It’s back to the future with western Sydney

The new prime minister, Julia Gillard, is a creature of the Labor Party.  She is from Melbourne (before that Adelaide) but apparently like all good ALP operators has an obsession with western Sydney.

In signalling her shift in population policy (or emphasis or whatever), she yacked about that part of the world. This is a very Labor thing to do, especially from opposition.

Throughout the Howard years, the ALP held about 80% of seats in what could be described as that area. When winning government in 2007 they took a total of – wait for it – two new seats there.

In 2010, after redistribution, more seats are in play in the general region: Macarthur (Liberal-held but now a notional margin of 0.5 percent for Labor) Greenway (Lib-held but notional 5.7 percent Labor) and Lindsay (Labor by 6.3). Go further south and there’s winnable Hughes (0.5 Lib). Update: let’s throw in provincial Macquarie, Labor by 0.3 percent.

Still, the way Rudd won in ‘07 was to concentrate on that category of people called Australians. You might have heard of those: from many walks of life, in the main outward-looking. A decent two party preferred majority of votes from this component pretty well guarantees you a majority of the 150 electorates in the country.

But we’re returning to the self-defeating idea that Labor’s support begins in western Sydney and if they make it big enough there it kind of overflows into the rest of the country.

This was a hallmark of the Crean and Latham oppositions; they carried on about that part of the world alot. It’s a very machineman thing to do, but it doesn’t work. Some of the biggest swings away from Latham in ‘04 were in outer western Sydney, as were some of the biggest to Rudd in ‘07. Yet every utterance of Latham’s was conceived with those people in mind.

Check out the forest, Julia.

31 Responses to “It’s back to the future with western Sydney”

  1. Rationalist says:

    Well played Peter Mumble.

  2. Hilius says:

    It really puzzles me that the media are constantly gabbering on about Western Sydney when there are only a handful of marginals there. Why is, say, Macquarie getting so little publicity when it is far more marginal than most Western Sydney seats? I realise that looking at Macquarie et al means that the press wouldn’t be able to talk patronisingly about ‘battlers’ or ‘aspirational voters’ as if they are the only electorally significant demographic in Australia, but you’d think they could get past that and present a more nuanced picture of what’s happening in the country.

  3. Peter says:

    Hilius, I’ve thrown Macquarie in for good measure.

  4. John Anderson says:

    I would be interested in what the good people of Bennelong think of all this. Bennelong has a significant Asian population and is held by the ALP by a little over 1%. Maxine McKew cultivated the Asian vote in 2007 to great effect. But of course, Penrith is the centre of the universe for many.

  5. Catalyst says:

    well as someone who lives in Western Australia- i really feel that we are forgotten – things happen over east and we are left in our liberal loving backwater without any challenge from labor.
    The West Australian nespaper has no critique of our Liberal government and premier and most of our media here toe ( or is that Toady) the line too.

    Somehow the libs have got WA all sewn up..

  6. lw says:

    Catalyst… by the looks of it they shall have NSW all sewn up too from March next year. I wonder what could have ever caused that.

  7. Catalyst says:

    Gee maybe state labor – all governments get stale and voters end up thinking the other mob might do better – except here where its always been Lib/national with the odd flirtation with Labor.

    Last eelction the Nats said they would not play second string to the libs – would forge their own path – were independent- so then after the election they had a choicee who to go with and guess what chose the libs- although labor offered them a better deal..

    Bit like Nick Clegg in the Uk=- who opposed the GST but now in bed with the Conservatives his Liberal democrats have voted for it..

    Funny how what they say and what they do are two differt things..

  8. john says:

    I’ve always wondered; are the ‘Howard battlers’ real? I mean, the alleged working class voters that voted Liberal? It always seemed a little dodgy to me, especially because in the area I’m involved in, all the working class areas are safe Labor, and the middle class are the swinging voters.

  9. Pat Hills says:

    Yes Western Sydney, yada, yada yada.

    What I have found amazing is how many self-interested “commentators” have been passing off expert commentary about how great Gillard is. I guess if I had a vested interest I’d be doing the same thing – but how pathetic is our media not to see it for what it is or collude in it.

    If Gillardine loses similar people will come out talking about Abbott’s strategic genius.

  10. lw says:


    Labor has been managing the media like this for 15 years in NSW with great success. Look what happened there Why wouldnt they roll out that same strategy federally, and if they get away with it the media has much to answer for.

  11. Graeme says:

    Well if you live in Sussex St everything pretty much is west of you and dominates state NSW thinking. Oz politics has always had parochial roots. Is the problem that they hew to their ‘base’, or conversely that they swallow the tabloid line that this is not actually their base but the great battleground?

    I thought Gillard was using it as a metaphor for suburbia. She’s not quite in the Dr Burchill school yet.

  12. Pat Hills says:

    Well with a primary vote of 30-32 in NSW (State Labor) there is a real argument that the last Rudd polls were simply coming into alignment with the State vote. Therefore the Federal polls will come back into equilibrium – JG simply needs to go to an election before that equilibrium is restored.

  13. Neil says:

    The fascination for Western Sydney seemed to being in 1996 with the results in Lindsay. Jackie Kelly achieved a double digit swing to defeat Ross Free in the general election, then the High Court annulled the result on appeal from the ALP.

    In the subsequent by-election several months later Kelly received a further substantial swing and the term “Howard’s battlers” became a media label that stuck for the geographic area of Western Sydney.

    When Kelly hung on to the seat by small margins in subsequent general elections the media reinforced the narrative of the phenomenon of blue collar workers voting Liberal. However it was never reported that the median income for the area was substantially higher than the national average.

    The whole thing appeared nothing more than an exaggerated yarn, especially when Western Sydney elects very few Liberal MPs.

    Please correct me if my memory is at fault.

  14. J-D says:

    john, you were asking about ‘Howard’s battlers’?

    Our esteemed host has gone through the evidence here:

  15. MDMConnell says:

    I think the main reason the whole Western Sydney narrative took hold was that Labor had pretty strong results in NSW under Hawke and Keating (esp 1993). The margin in traditionally swinging seats like Lindsay, Parramatta and Macarthur built up to “safe” levels, and journalists with short memories simply looked at these inflated margins and declared the areas “Labor heartland”.

    We saw a smaller version of this in 2007 with journalists noting “shock wins” in seats where the Libs had built up artificially big margins.

  16. Matthew says:

    Really, Peter, you need to tone your polemics down a tad. I seem to recall she mentioned the Gold Coast and Western Melbourne as well—in the same breath.

  17. Peter Brent says:

    Matthew, not in the same breath I witnessed, a different one.

  18. Ed says:

    I’m not an Australian, but in pure policy terms Gillard is correct. There are real environmental limitations on how large a population Australian can support, due among othe factors to most of the place being a desert. I’m not sure if this should be a partisan issue, a party being in favor of a “big Australia” is sort of like coming out against reality, in the same category as planning to build suburban housing in Antartica or to come out against the Indian Ocean. Though in the U.S. we do have a party that often seems to take positions against objective reality, this is not healthy for a political system.

    In political terms, Peter is correct in that, except for really close elections, if you get a majority of the vote the seats should take care of themselves, and any combination of 76 seats will produce a majority. I think the western Sydney fixation is due to journalists tending not to be very bright or original and to parrot what other journalists say.

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