The third New South Wales state by-election since the Coalition landslide of March 2011 will be held in the seat of Sydney on Saturday, thanks to new laws which required Clover Moore to choose between her state seat and the lord mayoralty.
There will be a by-election for the New South Wales seat of Sydney on Saturday, the parliament having chosen to deny voters their democratically expressed preference to have Clover Moore represent them both as lord mayor and state member. Labor has not covered itself in glory either, having declined to field a candidate in a seat whose corresponding federal electorate it holds by a margin of 17.1%. The election thus looms as a contest between Clover Moore-backed independent Alex Greenwich, Liberal candidate Shayne Mallard and Chris Harris of the Greens. A ReachTel poll of 422 respondents published at the start of the month had Greenwich and Mallard each on 31% and Harris on 25%, suggesting an easy win for Greenwich on Harris’s preferences unless Harris could improve his position enough to outpoll him.
The electorate of Sydney was created in place of abolished Bligh at the 2007 election, and covers the harbour from Pyrmont west through the city centre to Rushcutters Bay, extending south to Chippendale, Strawberry Hills and Centennial Park. The name change was prompted by the acquisition of the central business district and harbour shore as far west as Pyrmont from abolished Port Jackson (renamed Balmain). The city centre had been in a series of Labor-held electorates since the end of proportional representation in 1927, all since abolished: King until 1973, Phillip until 1981, Elizabeth until 1988, McKell until 1991, and Port Jackson thereafter.
Bligh was created in 1962 in place of abolished Woollahra, which since 1927 had filled the gap between the city-based electorate and Vaucluse on the coast. Labor’s only wins in Woollahra and Bligh were in 1927, 1962 and 1981, but Bligh became more volatile as cuts in parliamentary numbers forced it to expand westwards into the inner city. Michael Yabsley recovered it for the Liberals as part of the party’s improved performance in 1984 but was unable to enjoy Nick Greiner’s election win in 1988, when independent candidate Clover Moore finished ahead of Labor with 26.7% of the vote and defeated Yabsley on preferences. Yabsley returned to parliament later in the year as the member for Vaucluse, where he was elected unopposed after the death of sitting member Ray Aston.
Clover Moore was a Sydney councillor who had been the favourite for the next lord mayor when the Unsworth Labor government sacked the council and replaced it with commissioners in 1987. She was elected member for Bligh in 1991, making her one of the three independents whose support the Liberals needed to remain in power over the subsequent term (another being Tony Windsor). She was subsequently re-elected six times, her primary vote ranging from 36.3% in 1995 and 2011 to 43.7% in 1991. The Liberal surge in 2011 resulted in her narrowest margin to date, the Liberals outpolling Labor for the first time since 1995 (the boundaries at the 1999 and 2003 elections had been more favourable for Labor due to the inclusion of Redfern) and finishing 3.1% short after preferences. Her earlier winning margins were between 6.1% and 5.5% over Liberal in 1991 and 1995, and 9.8%, 14.7% and 16.6% over Labor in 1999, 2003 and 2007.
The lord mayoralty of Sydney was added to Bligh’s list of responsibilities in 2004 when she ran in protest against the government’s sacking of the existing council and amalgamation of Sydney and South Sydney councils, which was widely seen as an effort to bring the strong Labor vote in South Sydney to bear in electing Keating govenrment minister Michael Lee. She was elected with 35.0% of the vote in 2004, and re-elected with 46.9% in 2008. Then came the election of the Coalition government in 2011 and the passage of legislation requiring that state members relinquish local government responsibilities. A further 27 affected MPs chose to bow out of council politics when the local government elections were held in September, but Moore opted to run again for lord mayor and again increased her vote to 51.1%.
Moore has thrown her support in the by-election behind Alex Greenwich, the national spokesperson for Australian Marriage Equality. Liberal candidate served on Sydney council between 2004 and 2012, having been on South Sydney council for a term before the merger of 2004, and ran for the Liberals in Bligh in 2003. He was initially endorsed as the Liberal candidate for the lord mayoralty, but opted to contest the by-election instead. Greens candidate Chris Harris served two terms on Sydney council between 2004 and 2012, including a stint as deputy lord mayor in 2006/07. Also in the field are Robyn Peebles, a regular candidate for the Christian Democratic Party, and independent Glenn Wall, an Occupy Sydney activist.
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.