Extending from outer northern Adelaide into rural territory beyond, Wakefield has existed in name since South Australia was first divided into electorates in 1903, but its complexion changed dramatically when its southern neighbour Bonython was abolished when the state’s representation was cut from 12 seats to 11 at the 2004 election.
Previously a conservative rural and urban fringe seat encompassing the Murray Valley and Yorke Peninsula, it came to absorb the heavily Labor-voting industrial centre of Elizabeth in the outer north of Adelaide while retaining the satellite town of Gawler, the Clare Valley wine-growing district, and the Gulf St Vincent coast from Two Wells north to Port Wakefield. Labor’s overwhelming strength in Elizabeth is balanced by strong support for the Liberals in Clare and the rural areas, along with a less pronounced leaning to the Liberals in Gawler.
Prior to 2004, Wakefield was won by the prevailing major conservative party of the time at every election except 1938 and 1943, the only two occasions when it was won by Labor, and 1928, when it was won by the Country Party. The seat was held from 1983 to 2004 by Neil Andrew, who served as speaker from 1998 onwards.
When the 2004 redistribution turned his 14.7% margin into a notional Labor margin of 1.5%, Andrew at first considered challenging Patrick Secker for preselection in Barker, but instead opted to retire. Wakefield was nonetheless retained for the Liberals at the ensuing election by David Fawcett, who picked up a 2.2% swing off a subdued Labor vote around Elizabeth to unseat Martyn Evans, who had held Bonython for Labor since 1994.
Fawcett’s slender margin was demolished by a 7.3% swing in 2007, but he would return to Parliament as a senator after the 2010 election. As was the case with Labor’s other two South Australia gains at that election, Wakefield swung strongly to Labor in 2010, boosting the margin from 6.6% to 12.0%.
Labor’s member over the past two terms has been Nick Champion, a former state party president, Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association official and staffer for state Industrial Relations Minister Michael Wright. The SDA link identifies him with the potentate of the South Australian Right, Senator Don Farrell. Champion came out in support of Kevin Rudd in the days before his unsuccessful February 2012 leadership challenge, resigning as caucus secretary to do so.
Champion’s Liberal opponent will be Tom Zorich, a local sports store retailer, former Gawler councillor and one-time player and club president of the Central Districts Football Club. Despite the size of the margin he faces, the Liberals are reportedly buoyed by weak polling for Labor in SA generally, and by Holden’s announcement in April that 400 jobs would be cut at its Elizabeth plant.