The main centres of Robertson are Gosford, Woy Woy and Terrigal. These NSW coastal towns rely on tourism, retail, service industries, light manufacturing and processing, citrus, vegetables, flower growing and poultry products. Unemployment is a significant problem in Robertson. Cost of living pressures are expected to be an issue in this election, as may be the background of the ALP candidate Anne Charlton, a former heroin addict who admits a past that included stealing from her parents.
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In the last 20 years the Federal electorate of Robertson has seen a number of close elections, with both Labor and Liberal candidates taking victories by narrow margins. Its 130,000 or so inhabitants comprise a diverse constituency.
The division was drawn in 1900 and was among the 75 Federation seats first contested in 1901. Named after NSW Premier Sir John Robertson, who served five times between 1860 and 1886, the seat has gradually moved eastward from its original boundaries. In 1969 the electorate was redrawn to include Gosford and encompasses Hawkesbury River in the south, and stretches west to include Dharug National Park, stopping just short of Wiseman’s Ferry. Its boundary then travels north along the Gosford and Hawkesbury Council boundaries, south-east just short of the rural haven of Bucketty and north of Mangrove Dam. To its south, it shares a boundary with Pittwater Council.
Liberal MP Lucy Wicks has held the seat since 2013, when she won it from Labor MP Deborah O’Neil with a margin of almost 4%, and 43.42% of the vote. Over the course of Wicks’ term that margin has increased to 5.3%. Wicks has bolstered her popularity by securing federal funding for a Regional Performing Arts centre which she claims will bring 600 jobs and create a “cultural centre” for Gosford.
Since late April, Wicks’ pre-campaign eased into gear with a number of public forums and accompanying social media opportunities around her electorate. More recently the Liberal MP’s campaign has begun sporting the Coalition’s budget branding of “jobs and growth” and “backing the engine of the economy”. Central Coast local appears confident about her constituents’ contentment with Coalition policy and leadership.
Wicks’ main challenger is Labor candidate Anne Charlton. Charlton gained Labor preselection in December 2015 by 98 votes to 72 against the controversial former MP for Robertson Belinda Neal. Charlton famously revealed to the pre-selection committee and voters that she struggled with substance abuse between the ages of 16 and 19, and has a police record. Anne Charlton credits a court magistrate ordering her into residential rehabilitation with giving her a second chance. She claims her experiences give her a unique perspective as a Labor member and hopeful representative of Robertson.
Ms Charlton’s campaign has been in full swing since she was pre-selected, with a focus on local issues such as roads and traffic infrastructure around Gosford including parking at the railway station. Charlton has also criticised the Coalition’s budget plan for “… leaving 97% of Robertson’s residents behind” by offering tax-breaks to high-income earners.
The average household income in Robertson is just over $56k, well below the margin which will benefit from tax-breaks proposed in the May budget. With a number of federal, state, and local government infrastructural projects planned for the coming years including the development of metropolitan Gosford and expansions to key light industrial areas near Somersby, there are changes ahead for this uniquely constituted electorate. If history repeats, the swing-voting electorate may be due for a change of leadership.