ALP hardheads were seen gagging on their 3pm brandies yesterday after the Federal Court finally got around to delivering a preliminary decision in the battle for McEwen, barring the party from accessing 643 disputed ballots (yes, it’s still going folks).

Fran Bailey infamously “won” the poll by 12 votes after a recount but Labor nice guy Rob Mitchell cried foul after the AEC initially had him seven votes ahead. After weighing the fallout, the ALP decided to brief their resident eagles and the case was eventually referred down from the High Court.

Both parties could still get access to the disputed ballots – including the notorious V8 Supercar vote – where an apathetic revhead decided to replace his preferred pollies with Bathurst legends like Craig Lowndes and donkey vote down the page, a move that favoured Bailey on preferences. Coalition scrutineers ridiculously claimed this as legitimate and also argue that European seven’s – a character specifically designed to avoid confusion with the number one – are, in fact, number ones. In the court of public opinion, Rob Mitchell may have already won.

One humorous wildcard destined to escape his Honour’s attention are the apparently skewed booth results for Puckapunyal Army Base. Continuing the motor sport theme, Crikey understands one over-eager Mitchell acolyte took a leaf out of the Liberals’ 2004 playbook and organised a gaggle of grand prix grid girls to hand out HTVs, in a brave bid to woo the troops. The extra-small Kevin 07 garb at least made it clear who they were backing (the 2004 Libs were decked out in deep green) but it’s not beyond belief to think a few “five Cougars” aficionados might have been swayed.

A quick check of the booth result raises eyebrows. In 2004, ALP candidate Jenny Beales garnered 14.63% of the primary vote, against 77.73% for Fran Bailey. In 2007, Rob Mitchell bagged 18.69% of first preferences compared to Bailey’s 71.60%. The 2007 swing to Labor after preferences was only just higher at Puckapunyal (5.89%) than nationally (5.44%) but bear in mind troops are tough to shift leftwards – in 2004 the 2PP swing to Bailey was massive 12.92% – a whiff of Jemaah Islamiyah being all it took to rein in the closet reds. Conceivably, the grid girls could have got some hearts racing.

Federal Labor thought long and hard before launching legal action and the PM’s halo is glinting so brightly that the risk of a backlash is virtually nil. Before yesterday’s decision, party strategists were slavering over Super Saturday type arrangement in conjunction with the Gippsland by-election. For the Federal Court, a re-run would be a last resort but one that would almost certainly deliver the seat to Labor, with or without the input of Albert Park’s finest.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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