Margin: Liberal 2.9%
Location: Southern Adelaide, South Australia
In a nutshell: Labor hasn’t held Boothby since 1949, but it might have cleared the hurdle in 2007 if not for a disastrous campaign. If their newest candidate proves less accident prone than the last, Liberal member Andrew Southcott will have a fight on his hands.
Two-party vote map
Swing % map
Electorate analysis: The southern Adelaide electorate of Boothby extends from Brighton and Marino on the coast through the outer edge of the coastal plain to Myrtle Bank, and out into the hills at Belair, Eden Hills, Bellevue Heights and Flagstaff Hill: an area marked by a high level of religious observance and with relatively few young families. The seat’s Liberal leaning is softened by the area around the defunct Tonsley Park Mitsubishi plant, the only part of the electorate with below average incomes and above average ethnic diversity. This area has usually reversed the overall patten of Liberal support in the high fifties. The 2004 election produced a partial convergence, with the Labor suburbs swinging slightly to the Liberals and the remainder following the trend of Adelaide’s affluent areas in going solidly to Labor, but the WorkChoices factor in 2007 saw Tonsley Park and its surrounds swinging back to Labor against a largely status quo result elsewhere.
Boothby was created when South Australia was first divided into electorates in 1903, at which time it was landlocked and extended north into the eastern suburbs. Its coastal areas were acquired when the neighbouring electorate of Hawker was abolished in 1993. Labor held the seat for the first eight years of its existence, and remained competitive until the Menzies government was elected in 1949. This began a long-term trend to the Liberals which peaked in the 1970s, when margins were consistently in double digits. Former Premier and Liberal Movement figurehead Steele Hall held the seat from 1981 until he was succeeded by Andrew Southcott in 1996.
Sniffing a potential upset ahead of the 2007 election, Labor poached what it imagined to be a star candidate in Nicole Cornes, a minor celebrity in Adelaide through her lightweight Sunday Mail column and marriage to local football legend Graham Cornes. State Treasurer and Right faction powerbroker Kevin Foley, a friend of the couple, had initially made the offer to Graham, a former Liberal supporter who had used his own newspaper column to rail against John Howard over the Iraq war. When this was knocked back the invitation was extended to Nicole, Foley perhaps sensing a parallel with Jackie Kelly and her win in Lindsay in 1996. Unfortunately, embarrassing performances before the media soon showed her to be out of her depth, and she ended up managing a swing of 2.4 per cent against a statewide result of 6.8 per cent.
Andrew Southcott came to the seat at the age of 26 after winning preselection at the expense of fellow moderate Robert Hill, the faction’s leading light in the Senate. Tony Wright of the Sydney Morning Herald wrote that the Right had built up strength in local branches with a view to unseating its hated rival Steele Hall, and when denied by his retirement turned its guns on Hill as a “surrogate”. Unlike Hill, who went on to become government leader in the Senate, Southcott has led an unremarkable parliamentary career, finally winning promotion after the 2007 election defeat to the Shadow Minister for Employment Participation, Apprenticeships and Training. However, he was demoted to parliamentary secretary for health when Tony Abbott became leader in December 2009, after backing Malcolm Turnbull in the leadership vote.
Labor’s candidate is Annabel Digance, a former nurse and member of the SA Water Board who reportedly had the backing of the Right faction, to whom the seat was designated under factional deals. Christian Kerr of The Australian claimed in the months before the March 2010 state election that Liberals were “obsessed” with the idea that Chloe Fox would contest the seat, as she did creditably in 2004, if she was defeated in her state seat of Bright, where she ended up surviving by 167 votes. Michael Owen of The Australian reported that despite her brusing experience in 2007, Nicole Cornes – now working as an industrial officer for the Right faction Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association – was said to be a genuine future prospect by a “senior ALP figure”.
The JWS Research-Telereach poll conducted on the final weekend of the campaign, covering 400 respondents with a margin of error of about 5 per cent, had Labor leading 53.6-46.4 in Boothby. In the midst of the Labor’s disastrous second week of the campaign, The Advertiser conducted a poll of 564 Boothby voters which showed the Liberals with a 52-48 two-party lead, representing a 1 per cent swing to Labor. On the primary vote, Andrew Southcott was on 46 per cent against 35 per cent for Annabel Digance, 10 per cent for the Greens and 3 per cent for Family First. Further attitudinal questions showed the Liberals leading as best party to manage the economy 48 per cent to 43 per cent, Labor leading on the River Murray 46 per cent to 29 per cent, and 45 per cent of respondents believing Gillard cared more about families against 36 per cent for Tony Abbott. The margin of error on the poll is about 4 per cent. In the second last week of the campaign, Boothby was one of four South Australian marginals covered by a Galaxy survey of 800 respondents, and it showed no swing across the four.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.