The 15 Critical Seats That Will Decide The Next Election
The odd thing about this election is that the government needs to gain seats to hold onto power.
For this election, the number of seats in Parliament rises from 150 to 151. The redistribution by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) was unkind for the Coalition, making its Victorian seat of Dunkley notionally Labor. Two brand new seats, Bean in the ACT and Fraser in Victoria will begin as notionally Labor.
And that’s before anyone votes.
On the redistributed numbers, both Labor and the Coalition are defending nine seats on margins of less than two percent. There is a high chance both sides will see gains and losses. The Greens are a chance to take the north Melbourne seat of Cooper (largely based on the former Batman), with Labor’s Ged Kearney holding a notional margin of just 0.6 percent. With many Independents running, the major parties could find themselves bleeding seats to unfamiliar challengers. The Coalition, however, hopes to regain Indi with the retirement of high profile independent Cathy McGowan.
Covering most of Townsville, Herbert is a classic swing seat that saw a Labor gain in 2016 by just 37 votes.
If there is any seat likely to swing back to the Coalition, this is it. The government has piled in millions of dollars. Morrison has been a frequent visitor. The recent devastating floods have also focussed voters’ minds. The Coalition sees its record on border protection as a plus in this market and being pro-coal will do it no harm here.
If the Coalition doesn’t win Herbert, it has lost the election.
If three Liberals had taken a different view back in August, Peter Dutton would now be Prime Minister. But after tearing down Malcolm Turnbull, he lost to Scott Morrison 45-40.
Now he’s fighting to stay in Parliament, defending Dickson with a margin of just 1.6 percent.
Like Joh Bjelke-Petersen in 1987, Dutton thought riding Queensland law-and-order conservativism might take him all the way to the Lodge.
He is a divisive figure. And on current national polling, he’d be gone for all money in Dickson.
But a few things are in his favour. In 2016, Dutton copped a five percent swing against him -- but that was partly Queenslanders registering their disdain for Turnbull. Under Morrison, that protest vote might reverse a little. Dutton has the benefit of long incumbency and profile. And his drumbeat on border protection plays better in Queensland than further south. Like Tony Abbott in Warringah, having GetUp actively campaigning against him could work in his favour.
My hunch is that Dutton will survive the vote, though he could face a legal challenge over his financial arrangements with the Commonwealth through his family childcare centres. (Such challenges are easier to launch immediately after an election).
READ MORE: When Is The Next Federal Election?
NEW SOUTH WALES
Tony Abbott vs Zali Steggall. Need we say more. In Abbott’s favour are his high profile, 25-year incumbency and deep involvement in a whole range of community groups.
Against him are his out-of-sync conservatism on issues like marriage equality and -- importantly -- climate change. His sympathetic support for Cardinal Pell also jarred with some.
Abbott won last time with a margin of more than 20,000 votes (with the Greens running second). It will be much closer this time.
Now that blue-blood Liberals have vented their spleen over the loss of local hero Malcolm Turnbull, can independent Kerryn Phelps go back-to-back? She has sustained a high profile with her sponsorship of the refugee medevac bill. Dave Sharma, the former senior diplomat she held out last time is back for another tilt for the Liberal Party.
Dr Phelps is holding a slender 1.2 percent margin. If she reestablishes herself she could be there for a while but she will be far from a sure thing only six months into the job.
Other than Christopher ('He was my Aslan') Pyne, no-one revered Malcolm Turnbull more than Craig Laundy, who is still deciding if he will run again. Reid is heartland Sydney, based on Burwood. It was held by Labor from its inception in 1922 until Laundy took it for the Libs in 2013. In 2016, he increased his margin to 4.7 percent.
Very vulnerable if Laundy leaves. If it goes to Labor, it will be game over for Scott Morrison.
Another perennial swing seat, Lindsay lies at the western edge of the Sydney basin, based on Penrith. It tends to go with the government of the day, although Labor took it back in 2016 in a big win for Emma Husar. Bullying allegations and salacious rumours that are still the subject of legal action brought Husar down. Labor holds the seat by just 1.1 percent. The Liberal Party believes border protection plays especially strongly here and -- publicly at least -- fancies its chances of winning it back.
It would be a huge event if it did. But it needs to, if the Coalition is to keep the Treasury benches.
The was the seat of Peacock and Menzies, the deepest of traditional Liberal Party heartlands. Currently held by Liberal deputy leader and federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg, it should be beyond doubt.
But high profile challengers are circling. Refugee advocate Julian Burnside QC will have a crack for the Greens. A more likely threat is Oliver Yates. The son of a Liberal politician and a former head of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Yates is standing as an independent to push action on climate change. His presence could take it to preferences.
Politics is a tough game. Former TV journalist Sarah Henderson won this seat for the Liberal Party on her second try in 2013. She held on through the anti-Government swing of 2016, only to see the latest redistribution wipe out almost all her remaining margin. As a Turnbull supporter, a moderate and a woman it has been a tough ride. If she can hang on, she will be due for promotion. She may feel she has earned it.
This Mornington Peninsula seat is rated as fairly safe for the Liberal Party but Greg Hunt has had a fairly difficult recent run. He was a prominent Dutton supporter in the anti-Turnbull push, he was a humiliatingly distant third place-getter in the race for the deputy leadership, and his excessive cleverness on climate change policy could now be counting against him.
As an extra wrinkle, former Liberal MP Julia Banks is standing against him as a pro-climate action Independent. That seems ironic for those who remember the earlier version of Greg Hunt, when he was the most enthusiastic climate-action activist in the Liberal Party. All of this might come to nothing but it does make Flinders one to watch.
COOPER & WILLS
These two seats sit in traditional Labor country in Melbourne’s north. Wills was the electorate of favourite son Bob Hawke. Here the Greens are the threat. Cooper has Labor’s Ged Kearney notionally ahead of the Greens by just 0.6 percent. The former ACTU boss has profile and campaigning muscle but Labor’s positioning on the Adani coal mine is a sensitive issue here, as are refugee issues.
Just to the west, Wills is held by Labor’s Peter Khalil on a slightly more comfortable 4.9 percent margin. If the election result is a hung Parliament with either of these seats going to the Greens, the pro-environment party could demand a high price in any negotiations.
One of the great shocks for Malcolm Turnbull in 2016 was the Liberal Party’s failure to carry a single seat in Tasmania. He got the chance for a second bite in July 2018, when Braddon came up along with Freemantle, Longman, Mayo and Perth in the by-elections forced by constitutional questions over dual citizenship of MPs.
The Coalition’s poor performance in those by-elections cost Turnbull the prime ministership the following month.
If the Coalition is to regain a foothold in Tasmania, it will look to Braddon where Labor’s Justine Keay defends a 1.5 percent margin.
The retirement of Christopher “The Fixer” Pyne robs our political life of one of its more engaging characters. The question is, will it rob the Coalition of a seat in South Australia.
Pyne copped a four percent swing against him in 2016. The theoretically safe east Adelaide stronghold was left with a buffer of less than six percent. It is not the most marginal Coalition electorate in South Australia -- that is neighbouring Boothby -- but a seat is always vulnerable with the departure of a long-standing, high-profile member. That makes Sturt one to watch.
Julie Bishop has called time on her political career after 21 years as the local member and 11 as deputy party leader. Curtin contains Australia’s best real estate west of Sydney Harbour, including the river and beachside suburbs of Dalkeith, Peppermint Grove and Cottesloe. Unsurprisingly, Bishop’s margin was a comfortable one -- more than 20 percent in 2016, fattened with an extra swing towards her against the national trend.
At the time of the coup against Turnbull, polls showed Bishop was clearly the people’s choice to replace him. She was spurned. Now she’s leaving with just the hint of a door slam. It will be intriguing to see if any of that affects voting patterns on election night. Whatever happens, though, this will not be a Labor win.
Much has been made of how vulnerable Coalition women are to being swept out of their marginal seats by an anti-government tide. But spare a thought also for Ken Wyatt, the first Aboriginal MP in the House of Representatives and the first federal minister of aboriginal descent. A 2.1 percent swing would see him gone.
As Minister for Aged Care and Indigenous Health, he has handled tough portfolios. A Royal Commission is now examining mistreatment of the elderly in aged care facilities, while the latest Closing the Gap report shows improvements in indigenous child mortality -- but still well behind those in the general population. If current polling is translated to a national swing, Ken Wyatt will face a nervous night as the vote comes in.