Seat du jour: Boothby

The southern Adelaide seat of Boothby is a nut Labor never quite seems able to crack, with the latest seat poll suggesting this time will be no exception.

Welcome to episode 14 of Seat du jour, an opportunity for you to read about and (hopefully) discuss the individual contests that will determine the May 18 election. So far the series has taken us to Petrie, Hasluck, Herbert, Banks, Corangamite, Chisholm, Reid, Bass, Pearce, Lindsay, Gilmore, Dickson and La Trobe. Now it’s finally time for South Australia to get a look in, via the southern Adelaide seat of Boothby, for which the Poll Bludger election guide entry can be found here.

Boothby has been held by the Liberals without interruption since 1949, albeit by occasionally narrow margins in recent times. It has existed in name since South Australia was first divided into electorates in 1903, but it covered shifting ground around the Adelaide Hills and inner southern Adelaide until 1993, when the abolition of Hawker caused it absorb coastal suburbs from North Brighton south to Marino. Its coastal territory now runs from Glenelg in the north, which has been gained in the redistribution from Hindmarsh, through Brighton to Marino in the south, and it extends inland through Marion and surrounding coastal plain suburbs to the Adelaide Hills at Belair and Bellevue Heights. The general lean to the Liberals throughout the electorate is softened by the area around the defunct Tonsley Park Mitsubishi plant, the only part of the electorate with below average incomes and above average ethnic diversity.

The Liberals’ win in 1949 marked the start of a long-term trend in their favour that peaked in the 1970s, when margins were consistently in double digits. It was held from 1981 to 1996 by former South Australian Premier Steele Hall, and then by Andrew Southcott through to 2016. A trend to Labor became evident after the election of the Howard government in 1996, with successive swings recorded over the next five elections. Labor had a particularly encouraging swing amid its otherwise poor result in 2004, raising its hopes that it might land the seat in the more favourable circumstances that followed.

Labor’s Right faction powerbrokers recruited what they imagined to be a star candidate for the 2007 election in Nicole Cornes, a minor Adelaide celebrity and wife of local football legend Graham Cornes. However, Cornes was damaged by a series of poor media performances, and could only manage a swing of 2.4% compared with 6.8% statewide. There was a further swing to Labor of 2.2% in 2010, compared with a 0.8% swing amid statewide amid Labor’s relatively strong performance in South Australia at that election, but this still left them 0.8% short of a victory that was desperately needed to buttress losses in Queensland and New South Wales. With the seat off Labor’s target list in 2013, Andrew Southcott had a much easier time of it in 2013, with a swing of 6.5% in his favour.

The seat’s current member is Nicolle Flint, who retained the seat against a 3.6% swing to Labor when Southcott retired in 2016. Nick Xenophon Team candidate Karen Hockley polled 20.7%, but this was not among the four South Australian seats where the party was able to make the final preference count. Flint is a former columnist for The Advertiser and was an adviser to Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull in their respective tenures as Opposition Leader. Noted as a conservative, she was openly supportive of Peter Dutton through the party’s August 2018 leadership crisis, being among the first to put their name to the petition demanded by Malcolm Turnbull before he would call a second party room meeting after surviving the Dutton’s initial challenge. She was then among the 40 members who supported Peter Dutton in the second round, in which Scott Morrison prevailed with 45 votes.

The Liberals were reportedly gravely concerned about Boothby at the low ebb of their fortunes in late 2018, but more recent indications have been more encouraging for them. A YouGov Galaxy poll conducted a week out from the election gave Flint a lead of 53-47, which would leave her existing margin intact if borne out at the election. Labor’s candidate is Nadia Clancy, who has worked as a political adviser in various capacities, most recently to former state government minister Katrine Hildyard.

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: Boothby”

  1. Looking like Status Quo in South Australia although I’ll be intrigued by how Centre Alliance do in Grey and Barker because they were strong in those seats last time. The Senate will also be interesting for that 6th spot!

  2. Labor is not putting many resources to the Sturt campaign. Its not on the target list. However there is a big push on in Boothby – most of the Adelaide metropolitan effort is being concentrated there. Shorten’s visit to Boothby today emphasises its importance. Whether this means the seat is really in play is hard to gauge. It may be that in the absence of alternative targets, its a case of Labor having a real crack at Boothby in the hope that just maybe it will swing enough this time for them to pick up a narrow win. Nobody in Labor is expecting the outcome to be decided on Saturday night – the expectation is it will go right down to the wire.

  3. Boothby has a history of strong votes for third or minor parties.
    If NXT had finished second last time (and they weren’t too far away) this wouldn’t be a Liberal seat today.

  4. Despite the recent poll, I think this seat is still very much in play. I expect the Green vote to be more like 12-13% and the Liberal primary to be more like 43/44%. It’s a big ask for Labor to ever win this seat, but I don’t think it will be called on election night.

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