Electorate analysis: Ryde was one of two seats which Labor lost to savage by-election swings in the current term, the other being Penrith. The by-election was initiated by the retirement of Deputy Premier John Watkins, and was one of four held the following October 18, along with Lakemba, Cabramatta and Port Macquarie – respectively vacated by Morris Iemma, Reba Meagher and Rob Oakeshott. The Liberals picked up a record-shattering swings to win what had previously been a fairly safe Labor seat without having to go to preferences.
Ryde covers a short stretch of Sydney Harbour’s north shore at Meadowbank to the west of the city, extending north through Denistone to Marsfield and Macquarie Park. Having earlier existed as a seat as far back as 1894, Ryde was recreated in 1999 with the abolition of Gladesville and Ermington. Labor’s John Watkins, a teacher and former Hunters Hill deputy mayor, had won Gladesville from Liberal incumbent Ivan Petch in 1995; Michael Photios had held Ermington for the Liberals since it replaced Ryde in 1991, having won Ryde from Labor in 1988. The new seat of Ryde had a notional Liberal margin of 4.1 per cent, and there were suggestions Watkins might seek a safe haven in Wentworthville (now Toongabbie). This did not transpire, and Watkins and Photios went head-to-head at the 1999 election. Watkins easily prevailed, picking up a 10.7 per cent swing. Another 8.9 per cent swing in 2003 lent substance to Morris Iemma’s claim he was “one of the greatest marginal seat campaigners in Labor history”, despite a 4.9 per cent correction in 2007.
A major player in the Left, Watkins made the front bench after the 1999 election and demonstrated his seniority in the Left when he secured the factional prize of the deputy leadership when Andrew Refshauge stepped aside in August 2005. prompting the reshuffle attempt which cost Morris Iemma the leadership. He announced his retirement in September 2008, citing family reasons. The Liberals’ candidate for the by-election held on October 18 was solicitor and former Ryde councillor Victor Dominello, who won preselection over Hunters Hill councillor Richard Quinn by 22 votes to 17 in the final round. Labor’s hapless nominee was Ryde councillor Nicole Campbell, previously tasked with taking on John Howard in Bennelong in 2001 and 2004. A 15.0 per cent collapse in the Labor primary vote was harnessed entirely by the Liberals, who were up 25.7 per cent to 54.3 per cent. The two-party swing was 23.1 per cent, producing a Liberal margin of 13.0 per cent.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Please direct corrections or comments to pollbludger-AT-crikey.com.au. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.