Margin: Labor 1.1%
Location: Western Sydney, New South Wales
In a nutshell: The Penrith-based seat has obsessed Labor since it was unexpectedly lost to John Howard’s landslide win in 1996, and stayed lost throughout the life of his government. Furious efforts helped the current member, David Bradbury, to narrowly survive a backlash against Labor across Sydney in 2010.
The candidates (ballot paper order)
JEFFREY WAYNE LAWSON
ANDREW WILLIAM WILCOX
Based around Penrith 50 kilometres west of Sydney, Lindsay first won favour as a test of the national pulse when Labor suffered a surprise defeat on the back of a double-digit swing in 1996. Its place in electoral folklore was cemented by the 2010 election, when Labor’s apparent obsession with it caused the party’s then national secretary, Karl Bitar, to demand that every proposed policy pass a “Lindsay test”. This was seen to have inspired a shift in prime ministerial rhetoric from Kevin Rudd’s “big Australia” to Julia Gillard’s “sustainable Australia”, and a tougher line on asylum seekers which was signalled in the first days of Gillard’s prime ministership through a photo opportunity with member David Bradbury aboard a warship off Darwin. The strategy at least succeeded to the extent that Bradbury was able to retain the seat, albeit in the face of a 5.2% swing.
Lindsay extends on its current boundaries from Penrith into conservative semi-rural territory to the north (Castlereagh and Llandilo) and south (Mulgoa and Orchard Hills). Labor had a 12.3% notional margin when the seat was created with the enlargement of parliament in 1984, inaugural member Ross Free (who had previously served a term as member for Macquarie) holding it on margins of around 10% throughout the Hawke-Keating years. Free was unpleasantly surprised to find himself turfed out by an 11.9% swing to Liberal candidate Jackie Kelly at the 1996 election, but was able to secure a re-match because Kelly, who had not expected to win, had failed to get her affairs in order before nominating (she was still serving as an RAAF officer, an “office for profit under the Crown”). Voters dragged back to the polls on a technicality punished Free with a further 6.8% drop in the primary vote, translating into a 5.0% increase in Kelly’s margin.
The combined 16.9% swing to the Liberals meant the electorate’s demographic profile came to be seen as typifying John Howard’s constituency: high numbers of skilled workers on good incomes, low levels of tertiary education, and a distinctly less multicultural flavour than suburbs closer to the city. This view was solidified by Kelly’s persistent electoral success despite the area remaining loyal to Labor at state level. Kelly’s winning margin in 1998 was only 0.3% lower than that she achieved at the 1996 election, producing one of a number of decisive marginal seat outcomes that secured the Howard government’s return from a minority of the two-party vote.
Kelly’s electoral successes boosted her status as a prime ministerial favourite, winning her promotion for a time to a junior ministerial position which many thought beyond her competence. She nonetheless continued to perform well electorally, picking up a 2.4% swing in 2001 and almost holding even in 2004. John Howard was thus dismayed when Kelly opted to retire at the 2007 election, with the seat already looking vulnerable after redistribution cut the Liberal margin from 5.3% to 2.9%. Any remaining Liberal hopes, both for Lindsay and the election as a whole, were sunk in the final days of the campaign when the husbands of Kelly and her successor candidate Karen Chijoff were among those caught distributing pamphlets purporting to be from Muslim extremists, in which Labor was praised for its support of the “unjustly” treated Bali bombers.
There followed a resounding 9.7% swing to Labor candidate David Bradbury, a Blake Dawson Waldron lawyer and former Penrith mayor who had run unsuccessfully in 2001 and 2004. There were reports in 2009, denied by Bradbury, that he was not of a mind to run in Lindsay for a fourth time, as he was concerned at the impact of the state government’s unpopularity and hopeful the departure of Roger Price could set him up for a safer berth in Chifley. Any such concerns would have been powerfully reinforced by the 25.7% swing recorded in a by-election for the state seat of Penrith on 19 June 2010, which preceded Kevin Rudd’s demise as Prime Minister by five days.
The interruption of the state by-election resulted in what seemed an inordinately long delay in the Liberals choosing a candidate, before marketing executive Fiona Scott was finally given the nod less than a week before the election date was announced. In the event the Liberals picked up a swing of 5.2% which only slightly exceeded the 4.8% statewide swing, which fell 1.1% short of what was required. The post-election review conducted for the Liberal Party by Peter Reith identified the delay as a key failing of the party’s campaign, and recommended the federal executive be given a “last resort” power to ensure the selection of candidates for important seats in good time.
David Bradbury has won promotion three times since his re-election, first to parliamentary secretary to the Treasurer immediately after the election, then to Assistant Treasurer and Minister Assisting for Deregulation after Kevin Rudd’s first unsuccessful leadership challenge in March 2012, and finally with the further acquisition of competition policy and consumer affairs when Rudd returned to the leadership at the end of June. The second of these promotions was achieved at the expense of NSW Right colleague Robert McClelland, who was dumped from the ministry after publicly backing Rudd. Bradbury will again be opposed at the election by Fiona Scott, who won a March 2012 preselection vote against Hills Shire councillor Robyn Preston by 62 votes to 42. It was reported the previous September that Tony Abbott had approached Jackie Kelly with a view to making a comeback, but she was unequivocal in professing herself uninterested.
David Bradbury earned raspberries early in the campaign after phoning a radio station with a view to providing grabs for its news bulletins and being surprised to find his interviewer, who evidently had more experience than he had banked on, disputing his assertion that Joe Hockey had said interest rates should not be cut. Bradbury queried whether the interviewer was a Liberal Party member and ominously asked him to reveal what his surname was. Fiona Scott received national publicity after a campaign appearance with Tony Abbott at which the latter made the widely criticised remark that in common with Jackie Kelly, Scott offered her electorate sex appeal.
In the second and third weeks of the campaign, three automated phone polls suggested Bradbury was headed for a heavy defeat. The first was from Lonergan, conducted on August 13 from a sample of 1038, and had Fiona Scott on no less than 60% of the primary vote (up 17% on 2010), with on 32% (down 13%). The Guardian quoted the pollster saying a question on how respondents voted in 2010 aligned with the actual result. The second came from JWS Research and was conducted on August 15 from a sample of approximately 600. It had the primary votes at 57% for Scott and 35% for Bradbury, with two-party preferred at 60.7-39.3. Fresh from the publicity bestowed upon her by Tony Abbott, Scott recorded a positive net approval rating of 27%, the highest for any non-incumbent out of eight such polls conducted by JWS Research at the time. The third poll was from Galaxy and surveyed 575 respondents on August 20, and put the Liberal lead at 54-46. Lindsay and the four other most marginal seats in Sydney were the subject of a Newspoll survey of 800 respondents conducted from August 23-28, which pointed to a 9% swing to the Liberals.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.