The Poll Bludger
Margin: Liberal 12.0%
Region: Southern Sydney, New South Wales
In a nutshell: The southern Sydney fringe seat of Hughes has gone from reasonably safe for Labor to reasonably safe for Liberal since the landslide that brought John Howard to power in 1996.
Candidates in ballot paper order
Hughes covers two distinct areas of outer southern Sydney, separated by the Holsworthy army base: Sutherland, Menai and Engadine, located inland of Cronulla and south of the Georges River; and the Holsworthy and Moorebank area to the north-west. The redistribution has resulted in substantial losses at the latter end in exchange for gains in the former, which have the effect of slightly boosting the Liberal margin from 10.7% to 11.8%. The newly acquired area extends from Oyster Bay on the river south to Engadine, adding around 30,000 voters from Cook, together with around 7000 voters at Heathcote immediately to the south from Cunningham. The losses account for 13,000 voters in Chipping Norton, Warwick Farm and the town centre of Liverpool, who are transferred to Fowler; 10,000 around Milperra, who go to Blaxland; and 15,000 around southern Panania, who go to Banks.
Labor was dominant in Hughes for three decades after its creation in 1955, in which time it lost the seat only in the rout of 1966. At that time the electorate extended south to the northern end of the Illawarra region, and it also included Cronulla until Cook was created in 1969 to accommodate the Sutherland Shire’s rapid post-war growth. Successive redistributions in 1984 and 1993 cleaved territory from the Illawarra end, and it fell to the Liberals in 1996 with Danna Vale’s victory over Robert Tickner, the Keating government’s embattled Aboriginal Affairs Minister. The 11.4% swing was seen to exemplify the realignment achieved by John Howard on the nation’s urban fringes, and was followed by consecutive swings to Vale over three elections, a particularly remarkable achievement in the case of the great correction back to Labor in 1998. Vale may have been assisted on that occasion by Labor’s endorsement of David Hill, the former ABC managing director who had been head of Sydney Water at the time of that year’s water contamination crisis.
Vale was brought back to earth in 2007 by a redistribution, which cut the margin from 11.0% to 8.8% by adding the Liverpool town centre, and a swing to Labor as Kevin Rudd swept to power in the November election, which pared it back to 2.2%. She retired at the 2010 election and was succeeded by Craig Kelly, founder of the Southern Sydney Retailers Association. Kelly supported Tony Abbott in the September 2015 leadership vote, and has since been part of a core of disaffected conservatives within the party.
Malcolm Turnbull nonetheless publicly endorsed in February as he faced a preselection threat from Kent Johns, an influential factional moderate and Sutherland Shire councillor. Kelly’s position in the electorate had been undermined by the redistribution, which transferred Right-dominated branches around Liverpool out of the electorate and added one on Johns’s turf at Sutherland. Johns withdrew the challenge shortly following Turnbull’s intervention, as talk radio broadcaster Alan Jones threatened to wage an on-air campaign against him over sins including his past as a Labor-aligned mayor of Rockdale. A number of other mooted challenges, including from Liverpool mayor Ned Mannoun, barrister Jeffrey Clarke and one-time Werriwa candidate Michael Medway, were either abandoned or failed to transpire.
A few days before the election was called, Mark Riley of Seven News reported that polling conducted for Liberal sources on April 29 showed Craig Kelly with a commanding lead of 58.8-41.2.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.