Margin: Liberal 11.2%
Region: Fleurieu Peninsula
Click to download SA Electoral Commission boundaries map
Known as Alexandrina until 1993, Finniss has for most of its history consisted of Kangaroo Island, the Fleurieu Peninsula and as much of the mainland beyond as was necessary to make up the numbers (although Kangaroo Island was briefly moved to distant Flinders from 1993 to 1997). Its largest population centre is Victor Harbor on the southern coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula. Incoming retirees have provided a source of population growth over recent decades, resulting in a tendency for the electorate’s mainland holdings over successive redistributions, but the latest redistribution has left it unchanged.
Alexandrina was long held by moderate factional stalwart Ted Chapman, father of Bragg MP and deputy leader Vickie Chapman, who agreed to surrender it in 1992 to facilitate Dean Brown’s return to parliament. Brown had been a leading figure among the moderates since entering parliament in 1973, and was at one stage a member of Steele Hall’s Liberal Movement. In 1985 he lost his seat of Davenport to Stan Evans, a Liberal factional rival who ran against Brown first for Liberal preselection after redistribution weakened his hold on his existing seat of Fisher, and then as an independent Liberal at the election. Brown’s return in Alexandrina was part of a plan by moderates to install him as leader in the stead of John Olsen, who was himself planning a return to state parliament after two years in the Senate with a view to resuming his old position as leader. Brown and Olsen duly won by-elections held on May 9, 1992, Olsen having had the seat of Kavel made available to him by Roger Goldsworthy.
Brown prevailed in the ensuing leadership showdown and duly became Premier when the electorate put Lynn Arnold’s Labor government out of its misery in December 1993. However, his cautious style drew unfavourable comparisons with then Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett, and he was deposed in November 1996 by his old nemesis John Olsen. Brown stood unsuccessfully for the leadership when the Motorola affair compelled Olsen to resign in October 2001, instead winning the deputy position after losing the ballot to compromise candidate Rob Kerin. The leadership team remained intact after the 2002 election defeat, but Evans stood aside in November 2005 and announced he would not contest the next election. There followed a hotly contested preselection won by Kangaroo Island mayor Michael Pengilly (who at 55 was twice the age of his rivals), Victor Harbor mayor Scott Schubert and Vickie Chapman staffer John Gardner, now the member for Morialta. Pengilly won 39 votes against 17 for Schubert and five for Gardner.
Michael Pengilly retained the seat at the March 2006 election without serious incident, notwithstanding a challenge by the Nationals and a 9.4% two-party swing to Labor. A factional moderate, Pengilly won instant promotion to parliamentary secretary, and was elevated to shadow cabinet the following January. However, he was bumped back down to parliamentary status between a September 2008 reshuffle and Isobel Redmond’s ascent to the leadership in July 2009, making way on the former occasion for Hammond MP Adrian Pederick despite having been a supporter of then leader Martin Hamilton-Smith’s leadership bid. He was again dumped after the 2010, this time to the back bench, which was seen as part of a strengthening of ties between Redmond and the Right at the expense of the moderate faction.
Pengilly thereafter established himself as a recurring headache for his party through his apparent inability to distinguish women from animals, having variously said Transport Services Minister Chloe Fox ought to be put down; that Fox’s female staffers had been involved in a catfight; that the then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was a real dog; and that former Kangaroo Island major Jackie Kelly was a dead dog walking. It was also reported that four councils within the Finniss electorate had held a formal meeting with Isobel Redmond to raise concerns about his dealings with them. Redmond agreed with a reporter’s suggestion that she had little confidence in Pengilly, who has refused to rule out running as an independent if dumped.
It was reported that a challenge to Pengilly’s preselection was looming in the shape of Joshua Teague, an Adelaide barrister and son of former Senator Baden Teague. However, Daniel Wills of the Sunday Mail reported he was believed to have been discouraged from running against Mr Pengilly, and could re-emerge in 2018. Also mentioned as a possible successor was Dean Brown’s son, Alex Brown.
All post-redistribution margins are as calculated by Jenni Newton-Farrelly of the South Australian Parliamentary Library. Corrections, complaints and feedback to William Bowe at pollbludger-at-bigpond-dot-com. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.