South of metropolitan Sydney is the Illawarra region. Three of its four seats are safe Labor, but the fourth, Kiama, has been made marginal by redistribution and is held by only 8.3%.
This is another must-win seat for the opposition and looks like being an interesting contest, but in light of the statewide polls over the last fortnight it will not be an easy task.
Further south, the seat of South Coast, based on Nowra, was the sole Liberal gain in the 2003 election. It is now the opposition’s third-most marginal seat, with Labor needing a swing of just 1.6% to win it back.
A month ago, most observers dismissed that possibility, but it’s now being taken quite seriously. Even if things get really bad for the Liberals, however, Bega (4.7%) should be pretty secure.
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The remaining seats of interest are all inland, where Labor’s support is thin but independents have been a growing challenge to the Nationals. First up, however, is a Liberal seat, Goulburn (formerly called Southern Highlands), object of the party’s star recruit, Pru Goward.
Goward (who originally tried for preselection for Epping) is being freely talked about as a future leader, but first she has to win the seat: the margin against Labor is a not-entirely-safe 4.5%, and there is also a prominent independent in the field, Goulburn mayor Paul Stephenson.
Further west, the knock-on effects of the redistribution that created Wollondilly and rearranged Goulburn have made Burrinjuck, another former marginal, safe for the Nationals on 12.4%.
South of Goulburn, however, is the perennial marginal seat of Monaro, based on Queanbeyan. Labor won it from the Nationals in 2003 and now holds it by 4.4%. With a new incumbent, this looks a harder task for the Nats than Tweed.
In the north of the state, two independent-held seats roughly correspond to the federal seat of New England. Richard Torbay, who got 71.3% of the primary vote last time, looks safe in Northern Tablelands, but the Nationals are making a serious effort to regain Tamworth, where Peter Draper beat them by just 2.5% in 2003.
A close independent-Nationals contest is also expected in Dubbo, where Dawn Fardell sits on a notional post-redistribution margin of just 0.3%, although she scored 55.2% two-candidate-preferred against the Nationals in the 2004 by-election. None of the independents should be taken for granted, since determined attempts to regain seats like this have repeatedly failed in the past.
Finally, in the far west of the state is one of the most interesting contests of the election. Peter Black, Labor member for Murray-Darling, has done badly out of the redistribution and his seat is now notionally Nationals-held with a margin of 1.4%.
But Black (reported in Saturday’s Australian as having “[drunk] the assembled journalists under the table” during Morris Iemma’s visit last week) has been in this position before and held on, and the betting is that he will do so again – raising the possibility that the opposition could actually go backwards in terms of seats.