Seat du jour: Greenway

The Liberals’ failure to win this tight western Sydney marginal was one of the big surprises of the 2013 election, and the Liberals will be hoping that a better performance from a new candidate will enable them to win the seat against the trend this time around.

One of the biggest surprises of the 2013 election was Labor’s success in retaining Greenway, its most marginal seat in Sydney, in defiance of a long-established conventional wisdom that Labor faced a particularly devastating result in the city’s western suburbs. The electorate covers suburbia from Blacktown and Toongabbie, located 30 kilometres to the west of central Sydney, through higher-income Quakers Hill and Stanhope Gardens to the urban fringe centre of Riverstone. This area accounts for the eleventh highest proportion of mortgages payers out of the 150 House of Representatives electorates, and ranks around the Sydney norm for ethnic diversity, with India and South-East Asia featuring more prominently than the Middle East. The redistribution has reshaped the southern end of the electorate, sending 7500 voters in parts of Pendle Hill and Toongabbie to Parramatta in the east, and altering its western boundary as it runs through Blacktown for a net gain of nearly 4000 voters from Chifley. The changes have little impact on the Labor margin, which reduces from 3.0% to 2.8%.

Greenway was created with the expansion of parliament in 1984, prior to which Blacktown had been in Chifley, with the northern parts of the electorate accommodated by Mitchell. It looked to be a Labor stronghold for the first decade of its existence, when it was held by Russell Gorman on double-digit margins. Gorman’s retirement combined with the Howard landslide of 1996 combined to bring down the margin down from 13.4% to 3.4%, and the margin again fell below 4% in 2001. With the retirement of Gorman’s successor, Frank Mossfield, at the 2004 election, the seat was contested for Labor by Ed Husic, a spokesman for Integral Energy and non-practising Muslim of Bosnian background. The Liberals were perhaps more astute in nominating Louise Markus, a community worker with Hillsong Church, then located in the electorate. Amid talk of a whispering campaign targeting Husic’s religion, Markus secured a surprise victory with a 3.7% swing, aided in part by an 11.8% informal vote amid a bloated field of candidates and the electorate’s large proportion of non-English speaking voters. This delayed Husic’s entry to parliament until 2010, when he won the outer western suburbs seat of Chifley.

The electorate underwent a short-lived but dramatic transformation at the 2007 election, when it lost Blacktown to Chifley and Parramatta and gained Hawkesbury River region, before resuming more traditional boundaries in 2010. The change delivered Markus a good turn at exactly the right moment, boosting her margin from 0.6% and 11.0% as her party braced for defeat at the 2007 election. Markus went on to retain the seat against a 6.8% swing to Labor, before another redistribution largerly reverted the seat to its previous boundaries. This left Greenway with a notional Labor margin of 5.8%, prompting Markus to move to Macquarie, which took over the Hawkesbury region. The Labor margin proved barely sufficient in the face of a heavy swing against Labor throughout Sydney, reducing the margin in Greenway to 0.9%. The seat has since been held by Michelle Rowland, a former Blacktown councillor who won preselection as part of a Right-backed intervention by the national executive, amid grumbling from local members. Rowland won promotion to the outer shadow ministry after the 2013 election as Shadow Citizenship and Multiculturalism Minister and Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications, before exchanging the latter for the more senior position of Shadow Small Business Minister in October 2015.

The unsuccessful Liberal candidate in both 2010 and 2013 was Jaymes Diaz, a Blacktown immigration lawyer of Filipino extraction. Diaz’s preselection wins were owed to the local power base of his father, Blacktown councillor Jess Diaz, the strong local connections he had forged through his work as an immigration lawyer in Blacktown, and support from the Christian Right. Diaz’s failure to win the seat in 2010 was a source of considerable angst within the Liberal Party, since it was felt that a better campaign locally might have delivered the Coalition the extra seat it needed to form government. Among those displeased when it appeared he had the numbers to win preselection again was Tony Abbott, who reportedly approached Baulkham Hills MP David Elliott and state government policy adviser Nick Tyrell to stand against him. The doubts were fully justified by his performance in the 2013 campaign, when his failure to identify more than one of the six points of his party’s election campaign plan went viral on social media. Rowland went on to retain the seat with a swing in her favour of 2.1%.

The new Liberal candidate is Yvonne Keane, deputy mayor of The Hills Shire and former television presenter. Keane was also a candidate in 2013, but dropped out when it became apparent that Diaz had the numbers, and contested preselection for the state seat of Riverstone ahead of the March 2015 election, which was reported at the time as being an effort to lift her profile ahead of a tilt at Greenway.

Seat du jour: Gilmore

The south coast New South Wales seat of Gilmore produced one of the nation’s few swings to Labor at the 2013 election, at which Ann Sudmalis succeeded Joanna Gash as the Liberal member.

The Liberal-held seat of Gilmore covers a stretch of southern coastal New South Wales, starting in the north from Kiama at the southern edge of the Illawarra region and extending through Nowra to Ulladulla to the Batemans Bay region. The redistribution has shifted the electorate southwards by transferring 16,000 voters around Shellharbour at the Illawarra end to the electorate of Whitlam, as Throsby has been renamed, and adding the 22,000 voters of the Batemans Bay region from Eden-Monaro. This adds 1.3% to the precarious 2.6% margin that remained when the seat swung to Labor in 2013 upon the retirement of Joanna Gash, the Liberal member since 1996. Demographically, the electorate is notable for having the second highest median age out of the 150 House of Representatives electorates, along with the ninth lowest media family income. Such is its combination of urban Labor and conservative rural areas that it is actually the wealthier areas where Labor is the strongest.

Gilmore was created in 1984, but it was initially a Nationals-held seat whose coastal territory was limited to the area immediately around Nowra, from which it extended inland through Goulburn all the way to Cowra and Young. It assumed a more familiar look in 1993, when the interior territory was ceded to Hume, Kiama was gained from Throsby in the north, and Ulladulla was gained from Eden-Monaro in the south. Batemans Bay was gained in 2007 and lost in 2010, and is now back again. Labor’s only win came immediately after the gain of Kiama made them competitive at the 1993 election, when they were further assisted by Nationals member John Sharp’s move to the safer ground of Hume. Labor’s Peter Knott overhauled a notional Coalition margin of 0.8% with a swing of 1.2%, producing one of the more surprising results of Paul Keating’s sweetest victory. The Nationals polled only 5.1%, and the party has not contested the seat since.

Labor’s slender margin was demolished by a 6.7% swing in John Howard’s landslide of 1996, and the seat was held for the Liberals throughout the Howard and Rudd-Gillard years by Joanna Gash. Like a number of members for key marginal seats, Gash performed well electorally during the Howard period, particularly in 2001, when Peter Knott hampered his effort to win his old seat back by saying American foreign policy had “come back to bite them” in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks. This was followed by consecutive swings to Labor of 4.6% in 2004 and 5.3% in 2007, but this still left Gash with a 4.1% margin intact. A gain of Illawarra territory at the subsequent redistribution gave the seat a notional Labor of 0.4% at the 2010 election, but Gas easily accounted for this with a 5.7% swing in her favour.

In January 2012, Gash announced she would be scaling back her political career by running for the mayoralty of Shoalhaven, to which she was duly elected with 63.2% of the vote in the local government elections held the following September, and bowing out of federal politics when the next election was held. She was then succeeded as Liberal member by Ann Sudmalis, a former Kiama councillor, who won a fiercely contested April 2012 preselection over a moderate-aligned rival, Shoalhaven councillor Andrew Guile. Both had worked as staffers to Gash, but Guile had fallen out with her, and Gash supported Sudmalis. Sudmalis went on to have an unspectacular electoral debut, suffering a 2.7% swing to retain the seat by a margin of 2.6%, which presumably reflected the loss of Gash’s personal vote.

Ann Sudmalis has become noted as a conservative during her debut term, having lined up in opposition to same-sex marriage and supported Tony Abbott when the leadership issue came to a head. There were suggestions she might face a moderate-backed move against her preselection in early 2016, after she put noses out of joint by publicising her opposition to the Baird government’s council amalgamation plans. However, the move was reportedly scotched by senior figures in the government who were concerned about a female conservative being dumped by a male moderate amid a time of high factional tensions. Two state Liberals, Kiama MP Gareth Ward and Bega MP Andrew Constance, were said to have designs on the seat, either in the short term or with a view to succeeding Sudmalis in 2019. Ward had been one of the main backers of Andrew Guile during the 2013 preselection.

Labor’s candidate is Fiona Phillips, a Nowra TAFE teacher who ran in the state seat of South Coast at the March 2015 election.

Seat du jour: Parramatta

Urbanisation and immigration have transformed Parramatta from a conservative to a Labor-leaning seat over time, but the backlash against Labor in Sydney over the last two elections has all but worn away Julie Owens’ margin.

Parramatta has covered a shifting area around the western Sydney centre that bears its name since federation, and is currently held by Labor on a tight margin after successive heavy swings in 2010 and 2013. The electorate long covered Sydney’s broad north-western outskirts, until Sydney’s expansion caused it to become entirely urban in character after the war. Currently it extends from the town centre southwards to Granville, westwards to Wentworthville, northwards to Carlingford and eastwards to Rydalmere. The electorate ranks fifth in the country for non-English speakers, being home to large concentrations of Chinese around Carlingford, Lebanese around Granville and Indians in Parramatta itself. The redistribution has caused it to both gain and lose areas in the west, where 7500 in Toongabbie and Pendle Hill are gained from Greenway and over 3000 in Northmead and Old Toongabbie are lost to Mitchell, and the south, where 4000 around Granville South are gained from Blaxland while 8000 in rapidly growing Merrylands are lost to McMahon. The changes have been to the advantage of Labor, boosting their slender margin of 0.6% to 1.7%.

For most of its long history, Parramatta was a conservative stronghold, Labor’s only win prior to 1977 having been with the election of Jim Scullin’s government in 1929. Notable members included Joseph Cook, who held the seat for its first 20 years and served as Liberal prime minister from June 1913 to September 1914; Sir Garfield Barwick, member from 1958 to 1964, who served as External Affairs Minister and Attorney-General in the Menzies government before going on to an immensely controversial tenure as Chief Justice of the High Court; and Philip Ruddock, who began his parliamentary career after winning the seat at a by-election in September 1973, adding 7.0% to what had been an extremely narrow margin in 1972. A watershed came when the 1977 redistribution effectively changed the existing seat’s name to Dundas, of which Philip Ruddock became the inaugural member, while effectively creating a new seat of Parramatta that extended deep into Sydney’s Labor-voting west. It was then won for Labor by John Brown, the Hawke government Tourism Minister remembered for his dislike of koalas and inappropriate use of his ministerial desk. Brown resigned as minister in 1987 after it was established he had misled parliament, and was succeeded as Labor’s member by Paul Elliott in 1990.

The seat was returned to the marginal zone by redistributions in 1984 and 1993 that drew the electorate back eastwards, on the latter occasion by abolishing Dundas. Elliott was able to boost his 0.8% notional margin at the 1993 election by 2.5%, but was unseated by a 7.1% swing when the tide went out on Labor in 1996. The incoming Liberal member, Ross Cameron, held out against a relatively mild swing of 1.1% in 1998, and was able to survive an unfavourable redistribution before the 2001 election by gaining a 3.6% swing. Shortly before the 2004 election, Cameron felt compelled to tell Fairfax’s Good Weekend magazine that he had committed numerous infidelities throughout his married life, and he emerged from that election as one of only three Coalition members to lose their seat.

Parramatta has since been held for Labor by Julie Owens, a classically trained pianist, former chief executive of the Association of Independent Record Labels and member of the Left faction. Owens faced an early challenge when another redistribution pushed the seat back to the north, but she easily accounted for the notional Liberal margin of 0.8% with a swing of 7.7%, consistent with the western Sydney trend. The redistribution pendulum swung heavily the other way in 2010, when the seat absorbed the northern half of its abolished southern neighbour Reid, boosting the Labor margin to 9.5%. There were suggestions that Reid MP Laurie Ferguson, who had been Owens’ factional mentor, might favour moving to Parramatta, with Owens left to contest Greenway, which had taken over the western end of the old Parramatta around Pendle Hill and Kings Langley. However, Ferguson was instead accommodated in Werriwa and Owens stayed put, surviving successive swings of 5.5% and 3.8% in 2013.

The Liberals chose their candidate for Parramatta through a trial plebiscite of members of more than two years’ standing, the fruit of an otherwise unsuccessful attempt by the party’s hard Right to make such ballots the norm for all preselections. With 278 members eligible to participate, the vote was won by Michael Beckwith, development operations manager for Lend Lease, ahead of Jean Pierre Abood, a Parramatta councillor; Charles Camenzuli, a structural engineer and building consultant who ran in 2010; Maroun Draybi, a local solicitor and hardline conservative; and Felicity Finlay, a school teacher.

Seat du jour: Richmond

Nestled in the north-eastern corner of New South Wales, Richmond has been transformed over recent decades by coastal development, which has changed it from safe Nationals to margin Labor.

Richmond has covered the north-eastern corner of New South Wales since federation, and presently encompasses the shires of Tweed in the north, Byron in the centre and the northern part of Ballina in the south. The latest redistribution has redrawn its boundary with Page to add the town of Ballina at the southern coastal end of the electorate, for a gain of over 14,000 voters, and remove the northern parts of the Shire of Lismore in the interior, including 7000 voters around the counter-cultural haven of Nimbin. This reverses a trend over recent decades in which coastal development caused the electorate to shrink in size, which reached a watershed when the town of Lismore was transferred to Page in 1993. This process has caused a seat that was once a stronghold for the National/Country Party to be won by Labor at six of the last nine elections. The electorate encompasses most of the state seat of Ballina, which the Greens won from the Nationals at the March 2015 state election due to a backlash over coal seam gas mining. Byron Bay is an area of particular strength for the Greens, who won the booths from Bangalow and Suffolk Park north to Mullumbimby and Brunswick Heads in 2013, and is correspondingly weak for the Coalition.

Richmond was first won for the Country Party by Roland Green shortly after the party’s creation in 1922, and spent much of its subsequent history as an Anthony family fiefdom. It was held from 1937 to 1957 by Larry Anthony; from 1957 to 1984 by Larry’s son Doug, who was the party’s leader from 1971 to 1984; and from 1996 to 2004 by Doug’s son Larry. Doug Anthony’s immediate successor was another party leader in Charles Blunt, who emerged a shock loser at the 1990 election when the independent candidacy of anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott drew a rash of new enrolments from the Nimbin area. When Caldicott fell just short of overhauling the Labor candidate, her preferences fuelled a 7.1% swing to the ALP and a victory for its candidate Neville Newell. Larry Anthony failed to recover the seat for the Nationals on his first attempt in 1993, before romping home on the back of an 8.5% swing in 1996. A 6.0% swing to Labor in 1998 brought the result back down to the wire, and Anthony again survived only narrowly in 2001.

Labor finally snared the seat in 2004, when a 1.9% swing enabled their candidate Justine Elliot to scrape over the line by 301 votes. Elliot consolidated with a 7.4% swing when Labor came to power in 2007, giving her enough fat to survive successive swings of 1.9% and 4.0% in 2010 and 2013 with a margin of 3.0%. Elliot went on to serve in the junior ministerial porfolio of ageing in the Rudd government’s first term, but was bumped down after the 2010 election to parliamentary secretary for trade, which both she and the Prime Minister insisted was at her own request. She retained the position despite publicly supporting Kevin Rudd’s leadership bid in February 2012, but moved to the back bench in February 2013, which she said was her own decision as she believed her local campaigining against coal seam gas mining conflicted with her responsibilities in the trade portfolio.

For the second election in a row, the Nationals have endorsed Matthew Fraser, an owner of local Hungry Jacks franchises, who won preselection ahead of Tweed councillor Carolyn Byrne. The Greens have likewise preselected their candidate from 2013, Dawn Walker, owner of a family manufacturing business in Tweed Heads.

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Seat du jour: Macquarie

Macquarie consists of a fairly even balance of the Liberal-voting Hawkesbury River region and the Labor-leaning Blue Mountains, but the Liberals have held the upper hand since a favourable redistribution in 2010.

Located on the western fringes of Sydney, Macquarie combines two geographically and electorally distinct areas separated by the Blue Mountains National Park: the solidly Liberal-voting Hawkesbury River area around Richmond and Windsor, and the largely Labor-voting communities on the Great Western Highway in the Blue Mountains, notably Springwood and Katoomba. It has not been affected by the latest redistribution. The seat has existed in name since federation but has changed substantially over its history, having originally been concentrated on Bathurst and Lithgow. Those areas came to be accommodated by Calare after the 1977 and 1984 redistributions, the latter of which also transferred Penrith and St Marys from Macquarie to the new seat of Lindsay. Macquarie briefly recovered Bathurst and Lithgow between 2007 and 2010, when Calare moved deep into the state’s interior to cover the abolition of Gwydir, and the Hawkesbury area was transferred to Macquarie. The changes helped Labor gain the seat in 2007, but with their reversal in 2010, together with the statewide tide against Labor, it returned to the Liberal fold. It has since been held by Louise Markus, who had previously been member for Greenway since 2004.

Macquarie’s most famous former member is Ben Chifley, who was born and raised in Bathurst and elected in 1928. Chifley was voted out in the 1931 landslide, and twice failed to recover the seat before finally breaking through in 1940. It was thereafter held by Labor without interruption until the party’s twin disasters of 1975 and 1977, then recovered when the party’s performance improved in 1980. Ross Free held the seat from 1980 to 1984, when he moved to newly created Lindsay. The slender margin left to Labor in Macquarie was erased by a slight swing to the Liberals at the 1984 election, and the seat was held for the next three terms by Alasdair Webster. Maggie Deahm unseated Webster by a margin of 164 votes amid Labor’s unexpectedly strong performance in 1993, but her margin was easily accounted for by a 6.5% swing to Liberal candidate Kerry Bartlett in 1996. Bartlett’s margin progressed from 4.1% at the 1998 election to 8.9% at the 2004 election, after which the redistribution pulled the rug from underneath him.

Labor had a notional margin of 0.5% going into the 2007 election, to which another 6.6% was added by Labor candidate Bob Debus, a veteran state government minister who had held the Blue Mountains seat from 1981 to 1988, and again from 1995 to 2007. Meanwhile, the Hawkesbury area came to be represented Louise Markus, a former Hillsong Church community worker who won the seat of Greenway for the Liberals for the first time in 2004. Redistribution then inflated her margin in Greenway from 0.6% to 11.0%, of which 4.5% remained after the 2007 election. The effect of the 2010 redistribution was even more pronounced, effecting a 10.2% shift to Labor in Greenway while all but eliminating the Labor margin in Macquarie. Her task in moving to Macquarie was simplified by Debus’s retirement, and she secured the seat on the back of a relatively mild swing of 1.5%, to which she added a further 3.2% in 2013.

Louise Markus’ religious background has been reflected by socially conservative views on same-sex marriage, but she would not go on the record with how she voted in the September 2015 leadership spill. Talk radio broadcaster Ray Hadley accused Scott Morrison, who is said to be close to Markus, of failing to use his influence to marshall Markus’s vote for Tony Abbott, as part of his strategy of playing both sides of the fence. Markus had been dropped from the front bench by Abbott after the 2010 election, having served in the previous term first as a shadow parliamentary secretary, then in the outer shadow ministry. She looked set to face a preselection challenge ahead of the coming election from Sarah Ricahrds, a local party branch president, but she withdrew shortly before the vote was due and left Markus unopposed. For the third election in a row, Markus will be opposed by Susan Templeman, Left-aligned principal of media training company Templeman Consulting.

Seat du jour: Bennelong

Bennelong gained the distinction of being one of only two seats to have ousted a sitting Prime Minister with John Howard’s defeat in 2007, but it shortly returned to its Liberal-leaning ways

Held by John Howard throughout a parliamentary career that ended with his loss of the seat in 2007, the electorate of Bennelong covers the northern shore of Sydney’s Parramatta River from Gladesville west to Ermington, and extends north through Denistone and Ryde to Epping. It has not been affected by the latest redistribution. While the Ryde area has leaned to Labor in the post-war era, riverside suburbs to the south and east have helped keep the seat in Liberal hands for all but one term since its creation in 1949. John Howard came to the seat in 1974 in succession to its inaugural member, Sir John Cramer. His defeat in 2007 made him only the second serving Prime Minister to lose his seat, the first being Stanley Melbourne Bruce’s defeat in the Victorian seat of Flinders when Jim Scullin led Labor to power in 1929. However, Labor member Maxine McKew’s hold on the seat would prove to be short-lived, and the seat has been held for the Liberals since 2010 by former tennis player and commentator John Alexander.

John Howard’s defeat marked the culmination of a long-term demographic trend in the electorate over the course of his 33 years as member, with an influx of immigrants from China, Hong Kong and Korea giving it a stronger east Asian identity than any seat other than Watson. The Asian communities are most heavily concentrated around Epping, Marsfield and Eastwood, the latter being a focal point of the Korean community. In holding the line for as long as he did, Howard had become the only Liberal MP to hold a seat that ranked in the top 20 for most non-English speakers. Labor research reportedly indicated that the electorate’s Asian voters in fact leaned slightly to the Liberals, but the Anglo voters they were replacing had tended to do so by a ratio of two to one.

Talk of a Howard defeat in Bennelong first emerged from the realms of idle speculation at the 2004 election, when anti-Iraq war activists made the electorate the focus of their “Not Happy John” campaign. They were aided in this endeavour by former Office of National Assessments whistleblower Andrew Wilkie, who ran against Howard as the Greens candidate, and would eventually go on to win election in the Hobart seat of Denison as an independent in 2010. Amid an otherwise triumphant election result for Howard, the margin in his own seat was pared back from 7.8% and 4.3%, and then cut a further 0.3% by the subsequent redistribution.

The coup de grace at the 2007 election took the form of a 5.5% swing to Labor’s Maxine McKew, a veteran ABC political journalist who had first been mentioned as a potential Labor MP when party heavyweights proposed accommodating her in the safe western Sydney seat of Fowler. The bombshell announcement that she would run in Bennelong came in February 2007, a decision influenced by the calculations of McKew’s partner of 17 years, former Labor national secretary Bob Hogg. McKew was promptly promoted to parliamentary secretary in the newly elected government, and emerged throughout her term in parliament as a steadfast ally of Kevin Rudd. She developed a correspondingly frosty relationship with Julia Gillard, of whom she was highly critical in a book published in 2012.

The electoral threat posed to McKew in 2010 by Labor’s unpopularity throughout New South Wales inspired an attempt to shore her up through $2.1 billion of promised funding for a rail link between Parramatta and Epping, but the state Labor government’s failure to deliver on similar commitments in the past caused this to be received with great skepticism. McKew went on to suffer a swing of 4.5% swing, easily enough to account for 1.4% margin. Despite talk that Kevin Rudd’s popularity among Asian voters powered both the swing to Labor in 2007 and the backlash in 2010, the swings on both occasions were evenly distributed throughout the electorate, and well in line with the broader Sydney pattern. Nor was Labor availed by Rudd’s return at the 2013 election, when the seat swung 4.6% to the Liberals, compared with a statewide result of 3.2%.

The Liberal member since 2010 has been John Alexander, a former Davis Cup player and Channel Seven tennis commentator. Alexander won preselection with the support of factional moderates, and was reckoned to have been in the Malcolm Turnbull camp when he toppled Tony Abbott in September 2015. Despite this, there was talk that Alexander might fall victim to the moderates’ empire building during the round of preselections in early 2016, although nothing ended up becoming of it. Alexander’s Labor opponent is Lyndal Howison, marketing manager of JDRF Australia, which raises money for diabetes research.