Margin: Labor 0.4%*
Region: Central Coast, New South Wales
* Liberal-held seat made notionally Labor by redistribution
In a nutshell: The seat formerly held by Craig Thomson has had a colourful history of late, and has been tilted in Labor’s favour by the latest redistribution.
Candidates in ballot paper order
HADDEN ROBERT ERVIN
GREGORY F STEPHENSON
The Central Coast region seat of Dobell was one of eight seats the Liberals gained from Labor in New South Wales at the 2013 election, in a result that put an end to the troubled two-term tenure of Labor-turned-independent Craig Thomson. Together with state forest territory further inland, the electorate encompasses the urban areas around Tuggerah Lake just beyond the northern coastal reaches of Sydney, including the coastal retirement havens of The Entrance and Bateau Bay; lower income Wyong at the northern interior end; and the demographically unremarkable northern Gosford suburbs of Lisarow and Wyoming at the southern interior end. The redistribution has expanded its frontage on Lake Budgewoi in the north, adding 8000 voters around Toukley and Lake Haven from Shortland, while in the south 3000 voters in southern Wamberal are transferred to Robertson. This gives the seat notional Labor status by the slender margin of 0.4%, compared with the Liberals’ winning margin of 0.7% in 2013.
Dobell was created with the enlargement of parliament in 1984, from territory that had mostly been covered by Robertson. It was held by Labor until 2001 by Michael Lee, who served in cabinet through the final term of the Keating government. Lee survived a 6.7% swing amid Labor’s 1996 election defeat to hold on by 117 votes, but a 1.8% redistribution shift in the Liberals’ favour proved decisive in 2001, when Liberal candidate Ken Ticehurst prevailed by 560 votes after a 1.9% swing. Ticehurst substantially consolidated his hold with a 5.5% swing at the 2004 election, but even this proved insufficient to stave off an 8.7% swing in 2007 to the Labor candidate, Health Services Union national secretary Craig Thomson.
The first intimation of the trouble ahead for Thomson came in April 2009, when allegations his union credit card had been used to misappropriate around $100,000 for purposes including payment to a Sydney brothel were reported in the media. After surviving a preselection challenge from David Mehan, then a local union official and now the state member for The Entrance, Thomson defied his troubles to become one of only four Labor MPs in New South Wales to pick up a swing at the August 2010 election, when he increased his margin from 3.9% to 5.1%. Thomson’s career properly began to unravel in June 2011, when he withdrew a defamation action over The Age’s reporting of the credit card allegations. Thomson was suspended and then resigned from the Labor Party in 2012, and was charged in early 2013 with fraud and theft, which ultimately resulted in conviction but not imprisonment for theft.
The seat was won for the Liberals at the 2013 election by Karen McNamara, a public servant with WorkCover, following a swing of 5.8%. McNamara was initially defeated for the preselection by Gary Whitaker, the managing director of a local educational services company, in what was reported as a defeat for hard Right forces associated with state upper house MP David Clarke and the locally influential former member for Terrigal, Chris Hartcher. However, the Liberal state executive voted to replace Whitaker with McNamara after allegations emerged that Whitaker had lived on his Wyong Creek property without council permission while awaiting approval to build a house there. McNamara has burnished her conservative credentials since entering parliament through her loyalty to Tony Abbott during the leadership votes of February and September 2015.
Labor’s candidate for the second successive election is Emma McBride, deputy director of pharmacy for the Central Coast Local Health District. McBride is the daughter of Grant McBride, who held the state seat of The Entrance from 1992 to 2011.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.