Key seats: cheat sheet

Everything you need to know about 10 of the most interesting and important races in the country

By Erin Mathews. Election Watch journalist

As the leaders make their final dash around the marginal seats at the end of a marathon election campaign, we've analysed 10 seats that are essential to understanding what will happen on Saturday.

Jump to:
New England, Macarthur, Dobell, Brisbane, Capricornia, Petrie, Mayo, Batman, Indi, Cowan


NEW ENGLANDNew England electorate map

The voters of the north-eastern NSW seat of New England may be forgiven for feeling under siege from the ‘Barney Army’ and the ‘Windsor Warriors’, but they can take some solace in knowing that nothing attracts political investment and action like a marginal seat.

Both candidates are fighting for the title of underdog here. Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce comfortably won the seat last election when independent Tony Windsor retired after 12 years as the member for New England.

Windsor was a polarising figure in his final term because of his support of Julia Gillard’s minority government. For Joyce, the move from the QLD Senate to the NSW lower house paved the way for his election as Nationals Leader, but one of his greatest disappointments was his government’s approval of the Shenhua Watermark coal mine in the electorate.

Windsor announced his intention to reclaim his old seat in March, citing coal mining and the NBN as some of his major concerns. His campaign is being backed by the local chapter of activist group Get Up!

It’s been a deeply personal and increasingly negative campaign, with the days leading up to the election bringing allegations of bullying and infidelity.

A Newspoll taken two weeks before election day gives it to Joyce. We’ve mentioned previously on Election Watch that Joyce appears to be having more fun on the campaign trail than any other high profile politician, but as our Frequent Flyers map shows, his concern for his seat is serious as the majority of his campaigning, and many of his spending commitments, have been in New England.

MACARTHURMacarthur electorate map

When you live everywhere else in Australia, it can sound like elections are all about Western Sydney. That’s because sometimes, they are. There’s a reason both the Liberal and Labor Parties launched their campaigns there this month – because Western Sydney is a growing mortgage belt with a voting power that can make or break governments.

Macarthur sits at the southern tip of Greater Western Sydney. Crikey’s Poll Bludger notes this seat “once had a record as a bellwether to surpass Eden-Monaro, having been held by the winning party at every election from 1949 to 2007.” Macarthur voters bucked the Kevin Rudd-slide in 2007 when they stuck with their Liberal MP Pat Farmer.

Fellow Liberal Russell Matheson succeeded him in 2010, but a recent big boundary change has decimated his more than 11% margin to about 3%. Matheson reportedly considered running for preselection in the neighbouring electorate of Hume, before taking the advice of his Prime Minister to stay put.

The ALP candidate is local pediatrician Mike Freelander.

Polling throughout the campaign – and there’s been lots of it – has sometimes narrowly favoured the ALP but is best summed up as ‘too close to call’. This Newspoll taken one week before polling day has it as a dead heat.

DOBELLDobell electorate map

This NSW Central Coast seat achieved national notoriety during the Gillard years because of former Labor-turned-independent MP Craig Thomson’s serious misuse of a Health Services Union credit card.

In 2013, Dobell voters elected Liberal Karen McNamara, whose familiar face is often seen nodding behind her leader during parliamentary Question Time. But the incumbent is starting this election from behind - a redistribution has converted Dobell into a notionally Labor seat, albeit on a wafer-thin margin of 0.2%.

The ALP challenger is former Wyong Shire Councillor Emma McBride, who lost to McNamara in 2013. A big question for this race is whether the Craig Thomson effect still hangs over her candidacy.

Dobell and nearby Robertson are two marginal Central Coast electorates likely to be crucial to who forms government. It’s anyone’s guess which way Dobell will swing. A Newspoll published one week prior to polling day shows preferences may give the Liberals the edge to retain the seat. The Australian notes the Coalition is ahead on a two-party preferred basis “thanks to a massive One Nation vote of more than 10 per cent.”


BRISBANEQueensland map

The contest in Brisbane is writing political history; it’s the first time in a federal campaign both major party candidates are openly gay.

This marginal seat covers the city centre and inner suburbs north of the Brisbane River. The incumbent, Theresa Gambaro, is retiring and former National Retailers Association CEO Trevor Evans is vying to retain the seat for the LNP. However, the seat has a strong Labor tradition and the ALP is hoping that army major Pat O’Neill will win it back.

Brisbane has looked like a dead heat for much of the campaign, however a Galaxy poll published one week from polling day predicts the LNP will get across the line. The result in Brisbane, dubbed by The Guardian a ‘groovy’ seat, will also be an indicator of the popularity of Malcolm Turnbull among inner-city voters.

CAPRICORNIACapricornia electorate map

Stretching from Rockhampton to the outskirts of Mackay, Capricornia was established on the central Queensland coast at Federation. The agricultural, and now mining, region has a strongly Labor political history, but a LNP present. Capricornia is currently held by the LNP’s Michelle Landry by 0.8% - making it the Coalition’s second most marginal seat behind its southern cousin Petrie. The ALP’s candidate is Leisa Neaton, a school principal.

Capricornia is firmly in Labor’s sights because it’s at the centre of a line of seats running up the Queensland coast that are widely thought (along with Western Sydney seats) to have delivered John Howard Government in 1996 and taken it away from him in 2007. Polls have had the two major party candidates neck-and-neck throughout the campaign. This Newspoll, taken one week out from polling day, gives the seat to Labor 51-49.

Another major factor in this election, particularly for marginal seats, is the huge number of people who have already cast their votes. The AEC’s Divisional Returning Officer for Capricornia told ABC Radio that more than 13,000 votes have already been cast in the seat, meaning early voting there is up 71% on last election.

PETRIEPetrie electorate map

This seat between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast is the Coalition’s most marginal, held by first-termer Luke Howarth by just 0.5%. The ALP challenger is Jacqui Pedersen, who grew up in the electorate.

It’s one of the so-called bellwether seats, meaning it is usually held by the party in government. Petrie’s streak has been going since 1987.

Both parties view Petrie as a must-win, given its position at the southern tip of that line of important Queensland seats. Petrie’s ability to seal a Prime Ministership is evidenced by Malcolm Turnbull’s appearance there on the first day of campaigning to stump for his youth jobs plan. Bill Shorten started the ALP’s groundwork there earlier, answering questions from Petrie voters for the Sky News People’s Forum in April.

A Galaxy poll published one week out from the election tips Labor will take the seat, along with another coveted QLD marginal, the regional electorate of Capricornia.  But the same polling finds the swing in these seats doesn’t play out uniformly in other parts of the state or in other marginals, suggesting the ALP will gain ground, but not enough to win government.


MAYOMayo electorate map

The supposedly safe Liberal rural South Australian seat of Mayo is shaping up as one of the more remarkable contests this election, as it could be the jewel in the crown of the Nick Xenophon Team’s (NXT) rise to balance-of-power.

Mayo stretches across the Adelaide Hills and across the Investigator Strait to Kangaroo Island. It’s been held by Liberal Jamie Briggs since 2008 and party elder Alexander Downer before him. Many saw the writing on the wall for Briggs in December when he was forced to resign as Malcolm Turnbull’s Cities Minister for behaving inappropriately towards a female public servant while on an official visit to Hong Kong.

Briggs’s NXT challenger is Rebekah Sharkie – a former staffer to Briggs and ex-Liberal Party member.

A Newspoll taken a fortnight out from the election shows Sharkie is poised to win the seat on preferences, which would make her the first non-Liberal party member for Mayo in the seat’s history.

In an election where more than 20% of voters are expected to vote for someone other than the major parties, South Australian seats like Mayo will be where this trend could make a difference. Roy Morgan data shows NXT is polling strongly in several SA lower house seats, predicting it could win Mayo along with the giant rural seat of Grey.


BATMANBatman electorate map

Batman is on every election-watcher’s list because it’s one of three inner-Melbourne seats being targeted by The Greens. The minor party already holds the seat of Melbourne and the major party incumbents in Batman, neighbouring Wills and Higgins, across the Yarra, are all aware of the threat The Greens pose to their livelihoods.

The southern part of Batman is ruled by the hipster, small-l liberal classes of Northcote and Clifton Hill, where The Greens are expected to do well. But head a few minutes north and you’re firmly in Melbourne’s working class suburbs of Reservoir and Macleod - traditional ALP territory.

The incumbent, Labor’s shadow justice minister David Feeney, has had a nightmare of a campaign – first being outed for failing to declare his $2.3million dollar investment property in his electorate (he lives outside the electorate), then the cheeky tenants of said property putting up a campaign poster for The Greens in the front yard. Hot on the heels of this embarrassment, Feeney bombed during an interview with Sky News’s David Speers, where he couldn’t explain Labor’s policy on the Schoolkids Bonus. To rub salt in the wound, he carelessly left his briefing notes in the TV studio.

Feeney’s opponent Alex Bhathal is contesting the seat for the fifth time. The Greens were quietly confident of a victory until the Liberal Party announced it would preference against Bhathal. Now the seat is in play, with leaked Greens polling giving it to them and ALP polling showing they’ll retain. Either way, the result will say a lot about whether The Greens have been able to meaningfully progress their campaign to conquer inner-Melbourne.

INDIIndi electorate map

The regional Victorian electorate of Indi was the scene of the David and Goliath battle of the 2013 election. Independent Cathy McGowan used a strong grass-roots campaign to topple Liberal frontbencher Sophie Mirabella by 439 votes, costing the former MP not only her dignity but a guaranteed place in Tony Abbott’s ministry.

This time around, Mirabella is back saying she’s changed - she is more prepared to listen and not take the seat she held for 12 years for granted. However, her attempt to resurrect her political career has been on the rocks since April, when she told Sky News that a local hospital had lost $10million in government funding because of McGowan’s election. There was another hurdle in May, when Mirabella suggested her own party may be behind leaks against her, leading to speculation the Liberals weren’t serious about backing their candidate. Within days, the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce seemingly wrote Mirabella off, declaring the race would come down to “Cathy and [Nationals candidate] Marty [Corboy].”

The latest poll gives McGowan a small lead. We’ll watch Round 2 of David v Goliath with interest.


COWANCowan electorate map

There’s something going on out West this election – the traditional Liberal stronghold state looks to be swinging a little to the left. Early in the campaign, pundits predicted the ALP could win up to four extra seats there. Now that’s tempered to one or two – the new seat of Burt and the Liberal seat of Cowan, both in Perth. But if the race is as tight as national polls predict, results in WA will be key.

Cowan, in Perth’s northern suburbs, has been held by Liberal backbencher Luke Simpkins since 2007, when he was one of the only new Coalition MPs to enter Parliament amid the fervour of Kevin 07. He’s a former Army major who has strongly campaigned against halal certification for food. He’s known to a national audience for being one of the architects of the first, unsuccessful, challenge to Tony Abbott’s leadership in February 2015.

Labor’s candidate is academic Anne Aly, an internationally recognized expert in counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation. Recent redistributions have cut Simpkin’s margin to about 4.5%, making the seat competitive – and you can tell the competition is biting given the line up of senior Coalition ministers who have attacked Aly’s professional record: Julie Bishop, Scott Morrison and Michael Keenan.

A ReachTEL poll conducted in week 5 of the campaign called it 50-50. Given the climate of this campaign, the results for both major candidates will make interesting reading.

Maps courtesy Australian Electoral Commission

Banner image courtesy Tambako The Jaguar/Flickr


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