Three for all

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.

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.

47 comments on “Three for all”

  1. I’m proud to say Peter McGauran is an old friend of mine. I was a Year 11 student in 1983 when he visited my school in Traralgon with Peter Nixon. He impressed me then and always has.

    I think the Nats are favorites to win the by-election. Their biggest threat is Labor.

    The Nats won Morwell at the last state election, against the odds.

    Darren Chester is a good prospect, but the Nats may be better advised to choose someone from Traralgon – the same conclusion they drew in 1983 when the seat was last at risk.

    Julian McGauran has no hope.

  2. McGauran is taking a job with the Thoroughbred Breeders.

    McGauran was the minister in charge when equine flu swept Australia, one of only two countries in the world EI free, the racing industry warned against privatising the quarantine service but Howard and co went ahead anyway and the response when EI hit Australia was chaotic.

    This will be interesting, aside from EI there is also the water deal finally agreed upon, McGauran has not been a friend to the bush, and there is also his interest in hotels and poker machines at a time when there is a call to cull them.

    As for Costello, don’t know whether it is so much as holding his fire as no-one wants him. A journo had a good article suggesting he had put the banking industry offside so much that he was not wanted.

  3. McGauran’s first response to the crisis.

    “The federal Agriculture Minister is playing down fears of an equine flu virus outbreak among thoroughbred stallions destined for studs across Australia.”

    “A spokesman for Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran says there is no evidence to suggest the three horses have equine flu virus.

    He says often horses coming from overseas run a temperature for a few days, but it is generally due to travel sickness. ”

    Absolutely first class.

  4. Just to correct something, Indi has been held by the Libs since 1977 (Ewen Cameron, Lou Lieberman, Sophie Panopoulos).

    Re Rod’s comment: Peter McGauran is a former minister and will obviously be targeted by the ALP. If Labor selects a good candidate in this seat they are a real chance.

    Peter Ryan (state NP leader, Gippsland South) is a skilled operator though, and I expect him to focus on local issues during the campaign to make sure a Nat wins.

    In my opinion: forget about the Libs.

  5. I’m pretty sceptical about Labor’s chances here. Governments tend to struggle at by-elections. It’s a big ask for the ALP to generate a 6% swing on top of what they achieved at the general election.

    Nonetheless, if the government is still in a honeymoon period they might be pull off such a coup. It’s not without precedent, e.g. Benalla 2000. So it’s certainly worth standing a candidate. (I expect they won’t bother in seats like Mayo or Higgins.) And even a small swing to Labor can make for good PR.

    As for the Lib v Nat battle, it’s interesting to note that the Lib primary vote eclipsed the Nat primary vote in Gippsland East at the last state election. (In fairness, perhaps much of the natural Nat vote when straight to Ingram?) The Liberal candidate at that election, Peter Bommer, is reportedly likely to be their by-election candidate.

  6. What if Labor doesn’t run a candidate? Then would the Libs have a chance? (I admit it’s unlikely that Labor wouldn’t stand a candidate if they had half a chance of winning.)

  7. It is always worthwhile standing a candidate in seats which you don’t hold if the swing is with you at the time, even if you don’t win the seat. Say you cut a 8% seat down to 3%, at the next general election it means the other side is going to have to place more resources into that seat than they otherwise would.

    I can not see the ALP not standing a candidate in the seat. They will have a red hot go in Gippsland, because I expect they think they might have a real chance. After the 1999 state election, the ALP won Benalla in a by-election in like circumstances with a massive swing (+10% if I remember rightly).

  8. * Labor could take a tactical decision to stay out of it to try to promote internal Coalition disharmony. If the Libs and Nats have to beat Labor they will need to maintain some illusion of unity, but if they have only themselves to fight against it could get really ugly.

    * Also interesting to note that Labor’s performance in Gippsland at both federal and state level has been very poor in recent times. If the ALP does stand it might give an indication of whether this is a long-term decline or if they can turn it around.

    * I wonder if there’s time for the Mcewen supp election (if needed) to be organised on the same day?

  9. 10 [Labor could take a tactical decision to stay out of it to try to promote internal Coalition disharmony. If the Libs and Nats have to beat Labor they will need to maintain some illusion of unity, but if they have only themselves to fight against it could get really ugly.]

    MDMConnell, if you think that scenario is ugly, I can assure you it will be far uglier for the conservatives if they happen to lose the seat altogether. Best to cause the coalition disharmony during the campaign and let the conservatives fight over the spoils of defeat later.

  10. Labor will contest the seat.
    By elections normally occur after some years of government, so candidates are able to point to blemishes on the government record – blemishes which are often corrected/compensated for in the normal course of events leading up to the election.
    Thus by elections are usually bad for the Government.
    By elections which occur immediately after elections are a different story.
    The government is in a honeymoon period and the opposition is in disarray (this happens after every change of government, though not usually to the extent it is true at present) – so there were three by elections in the year after Bracks was elected, all of which were won comfortably by the government, including the former Premier and Deputy Premier’s seats.
    Jane Rowe will be the candidate. Labor has a policy in the case of by elections – especially one which closely follows an election – of automatically backing the prior candidate. They would only go to preselection if either that candidate was not interested or they thought there were blots on the candidate’s record which would not stand up to the kind of scrutiny which occurs during a by election or there is another, stand out candidate no sane party would refuse to run.
    So if Jane is interested, she is likely to be the candidate; I am not aware of any flaws in her history and, as a former Mayor, she has some solid credentials.

  11. Gippsland by-election!

    Presuming all the major parties contest the poll this could be rather interesting.

    I would give the ALP a strong chance except if country people are starting to trier of the Brumby Government.

    I’m not so convinced that Morwell was an upset for that set had been somewhat marginal during the 1990s and sitting Governments tend to lose seats not gain them and Peter Ryan has proven to be a very good campaigner and could well be the best leader on the conservate side of politics.

    The smokey could be the Green vote for while we naturally think Green goes to ALP, but if it comes down to Liberal V Nat who would the Greens place first.

  12. 12 GG – Did you read this article? Firstly, it was written by Michael Costello, not a friend of the Liberal Party and secondly, he concludes his article with “I have heard some people ask: When is the Liberal Party going to dump Nelson and put the poor fellow out of his misery? I would ask instead: When is the Liberal Party going to dump Nelson and put the rest of us out of our misery?”
    I’d hate to read an article by Costello criticising Nelson if this is supporting him.

  13. Gary,

    Irony my friend. Most people here are constantly bewailing the anti labor prejudices of the OO writers.

  14. Nelson is probably just doing his bit to fight inflation by discouraging people from going near banks, supermarkets and petrol stations for three weeks.

  15. In defence of “Most people ….constantly bewailing the anti labor prejudices of the OO writers” I think you’ll find these people are well aware of Costello’s contribution because it stands out like a beacon given the pro conservative bias the rest of their journalists display. Surely you can’t deny that.

  16. Craig Ingram defeated Darren Chester at the 2002 state election. Jane Ryan and Chester are both from the eastern end of the electorate.

    If they are their respective party’s candidates the door could be open for the Libs if they select someone from the Latrobe Valley with a high profile.

    I wonder though if the Libs will sit this one out. It might have been part of the deal which saw the state coalition re-established. Just speculating …

  17. Why does labor not rerun Jane Rowe she reduced the Nats from whatever to 7.7% last Nov, I don’t have the actual figures at hand and Peter McGauran’s personal vote should knock off another couple of percent assuming he has any personal appeal I say Labor go for it

  18. Jane Rowe apparently is the frontrunner to win Labor preselection.

    But I’d hardly call a 1.8% swing anything to crow about; particularly in the context of the 2007 election.

  19. Labor would be crazy not to run a candidate, the way they’re travelling. They may not wiln, but they could easily knock off a few perecentage points and make it a real conteat in the next Fed election.

  20. I presume Jane Rowe will be the Labor candidate. But she didn’t really achieve much of a swing in the last election. Gippsland has been a bit anti-Labor lately, due to the State Government’s water policies and a few other things, but I doubt that will have a major influence in the federal poll.

    Darren Chester is very capable, and well-known. It’s really quite a mystery as to whether the Libs would outpoll him.

    In recent years, Labor has been giving its preference to the Nats in three-cornered state parl’t contests in regional Victoria. But you’d expect Labor to have the highest primary vote in a three-cornered contest (or come second at worst), so I don’t think Labor preferences will be a factor.

    Gippsland doesn’t necessarily follow political trends elsewhere.

    I think Labor has a bit of a chance of winning the seat, but it could really go any of three ways. And if Craig Ingram decided he’d like aa stab at Federal politics, well….

  21. RE the 1.8% swing to ALP in 2007 – was the campaign by the ALP a strong one? did they resource it as a serious chance of a gain?

  22. It’s highly unlike the ALP campaign in Gippsland was heavily resourced because they were heavily focusing on the more marginal seats. It will be a contest for so.

  23. Jane Rowe represents Banksia ward which covers the large towns of Bairnsdale and Lake Entrence, if she has a strong following in these communities and the ALP can maximise their vote in the Lt trobe valley then Gippsland could be winnible.

    I’m of the view that Gippsland will go either National or Liberal.

  24. Two bits of info pollbludgers might be interested in over Gippsland.

    Firstly, I was talking to a pollster on Tuesday that isnt one of the big 4 – Gippsland has one of the highest response rates for “Liberal” of any National Party held seat when asked the usual “who will get your first preference”.

    The Nats brand recognition would seem to be a little shithouse down in that area of Mexico, all things considered.

    Secondly, current polling party polling from one of the majors has the ALP in front of the Coalition (combined) by a few points which would be consistent with the public polls.Always keep in mind though that leaked party polling can be bullshit.

  25. In Gippsland, the local Greens really dont like the Nats. Well, that used to be the case.
    I expect their preferences to go to Lib over Nat, unless things have changed (which I doubt).

  26. one could write an essay on Gippsland
    the alp vote in the Latrobe valley which is in this seat has been depressed
    did Mr McGuaran have a personal vote?
    Do voters in this seat want a byelection?
    Rudd’s honeymoon level of support?
    the demographic changes in the non latrobe valley parts of the electorate
    which have not helped the National party
    Mr Ingrams influence?
    All these factors will help decide what happens…. who knows?
    a 6$ swing is required only

  27. Another question Mike – as Mr Mumbles points out here:

    (top page item) – Peter, if you’re reading – get a modern blog you lazy bugger! :mrgreen:

    Why didn’t Gippsland swing back fully in 07 from the anti-Latham swing it had in 04?

    There be swinging voter fat in Gippsland that the ALP hasnt chewed on yet.

  28. There’s an alternative theory that eastern Victoria has trended against Labor in recent times.

    Labor unexpectedly lost Narracan and Morwell at the last state election. Then at the federal level, McMillan and Gippsland produced only the most modest swings to Labor.

    You’re right to ask the question why they didn’t come swinging back more. Perhaps the answer is that there just isn’t very much more “swinging voter fat”.

  29. David, I doubt that in a general election where the resources are thinly stretched and with an entrenched local member an overwhelming effort would have gone into winning Gippsland. A by election allows a more concentrated campaign with a lot more local support from Labor heavyweights and funds, I can see this one being a hard fought campaign.

  30. Rod Says:
    April 4th, 2008 at 2:13 am

    McGauran is taking a job with the Thoroughbred Breeders.


    An AQIS officer, recently in my taxi, declared that McGauran (as Minister) refused to accept departmental recommendations as to quarantine costs, under duress from the Thoroughbred Breeders. The figures he quoted amounted to less than $20/day in quarantine. Mebee the impending release of the investigation has played a part in McGauran’s decision to spit the dummy

  31. A concerted local campaign is hardly an essential component if the swing is on. How much resources would have been poured into Dawson, Leichhardt and Forde?

    Besides, if Labor can step up their involvement at this by-election then so too can the Coalition.

    I am not saying the by-election won’t be close. But recent election results in the region do not provide Labor with great cause for optimism.

  32. David, most of these poor performances have been because of the state party. Not the feds.
    At state level the east has always been conservative.
    Also, now we have the ALP in power federally, they can porkbarrell in gippsland, something they havent been able to do for 12 years.

  33. I grew up in this area and claim to know something about it.

    Sale will vote National even if a rabbit is the candidate.

    East Gippsland will vote for who they think is the best conservative candidate, providing they’re not Liberal or all rabbits.

    Morwell/Churchill will vote Labor unless a rabbit is the Labor candidate.

    Traralgon will vote for the best local candidate.

    Hence: a strong candidate from Traralgon has the best chance regardless of which party they represent. The Nats won Morwell at the state election (against the odds) because their candidate Russell Northe had played for the Maroons (local footy team).

    I hear all the noise for Darren Chester and agree he’s very competent, but in my view Peter Hall MLC would be more likely to win, thereby creating a vacancy for Chester in the state Upper House.

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