Margin: Nationals 14.6%
Location: Southern Regional, New South Wales
Outgoing member: Kay Hull (Nationals)
In a nutshell: The Nationals have held Riverina since 1980, but with the retirement of Kay Hull it could potentially become the latest of their seats to fall to the Liberals upon the retirement of a long-serving sitting memer. Former Daily Advertiser Michael McCormack faces off as Nationals candidate against Cargill Beef marketing and innovation manager Andrew Negline for the Liberals.
The electorate of Riverina has existed in the south-west of New South Wales since federation, except between 1984 and 1993 when it merged into Riverina-Darling, in which its traditional base around Griffith was supplemented with Broken Hill and the state’s empty north-west. Riverina lost its traditional connection with the Victorian border when it was recreated, and currently extends from Gundagai and Wagga Wagga north to Cootamundra and West Wyalong, and west to Griffith. The seat was fairly marginal for most of its history, until Country Party member Adam Armstrong picked up a 10.2 per cent swing in 1966 that appeared to settle the issue. There then followed one of the most remarkable results of Australian history at the 1969 election, when former state Murrumbidgee MP Al Grassby succeeded in his apparently quixotic bid to win the seat for Labor on the back of an 18.8 per cent swing.
After serving as Immigration Minister in the first term of the Whitlam government, and winning national fame for his colourful sartorial style, Grassby was narrowly defeated in 1974 by Country Party candidate John Sullivan, following what Labor speech-writer and Whitlam biographer Graham Freudenberg reckoned to be a “virulent racist campaign”. Also in the field at the 1974 election was Liberal candidate Donald Mackay, who disappeared in 1977 after treading on the toes of local drug trade interests. Grassby went on to face criminal defamation proceedings for allegedly asking a state MP to suggest that Mackay’s wife and son knew something about his fate, for which he was eventually acquitted in 1992.
In the meantime, Riverina returned to the Labor fold in 1977 when the addition of Broken Hill produced a 14.2 per cent shift in the party’s favour, resulting in a 51-vote win for John Fitzpatrick. The gentlest of shifts in the other direction in 1980 delivered the seat to Noel Hicks of the Nationals, who survived 1983 and narrowly held Riverina-Darling for the nine years of its existence. The 1993 redistribution did the Nationals a good turn by moving Broken Hill to unloseable Parkes, thereby making a safe seat out of the recreated Riverina. Hicks was succeeded in 1998 by Kay Hull, who is bowing out at the coming election. This presents an opportunity for the Liberals, who have nominated Cargill Beef marketing and innovation manager Andrew Negline for the Liberals. The Nationals candidate is Michael McCormack, former editor of the Daily Advertiser.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.