Cunningham – Election 2010

ALP 16.9%

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 Unanderra. It also includes sparsely populated southern parts of Sutherland Shire as far north as Bundeena and Heathcote. Major suburbs include Wollongong, Fairy Meadow, Towradgi, Balgownie, Corrimal, Woonona, Bulli, Thirroul, Austinmer and Heathcote.

Cunningham moved slightly north. Cunningham previously stopped at the Wollongong-Sutherland border. In exchange Cunningham lost a largely industrial area around Wollongong Harbour.

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-party preferred basis against the ALP, but this became irrelevant with the Liberals coming second.

At the 2007 election, Bird was challenged for a third time by Organ, who polled 14% in an election where the ALP gained ground, and Bird solidified her margin over the Liberal candidate.


Political situation
This seat remains a strong seat for the Greens, but without former MP Organ it will be difficult for the Greens to win a seat. Until the Greens perform strong enough to overtake the Liberal Party the ALP won’t be at risk of losing the seat.

2007 result

Candidate Party Votes % Swing
Sharon Bird ALP 44,835 53.23 +12.46
Colin Fowler LIB 22,438 26.64 -2.45
Michael Organ GRN 12,326 14.63 -4.80
Nolene Norsworthy CDP 2,232 2.65 -0.54
Jemma Tribe FF 1,203 1.43 +1.43
Jess Moore SA 706 0.84 +0.45
John Flanagan NCPP 489 0.58 +0.14

2007 two-candidate-preferred result

Candidate Party Votes % Swing
Sharon Bird ALP 57,382 68.13 +6.51
Colin Fowler LIB 26,847 31.87 -6.51

Results do not take into account effects of the redistribution.

Booth breakdown
Most booths in Cunningham lie along the coast of Wollongong, in a line from Helensburgh to the Wollongong CBD. I have divided booths into five areas. One includes the five booths in Sutherland. The other four follow the Wollongong coastline. These areas are:

  • Wollongong Central – Wollongong, Figtree, Unanderra, Mount Keira.
  • Fairy Meadow-Corrimal – Balgownie, Corrimal, Fairy Meadow, Towradgi.
  • Bellambi-Austinmer – Thirroul, Bulli, Woonona, Bellambi, Austinmer.
  • Coledale-Helensburgh – Coledale, Helensburgh, Otford, Stanwell Park, Wombarra.

The Greens polled most strongly in the Coledale-Helensburgh area at the far northern end of Wollongong, and also polled strongly in the Bellambi-Austinmer immediately south. The ALP polled most strongly in the Fairy Meadow-Corrimal area while the Liberal Party polled most strongly in Coledale-Helensburgh (excluding Sutherland, where the Liberals topped the poll. Due to the low chance of the Liberal Party winning the seat and the prominent role the Greens have played, I have ignored the two-party preferred vote and instead made maps based on the primary votes of the three main parties.

Polling booths in Cunningham. Wollongong Central in orange, Fairy Meadow-Corrimal in green, Bellambi-Austinmer in red, Coledale-Helensburgh in blue, Sutherland in yellow.
Voter group GRN % LIB % ALP % Total votes % of ordinary votes
Wollongong Central 13.75 27.54 52.35 29,894 41.27
Fairy Meadow-Corrimal 12.29 25.43 57.12 16,890 23.32
Bellambi-Austinmer 17.65 23.46 54.50 15,271 21.08
Coledale-Helensburgh 18.09 28.99 47.30 5,539 7.65
Sutherland 9.12 44.09 41.04 4,847 6.69
Other votes 14.69 28.39 51.66 11,026
Polling booths in Cunningham, showing Labor primary votes at the 2007 election.
Polling booths in Cunningham, showing Labor primary votes at the 2007 election in Central Wollongong.
Polling booths in Cunningham, showing Liberal primary votes at the 2007 election.
Polling booths in Cunningham, showing Liberal primary votes at the 2007 election in central Wollongong.
Polling booths in Cunningham, showing Greens primary votes at the 2007 election.
Polling booths in Cunningham, showing Greens primary votes at the 2007 election in central Wollongong.


  1. Fantastic Ben – thanks so much… Cunningham is such a great electorate and I would love to see a strong Liberal candidate running to see government actually take an interest in our region – being such a safe Labor seat means we often get left behind, or get some token gesture… We need our politicians and government to take notice of this amazing region with such potential that is not being tapped!

  2. The really curious thing about this seat is that when I recently put together a table comparing the combined Greens and Democrats Senate vote in 2001 to the Greens Senate vote in 2007 in individual booths, it was a whole swag of booths in Cunningham which came out at the top of the list as having the biggest difference between the two.

    State-wide the combined 2001 Greens and Dems Senate vote was 2.14% higher than the 2007 Greens Senate vote, and the median booth result was around 1.6% higher, however 20 booths in Cunningham came out at 5% or more higher. I was expecting the biggest differences to be in strong Liberal voting areas like the north shore, which one would think were more favourable to the Dems relative to the Greens, but instead it was Cunningham which stood out at the top of the list.

    Hence there may be significant room for improvement in 2010 for the Greens on the 2007 performance. Though I should note that the House of Reps vote was higher than the Senate vote, no doubt owing to Organ’s high local profile.

  3. Its not going to matter once again, 50 yrs of Labor dominace and nothing but higher interest rates higher taxes, closing down of hospitals and police stations with a growing population. Had agreens member in the by election, and achieved??? nothing…Greens vote = Labor vote Corrupt local council government, squandered millions on failed projects killed off the centre with parking meters we’re on a roll to just fatten up the Labor members retirement pension. 50 yrs to build the Northern Distributor (planed post WWII) cant build a bridge for some trains (Maldon – Dombartment)

  4. Actually, it was Greiner who cancelled the Maldon-Dumbarton line. And a Green vote only equals an ALP vote when you number it #2 to the ALP. And that would be a corrupt Council that Greens and Independents have been campaigning against for years (reemebr the Active Community Team?). Oh, and it was a community campaign (that Michael Organ and other Greens were involved in before being elected) against the development at Sandon Point, that mitigated its worst aspects (okay, not a completely victory, but then not a complete defeat either). And parking meters? No, a lack of sustainable economic development killed off the ‘gong city centre (oh and some bad planning decisions…). But I do agree that the closure of the local police stations (not just an Illawarra phenomenum) and the neutering/closure of hospitals has been a more recent ALP problem. But when we can solve the various problems of state govt financing, well, we will have solved the problems of federation…

  5. Looks like we share some views, unfortuantely its a bit hard to educate the voters that primarily health and education are a state responsibility, how hard did we have to fight (with the labor party) to get a MRI medicare licence? Analyse the results from last election even with green preferences we havent got a hope in hell. Its a perfect strategy from the Labor to convince voters the greens are an alternative but really just a protest vote againt themselves and reap the benefits of preferences.
    Currently without a local voice our local council hasnt got any strategic vision, because of the previous failures we have had and the financial mess they left, however certain individuals seem to be doing all right on the property front even if they are bankrupt!
    I think its time that the Nth suburbs form thier own council once again as we seem to have massive differences from our sth counterparts.

Comments are closed.