Margin: Liberal 7.1%
Location: Outer Adelaide/Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia
In a nutshell: This traditionally safe conservative seat includes the Adelaide Hills heartland of the late Australian Democrats, who gave Alexander Downer a scare in 1998. His successor Jamie Briggs likewise cut it fine against the Greens at the July 2008 by-election that followed Downer’s resignation. A repeat performance at the election would have to be rated unlikely.
Electorate analysis: Mayo was created with the enlargement of parliament in 1984, taking Kangaroo Island and the Fleurieu Peninsula from their long-standing home of Barker. Neither Barker nor Mayo has ever been held by Labor. Alexander Downer entered parliament as the inaugural member for Mayo in 1984, and with one exception had easy double-digit wins at each election from then until 2007. The exception was the 1998 election when Democrats candidate John Schumann, former lead singer of folk group Redgum (of “I Was Only Nineteen” fame), added 10.0 per cent to the electorate’s already strong Democrats vote and overtook the Labor candidate to finish 1.7 per cent short of victory after preferences. The Democrats polled a more typical 14.8 per cent in 2001, before collapsing to 1.8 per cent in 2004. As well as bringing an end to Downer’s 11-year career as Foreign Minister, the 2007 election reduced his margin against Labor to single figures for the first time, following a 6.5 per cent swing.
Downer stepped down from the front bench after the election and announced his resignation from parliament on July 14, 2008, initiating a by-election on September 6. The Liberal preselection was won by Jamie Briggs, whose work in the Prime Minister’s Office as chief adviser on industrial relations linked him closely and perhaps dangerously with the development of WorkChoices. Backed by John Howard, Alexander Downer and state party operative Chris Kenny, Briggs won the preselection vote in the seventh round by 157 to 111 over Iain Evans, former state Opposition Leader and member for Davenport. The Australian reported Briggs was pushed over the line by the preferences of third-placed Matt Doman, a former staffer to Right faction warlord Senator Nick Minchin. Other contenders included local farmers David Basham and Tim Rogers, who were both said at various times to have the backing of Christopher Pyne, whose moderate faction evidently lacked the local muscle to compete with three front-runners associated with the Right. Another contender was Bob Day, housing mogul and unsuccessful federal candidate for Makin, who reacted to his defeat by claiming the process had been “manipulating” and nominating for the by-election as the candidate of Family First.
Labor did not contest the by-election, but Briggs was given a run for his money by Greens candidate Lynton Vonow and independent Di Bell, a local anthropologist who had the backing of independent Senator Nick Xenophon. With the Liberal vote falling from 51.1 per cent to 41.3 per cent, most of the non-Liberal vote split between the Greens (21.4 per cent), Di Bell (16.3 per cent) and Bob Day (11.4 per cent). The distribution of preferences from Day and others left Vonow leading Bell 28.2 per cent to 24.1 per cent at the second-last count, with the distribution of Bell’s preferences leaving Briggs just 3.0 per cent clear of Vonow.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.