Sydney – Election 2010

ALP 19.3%

Incumbent MP
Tanya Plibersek, since 1998.

Inner suburbs of Sydney. Sydney covers most of the City of Sydney and parts of Leichhardt. The seat covers the Sydney CBD, Pyrmont, Ultimo, Surry Hills, Redfern, Waterloo, Alexandria, Erskineville, Glebe, parts of Newtown, and the southern parts of the City of Sydney, extending as far south as Rosebery. The seat also covers Annandale and the Balmain peninsular, including the suburb of Rozelle. Sydney does not cover eastern parts of the City of Sydney such as Kings Cross and Darlinghurst, which are included in Wentworth.

Sydney largely remained the same in the recent redistribution. The only change involved the transfer of Rosebery from Kingsford Smith to Sydney. This was the only suburb in the southern parts of the City of Sydney not included in Sydney at the 2007 election, and the redistribution aligned the southern border of the seat with the border of the City of Sydney.

Sydney was created for the 1969 election by the merger of the seats of East Sydney and West Sydney, which had existed since federation.

Sydney has been held by the ALP ever since its creation, and its predecessors had almost always been held by Labor.

West Sydney (which, despite its name, actually covered inner city suburbs like Darling Harbour and Pyrmont) always elected a Labor MP, although it was briefly held by a conservative party from 1916 to 1917, as its first MP was Billy Hughes, who as Prime Minister left the ALP and formed the Nationalist party. He proceeded to move to a different seat at the 1917 election, and the ALP held West Sydney from 1917 until its abolition, although Jack Beasley, who held the seat for eighteen years, left the ALP to join a Lang Labor breakaway party on two occasions in the 1930s and 1940s.

The seat of East Sydney was first held by George Reid, a former NSW premier and leader of the Free Trade party, from 1901 to 1909, when he retired. John West (ALP) won the seat in 1910 and held it until his death in February 1931. The ensuing by-election was won by Eddie Ward, who left the ALP later that year when he was one of a number of supporters of NSW Labor leader Jack Lang to cross the floor and bring down the Scullin government.

East Sydney was won at the 1931 election by John Clasby (UAP) who benefited from a split Labor vote, with the two Labor parties gaining 55% of the primary vote but enough preferences from the official ALP leaking to Clasby to see Ward lose. Clasby died a month later without taking his seat and Ward won back the seat at a January 1932 by-election, less than a year after he had previously won the seat at a by-election. Ward returned to the ALP in 1936 and the ALP held the seat from then until its abolition in 1969.

The new seat of Sydney was first won in 1969 by Jim Cope. Cope had previously held the seats of Cook and Watson before their abolitions. Neither seats have any connection to the modern seats with those names. Both Cook and Watson had covered parts of South Sydney now covered by Sydney. Cope had won Cook at a 1955 by-election following the death of the previous member, but the seat was abolished at the general election in the same year. Cope then held Watson from 1955 until it too was abolished in 1969, at which point he moved to the new seat of Sydney.

Cope held Sydney until 1975, and served as Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1973 until a dispute with the Whitlam government saw him resign in protest in 1975.

Cope was succeeded in 1975 by Leslie McMahon (ALP), who served until he was defeated for preselection before the 1983 election.

The seat was won in 1983 by Peter Baldwin, previously a Member of the Legislative Council who had become a symbol of the conflict between the Left and Right within the ALP in the Inner West in 1980 when he was brutally bashed in his home. Baldwin served as a federal minister from 1990 to 1996 and retired at the 1998 election.

The seat has been held since 1998 by Tanya Plibersek, who has served as federal Minister for Housing since the 2007 election. The seat has always been considered a very safe Labor seat according to the two-party-preferred vote, but has recently become a priority target for the Greens. The seat of Sydney has seen votes for the Greens of over 20% in 2004 and 2007. The seat had the highest Greens primary vote in the country in 2004 and the second-highest Greens primary vote in 2007.


  • Brett Paterson (Democrats)
  • Christopher Owen (Secular Party)
  • Tanya Plibersek (Labor) – Member for Sydney since 1998 and Minister for Housing and the Status of Women.
  • Tony Hickey (Greens)
  • Gordon Weiss (Liberal) – Leichhardt councillor.
  • Jane Ward (Independent)
  • Denis Doherty (Communist)

Political situation
There is no chance in the short or medium term that this seat could be won by the Liberal Party. The only possible threat to the ALP comes from the Greens. In order to win the seat, the Greens need to overtake the Liberals on primary votes and win enough votes either as primary votes or Liberal preferences to defeat the ALP. It isn’t necessary for the Greens to come close to the ALP on primary votes. I have previously estimated that the ALP-Greens two-party-preferred margin in Sydney is 55-45.

It will be extremely difficult for the Greens to win Sydney in 2010. The ALP’s position as a first-term government makes it difficult for the Greens to win lower house seats like Sydney. While this is one of the best chances for the Greens to win a lower house seat in 2010, it will be extremely hard for the Greens to win seats off a popular and young ALP government. Chances will probably improve as we reach the later stages of this ALP government.

2007 result

Candidate Party Votes % Swing
Tanya Plibersek ALP 37,506 48.99 +3.92
Georgina Anderson LIB 20,440 26.70 -0.81
Jenny Leong GRN 15,854 20.71 -1.38
Jane Ward IND 979 1.28 -0.29
Mayo Materazzo DEM 874 1.14 -1.00
John Lee CDP 727 0.95 +0.95
Adrian Ford CEC 184 0.24 +0.06

2007 two-candidate-preferred result

Candidate Party Votes % Swing
Tanya Plibersek ALP 53,214 69.50 +2.12
Georgina Anderson LIB 23,350 30.50 -2.12

Results do not take into consideration effects of the redistribution.

Booth breakdown
I have divided booths into four areas:

  • Those on the Balmain peninsula, including Rozelle.
  • Those suburbs around Annandale and Glebe, which are divided between the City of Sydney and Leichhardt LGA.
  • South Sydney, including all booths south of Cleveland Street and the University of Sydney.
  • Inner Sydney, including all booths north of Cleveland Street and east of Glebe.

Considering that the ALP’s main threat in Sydney is from the Greens, the two-party-preferred figures between the ALP and Liberals are largely meaningless. Due to this, the following table and maps only show the primary votes for Labor, the Liberals and the Greens.

The ALP performs most strongly in the south of the seat and suburbs in the middle such as Surry Hills, Redfern and Glebe. The Liberals perform most strongly in the CBD and in Balmain and Annandale, as well as the less populated southern parts of the seat. The Greens perform particularly strongly in Glebe, Annandale, Newtown and Surry Hills. Indeed, three booths (Newtown East, Newtown North and Darlington Central) saw a Greens primary vote of over 35%.

Polling booths in Sydney. Inner Sydney in yellow, South Sydney in orange, Annandale-Glebe in green, Balmain in blue.
Voter group ALP % LIB % GRN % Total votes % of ordinary votes
South Sydney 52.52 22.93 21.13 20,170 34.11
Inner Sydney 47.73 30.20 18.48 16,999 28.75
Annandale-Glebe 50.73 21.85 24.17 11,368 19.23
Balmain 46.94 30.30 19.63 10,589 17.91
Other votes 47.57 29.05 19.18 19,939
Polling booths in Sydney, showing Labor primary votes at the 2007 election.
Polling booths in Sydney, showing Liberal primary votes at the 2007 election.
Polling booths in Sydney, showing Greens primary votes at the 2007 election.


  1. I wouldn’t be so pessimistic Ben. Surely we’ve got at least a 35-40% chance to win it. Are we not talking about very left-leaning Labor voters, who were strongly motivated to vote Labor in 2007 to change government, but may be disappointed with the Rudd government not being progressive enough, hence potentially interested in switching to the Greens as a safe protest vote. Given the better results at state and local level in parts of Sydney and Grayndler, which would suggest easy potential for improvement, I’d’ve thought that at an election where the imperative to vote Labor to keep the Libs out isn’t so strong, there should be significant potential to increase the Green vote.

  2. I couldn’t put it above 10% Nick. I’d be surprised if Plibersek was below 50% again and even if the Greens overtook the Libs (which I’d give a 40% chance), the Lib leakage and minor party preferences to Labor would be too great. I’d have to agree with Ben here – the Greens won’t have a genuine shot in Sydney until the tail end of the Rudd Government.

  3. Well, a lot will depend on the timing of the election and traction by the Opposition. But yes, I would suggest that Sydney will come into play at the following (2013/14) election, when the gloss will be well and truly off Rudd, and maybe the Opposition will have sorted out what it stands for. But those 3-4 years are a long way off still. Also, the question of timing will become increasingly important as we move through the year, especially for NSW. I would suspect that if Kenneally doesn’t manage to lift the ALP’s state vote then Rudd will consider an earlier election (ie; July-August) a better option, rather than tangling the two elections together with a late (Dec-Feb) election.

    But of course, on the basic point, I wouldn’t consider Sydney to be seriously in play until 2013-14, all things being equal. But lets also see who the Greens candidate is – that may have a bearing on this too.

  4. Hamish – no idea! But if a “high-flyer” like Hamilton were to put up their hand it might make it interesting. But maybe not Hamilton…

  5. Well, the only other ex-Dem candidates are Karin Sowada, Vicki Bourne or Arthur Chesterfield-Evans. Richard Jones and Paul Mclean I wouldn’t count – they certainly don’t have a recognition factor any more (apart from Jones’ nudist escapades). No, I reckon it would have to be a high-flyer of a different sort – maybe if the Greens got Paul McDermott (Good News Week, DAAS and the like) to stand…he does live around Bondi…hehehehe

    Ah, idle speculation!

  6. I think that the local groups responsible for Sydney are slightly more focused on the next state election contests than they are on the next federal election. Especially the Port Jackson Greens.

  7. Lee Rhiannon in a bit of hot water after her claims about Shayne Mallard’s alleged failure to declare political donations were dismissed by the Department of LG as ‘lacking basis and fact.’ Mallard demanding an apology. Oops.

  8. The Greens have preselected Chippendale teacher Tony Hickey to contest the seat of Sydney at the next federal election.

    Mr Hickey singled out a lack of affordable housing and public transport, homelessness, treatment of Indigenous people, same-sex marriage and climate change as key challenges in a statement.

    “Climate change policy will be a key focus of our campaign. Under the current government we have seen a shameful lack of initiative at the Copenhagen conference and continuing support for the coal industry,” Mr Hickey said.

    “Labor’s climate change policy has to change. Here we have Greens senators ready to genuinely negotiate with the government on the urgent task of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

    In the 2007 federal election the Greens won over 20 percent of the vote in the seat of Sydney. “The Greens are clearly the underdogs in Sydney, but our campaign is ready to take on the older parties so that we can offer something better than Labor and the Coalition,” Mr Hickey said.

    I’ve never heard of him. Anyone have some background?

  9. I don’t know much about him Hamish, but I believe he’s a prominent party office-holder and quite active local campaigner. I guess he doesn’t have the ‘star power’ that might make the seat winnable this year, but I get the impression he’ll be a solid local candidate who can set things up for future election cycles. Good luck Tony!

    Ok, I’ll go 15-20% then. Worth pushing for an upset, but more likely next time. I guess the spectre of Tony Abbott will help Labor stop wavering progressive voters bleeding off to the Greens now too.

  10. I think the focus for this federal campaign in NSW is to get Lee Rhiannon into the senate and save cash for the state campaign. ALP has already started building a massive war chest to save Verity & Carmel.

    Even so, I hope Tony’s in it for two elections, because I think this seat will be winnable in 2013.

  11. I’m posting here because Macquarie St is in Sydney.

    Ben, do you know if the Greens are supporting the Relationships Register Bill?

  12. I saw an article which mentioned the Greens supporting it but I don’t know in detail much about the bill or any of the debate around it.

  13. Interesting media alert:

    Premier Kristina Keneally, Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, Frank Sartor, Ian Cohen MLC, and representatives from National Parks Association, Wilderness Society and Total Environment Centre.

    River Red Gum Announcement

    I’ll keep you posted.

  14. The New South Wales Government has announced that its decision to protect more than 100,000 hectares of internationally-significant river red gum forests in the state’s south-west will come into effect sooner than expected.

    The Environment Minister Frank Sartor first announced legislation to create a national park in the Millewa group of forests in March.

    It included a transition period for the timber industry to allow logging to continue in sections for another five years.

    At the time the National Parks Association criticised the transition period and called for the decision to be reviewed.

    Now Mr Sartor says in return for an increased compensation package, the timber mill owners have agreed to stop operating from the end of this month.

    An industry assistance package of $97 million is now being offered.

    Supported by the Greens and the Wilderness Society. Great to see where negotiations will get you. I’m very proud of both the Greens and the Gov right now. An excellent result. Let’s hope that more NPs can be put through before the election (when, if the Libs win, there’ll be no new NPs under their Governance).

  15. The Wilderness Society released a media release that was very flattering to Keneally (in contrast to previous ones about this issue). Good to see that they give credit where it’s due. A really good day. 🙂

    “Following a campaign led by the Wilderness Society Sydney and the National Parks Association of NSW, the NSW Government has announced that they will protect the internationally important River Red Gum Forests – including the immediate protection of the iconic Millewa Forest.

    This is an historic conservation outcome for NSW, with a greater proportion of State Forest lands protected than in any previous forest decision. The announcement also includes significant outcomes for Indigenous Traditional Owners, allowing fro joint management of the Millewa Forests by the Yorta Yorta people and includes the transfer of two major forest groups to Traditional Owners as Indigenous Protected Areas.

    The decision will see the creation of over 100,000 hectares of new protected areas and will protect crucial habitat for threatened species such as the superb parrot.

    Combined with recent new park decisions across Victorian Forests, the decision sees over 200,000 hectares of River Red Gum Forests protected in the Murray region.

    A generous restructure package will also provide support to industry, allowing them to move towards a more sustainable regional economy. Previous studies have shown that National Parks have the potential to not only provide good outcomes for the environment, but also for the regions’ economy.

    The Wilderness Society has praised the hard work of NSW Environment Minister, Frank Sartor, and the good decision of NSW Premier Kristina Keneally. Both have worked through difficult negotiations with stake holders to deliver this outcome.”

  16. Yes, negotiation is good. People want to see their political leaders negotiating with each other to achieve better outcomes. Shame Labor doesn’t try it more often.

    And I’d argue that’s actually the problem with issues like preferences. As long as Labor believes they can take the support of the Greens for granted, then they have little incentive to want to negotiate with the Greens. If the Greens took the default position of not recommending preferences to either major party, and then only recommended preferencing Labor where there was a specific, compelling, stated reason to justify it, it might provide more leverage, and go a long way to convincing potential Greens voters that the Greens are not merely an adjunct of the ALP. Considering that support for either major party is still primarily divided along lines of identity, not ideology, the appearance, albeit inaccurate, that the Greens will always back Labor makes it much harder to capture progressive-leaning voters who still identify themselves as Liberal or National voters.

    I’d also argue that since Greens voters appear to preference Labor in similar proportions whether the HTV recommends it or not, giving Labor the ‘endorsement’ of a preference recommendation is generally unnecessary. Contrary to popular belief, simply telling voters to allocate preferences in their own order of preference doesn’t lead to mass confusion or high informal voting. The late Peter Andren always distributed HTVs which simply told voters to vote ‘1’ for him and then number all the remaining boxes in their own order of preference, and there was never any evidence of higher rates of informal voting as a result.

    I think Bob Brown’s push to simply ban HTVs is the way to go. Voters can think for themselves and should be encouraged to do so. Greens voters aren’t going to preference Tony Abbott, so there’s nothing for anyone to be concerned about. Senate RGVTs certainly complicate matters a lot, making it necessary to do deals involving lower house seats, but still, after the Fielding experience Labor surely realise that more Greens in the Senate is preferable to some random preference-harvesting minor candidate.

    A lot of people who might be stronger supporters of the Greens are very disappointed when the Greens seemingly give away the preference recommendation to Labor without offering a solid justification. It’s something which can’t be treated lightly.

  17. An excellent post Nick. Some very well reasoned points there.

    “I think Bob Brown’s push to simply ban HTVs is the way to go.”

    Absolutely. I didn’t realise he was pushing this, but it’s a good idea. I’m pretty sure that they are banned in Tassie and the ACT already.

    “Senate RGVTs certainly complicate matters a lot.”

    They do. If I’m not mistaken the NSW LegCo doesn’t distribute preferences unless the voter indicates that (basically OPV like in the lower house), which I think is a quite good system.

    I’m in general a fan of OPV – though not entirely convinced one way or the other – but am still dissapointed when progressive voters exhaust (Andrew Wilkie being my main case in point, I doubt one Green in Hobart would have rathered the second Lib then Wilkie, but that’s life).

    In regard to this National Park in particular, I wonder what was behind the change of mind, whether it was simply a change of mind or whether the Gov wanted to get the bill through before the election and realised that they needed Green support.

  18. I agree that one of the drawbacks of OPV and/or banning HTVs is that you get instances like in Denison where preferences exhaust rather than flow on to other progressive candidates. (but hey, it hurts conservatives too, take Clarence (NSW) 1999 for instance) There is a potential role there for third-party organisations like GetUp! in encouraging progressive voters to ensure they preference all the progressive candidates. I was personally involved in running a local government election campaign where one of our main aims was to encourage voters to preference all the progressive groups so we maximised the number of progressive candidates elected. I don’t really know how much impact we can be credited with, but a similar campaign in a neighbouring area is generally considered to have been quite effective over a few elections now, including last time where a friend of mine won the last seat after leapfrogging two conservative candidates in the course of the count courtesy of strong preference flows between the progressive groups.

  19. Well, in 07 it was Lab49 Lib26 Gre20.7

    The polls show the Greens close to doubling their vote. Lets say that it wont quite be that much, and instead say the Greens p up by 33%. In Syd that would take the Greens to 30.7, ahead of the Libs. Lets aloso say 8.5 points of the increase came from Lab and 1.5 from the Libs.

    That takes it to Lab 40.5 Lib26 Gre30.7

    Under this scenario, the Greens would probably win on the count that 80% of prefs fromm the Libs go to Labor (thats what happened in Makbourne 07)

    Another scenario could see the Greens stay at 30.7 and the Libs gain 4 points from Lab. That would firther improve the Greens chances. Its too optimitic to think this way, but quite simply, the Greens have a good shot at it. Itll end up coming down to if Labors more then 10 points or less then points AND wether or not the Greens can pic up about 2/3 of the lost Labor vote..

  20. Libs candidate is Gordon Weiss, a little known Leichhardt councillor who lives in Birchgrove. Virtually no recognition factor, even locally. Another case of “running dead”, as in Grayndler?

  21. Supun, those numbers work on percentages but only for the Greens. Labor’s vote isn’t down 20%.

    The Greens may well beat the Libs in Sydney, but my personal opinion is that, in general, a party needs to come second before it comes first. As I said, just my prediction, but I reckon Plibersek will hold in 2010 and the Greens will have a shot with an older Government in 2013.

  22. Jane Ward will be running again, as an Independent. I bumped into her in Gladstone Park only hours after the election was called, and she was already handing out HTV leaflets. This must be some kind of record.

  23. Russell, the comparison between Lib candidates in Sydney and Grayndler that you raise isn’t really apt. Gordon Weiss is no more “known” or “unknown” than any other Leichhardt councillor, other than the Mayor. He has a long connection with the Birchgrove area as a resident and participant in community groups, and he was elected to council. Doesn’t really compare with a 19-year-old Uni student from outside the area running in Grayndler.

  24. Agree with GNav – Alex Dore is playing ‘dead, buried and cremated’ in Grayndler. It looks like the Libs want to give Albo a scare by giving the Greens the largest first-preference-vote they can, but they don’t want the Greens to win the seat of Sydney so they have put an experienced candidate forward.

    I agree broadly with Hamish, however, Labor is playing this election like a long-established government so the rulebook may be thrown out and the Greens may be a significant player in this seat.

  25. Yeah, I agree GNav, and deconst. I don’t understand the skepticism about Sydney and Grayndler others have shown here. As case of not daring to hope? But while the Libs have been quite hard headed about their choice of candidates, that can’t be said about the Greens in Sydney. Tony Hickey was a crazy brave decision.

    Gordon Weiss is at least a conventional Lib candidate, though few locals would regard any connection with Leichhardt Council as a plus. And Sydney is a big and diverse electorate.

  26. I did a little digging around for info on Gordon Weiss, since 1999 he has been a Principal Consultant with a company called Energetics. Over the 10 years with the company,he has worked in all areas of energy management, process improvement and greenhouse management.
    Gordon Weiss holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering. He’s married with 5 children and has lived in the electorate for 30 years.
    He sounds a great alternative to the Greens candidate.

  27. That’s true Liz, at least the Libs are thinking strategically. In the NSW State election, they ran a candidate with strong green credential in Balmain. He pedalled around the electorate on a bike, and did well too, picking up nearly all the anti-Labor swing (Greens did badly, a tiny +.02%, as against Marrickville’s +4.1%). But Gordon Weiss will be standing here only as test run for the State seat.

    And apart from that connection with Leichhardt Council (take it from a local, he really should keep that quiet), he’s a good choice – for Balmain. But Birchgrove is a million miles from Alexandria and Darlinghurst. On a bike, at least…

  28. I did as you suggested Liz, and clicked on the link for energetics. Their slogan is, “In the business of climate change.” Errrr… so is Exxon.

    btw, your second last sentence is verbatim from Antony Green’s site. I’m not suggesting anything, it happens…

  29. Gordon’s bio info. There is a slight edit, and I wasn’t “reporting to the moderator” Ben. I couldn’t care less what party spruikers (or personal friends) write

  30. My prediction: Effectively, if the Greens overtake the Liberals, they should be very close to winning, however, especially if there is any increase at all in the Liberal primary vote, the Greens will most likely not get ahead of them. Labor retain.

  31. Current TCP by polling place showing some interesting results. Liberal win in Millers Point with 50.7% is surely a first; Pyrmont 47.9%, Rosebery 46.3% close behind. Rosebery West, Zetland South and Bald Rock low 40s (not mentioning LHI). 15 local booths recorded swings to Liberal of >3% up to 9.7%. 20 local booths with smaller pro-Liberal swings, only six booths showing a pro-Labor swing (5.9% in Redfern West and 5.0% in Zetland the only big ones). Demographic change in parts of the Sydney electorate favours the Liberals and will keep them ahead of the Greens, unless there is a dramatic collapse in the Labor primary vote. Still awaiting the results for Sydney Town Hall booth; should be interesting given that the Liberal TCP vote there in 2007 was 41.0%.

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