TWO new faces will represent the region in federal parliament but the political landscape in the Hunter remains largely dominated by Labor despite significant swings against the party in some of its seats.
A sizeable shift to the Coalition in the region was not enough to overcome the 12 per cent margins in its four seats the ALP had going into the election, although the backlash in Joel Fitzgibbon’s seat of Hunter on Saturday was the biggest in the state.
Labor looks set to retain Newcastle, a seat it has held since federation. It has experienced only a 3 per cent swing against it, despite the Liberal Party’s hopes of repeating its surprise state election victory there, although in the face of a much greater federal Labor margin.
Former Newcastle City Councillor Sharon Claydon will inherit the seat from her boss, retired MP Sharon Grierson.
Similarly, Pat Conroy will take over in Charlton from his boss, former climate change minister Greg Combet, following a nearly three per cent swing against Labor.
All sitting MPs are on track to be returned, although Mr Fitzgibbon has suffered a nearly nine per cent swing against him to the National Party, and Labor MP Jill Hall a nearly six per cent swing to the Liberals’ John Church in Shortland.
The results have drawn mixed opinions about the Coalition’s ability to capitalise on significant gains at the 2011 state election, and what the electoral implications will be for its state MPs in 2015.
The region’s only Coalition federal MP, Paterson Liberal Bob Baldwin said its candidates had given their all in strong campaigns.
‘‘They’ve got nothing left in the tank,’’ he said.
Mr Baldwin, who improved his margin, said the swings should send a message to Labor from its traditionally safe seats.
‘‘I think voters were tired of Labor focusing on themselves,’’ he said.
Acknowledging her victory, Ms Hall said ‘‘we have had a bit of swing against us but we’re really pleased with the result’’.
‘‘I think that the three of us – Sharon Claydon, Pat Conroy and myself – will form a strong team for the Hunter,’’ Ms Hall said.
‘‘We will work together and get in there and show people just what this Abbott government will do, and at the same time together some good policies.’’
On the count so far, Clive Palmer’s Palmer United Party candidates fared better than the Greens in Charlton and Hunter and were a fraction behind the Greens in Paterson, suggesting a number of disenfranchised Labor voters turned to the newcomers.
Jennifer Stefanac, of the Palmer United Party, picked up nearly 6000 primary votes, or 7.7 per cent, in the seat of Hunter, and said she was happy with the response on the day.
In Charlton, Palmer candidate Bronwyn Reid also benefited from controversy surrounding the Liberal Party’s disendorsed candidate Kevin Baker, whose name remained on the ballot paper. She attracted 11 per cent of the primary vote, on a count of most polling places.
Mr Baldwin now faces a wait to confirm whether he will be part of the new Abbott government ministry.
He has served in the opposition’s outer ministry as spokesman for tourism and regional development and, previously, spokesman for defence, science and personnel.
Mr Abbott must trim his ministry from 32 in opposition to 30 for government.
‘‘I’m happy to serve any way Tony sees fit. Tourism and defence have been a natural fit with my electorate,’’ Mr Baldwin said.
Informal votes up in region
MORE than 29,000 people across the Hunter have submitted informal ballot papers in this year’s federal election.
This equates to 6per cent of voters, a figure higher than the current estimated national average of informal votes.
Early data from the Australian Electoral Commission indicate a record number of Australians, about 5.9per cent, turned in an informal or ‘‘donkey vote’’ on Saturday.
It means the Hunter has once again contributed a high percentage of informal votes this election, after also posting about 6percent in 2010.
Votes are counted as informal if a voter fills out a ballot paper incorrectly or if they leave the paper completely blank.
A vote can also be disqualified if the ballot paper has writing on it that identifies the voter.
Australian Electoral Commission spokesman Phil Diak said yesterday the nationwide figure had risen from 5.5per cent in 2010 to about 5.9percent this year, based on current data.
While that number could change as voting in some seats continued, Mr Diak said it was likely to stay relatively high.
‘‘It looks like at 5.9percent it will stay above the last federal election,’’ he said yesterday
About 11.2million lower house votes and 10million Senate votes had been counted as of yesterday.
Coalition leader Tony Abbott emerged early as the Prime Minister-elect after polls closed on Saturday.
The Liberal-National Coalition is expected to hold between 85 and 93 seats in the 150-seat Parliament after the electoral drubbing of the outgoing Rudd Labor government.