Electoral history Archive


Werriwa – a century of shifting boundaries

Werriwa boundaries, 1900 redistribution. Click to enlarge.

Werriwa boundaries, 1900 redistribution. Click to enlarge.

Gough Whitlam represented the federal electorate of Werriwa from a 1952 by-election until his resignation in 1978. The electorate has a long history of being held by Labor, ever since the 1930s. From 1934 until 2005, the seat was only held by four MPs, three of whom rose to a high rank in the federal ALP. Gough Whitlam from 1952 to 1978, and then John Kerin from 1978 to 1994 and Mark Latham from 1994 to 2005. Kerin served as Treasurer in the Hawke government, and Latham led the ALP to the 2004 election. From 1954 to 2005, every change of MP in Werriwa took place at a by-election.

The 2005 by-election was won by Chris Hayes, who held the seat until 2010. In 2010, he shifted to the seat of Fowler, immediately north of Werriwa, and Laurie Ferguson, who had represented Reid since 1990, took over Werriwa.

I have a particular personal interest in Werriwa. I lived in the electorate for most of my life until 2010, and ran in the electorate in 2004 and at the 2005 by-election.

Werriwa is a particularly fascinating seat, and that’s what I want to cover today.

Werriwa has existed continuously as a federal electorate since 1901, but the seat covers a very different area today to its original territory in 1901. Werriwa originally covered a large part of southern New South Wales, including Lake George (which gives the seat its name) and what is now the northern suburbs of Canberra.

With the use of historical maps, I’m going to trace how Werriwa shifted regions gradually over time, moving from a southern NSW rural electorate to a suburban seat in south-western Sydney.

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Random election stat

I’ve been looking over the Senate results in the NSW seat of Grayndler at the last federal election, and I found this interesting information. This is the list of the top 10 polling individual candidates in terms of below-the-line votes.

  • Kerry Nettle (GRN) – 1691 (1.93%)
  • Mark Arbib (ALP) – 398 (0.45%)
  • Karl Kruszelnicki (Climate Change Coalition) – 280 (0.32%)
  • Helen Coonan (LIB) – 194 (0.22%)
  • Lyn Schumack (DEM) – 187 (0.21%)
  • Patrice Newell (Climate Change Coalition) – 105 (0.12%)
  • Marylou Carter (Carers Alliance) – 68 (0.08%)
  • Ursula Stephens (ALP) – 60 (0.07%)
  • Paul Green (CDP) – 59 (0.07%)
  • Jack Mundey (GRN) – 58 (0.07%)

Amongst below-the-line votes, Kerry polled 46.11%, and the Greens six candidates collectively polled 51.02%. Interesting.


Latham revisionism

Mark Latham has made another return to Australian political debate in the last few days, with an article from his former chief of staff being published in a scientific journal, arguing that Latham suffered from a “narcissistic and paranoid personality”:

In a article written for the International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, Mike Richards – who lost his job during the 2004 federal election loss – analysed Mr Latham’s behaviour during his turbulent year as Labor leader, The Age newspaper reports.

Dr Richards, who wrote his doctorate on a narcissistic personality, says Mr Latham’s promising political career was spoiled by “tragic personality flaws”.

“Latham’s narcissistic and paranoid personality shaped a consistent pattern of political behaviour,” he wrote.

“The core features of that style are a distinctive political brilliance and drive that is accompanied by paranoia and destructive tendencies – anger, rage, envy and resentment – which suggest an inner dynamic involving overweening ambition defending against (that is, compensating for) low self-esteem.”

Of course, a lot of that makes sense. But you also have to question, how many politicians fit into these criteria? I would consider narcissism, paranoia and a lot of the other symptoms described to be typical of most successful politicians.

The treatment of Mark Latham and his legacy ever since 2005 has been one of the most stunning cases of political and media doublethink in recent political history. Someone who doesn’t remember the 2004 campaign could reasonably believe 2004 was this crazy year when the entire ALP caucus went collectively insane and selected a lunatic as leader, who ran around the country tearing the place apart before receiving his rightful bollocking, at which point the ALP caucus woke up and became nice and sensible again.

Both major parties and much of the mainstream political media has conveniently spent the last four years rubbing out the history of the 2004 election. The assumption is that Howard’s victory over Latham was always inevitable.

Yet it needs to be pointed out that, for much of 2004, Latham’s polling numbers were stratospheric, before falling back down to earth in the second half of the year. Even on election day, when the result was probably certain, my memory is that, while Howard was favoured, people I spoke to weren’t as certain that Howard would win as, say, people were certain that Rudd would win in 2007.

The political journalist class has largely found it convenient to run with the “crazy Latham” meme as an antidote to their embarassing fawning over Latham during the 2004 campaign. It probably didn’t hurt that Latham didn’t pull any punches regarding the media in his 2005 diaries, giving them little motivation to treat his arguments and legacy fairly and much motivation to discredit his diaries and the opinions within. Usually such strident criticism of the political establishment by a former federal leader of a major party would be considered a key political document. Instead most who haven’t read the book would consider The Latham Diaries to be a crazy rant with little value.

The Liberal Party found value in painting Latham as a dangerous lunatic, as they could then bash the ALP for the misjudgement in electing him as leader and following his lead for an election campaign.

For the ALP, they also had strong reasons to paint the Latham experiment as a temporary bout of insanity. For the ALP political establishment that never really got onboard with Latham’s personality style (even though his actual policies were never particularly radical), it became easy during the 2005-2007 period to paint the 2004 election defeat as solely due to Latham’s role. Get rid of Latham, get rid of the problem. This avoided having to deal with the deeper structural issues. More importantly, the ALP was desperate to discredit the author of the most insightful critique of modern ALP culture, someone who has some of the best credentials to make such a critique.

Of course, Latham’s personal style probably never made it easy, and another leader may have done better. Yet you can’t ignore that, for a number of months in 2004, Latham was one of the most popular Opposition Leaders in recent years. Indeed, Mark Latham’s appeal and difficulties stemmed from the same source: he was a true outsider. He was never popular with the ALP political establishment, and his political outlook, despite fitting in perfectly with the ALP’s neoliberal economic agenda, challenged the way politics is done. The ALP first experimented with a radical choice with Latham in 2004, before succeeding with a conservative choice with Rudd in 2007. In contrast, the US Democrats went the other way, failing to elect a conservative choice in John Kerry in 2004, before succeeding in 2008 after taking a gamble on Barack Obama.

This is the real lesson of Mark Latham’s leadership. His leadership wasn’t a momentary bout of insanity, it was a gamble. It didn’t pay off, but that doesn’t mean it was always bound to fail. And if Latham had succeeded, Australian politics today would be very different, and much more interesting.

Update: Mike Richards’ article has been published online by Crikey, and you can read it here. It’s actually fascinating and well worth reading. Although I still wonder whether all the revelations about Latham’s narcissistic behaviour are any worse than the sort of stuff that could’ve come out about leaders like Paul Keating and Kevin Rudd.


Antony Green!

In celebration of the end of an election campaign, sing along to one of my favourite songs from Keating! the Musical, “Antony Green”:


Joe Trippi speaking in Sydney tonight

Some of you might be interested in coming along to this event tonight:

Join GetUp members in Sydney for a talk by US political luminary Joe Trippi on the future of online politics.

When: Thursday 26 February. 7-9pm (please arrive at 6:30)
Where: Teachers Federation Building Auditorium, 1st floor, 23-33 Mary St, Surry Hills 2010

Tickets are a $15 donation – just use the form below and we will put your name on the door list. See you there!


I’ll be there. Should be fun.


The new Andrew Fisher biography

I just finished David Day’s third book in what is rapidly becoming a series of biographies of Australia’s Labor Prime Ministers: Andrew Fisher: Prime Minister of Australia. This follows on the back of his John Curtin: A Life and Chifley.

Andrew Fisher’s story is one that has mainly disappeared from Australian political folklore, overshadowed by his primary rivals (Alfred Deakin and Billy Hughes) and the passing of time. Yet he was a central figure in shaping our modern party system.

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Essential’s “Best PM” poll

Essential Research has produced a fascinating poll, asking voters who they thought was Australia’s best post-WWII Prime Minister. The poll put the 21st century Prime Ministers well ahead of their predecessors, with 28% saying John Howard and 20% saying Kevin Rudd, followed by Bob Hawke on 12% and Robert Menzies on 11%.

Of course, it’s complete rubbish. For a start, John Howard comes out on top, although 55% voted for a Labor PM. If you used preferences, likely Rudd would come out on top. The difference was that Whitlam, Hawke and Keating all got substantial support, whereas there was practically no support for Holt, Gorton, McMahon or Fraser, so more of the Liberal vote was concentrated with Menzies and Howard.

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Transition blues

I’m reading Jonathan Alter’s The Defining Moment, which goes into the first hundred days of Franklin Roosevelt’s administration in 1933. Alter in particular looks at the interregnum between the November election and the inauguration on March 5, the same date as every president was sworn in from 1789 to 1933.

Waiting four months to change administrations after a national election was a leftover from an earlier era, when it took months to communicate election results and make plans for a new administration, but as communications improved, and the need for a long interregnum declined, it became more and more of a problem, as lame duck presidents struggled to continue to serve while the new president-elect slowly took over the levers of power.

This particularly became a crisis following the 1932 election, as the economic crisis continued to worsen, yet disagreements between Hoover and Roosevelt crippled the ability of the government to do anything. It was worsened due to the spilling over of the Hoover-Roosevelt contest in the 1932 election. Despite losing decisively, Hoover was still determined to defeat Roosevelt by humiliating him and managing to tar him with his poor reputation while using Roosevelt’s electoral victory as a shield to achieve bipartisan policies. While the crisis is much worse than the current economic crisis, there are a lot of parallels with the current interregnum. Imagine how much worse it would be if the transition were to continue for two more months. Alter makes it clear, however, that unlike Obama, there were low expectations of FDR’s ability and plans.

The 1932 election was the last to be followed by a March 5 inauguration. A constitutional amendment passed in 1932 was ratified in the next term and implemented in time for the 1936 election, and FDR’s second inauguration was the first to be held on January 20.

Communications have advanced much further since 1932, and the day-to-day responsibilities of the presidency have increased, which must make us consider whether it is really necessary to delay the swearing in of a new president until January 20. After all, Westminster democracies like Australia and the UK tend to have a new government in place within a week of an election result becoming clear.

Of course, there are barriers in the US system to speeding up a peaceful transition of power to allow for an inauguration in, say, mid-December. The biggest problem is the US system of electoral regulation, which gives responsibility to local levels of government and gives lots of room for litigation and recounting. A simpler system of uniform elections conducted by a federal electoral commission exclusively would leave much less room for litigation and a speedier election resolution. For example, the Bush v Gore decision was handed down on December 12, 2000, which would have given Bush practically no time to construct an administration if the inauguration was speeded up. On the other hand, an election such as this is a rare occurrence, and it doesn’t seem necessary to postpone the inauguration in a clearcut case like 2008 because of the rare ultra-close election.

The US federal government also has a very different nature of bureaucracy from the traditional concept of the independent professional civil service in the Westminster system of government. Many more positions in much deeper positions within the federal bureaucracy are considered partisan positions, which would depend on the outcome of the election. Rather than simply appointing a few dozen ministers and parliamentary secretary, the incoming Obama administration is in the process of appointing thousands of Democrats to positions like Assistant Secretary roles and the US Attorneys, who are all members of the President’s party.

In addition, the system of parliamentary democracy has evolved the effective mechanism of the shadow cabinet, meaning that less time is needed to allocate portfolios to members of the cabinet. Obama had a much wider field of potential cabinet secretaries than Prime Minister Rudd had, and he did not have experience with these people in the way that Rudd had with his then-shadow ministers.

While these are all issues, it seems entirely possible that, in this modern age of communication, with improved streamlining of electoral processes and good internal planning, the period between election and inauguration could be dramatically shortened.

Hopefully, if I can be awake, I’ll be liveblogging the Inauguration ceremony. It will begin at 11:30am EST, which is 3:30am Wednesday AEST. President-elect Obama will be sworn in at 4am Wednesday AEST, which will be followed by his inaugural address and a parade through Washington, D.C.


Florida, The Year 2000

Courtesy of FiveThirtyEight.com, this fascinating report outlining what went on in the process of calling the state of Florida for Al Gore, then reversing it to George W Bush, before returning the state to be “too close to call”.