Margin: Nationals 28.8%
Region: North Coast
Candidates in ballot paper order
2011 BOOTH RESULTS MAP
Two-party preferred booth results from 2011 state election showing Nationals majority in green and Labor in red. New boundaries in thicker blue lines, old ones in thinner red lines. Boundary data courtesy of Ben Raue of The Tally Room.
Port Macquarie was one of three traditionally Nationals-held seats that the party recovered from independents in 2001, returning it to the fold for the first time since Rob Oakeshott quit the party in 2002. The electorate encompasses the town about 400 kilometres north of Sydney that bears its name along with further coastal territory 50 kilometres to the south, including population centres around Lake Cathie, Laurieton and Harrington. The redistribution has made only minor changes, adding two lightly populated areas at the interior end from Oxley.
The electorate was created with the short-lived expansion of parliament in 1988, prior to which its territory had largely corresponded with the abolished seat of Oxley. The redistribution at the 1991 election maintained Port Macquarie as an electorate while reconstituting Oxley as its northern neighbour. Oxley had consistently been in conservative hands since the abolition of multi-member electorates in 1927, and was held by the National/Country Party from 1944 onwards, outside of the period following Les Jordan’s defection to the Liberal Party from 1959 to 1965. Bruce Jeffery came to the seat in 1984 and transferred to Port Macquarie when it was abolished in 1988. Jeffery returned to Oxley when it was recreated in 1991 and Port Macquarie went to Wendy Machin, who had held its abolished southern neighbours of Gloucester from 1985 to 1988 and Manning from 1988 to 1991.
Machin retired in 1995 and was succeeded as Nationals member by Rob Oakeshott at a by-election that caused considerable friction in the Coalition over Liberal plans to field a candidate. The Liberals were attempting to court John Barrett, who came within 233 votes of defeating Mark Vaile in his federal seat of Lyne at the 1993 election, but had since quit the party. They stayed out of the race when Barrett insisted on running as an independent, but he ultimately fell 4.9% short on preferences after polling 32.2% of the primary vote. Oakeshott was quickly promoted to the front bench after the 1999 election, but quit the Nationals in March 2002 citing concern over the influence of property developers in local branches, and questioning if the party was still relevant to an electorate that had been transformed by tourism and demographic change. The Nationals strongly attacked Oakeshott in the 2003 election over his liberal social views, in particular his support for drug law reform, but he was overwhelmingly re-elected with 69.8% of the primary vote, and again with 67.1% in 2007.
Oakeshott took the opportunity of Mark Vaile’s resignation in the wake of the 2007 federal election defeat to transfer to his seat of Lyne, easily prevailing over the Nationals at the ensuing by-election with 63.8% of the primary vote. This fell to 47.2% in the face of competition from a Labor candidate at the 2010 election, but he nonetheless secured a substantial 12.7% margin over the Nationals after preferences. Port Macquarie remained in independent hands at the by-election held in October 2008 to replace Oakeshott, who threw his support behind the independent candidacy of his press secretary, Peter Besseling. Besseling outpolled the Nationals by 35.9% to 33.7% on the primary vote, and prevailed by 4.5% after preferences.
Oakeshott’s decision to support Labor after the indecisive 2010 federal election result gave the contest for Port Macquarie great psychological importance when the state election was held the following March, as the Nationals were eager to at least inflict vicarious damage on Oakeshott if they could not persuade him to revisit his backing for Labor. The result was an easy win for their candidate Leslie Williams, a “teacher, student nurse and small business owner” who had also been the party’s candidate against Oakeshott in 2007 and Besseling at the 2008 by-election. Williams’ primary vote shot up to 52.2%, with Bessesling little changed on the by-election with 36.5%.
Corrections, complaints and feedback to William Bowe at pollbludger-at-bigpond-dot-com. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.