One of the biggest surprises of the 2013 election was Labor’s success in retaining Greenway, its most marginal seat in Sydney, in defiance of a long-established conventional wisdom that Labor faced a particularly devastating result in the city’s western suburbs.

The electorate covers suburbia from Blacktown and Toongabbie, located 30 kilometres to the west of central Sydney, through higher-income Quakers Hill and Stanhope Gardens to the urban fringe centre of Riverstone. This area accounts for the eleventh-highest proportion of mortgage-payers out of the 150 House of Representatives electorates, and ranks around the Sydney norm for ethnic diversity, with India and south-east Asia featuring more prominently than the Middle East.

The redistribution has reshaped the southern end of the electorate, sending 7500 voters in parts of Pendle Hill and Toongabbie to Parramatta in the east, and altering its western boundary as it runs through Blacktown for a net gain of nearly 4000 voters from Chifley. The changes have little impact on the Labor margin, which reduces from 3.0% to 2.8%.

Greenway was created with the expansion of Parliament in 1984, prior to which Blacktown had been in Chifley, with the northern parts of the electorate accommodated by Mitchell. It looked to be a Labor stronghold for the first decade of its existence, when it was held by Russell Gorman on double-digit margins. Gorman’s retirement combined with the Howard landslide of 1996 combined to bring down the margin down from 13.4% to 3.4%, and the margin again fell below 4% in 2001.

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With the retirement of Gorman’s successor, Frank Mossfield, at the 2004 election, the seat was contested for Labor by Ed Husic, a spokesman for Integral Energy and non-practising Muslim of Bosnian background. The Liberals were perhaps more astute in nominating Louise Markus, a community worker with Hillsong Church, then located in the electorate.

Amid talk of a whispering campaign targeting Husic’s religion, Markus secured a surprise victory with a 3.7% swing, aided in part by an 11.8% informal vote amid a bloated field of candidates and the electorate’s large proportion of non-English speaking voters. This delayed Husic’s entry to Parliament until 2010, when he won the outer-western suburbs seat of Chifley.

The electorate underwent a short-lived but dramatic transformation at the 2007 election, when it lost Blacktown to Chifley and Parramatta and gained the Hawkesbury River region, before resuming more traditional boundaries in 2010. The change delivered Markus a good turn at exactly the right moment, boosting her margin as her party braced for defeat at the 2007 election.

Markus went on to retain the seat against a 6.8% swing to Labor, before another redistribution largely reverted the seat to its previous boundaries. This left Greenway with a notional Labor margin of 5.8%, prompting Markus to move to Macquarie, which took over the Hawkesbury region. The Labor margin proved barely sufficient in the face of a heavy swing against Labor throughout Sydney, reducing the margin in Greenway to 0.9%.

The seat has since been held by the ALP’s Michelle Rowland, a former Blacktown councillor who won preselection as part of a Right-backed intervention by the national executive, amid grumbling from local members. Rowland won promotion to the outer shadow ministry after the 2013 election as shadow citizenship and multiculturalism minister and shadow assistant minister for communications, before exchanging the latter for the more senior position of shadow small business minister in October 2015.

The unsuccessful Liberal candidate in both 2010 and 2013 was Jaymes Diaz, a Blacktown immigration lawyer of Filipino extraction. Diaz’s preselection wins were owed to the local power base of his father, Blacktown councillor Jess Diaz, the strong local connections he had forged through his work as an immigration lawyer in Blacktown, and support from the Christian right.

Diaz’s failure to win the seat in 2010 was a source of considerable angst within the Liberal Party, since it was felt that a better campaign locally might have delivered the Coalition the extra seat it needed to form government. Among those displeased when it appeared he had the numbers to win preselection again was Tony Abbott, who reportedly approached Baulkham Hills MP David Elliott and state government policy adviser Nick Tyrell to stand against him.

The doubts were fully justified by Diaz’s performance in the 2013 campaign, when his failure to identify more than one of the six points of his party’s election campaign plan went viral on social media. Rowland went on to retain the seat with a swing in her favour of 2.1%.

The new Liberal candidate is Yvonne Keane, deputy mayor of The Hills Shire and former television presenter. Keane was also a candidate in 2013, but dropped out when it became apparent that Diaz had the numbers, and contested preselection for the state seat of Riverstone ahead of the March 2015 election, which was reported at the time as being an effort to lift her profile ahead of a tilt at Greenway.

*This article was originally published at The Poll Bludger

As a Crikey subscriber and someone who began working as a journalist in 1957, I am passionate about the importance of independent media like Crikey. I met a lot of Australians from many walks of life during my career and did my best to share their stories honestly and fairly with their fellow citizens.

And I never forgot how important it is to hold politicians to account. Crikey does that – something that is more important now than ever before in Australia.

Liz
North Stradbroke Island, QLD

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