Last June when Sophie Mirabella (@MirabellaSophie) won Liberal Party preselection for the Federal seat of Indi, the much anticipated McGowan V’s Mirabella rematch was on and the unofficial campaign was off and running.
Mirabella went out hard and early, barely a day went by she wasn’t doing media: I’m back and you will see me, at least that’s what it felt like at times.
In September, local Indi media slammed Mirabella’s “playground politics” at the opening of the Spirit of Anzac exhibition in Wodonga.
The former Member for Indi’s rapacious quest for a photo op is legendary, when Benalla Ensign (@BenallaEnsign) ran a story alleging, “Mrs Mirabella very publicly pushed Ms McGowan out of the way to obstruct the photo being taken“: most people would’ve just rolled their eyes.
Mirabella’s biggest problem in this campaign. Perception.
She’s a polarising larger than life figure, with a reputation for being rude, pushy, only listening to those who agree with her and being most interested in her own and Liberal Party fortunes.
She reinforced the later when she said recently on national TV:
I had a commitment for a $10 million dollar allocation to the Wangaratta hospital that if elected I was going to announce the week after the election,’ she told a forum hosted by Sky News in Wangaratta.
That is $10 million that Wangaratta hasn’t had because Cathy (McGowan) got elected.
Perception is without a doubt Mirabella’s biggest enemy, continuing to ignore the reasons for her 2013 loss while complaining about conspiracies and media bias will only make that enemy stronger.
Adding to Mirabella’s problems in winning back Indi is Nationals candidate, Marty Corboy (@martycorboynats).
The Nationals are desperate to ensure Liberal’s don’t win the seat back, they’re running a well liked conservative Wangaratta local, with political beliefs he describes as similar to Mirabella’s.
Positioning himself as the Coalition candidate without the nasty: he’s conciliatory, pragmatic and acknowledges the wins McGowan’s had in Canberra.
While discussing last June’s Mobile Black Spot Programme cell tower allocation in Indi (third highest in Australia), Corboy told No Fibs:
Cathy has a history of applying for grants, superstar, she knows exactly what she’s doing in that regard.
On some key points of differences between McGowan and Mirabella, he’s willing to step outside the Coalition policy box.
Corboy on the Labor National Broadband Network fibre to the premises infrastructure plan:
I applaud the Labor Party for that, it was a good initiative, it should’ve been embraced
Corboy’s campaign to date has been smooth, methodical and relatively low key: most local watchers agree he’s been campaigning well.
So, here’s the thing, Corboy could end up the dominant Coalition candidate by the time polling day comes around, and if that turns out to be the case, he could actually win.
Key for Corboy is raising his profile outside the Wangaratta area (geographically Indi is massive), the long campaign gives him a very real shot at doing this well.
In 2013, McGowan had strong support from National Party members which translated into votes on polling day.
On a state level the area is dominated by The Nationals, they’ve not contested Indi since 2001.
How will Mirabella and McGowan’s primary votes hold up with Corboy as a third wheel?
The Coalition Agreement means the Liberals and Nationals must preference each other on their how to vote cards.
The Coalition in Indi is often explosive: in the 2014 state election, open warfare broke out between the partners and included allegations of tampering with how-to-vote cards.
Would it be a surprise if The Nationals (or Liberals for that matter) ran a whisper campaign to try and push preferences away from their partner: inspire an “anyone but Sophie” vote?
Sharman Stone MP (@SharmanStone) is retiring from Parliament and a three cornered battle is under way next door in Murray.
The Coalition’s fortunes against McGowan will rest with how both parties and their candidates play with each other. If recent elections in the North East of Victoria are any guide, it’ll be fascinating.
The Greens are again fielding Beechworth Councillor, Jenny O’Connor (@JennyJenocon).
In 2013 The Greens suffered a -6.21% swing, even regular Greens campaigners jumped ship and got behind McGowan, seeing her as the best chance to knock off Mirabella: rather than accepting her loss as democracy in action, Mirabella claims this is proof of a conspiracy against her.
In 2010 O’Connor received 9.45% primary votes with a +1.87% swing. Until McGowan came along, The Greens were on a pretty healthy vote given the conservative nature of the electorate.
At the 2014 Victorian election, ALP preferenced Shooters and Fishers above O’Connor, costing her a place in the Victorian Legislative Council.
It’s fair to say people from across the political spectrum and region were surprised and upset by the preferencing that dealt O’Connor out.
When The Nationals former Indigo Mayor Bernard Gaffney resigned, he nominated O’Connor as his successor.
Her opponent, “Yackandandah councillor James Trenery, a strong supporter of the Liberal Party and Indi Liberal candidate Sophie Mirabella“, won the ballot.
O’Connor’s primary vote should rebound closer to 2010 levels, Greens preferences will eventually find their way to McGowan even if they run an open ticket.
The Australian Labor Party (ALP) candidate Eric Kerr (@EricKerrforIndi), was elected to the Wodonga Council in 2012 when only 18yrs old.
At the recent Sky #PMLive forum in Wangaratta, Kerr passionately spoke out against his own party’s asylum seeker polices: any other day news, but completely drowned out by other events of the evening.
Both Kerr and Corboy seem willing to deviate from their party lines. Intentionally or not, this contrasts with the perception of Mirabella as a party player more likely to oil the gears of her party machine than the electorate.
Kerr is from the left of the party, a likely rising star, and could nick some of McGowan’s youth vote.
ALP preferences should land with McGowan.
Independent candidate Alan Lappin (@bigal2canberra) pulled out of the 2013 #Indivotes campaign after suffering a heart attack.
At the 2010 election Lappin received 5.84% of the primary vote.
Australian Country Party (ACP) candidate Julian Fidge (@Fidge4Indi), is a former Rural City of Wangaratta Councillor.
From a 2013 Sydney Morning Herald report about Wangaratta City Council:
The dysfunctional council has been racked by infighting since the election last year, with three councillors accusing one of their counterparts – local doctor and former soldier Julian Fidge – of bullying
In August of the same year, Fidge publicly thanked Mirabella for her “unwavering support” in the midst of troubles engulfing the council.
Later in September, the then Victorian Local Government Minister Jeanette Powell, announced legislation to formally dismiss the Rural City of Wangaratta Council, saying:
The Rural City of Wangaratta Council has failed to meet its legal obligations to provide a safe workplace by allowing a culture of bullying and intimidating behaviour among some councillors towards staff to grow, impacting on staff wellbeing and leading to a large number of staff resignations.’
After the council was dismissed, Fidge was reported to have labelled Powell a fascist:
This decision is bizarre. She is a fascist. Apparently there are 77 complaints, I’m supposed to be at the centre of this and I haven’t heard a thing
Seriously she should be sacked, I don’t think this would survive judicial review
At the recent Sky PM Live forum, ACP Senate candidate Phil Larkin told No Fibs, he and Fidge had a desire to allocate preferences but the party wanted to run open tickets.
Fidge previously indicated on Twitter the likelihood of an open ticket:
— Julian Fidge 4 Indi (@Fidge4Indi) February 29, 2016
Fidge is however widely considered an extremely close ally of Mirabella: opponents expect his preferences to land with the Liberals.
If Fidge does preference the Liberals, and that’s an if, it will be extremely hard to reconcile with the party pitch:
— Julian Fidge 4 Indi (@Fidge4Indi) April 17, 2016
McGowan’s in the #Indivotes box seat but will need to communicate to the electorate how they’ve benefited by being a marginal seat, and from a more inclusive and respectful way of doing politics.
Mirabella points out the Mobile Black Spot allocation was made possible because of a Liberal Party initiative, she’s right, and that’s fair enough.
Denying the submission from McGowan’s office was the major factor in the extraordinary round one allocation result for Indi, that’s just dumb politics.
It’s common knowledge the submission was a community effort with many people contributing, denying McGowan that win also denies it to people across the electorate who contributed.
Bringing people together is one of McGowan’s strengths, enhanced by her association with Voices for Indi.
V4I continues to be a prominent source of community sentiment on a broad range of issues for McGowan.
Post election 2013, V4I sought participation from other politicians with a new focus: bridge the gap between community and politics.
As an independent, McGowan doesn’t have the machinery of a party to do research, collect data, the types of things necessary for informed policy debate and successful funding submissions.
V4I helps fill that gap, but McGowan also takes constituents with her on the journey, literally to Canberra.
Australian Parliament House (APH) staff and other politicians have become used to “Cathy’s volunteers” roaming the corridors.
I spent a week embedded in McGowan’s office late last year to get a sense of her volunteer program, and how her promise to take a different style of politics to Canberra stacks up at the end of her first term.
I can report the volunteers do answer phones (taking turns), but they also get to do some really interesting stuff, including pursuing local issues important to them.
It offers participants the opportunity to experience Federal politics at its heart and make valuable connections, no doubt one of the reasons some of Indi’s local councils have sent staff along.
I’ll write about the trip in more depth during the campaign, but two things stood out in Canberra:
- Around Parliament House everyone loves McGowan, so much so it’s almost freaky.
- The door to McGowan’s APH office is always left open when she and her staff are in the building, all the other politicians leave their doors shut.
She’s a networker, and that’s a pretty good trait in a politician. McGowan’s network extends not just to the powerful in the corridors, but also tour guides, coffee shop staff and even a cleaner I had a chat with in the basement.
The second time I went to the cafe inside APH, I was called out of the very long line after about 60 secs and handed my order without having uttered a word, the cafe worker explained to my puzzled look: you’re one of Cathy’s crew, I remembered you from yesterday.
Who knew being nice could get other people very fast coffee?
McGowan is the most thorough networker I have ever seen.
Her 2013 commitment to take inclusive and respectful politics and representation to Canberra? That’s a promise kept.
The odds are pretty high she will again run an open ticket, which seems counterintuitive in a tight race that may come down to a handfull of votes.
The open ticket worked in 2013 when there was a great deal of unity to tip Mirabella out, considering McGowan was offering nothing in return, she was almost embarrassingly flooded with preferences.
Regardless of where the policy debate takes #Indivotes, personality will play a big part in the result.
I get the feeling the candidate who best manages Mirabella’s personality (including Mirabella herself) will end up the next member for Indi, and that’ll most likely be McGowan.