Victoria and Albert (Park): form guide

The last thing a dedicated election-watcher needs right now is state by-elections, but that is what fate has delivered us following the retirement in late July of Victorian Premier Steve Bracks and his deputy John Thwaites. Voters in their respective electorates of Williamstown and Albert Park will go to the polls on Saturday in contests that lost much of their sting when the Liberal Party decided not to field candidates. This decision was made by the party’s administrative committee to save resources for the federal election, much to the displeasure of state Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu. There was no controversy in regards to Williamstown, which Bracks won last year by a margin of 24.3 per cent, but the 9.7 per cent margin facing the Liberals in Albert Park should not have been off the dial for a by-election involving a third-term government. However, there remains the prospect of a Greens boilover, with the party’s candidate (who is running again this time) having recorded 19.1 per cent last year. The wild card here is the behaviour of the 34.6 per cent who voted Liberal. The Greens vote in Williamstown was 12.4 per cent, which is unlikely to be enough of a springboard to trouble the Labor candidate. This site will follow the count as it occurs on Saturday evening.

Albert Park candidates in ballot paper order:

John Middleton (Greens). A consulting engineer, Middleton also contested Albert Park at the 2006 election, when the Greens vote rose 1.8 per cent to 19.1 per cent.

Prodos Marinakis. A former communist and dogmatic convert to the right, the highly unconventional Marinakis is involved in both community radio and the Celebrate CapitalismTM campaign. He was initially preselected as the Liberal candidate for Richmond at the 2006 election after being the only person to nominate, but the party hierarchy feared he might prove a loose cannon and replaced him with someone guaranteed to stay out of the papers.

John Dobinson. A resident of Balwyn North, Dobinson ran at state and federal elections in the early 1990s, at which time he identified himself as a conservative (UPDATE: See comments for a more up-to-date assessment of Dobinson’s political philosophy from the man himself).

Nigel Strauss. Strauss ran as a Liberals for Forests candidate in the federal seat of Corangamite in 2001. The Age reports he is running on the issue of logging in the Thomson Dam catchment.

Paul Kavanagh (Democrats). An occasional Poll Bludger comments contributor, Kavanagh was the Democrats’ upper house candidate for Southern Metropolitan in 2006. The Democrats site describes him as an “economic and social policy adviser specialising in job creation, older persons’ policy, migrant skills and regional development”.

Shane McCarthy (DLP). McCarthy is a primary school teacher.

Adrian Jackson. Also a candidate in 2006, Jackson was once active in the Liberal Party, which suspended him in 2003 after he banned Americans and Israelis from his Middle Park bed-and-breakfast. He was also a columnist for Jack Pacholli’s quirky Toorak Metropolitan News.

Cameron Eastman (Family First). As Family First’s upper house candidate for Eastern Victoria, Eastman was described in The Age as the “public face” of the party’s state campaign. He is a retired naval officer who “works in a civilian capacity for the Victoria Police”.

Martin Foley (Labor). Foley is chief-of-staff to Police Minister Bob Cameron and a former official with the Left faction Australian Services Union. Andrew Landeryou reports Foley comfortably won the local party vote ahead of 2006 Brighton candidate Jane Shelton and former Port Phillip mayor Liana Thompson (who although factionally non-aligned was said to have backing from Thwaites’ Independents faction), prompting the latter two to withdraw ahead of a second round of voting by the party’s Public Office Selection Committee. Brendan Donohue reported in the Herald Sun that Labor had “spread the rumour” that basketball star Andrew Gaze might be its candidate, without indicating a motive.

The candidates in Williamstown:

Catherine Cumming. The local Star News paper tells us the 34-year-old Maribyrnong councillor is “a doctor of Chinese medicine and a midwife-in-training”.

Janis Rossiter. Another Maribyrnong councillor, the Star News paper says Rossiter (who “refuses to reveal her age”) is “part of the Municipal Association of Victoria’s reference group for Melbourne 2030”.

Janet Rice (Greens). Yet another Maribyrnong councillor. Rice served as mayor last year, and is also chair of the Metropolitan Transport Forum and vice president of the Victorian Local Governance Association.

Wade Noonan (Labor). An official with the Right faction Transport Workers Union, Noonan won preselection ahead of Rhonda Reitveldt, former campaign adviser to Julia Gillard, and Maribyrnong mayor Michael Clarke. This followed a botched attempt to recruit ABC television sports presenter Angela Pippos, which provided an early embarrassment for the new Premier. Pippos was initially receptive, but pulled the pin when the story was leaked shortly before she was due to reach her final decision. Andrew Landeryou reports that Pippos had been approached by Right faction powerbroker Theo Theophanous, reacting to concerns that both nominations would go to male union officials. Brumby got into further trouble by wrongly stating it was Pippos who had approached the party. Late withdrawals from the race included the Premier’s economic adviser Nick Reece, whose initially promising bid reportedly expired after failing to win support from branch members, and Darebin councillor Diana Asmar, who withdrew to give factional colleague Noonan a clear run.

Vern Hughes (DLP). A newcomer to the resurgent DLP, Hughes co-founded the People Power party with Crikey’s Stephen Mayne, which contested last year’s state election. He withdrew from the party six days out from polling day, accusing Mayne of “trivialising” the campaign. Hughes is director of the Centre for Civil Society, and is described on Wikipedia as “an Anglican writer and social commentator”.

Wajde Assaf. Assaf was also a candidate at last year’s election. The Star News reports he is a former Australian Defence Force member who has been on a disability pension since being assaulted five years ago, and was inspired to run by his experience with health system waiting lists.

Veronica Hayes (Family First). A 24-year-old nurse from Camberwell.

Nathan Tavendale. A 29-year-old “information technology specialist” from Altona North.

Vivienne Millington. No substantial information on Millington could be located.

Victoria and Albert (Park)

A black swan day in Victorian politics, with the wholly unheralded news that Premier Steve Bracks and Deputy Premier John Thwaites are calling it a day. Whither the Victorian government? Not my concern (not until 2010, anyway). What matters here is that two by-elections will soon be upon us. The Liberals could be forgiven for taking a pass in Bracks’s seat of Williamstown, as they did in the happier times of 1994 when Bracks replaced Joan Kirner. Thwaites’s seat of Albert Park is quite a different matter. Labor recorded some fairly modest margins in the seat last decade – 5.8 per cent in 1992, 6.4 per cent in 1999. The margin was back inside 10 per cent at last November’s election, which surely counts as striking distance for a by-election involving a third-term government. With the government continuing to travel reasonably well, the reality is that the Liberals will not be at all confident, but shirking this contest is simply not an option.