Hunter seat scrapped in redrawn boundary

THE LINES ARE DRAWN: On Thursday the Australian Electoral Commission announced drastic changes to the Hunter’s federal electorate map.JOEL Fitzgibbon is without a seat andBob Baldwin willhave to win over traditional Labor voting areasto hold onto his, after the Australian Electoral Commissionconfirmed a radical redraw of the Hunter’s electoral boundaries on Thursday.

Despite opposition from both major parties, the commission stuck with all of the proposed changes to the region’s electoral map thatit announced in October.

Mr Fitzgibbon’s seat gets the axe, while Charlton, held by Pat Conroy, is re-named Hunter.The redraw also takes much of the northern part ofPaterson out of thatseat, and instead hands itthe rest of Maitland andKurri Kurri from what was Hunter.

The shift in demographics means Paterson switchesfrom being a Liberal seat with a9.8 per cent marginto a notionalLabor seat witha slim margin of 1.3 per cent.

Mr Baldwin, the Paterson MP and the region’s only sitting Liberal,wouldnot say whether he would contest the next election on Thursday.He was travelling to Sydney when the announcement was made and said he would look at the changes on Friday.

“I’m waiting until I’ve had a look at what they are going to do,” he said.

“I’ll look at it, consider it and I’ll make my announcement about what I’m going to do.”

On the Labor side, the redistributionwill require some delicate negotiations between Mr Fitzgibbon, Mr Conroy and Shortland MP Jill Hall.Under the re-draw, just under half of the electors from the existing seat of Hunter move into the new seat.

Those in the northern part of the seat move to New England, held by the Nationals, and the remaining 40 per cent move into Paterson.

About 60 per cent of Charlton movesinto Hunter, while the rest move to Newcastle and Shortland.

Mr Fitzgibbon’s preference has been to move to the new seat of Hunter, which now encompasses his base in Cessnock.

But he is the region’s only right-faction MP, and would have to challenge Mr Conroy, from thedominant left,if it ever came to that.

Both were unavailable for comment on Thursday.

Instead, there has been speculation that Ms Hall,who has been in parliament since 1998, will retire before the next election.

But the jigsaw puzzle is complicated by the uncertainty around her intentions, and on Thursday shesaid thespeculation about her retiring“isn’t coming from me”.

“I haven’t made my mind up, and I won’t make my mind up until I get a chance to look at the boundary adjustments,” she said.

“Pre-selection hasn’t even opened yet, and I will make my decision then.”

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