Upper Hunter – NSW 2019

NAT 2.2%

Incumbent MP
Michael Johnsen, since 2015.

Northern NSW. Upper Hunter covers rural areas to the northwest of Newcastle. It covers all of Dungog, Gloucester, Muswellbrook and Upper Hunter local government areas, most of the Liverpool Plains council area, the populated parts of the Singleton council area, and parts of Great Lakes and Mid-Western areas. The seat’s major centres are Singleton, Muswellbrook, Scone and Dungog.

Upper Hunter has existed since 1859, with the exception of a decade around the turn of the century and three terms in the 1920s. It elected a single MP from 1859 to 1880, two MPs from 1880 to 1894, and single-member since 1904. The seat has been held by the Country/National Party continuously since the early 1930s. The last time it was held by the ALP was for six months in 1910.

Sitting Nationalist MP William Cameron died in 1931. Under the coalition agreement between the Nationalist Party and the Country Party, Upper Hunter was allocated as a Nationalist seat. Local Country Party branches supported Malcolm Brown as an independent, without the official support of the party. While the Nationalist candidate won the most primary votes, but Brown won the seat on preferences. After his election he joined the Country Party officially. Brown held the seat until his death in 1939.

The 1939 by-election was won in D’Arcy Rose, also of the Country Party. He held the seat until his retirement in 1959.

Upper Hunter was won in 1959 by Leon Punch. In 1962, he shifted to the seat of Gloucester. A contested preselection saw himself and another Country Party candidate both stand for Gloucester, but Punch won easily. Punch was elected Deputy Leader of the NSW Country Party and became a minister in 1973. In 1975 he was elected leader of the National Country Party, a role he held until his retirement in 1985. He also served as Deputy Premier from 1975 to 1976.

Upper Hunter was won in 1962 by Frank O’Keefe, who had held Liverpool Plains since 1961. His old seat was abolished in the redistribution. O’Keefe held Upper Hunter until 1969, when he resigned and won the federal seat of Paterson. He held Paterson until its abolition in 1984.

Col Fisher won the 1970 by-election. He served as a minister from 1975 to 1976, and retired in 1988.

George Souris held Upper Hunter for the National Party from 1988 until 2015. He served as a minister from 1992 to 1995. He was elected deputy leader of the NSW National Party in 1993, and served as National Party leader from 1999 to 2003.

Nationals candidate Michael Johnsen won Upper Hunter in 2015.


Upper Hunter is a very marginal seat, although Johnsen should benefit from a personal vote which could help him buck the trend.

2015 result

Candidate Party Votes % Swing
Michael Johnsen Nationals 18,384 38.9 -15.6
Martin Rush Labor 15,387 32.5 +14.3
Lee Watts Independent 9,170 19.4 +19.4
John Kaye Greens 2,608 5.5 -0.1
Richard Stretton Christian Democrats 1,003 2.1 -0.3
Louisa Checchin No Land Tax 744 1.6 +1.6
Informal 1,506 3.1

2015 two-party-preferred result

Candidate Party Votes % Swing
Michael Johnsen Nationals 20,496 52.2 -20.8
Martin Rush Labor 18,764 47.8 +20.8

Booth breakdown

Booths in Upper Hunter have been split into six areas, based on council areas. Polling places in the Dungog, Liverpool Plains, Singleton and Upper Hunter council areas have been grouped together by council area. Those in the former Gloucester and Great Lakes council areas (now Mid-Coast Council) have been grouped as ‘Gloucester-Stroud’, while those in the Muswellbrook and Mid-Western council areas have been grouped as ‘Muswellbrook’.

The Nationals won a majority of the two-party-preferred vote in three out of six areas, ranging from 57.2% in Gloucester-Stroud to 64% in Upper Hunter. Labor won a majority in the other three, ranging from 50.9% in Singleton to 56.3% in Muswellbrook.

The primary vote for independent Lee Watts ranged from 10.2% in Gloucester-Stroud to 33.1% in Upper Hunter.

Voter group IND prim % NAT 2PP % Total votes % of votes
Singleton 15.9 49.1 6,848 14.5
Upper Hunter 33.1 64.0 6,337 13.4
Muswellbrook 22.7 43.7 4,824 10.2
Dungog 11.3 47.7 4,178 8.8
Gloucester-Stroud 10.2 57.2 2,989 6.3
Liverpool Plains 20.0 59.2 2,620 5.5
Other votes 16.2 55.1 8,477 17.9
Pre-poll 20.1 48.1 11,023 23.3

Election results in Upper Hunter at the 2015 NSW state election
Toggle between two-party-preferred votes and primary votes for independent candidate Lee Watts.

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  1. Surprising that Labor got so close in what has been a long time National stronghold. It will be interesting to see whether this is a genuine marginal now, or if 2015 was just an aberration.

  2. I think this was one of the seats affected by the CSG and Mining Exploration debates. SFF are becoming quite strong in this seat as well.

    I can’t see Labor winning this seat on SFF preferences but if SFF move into 2nd place (which is still a very big ask), then I can see SFF jumping the Nats on Labor preferences.

  3. Narrow Hold, Because of the Labour candidate, Unless Bob Carr run’s here, The new Labour candidate won’t have much time to campaign

  4. still close look at the vote in Muswellbrook and Singleton for Labor…… also surprisingly Dungog vote good too

  5. Betters seem to think Labor will win this. Can Labor really outdo their 2015 performance in what has long been a very safe Nationals seat?

  6. Interestingly, Shooters candidate Lee Watts is running a just Vote 1 strategy here. Which could cost Labor the seat if she finishes 3rd.

    If Labor finishes 3rd, then Lee will easily win.

    The Liberal Democrats have put the Nats second, but realistically, I doubt they’d have strong numbers of volunteers on the ground.

    This could be one of the seats Labor may fail to pick up this time.

  7. To say the exhaustion of Shooters’ preferences hurts Labor is to assume that the Shooters draw more Labor voters than they do Nationals voters. That seems very dubious.

  8. For the Nats to win with say 35% primary vote is a big ask from their point of view
    over 40% of the electorate are the stronger alp parts Muswellbrook and Singleton

  9. Depends on how the Shooters do, and also if Labor can gain much more after a massive swing in 2015. Calling this a narrow Labor gain.

  10. Although this hasn’t been Labor seat for long time it could be described as inheritor of Liverpool Plains which was Labor in 40s & 50s. Story here seems to be that places that were country towns once have been pulled into orbit of Newcastle & are starting to vote more like Newcastle – Maitland is similar.

  11. almost 25% exhausted preferences in this seat seems high. Were the Shooters running a “vote 1” strategy here? It’s a big chunk of votes to go missing in a very tight seat.


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