Margin: Labor 8.8%
Region: Southern Sydney Outskirts
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Electorate analysis: Heathcote extends from the northern part of the Illawarra, as far south as Bulli, to the southern edge of Sydney at Port Hacking. The electorate was first created at the 1971 election in place of abolished Bulli, which had been in Labor’s hands since its creation in 1930. Rex Jackson held Bulli from 1955 and became the inaugural member for Heathcote, where his epic political career continued until 1986. He was then compelled to resign when an inquiry recommended he be charged for soliciting bribes for the early release of prisoners during his tenure as Corrective Services Minister, which ultimately led to his imprisonment. Ian McManus retained the seat for Labor at the ensuing by-election, holding out against the Liberal candidate by 2.8 per cent margin after an 18.2 per cent drop in the Labor primary vote (partly influenced by Jackson’s interesting decision to run as an independent; he polled 6.4 per cent). In 1988 McManus moved to the short-lived new seat of Burragorang, and Heathcote fell to Liberal candidate Allan Andrews by a margin of 1.8 per cent. The redistribution resulting from the cut in parliamentary numbers at the 1991 election saw Heathcote revert to Bulli, the return to Illawarra territory again making the seat strong for Labor with a notional margin of 6.3 per cent. Andrews unsuccessfully sought refuge in the Sydney seat of Coogee and McManus won an easy victory in Bulli, the name of which reverted to Heathcote in 1999.
McManus retired at the 2003 election when it became apparent he had lost control of local branches. Lisa Carty of the Illawarra Mercury reported that McManus had suffered from a sudden expansion in the Engadine/Heathcote branch ahead of the 1999 election, which gave it double the membership of other branches in the electorate. These members reportedly joined at the behest of Right faction member Gerry Ambroisine, whose anticipated challenge to McManus failed to eventuate. However, the Mercury reported that Ambroisine was close to the Right-backed candidate for the 2003 preselection, Paul McLeay, a Public Service Association official and son of former Grayndler and Watson federal MP Leo McLeay. McLeay nonetheless failed to carry the initial rank-and-file ballot, in which Maryanne Stuart of the Left faction Australian Services Union scored 74.4 votes (after her raw figure of 62 was boosted by the affirmative action loading) to McLeay’s 74. At this point two votes were left outstanding as their validity had been disputed by the Stuart camp. The party’s head office ruled against Stuart’s complaint and the two votes gave McLeay the narrowest of victories.
McLeay went on to enjoy an incident-free election and was promoted to parliamentary secretary to the Health Minister in September 2005. In November 2009 he entered the ministry in the ports and waterways portfolio, further gaining mineral and forest resources in June 2010. The following September he joined the seemingly endless list of Labor members to lose their jobs in embarrassing circumstances when he was forced to admit using a parliamentary computer to visit pornography and gambling sites. For the third election in a row the Liberals have endorsed Lee Evans, part-owner of a gourmet foods distribution business. An IRIS poll published in the Illawarra Mercury on March 4, covering 400 respondents with a margin of error of about 4 per cent, had Evans with a commanding primary vote lead over McLeay of 49 per cent to 23 per cent, with the Greens only slightly further behind on 19 per cent. The Liberal lead on two-party preferred was 62-38.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Please direct corrections or comments to pollbludger-AT-crikey.com.au. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.