Electoral Form Guide: Parramatta
Margin: Labor 9.5%
Location: North-Western Sydney, New South Wales
In a nutshell: Parramatta has had a variable recent history, as much due to redistribution as changes in electoral fortune. Julie Owens gained the seat for Labor in 2004 from Liberal incumbent Ross Cameron, survived an unfavourable redistribution in 2007 on the back of a general swing to Labor, and has now been left fairly secure by the latest redistribution.
Electorate analysis: The electorate of Parramatta extends from the Parramatta town centre south to Granville, west to Wentworthville, north to Constitution Hill and Carlingford and east to Dundas Valley and Rydalmere. Not for the first time, the electorate has been substantially affected by redistribution, this time on account of the abolition of its southern neighbour Reid. The former territory of Reid now accounts for the electorate’s southern half, which includes 46,000 of the electorate’s 99,000 voters (much of this area had been transferred out of Parramatta in the redistribution before last). It also gains 5400 voters in an area around South Wentworthville immediately to the west from Prospect (which has been renamed McMahon). Counterbalancing this is the loss of slightly under half of its voters in the western end of the electorate as previously constituted, from Pendle Hill north to Lalor Park and Kings Langley, which go to a dramatically transformed Greenway, along with another 9500 voters around Winston Hills further to the east, who go to Mitchell. The absorption of such a large area from safe Labor Reid, together with the loss of Liberal-leaning territory in the north, has been a tremendous boon to Labor member Julie Owens, whose margin is boosted from 6.9 per cent to 9.5 per cent.
Parramatta was created at federation, shrinking over time from Sydney’s broad north-western outskirts into the immediate area of the town itself. A conservative stronghold until 1929, it was held for the first 20 years by Joseph Cook, who served as Liberal prime minister from June 1913 to September 1914. Labor’s only win prior to 1977 came with the election of Jim Scullin’s government in 1929, when their candidate Albert Rowe picked up a 13.4 per cent swing. This was undone with a vengeance when the Scullin government was defeated in 1931, when the seat swung 19.5 per cent to the newly founded United Australia Party. Subsequent members included Sir Frederick Stewart, who served as External Affairs Minister for one highly eventful year from 1940 to 1941; Sir Garfield Barwick, Menzies government External Affairs Minister and Attorney-General, and later controversial Chief Justice of the High Court; and Philip Ruddock, who began his parliamentary career when he won the seat at a by-election in September 1973, adding 7.0 per cent to what had been an extremely narrow margin in 1972.
The watershed in the seat’s history came with a 1977 redistribution that effectively changed the existing seat’s name to Dundas, of which Philip Ruddock became the inaugural member, while creating a new seat of Parramatta that extended deep into Sydney’s Labor-voting west. The newly safe Labor seat was won by John Brown, the koala-hating Hawke government Tourism Minister who is remembered for inappropriate use of his ministerial desk. Brown resigned as minister in 1987 after misleading parliament and quit politics in 1990, when he was succeeded in Parramatta by Paul Elliott. Redistributions in 1984 and 1993 returned the seat to the marginal column by pulling it back to the east, reducing the margin to 1.0 per cent ahead of the 1993 election. Elliott was able to increase his margin on that occasion, but the 1996 election proved a bridge too far, with Liberal candidate Ross Cameron picking up the seat with a 7.1 per cent swing.
Cameron held Parramatta against the 1998 GST swing (a relatively mild 1.1 per cent) and a highly unfavourable redistribution in 2001, which like the current one pushed the electorate southwards. In 2004 Cameron felt compelled to tell Fairfax’s Good Weekend magazine that he had committed numerous infidelities throughout his married life, and his defeat at the hands of Labor’s Julie Owens made him one of only three Coalition MPs to lose his seat at the 2004 election. The redistribution before the 2007 election pushed the seat back northwards to the benefit of the Liberals, resulting in a notional Liberal margin of 0.8 per cent, but Owens easily accounted for this with a 7.7 per cent swing consistent with the western Sydney trend.
Julie Owens is a classically trained pianist who had been chief executive of the Association of Independent Record Labels. Owens is associated with the Left faction, having won preselection with support from factional chieftain Laurie Ferguson, who until now has been the member for Reid. When Reid was abolished with the preselection there was speculation Ferguson might wish to fall back on Parramatta, as he had openly mused might happen amid suggestions the seat would be abolished before the previous election. The suggestion was that Owens would instead contest Greenway, which had emerged from the redistribution with a notional Labor margin of 5.6 per cent. However, Ferguson was instead accommodated in Werriwa, and Owens has been left undisturbed.
In the second last week of the campaign, Julia Gillard promised a $2.1 billion contribution to the 14 kilometre rail link between Parramatta and Epping, located in neighbouring Bennelong, which would fill a missing link in the network between Sydney’s west and north. However, federal funding will not appear until 2014-15, lest it prevent the budget getting back in surplus in 2012-13. The present state government, which promised the project a decade a go but put it on the back-burner when it announced its transport strategy in February, promises to provide the remaining $520 million upfront, allowing work to start next year with completion scheduled for 2017. However, Barry O’Farrell says a state Coalition government would prefer to prioritise a north-west link from Epping to Rouse Hill and a south-west line from Glenfield to Leppington, which Labor has chosen to overlook.
In week two Liberal candidate Charles Camenzuli received uncomfortable publicity when Channel Nine revealed he had been criticised by a Supreme Court judge. The court ordered Camenzuli to stop publishing criticisms of building industry rival Beechwood Homes on his website, with the judge saying his actions had been “motivated by personal spite”.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.