June 26: With two days to go, I’ve promoted this post to the top of the website batting order (scroll to the May 5 entry at the bottom of the post for a general overview). Brendan Nelson today engaged in expectations management on a heroic scale when he predicted Labor would win the by-election, which nobody else other than John Black (see below) seems to expect. The Nationals are sounding rather more optimistic. In a boldly detailed prediction at Australian Policy Online, academic Brian Costar tips the Nationals to gain a 1 per cent swing. Courtesy of Andrew Landeryou comes printed campaign material from the Liberals, Nationals and Labor. The Herald-Sun reports that Liberal how-to-vote cards will not feature images of Brendan Nelson. Below are two late-campaign Liberal attack ads, with another hat-tip due to Landeryou.
June 24: John Black, former Labor senator and chief executive of Australian Development Strategies, sets out the case for his belief that Labor will win the by-election, contrary to the conventional wisdom that the Nationals will retain the seat. The future of Australia Post services in Traralgon continues to generate a surprising volume of column inches, with former Australian Railways Union official and current chamber of commerce president Harvey Pynt appearing in a television commercial to back Rohan Fitzgerald’s campaign on the issue.
June 16: A summary of events since I went quiet a few weeks ago:
A surprisingly modest field of candidates has emerged. In ballot paper order, they are Malcolm McKelvie (Greens); Rohan Fitzgerald (Liberal); Ben Buckley (Liberty and Democracy Party); Darren McCubbin (Labor); Darren Chester (Nationals).
Antony Green has published the definitive guide to next Saturday’s action.
The Greens are refusing to direct preferences to Labor, candidate Malcolm McKelvie declaring there is barely a skerrick of policy daylight between the Australian Labor Party and the Nationals on climate change and clean coal, forestry policy, genetically modified foods and social justice issues.
According to the Latrobe Valley Express, concerns that the two existing Australia Post operations in Traralgon will be rolled into one have dominated the efforts of the Nationals and Liberal candidates during the campaign.
Peter Costello caused a stir last week when he hit the campaign trail in Gippsland, the Herald Sun talking of fresh speculation of a political revival.
Independent Distillers of Australia, representing the makers of pre-mixed drinks, are running local television ads in a bid to turn the by-election into a referendum on the alcopops tax hike. Speaking on ABC Radio’s PM program, Brian Costar of Swinburne University said he couldn’t think of a longer bow to draw to make an association between that ad and the outcome in the by-election. I’m not so sure: if a flannel-shirted wood-chopping Bundy-and-cola pre-mix swiller isn’t the authentic voice of Gippsland, I’d like to know what is.
Here’s Labor’s ad:
The Nationals have adopted a more positive tone in their two YouTube ads, one of the meet-the-candidate variety and another conveying the endorsement of state Nationals leader Peter Ryan:
Liberal candidate Rohan Fitgerald’s ad focuses on climate change, though it’s not clear whether he’s for or against:
P.S.: Courtesy of Andrew Landeryou, another Nationals ad I missed. Landeryou notes it shows Darren Chester doing what few candidates are willing to do normally, appear in their own attack ads.
May 26: Glenn Milne (again) this morning launched a non-story about an edgy arts act which Labor candidate Darren McCubbin had OK’d in his capacity as a local festival director. Brendan Nelson joined in, but it then emerged the festival had received funding from the previous federal government. Andrew Landeryou offers a script in development based on the episode. Highlights:
Peter Ryan: “Hey young one, nice work leaking that review of the gay play put on at the arty farty festival run by that fairy McCubbin. Brilliant idea giving it to Milne too, he’s so needy these days with Cossie out of the picture.”
Ryan (incredulous): “You mean we gave these pervs money when we were in government? We gave taxpayer money to a sex show that was celebrating ‘c*ck-stroking’ and ‘neckophilia’ ?
Acting COS: “That’d be right. George Brandis was Arts Minister too. I think he got sucked in by all those arts wankers.”
Other news: Despite Labor’s prodigious efforts to dampen expectations, they are at least running television advertisements, which can be viewed on the ALP site. The negativity is notably directed entirely at the Nationals, rather than the Liberals. The Liberty and Democracy Party have announce a candidate, well-known local councillor Ben Buckley, who you can read about in comments.
May 12: Glenn Milne reports on the National Party’s by-election focus group research in The Australian:
Down in rural Victoria with an industrial back end that picks up the La Trobe Valley, the good burghers of Gippsland now apparently rank the cost of living as the No1 issue at the impending by-election, according to National Party research. Based on Utting’s work and the Nationals’ own focus groups the battle that is now looming in Gippsland is one about perception. Labor will seek to convince voters that inflation and the cost of living are things largely outside their influence, especially given the context of the US sub-prime mortgage meltdown. The Nationals for their part, will be seeking to drive home the message that the prices buck stops with Rudd. Expect to see ads that feature a laughing image of the Prime Minister with text along the lines of: “To get elected, Labor promised to ease the pressure on working families,” followed by a list of increased prices including petrol, milk, cheese, bread, poultry, fruit, vegetables along with rents, electricity and house prices. Increases in interest rates, and declining consumer and business confidence indices will rightly get a guernsey as well.
May 6: The Nationals have filed a complaint with police after a photographer hired by Labor was caught taking pictures of Darren Chester from a parked car. Rick Wallace of The Australian reports the Nationals believe the photographer was assigned in an attempt to catch out Mr Chester in an inadvertently unflattering pose such as stumbling or scratching himself with the images to be used to ridicule him in campaign ads or brochures (in which case they would presumably have been in a position to file a complaint even if the photographer hadn’t been caught). Labor state secretary Stephen Newnham says the photographer was acting on his own initiative while in the area to take shots of Darren McCubbin, and that his actions were not condoned by the party. Peter Ryan is expected to complain about the incident in state parliament this week.
May 5: The Gippsland federal by-election has been officially set for June 28, the first of what is likely to be a series of unwelcome electoral tests for the opposition. This one follows the departure of the seat’s member since 1983, Howard government Science Minister and (later) Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran, who has quit to take a position as chief executive of Thoroughbred Breeders Australia. The by-election offers the exciting prospect of a three-way contest between the incumbent Nationals, Liberals who hope the seat might go the way of Farrer and Murray in shifting their way on the retirement of a long-serving Nationals member, and an ALP enjoying massive honeymoon leads in all published opinion polls.
The electorate of Gippsland has covered the far east of Victoria since federation, and has been in National/Country Party hands since the party was founded in 1922. Gippsland currently covers the Princes Highway towns of Morwell, Traralgon, Bairnsdale and Orbost, extending north to Maffra and Omeo. The Nationals’ hold appeared to be in serious jeopardy for the first time when the redistribution ahead of the 2004 election added Traralgon and strongly Labor-voting Morwell, a symptom of the region’s relative population decline. This cut the margin from 8.0 per cent to 2.6 per cent, but McGauran was returned in 2004 with a 5.1 per cent swing and suffered a correction of just 1.8 per cent last November.
McGauran’s retirement announcement gave impetus to scheming by Liberal operatives to impose a merger on reluctant state branches of both Coalition parties. This prompted NSW Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan to approach the state independent member for Gippsland East, Craig Ingram, to spur things along by running as a joint Liberal-Nationals candidate. It was concurrently suggested that a similar scheme might involve Rob Oakeshott, ex-Nationals independent member for Port Macquarie in the New South Wales parliament, if Mark Vaile called it a day in Lyne. Ingram admitted to being interested in Heffernan’s proposal, but the state Nationals argued Ingram had demonstrated his unsuitability by helping scuttle the Kennett government in 1999.
In any case, the Nationals were determined that the seat should go to Darren Chester (right), chief-of-staff to state party leader Peter Ryan, who was raised in Sale and lives in Lakes Entrance. Chester was opposed for preselection by 63-year-old former army officer Russell Smith, who reportedly had little support. The by-election marks Chester’s second run for parliament, his first being an unsuccessful run against Craig Ingram at the 2002 state election. He also contested Senate preselection against Peter McGauran’s brother Julian ahead of the 2004 election, but was defeated by 34 votes to 21. Senator McGauran went on to defect to the Liberal Party in January 2006.
Labor at first looked set to re-endorse their candidate from the 2007 election, East Gippsland councillor and two-time mayor Jane Rowe. However, shortly before the preselection was due to be decided by the party’s administrative committee (without reference to locals), Rowe stood aside in favour of Wellington Shire mayor Darren McCubbin (left), who had not previously been a party member. Rick Wallace of The Australian reported that some in the ALP had feared Rowe’s status as a single mother would prove a detriment in the deeply conservative Victorian electorate, although Rowe insisted she had withdrawn so she could devote more time to her daughters. McCubbin’s caused friction with local branch members who backed alternative candidate David Wilson, deputy mayor of Latrobe City, with Duncan Hughes of the Financial Review writing of members being urged by dissidents not to contribute funds to the campaign. There had earlier been talk that Labor had been rebuffed in an approach to Christian Zahra, who held the neighbouring electorate of McMillan from 1998 until 2004 when he fell victim to an unfavourable redistribution and a statewide anti-Labor swing.
The Liberal candidate is 36-year-old Central Gippsland Health Service bureaucrat Rohan Fitzgerald (right), who appears to have been preselected without opposition. There were earlier suggestions that Julian McGauran might seek the nod, but few took them seriously. The Greens have nominated Yarragon doctor Malcolm McKelvie.
Further reading: Possum Comitatus at Crikey charts historical trends in Gippsland and other Coalition seats likely to face by-elections soon, concluding it to be Labor’s best shot out of the bunch (although a poor performance locally at the 2006 state election and a relatively weak swing at the federal election might suggest otherwise). Nick Economou of Monash University concurs the seat is winnable for Labor in an extensive overview of the contest on the 7.30 Report. Malcolm Mackerras argues otherwise, observing that there is no historical support for the notion that federal governments can expect favourable by-election swings during their honeymoon periods (no link located). Peter Brent weighed in at Mumble on April 27. Gerard McManus of the Herald Sun reports Labor internal polling has them on 36 per cent to the Nationals’ 32 per cent and the Liberals’ 19 per cent, which after preferences would mean a comfortable win for the Nationals.