The Poll Bludger
Margin: Labor 2.8%
Region: Western Sydney, New South Wales
In a nutshell: One of the biggest surprises of the 2013 election was the Liberals’ failure to win the western Sydney seat of Greenway, and they will be hoping a better performance from a less accident-prone candidate might secure them a gain against the trend this time.
Candidates in ballot paper order
AVTAR SINGH BILLU
One of the biggest surprises of the 2013 election was Labor’s success in retaining Greenway, its most marginal seat in Sydney, in defiance of a long-established perception that Labor faced particularly devastating results in western Sydney. The electorate covers suburbia from Blacktown and Toongabbie, about 30 kilometres west of central Sydney, through higher-income Quakers Hill and Stanhope Gardens to the urban fringe centre of Riverstone. This area accounts for the eleventh highest proportion of mortgaged dwellings out of the 150 House of Representatives electorates, and it ranks around the Sydney norm for ethnic diversity, with India and South-East Asia featuring more prominently than the Middle East. The redistribution has reshaped the southern end of the electorate, sending 7500 voters in parts of Pendle Hill and Toongabbie to Parramatta in the east, and altering its western boundary as it runs through Blacktown for a net gain of nearly 4000 voters from Chifley. The changes have little impact on the Labor margin, which goes from 3.0% to 2.8%.
Greenway was created when parliament was enlarged in 1984, prior to which Blacktown had been in Chifley, and the northern parts of what is now Greenway had been in Mitchell. It looked to be a Labor stronghold for the first decade of its existence, being held on double-digit margins by Russell Gorman throughout Labor’s time in office. Gorman’s retirement combined with the Howard landslide to rein the margin in from 13.4% to 3.4% at the 1996 election, and the margin again fell below 4% in 2001. With the retirement of Gorman’s successor, Frank Mossfield, at the 2004 election, the seat was contested for Labor by Ed Husic, a spokesman for Integral Energy and non-practising Muslim of Bosnian background. The Liberals were perhaps more astute in endorsing Louise Markus, a community worker with Hillsong Church, then located in the electorate. Amid talk of a whispering campaign targeting Husic’s religion, Markus secured a surprise victory with a 3.7% swing, aided in part by an 11.8% informal vote amid a bloated field of candidates. This delayed Husic’s entry to parliament until 2010, when he won the outer western suburbs seat of Chifley.
The electorate underwent a short-lived but dramatic transformation at the 2007 election, when it lost Blacktown to Chifley and Parramatta and gained the Hawkesbury River region, before resuming more traditional boundaries in 2010. The change delivered Markus a good turn at exactly the right moment, boosting her margin from 0.6% and 11.0% as her party braced for defeat in 2007. Markus went on to retain the seat against a 6.8% swing to Labor, before another redistribution largely reverted it to the old boundaries. This left Greenway with a notional Labor margin of 5.8%, prompting Markus to move to Macquarie, which took over the Hawkesbury region. Blacktown councillor Michelle Rowland narrowly succeeded in winning the seat for Labor at the 2010 election in the face of a 4.9% swing to the Liberals, amid a backlash against Labor across Sydney. Rowland had won preselection through a Right-backed intervention by the national executive, amid grumbling from local members. Rowland was promoted to the outer shadow ministry after the 2013 election as Shadow Citizenship and Multiculturalism Minister and Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications, exchanging the latter for the more senior position of Shadow Small Business Minister in October 2015.
The unsuccessful Liberal candidate in both 2010 and 2013 was Jaymes Diaz, a Blacktown immigration lawyer of Filipino background. Diaz’s preselection wins were owed to the local power base of his father, Blacktown councillor Jess Diaz, further support from the Christian Right, and the strong local connections Diaz had formed personally through his work as an immigration lawyer in Blacktown. Diaz’s failure to win the seat in 2010 was a source of considerable angst within the Liberal Party, as it was felt that a better local campaign might have delivered the extra seat the Coalition needed to form government. When it appeared he had the numbers to again win preselection in 2013, Tony Abbott reportedly encouraged state Baulkham Hills MP David Elliott and state government policy adviser Nick Tyrell to stand against him. Such doubts were justified by Diaz’s performance in the 2013 campaign, when his failure to identify more than one element of his party’s six-point plan went viral on social media. Rowland went on to defy the trend of the election by picking up a swing of 2.1% in her favour.
The Liberals’ new candidate in Greenway is Yvonne Keane, deputy mayor of The Hills Shire and former television presenter. Keane was also a candidate for preselection in 2013, but dropped out when it became apparent that Diaz had the numbers. A further run for preselection in the state seat of Riverstone ahead of the March 2015 election was reportedly made with a view to lifting her profile ahead of her future tilt at Greenway.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.