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. Judy 197 – The Brethren are geniuses! Do you think that their ‘Keep Australia Christian’ flyers are for the Jewish bloc, or the gay bloc in Wentworth?

  2. I’m a bit nervous about Swan. He is not yet as popular as Rudd and/or Gillard. How much exposure / experience he has on public debate?

    Should we have a debate between Gillard and Hockey as well?

  3. Unfortunately I doubt the Howard/Cheny deal will do much more damage here. I think most peopel already realise It won’t help the government recover any credibility on its ability to handle security (if he was guilty why a deal? if he was innocent why so long without trial?). But an interesting side question is if it will have any impact in US politics. Cheney is already very unpopular, but the suggestion that the US does deals contrary to their military interests will not help the right wing nut-bar vote in 2008.

  4. Pi @194,

    I think we need to settle down a tad about predicting an election like Canada 1993.

    The result there was primarily due to the first past the post system over there. Whilst there was a definite rise in the Liberals’ vote, the conservative votes fractured into the PCs, the Reform party and the Bloc Quebecois. The split meant that the PCs got thumped in Ontario (a Liberal stronghold which got even stronger) and the prairie states (conservative stronghold, but the split conservative vote between Reform and the PCs meant that the Liberals ended up winning most of the seats).

    I think it’s a bit too early anyway to be predicting landslide results – I’ll be happy with a Labor win (even if it is through a minority government…)

  5. Paul Keating’s remarks about the economy that Costello inherited….

    ”this guy got hit in the a%$e with a rainbow.”

  6. Don’t forget the stabilising influence of compulsory voting as well. Voters really pissed off with their own party have to turn up to vote in Australia, where in other countries they can just stay home.

  7. 201 frank frederic Says: October 23rd, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    I’m a bit nervous about Swan. He is not yet as popular as Rudd and/or Gillard. How much exposure / experience he has on public debate?

    Jeezus… it’s not like we’re talking about a school-boy here. He either sinks or swims. If he can’t go toe-to-toe with Costello, why the hell has he got the job? Imagine how he’ll deal with criticism once he delivers an unpopular budget?

    Any politician would be viewing this as an opportunity! National coverage on TV talking about the subject that you consider yourself the expert on.


    “People are shitting themselves. There’s no other word for it,” says one Liberal campaign worker in the Coalition election HQ at 120 Collins Street, Melbourne.

    “Bring out the coffins.”

    A Lib campaign insider who I’ve quoted regularly in recent months, e-mailed me this, off the back of Newspoll, this morning: “Howard said last week at the opening salvo that `love me or loathe me . . . well, maybe this latest poll going backwards (a $34 billion step forward, two poll points backwards) indicates that the loathing bit is outweighing the loving bit at the moment.

    “On these numbers, he’s not going to get there on ‘experience’ alone or his ‘personality’ – indeed, and bizarrely so, Rudd seems to have cornered the market on the ‘cult of personality’.

    “To paraphrase a former leader, it’s time to flick the switch to policy. Not just tax give-aways and mouthing a ‘standing on your record’ mantra, but a full frontal policy attack – carpet-bomb the country with new policy – not giveaways. It’s policy stupid, not personality.”

  9. The Speaker: Only Kingston and Pratt were re-elected from the One Nation class of 1998. Ken Turner (Thuringowa), like the others, went down in flames.

  10. # 205 Swing Lowe Says: October 23rd, 2007 at 1:58 pm

    Pi @194,

    I think we need to settle down a tad about predicting an election like Canada 1993.

    For the record, I lived in Canada up until the year before, and the mood in the electorate was very similar to what we have today. Both of my parents were supporters of the conservatives.

    The mood is very similar.

  11. Chris @ 196

    Gray was actually acutely aware they were going to get pantsed for some time in the lead-up into the 96 election.

    He actually had told Keating several times as far out as 6 months from the election but keating essentially refused to believe it.

    I think there might be a bit of that going on here.

  12. Chris 196 – you really are a polling/election tragic! I thought I was bad enough. I can’t see how the Libs private polling would be any different to Newspoll et al. It would be a case of ‘don’t tell the emperor that he has no clothes’. Also, ‘don’t shoot the messenger’ would be in play. I guess a few Liberal Party staffers would be updating their CVs.

  13. Oh, and another one for the dumped in preselection files – Loraine Braham, member for Braitling in the NT Legislative Assembly. Former CLP minister and Speaker, got dumped before the 2001 election, quit the party, easily re-elected as an independent, and re-elected again (albeit more narrowly) in 2004. The NT is a bit different though – there’s been a couple of people who’ve pulled off that sort of thing.

  14. LTEP, Keating wasn’t popular because he devoted his energy to fulfilling his vision for Australia, his “Big Picture”. We been enjoying the economic dividends of his restructuring of the Australian economy, the “J-curve” for the last 13 years. He achieved far more in his tenure as PM than Howard has in 11.5 years. Indeed history will look back on the Howard years as the “Wasted Years”. The Keating period will be seen as the “Foudation Years” that launched Australia in the TwentyFirst centuary as a medium economic power.

  15. [Chris 196 – you really are a polling/election tragic! I thought I was bad enough. I can’t see how the Libs private polling would be any different to Newspoll et al. It would be a case of ‘don’t tell the emperor that he has no clothes’. Also, ‘don’t shoot the messenger’ would be in play. I guess a few Liberal Party staffers would be updating their CVs.]

    Read the book by Keating’s speech writer Don Watson. Keating thought he was going to lose both the 1993 and 1996 elections.

  16. agree with Socrates@204,
    Cheney is second after Bush as far as Iraq war critics in US concern.
    If being poodle to Bush makes Howard unpopular, then a dirty deal with Cheney only drags him down further.
    This news is a slap-on-the-face to liar Howard, who denied such a deal was made.

  17. [Cheney is second after Bush as far as Iraq war critics in US concern.
    If being poodle to Bush makes Howard unpopular, then a dirty deal with Cheney only drags him down further.]

    I think it is the other way around Cheney convinced Bush that it was a good idea. Bush had an extremely isolationist foreign policy when first elected.

  18. ShowsOn @ 209

    Thanks for that link. Bloody hell! However, until I hear the rattle of horse and cart in the wee small hours and a voice crying: “Bring out your dead …” I will remain nervously pissed.

  19. 223 – Will: I spend a fair bit of time in Dobell. Anecdotally (sp?), I think it’s gone for the libs. Water’s a huge issue there, so is WC and infrastructure coz so many people up there commute.

  20. oy in february i went on about Canada and the rightoids had kittens 🙂

    well here is a secret- i wasnt just talking about the electoral rout BUT in fact the mood being so palpable but no-one in the MSM would believe it
    also like the 49 oz election the new media will decide the day.(menzies won 49 purely on his radio speeches-unknown till he tried it)

    too late rightards:the REAL clarion call was to all those disaffected who realised that the internet is the equivalent of 17th century pamphletting
    and consequently a plethora of underground movements have sprung up

    so who cares re numbers it is really the MESSAGE that was important

    pps this is gusfaces last communication as Gvt “people” have already begun “harassment” over my identity-you know who you are (and luckily so do I)
    ppps im just a naughty boy who cares first about AUSTRALIA second about politics

    Go the RUDDER of the nation

    sayonarra tragics

  21. The more I think about the statement of the sitting member for Dobell, the more I think it will be the same for the 750 public hospital boards. I.e. jobs for the mates.

  22. If they do worm Costello, they’re probably going to need to expand the scale in the negative direction. When he got mentioned on Sunday, the worm flatlined. I think that the current system has people dialling a number from 0 to 9 – perhaps they could have a special Costello mode that goes down to -5 or so.

    As far as Antony’s coverage goes, pretty much every political tragic I know hangs out for him on election night. I was at a standup comedy event last week where one of the comedians on stage was talking about how much he also looks forward to him, so I guess he’s part of our popular culture now. 🙂

  23. anthony baxter @ 228

    “If they do worm Costello …”

    As a dog owner, I appreciate the necessity of regular worming. The little one is not a fan of the process and spends the next day or so boot-scooting around the back yard. The two big dogs look pained and say: “What? What have I done ..”

    It’s messy, on the whole, but as a responsible owner, I take it as a duty.

  24. Gusface 226 is on song. The ether is chockers with the unquantifiable, that special something that sounds soft and silly – the ‘vibe’. And it’s a vibe that has been cultivated from a wee seedling on Mr Bludger and Mr Possum etc. Psephos and number junkies may question this qualitative pulse taking, but I reckon we’re on for a change big time, the verandas have been swept and the baseball bats are out, here is Australia’s swing zone, please insert head Mr Howard!

  25. this doesn’t look good for Coalition:
    “… Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull says he cannot explain why the prime minister deleted references to his deputy in election material.
    “… John Howard deleted references to Treasurer Peter Costello in letters sent to voters in the prime minister’s Bennelong electorate, according to The Australian newspaper….”

    is the rift between Howard and Costello so deep and un-repairable?
    so much for the team Howard-Costello! 🙁

  26. Howard doesn’t want to remind his constituents that he is departing sometime next term if he wins. Hence no Costello reference.

  27. I think the simple answer to the whole Howard not putting Costello in his election material is that Howard is running scared in Bennelong. Why remind voters of his half-bake scheme of standing down as PM in 18 months? I bet C/T said word association of Liberal rather than Howard-Costello would have been better to retain the seat. Showing Howard-Costello means the electorate still misses out on a PM somewhere along the line.

  28. If the Swan Costello debate is going to be on during the day time next week you can be assured that viewer audience will be only those incapacitated in their hospital beds with the TV stuck on the ABC.

    Swan only needs to play it calm and smooth, he knows the answers and most of the questions. Would be a nice contrast between a calm and collected Swan and a bombastic chest beating smirk.

  29. Kina @ 238

    Yes. The people know Costello. They don’t know Swan, so maybe some interest there, but not a lot. Bushfire Bill referred to Costello’s “speaking to the kindergarten kids” tone, which might work in Question Time, but not on national television.

    Costello has one ploy: start quiet, dodge the question, switch to loud, rant … bow to audience. A one-act wonder. A well-rounded politician needs a bit more than an ability to deliver a few poor jokes at a barby.

  30. FF@234
    { Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull says he cannot explain why the prime minister deleted references to his deputy in election material.
    “… John Howard deleted references to Treasurer Peter Costello in letters sent to voters in the prime minister’s Bennelong electorate, according to The Australian newspaper….”}

    Malcolm Turnbull pot – kettle – black
    As a Wentworth voters, we have received very, very expensive Malcolm Turnbull brochures in the mail,’printed on recycled paper using environmentally-friendly vegetable-based inks’ 210mmx 210mm, 20 pages of glossy (not high-gloss- more soft sheen) pix, Malcolm here; Malcolm there; Malcolm & Family; Malcolm & kids; Malcolm & President Hu signing ‘something’; Malcolm Protecting our Icons….
    Where is John Howard? Where is Peter Costello ?
    Not even a mention, let alone a ‘Happy-Snap’ of either with Malcolm.
    Who is funding this mail-out?
    Turnbull should make it very clear, there are reports he’s had meetings with The Exclusive Brethren and they are supporting his campaign.

  31. Akerman on Agenda? Well, there goes my Agenda watching for the day. Wouldn’t waste my time. Actually that applies to most days.

  32. I was just watching the Lateline piece from last night. According to Andrew Bolt, telephone phone-in polls are harder to rig than the worm-poll.

    It’s not just Piers who’s been huffing the News Corp liquid paper supplies, clearly.

  33. I just noticed that The Australian has removed today’s online poll that asked readers to nominate to which party they would give their primary vote. It was only up for a few hours, whereas the other poll on who won the debate has been up since yesterday morning.

    I wonder why they took the primary vote poll down so quickly. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that it was showing a whopping primary of 67% for Labor and only 24% for the Coalition (when I last looked). I guess any further suggestion that the government might lose the upcoming election was just too much for them to bear.

    What I find interesting is that virtually all of The Australian’s online polls suggest that the largest proportion of their readership are Labor or Greens voters. And yet, they maintain such a blatant pro-Howard, neo-conservative agenda.

    Judging also by the fact that invariably, comments on all their politics blogs run at about 90% pro-Rudd, I reckon that The Australian’s readership mostly consists of those who read it for entertainment rather than as a credible news source. The mocking of Shanahan, Albrechtsen, and even some of the others on the blogs seems to be a popular sport, and deservedly so.

    Has this once reputable paper really sunk so low? It lost credibility a long time ago. Integrity has also gone. And even their ability to influence the vote is probably non-existent, especially given that the polls haven’t really shifted despite all their best efforts to try to re-elect Howard.

    With the loss of influence, and increasingly being viewed as a joke by many of its readers, combined with reports that the paper also fails to turn in a profit, you have to wonder what on earth Rupert Murdoch is thinking in continuing on this path.

    The paper is in desperate need of a clean-out, including a new editor, to restore it to anywhere close to its former glory. It couldn’t be more of a joke than it is now – it’s a sad state of affairs when the best attention it gets is from Labor voters lining up to mock its predictably woeful and amateurish political analyses.

  34. {Howard can’t even take a trick, Rudd finds relative on breakfast radio this morning.}

    There should be quite an extended family here, I would think.

    I wonder what electorate/s they reside in. Could be quite a number of extra votes here for Rudd and they probably won’t be too shy about trying to get a bit of extra support from their circle of acquaintances either.

    All in all, another plus for the Ruddster.

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