Margin: Liberal 0.6%
Location: Hunter Region, New South Wales
In a nutshell: Paterson changed hands regularly in the past, but Liberal member Bob Baldwin has carried the seat into opposition after strong performances in 2004 and 2007. The slender margin is tantalisingly within Labor’s reach, but Baldwin’s local popularity and the weight of older voters in the electorate will make it a tough nut to crack.
Electorate analysis: Paterson covers the New South Wales north coast from Port Stephens inland to East Maitland, and north to Foster-Tuncurry on the coast. Labor is strong in and around East Maitland, but the remainder of the electorate is solidly conservative, particularly the rural areas. According to George Megalogenis‘s demographic tables prepared for the 2007 election, it ranked fourth in the country for voters over 55 and seventeenth last for median household income. A seat bearing the name first existed between 1949 and 1984, but it was oriented further to the north and west, taking in Maitland, Muswellbrook and Scone. The current incarnation of the electorate has been coastally oriented since it was created in 1993.
The redistribution has removed 3800 voters in the dairying region of Gloucester inland of Foster-Toncurry to Lyne, and adjusted its southern boundaries with Hunter in Maitland (adding Hillsborough and Maitland Vale on the northern bank of the Hunter along with a sliver of East Maitland, amounting to 2200 voters) and Newcastle (removing a small area around Duckenfield). The changes are favourable to Labor at both ends, reducing the margin from 1.5 per cent to 0.6 per cent.
Paterson has changed hands three times since 1993 between Labor’s Bob Horne (winner in 1993 and 1998) and the Liberals’ Bob Baldwin (1996, 2001 and 2004). Baldwin’s win in 2001 was assisted by a redistribution which added Forster and Tuncurry, resulting in a 2.5 per cent shift that made the seat notionally Liberal. In 2004 Baldwin faced an opponent other than Bob Horne for the first time, and enjoyed his first comfortable win following an evenly distributed 5.5 per cent swing that was not replicated in neighbouring electorates. This gave Baldwin enough of a buffer to survive a 4.8 per cent swing to Labor in 2007. Baldwin was promoted to parliamentary secretary in January 2006, and to Shadow Defence Science and Personnel Minister after the election defeat. He opposed Malcolm Turnbull in his leadership contests with Brendan Nelson and Tony Abbott.
Labor has again nominated its unsuccessful candidate from 2007, Health Services Union organiser and former ambulance officer Jim Arneman, who was also narrowly defeated in his bid to succeed a retiring Labor member in Port Stephens at the March 2007 state election.
Two polls emerged late in the campaign showed Labor with surprise slight leads in Paterson, making doubly interesting Julia Gillard’s decision to visit the electorate two days out from polling day. 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 51.6-48.4. There followed a Patterson Market Research conducted for the Newcastle Herald, also of 400 respondents, which had the Labor lead at 51-49, from primary votes of 42 per cent Liberal, 40 per cent Labor and 8 per cent Greens.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.