Fisher by-election preview

Tomorrow’s by-election to pick a successor for the late independent veteran Bob Such offers the Liberals an opportunity to recover a seat it considers its own, but a new independent may yet thwart them.

A state by-election will be held in South Australia tomorrow in the electorate of Fisher, a naturally Liberal-leaning seat which has been in independent hands since 2000, and looks a strong chance of remaining so after tomorrow. The electorate encompasses suburbs around the Happy Valley Reservoir on the inland edge of southern Adelaide, including O’Halloran Hill to its west and Aberfoyle Park to its east, and extends eastwards into lightly populated Adelaide Hills territory from Coromandel East south to Clarendon. The seat has been vacated by the death on October 11 of Bob Such, who came to the seat as a Liberal in 1989, but quit the party in 2000 and retained the seat as an independent thereafter.

Fisher was created with the redistribution that followed the electoral reform of 1970 and held for the Liberals for its first 15 years by Stan Evans. The redistribution ahead of the 1985 election markedly changed its complexion by moving it into the suburbs of Adelaide, turning it from a safe Liberal to a marginal seat. This caused Evans to take his business to neighbouring Davenport where he challenged future Premier Dean Brown first for Liberal preselection, and then successfully at the election as an independent Liberal candidate. Fisher meanwhile was won for Labor by Philip Tyler, who was unseated at the following election in 1989 by Bob Such.

After strengthening his grip on the seat in the 1993 landslide, Such became Employment and Training Minister in the new government, but was dumped when John Olsen deposed Dean Brown as leader in November 1996. In early 2002 he quit the Liberal Party citing general disillusionment over the Olsen government’s style, but he was said to have been particularly put out by a lack of party support when challenged for preselection by former federal Kingston MP Susan Jeanes, who went on to win the Liberal endorsement in his absence. Such easily prevailed at the March 2002 election with 34.6% of the primary vote against 30.9% for Jeanes, a gap that widened to 13.1% after Labor preferences. In what may have proved a costly mistake, the Liberals had issued a punitive preference ticket which put Such behind Labor.

When the election left the three independents holding the balance of power, Such won favour with his constituents by issuing questionnaires seeking advice on how he should handle the situation. Given that Hammond MP Peter Lewis had decided to back Labor, voters overwhelmingly favoured Such lining up behind the Rann government for the sake of stability. The Kerin government was ultimately brought down by Such’s decision to abstain from a confidence motion when parliament resumed in March 2002, obviating the need for Peter Lewis to exercise his casting vote as the newly appointed Speaker.

Rann proved keenly sensitive to the importance of good relations with Such during the government’s first term, sending him on a trade mission to Paris shortly after the election and eventually securing him the Deputy Speaker’s position. In April 2005 he went one better, replacing fellow independent Peter Lewis in the Speaker’s chair when Lewis resigned pending a no-confidence motion. Like Lewis, Such had long coveted the job as a Liberal MP, having accepted Labor’s nomination when the Olsen government lost its majority at the 1997 election. When the prospect was raised of Lewis being removed from parliament altogether, Such declared he would not back a change of government if the Liberals recovered Lewis’s seat at a by-election. Such nonetheless lost the position after Labor secured a clear majority at the 2006 election, when he was succeeded by Playford MP Jack Snelling.

Together with fellow independent Geoff Brock, member for the Port Pirie-based seat of Frome, Such’s re-election at the March 2014 election resulted in a hung parliament with Labor on 23 seats and the Liberals on 22. Less than a week after polling day, with the outcome of the election still unresolved, Such announced he was taking leave to receive treatment for what proved to be a brain tumour. This left Brock with little choice but to support Labor to remain in government, notwithstanding the blow to their legitimacy caused by the Liberals’ 53-47 win on the statewide two-party vote.

Any prospect that a win for the Liberals in a Fisher by-election might cause the matter to be revisited was negated when former Liberal leader Martin Hamilton-Smith quit the party to take up a position in the ministry. Furthermore, a poll published in The Advertiser on Tuesday suggested that the Liberals face in a formidable challenge from independent candidate Daniel Woodyatt, who was on 30% of the primary vote against 34% for the Liberals and 21% for Labor, suggesting he would win the seat on Labor preferences.

My more in-depth view of the by-election’s political context can be found in today’s Crikey. The candidates in ballot paper order:

Heidi Harris (Liberal). Harris is a former hotel manager and staffer to Liberal front-bencher Duncan McFetridge, member for the Glenelg-based seat of Morphett, who ran unsuccessfully in Elder at the 2002 election. She also ran for preselection in Fisher before the March election, but was defeated by Sam Duluk, who had the backing of Iain Evans and the Right faction. According to InDaily, Such’s desire to keep the seat out of the faction’s hands, a product of emnities going back to the time of his departure from the Liberal Party in 2000, motivated him to seek another term at a time when he might otherwise have retired. This partly explained Harris’s victory in the preselection ahead of the Right-backed Helen Ronson, described as a “local community worker”.

Jeanie Walker (Independent Australian Democrats). Walker has used the three words South Australia’s electoral legislation allows independents to identify their cause to signal her association with a party that no longer even has registration in South Australia.

Nat Cook (Labor). Cook is the executive director of the Sammy D Foundation, which “encourages youth to reach their maximum life potential”.

Rob de Jonge (Independent).

Bob Couch (Stop Population Growth Now).

Dan Woodyatt (Independent Continue Such’s Legacy). Woodyatt is a 35-year-old lawyer at the Crown Solicitor’s office. While he carries a certain amount of baggage as a former active ALP member, he has crucially received the public endorsement of Such’s wife, a point smartly emphasised by his self-description on the ballot paper.

Malwina Wyra (Greens).

Dan Golding (Independent Honest True Local).

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.

17 comments on “Fisher by-election preview”

  1. Thanks William.

    This race is interesting because of the potential aftermath. While the Weatherill Government will still be safe if the Liberals win, there will be increased pressure on it and, certainly, a lot of spin predicting its downfall.

    However, I think the bigger issue is that, if Dan Woodyatt (who I see as Heidi Harris’ only realistic threat) wins, there will be a lot of pressure on the Liberals and, in particular, the leadership of Steven Marshall. After the upset of the election in March, they expect universal anger (“baseball bats” – a term often used nowadays) but that might not be there. Although, rather ironically, if ALP support has dropped low, it could cause Cook to fall 3rd and her preferences to get Woodyatt elected (similar to Frome in 2009). However, that scenario would require a bit of disillusion in the Liberals too.

    An Advertiser poll was held, giving a bit of hope to Woodyatt:

    However, this is an Advertiser poll (I don’t think they’re that accurate) and the “voted at the previous election” numbers don’t match with the actual numbers at the previous election, so I wouldn’t put too much faith in it.

    However, the recent attacks on Woodyatt by Liberal supporters and Family First (who are doing their best to redefine themselves as nothing more than a front for conservative Liberals – at least in SA) which, frankly, smack of desperation, suggest there’s a genuine fear of Woodyatt.

    While the prudent analyst in me suggests that it’s still the Liberals’ to lose, I am really strongly inclined to lean towards Woodyatt and, going against my normal cautious nature, I predict him to win tomorrow.

  2. I had totally given this away as a Liberal gain, until I read hpw much they were targeting Woodyatt.

    CM – do you think the Libs are unintentionally just raising Dan Woodyatt’s profile and uinintentionally helping him?

    Link to Electoral Commission SA site, with map

    Drove back way from Maclaren Vale possibly while 1985 campaign was on – many of those suburban areas were very new I think. First of three times I have been in Adelaide during SA election campaign (last 2 with non-Labor spouse who has often remarked on the coincidence!)

  3. The Libs are really getting desperate – just saw on 9 news

    Body language! You can see when Steve Marshall is asked the questions about this letter – he has a very slight little smirk on one side of his lips while he is denying knowledge of it.

    Apparently they have now admitted that they did pay to print and distribute that “letter from a Liberal supporter” – just a pity that it doesn’t say so anywhere on the letter!

    Again – the stupidity of giving Woodyatt more publicity and making your own side look shonky!

  4. Finally found one article on by-election on Advertiser website (yesterday’s editorial). Is there anything in today’s paper version? I wonder if they will cover ‘pamhpletgate’ above in tomorrow’s?

    Turnout will be interesting. Antony Green’s stats on NSW and WA show an average of around 80%, but highest in rural electorates, and lowest in inner city ones. Fisher is more the “Three Bears” type electorate looking at that map.

  5. On the issue of the 2018 redistribution mentioned – it is hard to see how the map can be redrawn to help “rebalance” the votes v seats of the Liberals, unless you start making strange shaped electorates in the way the Republican State legislatures in the USA seem so fond of in Federal redistributions.

    Maybe the only way to solve such a geographical maldistibution is to change to some sort of proportional representation, perhaps with multimember “mega” divisions.

  6. The “independent Democrat” is female. Her main web presence seems to be a Facebook page. She’ll be at pretty short odds to come last.

  7. Very interesting that Robert Brokenshire, former Liberal MP and minister and now a Family First member of the Legislative Council, has been the chief spear thrower for the Liberals’ dirty tricks campaign in this by-election.

    He first implied that Nat Cook’s anti-violence foundation had received funds unethically from the Weatherill Government and later alleged that Dan Woodyatt had been the drummer in a band which promoted Nazism.

    The ABC’s Matt and Dave scoffed at the idea that Woodyatt was now independent of the ALP.

    And the Libs found a former Bob Such staffer who claimed that Heidi Harris was a natural successor to someone who ditched the Liberal Party to become an independent.

    Meanwhile, Lyn Such is sticking to her guns that Woodyatt is the man, and will be campaigning hard for him today.

    Hearing four candidates interviewed by Matt and Dave, I though Nat Cook and Malwina Wyra were a cut above the others, with Dan Woodyatt OK and Heidi Harris very defensive and uncertain.

  8. If only the fairness police was allowed to do redistributions at by-elections everything could be guaranteed to be correct and fair.

  9. The ABC’s Matt and Dave delight in being players. At the State election, they had a Weatherill v Marshall debate, where they produced a ‘gotcha’ against Weatherill, obviously pre-arranged with Marshall.

    In their candidates debate for Fisher, they again produced a ‘gotcha’, this time against Woodyat and they have continued attacking him in their usual concerned, disingenuous way.

    No evidence it came from the Liberals, of course, heaven forbid the thought.

  10. Presumably the indicative count will be Labor v Liberal. If Woodyatt polls strongly, we probably won’t know the winner tonight.

  11. Anybody on the ground there (either as a voter or volunteer) who’d like to give some primary feedback?

    Right now, I am reading tweets from the ground but most are by party members/supporters and are pretty biased.

    On HTVs, it appears the Greens are not guiding their voters to preference in any particular order (most of those votes will still flow to Cook or Woodyatt over Harris)

    And it appears that The Liberals have taken advantage of Harris’ ballot position and are recommending the donkey vote on their HTVs.

    Well this is what I’ve worked out from various tweets. I might be misinformed.

  12. [If only the fairness police was allowed to do redistributions at by-elections everything could be guaranteed to be correct and fair.]

    While normally I’d just let your pathetic trolling bounce right on to the keeper, I will indulge you this once and point out that the fairness clause (that you are so clumsily referencing) actually favours the Liberals right now and will do moreso at the next election.

    Perhaps if you learned to appeal to voters in Adelaide, instead of preaching to the choir in the country, you’d win. Stop expecting the electorate to change for you!

  13. Carey Moore
    It seems that tonight for some reason ESJ(if there is such a person) is making a reappaerance with the usual stupid comments

    where has he been for some mionths… perhaps Israel ? he would be at home harrassaing defenceless Palestinians there

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