Bradfield by-election

December 5, 2009

Bradfield was first created at the 1949 election, and has been held by the Liberal Party for the last sixty years. The seat was first held by former Prime Minister Billy Hughes up to his death in 1952, when he was replaced by Henry Turner. Turner held the seat until the 1974 election, when he was succeeded by David Connolly.

Neither Turner or Connolly ever held ministries, although Connolly served as a shadow minister during the early-mid 1990s. Prior to the 1996 election, Connolly was challenged for preselection by former AMA President Brendan Nelson, who was elected in Bradfield in 1996.

Nelson went on to serve in the Howard cabinet as Minister for Education and Minister for Defence. Following the defeat of the Howard government in 2007, Nelson was elected Leader of the Opposition. Nelson only served in the role for ten months before he was defeated by Malcolm Turnbull. Nelson had previously announced he would retire at the next general election, but in August 2009 he announced he would resign immediately, triggering a by-election in Bradfield.

Bradfield covers parts of the upper north shore of Sydney. The seat mostly correlates to Ku-ring-gai Council. In addition, a few suburbs around Hornsby are part of Bradfield, as are some suburbs in northwestern Willoughby, particularly around Chatswood. The seat is bordered by Berowra to the west, Bennelong to the southwest, North Sydney to the south, Warringah to the southeast and Mackellar to the east.

Political situation
Bradfield is held by a 13.5% margin by the Liberal Party. The seat has never gone to preferences in sixty years. It is the fifth-safest Liberal seat in the country and the eighth-safest Coalition seat. The 2007 primary result of 59.1% is the lowest ever received for the Liberal Party. However, the seat remains very safe.

The seat overlaps with the state electorate of Ku-ring-gai, held by NSW Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell. Liberal-dominated Ku-ring-gai Council, which covers most of the seat, has been stripped of planning powers for controversial developments by the state government, and the Liberals and Greens have both used this issue to attack the state Labor government.

Fundamentally, this remains a safe Liberal seat, however we should see a strong performance for the Greens, who tend to do well in northern Sydney. There has been little word about potential independent candidates, and without a Labor candidate this turns into a Liberal-Greens contest. In these circumstances, I can’t see the Greens winning the seat, but it should be an opportunity for the party to raise its presence and build its organisation across Sydney, particularly if they can make climate change a key issue in the by-election.

The Liberal Party is running Paul Fletcher, former Optus executive and advisor to Communications Minister Richard Alston. His main opponent will be Susie Gemmell of The Greens, advisor to NSW MP Lee Rhiannon and candidate for the seat in 2007.

A major contribution to 22-strong field has been made by Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party, who are standing no less than nine candidates. In ballot paper order they are: James Whitehall, Jodi Luke, Robyn Peebles, Darryl Allen, Leighton Thew, Andrew Hestelow, Esther Heng, Joseph Pender and David Pix.

Other candidates include Marianne Leishman representing the Australian Sex Party, Simon McCaffrey of the Democratic Labor Party, One Nation’s Victor Waterson, Lucy Gabb of the Liberal Democrats, Deborah Burt of the Climate Change Coalition and Goronwy Price from Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy, a party which has recently had a name change after contesting the 2007 election as ‘Conservatives for Climate and Environment’, Also in the field are five independents – Peter Hanrahan, a 56-year old diagnosed with bipolar disorder who describes himself as a ‘universal Christian’ and opposes the ETS and a human rights charter, Bill Koutalianos representing the unregistered Climate Sceptics Party, Philip Dowling a former IT educator who resigned a position with the NSW Department of Education to contest the by-election, Brian Buckley, a right-wing republican who has been a frequent election candidate over more than 30 years, and local businessman Simon Kelly, who appears to be the same person who posted a number of comments on this thread previously.

The ALP announced early on that they would not stand.

2007 result

Brendan NelsonLIB49,81759.07-3.41
Victoria BrookmanALP22,50926.69+5.11
Susie GemmellGRN9,49511.26+0.01
Witold WiszniewskiCDP1,4661.74+1.45
James TurnbullFF7590.90-0.88
Robert ButlerCEC2850.34+0.34

2007 two-candidate-preferred result

Brendan NelsonLIB53,51263.45-4.10
Victoria BrookmanALP30,81936.55+4.10

Booth breakdown

For the purpose of analysis, I have divided the votes cast in Bradfield into five voter blocks. ‘Chatswood’ covers all booths in Willoughby LGA, along with the remainder of Roseville. ‘Hornsby’ likewise covers booths in Hornsby LGA. South Ku-ring-gai covers the southern suburbs of Ku-ring-gai Council, namely Gordon, Lindfield, Killara and Pymble. North Ku-ring-gai covers the northern suburbs of Ku-ring-gai Council, namely St Ives, Turramurra, and Wahroonga.

As this chart demonstrates, the Liberal vote peaks in the northern suburbs of Ku-ring-gai, polling 70.65% 2PP. The ALP actually won a two-party majority amongst the 12.5% of votes cast in Hornsby LGA. Chatswood gives 55% to the Liberals, while South Ku-ring-gai lies between North Ku-ring-gai and Chatswood. When examining the Greens vote, Chatswood is the strongest part of the seat, with the northern suburbs of Ku-ring-gai, which makes up the largest part of the seat, being the weakest. However, there isn’t a great deal of variation, from 10.55% in North Ku-ring-gai up to 12.22% in Chatswood.

Voter groupGRN %LIB 2CP %Total votes% of votes
North Ku-ring-gai10.5570.6525,38430.10
South Ku-ring-gai11.8164.8521,00724.91
Other votes11.0063.4618,73922.22

“Other votes” includes postal, pre-poll, provisional and absent votes, as well as special hospital votes and those cast at Sydney Town Hall.

Two-party-preferred vote for Brendan Nelson, 2007 election, by booth.
Two-party-preferred vote per booth, 2007 election. Labor booths in pink, Liberal booths in blue.
Primary vote for the Greens, 2007 election, by booth.
Primary vote for the Greens, 2007 election, by booth. Below-median booths are coloured yellow.


  1. If I remember correctly, the southern part of Bradfield (ie Chatswood)was an area that I advised Kerry Nettle to target. However, that was a Senate P.O.V. I still reckon the demographics are somewhat favourable for improvement. Perhaps this is a chance where we can make some in-roads into the Labor vote in Chatswood.

  2. Wow, are you trying to outdo Antony? You’re a complete freak!

    Just the point on Ku-ring-gai council. They’ve been stripped of their planning powers in relation to their LEP and DCP and those powers handed to a state govt appointed panel. I don’t know what the elected council’s position is, but I think you’ll find that it’s not the council that’s in the firing line and the Libs are in fact using the issue to beat up on the state govt as I wrote on the other thread. Please correct me if I’m wrong of course.

  3. Ben – how much of the Labor vote and how much of the (liberal) Liberal vote do you think the Greens might get?

  4. Jimmy,

    I think that most of the vote gain for the Greens will come from Labor voters with no progressive option. While you could see some Liberals switch to the Greens, either as a protest vote or because of the opposition’s position on the CPRS, bear in mind we’re talking about the upper north shore, not the lower north shore.

  5. Will the Democrats field a candidate in Bradfield? I have the feeling that the demographics in Bradfield are such that they may be some constituency for a Democrat candidate, even if he or she gets outpolled by the Greens. Isn’t this the type of electorate where they may do well among affluent ‘small l liberals’, particularly in the absence of a Labor candidate?

  6. Sorry, I should’ve given a more full explanation. If the Democrats were still able to attract ‘small l liberal’ votes they would’ve done so in 2004 when it was ‘small l liberal’ voters who were most discontent with Howard over issues like Iraq, asylum seekers, Kyoto, etc, but the Democrat vote in 2004 collapsed to the same 1-2% level across the board. I think Bradfield may in fact have been their best individual seat result, but it was still only 2%. If they couldn’t get these voters then, there’s no reason to expect they will ever get them again, even in a by-election.

  7. Ben, were you going to add a note clarifying that your maps don’t show the smaller booths?

    Something I noticed that may have been mentioned elsewhere. When Nelson won Bradfield in 1996 the Liberal primary vote dropped 5%, and the 2PP swing to them was the 2nd lowest in the state (2.72%, only Wentworth was lower). I didn’t look at how different the boundaries may have been then, but I doubt it would make much difference in that area. Probably not surprising given the circumstances of Nelson’s candidacy and his non-Liberal background, but still interesting.

    Oh, and a minor typo there Ben, under ‘Booth breakdown’ you wrote ‘I have divided the votes cast in Ku-ring-gai into five voter blocks’, obviously you meant Bradfield, not Ku-ring-gai, but I didn’t notice it the first time I read it either.

  8. Reading about the Independent Mayor of Ku-ring-gai, Elaine Malicki:

    She got 54% of the vote in her ward last election. Anyone with more local knowledge know more about her? Is she a potential candidate?

    Guess I should’ve asked this on PB, but too bad.

  9. Yes, one would think by now anyone who would be a serious contender would’ve announced. I just thought it would be interesting last week to do some research on local political identities in that area to see who potential candidates might be.

    Note other info posted elsewhere, including what I thought were some poorly chosen comments by a local Greens spokesperson. Even though Greens can’t win, would hope eventual candidate at least presents themselves as someone who does want to be a politician, as I’m sure a lot more people will vote for a candidate who appears to be in it to win it than for one who’s just a name on the ballot.

  10. Looked up Buckley on Adam Carr’s candidates index, and I was right, he’s been a frequent candidate. For the Senate in NSW in 1974, 1984 and 1987, in Victoria in 1993 and Qld in 1996. Presumably the same guy since his latter two candidacies were for the Republican Party of Australia (similar policy platform if I remember correctly). I was looking at 1993 Senate results the other day, so that’s probably where I’d remembered his name from.

  11. Should finish my research before I post. He did have a more noteworthy candidacy at the 1980 by-election for the state seat of Ku-ring-gai, gaining 31% of the vote, but there were only two candidates, Nick Greiner was the other. Also contested Mosman at the 1971 state election for the Australia Party, polling just under 10%. Will be surprised here if he can even match his council election vote total.

  12. With regards to Geoff Robinson’s comments about Hornsby; it has historically (over my 30+ year familiarity with the area)been very much swing territory and the town itself (over the past decade) has leaned appreciably LAB with demographic & generational change.

    With the 07 Bradfield results, Nelson did take a caning in the Hornsby LGA area.There were large negative swings in all booths bar Hospital booth & his only wins were the shared booths at Waitara PS & a 1 vote squeaker at Asquith PS.

    Longer term, this trend will likely continue and the Libs would ideally like to change the northern boundary back to the F3. This would, however, negatively impact on Berowra by 1-1.5%. The suburban/railway corridors of that seat are getting increasingly tighter for the Libs esp north of Hornsby but this seat will never be lost by the Libs whilst it continues to cover the semi-rural areas of Hornsby Shire.

  13. This may be noteworthy as it appears it will attract a bit of media attention. A local residents group is staging a mock funeral procession on Sunday from Turramurra to State Parliament to commemorate the ‘death of democracy’, and have reportedly attracted support from a number of other groups around Sydney and possibly further afield. What caught my attention though was their speakers list, which includes John Gattfield, Rod Quantock, Wendy Harmer, Catriona Rowntree, Michael Caton and Richard Clapton. They claim to be expecting TV coverage ‘before, during and after the rally’.

    They don’t seem to have much of a web presence though. The promotional email I got forwarded a copy of earlier today mentioned no websites, but I did find this one with bare minimum useful info:

    No idea whether it will have any bearing on the by-election or potential candidates, but it obviously ties in with the Liberals’ stated objective of focusing the campaign on discontent with the state government.

  14. Wendy Harmer apparently was thinking about running for a state seat round there as an independent last NSW election (North Shore or Manly or somewhere), and Rod Quantock used to be on BackBerner (anyone remember that show?), so I can’t imagine that mob are too Liberal-friendly. Maybe more Ted Mack types?

  15. No, sorry, I don’t think it’s intentionally tying in with the Libs strategy, the Libs strategy being an obvious one anyway. They presumably are those Ted Mack-type north shore independents, Genia McCaffery is also on the speakers list (although I’m told in another email I just got this morning that ‘no politician will be allowed to speak’, um, thought Genia was one).

    Wakehurst was the seat Harmer had planned to contest, and I think Quantock has run for something in Victoria, but can’t remember what off the top of my head.

  16. He’s definitely Victorian, and I thought he had something to do with the Greens as well. He wasn’t a Greens candidate once was he?

  17. Team,

    Any ideas on effective ways to quickly build a presence in areas of Bradfield where a potential candidate is not widely known?

  18. Guys,

    I mean a civic minded independent in the mould of Ted Mack, but without the history of state or local representation to rely on.

  19. Hamish, no, it can’t be, he said ‘without the history of state or local representation to rely on’. Though I’ve seen further reports of her being a potential candidate.

    Ok, well, the simplest advice I’d offer without knowing anything else about the candidate or what resources are at his/her disposal is maximise visibility. For example, get the candidate out walking the streets and shopping centres with a couple of supporters in tow carrying a few corflutes and/or dressed in campaign t-shirts, and get supporters with corflutes out standing on busy street corners so they can be seen by the most passing motorists and pedestrians. You’ll also want to do letterboxing and come up with something clever that attracts press coverage.

    But what the voters will need to know is what is the candidate’s source of credibility. This may be difficult to establish if the candidate doesn’t have a local government background. Why is this candidate a credible candidate for this office, and what is the rationale for their candidacy? The campaign will need to be able to communicate to voters what it is about the candidate’s background/experience that would make voters want to vote for him/her, why the candidate is running, what he/she stands for, and what sets him/her apart from/makes him/her more credible than other candidates. This must all be expressed in a way that connects with the target voters, their identity, values and concerns.

    Of course, although I’d hardly recommend it, you could always do what the Democrats have done and hire a paid political consultant (apparently with somewhat troublesome consequences). The person the Dems hired is Kathryn Crosby, this is her website:
    Whilst the site is a terrific rave, I couldn’t help but notice that it doesn’t actually list anything she’s actually accomplished. I’d love to know how much she got paid.

  20. Well I hope you direct preferences to the Greens and any other progressive independents so that it maximises the chances of a progressive candidate winning.

  21. Team,

    I’ll post a link to the web site I’m building shortly with my thoughts. Until then, in brief, I am trying to build a coalition of non-liberal candidates who share preferences specifically away from the Liberals. This goal is not simply for the sake of being progressive. I’m not saying that I have any issue with being progressive. Instead I am trying to highlight the danger of any seat being wildly out of reach of one major party, and taken for granted by the other.

    Regardless of which side “owns” a seat, the very fact that either one does “own” a seat should itself be sufficient to bring out a candidate who tries to diminish the size of the swing required to change parties.

    The planning disasters in Ku-ring-gai at the moment are a good example of why un-winnable seats should be abolished by interventionist candidates.

    Democracy is improved when a seat needs to be fought for. At least it is in my humble opinion. Hence the candidacy.


  22. Well Simon, you certainly have some good views. I hope you have some success. Keep us informed of your campaign.

  23. Team,

    Just to avoid confusion, the fellow who left the post with the the brown icon called “Simon” is not me. He didn’t say anything offensive, but it does appear to casual observers to be the same poster as me, and that is misleading, so I thought I would point that out.

  24. Fletcher’s book Wired Brown Land is quite interesting and suggests he could actually make an informed contribution to policy debates which might make him a bit out of place in the current Libs

  25. Fletcher was certainly the most moderate of the Libs contesting preselection. He seems quite smart, of the old Liberal type as opposed to the far-right culture warriors that seem to be growing in influence within the Libs.

  26. Seems it’s official, the Sex Party will be running as well, see here:

    Also read somewhere that the Liberal Democratic Party are advertising for a candidate, and for anyone not reading other threads, just mentioning possibly up to 11 CDP candidates, and the One Nation candidate whose identity is being suppressed to protect them from the media. Such fun, and as far as I know we haven’t heard from the CEC or the Democrats (new or old) yet.

  27. PB reports final candidates list as: “Paul Fletcher, Susie Gemmell, Marianna Leishman and Brian Buckley; another independent, “local IT businessman” Simon Kelly; and two Christian Democratic Party candidates, Leighton Thew and Heath Wilson.”

    So we have a) the Man from Optus b) the pond warrior c) the burlesque performer d) the perennial racist e) Democracy Simon and f/g) The Gospels of Luke and John.

    Sounds like as fair as the race could get!

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