Margin: Labor 1.7%
Region: Western Sydney, New South Wales
In a nutshell: Urbanisation and immigration have transformed Parramatta from conservative to Labor-leaning over time, but a backlash across Sydney over two elections has all but worn away Labor member Julie Owens’ margin.
Candidates in ballot paper order
Parramatta has covered a shifting area around the western Sydney centre that bears its name since federation, and is currently held by Labor on a tight margin after successive heavy swings in 2010 and 2013. The electorate long covered Sydney’s broad north-western outskirts, until Sydney’s expansion caused it to become entirely urban in character after the war. Currently it extends from the town centre southwards to Granville, westwards to Wentworthville, northwards to Carlingford, and eastwards to Rydalmere. The electorate ranks fifth in the country for non-English speakers, being home to large concentrations of Chinese around Carlingford, Lebanese around Granville, and Indians in Parramatta itself. The redistribution has caused it to both gain and lose areas in the west, where 7500 in Toongabbie and Pendle Hill are gained from Greenway and over 3000 in Northmead and Old Toongabbie are lost to Mitchell, and the south, where 4000 around Granville South are gained from Blaxland while 8000 in rapidly growing Merrylands are lost to McMahon. The changes have been to the advantage of Labor, boosting their slender margin of 0.6% to 1.7%.
For most of its long history, Parramatta was a conservative stronghold, Labor’s only win prior to 1977 having been with the election of Jim Scullin’s government in 1929. Notable members included Joseph Cook, who held the seat for its first 20 years and served as Liberal prime minister from June 1913 to September 1914; Sir Garfield Barwick, member from 1958 to 1964, who served as External Affairs Minister and Attorney-General in the Menzies government before an immensely controversial tenure as Chief Justice of the High Court; and Philip Ruddock, who began his parliamentary career after winning the seat at a by-election in September 1973, adding 7.0% to what had been an extremely narrow margin in 1972. A watershed came when the 1977 redistribution effectively changed the existing seat’s name to Dundas, of which Philip Ruddock became the inaugural member, while effectively creating a new Parramatta that extended deep into Sydney’s Labor-voting west. It was then won for Labor by John Brown, the Hawke government Tourism Minister remembered for his dislike of koalas and inappropriate use of his ministerial desk. Brown resigned as minister in 1987 after it was established he had misled parliament, and was succeeded as Labor’s member by Paul Elliott in 1990.
The seat was returned to the marginal zone after redistributions in 1984 and 1993 drew it back eastwards, on the latter occasion by abolishing Dundas. Elliott was able to boost his 0.8% notional margin at the 1993 election by 2.5%, but was unseated by a 7.1% swing when the tide went out on Labor in 1996. The incoming Liberal member, Ross Cameron, held out against a relatively mild swing of 1.1% in 1998, and was able to survive an unfavourable redistribution before the 2001 election by gaining a 3.6% swing. Shortly before the 2004 election, Cameron felt compelled to tell Fairfax’s Good Weekend magazine that he had committed numerous infidelities throughout his married life, and he emerged from that election as one of only three Coalition members to lose their seat.
Parramatta has been held for Labor since 2004 by Julie Owens, a classically trained pianist, former chief executive of the Association of Independent Record Labels and member of the Left faction. Owens faced an early challenge when another redistribution in 2007 pushed the seat back to the north, but she easily accounted for the notional Liberal margin of 0.8% with a swing of 7.7%, consistent with the western Sydney trend. The redistribution pendulum swung the other way in 2010, when the seat absorbed the northern half of its abolished southern neighbour Reid, boosting the Labor margin to 9.5%. There were suggestions that Reid MP Laurie Ferguson, who had been Owens’ factional mentor, might favour moving to Parramatta and leaving Owens to contest Greenway, which had taken over the western end of the old Parramatta around Pendle Hill and Kings Langley. However, Ferguson was instead accommodated in Werriwa and Owens stayed put, surviving successive swings of 5.5% in 2010 and 3.8% in 2013.
The Liberals have chosen their candidate for Parramatta through a trial plebiscite of members of more than two years’ standing, the fruit of an otherwise unsuccessful attempt by the party’s hard Right to make such ballots the norm for all preselections. With 278 members eligible to participate, the vote was won by Michael Beckwith, development operations manager for Lend Lease, ahead of Jean Pierre Abood, a Parramatta councillor; Charles Camenzuli, a structural engineer and building consultant who ran in 2010; Maroun Draybi, a local solicitor and hardline conservative; and Felicity Finlay, a school teacher.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.