SA election 2014

Electorate: Unley

Margin: Liberal12.0%
Region: Inner Southern Suburbs
Federal: Adelaide/Sturt/Boothby
Click here for electoral boundaries map

The candidates

unley-lib

JOANNE BLESING
Dignity for Disability

LARA GOLDING
Labor (bottom)

NIKKI MORTIER
Greens

DAVID PISONI
Liberal (top)


The electorate of Unley covers affluent suburbs from the southern edge of the city centre to Cross Road, extending from the relatively Labor-leaning Goodwood in the west through Unley proper to blue-ribbon Glenunga and Myrtle Bank in the east. The redistribution has squared off the electorate’s north-western corner by adding 950 voters in Wayville from Ashford, shaving 0.3% from the Liberal margin. The seat has been held for the Liberals since 2006 by David Pisoni, a member of the streamlined eight-member shadow cabinet introduced by Steven Marshall when he ascended to the leadership in February 2013.

Unley’s status as a generally secure Liberal seat is a relatively recent phenomenon, Labor having held the seat without interruption from 1962 to 1993. It was clear well before the 1993 election that the seat would fall to the Liberals, which inspired a hotly contested preselection battle between Mark Brindal, who had won the abolished seat of Hayward from Labor in 1989, and John Cummins, the preferred candidate of moderate powerbrokers Robert and Di Hill. Brindal prevailed and Cummins was forced to settle for the lesser option of Norwood, which he won in 1993 and lost in 1997.

Despite serving in the ministry in the Olsen/Kerin government’s second term, Brindal found his position endangered by the ambitions of local party sub-branch president David Pisoni, whose launched his first preselection challenge ahead of the 1997 election. This was scuttled by then Premier Dean Brown despite his being on the opposite side of the factional divide from Brindal, who nonetheless backed John Olsen’s successful leadership challenge four months later. Pisoni’s influence continued to grow as local branches came under the control of moderates associated with Christopher Pyne, and a second challenge was launched ahead of the 2002 election. This proved even more bitter than the first, the stakes having been raised by a redistribution that added 4.7% to the Liberal margin. Highlights included a defamation suit by Pisoni against Brindal and enough branch stacking from both sides (including more than 60 membership applications to the Brindal-controlled Kings Park branch from Echuca in Victoria) to prompt changes to be made to the party constitution.

Brindal survived for a second time, but his star waned after the Liberals entered opposition and he was dumped from the front bench in the April 2004. He ultimately decided to jump from Unley rather than be pushed, later saying he had hoped a compromise candidate would emerge to thwart Pisoni. Such a candidate did emerge in the person of Chris Kenny, then an adviser to Alexander Downer and more recently a commentator for The Australian and Sky News, but Pisoni prevailed in the preselection vote by 36 votes to 19. Brindal at first threatened to run as an independent, but was persuaded to accept Liberal endorsement for the much less attractive prospect of Adelaide. He then opted to withdraw from politics altogether in August 2005, after outing himself as a bisexual and admitting to an affair with a 24-year-old man whose financial affairs were administered by the public trustee due to “mental incapacity”. Brindal said he had been compelled to go public because the man’s foster father was trying to extort him.

Pisoni retained the seat for the Liberals in the face of the 2006 landslide with a margin of 1.1%, and won promotion to the front bench after Martin Hamilton-Smith became leader in April 2007. Two years later he was embroiled in the controversy that would cost Hamilton-Smith his leadership, having been the first to raise questions in parliament about forged documents which purportedly revealed the government had traded donations for favours with an organisation linked to the Church of Scientology. This did not do lasting damage to his career, as he was generally rated one of the Liberals’ strongest performers in the education portfolio, which he has maintained consistently since February 2008. After his close call in 2006, he was easily re-elected at the 2010 election with a margin of 9.8%.

Labor’s candidate is Lara Golding, described in The Advertiser as “a teacher with a background in science and community service”.

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.

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