If you believe Jason Koutsoukis of The Age, dumped Labor MP Gavan O’Connor is not only the unanimous inaugural winner of the Mal Colston Medal for Treachery, he is also doomed to certain defeat by Labor candidate Richard Marles in his bid to retain Corio as an independent. Koutsoukis writes matter-of-factly of the perks awaiting O’Connor after he loses the election, which he surely will. However, this was written before Glenn Milne of The Australian rocked Canberra* with his shock revelation* that senior figures at the Melbourne (Liberal) campaign headquarters were finalising arrangements to preference O’Connor ahead of Marles (* sarcasm alert), placing O’Connor in the middle of the perfect election storm.
To provide some historical perspective, I present the recent history of sitting members dumped at preselection who sought revenge at the ballot box. I do not doubt there are a number I have missed, particularly at state level, where the only one that immediately sprang to mind was Steven Pringle in Hawkesbury at the New South Wales election in March. Readers are encouraged to note any such omissions in comments and I will rectify them in due course.
Moore and Curtin (Federal 2006): The only examples on this list where the independents actually won the day were these two Perth seats at the 1996 election, in which sitting members Paul Filing and Allan Rocher respectively lost preselection to Paul Stevenage and Ken Court (brother of then-Premier Richard Court). These results were widely blamed on the machinations of controversial Liberal warlord Noel Crichton-Browne, although the reality was more complicated. The important thing was that they incurred the displeasure of John Howard. This led to the Liberal candidates’ campaigns being starved of resources, and an apparently accurate perception emerging that the independents retained the imprimatur of the party leader. In blue-ribbon Curtin, Rocher easily outpolled Labor 29.4 per cent to 19.8 per cent, proceeding to an easy victory over Court (39.2 per cent) on Labor preferences. Paul Filing won even more resoundingly in Moore, leading the primary vote with 34.1 per cent to Labor’s 28.4 per cent and the Liberals’ 27.3 per cent. The 1998 election saw both members defeated by less contentious Liberal candidates.
Wentworth (Federal 2004): Malcolm Turnbull’s well-funded move against one-term Liberal member Peter King succeeded by 88 preselection votes to 70, but King did not take his defeat lying down, announcing he would stand as an independent at a press conference on Bondi Beach in the first week of the campaign. Despite vigorous campaigning attended by intense publicity, King recorded only 18.0 per cent of the vote and finished well behind Labor’s David Patch on 26.3 per cent. While Turnbull’s 41.8 per cent was well down on the 52.1 per cent King recorded as Liberal candidate in 2001, it converted into an unembarrassing 2.3 per cent two-party swing after distribution of King’s preferences.
Dickson (Federal 1998): After one term as Liberal member, the political career of Tony Smith (most certainly not to be confused with the current member for Casey) imploded when he was questioned by police after leaving a building which housed a brothel. Smith forestalled preselection defeat by quitting the Liberal Party and declaring his intention to run as an independent (so arguably this one doesn’t count). By this time it had emerged that the Labor candidate for the coming election would be defecting Democrats leader Cheryl Kernot. Smith predictably failed to set the tally board alight, polling 9.0 per cent of the vote, and Kernot went on to win by 176 votes.
Hawkesbury (NSW 2007): Liberal member Steven Pringle was dumped after one term in favour of Ray Williams, who had the backing of the ascendant forces of the Right. It was reported that Pringle lost control after an influx of Lebanese Maronite Christians swelled membership of the Beaumont Hills branch from 17 members to 500; according to the Sydney Morning Herald, this included 120 members who transferred from a branch in Hornsby after leader Peter Debnam denied them an influence there by insisting its Left faction incumbent Judy Hopwood keep the seat. Pringle reacted to his defeat by quitting the party and reiterating the popular theme that it had become controlled by an exclusive sect, an extremist right-wing group, of which the Godfather was upper house MP David Clarke. This prompted a rebuke from the Prime Minister, who described him as a hypocrite and a sore loser. The former judgement was based on the manner of Pringle’s own preselection at the 2003 election, when he ousted Kevin Rozzoli with support from what Simon Benson of the Daily Telegraph described as right-wing extremists as well as the left. Pringle did succeed in getting ahead of the Labor candidate, whom he outpolled 27.1 per cent to 16.0 per cent, but Williams’ 45.6 per cent primary vote was enough to get him over the line by a 6.6 per cent margin. The margin would have been narrower but for the optional preferential voting system, which saw many Labor votes exhaust.
Newcastle (NSW 2007): After holding the seat since 1991, Bryce Gaudry was contentiously dumped for preselection in 2006 following intervention by Labor’s national executive. As Damien Murphy of the Sydney Morning Herald describes it, Gaudry had been regarded as a sincere plodder who made a nuisance of himself during the Carr era with a long-running critique of office-winning policies, prompting his Left faction to sacrifice him by surrendering Newcastle to the Right in exchange for the Sydney seats of Londonderry and Toongabbie. The Right had initially hoped to recruit Newcastle lord mayor John Tate, who had not been part of the Labor grouping on council, had defeated the party’s incumbent lord mayor in 1999, and floated the possibility of running as an independent at the 2003 election. Tate claimed to have been told when approached that Gaudry was planning to retire, and got cold feet when it became apparent that this was not so, and that the Left-controlled local branches still backed Gaudry. Morris Iemma and Mark Arbib then surprised everybody by having the national executive intervene to support a new candidate, 37-year-old former television news reader and public relations consultant Jodi McKay. This the national executive agreed to do, splitting 13-7 in McKay’s favour on factional lines. The reaction in local party circles was typified by former federal Newcastle MP Allan Morris, who wrote first an open letter to Tate criticising his intention to run for Labor, and then a letter to then-federal leader Kim Beazley decrying the installation of McKay. Tate and Gaudry both declared their intention to run as independents, although Gaudry’s hoped dimmed when it emerged he had not told Morris Iemma of the explosive local rumours surrounding Swansea MP Milton Orkopoulos, a colleague of Gaudry in the party’s soft Left faction. Gaudry ended up finishing third behind McKay (31.2 per cent) and Tate (24.1 per cent), and his preferences narrowly failed to push Tate ahead of McKay.
Noosa (Queensland 2006): An unexpected beneficiary of the 2001 and 2004 Beattie landslides, Labor loose cannon Cate Molloy was disendorsed in the lead-up to the September 2006 election due to her public opposition to the government’s dam-building proposals, which extended to leading protest marches and threatening to introduce a private member’s bill. Molloy promptly announced that she would run as an independent, and held off until the campaign before delivering an angrily worded letter of resignation from the Labor Party (from which she was soon to be expelled in any case for running against an endorsed candidate). Molloy finished a fraction behind Labor on the primary vote, 23.7 per cent to 23.6 per cent, overtaking them with Greens preferences. However, Liberal candidate Glen Elmes’ 38.2 per cent primary vote was easily enough to deliver him the seat, with considerable aid from vote-splitting and exhaustion (Queensland also has optional preferential voting) between Molloy and Labor.
NOTE: Do not feel under any obligation to keep this thread on topic.