The battle for the seat of Page at the upcoming Federal election is shaping up as an intriguing one that will reveal much about the demographics and political landscape in Northern NSW.
The seat is held by the National’s Kevin Hogan by a margin of just 4.6 per cent, but local Labor insiders think they have a real chance of getting the votes needed to swing things their way.
There is at least some basis for Labor’s optimism.
Hogan’s margin has nearly halved since he was first elected in 2013, and less than two months ago Labor won the state seat of Lismore, which includes a number of towns that the Nationals once counted on at both state and Federal level.
Should the 2.8 per cent swing against the government in Lismore be replicated in Page on May 18 it would go a long way to getting Labor over the line if they managed to get the lion’s share of preferences.
There is a sizeable cast of minor party candidates and independents standing in the seat this election, so preferences could well prove crucial in the final wash up.
Covering nearly 20,000 square kilometres from the northern suburbs of Coffs Harbour to the Queensland border, Page includes a wide mix of people and places.
The biggest towns range from traditionally conservative places like Casino and Bonalbo, Labor-voting areas such as Grafton and Lismore, and Green enclaves such as Nimbin.
It makes for a somewhat volatile combination, and one that is somewhat difficult to predict.
This is partly why neither major party has ever been allowed to get comfortable in the seat since it was formed in 1984.
The seat has swung between Labor and the Nationals four times in the ensuing 25 years, setting up an intriguing battle this time around.
Demographically, the seat offers something to both major parties.
One one hand, the higher than average unemployment rate (7.9 per cent according to the last Census) and lower than average wages ($1,243/week for families) could lead to some disaffection with the current government.
On the other hand, the Nationals can still rely on a large conservative, rural voter base that could get them over the line once again.
A significant factor in determining the result will be the arrival of rookie Labor candidate, Patrick Deegan.
Deegan, a social welfare sector worker from Casino, beat Lismore Mayor Issac Smith in a tight preselection battle last year.
He is replacing Janelle Saffin as the Labor candidate for the seat after Ms Saffin stood for, and won, the seat of Lismore in the recent State election.
Taking on an experienced incumbent MP will be a challenge for the first-time candidate.
However, Labor has been bringing in the big guns in a bid to get him over the line, including a visit from Bill Shorten last month, followed by a collection of shadow ministers.
It appears that Labor has its sights set on the seat, and, if it is to topple Scott Morrison’s government on May 18 these are the type of seats it will need to win.