Electorate: Barton

Margin: Labor 6.9%
Location: Southern Sydney, New South Wales
Outgoing member: Robert McClelland (Labor)

In a nutshell: One of a slew of normally secure Sydney seats where Labor has been thought to be in danger, Labor’s position in Barton has been further weakened with the retirement of long-serving sitting member Robert McClelland.

The candidates (ballot paper order)


Palmer United Party

Liberal (bottom)


One Nation

Labor (top)

Christian Democratic Party


Katter’s Australian Party


Barton has covered Kogarah and surrounding areas on the north shore of the Georges River since its creation in 1922, and currently extends north through Rockdale to Earlwood and Kingsgrove. Past members have included Herbert “Doc” Evatt, who gained the seat from the United Australia Party in 1940 and held it until he moved to Hunter in 1958 after surviving close shaves in 1951 (when World War II hero Nancy Wake, running for the Liberals, came within 243 votes of victory) and 1955 (when Evatt prevailed by 226 votes). The seat nonetheless stayed with Labor until the 1966 disaster, subsequently changing hands along with government in 1975 and 1983. The seat was held throughout the 1980s on generally narrow margins by Gary Punch, but successive swings in 1990 and 1993 left enough fat on the margin that his successor Robert McClelland was able to survive the anti-Keating backlash when he succeeded him in 1996.

A member of the NSW Right, McClelland held a series of senior portfolios after entering the shadow ministry in 1998 and served as Attorney-General after Kevin Rudd’s victory in 2007. He was a key support of Rudd’s from the time of his successful December 2006 challenge to the leadership of Kim Beazley, and remained so during Julia Gillard’s prime ministership. He was demoted to emergency management and housing in December 2011 and then dropped from the ministry altogether after supporting Rudd’s failed leadership bid two months later. The following June he made an oblique reference in parliament to the AWU affair which was invoked as validating the subsequent blizzard of media interest in the matter, and was generally seen as a deliberate effort to undermine her.

Suggestions that McClelland was set to bow out of politics first emerged in mid-2011, when it was reported he had been advised to step aside to avoid a preselection stoush. It was thought the seat might provide an entry for former Premier Morris Iemma, who told the media he would not be interested if it involved “backstabbing friends”. The Iemma for Barton idea was again raised in October 2012 by Bob Carr. When McClelland did in fact announce his intention to retire in January, Iemma did not put his name forward for the preselection, encouraging the conclusion that he did not fancy Labor’s electoral prospects.

Labor will instead take the field with Steve McMahon, chief executive of the NSW Trainers Association (as in thoroughbred horses) and former mayor of Hurstville. McMahon won a local preselection ballot with 128 votes against 101 for Shane O’Brien, the mayor of Rockdale, NSW Public Service Association assistant secretary, and a former adviser to Tony Burke. McMahon reportedly had backing from Iemma and state upper house MP Shaoquett Moselmane, key to votes from the Lebanese Muslim community, which led O’Brien to boast that his own support had instead come from “free-thinking individuals”. O’Brien’s opponents accused him of being a sore loser who had himself had courted the Macedonian and Greek vote. Moselmane had been a nominee early in the process, but soon withdrew amid suggestions he was merely seeking leverage to shore up his position on the upper house ticket.

The Liberal candidate is Nick Varvaris, accountant and mayor of Kogarah.

cuA Galaxy automated phone poll of about 575 respondents on August 20 had Labor holding a 52-48 lead on two-party preferred, one of few polls in loseable Sydney seats which had them ahead. The seat was not included in The Australian’s August 27 listing of endangered Labor seats.

Analysis written by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.

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