Midweek mélange

New fronts open in the Liberal Party’s internal warfare as it scrambles to prepare for an election looking increasingly to be in May.

As we wait for the 2019 polling machine to get cranking, a review of recent happenings:

• Indigenous leader Warren Mundine is to be installed as the new Liberal candidate for the marginal seat of Gilmore in southern New South Wales, supplanting the existing candidate, Grant Schultz, by decree of the party’s state executive acting at the behest of the Prime Minister. Schultz promptly quit the Liberal Party when the news broke yesterday and announced he would run as an independent. Schultz’s dumping was also blasted by Shelley Hancock, member for the corresponding state seat of South Coast, who spoke of “one of the darkest days of the Liberal Party”. A local real estate agent and son of the late Alby Schultz, former member for Hume, Schultz was preparing a challenge to the preselection of incumbent Ann Sudmalis last year, and was the only remaining nominee after she announced her retirement in September. Mundine was national president of the ALP in 2006 and 2007, but quit the party in 2012 and moved ever further into the conservative orbit thereafter. It is expected the seat will be contested for the Nationals by Katrina Hodgkinson, former state member for Burrinjuck and Cootamundra.

• Following Kelly O’Dwyer’s retirement announcement on the weekend, it appears accepted within the Liberal Party that it needs to pick a woman to succeed her. Katie Allen, a paediatrician and medical researcher who ran unsuccessfully in Prahran at the November state election, has confirmed she will nominate. Michael Koziol of The Age reports other names being discussed include Caroline Elliott, state party vice-president and daughter of businessman John Elliott, and Margaret Fitzherbert, who lost her upper house seat for Southern Metropolitan region at the state election. Senator Jane Hume has reportedly encouraged to put her name forward, but announced yesterday she would not do so.

• Anne Webster, founder of young mother support organisation Zoe Support, was chosen as the Nationals candidate for Mallee at a local preselection vote on Saturday. Webster will succeed one-term member Andrew Broad, who announced his impending retirement last month after he became embroiled in the “sugar baby” affair. Rachel Baxendale of The Australian reports Webster won in the second round of voting over Birchip accountant and farmer Bernadette Hogan and Mildura police domestic violence taskforce head Paul Matheson, with three other candidates excluded in the first round.

• Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie has announced she will not contest the lower house seat of Indi, contrary to expectations she would do so if independent incumbent Cathy McGowan announced her retirement, which she did last weekend.

• Two notable independents have emerged to challenge Tony Abbott in Warringah: Alice Thompson, a KPMG manager who worked in the Prime Minister’s Office under Malcolm Turnbull, and Susan Moylan-Coombs, founder and director of indigenous advocacy organisation the Gaimaragal Group.

The age of entitlement

Prospects for the states’ seat entitlements in the medium term, and the Coalition’s chances of having any left to their name in Victoria after the coming election.

Essential Research should be breaking the New Year polling drought this week. Until then, three things:

• I have taken a look at state population growth trends to ascertain what the states’ House of Representatives seat entitlements are likely to be when the matter is determined a year after the next election. The table below shows how the numbers looked at the determinations following the 2013 and 2016 elections, how they are right now, and where they are headed according to current trends. Note the exact size of the House of Representatives depends on the vagaries of how these numbers are rounded: it will increase to 151 at the next election, because the last round decreed extra seats for Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory while penalising only the ever-declining South Australia. Note also that Tasmania is constitutionally entitled to five seats come what may.

2013 2016 2018 2019
NSW 47.39 47.32 47.29 47.24
Victoria 36.78 37.89 38.25 38.57
Queensland 29.75 29.64 29.68 29.73
WA 16.21 15.58 15.37 15.21
SA 10.63 10.42 10.28 10.15
Tasmania 3.25 3.15 3.13 3.10
ACT 2.44 2.54 2.51 2.51
NT 1.56 1.50 1.47 1.44

It appears quite certain Western Australia will lose the sixteenth seat it gained in 2016; that Victoria could potentially gain a seat for the second electoral cycle in a row; that the Northern Territory is in big danger of reverting to one seat after eighteen years with two; and that it’s touch-and-go for the third seat the Australian Capital Territory will gain at the coming election. Western Australia was lucky not to lose a seat last time, and has since fallen well below threshold, while Victoria’s growth rate of 0.3 seats a year leaves it projected to just make it over the line. Northern Territory’s entitlement fell below two after the 2001 election, but parliament came up with a legislative fiddle to preserve its second seat. Its population then went through a period of growth on the back of the resources boom, which has lately been in reverse. The ACT’s numbers tend to wax with Labor governments and wane with Coalition ones, owing to the parties’ respective attitudes to the public service, so the result of the coming election may have a bearing here.

The Australian reports that Cathy McGowan, the independent member for Indi, “will make an announcement about her political future on Monday morning”. One senses the announcement will be that she is not seeking re-election, as the Voices for Indi group that was behind her successful campaigns in 2013 and 2016 has seen fit to anoint her successor: Helen Haines, a Wangaratta-based midwife and rural health researcher. However, McGowan’s position was that she would wait to see who the group chose before deciding, and Haines says she will happily leave the field clear for McGowan if she wants to continue. The unsuccessful candidates included McGowan’s sister, local lawyer Helen McGowan. It is anticipated that Senator Bridget McKenzie, who recently relocated her electorate office to Wodonga, will run for the Nationals if McGowan retires.

• The Nine Network reports Liberal internal polling shows it headed for a near total wipeout in Melbourne, with only Tim Wilson in Goldstein looking good to hang on. However, this was reportedly conducted at the time of the state election, which raises two issues: whether its proximity confused respondents, and why it whoever leaked it should be doing so now in particular.

Poll positioning

Fraught preselections aplenty as the major parties get their houses in order ahead of a looming federal election.

Kicking off a federal election year with an overdue accumulation of preselection news, going back to late November:

• Liberal Party conservative Craig Kelly was last month saved from factional moderate Kent Johns’ preselection challenge in his southern Sydney seat of Hughes, which was widely reported as having decisive support in local party branches. This followed the state executive’s acquiescence to Scott Morrison’s demand that it rubber-stamp preselections for all sitting members of the House of Representatives, also confirming the positions of Jason Falinski in Mackellar, John Alexander in Bennelong and Lucy Wicks in Robertson. Kelly had threatened a week earlier to move to the cross bench if dumped, presumably with a view to contesting the seat as an independent. Malcolm Turnbull stirred the pot by calling on the executive to defy Morrison, noting there had been “such a long debate in the New South Wales Liberal Party about the importance of grass roots membership involvement”. This referred to preselection reforms that had given Johns the edge over Kelly, which had been championed by conservatives and resisted by moderates. Turnbull’s critics noted he raised no concerns when the executive of the Victorian branch guaranteed sitting members’ preselections shortly before he was dumped as Prime Minister.

• The intervention that saved Craig Kelly applied only to lower house members, and was thus of no use to another beleaguered conservative, Senator Jim Molan, who had been relegated a week earlier to the unwinnable fourth position on the Coalition’s ticket. Hollie Hughes and Andrew Bragg were chosen for the top two positions, with the third reserved to the Nationals (who have chosen Perin Davey, owner of a communications consultancy, to succeed retiring incumbent John “Wacka” Williams). Despite anger at the outcome from conservatives in the party and the media, Scott Morrison declined to intervene. Morrison told 2GB that conservatives themselves were to blame for Molan’s defeat in the preselection ballot, as there was “a whole bunch of people in the very conservative part of our party who didn’t show up”.

• Labor’s national executive has chosen Diane Beamer, a former state government minister who held the seats of Badgerys Creek and Mulgoa from 1995 to 2011, to replace Emma Husar in Lindsay. The move scotched Husar’s effort to recant her earlier decision to vacate the seat, after she became embroiled in accusations of bullying and sexual harassment in August. Husar is now suing Buzzfeed over its reporting of the allegations, and is reportedly considering running as an independent. The Liberals have preselected Melissa McIntosh, communications manager for the not-for-profit Wentworth Community Housing.

• The misadventures of Nationals MP Andrew Broad have created an opening in his seat of Mallee, which has been in National/Country Party hands since its creation in 1949, although the Liberals have been competitive when past vacancies have given them the opportunity to contest it. The present status on suggestions the seat will be contested for the Liberals by Peta Credlin, who was raised locally in Wycheproof, is that she is “being encouraged”. There appears to be a view in the Nationals that the position should go to a woman, with Rachel Baxendale of The Australian identifying three potential nominees – Anne Mansell, chief executive of Dried Fruits Australia; Caroline Welsh, chair of the Birchip Cropping Group; and Tanya Chapman, former chair of Citrus Australia – in addition to confirmed starter Anne Warner, a social worker.

• Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie yesterday scotched suggestions that she might run in Mallee. The view is that she is positioning herself to succeeding Cathy McGowan in Indi if she decides not to recontest, having recently relocated her electorate office from Bendigo to one of Indi’s main population centres, Wodonga. The Liberals last month preselected Steven Martin, a Wodonga-based engineer.

• Grant Schultz, Milton real estate agent and son of former Hume MP Alby Schultz, has been preselected as Liberal candidate for Gilmore on New South Wales’ south coast, which the party holds on a delicate margin of 0.7%. The seat is to be vacated by Ann Sudmalis, whose preselection Schultz was preparing to challenge when she announced her retirement in September. It was reported in the South Coast Register that Joanna Gash, who held the seat from 1996 to 2013 and is now the mayor of Shoalhaven (UPDATE: Turns out Gash ceased to be so as of the 2016 election, and is now merely a councillor), declared herself “pissed off” at the local party’s endorsement of Schultz, which passed by forty votes to nine.

• Hawkesbury councillor Sarah Richards has been preselected as the Liberal candidate in Macquarie, where Labor’s Susan Templeman unseated Liberal member Louise Markus in 2016.

Federal election minus six months (probably)

Tales of preselection action from Hughes, Indi, Cowper, Bennelong, Chisholm, Longman and New England.

Roughly six months out from a likely federal election, a gathering storm of preselection action. (Note also the thread below this one on the Victorian election campaign).

Phillip Coorey of the Australian Financial Review reports Scott Morrison has sought to save Craig Kelly from a preselection defeat in Hughes, but that moderate backers of challenger Kent Johns are not to be deterred. According to a source identified as one of his conservative allies, Kelly “has been remiss in looking after his branches and would be lucky to have 25 per cent of the vote”. Quoth a moderate: “As far as the moderates are concerned, Malcolm Turnbull saved Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and Angus Taylor and Kelly last time, and look what they did to him.” Among the quandaries this raises are that Kelly may react to his defeat by moving to the cross-benches, further weakening the already shaky position of the government.

• There have been a few suggestions that Barnaby Joyce may fall foul of a new candidate-vetting process the Nationals have introduced, ostensibly to prevent further Section 44 mishaps. Figures in the party appear to have been putting it about that Joyce might face trouble due to the fear that even after the events of the past year, there remain “skeletons in the closet”. However, inquiries by Richard Ferguson of The Australian suggest that “a few members on the NSW Nationals’ 84-people-strong central council do plan to refuse to endorse Mr Joyce but they are in the minority”.

David Johnston of the Border Mail reports nominees for a Liberal preselection vote for Indi, to be held on December 8, include Steve Martin, project manager for the Mars Petcare Wodonga plant expansion and Seeley International’s relocation from Albury to Wodonga, and Stephen Brooks, a local businessman. Another potential nominee is Greg Mirabella, husband of former member Sophie Mirabella. The seat’s independent member, Cathy McGowan, has not yet committed to seeking another term. The report also raises the possibility that Senator Bridget McKenzie, who is preparing to move her electorate office to Wodonga, might run for the Nationals.

Christian Knight of the Nambucca Guardian reports the Nationals have preselected Patrick Conaghan, a local solicitor who was formerly a police officer and North Sydney councillor, to succeed the retiring Luke Hartsuyker in Cowper. The other candidates were Chris Genders, a newsagent; Jamie Harrison, former Port Macquarie-Hastings councillor and owner of an electrical business; and Judy Plunkett, a Port Macquarie pharmacist. Conaghan appears to have won over half the vote in the first round.

• Labor has recruited Brian Owler, neurosurgeon and former Australian Medical Association president, as its candidate for Bennelong. The party had initially preselected Lyndal Howison, communications manager at the Whitlam Institute and the party’s candidate in 2016, but she agreed to step aside for Owler.

• Gladys Liu, director of Blue Ribbon Consultancy, has been preselected as the Liberal candidate to succeed Julia Banks in Chisholm, having emerged “the clear winner in the field of eight candidates”, according to Liberal sources cited by Benjamin Preiss of The Age. Other candidates included Theo Zographos, a Monash councillor, and Litsa Pillios, an accountant. James Campbell of the Herald Sun reports Liu had backing from party president Michael Kroger and conservative powerbroker Michael Sukkar.

David Alexander of the Pine Rivers Press reports the Liberal National Party has preselected local small businessman Terry Young as its candidate for Longman. The party recorded a portentously weak showing in the seat at the Super Saturday by-election on July 28, for which Young was an unsuccessful preselection candidate.

Not the Wentworth by-election thread

Some preselection news, and a thread for discussion of political matters not directly related to the Wentworth by-election count.

For discussion focused on the count for the Wentworth by-election, which turns out not to have been as over as you thought it was last night, the live results thread is still in action. For general political discussion, I offer the following post, with my usual semi-regular updates of preselection news.

Phillip Coorey of the Australian Financial Review reports a New South Wales Liberal Senate preselection next month is a three-way contest between Jim Molan, Andrew Bragg and Hollie Hughes. Molan found a place in the Senate last December by the grace of Section 44, after securing only the unwinnable seventh position on the Coalition ticket at the 2016 double dissolution, to the chagrin of conservatives including Tony Abbott. Then followed the disqualification of Nationals Senator Fiona Nash, followed by the determination that the sixth candidate on the ticket, the aforesaid Hollie Hughes, was likewise ineligible due to a position she had taken on the Administrative Affairs Tribunal. Now it appears Molan is primed to take top spot, and since the third position is reserved for the Nationals, this leaves two and four to be fought out between Bragg, whose decision to withdraw himself from consideration for preselection in Wentworth is now looking pretty good, and Hughes, whose Section 44 complication is behind her.

• The Port Macquarie News reports three candidates have nominated to succeed retiring Luke Hartsuyker as Nationals candidate for Cowper: Patrick Conaghan, a former police officer and North Sydney councillor who now works locally as a solicitor; Chris Genders, a newsagent; and Jamie Harrison, former Port Macquarie-Hastings councillor and owner of an electrical business.

• The Burnie Advocate reports Gavin Pearce, who has been described as a “farmer and ex-defence force member”, has been preselected as Liberal candidate for Braddon ahead of “Devonport business identity Stacey Sheehan and property developer Kent Townsend”.

More Monday miscellany

A summary of federal preselection developments, much of it relating to Tasmanian Senate tickets.

We’re in an off-week for federal opinion polling, although we may get geographic and demographic breakdowns from Newspoll – the leadership change had broken up their usual schedule of quarterly publication, and they have already published the results from the end of the Turnbull epoch. So here’s a summary of preselection news. Note the post below on the Wentworth by-election, and the one below that on the US mid-terms, courtesy of Adrian Beaumont.

• After successful lobbying from Scott Morrison, Peter Dutton and Mathias Cormann, Richard Colbeck will head the Tasmanian Liberal Senate ticket. Earlier reports indicated he would again be dumped, as he was in 2016 – initially costing him his seat, before he won it back on the countback that resulted from Stephen Parry’s Section 44-related disqualification. Claire Chandler, a conservative backed by Eric Abetz, is number two, with Hobart councillor Tanya Denison number three. The presence of two women on the ticket makes a change from the usual form of the state party, which last had a woman in federal parliament in 2002. Those who missed out included Brett Whiteley, who held Braddon from 2013 to 2016 and failed to win it back in the Super Saturday by-election, and Wendy Summers, political staffer and the sister of David Bushby.

• Tasmanian Labor, on the other hand, has persisted in dumping Senator Lisa Singh to number four, despite her historic success in having below-the-line voters overturn her demotion in 2016. This reflects the party’s persistence in favouring the claim of John Short, state secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, who will be number three. The top two positions go to incumbents of the Left and Right, Carol Brown and Catryna Bilyk.

• Ann Sudmalis’s retirement in the dicey New South Wales seat of Gilmore leaves in the field her prospective preselection challenger, Grant Schultz, a real estate agent and the son of former Hume MP Alby Schultz. However, Mark Kenny of Fairfax reports “the moderate faction of the Liberal Party believes it can retain its hold on the seat and find a replacement for Ms Sudmalis”.

Chris O’Keefe of Nine News reports Hughes MP Craig Kelly has been approached to run in the marginal state seat of East Hills, to smooth over his likely preselection defeat in his existing seat at the hands of Kent Johns. Kelly appeared to scupper his chances when he suggested forgiving Russia for the MH17 disaster was “the price we have to pay” for “good relations going forward”.

• Perin Davey, a Riverina water policy specialist, has won preselection to succeed the retiring John “Wacka” Williams as the Nationals’ New South Wales Senate candidate. The existing coalition agreement gives the Nationals the difficult third position on the ticket, but Joe Kelly of The Australian reports the party is considering breaking away to run its own ticket. To this end it has chosen a full slate of four candidates, rounded out by “small business owner Sam Farraway, Gunnedah Mayor Jamie Chaffey and Wagga-based farmer Paul Cocking”.

• Skye Kakoschke-Moore has been confirmed as the lead South Australian Senate candidate for the Centre Alliance, confirming that Nick Xenophon will stand by the pledge he made at the time of his failed run for state parliament that he would not run at the federal election.