Coastal development has transformed the one-time National/Country Party stronghold of Richmond over the last few decades, with present Labor incumbent Justine Elliot building up a solid margin since unseating Larry Anthony in 2004.
Richmond has covered the north-eastern corner of New South Wales since federation, shrinking steadily over time due to ongoing coastal development (which among other things has cost it the river that gives it its name). It currently extends from Tweed Heads on the border as far south as Lennox Head just to the north of Ballina, extending inland to the western boundaries of the Tweed and Lismore municipalities (although Lismore itself is located beyond the southern boundary in Page). Once a jewel in the National/Country Party crown, its electoral complexion changed as it became increasingly dominated by Byron Bay and Tweed Heads. The area’s counter-cultural tendency is reflected by pockets of support for the Greens, including four of the party’s five strongest booths nationally at the 2010 election (Wilsons Creek, Goonengerry, Nimbin and Main Arm Upper, with Rosebank and The Channon not far behind), with their total vote across the electorate at 16.2%.
Richmond was first won for the Country Party by Roland Green shortly after the party’s creation in 1922, and has spent much of its history as a fiefdom of the Anthony dynasty. It was held from 1937 to 1957 by Larry Anthony, from 1957 to 1984 by Larry’s son Doug, who was party leader from 1971 to 1984, and from 1996 to 2004 by Doug’s son Larry. Doug Anthony’s immediate successor was another party leader in Charles Blunt, who emerged a shock loser at the 1990 election when the independent candidacy of anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott drew a rash of new enrolments from Nimbin-area types. When Caldicott fell just short of overhauling the Labor candidate, her preferences fuelled a 7.1% swing to Labor and a victory for their candidate Neville Newell. Larry Anthony failed to recover the seat for the Nationals on his first attempt in 1993, before romping home on the back of an 8.5% swing in 1996. A 6.0% swing in 1998 brought Anthony back down to the wire, and he again survived only narrowly in 2001.
Labor finally snared the seat in 2004, when a 1.9% swing enabled their candidate Justine Elliot to scrape over the line by 301 votes. Elliot went on to serve in the junior ministerial porfolio of ageing in the government’s first term, but was bumped down after the 2010 election to parliamentary secretary for trade, which both she and the Prime Minister insisted was at her own request. She retained the position despite publicly supporting Kevin Rudd’s leadership bid in February 2012, but eventually moved to the back bench in the reshuffle that followed the departures of Nicola Roxon and Chris Evans in February 2013. Elliot again maintained the move was made on her own initiative, as she believed her campaigining against the locally sensitive issue of coal seam gas mining conflicted with her responsibilities in the trade portfolio.
The preselected Nationals candidate for the coming election is Matthew Fraser, 34-year-old owner of two local Hungry Jacks franchises. Fraser won preselection ahead of university lecturer Scott Cooper, newsagency owner John McMahon and the candidate from 2010, Myocum beef farmer Alan Hunter. The Liberals have agreed not to field a candidate under the terms of the state parties’ coalition agreement, despite having been only slightly outpolled by the Nationals in 2010 – by 21.2% to 19.1% on the primary vote and 25.3% to 20.8% at the second last preference exclusion. Their candidate from 2010, former Tweed mayor Joan van Lieshout, quit the party in September 2012 and said she was considering running as an independent.