A friend of mine came over yesterday for a couple of beers and to drop off some of his wine making equipment in anticipation that we will make wine again this year. He grew up in the far outer eastern suburbs which Aston encompasses.
His view of the Liberal Party’s decision to parachute in an outsider from inner Melbourne to this seat is probably similar to that of many of the locals who voted against that candidate. To him, Rosheena Campbell promising to buy a house in the electorate and move her family IF she won the by-election is similar to someone promising to buy a lottery ticket if they win the jackpot first.
I felt it best to hold off on expressing my thoughts about the Aston By-Election until after the result was known, although I will be very clear now that I am not surprised about the outcome.
There will be many different theories offered forward this week as to why the Liberals made history as the first opposition to lose any of their seats in a by-election since 1920. One is that the Federal Liberal Party is out of touch at the moment in general, and that Peter Dutton in particular is unelectable. Another is that the Moira Deeming controversy of the past couple of weeks has revolted voters who would usually vote Liberal. A third is that, as my friend from the area put it, you can no longer parachute in a candidate from outside with impunity without there being consequences.
My personal views are mostly similar to those of my friend, but with one nuance. This is that the Liberal Party’s hand was forced by the self-serving resignation of Alan Tudge without notice, which left them scrambling to preselect a candidate within a very short time frame, whilst the Labor Party already had one on the ground.
In short – much of the blame falls on the highly reprehensible Alan Tudge, for holding his own party in contempt and showing great ingratitude to his local rank and file supporters.
Let me explain. Normally, under Liberal Party rules in Victoria, a preselection, particularly in a safe or winnable seat, requires a convention at which every locally enrolled party member of 2 years’ standing is entitled to vote for their preferred candidate. Those members make up 60% of the preselection convention, with the other 40% made up of a variety of party members from outside, mostly those chosen at random from the roll of current delegates to State Council.
This means that a local party member is, in theory, going to have a say in who is going to represent them at elections (and hopefully in parliament), and which then is going to serve as some recompense for the donations of time and money which those members then put in to try and get that candidate elected and then reelected.
Usually, unless someone falls out of favour within the party as a whole, an elected MP is going to sit there until they either retire or lose their seat.
Which means that the actual real opportunity which local party members in a seat like Aston have to choose their own candidate comes along only once every 15 to 20 years.
By not giving the party enough notice to conduct a proper preselection, Alan Tudge denied those people who had sweated for years to get him and keep him elected to Federal Parliament (ie getting up in the early hours before dawn on election day, holding fund raising auctions and raffles, letterboxing his ugly mug into homes, standing for hours in all sorts of weather with how to vote cards) the chance to choose his replacement.
Instead, the party went for their emergency expedited process, getting the state Administrative Committee and the local Chairman of the Aston Federal Electorate Council to undertake the preselection. In short, 17 faceless people chose the candidate on behalf of the Liberal Party in Aston – only one of whom, instead of 60%, was a local party member.
Let’s look at the import and impact of this. If Rosheena Campbell had been elected, it is highly unlikely that her next preselection would have been contested, or the one after that, and so on. Local party members would have had virtually no say at all in a direct internal vote as to their candidate for very many years to come.
With that in mind, I suspect that they voted with their feet, and chose to stay home last Saturday in droves, rather than committing 12 hours to set up a polling booth, campaign all day, and then to scrutineer when polls had closed.
On the bright side, the defeat does mean that, provided that the Liberal Party head office gets its act in order, local Liberals in Aston will get a chance to choose who represents them at the next Federal Election.
But for all of this debacle, I feel that the blame falls mostly on the shoulders of Alan Tudge, the ungrateful retiring member.