Electoral Form Guide: Watson
Margin: Labor 18.4%
Location: Southern Sydney, New South Wales
In a nutshell: Once a marginal seat, an influx of migrants over recent decades has made Watson very safe for Labor. Cabinet minister Tony Burke came to the seat in 2004 after cutting his teeth for a year in the state upper house.
Electorate analysis: Watson was called St George from its creation in 1949 until 1993, reflecting the unofficial name for the area of southern Sydney around Hurstville. It currently westwards from Burwood Heights and Campsie nearest the city to Greenacre, Mount Lewis and Roselands beyond. The seat has been substantially redrawn by the redistribution, moving north due to knock-on effects from the effective abolition of Reid. Its new territory in the north adds 25,000 voters around Belfield and Burwood, which previously formed the southern part of Lowe (now called Reid, inheriting the name of its abolished neighbour). In the west it gains 19,000 voters in Greenacre and Mount Lewis from Blaxland and 4000 voters at Punchbowl from Banks. In the south it loses 27,900 voters around Kingsgrove and Earlwood to Barton, and another 18,700 in Hurstville in a sliver of territory south of the South Western Motorway to Banks. Watson thus carries over only 52 per cent of the voters from the division as previously constituted, although the impact on the margin is a fairly minor reduction of 1.9 per cent.
For much of its history Watson was a marginal seat, and changed hands frequently until Whitlam government minister Bill Morrison recovered the seat in 1980 after losing it in 1975. Labor’s hold was secured by demographic changes that have given the seat the country’s second highest proportion of voters born in non-English speaking countries. Right faction chieftain Leo McLeay came to the seat from Grayndler in 1993, holding it until his retirement in 2004. McLeay had long hoped that his son Paul would assume the seat upon his retirement but was made to abandon the idea, and he has instead emerged as the state member for Heathcote. With the loosening of the McLeay family grip, the Labor nomination went to Tony Burke, a Right faction member who entered the NSW Legislative Council in 2003 and quickly established a reputation as one of the more alert members of that chamber. Burke won immediate promotion to the shadow ministry and assumed the immigration portfolio in 2005, becoming Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister with the election of the Rudd government. In April he was further granted the new population portfolio, which Julia Gillard prefixed with the word “sustainable” in one of her first acts as Prime Minister.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.