Gilmore: Gash has preference for values over candidate

Posted on August 10, 2010 by

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Politics is a funny game. Particularly when you’re talking about the seat of Gilmore on the south coast of New South Wales. Electioneering wrote the other day about the ‘faceless’ Family First candidate Elizabeth Cunningham and the preference deal with the Liberal Party that could carry incumbent MP Joanna Gash over the line at the election. Whilst we’re talking about just 0.51% of the vote going to Family First, it could have a more significant effect at this election. After a redistribution, the seat is now notionally Labor with a margin estimated between 0.2-0.4%. This means that those 500 or so votes for Family First could effectively return Mrs Gash to the seat.

The issue isn’t the preferential system. It’s that we have an invisible candidate on the ticket for Family First, whose candidacy is being questioned by her own party. Her name is Elizabeth Cunningham and according to the AEC she’s a ‘factory worker’. She lives somewhere in Sydney, but having refused to reveal herself publicly, we don’t know much more. That however, doesn’t mean she won’t play a vital role in the Gilmore ballot.

As this blog reported on Saturday, Electioneering understands that 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 were 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”.

Family First State Director told Electioneering it was important for a minor party to run candidates in as many marginal seats as possible, and to do so it was sometimes necessary to look outside the area.

Electioneering reported that Family First was beginning to question the selection of the candidate and that state party director Phil Lamb had recognised that “if the community sees that we’re fielding a candidate from outside the electorate, it could prove a disadvantage to the party.”

After attempting to contact Joanna Gash for comment several times over the past few days, Electioneering finally got a response this evening.

Mrs Gash said that the election would be “a very close call” and she wasn’t going to speculate about the outcome.

“There are new areas in the electorate at this election, and we’re going to have to work hard to win”

She also said it was important to live in the area and represent the local community. When questioned why she would then be supporting a Family First candidate from outside the area, she responded by saying it was a matter of precedent and policy.

“We have always exchanged preferences with Family First and the Christian Democrats. We go on policies when deciding preferences and we are more aligned with those two parties”.

As Electioneering understands it, only individual members of the Family First State Party Council have contact details for Ms Cunningham. These are the same members who initially recruited the candidate. A party source said that repeated requests had been put forward for the candidate to contact the State Party Office, and that the party was hoping she would be more forthcoming over the next few weeks.

When further questions were asked of Mrs Gash, she pointed to the Greens preference deal with Labor, saying “it could also carry them over the line”.  This may be the case, but the Greens candidate Ben Van Der Winjgaart is a well-known member of the local community.  As the Deputy Mayor of Kiama Council and the local Green’s candidate at both the State and Federal elections since 2004, he is far from invisible. Gash further said any internal party politics were “issues for Family First”.

Mrs Gash told Electioneering that although she has some input into decisions about preferences, any deals were primarily arranged between the political parties. She said she wasn’t aware of any conversations between the two parties about the Family First candidate and how the nature of Ms Cunningham’s candidacy would play out. At the time of writing, Electioneering was awaiting comment about the preference deal from the Liberal Party Campaign Office.

Words – Zach Kitschke

Image – Joanna Gash

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