No easy way to Lindsay

Sitting Labor MP David Bradbury is running for re-election for the seat of Lindsay. AAP Image/Alan Porritt

The seat of Lindsay represents some of Sydney’s outer western suburbs. It has occupied its own special place in the Australian psyche, long before the leaflet scandal in the last days of John Howard’s reign made front-page news.

Centred in Penrith at the foothill of the Blue Mountains, this bellwether seat was established in 1984 and has since proved a favourite for political analysts. The seat is located in the “mortgage belt” of western Sydney, where high interest rates and job insecurity outweigh concerns over climate change and marriage inequality.

This is not to dismiss the vibrant activist and artist communities often ignored by those that think issues of social justice are only “inner-city elites” concerns.

Infrastructure: a uniting concern

Something that everyone agrees on - no matter their political orientation - is the lack of investment in infrastructure.

Lindsay is situated over 50 kilometres from Sydney’s CBD, and many of its voters are forced to endure interminable traffic jams or the “sardine commute”. This makes public transport and infrastructure policy hot political issues.

Many locals are understandably keen to see more jobs move to the region as the dwindling manufacturing sector has removed a steady source of local employment. This may well explain why Gough Whitlam holds a special place here: his government actually invested in the area.

One of the biggest challenges for Labor in the lead up to the election will be to show support to those left behind by this decline. But this is an issue for the Coalition also: neither party is offering any sort of blueprint for new employment opportunities in the region.

Lindsay’s history

Prior to the 1996 election, Lindsay was considered a safe Labor seat, but Liberal candidate Jackie Kelly won a famous victory as John Howard swept to power. But what goes around comes around, and in 2007 Labor reclaimed the talismanic seat, once again on the coat tails of a new leader.

The 2007 election was a particularly memorable one for Lindsay voters. Three days before the election, Liberal Party supporters - including the husband of the outgoing MP Jackie Kelly - were photographed distributing fake pamphlets linking the ALP with Islamic terrorism. The remarkable episode helped derail the final days of the campaign for the Coalition.

Taxation lawyer and former Penrith Mayor David Bradbury reclaimed the seat for Labor in 2007, and its prominence continued to grow in the lead-up to the 2010 election.

Bradbury and Gillard’s relationship

When the newly elected prime minister Julia Gillard invited Bradbury to join her and several news crews to inspect a naval exercise off Darwin, many commentators noted how the ALP wanted to project a strong stance on asylum policy to voters in Western Sydney.

David Bradbury was one of Julia Gillard’s staunchest supporters. Consequently, he was on the receiving end of brutal treatment by right wing Sydney shock jocks and their generally distasteful treatment of the former prime minister. After famously quipping he would get a tattoo to prove his loyalty to Gillard, he ultimately abandoned her in June’s leadership ballot.

Bradbury was a popular figure with the electorate but the relentless attacks on him has seen his support dwindle. His decision to throw his support behind Rudd, however, has been generally welcomed.

Bradbury justified his decision to local newspaper Penrith Press by saying he wanted the government to be more competitive.

We all want to win. Abbott was being given a free run into office. I have been deeply frustrated by the fact that the Opposition has been able to coast along without any scrutiny.

Lindsay’s future

The return of Kevin Rudd is no doubt a game-changer for David Bradbury, as it is for fellow Western Sydney MPs Michelle Rowland and Jason Clare, who ultimately abandoned Julia Gillard.

The local Liberal candidate, marketing manager Fiona Scott, has had no trouble drawing the Coalition’s big names to canvass for votes in the local shopping malls, but she will undoubtedly be more nervous now the campaigning machine that is Kevin Rudd is back in power.

Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey and deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop have both recently hit the hustings with Scott, a second-time candidate, and opposition leader Tony Abbott hosted a virtual forum in an innovative technique where he remotely spoke to voters and polled them on contentious issues.

The election will see things heat up in Lindsay. However, it will be a mistake for either party to treat the electorate as a homogenous group or think that a single highway will make a difference.

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