Electorate: Mount Gambier
Margin: Independent 0.4% versus Liberal
Region: Rural South-East
Click to download SA Electoral Commission boundaries map
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Remaining in independent hands at the 2010 election with Don Pegler’s election upon the retirement of Rory McGrath, the electorate of Mount Gambier contains the city of that name in the south-eastern corner of the state, which includes three-quarters of its voters, plus about 2000 square kilometres of the surrounding area. The redistribution has transferred an area in the electorate’s north to MacKillop.
Mount Gambier has existed as an electorate without interruption since the abolition of multi-member districts in 1938, although its name was changed to Gordon from 1993 to 2002. The seat was held by independent John Fletcher from 1938 until his death by suicide in 1958, and was then held for Labor by Ron Ralston until 1962 and Allan Burdon until 1975. The Liberals won the seat for the first time with Harold Allison’s victory in 1975, and he retained the seat until his retirement in 1997, by which time it had transformed to a safe conservative seat. With Allison’s retirement it was generally expected that the Liberal endorsement would go to Grant District Council chairman Rory McEwen, but he suffered a surprise preselection defeat at the hands of Scott Dixon, a local sawmiller. McEwen ran as an independent and won by the narrowest of margins, finishing a handful of votes ahead of Labor to take second place and then squeaking ahead of Dixon on Labor preferences.
McEwen’s win left him holding the balance of power in John Olsen’s post-election minority government, which he pledged to support on matters of confidence and supply. He continued to hold a balance of power position after another indecisive result at the 2002 election, but his position was made redundant by Hammond MP Peter Lewis’s backing of Labor. The following November McEwen became the second independent to be drawn into the government’s orbit when he accepted a specially created fourteenth cabinet post, part of a deal which promised McEwen would retain the position after the 2006 election, to the consternation of ambitious Labor members. McEwen won a third victory at the 2006 election, although his two-party margin over the Liberals shrank from 24.9% to 6.2%.
With McEwen bowing out at the 2010 election, the Liberals endorsed Mount Gambier mayor Steve Perryman, who had not previously been a member of the party and had endorsed McEwen in 2006. Perryman reportedly owed his preselection to concern among members of the Liberal state executive that he would follow in McEwen’s footsteps by winning the seat as an independent if he wasn’t endorsed. This outweighed the preference of local party members for Peter Gandolfi, a former staffer to Dean Brown, John Olsen and Mal Brough and the party’s candidate in 2006. Another contestant at the preselection was Don Pegler, the mayor of Grant District Council, who opted to run as an independent after failing to get the nod. Pegler emerged at the election a surprise winner, his primary vote of 36.0% almost exactly matching McEwen’s in 2006. With Perryman polling 42.6%, Pegler secured enough preferences from Labor and others to emerge the winner at the final count by 161 votes, a margin of 0.4%.
The Liberal candidate this time around is Troy Bell, who is involved in the Independent Learning Centre in Mount Gambier.
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.