There was a time there when this site sought to stay on top of federal preselection developments, but I became too busy to keep this up just as things got interesting in Cook, where provisional Liberal nominee Michael Towke was rolled by the party’s state executive, and in Franklin, where Labor’s Kevin Harkins was being dogged by the controversies that led him to pull the plug on Thursday. The shortcoming will now be made good as I pad my election guide entries with detail on preselection stoushes, Franklin being the obvious place to start.
Belying its current margin of 7.6 per cent, Franklin was held for the Liberals by Bruce Goodluck from 1975 to 1993, when Harry Quick won it for Labor it upon Goodluck’s retirement. Just as Goodluck’s maverick ways were seen to have helped keep the seat in Liberal hands, so has Quick’s proclivity for independent behaviour (which saw him turn his guns against consecutive Labor leaders in Mark Latham and Kim Beazley) been recognised as a major factor in Labor’s success here at five successive elections. Quick maintained his Labor endorsement throughout this period despite being factionally unaligned, apart from what Sue Neales of the Mercury calls a dalliance with the minor Centre Left faction. Moves were afoot ahead of the 2004 election to have him replaced by the Left’s Nicole Wells, who more recently emerged as one of Harkins’ key backers. He was able to see off the threat partly by threatening to run as an independent if defeated.
Having decided that the current term would be his last, Quick hoped to keep the seat out of factional hands by promoting his staffer Roger Joseph at the preselection vote held last August. This was thwarted when the Left and Right struck a deal in which a candidate of the former would take Franklin, while Bass would go to the Right-backed Steve Reissig. Quick declared he would run as an independent if the nomination went as expected to Harkins, whom he described as a right thuggish bastard, some dropkick who’s going to lose the seat, shifty, intimidatory, totally unreliable and untrustworthy, and worst of all a Victorian interloper. He also voiced support for a potential Left faction rival to Harkins, state upper house member Allison Ritchie, and claimed she had been intimidated when she announced she was not going to run. This received no support from Ritchie, who said she did not wish to go to Canberra while she had a young child. Labor sources quoted in the Mercury claimed Quick’s boosting of Ritchie was a ploy to split the Left vote to get Joseph up. The factional deal ultimately delivered Harkins a solid bloc of votes from state conference delegates, overcoming the support Quick and Joseph were able to muster in local branches. Reissig was similarly able to win the day in Bass despite local opposition, and he too has since fallen by the wayside.
Quick well and truly maintained the rage following Harkins’ win, first declaring he would vote for the Greens and, last week, attending a community group meeting with Liberal candidate Vanessa Goodwin (also attended by Joe Hockey). This fairly straightforward breach of party rules, along with various other alleged misdeeds, is currently being run through the party’s disputes process. Nonetheless, Quick’s attacks on Harkins began to draw blood as new leader Kevin Rudd sought to distance the party from unsavoury union associations. Harkins was already carrying baggage from the 2003 report of the Cole royal commission into the building and construction industry, which concluded he broke the law by attempting to stop an electrician from entering a building site because he didn’t have a union-endorsed work agreement. It did not help when his colleague from the Victorian branch of the Electrical Trades Union, Dean Mighell, was kicked out of the party in May for undue frankness in addressing workers on a building site. The government expanded its attack on Labor’s ETU ties to encompass its endorsement of Harkins and Mike Symon, candidate for the Melbourne seat of Deakin.
Harkins’ position ultimately became untenable a fortnight ago when civil charges were brought against him by the Australian Building and Construction Commission, relating to an allegedly unlawful strike by Hobart electrical contractors in 2005. Reports that Harkins was being leaned on to stand aside emerged early this week, culminating in his decision to stand aside on Thursday. His selfless sacrifice was greeted with admiration in some circles and suspicion in others. The government has seized on Labor sources quoted in Wednesday’s Mercury who said Harkins was offered an elevated union position, increased salary and a future Senate seat, asking the Australian Electoral Commission to investigate whether he was offered inducements amounting to bribery.
With Harkins’ departure, the party’s state executive referred the selection of a new candidate to the national executive, thereby avoiding another untimely preselection spat in the lead-up to an election. It evidently remained agreed that the candidate would come from the Left, with a number of reports naming human rights lawyer Gwynn MacCarrick as the likely nominee. It was instead decided yesterday that the gig would go to party state secretary Julie Collins (right), who polled a respectable 6.0 per cent as a candidate for Denison at the March 2006 state election. Quick is yet to declare that Collins has his support; according to the Mercury, he says he will only do so if plans to expel him are shelved, whereas Harkins was promised the expulsion would proceed when he agreed to go quietly.
The Liberal preselection, while not quite as fraught as Labor’s, was still remarkably eventful for a seat they need a 7.6 per cent swing to win. Interest was piqued when Harry Quick’s reaction to Kevin Harkins’ endorsement prompted talk of a by-election, leading to some fanciful speculation that cricket legend David Boon might be enlisted to win the seat for the Liberals. Another cricketer, former state captain Jamie Cox, said he had been involved in extremely informal talks with the party, but he instead took up a job with the Australian Institute of Sport. Also mentioned were Paul Harriss, independent member for the state upper house seat of Huon; Brendan Blomeley, Clarence councillor and Federal Hotels corporate manager with connections to Senator Eric Abetz and the Right faction; Vince Taskunas, staffer to retiring Senator Paul Calvert; and policeman Tony Mulder. In the event, only two candidates nominated: lawyer and criminologist Vanessa Goodwin (left), who narrowly failed to win a Franklin seat at the state election, and 32-year-old technology consultant Daniel Muggeridge. Muggeridge and his supporters in the Right, including the aforementioned Blomeley, raised eyebrows with statements spruiking his more traditional family values, apparently calculated to play against Goodwin’s single status and lack of children. Goodwin was also the subject of rumours about personal liaisons which were circulated to the media through anonymous phone calls and unsigned letters. She nonetheless defeated Muggeridge in the preselection vote, and went on to national fame last month when the Prime Minister woefully attempted to bluff his way through after forgetting her name in an interview.