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Werriwa by-election acid test for Labor -

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Werriwa by-election acid test for Labor

Reporter: Sarah Clarke

MAXINE McKEW: The Labor leadership dominated news again today, with Kevin Rudd flying back into
Sydney and still dodging questions about his own plans. But on the other side of the country,
Stephen Smith was much more forthcoming, ruling out a run himself and nominating Kim Beazley as the
man to restore respect to the beleaguered party. We'll hear from Stephen Smith in a moment. But
whoever becomes leader will face their first acid test in a by-election in Werriwa, the seat now
vacant as a result of Mark Latham's resignation this week. It's traditionally a safe Labor seat
with a 9 per cent margin, but over the years the face of the electorate has changed. Political
strategists believe it's unlikely the ALP will lose, but the local branch is warning that nothing
can be taken for granted. In recent years, the Liberal Party has taken a huge bite out of Labor's
stronghold of western Sydney, and as the demographics change, many believe so too does the vote.
Sarah Clarke reports.

SARAH CLARKE: Just a week out from Labor's caucus vote, the race is well and truly on for the
party's top job. But in the western Sydney electorate of Werriwa, another crucial race is under
way. Mark Latham's sudden resignation has left the electorate without a local member. For
generations, this has been part of Labor's heartland, the seat represented by former Prime Minister
Gough Whitlam and former Treasurer John Kerin.

MAN: The seat of Werriwa is a working man's seat, and the working man knows that he needs a good
support - Labor.

MAN: This is a pretty staunch area out here. Started off with the Whitlam era, and we love it out

SARAH CLARKE: But the face of this seat is changing fast. Once dominated by Housing Commission
estates and rural pastures, Werriwa is now home to a new wave of settlers: young aspirational
families whose suburban McMansions are now dwarfing the traditional fibro cottages.

TONY BEUK (AUSTRAL ALP BRANCH): A big range between low-income and high-income families that have
made Werriwa their home.

SARAH CLARKE: As secretary of the local ALP branch, Tony Beuk is only too aware that changing
demographics here mean that the voters of Werriwa can no longer be taken for granted.

TONY BEUK: Oh, look, I necessarily wouldn't view it as a safe seat. I know people would go on
percentages, but I look at the dynamics of the actual seat itself, and with the view that that's
not going to remain stagnant - that will change and alter, certainly within the next 10 to 20 years
- I think from a political point of view, no-one could consider this seat as a safe seat.

ANTONY GREEN (ABC ELECTION ANALYST): It's a 9.3 per cent margin. It would be very tough to dislodge
from the Labor side of the electoral ledger.

SARAH CLARKE: Election analyst Antony Green acknowledges the changing dynamics of the electorate,
but he believes it's still solidly Labor.

ANTONY GREEN: It's got some new areas, growing areas with new housing, which would sort of be like
some of those other seats like Macarthur and Greenway that the Liberal Party has won at the last
two federal elections, but Werriwa also has a core of solid working-class Housing Commission
estates, which is why it's still on the Labor side of the electoral pendulum.

SARAH CLARKE: But by-elections can be unpredictable, and Werriwa is still a wild card for New South
Wales ALP Secretary Mark Arbib, not least because of Mark Latham's dramatic exit.

MARK ARBIB (NSW LABOR SECRETARY): We're always concerned when there's a by-election, always
concerned. John Howard at the moment, after the tsunami, has obviously reached a peak. We're going
to be having a new leader, a new candidate. It's going to be a difficult by-election.

SARAH CLARKE: That candidate won't spring from a vote of the local membership; it will be a
candidate anointed by head office. Branch stacking has forced the New South Wales ALP to freeze
membership and dissolve the local pre-selection council.

MARK ARBIB: Given the time constraints, it's certainly not possible. We need a candidate in the
field urgently. The Liberals are taking this seat very seriously, and we need a candidate who can
get out there and start knocking on doors straightaway. We can't wait.

SARAH CLARKE: Frontrunners for pre-selection include Stephen Chaytor, who, like Mark Latham, has
spent time in the office of Labor luminary Gough Whitlam. There's also prominent Campbelltown Mayor
Brenton Banfield and State member for Liverpool Paul Lynch. But unusually for these would-be
federal politicians, all refused to talk to the 7.30 Report.

MARK ARBIB: It's an ALP pre-selection, so you never know how many will nominate.

SARAH CLARKE: For the voters of Werriwa, nothing but a local will do.

MAN: It should be local members. Local members should only be in the local areas. Nobody wants an
outsider to come into the area.

MAN: A local - definitely someone from the area that knows the problems of the people in the area.

SARAH CLARKE: And the Liberal camp is listening. It's yet to choose a candidate, but it's expected
to field a high-profile local personality.

ANTONY GREEN: The Liberal Party would love to pick a good candidate who could give the Labor Party
a good run in the electorate, and they'd pour money in and resources, and it would be a very
worthwhile thing for them to do.

SARAH CLARKE: The Liberals have made crucial inroads into western Sydney. In 2001, high-profile
athlete Pat Farmer secured a massive swing in the adjoining electorate of Macarthur. And in the
nearby seat of Greenway, star candidate Louise Markus last year broke Labor's 20-year hold on the
electorate. Kerry Willems and Kerry Roberts are part of a growing small-business constituency out
here. They've just opened a flower shop in the Werriwa suburb of Ingleburn. In this by-election,
both parties will be targeting people like them. They're traditional Labor supporters, but this
time, their vote's up for grabs, and they'll back the candidate who'll best represent their

WOMAN: Not a lot done here in Ingleburn. Ingleburn is really just like a little country town, even
though it's so close to the city and all this sort of thing, but the people itself...

WOMAN: We need a change.

WOMAN: We do need a change here, and maybe that could be the best thing for us.

SARAH CLARKE: The Liberal surge in western Sydney is a phenomenon John Howard must count as a
significant feature of his political leadership, and now, with the spectacular crash and burn by
his latest opposite number, the Prime Minister must surely relish the prospect of the double
whammy: plucking Latham's old seat from the enemy and making it Liberal. Labor will be hoping its
tradition continues.

MAXINE McKEW: Sarah Clarke reporting there.