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. lizzie@48

    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?

    You are probably in a situation where you will get fixed wireless which will be better than what you have now, better than satellite, but not as good as FTTP. If Turnbull goes ahead with his madness, you will probably be better off than a lot of FTTN customers.

  2. Clive Palmer ‏@CliveFPalmer 27m

    Big question on my twitter stream at moment why did Clive Palmer tweet this photo? Who is Sarena Russo? I have just asked as not from Queensland?
    Can any smart Poll Bludger enlighten me please

  3. An objective look at the last 6 years, by Ross Gittins.
    [Rather than blame all its troubles on the three years of Rudd-Gillard infighting, or keep telling itself its policies were good, Labor needs to reflect deeply on why its execution of policy fell so far short of the Hawke-Keating example.

    A fair bit of the reason is its failure to unceasingly explain and justify its policies and instead rely on wet-behind-the-ears spin doctors and dodgy taxpayer-funded ad campaigns.]

    Read more:

  4. [57…Compact Crank]

    Merkel is only nominally a conservative….really, she’s an orthodox centrist who would be quite repelled by the posture of the LNP.

  5. If activists only use advertising/word of mouth to promote boycotts – no physical restraint of trade etc – then surely, SURELY, that’s an example of freedom of speech?

    Where’s George Brandis yelling from the rooftops about not restricting freedom of speech? Where’s the campaign from the Australian? Where’s the IPA defending the rights of people to get their views into the public domain?

  6. lizzie@55

    An objective look at the last 6 years, by Ross Gittins.

    Rather than blame all its troubles on the three years of Rudd-Gillard infighting, or keep telling itself its policies were good, Labor needs to reflect deeply on why its execution of policy fell so far short of the Hawke-Keating example.

    A fair bit of the reason is its failure to unceasingly explain and justify its policies and instead rely on wet-behind-the-ears spin doctors and dodgy taxpayer-funded ad campaigns.

    Read more:

    I don’t entirely agree with Gittins, particularly his swipe at the Whitlam Govt.

    Whitlam actually did certain things in an exemplary manner. He set out the policy program an ALP Govt would pursue and he sold it relentlessly for many years prior to the ALP Govt being elected in 1972. By then, ‘The Program’ was well accepted by the electorate.

    ‘Organisational Change Management’ is taught in universities and is something Governments should pay heed to. It is about how to implement change in an effective manner by properly communicating it and gaining acceptance. I am sure there would be many public servants who would know how this should be accomplished, but apparently few, if any, former Labor staffers.

  7. mari

    Perhaps we could ask ru what he thinks when he is around. He may have a clear idea as to the message clive is sending. If you notice the image was taken some time ago.

  8. mari

    One thing I am certain of, is Clive has sent that image for a very specifid reason. If Oldfield is saying move on, nothing to see here. Well we can be sure that the opposite is true.
    We always said that clive knew where the bodies were buried.

  9. [The war in Afghanistan was one in 2000]

    The Afghan War was in very late 2001.

    [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.]

    Heh. “Hardening”

    Gillard announced releasing Asylum seekers en masse onto the mainland for “onshore processing”

    Labor can’t hold a single message when it came to boat arrivals. They would announce people were going to Nauru… then the next month they announce.. no no wait… you are all going to the mainland on bridging visas now.

  10. shellbell
    Posted Monday, September 23, 2013 at 10:07 am | PERMALINK
    Whatever David Oldfield says, do the opposite.

    Posted Monday, September 23, 2013 at 10:08 am | PERMALINK

    Spot on

    Which we are doing, love to know what it is about

    RUA where are you??

  11. When Paul Jones became the accidental member for Indi in 1928, it gave the dissident Billy Hughes the one extra vote he needed to bring down the Bruce-Page Government in the House of Reps in 1929.

    That in turn led to the election of the Scullin Government, which immediately bore the full brunt of the Great Depression. Labor was out of office for a decade.

    If Bruce and co had copped the Depression, Labor might well have emerged as Australia’s saviour and the natural party of government. All because a Country Party member forgot to nominate!

  12. Paul Keating Ex-PM‏@PmPaulKeating4m
    To broaden Cabinet’s experience, Abbott told all to work a day in different Department. Pyne/Hunt walked into own Offices by mistake

  13. On the previous thread Socrates made an observation about the ABS being reluctant to accept “left field” responses to questions.

    My response to this is not to play their game at all. I have not filled out a census form since 1981 and have not had a problem ever – no follow up from the ABS in any shape or form other than the collectors turning up a couple of times to ask for it.

    The census is a complete waste of money as most of the information is gathered in their regular small sample surveys and by other data collection. Indeed Australia is, I believe, unique is having a full census at 5 year intervals and a large proportion of OECD countries have abandoned the traditional census altogether eg Germany or postponed them for lack of funding.

    There’s a cost cutting exercise the LNP could look at.

  14. mari@70

    Many thanks Victoria (65)
    showed on preview as copied and pasted but then didn’t???

    Mari, that is the case with many sites. I run into it all the time when researching my archaeology websites.

    There are a number of workarounds.

    If you use Chrome, you can view/developer/developer tools

    This drops you into a window where you can open the images on a site.

    Go through the image folder till you find the one you want, click on the URL which will open it in a new tab.

    Either right click if that works for your PC, or I hold down the control key, while clicking the mouse with the cursor over the image.

    There are other more esoteric workarounds which I have had to resort to, but that gets most of the images you want to copy.

  15. Lizzie @62 Air pollution (particulates and non-CO2 gases) is a completely different issue from CO@ Emmissions causing climate change. If environmentalists want to target that then go your hardest – but saying that it justifies reducing CO2 emmissions is a political spin message and the average voter knows that.

  16. [61


    The big question is does Abbott have an offer for indonesia in exchange for their compliance?]

    Yes….will SBY give Abbott much of what he wants? If Abbott mishandles this, and Indonesia respond by withdrawing their cooperation, then it will be all over for the LNP’s AS policies. If Indonesia – along with Malaysia, Thailand and Bangladesh – decide that Abbott is going to be a headache and they cease their efforts to disrupt human trafficking to Australia, we could soon see dozens of boats every week.

    Abbott has been very rash so far. He has adopted a militaristic posture on immigration and raised the same kind of expectations in relation to wider Defence policy. They have also signaled their opposition to increased investment by Indonesia in Australian agriculture.

    If Indonesia decide this is all objectionable, they are very likely to give Abbott nothing much at all. We will soon see.

  17. The census is a complete waste of money as most of the information is gathered in their regular small sample surveys and by other data collection.

    As with all sampling/polling, these ‘small sample surveys’ need to be periodically checked to see if they are getting reliably diverse samples. The best way to do this is with a census.

    Governments (and many other things) work best with accurate information.

    Getting priggish about filling in an anonymous survey accurately doesn’t do you or anyone else any credit.

    If you take issue with a particular question, like the religion question, fine – don’t fill it in or do something silly – but don’t undermine the entire census, that doesn’t serve the interests of the public at all.

  18. Don 81
    Thank you I am on Chrome, first time it has even happened to me, but have been on android for a fair while just come back onto the laptop

  19. The delightful Michaelia Cash has stuffed up on her door sign – listing all her positions in the Parliament the final one being Minister for Woman.

    Maybe she is echoing the wishes of her leader – not all “women” but only one “woman”just like the Ministry.

  20. mari

    Btw Sarina Russo grew up in Brisbane. Dont know where she is based now though.

    Clive is doing what is good for clive. Nothing more nothing less.

  21. mtbw

    I found it very funny indeed. Btw did you know that Ms Cash is married to brother of Matt Price, journo who passed away far too young.

  22. briefly @83

    [adopted a militaristic posture on immigration]


    Border control is completely different to immigration.

    The military was invovled in Border Control operations for the whole of the ALP debacle.

  23. Cranky

    [The research suggests that the benefits of cuts to air pollution from curbing fossil-fuel use justify action alone – even without other climate impacts such as more extreme weather and sea-level rise.]

    I post for interest, not political spin, and saying the “average voter knows that” is not sustainable.

  24. 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.

    and Direct Action is in part about planting trees.

    I guess the idea would be to cut down the old forest trees to make room and make land available for the Green Army to plant trees.

  25. briefy,

    We have already been seeing dozens of Indonesia’s boats violating our sovereignty every week under Labor.

    Abbott doesn’t need Indonesia’s permission to turn back their boats, we just do it because they are violating our sovereign borders.

    We don’t need Indonesia’s permission to buy their old fishing boats, we just do it because Indonesia is an open capatalist country and we are free to buy whatever we want there(though land purchases are usually restricted)

    The only part of Abbots plan that would need approval would be paying for information leading to the arrest of people smugglers in Indonesia as it would useless without the support of the Indonesian police (who are already in bed with the people smugglers BTW)

    Indonesia must start respecting Australia’s sovereignty and help us stop them from sending hundreds upon hundreds of their boats into our waters if we are to respect theirs.

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