By hook or by Cook

My ongoing effort to spice up the election guide with preselection argybargy has recently led me into the quagmire of Cook, where the Liberals finally settled on a candidate last Thursday after months of factional brawling. The drama began in April when Bruce Baird, who turns 66 in February, announced he would not seek another term. A former minister in the Greiner-Fahey state government, Baird had himself come to Cook in eventful circumstances. He was installed as a compromise candidate in 1998 after one-term member Stephen Mutch was challenged by Mark Speakman, a local barrister who had been best man at Mutch’s wedding eight years earlier. Baird’s nomination was a victory for his moderate faction over a member described by Irfan Yusuf as a “small ‘c’ conservative”. The demise of Mutch did not please the Prime Minister, who pointedly failed to promote Baird at any point in his nine years in Canberra. It also did not help that Baird was close to Peter Costello, and was spoken of as his potential deputy when fanciful leadership speculation emerged in early 2001.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Baird’s retirement was influenced by the prospect of a preselection challenge from the Right, which was exerting growing control over the Cronulla and Miranda branches. There had already been talk Baird would be succeeded by Scott Morrison (right), former state party director and managing director of Tourism Australia. Morrison left the latter position last year after a falling out with Tourism Minister Fran Bailey; a travel industry news site talks of rumours the Prime Minister promised Morrison support in Cook as “payback” for agreeing to go quietly. According to Steve Lewis in The Australian, Morrison boasted “glowing references from a who’s who of Liberal luminaries, including Defence Minister Brendan Nelson, Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull, former Liberal president Shane Stone, Howard’s long-time chief of staff Arthur Sinodinos, and Nick Minchin, the Finance Minister and another close ally of Howard”. However, it quickly became clear that such support would not avail him without the backing of the Right. Unfortunately for Morrison, much of the Right’s local strength was achieved by courting energetic local numbers man Michael Towke, who was himself intent on running. Imre Salusinsky of The Australian reported that Morrison was further starved of support when the Left resolved to resist Towke by digging in behind its own candidate, Optus executive Paul Fletcher.

Towke went on to defeat Fletcher in the final round by 82 votes to 70, with Morrison finishing well back in a field that included PBL executive David Coleman (who had the backing of Left-aligned state party president Geoff Selig), economic consultant Peter Tynan, 2004 Barton candidate Bruce Morrow and the aforementioned Mark Speakman. Towke’s success over what Imre Salusinszky of The Australian described as “a Rolls-Royce field of candidates” enraged opponents of the Right’s growing ascendancy, and doubts soon emerged as to whether the party’s state executive would ratify his nomination. Allegations of wide-ranging branch-stacking activities soon filled the media, as did reports of extravagant claims in his CV concerning his barely-existent security business. Towke had also said he had quit the ALP at the age of 18, but “other documents” emerged to suggest he was a member at 23. There was also talk of a whispering campaign surrounding Towke’s Lebanese heritage (his surname is a recently adopted Anglicisation of Taouk), and how this would play in the white-bread electorate that played host to the 2005 Cronulla riots. With the Prime Minister’s voice joining the anti-Towke chorus, the 22-member state executive voted to remove him by 11 votes to nine, with two abstentions.

This did not resolve the issue of Right control of local branches, which would still have been the decisive factor in any straight preselection re-match. It was reported that the seat was set to go to state upper house MP Marie Ficarra, a close ally of Right powerbroker and fellow MLC David Clarke. Ficarra’s Legislative Council vacancy would in turn be filled by Scot MacDonald, the party’s rural vice-president. MacDonald’s nomination for Senate preselection earlier in the year was rejected by the party’s nomination review committee, a body designed to vet candidates on grounds of character or ethics. This decision was reportedly prompted by Senator Bill Heffernan’s fierce lobbying at the direction of the Prime Minister, who wished to protect Left faction incumbent Marise Payne. However, Towke instead agreed to a deal in which a new preselection process would involve only those who had nominated the first time around, in return for the dropping of disciplinary action against him (which perversely enabled him to sit on the preselection panel).

The new preselection saw Morrison defeat Peter Tynan by 26 votes to 14, from a panel consisting of 26 representatives of local branches and 17 of the state executive. Imre Salusinszky reported that Morrison owed his win to Right delegates from the executive who persuaded local branch delegates to fall behind him. Fletcher and Speakman withdrew at the last minute, while Morrow ran but failed to secure any votes.

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.

180 comments on “By hook or by Cook”

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  1. Well i try my best Simon…after all i do represent a small minority on this blog…but i am not the only one who sometimes comes up with lame responses…i don’t write posts deliberately to antagonise people what’s the point then we get no debate in and we descend into childish name-calling that many have taken up…if they dont want to reply fine its a free country but just as i would not belittle their opinions or say they had no ‘original beliefs’ i would expect that my political opponents would reframe from such lame responses directed towards me….

    I’m off to bed…oh and Howard Hater hasnt Cerdic Conan been banned already because of abusive behaviour???

    As if there werent enough Liberals on this blog to begin with lol ah well…

  2. I’d just like to note that I don’t endorse the unruly tone of the debate in the past two evenings – I just haven’t been around to keep an eye on things. I’ve just chopped a bunch of comments which I wish I could have gotten to much sooner. Three were by Ollie, and none were by Glen.

  3. Frank (127) I’d be more concerned about the number of shootings than the number of assaults if I was Omedei. After all , he’s had personal experience of shooting people, and how it can happen accidently.

  4. Fulvio,

    I totally agree 🙂 He’s not known as Elmer Fudd for nothing 🙂 And I love Alan Carpenter’s response for Rob Johnson – “He only thinks there are two solutions to the Law & Order problem -Castration and Capital Punishment”

    And getting back on topic – I wonder if any WA Libs will be kept hidden from public view when the Federal Election is called and Howard is in WA Campaigning ?

  5. Frank, Rob Johnson is, I regret to say, an example of an immigrant to this country who is attempting to rise far above his station and capabilities.

    He epitomises the BS, posturing, asininity and delusion of importance which is the hallmark of the Western Australian Liberal Party.

    He reminds me of the pathetic old lady in destitute circumstances who persistently avails herself of your charity of time, money and goodwill, and then proceeds to tell you how much better she is than you. You’d like to tell her to sod the hell off, but you keep feeling sorry for her.

    I heard this overblown political imbicile on commercial radio this afternoon railing against the provision of condoms to prisoners, until he was reminded (by Howard Sattler of all people) that it was the Liberals who introduced the concept under Richard Court.

    The future of the WA Liberals is in good hands if this clown is the Yardstick.


    A recent poll by Morgan indicates,generally speaking, people are concerned about economic management if Rudd wins and IR if Howard wins again.

    Economic management concerns will tend to solidify the ‘grey’ vote for JWHs Coalition and incumbency [if it aint broke dont fix it] -that is, traditionally conservative voters will tend to stick by JWH and the incumbent.

    IR, on the other hand, will be of keen interest to the ‘Howard Battlers’ [who switched to JWH in 1996] as much as economic management and the young voter who

    (a) are directly affected by the dracionian WorkChoices policy in the Australian labour market and are feeling the affect of it more than their older workmates and

    (b) have not lived through ‘lean’ economic times of outragous interest rates (17%+) and unemployment (30+ amongst young people) so they wont ‘scare mongered’ into Coalition fears about ‘the evil unions’ {who were they Dad ?} or ‘economic vandalism’.

    I think Michael Kroger, commenting on the 7.30 report last night, was right in arguing that the Coalition’s election speak during the ACTUAL campaign period which appears to be aimed at raising doubts about the Labor brand’s economic management credentials and the Coalitions public perception of a sound economic record {regardless of whether or not that is due to good government or the ‘luck’ of globalised economic trends} will put a ‘check’ on some voters thoughts of switching to Labor.

    I also think his perception that Howard will go to the polls as late as practicable [Dec 1 or 8] is very risky; people won’t be in much of Menzian December happy and jolly state of mind if the RBA hits them with another interest rate rise in November at that quarterly board meeting.

    So there you have it: JWHs TV and radio electioneering will focus primarily on economic management and Labor will focus primarily on IR and mortgage rate increases. Let the games begin, after APEC of course.

  7. Ollie (105),

    Thanks Ollie 😉 ….. I will tell you too that I am in what is probably a unique position for folks who post here. I am a dual citizen (USA) so will get the pleasure of voting against the right wing parties in 2 countries. Thank God for term limits in the USA too. I don’t know how many know it here, but those term limits in the USA were put into place by a Republican congress in FDR’s 4th term back in the mid 1940’s. At times like this, in 2007/8, that comes back to bite them big time in the backside. Unfortunately for the non Libs in this country, term limits simply don’t mesh with the political system here. Folks like myself (Werriwa electorate in NSW) have to cross our fingers and hope that the people in Bennelong will see the handwriting on the wall. It seems as if they might this time 😉 … Julie

  8. We should encourage Lib members to back themselves heavily on the bets, tell them they are getting long odds and can put their houses on it. When they get done, they won’t have the funds to recover the party.

  9. 120 – Not true. The Greens have said that they will back a pulp mill if it is in plantation forest and if it is that expensive type that is very low pollutant (I can’t think of its name).

  10. Julie, you are not unique – I am a dual citizen too. 🙂
    I voted against the Republicans in last year’s mid-terms – and enjoyed the experience very much. But I’m not sure what you mean by “At times like this, in 2007/8, that comes back to bite them big time in the backside.” There’s no way that Dubya would win a third term. He is even unpopular in his own party. His popularity is so low I don’t think he could win the office of local dog-catcher – unless he ran in Texas.

    I agree that the 22nd Amendment has bit several US presidents in the ‘ass’. Eisenhower (a Republican) was the first to be term-limited.

  11. Ollie, I thought Michael Kroger was indulging in some Liberal day-dreaming on The 7.30 Report when he said that Howard will pull out a tactic on the economy when the campaign proper starts that will turn it around. I think if he knew what that tactic was he would be using it now, wouldn’t he? I don’t think the campaign will change the dynamic, just speed it up. Howard is on a negative trajectory with his War on the States that even Paul Lennon is now throwing back at him. He would have to turn it around before he starts the proper campaign. Kroger sounded more credible on a December poll.

  12. Paul K

    Hey mate, I can have a joke about most things but incest is one in which I won’t. I know you were just having a dig and I certainly take no offence personally (I never do!), you need rhino-skin to discuss politics!!

    However, I think cases of incest, whether they are Pastors, Union Members, Environmentalists, Policemen or Judges are abhorrent, and it is a little low to make jibes at any party in relation to incest.

    I don’t know enough about the Christian Community to know whether this is a problem worse than in any other part of society but I wouldn’t have thought so. Certainly, there would be far more non-Christian “hypocrites” around in Australia than non-Christian ones.

    Here is my reasoning. Most Australians (Christian or Non-Christian) would find this behaviour abhorrent. If rates of incest are assumed to be the same then the number of non-Christians who don’t condone incest would be higher than Christians (there are more non-Christians in Australia), therefore, of the two groups that “preach” not having sexual relations with relations, the larger group saying one thing and doing another are non-Christians.

  13. Those on this website assume too much about its bloggers, whether it is Glen, Ollie, Jasmine, Bill or me. Every time I defend Rudd, I “must be” an ALP member, every time I commend Howard’s leadership, “well, go and vote for a loser then!” and when I defend this FFP, I must be a “fundamentalist Christian condemning everyone to hell”.

    Well, I wouldn’t be here if I was going to take it personally, but I do believe in giving every party a clear run and the benefit of the doubt. From memory, I have done this with every party and with most of their prominent leaders.

    William has a good site here and guys like Possum and Adam give us meaty stats and maps, Chris and Hugo give us reasoned, referenced discourse much of the time and I even like a bit of the spark between party hacks for a laugh, but I have a heart for those who can’t defend themselves and incest is one place I tread carefully with the jokes.

  14. Piping Shrike, I saw Kroger say the same thing on Lateline. There are good reasons for waiting till December (according to Kroger, Menzies always preferred Dec elections). However, if the govt is seen to be stalling on an election date, but continues to be in campaign mode (like they are know), then I think it will start to grate on voters. This ‘phony war’ is starting to wear thin.

  15. I don’t know how many know it here, but those term limits in the USA were put into place by a Republican congress in FDR’s 4th term back in the mid 1940’s.

    Perhaps I’m missing something, but I was under the impression that the 2-term limit was a constitutional amendment, proposed and ratified after FDR’s fourth term (which was only a few months, wasn’t it?) I think it was ratified in Truman’s second term, although he was explicitly exempt from it.

    (Also wasn’t FDR the only US President to have more than 2 terms?)

  16. TW (163),

    All I meant by that was that given the rhetoric that Bush puts forth, that he probably wishes he could be in power for ever and ever. I know that a lot of Republicans don’t like him now but there are still those that do . But we now have one of the trio gone (Blair) and two more soon on their merry way (Howard, Bush) so it won’t be too much longer. Do you reckon that Howards relationship with Bush post 9/11 would be as strong as it is had Howard not been in D.C when the attacks hit? I really can’t say as I wasn’t living here at that time, I was still resident in the US.

    Maybe Howard and Bush could open up a dog catching business together ;-D ….. Julie

  17. Stunkrat (168),

    You could be right, I reallly don’t know when it passed exactly. I just know that it was the 4th reelection of FDR that gave birth to the idea of term limits. Could be true about FDR being the only president to serve more than 2 terms. I don’t know the times/lengths of office for the US presidents off of the top of my head. I divorced myself from as much of the US political scene as I could (historicaly and currently) (outside of voting) after the fiasco of the 2000 election. The history of the whole world these last 7 years could have been SO much different :(:( ………. Julie

  18. TW maybe because I’m a political buff but I never think an extended campaign like this ‘phoney’ war grates on voters as much as people say (although the insubstantial nature of a lot of it might). I don’t think people will care much if Howard goes late. The more important thing is that Howard gets a positive dynamic before it begins, because otherwise his position will probably get worse.

  19. “(Also wasn’t FDR the only US President to have more than 2 terms?)”


    The 22nd Amendment was passed by the 80th Congress (1947-49). In the early history of the US, there was a convention that a President serve only 2 terms, but nothing binding. I think Ulysses Grant was the first to try for a 3rd term (he failed – his own party did him in). FDR was the first (and last) President to have more than 2 terms.

  20. “I don’t think people will care much if Howard goes late. ”

    I agree with you Piping Shrike – up to a point. Here’s the way I see it… If Howard goes past the 3 years, and the media keeps on carping “Why haven’t you called an election yet?” – it will contribute an air of desperation to the unofficial campaign. That could lead to a negative dynamic. Sure, this is all warm-and-fuzzy – and I agree that most voters are disengaged from the political process, and really don’t care that much. But having Howard on the campaign trail (kissing babies, traipsing around shopping centres, etc) will lead to a lot of reporters heckling the PM about an election date (not to mention Labor). It’s a ‘bad vibe’, having a PM that seems to be running scared, because the media is reporting that he’s running scared.

  21. Rudd’s playing a very smart game around the timing of the election. It started a couple of months back, when he started “suggesting” that it would be an October election; making the fairly solid assumption that the election won’t be called until after APEC, October is in fact the earliest that Howard would go. By doing this, Rudd has set up something of a mild expectation that the election will be called immediately after APEC.

    More recently, Rudd changed his tune on this. Now he’s “suggesting” that Howard call the election soon. It’s obvious why he’s doing this – on the surface it appears that the earlier the election is, the less chance Howard has got, given the ground he has to make up. I’m not sure that this strictly true, but of a certainty Howard can’t go now, he’d be slaughtered according to the opinion polls. He needs to hold off as long as possible to have a chance of clawing back some ground. I don’t think it’ll work out that way, but he doesn’t really have too much room to manouvre, so delay is his only possible tactic.

    The end-game of this ploy will be interesting – after APEC, every day that Howard doesn’t call the election will be a negative. The target of all this is to attempt to remove the advantage that Howard has in the election timing, by making every delay look like cowardice. It’s a nice set-up.

  22. @166GO thank GO. Just to clarify I am a god hating lefty in the most right wing faction you can find without joining the forces of darkes and who happens to be a fundamental Christian. Anyone can help me with my difficulties please feel free to do so.

    There is a lot of WA on this blog (which is fantastic) but Hasluck, as I noted yesterday Rudd here promising to fund a solar cities project in Hasluck, Howard after sitting on it as an election promise for some 12 6 months after others were awarded, finally rejected Hasluck a month or so ago. So what is the internal polling saying … could be either Libs pretty confident, labor throwing a biscuit in hope, or Labor trying to seal the deal, libs more or less giving up?

  23. Stunkrat – I agree 100% The media will be unintentional (mostly) accomplices to Rudd’s ‘cunning plan’, since egging on the PM about an election date gives them a sound bite for the evening news.

  24. ( Generic Oracle Says:
    August 31st, 2007 at 9:27 am
    Paul K
    Hey mate, I can have a joke about most things but incest is one in which I won’t. )

    Sorry GO. Got a bit carried away.

    I do not have a problem with religious people being in politics. I just have a problem when they try to shove their beliefs down everyone else’s throat. So many of them seem to be on a crusade to “save” Australia. What really annoys me is I know some religious people who demand their democratic rights but have no problem with the concept of a Dictator as long as that Dictator was “a man of God “. Bunch of hyprocrites.

  25. Back on the election date, I think the way Rudd is playing it is not so much on Howard being a coward, but being clever i.e. not so much that he is delaying the election timing but that he is doing it to suit him. I thought Howard’s response on this in the NT the other day was poor as he kept on asserting it was his ‘right’ to decide the timing. There was a lot of similarity to his reaction to his right to use Kirribilli because it was his ‘home’. Howard seems to be missing the anti-politician game Rudd is playing here. I think as soon as Howard can get a positive dynamic he will call it, irrespective of the technicalities.

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