The Liberals want a radical redraw of state electoral boundaries which would throw Nelson Bay out of Port Stephens and into a renamed Upper Hunter electorate.
Some political insiders are interpreting the move to rebadge Upper Hunter as Gloucester and move it east to encompass blue-leaning polling booths on the Tomaree peninsula as a Liberal attempt to wrest the marginal Nationals electorate from its junior Coalition partner.
The NSW Electoral Commission is redrawing the state's 93 electoral boundaries to ensure the number of voters in each seat remains roughly equivalent at the next election in 2023.
Fast-growing Maitland is one of seven seats in NSW projected to exceed the average voter enrolment by more than 10 per cent in 2023, prompting the need for changes in the Hunter.
IN OTHER NEWS:
- Are you 'fare' dinkum? Four years of light rail price increases in one hit
- Man accused of hitting Shane Mears at Cessnock tip and leaving him for dead refused bail
- Toohey's News, the Podcast: Steve Simpson was the toughest of the Newcastle Knights
- NSW holds fire on new restrictions as it watches for virus outbreaks
The Nationals and Labor have proposed minor alterations, but the Liberal submission to the Electoral Commission review suggests renaming Upper Hunter and moving it to cover towns such as Nelson Bay, Lemon Tree Passage, Anna Bay, Hawks Nest, Tea Gardens and Medowie which are now part of Port Stephens electorate.
Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen, who won the 2019 vote with a slender but slightly improved 2.6 per cent margin from Labor's Melanie Dagg, said he had not seen the Liberal submission.
"I think it's pretty obvious that the Nats and Libs work together when we respect our community bases, and if you try and dramatically change that, it will probably work against you," he said.
The Liberal plan, crafted by Arts Minister Don Harwin, would rename Kate Washington's Port Stephens seat Raymond Terrace and shift it west to annex more affluent areas of Maitland such as Bolwarra and Lorn.
The Liberals targeted Port Stephens last year but made no headway, despite a strong showing in the retirement havens closest to the water.
Losing Nelson Bay, Hawks Nest and Tea Gardens would likely improve Ms Washington's chances, but she attacked the Liberals for a "shameless attempt to gerrymander the boundaries".
"Our population is on target, so it would be absurd to split the community in two and throw half of our existing residents into the seat of Gloucester," she said.
The Liberal suggestions would place Kurri Kurri in Maitland; Merewether and Lakelands in Charlestown; and Waratah and all of New Lambton in Newcastle.
The Nationals want to shift Gillieston Heights and Lochinvar into Cessnock, which would shed parts of Branxton and Singleton to Upper Hunter.
Labor wants to move Bolwarra Heights, Gillieston Heights and parts of Branxton and Singleton into Upper Hunter, which would be renamed Singleton.