NSW State Election 2011: Blacktown
Margin: Labor 22.4%
Region: Outer Western Sydney
Outgoing member: Paul Gibson (Labor)
Click here for NSW Electoral Commission map
Electorate analysis: Blacktown covers suburbs to the north of the Great Western Highway about 30 kilometres west of the city centre. The electorate was created in 1941 and has been won by Labor at every election except 1959, when an aberrant set of electoral boundaries pushed it into Sydney’s northern outskirts. It was held by John Aquilina from 1981 to 1991, when the abolition of Wentworthville initiated a game of musical chairs among sitting Labor members. Aquilina was persuaded to stand for Riverstone, which had moved into the northern area of the old Blacktown, while Blacktown itself went to Wentworthville MP Pam Allan. The wheel spun again with the cut in parliamentary numbers in 1999, when Allan returned to the recreated Wentworthville (since renamed Toongabbie) and Blacktown went to Paul Gibson, member for Londonderry since 1988.
Gibson is a former rugby league player for Manly who became associated with the “Terrigals” sub-faction of the New South Wales Right. Highlights of his colourful career included allegations, which he denied, that he had been provided with cash and goods by Kings Cross identity Louis Bayeh. While he was exonerated, ICAC assistant commissioner Jeremy Badgery-Parker offered a scathing assessment of the credibility of evidence he had given. He nonetheless returned him to the mix of Labor MPs chasing the reduced number of available seats when parliamentary numbers were cut from 99 to 93, to the displeasure of some who hoped that charges might force him to make way for homeless MPs Paul Whelan and Jim Anderson (respectively members for abolished Ashfield and St Marys). Gibson had reportedly received promises he would be accommodated, but his prospects in Londonderry were damaged when the party’s administrative committee shut down two branches due to branch stacking. His favoured option was Mount Druitt, held by Richard Amery of the arch-rival “Troglodytes” Right sub-faction.
The various interlocking disputes were ultimately settled when Whelan agreed to contest the Liberal-held marginal Strathfield, with Anderson moving to Londonderry and Gibson accommodated in Blacktown. Gibson’s persistent influence in the face of adversity reportedly stemmed from the backing of the National Union of Workers and his role as “an important conduit of donations from pubs to the party”, as described by Imre Salusinszky of The Australian. Another controversy erupted in November when Phil Koperberg, Labor’s candidate for Blue Mountains, said Gibson was planning to leak an apprehended violence order taken out against him by his ex-wife Kate in 1987. The Daily Telegraph reported that Gibson was “believed to be the only political figure” with access to Kate Koperberg’s order, as he had recently concluded a 10-year relationship with her. Koperberg accused Gibson of conducting a smear campaign against him which he described as “bordering on evil”, although Gibson denied the allegations.
Gibson won an enormously contentious promotion to the ministry after the 2007 election, which among other things put him at the cabinet table alongside Phil Koperberg. He was dropped very shortly afterwards when an unidentified MP told Morris Iemma he had been witness 16 years earlier to an assault by Gibson on his then partner, former Sports Minister Sandra Nori. Iemma referred the matter to police, who found there was insufficient evidence to lay charges. As the term progressed Gibson raised the possibility of running as an independent if his preselection was threatened, as seemed all but certain. He ultimately announced in December 2010 he would not seek another term, citing his mother’s ill health. This created an opening for Transport Minister and upper house MP John Robertson, who had been casting around for a safe lower house seat with a view to assuming the leadership after the inevitable election defeat.
The Liberal candidate is Karlo Siljeg, whose biography on the party website says he works in the “utilities sector”. Reports three weeks out from polling day suggest the Liberals’ prospects for the seat are brighter than they might have been assuming: the most optimistic Labor source quoted by the Daily Telegraph had Robertson between 3 and 5 per cent ahead, while others said the situation was worse than that. After intensive campaigning efforts were thrown at the seat, more positive noises could be heard from the Labor camp as polling day approached.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Please direct corrections or comments to pollbludger-AT-crikey.com.au. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.