Thrilling news for by-election fans: Peter McGauran, who has held the eastern Victorian seat of Gippsland for the Nationals since 1983, has told the Herald-Sun he will announce his retirement today, confirming rumours of the past week. It has long been thought that McGauran’s departure could see the electorate go the way of Murray and Farrer, which were gained by the Liberals when long-serving Nationals members retired in 1996 and 2001. Unlike those seats however, Gippsland could conceivably be won by Labor: indeed, Rick Wallace of The Australian is reporting that Nationals internal polling has Labor in front. According to Wallace, the Nationals candidate is certain to be Darren Chester, an adviser to state party leader Peter Ryan. The Liberals are said to have found a prospective candidate from the Latrobe Valley, but we aren’t told who. There were earlier suggestions the nomination might go to McGauran’s Senator brother Julian, who defected from the Nationals to the Liberals in January 2006, or state upper house MP Phil Davis. No word to my knowledge on any Labor hopefuls. Michael Harvey of the Herald-Sun reports the by-election is likely to be held in early June.
It seems that this might not initiate the flood of resignations and ensuing super Saturday of by-elections which had been discussed earlier. Rick Wallace of The Australian reported on Tuesday that while McGauran was being tempted to take a job as chief executive of Thoroughbred Breeders Australia, Peter Costello for one was planning on holding his fire for a while longer. Several reports have spoken of Brendan Nelson urging all concerned to stay around until after the budget, in the hope that spending cuts will improve the Coalition’s electoral position. Interesting also to relate a rumour from reader B.S. Fairman that the Australian Electoral Commission would prefer to avoid holding multiple by-elections in a given state on the same day, due to the number of casual staff that would need to be hired.