Margin: Labor 7.8%
Location: Western Sydney, New South Wales
In a nutshell: Chris Bowen’s advocacy of Kevin Rudd throughout the past term seems to have paid off for him, landing him the Treasury portfolio and perhaps also shoring up what appeared a very shaky electoral position while Julia Gillard was leader.
The candidates (ballot paper order)
MATTHEW MARKUS DOBRINCIC
Known prior to the 2010 election as Prospect, the western Sydney electorate of McMahon covers two distinct suburban areas separated by Prospect Reservoir and adjoining semi-rural areas. Closer to the city are the suburbs of Greystanes and Fairfield approximately 30 kilometres from the CBD, together with Bossley Park and the Wetherill Park industrial area immediately to the west. These areas collectively account for about 80% of the electorate’s population. In the north-west of the electorate are the City of Penrith suburbs of St Clair and Erskine Park. There is a wide variability in ethnic diversity among the electorate’s suburbs, with English speakers accounting for over three-quarters of the population in St Clair and Erskine Park compared with barely a fifth in and around Fairfield, which is home to large Arabic and Vietnamese populations. This is broadly reflected in income levels, with family income in the former areas roughly double those of the latter.
Prospect was created at the 1969 election, at which time it covered Liverpool some distance to the south. It was drawn closer to the city with the expansion of parliament in 1984, which resulted in Liverpool being accommodated by the new seat of Fowler. Labor has held the seat at all times, but a weakening trend has been evident since a 5.8% swing in 2004 reduced the margin to 7.1%. This was doubled by the swing to Labor in 2007, but a 6.0% swing in 2010 brought the margin back down to 7.8%. The area covered by the electorate turned from red to blue in the 2011 state election landslide, the only holdout being Fairfield (the majority of which is in McMahon’s eastern neighbour Blaxland), where the margin was reduced from 20.4% to 1.7%. Swings of over 20% were recorded in Mulgoa, which covers St Clair and Erskine Park, and Smithfield, which includes Bossley Park and its surrounds.
Prospect/McMahon has been held since 2004 by the current Treasurer, Chris Bowen, the previous members having been Richard Klugman until 1990 and Janice Crosio thereafter. A member of the New South Wales Right, Bowen served his political apprenticeship as chief-of-staff to state government minister Carl Scully. He was promoted to the front bench in 2006, and on the election of the Rudd government became Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs. His elevation to cabinet came when he filled the vacancy created by the resignation of factional colleague Joel Fitzgibbon in June 2009. He at first assumed the human services, financial services, superannuation and corporate law portfolios, before being delivered the hospital pass of immigration and citizenship after the 2010 election.
Bowen emerged during the current term as one of the principal agitators for Kevin Rudd to return to the leadership, and he was immediately mentioned as a potential Treasurer as Rudd’s first challenge in February 2012 began to foment. He emerged unscathed from the reshuffle which followed its failure, and was reassigned to Chris Evans’ portfolios of tertiary education, skills, science and research when he bowed out in February 2013. After the collapse of a second bid to draft Kevin Rudd the following month, Bowen forestalled imminent dismissal by joining fellow Rudd backers Martin Ferguson and Kim Carr in an exodus from cabinet. As foreshadowed, he was promptly elevated to Treasurer when Rudd finally succeeded in toppling Julia Gillard at the end of June.
The Liberal candidate is Ray King, police superintendent for the Liverpool area who served in the same capacity in Fairfield from 2005 to 2008. Fairfield councillor Frank Oliveri had initially been considered the front-runner, but he withdrew amid an Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry into non-disclosure of election fundraising ahead of the 2007 election. Other contenders for the preselection were Casula real estate agent Joe Romeo and the candidate from 2010, Iraqi immigrant and Fairfield grocery store owner Jamal Elishe.
Two weeks into the campaign, Fairfax Media reported that Ray King was a long-standing friend of Roger Rogerson, whose infamous activities as a police detective caused him to be imprisoned for perverting the course of justice in 1990, and whose sister was working on King’s campaign. It was also revealed that King had been called on to appear at the Wood royal commission into police corruption in 1996, and while no adverse findings were made against him, he admitted to providing informal security services to the Italian community Marconi Club in exchange for free meals and alcohol, and was the subject of an internal affairs investigation over his association with Cabramatta brothel owner Salvatore Sammy Lapa. However, the reports and Labor’s attacks on King in response caused a series of former senior police and corruption investigators to jump to King’s defence, which was given enthusiastic coverage from talk radio and News Limited.
Two automated phone polls have emerged from the electorate during the campaign, both of which showed Chris Bowen trailing 53-47. The first was from ReachTEL on August 15, and the second from JWS Research on August 29.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.