. The latest batch of booths from Orange has included some excellent results for Philip Donato of Shooters, Fishers and Farmers in large town booths, and he is surely now very well placed to win the seat.

7.14pm. Labor looks to be doing it reasonably comfortably in Wollongong: their candidate Paul Scully leads independent Gordon Bradbery 50.1% to 28.9%.

7.12pm. There are now 21 booths in on the primary vote, the latest batch including one from Parkes and two from Forbes, and the SFF are doing at least as well as Labor here too, so they now seem assured of taking second place. I’m now projecting the Nationals’ margin over Labor at a more comfortable 7.2%, but that’s not what it will actually come down to. Presumably we will have to wait until, at best, tomorrow to see a Nationals-versus-SFF preference flow to determine the likely outcome.

6.58pm. Based on five booths, I’m calculating an 19.0% two-party swing to Labor, reducing the margin to 2.7%, if they can finish second.

6.51pm. Thirteen booths in now from Orange, and the picture is as before, still with no booths from Forbes or Parkes and only one from Orange. If SFF can indeed stay competitive on the primary vote, we will end the evening in the dark, as the preference throw being conducted is between Nationals and Labor, so it will not be known how preferences are flowing between the Nationals and SFF, and how many are exhausting.

6.48pm. Labor on 65.9% after a few booths in Canterbury, so I won’t be following that one. Nothing yet from Wollongong.

6.44pm. Another two booths, making seven in all, and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers continue to look interesting, now pulling well ahead of Labor. However, the one town booth, Orange Hospital, has Labor on 26.6% and SFF on 15.6%, and there may be plenty more of that to follow from later booths in Orange, Parkes and Forbes.

6.38pm. Five booths in from Orange and the Nationals vote appears to have all but halved, but the slack has been taken up by Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, who on these numbers are running ahead of Labor and in contention to win the seat. However, it may be that Shooters, Fishers and Farmers don’t end up polling quite so well in the larger town booths that won’t report until later.


Three state by-elections are being held in New South Wales today, from which I have been distracted by presidential election coverage. The only one of the three being contested by both major parties is Orange, which has been vacated by Nationals MP Andrew Gee’s move to federal politics as member for Calare. The recent decline in the Baird government’s standing has left Labor confident it can at the very least make up enough ground in the safe conservative seat to cause it embarrassment. The other two by-elections are in Labor-held Canterbury and Wollongong, and the Liberals found no reason to expose themselves to adverse swings by fielding candidates. However, Wollongong will be contested by a candidate who came within 0.9% of defeating the outgoing Labor member in 2012.


Nationals 21.7%

Dominated by the town 250 kilometres to the west of Sydney that bears its name, Orange has existed in one form or another since 1859, outside of the period of proportional representation from 1920 to 1927, and has been held by the National/Country Party since 1947. Former barrister Andrew Gee came to the seat at the 2011 election in succession to Russell Turner, the member since 1996. Labor’s last serious challenge to the seat came at the by-election in 1996 that marked Turner’s entry to parliament, when the margin was reduced to 2.6% on the same day that Labor won a by-election for the normally conservative North Coast seat of Clarence.

The Nationals candidate is Scott Barrett, a state government policy adviser who once worked as a media adviser to federal independent Bob Katter, who won a preselection ahead of Cabonne shire councillor Janelle Culverson, Orange city councillor Scott Munro and local barrister Duncan Brakell. Munro will now be running as one of three independents, along with former Cabonne mayor and local councillor Kevin Duffy and geologist Ian Donald. Labor’s candidate is Brendan Fitzsimon, a Public Service Association delegate who also ran for the candidate at the 2015 election. Also in the field are candidates for the Greens, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers and the Christian Democratic Party.


Labor 8.9% versus Independent

The traditional Labor bastion of Wollongong is being vacated by Noreen Hay, who came to the seat in 2003 and survived the 2011 disaster by a 0.9% margin ahead of independent candidate Gordon Bradbery. Hay has been an occasional subject of unwelcome attention for Labor, causing her to be dumped from parliamentary secretary positions on two separate occasions during Labor’s last term in office before the defeat of 2011. The first instance came after she was named in an Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry into corruption in Wollongong Council, for which she ultimately emerged with no adverse findings, and the second followed after an incident in which Kiama MP Matt Brown danced semi-naked in her office during a late-night party and, it was alleged –- though denied by both — simulated a sex act on her, costing him his job as Police Minister (the then Premier, Nathan Rees, denied her demotion was related to the incident). Her resignation from parliament follows her loss of the party whip position after electoral fraud charges were laid against one of her staff over her preselection ahead of the 2015 state election. One of the unsuccessful candidates from the preselection, Paul Scully, chief operating officer of the University of Wollongong’s Australian Institute for Innovative Materials, is now Labor’s candidate for the by-election.

On its present boundaries, Wollongong covers the coast for about seven kilometres in either direction from central Wollongong, as far as Towradgi in the north and Windang in the south. From there it extends inland to Mount Kembla and Berkeley on the northern bank of Lake Illawarra. Since it was first created in 1904, its existence as an electorate has been interrupted between 1920 and 1927, when single-member electorates were replaced with multi-member districts; between 1930 and 1941, when Wollongong was renamed Illawarra and Illawarra renamed Bulli; and between 1941 and 1968, when it had the name Wollongong-Kembla. Labor’s collective dominion over Wollongong, Illawarra, Wollongong-Kembla was disturbed on three occasions: when sitting member John Nicholson defected to the Nationalists in the split of 1917, followed by his defeat at the election the next year; when Jack Hough held the seat for the Liberals from 1965 to 1971; and when Frank Arkell held it as an independent from 1984 to 1991. Labor’s member from 1950 to 1963 was Rex Connor, who later held the local federal seat of Cunningham from 1963 until his death in 1977, and was famously a principal of the Khemlani loans affair as the Whitlam government’s Minerals and Energy Minister.

Frank Arkell won election as an independent on his second attempt in 1984, having served as Lord Mayor of Wollongong since 1974 and come within 51 votes of unseating Labor member Eric Ramsay on his first attempt in 1981. With Ramsay retiring at the 1984 election, Labor’s candidate was Rex Connor Jr, the son of the late former member, whom Arkell defeated by a margin of 4.2%. The redistribution before the 1988 election set up a contest between Arkell and the Labor member for the abolished neighbouring seat of Corrimal, Laurie Kelly, in which Arkell prevailed by 5.5%. The seat returned to the Labor fold when Gerry Sullivan secured an 8.6% winning margin over Arkell in 1991. Arkell was brutally murdered in 1998, two months before he was due to face court on child sex charges.

Gerry Sullivan held the seat for Labor until the 1999 election, when his preselection was successfully challenged by Left faction colleague Col Markham after a post-redistribution deal delivered Markham’s existing seat of Keira to the Right. Markham in turn fell victim to a preselection challenge from a fellow Left faction member ahead of the 2003 election, when the seat passed on to present incumbent Noreen Hay, formerly a Miscellaneous Workers Union official and electorate officer to federal Throsby MP Jennie George. Support from local councillor and numbers man Kiril Jonovski, along with lingering resentment at the manner of Markham’s imposition in 1999, were said to have been the crucial factors behind Hay’s winning the preselection vote by a 95-81 margin against the urgings of Bob Carr, who said Markham was an “ideal member”. Hay’s relationship with her Left faction was widely seen to have deteriorated as a result of the preselection ructions, and by the end of her first year in parliament she had defected to the Right.

Hay faced a strong challenge at the 2011 election from Gordon Bradbery, then a Wesley Uniting Church minister and now the Lord Mayor of Wollongong. Bradbery comfortably outpolled the Liberal candidate to take second place, with Hay on 35.6% and Bradbery on 29.5%, but Hay made it home by 674 votes at the final count. The result was unsuccessfully challenged in court by Bradbery, who claimed voting irregularities and distribution of fake how-to-vote cards. Hay’s preselection ahead of the 2015 election was challenged by both Paul Scully and Wollongong councillor Ann Martin, but she secured an easy victory in the local ballot with 80 votes to 35 for Scully and 13 for Martin. She again faced a strong independent challenge at the ensuing election, this time from South Coast Trades and Labor Council head Arthur Rorris, but prevailed at the final count by a margin of 8.9%.

Paul Scully’s preselection for the by-election was achieved through the intervention of Luke Foley, who said he was “taking charge” due to the “irregularities” that had characterised the party’s local affairs. Those thwarted by the move included Ann Martin, lawyer Deb Langton, and serial local preselection aspirant and Noreen Hay ally John Rumble. Gordon Bradbery will again be running as an independent, and there are also candidates for the Christian Democratic Party and Shooters, Fishers and Farmers.


Labor 15.7%

Canterbury is located about 10 kilometres south-west of central Sydney, encompassing Earlwood and northern Kingsgrove along the Cooks River, from which it extends north to Campsie, Canterbury and Hurlstone Park. It was one of 20 seats retained by Labor amid the debacle of 2011, and has been held by the party for all but one term since 1913, the exception being after the 1932 election when it fell to an independent. The outgoing member, Linda Burney, was a former director-general of the NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs, and became the state’s first indigenous MP when she came to the seat in 2003. This was achieved with backing from Left heavyweight Anthony Albanese, after the previous member Kevin Moss of the Right, reluctantly agreed to step aside. Burney rose to the deputy leadership after the 2011 election defeat, and moved to federal politics at the July election in the corresponding seat of Barton.

Labor’s new candidate for Canterbury is Sophie Cotsis, a member of the Legislative Council since September 2010, when she filled the vacancy created by the resignation of Right faction warlord John Della Bosca. She was assigned to the front bench after the 2011 election defeat and served in a range of portfolios, most recently ageing, disability services and multiculturalism. At the 2015 election she was the lead candidate on Labor’s upper house ticket. Cotsis’s preselection was determined by the party’s national executive in an arrangement that ensured Burney would take Barton, which Labor looked all but certain to gain after a favourable redistribution; preserved Right member Joel Fitzgibbon in his federal seat of Hunter after the neighbouring seat of Charlton was abolished by a redistribution; and maintained the factional balance in state parliament by having Cotsis’s vacancy in the upper house go to John Graham, the party’s assistant general secretary and a member of the Left. Sean Nicholls of the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Left faction’s local control would have given it the numbers to install Graham, Luke Foley wished to see the seat go to a locally connected candidate, and was concerned about the “perception of a factional boss moving into a safe Labor seat”.

There are two other candidates at the by-election: Kristian Bodell, a solicitor, for the Greens; and Branka Kouroushis, a Montenegro-born counselling and community service work student.

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.

36 comments on “Orange, Wollongong and Canterbury by-elections”

  1. First results in Orange promising, from

    6:27pm: First booth in Orange has just reported: Spring Terrace Public School. It’s a small booth with just 167 formal votes. Last time the Nationals polled 75.3%, this time they’re on 33.5%. I’m still working on the model, but safe to say that’s a big shift.

  2. Alan Jones and Ray Hadley travelled together to Orange to boost the SFF candidate, Donato.

    They both interviewed him. The Parrot thought things would go better by doing 99% of the talking including answering his own questions. Just in case Donato was thinking of saying anything the elephant hunter, Robert Borsak, was on hand as well to forestall such conduct.

  3. Shooters and Fishers polling above 50% on primaries in a number of the country booths. Cumnock, Cudal, Mullion Creek – banjos a’strumming

  4. Greens primary getting close to the CDP in Canterbury. Won’t change the result (and I doubt the Greens primary will stay that high), but interesting nonetheless.

  5. So currently SFF will need to gain at a rate of .115 votes/vote out of the preferences to win. The Greens gained at .412 in winning Ballina and .353 in failing to win Lismore, both also with OPV. Some of the indies in this case had just-1 how to votes and SFF have said the rate of just-1 voting is high. I’d think the Nats would want to lift the target to something like .2 and then they might hang on, but I haven’t seen any scrutineering.

  6. Anthony Green makes a good point where places have had Council Amalgamations the National Vote has collapsed. The Nationals should of kicked up a bigger stink about this process and have been punished. I think the Greyhound Ban did not have as a big impact as Council Amalgamations did.

  7. At what point do we cease calling the Nationals a party? They are perenially only one good independent away from losing in the country, and irrelevant in the city. They are a rump.

  8. Should the SFF win Orange and their new member raise the issue of guns laws or hunting in national parks, the ALP should hold their heads in shame and be held to account that they have put him in. Labor cannot hold anyone to account on these issues after their preference distribution.

  9. If Donato is elected, he should be known as the member for Alan Jones/Ray Hadley so dutiful he has been in sucking up to them.

    And what of Luke Foley, equally now a sycophant of Jones and Hadley, bowing down to them now doubt thinking that would boost the ALP vote. It went down 5%.

  10. Nats have done very well on prepolls and postals today so my latest projection is more or less tied. I think Donato would win by about 200 (+/- lots for modelling uncertainties) at the moment but the remaining dribble of votes could cut that down towards zero, the question being how many votes there might be left.

    Updating on my site from time to time.

  11. Shellbell
    “And what of Luke Foley, equally now a sycophant of Jones and Hadley, bowing down to them now doubt thinking that would boost the ALP vote. It went down 5%.”

    The ALP primary vote went down 5%. No doubt many traditional ALP voters engaged in strategic voting and put SFF first.
    My parents live in a safe rural Coalition seat. They’re ALP voters, but know the ALP has no hope of ever winning it. So they put an Independent or minor party candidate first, and the Coalition candidate last. I doubt the ALP would fault them for that.

  12. 79 vote lead now after over 200 postals were thrown today (a slower gain rate for the Nats on late postals than early ones, which I suppose makes sense.) Only whatever postals they get by 6 pm tomorrow left to throw and then probably a recount but looks like it’s all over bar the shooting.

  13. I must confess I’m ever-so slightly disappointed that the National Party’s Trevor Perrett managed to slightly exceed this collapse in the seat of Barambah in 1998 – a like for like contests with a Labor opposition both times and a strong CAP vote supplanted by a (stronger) One Nation vote, not a by-election either. Down from 67.21% to 30.96% primary votes for a very “impressive” 36.25% collapse in the primary vote.

  14. “Shooters and Rooters up by 55, declared elected. ”

    Not declared elected yet. A full recount has been granted at the Nationals’ request starting Monday. When that finishes the declaration will be made.

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