Hartley was created at the electoral redistribution of 1976 as a marginal Labor seat, and was first contested at the 1977 state election by then Deputy Premier Des Corcoran, who had moved from the more marginal seat of Millicent. He was succeeded by Terry Groom, who later resigned and became an independent after being denied preselection for a safer seat after the 1991 redistribution rendered Hartley unwinnable for Labor. The seat subsequently fell to LiberalJoe Scalzi at the 1993 election and was twice re-elected as his party's most marginal seat holder. Scalzi was swept away amidst the landslide Labor victory at the 2006 election, conceding defeat to Labor's Grace Portolesi, and failed to regain the seat at the 2010 election. A redistribution saw Labor's margin significantly reduced from 2.3 percent to 0.1 percent. Liberal Vincent Tarzia defeated Labor's Portolesi at the 2014 election.