Kate Ellis's electorate of Adelaide is a one-time Labor stronghold which has generally been marginal since the late 1980s, although she has enjoyed a handy buffer in the wake of Labor's strong statewide performances in 2007 and 2010.
The electorate of Adelaide has existed without fundamental change since South Australia was first divided into electorates in 1903, currently stretching from the city centre to the Labor strongholds of Prospect, Enfield and Brompton to the north and an electorally mixed bag of areas to the east and south. There are sources of Liberal strength in Walkerville to the north-east of the city, Toorak Gardens to the west and Malvern to the south. The areas south of the city include Unley, home to the high school which Julia Gillard attended.
Labor first won Adelaide in 1908, and it was usually held by them from then until 1988. It was lost in that year at a by-election caused by the resignation of Chris Hurford, falling to Liberal candidate Mike Pratt with an 8.4% swing. Labor recovered the seat at the 1990 election, but an unfavourable redistribution together with a swing fuelled by hostility to the state government delivered it to Liberal candidate Trish Worth in 1993. Worth’s margin never rose above 3.5% in her 11 years as member, and she survived by just 343 votes in 2001. Labor finally toppled her in 2004 when inner-city seats across the land bucked the national shift to the Coalition, a decisive 1.9% swing delivering Adelaide to Labor’s 27-year-old candidate, Kate Ellis.
In keeping with statewide trends, Adelaide swung solidly to Labor in 2007, by 7.2%, and recorded little change in 2010, swinging 0.8% to the Liberals. The latest redistribution has added 1600 voters in Vale Park to bring the electorate into line with a municipal boundary, which has garnished the Labor margin from 7.7% to 7.5%. The area covered by the electorate swung resoundingly to the Liberals at the 2010 state election, with Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith losing the Adelaide electorate with a swing of 14.8%, and the eight neighbouring electorates (all of which are partly within the federal electorate) swinging by between 8.5% and 14.3%.
Kate Ellis is associated with the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, the mainstay of the Catholic Right, and its powerful state figurehead, Senator Don Farrell. After serving her apprenticeship as an adviser to state Industry Minister Rory McEwen and Treasurer Kevin Foley, Ellis won preselection following a three-way factional deal that secured Hindmarsh for Steve Georganas of the soft Left and Makin for Dana Wortley of the hard Left (who nevertheless lost the preselection to Tony Zappia, but was compensated with a Senate seat).
Her elevation to the position of Youth and Sport Minister after the 2007 election victory made her Labor’s youngest ever minister, at the age of 30 the previous record holder being Paul Keating at 31. After the 2010 election she was reassigned to employment participation, childcare and the status of women. In common with the rest of her faction, Ellis emerged as a strong supporter of Julia Gillard’s leadership. Shortly before Kevin Rudd’s challenge in February 2012, she told Adelaide radio that Rudd had approached her and other SDA figures at a hotel to ask how they could reconcile their conservative brand of Catholicism with a childless, atheist ex-communist as Labor leader.
The preselected Liberal candidate for the next election is Carmen Garcia, director of Multicultural Youth SA and a daughter of Filipino migrants.
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.