NSW State Election 2011: Blue Mountains
Electorate: Blue Mountains
Margin: Labor 11.1%
Region: Katoomba and Blue Mountains
Outgoing member: Phil Koperberg (Labor)
Click here for NSW Electoral Commission map
Electorate analysis: The electorate of Blue Mountains is bisected by the Great Western Highway, which runs through the population centres of Blaxland, Springwood, Katoomba and Blackheath (from east to west), and includes large areas of national park to the north and south. The redistribution has added Blaxland at the east end of the highway (from Penrith) and removed Hartley in the west (to Bathurst), each transfer accounting for about 900 voters. The seat was created in 1968 in place of abolished Hartley, which was held by Labor from 1907 until it fell to independent Harold Coates in 1965 (not counting the interruption of proportional representation between 1920 and 1927). Coates continued as member for Blue Mountains until 1976, when he was narrowly defeated by Labor’s Mick Clough. This result was a decisive factor in the election of the Wran government as Coates was widely considered sympathetic to the Liberals, who had not fielded a candidate against him.
Bob Debus became member in 1981 after Clough moved to Bathurst, and would eventually serve as Attorney-General in the Carr/Iemma government. Debus’s political career had a seven-year interruption after his defeat by Liberal candidate Barry Morris at the 1988 election. Morris was re-elected in 1991, but disendorsed in 1995 following a police investigation into bomb and death threats against a Blue Mountains councillor. He ran again as an independent but was unable to prevent Debus from recovering his old seat, securing a margin of 2.5 per cent. In 2007 Debus relinquished the seat to run successfully at the federal election later that year in the seat of Macquarie, which he held for one term before retiring.
Debus was succeeded by Rural Fire Services commissioner Phil Koperberg, whose drafting defused a complicated factional battle between Naomi Parry, an academic and part-time school teacher, and Adam Searle, a barrister and Blue Mountains councillor. No sooner had Koperberg secured the Blue Mountains preselection than he was forced to go public about an apprehended violence order taken out against him by his ex-wife Kate in 1987. Koperberg accused Blacktown MP Paul Gibson, who had recently concluded a 10-year relationship with Kate Koperberg, of running a “smear campaign” against him, which the described as “bordering on evil”. Gibson denied any involvement, and multiple alternative theories were in circulation regarding the source of the affidavit.
Koperberg was immediately made Environment Minister upon his election in March 2007, but was stood down the following December when it further emerged that the 1987 affidavit included an allegation he had also assaulted his step-daughter. He was reinstated a month later when the police declined to press charges, but resigned from the ministry another month later citing ill health. In October 2010 he made a long-predicted announcement that he would not seek another term, complaining of “the bitterness of factional fighting within the system ”.
Labor’s electoral prospects being the way they are, their preselection was a fairly quiet affair. Their endorsement has gone to Trish Doyle, a staffer to Koperberg who has been associated with the Left faction. The Liberal preselection was won by local dentist Roza Sage, who was chosen ahead of local councillor and midwife Fiona Creed and former Blue Mountains Grammar School principal Stuart Walker. Also in the field as an independent is local councillor Janet Mays, whose prospects are rated highly by local observers.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Please direct corrections or comments to pollbludger-AT-crikey.com.au. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.