Voters around the nation may have delivered a resounding win for Tony Abbott and the Coalition on election day, but many constituents in the three Illawarra seats continued to show their support for Labor.
Sharon Bird and Stephen Jones easily held on to their seats of Cunnigham and Throsby with just slight swings away from Labor, and Gilmore bucked the national trend to become one of the most closely watched electorates as the night wore on.
While Ann Sudmalis was predicted to hold on to Gilmore for the Liberals late on Saturday night, Labor’s Neil Reilly was still nipping at her toes after 60 per cent of the vote had been counted.
By deadline, he had gained almost three per cent in the two party-preferred count to hold 47.5 per cent of the vote to Ms Sudmalis’s 52.5.
According to first preferences when 82 per cent of votes had been counted, Ms Sudmalis received a swing of 4.77 per cent away from her to gain 45.85 per cent of the vote to Mr Reilly’s 35.32 per cent.
First time candidate for the newly formed Palmer United Party Lyndal Harris was the other big Gilmore winner, gaining about 6.5 per cent of votes, while The Greens’ Terry Barratt gained about nine per cent of the vote.
Meantime in Cunningham and Gilmore, as Ms Bird and Mr Jones joined their families, friends and supporters to celebrate winning back their seats, the mood was tempered by Labor’s national loss.
A cheer went up around Oak Flats Bowling Club at about 7.30pm when the ABC called Throsby for Mr Jones.
His wife and mum were close by to offer up their congratulations as he looked set to keep the seat with almost 60 per cent of the two-party preferred vote.
Mr Jones said it was a ‘‘fabulous honour’’ to be returned, but acknowledged there would be challenges ahead as he represented the electorate under a Coalition government.
‘‘I will do it with as much energy and vigour as I have for the last three years and my message to Tony Abbott is, firstly congratulations, but then to keep the national broadband network through the Illawarra and the Southern Highlands,’’ he said.
He also said there was ‘‘absolutely no reason’’ the Coalition could not keep Labor’s promises to invest in infrastructure, health and education across the region.