Exit strategies

It seems increasingly likely that we will soon be enjoying a “super Saturday” of federal by-elections, with a raft of former ministers preparing to take the money and run. While some have suggested the exodus might begin as soon as this week, other reports indicate that the relevant suspects are being “urged to stay on until after the budget to minimise any backlash in their seats”. Brendan Nelson had this to say on ABC radio yesterday:

I have spoken to both Peter Costello and Alexander Downer, I want them to make decisions that are in the interests of their electorates and of their families, and then of themselves and our party, and I expect they will make those decisions very soon … if hypothetically speaking we do have a number of members who choose to retire some time over the course of this year, then it would be preferable that they did so on one day, but … that’s a self-evident truth.

Seats of interest are as follows:

Mayo (Liberal 7.1%): Alexander Downer is making little effort to appear interested in an ongoing career in parliament: last Thursday he skipped question time to do lunch with Greg Sheridan of The Australian, and this week he took up a non-paying fortnight-long radio gig on Adelaide’s FiveAA. Rick Wallace of The Australian reports jockeying for Liberal preselection is on in earnest:

One-term federal members David Fawcett, from Wakefield in Adelaide’s northern suburbs, and Kym Richardson, from Kingston in the south, are strong contenders, as is Mr Downer’s former chief of staff Chris Kenny. Bob Day, a successful businessman and unlucky Liberal candidate for the northern suburbs seat of Makin, is also believed to be considering a tilt. State MP Iain Evans – state party leader until ousted by ex-SAS officer Martin Hamilton-Smith last year – has a strong family connection to the electorate and local branch recruitment, and may be looking to get out of state politics after his recent demotion in a reshuffle.

Mark Kenny turns up a different name in today’s Advertiser:

South Australian business leader Jason Kuchel is being considered as a possible “star” replacement for former foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer should the latter retire … Mr Kuchel, 38, described by a senior Liberal as “an impressive young conservative”, is the chief executive officer of the SA Chamber of Mines and Energy but has never been a member of the Liberal Party. He is a serving member of the Mt Barker district council. Liberal sources confirmed his name is now under serious consideration as party strategists contemplate a likely by-election in Mr Downer’s safe seat of Mayo. While Mr Kuchel is not well known in the Liberal Party, senior figures told The Advertiser that his position at the head of a powerful industry body suggested he was the kind of high-profile local candidate needed to retain the seat.

Higgins (Liberal 7.0%): Peter Costello’s long-standing friend and ally Michael Kroger has given the next best thing to official confirmation of Costello’s intention to quit, saying a fortnight ago he had “indicated that he is leaving the Parliament”. However, Gerard McManus of the Herald-Sun reports of an apparent rift between the two over who should succeed him, potentially producing a “Melbourne Cup field when he steps down as early as April”:

The ex-treasurer is believed to be backing state director Julian Sheezel, but the Kroger camp is resisting … Mr Sheezel, 38, has been Liberal state director for almost five years, and was originally considered a shoo-in for preselection, but senior Libs say he has ruffled feathers. Other possible contenders are Jason Aldworth, who once worked at Mr Kroger’s boutique bank and is now a strategist with Crosby/Textor; Tom Elliott, son of former party treasurer John Elliott, Harold Holt’s grandson, Robert, and lawyer-turned-minister Rufus Black. Adviser Ross Fox has been touted, as have state MP Michael O’Brien and Institute of Public Affairs director John Roskam.

Talk of the seat being used to accommodate a comeback by Mal Brough, defeated in his Queensland seat of Longman at the November 24 election, quickly abated. Michelle Grattan of The Age reported last week of concern in the Liberal camp that whoever gets the nod won’t be able to take the by-election for granted.

UPDATE: Andrew Landeryou has a breathtakingly comprehensive account of the Liberal numbers game in Higgins.

Gippsland (Nationals 5.9%): Perhaps the most exciting prospect in electoral terms is the possibility of a keenly fought three-way contest if Peter McGauran abandons the family fiefdom of Gippsland. The Liberals are reportedly confident they can win the seat from the Nationals, but the seat is also the best chance of a Labor by-election boilover if things go pear-shaped for Brendan Nelson. Andrew Landeryou relates gossip suggesting that those with an eye on the Liberal nomination include Phil Davis, a state upper house MP with a reportedly strong presence in local branches, and Julian McGauran, Senator and brother of Peter who defected from the Nationals to the Liberals in January 2006.

Berowra (Liberal 8.9%): One might think that Philip Ruddock, who turns 65 next month, would be a prime candidate for an early departure. In December, Tony Wright of The Age wrote that Liberal hopefuls were “already circling” for the chance to replace Ruddock when he “inevitably” pulled the plug. However, Ruddock has publicly indicated his intention to serve out a full term, and Brendan Nelson sounds convinced he will do so.

Lyne (Nationals 8.6%): While he has not been a focus of the most recent reports, it is widely felt that Mark Vaile might not be inclined to stay the full three-year course.

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.

117 comments on “Exit strategies”

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  1. Kina, just read that letter from Keating. He is basically calling for The Australian to fire Albrechtsen:

    “If not for the rest of us, perhaps for the paper’s own sake, will someone summon the courage to give her the pink slip?”

    Couldn’t agree more. She lives and writes in some parallel universe, banging on and on about old cultural issues that the rest of us left behind years ago. She belongs in the 19th century, not the 21st.

    But unfortunately, I doubt that she will be dismissed from The Australian opinion columns. As long as people keep reading her columns and keep posting on her blogs, I doubt that The Australian cares much about what she writes, so long as it fits the right-wing flavour of the paper.

    Even Shanahan has been having a go at it lately with some unqualified, poorly reasoned political statements (that is, poorer by his own poor standards) that are obviously done purely for a reaction.

    And if Caroline Wilson hadn’t got herself into trouble with Turnbull’s campaign, I’m sure she would still be banging on with her pseudo-journalism.

    The Australian took a dive some time ago when it came to credibility and hasn’t recovered. Probably has got even worse. The old Howard guards are clearly having a tough time trying to stay relevant. I guess its just symptomatic of the general desperation we are witnessing in conservative circles. This is not exactly a good era for Liberal Party supporters, including The Australian.

  2. Astute comments by Gary Morgan in the first p’graph (though the next two lines are a little overblown). Rudd is subtly employing the ol’ ‘divide and conquer’ strategy, but without using the same sledge-hammer wedge politics as Howard.

  3. Ozzy

    “An outsider to jump on the resignation bandwagon might be poor old Tony Abbot, who seems especially lost without the big staff and the comcar.”

    I don’t think Tony will jump, he is a knight and knights do not run they fight to the end.

    Though I disagree with some of Tony’s views I have to admire him on his convictions. Case in point was when he and Beasley appeared on compass re torture, Tony said it was justified re certain cercumstances and Beasley waffled as usual. Given a choice I would choose Abbott over Beasley.

  4. Bob Day lives in Houghton, which is on the border between Makin and Mayo. I imagine he’ll put his hand up, but I can’t see that they’ll go for him, especially given that he pissed off so many people in the party by refusing to take advice from anyone and doing his own thing.

    Many people believe he got his comeuppance in Makin and certainly won’t risk him again in a seat like Mayo where the Liberal vote isn’t as rusted-on as many think. As others have said on here, all it will take is a strong, high-profile LOCAL candidate and this seat will fall.

  5. The demise of Alexander downer will be the cherry on top of the desert. Great news. I think he has been utterly useless in his time in office and even more useless as head of Australia’s foreign affairs. His unjust discriminatory “penalty fee” applied to those who have lost or had stolen their passports has only served to feed the interest of the Travel insurance agents and victimised those who have been victims of a crime. (Contrary to Interational Treaties o Human Rights) Most passport thefts are not about seeking access to the passport but the stealing of the wallet in the hope of securing cash. What’s more the online Australian passport system is totaly unsecured, placing Australians abroad at risk of malicious intent from relativesm agreived business aquaitences and asscoaites. All that is required is access to a persons passport details (readily available) and the person’s mother’s maiden name and the passport holder can without any knowledge be subject to passport cancellation. Downer’s Office has known about the injustice and problems associated with Australia’s multi-million dollar electronic passport system and has done nothing to address the issues. Hopefully the new Government will act and not close its eyes and remain mute.

  6. I would hate to have to change political parties because of a self-centred egotistical person such as Jason Kuchel replacing Downer.
    Anyone who has ever grown up with him, had business dealings with or worked with him will tell you now, that he is only out for “number 1” and will spend the electorates money just to make himself look good.
    The statement has been “God wants me in the top parliamentary position” and I am sure he will do everything he can to get it.

  7. It has been suggested that Rob Oakeshott wishes to stand in Lyne to be yet another unofficial ALP aligned independent member in Federal parliament like Tony Windsor and the other chap in Kennedy. Three ALP-aligned Independent members in an ALP dominated parliament of 150 members. Three seats out of conservative party hands that should keep the ALP happy.

    Would Mr Oakeshott waist his time in Federal Parliament like Tony Windsor does constantly bitching about the Coalition parties? Would that make the conservative voters of Lyne happy? Like New Englanders would they care?

    If Mr Oakeshott leaves Port Macquarie that would make that seat vacant and with a NSW ALP government on the nose I am sure the intelligent people of Port Macquarie would take the opportunity to tell the ALP so and elect a conservative party candidate.

    Finally Mr Oakeshott has a young family and would they be happy for him to spend more time away from them in an enlarged Federal electorate, probably not.

    Jayne seems to think so and is foaming at the mouth with excitement.

  8. Why do you think Oakshott is ALP aligned?

    He was originally a National and left after a falling out with a Port Macquarie developer and National party associate. The newsletter I get from him every few months makes a major point that he votes more frequently with the coalition than with Labor. In addition Brogden asked him to join the Liberals

    Despite this and not surprisingly, it must be admitted that, the ALP has run dead in the last two state elections and sees him as a superior choice than a National.
    I agree that being an independent in federal parliament is largely a waste of time but I think that Oakeshott, like Tony Windsor, would find Canberra a far more pleasant and interesting waste of time than Macquarie St. Otherwise why did he say that he was interested in running at the 2004 election?

    If Vale retires, Lyne is Oakeshott’s for the taking. The question will be how much he wants it and whether he will run as a Liberal or Independent.
    There is no Liberal infrastructure in the seat and the Libs got very close last time only by selecting a well respected local councillor – depending on candidates and expenditure I am not certain the Libs would unseat the Nats unless they had Oakeshott as their candidate.

  9. Mark.I am not foaming at the mouth. I don’t know if Rob O is thinking of standing or not. Like o c @115 I think if Mark Vale retires it’s his for the taking .
    Why not an other good Independent candidate instead of either Nat or lib ? Labor is on the nose, but neither the Nats or Libs are smelling very sweet either.

  10. I think he has been utterly useless in his time in office and even more useless as head of Australia’s foreign affairs.

    I think it’s fair to say that in between his early ministerial stuff-ups and his final-year Rudd-inspired meltdown, Downer allowed the incompetence of other Howard ministers to outshine his own.

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