Margin: Labor 0.1%
Location: Blue Mountains, New South Wales
Outgoing member: Bob Debus (Labor)
In a nutshell: Macquarie has been much affected over recent years by redistributions, the latest of which has left it on a knife-edge by exchanging Labor-leaning Bathurst and Lithgow for Sydney’s conservative western outskirts. Candidate factors mean Labor starts from behind – Liberal Louise Markus currently represents the newly added area as member for Greenway, while Labor’s long-serving state and federal member Bob Debus is not seeking another term.
Two-party vote map
Swing % map
Electorate analysis: The Blue Mountains electorate of Macquarie has undergone massive changes at redistributions ahead of both the 2007 and 2010 elections, the second almost entirely reversing the effects of the first. In 2007 it exchanged the Hawkesbury local government area (to Greenway) for country areas beyond the mountain range, including Bathurst, Lithgow and Oberon (from Calare). This turned a Liberal margin of 8.9 per cent at the 2004 election into a notional Labor margin of 0.5 per cent, to which Labor’s candidate – Bob Debus, former state government minister and member for Blue Mountains – added a 6.6 per cent swing that easily disposed of sitting Liberal member Kerry Bartlett. The effective reversal of these changes has left Labor with the most slender of margins, returning 41,000 mostly conservative voters around Richmond at the foot of the Blue Mountains (43 per cent of the total).
Macquarie has had an uninterrupted existence since federation, having been concentrated on Bathurst and Lithgow before moving into Sydney in 1977. Ben Chifley gained the seat for Labor in 1928, lost it again in 1931, and twice tried unsuccessfully to return before finally prevailing in 1940. Labor thereafter held the seat without interruption until the dark years of 1975 to 1980, with Ross Free returning it to the party fold at the 1980 election. The redistribution wrought by the expansion of parliament in 1984 saw the Sydney areas of Penrith and St Marys hived off to the new seat of Lindsay, which all but eliminated the Labor margin. Free jumped ship to the new seat, and Alasdair Webster gained Macquarie for the Liberals after picking up a small but decisive swing. Labor’s Maggie Deahm won the seat with a 164-vote margin in 1993, which was easily accounted for by a 6.5 per cent swing to Liberal candidate Kerry Bartlett in 1996.
Bob Debus will retire at the coming election after one term in federal parliament and a career in state politics going back to 1981. His successor as Labor candidate is Susan Templeman, principal of Templeman Consulting, who sells herself as “one of the country’s leading media trainers and coaches”. The Liberal candidate is Louise Markus, who is vacating the seat of Greenway which she won for the Liberals in 2004, the redistribution having turned it into a metropolitan seat with a solid Labor margin. A community worker with Hillsong Church before entering parliament, Markus was made shadow parliamentary secretary for immigration and citizenship after the 2007 election defeat, shifting to veterans affairs when Malcolm Turnbull became leader in September 2008.
When Bob Debus announced in June 2009 that he would withdraw from the ministry and not seek another term, there was soon-forgotten talk that Labor hoped to recruit either former netballer Liz Ellis or St Vincent DePaul Society chief executive John Falzon. Glenn Milne wrote in The Australian that the Debus camp was putting it about that his departure from the ministry – which greatly aided Kevin Rudd as he sought to construct a new cabinet in the wake of Joel Fitzgibbon’s resignation as Defence Minister – was conditional upon him being given the right to anoint his own successor. This was hotly disputed by Right powerbrokers who were bitterly opposed to Debus’s objective of freezing out industrial barrister and Blue Mountains mayor Adam Searle, a “soft Left” colleague but a personal rival. Searle had earlier sought to succeed Bob Debus as state member for Blue Mountains, but was thwarted when Debus recruited Rural Fire Services commissioner Phil Koperberg.
The “hard Left” reportedly wished for the national executive to decide the issue in favour of Susan Templeman, and to this end its figurehead Anthony Albanese successfully pushed for the decision to be made by a rank-and-file ballot, despite his own role in imposing numerous candidates elsewhere as part of the party’s national executive. This marked a win for Albanese over Right faction warlord Senator Mark Arbib, who wanted the national executive to nominate Searle. Searle suffered a further blow when the party’s credentialing committee voted down a bid to have 30 out of the 143 preselectors ruled invalid on grounds of branch stacking, and he subsequently withdrew complaining a “fair” vote would not be possible. Templeman went on to win the local ballot 84 votes to 34 over the only other nominee, former policewoman Donna Ritchie.
Half way through the campaign, Phillip Coorey of the Sydney Morning Herald included Macquarie among five New South Wales seats where internal polling had the Liberals feeling confident, and there were similar noises from Patricia Karvelas of The Australian a week later. Morgan conducted a 300-sample poll of the electorate a week out from polling day, and it recorded a 53-47 lead to the Liberals. The electorate was also covered by three composite marginal seat polls conducted in the second last week in the campaign, targeting 200 respondents per electorate: a Newspoll survey of six New South Wales seats which collectively showed a swing against Labor of 1.3 per cent, a Galaxy survey of four seats in western Sydney which had the combined swing at 3.9 per cent, and another Galaxy poll of four seats statewide which had it at 2.4 per cent.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.