Electoral Form Guide: Macarthur
Margin: Labor 0.1%*
Location: Outer South-Western Sydney, New South Wales
Outgoing member: Pat Farmer (Liberal)
* Liberal seat made notional Labor by redistribution
In a nutshell: Macarthur once had a record as a bellwether to put Eden-Monaro to shame, but redistributions and the outer suburbs’ enthusiasm for John Howard fortified it enough to withstand a huge swing in 2007. The Liberals’ position going into the election has been weakened by redistribution and the looming departure of sitting member Pat Farmer, but the asylum seeker issue and collateral damage from the state government gives them grounds for optimism.
Two-party vote map
Swing % map
Electorate analysis: Centred on the south-western Sydney exurb of Campbelltown, Macarthur had an even better record as a bellwether electorate than Eden-Monaro, being carried by the election-winning party on each occasion since its creation in 1949, until Liberal member Pat Farmer finally bucked the trend by retaining the seat in 2007. An area of rapidly developing urbanisation, the seat has been heavily affected by recent redistributions: it moved out of Illawarra in 1993 and into booming Campbelltown in 2001, respectively to the advantage of Liberal and Labor. At the 2007 election it exchanged Badgerys Creek in the north for rural territory beyond Sydney’s outskirts, which has been largely reversed by the current redistribution while also adding new urban territory in the north of Campbelltown. Both the Badgerys Creek area gained from Fowler and the rural areas lost to Hume are strong for the conservatives, but the latter is more so, such that its loss has turned a 0.7 per cent Liberal margin into 0.1 per cent Labor.
Macarthur was held for the Liberals throughout the 1949-72 government by Jeff Bate, who ran as an independent in 1972 after losing preselection. The seat then passed to John Kerin through the Whitlam years and Michael Baume under Malcolm Fraser, respectively to return following their defeats in Werriwa in 1978 and the Senate in 1984. Chris Hollis won for Labor when Bob Hawke came to power in 1983, before moving to the new seat of Throsby in 1984. Stephen Martin then held the seat until 1993, when he moved to Cunningham after redistribution slashed the margin. Chris Haviland held the seat for Labor in 1993 but lost his endorsement going into the 1996 election, at which former Premier John Fahey gained the seat for the Liberals with an emphatic 12.0 per cent swing.
The redistribution before the 2001 election produced a notional Labor margin of 1.7 per cent, prompting Fahey to cast around for another seat. His preferred destination was Hume, which caused friction with its sitting member Alby Schultz. Fahey was ultimately compelled to retire on health grounds, and new Liberal candidate Pat Farmer performed outstandingly to hold the seat with a swing of 8.7 per cent. Farmer was a former ultra-marathon runner noted for the 15,000 kilometre charity run round Australia after his wife died of heart failure. After consolidating his hold on Macarthur with a 2.5 per cent swing in 2004, Farmer went into the 2007 election with an 11.1 per cent margin. He ended up needing every bit of it, suffering a swing of 10.4 per cent.
Farmer will bow out at the coming election after losing preselection to Russell Matheson, a police sergeant and former mayor of Campbelltown. Labor has again nominated its narrowly unsuccessful candidate from 2007, local carpenter Nick Bleasdale.
Election night 2007 found Pat Farmer in a less than statesmanlike mood, reacting to the sharp swing by complaining: “I don’t know what more you have to do to please people”. He further alienated local opinion by moving from the electorate to the expensive north shore suburb of Mosman, leading most to conclude he would not be seeking an extra term. When he chose to do so, he was soundly rebuffed by local preselectors, who delivered the nomination to Russell Matheson by 22 votes to nine. Imre Salusinszky of The Australian quoted Liberal sources saying Farmer only ran to be eligible for parliamentary superannuation granted to those who serve three terms followed by “involuntary departure”. He later fished for a berth in the state seat of Camden, but withdrew when it became clear Camden mayor Chris Patterson had the nomination sewn up.
Nick Bleasdale won the right to contest the seat for Labor for a second time with an easy preselection win against Paul Nunnari, wheelchair athlete and adviser to state Campbelltown MP Graham West. There were earlier suggestions Bleasdale might get frozen out by a deal to give Macarthur to Werriwa MP Chris Hayes so his existing seat could go to Laurie Ferguson, left homeless by the abolition of his seat of Reid in the redistribution, but Hayes ended up being accommodated in Fowler. Early candidates who fell by the wayside were Camden deputy mayor Greg Warren and Campbelltown pediatrician Michael Freelander.
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 Macarthur. However, Patricia Karvelas of The Australian reported a week later that the Liberals believed they would hold the seat “easily”. At around this time the seat was being targeted by three composite polls of New South Wales marginals: a Newspoll survey of six seats around the state which collectively showed a swing against Labor of 1.3 per cent, a Galaxy survey of four western Sydney seats which had the combined swing at 3.9 per cent, and another Galaxy survey of four seats which had it at 2.4 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 Labor leading 57.8-42.2.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.