Mayo covers some of SA's most treasured tourist attractions such as Victor Harbor. Photo by Ethan Minervini
Home to some of South Australia’s most recognised tourism hotspots, the Division of Mayo includes the Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale and Barossa wine regions. Originally held by the former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer since the electorate’s inception in 1984, Mayo was retained by Liberal candidate Jamie Briggs in a 2008 by-election when Mr Downer resigned. Mayo is considered a safe Liberal seat, but controversies involving the accident-prone Briggs and strong competition from Xenophon-party candidate Rebekha Sharkie may shake what has otherwise been a Liberal stronghold. Candidates will attempt to win over a region where issues affecting tourism, small businesses and agriculture industries are considered critical to future prosperity.
The rural seat of Mayo covers approximately 9315 square kilometres, including some of South Australia’s treasured tourist attractions, including the Fleurieu Peninsula, Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island regions.
Since its creation in 1984, Mayo has experienced a relatively uneventful voting history with only two MPs elected in 32 years.
Mayo was established as a blue-ribbon Liberal seat with a healthy 12.3 per cent, two-party preferred margin. Alexander Downer won the first election for Mayo, and held the seat for 24 years before retiring from politics.
Downer’s decision to withdraw in 2008 prompted a by-election which the Labor party opted not to contest. In a two-way battle with the Greens, the Liberal party retained the seat with a three per cent margin, with rising star Jamie Briggs stepping into Downer’s shoes.
With the 2010 election, Mayo transformed from a marginal seat once again to a safe electorate and cemented a safe two-party preferred margin in the 2013 election under Briggs.
But this time, Briggs may struggle to hold on as Mayo’s current sitting member. The controversial politician has a tainted record, filled with missteps and blunders. The most high-profile incident involved a complaint made by a female public servant about events at a Hong Kong bar, which prompted him to resign as a minister in late 2015.
What matters in Mayo?
Locals in Mayo have the highest median age in the state at 44.8 years (ABS), and more than 82 per cent of its residents were born in Australia.
Given Mayo’s strong agriculture sectors, candidates are keen to promote support for local business. Tourism is also important, employing 3132 people, according to the Tourism and Transport Forum.
Healthcare access and the lack of mental health facilities, such as a Headspace Centre, are also concerns for voters. The demand for quality healthcare is emphasised by Mayo’s aging population, with moe than 20 per cent of the population older than 60.
As in the rest of South Australia, employment continues to be a hot topic in Mayo, although unemployment in the electorate is 4.5 per cent, well below the current state average of 7.7 per cent.
A two-horse race
The Xenophon Team candidate Rebekha Sharkie, a former staffer of Briggs, argues that because Mayo has been a safe seat for so long, it is neglected by politicians during election campaigns.
Ms Sharkie has been campaigning on local issues such as roads, mobile phone reception in the electorate and voters’ concerns about the NBN.
Senator Nick Xenophon traditionally polls well in Mayo and the new party, Nick Xenophon Team, aims to make an impact in the electorate. In 2013, Xenophon attracted over 28 per cent of Senate votes in Mayo. With the X factor causing a stir throughout the country, Sharkie should not be underestimated as a potential upset winner in Mayo.
The other threat to Briggs and the Liberal Party is Greens' candidate Nathan Daniell. The Greens have traditionally polled well in Mayo and as a local he appeals to agriculture-focused voters and those with environmental concerns.
Union delegate, Glenn Dallimore, has had to campaign in the Fair Work Commission for leave to represent Labor as its candidate. However, while he and Family First candidate, Bruce Hicks, are unlikely to be serious contenders in this two horse race between Briggs and the dark horse, Sharkie, the distribution of their preferences is likely to be critically important in Mayo.