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Is the Labor left losing ground in the Hunter?

LEFT BEHIND: Labor’s left faction MPs have dominated Hunter politics for decades, but the right is increasing its numbers in parliament. Picture: Simone De Peak
Nanjing Night Net

ANALYSIS

Done deal: Fitzgibbon avoids rank and file preselection

THERE is no question that the federal redistribution that abolished the seat of Hunter hasdramatically reshaped politics in this region.

At itsmost basic, the difference is about the numbers. Instead of fiveseats made up by a majority of Hunter electors-Newcastle,Hunter, Charlton, Shortland and Paterson -we now have four.

It also means that residents in the northern parts of Port Stephens and Upper Huntertowns such asAberdeen and Scone will have to get used to being outlying territories in the National Party seats of Lyne and New England respectively.

But the change is about more than that.

The Hunter has always been a stronghold for Labor, and most of the battles for control are fought within its own ranksbetween the broad left and right factions.

Since at least the start of thiscentury though, with the exception of Jodi McKay’s stint asthe member for Newcastle, it’s theleft that has held most of the important positions in state and federal politics.

In federal parliament Sharon Claydon, Jill Hall and Pat Conroy are all from the left.

InMacquarie Street Sonia Hornery, Tim Crakanthorp, Jodie Harrison and Yasmin Catley are all with the left to varying degrees, while Clayton Barr is unaligned.

But beginning with the election in2015 ofJennyAitchison in Maitland and Kate Washington in Port Stephens, that influence has started totemper.

Ms Washington is a former member of the powerful administrative committee, and herelevation to the shadow ministry meansshe’s nowperhaps the most influential member in the Hunter.

And anyone who heardMsAitchison’s speechat Labor’s state conference last month knows there’sno love lost between her andthe“socialistleft”in Newcastle.

In Canberra things are changing too.

Until nowJoel Fitzgibbon has been the only Hunter MP fromthe party’sright, but the redistribution has made Paterson notionally Labor.

Bob Baldwin will be a difficult target, but the partyis sure to pour resources into a seat they think they can win.

The candidate in Paterson will almost certainly be from the right, and the emergence of Kurri Kurri resident andradio hostMeryl Swanson,who was once a staffer for Mr Fitzgibbon, has the member for Hunter’s fingerprints all over it.

That’s not all, though.

Mr Fitzgibbon’s new patchcovers territorydominated by the left, includingtwo council wardsin Lake Macquarie,the fourth wardin Newcastle, and the state seat of Wallsend.

Mr Fitzgibbon is among the most powerful Labor members of the right faction in this state, and evenif he doesn’t have time to worry aboutthe machinations of local branchpolitics, it giveshis alliesan organising foothold in the left’sown backyard.

The irony is that this is a deal stitched up by the left in Sydney to allowLinda Burney to move to the seat of Barton.

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