Fresh, thoughtful journalism and creative works produced by students
of the School of Art, Communication and English at the University of Sydney.

Labor’s Progressive Left Lives in Sydney

A young, socially-progressive population defines the inner-metropolitan electorate of Sydney. The area has remained a safe Labor stronghold since its inception in 1969 and has been held by Tanya Plibersek since 1998.

Many consider Plibersek, the current Labor Deputy leader, Shadow Minister for Women and Shadow Minister for Education, to be the future of the Labor Party in Australia.

From the CBD to surrounding areas, iconic suburbs like Surry Hills, Newtown, Kings Cross, Redfern and The Rocks make up the very fabric and image of the City of Sydney.

In two-candidate preferred voting, Tanya Plibersek has won the past five elections by an average margin of 33.18 per cent – comfortably holding off any Liberal or minor party candidate, in large part due to the electorate’s unique demographic and the issues that matter to those citizens.

According to the last national census (2016), 47.3 per cent of the population of the Division of Sydney are between the ages of 20 and 34, an obvious contrast to the national average of 21.1per cent. Only 25.8 per cent of the electorate is married (down from 48.1 per cent nationally) and 43.8 per cent have a Bachelor’s degree or higher tertiary education (almost double the Australian average of 22 per cent).

The suburbs of Darlinghurst and Surry Hills are recognised as the central hub and spiritual home of the gay community for both Sydney and Australia. Thousands flock to the Mardi Gras celebrations on Oxford Street every year for one of the biggest parties in the world.

The state seat of Sydney, which includes many of the same inner-east Sydney suburbs as the federal electorate, has been held since 2012 by Independent Alex Greenwich. Greenwich is gay and an outspoken supporter of LGBTIQ rights – a key issue for the socially conscious electorate.

So much so that Sydney was tied for the highest percentage of ‘Yes’ votes Australia-wide in the 2017 gay marriage postal vote plebiscite, with 83.7 per cent. It tied with the electorate of Melbourne, which shares a similarly young demographic.

Queer man and LGBTIQ activist Matthew Thompson will be the Greens Sydney candidate for the upcoming election. The Greens party has never challenged Labor in the electorate of Sydney, averaging 20.3 per cent of the vote in the past five elections. Thompson speaks directly on issues like nightlife, free education, homelessness, renewable energy and gentrification, all of which could be key debates: “Who exactly is our city changing for?” he asks.

Newtown, NSW - Street View
Newtown, NSW

Still, this likely won’t affect election results due to Tanya Plibersek’s solid track record on social issues. She has been at the parliamentary forefront on issues concerning the LGBTIQ community, gender equality and climate change.

As the Shadow Minister for Women, Plibersek recently presented Labor’s policy on abortion and supporting women’s reproductive rights describing the service as “absolutely vital” and the current situation which many women face when seeking termination as “just not fair at such a difficult time”. She proposed more funding for hospitals to make abortion services readily available for all who need them.

Plibersek was front and centre for the photo taken of female federal Labor members on International Women’s Day. The issue of women will be crucial in this election and Plibersek will be the public face of Labor women.

This does not bode well for a Liberal party with a growing image of having a lack of female representatives, nor for Scott Morrison, whose recent disparaging comments on female empowerment and the gender pay gap made global news. Speaking to the Chamber of Minerals and Energy on International Women’s Day, Mr Morrison said, “We want to see women rise. But we don’t want to see women rise on the basis of others doing worse”.

Plibersek may currently be the most active Labor politician in the media. This is increasing her public profile and solidifying the trust of the citizens in her electorate.

Gentrification is another crucial, relevant issue for the people of Sydney. Suburbs like Ultimo and Millers Point have seen radical changes in the last half decade.

At the heart of the debate is Redfern, recognised as the cultural home of the Aboriginal community of Sydney. Cultural centres and affordable housing for Indigenous Australians are slowly making way for student accommodation and new businesses. This has left the suburb unrecognisable to many long-time residents.

As a recent example, a 24-storey high-rise has been approved for construction on Redfern’s iconic ‘The Block’ to accommodate students studying at nearby universities. Due to developers’ interests in the area, housing and rental prices have consistently risen in the last few years. Locals and Aboriginal spokespeople are calling out what they believe is an attempt to erase their culture from the suburb.

Sydney remains a safe seat for Labor heading into the 2019 Federal election. But the electorate will still carry importance as a leader of the progressive left of the Labor party, in large part, also, due to the prominence of Tanya Plibersek.

The area has remained a safe Labor stronghold since its inception in 1969 and has been held by Tanya Plibersek since 1998.


Timothy Piccione
Timothy Piccione
Tim Piccione is a 24-year-old Media and Communications postgraduate student and aspiring journalist with a passion for Australian and American politics.

Want fresh, thoughtful journalism in your inbox? Subscribe to Salience.