Revenge of the nerds

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.

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.

284 comments on “Revenge of the nerds”

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  1. In Queensland, Cate Molloy, two-term sitting member, was disendorsed by the ALP for the state seat of Noosa for the 2006 election. The seat was picked up by the Liberals, one of the only reasons for the conservatives to rejoice in what was an abysmal overall result for them.

  2. Even if Labor lose Corio, Newspoll points to 100+ other seats that are likely to be Labor’s. The next issue to watch is tomorrow’s inflation data. If the so-called underlying rate is 0.8% or more, there will be a rate rise on 7 November – and then get set for 60-40.

  3. Lowe 1998.

    Paul Zammit won the seat for the Libs in the Howardslide of ’96. He defected from the Liberal Party in protest at the increased plane noise in his electorate.

    Running as an independent, Zammit finished a distant third behind the two major party candidates. Labor’s John Murphy won the day and has held the seat since.

  4. Actually, never mind. I can see why you’ve left out Zammit. He wasn’t ousted in preselection.

    Party defectors would be a much longer list. Including the Member for Kennedy.

  5. Pauline Hanson was disenorsed in Oxley but still appeared as the liberal canndidate as nominations had closed.

    Which could be an interesting tactic to follow, nominations close on November 1 so any skittish liberal MPs could turn on Howard after this date.

  6. What was that whole Cunningham / Michael Organ / Green thing about?

    Cunningham’s back to labor with a vengeance now, so its hard to imagine we once had a Green MP!

  7. Newcastle NSW 2007.

    Despite announcing to all and sundry that he was going when confronted with the prospect that he would not be able to choose his successor Bryce Gaudry was defeated at preselection after the intervention of the National Executive in favour of a candidate assessed as more likely to suit the changing electorate of Newcastle and stave off a serious threat to the seat by an Independent challenge from the popular local Mayor John Tate.

    Many Labor supporters sided with Bryce Gaudry seemingly on principle rather than out of respect for his record as he eventualy came a distant third to Mayor Tate and Labor’s Jodi McKay.

    McKay went on to win a close victory over Tate on distribution of preferences.

  8. I know its just one poll. But could 1 week of negative attack ads and nothing positive to say possibly have had something to do with the negative results for Howard in the latest Newspoll?

  9. According to today’s SMH: dumped Labor MP Kelly Hoare is considering running as an independent against Greg Combet in the safe Labor Hunter Valley seat of Charlton.

  10. Tony Abbott this morning once again insinuating that the Australian public are joking around with pollsters, and there’s no way that his government of supposedly expert economic manangers will be punished on election day: methinks the Mad Monk is either completely bonkers, arrogant or blind to the reality of what confronts the Coalition.

  11. Re. Robb: why is it that no interviewer, when confronted with the bald statement that the Libs have been working on their latest tax cut package “for months” (as Robb put it, and he’s not the first) does not ping the government for:

    1) Supreme economic incompetence in being congenitally unable to pick a surplus figure asnd stick to it;

    2) Deception of the Australian public and blatant cynicism over the true national accounts figures;

    3) Perversion of the political process;

    4) Egregious hypocrisy in taking months (and it’s only been a few months since the Budget) to come up with a policy and then smarmily condemning Labor for wanting to take a couple of days to look it over?

    OK, so all’s fair in love and politics, but this is an outrage. Yet all we seem to get is “clever Dick” type commentary and smirks from Costello.

  12. Rumour from a reliable source: if Turnball loses Wentworth, Phil Ruddock will be told to retire and hand over Berowra to Malcolm.

  13. I am loath to give Graeme Campbell a plug but he was returned as an independent in Kalgoorlie in 1996 after his famous feud with Paul Keating. This enabled the Liberals to get a wedge in and Barry Haase has held the seat for the Liberals since 1998 despite Campbell’s presence in the field in 2001 and 2004. Not sure of Graeme’s intentions this time but his Australia First website continues its jingoistic venom.

    Kalgoorlie was a traditionally Labor electorate but the ALP needs 6.3% to get it back. Sharon Thiel is the candidate. Further analysis of Kalgoorlie and the election in general at ‘Labor View from Broome”

  14. Turnball is fighting hard to keep Wentworth, virtually dismissing Howards nuclear reactors as not needed.

    After November 1 I would expect Turnball and others to distance themselves further from Howard and Costello to try and save their seats and form the base of a reformed liberal party.

  15. From The Australian:,25197,22632105-11949,00.html

    JOHN Howard has departed from the Government’s re-election script by deleting all references to Peter Costello in a personal letter sent to voters in the Prime Minister’s own seat of Bennelong.

    The Australian has obtained a sample of six postal vote letters from Coalition MPs, covering lower house and Senate seats in Victoria, NSW, the ACT and Northern Territory.

    “Make no mistake, the decision we make at this federal election may change the future of our country,” is the common opening for all the letters.

    The opening statement is a bad tactical error. Voters already know that their election choice will change the future of the country. That is precisely why they are backing Rudd so strongly. This letter just reminds them of that.

    More free kicks for Labor, brought to you by the geniuses at Liberal campaign headquarters.

  16. Whilst I doubt Turnbull will lose Wentworth, I’m surprised that he hasn’t already shift to Ruddock’s seat.

    Surely Ruddock can’t plan to serve another full term?

  17. I don’t agree with those who say there has been no narrowing of the polls. The Liberal vote seems to have narrowed considerably.

  18. And yet the Mad Monk, Smirky and Dolly Downer want to pretend the polls aren’t accurate. Election night will be even sweeter if I get to see these bullies in tears LOL

  19. On the whole Costello putting out a challenge to Swan for a debate, Costello is about to make a tactical error. Swan was in fine form last night, and he will only have to draw or come close to Costello to make the ever waning ‘better economic manager’ vote to be neutralised.

    Also, tomorrow’s CPI figure will tell if we’re on the path for another rate rise, and if there is speculation that there will be one in the short term Costello will have to face that too.

    Though as someone said, debates are all the Libs now have. But the ALP this year isn’t the same as the one in 04.

  20. Cunningham doesn’t count as Martin resigned mid-term and Bird was N40’d – that’s what caused the local revolt, although the irony was that Bird was the likely candidate in Throsby until George was N40’d in there. However, there was no dumped ALP candidate running (Chris Christadoulou was the unlucky one), but a union candidate instead.

    And Kris Hanna resigned from the ALP post-election, was a Green for 2 years, did not gain preselection to the #1 spot on the Greens ticket for the SA Leg Council, was preselected as a Green in Mitchell (his Assembly seat) and then quit and ran as an independent when it looked like he wouldn’t win as a Green – which was probably a smart career move on his part.

  21. I think that Cossie will get beaten by Swan, and slaughtered by Rudd if it comes to Debates. Still in terms of shoring up their base the simple fact that Cossie is going up front may help.

    If Cossie goes a Deabate the same way he goes in parliament (and he is likely to revert to type under pressure) he is stuffed.

    Also, there is a lot of ammo for an opposing debater laid up from Cossies previous indiscretions that will now be fired at him.

    Rattus Crews reasoning could be;
    We are so far behind there is nothing to lose and people may warm to Cossie as alternative PM if he is seen to be the brave one fighting a rearguard action, taking an attack to the barbarians at the gate.

    The payoff for the Libs is substantial in terms of their firewall strategy IF Cossie wins, and they are so far behind at this point the risk of a Debate loss doesn’t really matter in a practical sense.

  22. Sol L on ABC this morning with Virginia Trioli still bangin on about the soft vote. “1 in 4 make their minds up in the last week, 1 in 10 make their minds up at the booth”. Hope that 1 in 4 or 1 in 10 suddenly realise that Team C-oward’s time is up!

  23. Here is a great bit of commentary from Malcolm Farr in The Telegraph:

    “John Howard’s chances of retaining office are officially over if a shock Newspoll is replicated on November 24”

    Gee, shock! Horror! What a great piece of journalism .. I thought EVERY POLL for the last year has said, if replicated, howard would lose office.

    How much do these guys get paid?

  24. Yep, there’s a narrowing in the polls alright – on economy and national security. I loved the satisfaction differentials too: Rudd +42, Howard -3. Seems to be some sort of message there…

  25. Greenway, Pringle and Bartlett
    The view from the Hawkesbury is that the local Libs are still unhappy with the treatment of Pringle. And now they’ve lost their other local, Kerry Bartlett who’s gone over the mountains to Macquarie. My understanding is that Bartlett wanted Greenway, but they didn’t know what to do with Louise Markus so he got shoved. Meanwhile, the locals are not exactly supporting the ALP candidate Michael Vassili, but they’re not helping Louise Markus either. Expect a good showing from the Green’s candidate (whose name eludes me for the moment), or perhaps an independent as a protest in the treatment of locals! Greenway should be safe Liberal but is not behaving that way.

  26. Costello: “I’ll be very, very happy to debate with him [Mr Swan] the economy, tax, anything he likes really,” he said. “I don’t worry about worms.”

    Is he having another jibe at Howard here? The bloke can’t help himself.

  27. I’m thinking Channel 9’s election night coverage will be more fun to watch, particularly if Ray Martin and Big Laurie start laying into the Liberals: REVENGE OF THE WORM?
    The ABC seems so intent on not upsetting Howard or the Liberals, indeed bending over backwards to give them all much more airtime.
    I guess the right wing hacks on the board are now in control of news/current affairs.

  28. Assuming the Libs are basically anihillated on Nov 24, it will be interesting to see how the current party breaks apart and if a new small L party emerges. Turnbull would probably be leader, but who else would form the nucleus of the new party?

  29. I heard rumblings at one stage about increasing the independence of the ABC, perhaps along the lines of the BBCs licensing system so it wasn’t beholden to the government and squeals of bias every few seconds. Did this ever go anywhere, or are there plans to reraise it that anyone knows of?

  30. Is it too early to discuss, if this poll is true, which Ministers will survive, which will not, and which will buck the trend? I make one prediction – Mal Brough will buck the trend. He has been one of the few to hold his nerve in recent weeks IMO. The rest seem spinless and will be judged as such.

  31. I haven’t seen the individual seats odds change with this poll. I suppose it depends on people betting. So come on everyone throw some money onto the marginals, win some money, and ratel the coalition like nothing else.
    I wish they had trifectas, quadies and straight 8’s.
    Stirling, Deakin, La trobe would be great bets and you will double your money

  32. Speaking of the Hicks deal, and the tragic recent combat death in Afghanistan, could they begin to explain the reported narrowing in Newspoll of Howard’s previous lead on the issue of national security?

  33. “Worm invited to Costello-Swan debate
    Posted 24 minutes ago ABC Online

    Treasurer Peter Costello has welcomed a head-to-head debate with his Labor counterpart Wayne Swan, and has opened the door for the controversial worm to enter the fold.”

    So, you thought Subprime $weetie was nothing but a Smirker, eh?
    Better think again.
    Enter The Worm Master.

  34. Socrates: if the newspoll result was replicated in an election, these ministers would be tossed out:
    Gary Nairn
    Cameron Thompson
    Mal Brough
    Fran Bailey
    And probably a few more I can’t think of

  35. If swan sticks to facts it will be an easy win. Tip is an economic freud. He has handed in an essay that his mother wrote got a great mark and hasn’t been found out yet.

  36. Good work AnthonyL, Newcastle is a glaring omission. My recollection of Cate Molloy had been that she had quit, but I think disendorsement is close enough to preselection defeat so I’ll add her as well. Pretty sure the same is true of Graeme Campbell. Other suggestions don’t quite meet my strict requirements, but thanks for the memories all the same.

  37. I like to maintain a pretence of fake objectivity in my comments, however I’ll make an exception in this case.

    I hope Gavan O’Connor wins.

    Go Gavan !

    No particular reason. The demonisation he’s receiving turns me off his critics, plus it spices up the election a little.

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