Margin: Labor 0.2%*
Location: South Coast, New South Wales
* Liberal seat made notional Labor by redistribution
In a nutshell: Gilmore has been in conservative hands for all but one term since its creation in 1984, but the Liberals’ hold has been threatened by a redistribution that has added some of the strongest Labor territory in the land in the southern Illawarra. However, they retain two formidable cards in their hand: the long-term incumbency of sitting member Joanna Gash, and a troubled Labor preselection process.
Two-party vote map
Swing % map
Electorate analysis: A traditional Liberal seat put on a knife-edge by the redistribution, Gilmore covers the south coast of New South Wales from the southern half of Shellharbour through Kiama, Nowra and Ulladulla to Murramarang National Park. The redistribution has transferred 14,000 voters in and around Batemans Bay at the southern coastal end to Eden-Monaro (reversing a change from the previous redistribution), while adding over 20,000 voters in strongly Labor Shellharbour from Throsby. Incomes in the newly added area are in fact higher than the existing areas of the electorate, but the Illawarra’s industrial base gives it a very different electoral profile – one manifestation of which was a particularly strong WorkChoices-driven swing against the Liberals there in 2007.
Gilmore was created with the expansion of parliament in 1984, when it extended deep inland through Goulburn to strong Nationals territory around Young and Cowra. John Sharp held the seat for the Nationals until 1993, when the interior area was transferred to Hume in exchange for southern Illawarra territory around Kiama. This prompted Sharp to instead contest Hume, and Labor’s Peter Knott narrowly gained Gilmore with a 1.1 per cent swing. Joanna Gash gained the seat for the Liberals with a 6.7 per cent swing in 1996 and limited the counter-swing to 2.2 per cent in 1998, before scoring the biggest swing in the country (10.1 per cent) when Knott attempted a comeback in 2001. This was reckoned to have been influenced by Knott’s campaign assessment that the United States’ foreign policy had “come back to bite them” as smoke still rose from the rubble of the World Trade Centre. Further evidence for the Knott effect was provided by the 4.6 per cent correction in Labor’s favour in 2004. A 5.3 per cent swing to Labor in 2007, roughly in line with the state average, reduced Gash’s margin to 4.1 per cent.
Joanna Gash was a Wingecarribee councillor before the Liberal state executive hand-picked her as candidate for Gilmore in 1996, which at the time was a front-line seat with a 0.5 per cent Labor margin. Gash remained on the back-bench throughout the Howard years, before winning promotion to shadow parliamentary secretary for tourism after the 2007 election defeat. She was dumped from this position after Malcolm Turnbull’s successful leadership challenge in September 2008, having been a solid supporter for Brendan Nelson, before recovering the position when Tony Abbott became leader in December 2009. Labor has again nominated its candidate from 2007, Neil Reilly, the president of the party’s local federal electorate council
Labor initially chose as its candidate former Rabbitohs player David Boyle, a non-local whose imposition by the party’s national executive generated extreme displeasure in the local party. Neil Reilly had been hoping to contest the rank-and-file ballot which the local party was denied, as was Glen Sims, a Culburra real estate agent. Boyle evidently took the backlash to heart, announcing his withdrawal in June. A local vote was duly held, with Reilly prevailing over Sims 50 votes to 14. The state party earlier took an unprecedented decision to ban state MPs from seeking federal preselection, one of whom was rumoured to be ousted Police Minister and Kiama MP Matt Brown who fancied a stab at Gilmore. This was interpreted as a move to prevent electorally damaging associations between state and federal government.
Late in the second week of the campaign, Tony Abbott promised $20 million to upgrade a notorious section of the Princes Highway between Ulladulla and Batemans Bay.
At the end of the first week of the campaign, the Illawarra Mercury published an IRIS poll of 400 respondents which gave Joanna Gash a hefty primary vote lead of 58 per cent to 31 per cent over Neil Reilly, with the Greens on 11 per cent. This translated into a 60-40 lead on two-party preferred. The margin of error on the poll was a bit under 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 a similar poll of four seats by Galaxy a week out from polling day, which had the swing at 2.4 per cent. However, 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 53.4-46.6.