The Poll Bludger has been regrettably quiet during the current period of ferment owing to other commitments, one of which has been the overhaul of the site which will be unveiled very shortly. Commentary on proposed electoral reforms will have to wait until I’ve had more time to think about it – the first order of business is the less mentally demanding matter of the Pittwater by-election.
Antony Green led us through the electorate’s convoluted history in Tuesday’s Crikey email:
Pittwater has never seen an orderly handover of MPs at a general election. Bob Askin won Pittwater in 1973 (it had previously been known as Collaroy), but retired and caused a 1975 by-election, when he was succeeded by Bruce Webster. Webster quickly tired of serving in an ineffectual opposition and resigned in mid-1978. The only reason a by-election was not held on this occasion is because after Labor’s victory at the Earlwood by-election, Neville Wran used the vacancy and two others in Cessnock and Wollondilly to call an early election. Max Smith won Pittwater and retired in 1986 causing another by-election. His successor Jim Longley also retired in 1995 after the defeat of the Fahey government and caused the by-election at which Brogden was elected. By-elections have also been the chosen way for MPs to depart the blue blood eastern suburbs seat of Vaucluse. Since 1936, only Keith Doyle in 1978 has retired at a general election. Murray Robson caused a by-election by dying in 1957, and his successor Geoffrey Cox also died causing a by-election in 1964. After Doyle’s resignation, by-elections continued, with Rosemary Foot resigning in 1986, Ray Aston dying in 1988 and Michael Yabsley resigning in 1994. For those interested, current Liberal Leader Peter Debnam won that by-election, having first defeated John Brogden for Liberal pre-selection.
The present Liberal preselection is living up to high expectations, with an enormous field of aspirants emerging against a backdrop of open factional warfare. The Poll Bludger hears talk of senior Liberal wets complaining that 100 new members have suddenly joined the Pittwater branch, although Brad Norington of The Australian reported last Friday that a moderate candidate (Paul Nicolaou) was the front-runner. Factional heavies will want to be careful, since those wronged by flawed preselection processes have a habit of winning as independents and holding their seats for years or decades to come. This danger would appear especially pronounced given local disaffection over the party’s treatment of their popular former member.
Those who have been mentioned as contenders, rightly or wrongly, are as follows:
Paul Nicolaou. A confirmed starter, Nicolaou is chief executive of the Millennium Forum, the NSW Liberal Party’s fundraising arm, and a Greek community bigwig who formerly chaired the Ethnic Communities Council. He contested John Watkins’ electorate of Ryde at the 2003 election and suffered a 9.0 per cent swing. Despite his reputation as a moderate, the Daily Telegraph reported that Nicolaou would have the support of the Right, who are perhaps demonstrating consciousness of the limitations of their power. A nudge from the Prime Minister might have been a factor here – Jonathan Pearlman of the Sydney Morning Herald reported he was keen to see Nicolaou compensated for losing the upper house seat he was promised as a result of factional realignments favouring the Right.
Robert Webster. Webster is a former National Party member and Planning Minister in the Fahey Government who left politics in 1995, but now apparently wants back in with the Liberal Party with a view to assuming the leadership. Andrew Clennell of the Sydney Morning Herald (who the Poll Bludger remembers as a young buck with Perth’s Community Newspaper Group) reported that Webster would not run if Paul Nicolaou did, which it seems he is going to. Jonathan Pearlman of the Sydney Morning Herald reckoned him a potential leadership aspirant if Peter Debnam did not perform well.
Jason Falinski. Much of the early talk centred on Falinski, whose credentials as a member of Brogden’s Left faction include state presidency of the Australian Republican Movement and a background working for John Hewson and Malcolm Turnbull. So it was hard to know what to make of the Daily Telegraph‘s revelation that Falinksi asked party headquarters to transfer his membership to Pittwater a week before Brogden’s leadership implosion. Christian Kerr at Crikey asked: "Have the left in the NSW Liberal Party heeded the Prime Minister’s call and stopped fighting the right – only to turn on each other? Or is this just the latest claim in a ruthless campaign of undermining where the facts all too often are going missing?" Unnamed Liberal MPs quoted in the Daily Telegraph (why do I get the feeling I’ve typed those words before?) said Falinski had "previously been positioning himself to challenge for preselection in Vaucluse, held by new Liberal leader Peter Debnam". That would not seem feasible at present, and he also ruled out nominating for Pittwater.
Adrienne Ryan. Not for the first time, the high-profile Ku-ring-gai councillor and ex-wife of former Police Commissioner Peter Ryan has been spoken of as a potential Liberal candidate. Ryan told the Manly Daily she hadn’t ruled it out, apparently without swearing.
Ross Cameron. Scott Howlett of the Parramatta Advertiser (another Poll Bludger associate from his Perth days) reported last week that the defeated Federal Member for Parramatta might be considering Pittwater as a vehicle for a comeback. However, he is apparently more keen on assuming the ultra-safe Federal seat of Mitchell when Alan Cadman finally retires, and has not been heard of since in relation to the preselection.
Paul Ritchie. Chief executive of employer group Australian Business Ltd and a former senior advisor to Brogden.
Robert Stokes. The Manly Daily reports that Stokes is the favoured candidate of Brogden, for whom he worked as an advisor. He isn’t getting much press though.
Julie Hegarty. The Pittwater councillor told the Manly Daily she had been "approached by many".
Other names tossed around include local police officer Bob Goymour; lawyer David Begg; former Young Liberals federal president Tony Chapell; Crown Insurance Group general manager Jonathan O’Dae; local party member Stephen Choularton; and Michael Darby, arch-conservative son of former Manly MP Douglas Darby. The Manly Daily reports the preselection is likely to be decided on October 29; the by-election itself is most likely some way off, as the Government would want tensions in the Liberal camp to simmer for as long as possible.