Electorate analysis: Riverstone is located in Sydney’s north-western suburbs, extending from Quakers Hill up the Blacktown-Richmond railway to Windsor. Labor has held the seat since its creation in 1981, and it has been a regular focal point of struggles within the party. One such episode followed the cut in parliamentary numbers in 1991, which produced a scramble among Labor MPs for the reduced number of safe seats. The member at that time was Richard Amery, a figurehead of the Right sub-faction known as the “Troglodytes”. With the margin cut in half by redistribution, Amery’s faction wished for him to be accommodated in the safer seat of Mount Druitt, and for Riverstone to be contested by Pam Allan of the Left, whose seat of Wentworthville had been abolished. The Left argued that Amery should stay put and that Allan should get a safer seat due to the party’s commitment to affirmative action. The situation was resolved when the Right’s John Aquilina volunteered to contest Riverstone, making his own safe seat of Blacktown available to Allan. A member of parliament since 1981, Aquilina had served as a minister in the Unsworth government and remained on the front bench during the first two terms under Bob Carr. He was dropped after the 2003 election, and is joining the exodus of long-serving members at the coming election. Aquilina successfully pressed to have lawyer and local party branch president Michael Vassili succeed him as Labor candidate, in what was seen as an endeavour to prevent a candidate being imposed by head office.
For the third election in a row the Liberals have endorsed Kevin Conolly, a Catholic Education Office project officer and former high school teacher who has been associated with Right powerbroker David Clarke. With the dramatic improvement in the Liberals’ electoral fortunes, Conolly faced a tougher road to preselection this time around. Civil Contractors Federation chief executive David Elliott was frequently mentioned as being interested in the seat, having failed to topple David Clarke for his upper house preselection, but he was ultimately able to secure the more attractive prospect of Baulkham Hills. Conolly eventually prevailed over Nick Tyrell, a 29-year-old Blacktown councillor. Among those displeased by the outcome was local party activist Anthony Geno Belcastro, who burned his membership renewal card and will run as an independent. Tyrell was also approached by Tony Abbott to to run in the federal seat of Greenway, but felt he would be unable to win preselection in the face of opposition from Clarke. Labor decisively retained the seat in the teeth of a backlash throughout western Sydney, prompting a round of post-election finger-pointing about Clarke’s influence.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Please direct corrections or comments to pollbludger-AT-crikey.com.au. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.