Margin: Labor 4.2%
Location: South Coast, New South Wales
In a nutshell: Conventional wisdom holds that as Eden-Monaro goes, so goes Australia. This time though, Labor’s odds in Eden-Monaro are much shorter than they are for the election as a whole.
The candidates (ballot paper order)
Taking in the south-eastern corner of New South Wales, including Queanbeyan, Cooma, Tumut and the coast from Batemans Bay south to Eden and the Victorian border, Eden-Monaro is renowned throughout the land as the bellwether electorate that always goes the way of the party that wins the election. Until 2007 its record on this count was in fact surpassed by Macarthur, which had been a successful litmus test since its creation in 1949. But while Eden-Monaro stayed true to form by being among the seven New South Wales seats that switched to Labor when Kevin Rudd came to power, Macarthur narrowly stayed with Liberal member Pat Farmer. Eden-Monaro bucked a statewide trend in 2010 by recording a 2.0% swing to Labor, which may well have been a vote of confidence in popular local member Mike Kelly.
Eden-Monaro’s bellwether record is perhaps explained by it offering a microcosm of the state at large, if not the country as a whole. It incorporates suburban Queanbeyan, the rural centres of Cooma and Bega, the coastal towns of Eden and Narooma, and agricultural areas sprinkled with smaller towns. Labor’s strongest area is the Canberra satellite town of Queanbeyan, excluding its Liberal-leaning outer suburb of Jerrabomberra. The coastal areas, which swung particularly heavily to Labor in 2007, can be divided between a finely balanced centre and areas of Liberal strength at the northern and southern extremities, respectively around Batemans Bay and Merimbula. The smaller inland towns are solidly conservative, although Cooma is marginal. The area covered by the electorate has been remarkably little changed over the years: outside of the interruption from 2007 and 2010, when it expanded westwards to Tumut and Tumbarumba, its boundaries since 1998 have been almost identical to those it had before 1913. This reflects the fact that the electorate is locked into the state’s south-eastern corner, with its geographic size remaining broadly constant due to increases in the size of parliament cancelling out the effects of relative population decline.
Eden-Monaro was held by conservatives of various stripes for all but one term until 1943, the exception being Labor’s 40-vote win when Jim Scullin’s government came to power in 1929. Labor’s wartime landslide in 1943 delivered the seat to Allan Fraser, who retained it against the tide in 1949 and 1951. Fraser was defeated in 1966 but returned in 1969, before finally retiring in 1972. The loss of his personal vote almost saw the seat go against the trend of the 1972 election, with the Country Party overtaking their conservative rivals for the first time to come within 503 votes of victory. The Country Party again finished second in 1974, this time coming within 146 votes of defeating Labor member Bob Whan (whose son Steve unsuccessfully contested the seat in 1998 and 2001, and was later the state member for Monaro). However, the 1975 landslide saw the Liberals gain strongly at the expense of the Country Party as well as Labor, and their candidate Murray Sainsbury won the seat with a two-party margin of 5.6%. Sainsbury held the seat until the defeat of the Fraser government in 1983, a fate which was echoed by his Labor successor Jim Snow, who was eventually swept out by a 9.2% swing in 1996, and then by Liberal member Gary Nairn, who served as Special Minister of State from January 2006 until his and the government’s defeat in November 2007.
Labor’s successful candidate in 2007 was Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Kelly, a military lawyer who had been credited with efforts to warn the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade about the AWB kickbacks scandal, and the Australian military about possible abuses at Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison. A member of the Right faction, Kelly won immediate promotion to parliamentary secretary for defence support, shifting to the water portfolio in February 2009. After the 2010 election he was shifted to the agriculture, fisheries and forestry portfolio, a move criticised due to his status as the federal parliament’s only war veteran. This was rectified when he moved to defence in the December 2011 reshuffle, and with his promotion to the outer ministry position of defence materiel in February 2013. With Defence Minister Stephen Smith’s announcement that he would bow out of politics on the day Kevin Rudd resumed the leadership, Kevin Rudd has promised that Kelly will assume the portfolio if he and the government is re-elected.
The Liberal candidate at the next election will be Peter Hendy, a former Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive and previously a staffer to Brendan Nelson and Peter Reith, who had a comfortable win in the preselection ballot over three other candidates including Sustainable Agricultural Communities director Robert Belcher.
Eden-Monaro was one of five marginal Labor electorates, including four outside Sydney and one within, which Newspoll targeted with a survey of 1106 respondents over August 12-14 and August 23-28. It collectively showed a swing to the Liberals of 7%.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.