Margin: Liberal 0.9%
Location: Outer Southern Sydney, New South Wales
Outgoing member: Danna Vale (Liberal)
In a nutshell: Hughes drifted over the years from being reasonably safe Labor to reasonably safe Liberal, but successive redistributions have put it back on the map. The retirement of Danna Vale gives Labor their best chance since she took the seat off them in 1996.
Electorate analysis: Hughes covers outer southern Sydney, including Sunderland, Menai and parts of Sutherland Shire to the east of the Holsworthy military reserve, and an area including Chipping Norton and Warwick Farm to its west. The redistribution has strengthened Labor by adding 22,500 voters from Revesby Heights north to Milperra, previously in safe Labor Banks, while detaching Heathcote and Waterfall to Cunningham along with smaller transfers to Cook and Fowler.
Much was made of the Coalition’s dominance in Hughes during the Howard years, as it had only previously been won by the Liberals in 1966 in a history going back to 1955. Danna Vale won the seat from embattled Keating government Aboriginal Affairs Minister Robert Tickner in 1996 with a massive 11.4 per cent swing, and increased her majority over the next three elections. That a swing was achieved in 1998 was especially remarkable, although Vale might have been aided by Labor candidate David Hill, the former ABC managing director who had been head of Sydney Water at the time of that year’s water contamination crisis.
Hughes has moved back into contention as a result of two successive redistributions, with the town centre of Liverpool being added at the 2007 election, and the inevitable swing in 2007, which cut Vale’s margin from 8.6 per cent to 2.2 per cent. Vale is retiring at the coming election and will be succeeded as Liberal candidate by Craig Kelly, founder of the Southern Sydney Retailers Association and former first grade rugby union candidate. Labor’s candidate is Brent Thomas, a solicitor and former chief-of-staff to state government minister Carl Scully.
Craig Kelly won Liberal preselection in a local branch vote ahead of Peter Colacino, a 28-year-old infrastructure policy expert who reportedly had the backing of Danna Vale, and Sutherland Shire councillor Kent Johns. Brent Thomas won Labor preselection with backing from the Right, but had to fight off factional colleague Greg Holland as well as Liverpool mayor Wendy Waller, mentioned as a possible candidate of the Left. Glenn Milne in The Australian reported that Thomas was supported by head office, which enlisted the support of the Ferguson Left in exchange for its support for Laurie Ferguson in Werriwa.
Half way through the campaign, Phillip Coorey of the Sydney Morning Herald report internal polling had the Liberals believing that despite being strong overall in New South Wales, they were in trouble in Hughes. However, Patricia Karvelas of The Australian reported a week later that the Liberals believed they would keep the seat easily. At around that time the seat was one of four being covered by a Galaxy survey of western Sydney marginals targeting 200 respondents per electorate, which collectively showed a swing against Labor of 3.9 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 the Liberals leading 56.5-43.5.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.