The Poll Bludger
Margin: Liberal 2.6%
Region: South Coast, New South Wales
In a nutshell: Eden-Monaro only just maintained its famous record as the seat that goes with the election winner in 2013, but the Liberals’ position has since been fortified a little with the redistribution.
Candidates in ballot paper order
ANDREW EVAN THALER
Taking in the south-eastern corner of New South Wales, Eden-Monaro has existed since federation, and is renowned throughout the land as the “bellwether” electorate that always goes the way of the party that wins the election. Its record on this count was in fact surpassed until 2007 by Macarthur, which had been a successful litmus test since its creation in 1949. But while Eden-Monaro stayed true to form by being among the seven New South Wales seats that switched to Labor when Kevin Rudd came to power, Macarthur was narrowly retained for the Liberals by Pat Farmer. Eden-Monaro bucked a statewide trend in 2010 by recording a 2.0% swing to Labor, and only barely remained true to its record in 2013, when the Liberals got over the line by 0.6% after a 4.8% swing. The latest redistribution has boosted that margin to 2.6% by transferring the 22,000 voters of the Batemans Bay region at the northern coastal end to Gilmore, and adding rural territory to the north (the Shire of Yass Valley, home to 14,000 voters formerly in Hume) and west (the shires of Tumut and Tumbarumba, home to 10,000 voters formerly in Riverina) of the Australian Capital Territory.
Along with its electoral record, Eden-Monaro’s bellwether reputation is encouraged by its disparate mix of elements, including the Canberra fringe suburbia of Queanbeyan, coastal Eden and Narooma, the rural centres of Cooma and Bega, and agricultural areas sprinkled with smaller towns. Labor is strongest in Queanbeyan, excluding its Liberal-leaning outer suburb of Jerrabomberra. The coastal areas include a strong area for the Liberals around Merimbula and more marginal territory further north, while the smaller inland towns are solidly conservative, with the exception of the larger and more marginal Cooma. The boundaries have been remarkably little changed since 1901, reflecting both its position in the south-eastern corner of the state, and a rate of regional decline that has cancelled out the impact of increases in the size of parliament.
Eden-Monaro was held by conservatives of various stripes for all but one term until 1943, the exception being Labor’s 40-vote win when Jim Scullin’s government came to power in 1929. Allan Fraser won the seat for Labor in the wartime landslide of 1943, and retained it against the tide in 1949 and 1951. He was defeated in 1966 but returned in 1969, before finally retiring in 1972. The loss of Fraser’s personal vote almost resulted in the seat going against the trend of the 1972 election, when the Country Party came within 503 votes of victory after overtaking their conservative rivals for the first time. The Country Party again finished second in 1974, this time coming within 146 votes of defeating Labor member Bob Whan (whose son, Steve Whan, unsuccessfully contested the seat in 1998 and 2001, and was later the state member for Monaro), but the 1975 landslide produced a strong shift to the Liberals. It was then held by Murray Sainsbury through the Fraser years, Jim Snow through the Hawke-Keating period, and Gary Nairn under the Howard government.
Labor’s successful candidate in 2007 was Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Kelly, a military lawyer who had been credited with efforts to warn the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade about the AWB kickbacks scandal, and the Australian military about possible abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. A member of the Right, Kelly reached the outer ministry in February 2013 and was publicly promised the position of Defence Minister by Kevin Rudd if both Kelly and his own government were returned at the September 2013 election, but neither was to be. The seat has since been held for the Liberals by Peter Hendy, a former Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive and previously a staffer to Brendan Nelson and Peter Reith. Hendy supported Malcolm Turnbull in the September 2015 leadership ballot, and was subsequently promoted to parliamentary secretary status as Assistant Cabinet Secretary and Assistant Minister to the Minister for Finance. Mike Kelly will again contest the seat for Labor.
A few days before the election was called, Mark Riley of Seven News reported polling conducted for Liberal sources on April 29 had Labor leading 53.1-46.9 in Eden-Monaro, but trailing in another six Coalition-held marginals.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.