The Coalition will lose government if it drops just one seat. Labor needs to win eight. Here is an essential guide to the electorates in close contention. By Mike Seccombe.
Election ’22: Your guide to the key seats
After six weeks of stunts, photo opportunities, attack ads and confected outrage, election day is upon us. Strangely, the vote promises to be far more interesting than the campaign.
A substantial proportion of the electorate is notably unenthused by either major party and the likelihood is that we will see a fracturing of the vote among minor parties and independents. Clive Palmer has again spent tens of millions of dollars promoting conspiracy theories. The Greens are on track for a record presence in parliament.
There are 151 members of the house of representatives. Going into the election, the Coalition holds a bare majority of 76. Labor holds 68 and there are seven independent and minor party members. It is all but certain all seven of those current crossbenchers will retain their seats.
The Coalition will lose government if it drops just one seat. Notionally, it already has, due to a redistribution that abolished one Liberal-held seat in Western Australia and added one in Victoria that is expected to go to Labor. Thus the Coalition needs to pick up at least one to form majority government. Current polling suggests the Morrison government will fail to achieve that.
Labor needs to win a net eight to form a majority government. Last week, one poll suggested it could take 80 seats, but the race appears to be tightening in the home stretch. There is a strong chance of a hung parliament in which neither Labor nor the Coalition reaches the magic number of 76. In that case the major parties would be forced to negotiate with crossbenchers to decide who forms government.
There is every chance, too, that the crossbench will be bigger and more diverse after Saturday.
Here are the seats to watch.
This state did most to deliver Scott Morrison his “miracle” victory in 2019. The Coalition won 23 of it 30 seats and holds most by healthy margins. Nonetheless, Labor initially had high hopes of winning seven or more of them this time, given the party’s comfortable win at the last state election. But Queensland has defied the national swing away from Morrison, leaving only a few possible gains for Labor.
Leichhardt, Liberal National, 4.2 per cent margin
It was wrested from Labor in 1996 by the idiosyncratic Warren Entsch. Except for three years after the 2007 Ruddslide, he has held it ever since. Entsch’s CV includes stints in the RAAF, as a welder and fitter, grazier, crocodile hunter and real estate developer. He is a moderate, a champion of marriage equality and other progressive causes.
Leichhardt is twice the size of Tasmania and covers most of Cape York Peninsula, but 80 per cent of its voters live in Cairns, a city atypical of regional Queensland.
It is heavily dependent on tourism, which suffered badly during the pandemic, and it has a fair proportion of “tree-changers”. Climate change resonates as an issue.
Numerous visits by Anthony Albanese and Morrison indicate that Labor has hopes and the Liberals are worried. Morrison would have much greater cause for concern were it not for Entsch’s personal popularity.
Flynn, Liberal National, 8.7 per cent margin
Further down the Queensland coast, in the seat of Flynn, the Coalition does not have the same advantage of a popular incumbent. Ken O’Dowd, the climate-doubting, coal-boosting member since 2010, has retired. He has been replaced by another candidate of similar ilk, Colin Boyce.
Boyce garnered national publicity earlier in the campaign by suggesting that the Morrison government’s commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions was “not binding, there will be no legislation attached to it”.
Given that the electorate includes a number of major coalmines as well as Gladstone, a centre of heavy industry and a major gas-exporting port, his words probably did him no harm. But they highlighted again the deep divisions within the Coalition over climate action.
Labor’s candidate, Matt Burnett, is the mayor of Gladstone. Labor considers Flynn to be a chance.
Longman, Liberal National, 3.3 per cent margin
Longman, stretching from Brisbane’s northern suburbs to the Sunshine Coast hinterland, is the most marginal conservative-held seat in Queensland. Its fast-growing urban centre around Caboolture strongly tends Labor, while the more rural parts and Bribie Island, which has a large cohort of retirees, tend equally strongly conservative.
The seat has changed hands repeatedly over the past 15 years. Labor won it in 2007, the Liberal National Party took it back in 2010 and held it in 2013. Labor won it again in 2016.
When it swings, it tends to swing big. In 2018, Labor’s then member, Susan Lamb, was one of five MPs forced to byelections after falling foul of the dual citizenship provision under section 44 of the constitution. She won, and there was an 8.7 per cent swing against the Coalition. The Longman result was a precipitating factor in Peter Dutton’s challenge to Malcolm Turnbull, which resulted in Morrison taking over as prime minister.
The small margin and the seat’s history of volatility make it a chance for Labor.
Blair, Labor, 1.2 per cent margin
Because it already holds so many Queensland seats, the Coalition has few options for gains, but Blair, held by Shayne Neumann, shadow minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel, is one. The seat covers Ipswich, historically working-class Labor, and also a large rural area to the city’s north. In 2019, there was a 9.8 per cent swing in the primary vote against Neumann, but the Coalition vote also went slightly backwards as more than a quarter of voters turned to fringe parties, particularly Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (16.8 per cent).
Minor party preferences will again be decisive. One Nation has placed Labor last on its how-to-vote cards. Both Morrison and Barnaby Joyce have made repeated visits.
Brisbane, Liberal National, 4.9 per cent margin
This will be one of the most interesting contests in the country, because it is shaping as a tight three-way race. Labor held the inner-metropolitan seat for 25 years until 2010, when it went to the LNP. But the more interesting development is the inexorable rise of the Greens. In 2019 the LNP’s Trevor Evans secured 47.8 per cent of the first preference vote, followed by Labor with 24.5 and the Greens with 22.4. Since 2013, the Labor share has fallen six percentage points, while the Greens’ share has increased by eight. Given the prominence of climate as an issue and the evident antipathy towards both major parties, the Greens are hopeful of finishing second on the primary vote and winning on Labor preferences. Labor, conversely, hopes to take it with the help of Greens preferences. Or Evans could squeak back in.
Ryan, Liberal National, 6 per cent margin
This seat, covering Brisbane’s affluent western suburbs, used to be blue-ribbon Liberal, but it is another of those inner-metropolitan electorates where climate change and Scott Morrison’s character have been identified as major issues. It is currently held by Julian Simmons, who is factionally aligned with Morrison.
Internal Labor polling suggests they will pick it up. But the Greens also count it as a strong chance. Better-educated voters break strongly Green, and Ryan covers the University of Queensland. In the 2019 federal election, Labor took 24.4 per cent of the primary vote, with the Greens just four points behind. At last year’s state election, the Greens held the state seat of Maiwar, which sits almost entirely within Ryan. Like Brisbane, this seat could well be won on preferences by the progressive party that finishes second on primaries.
Griffith, Labor, 2.9 per cent margin
This is a seat where Labor could be in trouble but the Coalition is not the threat. The seat’s demographics all point left. The median age of people in Griffith is 33, five years younger than the median age of the nation as a whole. About twice as many as the national average have a tertiary education. Almost half are renters.
Over the past two election cycles, the Liberal vote in this inner-metropolitan seat has flatlined, while Labor’s has declined about 10 points and the Greens’ share has jumped about 13.
At the 2021 Queensland election, the state seat that covers most of Griffith – South Brisbane – was won by the Greens with a six-point margin over Labor.
At the federal level, Labor’s chances are boosted by a strong sitting member, the left faction’s Terri Butler, whose shadow portfolios include Youth Affairs and Environment.
NEW SOUTH WALES
Just as Labor had early hopes that its path to victory ran through Queensland, the Liberal Party had hopes for NSW. Those have likewise receded, in part because of internal divisions fostered by Morrison delaying preselections, and in larger part by the rise of non-major party candidates.
Richmond, Labor, 4.1 per cent margin
For most of its history, Richmond, which extends south along the coast from the Queensland border, including Tweed Heads, Murwillumbah, Byron Bay and Ballina, voted conservative. But over recent decades it has trended progressive, as its economy has shifted from agriculture to tourism and it attracted more alternative lifestylers. Labor has held it since 2004, but the Greens are a growing force. Climate and environment are big issues, as are cost-of-living issues, particularly housing, a concern amplified by the recent floods. The current Labor member, Justine Elliot, has been loud in her condemnation of the Morrison government’s slow response to the flood crisis and its politicisation of the allocation of flood relief money, which will likely shift conservative votes her way. But the Greens believe they are a chance.
Hunter, Labor, 3 per cent margin
The Hunter Valley, north-west of Newcastle, is coal country. It also is prime agricultural land, making for tensions between miners and horse studs, vineyards and cattle graziers, as well as some well-heeled tree-changers.
It is traditionally Labor. From 1984 to 1996 it was held by Eric Fitzgibbon and then passed to his son, Joel, both of whom were mainstays of the party’s right wing. Following Joel’s retirement, it will be contested for Labor by Dan Repacholi, a former coalminer and five-time Olympian and Commonwealth Games gold medallist in sport shooting.
In 2019, Labor’s primary vote crashed to just 37.6 per cent as electors swung heavily to the far right. One Nation took 21.6 per cent of the vote and Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party took another 4.3. Seventy per cent of their preferences flowed to the Nationals. In the absence of a Fitzgibbon, Labor could be in real trouble this time.
Dobell, Labor, 1.5 per cent margin
This Central Coast seat has flipped between Labor and Liberal several times in the past 20 years, including at the past two change-of-government elections in 2007 and 2013. It includes a substantial number of people, both young families and retirees, who have fled Sydney for an easier lifestyle or more affordable housing. Among the former Sydney residents is the Liberal candidate, Dr Michael Feneley, a former director of cardiology at St Vincent’s Hospital and noted patron of the arts. Labor’s Emma McBride has held the seat since 2016. She is a born-and-bred local, a former Wyong Shire councillor with strong community connections. An outside chance for the government.
Robertson, Liberal, 4.2 per cent margin
Adjoining Dobell’s southern boundary, Robertson is demographically similar to it, and also changed hands in line with the changes in government in 2007 and 2013. The sitting Liberal, Lucy Wicks, is a rusted-on Morrison supporter, tightly connected to the conservative Pentecostal community. The odds of a Labor win appear to be improving.
Macquarie, Labor, 0.2 per cent margin
This is the most marginal seat in the country, held by Labor’s Susan Templeman. It covers the north-western fringes of Sydney, the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury district. The Liberals were hopeful but more recent polling by both major parties suggests Templeman, a popular local member, will improve her hold on the seat. Particularly in the mountains, where voters feel they were let down by the conservatives after the Black Summer bushfires.
Parramatta, Labor, 3.5 per cent margin
If voters selected members solely on the basis of the credentials, Labor’s Andrew Charlton would be a shoo-in. The former economic adviser to prime minister Kevin Rudd co-ordinated the successful response to the global financial crisis, and his CV includes the London School of Economics, Oxford University, a stint with the United Nations, and a wildly successful career in business. He’s also articulate and very telegenic.
However, he was parachuted into the seat over the objections of the local party, following the retirement of Labor’s popular MP Julie Owens. He is in the process of moving from his $20 million mansion in Sydney’s eastern suburbs to new digs in the electorate, but it is far from clear that this silvertail will be accepted by Sydney’s “westies”. The Liberals have a good candidate in local Maria Kovacic. Labor believes Charlton’s vote is firming, but a loss would be highly embarrassing.
Reid, Liberal, 3.2 per cent margin
This very diverse seat encompasses affluent suburbs with harbour views and struggling areas further inland. Only about 40 per cent of residents are Australian-born or speak English at home. There is a large Chinese cohort, along with Indians, Italians, Nepalese and others. It is exceptionally well educated and its people are disproportionately employed in professional or managerial work.
This election promises to be very messy for a complex variety of reasons. The Liberal incumbent, Fiona Martin, not only faces a Labor challenger but also an independent ex-Liberal, Natalie Baini, who accused the previous Liberal MP, Craig Laundy, of having blocked her after an affair ended badly. Martin is being targeted by the Christian lobby because she crossed the floor against the government’s proposed religious discrimination bill. Martin stumbled badly in the campaign when she confused Labor’s candidate, Sally Sitou, with another Asian–Australian woman, Tu Le, the aspirant who was passed over for Labor preselection in Fowler. Reid looks all but certain to be taken by Labor.
Mackellar, Liberal, 13.2 per cent margin
This seat, covering Sydney’s wealthy northern beaches, is one of three where the teal independents think they could cause an upset. It is held by Jason Falinski, but local doctor and former star athlete Sophie Scamps has enjoyed huge publicity and is polling strongly. If she finishes second, she will likely benefit from strong preference flows from Labor and the Greens. It remains a long shot, however.
North Sydney, Liberal, 9.3 per cent margin
This is another wealthy seat in which climate, perceptions of government corruption and Morrison’s character are big issues. The incumbent, Trent Zimmerman, is a leading figure in the Liberal moderate faction, widely seen as decent but ineffectual. His high-profile, well-resourced teal independent challenger, Kylea Tink, is a former chief executive of two cancer charities. Labor also has a strong candidate in Catherine Renshaw, a professor in the law school at Western Sydney University where she teaches human rights. It will be a tight three-way contest, and Zimmerman appears to be in deep trouble.
Wentworth, Liberal, 1.3 per cent margin
If single-seat opinion polls can be trusted, the incumbent, Dave Sharma, is heading for a loss. He is under challenge from Allegra Spender, whose pedigree should make her Liberal royalty. Both her father and grandfather were prominent Liberal MPs and diplomats. Spender is running as a teal independent.
Recent polling has Sharma just ahead of Spender, on 33.3, but the preferences of Labor and the Greens, with a combined 18 per cent, can be expected to flow strongly to the teal.
Gilmore, Labor, 2.6 per cent margin
The Liberal Party is banking on the high profile of its candidate, former state MP Andrew Constance, to take this one. But it will likely be close, given the fact many of Gilmore’s electors felt the devastating effects of climate change during the Black Summer bushfires, and many are still angry about the inadequacy of the Morrison government’s response both at the time and since. Also, the incumbent Labor member, Fiona Phillips, has been busy in the community.
Fowler, Labor, 14 per cent margin
This is another seat where Labor parachuted in a high-profile candidate, Kristina Keneally, over the objections of the local branch. Some on the conservative side think the Liberal candidate, Courtney Nguyen, could win on preference flows from independent Dai Le, but the chances are not strong.
Banks, Liberal, 6.3 per cent margin
Given the healthy margin by which Liberals hold it, Banks should be considered safe. But the incumbent, David Coleman, was absent from parliament for a year on personal leave. Another factor that could cost Liberal votes is annoyance within the substantial Chinese–Australian community about government messaging on China. An outside chance to flip.
Bennelong, Liberal, 6.9 per cent margin
Like Banks, this seat has a big Chinese Australian component: about 20 per cent. The retirement of the popular incumbent, former tennis star John Alexander, is also a factor here.
Hughes, Liberal, 9.9 per cent margin
Hughes, on Sydney’s southern fringe, is currently held by Craig Kelly, who quit the Liberals to become leader of Clive Palmer’s UAP. Voters have a choice between Kelly on the conspiracist right, Liberal, Labor and teal independent Georgia Steele, who is reportedly polling well. It looks messy but interesting.
The most progressive state in the Commonwealth offers few hopes to the Coalition and more than a few risks.
Kooyong, Liberal, 6.4 per cent margin
Historically, Kooyong was the most blue-ribbon of Liberal seats, formerly held by party leaders Robert Menzies and Andrew Peacock. But it is no longer nearly so conservative. In 2019 the Greens’ Julian Burnside took 21.2 per cent of the primary vote and went close to winning on the back of a preference flow of almost 80 per cent from other candidates.
Goldstein, Liberal, 7.8 per cent margin
The consensus on all sides is that this is the Victorian seat most likely to fall to the teals. The incumbent, Tim Wilson, is commonly classified as a moderate Liberal, but is more accurately described as a free-market libertarian. He is a former policy director at the right-wing Institute of Public Affairs, which has a long record of opposing action on climate change. It also advocated the abolition of the Human Rights Commission. Yet Wilson accepted an appointment to the HRC. In his time in the job, he styled himself as “freedom commissioner” and spoke strongly against “socialist” notions of freedom.
His opponent is the media-savvy former ABC foreign correspondent Zoe Daniel.
Chisholm, Liberal, 0.5 per cent margin
This Melbourne eastern suburbs electorate was won in controversial circumstances by Gladys Liu in 2019, after Chinese language corflutes resembling official electoral commission signage were erected outside 29 polling booths, telling voters the “correct” way to vote was Liberal. Liu also has been forced to defend her links to organisations connected to the Chinese Communist Party. She has been an unimpressive MP and looks like a goner this time.
Higgins, Liberal, 3.7 per cent margin
This is another seat that has drifted ever more progressive over time.
In 2019, the Greens won 22.5 per cent of first preference votes, just behind Labor with 25.4. The incumbent, Dr Katie Allen, a paediatrician and medical researcher, is a genuine Liberal moderate, and has been impressive in her three years in parliament. But she is assailed not just from the left, but also from the right, with the Christian lobby letterboxing against her for her opposition to the government’s failed religious freedom bill. Labor polling reportedly suggests they will win.
Macnamara, Labor, 4.9 per cent margin
This bayside seat has long been safe for Labor, but it is another inner-city electorate that is moving increasingly left. Labor’s Josh Burns finished almost eight percentage points ahead of the Greens in 2019, but they believe they have a chance of overtaking him this time. It’s a long shot.
The Coalition went into the campaign with hopes of taking three Labor seats: outer Melbourne Dunkley (margin 2.7 per cent), Corangamite (margin 1.0 per cent) and McEwen (margin 5.3 per cent), but appears to have become less confident recently.
There are two seats to watch here, and they are always the same two: Bass and Braddon.
Bass, Liberal, 0.4 per cent margin
Bass, on Tasmania’s north-east tip, is a perennially marginal seat. The incumbent, Bridget Archer, is notable for having crossed the floor to vote against the religious discrimination bill, but also to support a national integrity commission. As a consequence, she has been targeted by the Christian lobby and also One Nation, which will preference against her. She has done a preference deal with the Jacqui Lambie Network, which should help her chances. Bass was previously held by Labor’s Ross Hart, who is running again. It will be tight, but Archer looks the more likely.
Braddon, Liberal, 3.1 per cent margin
This is the other Tasmanian seat that regularly changes hands. It covers much of the wild north and west of the island state, and was won from Labor in 2019 by arch right-winger Gavin Pearce. Labor’s Chris Lynch is narrowly favoured to win it back, with the help of preferences from independent Craig Garland, a popular local identity.
Labor has a couple of things working to its advantage in SA. The lesser is that the local Murdoch media is rather more balanced in its election coverage than in the three big eastern states. The greater is that the Liberal Party is in disarray after its recent thumping in the state election. The key contest here is in Boothby.
Boothby, Liberal, 1.4 per cent margin
Nicolle Flint, from the religious hard right of the Liberals, is retiring. While the party has selected a far less polarising candidate in Rachel Swift, a former Rhodes Scholar who has previously worked with the United Nations, she is up against a strong independent candidate in lawyer and arts administrator Jo Dyer, who is favoured to win.
Sturt, Liberal, 6.9 per cent margin
The only other SA seat of passing interest. Labor considers it a chance, but only a rough one.
To an even greater extent than South Australia, WA is a Liberal shambles, having been all but wiped out at state level last year. The Morrison government did itself considerable harm, too, when it supported Clive Palmer’s legal challenge to the state’s border closure during the pandemic.
Pearce, Liberal, 5.2 per cent margin
This should have been a safe hold for the Liberals but for the fact that its previous member, Christian Porter, was forced out in ugly circumstances. The Liberals have selected a former Wanneroo councillor, Linda Aitken, an active member of Margaret Court’s Victory Life Church. The influence of conservative Pentecostals in the WA branch of the party has long been of concern to party moderates. Labor is reasonably confident its candidate, Tracey Roberts, also a Wanneroo councillor, will win.
Swan, Liberal, 3.2 per cent margin
Federal Labor’s vote in Swan has waxed and waned in parallel with its standing at a state level, thus Labor has high hopes of winning, despite the significant margin. Also, the incumbent member, Morrison ally Steve Irons, is retiring. The leaders of both parties have attended numerous events, which suggests it will be close.
Hasluck, Liberal, 5.9 per cent margin
Labor considers this a possible gain, but its candidate, Tania Lawrence, a former party adviser and executive with Woodside Energy, is up against it. The incumbent, Ken Wyatt, currently holds the Indigenous Australians portfolio. He is a well-regarded moderate. The seat looks unlikely to change.
Curtin, Liberal, 13.9 per cent margin
This is definitely one to watch, despite the huge margin. The Liberals’ Celia Hammond is being challenged by Kate Chaney, another of the teal independents. Like Allegra Spender, Chaney comes with an impeccable Liberal pedigree. Her uncle, Fred, was a Fraser government minister and briefly deputy leader of the Liberal Party. A poll in The West Australian this week had her ahead 52-48.
Cowan, Labor, 0.9 per cent margin
This is the great, fond hope of the Coalition in the west. Despite the narrow margin, the Labor incumbent, Anne Aly, is seen as having performed strongly in her two terms in parliament. Her Liberal opponent, Vince Connelly, served one term as member for Stirling before it was abolished in an electoral redistribution. It could be very close.
The territory has just two seats, both of which are currently held by Labor. One will surprise on election night, whichever way it goes.
Lingiari, Labor, 5.5 per cent margin
Lingiari covers all of the territory bar the 0.01 per cent that is Darwin. Almost 42 per cent of its residents are Indigenous, many of them living in remote communities. For this reason, it is the hardest seat to poll. On top of that, Labor’s Warren Snowdon is retiring after holding the seat for all but two of the past 35 years. He is universally recognised by his bushy moustache and broad-brimmed hat. No doubt his personal vote is a big factor.
His Labor successor, Marion Scrymgour, is well known as a former NT deputy chief minister, as is her Country Liberal Party opponent, Damien Ryan, who served 12 years as mayor of Alice Springs among several high-profile positions. The odds probably favour Labor, but the Coalition believes it is in with a good chance.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 21, 2022 as "Cut out and keep: your guide to key seats".
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