Murray by-election, 2017

Cause of by-election
Sitting Nationals MP Adrian Piccoli resigned from parliament in September 2017.

MarginNAT 22.7% vs IND

Geography
South-western NSW. The seat of Murray borders Victoria and South Australia, and includes the towns of Griffith, Leeton, Deniliquin and Wentworth. It covers the entirety of Wentworth, Balranald, Hay, Carrathool, Griffith, Leeton, Edward River, Murray River and Berrigan local government areas, and parts of the Murrumbidgee council area.

History
Murray existed as a seat in the NSW Legislative Assembly from 1859 to 1999, when it was renamed Murray-Darling after expanding to cover Broken Hill. In 2015 the seat will be restored to its new name after Broken Hill was transferred out of the seat. The seat has also taken in parts of the abolished seat of Murrumbidgee.

Murray had been dominated by the Country/National Party since 1932, when it had been won by Joe Lawson. He lost Country Party preselection 35 years later in 1967, and was re-elected as an independent in 1968. He held the seat as an independent until his death in 1973.

The following by-election was won by Lawson’s daughter Mary Meillon, who had run as a Liberal. She held the seat until her death in 1980.

The 1980 Murray by-election was won by National Country Party candidate Tim Fischer. He had held the safe Country Party seat of Sturt (a different seat with very different borders to the older Labor seat of the same name) since 1971. Sturt was set to be abolished at the 1981 election, and Fischer resigned his seat early to contest Murray.

Fischer resigned from Sturt in 1984 to contest the federal seat of Farrer. He won the seat and held it until his retirement in 2001. He became leader of the federal National Party in 1990, serving in that role until 1999. He was Deputy Prime Minister from 1996 to 1999.

Jim Small won Sturt at the 1984 by-election for the National Party. He held it until 1999.

When Murray and Broken Hill were merged, the new seat of Murray-Darling had a notional majority for the Nationals. Both sitting MPs retired, and the seat was won by the ALP’s Peter Black.

Black was re-elected in 2003, and developed a reputation as a controversial Labor MP. In 2007, a redistribution made the seat again a notional Nationals seat, and Black was defeated by Nationals candidate John Williams.

Murrumbidgee was one of only two districts to have existed continuously since the first Legislative Assembly was elected in 1856. The seat was a two-member district from 1856 to 1859, a single-member district from 1859 to 1880, a two-member district until 1885, a three-member district from 1885 to 1894, a single-member district from 1894 to 1920, a three-member district from 1920 to 1927, and a single-member district from 1927 until its abolition at the 2015 election.

The seat was dominated by the ALP in the middle part of the last century, but has been held by the National Party since 1984.

In 1941, the sitting Country Party MP, Robert Hankinson, retired. The official Labor candidate was defeated by independent Labor candidate George Enticknap, who was then welcomed into the Labor caucus in the Parliament. He served as a minister from 1960 to 1965, when he retired.

Al Grassby won Murrumbidgee for the Labor Party at the 1965 election. He resigned from the seat in 1969 to take the federal seat of Riverina. He served as Minister for Immigration from 1972 to 1974, when he lost Riverina.

Lin Gordon won the 1970 Murrumbidgee by-election for the ALP. He served as a minister from 1976 until his retirement in 1984.

In 1984, Murrumbidgee was won by the National Party’s Adrian Cruickshank. He came third on primary votes, but preferences from the Liberal Party pushed him ahead of independent candidate Thomas Marriott. Marriott’s preferences elected Cruickshank over the Labor Party. He held the seat until his retirement in 1999.

Murrumbidgee has been held by the National Party’s Adrian Piccoli since 1999. He served as deputy leader of the NSW National Party from 2008 from 2016, and served as minister for education from 2011 until 2017.

Candidates

  • Brian Mills (Independent)
  • Peter Robinson (Independent)
  • Austin Evans (Nationals)
  • Helen Dalton (Shooters, Fishers and Farmers)
  • Michael Kidd (Labor)
  • Ray Goodlass (Greens)

Assessment
The Nationals would normally be considered very safe in a seat like Murray, but the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers may well pose a challenge. The Shooters are running Helen Dalton, who came second as an independent in 2015. Since then this party has won the Orange by-election, and thus would be expected to perform strongly in Murray, particularly with a prominent candidate.

2015 result

CandidatePartyVotes%Swing
Adrian Piccoli Nationals 25,75255.5-22.3
Helen DaltonIndependent8,44018.2+18.2
Max Buljubasic Labor 7,50916.2-1.3
Brian MillsIndependent1,7453.8+3.8
Jordanna Glassman Greens 1,0352.2-1.1
Garry CodemoNo Land Tax9292.0+2.0
David ElderChristian Democratic Party6511.4+0.0
Atul MisraIndependent3370.7+0.7
Informal1,8013.7

2015 two-party-preferred result

CandidatePartyVotes%Swing
Adrian Piccoli Nationals 28,29575.2-5.7
Max Buljubasic Labor 9,32924.8+5.7

2015 two-candidate-preferred result

CandidatePartyVotes%
Adrian Piccoli Nationals 27,50472.7
Helen DaltonIndependent10,35327.3

Booth breakdown

Booths in Murray have been split into five parts. The twin towns of Griffith and Leeton have been grouped together, as has Deniliquin. The remainder of the seat has been split into north-east, north-west and south.

The Nationals won a majority of the two-candidate-preferred vote over independent Helen Dalton in all five areas. They only won 60% in Griffith-Leeton, while they polled between 73% and 86% in the remaining four areas.

The Labor primary vote ranged from 15% in the south to 19.5% in the north-east.

Voter groupALP prim %NAT vs IND 2CP %Total votes% of votes
Griffith-Leeton15.759.813,85329.9
South15.386.18,51818.4
Deniliquin19.379.03,6567.9
North-East19.573.03,5537.7
North-West17.981.53,2136.9
Other votes15.173.613,60529.3

Election results in Murray at the 2015 NSW state election
Click on the ‘visible layers’ box to toggle between two-candidate-preferred votes (Nationals vs independent Helen Dalton) and Labor primary votes.

About the Author

Ben Raue is the founder and author of the Tally Room.

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