Margin: Labor 14.5%
Region: Western Sydney
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Electorate analysis: Toongabbie is located about 25 kilometres to the west of the city centre, centred on Girraween and Pendle Hill along with Toongabbie itself. It was created by redistribution ahead of the 2007 election in place of the abolished Wentworthville, and provided an entry into parliament for a much-touted rising star of the Left, Nathan Rees. Wentworthville was held for Labor by Ernie Quinn from its creation in 1962 until his retirement in 1988, when he was succeeded by Pam Allan. It was subsequently abolished when parliamentary numbers were cut at the 1991 election, leading Allan to find refuge in Blacktown. The Right had initially proposed that Allan contest Riverstone, where the redistribution had cut the margin from 7.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent, so its member Richard Amery could move to safer Mount Druitt. This plan encountered vehement opposition from Allan’s Left faction because it put a sitting female member in jeopardy. The problem was resolved when John Aquilina, the Right faction member for Blacktown, agreed to make his seat available to Allan by contesting Riverstone, successfully as it turned out.
Allan returned to Wentworthville when it was re-created in 1999 as part of another redistribution brought on by a cut in parliamentary numbers. There were suggestions at the time the seat might provide a haven for one of the senior party figures whose seats had been abolished, notably Gladesville MP John Watkins and Ashfield MP Paul Whelan. These were scotched when Londonderry MP Paul Gibson was exonerated by an Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry, meaning a promise he had received of a safe seat needed to be fulfilled. Gibson was accommodated in Blacktown and Allan returned to Wentworthville, leaving Watkins and Whelan to contest the notionally Liberal seats of Ryde and Strathfield (which they did successfully).
There was further manoeuvring for the seat ahead of the 2007 election, with Left faction warlord Laurie Ferguson hoping Allan might make way for Tanya Gadiel so her existing seat of Parramatta could go to the local lord mayor, David Borger. Allan at first insisted both she and Gadiel would contest their existing electorates, before having a change of heart and announcing her intention to retire. With the backing of Morris Iemma, the national executive subsequently intervened to impose Nathan Rees against resistance from the locally powerful Ferguson Left facation. Rees had previously served as an adviser to Health Ministers Craig Knowles and Morris Iemma, Premier Bob Carr and, more recently, disgraced Swansea MP Milton Orkopoulos. Upon entering parliament he was fast-tracked into cabinet as Emergency Services and water Utilities Minister.
Rees was elevated to the premiership just 18 months into his parliamentary career when a factional rebellion over a proposed cabinet reshuffle prompted Morris Iemma to resign. His success in securing the premiership as a member of the Left defied the party’s history, and was widely interpreted as representing the Right’s failure to produce a credible candidate. However, it also meant that his grip on the job proved highly precarious, and his party room support collapsed in late 2009 as the polls continued to sour. After the Right agreed to back a spill motion and throw its weight behind Kristina Keneally as its candidate over rival contender Frank Sartor, Keneally defeated Rees in the ensuing party room vote by 47 votes to 21.
Rees did little to keep himself ingratiated with party powerbrokers as his demise unfolded, announcing that any candidate who unseated him would be a puppet of Joe Tripodi and Eddie Obeid. However, when a threat to his preselection emerged in late 2010, the driving force was not the Right but the Ferguson Left (although there was disputed talk that Joe Tripodi was supporting them) which evidently remained aggrieved that he had been installed against its wishes in the first place. The rival Left tendency associated with Anthony Albanese weighed in in support of Rees, which was seen in the context of hostility between the groups which manifested itself in Albanese’s support for Kevin Rudd during Ferguson protege Julia Gillard’s June 2010 leadership putsch. The Ferguson camp was pushing for a rank-and-file ballot, so was presumably confident about the local numbers. In this it was unsuccessful, with the national executive stepping in to secure Rees’s position.
The Liberal candidate is Kirsty Lloyd, a fundraising administrator for an unspecified not-for-profit organisation, who won preselection ahead of Bankstown councillor Michael Tadros and Military Ceramics Corporation chief executive Gregory Willis. Two weeks out from polling day, the Daily Telegraph reported internal polling had Labor gravely fearing that Lloyd would prevail.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Please direct corrections or comments to pollbludger-AT-crikey.com.au. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.