Margin: Liberal 24.7%
Region: Rural South-East
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MacKillop covers the south-eastern corner of the state against the border of Victoria, extending about 200 kilometres from north to south, excluding the coastal area which constitutes Mount Gambier. Major population centres include the Dukes Highway towns of Bordertown, Keith and Coonalpyn, along with Millicent, Lucindale and Naracoorte further south. The redistribution has added an area to the north of Mount Gambier accounting for 1300 voters, cutting 0.5% from a Liberal margin that has never dropped below 20% since the electorate was created as the successor to abolished Victoria in 1993.
Liberal member Mitch Williams came to the seat in unusual circumstances, winning as an independent in 1997 at the expense of former Liberal leader Dale Baker. Baker had recently been dumped from cabinet after a conflict-of-interest finding over a government land purchase, details of which were reportedly leaked by Dean Brown supporters seeking revenge for his involvement in John Olsen’s 1996 leadership challenge. This was not the first time South Australian voters had shown a lack of sentimentality towards the party’s leadership figures, Brown’s 1985 defeat in Davenport being the other outstanding example. Williams had been influential in local Liberal Party branches before choosing to run as an independent, and benefited from a statewide slump in Liberal support as well as from Baker’s own political troubles.
Williams rejoined the Liberal Party in December 1999, and was promoted to the front bench in 2004. After the 2006 election he ran unsuccessfully for the deputy leadership, having been identified as one of a number of conservative members implacably opposed to a cross-factional deal that made the Right’s Iain Evans leader and moderate Vickie Chapman deputy. His resignation from the shadow ministry in July 2009 was interpreted as an attempt to undermine Hamilton-Smith ahead of a future pitch for his job. However, Williams declined to put his name forward when Hamilton-Smith responded with a leadership spill, at which Williams was believed to have backed Hamilton-Smith over Vickie Chapman. Williams did nominate at the second spill which saw Redmond defeat Chapman, but he was eliminated in the first round.
After the 2010 election, Williams emerged as deputy leader following a messy process in which Isobel Redmond sought to have incumbent Steven Griffiths make way for Iain Evans, but was rebuffed when the party room voted instead for Martin Hamilton-Smith. With Redmond making plain her refusal to accept the outcome, Williams emerged as a compromise candidate. As Redmond’s leadership floundered in late 2012, a challenge to both emerged in the shape of Hamilton-Smith as candidate for leader and Steven Marshall for deputy. With a number of MPs making their support for Redmond conditional upon the accommodation of Marshall, Williams agreed to stand aside for him. When Marshall became leader the following February, Williams was dropped from his streamlined new ministry, assuming the position of parliamentary secretary to the Shadow Treasurer.
All post-redistribution margins are as calculated by Jenni Newton-Farrelly of the South Australian Parliamentary Library. Corrections, complaints and feedback to William Bowe at pollbludger-at-bigpond-dot-com. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.