Margin: Labor 7.5% versus Greens
Region: Inner Western Sydney
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Electorate analysis: Marrickville covers the south-western inner city from Darlington through Newtown and Dulwich Hill to Marrickville and Cooks River. The seat has existed since 1894, barring the interruption of proportional representation between 1920 and 1927, and has been in Labor hands since 1910. The member from 1983 to 2005 was Left faction heavyweight Andrew Refshauge, who was Deputy Premier throughout the life of the Carr government and Treasurer in his last eight months in office. Along with Planning Minister Craig Knowles, Refshauge resigned shortly after Bob Carr in August 2005, prompting simultaneous by-elections in their seats of Macquarie Fields, Marrickville and Maroubra. Marrickville was the only one of the three where the result appeared in doubt, due to the Greens’ success in finishing second in 2003 with 39.3 per cent of the two-party vote. In the absence of the Liberals the Greens’ primary vote increased from 28.5 per cent to 39.0 per cent, but Labor was up too from 48.4 per cent to 49.8 per cent and prevailed with 55.1 per cent on two-party preferred. With the Liberals back in the field at the 2007 election the Labor primary vote eased only slightly to 46.6 per cent; the Greens again polled strongly with 32.5 per cent, but fell 7.2 per cent short after preferences.
Labor’s candidate for the by-election was Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt, who had been an upper house member since 1998. Tebbutt’s smooth path to preselection was assisted in no small part by the fact that Marrickville corresponds with her husband Anthony Albanese’s federal seat of Grayndler and his accompanying power base. The move was initially made with a view to assuming the deputy leadership, which by long-standing agreement has been the preserve of Tebbutt’s Left faction. However, the Left failed to reciprocate Morris Iemma’s backing for her, and insisted that the position instead go to Ryde MP John Watkins. Tebbutt was nonetheless prevailed upon to make the switch to the lower house, as it was believed her Left credentials would secure the seat against the threat of the Greens. She also opted out of the ministry at this time, saying she wished to spend more time with her family. She returned after the September 2008 leadership changeover from Morris Iemma to Nathan Rees, in the wash-up of which John Watkins vacated the deputy leadership by resigning from parliament. This time the job went to Tebbutt, and she also took on the ministerial portfolios of commerce and environment. These were exchanged for health in the September 2009 reshuffle, and her positions remained intact when Kristina Keneally took over as Premier the following December.
For the second election in a row the Greens have endorsed Fiona Byrne, who in the interim has progressed from Marrickville councillor to mayor. Byrne won preselection at the expense of Sylvia Hale, an upper house MP who in mid-2010 made what most assumed to be a retirement announcement when she said she would not seek another term. The Liberal candidate is solicitor Rosana Tyler, who was chosen ahead of hotel operator Charles Fenton.
In the second last week of the campaign, Imre Salusinszky of The Australian reported that while Labor strategists had virtually written off their chances of holding off the Greens challenge in Balmain, they were still hopeful for Marrickville. Liberal sources, however, believed the opposite to be the case. Salusinszky earlier reported that saving Tebbutt had become the number one priority of state Labor boss Sam Dastyari.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Please direct corrections or comments to pollbludger-AT-crikey.com.au. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.