NSW State Election 2011: Wollongong
Margin: Labor 25.3%
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Electorate analysis: The electorate of Wollongong was created in its modern form in 1968, having previously existed from 1904 to 1920 and 1927 to 1930. From 1941 to 1968 it was known as Wollongong-Kembla. On the coast, it extends from the Wollongong city centre south through Port Kembla to Windang; inland, it goes beyond Princes Highway to Mount Kembla and Kembla Grange. Wollongong-Kembla was held by Labor from its creation in 1941 to 1965, the member from 1950 to 1963 being tragic Whitlam government figure Rex Connor. Labor almost suffered a surprise defeat at the hands of Liberal candidate Michael Hough when Connor entered federal parliament in 1964,and Hough went one better at the next year’s general election, which brought the Askin government to power after 24 years of Labor rule. Hough was re-elected to the new seat of Wollongong in 1968, but Eric Ramsay gained it for Labor in 1971. Ramsay lost the seat in 1984 to independent candidate Frank Arkell, who had been Wollongong lord mayor since 1974 and came within 51 votes of defeating Ramsay in 1981. In 1988 Arkell won re-election ahead of Labor’s Laurie Kelly, who contested the seat after his own electorate of Corrimal was abolished, but he was unseated in 1991. Arkell was brutally murdered in 1998, two months before he was due to face court on child sex charges.
Labor’s Gerry Sullivan held the seat from 1991 to 1999, when he fell victim to the cut in parliamentary numbers. His preselection was successfully challenged by Left colleague Col Markham after a factional deal delivered Markham’s seat of wollongong to the Right. The Right reportedly had new designs on the seat going into the 2003 election, but these were laid to rest after Labor’s shock defeat in the federal Cunningham by-election of October 2002. A deal followed in which Left-controlled local branches decided the Wollongong preselection while the Right’s David Campbell was protected in wollongong. However, Markham went on to lose preselection to Left colleague Noreen Hay, former Miscellaneous Workers Union official and electorate officer to federal Throsby MP Jennie George, having earlier agreed to stand aside for her when she was preselected in 1998. Support from local councillor and numbers man Kiril Jonovski, along with lingering resentment at the manner of Markham’s imposition in 1999, were said to have been the crucial factors behind her winning the preselection vote 95-81 against the urgings of Bob Carr, who said Markham was an “ideal member”.
According to Paul McInerney of the Illawarra Mercury, Hay emerged from her 2003 election win “still seething at the spiteful and damaging treatment dished out by the Left during her election campaign”, and she absented herself from Left caucus meetings upon entering parliament. By the end of the year she had defected to the Right, leaving Jennie George as the only remaining Left MP in the area. In the past term she has twice risen to parliamentary secretary, and twice been dumped. The first occasion came in February 2008 when she was named in an inquiry into corruption in Wollongong Council, but she was reinstated after being cleared a month later. She was demoted the following September not long after an incident in which Kiama MP Matt Brown danced semi-naked in her office during a late-night party and, it was alleged – though denied by both – simulated a sex act on her, which cost him his job as Police Minister. The then Premier, Nathan Rees, denied that Hay’s demotion was related to the incident.
There was talk throughout the term that Hay’s preselection might be at risk, with suggestions Treasurer Eric Roozendaal could use to the seat to move from the upper house and assume the premiership, and suggestions the Left wished to recover its old seat. However, she was believed to have solid support in local branches, and ultimately retained preselection unopposed after the withdrawal of two rival contenders, University of Wollongong project manager Tania Brown and BlueScope Steel engineer Neil Barnett. The Liberal candidate is Michelle Blivacs, also endorsed without opposition. A locally high-profile independent has emerged in the shape of Gordon Bradbery, a local Wesley Uniting Church Minister. The Greens will be directing preferences to Bradbery ahead of Labor.
A poll published by the Illawarra Mercury a week out from the election, conducted by IRIS Research from a sample of 400 with a margin of error around 4.5 per cent, had Gordon Bradbery with a two-candidate preferred lead over Noreen Hay of 54-46. A similar poll a fortnight earlier had Hay leading 53-47, and suggested Bradbery was no certainty to finish ahead of Michelle Blivacs, who led him 24 per cent to 23 per cent on the primary vote (albeit that these figures would probably see Bradbery overtake Blivacs on preferences).
Analysis written by William Bowe. Please direct corrections or comments to pollbludger-AT-crikey.com.au. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.