Margin: Liberal 9.4% versus Independent
Region: Sydney Northern Beaches
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Electorate analysis: Pittwater covers Sydney’s northern beaches from Narrabeen north to the Pittwater peninsula, and inland to Duffs Forest and part of the Ku-ring-gai National Park. It was created in 1973 in place of abolished Collaroy, which Liberal Premier Bob Askin had held since its creation in 1950. Askin retired as Premier and local member in 1975, initiating the first of four by-elections to be held during its history. This was won for the Liberals by television newsreader Bruce Webster, who in turn bowed out in 1978. The scheduled by-election became unnecessary when Neville Wran called the early election that reduced the Liberals to 18 seats, one being Pittwater which was won by Max Smith. Smith’s resignation in 1986 prompted a by-election at which Liberal candidate Jim Longley was barely able to see off an independent challenge from surfing champion Nat Young, who polled 24.2 per cent amid outrage over sewage pollution at local beaches and came within 3.1 per cent of winning. Longley quit parliament after the Fahey’s government’s 1995 election defeat and was succeeded by John Brogden, who went on to lead the party from May 2002 until his resignation in May 2005. Despite an apparent suicide attempt at this time, Brogden remained as member for three months before resigning in August 2005.
There followed yet another by-election, this one producing a disastrous result for the Liberals as locals reacted against Brogden’s perceived rough treatment by his rivals in the party’s Right faction. The winner was independent candidate and Pittwater mayor Alex McTaggart, who had won local admirers by opposing the filming of Baywatch at Avalon beach. McTaggart polled 39.2 per cent to Nicolaou’s 38.1 per cent in the absence of a Labor candidate. This translated into a 5.4 per cent win after preferences. The Liberal candidate was Paul Nicolaou, the chief executive of the state party’s fundraising arm, former chairman of the Ethnic Communities Council, and unsuccessful candidate for Ryde at the 2003 election. Nicolaou won a preselection vote over former John Brogden staffer Rob Stokes, his employer’s preferred choice, by 49 votes to 28. Stokes got the nod to run at the 2007 election and duly succeeded where Nicolaou had failed, polling 50.3 per cent on the primary vote with McTaggart well to the rear on 26.9 per cent. In May 2008 he was promoted to shadow parliamentary secretary for planning and infrastructure. McTaggart meanwhile was back in the news in October 2010 when he was one of nine Australian surfers reported as missing in the wake of a tsunami off Sumatra, but he emerged unscathed shortly after.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Please direct corrections or comments to pollbludger-AT-crikey.com.au. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.