Can McGowan hand over Indi?


It was reported yesterday that independent MP Cathy McGowan will retire from her seat of Indi at this year’s federal election.

She will be hoping to be succeeded by rural health researcher Helen Haines, who has been endorsed by Voices for Indi, the community group who supported McGowan in winning Indi off the Liberal Party’s Sophie Mirabella in 2013.

There is very little history of independent MPs successfully handing over their seat to a fellow independent, with so much of the appeal of an independent being locked up in that individual. But there are some reasons to think this could be an exception.

Fellow psephologist Kevin Bonham did not find a single case where a retiring independent was succeeded by a fellow independent at a federal election.

Strong independents did contest Calare after Peter Andren’s retirement and death in 2007, and after Tony Windsor’s retirement in 2013, but neither candidate came particularly close to winning.

It is worth noting, however, that there have not been that many federal independent MPs who had been originally elected as an independent, prior to recent examples like McGowan, Wilkie, Phelps, Oakeshott and Windsor.

There are some more examples at a state level, with most of these examples coming from New South Wales.

Dawn Fardell won the 2004 Dubbo by-election after the death of fellow independent Tony McGrane, who had represented the seat since 1999. Fardell was defeated in 2011.

Rob Oakeshott, who had first been elected as a Nationals MP, was re-elected as an independent state MP in 2003 and 2007 before resigning in 2008 to run for the federal by-election in Lyne. His endorsed successor Peter Besseling did win the 2008 Port Macquarie by-election by a much narrower margin before losing in 2011.

Tony Windsor had less success installing a successor at the 2001 Tamworth by-election after his election to the federal seat of New England. Independent candidate James Treloar lost to the Nationals, but another independent Peter Draper did win the seat at the 2003 election.

There are other examples of seats where multiple independents have represented the same seat, but interrupted by a major party. Russell Savage held Mildura from 1996 until his defeat in 2006. That seat was won at last year’s Victorian state election by another independent, Ali Cupper.

There has been some more success in some urban NSW electorates where an independent has built up more of an electoral machine around them (which could be described as a local political party). The Manly independents had extended success in the 1990s and early 2000s, controlling the local council for some time and holding the state seat for four terms. Peter Macdonald held the seat for two terms before handing over to David Barr. This seat was never considered safe, with the margin of victory never bigger than 1.3%.

Clover Moore has been able to achieve success both at the council and state level, and was able to hand over her state seat of Sydney to fellow independent Alex Greenwich at the 2012 by-election, aided by local outrage at state legislation which banned her from holding both the state seat and the lord mayoralty.

There are some reasons to think this could be a good time for McGowan to try to hand her seat over to a fellow independent.

The Voices for Indi group has been relatively successful and organised, and included over 200 people in the preselection process to choose McGowan’s successor, which suggests a local electoral machine which should be able to smooth out the transition. The main rivals for Indi are the Liberal and National parties, who are not in a particularly strong position at the moment.

It will be a big challenge to hand over the seat from McGowan to Haines, but considering the national political context this might be the best time to try.

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  1. NATS gain if Bridget runs here, Other than that IND hold, Its silly to assume the Liberal’s easily get this seat. They almost lost Benambra! But good article Ben

  2. The liberals normally outpoll the Nats……. The Mcgowan organisation must be favoured…….. McGowan always got some nat support……. so all things being equal…. with a swing to Labor esp in Vic…… I predict a close result

  3. SUrely Helen Haines has been endorsed by Voice for Indi. VOice for Indi Looks like a duckish political party, walks like duckish political party, and spiunds like duckish political party.

    The only difference between Voice for Indi and a political party is it is not registered as a political party. All political parties (excluding Parliamentary Parties) start in this way.
    AEC has deregistered large numbers of political parties that one existed. These de-registered political parties have same policies same Constitution and same membership as the previously registered Political Parties.
    The ALP was formed in the 1890’s when during the Shearers Strike at Barcaldine not on 31 May 1984 as is stated on AEC website.
    The Liberal Party was formed in 1949 when formed by Menzies not in June 1984 as stated on AEC website. Political parties are still parties even if registered in no state or territory.

    Andrew Jackson

  4. I think voice of Indi would have been better going with one of the state election independents such as Jacqui Hawkins or Tammy Atkins.

    McKenzie would be a strong candidate for the Nats but I think she should have gone for Mallee as this isn’t really a National Party area although the Nats did gain a swing in the state seat of Euroa which covers part of Indi and have previously held the state seat of Benalla but its been a very long time since the Nats have had a presents around the southern parts of the electorate.

  5. I dont think the Liberal Party will want to stand a candidate this election as the government will be in opposition in 4 months time. No party likes a loser.

  6. At a State level, Manly is an electorate where a second Independent (David Barr) succeeded another (Peter MacDonald after Peter’s two terms) and actually increased the IND majority (2001) and then was re-elected with a further increase at the next election (2004), finally losing to Mike Baird at the third (2007).

    I had long talks with V4I people in Wang over Christmas and New Year, and again early last week in Sydney. If anybody can pull this off, it is V4I.

    The results obtained by Tammy Atkins (IND) in Ovens Valley also gives cause for optimism for Helen Haines.

    Also, the Nationals in NE Victoria might fall under a cloud if the prosecutions against NATs member for Ovens Valley Tim McCurdy produce a conviction and hence a by-election in the next few months- and observers think it WILL happen in the next few months. He’s on 5 charges, 4 of them being criminal. Tammy is preparing for that and could very well become another NE Victoria IND

    There is also the ABN “Anybody but Nationals” group, who are aiming at Nats wherever they run. Their principal target is Barnaby, but they are taking aim elsewhere – V4I thinks they may pop up in Indi. They have recently been raided by ECNSW, so adverse findings from that may cramp their style. This is a test case in the long-running “Third Party vs Associated Entity” saga that has ramifications at NSW and Federal levels.

  7. I still think McGowan’s result last time was pretty overrated – it was not particularly strong given the calibre of her opposition – but this is the election to attempt a transition if she’s serious about it.

    As for the Nationals, I highly doubt they are in serious contention here. They fell well short of overtaking the Liberals last time despite a toxic Liberal candidate and a lot of press, and had a risible result in Shepparton earlier this year. They have major brand damage at the moment both nationally and in Victoria. I would not be at all surprised to see them come fourth.

    For these reasons I doubt McKenzie will run, but on the other hand it’s not as though there are loads of Nationals seats in Victoria for her to choose from if she’s serious. I guess she doesn’t seem to want Mallee, and neither Darren Chester nor Damian Drum seem to be going anywhere, so maybe it’s this or nothing. But I don’t think she wins if she runs.

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