New South Wales election 2015


Margin: Labor 7.8%
Region: Illawarra Region
Federal: Throsby (73%)/Gilmore (27%)

Candidates in ballot paper order




No Land Tax

Labor (top)



Liberal (bottom)

Christian Democratic Party




Two-party preferred booth results from 2011 state election showing Labor majority in red and Liberal in blue. New boundaries in thicker blue lines, old ones in thinner red lines. Boundary data courtesy of Ben Raue of The Tally Room.

The Illawarra region was one of the few places where Labor’s base level of support was generally sufficient to sustain it at the 2011 election, as reflected by its 8.6% winning margin in Shellharbour after an 18.2% swing. The seat was created in place of the abolished seat of Illawarra at the 2007 election, taking roughly two-thirds of its voters from the abolished seat and most of the remainder from Kiama to the south, including Shellharbour itself. It encompasses two distinct population centres: the coastal area around Shellharbour to the south of Lake Illawarra, and the area around Dapto on the lake’s north-western shore. The latest redistribution has added territory at either end, respectively accounting for 3000 voters in Shell Cove from Kiama, and 2000 at Brownsville and Kanahooka from Wollongong. The changes have shaved 0.8% from the Labor margin.

Prior to its abolition, the Illawarra electorate had existed without interruption since 1927, barring one term from 1968 when it was renamed Corrimal. It was held by Labor at all times outside of a short interruption from 1987 to 1988, when sitting member George Petersen quit to form the “Illawarra Workers Party”. Marianne Saliba held the seat from 1999 until her retirement in 2007, and was succeeded in Shellharbour by Lylea McMahon, a senior industrial relations officer for BlueScope Steel. The imposition of a candidate of such background by the party’s national executive went down badly with blue-collar unions such as the Australian Workers Union, which threatened to campaign for an independent or Greens candidate – as it had done at the federal Cunningham by-election of 2002, when Labor’s Sharon Bird was defeated by Michael Organ of the Greens. The issue of preselection had also been fraught at preveious elections, with Saliba relying on head office-mandated “N40” ballots for her 1999 and 2003 preselections, to the chagrin of Left-dominated local branches.

Just one term into her career, McMahon reportedly faced pressure to move on at the 2011 election, possibly to accommodate John Robertson’s plan to move from the upper house and assume the party leadership after the inevitable election defeat. Preselection challengers eventually emerged in the shape of Anna Watson, an organiser with the United Services Union, and John Rumble, Wollongong Hospital nurse and son of former state MP Terry Rumble. McMahon them made a surprise withdrawal the day before the December 11 preselection ballot, saying she wished to spend more time with her family. Figures in the Australian Workers Union were quoted in the media claiming credit for her departure, although both preselection contestants were in fact associated with the Right. Rumble scored 54 votes to Watson’s 51 in the preselection ballot, but the affirmative action loading tipped the balance in favour of Watson.

Watson maintained a rather low profile during her debut parliamentary career, and was again looking at a preselection challenge from John Rumble, who in the interim launched an unsuccessful challenge to Stephen Jones’ preselection in the federal seat of Throsby. However, Rumble was thwarted once again when head office called upon the party’s national executive to intervene on Watson’s behalf.

Corrections, complaints and feedback to William Bowe at pollbludger-at-bigpond-dot-com. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.

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