Margin: Labor 16.1%
Region: Outer Northern Suburbs
Outgoing member: Michael O’Brien (Labor)
Click here for electoral boundaries map
Napier consists of a concentration of suburbs in the City of Elizabeth on Adelaide’s northern fringe, from Davoren Park east to Craigmore, together with semi-rural territory further east at Bibaringa, Humbug Scrub and Sampson Flat. The former area, which provides the overwhelming majority of the voters, flourished after the war on the strength of a manufacturing sector that has long been in decline, leaving Elizabeth with among the highest unemployment in the country. The redistribution has curtailed this area at the southern end through the transfer of 5500 voters in Elizabeth North, Elizabeth Park and the southern part of Craigmore to Little Para, while expanding it at the northern end with the addition of 3000 voters in Munno Para and Smithfield Plains from Light. The changes increase the Labor margin by 0.4%.
Napier was created at the 1977 election and has at all times been held by Labor, generally by very large margins, although the Liberals came within 1.1% of victory in the 1993 landslide. The Labor candidate on that occasion was Annette Hurley, who won Labor preselection upon the retirement of the seat’s inaugural member, Terry Hemmings. Hurley won preselection ahead of Terry Groom, who had hitherto been the member for Hartley and sought to transfer to Napier following an unfavourable redistribution. Groom’s preselection defeat led him to quit the party to contest the seat as an independent, but he was nonetheless brought into cabinet by Premier Lynn Arnold in September 1992, making the election a contest between an endorsed Labor candidate and an Arnold government minister. Groom was only able to poll 13.5% of the primary vote, finishing a distant third.
Labor was back on easy street with an 8.4% swing to Hurley at the 1997 election, and she received a handy promotion to the deputy leadership when the initial nominee of her Right faction, Croydon MP Michael Atkinson, was rebuffed by a rebellion from the Left. In 2002 she boldly abandoned Napier to make what proved an unsuccessful bid for the electorally crucial neighbouring seat of Light, a traditional Liberal seat that had been made winnable after a redistribution. She was compensated for her sacrifice with a Senate seat at the 2004 election, which she held from 2005 before bowing out at the end of her term in 2011. Napier meanwhile passed on to Michael O’Brien, also of the Right faction and a close ally of Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association powerbroker Don Farrell. O’Brien won promotion to parliamentary secretary in March 2005 and to cabinet in March 2009, and was said to have been instrumental in marshalling Right faction support for the Left’s Jay Weatherill to succeed Mike Rann as Premier. He was twice promoted on Weatherill’s watch, emerging with the finance and police portfolios.
Six weeks prior to polling day, O’Brien dropped a bombshell by announcing he would bow out at the election to make his seat available to his mentor Don Farrell, who had lost his Senate seat at the September 2013 federal election. The plan was scotched when Jay Weatherill threatened to quit as Premier if it came to fruition, amid conflicting accounts of how much prior warning he had received and the nature of his initial response. O’Brien was nonetheless locked in to his decision to retire, and will be succeeded as Labor’s candidate by Jon Gee, secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union’s vehicle division. Gee prevailed in a vote of the party’s state executive over Dave Garland, a factionally unaligned official with the National Union of Workers. While Gee’s union is aligned with the Right in South Australia, it is not part of the bloc associated with Farrell and the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association. Weatherill was reportedly keen to see the seat go to Gee due to his local connections and relationship to Holden, and the result was seen as a further assertion of his authority over the SDA power bloc.
The Liberal candidate is Robert Leggatt, who works in engineering and manufacturing and served for 12 years in the Royal Australian Navy.
All post-redistribution margins are as calculated by Jenni Newton-Farrelly of the South Australian Parliamentary Library. Corrections, complaints and feedback to William Bowe at pollbludger-at-bigpond-dot-com. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.