Electoral Form Guide: Fraser
Margin: Labor 15.1%
Location: Northern Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
Outgoing member: Bob McMullan (Labor)
In a nutshell: Created when the Australian Capital Territory was divided into two seats in 1974, Fraser has been held at all times by Labor. Bob McMullan is bowing out as member at the coming election, to be succeeded as Labor candidate by economist Andrew Leigh.
Electorate analysis: Fraser was created in 1974 when the electorate of Australian Capital Territory was divided into two. It takes in the entirely urban northern part of Canberra, while Canberra itself extends into Namadji National Park. Prior to the current election it included an extension south of the water at Barton and Kingston, but a redistribution of the two ACT seats has moved this area to Canberra. Whereas Canberra fell to the Liberals between 1975 and 1980 and again at the 1995 by-election, Fraser has been held at all times by Labor. Bob McMullan came to the seat in 1998 when the ACT reverted to two seats after one term with three, having previously been the member for Canberra. This involved the displacement of Steve Darvagel, who had come to the seat only the previous February at a by-election held to replace the retiring John Langmore. McMullan’s vacancy in Canberra was filled by Annette Ellis, previously member for the abolished Namadji. The dramatic redistributions that resulted from the creation and abolition of Namadji had little effect on the margin, which remained fairly stable across subsequent elections.
McMullan announced he would not contest the next election in January 2010, amid suggestions from ousted ACT party secretary Bill Redpath that national secretary Karl Bitar’s refusal to allow an earlier preselection indicated he was pushed as much as jumped. Factional players were evidently keen that Fraser and Canberra should be vacated by McMullan and Ellis, who duly announced her retirement shortly after, to make way for Nick Martin of the Right, the party’s assistant national secretary, and Michael Cooney of the Left, a former adviser to Mark Latham and Kim Beazley and current chief-of staff to ACT Education Minister Andrew Barr. In the event the nomination in Fraser went to Andrew Leigh, a Harvard-educated economist, academic and blogger. The Liberals have nominated James Milligan, a small business owner from Gungahlin.
The near-simultaneous retirement announcements by Labor’s two lower house ACT members, Bob McMullan in Fraser and Annette Ellis in Canberra, initiated two of the most hotly contested preselection bouts of recent times. In each case the final outcome was rated a surprise, and a rebuff to factional powerbrokers. Arrangements between the local Left and the Centre Coalition (Right) factions were expected to deliver Fraser to the Left’s Nick Martin, the party’s assistant national secretary, while Canberra would go to the Centre Coalition’s Mary Wood, an adviser to Housing Minister Tanya Plibersek. However, the array of candidates who emerged was formidable enough to make talk of such a deal seem more than usually distasteful. As well as Leigh there was George Williams, University of New South Wales constitutional law maven and member of the Right, the apparently well-connected Michael Pilbrow, chair of the West Belconnen Health Co-Operative, and at least half-a-dozen others. The Left leadership put the Martin-Wood deal to a vote of the faction’s rank-and-file, but it was defeated by one vote. According to a Canberra Times source, this resulted from concern it would unite all other factions against Martin, along with doubts the Centre Coalition would be able to retain a united front. A Left source told the Canberra Times there was a view the faction would be better off securing an arrangement with Brodtmann, who had stitched together a cross-factional support base in pursuit of her own bid for Canberra. Opponents of the deal included Bob McMullan and Chief Minister Jon Stanhope, who both supported Pilbrow.
In the event Andrew Leigh prevailed over Martin in the final ballot was 144 votes to 96, while Canberra went to public relations consultant Gai Brodtmann. Stephen Dziedzic of the ABC reported Martin suffered from a decision of “several independent and underdog candidates” to preference him last, made because “they just realised it was the only tactic that offered any of them a glimmer of hope”. As a result, “Martin took a big lead in the first round, but it was steadily whittled away by Leigh as the preferences flowed to him”. James Massola of the Canberra Times reports the Labor Unity faction, which in local terms is a “right-leaning faction” distinct from the Centre Coalition, threw its weight behind both Leigh and Brodtmann after its own candidates dropped out.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.