Jones' Beach, Kiama Downs. Photo by Gabrielle Kneipp.
A south-coast electorate that spans from Tuross to Kiama, Gilmore has been a safe Liberal Party seat since 1996.
Named after the poet, author and journalist Dame Mary Gilmore (1865-1962), the seat of Gilmore was established in 1984. The electorate encompasses 6,342 square kilometres of land and an estimated 133,216 people. Geographically, the northern-most point of the electorate is Kiama; its southern-most point is Tuross Head, approximately 280km south.
Nowra is the largest town in Gilmore. With a population of 35,00, the town plays a significant role in the electorate. Work has been done make it a friendly environment for locals and tourists alike.
Gilmore includes popular holiday destinations such as Batemans Bay, Berry and Sussex Inlet. It is predominantly a rural seat, without major provincial cities. Gilmore is known for its picturesque, sleepy coastal towns, numerous beaches and natural beauty, all of which are drawcards for holidaymakers and tourists from the inland as well as cities. In the spring and summer, the electorate is filled with vacationing Canberrans and workers from other parts of New South Wales. Not surprisingly, these months provide the bulk of income each year for Gilmore’s many restaurants, hotels, and tourism providers.
Despite its lucrative tourism trade, Gilmore is primarily a blue-collar area. Its primary industry is agriculture; other important industries include fishing, timber and steel fabrication. Reflecting this, the median individual income is $457 per week. The nature of the electorate’s industries leave limited opportunities for employment. The relatively high median age of residents in the electorate—at 44, it is the third-highest in Australia—has been attributed to the ‘brain drain’ of younger people leaving in search of greater education and employment opportunities. Nonetheless, youth unemployment has become a growing concern in Gilmore. According to a report published by the Brotherhood of St. Laurence in March this year, the youth unemployment rate was 18.4% in the Southern Highlands and Shoalhaven region.
Another issue in the electorate is transport and infrastructure. Roads in the area are notorious for blackspots and accidents. To address this, the Federal Government allocated $3 million for seven developments in the region. The Princes Highway was the major beneficiary of this grant: two-thirds of the money went toward an upgrade of the highway in the southern Shoalhaven area.
Gilmore has long been held by the Liberal Party, although it is held by a margin of 3.8% and is the 16th most marginal seat held by the Coalition according to ABC election analyst Antony Green's electoral pendulum. The last Labor candidate to represent the electorate was Peter Knott (1993-96), who is remembered today mostly for the epithet Prime Minister Paul Keating gave him after a political stunt went awry. Knott lost his seat to Joanna Gash in the wave that brought John Howard to power. Gash, a popular local member, held Gilmore for seventeen years until her retirement in 2013. She is still active in politics, now holding the mayoralty of Shoalhaven. Ann Sudmalis, a former teacher and staffer for Gash, stood for the seat in 2013 and although there was a swing away from the Liberals of 2.6%, Sudmalis won 52.6% of the two-party preferred vote.
At this election, Gilmore is on a knife's edge.