The Poll Bludger
Margin: Liberal 7.1%
Region: Southern Adelaide, South Australia
Outgoing member: Andrew Southcott (Liberal)
In a nutshell: After clinging on to the seat at Labor’s statewide high-water marks of 2010 and 2013, the Liberals face new challenges in this southern Adelaide seat with the retirement of Andrew Southcott and the rise of the Nick Xenophon Team.
Candidates in ballot paper order
ROBERT DE JONGE
Boothby is a seat in southern Adelaide that has been held by the Liberals without interruption since 1949, having remained slightly out of Labor’s reach at its statewide high water marks in 2007 and 2010. It is to be vacated at the coming election with the retirement of Andrew Southcott, the member since 1996. The seat has existed in name when South Australia was first divided into electorates in 1903, but it covered shifting ground around the Adelaide Hills and inner southern Adelaide until 1993, when the abolition of Hawker caused it absorb coastal suburbs from North Brighton south to Marino. From there it extends inland to the edge of the coastal plain at Myrtle Bank, and into the hills at Belair, Eden Hills, Bellevue Heights and Flagstaff Hill. The general lean to the Liberals throughout the electorate 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 Liberals gained Boothby from Labor with the election of the Menzies government in 1949, which began a long-term long-term trend to the Liberals which peaked in the 1970s, when margins were consistently in double digits. The 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. Labor had a particularly encouraging swing amid an otherwise poor result in 2004, which raised their hopes at both the 2007 and 2010 elections. On the former occasion, Labor’s Right faction 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 could only manage a swing of 2.4% compared with 6.8% statewide. There was a 2.2% swing in Labor’s favour in Cornes’s absence in 2010, compared with 0.8% statewide, but that still left them 0.8% short of a victory the party desperately hoped for to buttress losses in Queensland and New South Wales. With the seat off Labor’s target list in 2013, there was a 6.5% swing back to the Liberals. Labor’s candidate in both 2010 and 2013 was Annabel Digance, who is now the state member for Elder.
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 went on to 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 to parliamentary secretary level by a victorious Tony Abbott, then relegated to the back bench after the 2013 election victory. 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 reportedly losing steam as Kevin Rudd’s first bid to return to the Labor leadership came to a head in February 2012.
Southcott announced his intention to retire in September 2015, saying he wished to return to his medical career. He had recently failed in a bid to succeed Bronwyn Bishop as Speaker, and his seat was widely thought to be under threat from the Nick Xenophon Team, if not Labor. The ensuing Liberal preselection was won by Nicolle Flint, a former columnist for The Advertiser and adviser to Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull in their tenures as Opposition Leader. Flint was one of six nominees, the most fancied of whom was Carolyn Habib, a youth worker and former Marion councillor who was narrowly unsuccessful in the marginal seat of Elder at the 2014 state election. Labor’s candidate is Mark Ward, a Mitcham councillor, teacher at Urrbrae Agricultural High School, and narrowly unsuccessful candidate at the Davenport state by-election in January 2015. The Nick Xenophon Team has endorsed Karen Hockley, a Mitcham councillor.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.