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Federal Election 2016

Feb 23, 2014

Seat of the week: Boothby

Another trip through a South Australian federal electorate to mark the looming state election – this time the southern coastal suburbs seat of Boothby, a nut Labor is never quite able to crack.

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Blue and red numbers respectively indicate booths with two-party majorities for Liberal and Labor. Click for larger image. Map boundaries courtesy of Ben Raue at The Tally Room.

The southern Adelaide electorate of Boothby covers coastal suburbs from Brighton south to Marino, extending inland to the 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. It has existed without interruption since South Australia was first divided into electorates in 1903, at which time it was landlocked and extended north into the eastern suburbs. Coastal areas were acquired when the neighbouring electorate of Hawker was abolished in 1993.

Boothby was held by Labor for the first eight years of its existence, and it remained a contested seat until the Menzies government came to power in 1949. This began a long-term trend to the Liberals which peaked in the 1970s, when margins were consistently in double digits. The seat’s member from 1981 until 1996 was Steele Hall, former Premier and figurehead of the early 1970s breakaway Liberal Movement. A trend to Labor became evident after the election of the Howard government in 1996, with successive swings recorded over the next five elections. The swing that occurred amid the otherwise poor result of the 2004 election was particularly encouraging for Labor, and raised their hopes at both the 2007 and 2010 elections. On the former occasion, Right powerbrokers recruited 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 was damaged by a series of disastrous and heavily publicised media performances, and was only able to manage a swing of 2.4% compared with a statewide result of 6.8%. Perhaps reflecting a suppressed vote for Labor, the seat swung 2.2% in their favour at the 2010 election, compared with a statewide result of 0.8%. However, that still Labor 0.8% short of a win they had desperately hoped for to buttress losses in Queensland and New South Wales. With the seat off Labor’s target list in 2013, Southcott enjoyed a comfortable victory on the back of a 6.5% swing, which was 1.0% above the statewide par. Labor’s candidate in both 2010 and 2013 was Annabel Digance, who is now running in the seat of Elder for the March 15 state election.

Boothby has been held since 1996 by Andrew Southcott, who first won preselection at the age of 26 ahead of Robert Hill, the leading factional moderate in the Senate. The Right had reportedly built up strength in local branches with a view to unseating its bitter rival Steele Hall, and turned its guns on Hill as a “surrogate” when denied by Hall’s retirement. Unlike Hill, who went on to become government leader in the Senate, Southcott has led a fairly low-key parliamentary career, taking until after the 2007 election defeat to win promotion to Shadow Minister for Employment Participation, Apprenticeships and Training. After standing by Malcolm Turnbull in the December 2009 leadership vote, Southcott was demoted by a victorious Tony Abbott to parliamentary secretary, a position he has retained in government. Southcott’s preselection at the 2010 election was challenged by former state party president Chris Moriarty, following disquiet in the party over his fundraising record. However, Moriarty was heavily defeated, his challenge reported losing steam when Kevin Rudd’s first bid to return to the Labor leadership came to a head in February 2012.

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