Sydneysiders focus on housing, refugees, marriage equality

Jun 03, 2016 Oliver Jacques, Charlotte Grieve, Caitlin Donaldson
Million dollar terrace houses in Surry Hills, Photo by Oliver Jacques
Sitting Member:
Plibersek, T (ALP)
Size of electorate:
44 sq. Km

Redistribution details:

Sydney's boundaries were redistributed to include more of Newtown, Darlinghurst and Potts Point but to exclude Balmain, Birchgrove, Rozelle and Annandale. Sydney lost Cockatoo Island and portions of Sydney Harbour.

Sitting Member

Tanya Plibersek is Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development. Ms Plibersek has held ministerial portfolios including: Health, Health and Medical Research, Social Inclusion, Human Services, Housing and Status of Women. Ms Plibersek has held Sydney for six elections. There have been no gaps in her service and she has not held another seat/Senate seat.

Key Comments

The 44 sq km inner Metropolitan seat of Sydney has been a Labor stronghold for five decades. The Green vote is seen as increasingly significant. Sydney takes in key gay hubs, financial and entertainment precincts. Issues include: transport (light rail, cyclepaths), development (Westconnex, Barangaroo), diversity, LGBTI equality, housing, heritage, alcohol, gambling, business, and environment. Issues for Lord Howe Island include transport, road and water safety, housing, pollution, renewable energy and rats.

Electorate Profile

Imagine a place where it costs, on average, more than $100 to spend the night. No, not for a holiday. To live. Every single night.

Welcome to the inner city electorate of Sydney, where the rent for a two-bedroom flat averages at $740 a week, according to the latest NSW Rent and Sales Report.

“When I moved here I expected to be sharing a house. It’s so expensive that I’m sharing a room,” Jane Davis, 24, who recently relocated from Brisbane to study in Sydney, told UniPollWatch in an interview.

The seat of Sydney, created in 1968, covers the parts of the city you see on postcards. It takes in Sydney harbour, extends east to the harbourside suburbs of Woolloomooloo and Potts Point and west to the historically working class areas of Surry Hills, Glebe, and Newtown.  

Despite soaring housing costs, it’s a young electorate, with almost a third of the population aged in their 20s. Sydney hosts TAFEs and universities, and students abound.

Candidates for the seat are competing on their progressive credentials to win votes from educated millennials in what has been a Labor stronghold seat since 1975.

Despite being described as a “torchbearer for progressive values”, Labor’s Deputy Leader and MP for Sydney Tanya Plibersek, appears somewhat conventional alongside Australian Greens candidate Sylvie Ellsmore, a blue-haired native title lawyer and “activist”, the Socialist Alliance candidate Peter Boyle and the openly gay Liberal candidate Geoffrey Winters who supports marriage equality. Other candidates in the field now include: the Christian Democratic Party’s Ula Falanga and Tula Tzoras for Online Direct Democracy.

Ms Plibersek, MP for Sydney since 1998, retained the seat in 2013 with a 14.7 per cent two party-preferred margin but the latest redistribution trims a couple of points off this buffer. Sydney lost Balmain, Birchgrove, and Rozelle but gained parts of Camperdown, Newtown, Woolloomooloo, Potts Point, and Darlinghurst.

Greens candidate Ellsmore sees Sydney as now “winnable” for the Greens because, she told UniPollWatch: “if everyone who voted Green at the state election last year votes for us at the federal level, we’ll win”.

At the 2015 NSW state election, the Greens stunned Labor by taking the newly formed seat of Newtown, which covers some of the same ground as the federal seat of Sydney.

Ms Ellsmore, 37, who hopes to ride a wave of resentment over housing costs to claim the Greens’ second lower house seat, supports scaling back negative gearing, a key Labor policy.

Liberal candidate Geoffrey Winters he and his partner are renting and having to defer buying “in this very, very expensive area.”  .


“As a renter who has lived in negative geared properties, I have no doubt that my rent would be even higher” if it weren’t for the tax investor tax deduction,"  Geoffrey Winters told UniPollWatch in a phone interview.

Sitting MP Tanya Plibersek told UniPollWatch her team were out every day "talking about jobs, health, education, climate initiatives, and bold tax measures like reforming negative gearing".

"These are the policies and the ideas of a party ready to govern, and they are ideas that I believe matter to our community," Ms Plibersek told UniPollWatch in a statement.

"His [PM Malcolm Turnbull's] only plan to tackle the housing crisis is to tell people to have rich parents," Ms Plibersek said.

But Ms Ellsmore urges more radical action: “We basically need the government to step up and get back in the game of owning and building housing.”

Local councils should have the power to restrict investors from buying dwellings and then keeping them empty, she told UniPollWatch.

Socialist Alliance candidate Peter Boyle said: “In Sydney some of the most expensive apartments are empty most of the year because some super rich person may come down and use it for the holiday.”

Ghost houses may be a sore point with the 57 per cent of the Sydney electorate who are renters, almost double the national average.  

Sydney is one of eight seats Australian Greens leader Richard Di Natale reportedly aims to turn Green by 2026.

Dr Peter Chen, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Sydney, is not so sure Sydney will turn Green because Labor's “margin is large and the current member is popular …  I think this seat is one to watch, but over a decade”, Dr Chen said in an email statement.

The path to victory may need to be paved with preferences but despite Labor accusing the Liberals and Greens of doing deals,  the direction of preferences traffic remain unclear. To take the seat from Labor, the Greens would need to win considerably more than the 17 per cent vote they polled in 2013; and bank on a healthy flow of Liberal preferences.

Marriage equality is high on the agenda in the "gay capital" of the Southern hemisphere which hosts the internationally popular Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade.

More gay and lesbian couples make their homes within an easy commute of Taylor Square's rainbow flag than anywhere else in Australia, with the highest proportion of male couples in Darlinghurst, Potts Point, and Surry Hills and the highest number of lesbian couples calling St Peters, Newtown or Erskineville home.

Straw polling by UniPollWatch reporters of about 20 people in Taylor Square and Potts Point found all participants said same-sex marriage should be legalised.

PM Malcolm Turnbull in May confirmed a gay marriage plebiscite would be held soon after the election and probably before the end of 2016.

On 2 May 2016, Ms Plibersek moved the second reading of the Marriage Amendment (Marriage Equality) Bill 2016, branding the proposed plebiscite as a divisive, unnecessary delaying tactic in a nation where seven in ten people support marriage equality.

The Greens have long been advocates of equal rights for ‘same-sex attracted, gender diverse and intersex people’.

Other key policy differences between the Greens and Labor include the Australian government’s treatment of asylum seekers arriving by boat and the processing of refugees in offshore detention centres. While Labor is ‘standing firm’ on the policy of offshore processing centres, the Greens advocate the closure of the centres, arguing that shutting them down is the ‘only humane, practical and cost effective approach’.

“We continue to be very different from the other parties in that we don’t want to discriminate against someone because they arrived by boat," Ms Ellsmore said. "We don’t say that that is a bad thing if they arrived that way if it was their only option.”

Some Sydneysiders support a softer approach, with Anita Wise telling UniPollWatch that Australia should follow the refugee convention: “We should be increasing our intake. We need onshore processing, community solutions. We need to adhere to the refugee convention, work with the UNHCR.”

Daisy Doctorr, a young resident of Taylor Square, told UniPollWatch in an interview: “The current refugee policy is not effective. There needs to be some policies to check them for criminal backgrounds but we should take in as many as we can.”

Francisco Rosalez, a Sydney resident, said: "they’re not handling it well, we need basic human rights."

Mr Winters has reportedly defended the Coalition's offshore processing policy, saying it prevents deaths at sea.

For the Sydney electorate's most exotic locale, Lord Howe Island, stronger policies on climate change and environmental sustainability are in demand as rising sea water temperatures cause coral bleaching events and wild birds choke on plastic pollution. The World Heritage listed sub-tropical paradise is highly dependent on tourists drawn by the pristine environments and stunning coral reefs.

Ms Plibersek told UniPollWatch Labor and the Sydney community had been campaigning hard to "demand action on climate change" and Labor's policies include "net zero pollution by 2050".

The Greens are calling for "urgent and sustained local, national and global action" in the "critical" decade to 2020 to ensure a safe climate.

2013 Election Results

Candidate Party Votes % Swing(%)
WARD, Jane Independent 1408 1.6 +0.06
O'CONNOR, Sean Liberal 26901 30.52 +2.42
BOYLE, Peter Socialist Alliance 613 0.7 +0.70
MASON, Lesley Christian Democratic Party (Fred Nile Group) 723 0.82 +0.82
RZETELSKI, Joanna Independent 602 0.68 +0.68
KELLY, Timothy Daniel Palmer United Party 1261 1.43 +1.43
GARTNER, Leah Bullet Train For Australia 791 0.9 +0.90
HILES, Dianne The Greens 15273 17.33 -6.42
PLIBERSEK, TanyaElected Labor 40579 46.03 +2.74
...... Australian Democrats 0 0 -1.58
...... Secular Party of Australia 0 0 -0.9
...... Communist 0 0 -0.83


Oliver Jacques

Charlotte Grieve

Caitlin Donaldson


Lord Howe Island contribution from Rachel Holland. Editing by Catriona Bonfiglioli, Dom Ryan, Niko Auer, Saba Bebawi and Peter Fray.

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