Margin: Labor 6.8%
Location: Southern Sydney, New South Wales
In a nutshell: With a train wreck long appearing to loom for Labor in western Sydney, it seemed that the party was headed for an historic defeat in the electorate that Gough Whitlam once called home. However, the return of Kevin Rudd may well have steadied the ship.
The candidates (ballot paper order)
KATRYNA MARIE THIRUP
Famously held by Gough Whitlam throughout a parliamentary career lasting from 1952 to 1978, the south-western Sydney seat of Werriwa has been in Labor hands since 1931. However, it has lately been considered endangered for the first time in living memory after the 2010 election slashed the margin from 15.1% to 6.8%, which was followed by the devastating example of the state election seven months later. The electorate in its current form covers suburbs clustered around the South Western Freeway and the Campbelltown rail line, from Macquarie Fields south to Ingleburn and Minto and north to Hoxton Park and Liverpool South, together with Liberal-voting semi-rural territory further to the west. The seat has been fundamentally altered a number of times since its creation at federation, at which time it covered Goulburn 200 kilometres to the south-west of Sydney. It was shifted eastwards to the Illawarra in 1934, when it commenced its life as a safe Labor seat, then moved northwards as far as Sutherland Shire in 1949 before finally adopting its south-western Sydney orientation in 1955, at which time it covered Cabramatta and Liverpool. In remaining at Sydney’s outer edge since, it has tended to be pushed south-westwards over subsequent redistributions.
Labor’s Hubert Lazzarini followed his shifting electorate from 1919 until his death in 1952, except for the term after the 1931 election when it fell to the Country Party. Lazzarini was succeeded by Gough Whitlam, whose tale does not need reiterating here. John Kerin became member after Whitlam quit in the wake of the 1977 election disaster, going on to serve a forgettable stint as Treasurer in the wake of Paul Keating’s first failed leadership challenge in June 1991. Kerin was followed in 1994 by the seat’s second Labor leader, Mark Latham. Although Labor’s hold on the seat was never endangered, Latham went through a wild ride during his tenure in Werriwa in more ways than one, the seat swinging 9.3% to the Liberals in 1996, 6.5% to Labor in 1998, and 4.8% to the Liberals in 2001. Latham was also inconvenienced when his most supportive party branches were removed from the electorate in the redistribution before the 2001 election, inspiring his factional enemies, who were not in short supply, to argue that he should be made to try his luck in marginal Macarthur.
Latham quit politics after losing the party leadership in January 2005 and was succeeded at the ensuing by-election by Chris Hayes, an official of the Right faction Australian Workers Union who easily retained the seat in the absence of a Liberal candidate. Another round of Labor upheaval followed when the redistribution before the 2010 election effectively abolished the safe Labor inner Sydney seat of Reid, which survived in name but was effectively merged with neighbouring Lowe. Labor’s member for Reid was Laurie Ferguson, brother of Martin Ferguson, with whom he formed the base of a Left sub-faction that had counted Julia Gillard among its number. Ferguson was at first determined to be accommodated in Fowler, to be vacated at the election by Julia Irwin, but a deal was in force reserving the seat for the locally dominant Right. He instead settled for Werriwa under a deal Gillard was able to reach in the face of opposition from Anthony Albanese and the Left, resulting in Hayes taking Fowler instead. That in turn froze out Ed Husic, national president of the Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union, for whom Fowler had originally been earmarked, but he ended up being accommodated in Chifley following Roger Price’s decision to retire.
The Liberal candidate for the coming election is Kent Johns, the Liberal mayor of Sutherland Shire, who was once a Labor mayor of Rockdale before becoming an independent. Johns reportedly won preselection with backing from factional moderate Scott Morrison. This generated grumbling from locals aligned with the Right, who complained of having an outsider foisted upon them.
A Galaxy automated phone poll of about 575 respondents on August 20 suggested Laurie Ferguson was headed for defeat, showing the Liberals leading 52-48 on two-party preferred.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.