Electorate analysis: Swansea covers the thin strip of land between Lake Macquarie and the ocean, including Swansea itself and the southern outskirts of Newcastle, and further territory to the south as far as Lake Budgewoi. Since its creation in 1981 it has been won by Labor at every election other than 1988, when independent Ivan Welsh with help from a local backlash over the government’s unpopular opposition to a second bridge over the entrance to Lake Macquarie. The defeated Labor member, Don Bowman, recovered the seat from Welsh in 1991 and finally retired in 1995. The seat was then bequeathed to his electorate officer, Jill Hall, who moved to federal politics as the member for Shortland at the 1998 election. Then came the turn of an electorate officer to Hall, Milton Orkopoulos, who entered the annals of political infamy when he was sentenced to 13 years’ jail on 2008 for 28 offences of sexual assault of a minor, indecent assault and related charges of supplying heroin and cannabis.
The charges against Orkopolous were laid in November 2006, and his subsequent resignation left the seat without a member until the election the following March. During this period other Labor members in the region came under the spotlight as reports emerged that Orkopoulos’s activities were the subject of widespread rumour in local party circles. Fearing that a local rank-and-file ballot might produce a candidate with links to him, Morris Iemma and party state secretary Mark Arbib enlisted the ALP national executive to impose an outsider, Maritime Union of Australia national president Robert Coombs. Despite the party’s recent woes, Coombs suffered a fairly moderate 6.2 per cent swing to retain the seat with a 10.9 per cent margin.
Coombs’ Liberal opponent at the coming election is Garry Edwards, the deputy mayor of Lake Macquarie. Also in the field is Gillian Sneddon, a former staffer to Orkopoulos who reported to police a call she had received from a man who claimed to have been abused by him at the age of 15. Sneddon claimed she was subjected to harrassment and bullying in the office for a year thereafter, and has since been seeking compensation.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Please direct corrections or comments to pollbludger-AT-crikey.com.au. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.