Margin: Labor 29.0%
Region: Outer South-Western Sydney
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Electorate analysis: The electorate of Cabramatta is located 25 kilometres to the west of the Sydney city centre, running from Lansvale west through Cabramatta itself to Bonnyrigg. It will forever be remembered as the scene of one of Australian politics’ darkest hours, when Labor member John Newman was murdered on 5 September 1994. After two mistrials, Fairfield councillor Phuong Ngo was convicted in 2001 of organising the murder, while two alleged co-conspirators were acquitted. Newman and Ngo had developed a bitter rivalry due to Newman’s conviction that Ngo was involved with the Vietnamese crime gang 5T, which dominated the Cambramatta heroin trade. Ngo had run against Newman at the 1991 election as an independent and directed his preferences to the Liberal Party, of which he had until recently been a member. He joined the ALP in 1993 and helped establish a branch at Canley Vale, quickly building influence through fund-raising and mass recruitment among the Vietnamese community.
The prosecution case was that Ngo arranged the murder because he had undertaken not to seek preselection for Cabramatta while Newman remained the member, and Newman’s determination to contest the 1995 election had made him impatient. However, it appears to be very widely accepted among local insiders that Ngo in fact had his heart set on a seat in the upper house, and he was supportive when head office sought to have Newman’s vacancy filled by 27-year-old Reba Meagher. Ngo’s involvement in the murder remained the stuff of rumour for the next four years and he remained active in Labor politics, deposing Ken Chapman to take the top position on the Labor ticket at the 1996 Fairfield council election. There was some speculation that he may have accepted a deal in which Meagher would eventually move to the federal seat of Fowler with Ngo filling the vacancy in Cabramatta, but this appeared to be refuted when Julia Irwin won the Fowler preselection with Ngo’s blessing. Then in March 1998, a witness came forward at the inquest into Newman’s murder with a claim that Ngo had asked him to kill Newman, and boasted of his involvement on the night of the killing. Ngo was subsequently arrested and ultimately sentenced to life imprisonment.
Meagher went on to win the preselection and the seat, winning promotion to parliamentary secretary position after the 1999 election and the ministry in 2003. As Health Minister in September 2008 she was one of five ministers designated for the chop under the proposed reshuffle that prompted Morris Iemma’s Right faction to pull the plug on his leadership. However, Iemma’s demise didn’t save her, and she declined to nominate for a position in Nathan Rees’s new cabinet when it became clear she would not succeed. A week later she announced she was joining a mini-exodus from parliament which initiated four concurrent by-elections on October 18. Labor preselected Nick Lalich, who had been mayor of Fairfield since the position became popularly elected in 2006 and was re-elected on September 13 with 61 per cent of the vote. Lalich is of Serbian heritage but was born in Egypt, his parents having escaped the German occuption during World War II.
Liberal candidate Dai Le fitted the profile of the electorate in that she is of Vietnamese descent, but unlike Lalich she lived outside the electorate in Dulwich Hill. Le is a producer for ABC Radio National, and once produced a television documentary on Phuong Ngo. The by-election delivered a thumping 21.8 per cent to Le, but such was Labor’s security in the seat that Lalich still emerged 7.2 per cent in front. Le unsuccessfully sought preselection for a winnable upper house seat for the coming election, but instead had to content herself with another tilt at Cabramatta.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Please direct corrections or comments to pollbludger-AT-crikey.com.au. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.