Kevin Andrews

After 28 years in Parliament as the federal member for Menzies in Melbourne’s affluent eastern suburbs, capital-C Catholic conservative Kevin Andrews is poised to become the father of Australian Parliament, replacing outgoing Queensland LNP Senator Ian Macdonald as the longest serving MP. That is, if Andrews can survive the coming Labor landslide in May.

There’s a lot of talk about independents, such as Zali Steggall, running against Tony Abbott in Warringah and Julia Banks is reportedly going to take a crack at Flinders to try and oust Dutton-supporting Health Minister Greg Hunt.

But so far there has been little discussion about who could or would emulate Kerryn Phelps, Cathy McGowan or Rebekha Sharkie and defeat Abbott’s closest mate in the parliament in Menzies.

I had a crack in 2016 and spent $55,000 (see full disclosure on what) polling 6.72% in Menzies, the second highest independent vote in Victoria after Cathy McGowan in Indi.

The regular calls keep coming about running again in 2019 but, alas, this is now unlikely because the better half, Paula Piccinini, is currently the mayor of Manningham, which takes in most of Menzies.

The mayor is regularly out and about with Kevin in the community. They spent six hours together on Saturday (see this picture with some new citizens) as Kevin dished out his Menzies awards to community leaders and then Piccinini presided over the Australia Day citizenship ceremony. Kevin also delivered a speech and shook the hand of 122 new Australians from 25 countries.

The mayor has declared that it wouldn’t be appropriate for her husband, formally known as Mr Mayoress in Manningham, to contest Menzies as an independent, so the hunt is now on for alternative independent candidates.

Last August, I issued an ultimatum of sorts to the Victorian Liberal Party when I sent this email to the 20 members of the administrative committee. In essence, it said that if the local preselection was abandoned in Menzies, I would run again as an independent.

The conservative cabal that then dominated the admin committee ignored this and went ahead endorsing all incumbent Victorian MPs; as the local Manningham Leader reported, it was game on for another tilt in Menzies.

So, who is an alternative independent who could threaten to win the seat or, at the very least, deliver the crucial preferences needed to get the Labor candidate Stella Yee over the line and rid the parliament of a corrosive Dutton-supporting conservative?

Julia Banks is the Liberal-turned-independent incumbent in the neighbouring seat of Chisholm and would be best placed to take on Kevin, although she has her eyes set on Greg Hunt in Flinders.

The main problem with no independent in the Menzies field is that Kevin would potentially recover much of the 6.72% I took off him in 2016, allowing an argument that he should re-contest in 2022 based on the strength of his personal following and relatively good performance in 2019.

Unlike what Liberal MP Russell Broadbent is saying in Monash-McMillan (“I’m not prepared to hand over the electorate to the Labor Party. I believe that’s what would happen in Monash if I retired”), Kevin can’t say that in 2019 because his Menzies primary vote crashed from 58.88% in 2013 to 51.72% in 2016, and there was a 3.89% two-party preferred swing against him.

Throw in a redistribution that has narrowed the margin from 10.6% to 7.9%, as Antony Green explains here, and Menzies has gone from being ultra-safe with a 14.5% margin in 2013 when Tony Abbott was elected PM, to at risk with a 7.9% margin going into a likely Labor landslide.

Our campaign team did a Reachtel poll of Menzies voters in 2016 and these results very clearly showed that the electorate supported Malcolm Turnbull and didn’t want Kevin Andrews to be undermining him in favour of Tony Abbott.

But despite pledging loyalty to Malcolm Turnbull in order to win votes locally in 2016, Kevin Andrews was then the fifth MP to sign the notorious Dutton petition calling for a spill of the Liberal leadership, even after Malcolm helped fund this personal letter to Menzies voters in 2016 to help see off the independent challenge.

This sort of wrecking and disloyalty won’t play well in Menzies, nor will Kevin’s decision to vote against marriage equality even though his electorate voted 57% in favour.

GetUp declined to get seriously involved in 2016 but are making noises about deploying heavily against Kevin this time around, as this story in the local Murdoch paper last week explains.

It doesn’t look like Labor is trying very hard thus far, although candidate Stella Yee is hoping to raise some money at a campaign fundraiser and launch in Menzies next Sunday, after which she may have some resources to deploy.

If Labor were serious about its gender credentials, it would be heavily deploying in Menzies — given Kevin Andrews’ views on gender issues. Thus far, it only seems to be Emily’s List that is lending a bit of support to Stella Yee.

Ed note: an earlier version of this piece misidentified Greg Hunt’s seat as Nepean instead of Flinders.

Peter Fray

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