Mystery Gilmore candidate could be a “mistake”

Posted on August 7, 2010 by

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Talk about an election mystery. In the NSW South Coast electorate of Gilmore, voters are asking who Elizabeth Cunningham is. She’ll be listed on the ballot as the Family First candidate, but no one seems to know that much more about her.

The Illawarra Mercury ran a story about the ‘faceless’ candidate last week. They reported that although she was running for election, she was not willing to speak publicly, and was opting to maintain a ‘low profile’ before the poll. The AEC lists her occupation as a ‘factory worker’. Family First has confirmed that she resides outside the electorate.

As Electioneering understands it, Ms Cunningham was recruited by the Family First State Council with little input from senior party executives. A source said that it was possible mistakes may have been made choosing to run the candidate, and that the party was learning from its experiences over the past few weeks. They said Family First would be reviewing the decision after initially choosing the candidate in “good faith”.

When contacted by Electioneering, Family First State Director Phil Lamb said in order to grow the party it was “important for Family First to run candidates in as many marginal seats as possible”. He also said that to find willing candidates it was sometimes necessary to look outside the particular electorate.

“A number of electorates weren’t able to source candidates within the area so the State Office made the decision to install outside candidates. In this democratic process; because we’re allowed to do it, we’re doing it”

He did however say that running an outsider could backfire if voters looked upon the decision to run an outsider unfavourably.

“If the community sees that we’re fielding a candidate from outside the electorate, it could prove a disadvantage to the party.”

Referring to the media controversy around the Gilmore candidate, Mr Lamb admitted that running Ms Cunningham had been a toss up, saying “we won’t know whether it’s been a benefit or a loss till after Election Day.”

Electioneering understands that only individual members of the State Party Council have contact details for Ms Cunningham. These are the same members who originally “recruited” the candidate. Although the party has known from the start that the candidate agreed to run on the proviso she didn’t have to be “interrogated” by the media, they are hoping she will be more forthcoming over the next few weeks. It is understood that repeated requests have been made by the party for her to contact the State Office.

Liberal incumbent Joanna Gash has agreed to exchange preferences with Family First in Gilmore yet has not yet met Ms Cunningham. Preference flows could significantly alter the outcome of the vote in Gilmore since it became a marginal seat, adding to intrigue around the Family First candidate’s selection. A redistribution has meant Gilmore has become notionally Labor after being safe Liberal territory for over a decade. For the first time in 14 years, the incumbent could face the loss of the seat

This election, the margin is estimated by the ABC’s Election Analyst Antony Green to be around 0.4%. Others are suggesting it could be even smaller, with Crikey’s election guide showing the margin may be as low as 0.2%.

AEC data reveals that at the last election Family First polled 0.51% of the primary vote. This means that the Liberal Party may have to rely on Family First preferences if they are to get across the line this time around. A poll of 400 residents had a more favourable result for the incumbent. The poll had Joanna Gash ahead of Labor candidate Neil Reilly with a primary vote of 58% to 31%. Whether this is actually the case will not be seen till later in the month.

Several efforts were made yesterday to contact Joanna Gash for comment on the Family First preference deal and the effect it could have on her re-election. Her office said she was unavailable for interview. Repeated calls to Mrs Gash since then have not been returned.

Words – Zach Kitschke

Image – Joanna Gash – Flickr Stream

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