The Coalition has again narrowed the gap in this fortnight’s Newspoll, although it remains at a daunting 57-43. Lateline reports that Kevin Rudd’s preferred prime minister rating is down two points to 46 per cent, with John Howard’s up three points to 39 per cent. The Australian’s report is not online yet, but will be by the time most of you read this. In other developments from the past week:
Labor’s national executive has acted quickly on the authority it received from the national conference to preselect candidates for 25 New South Wales seats, nominating military lawyer Colonel Mike Kelly to run against Liberal member Gary Nairn in Eden-Monaro. In his role with the coalition provisional authority after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Kelly is credited with efforts to blow the whistle on mistreatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib and AWB’s payment of kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s regime. David Humphries and Andrew Clennell of the Sydney Morning Herald assess the state of play elsewhere as follows:
Greg Combet, the ACTU secretary, will be candidate for the Hunter seat of Charlton, replacing Kelly Hoare, who replaced her father, the former minister Bob Brown, in 1998. The right wing will decide replacements for Michael Hatton, who filled Paul Keating’s vacancy in Blaxland in 1996, and Julia Irwin, the MP for Fowler, also in Sydney’s south-west, since 1998. If Mr Rudd got his way, the likely candidate in Blaxland would be the University of NSW constitutional lawyer George Williams. But speculation is that the contest will be between Tania Mihailuk, the Mayor of Bankstown, and Bernie Riordan, the Electrical Trades Union boss. The favourite in Fowler, Warren Mundine, the former ALP president, may be overlooked because of demands to strengthen the number of women candidates.
Following Senator Amanda Vanstone’s appointment as ambassador to Rome, the South Australian Liberal Party will hold its preselection to replace her on May 25, with nominations to close on Thursday. This is the third South Australian Liberal Senate vacancy in little over a year, following Robert Hill’s departure last March and Jeannie Ferris’s death earlier this month. As was the case with Santo Santoro’s vacancy in Queensland, the party administration has opted for a new ballot rather than promote an existing candidate for the coming federal election. The position would otherwise have gone to Maria Kourtesis, head of the nursing agency Prime Medical Placements. Kourtesis has been preselected for the unwinnable fourth position on the Senate ticket (which she also filled at the 1996 election), behind Cory Bernardi (who replaced Hill), Simon Birmingham (who will replace Ferris) and Grant Chapman, a Senator since 1987. Kourtesis’s defeat at the hands of the long-serving but little-known Chapman caused considerable angst due to the state party’s poor record on female representation. It was also a defeat for the beleagured moderates faction; Vanstone, also a moderate, is among those who have called for the balance to be redressed by having Kourtesis take her spot. Kourtesis will instead face opposition from the Right’s Mary Jo Fisher, workplace relations lawyer and manager at Business SA. The winner will not face election later this year, as Vanstone’s term does not expire until 2011.
Also in South Australia, Labor has endorsed Nicole Cornes, columnist for the Sunday Mail newspaper and wife of football identity Graham Cornes, to run against Liberal member Andrew Southcott in the Adelaide seat of Boothby. Cornes admits to having voted Liberal in the past, and wrote in her column in 2004 that John Howard had proved himself to be a fine PM. In the other normally safe Liberal seat in Adelaide, Sturt, Labor has nominated Mia Handshin a former Young South Australian of the Year and founder of inspirational speaking and consultancy group Mana of Speaking to run against Christopher Pyne.
Western Australian Liberal Senator Ross Lightfoot announced he would retire from politics on Friday after it became clear he would lose the number three position to Mathias Corman, state party senior vice-president. Corman is linked with fellow WA Senators Chris Ellison and Ian Campbell in a pro-Howard camp opposed by forces aligned with indestructible powerbroker Noel Crichton-Browne. Last year, Lightfoot said he would have no honourable course but to quit the Liberal Party and serve out his term as an independent if he was dumped in an undignified manner. The Prime Minister reportedly instructed the state party to hold off on its preselection for as long as possible to minimise the effect of such an eventuality. However, despite Lightfoot’s complaint that the party should have chosen someone more appropriate with respect to family values, it does not appear that he plans to do so. The other incumbents, Alan Eggleston and David Johnston, have been re-nominated.
New South Wales Labor Senator George Campbell has announced he will retire from politics when his term expires in mid-2008, rather than face an inevitable preselection defeat. Campbell’s seat will go to his successor as national secretary of the Left faction Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, Doug Cameron, who by all accounts had stitched up the numbers to depose the 65-year-old Campbell long before. The other NSW Labor Senator up for re-election, Ursula Stephens, is reportedly at risk of being demoted in favour of the party’s high profile state secretary, Mark Arbib, who it was earlier believed had his eyes on Michael Hatton’s seat of Blaxland.
The Northern News reports that the Liberal preselection for the safe northern Sydney seat of Mitchell will be held on an unspecified date in May. Under-achieving sitting member Alan Cadman, now 69, is apparently set on contesting again, despite having survived a challenge ahead of the 2004 election 58 votes to 55. Andrew Clennell of the Sydney Morning Herald reports that the party’s state vice-president, Nick Campbell, has been encouraged by two federal ministers to nominate. Others mentioned as contenders are Australian Hotels Association deputy chief executive David Elliott and solicitor Mark Blanche.
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