Margin: Labor 23.7%
Location: South-Western Sydney, New South Wales
Outgoing member: Julia Irwin (Labor)
In a nutshell: Part of a complex of ultra-safe Labor seats in western Sydney, Fowler will be vacated at the election by the retirement of Julia Irwin. Following a complex round of musical chairs, the new Labor candidate will be Chris Hayes, whose existing seat of Werriwa will go to Laurie Ferguson, who had been left homeless by the redistribution.
Electorate analysis: Fowler covers an area of Labor’s western Sydney heartland from Lansvale, Liverpool and Cabramatta in the east, through Hinchinbrook and Cecil Hills to undeveloped territory beyond the Westlink. The recent redistribution has halved the electorate’s size by transferring the semi-rural area around Badgerys Creek to Macarthur, home to about 9000 voters, also detaching chunks of territory to McMahon in the north (10,800 voters at Cecil Park) and Werriwa in the south (1500 voters in Austral). It has been compensated with a smaller urban in the east, encompassing Lansvale (adding 20,000 voters from Blaxland) and Liverpool (5500 voters from Hughes). This largely reverses the changes made in the previous redistribution, and adds 4.5 per cent to the Labor margin.
Labor has held Fowler with double-digit margins since its creation in 1984, inaugural member Ted Grace being succeeded by Julia Irwin in 1998. Chiefly noted as a critic of Israel, Irwin secured the seat with the backing of the old guard of the NSW Right, including Laurie Brereton and Leo McLeay. Irwin twice needed protection to secure her preselection in the past, and there were mixed reports about her likely job security at the coming election had she not announced in November that she would not seek another term (one report said she would have had the protection of Kevin Rudd, who wished to avoid a squabble over the succession). She has been succeeded as Labor candidate by Werriwa MP Chris Hayes, a former Australian Workers Union official who entered parliament at a February 2005 by-election caused by the resignation of Mark Latham.
Julia Irwin’s departure resolved a headache for the ALP, which had been absorbed by a game of musical chairs resulting from the effective abolition of Laurie Ferguson’s seat of Reid. Ferguson was at first determined to be accommodated in Fowler, but a deal was in force reserving the seat for the Right, which also dominated local branches. He was instead made to settle for Werriwa, displacing Chris Hayes to highly marginal Macarthur. Irwin’s departure gave Hayes, a fellow member of the Right, an immensely more attractive safety net, and also allowed local favourite Nick Bleasdale to again contest Macarthur, where he narrowly fell short after a double-digit swing in 2007.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.