Every Crikey reader has been told that Eden-Monaro, in regional New South Wales, is a “bellwether seat”, having gone with the side that formed government at every federal election since 1972. But there’s one seat, also in NSW, with a much more impressive record: Macarthur, south-west of Sydney, has gone to the winner at every election since its creation in 1949.

So why aren’t we all ogling Macarthur in 2007? Because it is now safe as houses for the Liberal Party – with an 11% margin, and no-one expects it to change hands. And it’s not redistributions that have made it so; people there are just voting (federal) Liberal these days.

Labor last won the seat in 1993, which was of course the last time it won government. Back then the national two party preferred Labor vote was 51.4%. At the most recent election, in 2004, Labor got 47.2% nationally, which is a cumulative swing of 4.2% over 11 years.

And Macarthur’s cumulative swing to the Liberals over the same time? It’s bang on 18%, more than four times the nationwide figure. And Macarthur’s behaviour is only the most extreme of a string of seats on Sydney’s outer fringes.

On the AEC graph below (boundaries as at the 2004 election; I’ve added the slightly more inner Greenway), the arc begins at Hughes down south, and goes through Macarthur, Lindsay, Greenway, Robertson and Dobell. All were held by Labor in 1993 and are now in Liberal hands.

This table shows their cumulative pro-Liberal swings from 1993 to 2004; the average across all is a little under 15%. The NSW swing 1993 – 2004 is 6.3%.

Macarthur 18.1
Hughes 16.8
Lindsay 14.7
Greenway 13.6
Robertson 12.3
Dobell 12.3

And just to ram the point home, this graph shows Labor’s two party preferred votes from 1993 to 2004 in those seats, and NSW and Australia-wide. These votes are adjusted for redistributions.


The main lesson to take here is that each of these electorates was above the national line in 1993, but is below it today.

You get the picture I think: these electorates have moved to the Liberals big-time. And it’s only redistributions that have made Lindsay and Dobell winnable for Labor this time. (They might also take Robertson.)

Some folks call them “battlers” seats, but “aspirational” is more accurate, or even plain old “mortgage belt”. They’re wealthier than the dozen or so safe Labor seats further in.

It happened first in Sydney, but there’s been similar movement on the fringes of most of the capitals cities over the past decade. They’ve swung more and more to the Libs. But at the state level over the same period these sorts of areas have voted Labor. Not at the first election which saw Carr/Beattie/Bracks etc elected, but starting with the one after that.

So maybe they’ve become incumbent-lovers, or electoral followers.

Many observers expect the mortgage belt to swing back (more than the average) to Labor if they win the election, but this isn’t likely. However, at the first re-election, if state history is any guide, you can expect them to come a-running.

As the mortgage belt has traditionally been seen as the election-deciders of federal elections, Labor’s continuing poor support there presents a conundrum in 2007. If Labor is to win, where will the seats come from?

That’s an interesting question, but the more important point is this: if Labor gets 53 or 54% of the two party preferred vote he will romp home, and the seats will come from somewhere.

Labor won’t win Macarthur or Hughes, but may do well in the most surprising of places.

Is Joe Hockey’s CV up to date?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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