Can John Howard win the election without winning the WA seat of Swan? With Andrew Murfin’s dodgy campaign tricks it looks like he might have to.

As previously reported on Crikey, Media Watch had an interesting little piece on the Liberal Party dirty tricks campaign which has been taking place in the Western Australian Labor held seat of Swan.

Things are however considerably more grubby than have thus far been revealed. The Liberal candidate, Andrew Murfin has been embroiled in a number of murky activities which seem now to be seeping through to the wider electorate.

Murfin, a member of the Salvation Army shares the sanctimonious and self congratulatory habit of the now disgraced Ross Cameron of preening himself at every opportunity as a self righteous Christian incapable of the thought of sin.

Murfin is the President of the Manning Branch of the Liberal Party which is located in the State seat of South Perth and the federal seat of Swan. He is a protégé of Don Randall’s, the current member for Canning and the former member of Swan before losing the seat. Murfin is intellectually very much in keeping with the type of acolyte with whom Randall surrounds himself.

Murfin’s preselection is by any normal standards of morality and decency illegitimate, having won with the additional votes of a Branch that had less than the required number of members to be constitutional and the voting support of a University Liberal Party Branch which was unconstitutional at the time. A University Branch requires a quorum of 15 members at its Annual General meeting. This Branch had a third of that number attend its AGM.

The records of one other Branch which supported Murfin show four people residing at the small flat of a single unmarried middle aged woman.

Mr Murfin’s campaign committee has been caught in dirty campaign tactics which were in part reported by Media Watch last week. A number of letters were published in the letters section of the local newspaper, all extolling the virtues of Mr Murfin and attacking his Labor opponent and all giving the impression of having been written by members of the public.

These letters have now all been found to have been written by people closely associated with Mr Murfin, including members of his campaign committee and his sister no less. Incredibly, Mr Murfin claimed to know nothing of this rort in spite of the fact they were openly discussed at one of his campaign meetings prior to being sent to the local paper.

One letter made a dishonest claim against the Labor member Mr Wilkie and smeared him with alleged details of his personal life. Mr Murfin claimed to know nothing of this letter either, in spite of the fact that it was over the name of a Mrs Dickman who happens to be an 87 year old pensioner whose only connection with politics is through her association with Mr Murfin and the Salvation Army.

Murfin is unable to explain Mrs Dickman’s intimate knowledge of Canberra gossip or how her name managed to appear on such a letter. He did however tell the media that he was a Christian and therefore could not possibly be responsible for such conduct.

The local newspaper, the Southern Gazette has provided the police with a copy of the Dickman letter and asked that it be investigated. There now appears to be very considerable doubt as to whether Mrs Dickman either signed the letter or gave authority for her name to be used.

This is not the first time this frail 87 year old pensioner friend of Murfin’s name has been associated with scandalous behaviour in the Liberal Party.

Under the Western Australian Liberal Party constitution, Branch entitlements to sit on preselections are determined at the close of nominations. So as to disqualify the South Perth Branch from sitting on the State seat of South Perth preselection of which it is central, Mr Murfin transferred a number of his Manning Branch members into the South Perth Branch just 4 hours before nominations closed.

These additional members had the desired effect of disqualifying the South Perth Branch from that preselection because the majority of its members now no longer lived within the boundaries of the seat of South Perth. The members Murfin stacked into the South Perth Branch all lived outside the electorate.

Ms Dickman, who is unlikely to even know what branch she is in, was among those Murfin moved into the South Perth Branch. Naturally she lives no where near South Perth.

The South Perth Branch delegates were not going to support Murfin’s mate who was standing for the seat so Murfin used this scheme to knock out the Branch – another act of Christian honesty and integrity. Little wonder the Salvation Army have now distances themselves from him.

The Head of the Salvation Army in Western Australia, Major Venables has publicly disclosed that he has admonished Murfin for dragging one of its elderly members into his letter writing scandal. Major Venables has told the media that “We have told him [Murfin] he is not to use the Salvation Army or our uniform in his campaigning as a Liberal candidate, the Salvation Army is non-political and this is totally inappropriate. We are very disappointed that Emily [Dickman] has been brought into it… this is very distressing for her”.

Earlier the Salvation Army had condemned Murfin for using the Church for electoral purposes. This followed Murfin publicly praising the race horse industry and by implication gambling while the Salvation Army is active in assisting problem gamblers. A large part of the racing industry is based in Murfin’s seat of Swan and he was attempting to ingratiate himself with the industry at the expense of the views of his Church.

When the dirty tricks campaign first broke Murfin was interviewed on local commercial radio station by former West Australian newspaper editor and now talk back host, Paul Murray.

At the end of a disjointed and thoroughly unconvincing claim by Murfin that he knew nothing of the scandal, Murray informed him on air that he did not believe a word he had said. Having then hidden from the media for a week and been instructed by Head Office not to attend any further public engagements until the scandal blew over, Murfin has seriously damaged his prospects of winning Swan which the government had previously been confident of winning.

There are those within the Liberal Party who now hope Howard will win without Murfin.

Peter Fray

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