Peter Garrett's Maroubra-area seat has been held by Labor since it was created in 1949, but a creeping demographic tide together with Labor's electoral woes in NSW has encouraged the Liberals to give the seat a closer look.
Kingsford Smith was created with the enlargement of parliament in 1949 around Clovelly, Coogee and Randwick in Sydney’s inner south-east. Originally held by Labor with narrow margins, their positioned was strengthened when the Maroubra area at the northern entrance to Botany Bay was first added in 1955. The only time their hold has been threatened since was with the 1966 landslide, when the margin was reduced to 1.5%, but there appears to have been a steady trend towards the Liberals in evidence over the past two decades. The seat was held by Hawke government deputy prime minister Lionel Bowen from 1969 to 1990, and then by senior Wran-Unsworth state government minister Laurie Brereton, who served on the front bench from 1993 until his surprise retirement announcement shortly before the 2004 election. The then leader Mark Latham took the opportunity to secure the endorsement for Peter Garrett, nationally famous since the 1980s as the lead singer for Midnight Oil and more recently the president of the Australian Conservation Foundation.
Garrett was promoted to the front bench as Shadow Environment Minister when Kevin Rudd came to the leadership in December 2006, and he maintained the portfolio in his government. However, his status was been diminished on two occasions during the first term. After the election win Rudd created a separate climate change portfolio, which was entrusted to Penny Wong. This followed a difficult election campaign in which Garrett was pilloried over a jocular comment in a casual conversation with talk radio host Steve Price to the effect that Labor would change all its policies when in government. The second occasion resulted from the problematic insulation batts program, for which Greg Combet assumed responsibility in February 2010 through his new position of Minister Assisting the Climate Change Minister.
In common with other Labor members throughout Sydney, the 2010 election took a large bite out of Garrett’s electoral margin, which was reduced from 13.3% to 5.2%. After the election he was reassigned to the school education, early childhood and youth portfolio, defying expectations he would be dropped from cabinet. The portfolio had originally been entitled simply schools, early childhood and youth, but this was changed when it was pointed out the word education had not appeared on the cabinet list, its responsibilities having been divided between Garrett and Chris Evans as Jobs, Skills and Workplace Relations Minister. A report that the Prime Minister intended to drop Garrett in the reshuffle conducted in December 2011, but was dissuaded by a threat from Garrett to quit parliament and bring on a by-election in his eminently loseable seat, was firmly denied by all concerned. Having been similarly unable to relegate Robert McClelland due to resistance from the New South Wales Right, the size of cabinet was contentiously increased two places to 22 so the Prime Minister could accommodate her desired promotions.
Early in 2012 the Liberals preselected Michael Feneley, cardiology professor and director of the heart lung program at St Vincent’s Hospital. Feneley was also the candidate in 2010, and ran for Maroubra at the March 2011 state election. There were earlier suggestions that former Parramatta MP Ross Cameron might be interested in seeking a comeback in the seat. In July this year, the ALP determined to pursue a fast-track preselection process that would secure endorsement for Garrett, among others. There had been speculation that local resident Bob Carr might like to use the seat which encompasses his old state electorate of Maroubra to transfer from Senate to House, and there have also been suggestions the seat is of interest to Ben Keneally, husband of the former Premier and mayor of Botany as of the local government elections of September 2012.
William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, is one of the most heavily trafficked forums for online discussion of Australian politics, and joined the Crikey stable in 2008.