One of the surprising dynamics of the last week has been the large number of candidates who have been disendorsed by their party.
From last Monday to Friday there were six candidates from three parties who were disendorsed by their party.
Labor’s Wayne Kurnoth was disendorsed as the party’s #2 Senate candidate in the Northern Territory on Monday. He was joined by One Nation’s Steve Dickson, the party’s #2 Senate candidate in Queensland, on Tuesday.
Jeremy Hearn and Peter Killin, the Liberal candidates for the Victorian seats of Isaacs and Wills respectively, were disendorsed on Thursday. They were joined by Liberal candidate for Lyons Jessica Whelan and Labor candidate for Melbourne Luke Creasey on Friday.
This is in addition to a number of candidates removed before nominations closed, mostly because of section 44 concerns. Quite a few other candidates made it onto the ballot but could face section 44 challenges if they win a seat. The Guardian is keeping a full list of candidates removed, both before and after nominations close.
So what does it mean when a candidate is disendorsed after nominations close?
It doesn’t mean anything to the formal election process. Each candidate remains on the ballot with the name of their former party. They can still receive votes and can theoretically still win election (as in the case of Pauline Hanson in 1996). If they receive more than 4% of the vote then their former party will receive electoral funding for that seat.
I assume that the practical implications will be that their former party will no longer hand out how-to-vote cards for them in that seat. This is likely to be the case in Melbourne and Wills, where the disendorsed candidate had little to no chance of winning. It’s not clear to me what will happen in Isaacs.
It appears that the Liberals in Lyons have swung behind Deanna Hutchinson, the Nationals candidate, although Jessica Whelan will still have the Liberal name on the ballot. It’s not clear what this means, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see a Liberal how-to-vote recommending a vote for the Liberal ticket in the upper house (where the Nationals are running separately) but a vote for the National in the lower house.
There’s nothing that unusual about a candidate being disendorsed after nominations close, but it’s kind of shocking to have six candidates brought down in one week.
The most famous historical case of disendorsement was Pauline Hanson, the Liberal candidate for Oxley in 1996. She went on to win the seat despite the disendorsement, and sat in parliament as an independent before she founded One Nation.
I couldn’t find a list of previous post-nomination disendorsements at the federal level, but there haven’t been many. There are plenty more cases of candidates winning preselection and then being replaced or removed before nominations close. The only other post-nomination case I could find was Family First’s Andrew Quah, who was brought undone by years-old obscene images he had sent via email shortly after nominations closed in 2007.
There were three cases at the recent Victorian state election. Liberal candidates for the Northern Metropolitan region and the seat of Yan Yean were both disendorsed after nominations closed. Labor ran an unsuccessful court case to force the ballot papers to be reprinted, but a court prevented the Liberal Party from handing out a statewide how-to-vote which featured the former Yan Yean candidate on the grounds of it being misleading to refer to her as a Liberal candidate, despite that being printed on the ballot paper.
The Victorian Greens also disendorsed a candidate at the last minute due to serious allegations.
Is there a reason which explains the uptick of cases? Some may blame social media. That certainly can explain the Luke Creasey case – past examples of young men making awful jokes wouldn’t have been captured online to be brought up years hence, but we are now over a decade on from the launch of Facebook and Twitter, leaving a large legacy of historical posting. Yet the other candidates were all older, so I’m not sure it can just be explained that “youthful indiscretions” are now stored online rather than lost.
One possible explanation is that the new focus on section 44 of the constitution is both increasing the strain on the vetting capacity of even the biggest political parties while restricting the pool of candidates for thankless unwinnable campaigns.
The original Liberal candidate for Wills, Vaishali Ghosh, stepped down as the candidate due to concern about her possibly being ineligible due to her right as a person of Indian heritage to live in India. This was not a clear-cut case of ineligibilty, and Ghosh had no chance of winning so it never would have been tested in court. It only caused a problem for the Liberal Party due to the potential for an embarrassing story. Yet there are so many potentially ineligible candidates (hello the Liberal candidate for Canberra) that it is unlikely to have played out as a significant issue. Yet they replaced her with a relatively unvetted member who was then forced to withdraw due to nasty comments he had made about Tim Wilson. They would have done much better to just leave her in the seat.
Section 44 is still far from clear, and it will undoubtedly force the parties to reject otherwise acceptable candidates. That won’t be a massive problem in winnable seats (although some may still sneak through) but in tougher races they just don’t have many options available. It would be mad to give up your rights in another country to run and lose. So it will surely reduce the ethnic diversity of candidates in the country, and I don’t see how that doesn’t have flow-on effects in terms of who actually wins.