Margin: Labor 10.5%
Location: Northern Adelaide/Outskirts, South Australia
In a nutshell: A transformative redistribution in 2004 combined with a strong performance by Labor in South Australia at the 2010 election have left sitting member Nick Champion with a healthy margin in Wakefield, although there are a number of reasons to suggest the elastic may be about to snap back.
The candidates (ballot paper order)
Wakefield extends from outer northern Adelaide to rural territory beyond, with overwhelming Labor strength around Elizabeth partly balanced by support for the Liberals in the Clare Valley. It has existed in name since South Australia was first divided into electorates in 1903, but its complexion changed dramatically when its southern neighbour Bonython was abolished when the state’s representation was reduced from 12 seats to 11 in 2004. Previously a conservative rural and urban fringe seat encompassing the Murray Valley and Yorke Peninsula, it came to absorb the outer suburban industrial centre of Elizabeth while retaining the satellite town of Gawler, the Clare Valley wine-growing district, and the Gulf St Vincent coast from Two Wells north to Port Wakefield. The redistribution to take effect at the coming election has cut Labor’s margin from 12.0% to 10.3% by making two changes at the electorate’s southern end. The boundary with Port Adelaide has been redrawn, removing 8000 voters in the strongly Labor area around Salisbury North while adding around 700 west of Princes Highway. Immediately east of Gawler the boundaries have been made to conform with those of Barossa Valley District Council, adding 2600 voters around Lyndoch from Barker and 2100 around Williamstown from Mayo.
Prior to 2004, Wakefield was won by the major conservative party of the day at every election except 1938 and 1943, when it was won by Labor, and 1928, when it was won by the Country Party. The seat was held for the Liberals from 1983 to 2004 by Neil Andrew, who served as Speaker from 1998 onwards. Andrew at first considered challenging Patrick Secker for preselection in Barker after the 2004 redistribution turned Wakefield’s 14.7% margin into a notional Labor margin of 1.5%, but instead opted to retire. Wakefield was nonetheless retained for the Liberals at the ensuing election by David Fawcett, who picked up a 2.2% swing off a subdued Labor vote around Elizabeth to unseat Martyn Evans, who had held Bonython for Labor since 1994. Fawcett’s slender margin was demolished by a 7.3% swing in 2007, but he would return to parliament as a Senator after the 2010 election. As was the case with Labor’s other two South Australia gains at that election, Wakefield swung strongly to Labor in 2010, boosting the margin from 6.6% to 12.0%.
Labor’s member over the past two terms has been Nick Champion, a former state party president, Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association official and staffer for state Industrial Relations Minister Michael Wright. The SDA link identifies him with the potentate of the South Australian Right, Senator Don Farrell. Champion nonetheless went against Farrell by coming out in support of Kevin Rudd in the days before his unsuccessful February 2012 leadership challenge, resigning as caucus secretary to do so. Champion’s Liberal opponent will be Tom Zorich, a local sports store retailer, former Gawler councillor and one-time player and club president of the Central Districts Football Club. Despite the size of the margin Zorich faces, the Liberals were reportedly been buoyed by Holden’s announcement in April that 400 jobs would be cut at its Elizabeth plant, together with weak polling for Labor across South Australia generally at least until Kevin Rudd resumed the leadership.
Two weeks out from the election, a Galaxy automated phone poll of 575 respondents showed Nick Champion leading 55-45, suggesting a swing to the Liberals of between 5% and 6%. The primary votes were 45% for Champion and 35% for Zorich.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.