The electorate of Fenner has been redrawn. Source AEC
The electorate's name was changed from Fraser in January 2016, in honour of the scientist Prof. Frank Fenner. It is a safe Labor seat, and is the smaller of the two ACT electorates.
It’s new, it’s small, and it’s got a lot planned for it. Not only that, but the recent redistribution of boundaries in the Fenner electorate saw Labor incumbent Andrew Leigh pack up his office and move it a few blocks down the road into an area considered vital to the future of the nation’s capital.
.eigh's seat may be safe, but recent Coalition government budget cuts could add to the comfortable margin with which he won in the 2013 election. The city is already suffering from extensive cuts to the federal public service, and more are on the way in the wake of the May budget (assuming the Coalition government is returned on 2 July and is able to get its budget measures through the Senate).
Fenner has been a relatively stable area since it was formed as Fraser in 1974. In January 2016 its name was changed to Fenner in honour of eminent scientist Frank Fenner, and to enact plans by the Australian Electoral Commission to name a seat in Victoria after former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. The ACT electorate had been named originally after Jim Fraser, who was the Member for the Australian Capital Territory from 1951 to 1970.
The newly-renamed Fenner electorate has been held by the Australian Labor Party throughout its 42-year history. In 1974, Kennett Lionel Fry won the seat, holding it for the next decade. John Langmore was elected in 1984 and spent 13 years in the seat until Steve Dargavel won the seat in a by-election after Langmore’s resignation. Dargavel lost the seat the next year to Bob McMullan, who held the position from 1998 to 2010, before current MP Andrew Leigh was elected.
The 2016 Federal Election will mark the first time a member of parliament is elected as the Member for Fenner – as opposed to being elected as the Member for Fraser. Leigh will again be Labor’s candidate. Livestock and Bulk Carriers Association director Robert Gunning has been confirmed as his Liberal Party opponent.
Leigh’s period as the Member for Fenner has actually returned a slight decrease of voters on a two-party preferred basis in the past two elections, but the Labor Party is still in a relatively comfortable position. Labor recorded a swing of -0.87 per cent in the 2010 election, before registering a -1.58 per cent swing in 2013. That said, Leigh received 44.66 per cent of votes in the 2013 Federal Election, 14.04 per cent clear of Liberal party candidate Elizabeth Lee.
Covering 459sqkm, the electorate of Fenner encompasses the north of the ACT and extends into Jervis Bay. The division includes the suburbs of Ainslie, Turner (part), Braddon (part), Belconnen, Bruce, Cook, Gungahlin, Hall, O'Connor, the industrial area of Mitchell and the Districts of Kowan and Majura (part) and the Jervis Bay Territory. The redistribution has decreased the size of the electorate, with 10,000 Fenner voters now assigned to the Canberra electorate.
When Canberra was announced as the nation’s capital in 1908, it was seen as imortant for the ACT to have access to sea; hence the reasoning behind Jervis Bay’s addition to the electorate division of Fenner.
Fenner is dominated by residential areas, with some light industrial areas in Mitchell, as well as agriculture, tourism, and retail spaces. A number of public service jobs are based in the region, but recent job cuts have affected the area.
In early April 2016, the Department of Defence made 323 staff positions redundant with a further 200 redundnacy offers to be made before the 2 July election, with the Turnbull Government preparing to cut an estimated $1.2 billion from department budgets. The National Secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), Nadine Flood, is deeply concerned about the cuts which will “inevitably lead to more job losses and the erosion of services that ordinary Australians rely on.”
A three-year National Broadband Network (NBN) roll-out plan was released in October 2015, which will hopefully improve the availability of high-speed broadband in the Fenner electorate by the time it is completed, in September 2018.
The appearance of Fenner could be signicantly altered from mid-2016 with the construction of the ACT government's light rail project. The 12 kilometre Gungahlin tram will cost $698 million, plus or minus $35 million, and will service many of the suburbs in the electorate. The Liberal Party in the ACT is strongly opposed to the Labor-supported initiative, and it looms as a key issue in the ACT election scheduled for later in 2016. The extent to which such local issues will affect the federal campaign is unclear but it is at least possible that the controversy surrounding the light rail will influence voters' thinking in the federal election.
The redistribution reduced the number of voters in the Fenner electorate, with 10,000 voters shifting to the Canberra electorate, but the continuing expansion of Gungahlin suggests the Fenner electorate could grow in coming years.
Since the late 1990s Gungahlin has developed strongly as a suburb, with the largest number of new homes and some of the most affordable housing in Canberra. With Gungahlin’s population increasing, a multi-million dollar shopping centre (including a cinema) is being built and is set to open in 2018. Several road improvement projects are underway to cater for Fenner’s growing population.
Fenner is home to both the Australian National University and the University of Canberra, giving the electorate the feel of a unversity town. The Coaltion Government’s planned - and for the moment stalled - fee deregulation scheme may still harm the many academics and students living and working in the electorate.
Most vice-chancellors, including Professor Ian Young when he headed ANU, supported the deregulation of student fees but the University of Canberra’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Stephen Parker, was, initially at least, the sole dissenting voice among vice-chancellors.
He said: “The deregulation of university fees is about ideology, not budget savings, and it will only hurt students.” Professor Parker left the university in mid-2016 after nine years at the helm, and it is unclear whether his successor, Professor Deep Saini, will continue his posiiton on fee deregulation.
Few electorates have such a concentration of university staff and students so the funding of higher education remains an issue close to the hearts of many in Fenner. It is also an important issue for the rest of the country's future, and it is perhaps appropriate that the local member is a former economics professor at the ANU.