New South Wales election 2015

Legislative Council

The 2015 New South Wales election will be the eleventh held since the Legislative Council went from being appointed to elected at the 1978 election, and the sixth since changes to parliamentary terms replaced instituted the current model in which members serve eight-year terms, with 21 of the 42 members chosen at each election. Prior to that the chamber had 45 members and nine-year terms, with 15 members up for election each time. The change would indirectly lead to the other reform worth noting, the replacement of group voting tickets with above-the-line optional preferential voting in 2003.

In lowering the quota for election from 6.25% to 4.55%, the increase in the number of members elected encouraged the proliferation of micro-parties, and alerted political entrepreneurs to the potential for fringe candidates to gather together quotas through mutually reinforcing preference deals. This reached its tipping point at the 1999 election, at which voters were presented with a ballot paper measuring 100 by 70 centimetres which featured 264 candidates and 81, a situation that helped three parties win seats each with less than 1% of the vote. Since then, those who vote above the line have been free to number as many or as few boxes above the line as they see fit, with their votes exhausting beyond the point at which they no longer allocate preferences. The results of the three elections since appear to suggest that 2% now serves as a cut-off point for election, with all parties that have cleared that bar having one a seat, and no parties that have failed to having done so.

Since the terms of those elected at the 2011 election will carry over into the new parliament, the Coalition goes into the election strongly placed, commencing from a base of 11 seats compared with just five for Labor, along with three for the Greens and one each for the Christian Democratic Party and Shooters and Fishers, who have both won a seat each at all three elections held under the current regime. The Coalition could thus secure a majority if it repeated its performance at 2011, as tall an order as that may be. Ten seats will get them exactly half way there, and nine would reduce them from needing the support of one of the right-of-centre minor parties to win votes, rather than both of that. That would fall to eight seats if the Christian Democrats and Shooters and Fishers retain their seats from 2007. The Coalition would particularly be hoping for a scenario in which it can pass legislation with the support of the Christian Democrats, who are uniquely open to the possibility of supporting its electricity privatisation plan.

The Coalition ticket allocates second, fifth, eighth and eleven positions to the Nationals, with the remainder going to the Liberals. Immediately below is an account of the Liberal candidates in ticket order and the manner of their preselection, with the Nationals candidates dealt with separately in the next section.

The Liberal preselection process for the Legislative Council involves dividing the state into “provinces”, with the top end of the ticket consisting of a member for each chosen by a vote of state executive members and delegates from the relevant local branches. The remainder of the ticket, which includes four theoretically winnable positions ranging from the secure number seven to the extreme long shot of number elevent, consists of “at large” members chosen by the state executive plus delegates from branches around the state. Retiring Liberal members are Charlie Lynn, who is bowing out after 20 years, and Marie Ficarra, who was required to stand aside from the Liberal Party last April after the Independent Commission Against Corruption heard a claim she had sought to solicit a donation from a property developer.

Top of the ticket is John Ajaka, who came to parliament from number six on the ticket at the 2007 election, having previously been a lawyer and Rockdale councillor. Ajaka is a factional moderate, and was apparently the first Liberal of Lebanese background to be elected to any Australian parliament. In August 2013 he was promoted to the front bench as Disability Services Minister, and further acquired the ageing portfolio when Mike Baird replaced Barry O’Farrell the following April.

In third place is Matthew Mason-Cox, who has been in parliament since September 2006 and previously worked as a lawyer and an adviser to federal parliamentary committees, and owned an optometry business in Queanbeyan. Mason-Cox won a preselection for the southern New South Wales provincial position for the 2007 election at the expense of incumbent Patricia Forsythe, and filled her casual vacancy after she retired early. He is associated with the Right factional grouping dominated by Wollondilly MP Jai Rowell (on whom more below), and won promotion to the front bench as Fair Trading Minister in the reshuffle that followed Mike Baird’s rise to the premiership in April 2014.

Don Harwin was elected from the number six position in 1999 and promoted to number three in 2007, but now slips back a position. He as served as the President of the chamber since the 2011 election, and made headlines last November when he disclosed he was gay during a parliamentary speech.

The number six position has contentiously gone to Louis Amato, a motor mechanic and Wollondilly councillor who takes the south-western Sydney province position vacated by Charlie Lynn. Lynn wished for the position to go to Dai Le, a former ABC Radio National producer and current businesswoman and Fairfield councillor who ran in the evidently unwinnable seat of Cabramatta at a by-election in October 2008 and again at the 2011 election. However, Le was initially persuaded not to put her name forward by locally influential Right powerbroker Jai Rowell, a former protégé of Lynn’s. It has been suggested that Rowell attained this outcome by promising to Le he would back her for one of the “at large” positions on the ticket, and it is clear he assured Mike Baird such a position could be secured when he sought to intervene on Le’s behalf. Such support was not forthcoming, prompting Lynn to complain in parliament that Amato was “apparently an unknown tradesman with an invisible history in the Liberal Party”. Lynn further said he was “absolutely perplexed as to how a position that commands a six-figure salary with a secure eight-year tenure could attract only one applicant”, and warned if the party kept a preselection system which “discourages talented females from even applying to represent it in Parliament, we risk becoming a white-bread Anglo party of unrepresentative political hacks.”

The top two at-large positions, in seventh and ninth place on the Coalition ticket, had in fact been locked up by a factional deal that respectively delivered them to Shayne Mallard of the moderates and Scott Farlow of Alex Hawke’s Centre Right faction. Mallard was on Sydney City Council from 2004 to 2012, having previous been on the since-abolished South Sydney City Council from 2000. He ran unsuccessfully against Clover Moore for the lord mayoralty in 2008, and as the Liberal candidate at the by-election held in October 2012 to replace Moore in the state seat of Sydney. Farlow is a lobbyist who served as mayor of Strathfield from 2007 to 2008.

The third Liberal at-large position, number ten, has gone to Hollie Hughes, who won preselection with support from the Centre Right ahead of Parramatta Lord Mayor John Chedid, who was backed by the aforementioned Jai Rowell. Hughes is credited with being the “the Liberal party official who first rang alarm bells over the use of slush funds and illegal donations”, having been the first after questioning claims about the amounts raised by Wyong MP Darren Webber’s campaign at the 2011 election.

The Nationals have two outgoing members in Jenny Gardiner, who is retiring after 24 years, and Melinda Pavey, who was initially relegated to party’s entirely unwinnable fifth spot in the number fifteen position on the Coalition ticket, but has since secured a lifeline in the lower house seat of Oxley, which is to be vacated by the retirement of former party leader Andrew Stoner. The party’s two highest positions on the ticket are both going to newcomers, with second place going to former state party director Ben Franklin, and fifth going to Cooma-Monaro Shire deputy mayor Bronnie Taylor. Maintaining his position at number eight is Trevor Khan, a former legal partner who entered parliament at the 2007 election.

The arrangement effectively freezes out John Williams, who was hopeful of an upper house berth after his existing lower house seat of Murray-Darling, which he had held since 2007, was essentially merged with its neighbour Murrumbidgee in the redistribution, creating the new seat of Murray. Murray will now be contested by Murrumbidgee MP Adrian Piccoli, leaving Williams to settle for the dubious consolation of eleventh position on the upper house ticket. Williams’ cause may have been harmed by an attack he made on Environment Minister Robyn Parker at a party preselection meeting, in which he said he would “tear her a new orifice”, and that she had “never had a real man”.

Of the nine Labor candidates elected in 2007, only three are taking the field again this time, including one who has an unwinnable position on the ticket. Those who have fallen by the wayside since 2007 include John Della Bosca, Ian Macdonald and Eddie Obeid, who were respectively first, second and fifth on the ticket last time. John Hatzistergos (number three) and Henry Tsang (number eight) have also left parliament in more benign circumstances. Also on the way out is Amanda Fazio, who was elected from number seven in 2011 but lost the support of her Right faction for a winnable berth at the coming election. Luke Foley had initially been primed to take the top position, but then had to arrange a lower house berth in the Auburn electorate in order to assume the party leadership. Sean Nicholls of the Sydney Morning Herald noted that it was unusual for a Left member to have been given top billing, and that it was hoped this would “demonstrate that good outcomes can be achieved without overhauling the preselection system to give all party members a vote”, in reference to a proposed reform that was voted down at the party’s state conference last year. The party’s candidates from electable positions are detailed in order below.

The top position now goes to Sophie Cotsis, a former official with the Left faction Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaenous Workers Union who has since come to be aligned with the Right, her pre-parliamentary position having been adviser to Iemma government Treasurer Michael Costa. She entered the Legislative Council in September 2010 upon the resignation of Right faction warlord John Della Bosca, and is now succeeding him as the top candidate on the Labor ticket. After the 2011 election defeat she was assigned to the front bench in the local government and industrial relations portfolios, exchanging the latter for housing October 2012.

Walt Secord came to parliament in the wake of the 2011 election defeat in the position vacated by Eddie Obeid, who was elected from number five in 2007. A member of the Right, he had previously been communications director for Bob Carr and Kevin Rudd, and then chief-of-staff first to Treasurer Eric Roozendall, and then to Premier Kristina Keneally. He was promoted to the front bench in October 2012 in the shadow portfolios of water and Special Minister of State, and has since been reassigned to roads in December 2013 and health and liquor regulation in September 2014.

Lynda Voltz was elected to parliament from the number four position in 2007, and has now risen one place higher. She is a member of the Left faction, and has aligned herself with such causes as the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel and opposition to electricity privatisation.

Shaoquett Moselmane is a Right faction member and Lebanese community leader, who became the parliament’s first ever Muslim member when he entered parliament in December 2009. He did so by filling the vacancy created by the retirement of Henry Tsang, who had scraped in from the number eight position in both 1999 and 2007. Moselmane was a member of Rockdale council from 1995 until his entry to parliament and had three stints as mayor, and first sought a parliamentary berth at the 2007 election by challenging Frank Sartor for preselection in the Rockdale electorate, which Sartor was only able to see off thanks to head office intervention. Prior to the 2013 federal election he briefly nominated for the vacancy created by Robert McClelland’s retirement in Barton, but shortly withdrew.

Mick Veitch is a member of the Left and the designated “Country Labor” candidate at the winnable end of the ticket, having been a Young Shire councillor from 1995 until his entry to parliament from the number nine position on the Labor ticket at the 2007 election.

Adam Searle came to parliament in May 2011 by filling the vacancy created when John Hatzistergos, a former Attorney-General who had the number three position in 2007, resigned in the wake of the election defeat. He had earlier been an industrial barrister and mayor of Blue Mountains, and sought preselection berths for the state seat of Blue Mountains in 2007 and the federal seat of Macquarie in 2010. In the course of the latter endeavour he switched his factional alignment from Left to Right. In September 2014 he was promoted to the front bench in September 2014 in the energy, industrial relations and small business portfolios.

The seventh position on the ticket had been reserved for Hicham Zraika, the originally nominated candidate for Auburn who made way for Luke Foley when he assumed the leadership in early January. However, Zraika was suspended from the party in early February after a tribunal found he had falsified minutes of a party branch meeting against a backdrop of his ultimately successful bid to challenge the preselection Auburn incumbent Barbara Perry. This led to the promotion up the ticket of Courtney Houssos, the party’s country organiser, who won endorsement from the Right faction for a winnable position on the ticket ahead of the aforementioned Amanda Fazio.

Houssos’s promotion has caused the eighth position to be filled by Daniel Mookhey, who is in any case been set to take the Legislative Council vacancy created by Steve Whan’s bid to recover the lower house seat of Monaro, where he was unseated in the 2011 landslide. Mookhey is described by Troy Bramston of The Australian as “the state’s first politician of Indian background” and a “consultant to unions, charities and community groups”.

Relegated to the surely unwinnable ninth place is Helen Westwood, a Left faction member who was elected from number six in 2007. Westwood blames her demotion on her role in raising the domestic violence allegations that caused former Blacktown MP Paul Gibson to be denied his position in the ministry. She had been a staffer to the alleged victim, former Sports Minister Sandra Nori.

The Greens elected two members at the 2007 election – Lee Rhiannon, who was elected to the Senate at the 2010 federal election and took up her seat there in the middle of 2011, and John Kaye, an electrical engineer and former staffer to Rhiannon who now takes over from her at the top of the party ticket. Rhiannon’s Legislative Council vacancy was filled at the time by Cate Faehrmann, but she in turn resigned to run unsuccessfully as the Greens Senate candidate at the 2013 election. The position has since been filled by Mehreen Faruqi, a former environmental engineer who now takes the second position on the party’s ticket. The party succeeded in winning a third seat for the first time at the 2011 election, and their candidate for the position this time is Justin Field, who has worked as an adviser to John Kaye, Cate Faehrmann and another Greens MLC, Jeremy Buckingham.

Other candidates

Fred Nile is saddling up at the age of 80 for another run as lead candidate of the Christian Democratic Party, having won election in 1981, 1991, 1999 and 2007. The party, which was known as Call to Australia prior to 2002, has won seats at every election since the first it contested in 1981, and is presumably well placed to do so again this time.

The other mainstay minor party of New South Wales upper house elections is Shooters & Fishers, which has won seats at each election since 1995 with the exception of 1999, when it was squeezed out by One Nation and the successes of micro-party preference-harvesters. The party’s lead candidate is Robert Borsak, who filled the parliamentary vacancy created in July 2010 by the sudden death of Roy Smith, the party’s lead candidate at the 2007 election.

The other big prospect out of the micro-parties would appear to be the No Land Tax Party, which has had the good fortune to draw the top position on the ballot paper, and is running a highly visible campaign with candidates fielded in all 93 lower house seats. It has been suggested that the party’s determination to field as many candidates as it has has caused it to sign on a few who do not actually exist. Its leader and top candidate is Peter Jones, a former union official and Labor Party member who was once close to Joe Tripodi.

Corrections, complaints and feedback to William Bowe at pollbludger-at-bigpond-dot-com. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.

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