Bradfield and Higgins (Australia) by-elections 2009

Voters in two Australian federal House of Representatives divisions went to the polls today to elect their new MPs. These by-elections were held in Bradfield (New South Wales) and Higgins (Victoria). Bradfield was held by former Liberal leader Brendan Nelson, who resigned his seat after losing leadership of the party in 2008. Higgins was held by former Howard government treasurer and government number two, Peter Costello. Originally a potential contender for the Liberal leadership in 2007, he did not run and subsequently resigned his seat.

These by-elections in two safe Liberal seats became of some interest a few days before the election after the Liberal Party dumped its leader, Malcolm Turnbull in favour of right-winger Tony Abbott over the party’s division over a cap-and-trade pollution reduction scheme proposed by the Rudd Labor government. These elections were spinned by the Greenies and Labor as a referendum of sort on the environment.


Division of Bradfield (NSW)

Bradfield is located in the upper-class heartland of North Sydney and includes the affluent suburbs of Chatswood, Killara, St Ives and Wahroonga. The seat, named after Dr. John Bradfield, designer of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, was created in 1949 and has been held by the Liberal Party since its creation, notably by former Australian PM Billy Hughes between 1949 and 1952. Nelson was first elected in 1996 and easily held the seat in 2007, despite the Liberal defeat nationally. It is the second most affluent electorate in the country, and is a typical ‘blue-ribbon’ Liberal seat, the Liberals having always won the seat on first preference votes. Despite this, Labor has been slowly creeping up, in part due to the inclusion of less affluent areas in the electorate (parts of Hornsby in 2006) but also the slow gentrification of the Labor vote in upper-class Australia. They fell to 59.1% on the first preference vote in 2007, the lowest ever for the party.

As is usual with by-elections in safe seats, the Labor Party decided early on to not contest the by-election. The Liberals nominated former businessman Paul Fletcher. The Greens, who poll strongly in Bradfield (11.26%) and the region, nominated 2007 candidate and parliamentary adviser Susie Gemmell. In addition, 20 other candidates were nominated, for a total of 22 candidates – tied with Willis in 1992 for the most by-election candidates. 9 of the 20 other candidates are from the Christian Democratic Party, a nutty far-right Bible-bashing anti-Muslim outfit, which decided to go crazy and nominated 9 candidates in total (though they originally wished to nominate 11, the number of loyal disciples). Apart from them, others included a flurry of Independents, a Liberal Democrat (classical liberals), two other small environmentalist outfits, the far-right One Nation, the Sex Party and the Democratic Labor Party (a socially conservative economically left-wing outfit).

Here are the results, with all election day votes tallied. I haven’t broken down the CDP’s timewasters. Green 2PP are compared to Labor’s 2PP result in 2007.

Paul Fletcher (Liberal) 55.38% (-4.74%)
Susie Gemmell (Green) 26.18% (+14.72%)
9 Christian Democrats 3.45% (+1.71%)
Marianne Leishman (Sex) 3.40%
Simon Kelly (Ind) 2.09%
Simon McCaffrey (DLP) 2.05%
Bill Koutalianos (Ind) 1.83%
Deborah Burt (Climate Change) 1.09%
Goronwy Price (Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy) 0.99%
Brian Buckley (Ind) 0.82%
Philip Dowling (Ind) 0.78%
Lucy Gabb (LDP) 0.74%
Victor Waterson (ONP) 0.63%
Peter Hanraham (Ind) 0.54%

Paul Fletcher (Liberal) 63.56% (+0.11%)
Susie Gemmell (Green) 36.44% (-0.11%)


Division of Higgins (Victoria)

Higgins is located in the wealthy inner south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, including the suburbs of Armadale, Ashburton, Malvern, and Toorak as well as parts of Glen Iris, Camberwell, Prahran, and South Yarra. The seat, named after justice and politician H. B. Higgins, was created in 1949 and has been held by the Liberal Party ever since (excluding one Liberal MP who briefly sat as an Independent), and was the division of two PMs: Harold Holt and John Gorton. Peter Costello was first elected in 1990 and became treasurer of the Howard Liberal government in 1996, and was the government’s number two figure until Howard’s defeat in 2007. He was easily re-elected in 2007, taking 53.6% of first preferences. Like in Bradfield, the Liberals have always won on the first count in Higgins. It is slightly less Liberal than Bradfield, because it includes some more left-wing areas including hippie Prahran, less affluent Windsor, and the predominantly Greek area of Oakleigh. Labor won around a dozen polls in 2007.

Like in Bradfield, however, Labor announced that they wouldn’t contest the seat. The Liberals nominated Kelly O’Dwyer, parliamentary staffer; the Greens (10.75% in 2007) nominated Dr Clive Hamilton, a uni prof. Other candidates included 3 Independents, and candidates of the Sex Party, the AU Democrats, Democratic Labor, a Liberal Democrat and a One Nation candidate.

Here are the results, with all election day votes tallied. Green 2PP are compared to Labor’s 2PP result in 2007.

Kelly O’Dwyer (Liberal) 51.74% (-1.87%)
Clive Hamilton (Green) 34.96% (+24.21%)
John Mulholland (DLP) 3.91%
Fiona Patten (Sex) 3.53%
David Collyer (AU Democrats) 2.36% (+1.15%)
Stephen Murphy (Ind) 1.68%
Joseph Toscano (Ind) 0.82%
Isaac Roberts (LDP) 0.41%
Peter Brohier (Ind) 0.31%
Steve Raskovy (ONP) 0.28%

Kelly O’Dwyer (Liberal) 57.57% (+0.53%)
Clive Hamilton (Green) 42.43% (-0.53%)

The Liberals, thought to be in trouble over their opposition to cap-and-trade and their new more right-wing leader performed rather well, though their performances are nothing spectacular. They fell in first preferences in both seats and gained only little compared to 2007 in 2PP votes. It is a victory for them, but its’ far from a strong mandate for either their new leader or their policies in general.

The Greens are the real winners, winning 35% in Higgins and 26% in Bradfield, both excellent results for them. Their 35% result in Higgins is the party’s best first preference share in a federal division. I’m sure they can spin it as a strong result for the environment and a defeat for the Liberal’s opposition to cap-and-trade.


Posted on December 5, 2009, in Australia, By-elections, New South Wales, Victoria. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. The Australian Democrats were out in force yesterday. For a party rebuilding they seem to have made a start, with a 1.15% improvement on their last start Higgins. Granted its a by election without the ALP, but its nice to be reminded that there’s still a party for the moderates. Also interesting to see the Australian Sex Party doing so well. They dropped agonisingly short of the magic 4%, but they got a lot of interest at booths. As one person put it yesterday “So many euphemisms, so little time”. Australia may never be the same again!

  2. The greens would be deluding themselves to take too much from it. Any election where the governing party opts out has minimal value as an indication of anything much.

  3. Another shocking result for the Dems. Just two years ago at the neighbouring Melbourne Ports by-election they got nearly 6%. To not make their 4% this time must be crushing for them. 2% in the absence of an ALP candidate, ouch

  4. Conflicting visions on the Democrats’ result ;)

    I was actually slightly surprised that they even managed 2% given their current state, but in the absence of Labor, it’s true they might have done ‘well’.

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