Margin: Labor 4.3%
Region: Western Sydney, New South Wales
In a nutshell: Chris Bowen’s patch of western Sydney isn’t quite as secure for Labor as it used to be, to the extent that he was contemplating a move next door after an unfavourable redistribution proposal.
Candidates in ballot paper order
Held for Labor by Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen, the electorate of McMahon covers two distinct suburban areas. At the eastern end, about 30 kilometres from central Sydney, are the town centre of Fairfield, the Smithfield-Weatherill Park industrial zone and surrounding suburbs, accounting for around three-quarters of the electorate’s voters. In the north-west of the electorate, separated from the remainder by Prospect Reservoir and adjoining semi-rural areas, are the City of Penrith suburbs of St Clair and Erskine Park. The redistribution has cut territory south of Wetherill Park, sending 22,000 voters around Bossley Park to Fowler, and pushed it eastwards into Merrylands and Guildford, adding 15,000 voters from Blaxland and 8000 from Parramatta. A further transfer adds Minchinbury at the north-western end of the electorate, for a gain of 4000 voters north of the Western Motorway who were formerly in Chifley.
McMahon was called Prospect prior to 2013, when it was renamed in honour of the late former Prime Minister, Sir William McMahon. Prospect was created in 1969 from territory that had previously been divided between Mitchell and Werriwa in the east, and Macarthur in the west. The area is today distinguished by wide variation in ethnic diversity, with English speakers accounting for over three-quarters of the population in St Clair and Erskine Park compared with barely a fifth at the eastern edge of the electorate, which is home to large Arabic and Vietnamese populations. This pattern is broadly reflected in income levels, with family income in the former areas roughly double those of the latter.
Labor has held McMahon without interruption since its creation in 1969, Chris Bowen’s predecessors being Richard Klugman until 1990 and Janice Crosio thereafater. However, the margin has been pared back in recent years by swings to the Liberals of 5.8% in 2004, 6.0% in 2010 and 2.5% in 2013, punctuated by a 7.1% swing to Labor in 2007. Labor appeared to be further imperilled when the draft redistribution boundaries were published last year, which proposed that Fairfield be removed to Fowler by setting the south-eastern boundary of McMahon at Smithfield Road. This would have reduced the margin to 2.1%, which reportedly had Bowen eyeing a move to Fowler, whose member Chris Hayes might then have been accommodated in Werriwa with the retirement of Laurie Ferguson. However, the proposal was substantially modified in the final determination, which left McMahon with a margin of 5.3%.
Chris Bowen served his apprenticeship as chief-of-staff to state government minister Carl Scully, and with the backing of the Right won preselection to Prospect in 2004. He was promoted to the opposition front bench in 2006, became Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs with the election of the Rudd government in 2007, and was elevated to cabinet in June 2009 in the human services, financial services, superannuation and corporate law portfolios. The reshuffle after the 2010 election presented him with the hospital pass of immigration and citizenship, before briefly reassigned to tertiary education, skills, science and research in February 2013. A month later he joined Martin Ferguson and Kim Carr in an exodus from cabinet resulting from a failed bid to draft Kevin Rudd to the leadership. When Rudd finally toppled Gillard in June, Bowen was appointed Treasurer. He has retained the Treasury portfolio in the shadow cabinet, and spent nearly a month after the 2013 election as acting Opposition Leader pending the outcome of Labor’s leadership election between Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.