The cheeky story doing the rounds about Joe Hockey exiting North Sydney in favour of a move to NSW politics fits a pattern for the Liberals when in despair.

Leaving aside the fact that replacing Barry O’Farrell as leader would deprive the NSW Liberals of their only asset, the history of such attempts is far from encouraging.

The ballot papers were still being counted last year when it was put to Alexander Downer that he might head into state politics – a suggestion he dismissed with contempt.

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However, just a few years back another switch had real legs: the wrangling Liberals in WA almost stitched together a deal to swap then embattled leader Colin Barnett with Federal MP, Julie Bishop. Someone, however, got cold feet.

Rumours about Peter Costello leaving Howard to go to Melbourne as state Liberal leader were generated each time his leadership forays were rebuffed, and 20 years ago Andrew Peacock was being touted as the saviour of the Victorian Liberals, if only he could be talked into quitting Kooyong.

The only switch that actually came off was former Federal Liberal minister Ray Groom returning to state politics in Tasmania and ending up Premier.

John Olsen in South Australia did the same, but by a more circuitous route: moving to the Senate when he looked finished in SA then dramatically quitting the Senate for a return to Adelaide in expectation of becoming leader, but was pipped by Dean Brown whom he eventually toppled.

The most bizarre transfer from federal to state politics, however, belongs to Labor. Former prime minister and wartime army minister Frank Forde lost his seat in 1946, took a diplomatic posting and returned to Brisbane to work as an organiser for the ALP. With the Gair government under strain he was persuaded to stand at a by-election in 1955, 33 years after quitting state politics for federal. He won the seat of Flinders narrowly only to lose it by one vote at the 1957 election. The party split over the expulsion of Premier Vince Gair – a post Forde’s supporters intended him to take over. After 25 years of government, Labor lost power.

With this precedent in mind, the NSW Liberals might like to ask John Howard who, at 68, is only a few years older than Forde was (65) when he made his comeback.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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