Electorate: Kingsford Smith
Margin: Labor 5.2%
Location: South-Eastern Sydney, New South Wales
Outgoing member: Peter Garrett (Labor)
In a nutshell: The curtain is set to come down on Peter Garrett’s sometimes rocky three-term parliamentary career, creating a lower house opening for Senator Matt Thistlethwaite who must first defend an historically modest margin in a seat Labor has never lost before.
The candidates (ballot paper order)
DIANE OLGA HAPP
Kingsford Smith covers Clovelly, Coogee and Randwick in Sydney’s inner south-east, and was created with the enlargement of parliament in 1949. Labor held the seat by narrow margins in the early years of its existence, until their positioned was strengthened with the addition of the Maroubra area at the northern entrance to Botany Bay in 1955. The only time their hold has been threatened since was with the 1966 landslide, when the margin was reduced to 1.5%, but there appears to have been a steady trend towards the Liberals over the past two decades. Like many other Labor seats in Sydney, there was a large swing to the Liberals at the 2010 election, which slashed Labor’s margin from 13.3% to 5.2%.
Kingsford Smith was held from 1969 to 1990 by Hawke government deputy prime minister Lionel Bowen and subsequently by senior Wran-Unsworth state government minister Laurie Brereton, who served on the front bench from 1993 until he announced his retirement shortly before the 2004 election. The then leader Mark Latham took the opportunity to secure the endorsement for Peter Garrett, nationally famous since the 1980s as the lead singer for Midnight Oil and more recently the president of the Australian Conservation Foundation. Garrett was promoted to the front bench as Shadow Environment Minister when Kevin Rudd came to the leadership in December 2006, and maintained the portfolio in government. However, his status was dented as a result of his department’s involvement with the troubled insulation batts program, for which Greg Combet assumed responsibility in February 2010 through his new position of Minister Assisting the Climate Change Minister. Garrett was reassigned to the school education, early childhood and youth portfolio after the 2010 election, defying expectations he would be dropped from cabinet. The attribution to Garrett of responsibility for the insulation batts issue was by all accounts an enduring source of contention with Kevin Rudd, whom he vowed not to serve under if he returned to the prime ministership. When this duly transpired at the end of June, Garrett joined an exodus of Rudd opponents from cabinet and announced he would not seek another term.
Garrett’s successor as Labor candidate will be Matt Thistlethwaite, who has served as a Senator since mid-2011. Thistlethwaite had a 136-105 victory in a local preselection ballot over Tony Bowen, the mayor of Randwick mayor and son of Lionel. He had first aspired to the seat when Laurie Brereton retired, at which time he was vice-president of the state branch of the Australian Workers Union, but was frozen out by then leader Mark Latham’s insistence that the seat go to Garrett. He went on to serve as the party’s state secretary and convenor of the Right faction from 2008, before being eased out of both roles with the promise of a Senate berth in 2010. Thistlethwaite had ruffled feathers by backing then Premier Nathan Rees in his determination to choose his own cabinet (which Rees used to dump Right potentate Joe Tripodi, together with the now notorious Mineral and Forest Resources Minister Ian Macdonald), and throwing his support behind Environment Minister Frank Sartor to replace Rees as Premier rather than Kristina Keneally. His Senate seat was secured in relatively bloodless fashion when incumbent Michael Forshaw chose not to contest the 2010 election.
A Liberal preselection held in early 2012 was won by Michael Feneley, a cardiology professor and director of the heart lung program at St Vincent’s Hospital. Feneley was also the candidate in 2010, and ran for Maroubra at the March 2011 state election.
A ReachTEL poll with a sample of approximately 600 appeared at the end of the second week of the campaigning showing Michael Feneley leading Matt Thistlethwaite by 52-48 on two-party preferred, for a swing of 7%.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.