Electoral Form Guide: Hunter
Margin: Labor 15.8%
Location: Hunter Region, New South Wales
In a nutshell: A federation seat held originally by Edmund Barton, Hunter has been in Labor hands for exactly 100 years. Current member Joel Fitzgibbon served as Defence Minister for the first 18 months of the Rudd government before being compelled to stand aside.
Electorate analysis: Hunter has covered a relatively stable area of the Upper Hunter valley since it was created at federation, including Maitland and Muswellbrook. The redistribution has added part of the Mid-Western Regional local government area in the west from Parkes, accounting for 2000 voters mostly in the towns of Kandos and Rylstone, while adjusting its south-eastern boundaries with Hunter in Maitland to remove 2200 voters at Hillsborough and Maitland Vale on the northern bank of the Hunter River and in a slither of East Maitland. The changes have had a negligible effect on the safe Labor margin.
With Labor-voting mining communities outweighing surrounding rural areas, Hunter has been has been held by Labor since 1910. Its members have included Australia’s first Prime Minister Edmund Barton, failed 1920s Labor leader Matthew Charlton and (briefly) failed 1950s Labor leader Herbert “Doc” Evatt. The seat underwent a significant change with the creation of neighbouring Charlton when parliament was enlarged in 1984, taking over the strong Labor areas of Wallsend and Toronto outside Newcastle. The result was a more rurally oriented Hunter in which the Labor margin was cut from 22.6 per cent to 5.0 per cent. Eric Fitzgibbon was nonetheless able to steadily build up the Labor margin during his period as member from 1984, assisted by demographic change resulting from urban development.
In 1996 the seat was bequeated to Fitzgibbon’s son Joel, who survived the stigma of his close association with Mark Latham to emerge as Defence Minister with the election of the Rudd government. Fitzgibbon received adverse publicity in 2009 over the relationship of himself and his father and a Chinese-Australian businesswoman, which was the subject of a covert investigation by Defence Department officers purportedly concerned over security implications. He resigned from the ministry the following June over meetings between departmental officials and his brother Mark, the head of health fund NIB, which were deemed to have breached the ministerial code of conduct.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.