Vaile of Arabia isn’t going anywhere. He’s definitely serving a full term as Member for Lyne, his staff told Crikey, unless his cancer concerns recur.

Kevin Andrews is also intending to serve a full term. As is Philip Ruddock, who, he says, has plenty of Parliamentary work to do in addition to representing Berowra.

The rest of the Government-in-exile declined to comment on Nick Minchin’s urging yesterday that they work out whether they should stay or go. Perhaps Alexander Downer should play some Clash during his radio gig. But Minchin wants them to work out their futures pretty quickly.

The problem of how to minimise the electoral damage to the Coalition of two, three or four by-elections is a vexing one. The “Super Saturday” approach, while having an exciting American ring to it, would serve to minimise the damage of what would be expected to be significant swings against the Coalition’s new candidates or, heaven help them, defeat.

However, as Nick Minchin’s office points out, that’s not something under the Opposition’s control. The Opposition can only coordinate the timing of the departure of its members in the transit lounge. Although that assumes that the Liberals and the Nationals can manage a basic level of inter-party cooperation. Given Warren Truss wasn’t even aware Mark Vaile was in Dubai, management of Peter McGauran’s departure might be beyond the Nats.

Minchin’s office politely declined to comment on that aspect of the task. Which might have something to do with the possibility that Gippsland would be a three-cornered contest.

But, once Downer and the others have announced their resignations, it’s up to the Government to time the ensuing by-elections. It could space them out however it pleased, to maximise Brendan Nelson’s embarrassment. The NSW and Victorian elections could be held a week apart. Or Peter McGauran’s regional seat of Gippsland, the seat probably most in danger of falling, could be delayed a week to exploit the recriminations that might arise from poor showings in Mayo, Higgins and Berowra (although Morris Iemma may be able to give the Coalition a leg-up in Sydney).

The outcome of the dispute in McEwen might also be relevant. Given Labor’s current national polling, we’re likely to be asking where the bloody hell Fran Bailey is if Labor wins its appeal against the outcome in her seat and gets a by-election there.

Of course, this is all the result of the abandonment of the quiet political tradition that the leadership of a defeated government, if not hanging around to make a go of Opposition, was encouraged to resign shortly after the losing election. In generations past, only talkback radio callers whinged about the cost of such by-elections.

Now, politics dictates that everyone swears blind they will faithfully serve a full-term. It looks good to the punters, but as Brendan Nelson can attest, it creates all sorts of difficulties for Oppositions.

Peter Fray

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