When it comes to politics, your postcode
counts. The sad reality is some electorates in the House of Representatives are more important than others and that boils down to how safe they are. Nothing motivates people as much as fear, or for that case, winning, and to win you can’t rely on the safe seats alone. If an electorate, AKA seat, is within grasp you can bet your last fiver that political parties will have it within their sights.
So what makes a seat safe, and on the flip side of that, marginal? The Australian Electoral Commission says that any seat held by less than 6% is
considered marginal. That means that after the final vote is done and dusted if the leading candidate wins with 56% of the vote or less then they’re officially on the ropes as a marginal seat holder. Due to our system of voting
in the House of Reps those last two people standing are mainly Labor or
Coalition candidates. The result of that is that major parties throw a lot of coin at winning marginal seats, whether that’s through advertising or campaigning in the area or through the more shady practice of pork barrelling. Pork barrelling is using government money on local projects designed to win votes. Like, have you ever noticed that those new roads or bridges or jobs hubs just happen to be in marginal seats? It’s not just me saying that. Recent analysis found you’re 3.5 times more likely to get cash for infrastructure if you’re in a marginal electorate compared to a safe one, and sometimes the efforts to win
goodwill are a bit more obvious. For example Georgina Downer, the Liberal candidate in the South Australian seat of Mayo, got in a lot of hot water recently for handing over a novelty cheque to a local bowling club. The $127,000 cheque was part of the community sport infrastructure program, a national program funded by the Federal Government to help local sporting groups. But Georgina Downer didn’t really have a hand in awarding that grant because she isn’t the elected representative for that seat. She’s just a candidate, albeit a candidate from the government side. Labor said Georgina Downer made it look like the money was either from herself personally, or from the Liberal Party and that was deliberately misleading the public. The Libs lost Mayo to Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie. Politicians who hold marginal seats are particularly sensitive to opinion polls. Any suggestion of a swing away from their party gives them the jitters. A swing determines the popularity of a party. If a party is shedding popularity then there’s a swing in voter sentiment away from them. If that swing in popularity is happening
nationally across the board then there are a lot of seats in doubt. At the last election the Coalition suffered a 3% swing against it, and Labor scored a small uptick of 1.3 percent. That left an awful lot of seats marginal. About a third of seats, or 51 to be exact, were on a margin of less than 6% Labor’s Kathy O’Toole has the slimmest margin in the country. She holds the Queensland seat of Herbert by 0.02 percent. She won her seat by just 37 votes. By contrast, Nationals’ MP
Andrew Broad had the safest seat. Seats like that one can be safe because they have a demographic group that shares similar concerns or political persuasions, or because they’ve got a strong local member or because there’s a
local issue that gets the community fired up. That’s why we sometimes see a safe seat change hands when a beloved long-time MP retires. If you live in a safe seat and are feeling a little bit neglected by this info, consider this – safe seats don’t always stay safe. The Liberals found that out the hard way in Wentworth. That was the seat held by Malcolm Turnbull on a pretty huge margin of nearly 18% making it one of the safest seats in the country. In other words, the Liberals would have needed 18 percent of voters to change their mind
and swing the vote. That’s usually a pretty tall order, but after Malcolm Turnbull lost his job as Prime Minister and resigned from Parliament, Wentworth was up for grabs. The Libs suffered a nearly 20% swing away from them, and independent, Kerryn Phelps, won the seat. Safe seats can also change hands if
the boundaries of the seat itself change. Boundary changes can often bring demographic shifts which affects who wins and loses. Boundary changes before the 2007 election were widely tipped as part of the reason a sitting prime minister, John Howard, lost his seat of
Bennelong in the federal election. Which means that everyone, even people in the top job, have to keep on their toes, and that can only be a good thing.