Call of the board: northern New South Wales

Resuming a region-by-region series looking in detail at seat results from the May 2022 federal election, with a journey along the coast north of Sydney to the Queensland border.

Welcome back to Call of the Board, in which we take a region-by-region look at the results in every seat at last year’s federal election. This got us only as far as the Northern Territory, inner Sydney and outer Sydney last year before the Victorian and New South Wales elections got in the way. The plan now is to finish off New South Wales in two stages, the first of which takes us through the Central Coast and Hunter region and then along the northern coast to the Queensland border. A common theme throughout is that Labor scored strong swings in urban concentrations, gaining them Robertson and padding out a number of margins elsewhere, but made little or no headway in rural and mining areas.

The maps below represent two-party preferred vote shares and swings at booth level, which you can click on to get larger images. To provide a closer look, the analysis is broken into two parts, starting with the populous southern end encompassing the Central Coast and Hunter Valley.

Dobell (Labor 6.5%; 5.0% swing to Labor): In a seat that has gone back and forth a number of times since its creation in 1984, Labor’s Emma McBride won a third term with the party’s biggest winning margin since 1993. McBride managed a 1.4% swing on the primary vote despite the entry of One Nation, whose 7.5% was down on the 8.6% they recorded in 2016, and about equal to the fall in the Liberal vote. The 5.0% two-party swing to Labor formed part of a pattern across the Central Coast that spurred them to victory in neighbouring Robertson. St Vincent’s Hospital cardiology director Michael Feneley took on a tough assignment as Liberal candidate for the fifth time (the previous four having been in Sydney’s eastern suburbs), and once again fell short.

Newcastle (Labor 18.0%; 4.2% swing to Labor): Newcastle’s distinction as the only seat held by Labor since federation went wholly unthreatened, though a strong two-party swing conceals that their primary vote was down slightly in the face of a 4.5% surge for the Greens. One Nation entered the field and managed only 4.5%, which was again about equal to the drop in the Liberal vote.

Paterson (Labor 3.3%; 1.7% swing to Liberal): One of two seats out of the ten under consideration where the two-party swing was against Labor, suggesting a closer relationship between Paterson and thinly populated Hunter and Lyne, which both swung only slightly to Labor, than the urbanised seats to its south. However, it also seems to have been a particularly strong performance from Liberal candidate Brooke Vitnell, who gained 4.2% on the primary vote. This seems to have taken some wind out of the sails of One Nation, whose 6.0% drop on the primary vote was not reflected elsewhere. Former One Nation voters may also account for some of the 1.6% recorded by Informed Medical Options.

Robertson (LABOR GAIN 2.3%; 6.5% swing to Labor): Centred upon Gosford, Terrigal and Woy Woy at the southern end of the Central Coast, Robertson was one of ten seats gained at the election by Labor, and one of three in New South Wales together with the Sydney seats of Reid and Bennelong. The swing of 6.5% would not have been exceptional in Sydney, but was Labor’s second best result in the remainder of New South Wales after Eden-Monaro. The result was otherwise broadly typical in that defeated Liberal member Lucy Wicks lost more on the primary vote than Labor victor Gordon Reid gained, with the Greens up 2.1%. Amid a cluttered field of eleven candidates, One Nation’s entry accounted for only 3.8%.

Shortland (Labor 5.8%; 1.4% swing to Labor): Labor member Pat Conroy appears to be swimming against the tide in his southern Newcastle seat, where Labor has underperformed the statewide swing at four elections in a row (the first of which was on the watch of his predecessor, Jill Hall). The modest swing in his favour was a particularly soft result by the standards of an urbanised seat, entrenching a fairly modest margin for Labor in a seat it has held without interruption since its creation in 1949. The result in other respects followed the standard pattern, with One Nation entering the field to claim 6.4%, the Greens up and both major parties down, Liberal solidly more so than Labor.

Further north:

Cowper (Nationals 2.3% versus Independent): The teal independent revolution that swept eastern Sydney found only two footholds outside the metropolitan area, one being Calare (to be covered in the next instalment) and the other being Cowper, both scenes of Climate 200-backed challenges that took their candidates to the final count without getting them over the line. In this case it was Caz Heise who easily outpolled Labor with 26.3% of the primary vote and fell 2.3% short of overhauling second-term Nationals member Pat Conaghan, whose primary vote was down 7.6% to 39.5%. Heise was perhaps building on the groundwork of Rob Oakeshott, who came up 4.6% short in 2016 from 26.3% of the primary vote and 6.8% short in 2019 from 24.5%. A primary vote below 40% is often fatal for Coalition candidates, but in this case there was 14.4% for right-of-centre minor parties to draw preferences from, including 8.1% for One Nation.

Hunter (Labor 4.0%; 1.0% swing to Labor): Labor newcomer Dan Repacholi at least succeeded in staunching the bleeding that made Hunter one of the most distinctive results of the 2019 election, when One Nation polled 21.6% on the back of disaffection among mining workers and came close to making the final count, helping to fuel a 9.5% two-party swing against previous Labor member Joel Fitzgibbon. Modest as the swing to Labor was, it can be reckoned a creditable result for Repacholi given the loss of Fitzgibbon’s personal vote and Labor’s generally tepid performance away from urban centres. However, the Nationals primary vote was up 4.0% while Labor was up only 1.0%, the two-party swing to Labor arising largely from a lift in the Greens vote from 6.9% to 8.9% and an increase in Labor’s share of their preferences from 75.6% to 82.9%. The strongly performing One Nation candidate from 2019, Stuart Bonds, ran as an independent this time, his 5.7% no doubt contributing to One Nation’s slump to 10.0%.

Lyne (Nationals 13.8%; 1.4% swing to Labor): In a seat that has reverted to safe Nationals type since Rob Oakeshott left the scene, the result in Lyne followed the usual pattern in that One Nation entered the race to claim 7.9%; both parties were down on the primary vote but the Nationals appreciably more so; the Greens gained ground; and the result in two-party terms was a modest swing to Labor.

Page (Nationals 10.7%; 1.3% swing to Nationals): The swing achieved by Nationals member Kevin Hogan against the trend maintained a pattern that has turned a once marginal seat into one where Labor no longer appears competitive, a status it shares with a number of regional seats around the country. Since Janelle Saffin (who now holds the partly corresponding state seat of Lismore) did well to retain the seat for Labor with a swing against the trend in 2010, Labor’s primary vote has declined over successive elections by 6.9%, 1.0%, 8.5% and now 7.7%, reducing their share from the mid-forties to the high teens. A factor on this occasion was independent candidate and Bali bombing survivor Hanabeth Luke, who scored a solid 13.1%. This contributed to the Nationals and the Greens as well as Labor losing ground on the primary vote.

Richmond (Labor 8.2%; 4.2% swing to Labor): The most urbanised of the seats north of the Hunter Valley characteristically gave Labor their strongest two-party swing. The swing map (right) is particularly instructive in this case, as it shows the swing went the other way in the rural areas in the middle of the electorate. The seat’s other notable feature is Byron Bay and its counter-cultural surrounds at the southern end, who have turned the seat into a three-way contest between Labor, the Nationals and the Greens. The latter’s high-profile candidate, Mandy Nolan, gained 5.0% to push the party into second place on the primary vote for the first time, but she did not make the final preference count due to strong flows of preferences to the Nationals from the Liberal Democrats (who polled 7.7%, no doubt because they were the only party in the field with Liberal in their name – it will be interesting to see how they go if they try again under the new name they will be required to adopt next time) and One Nation.

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.

7 comments on “Call of the board: northern New South Wales”

  1. Centred upon Gosford, Terrigal and Woy Woy at the southern end of the Central Coast, Robertson was one of ten seats gained at the election by Labor, and one of two in New South Wales together with the Sydney seat of Reid.

    And Bennelong?

  2. Shogunsays:
    Sunday, May 7, 2023 at 9:18 am
    Centred upon Gosford, Terrigal and Woy Woy at the southern end of the Central Coast, Robertson was one of ten seats gained at the election by Labor, and one of two in New South Wales together with the Sydney seat of Reid.

    And Bennelong?

    Yes. But lost Fowler. So net 2. Maybe WB means that.

  3. @Madhouse I think the denizens of Fowler viewed KK’s candidacy as a cynical power grab, and they had a point. And to think Fowler used to be the safest Labor seat in the country…

    Just wondering – have the media cottoned on to Robertson’s new ‘bellweather’ status? No doubt it will get more attention at the next election if so.

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