The regions we’ve looked at so far, covering 37 of New South Wales’s 93 seats, include the majority of those that will be worth watching on Saturday. A lot of the rest are Coalition-held, and there’s really no need to worry about any of them this time: a contrast to the last three elections, in each of which the opposition had to spend resources defending its own seats as well as trying to make gains on the government.
But there are also some interesting seats sprinkled around the rest of the state. Here are 10 to add to your list, arranged roughly from north to south.
Tamworth: Independent Peter Draper holds this northern provincial seat (profiled in today’s Herald) by 24.9% against Labor, but only 4.8% against his real opponents, the Nationals. With the size of the overall swing to the opposition this will be a tough ask for him to hold, although the advantage of incumbency in the bush shouldn’t be underestimated. In other independent-related action, Richard Torbay’s big majority should see him through in neighboring Northern Tablelands, while by contrast Dubbo, where the Nats came within a few hundred votes last time, is likely to one of the first to go.
Port Macquarie: Based on the north coast city of the same name, Rob Oakeshott’s old seat looks like being another independent loss. Peter Besseling has a margin of 4.5% against the Nationals, and some of the anger against Labor will inevitably rub off on him; the size of the swing could be an interesting pointer to Oakeshott’s fate when it comes to a federal poll. As in many places, the Coalition agreement keeps the Liberals away from this seat, even though it is far removed from the rural Nationals’ heartland.
Bathurst: Immediately west of the Blue Mountains, covering Bathurst, Lithgow and surrounding areas, this is one of Labor’s few country seats. With a margin of 13% and a sitting member (Gerard Martin) who is pulling the plug, it’s another likely opposition gain; the flip side of strong support for incumbents in places such as this is that seats frequently change hands when their MP retires. Although Lithgow is strongly working-class, the rest of the seat is not naturally good Labor territory.
Strathfield: At the western end of Sydney’s inner-west region, Strathfield is held for Labor by my friend Virginia Judge with a margin of 15.1%. Since that’s about the swing most polls are tipping, this could be a close result; demographic change in the area seems to be working in Labor’s favor, but it’s a tough year to be a Labor minister no matter where your seat is. Neighboring Drummoyne, on just 7.6%, will already have been written off.
Marrickville: Inner west; the heavily gentrified suburbs immediately south-west of the city, held by deputy premier Carmel Tebbutt. Labor’s margin here against the Liberals is a more-than-healthy 31.2%, but the problem is the Greens: the margin against them is only 7.5%. Controversial for their opposition to Israel as well as general neo-stalinist tendencies, the Greens are nonetheless heavy favorites if Labor is doing as badly as the polls suggest. Marrickville would therefore join neighboring Balmain, which on 3.7% is a near certainty to go Green.
Heffron: Embattled premier Kristina Keneally holds inner-city Heffron, immediately south of Sydney CBD, with a margin of 23.7%. In a normal election and against an average Labor candidate this would be a serious target for the Greens (they had 19.7% of the primaries here in 2007); as it is, they and the Liberals will split the anti-Labor vote and probably let Keneally back, although it will certainly be worth watching.
Maroubra: Sydney’s eastern suburbs, at the southern and less-affluent end; Labor is sitting on a 16.1% margin. This seat sits within federal Kingsford-Smith, and Michael Feneley, the Liberal candidate who did well there last year, is now taking on sitting member Michael Daley, one of the ALP leadership hopefuls. Very much a contest to watch; Labor needs to hold the line in seats such as this to preserve some credibility. They have pretty much conceded more Liberal-friendly Coogee (7.2%) to the north.
Wollongong: Based on its namesake city; Labor-held on 25.3%, which would usually be considered rock-solid. Labor is on the nose in the whole region though, and independent candidate Graham Bradbery is given a serious chance of winning. Neighboring Keira (22%), in Wollongong’s northern suburbs, should be secure, although in this climate who knows?
Kiama: At the southern end of the Illawarra region, Kiama was considered marginal in 2007, but Labor’s Matt Brown gained a 3.7% swing in his favor to give him a current margin of 12%. Since then, however, he lost his ministry in one of the more unedifying of Labor’s many scandals, so it’s unlikely he’ll be able to stand out against the tide this time.
Monaro: Stretching from south of Goulburn to the Snowy Mountains, Monaro (6.3%) is noteworthy as being the only Labor seat with a single-figure margin that anyone thinks they might hold. Incumbent Steve Whan won it from the Nationals in 2003 and seems to have built up a strong personal following, so he may just be able to hang on. Consisting largely of urban Queanbeyan, this is another seat that the Liberals might have had a better chance in than the Nationals.
So in total? I count about a dozen seats Labor can be confident of holding, and another 20-odd in which they still have a fighting chance. A good result for the government would put it in the high 20s — a Coalition majority somewhere about 27 — but it’s easy to imagine Labor dropping to about 15, giving Barry O’Farrell a majority pushing 50. This is going to be one to tell your grandchildren about.