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. Not that I said this, or you heard this. But it was from the horses mouth that a certain Professor was offered a certain failed candidates numbers for a ‘victory lap’, if the certain Prof. could get the left and right to agree to it. Unfortunately for them, the factions are not on speaking terms, and it fell through.
    Just a piece of political trivia.

  2. The right have destroyed the Liberal Party. All that is left is this election and the blood letting.

    If people think otherwise they need to remember how the liberal party came about, it was in my view the response to a mess created by these type of people two generations ago.

    It is hard to see the mess getting cleaned up in less than 10 years.

  3. It could become ‘marginal’ in response to being treated as a plaything of the dysfunctional (factions not on speaking terms) liberal party.
    If they cant keep their house in order, even when in power, then they can not be trusted to govern the nation.
    This isn’t even touching on its lemon bag full of very poor, and socially divisive, legislation.

  4. I’m not sure that Geoff Selig is a member of the left grouping in the Liberals, from an old Anne Davies article before the last state election.

    “A month ago, at a state council meeting in Newcastle, the non-aligned state president, Geoff Selig, was reprimanded in no uncertain terms by one of the right’s most forceful figures for giving the call to a left-winger, who then used the opportunity to hit out at the right.

    Within earshot of others he told the president: “You’re a president with your f—ing L-plates on. It’s time you got them off.”

    Selig refused to comment yesterday.

    The right wing of the party, which can best be characterised”

  5. I think the only reason Towke got pulled as a candidate was because powers that be were worried about having a Lebanese candidate with a dodgy background and from outside the area, run in an electorate noted for its anglo-centric xenophobia.

  6. William,

    Small correction to your article above:

    “Cronulla, Miranda and Cook branches”

    There is no Cook branch or suburb by that name in the Shire; Cook is the electorate.

    BTW I don’t think Labor will ever win Cook again. The demographic change over the last 25 years has seen the electorate become permanently infected with the affluenza virus.

  7. What’s the Libs margin in Cook? Haven’t got the time right now to do any research, but if it’s under 15%, it’ll fall to Labor in a Ruddslide. Preselection problems will only make it worse for the Libs.

  8. Lord D: I think the margin is 13-14%. Very unlikely Cook will fall to Labor. Scott Morrison is by all accounts one of the better Liberal candidates.
    Hughes might be more of a prospect for Labor – Dana Vaille is completely off her rocker.
    Most likely Labor seat gains in Sydney: Macquarie, Lindsay, Parramatta(notionally now a Liberal seat), maybe Bennelong, an outside chance of winning Wentworth(although I suspect the actual margin is much higher than 2.5%).

  9. Affluenza is highly contagious, and has spread into parts of Hughes. Its gain by the Libs was not just due to a strong anti-Keating/anti-Tickner vote (although they were both factors). Demographic changes have made Hughes tougher for the ALP to win back. But it could happen, if a landslide is on. Hughes is one of the unhatched chickens I wouldn’t count.

  10. 13 Howard Hater:

    – Dana Vaille is completely off her rocker.

    Exactly, which has been part of her success in Hughes. Many people in Huhges actually like all the bigoted, ignorant things she comes out with (she’s sort of a moderate and acceptable version of Pauline Hanson).

    And like Tim W says, affluenze has also infected the western end of The Shire (Hughes).

    So I Can’t see Labor winning that seat either, even if there is a Ruddslide.

  11. I just saw that Howard has at least ruled out holding the election over until 08

    On the subject of winnable seats in Sydney you only need to look at NSW state voting patterns to see that Labor can win states seats in the Sutherland Shire: Miranda (either wholly or nearly wholly within Cook); Menai and Heathcote (both largely within Hughes). While Blue Mountains and Penrith (Macquarie/Lindsay), Ryde (Bennelong) and Parramatta are safe ALP seats.

  12. Lindsay won’t fall to Labor, except in a Ruddslide. ALP candidate David Bradbury has little or no charisma, and is up against a determined Liberal campaign. He’s lost 2 times before, and currently surrounds himself with Mark Ptolomy’s “Your Rights at Work” orange-shirt stossetruppen. Some of them scare adults, let alone children. ALP strategists from Sussex Street have personally attacked Liberal candidate Karen Chijoff before she’d even had time to raise her head after being endorsed. Very wise move. It will be a very interesting and colourful campaign to watch in coming weeks. . .

  13. “There’s no correlation between state and federal voting. If there was Labor would be in power with a huge majority.”

    Bl**dy oath, yes. Just look at Queensland! Positively schizophrenic!

  14. I suppose I should say there’s no necessary correlation. Who knows, the voters may be about to correlate their voting and give Rudd a huge majority. But equally they may not be. In any case, I doubt either Hughes or Cook would go to Labor if the state figures were transferred – someone might like to calculate this.

  15. The last Newspoll state breakdowns had Labor’s 2PP at 61% in NSW, and Labor leading 52-48 in Coalition safe seats. Sounds to me like Cook and Hughes will fall on those figures.

  16. I’d say Hughes is a Labor seat on state figures.

    The ALP holds all the state seats that cover Hughes – Menai (52.7%), Heathcote (58.8%), Miranda (50.8%) and Liverpool (76.9%).

    Of course it’s possible that the parts of the state seats that overlap Hughes produce Liberal majorities. Heathcote for instance is reasonably strong for Labor because it stretches down to the Illawarra. Which is why, without crunching the numbers, I won’t state for certain that Hughes would be a Labor seat on state figures. But it probably is.

  17. As for election dates, word is that an interest rate rise in November is increasingly unlikely. Given the turmoil in financial markets, and the real possibility of recession in the US over the next 2 years, the RBA is much more likely to wait and see.

    This has to make a November/December election more likely. The only downside for Howard in delaying until then is he can be accused of “running scared” – something today’s announcement reported above is exactly designed to counteract. Furthermore, there’s the “anything can happen” external events – September 11 factor.

    The only other downside is it allows ALP preselecteds in Coalition-held marginals more time to get around to the school fetes and so on.

    Talk about Howard being scared to face the people may have some traction, but it’ll be forgotten as soon as he pulls the trigger (which would have to be by early November at the absolute latest). I think Howard will delay as long as possible, unless he can get the 2PP numbers down to 53-47 against him, or better. And there’s no sign of that. With Galaxy reporting 57-43 and an average around 55-45, there is no reason for Howard to visit the G-G.

    My guess is we’re still 13-14 weeks from an election… If I had to guess I’d be thinking 1 December.

  18. I think you’re right Josh, my feeling right now is that a rate rise is less than 50% likely for Nov 7th. It may be that John Howard is banking on that.
    He may well get a tip-off anyway.

  19. The most up-to-date electoral maps – with redistributions – will be on the AEC websiote from Monday next.
    The longer Howard delays calling the date, following the end of APEC, the bigger the swing.

  20. Love looking at your 2PP distribution maps Adam, especially when you see those little idiosyncratic booths that crop up. Hughes seems to have Prince Edward Park (Num. 29) as a hotbed of Marxist affection. Makes you wonder if they have started building barricades to keep the capitalists from Woronora, Woronora Heights and Bangor out.

    Any ideas why that particular spot is different from its neighbours?

  21. The swing at Prince Edward Park was due to a sharp rise in the Green vote, which flowed to Labor as preferences. I can only assume that the Green candidate lives there or is for some reason hugely popular there.

    I’ve recently done Gilmore, Leichhardt and Ryan. I’ve now done all the marginals on both sides, about 60 seats in all, with two maps (2PV and swing) for each seat. I may go on and do all the urban seats, they’re fairly easy, but the big ultra-safe rural seats like Maranoa are too much work for not much point, so I probably won’t do them.

  22. On the topic of “states to federal figures” meme, I did some rough calculations on McPherson last week that suggested if the seat votes by booth federally in the same way as it did at the state level in 2006, the result would be nearly a 50/50 split.

    Some more advanced calcs suggest (there’s some booth mismatch going on, hence uncertainty) that it would be between 48-52 either way.

    What’s interesting though is that the area appears to becoming increasingly ALP.At the state level, the ALP increased their vote in all of the state seats that make up (or partially make up) McPherson by between 1 and 6.3% over the 2004 -2006 period.

  23. The post election pendulum from 2004 has Cook at 13.8 and Hughes at 11.0. Margins of the various senior Ministers seats in no particular order : Bennelong @ 4.3, Wentworth @ 5.5, Gippsland [McGauran] @ 7.7, Longman [Brough] @ 7.7, Higgins @ 8.8, North Sydney [Hockey] @ 10.0, Warringah [Abbot] @ 10.5, Menzies [Andrews] @ 10.7, Mayo @ 11.8, Berowra @ 12.2, Wide Bay [Truss] @ 12.9, Lyne [Vaile] @ 13.0, Curtin [Bishop] @ 14.6, Bradfield [Nelson] @ 18.5 and Groom [MacFarlane] @ 18.9. I didn’t list names for those who are more commonly known ;-D … By contrast; Rudd, Gillard and Garret hold margins of 8.6, 8.8 and 9.0 respectively in their electorates. While we all know that swings are not uniform, in an ideal world we can imagine that they are. A uniform swing of 5% will gain Labor 17 seats and knock out Howard. #1 on the list is Kingston (SA) with a margin of 0.1 to the Libs and #17 is Deakin (VIC) with a margin of 5.0. A uniform swing of 8% will give Labor 34 seats and leave Costello with a margin of 0.8. Of course all of this assumes Labor don’t lose any new seats that they already hold but it demonstrates the sort of margins we will be looking for on election night. Eden-Manoro, btw, is currently sitting at 2.1 to the Libs and as most probably know, has changed hands only when the government changed since 1972.

  24. The so called Rabbit out of the hat Howard still has it his choice when to call the election…and with the polls the way they are he needs this extra ace up his sleave also he can try to as he did in 2004 frame the election around economic management as he did immediately after calling the October 9th Poll in 2004…i think he will do the same so long as people are focused on the economic Howard has a decent chance of holding on…

    Winning 16 seats is massive undertaking especially for a political novice like Rudd who has never run/managed an election campaign as a leader…this is another of Howard’s positives…

    While i can see Labor winning several seats, 2 in TAS, 3 in NSW, 4 in QLD, 3 SA i cant see them winning any seats in WA or VIC and the Howard Government has to put alot of money into WA if it cant get Swan or Cowan Labor will struggle to win….i think this election will be like 1961 the Coalition by less than 5 seats…but at the moment the Coalition would be beaten if we accept the polls.

    I think this holding off on the poll and Rudd trying to make an issue out of it hurts them both…it makes Howard look arrogant and makes Rudd look cocky it doesnt help either of them…i think we will see only one debate and as usual the worm will hand it to the ALP leader as it has done for Howard…by the way i cant remember did Keating and Howard have a debate for the 96′ election???

  25. According to Alan Ramsey Keating and Howard faced off in 1996:

    “Only Keating as prime minister has agreed to multiple debates (two in both 1993, against John Hewson, and 1996, against Howard), but only because he needed the debates more than they did. Only Keating (twice) has agreed, since that first debate, to a debate on the last weekend before polling day, while the second of his two debates with Howard in 1996 was arguably the best – and certainly the most substantive – of the nine debates since and including 1984, even if, in terms of the election outcome, it was arguably the most meaningless.”

  26. So on past experience fiztig it is possible Howard may want more than one debate since he needs to hammer Rudd if he’s to get back any momentum….

    It worked for Keating in 1993 but didnt in 1996 for obvious reasons…

    The seat of Cook will not change hands this election its a no brainer…

  27. I suspect Howard will agree to only one debate and it will be early in the campaign. The Libs will figure that if Rudd trounces Howard (as I would expect, but I’m biased), he will have time to recover. There will as always be a massive row about who will moderate. The Libs don’t trust O’Brien or anyone from the ABC, and Labor won’t have Ray Martin again. Maxine McKew would be my choice but she may be too busy…

  28. [The so called Rabbit out of the hat Howard still has it his choice when to call the election…]

    If that’s all he has left then he is totally screwed.

    [So on past experience fiztig it is possible Howard may want more than one debate since he needs to hammer Rudd if he’s to get back any momentum….]

    But Howard is hopeless at debates. At best he will break even, which actually means a Rudd win because there are less expectations on Rudd.

  29. There is a good film ‘Democracy’ about the 1984 Cook campaign, by the producer of ‘Rats in the Ranks’ I think. Labor almost won it in 1983 and thought it was a prospect in 1984 but head office was embarassed when the left won the preselection ballot. Mutch’s grandfather was a mate of Henry Lawson and a Labor ‘rat’ in the 30s.

  30. Adam what about Laurie Oaks?

    Howard will go with the format that has helped him the past one debate as you say very early on despite him probably needing to take a few cracks at Rudd…

    I think Howard will perform well (i am biased) but he wont win the debate Rudd will win it handily i think but that’s the way its gone in the past…id be worried if Howard won the debate lol…

    Expect Howard to bang on about Rudd’s inexperience and the danger of Labor and the Economy…and expect Rudd to bang on about Howard being out of touch ect…

    It would be more interesting to watch Costello and Swan debate the economy and Gillard and Hockey debate IR but that’s not going to happen.

  31. Has any other Prime Minister gone into an election campaign not being the preferred PM in the polls?

    Even Keating in the baseball bat election of 1996 was in front on this.

    This, to my mind, makes a landslide look very possible.

  32. The poll trend has been consistent all through as well. At no previous election was Howard so far behind for so long. The highest 2PP Latham ever got in a newspoll was 55% and that was a one off and aslo seven months before the election!

  33. They may not win but Swan & Gillard would perform reasonably well, the limelight would help dispel the mith that they have no ability and should not be trusted with the levers of government and it would be an own gaol against those who mindlessly parrot the ‘not enough’ experience / talent line.

  34. I don’t know how Rudd would be at debates, I wouldn’t rule out Howard being the better debater, but key issues may let him down. I’d rather see Costello in a Debate with Rudd, now that would be worth watching.

  35. Rudd is only offering to debate on IR, in the past debate(s) have been on a broard rang of topics.

    On swings, uniform or otherwise consider this;
    It is likely the 3 independents become 2 with Calare going back to the Nats.

    The smaller states are more volatile and are likely to produce bigger swings so lets say
    6% swing in smaller states
    4.5% swing in Vic
    4% swing in NSW

    Labor gains
    +6% ACT….. nothing
    +6% NT …..Solomon
    +6% Tas….. Braddon, Bass
    +6% SA …..Kingston, Wakefield, Makin
    +6% WA …..Hasluck, Stirling
    +6% QLD …..Moreton, Bonner
    +4.5% Vic …..nothing
    +4% NSW …..Parramatta, Lindsay, Eden-Monaro
    (Wentworth unique because of independent last time)

    Total Labor gains 14
    Each major party gets 74 with 2 independents

    And, if I have done my math right, it works out to be a 5% swing to Labor and the Coalition gets 47.8% of the TPP vote.

    This assumes a uniform swing in each state but wouldn’t it be interesting.

  36. “But Howard is hopeless at debates. At best he will break even, which actually means a Rudd win because there are less expectations on Rudd.”

    “Howard will perform well (i am biased) but he wont win the debate Rudd will win it handily”

    Sounds to me like all the expectations are on Rudd, and none are on Howard.

    This just shows how hard the job is for Rudd. He has to work twice as hard just to match Howard (he has to win the debate, Howard only has to “perform well”), and he’s coming from a long way behind (the Liberals have a lot of incumbency power). If Rudd wins it will be a remarkable achievement.

  37. Geoff 39:

    I believe Tom Mutch, the state member for Botany in the 1920’s was Stephen Mutch’s grand or great uncle; not his grandfather.

    Tom Mutch challenged Jack Lang for the leadership of the NSW Branch of the Labor Party in 1924 and lost by one vote. Seen as a communist sympathiser and radical, Lang pursued Mutch after the 1924 challenge and had him expelled from the party. As an act of vengeance, Mutch stood as an indepent against Labor in several campaigns and eventually joined the United Australia Party.

    His friendship with Henry Lawson rings true for me as my great grandfather was Mutch’s campaign manager for his Botany election campaigns when he was the Labor candidate, and was (one of many) Lawson’s drinking companions around the Redefern/Darlington area of Sydney.

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