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Located on the NSW Central Coast, and situated between the state’s two largest cities, Sydney and Newcastle, is the electorate of Dobell.
Taking its name from Archibald winning artist Sir William Dobell, the seat was established in 1984, and remained a safe Labor seat until 2001. It was held for that entire period by Michael Lee, who rose to be a cabinet minister in the final Keating government.
Dobell has seen some of the nation’s tightest federal election contests since 1996, when Lee held on by just 117 votes, only to go to Liberal candidate Ken Ticehurst in 2001 with a margin of just 560 or 0.76% of votes. Ticehurst increased his margin by recording a 5.5 per cent swing in 2004, but in 2007 he lost the seat to former national secretary of the Health Services Unio, n Craig Thomson when Thomson recorded a swing toward the ALP of 8.7 per cent. In 2010, Thomson was one of only four Labor MPs in NSW to increase his margin when he recorded a jump from 3.9 to 5.1 per cent.
In April 2012, Thomson asked then prime minister Julia Gillard to suspend him from the ALP following investigation for criminal matters and he moved to the crossbench as an independent. In April 2014, Thomson was expelled from the ALP after being found to have defrauded the Health Services Union.
Chief pharmicist for Wyong Hospital Emma McBride – whose father Grant McBride held the local state seat of The Entrance from 1992 to 2011 – was nominated by the ALP as Thomson’s replacement but had little time to run a campaign in 2013.
McBride lost the election to Liberal candidate Karan McNamara who achieved a 1.11 per cent swing and captured the seat for the Coalition.
The 2016 election sees a replay of the 2013 battle 'of the Maccas' with McBride again up against McNamara. Electoral boundary changes since 2013 have resulted in Dobell becoming a notional Labor seat (0.2 per cent) and this contest is going to be one of nation’s tightest. Candidates are therefore doing their utmost to appeal to the majority of voters by addressing core issues for the Dobell area.
Major issues in Dobell are crime and youth unemployment. Crime rates are on the rise, often stirring law and order issues among young families and elderly populations within Dobell, and youth unemployment sits at 7 per cent, higher than the national average of 5.6 per cent. Another core issue is the controversial Wallarah 2 coal mine, which mine representatives claim will offer 350 jobs and a billion dollar investment. Wallarah 2 is proposed in a water catchment area and both 'Macca's claiming they will oppose anything that will impact on the region’s water catchment.
Dobell is made up of two distinctly separate population demographics. Young families make up almost half (45 per cent) of the population (aged 35 and under) and retirees making up 20 per cent (aged 60 plus). While the Central Coast is often recognised for its string of glistening beaches, over the years the area has attracted growth in population due to its affordable housing in comparison to Sydney and many young families relocate from the state’s capital for affordable entrance into the housing market. Dobell has also become a hotspot for retirees and down-sizers from Sydney. There has been substantial growth in building infrastructure in Dobell since the last election, with areas such as Wadalba open to new housing estates.
Many in the electorate commute to Sydney daily for work. It would seem logical that people from this area would use public transport for their daily commute to the big smoke, yet more than 70 per cent of the electorate rely on public roads, using cars rather than [the] public transport services provided by NSW Transport. The commuters' choice is due to a perceived lack of reliability and overcrowded carriages in peak hours.
As a result of hig car use, the M1 Motorway frequently experiences high congestion through peak hour traffic. However, most in Dobell believe that this would not be such an issue if public transport could be more reliable.