Margin: Nationals 14.7%
Region: Central West, New South Wales
Outgoing member: John Cobb (Nationals)
In a nutshell: State MP Andrew Gee will contest the rural New South Wales seat for the Nationals following the retirement of John Cobb.
Candidates in ballot paper order
ANTHONY GERARD CRAIG
To be vacated at the coming election by John Cobb, who has held it for the Nationals since 2007, the electorate of Calare has covered a repeatedly shifting area of New South Wales to the west of Sydney since its creation in 1906. The latest redistribution proposes has cut territory in the west and added it in the north, so that the electorate retains its core of Lithgow, Bathurst and Orange while losing Parkes, Forbes and 17,000 voters to Riverina, while gaining 20,000 voters in Mudgee and surrounding areas from Parkes along with a further 2000 from Hunter. The combined effect of the changes is to cut 1.3% from a still ample Nationals margin of 14.3%. The electorate was even more dramatically affected by successive redistributions in 2007 and 2010, the first of which added territory out through Bourke to the Queensland border from the abolished seat of Gwydir. This was balanced at the eastern end by the loss of Bathurst and Lithgow to Macquarie. These changes were largely reversed by the 2010 redistribution, which again concentrated the electorate around the population centres of Lithgow, Bathurst, Orange and Parkes.
Labor’s competitiveness in Calare has largely come down to its inclusion or exclusion of Bathurst and Lithgow, both of which have traditionally been strong for Labor, although the former has been trending conservative in recent times. The two cities were in the electorate from 1977 to 2007, having previously been in Macquarie since 1913, which was usually held by Labor throughout that time. Calare was in conservative hands from 1946 to 1983, passing from the Liberals to the Country Party at a by-election held when sitting member John Howse retired in 1960. On the more favourable boundaries for Labor that followed the 1977 redistribution, the seat was gained for them on the third attempt by David Simmons in 1983, who retained it through the Hawke-Keating years before retiring in 1996. The Nationals’ expectation that the seat would then fall into their lap was frustrated when local television news presenter Peter Andren ran as an independent, outpolling Labor on the primary vote and defeating the Nationals candidate by 13.3% after preferences.
Andren easily retained the seat throughout the Howard years, then announced his intention to run for the Senate when redistribution essentially cut his seat in two at the 2007 election. However, he was compelled to withdraw after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, from which he died shortly before the election. The seat was subsequently won for the Nationals by John Cobb, who since 2001 had been the member for Parkes, which was then bequeathed to Nationals newcomer Mark Coulton. Cobb progressed from parliamentary secretary status after the 2004 election to the junior ministry in July 2005 and then to shadow cabinet after the 2007 election defeat, holding the agriculture portfolio from September 2008. When the portfolio was instead allocated to Barnaby Joyce after the 2013 election victory, and Cobb was only offered a parliamentary secretary role in its place, he opted to go to the back bench.
Cobb’s announcement in February that he would not seek another term initiated a preselection that was won by Andrew Gee, a former barrister who had held the state seat of Orange for the Nationals since 2011. Other candidates for the preselection included Orange councillor Scott Munro, Wellington councillor Alison Conn and Bathurst businessman Sam Farraway.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.