Margin: Liberal 14.2%*
Location: Sydney North Shore, New South Wales
* Liberal 14.8% versus Greens at 5/12/2009 by-election
In a nutshell: Held until last 2009 by former Liberal leader Brendan Nelson, the safe Liberal north shore seat of Bradfield was the scene of a by-election following his mid-term departure from politics. Despite vague talk of a Greens boilover, former Optus executive Paul Fletcher had no trouble retaining the seat for the Liberals.
Electorate analysis: Bradfield covers Sydney’s northern suburbs, from Chatswood north through Killara, Turramurra and St Ives to Wahroonga. The redistribution has transferred 13,800 voters around Chatswood to North Sydney in the south, and added 6600 around Normanhurst from Berowra in the west and 7000 voters at East Killara and East Lindfield from Warringah in the south-east. The cumulative effect on the margin in this uniformly strong area for the Liberals has been slight, increasing 0.7 per cent.
The Liberals have held it by large margins since its creation in 1949, the inaugural member being a venerable Billy Hughes. Brendan Nelson came to the seat in 1996 after a preselection coup against David Connolly, member from 1974. After serving in the third and fourth terms of the Howard government as education and later defence minister, Brendan Nelson emerged the surprise winner of the post-election leadership vote over Malcolm Turnbull, who he defeated 45 votes to 42. Nelson’s tenure lasted only 10 months up to September 2008, when Turnbull defeated him 45 votes to 41. Nelson announced his resignation from parliament a year later, trigger the by-election of December 5.
Competition for the Liberal preselection was predictably fierce, with no fewer than 17 contenders putting their names forward to local preselectors. The most substantial performers in the vote were Paul Fletcher, Optus executive and former staffer to Howard government Communications Minister Richard Alston; Tom Switzer, former opinion page editor of The Australian; David Coleman, executive for the Packer family’s Publishing and Broadcasting Limited; and Julian Leeser, executive director of the Menzies Research Centre. Imre Salusinszky of The Australian reported that with the exclusion of Coleman, his moderate backers “moved strategically” against Switzer (who was supported by the David Clarke Right), pushing Leeser into second place behind Fletcher, who also had strong support from moderates. With the exclusion of Switzer, Fletcher prevailed 60 votes to 51.
The Liberals’ weak performance in opinion polling over an extended period led to concerns the Greens might be competitive, but in the event Fletcher prevailed easily with 56.4 per cent of the primary vote against 25.2 per cent for the Greens, resulting in a 14.8 per cent margin after preferences. A feature of the by-election was the field of 22 candidates, engorged by a weird decision from the Christian Democratic Party to nominate nine candidates. This inevitably produced a spike in the primary vote, prompting parliament to remove political parties’ right to effortlessly nominated multiple candidates.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.