Electoral Form Guide: Cunningham
Margin: Labor 16.9%
Location: Illawarra, New South Wales
In a nutshell: Cunningham holds the distinction of being the only federal lower house seat ever won by the Greens, due to Michael Organ’s 2002 by-election win at a nadir in Labor fortunes under Simon Crean. Sharon Bird recovered the seat at the 2004 election, and there is no reason to expect she will be troubled this time.
Electorate analysis: Cunningham was created with the expansion of parliament in 1949 around the booming industrial city of Wollongong, which had previously been in Werriwa. The seat was extremely safe for Labor prior to 2002, the margin falling below 10 per cent only in 1969. Notorious Whitlam government Minerals and Energy Minister Rex Connor came to the seat in 1963 after 13 years in state politics, remaining member until his death in August 1977. It was held subsequently by Stewart West until 1993 and by Stephen Martin until his mid-term retirement in August 2002. The latter event precipitated a by-election at which Labor candidate Sharon Bird was defeated by Michael Organ of the Greens, who benefited from a large field of independent candidates (one with the backing of local unions) directing him preferences. Feathers had been ruffled locally by the manner of Bird’s preselection, which was imposed by the party’s state executive using the much-abused “N40” rule after Bird defected from Left to Right. Organ polled 23.0 per cent of the primary vote to Labor’s 38.1 per cent, prevailing by 2.2 per cent after preferences. This was the only electoral test Simon Crean ever faced as Opposition Leader, and the only example of the Greens winning a lower house seat in Australia at state or federal level outside of Tasmania (there was a foretaste of the outcome in 1990 when the Democrats came within 2.4 per cent of winning the seat). Bird again won preselection for the 2004 election and had better luck with her second attempt, with Organ finishing third behind the Liberals.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.