Bennelong will be a frontline seat in this year’s federal election. A redistribution of the electoral boundaries in NSW last year cut John Howard’s margin down to just four per cent on the Mackerras pendulum – but some authorities say the figure could be even lower.

“My seat has been made a bit more marginal by the distribution,” the Prime Minister has said this morning. But boundary changes aren’t the only thing making Bennelong bodgie for the Libs. Demography also appears to be working against the PM.

Bennelong has seen a rapid influx of new, mostly Asian, migrants in the past decade. Some observers say these new electors are more likely to vote Labor, making that four per cent buffer generous.

The census data from last year isn’t out yet, which makes it difficult to assemble a snapshot of the state of the PM’s seat. However, NSW Labor backroom boy Shane Easson has speculated that a swing to Labor in the state of three per cent “would be enough for Labor to win Bennelong in 2007” in a detailed analysis of the seat on Mumble Politics . A uniform swing of 3.3 per cent across the nation would see a change of government.

Labor polled poorly in NSW at the last election. Its 2004 two party preferred result of 48.07 per cent was its second worst performance since the Whitlam wallopings of 1975 and 77. Labor sources say that a recovery in the party’s vote to more usual levels would pump up the pressure on the PM in his own seat.

Of course, the election is still a long time away. It could be held as late as December 15.

The Government appeared to be in trouble at this time in both 2001 and 2004, yet went on to resounding election years.

Now, though, things may be different. We have new style Labor leader in Kevin Rudd – on a much firmer footing in the polls than Mark Latham last time round.

“There’s a long time between now and the election,” pollster Gary Morgan warns. “However, the electorate’s concern over issues such as IR, Hicks and Iraq running against Mr Howard, combined with Kevin Rudd’s elevation to the Labor leadership, has had a significant impact on the standing of Mr Howard and the Coalition.”

The PM won’t be pleased with the Crikey Morgan Poll’s findings on these issues, which we’ll publish through the week.

And after today’s poll results, he’ll want to know who his Labor opponent will be.

The ALP has not yet preselected a candidate for Bennelong – although there have been intriguing hints that someone strong may be preparing for a run.

Intriguing hints – and persistent speculation that the Labor could be another cricket tragic. A bloke name Steve Waugh.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey