Electorate analysis: The electorate of Newcastle extends from the town centre into surrounding suburbs west to Waratah and south to Merewether, also taking in the Stockton peninsula on the northern bank of the Hunter River. The electorate has existed since 1859 and has been held by Labor for all but one term since proportional representation was abolished in 1927. That term was the one that followed the Unsworth government’s defeat in 1988, when a revolt against Labor in its Hunter area stronghold delivered victory to independent George Keegan, president of the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The seat returned to the Labor fold with Bryce Gaudry’s win in 1991. The Liberal primary vote has not risen above 30 per cent since 1976, and has been much lower when strong independents have been in the field. The most recent case in point was the 2007 election, when disendorsed Labor member Bryce Gaudry and Lord Mayor John Tate ran as independents. With Tate recording 24.1 per cent and Gaudry 21.0 per cent, the Liberal vote was down 16.4 per cent to 9.8 per cent, while Labor were down 17.1 per cent to 31.2 per cent. Tate remained ahead of Gaudry as preferences were distributed, but ultimately fell 1.2 per cent short of Labor on the final count.
Described by Damien Murphy of the Sydney Morning Herald as “a sincere plodder who made a nuisance of himself during the Carr era with a long-running critique of office-winning policies”, Bryce Gaudry was dumped as Labor candidate for the 2007 election following the intervention of Labor’s national executive. The Right had initially hoped to persuade John Tate to run for them, but this enraged local Left-controlled branches which continued to back Gaudry. Tate had not been part of the Labor grouping on council, had defeated the party’s incumbent lord mayor in 1999, and floated the possibility of running as an independent at the 2003 election. Tate claimed Labor had approached him with the promise of a ministry and an assurance that Gaudry planned to retire, but rejected an offer to have the federal executive intervene on his behalf when it transpired that the latter was not the case.
Rebuffed by Tate, Morris Iemma and the party’s then state secretary, Mark Arbib, surprised everybody by having the national executive intervene in support of a new candidate, former television news reader and public relations consultant Jodi McKay. This the national executive agreed to do, splitting 13-7 in her favour on factional lines. After narrowly prevailing against a local backlash at the election, McKay won promotion to Minister for Tourism and the Hunter in the reshuffle that followed Morris Iemma’s departure in September 2008. She will again face a challenge from John Tate, who would have to be favoured to go one better this time given Labor’s desperate electoral position.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Please direct corrections or comments to pollbludger-AT-crikey.com.au. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.