NSW 2019 – the race in Western Sydney

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Over the next few weeks I will be running regular blog posts analysing various parts of the NSW state election. This will include summaries of the race in six geographic regions, starting today with the western half of Sydney.

Western Sydney has become a cliche when it comes to Australian elections. The mythical home of the swing voter, where major parties look to decide their key policies.

The reality is a bit different. The region does contain a number of marginal seats, but it also contains a large number of safe seats, mostly held by Labor. The region is very diverse, including the most multicultural suburbs in Australia while also contained mostly white suburban fringe seats.

I have defined the region as covering 25 seats, stretching to the Blue Mountains, Wollondilly and Hawkesbury on the city’s western fringe, while also being bordered by the Hills district, Parramatta, Auburn, Bankstown, East Hills, Holsworthy and the Campbelltown area. This makes up almost half of the seats in Sydney, with another 29 loosely defined as eastern Sydney.

Twelve of these seats are held by the Liberal Party, while another 13 are held by Labor.

Six of Labor’s seats are held by margins of over 10%, with Labor’s margin peaking at 20.9% in Liverpool. They hold seats by margins of over 5% in four other seats, while Granville and Prospect are more marginal, held by margins of 2.1% and 3.4% respectively.

Five Liberal seats are held by margins of over 15%. This includes Camden and Wollondilly on Sydney’s south-western fringe, and Castle Hill, Baulkham Hills and Hawkesbury at the northern end of the region.

There are seven other Liberal seats held by smaller margins, and I will run through each of those seats individually. I’ll also mention one Labor seat which could be interesting.

This region looked very different when Labor was last in power. Labor held twenty-two out of twenty-five seats in this region at the 2007 state election, only missing out in the Liberal heartland of Hawkesbury and the Hills district. They then lost Penrith on a swing of almost 26% (two-party-preferred) in 2010, before losing a string of other seats in 2011.

They won some of these seats back in 2015, but other seats are still Liberal-held with sizeable margins. In addition to the seven seats I’ll discuss below, the Liberals hold Wollondilly and Camden by margins of 17.3% and 18.3% respectively, despite only winning them when Labor’s vote collapsed in 2011. Apart from the super-marginal seat of East Hills, the margins in the other key seats in this region are all quite substantial and will require larger swings than you would normally expect would be necessary for a party to form government.

This map shows the eight seats I am profiling, and I’ll run through each seat below the fold:

East Hills is the most marginal seat in the state. This was also true after the 2011 election, when sitting Labor MP Alan Ashton lost to Liberal candidate Glenn Brookes by 494 votes. With Labor regaining ground in 2015, this seat was expected to be one of the first to flip, but instead Brookes held on with barely any change, defeating Labor candidate Cameron Murphy by 372 votes (0.4%), following a nasty whispering campaign based on false rumours.

If you check out the booth map of East Hills you’ll notice a clear divide. The Liberal Party wins all of the booths at the southern end of the seat near the Georges River, while Labor won booths further north. This same divide can be seen in all of the state and federal seats along the river, with Liberal support growing in the wealthy riverfront suburbs and Labor still strong in the typical Western Sydney suburbs further north.

Liberal minister Stuart Ayres holds Penrith by a 6.2% margin. It is the seventh most marginal Coalition seat in the state, with the government needing to lose six seats to lose their majority. Labor held Penrith by a 9.2% margin after the 2007 election, so there is plenty of capacity for the Liberals to lose further ground. Ayres has been most famous recently as the minister responsible for the government’s stadiums policy. Labor would be particularly targeting Penrith and its neighbour Mulgoa with its promise to reintroduce the cashback for the M4 toll.

The electorate of Holsworthy was a new name for the seat of Menai at the 2014 redistribution. The name change was necessitated because the seat shifted towards Liverpool and away from Sutherland, so most of the seat’s population is now in the Liverpool area.

Liberal MP Melanie Gibbons has held the seat since 2011, and currently holds it by a 6.7% margin. Labor candidate Charishma Kaliyanda is running for a second time, after winning a seat on Liverpool City Council in the intervening period.

There is a stark divide in the voting map, with Labor winning a majority in nearly every booth west of the Georges River while the Liberal Party continued to win sizeable majorities in booths east of the river. Labor will need to make inroads in suburbs like Holsworthy, Moorebank and Chipping Norton if they are to win.

Seven Hills straddles the Blacktown and Parramatta areas, just at the southern tip of the Hills district. It was a new name for Toongabbie when the last redistribution shifted the seat further north. Toongabbie was won in 2007 by Labor’s Nathan Rees, who went on to briefly serve as Premier. He only barely held on in 2011, and the seat was redrawn with an 8.8% Liberal margin before the 2015 election.

Mark Taylor now holds the seat by an 8.7% margin, which will likely be too much for Labor but could be a stretch goal. Labor’s vote is strongest in the south-west of the seat, while the Liberal two-party-preferred vote exceeds 60% along the north-eastern boundary.

Mulgoa covers southern parts of the City of Penrith, as well as some semi-rural areas in Penrth, Fairfield and Liverpool councils. Liberal MP Tanya Davies won Mulgoa with a 23% swing in 2011, and was re-elected against a 3% swing in 2015. She now holds the seat by a 9.7% margin.

This is another seat where Labor would win easily if they recovered most of the swing they lost in 2011, so it will be a test of how much Labor has recovered since they lost power.

Labor lost Riverstone in 2011 with a shocking 30% swing, upon the retirement of John Aqualina after twenty years in the seat. The Liberal Party’s Kevin Conolly’s margin was trimmed by 8% in 2015, leaving him with a 12.2% margin.

This seat covers northern parts of the City of Blacktown, which are some of the fastest-growing suburbs in Sydney. Some of these areas are set to benefit from the state government’s construction of the north-west rail link, which is due to open later this year.

In normal circumstances you’d expect a government to easily hold on to a seat with a 12% margin. Considering the rapid change in this area, I suspect that the Liberal Party will hold on comfortably, with Labor a long way away from regaining this seat, but it will be worth keeping an eye on.

Parramatta is another fascinating seat. Labor’s Tanya Gadiel lost to Liberal candidate Geoff Lee in 2011, and he was re-elected with a slight swing towards him in 2015. He holds the seat by a 12.9% margin.

The Parramatta city centre has been changing quickly, thanks to large amounts of government investment in new jobs and transport infrastructure, as well as other features like a new football stadium. There has been substantial housing construction in the Parramatta CBD and neighbouring areas.

The federal seat of Parramatta is a much stronger seat for Labor. This is partly explained by the boundaries – state Parramatta mostly includes suburbs to the north of the CBD, while federal Parramatta leans more to the south – but the overlapping suburbs do also demonstrate a big difference, with Labor doing much better at the federal level.

This could hint at potential for a big anti-Liberal swing in 2019, but it seems unlikely in a seat which has seen so much state government spending in recent years.

Finally I wanted to mention one Labor seat: Cabramatta. On paper this is a safe seat, held by Labor’s Nick Lalich with a 17.2% margin, but former Liberal candidate Dai Le is standing this time as an independent, and is worth watching. Le stood at the 2008 by-election and again in 2011, but has since distanced herself from the Liberal Party. She was elected to Fairfield Council as a Liberal in 2012 before leaving the party to run with the ex-Labor mayor in 2016.

It’s hard to pick which seats could be vulnerable to a strong independent, but Cabramatta could be more interesting than expected.

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20 COMMENTS

  1. Really good piece here Ben.

    It also reflects how the gentrification creep has been evolving across Western Sydney, as if Western Sydney is slowly being squeezed by a Liberal Vote that is slowly progressing west along the M5 and the northern section of the M7, pinching down around Penrith.

    I think the idea about NSW being a natural Labor State is slowly disappearing with this gentrification around Greater Sydney and it is now starting to take on characteristics that would more closely align it to being like Queensland in terms of the eventual number of swing seats in the area of the capital city.

  2. Parramatta is weird…… but of the 7 other seats Labor is competive they would be unlucky not to win at least 2 or 3………………… Riverstone is an example look at Labor’s vote in the Federal seat of Greenway

  3. In the case of Wentworthville/Toongabbie/Seven Hills, with Winston Hills now in the seat and Lalor Park not in the seat, the seat is now naturally a marginal Liberal Seat. History is moot if you take the entire history of that seat because the boundaries have changed so much.

    Granted that Parra is weird but, again, the seat now sits naturally as a marginal Liberal seat.

    As for Riverstone, with the number of new house developments going on up Richmond Road from the M7, this seat is shifting naturally Blue and, as I mentioned before, is part of that gentrification creep that is occuring westward in the north.

  4. Looking forward to your analysis of the Northern Rivers/Far North Coast region. It’s become one of the most fascinating parts of Australia when it comes to politics. Greens vs Labor vs Nationals makes for a pretty interesting and unusual contest. Then there’s what I call the “Gold Coast effect” where voters along the border in towns like Tweed Heads vote in a similar fashion to the Queenslanders who live on the other side (Liberal/conservative). Drive a few minutes south down the Pacific Highway and you enter Greens’ heartland. The Byron Shire and surrounding areas like Nimbin etc… are some of the most progressive, left wing, and anti-establishment places in Australia. Go a little further west and you get into what’s traditionally been Nationals’ territory. That may be changing though as disillusioned Nats look for alternatives like the Greens, Labor, Independents, SFF, PHON, etc… The electorates of Ballina, Tweed and Lismore will be fascinating to watch on election night.

  5. Holsworthy is massively different to the old Menai………much weaker for the liberals
    Penrith…….. probable alp win the stadiums minister
    Mulgoa….. like Penrith
    East Hills… Labor’s best chance here
    Seven Hills……. with a good vote in the more labor suburbs can be won
    Riverstone….liberal faction fighting and look at Michelle Roland’s Federal seat
    Parramatta……. see Federal vote but such a disparity in votes
    Reckon labor can win 2 to 3 or better

  6. “Naturally marginal Liberal seat”… Until they swing back to Labor as part of the next cycle and are back on 60% 2PP margins again. That is the future for all seven of these seats but it will probably be a two election process. After that of course, they’ll swing back towards Liberal again (but not as much as they have now). There is much more fluidity to be sure as these areas were never Liberal before 1988, but its unlikely we’ll see them so stongly Liberal again for a few decades.

  7. There you go again Mick. ALP to win all of the 8 seats mentioned. There’ll hardly be any Liberal seats left in Sydney if we follow your prognostications to their natural conclusion.
    East Hills the only one at real risk mate.

  8. IMHO if Labor wins Seven Hills it will be very close to being in a position to form government – a)due to the 9% swing required and also b) it would indicate that they’ve won over the kind of suburban demographic assumed to turn blue through “gentrification creep”. The election will certainly test this assumption & whether quality of candidates can cut through it. Whatever the outcome, big chunks of this region will be back to razor-thin margins in the next term.

  9. My point is up to 25 seats not held by labor are competitive…….. in the. case of the ants they will not only be at risk to labour but to shooters and independents as well. the first few seats up to 3 _4% I think will be won by labor. The rest are a seat by seat proposition. I think on balance labour would be unlucky not to win enough in the range up to Bathurst……….to form majority govt…… But you moderate err in the other direction expecting the libs to take seats off labour and shooters and greens………..Run the 2016 Federal figures and even 1995 new election figures on the current boundaries for new.The vote in 2015 was an excellent vote for the libs and Nationals 55/45 is better than Abbott did in 2013. the polls if right show a alp/lnp split between 50/50 and 51/49 about a 6% swing across nsw. Guess we will see who is right if I am wrong then there will be razor thin majorities in over 20 seats

  10. Maybe it’s wishful thinking but Wollondilly might not be as safe as it appears. The Liberals have chosen Nathaniel Smith, a political staffer (and ex-plumber) from Sans Souci whose dad was MP for Epping. He has no prior connection to the electorate and has only recently moved to the Bowral area. The main challenge could come from Judith Hannan, an ex-Liberal who until recently was Mayor of Wollondilly. She is well known in many parts of the electorate and could give it a bit of a shake. Judith Hannan should get at least 10% of the vote. If she could somehow push her vote up past 20% and the Liberal vote drops below 45%, who knows what could happen.

  11. Parramatta seems to be picking up the affluent Liberal voting patterns of inner urban seats, while having almost none of the progressive voting elements you see in other inner city seats (most pronounced in the seat of Melbourne, but present to a lesser extent in all the others). The most pronounced example is that Parramatta voted no in the postal survey.

    They’re getting the high Liberal primary vote you see in Brisbane and Perth, but not balanced out by a high Greens vote. The closest comparison is central Adelaide (another Liberal state seat held by Labor federally)

    I think the state seat will stay in Liberal hands and the federal seat will become increasingly difficult for Labor, unless Parramatta develops a “hipster” culture of its own.

  12. The Parramatta CBD and surrounds certainly have some hipster culture aspects – coffee and good food everywhere. But it’s catering to the people who work in the offices, not those who vote in the booths there.

    (I worked in Parra for a few years – loved it! Particularly commuting against peak.)

  13. I live in Parramatta, and I don’t think it particularly resembles the affluent Liberal voting inner urban seats. It is more like a border seat – the northern parts of the seat resembles the Hills district.

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