Lake Macquarie. Photo: Jenna Schofield
Jill Hall retires in 2016.
The seat has been held by Labor since it was created in 1949. Industries include coal mining, tourism, fishing, power stations and poultry farming. The community concerns are similar to those in surrounding seats: unemployment, an aging population, the downturn in the mining industry, problems with the NBN and cuts to services such as the recent closure of the Belmont Medicare office. It services a largely elderly population.
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The Shortland electorate covers 265 sq.km and starts in the southern Newcastle suburbs of Charlestown and Cardiff and spreads south along the coast to Wyong. It includes suburbs along the eastern shores of Lake Macquarie, from Speers Point to Mannering Park.
The electorate is named after Lieutenant John Shortland, who named the Hunter River after the British colony’s then governor in 1797 while on his way to Port Stephens pursuing escaped convicts. Shortland found coal deposits and wrote to his father that his discovery would prove “a great acquisition of the settlement”.
ALP backbencher – and uninterrupted party whip since 2004 – Jill Hall has held Shortland for 18 years and retired when the election was called. She is one of three ALP MPs who have held the seat since it was created in 1949. Charlie Griffiths held it for 22 years, followed by Peter Morris who held it for 26.
Shortland is considered a very safe seat for the ALP, with a margin of more than 7 per cent. In 2013, Hall suffered a -5.64 per cent first preference swing against her – which was more than double the state swing against the ALP of -2.8 per cent – but still won comfortably, recording 48.69 per cent of first preferences and finishing with more than 12 000 votes in front of the Liberal candidate, former NBN TV newsreader John Church.
The biggest electoral boundary changes in NSW, designed to reduce NSW parliamentary representation by one seat, happened in the Hunter region and the seat of Charlton disappeared. Left-faction aligned Pat Conroy – who rose through Labor ranks as an official with the AMWU and then the CMFEU before becoming deputy-chief of staff in the office of Greg Combet when Combet was the member for Charlton – was first elected to Parliament in 2013 as the member for Charlton. The 2016 redistribution saw four sitting ALP members in the Hunter chasing three safe Labor seats. Conroy is standing for Shortland in this election and Hall’s retirement ensured Conroy’s transition into Shortland would avoid factional disputes.
In particular, Hall’s retirement avoided a showdown with the right’s Joel Fitzgibbon, who would have been forced to contest the seat of Paterson held by the Liberals, but the transfer of approximately 40,000 voters in Kurri Kurri and western Maitland to Paterson turns the 9.8% Liberal margin in Paterson into a notional Labor margin of 1.3%.
Conroy declared he would gladly face rank-and-file pre-selection to be the endorsed ALP candidate for Shortland but this was not necessary as no one else in the ALP nominated to contest the seat. Conroy, who chairs the ALP’s waste watch committee, is expected to retain the seat for the ALP.
According to the ABS, 11.7 per cent of the population of Lake Macquarie is employed in the retail trade industry, with the mining, manufacturing and construction industries making up 22 per cent. Tourism, power stations and poultry farming are other major employers in the region.
Hot button issues in the seat include ongoing problems with the installation of the NBN, question marks over the future of penalty rates, the future of mining, and aged care.
An important infrastructure project for the region is the yet to be completed Glendale Transport Interchange, which will link rail, and road transport options between Cardiff and Glendale.