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Seat Profile

by Margaret O’Connor

21 June 2013

For someone who these days would be sneered at by certain columnists as being a café-latte and chardonnay drinking member of the chattering classes, my background sure doesn’t fit the template. I grew up on a dairy farm in the South West of Victoria, near the Great Ocean Road and went to school at my local country high school in the 1980s. 15 years ago I relocated to Canberra.

The country in me still lurks perilously close to the surface. But it’s hard not to feel a deep fondness for an adopted city and region which has afforded my various interests (or enthusiasms, as I call them) every opportunity to grow and flourish, and which has, apparently out of sheer generosity, supported me in developing a few more besides. I do regular musical gigs, and I love connecting with like-minded souls who, like, me, are fascinated and intrigued with our planet’s historical and archaeological heritage. I’ve been actively engaged in the local Friends of the ABC community group. And recently I’ve discovered another enthusiasm.


Or rather, should I say, it discovered me. Ain’t it amazing how hens, tomatoes, compost, bottled apricots, climbing beans, potatoes, seed catalogues, home-baked bread and worms have suddenly and in the space of a few years, deftly commandeered my life and my headspace, taken over spare shelf space in the laundry and garage, and cluttered up the space available for storage underneath my deck. Like thousands and maybe millions of other Australians up and down the countryside, I have been gloriously smitten by the self-sustainable bug, and I’m proud to say that I’m now committed to incorporating sustainable, ethical, and eco-friendly living practices into my life where it all counts – at a micro, or household and garden level.

This includes sourcing my food locally where possible. Living in Canberra, I’ve found this easy. I rub shoulders just about every day with people who think the same way and who are full of tips on artichokes and how to nurture delicate little basil seedlings through late frosts. Canberra winters might be cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey, but with the exception of tropical foodstuffs, just about everything can, and is, grown and sold around here. Canberra’s Farmers’ Markets are well-loved and amongst the best attended in the whole country, and draw in many food producers from around nearby South Eastern NSW.

These food producers include those who reside, grow and farm their produce in the nearby Electorate of Eden-Monaro. Now, for some time many Australian media commentators flourishing mystic crystal balls have been generous enough ram down our throats, ooh, sorry, I meant share their clairvoyant and apparently immutable predictions of the outcome of the forthcoming election. Thanks, y’all. Nice that the future of the country has been sorted out with apparently no need for input from me or millions of other voters. Makes life simpler. I do so hate the bother of having to think for myself, especially with our pesky preferential voting system in the Lower House. But regardless of whether or not the outcome of the September election really is written in the stars, commentators on the night will, as they have always done, get excited when results come in from Eden-Monaro. And why is this? Because it’s the famous….(insert big dramatic drum roll here)….bell-wether seat!

In politics, the term ‘bellwether’ refers to an area, constituency or electorate where the local result reflects or predicts wider political trends. Created in 1900, covering approximately 29 499 square km and a marginal seat since 1943, Eden-Monaro has always been held, or gone with, the Government of the day or the incoming Government since 1972. You wins Eden-Monaro, you wins Australia. Or, at least, that’s been the pattern for over forty years.

Eden-Monaro encompasses townships like Batemans Bay, Jindabyne, and Queanbeyan, and extends from the Victorian border to the South East coast of NSW almost to the fringes of Canberra. Primary industry rules here, including, increasingly, sustainable and organic methods of farming. But it has a dash of tourism, hydroelectricity (it also encompasses the snow fields and the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectricity Scheme) and Canberra commuters thrown in.


The Hon Dr Mike Kelly AM MP, a former Australian Army lawyer and Iraq War veteran, has held the seat for the ALP since 2007. Sometime during the 2007 election campaign, I found myself at the Queanbeyan Park, dodging toddlers, balloons and sausage sizzles and watching a campaigning appearance by the then Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd, Dr Kelly and fellow ALP Candidate Maxine McKew, who would famously roll the then Prime Minister John Howard in his Electorate of Bennelong in just a few short weeks. At the appointed time Rudd, McKew and Kelly emerged, smiled implacably, and said nothing in particular before they were whisked off to their next engagement in that famously disciplined and well-oiled ALP election campaign. Oddly, my biggest impression of the three of them was Rudd. He was, and presumably still is, startlingly well-groomed – skin perfect, and hair even more disciplined and well-oiled than his election campaign. The rest is history. Consistent with Eden-Monaro’s bellwether tradition,  Dr Kelly would go on to win the seat with 53.40 per cent of the two party preferred vote as the Rudd campaign juggernaut put an end to the 12 year old Howard administration.

(I should add here that around this time, I joined the Greens. The Australian Democrats were busy at this time imploding at a rate of knots, and the last in Parliament after the leadership squabbles of the early noughties failed to maintain their Senate positions in the half-Senate 2007 election. There was a gap in third party politics which I was keen to see filled with a party which held progressive views on a range of issues, too many to list here, which I felt needed a voice in Parliament. I will be a paid-up member until 30 June this year.)

Dr Kelly held his own in the fractious 2010 election and even increased his two-party preferred vote ever so slightly to 54.24 per cent. In 2010 the ALP polled particularly strongly in Queanbeyan (including the area of Jerrabomberra which is located in NSW) and Bungendore where Dr Kelly’s two-party preferred results ranged from 57.45 to 66.27 per cent. Strong results for the Liberals were evident in coastal centres such as Eden, Batehaven, Bateman’s Bay, Narooma, Merimbula, and Tura Beach where results from well-attended polling booths ranged from to 50.85 per cent (Merimbula) to 56.12 per cent (Eden).

Dr Kelly’s primary competitor in 2013 for the Electorate of Eden-Monaro will be Liberal Candidate Mr Peter Hendy. Yes, I know we are all sick of hearing about the polls, but it is true that they have been bad for the ALP and every little will count if Dr Kelly is to retain his seat or if the Liberals are to win it. Changing demographics in this part of the world, even slight ones, may hold the key to retaining, or winning, this electorate.

One new and emerging demographic in Eden-Monaro all too familiar to Dr Kelly given his background in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) is worth a look. The Australian Headquarters Joint Operations Command (HQJOC) was housed temporarily until December 2008 in Potts Point, NSW. But following an extensive review of ADF Command and Control finalised in 2005 (the ‘Wilson Review’), a new purpose built facility was constructed at Kowen, roughly in between Bungendore and Queanbeyan and to the south of the Kings Highway. Since December 2008 the HQJOC at Kowen has housed staff who co-ordinate world-wide ADF operations, including, amongst other things, deployments in East Timor, Solomon Islands, Afghanistan, Iraq, and contributions to UN operations in Sudan, the Sinai Peninsula and Israel-Lebanon.

Queanbeyan’s population increased by 2,023 from 35,968 at the time of the 2005 Census to 37,991 when the Census was held in 2011. It’s projected to reach 40, 026 in 2012. (Community Profiles, Queanbeyan City Council and Australian Bureau of Statistics). Bungendore’s population increased by 792 from 1962 to 2754 over the same period. (Community Profiles, Palerang Council Community Profiles and Australian Bureau of Statistics). The influx of military staff and their families into Queanbeyan and Bungendore  will impact on the voting outcomes of Queanbeyan and Bungendore polling booths in locations which saw the some of the most substantial wins for the ALP in the 2010 Election.

You may think that this will mean an increase in the politically conservative vote. But like so many other things in the world, the picture here may not be so simple.  The increased vote from people either directly employed as military personnel, or now residing in Eden-Monaro as a result of association, either personal or professional, with the military, may yet hold a few surprises. Watch this space.

 Margo: I commissioned Margaret to do this piece before imagining a wider citizen journalist project of people reporting the seats where they live. It is a requirement of the project that people not be current members of a political party, and Margaret will let her membership of The Greens lapse.

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