This week we visit yet another endangered Labor seat in Sydney which the party is unaccustomed to losing.
Barton has covered Kogarah and surrounding areas on the north shore of the Georges River since its creation in 1922, currently extending north through Rockdale to Earlwood and Kingsgrove. Past members for Barton include Herbert “Doc” Evatt, who won the seat from the United Australia Party in 1940 and held it until 1958, when he moved to Hunter after close shaves in 1951 (when World War II hero Nancy Wake, running for the Liberals, came within 243 votes of victory) and 1955 (when Evatt prevailed by 226 votes). The seat nonetheless stayed with Labor until the 1966 disaster, subsequently changing hands along with government in 1975 and 1983. Gary Punch held the seat for generally narrow margins in the 1980s, but put enough fat on the margin in 1993 that his successor Robert McClelland survived the 1996 landslide.
A member of the NSW Right, McClelland held a series of senior portfolios after entering the shadow ministry in 1998 and served as Attorney-General since the election of the Rudd government. McClelland emerged as an important part of the Kevin Rudd camp during Julia Gillard’s prime ministership, an association going back to Rudd’s ascendancy over Kim Beazley in December 2006. An oblique reference by McClelland to the AWU affair in June 2012 was invoked as validating the subsequent blizzard of media interest in the matter, and was generally seen as a deliberate effort to undermine her. He had been dropped from the ministry after Rudd’s failed leadership bid the previous February, which followed two months from his demotion to emergency management and housing.
McClelland announced in January 2013 that he would bow out at the election, causing concern to Labor that the NSW government might seek to precipitate a by-election by offering him a position on the state’s Industrial Relations Commission. Reports in mid-2011 suggested McClelland was being advised to step aside to avoid a preselection stoush. It was thought the seat might provide an entry for former Premier Morris Iemma, who told the media he would not be interested if it involved “backstabbing friends”. The Iemma for Barton idea was again raised in October 2012 by Bob Carr, who speculating on the possibility that McClelland might decide to retire. When that duly came to pass in January 2013, Iemma did not emerge as a starter for the seat, encouraging the conclusion that he was not fancying Labor’s electoral prospects.
Labor will instead take the field with Steve McMahon, chief executive of the NSW Trainers Association (as in thoroughbred horses) and former mayor of Hurstville. McMahon won a local preselection ballot with 128 preselection votes against 101 for Shane O’Brien, Rockdale mayor and NSW Public Service Association assistant secretary, a former adviser to Tony Burke. McMahon reportedly had backing from Morris Iemma and state upper house MP Shaoquett Moselmane, key to votes from the Lebanese Muslim community, leading O’Brien to complain that his own support had come instead from “free-thinking individuals”. O’Brien’s opponents accused him of being a sore loser who had himself had courted the Macedonian and Greek vote. Moselmane had himself been a nominee early in the process but he quickly withdrew, amid suggestions he was merely seeking leverage to shore up his position on the upper house ticket.
The Liberal candidate is Nick Varvaris, accountant and mayor of Kogarah.