The Poll Bludger
Margin: Nationals 14.2%
Region: Mid North Coast, New South Wales
In a nutshell: Following the excitement of Rob Oakeshott and his support for the Gillard government, the mid-north coast electorate of Lyne reverted to its safe Nationals ways at the 2013 election.
Candidates in ballot paper order
RODGER JOHN RIACH
Lyne is a normally safe Nationals seat in the Mid North Coast region of New South Wales that was held from 2008 to 2013 by Rob Oakeshott, one of the two country independents who used their balance of power position to decide the 2010 election in favour of Labor. The redistribution has dramtically changed the electorate by drawing it southwards, as its southern neighbour Paterson fills the void created by the abolition of the Hunter region seat of Charlton, and Lyne absorbs the northern parts of the old Paterson. This area includes the major population centre of Foster-Tuncurry, and accounts for around 45,000 voters. At the other end, 37,000 voters in and around Port Macquarie, which had long been the focal point of Lyne, have been transferred to Cowper. The electorate now extends from the north shore of Port Stephens at Tea Gardens through Foster-Toncurry to Lake Cathie, just south of Port Macquarie. Its main population centre further inland is Taree, and it also retains Wauchope and Laurieton just outside of Port Macquarie.
The new boundaries of Lyne are broadly similar to those that applied between 1977 and 1993, which was the only previous period in a history going back to 1949 when the electorate was not centred on Port Macquarie. The National/Country Party held the seat without interruption until 2008, although Mark Vaile was run close by the Liberals when he came to the seat on the retirement of Bruce Cowan in 1993. Vaile went on to serve as Nationals leader and deputy prime ministership from July 2005 until the defeat of the Howard government in November 2007, which was followed nine months later by his retirement from politics.
The ensuing by-election was won by Rob Oakeshott with 63.8% of the vote, compared with 22.9% for his Nationals opponent. Oakeshott had begun his political life as the Nationals member for Port Macquarie in 1996, but he quit to sit as an independent in March 2002, complaining that the party’s local branches were controlled by property developers and questioning its relevance in an electorate transformed by tourism and demographic change. He would later say he had also been offended by a racist remark made at a party function about his wife, who is of Aboriginal and South Sea Islander descent. Oakeshott had been re-elected with big margins in 2003 and 2007, and few doubted Lyne was his for the taking when Vaile resigned.
Oakeshott’s vote fell to 47.2% when a Labor candidate was in the field at the 2010 election, and his two-party margin over the Nationals was down from 23.9% to 12.7%. His subsequent decision to support a Labor minority government was not favourably received, with a Newspoll survey conducted a year later finding only 26% intending to vote for him compared with 47.1% for a yet-to-be-determined Nationals candidate. That turned out to be David Gillespie, a local gastroenterologist who was best man at Tony Abbott’s wedding, who had also run unsuccessfully in 2010. Together with the other country independent who had sustained her in government, New England MP Tony Windsor, Oakeshott announced he would not recontest his seat just hours before Julia Gillard was deposed as Prime Minister.
Gillespie had no trouble recovering the seat for the Nationals at the subsequent election, the Liberals having declined to field a candidate under the terms of the state Coalition agreement. After the new boundaries for the latest redistribution were unveiled, it was reported that Bob Baldwin, whose had lost all of his healthy margin in Paterson, was considering quitting the Liberal Party to run against Gillespie as an independent in Lyne. However, he shortly ruled out the idea, declaring himself “completely loyal” to the Liberal Party.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.