Margin: Labor 2.3%
Location: South-Eastern Regional, New South Wales
In a nutshell: Eden-Monaro has made itself a household name by going the way of the winning party at every election since 1972. Mike Kelly did the job on Howard government minister Gary Nairn in 2007, and the fate of the Gillard government presumably hangs on his ability to hold off Liberal challenger David Gazard.
Two-party vote map
Swing % map
Electorate analysis: Taking in the south-eastern corner of New South Wales, including Queanbeyan, Cooma, Tumut and the coast from Batemans Bay south to Eden and the Victorian border, Eden-Monaro is renowned throughout the land as the seat that goes with the party who wins the election. Until 2007 its record as a bellwether was in fact surpassed by Macarthur, which had gone with the winning party at every election since its creation in 1949, but while Eden-Monaro stayed true to form by being among the seven New South Wales seats to switch from Coalition to Labor, Liberal member Pat Farmer held on in Macarthur.
Eden-Monaro possibly owes its record to being broadly representative of the state at large, if not the entire country, incorporating suburban Queanbeyan, rural centres Cooma and Bega, coastal towns Eden and Narooma, and agricultural areas sprinkled with small towns. Furthermore, the area covered by Eden-Monaro has been remarkably little changed over the years, whereas Macarthur’s varying fortunes have largely been determined by redistributions. The most recent redistribution has essentially reversed the effect of that before the 2007 election, which added the shires of Tumut and Tumbarumba (about 10,000 voters) from Riverina and transferred about 14,000 voters in and around Batemans Bay at the northern coastal end to Gilmore. Both affected areas are conservative, but the latter more so than the former, so that Labor’s margin has been cut from 3.4 per cent to 2.3 per cent.
The boundaries of the electorate have always been defined by the ocean in the east and the Victorian border in the south, and its relative population decline has roughly cancelled out the effects of increases in the size of parliament. The most significant aberration was when it acquired a north-western spur that took in Goulburn between 1934 and 1977. Outside of the interruption from 2007 and 2010 when it expanded westwards to Tumut and Tumbarumba, its boundaries since 1998 have been almost identical to those it had before 1913. Labor’s strongest area is the Canberra satellite town of Queanbeyan, not counting its outer suburb of Jerrabomberra. The coastal area can be divided into a finely balanced centre and areas of Liberal strength at the northern and southern extremities, respectively around Batemans Bay and Merimbula. The smaller inland towns are solidly conservative, but Cooma is highly marginal. Swings to Labor were recorded throughout the electorate in 2007, standouts results in Eden and Bega in the south being balanced by relatively subdued swings in Queanbeyan and at the northern coastal end.
Eden-Monaro was held by conservatives of various stripes for all but one term until 1943, the exception being Labor’s 40-vote win when Jim Scullin’s government came to power in 1929. Allan Fraser won the seat for Labor with the 1943 landslide and held it against the tide in 1949 and 1951. He was defeated in 1966 but was back in 1969, finally retiring in 1972. The loss of his personal vote almost saw the seat go against the trend of the 1972 election, with the Country Party overtaking their conservative rivals for the first time to come within 503 votes of victory. The Country Party again finished second in 1974, this time coming within 146 votes of defeating Labor member Bob Whan (whose son Steve unsuccessfully contested the seat in 1998 and 2001, and is now the state member for Monaro). However, 1975 saw the Liberals gain strongly at the expense of the Country Party as well as Labor, and their candidate Murray Sainsbury won the seat with a two-party margin of 5.6 per cent. Sainsbury held the seat until the defeat of the Fraser government in 1983; the same fate befell his Labor successor, Jim Snow, who was swept out by a 9.2 per cent swing when Labor lost office in 1996, and then Gary Nairn, who served as Special Minister of State from January 2006 until the November 2007 election defeat.
Labor’s successful candidate was Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Kelly, a military lawyer who had been credited with efforts to warn the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade about the AWB kickbacks scandal, and the Australian military about possible abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. Kelly was installed as candidate a week after the party’s national conference empowered the state executive to appoint candidates in 25 key seats over the heads of the local party branches. Despite having caused his party embarrassment during the campaign for appearing to back , Kelly won immediate promotion to parliamentary secretary for defence support, shifting to the water portfolio in February 2009. The Liberals have nominated David Gazard, who according to Tim Colebatch of The Age “has the unique distinction of having been an adviser to John Howard, Peter Costello and Tony Abbott”, and has more recently been acting director of the ACT Liberals. Gazard won preselection ahead of regional sales representative Duncan Haskins and small business operator Benjamin Innes.
Patterson Market Research produced a heartening poll for Labor in the first week of the campaign which had Labor with a thumping 61-39 two-party lead in Eden-Monaro, from primary votes of 53 per cent for Labor member Mike Kelly, 36 per cent for Liberal candidate 36 per cent and 9 per cent for the Greens. This came from Patterson’s usual small sample of a bit over 400, resulting in a margin of error of about 5 per cent. The electorate was also one of six New South Wales marginals covered by a Newspoll survey in the second last week of the campaign, targeting 200 respondents per electorate, which collectively showed a swing against Labor of 1.3 per cent; and one of four covered by a similar Galaxy poll a week out from polling day, which had the swing at 2.4 per cent. The JWS Research-Telereach poll conducted during the final weekend of the campaign, covering 400 respondents in the electorate with a margin of error of about 5 per cent, had Labor leading 53.5-46.5.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.