Some happenings from the slow-motion train wreck that is the New South Wales state election campaign:
- Pauline Hanson has announced she will make yet another run for election, this time as a candidate for the New South Wales Legislative Council. This is her second tilt at this particular office, her first being in 2003 when she polled an insufficient 1.8%. Hanson has often been accused of running for office to access generous public funding arrangements for candidates with enough profile to clear a vote threshold, but the system in New South Wales was reformed late last year to prevent that happening (and in any case, she failed to clear the threshold in 2003). Antony Green offers a lowdown on Hanson’s electoral life and times.
- Imre Salusinszky of The Australian reported on Monday that Labor’s furniture-saving strategy involved abandoning any seat with a margin in single figures and focusing its energies on seats within the range of 10% to 25%. With new campaign finance laws limiting expenditure in any given electorate to $150,000, Labor reportedly plans to knock on the door of such limit in its western Sydney and Illawarra heartlands, while limiting the spend in its held seats of Blue Mountains and Heathcote to $20,000.
- The Greens have announced they will direct preferences to independent Gordon Bradbery in Wollongong. This is bad news for Labor member Noreen Hay, who was found by an Illawarra Mercury local poll last week to hold a narrow 53-47 lead over Bradbery, a local Wesley Uniting Church minister.
- Damon Cronshaw of the Newcastle Herald reports Lake Macquarie councillor Barry Johnston will run as an independent in Charlestown, where Labor member Matthew Morris will battle to defend his 14.6 per cent margin.
- Nominations close at noon today.
Meanwhile, I will continue to build on my election guide region by region and provide overviews in turn. The newest additions are from the Newcastle/Hunter region and its rural surrounds, home to a brace of seats in the low-teens margin range where the results are expected to be closest.
The last time the Hunter region expressed its displeasure with Labor in a big way was with the defeat of the Unsworth government in 1988, when Newcastle and Swansea were won by independents, Cessnock fell to a Liberal and Port Stephens went within an ace of going the same way. The rebellion proved short-lived: Labor comfortably recovered the three seats it lost in 1991 and boosted its margins where they had held on.
The picture since has been of Labor security in every electorate except Port Stephens, which the 1991 redistribution rendered winnable for the Liberals. However, they were not able to fulfil their promise until the retirement of sitting member John Bartlett in 2007, when Liberal candidate Craig Baumann secured a 68-vote win.
The 2007 election also saw Labor again come under assault from independents, unseating them in Lake Macquarie and running them close in Newcastle. This election represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Liberals to make more serious inroads in the Hunter region than just Port Stephens, although there is again the complication in some seats that independents might beat them to it. The seats of consequence are as follows:
Wallsend (Labor 15.6%): Wallsend covers the north-western suburbs of Newcastle, and has an unbroken record as a Labor seat going back to 1894, including when it was named Kurri Kurri from 1930 to 1968 and exclusing its abolition during the proportional representation years of 1920 and 1927. Sonia Hornery came to the seat at the 2007 election, and may have done herself some local favours by publicly opposing the privatisation of an aged care facility in her electorate, costing her her position as parliamentary secretary. The Liberals have endorsed Christopher Dolan, a paediatric nurse at John Hunter Hospital’s neo-natal intensive care unit. A Newcastle councillor, Shayne Connell, is running as an independent.
Charlestown (Labor 14.6%): Charlestown succeeded the abolished seat of Kahibah in 1971; between them they have been in Labor hands since 1927, outside the interruption of an independent Labor in the early 1950s. Part of a local Labor dynasty, Matthew Morris has held the seat since 2003. His Liberal opponent is Andrew Cornwell, a veterinarian.
Cessnock (Labor 12.4%): Outside of the interruption of proportional representation between 1920 and 1927, Labor won Cessnock at every election after its creation in 1913 with the exception of 1988, when Liberal candidate Bob Roberts defeated sitting member Stan Neilly. Neilly recovered the seat in 1991, and it has been held since by Kerry Hickey. With Hickey joining the Labor exodus at the coming election, the seat will be contested for Labor by Port Stephens council officer Clayton Barr. Barr is opposed by councillors galore: mayor Alison Davey for the Nationals, James Ryan for the Gerens and independents Allan McCudden and Dale Troy, who was elected to council as a Liberal.
Swansea (Labor 10.8%): Formerly held by the notorious Milton Orkopoulos, currently serving 13 years for offences including s-xual assault of a minor, Swansea stayed in Labor hands with Robert Coombs’s comfortable win in 2007. This time Coombs faces not only Liberal candidate and Lake Macquarie deputy mayor Garry Edwards, but also independent Gillian Sneddon — a former staffer to Orkopoulos who informed police of a call she had received from a man claiming to have been abused by him at the age of 15. Sneddon has since been seeking compensation for harrassment and bullying she claims to have been subjected to in the office afterwards.
Newcastle (Labor 1.2% versus Independent): Newcastle has been held by Labor for all but one term since proportional representation was abolished in 1927. The exception again involved the Unsworth government’s defeat in 1988, when it fell to Newcastle Chamber of Commerce and Industry president and independent candidate George Keegan. Current member Jodi McKay was only just able to hold off further independent challenges after sitting member Bryce Gaudry was dumped for preselection in 2007. Lord Mayor John Tate polled 24.1% of the vote last time, while Gaudry himself managed 21%. Tate is again taking the field, and McKay does not appear well placed to hold him off.