Margin: Nationals 9.0%*
Location: North Coast, New South Wales
* Independent 23.9% versus Nationals at 6/9/2008 by-election
In a nutshell: Based around Port Macquarie and traditionally a stronghold for the Nationals, Lyne was lost to an independent after former party leader Mark Vaile pulled the plug on his political career mid-term. The new member is Rob Oakeshott, who was originally elected as Nationals member for the state seat of Port Macquarie in 1996 before parting ways with the party in 2002.
Electorate analysis: Created in 1949 and based for most of its history around Port Macquarie, Lyne became the only seat to change hands in the current term when independent Rob Oakeshott won the seat after the resignation of former party leader Mark Vaile. It covers a 100 kilometre stretch of coastline up to 400 kilometres north of Sydney, the main population centres being Port Macquarie (home to 33 per cent of the population, and a mainstay of the electorate outside of 1977 to 1984 when it was in Cowper) and Taree (14 per cent). Smaller centres include Old Bar, Lake Cathie and Harrington on the coast, and Wauchope and Wingham further inland. The redistribution has added 3800 voters in the Shire of Gloucester at its interior southern end from Paterson. The electorate includes the entirety of the state electorate of Port Macquarie, which Oakeshott won as the Nationals candidate at a 1996 by-election – narrowly defeating John Barrett, the independent who ran Vaile close in 1993. Oakeshott was promoted to the front bench after the 1999 election, but he quit the party in March 2002, claiming local branches were controlled by property developers and questioning the party’s relevance in an electorate transformed by tourism and demographic change.
Oakeshott was re-elected resoundingly in 2003 and 2007, and few doubted Lyne was his for the taking when Vaile resigned. He duly inflicted a heavy defeat on Nationals candidate Rob Drew, former mayor of Port Macquarie, polling 63.8 per cent of the primary vote and winning with a 23.9 per cent margin after preferences. This was the Nationals’ first ever defeat in the electorate, although Vaile had a tough struggle over Liberal candidate John Barrett when he entered parliament on the retirement of Bruce Cowan in 1993. Vaile subsequently enjoyed an unexpected rise to cabinet in 1997 after National Party ministers John Sharp and Peter McGauran resigned over that year’s travel rorts affair, and had become John Anderson’s heir apparent as party leader by the time he quit the job in July 2005. In July 2008 he followed Peter McGauran and Alexander Downer as the first Howard government ministers to head for the parliamentary exit. The new Nationals candidate is Port Macquarie medical specialist David Gillespie.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.