Seat of the week: Indi

A review of the circumstances which caused Tony Abbott to enter the government formation process a female cabinet minister short.

Bordered to the north by the Murray River, the electorate of Indi covers an area of northern Victoria including Wangaratta, Benalla and the border town of Wodonga. It produced one of the biggest boilovers of the 2013 election with the defeat of cabinet minister-in-waiting Sophie Mirabella at the hands of conservative independent Cathy McGowan, whose win marked the first time since 1931 that the seat was not in the hands of one of the main coalition parties. Indi has existed without interruption since federation and only ever won by Labor in 1910, 1914, 1928 (when Labor’s Paul Jones was elected unopposed after Country Party incumbent Robert Cook forgot to nominate) and 1929, from which time it shifted decisively to the conservatives. It was thereafter fought over between the Country Party and the Liberal Party (together with its predecessor the United Australia Party), the member from 1937 to 1949 being Country Party titan John “Black Jack” McEwen, who moved to the new seat of Murray with the expansion of parliament in 1949. The Nationals last held the seat in 1977, when their incumbent Mac Holten was defeated by Liberal candidate Ewen Cameron on Labor preferences. The Nationals contested in 2001 when Cameron’s successor Lou Lieberman retired, but managed only 12.3%.

The new Liberal member in 2001 was Sophie Panopoulos, a barrister and Australians for Constititutional Monarchy activist. Panopoulos married in 2006 and assumed her husband’s surname of Mirabella. Mirabella became noted for her aggressive parliamentary style, and was promoted to shadow cabinet in the innovation, industry, science and research portfolio when Tony Abbott became leader in December 2009. McGowan’s challenge to Mirabella arose out of a local activist group called Voice for Indi, which initially declared itself set on “improving the political process in the electorate” rather than mounting an electoral challenge. The group says it resolved to field a candidate after Mirabella gave their concerns short shrift, informing them that the real concerns of her constituents aligned with her party leader’s oft-repeated soundbites.

The candidate nominated by Voice for Indi was Cathy McGowan, a rural affairs consultant and former regional councillor for the Victorian Farmers Federation who had once worked for Liberal member Ewen Cameron. With McGowan to rally behind, the organisation proved adept at fund-raising and use of social media, and it soon became apparent that it was succeeding in tapping into a perception that Mirabella was a Melburnian careerist with an insufficient connection to the local area. McGowan’s profile was further lifted when retiring New England independent Tony Windsor told the ABC’s Insiders program that the “nasty” Mirabella was the person he would least miss in politics, and that McGowan was an “excellent independent” whose campaign he might lend support.

Also lending McGowan support was Ken Jasper, who served Wangaratta and surrounding areas in state parliament for 34 years, retiring as member for Murray Valley at the 2010 election. McGowan appeared to benefit from friction between the coalition parties spilling over from the contest for Mallee, which the Liberals were seeking to win upon the retirement of Nationals member John Forrest. Reports indicated that local Nationals had been quietly told they would not face disciplinary action if they lent support to McGowan.

McGowan went on to prevail after polling 31.2% to Mirabella’s 44.7%, which was down from 51.8% in 2010. This left McGowan well clear of the Labor candidate on 11.6%, down from 28.2%, and she was narrowly able to close the primary vote gap after picking up 79% of Labor and minor party preferences.

NB: Hat tip to Ben Raue at The Tally Room, whose Google Earth maps I’m using for the electoral boundaries displayed in the map above. Raue does tremendous work on his blog and deserves donations. Note also that you can get a slightly bigger image of the above map by clicking on it.

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.

1,337 comments on “Seat of the week: Indi”

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  1. Good morning Dawn Patrollers.
    Here we go! Lets hope the board members unload on Turnbull big time.
    I wonder if Apple has the contract for advising us on boat arrivals.
    Now why doea this comment not come as a surprise?
    Ah yes, the highly resprected “backbone of the community” at work. Absolutely disgusting in so many ways!
    Another AS brain fart to upset Indonesia. Nice work, Tone.
    John Hewson likens the Coalition to a rugby club.
    The parcel stops with Hunt holding it when the music stops. You will look like a real dick to the international community, Greg. Not that you need any more help!
    We will propbaly start hearing from Morriscum and his toy general how they have been stopping the boats. At Chistmas Island!

  2. Gee there are a lot of disheartening things in the world this morning: the US gun lobby spouting nonsense, bleatings of climate change denialists around the globe in response to their distorted perceptions of what the IPCC report will say.

    And worst of all, the almost unthinkable evil perpetrated by Islamic fundamentalists in Peshawar and Nairobi.

    Interestingly, the one common thread in all of these continuing outrages) is moronic, macho males who all possess very small penises (the last part is clearly only a surmise, but one feels it has a basis in fact).

  3. Morning all. Thanks BK as always.

    Regarding boat immigrants, we always look at it from our point of view, and some foolishly assume the arrival flow is only a response to our policy. But of course, there are external causes. The war in Afghanistan was one in 2000, and the end of the Sri Lankan civil war another in 2009/10. Both can be seen in the graph in this APH article on the issue.

    Yet neither event explains the extraordinary rise in arrivals in the ast year, as the same graph shows. Something major changed in this period, despite a hardening of Labor policy. Does anyone have a view on what it is? Humanitarian debates side, we will never get effective policy unless we understand the cause of the problem.

  4. From the UK but of relevance here. Especially since we both enjoy the presence of Rupert.

    [However despicable their tactics, the spin-doctors are not the real story here

    As we have learned via the Leveson Inquiry and Nick Davies’ book Flat Earth News, the root cause of this lies in the cosy complicity that exists between politicians and the media. Both sides can become so giddy via their association with an elite that judgement flies out of the window……the ever increasing cynicism toward politicians and the inexorable decline in most newspaper circulations. They only have themselves to blame]

  5. Reading William’s article o Indi, Mirrabella’s achievement in defeat really is remarkable. She suffered a 7.1% swing against her, as Abbott gained an overall 3% swing to the Libs. Despite complaints about her spending too much time in Canberra, no other shadow cabinet member got even close to this result. Sophie, this one is on you. Even Jayme Diaz did better 🙂

  6. Socrates

    Lordy, that is an easy one.

    Intolerable lack of personal religious and ethical freedoms combined with endemic corruption combined with a grossly prejudical laws and behaviours towards girls, women and gays combined with extreme poverty combined with little or no hope for the future combined with being part of a minority group targetted with violence, combined with a general lack of the rule of law, combined with targetted property destruction, rape and reduced or zero economic opportunity.

    In this context I note that, with the active connivance of the US, Pakistan has just released from custody the No 2 Taliban leader so that he can bring some order to the retreat negotiations currently being undertaken by the US, Australia and sundry others of the Alliance.

    It should not be too difficult to find numerous references by Labor, Liberal and Bludger Libots telling us what a dastardly group of terrorist thugs the Taliban are.

    Which is true, of course. So, having won the war in Afghanistan, having stayed the course, why are we negotiating with them?

  7. Malcolm Turnbull gets a vote of confidence.

    [Entire NBN board resigns

    The board of NBN Co has offered to resign en masse, falling on their sword amid suggestions they do not have the confidence of the incoming government.

    The chairwoman Siobhan McKenna submitted her resignation to the Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, along with the rest of the board. ]

  8. meher baba

    [And worst of all, the almost unthinkable evil perpetrated by Islamic fundamentalists in Peshawar and Nairobi.]

    It’s horrendous, obviously, but testimony to what happens when brutal inequality is allowed to bear down without let or hindrance on humanity. All manner of misanthropy (including homicidal psychopathology) comes gushing forth.

    “The Boys” (what a telling name! ) are a consequence of very serious social system failure. Bleating about “almost unthinkable evil” can’t possibly change that.

    [Interestingly, the one common thread in all of these continuing outrages) is moronic, macho males who all possess very small penises (the last part is clearly only a surmise, but one feels it has a basis in fact).]

    I don’t know where to start with that one. OK, just picking a spot at random …

    I do wonder why you chose that particular epithet. In western culture I suppose, much is made of the status of penis size in authenticating masculinity and its virtues. In Latin, the stem vir (which relates to fertility — cf: virus; cf (also) the early shoots on a plant signifying its incipient growth into a plant and alluding to the penis) refers to men, so there’s a long history there. The authenticity seems to be bound up with the capacity to procreate and spread one’s ‘essence’ amongst the populace.

    It’s a really old and rather reactionary/elitist view bound up with what most would now regard as reactionary and gender exclusive iterations of masculinity.

    I don’t know the penis sizes of those leading or supporting “the boys” are, but I doubt that they are measurably different from that of the population of the region as a whole. Your choice of epithet however, speaks to the much larger problem of masculinity in a context in which the mass of the populace remains powerless. That you who condemn their conduct remain a vehicle for this idea speaks to the work we who favour the emancipation of all of working and marginalised humanity must yet do.

  9. [A review of the circumstances which caused Tony Abbott to enter the government formation process a female cabinet minister short.]


    Morning all, always good to start the day with a laugh!

  10. [The first boat of asylum seekers to arrive under the Abbott Government’s watch has put a hole in its efforts to shut down how much information about boats is made public.

    The boat, believed to be an Indonesian fishing vessel, was escorted into Christmas Island’s Flying Fish Cove late yesterday by HMAS Maitland.

    But unlike previous arrivals, the Government did not make the latest arrival public. Instead, Christmas Island residents revealed the boat’s presence.]

  11. confessions

    Christmas Islanders routinely destroyed attempts by the Labor Government to play silly buggers with the truth. I was rather hopeful that they would do the same with the Liberal Government. And they have come through.

    Christmas Islanders! Christmas Islanders! Christmas Islanders! Oi! Oi! Oi!

  12. OC:

    (sorry if this is a double post — 8.00 crikey blues …)

    [What were you smoking last night?]

    I never smoke, but my lungs were at capacity with the promise of human possibility.

  13. On the ‘will Sophie accept the reasons for her defeat?’ question, check out this interview (audio) with one of her supporters —

    (Go to bottom of article for link)

    To summarise:

    1. It’s because Sophie was a Shadow Minister.

    — there were people in more marginal seats who were Ministers/Shadow Ministers and are still there.

    — SM’s get more resources allocated to them to help them be a SM and to continue looking after their electorate.

    2. It’s because all the other candidates ganged up on her.

    — apparently, in no other electorate in the country, in the history of Australia, have other candidates run with the intention of getting rid of the incumbent.

    3. It’s because she was outspoken, and her critics were abusive.

    — love this one. Mirabella being ‘abrasive’ shows she’s strong and is a Good Thing; people being critical of Mirabella, however, are just Teh Evil.

  14. OC

    [Sorry I didn’t realise that you didn’t start the discussion on penis size.]

    Fair enough. I should add that I have never started a discussion on penis size in any place. I find such banter to be utterly banal and a grievous insult to intellect. Mostly, I just shake my head in disgust when someone introduces the topic. Occasionally, I let them know how much scorn they’ve invited by their commentary.

  15. “@gordonthomsonci: State Secret # 5: Refugee boat, Cahaya Baru, = new radiance, disembarked approx 33 men women and children late this afternoon Christmas Is.”


    [It may be too late already, but Ziggy Switkowski needs to ask himself why the previous incumbents have all run away. It is not, I suggest, because the new shareholder is an unpleasant or unreasonable person, or because they are all members of the Society of Fibre Fanatics.

    It is because there is a large problem at the heart of the Coalition’s NBN policy. The key difference to the project that has come with the change of shareholder is not that two-thirds of the connections will be copper instead of fibre, which will make it cheaper and a bit slower. It is that competition will be allowed.]
    . . . .
    [If David Teoh is allowed to have the apartment buildings in the cities, then the Malcolm Turnbull/Ziggy Switkowski NBN will simply be an unprofitable competitor on price in the cities and an unprofitable, supplier of fibre to the node services to rural Australia.

    It will, in short, be a donkey, a money sinkhole, a political noose, and an end-of-career nightmare for a mild-mannered nuclear physicist who might end up wishing he’d stayed at the opera.]

  17. I wonder how long it will be before the “No surprises” “No Excuses” mob will put a meida ban on contacts between CI and Oz in the name of National Security?

    It amused me last night to see one of our regulars suggest caution on criticising the conservatives in their attempts to “stop the boats” on the grounds that Labor also had the same policy.

    Sorry, I am not that forgiving.

    Viable solutions by Labor were dismissed out of hand by the conservatives for purely political purposes.

    Abbott knew he was on a winner with many and to now suggest Labor should somehow ignore this cynical exploitation for the some kind of unilateral approach just does not wash with me.

    The whole move to cloak the boat issue in secrecy and the conservatives’ favourite “national security” bit is just more of the same we have had from them for the past 3 years at least.

  18. Boerwar:

    I just love that the mainstream media still seem puzzled that the old ways of controlling release of information are no longer effective.

  19. [I wonder how long it will be before the “No surprises” “No Excuses” mob will put a meida ban on contacts between CI and Oz in the name of National Security?]

    The govt can’t stop individuals posting information on Facebook, pinterest, twitter etc without inviting a storm of crap. 🙂

  20. Talking of CI, I did hear the Administrator on local radio here a few months ago.

    I think it was mentioned he was a Labor appointee.

    He will, undoubtedly, be told to pack his bags soon.

    No surprises, no excuses.

  21. Confessions

    If Iran can wipe out Facebook and Twitter – not to mention what China can do, why would we think, in the name of “national security” the mob we have now would not do the same?

    It would be dressed up as an “operational decision” by the Three Star Poddle General, but the result would be the same.

    Sorry, but my level of trust in governments in general is at an all time low, and in this one we have now, zero.

  22. Just discussing with OH the inequality of NBN service which will now be installed under Turnbull.

    Returning to market forces will mean that once again cities will have privilege – which means that my semi-rural area will never see it. Just like sewerage.

    OH said – if we wanted to protest about the lack of sewerage in our area, we could go and sh!t on the steps of Parliament. How can we protest against the lack of NBN?

  23. Tricot:

    I’m sure they’d love to try if it starts to compromise their efforts to keep boats secret. I just think they’ll make the situation worse by ramping up attention to it.

  24. And speaking of which from ABC on line news…….

    “Christmas Island Administrator Jon Stanhope says he will have to reconsider his position if told not to speak publicly about boat arrivals.”

    There you have. Sack top end public servants who you don’t like. Or, force people out who may not see governance in quite the same way as yourself – NBN board and the above administrator.

    How weak were Labor back then to play the magnanimous role of allowing top public servants to stay in their jobs and given sinecures to former conservative pollies?

    How nasty are things turning just three weeks after the election?

  25. lizzie@39

    Just discussing with OH the inequality of NBN service which will now be installed under Turnbull.

    Returning to market forces will mean that once again cities will have privilege – which means that my semi-rural area will never see it. Just like sewerage.

    OH said – if we wanted to protest about the lack of sewerage in our area, we could go and sh!t on the steps of Parliament. How can we protest against the lack of NBN?

    I think you will probably not be much affected by the changes to the NBN. You were probably going to get it via wireless or satellite and That is not the parts that are changing according to the Libs mad scheme.

  26. [“Christmas Island Administrator Jon Stanhope says he will have to reconsider his position if told not to speak publicly about boat arrivals.”]

    Good on him. Its a basic democratic duty on all public servants not to comply with government attempts to censor or conceal the truth, and we should encourage all navy and DIAC personnel to do the same, and protect them as whistleblowers and heroes of public truth.

    And if you dont like that Morrison & Abbott, well too bad chumps: you piss off to Fiji if that’s yer attitude.

  27. I’m starting to think they’re really thick – or just serial fantasists who think this all takes place on a big game board, and doesn’t really involve other governments.

    Doesn’t affect the game boards being played by Teh Men, anyway.

  28. I do not live in the boondooks. We are 3 km from a Telstra exchange, and 4 km from piped natural gas and sewerage.

    My complaint is a general one for poorer, non-business clients who will be unable to afford the full NBN connection and will be disadvantaged.

    It is also a criticism of Liberal policy which always seems to encourage a concentration on cities, not the decentralisation which would have been stimulated by NBN equality.

    I wonder if the Nats will show their teeth on this?

  29. From today’s Australian

    I don’t recall this being mentioned prior to the election – unless it was on the IPA agenda being implemented.

    I’ve repeatedly said here that Abbott will move to shut down opposition/dissent. My bet is he also moves to make it harder for unions to donate to political parties – maybe requiring secret ballots of all members and a 75% vote in favour or something similar for any donation. He will also make it easier for the mega-wealthy to make undisclosed donations.

    This is not a ‘liberal’ party – it is a crypto-fascist mob that will seek to silence dissent, manage the economy for the benefit of allies and the mega-wealthy, favour party members, pander to social conservatives and bigots and have its own media arm propaganda unit spout patent lies about its performance.

    It is time to start an international boycott of Australia.


    CONSERVATION groups seeking boycotts of products linked to alleged poor environmental practices may soon be liable for prosecution under consumer law.

    The move, which could severely hamper market-based campaigns by groups such as Markets for Change and GetUp!, is to be pursued by the Abbott government.

    Parliamentary secretary for agriculture Richard Colbeck told The Australian the move would prevent green groups from holding companies to ransom in their markets.

    “We’ll be looking at the way some of the environmental groups work because we are very concerned about some of the activities they conduct in the markets,” Senator Colbeck said. “They have exemptions for secondary boycott activities under the Consumer and Competition Act. We are going to have a complete review of the act.

    “And one of the things I’d be looking at would be to bring a level playing field back so that environment groups are required to comply with the same requirements as business and industry.”

    The move has strong backing within the Liberal and Nationals parties, as well as among sections of the ALP, concerned about groups targeting the customers of timber and agricultural products in campaigns against old-growth logging and live-animal exports.

    Section 45D of the act prevents action to hinder or prevent a third person supplying goods to, or buying them from, another person. The law restrains business from unfair dealings and trade unions from dragging third parties into industrial disputes via sympathy strikes or trade boycotts. However, section 45DA exempts people from the secondary boycott provisions if their actions are “substantially related to environmental or consumer protection”.

    The timber industry has long complained about green groups organising boycotts and campaigns to pressure their customers not to accept products sourced from so-called high-conservation-value forests. The tactic has been used successfully in Australia and in Japan to pressure timber companies such as Gunns and Ta Ann to shift out of contentious forest areas and to adopt top-flight green certification. Senator Colbeck also told The Australian the Coalition would push ahead with its policy to ask UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee to rescind the recent Gillard government listing of an additional 100,000ha of Tasmania’s forests. “That was our commitment to the Tasmanian people and we intend to carry through with our commitments,” he said.

    “So we will sit down with our departments and work through processes, as far as that is concerned, and look to see how we go about doing it.”

    He was not swayed by calls from the timber industry – including the CFMEU forest union, Ta Ann and the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania – for the policy to be scrapped because it would jeopardise environmentalists’ support for the sector.

    The Tasmanian Forest Agreement – a landmark peace deal three years in the making – has seen the peak green groups join industry on joint trade missions to win back markets lost during the so-called forest wars. However, signatories to the deal fear seeking to unwind the World Heritage listing at the heart of the agreement would destroy it.

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