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. Thanks for posting William -very interesting times ahead in what should have been a quite year electorally

    Berowra -This will be interesting because I suspect there could very well be a nasty factional battle if Ruddock retires -maybe that’s one of the reasons he’s staying on. A few years ago it would have been likely that one of the ‘small l’ former Young Liberals Presidents would have won this seat -I know some were being groomed -but the Crazy Right’s takeover of the party makes this unlikely. The Right were already trying to get rid of Hornsby MLA Judy Hopwood (who represents the state seat in this electorate) at the State Election last year but had to back off because of her local popularity. I suspect they’re going to try and take her out again in four years time but they’ll also want this seat. I’d say Hornsby Mayor Nick Berman is a crucial one to watch for this seat (he was heavily involved in the bid to unseat Hopwood last year and is known to have ambitions for higher office) and local councilor Felicity Findlay could be another Liberal hopeful

    Gippsland -I wouldn’t be surprised if Julian McGauran wants to succeed his brother in the vacant seat. Just so this talentless family dynasty can keep going

    Higgins -Unless I missed his inclusion, I notice that one notable absentee from the list of Liberal hopefuls for the seat from Higgins is Joshua Frydenberg, the former Downer/Howard adviser who unsuccessfully challenged Liberal MP Petro Georgiou in Kooyong. I would have thought, given his increasing high profile through his antics and his columns in the Age, the Liberals would have been keen to recruit Frydenberg and he would have been keen to run. But perhaps the field is to wide and both Frydenberg and the Liberals feel that he is needed much more in Kooyong to make sure that he removes any traces of ‘small l’ liberalism from the ranks of the Victorian Liberals next time around

    If Labor wanted to give the Liberals a run for their money in this seat, I would have thought that they may have considered persuading high profile former La Trobe candidate Rodney Cocks to run. But, on the other hand, it may be better for him to keep his powder dry for another shot at a marginal seat where he has much better prospects next time

    Lyne -The common forecast among electoral analyses that I’ve read on this seat is that it will most likely fall to the Liberals when Vaile retires. Vaile is now between a rock and a hard place. He knows that, if he leaves now, the chances are that the seat will fall to the Liberals with the outside chance of an an Independent victory. If he leaves at the next federal election, it will likely be in late 2010 and within a few months of the next NSW State Election. This leaves open the possibility for Port Macquarie MLA Rob Oakeshott to contest the seat without causing a by-election for his state seat. Oakeshott has previously expressed an interest in running for this seat and, if the election is held in 2010, everything could very well align in his favor -the fact that he can make a smooth transition from state politics and the fact that he will likely benefit from the absence of the personal vote of the retiring MP. So I think the National Party is essentially in a lose-lose situation with this seat

    Mayo-Another possible nasty pre-selection between the “wets” and the “dries” likely? If the Australian Democrats were still a viable alternative, there’s a chance they could have picked up this seat in a by-election on the back of a good candidate and a strong protest vote. But they’re not so the point is moot

  2. PD1891,If Rob Oakeshott runs for Lyne he has a very good chance of winning.His support is huge,the people love him in his electorate,There is no chance of this electorate swinging Lib.

  3. Bring It On!!
    Imagine what the opposition side of the house is going to look like after they lose all these seats as well.
    Will they have a quorum?

  4. Other potential retirees include Fran Bailey, Kevin Andrew and Bronwyn Bishop.

    Also if Nelson gets rolled in the next few weeks, why would he hang around?

  5. Don’t know why Rick Wallace thinks Bob Day was an “unlucky” candidate for Makin. Day poured bucketloads of boodle into the campaign to retain Makin for the Libs but Labor’s Tony Zappia achieved a huge swing of 8.6 per cent and now sits on a margin of 57.7 per cent.

  6. Speaking of Fran Bailey, does anyone know the timing of the court challenge? I understand that a fresh election is one possible outcome, which I can’t imagine she would look forward to. It would almost be amusing to see if Nelson would even be invited to campaign with her?

  7. Higgins and Gippsland would be interesting by-elections. While you’d have to favour
    the Libs to retain Higgins and the Nats to retain Gippy, neither is a foregone conclusion.

    The Brumby Government is quite popular at the moment (though perhaps less so in Gippsland), and so is the Rudd Government. The demographics of Higgins are changing, and it’s not impossible for Labor to win it, particularly with help from Greens preferences. If Labor puts up the former MP, Christian Zahra, they might have a show in Gippsland. I don’t know whether Zahra is available though. He was a pretty popular MP, and his demise was partly due to redistribution.

    Gippsland would be a fascinating three-cornered contest. The Nats would need to lead the Libs on first preferences to get re-elected, because there’s a high Labor vote in the seat. Labor, I’d guess, would preference the Nats over the Libs, but that wouldn’t help the Nats if they’re eliminated from the contest before Labor is. There’d also be a fair amount of second-preference leakage to Labor from Lib and Nat voters. All very interesting. It would be particularly fascinating if Julian McGauran stood as the Lib candidate. There would be local Nats who’d never forgive him for defecting, and would preference Labor. However, I can’t see why Julian would want to give up the comfort of the Senate for a difficult HOR contest.

    Kevin Andrews’ seat of Menzies would also be an outside chance for Labor, if he decides to quit.

    I suspect Downer, Costello et al have already caucused and decided not to announce resignations till after the Budget. No doubt there’ll be pain in the Budget, and it will at the very least give the Coalition some issues to run by-election campaigns on. That would definitely help ttheir chances of holding their seats.

    I do think Downer is showing a bit too much arrogance, by ignoring Parliamentary duties, to assist his potential Lib successor in Mayo. While I can’t see Labor taking over the Adelaide Hills, the seat is absolutely ripe for a good local independent to have a go. With preferences from Labor, Greens and the last bastion of the Democrats, and a bit of a protest vote against Downer’s departure, I reckon an independent would have a great show. Phil Cleary’s win in Wills, after Bob Hawke quit Parliament, is a good precedent.

  8. It would also be interesting to see what candidates would come out of the woodwork if Labor announced it wouldn’t contest a by-election. Perhaps the Greens could win the seat, a la Michael Organ in Cunningham.

  9. Re: Oakeshott in Lyne – he is a natural conservative and was approached by Brogden to join the Liberal caucus some years ago. I would not be surprised if he ran as a Liberal rather than an independent. I suspect Cr. Nadella has been groomed as the National’s next candidate for some years – I can’t see him being electable. The Liberals have no structure in the electorate but came within a handful of votes in defeating the Nationals at the last 3 cornered contest in 1993.
    Oakeshott would win easily despite his relative lack of presence in the Taree end of the electorate.

  10. Antonio, I agree that Higgins might be interesting. A lot of the support there would have been for Tip, and some of it would have been predicated on the expectation that he would be at least Leader of the Opposition. And the changing demographic muddies the water further.

  11. Have the nats lost party status yet, I know in the last parliament they had to share the CLP member in the NT to keep party status and they lost 2 more last election

    If McGauran P goes that is another one gone if they don’t retain it, also if McGauran J resigns to contest will he be replaced by a Nat senator, as he was elected as one before he turned deeper into the dark side?

    Perhaps as mentioned it may be a super saturday with the date being the date of the court ordered by-election for Frans seat.

    As for waiting after the budget, this could work against the libs with any budget pain directly slated home to them with the former Howard govt copping criticsm from all quarters including the BCA.

  12. If Oakeshott ran as a Lib a lot of his credibility would be gone. He would lose a lot of support.He would still get over the line for the Libs, he is their only chance,but they are not his. He would have nothing to gain. He has the electorate behind him already as an independent.The margin he wins by in the state elections is huge. The thought of Lyne changing from National control is very exciting.Yes bring it on.

  13. Re Antonio #12
    Julian McGauran is VERY unpopular with local Nats, to the extent that they wouldn’t preference him over Labor! Scratch him as a candidate.This is the Chinese year of the Rat! We sure live in interesting times.
    in the East end of the electorate, the Libs have a viable candidate in Peter Boomer who stood in the State election, but was rolled by the independent.
    The Nats don’t seem to have any likely lads.
    I think the ALP will stick with Jane Rowe, although she did disappointingly in the East end, where she’s a former mayor ( perhaps Mark Latham could point out that this isn’t always a blessing.) I’d certainly welcome it, if only because it gives us a chance to recycle the T shirts.

  14. Hold the Mayo.

    What’s John Schumann up to these days?

    Could the Australian Democrats rise phoenix-like from the ashes?

    Crow Eaters seem to like independents.

    Perhaps Nick X could clone himself.


    Whatever the case, the Libs are going to struggle to hold Mayo, thanks largely to Dolly’s arrogance.

  15. On a second thought, when is the Vic redistribution due? I would’t ge suprised if Gippsland resumed its former bucolic status by losing Traralgon and Moe to McMillan and gaining some of the Rural booths towards Leongatha. If this were the case Xtian Zara might well be lured down from his ACT tower. It would unfortunately return me to the realms of the disenfranchised!
    I agree with RBJ #17 that a tough budget might be a + for Rudd & co’s firm govt..see a comment on brumby’s good poll figures being an approval of strong govt.
    Fagin #20 Chappelli might see Nicola Cornes as an awfull warning! He isn’t even as good looking as her.

  16. The primary reason Philip Ruddock is staying on is not because he is concerned about “a nasty factional battle” but rather because he has not interests outside politics. According to Canberra gossip early last year, his wife was reportedly very concerned about “what he would do with himself” were the Libs to lose the election.

  17. I’ve heard that Vaile is not in the best of health, and he’s looking to retire ASAFP. Lyne is ripe for the plucking by the Libs. Demographically, the seat (especially the Hastings/Port Macquarie LGA) is far more Lib-leaning than it used to be.

    Oakeshott would indeed lose support if he ran as the official Lib candidate for Lyne. At state level he attracts a lot of diehard ALP voters, who are happy to vote for a good Independent, but would never vote Lib.

    Gippsland and Lyne will both be tough for the Nats to hold, though both will likely stay in Coalition hands.

    Hopefully Pat Farmer will retire, especially after he spat the dummy after the Nov election (and nearly losing his seat – oh so close!). Since he held it by a whisker, the Libs will not want Macarthur voters going to a by-election any time soon. Farmer will probably hold out until 2010.

  18. Jayne -you probably know the demographics of Lyne better than I do. The reason that I thought that there was a possibhility that the seat would fall to the Liberals is because the Liberal Party has been very successful at taking seats off retiring Nationals of late and also because it was my understanding that Vaile had a tight race in winning the seat from the Liberals on his first election in 1993.

    But I agree with you about Oakeshott. I think, like Windsor and Andren, he’d be very hard to beat if he’s so popular locally

    Greensborough Growler-I doubt Nelson would retire if he got rolled from the leadership. He’s too ambitious -my suspicion would be that he’ll remain in Parliament and try to consolidate his party base so he can make a comeback to the leadership like Peacock and Howard did. And Petro Georgiou’s retirement is, I think, likely. If not, he’ll probably get rolled by Frydenberg at the next pre-selection. Frydenberg has probably been in non-stop campaigning mode for Kooyong ever since he lost his last pre-selection

    There are few other potential retirees. The list could include David Hawker, the former Speaker of the Parliament and John Forrest, the National MP for Mallee. Forrest was supposed to have retired at either the last election or the election before but the Nationals allegedly persuaded him to stay because they were concerned of losing his seat to the Liberals. Hawker’s career never amounted to much before he became Speaker and I think more ambitious Liberals have previously made efforts to dislodge him from this seat. Now that he’s lost the speakership, I think he’ll probably quit at the next election -if not earlier. Paul Neville, National MP for Hinkler, is another distinct retirement possibility and hopefully Labor can ran a credible challenger for his seat next time around.

  19. Edward Downer (Alex’s son) is the logical successor for Mayo.

    This would be the 4th generation of Downers to sit in the Federal parliament.

    The ‘born to rule’ mentality would be alive and well.

  20. After watching Australian story on Monday night I think Nicole Cornes should run for Mayo. She is certainly a seasoned campaigner now! Since I’m heading that way and I joined the ALP in Higgins in 1972, I might stand there if it’s later in the year.

  21. ec- I think Dolly’s got a few chickens coming home to roost. The AWB criminal investigation, asking George W to let out Hicks just after the election and bungling foreign policy by ignoring our region to be Bush’s lap-dog in the Middle East are just the start.

  22. Diogenes,
    And they are just some of the things we know about.
    Imagine what’s been covered up, lurking around waiting to be revealed with a little probing?

  23. How come Bruce Scott from Maranoa hasn’t been tapped on the shoulder. Surely with the pizzling the Ironingborg has copped in the State parliament this week he’d be glad to run for a Federal seat.

  24. It’s hard to see how they lost the election with such an outstandingly talented bunch of incumbents and possible successors. The choices are mindboggling.

  25. The Nats always fear losing seats to the Libs when a three-cornered contest is on.
    This happened relatvely recently in Victoria/southern NSW, when the Libs took Murray from the Nats (when Bruce Lloyd retired)and Farrer (when Tim Fischer retired). As another person has remarked, John Forrest in Mallee has been under pressure to stay on for the Nats, even though he’s getting on in years, so the Libs (or an independent) can’t get the seat. It all augurs unwell for the Nats in Gippsland if Peter McGauran goes.

  26. All the best to the ICC, it’d be nice to see Howard, Bush and Blair get what they deserve.

    Word on the street is that Mckewan will be heard by the Federal Court shortly.

  27. scaper –
    thanks for that.
    No idea what the (greens) party positon will be, but seems like a visionary and strategic approach to a long term problem.
    I’ll forward this to some people who may be interested.
    Good for you.

  28. For those interested in the machinations of the Liberal pre selection process especially in Higgins, Andrew Landeryou has run a series of posts today that (allegedly) expose all the intrigue. I found it a great gob smacking read.

    If you are up for it, the comments add some more. However, as usual, there is a lot of rubbish.


  29. re Gippsland even if a redistibution shifted all the Latrobe valley into the one
    seat which do not think is likely….. then the byelection would occur on the
    current boundaries
    a series of byelections & the 2011 election could leave the national party with 5 seats only

  30. Fulvio Sammut @ 36

    The mere mention of Albrechtsen’s name makes my skin crawl and feel dirty.

    Wonder if she has any political aspirations? Probably won’t find a party far enough to the right to suit her.

  31. “ec- I think Dolly’s got a few chickens coming home to roost.”

    Absolutely, Diogenes. There was talk around the traps a little while back of Eddixinder running for S.A. parliament, but those rooster-chickens might start a fire in his hen-house that’ll smoke-out, if not snuff his raging political ambitions, ektually.
    Such a fwightful shame weally after all he’s done for the Australian people. And, lest we forget, those pesky little oil-grubbing Timorese.

    ‘Tennyrate, Lord Downer’s no natural for vox populi radio, because he can’t relate to typical Aussies beyond a quick grab.
    However I’d venture he’s a tewwibly big hit still in Clubs Adelaide and Melbourne.

  32. Fulvio @36

    Albrechtsen’s fulmination about individuals she identifies as ‘elites’ is tedious.

    Here is a big problem with lightweight columnists such as JA, AB, GM, MD and GH: they’ve never been disciplined enough to sit down and carefully devise for themselves a coherent set of definitions for the sneer tags they (routinely) apply to their opponents. Tags such as ‘elite’, ‘politically correct’, ‘leftist’ and ‘progressive’. So when they attempt to maintain some kind of confected rage about ‘intellectuals’ and the ‘patronising dismissal’ of ‘average Australians’ and ‘aspirationalism’ perpetrated by these ‘out of touch’ individuals, all we hear is un-thought-out waffle, high in emotion, low in rigour.

    When I have more time I will write a little java applet to pluck key words and phrases such as ‘left’, ‘left wing’, ‘communist’, ‘Marxism’ etc. out of the tired, repetitive diatribes penned by JA and her ilk, so that they can be reassembled in a sort of 1950s beige tableaux with fedoras and picket fences and …

  33. I think Niccole cornes would would be a bad idea for Mayo. Stick her on the senate at number 2 next time if you have to, but not a by election. First impressions are hard to change. And alot of people don’t watch Australian story or the abc for that matter. I think Mia Handshin would be better personally. Isnt she the area where sturt ends and Mayo begins? Anywhom she is one of Labor’s star candidates that isn’t tainted by the advertisers slander and would look good media wise.

  34. #36:

    I write the same post to Janet’s blog every time: “As a Director of the ABC you have no place expressing political bias so publicly.”

    Never gets published, of course…

  35. 48
    Bushfire Bill Says:
    February 27th, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    I write the same post to Janet’s blog every time: “As a Director of the ABC you have no place expressing political bias so publicly.”

    Never gets published, of course…

    Every time somebody clicks on one of these articles. It registers such

    They care not if you agree or disagree they are just after clicks (same as buys in deadwood editions)

    by viewing them and even more so by responding you are encouraging them and the owners to keep them as employees

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