FEDERAL ELECTION: A contest of margins and blue ribbons

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It’s all about the numbers

With more than 1,000 candidates vying for 151 House of Representative divisions, it’s anyone’s guess who will succeed in each seat on 18 May. As the major parties seek to cross the finish line of 77 seats in the House to form government, our attention turns to a handful of key seats across the country.

The toll of redistribution

The redistribution of electorates completed in 2018 has redrawn many of the battlelines, with new seats created in VIC and the ACT, and the loss of a seat in SA. The redistribution has turned the VIC seats of Corangamite and Dunkley from blue to red, with polling indicating Labor is also likely to hold the new seats of Bean (ACT) and Fraser (VIC). Consequently, the Coalition heads into the campaign not simply defending seats but, somewhat unusually, needing to gain them. 

Winning by a margin

The Australian Electoral Commission considers 43 electorates to be marginal, with each of these seats telling an interesting story. Perhaps none more so than the country’s most marginal divisions: Herbert and Corangamite.

Herbert, QLD

Incumbent: Cathy O’Toole (ALP) | Margin: 0.02%

O’Toole won the electorate by a mere 37 votes in 2016. Labor is tipped to hold on to the seat, but with the Adani mine a core issue and the LNP and UAP throwing down a wildcard by shaking hands on a preference deal, expect Herbert to be a photo-finish.

Corangamite, VIC

Incumbent: Sarah Henderson (LP) | Margin: 0.03%

Corangamite may become another casualty of the redistribution for the Coalition, with the progressive state holding on to the memories of the take down of Malcolm Turnbull. However, Corangamite is where the Liberals have drawn a line in the sand to protect the Party’s popular local MP with a spending splurge, including a $3 billion train project set to woo the locals from voting for Labor’s Libby Coker.

The demise of Blue Ribbons?

The battle for the marginal seats will be intense and closely scrutinised, but for some, their value goes beyond the numbers to sit within the faces, portfolios and historic ideals they represent.

Warringah, NSW

Incumbent: Tony Abbott (LP) | Margin 11.6%

In the most talked about contest of this election, Olympian Zali Steggall is challenging Tony Abbott with an aggressive and cashed up campaign. Despite a negative backlash over her Get Up! affiliations, local polling is in Steggall’s favour and may be enough to bring Abbott’s 25-year innings to a close. In his own words, he’s “in the fight of his political life”.

Dickson, QLD

Incumbent: Peter Dutton (LNP) | Margin: 1.7%

Peter Dutton currently holds a title no MP wants; not the person a few votes short of the top job, but the most senior member of government occupying a marginal seat. A disparate socio-economic constituency, with the added complication of a notably disengaged electorate, means it will be difficult to win over the people of Dickson. Labor’s Ali France, a former journalist, world champion canoeist and disability advocate seems to have the right mix for the job. The stakes are high and the campaigns are personal, with many predicting the party that takes Dickson will win the election.

But keep an eye on these…

Lindsay, NSW

Incumbent: Emma Husar (ALP)| Margin: 1.11%

Following a string of controversies, Labor MP Emma Husar, who in 2013 won back the bellwether seat of Lindsay, has failed to gain the ALP endorsement and is not contesting the 2019 election. Lindsay is in grasp of the Liberal candidate Melissa McIntosh, with promising polling suggesting the Libs could win this one back.

Cowper, NSW

Incumbent: Luke Hartsuyker (NAT) | Margin 4.6 %

Exit retiring MP Luke Hartsuyker, enter independent Rob Oakeshott, who will receive the ALP preferences in his attempt to re-enter the Parliament. This electorate is one where we’re likely to see voters turn their back on the Nationals.

Farrer, NSW

Incumbent: Sussan Ley (LP) | Margin 20.5%

Water policy and the state of the Murray-Darling Basin has turned this traditionally safe Liberal seat – which covers more than 16% of NSW – on its head. Minister Sussan Ley faces a strong challenge from local Mayor Kevin Mack who is running as an independent. Keep an eye on this seat to gain insights into how far independents could creep into traditional Coalition heartland.  

Reid, NSW

Incumbent: Craig Laundy (LP) | 4.69%

The Liberals were facing an uphill battle to hold onto Reid, but with a popular MP retiring less than two months before the election, the task has become almost impossible. Psychologist Fiona Martin has the unfortunate reputation of being the third candidate the Liberals tried to woo to represent the division. Reid is likely to return to Labor heartland with Labor’s Sam Crosby set to be sent to Canberra.

Deakin (VIC)

Incumbent: Michael Sukkar (LP) | 6.4%

By no means the Victorian seat with the smallest margin, the seat of Deakin in outer metropolitan Melbourne, which is held by right-wing powerbroker, Michael Sukkar is likely to show the extent of the turn against the Liberals in Victoria. The Opposition Leader ambitiously launched Labor’s election campaign in this seat, so keep an eye on this one.

Hasluck (WA)

Incumbent: Ken Wyatt (LP) | 2.1%

WA is usually a corner of strength for the Liberals, but the loss of Julie Bishop and Senator Mathias Cormann’s role in the leadership change has hurt the Party locally. Three neighbouring electorates are in doubt and all tell similar stories – Hasluck, Pearce and Stirling – two of which are held by Cabinet Ministers (Ken Wyatt and Christian Porter). Wyatt, the first Indigenous Australian to serve in the House of Reps, faces a tough fight in Hasluck. The results of these aren’t likely to be known until late on election night.

Boothby (SA)

Incumbent: Nicolle Flint (LP) | Margin 2.7%

Labor has set its sights on Boothby and its active ground campaign against Flint, combined with Get Up! support, is taking its toll on Flint’s re-election campaign. Boothby is one of the top five electorates that the party leaders have visited to date, showing its importance to both sides. The Liberal Party doesn’t want to further diminish its female presence by losing Flint and has committed $2.7 billion towards the final phase of the North-South Corridor to sell on her doorsteps, but will it be enough?

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Bridget Jung