Margin for error

The phony election campaign has been marked by a series of unforced errors from candidates on both sides of the fence in crucial marginal seats. First came revelations surrounding Trish Draper’s taxpayer-funded trip to Europe with her boyfriend, putting in jeopardy the Liberal Party’s hold on the Adelaide seat of Makin which she holds with a margin of 3.8 per cent. Since then Andrew Murfin, Liberal candidate for the Perth seat of Swan which Labor holds by 2.1 per cent in a state expected to the swing to the Coalition, was twice admonished by the local Salvation Army for using his past association with them for political ends. One of these incidents involved a letter that made false claims against Murfin’s Labor opponent, Kim Wilkie, which appeared in a local newspaper under the name of an elderly Salvos member who denied having written it. Far above the Tropic of Capricorn in the Townsville-based seat of Herbert, held with a margin of 1.5 per cent by Liberal Peter Lindsay, Anita Phillips (who had abandoned a seat in state parliament to contest preselection with no assurance of success) exasperated her leader Mark Latham by arguing that he had not nominated exactly which Christmas the troops would be home by. Then there was Saturday’s article on Liberal member for Parramatta Ross Cameron in Good Weekend, the magazine that appears in Saturday editions of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Cameron, who had always been strongly identifed with the conservative Christian strand of the federal Liberal Party, decided that two months from an election would be a good time to make an emotional public confession that he had been unfaithful to his wife. His margin is 1.2 per cent.

By comparison the indiscretions of Cimlie Bowden, who was today forced by her party to withdraw as Labor challenger for the knife-edge outer Perth seat of Canning, are somewhat obscure. Bowden, who had previously been best known for an unsuccessful bid to unseat Mark Olson as state secretary of the Australian Nurses Federation in 2001, won the nomination as the favoured candidate of the Centre faction to replace Jane Gerick, who died on Christmas Day in 2003 after again being preselected for the seat she had held from 1998 to 2001. The first indication that Bowden’s campaign was in trouble came on August 4 when Karen Middleton and Robert Taylor of The West Australian reported that factional colleague and Senate candidate Glenn Sterle had been drafted to replace a campaign manager with whom Bowden had not been getting along. Mutterings were raised about her failure to attend a scheduled campaign appearance, The West Australian reporting on Friday that party secretary Bill Johnston "felt it necessary to ask Ms Bowden if she was fully committed to the task".

By this time a candidate was being named for her replacement – Kay Hallahan, former minister in the state Burke/Dowding/Lawrence Government from the late 1980s to 1993. Leading the charge was another veteran of that government, Graham Edwards, the popular member for Cowan who lost his legs to a landmine in Vietnam. Edwards told The West Australian that Hallahan "would be a strong and formidable candidate and I hope she accepts the challenge. If we’ve got problems there then they need to be addresseed and if they’re addressed by way of a new candidate, I would encourage Kay Hallahan". Bowden said she had been "assured by Mr Johnston that she had the full support of the WA Labor Party", but the report would only quote Johnston as saying there was "no mechanism to remove her". Today that non-existent mechanism was exercised with the ABC reporting that Bowden had been "dumped" because, in Johnston’s words, "she cannot win the seat and the campaigning has taken a heavy toll on her".

Certainly it had been reported that party polling had Labor behind in Canning, and this was cited by "party sources" as a reason for the move against her. Quite why the blame for this should have been sheeted home to the candidate is unclear; whether an MP from the WA Inc era who retired from state politics in 1996 can do anything to reverse it remains to be seen.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.