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. Think someone had better find Mark McArdle, the Queensland Liberal Leader and Deputy coalition Leader a Federal seat, after the drubbing he copped in the Queensland parliament today. His CV includes experience with seniors, mortgages and Law firms if anybody wants to nominate him.

  2. If there is a by-election in Lyne, the Liberals will pick that seat up, they came close to winning it in 1993, when Mark Vaile first entered the parliament.

  3. #21

    The next redistribution will have Gippsland expand to incorporate Morwell and maybe Warragul, since the Latrobe valley is declining in population, while McMillian becomes an more outer south-eastern Melbourne electorate, although still hold onto it’s west Gippsland portion.

  4. I bet if the Libs take Lyne the Nationals will just cop it sweet again. Truly, they have no cahones. They should have made a territorial arrangement as the price of Coalition. I guess the ministerial prizes are worth it.

  5. What of the ‘get with the strength’ factor? The canny punter could go for Labor, waltz off the track with a swag of bribes, sorry winnings, from the current purse holders, and if it turns out that they got a nag, turf them out in 2010.

    Considering taking up temporary residence in Mayo, myself. Might get a second chance at making my vote count.

  6. Benalla and Burwood went to the ALP in by-elections after the 1999 election but that was when Bracks was running a minority gov. So they were shoring up the government of the day.

  7. If we’re gonna take our cue from the US primaries, I’d rather not have five of them on the same weekend. What about one every weekend for a month and a half? That’d be much more interesting. Maybe start with Berowra, then move onto Gippsland, then move south to Mayo, then across to Higgins and then finish up in Lyne.

  8. Following William’s link back to an earlier topic and came across this gem.

    the munz of mosman Says:
    October 3rd, 2007 at 10:31 pm
    Many people are attracted to the idea of MT leading the Libs but remember one thing, the hard core of the Victorian branch still believe that they are the natural core of the party. I am willing to bet that the next Lib leader will be from Victoria.]

    It just goes to show that quality counts when you decide to purchase a crystal ball.

  9. My last cost me an effort. And just because nobody, nobody, bothered with me, do not think for one moment that I am sulky, annoyed, impatient, irritable, aggravated, fed up, or should go to bed.

    I am fine, right! Fine!

    I just must have a little sleep.

  10. Crikey Whitey ,

    Sorry to hear about your “relevence deprivation” syndrom, Crikey.

    Have to agree with you, though.

    A little pork here and there can sometimes focus a voter the right way.

    As well, if enough Labor supporters temporarily register in Mayo until after the by-election, then it could make for a fairly hot time for the Libs to hold it.

  11. And, Scorpio, I was attending a funeral, then the wake, which was at my brother’s, Patrick.

    It was intriguing to all, and a source of great speculation, at the wake, talking of our Pollbludger exchange, regarding the Broadway connections. As well, I had given to Pat, at Christmas, a photo of the old Jetty, as it was being torn apart in the storm. In itself, it is a story.

    Must catch you when you are here.

  12. I suspect the timing of resignations has a lot more to do with minimizing tax paid – by waiting until the new financial year – than further embarrassment to Brendan nelson – who seems to be doing a good job of that himself.

  13. Phil Robins @ 7 –
    Don’t know why Rick Wallace thinks Bob Day was an “unlucky” candidate for Makin.

    From what I hear his campaign style riled more voters than it enticed.

    Anyway, Day is known in some sections of Mayo, but for the wrong reason. Last year his company built a house in Mt Barker before getting council approval and its siting endangered an ancient gum of some significance. The local greenies would have a field day.

    This sort of arrogance may not go down as well as it has in the past given Lord Lunchalot’s recent antics. Many of the locals are ‘not happy, Jan.’

  14. Pretty confident Ruddock won’t go, barring the unexpected.
    Agree with many of the other possible departures and in particular, Antonio’s comment about waiting for the budget makes a fair bit of sense.
    But I don’t see how the Coalition can control the timing of by-elections – doesn’t the Government issue the writs? So Labor may well put the one where they think they have the best chance (?Gippsland?) on 2-3 weeks before the rest, in the hope of generating momentum (I know, I’ve been imbibing too much American politics lately).

  15. There have been a few references in this thread to Lyne being close between the Liberals and Nationals when it was last contested by both. That’s an understatement – the Nationals were 2 votes ahead at the final exclusion.

    I understand that the AEC were exceedingly reluctant to split the Latrobe Valley last time but did so because there was no other sensible option (if the Latrobe Valley had stayed in McMillan, Gippsland would have had to have gone round the coast as far as Phillip Island for the numbers to work). Given that you’d expect that they would bring Moe in to join Morwell and Traralgon in Gippsland as soon as the population numbers allowed it. Not sure if that will have happened by the next redistribution though.

  16. All these likely resignations – and here was I believing that good Aussies, when things turned sour, didn’t cut and run.
    I must have misunderstood.

  17. #74 Maybe these MPs ARE the weapons of mass destruction…

    #72 In technically correct terms, the Speaker calls the by-elections (though historically the PM pulls the strings). But it would be very hard to have by-elections on different days if all the resignations came on the same day.

    Fun as it would be, I can’t even see Labor wanting by-elections on different days. It would just cost more, and the government has enough on its plate without running by-election campaigns.

    And on the subject of by-election campaign costs, it would be very smart of Labor not to run candidates in Mayo and (if Vaile quits) Lyne, to help the chances of independents. I really can’t see Labor winning either seat, despite Dolly’s best efforts to piss his electorate off.

  18. re 73
    If you put all of the Latrobe valley in Gippsland…….and labor got a good vote in
    Tralagon then the seat would be alp held most times & probably not winnable
    for the National party at any time

  19. Ahh John (82) if you can’t get Rudd on Burke let’s try another tack. Rudd’s been in 5 minutes and you want to poo poo everything he tries before it even gets off the ground. Can’t you do any better than this?

  20. Gary Bruce, rather than get frustrated with JOM, just revel in the joy of hearing born-to-rule conservatives whingeing and whining. Remember, they cant cope with not being in power and they are not in power anywhere. When their lot was in government it might have been useful to listen to what they had to say. Now you can just ignore it

  21. “When you jump for joy, beware that no one moves the ground from beneath your feet” – Stanislaw Jerzy Lec in “Unkempt Thoughts”.

    Hi Andrew (87), your contribution reminded me of the Polish writer’s salutary admonition.

  22. Well, the Liberals have again turned their back on Howard today with the announcement that they will not be pursuing policies for introducing a nuclear energy industry into this country:

    “THE Federal Opposition has quietly ditched its support for a nuclear power industry in Australia.”


    Regarding Higgins, I was handing out how-to-vote cards at the general election in the Windsor area. Talking to some of the locals, it became quite clear to me that a proportion of those voting Liberal were doing so because of the prominence of Peter Costello and the possibility of him becoming PM. That factor will be gone when Higgins faces a by-election in coming months. And with the Liberals currently polling the way they are, I don’t expect Higgins will be a safe seat for the Liberals any longer.

  23. 91@Noocat

    I think you are reading Higgins correctly except for one thing Windsor is the Liberal’s weakest booth with a TPP of mid 30.

    Higgins even without Peter Costello is a very tough seat for the ALP, while the ALP do well in various places the Liberals more than out do them across Malvern and Glen Iris.

    Knowing the seat very well I know the local’s will not be happy having to return to the polls, alot will depend on the Candidates.

    The local economy is still very strong and the main issues are mostly State and Local based although in saying that Rudd is widly seen as doing a good job.

    I cannot see the ALP picking up Gippsland for at State level the ALP is somewhat struggling, I agree that the whole Lt Trobe valley should be in the one seat, someone suggested the AEC nearly did this but would have pushed Gippsland around to Phillip Island, I would see no problem with this for that is considered West Gippsland.

    I would like the ALP to run Mia in Mayo but would expect the Liberals to hold and would like the Liberals to run Maree Paynes in Berowa.

    The Liberals would hold Menzies in a by-election and considering the Nationals are generally in better shapr than the Liberals I would expect them to hold Lyne unless the popular local independant ran.

  24. Are the submissions from the AEC re the High Court appeal available.

    The transcript seems to say that the AEC opposes any examination of the ballot papers by the two other parties, labor and liberal to the case, also says that the AEC raised a 2nd matter re the election but did not press re the significance of this. There was also mention of 8 dual ballots?

  25. Higgins is like Burwood at the state level….. ie safe for the sitting member but a more open contest on his departure….. the 6% swing in a lot of Vic did not happen in Higgins.
    Re Gippsland
    2004 figures show what was possible 2.7% margin….. a win from that point
    is possible ….. yes labor has problems in the Latrobe valley.. but they won’t
    last forever….. a byelection would be seen as unnecessary
    could Mr Zahra be persuaded to run?….. Govt Honeymoon???

  26. #
    John of Melbourne Says:

    John, Take a Bex and have a lie down. When you feel up to it get out of bed and try and slip back into normal society. If all else fails…take a Bex and have a lie down.

  27. Steve (98) – I love this bit – “Essentially, we now have from the leader of the Liberal Party the defence: ‘I did not have commercial relations with that man’,” Treasurer Andrew Fraser said.

  28. This rash of resignations is hardly surprising, given that most of the former Ministers have been looking lost, shell-shocked, and at a loss for something meaningful to do. Electorate-based MP work just doesn’t cut it when you’ve been feted as a mover and shaker nationally and internationally.

    The timing of the resignations -and of course the by-election outcomes- are the really interesting issues. I agree with other posts that the media dissection of Howard Govt economic management will be a focus after the budget, and that Nelson should be pushing them to jump sooner rather than later to minimise the expected swing to the Rudd government. But Costello, apparently, has to hang on until the end of March, in order to maximise his parliamentary super payout (so I read on PB in the last days of the Howard junta).

    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.

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