Newcastle state by-election, 2014

October 25, 2014

Cause of by-election
Sitting member Tim Owen became a subject of investigation by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), which revealed that Owen had received donations from prohibited donors, namely developers. Owen resigned from the Liberal Party and announced that he would not run for re-election in May 2014. In August 2014, further revelations forced Owen, as well as former Liberal MP Andrew Cornwell in the neighbouring seat of Charlestown, to both resign from Parliament. The ICAC revelations centred on Owen and Cornwell receiving donations from property developer and Lord Mayor of Newcastle Jeff McCloy. McCloy has since also resigned from the lord mayoralty.

Margin LIB 2.6%

Central Newcastle. The district of Newcastle covers the central suburbs of the City of Newcastle, including the CBD, Merewether, Hamilton, Tighes Hill, Broadmeadow, Stockton, Islington, Waratah and Mayfield.

Newcastle has existed as a district in the Legislative Assembly almost continuously since 1859. The seat elected a single MLA from 1859 until 1880, when it began electing a second MLA. It gained a third MLA in 1889. In 1891, Newcastle elected two Labor MLAs, some of the first Labor MPs in New South Wales.

In 1894, Newcastle was abolished when Legislative Assembly districts were redrawn. It was restored as a single-member district in 1904.

The seat was won in 1904 and 1907 by Liberal Reform candidates, but was won by the ALP’s Arthur Gardiner in 1910. He was re-elected in 1913, and in 1917 won re-election as an independent.

New South Wales electoral boundaries were radically redrawn before the 1920 election due to the creation of multi-member districts electing MLAs using proportional representation. Newcastle expanded to be a five-member district covering a much larger area than the previous single-member district.

While Gardiner was re-elected in 1920, Newcastle elected three Labor MLAs and one Nationalist that year. The ALP managed to win four out of five seats in Newcastle in 1925, and in 1927 single-member districts were restored, and Newcastle was reduced to its former size.

From 1927 to 2007, Newcastle elected Labor MPs at all but one election, with an independent winning the seat in 1988.

The seat was won in 1927 by Peter Connolly, who held the seat until 1935, when he lost preselection and retired.

The seat was won in 1935 by Frank Hawkins. He held the seat until 1968. He served as a minister in the state Labor government from 1950 until the party lost power in 1965.

The seat was won in 1968 by Newcastle City Council alderman Arthur Wade. He held the seat for the next twenty years.

In 1988, Wade retired in Newcastle. The ALP lost power in a massive landslide, and in Newcastle the seat was won by independent candidate and local real estate agent George Keegan.

Keegan lost in 1991 to the ALP’s Bryce Gaudry. He won re-election in 1995, 1999 and 2003.

Prior to the 2007 state election, the NSW Labor head office intervened in the seat, stripping Gaudry of his preselection in 2006 and preselecting NBN television newsreader Jodi McKay, despite Gaudry having the support of local party branches.

Gaudry announced that he would run as an independent in early 2007. In addition, the independent Lord Mayor of Newcastle, John Tate, also ran for the seat.

At the 2007 state election, the ALP’s margin in the seat was cut from the previous 14.9% margin to only 1.2%. The Liberal Party polled less than 10%, with John Tate polling 24% and Gaudry 21%. The Greens also outpolled the Liberals. After preferences from the Liberals, Greens and Gaudry, Tate came within 1.2% of defeating McKay.

In 2011, McKay was again challenged by John Tate, as well as Liberal candidate Tim Owen. Tate was expected to be the main opposition to McKay. Tate’s vote, however, collapsed from 34.1% to 11.6%. Tim Owen increased the Liberal vote from 9.8% to 36.7% of the primary vote, and won the seat over McKay by a 2.6% margin.

The Liberal Party has announced that they will not run in the Newcastle by-election as a supposed ‘act of atonement’. The ALP had already preselected their candidate for the upcoming 2015 state election.

  1. Stephen O’Brien (Socialist Alliance)
  2. Tim Crakanthorp (Labor)
  3. Michael Osborne (Greens)
  4. Jacqueline Haines (Independent)
  5. Jennifer Stefanac (Independent/Palmer United)
  6. Karen Howard (Independent)
  7. Milton Caine (Christian Democratic Party)
  8. Brian Buckley Clare (Independent)

With no Liberal candidate running, and considering the circumstances of the by-election, the ALP is in a very strong position to win this seat.

In the absence of a Liberal candidate, small right-wing parties should do better in Newcastle than they would normally be expected to do. It remains to be seen whether a credible centre-right independent will emerge, but that person will struggle to capture a large proportion of the Liberal vote.

The Greens do well in the electorate of Newcastle, and should increase their vote, but their result will not likely be ground-breaking. The Greens perform most strongly in by-elections when no Labor candidate is standing, as they are the uncontested centre-left party. The same phenomenon won’t exist in this by-election.

2011 result

Candidate Party Votes % Swing
Tim Owen Liberal 16,072 36.7 +26.9
Jodi McKay Labor 13,417 30.6 -0.6
John Sutton Greens 6,510 14.9 +3.6
John Tate Independent 5,067 11.6 -12.5
Rod Noble Independent 1,372 3.1 +3.1
Zane Alcorn Socialist Alliance 700 1.6 +1.6
Milton Caine Christian Democrat 496 1.1 -0.1
Noel Holt 189 0.4 +0.2

2011 two-candidate-preferred result

Candidate Party Votes % Swing
Tim Owen Liberal 19,337 52.6
Jodi McKay Labor 17,459 47.4
Polling places in Newcastle at the 2011 state election. North-east in green, North-west in yellow, South-east in red, South-west in blue. Click to enlarge.
Polling places in Newcastle at the 2011 state election. North-east in green, North-west in yellow, South-east in red, South-west in blue. Click to enlarge.

Booth breakdown
Booths in Newcastle have been divided into four parts:

  • North-East – Islington, Stockton and Tighes Hill
  • North-West – Georgetown, Mayfield and Waratah
  • South-East – Newcastle, Merewether and Cooks Hill
  • South-West – Adamstown, Hamilton and New Lambton

The ALP won a majority of the two-party-preferred vote in three out of four areas, but the Liberal candidate won a large 64% majority in the south-east, which is the largest part of the seat, as well as a majority amongst the special votes. This translated into a slim overall Liberal majority.

The Labor vote was strongest at 59.7% in the north-east, while the Liberal vote was strongest at 63.9% in the south-east.

The Greens came third, with a vote ranging from 13.4% in the north-west to 17.8% in the north-east. Independent candidate John Tate, who had come second in 2007, polled from 10.2% in the north-east to 13.1% in the north-west.

Voter group Tate % GRN % ALP 2PP LIB 2PP Total votes % of votes
South-East 10.30 15.02 36.12 63.88 12613 28.78
South-West 12.95 13.55 51.71 48.29 8856 20.21
North-East 10.16 17.83 59.67 40.33 5997 13.68
North-West 13.13 13.44 57.85 42.15 5813 13.26
Other votes 11.85 14.84 45.19 54.81 10544 24.06
Two-party-preferred votes in Newcastle at the 2011 state election.
Two-party-preferred votes in Newcastle at the 2011 state election.
Greens primary votes in Newcastle at the 2011 state election.
Greens primary votes in Newcastle at the 2011 state election.
Primary votes for independent candidate John Tate in Newcastle at the 2011 state election.
Primary votes for independent candidate John Tate in Newcastle at the 2011 state election.


  1. There’s been a fair bit of chatter on social media from people calling for Jodi McKay to seek re-election as an independent. This seems to be coming from people outside Newcastle and given the local political history it may not be an opinion reflected by people who actually live in the area. Either way I’d imagine it extremely unlikely that McKay would run, and it would be by no means certain that she would win if she did.

  2. Well, that’d mop up a bit of the loose votes – the Libs and Tate got almost 50% between them in 2011. That fact by itself is gonna make this by-election a guessing game.

    According to people I know from Newcastle, it is not like Wollongong. (I tend to confuse the two and annoy the Geordies.) Apparently Newcastle is the one that has moved beyond being a decaying industrial city, with a teaching hospital and an arts festival and things like that. That Greens vote might actually be worth watching.

  3. Tate’s last term as Lord Mayor was mired in controversy from what I recall so I don’t think he’d be running for office again.

  4. Both Newcastle & Wollongong have moved on from being industrial cities. They have distinctive feature however that Labor vote is higher than expected on basis of their current social composition. After 2011 election some argued Labor losses in Newcastle were example of politics finally catching up with social change but 2011 now looks like 1988 a blip in Labor ascendancy.

  5. I hope the people of Newcastle are not silly enough to return to the black days of Labor.

    I hope Jodi McKay does not enter the race , she is a has been now already tainted with the ALP stench

    I would like to see the reforms continued , not add to the decay of this ghost town city.
    I have lived in Newcastle al my life 50 years plus , and have not been anywhere near the City centre, for 3 or 4 years, just not enough interest in the shadows of a lost love.

  6. Owen and Caldwell were obviously in breach of the donations laws but their liability under those laws expired after 3 years. However, the ICAC Act 1988 refers to conduct by public officials and employees of public authorities. It could be argued that neither of them fell into that category until the declaration of polls.
    So, does the ICAC inquisition have the authority to question or rule on their actions in the period prior to the declaration of polls and has ICAC investigated any losing election candidates for similar offences?

  7. Six candidates so far: ALP, Green, Christian Democrats, Socialist Alliance and two independents. One of the indies (Karen Howard) is a former President of the Hunter Business Chamber and is also a former Member of the NSW Small Business Development Corporation. I’d imagine it would be she and the CDP candidate who’ll pick up the former Liberal voters.

  8. Antony has a few more candidates listed in these two by-elections now, including PUP candidates who will be running as unendorsed candidates due to their lack of party registration in NSW. I guess this will be PUP’s first experience running candidates under a spending cap – wonder how they’ll cope with that.

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