While it’s hard to go past Cory Bernadi as the most single distasteful member of the Coalition partyroom, Sophie Mirabella is a dishonorable mention. But, safely ensconced in the uber-conservative seat of Indi, there had been essentially nothing progressives can do about her. Stuck slightly outside the day-trip belt of two state capitals and Canberra, Liberals and Nationals have been comfortably winning state and federal seats in the area since, well, forever.
Most were “country gentlemen” of one kind or another; the barrister Lou Lieberman was perhaps the most prominent of the lot, with a succession of ministries in the Hamer and Thompson state governments, before transferring to federal parliament in the early 1990s and serving a decade as a backbencher. He retired in 2001, Mirabella (then Panopoulos) was installed, with considerable assistance from Melbourne Liberal Party HQ, as I understand it.
While Mirabella’s seat has remained extremely safe, it’s worth noting that her primary vote has been dropping considerably over time. However, despite the best efforts of Labor stalwart Zuvele Leschen, that vote has not gone directly to Labor. In 2010, the Greens picked up 9.5% of the primary vote, and an independent, Alan Lappin, picked up nearly 6%. While some of this comes back to Labor, Mirabella retained 52% of the primary vote in 2010 and the 2PP result was still a whopping 60-40, roughly where it has been (with the exception of 2004 where Mirabella won a ridiculous 66% 2PP) for the last decade and a half.
But, this time around, things might be much more interesting.
Mirabella has managed to involve herself in an ugly stoush between the staff, CEO, and councillors on the Wangaratta City Council. Her personal life before becoming an MP has also been the subject of legal action, with the estate of her former partner contested by his adult children. On this matter, I’m not drawing any conclusions, and I am not at all convinced that the reporting of it was legitimately of public interest. But, nevertheless, it has been publicized, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it influences some people’s opinion of Mirabella and their willingness to vote for alternatives.
But what’s getting people seriously contemplating the possibility of Mirabella being knocked off in Indi is the campaign of Cathy McGowan. McGowan looks like a pretty credible candidate; local, runs a rural consulting business, holder of an AO for “service to the community through raising awareness of and stimulating debate about issues affecting women in regional, rural and remote areas.”, worked in PNG for a time, former electorate officer for Lou Lieberman’s predecessor Ewen Cameron. The two policies she’s announced include support for the current NBN architecture, and indeed more government action to improve telecommunications throughout the electorate, and support to achieve better access to GPs in rural areas. Does this make her a raging lefty? Hardly. But possibly somebody that left-of-center parties could work with, and a heck of an improvement (not least, for the long-neglected citizens of Indi) over Mirabella.
So, what are her chances? Stephen Mayne (a supporter of McGowan’s campaign) has stated on Twitter that he’s heard that she’s polling “in the twenties”. That’s enough to make things very interesting, but not enough to guarantee Mirabella’s defeat.
My guess is that while Labor voters will be very happy to preference McGowan over Mirabella, as will Greens voters, McGowan is not directing preferences and it is likely that many of those who will vote for her will ultimately preference Mirabella over the Labor candidate Robyn Walsh. If, after preferences, it comes down to Mirabella and Walsh, Mirabella will win comfortably. The only plausible scenario for Mirabella to be unseated is that after the preferences of the minor party candidates are allocated, McGowan is ahead of Walsh.
To make this happen, it would be best if Greens voters directed their second preference to McGowan rather than Walsh. Depending on how the numbers pan out, Labor may also be better off running dead in Indi, or if not running dead, concentrating any advertising on Mirabella’s negatives and thus depressing her vote, rather than attempting to bump up the vote of their own candidate.
For what it’s worth, I’m still very skeptical that this will actually happen. The voters of Indi reflexively vote conservative, even for dolts like state MP for Benambra Bill Tilley. But it’s going to be entertaining, nonetheless.