Newcastle is the second largest city in New South Wales and its busy port is the world's largest coal exporter. Industries include ship-building and repairs, chemicals and heavy engineering as well as wine production and tourism. The main issue is employment and the transition to an economy less reliant on mining.
The electorate bears the name of the second largest city in the state of New South Wales. Governor Phillip King named it Newcastle in 1804 after the British coal mining port of Newcastle. It was first proclaimed an electorate in 1900. It has been a Labor seat since the first Federal election in 1901.
In the latest redistribution, Newcastle lost Beresfield and Woodberry to Paterson and gained areas around Wallsend from the former seat of Charlton. This has raised the margin for Labor up to 9.4 per cent from 8.8 per cent.
Originally a city built upon its wealth from coal mining and its export, shipbuilding and then steel manufacture Newcastle has been transitioning away from its industrial origins in sometimes painful, fits and starts. It farewelled its major steel manufacturing industry in 1999 when the Newcastle Steelworks closed down. The steelworks’ closure was a bitter blow to a region which only ten years earlier had weathered an earthquake measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale. The quake damaged 50-thousand buildings and left a damage bill of $4-billion, not to mention the loss of 13 lives.
Newcastle Harbour is still the base for the largest coal export port in the world, but locals were mortified when the current State government sold the port operation in 2014 under a 98-year lease for $1.75 billion to a consortium that includes China Merchants, a state-owned corporation of the People's Republic of China. Premier Mike Baird has pledged Newcastle will receive $340-million from the sale to revitalise its CBD.
The renewal of the city and in particular its central business district had been in dispute for the better part of a decade, with plans for revitalisation of the shopping precinct marred by the pull-out of major developer GPT in 2010 amid debate over whether to keep the heavy rail line that transported passengers from the centre of Sydney to metres from Newcastle beach. Despite sustained protests and Supreme Court action by the Save Our Rail group for its retention, the rail line was cut on Boxing day 2014.UrbanGrowth NSW is managing Newcastle’s Urban Transformation and Transport Program with an investment of more than $500 million it claims will revitalise the city by delivering light rail and a new transport interchange, creating employment opportunities and opening the city to the harbour.
Since 2008 Newcastle has been undergoing an artist-led cultural recovery. Renew Newcastle, a non-profit initiative by broadcaster Marcus Westbury, has revived the city's centre. The writer, media maker and festival director launched the project after visiting the city and declaring that Newcastle was "dying”. Gazing at the dead window spaces in the CBD he decided to approach owners of disused buildings to allow artists and community groups to use the space for peppercorn rents on short and medium leases to regenerate the city. This means almost 80 empty buildings have been reopened and more than 200 creative projects launched. Westbury believes Renew Newcastle is “ a system that is constantly contributing new life, new energy, and new business in parts of the city that would otherwise be empty”.
This cultural renewal has included the global ‘Hit the Bricks’ street art festival attracting 20 national and international street artists who set about reinvigorating the blank walls around the city. It’s the facelift that Newcastle had to have and this push to support not only artists but also nurture the aesthetic of the city has created a new pride for residents. This artist-led recovery has spawned new eateries and a strong café culture to match the increase in the number of people who are making the cityscape their home.
In 2011 the Lonely Planet Guide put Newcastle in its top ten places to visit worldwide claiming Newcastle’s “superb surf beaches, historical architecture and a sun-drenched climate are only part of the city’s charms”. The Hunter Valley region’s wine industry is also a star attraction for tourists and large cruise ships becoming more commonplace in the largely working port. The Hunter Chamber of Commerce, the Newcastle City Council, and residents are hoping the tourism industry will create more employment and there is already evidence that thousands of new job opportunities have resulted.
The biggest challenges for the region include the downturn in mining exports, the opposition to mining and the need for Australia to decrease reliance on fossil fuels. Protests were staged in May 2016 with a social media campaigns #Keepitintheground and #Breakfree2016. It was the biggest anti-coal protest in Newcastle’s history drew an estimated 2000 people to Horseshoe Beach and stopped the movement of millions in coal as part of a global day of environmental action.