One
ingredient in the argument for why John Howard will, should, or might
retire at the end of the year is the fate of his seat of Bennelong. It
has become steadily more marginal over the years, and ever since it was
announced that NSW would be losing a seat in the redistribution it has
been speculated that Bennelong might become sufficiently dicey to push
Howard towards retirement.

When the draft proposals were released, there were some estimates
that Howard’s margin (currently 4.3%) would drop to around 3%, and that
figure is still being hawked around. But more careful analysis has
vindicated Howard’s lack of concern: Malcolm Mackerras,
writing in Crikey last week, put it at 3.6%, but even that is on the
low side. The fullest analysis comes from NSW Labor heavy Shane Easson,
published by Peter Brent at the Mumble website, who puts the change to Bennelong at only 0.2%: 4.3% down to 4.1%.

I’ve
checked Easson’s figures, and the calculation is quite straightforward.
The proposed Bennelong has all 85,444 voters from the old Bennelong,
among whom the ordinary Liberal vote (ie the vote at the booths,
excluding postals, pre-polls and absentees) was 53.72%
two-party-preferred (all figures available here).
To that it adds 5,535 voters from the old Parramatta, spread across
three booths that in aggregate voted 47.1% Liberal. It also adds 1,782
from the old Berowra (Roselea booth), at 63.5%. Adding and
cross-multiplying gives a new ordinary Liberal vote of 53.51%, a shift
of 0.2%.

Matching old booths to new boundaries is not an exact
science and, although these ones are all reasonably clear, 0.2% is well
within the likely margin of error. That means Howard is unlikely to
lose any sleep over the boundary changes; their effect will be
outweighed by other factors, such as the absence of 2004’s high profile
Greens candidate, Andrew Wilkie. (Easson comments that “Wilkie had no
impact on the 2004 result”, but coming from the NSW right, with its
pathological hatred of the Greens, that’s no more than one would
expect.)

All this will have to be reassessed later in the year
when the final boundaries are released. But since Bennelong is well
away from the areas of controversy in the outer suburbs and west of the
mountains, it’s very likely that the commissioners will stick with
their original version.

Peter Fray

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