Cunningham – Australia 2022

ALP 13.4%

Incumbent MP
Sharon Bird, since 2004.

Northern Wollongong. Cunningham covers suburbs of Wollongong north of the Wollongong CBD, as well as suburbs as far south as Warrawong and Port Kembla. Major suburbs include Wollongong, Fairy Meadow, Towradgi, Balgownie, Corrimal, Woonona, Bulli, Thirroul, Austinmer and Port Kembla.


Cunningham was created for the 1949 election following the expansion of the House of Representatives. With the exception of a 2002 by-election, the seat has always been won by the ALP.

The seat was first won in 1949 by Labor candidate Billy Davies. Davies had held the state seat of Wollongong for 32 years. Davies held Cunningham until his death in 1956.

The seat was won at the 1956 by-election by Victor Kearney, who held it until his retirement in 1963, although he attempted to win Cunningham back as an independent in 1966.

In 1963 the seat was won by state MP Rex Connor, who had held Wollongong-Kembla since 1950. When the ALP won the 1972 federal election, Connor joined Gough Whitlam’s cabinet as Minister for Minerals and Energy. Connor’s downfall as a minister came in 1974-5 as he attempted to organise loans for the Australian government through less than reputable means. He was forced to resign from Whitlam’s cabinet in October 1975, and the ‘Loans Affair’ was considered a key factor in the downfall of the Whitlam government.

Connor was re-elected at the 1975 election, and died in August 1977. The ensuing by-election was won by Stewart West. West was appointed as Bob Hawke’s first Minister for Immigration after winning the 1983 election. He resigned from Cabinet in November 1983 in protest at a decision in support of uranium mining. He returned to Cabinet in April 1984 and remained there until the 1990 election.

West lost preselection at the 1993 election to Stephen Martin, the sitting member for Macarthur. Macarthur had been redistributed out of the Illawarra area, and Martin successfully challenged West for Cunningham. Martin had held Macarthur since 1984.

Martin was elected as Speaker of the House of Representatives following the 1993 election and served in the role for the final term of the Keating government. Martin resigned in 2002, triggering a third by-election for Cunningham.

At the 2002 by-election, the ALP preselected Sharon Bird over the protests of local Labor members. The by-election took place under the leadership of Simon Crean, and in the lead-up to the war in Iraq. The ALP was buffetted from the left by issues such as Iraq and Crean’s poor performance, coupled with the loss of support from local ALP members and unions due to Bird’s preselection. The Liberal Party did not run in the by-election, and the Greens managed to organise strong preferences from other candidates. The ALP polled 38% of the primary vote, while Greens candidate Michael Organ polled 23%. Organ received strong preference flows, and won the seat with 52.2% of the two-party preferred vote.

Organ’s victory caused shockwaves, as the first ever Green elected to the House of Representatives. At the time the party had only two senators and had only polled 5% in the 2001 election, which was substantially up from poor performances at previous elections in the late 1990s.

The 2004 election saw Bird challenge Organ for the seat. With a Liberal candidate standing, Organ failed to come in the top two. Early counts suggested that the Greens had actually gained a swing on a two-candidate-preferred basis against the ALP, but this became irrelevant with the Liberals coming second.

Bird has been re-elected five times.


Sitting Labor MP Sharon Bird is not running for re-election.

  • Marcus Uren (Liberal)
  • Ben Britton (United Australia)
  • Alison Byrnes (Labor)
  • Alexis Garnaut-Miller (Citizens Party)
  • Dylan Green (Greens)
  • Michael Glover (Liberal Democrats)
  • Thomas Grogan (One Nation)
  • Assessment
    Cunningham is a safe Labor seat.

    2019 result

    Sharon Bird Labor 46,92346.6-1.3
    Chris Atlee Liberal 31,17731.0+1.8
    Rowan Huxtable Greens 15,19615.1+0.4
    Grace YoungerUnited Australia Party3,8283.8+3.8
    John GillSustainable Australia2,3402.3+2.3
    John FlanaganNon-Custodial Parents1,2131.2-0.4

    2019 two-party-preferred result

    Sharon Bird Labor 63,83663.4+0.1
    Chris Atlee Liberal 36,84136.6-0.1

    Booth breakdown

    Booths have been divided into three parts: central, north and south.

    The ALP won a majority of the two-party-preferred vote in all three areas, ranging from 63.7% in the north to 66.3% in the south.

    The Greens polled strongly in Cunningham, with a primary vote ranging from 14% in the centre to 17.7% in the north.

    Voter groupGRN prim %ALP 2PP %Total votes% of votes
    Other votes14.661.89,4839.4

    Election results in Cunningham at the 2019 federal election
    Toggle between two-party-preferred votes and primary votes for Labor, the Liberal Party and the Greens.

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    1. Sharon Bird has announced her retirement. Labor hold either way. Greens did win the seat but its not really a fair reflection of the chances. They won it during a bye-election where Simon Crean’s leadership was going pretty dismal. Most pundits predicted it would go back to Labor at the general election which it did.

      There were also reports during the bye-election some Labor members undermined Labors campaign after being disappointed with the outcome of the preselection. They would later face expulsion from the party for their actions it was reported.

    2. Labor is clearly not confident about the next election with all these retirements. In Western democracy the party that has more retirements usually losses the election. Look at 2013 for example.

      Even looking in the US you will see more house retirements for the party that is looking to lose such as 2010 and 2018.

      This is because members don’t want to be on the opposition benches. They know very well being in government means they can get more done for their constituents and just holding the opposite party to account isn’t enough.

      This will be a Labor hold but don’t expect Bird to be the last Labor retirement. I suspect we could see another 3 or so more. At the last election the coalition had allot of retirements because they thought they would lose so perhaps these Labor MP’s who are going because they suspect they won’t win government may be proven wrong and perhaps they will regret their decision to go?

      Another reason could be (This isn’t necessarily the case in safe seats) because an open seat is more competitive than an incumbent MP with personal support so retiring when the party is looking to do well will mean they hold onto the seat regardless of the loss of the personal vote.

    3. It’s been reported Alison Byrnes Scully, Sharon Bird’s long-time adviser and executive assistant and wife of state MP Paul Scully. Is reported the early frontrunner to win the Labor pre-selection for the seat of Cunningham.

    4. The long running local ALP racket continues. With Alison Byrnes Scully, wife of Wollongong State MP Paul Scully, wanting to get on the gravy train too now! Seriously, is that the best the David Campbell clique can come up with – well yes, of course it is, because Ryan Park, Paul Scully and now Ms Byrnes Scully are only in it for the bucks just like the ‘door man’ mentor. Mediocrity in the extreme.

    5. Misha Zelinsky has now pulled out of the preselection citing lack of support among rank and file as the reason it was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald.

    6. A shame to hear about Misha, who on paper had the better CV.
      It appears Nepotism has struck the Labor party again. All I’ll say is if Labor keep going down this path of character assassinations during pre-selection don’t be surprised if more people lose the party, don’t hand-out on election day and don’t donate.
      Zelinsky wrote a satirical book, and now the electorate will essentially have an inferior advocate in Canberra.
      Time for open primaries, and greater movement with the parties. In the US and Canada, it is not uncommon for MPs/Candidates from the major parties to switch sides. Maybe more pollies should do the same here.
      If I were him, I’d test the theory and run for the Libs. It’s clear Labor is going to keep overlooking him over such a benign issue.

    7. Lj Davidson, Madeleine Ogilvie in Tasmania was a party switcher who moved almost directly from labor to liberal, and then won re-election successfully.

    8. LJ Davidson, why would the Libs agree to select a union apparatchik whose biggest priorities include solving intergenerational wealth inequality and increasing wage growth? He sounds antithetical to their economic agenda. Zelinsky would be better off running as a Green or independent, or biding his time for a future candidacy.

    9. Probably agree with you Wilson, I recall in 2002 there was a by election in this seat where one preselection loser ran as an independent and enabled the Greens to win.

      The Wollongong area seems to have a history of independent representation despite its strong labor lean. Local mayor Gordon Bradbury won two close contests against labor and the state seat was independent held at some time (80s or 90s I believe).

    10. There’s an even better solution, allow write-ins on ballots. Then if someone not formally endorsed by a party gets elected they can decide who they caucus with.

      But @ Wilson to your point, plenty of Union people vote and have voted for the Libs. Howard got a significant bloc of union membership during 96-04.
      His book on “Housing Addicts” also reflects on his own Labor Party’s embracing of free-market policies during the Hawke-Keating years. But I take your point.
      The one thing I have observed about the Libs, is the party is malleable and forms the shape of the leader. There also appears to be a lot more freedom with voting as evidenced by the Religious Discrimination Bill.

      As I said, I think they will keep finding excuses not to nominate him. He is far and away the better candidate but because he is not married to an MP, doesn’t have fans in Head Office and people in Canberra (like Keneally) view him as a threat he will continue to get blocked. The party and its higher-ups will always take more from its members than it gives back.
      Waiting for a seat is political death as well.
      There’s only 2 real seats in the Illawarra: Cunningham and Whitlam. And Stephen Jones isn’t moving on anytime soon. He could probably make a tilt for Shellharbour but that will probably be the same result as Cunningham.

    11. LJ Davidson
      It’s easy to see the man’s abilities, & potential, so you’re essentially correct. However taking the action of simply switching sides doesn’t really change anything Mischa’s challenge is the same as any other Achiever/Performer Type 3, who struggle to see any value developing themselves to evolve & truly be different. He needs to find out who he REALLY IS, as opposed to just being the most successful, & accomplished presentation of who he thinks he ought to look, sound, & act like, in order to be successful . If he can comprehend that, he could be another Hawke, if he can embody it he can be our JFK. However Andrew Hastie is ahead of him ATM.

      Scully will just be an inconsequential time server. What a waste.

    12. @ WD he’ll probably take over the AWU at some point and is also a Fulbright Scholar. In terms of sizzle vs steak when it comes to political candidacy, I would say nearly all the most recent additions to Parliament encapsulate the former rather than the latter.
      Zelinsky is a substantive candidate, and maybe a few years in the Private sector or NGO would be good but then he’d be in the same position with no room at the Inn. Hopefully, they might put him into the Senate or Upper House but there are so many IOUs between Head Office and other special interest groups, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
      Hastie is an interesting one. I think he will struggle primarily because of geography more so than even rhetoric. It’ll be a while before we see another leader or PM from WA, SA or Tassie.
      The next cabs off the rank for the Libs will be Dutton, Frydenberg, Fletcher and Taylor. I can’t see anyone making a dent in those 4’s aspirations.
      Labor will be Chalmers, Clare or O’Neil. I think Plibersek has run out of puff and Burke, Butler and Bowen lack cut-through.

    13. LJ Davidson, I would suggest that the relationship between unionists and the Liberal Party is a one way street. I’m sure several unionists do vote Liberal, but I am yet to see any evidence that the Liberal Party like unionists enough to select them as candidates.

      If Labor win this election, maybe enough popular discontent will form agianst their governance for an independent to run a successful campaign against them, much as the Voices movement is running against the Liberals this time. Maybe that will be Zelinsky’s best opportunity to run and win.

    14. Dutton – Toxic in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide
      Frydenburg – Obvious next cab off the rank but he does seem to lack substance.
      Fletcher – Really? Mr Invisible
      Taylor – An accident waiting to happen …

      But other than Andrew Hastie, who is a Liberal possibility? Karen Andrews possibly if she was 10 years younger. Otherwise the cupboard is pretty bare!!

      Chalmers – Definitely
      Clare – Possibly but needs runs on the board
      O’Neil – Possibly but has a low profile

      Tanya Plibersek would be great but it does seem that she doesn’t have the appetite for the job. Mark Butler does need some substantive runs on the board like Jason Clare.

    15. Well Morrison will win the election anyway so he will remain leader but a Smokey if a disaster happens and Albo wins Luke Howarth is a good option

    16. Alex Hawke would be my tip for next Liberal leader, particularly if Frydenberg loses his seat. I don’t think the Liberal Party room will back Dutton unless they’re truly desperate.

    17. Methinks that Alex Hawke has made a few too many enemies in the party room and the wider party on the way.

    18. Wilson
      Mate Alex Hawke would be the Labor Party’s choice for Lib leader !!!!!!!1. How completely absurd!!

      / The guy will be lucky to retain his nomination for Mitchell !!. His sole qualification for the ministry was his “close friendship” with the PM. Which is totally built on unwaveringly sycophantic worship of Morrison. Look at the most incompetent ministers like Hawke, Robert, Taylor they are all “friends” of the PM.

      Look at the inestimable damage he has done to the libs with delaying & perverting the pre selection process. If the guy actually had any ability he would be under suspicion as being a kind of “double agent” or Labor stooge or something. However everyone (else) just accepts & knows the simple truth– that Hawke is just a complete dickhead. A “YES” man of diminished proportions

    19. Dutton is by far the safest bet to replace Morrison. He has the party room support, he has the base locked down tight, he represents the direction the Liberal party actually wants to take itself. His biggest obstacle to the leadership is surviving this election. I don’t agree that a Dutton led Coalition would be unelectable- a hard right Liberal party reenergised on right-wing culture war shit could be formidable against an idle centrist Labor government, and after all, Abbott was elected.

      If he doesn’t then it’s anyone’s guess who ends up on top. Andrew Hastie maybe? Frydenberg might be too tarnished by his association with Morrison, and he’s a bore and a dolt, but he obviously has a chance. Making Hawke leader would piss off far too many people in the party.

      OTOH there are lots of potential replacements for Albo. Of course there are. He’s always been one of Labor’s greatest weaknesses.

    20. Agree FL that Dutton should replace Morrison. I am not sure who would contest the leadership against him, he could very well win unopposed. Frydenberg isn’t an attack dog, he doesn’t have what it takes to lead from opposition. Dutton is made to be an opposition leader. I could see someone like Alex Hawke throwing himself up as a sacrificial lamb of the anti-Dutton forces. And I agree that the election of Abbott serves as evidence to point that Dutton could win. However, I’d expect Frydenberg to eventually make his move after letting Dutton have his fun for a bit, if Dutton is polling poorly. If Dutton comes out of this struggle on top, I think the eventual obvious successor to his hard right faction is Andrew Hastie. As for future Labor leaders, who honestly knows, but I personally hope Tanya gets her chance if she wants it. Will be interesting to see if, assuming Labor wins, Albo is still PM by the next election, or if someone like Chalmers, or, for fun, Bill Shorten had taken power.

    21. Geez looking at this seat now, and the rise of Misha Zelinsky’s profile (he’s been a great voice during the Ukrainian coverage) what an incredibly stupid and myopic move by the Labor party in not nominating him.
      The guy is an absolute star and was overlooked by Head Office for a glorified receptionist.

    22. If Zelinsky was preselected, would his insight on Ukraine really have outweighed the controversy over the book he co-authored in 2012 that has been described as misogynistic? I doubt it, since the Murdoch press would have no doubt splashed it across their headlines.

    23. @Wilson, it’s a safe Labor seat, so even if the Daily Telegraph was running editorials on him everyday I think he’d be fine.
      I also think the attacks would’ve been quite stunted given how unpopular Morrison/Liberals are.
      The mileage from the book would’ve lasted maybe a few weeks if best. Truth be told, I think most of the uproar would’ve come from his own side, as most political smear jobs come from.
      Zelinsky is 10 times more charismatic than 90% of the front bench, which again goes to the core of why there was such a push internally against his nomination.
      Maybe he should try and run for Whitlam, as Jones isn’t really setting the world on fire

    24. Not sure how I feel about having Wollongong run by a Husband & Wife in State and Federal parliaments.

    25. Small chance of Liberals coming 3rd. Illawarra Greens are a solid branch with council representation, and there’s the UoW influence. Adam Bandt visited the electorate to make a Green steel announcement, which did get media pick ups.

      Meanwhile I suspect in a Labor dominant town, anti Morrison talking points echo very loudly.

      Newcastle has similar dynamics but would have a larger coal voter contingent.

    26. I wouldn’t be surprised if in 2025 this seat becomes just like your average inner-city Sydney or Melbourne seat – a Labor stronghold that becomes an ALP vs GRN contest. The blue collar workforce is declining and the city of Wollongong is gentrifying with sea-changers, professionals and young people and some hippies moving in.

    27. @ Votante, agreed this could be a long term drift also the Federal electorate of Newcastle where the Greens and Libs are pretty close to each other.

    28. Put this into the same category as Cooper, Wills and Canberra. Winnable for Greens with Liberal preferences short term, and outright medium term.

      Newcastle, Adelaide, Perth, Moreton, Higgins and Gilmore (if Constance wins) are also worth a strong Green campaign next time (not to mention Richmond and MacNamara, and Brisbane if Greens just miss out)


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