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Seat of the week: Boothby

Last held by Labor in 1949, the southern Adelaide suburbs seat of Boothby has been trending in the party's direction since the early Howard years.

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UPDATE (12/11/12): Essential Research has Labor gaining ground for the second week in a row to attain their best position since March last year. They now trail 52-48, down from 53-47, from primary votes of 37% for Labor (steady), 45% for the Coalition (down one) and 9% for the Greens (steady). Also featured are monthly personal approval ratings, which last time had both leaders up in the immediate aftermath of Julia Gillard’s sexism and misogyny speech. Whereas Gillard has maintained her gains, her approval steady at 41% approval and disapproval down two to 49%, Tony Abbott has fallen to his worst net result ever, his approval down four to 33% and disapproval up four to a new low of 58%. Gillard’s lead as preferred prime minister is up from 43-36 to 45-32, her best result since February 2011. Also canvassed are options on how the government might rein in the budget, with reducing or means testing the baby bonus and increasing tax for those on high incomes respectively coming on top.

The southern Adelaide electorate of Boothby covers coastal suburbs from Brighton south to Marino, extending inland to edge of the coastal plain at Myrtle Bank and the hills at Belair, Eden Hills, Bellevue Heights and Flagstaff Hill. The seat’s Liberal lean is softened by the area around the defunct Tonsley Park Mitsubishi plant, the only part of the electorate with below average incomes and above average ethnic diversity. The redistribution has shaved the Liberal margin from 0.8% to 0.3% by adding about 10,000 in Aberfolye Park from Mayo in the south, and removing 4000 voters at Myrtlebank to Sturt and 1500 at Edwardstown to Hindmarsh.

Boothby was created when South Australia was first divided into electorates in 1903, at which time it was landlocked and extended north into the eastern suburbs. Its coastal areas were acquired when the neighbouring electorate of Hawker was abolished in 1993. Labor held the seat for the first eight years of its existence, and remained competitive until the Menzies government was elected in 1949. This began a long-term trend to the Liberals which peaked in the 1970s, when margins were consistently in double digits. Former Premier and Liberal Movement figurehead Steele Hall held the seat from 1981 until he was succeeded by Andrew Southcott in 1996.

A positive swing in the difficult 2004 election had Labor hopeful of going one better in 2007, inspiring Right powerbrokers to recruit what they imagined to be a star candidate in Nicole Cornes, a minor Adelaide celebrity and wife of local football legend Graham Cornes. However, Cornes only managed a 2.4% swing against a statewide result of 6.8% after a series of disastrous campaign performances. Labor again had high hopes at the 2010 election, seeing in the seat a potential gain to balance anticipated losses in Queensland and New South Wales. However, while the Labor swing of 2.2% outperformed a statewide result of 0.8%, perhaps reflecting a suppressed vote in 2007, it fell 0.8% short of what was required.

Andrew Southcott came to the seat at the age of 26 after winning preselection at the expense of fellow moderate Robert Hill, the faction’s leading light in the Senate. Tony Wright of the Sydney Morning Herald wrote that the Right had built up strength in local branches with a view to unseating its hated rival Steele Hall, and when denied by his retirement turned its guns on Hill as a “surrogate”. Unlike Hill, who went on to become government leader in the Senate, Southcott has led an unremarkable parliamentary career, finally winning promotion after the 2007 election defeat to the Shadow Minister for Employment Participation, Apprenticeships and Training. However, he was demoted to parliamentary secretary when Tony Abbott became leader in December 2009, after backing Malcolm Turnbull in the leadership vote.

Southcott’s preselection for the coming election was challenged by former state party president Chris Moriarty, following disquiet in the party over his fundraising record. However, Moriarty was only able to manage 35 votes in the February 2012 party ballot against 195 for Southcott, support for his challenge reportedly evaporating as the Kevin Rudd leadership challenge came to a head. Southcott will again face his Labor opponent from 2010, Annabel Digance, a former nurse and SA Water Board member factionally aligned with the Right.

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