Crikey’s man in the Press Gallery, Hugo Kelly, is spending the election campaign in the nearby marginal seat of Eden-Monaro and reports that we’re still on a knife-edge.

Queanbeyan on the Sunday of a long weekend is a quiet country town. Today, many locals are enjoying a break on the coast, but in six days they go to the ballot box in a seat that for the past 30 years has been the national litmus test.

Every indication is that the Eden-Monaro result will be a nail-biter. This diverse, sprawling seat situated in Southern NSW in many ways
replicates the state of the nation.

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As do the candidates. Siting member Gary Nairn won the seat for the Liberal Party in John Howard’s 1996 landslide. His younger Labor
challenger, Kel Watt, is a NSW Right ALP operative who’s presenting a fresh face to an electorate that’s shown no real antipathy to the
established incumbent.

On the night of Mark Latham’s election launch, Kel Watt digests its likely impact over beer and pizza in his Queanbeyan HQ. Pointing to a
map of the electorate, he says: “See Bateman’s Bay in the top corner? There’s 4000 people over 75 living there.”

More than 12% of Eden-Monaro voters are over 75, and Watt’s delighted with the Medicare Gold policy.

But will the big ticket oldies item come too late? The elderly have been a strong Coalition constituent. Are they likely to swing with
Latham in the last week of the campaign?

The Canberra Times splashes with a poll on Saturday showing that Gary Nairn has a comfortable lead: 54-46. This translates to a strong
swing to Liberal, and a crushing loss for Watt.

But there are problems with this poll. First, timing: it was taken immediately after John Howard’s $6 billion Sunday launch, and before
Latham’s launch on Wednesday. And, second, it’s a telephone poll of only 206 voters in an electorate of 92,000.

That’s simply not a reliable method, or sample. Today’s Taverner Poll in the Sun-Herald shows Labor ahead 52-48 on a two-party preferred basis. While the Newspoll shows rusted-on Coalition voters in marginal seats like Eden-Monaro are proving hard for Labor to shift.

Over the past 10 days, Crikey has travelled through the seat and some consistent themes are emerging:

  • Gary Nairn is respected as a hard-working member who’s effectively represented many local interest groups;
    Kel Watt is seen as young and keen, but lacking experience;
  • Local issues are dominantly cited as key voting determinants – and health is overwhelmingly the most important to voters throughout the seat;
  • Preferences will be vital. Not just Greens, but One Nation and Christian Democrats, which have strong niche support in the
  • This seat has been marginal for many years and – whatever the result – will remain marginal;
  • If the mood in Eden-Monaro is reflected nationally, we are in for a long night on Saturday.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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