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Why the bellwether was lost

Former solider and Army lawyer Mike Kelly at the Queanbeyan Leagues Club on election night, where he celebrated his recapturing of the seat. Photo: Jay Cronan Peter Hendy conceded defeat on election night, becoming the first one-term Eden-Monaro MP since the 1970s. Photo: Supplied
Nanjing Night Net

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and NSW Premier Mike Baird, pictured with Dr Hendy in Eden, were two of the high-profile Liberal visitors to Eden-Monaro during the campaign. Photo: Andrew Meares

A party has won government without taking their Eden-Monaro candidate with them for the first time in 47 years, and the opposing sides have unsurprisingly given somewhat differing views on why.

Both agree the Medicare issue was important in Mike Kelly sweeping back into the seat with a two-party swing of 6.1 per cent. Enjoying the biggest swing in the electorate since his own win in 2007, Dr Kelly said on Friday Labor had put the issue “up in highlights” but disputed it was the Labor campaign, rather than the Liberals’ track record on health, which bit hard.

“Medicare was a big factor, but it wasn’t anything we were saying, it was what was actually happening to Medicare,” he said.

He pointed to the Coalition’s Medicare rebate freeze extension, and Tony Abbott’s broken 2013 promise on health cuts, as examples.

But Liberal Peter Hendy’s personal standing was as important in the seat change, he suggested.

“The biggest single sentiment I was always getting was dissatisfaction with the member, and my own previous record stood me in good stead,” he said.

“It’s a rural and regional seat, they do pay a lot of attention to who the local candidates are.”

A Liberal source close to the Hendy campaign said Labor’s claim Medicare would be privatised – unfounded on current Liberal policy and repeatedly rejected by Malcolm Turnbull – was shameless.

“The reason we lost is two things: the Mediscare campaign – the most fallacious lie I’ve seen in a campaign without a doubt – as well as a removal of the buffer of Tumbarumba and Batlow because of the council mergers,” he said.

“We should have somehow killed the Mediscare campaign – you wrestle with pigs and you end up covered in mud, but we should have wrestled that particular pig.”

The 6.1 per cent swing as of July 9 dwarfed the national 3.5 per cent two-party shift against the Coalition, however was more in line with the average 5 per cent swing across New South Wales. Dr Hendy had won in 2013 with 50.6 per cent of the two-party vote, with this notionally plumped to 52.9 by this year’s redistribution.

Dr Kelly, who said he made 6000 personal phone calls to voters during the campaign, described his defeated opponent as a unicorn – heard of but never seen – after claiming victory on July 2, with Dr Hendy’s conspicuous lack of an appearance at any campaign candidates forum in Queanbeyan drawing criticism, including from conservative sources.

But the Hendy supporter said the first-term MP attended numerous events, and his absences at many candidate forums, some organised by political opponents, may have turned only a “handful of votes”.

Former Liberal Eden-Monaro MP Gary Nairn said he was “flabbergasted” by the extent of Labor’s Mediscare campaign and it impacted on the result, but Dr Hendy had failed to do enough local campaigning.

People “did not feel confident with Dr Hendy over the years”, which meant they had no confidence he would be able to fix up the Medicare concerns, he said.

“[Mike] Kelly didn’t win, Peter really lost and, while he achieved quite a number of things, he didn’t connect with the people and that was really the aspect that went against him,” he said earlier in the week.

Dr Kelly said many constituents had said they would shift their vote from Liberal to Labor due to his opponent’s high-profile role in backing Turnbull’s dumping of Abbott in September.

The Hendy campaign supporter acknowledged some Liberals were upset by the move, with emails confirming volunteers were lost, but said it was not a significant factor in the loss.

He said there had been 40-50 “genuine local volunteers” handing out how-to-vote cards at pre-poll booths in Queanbeyan, and any slight reduction in overall volunteer support was likely due to a less energised base who thought the first-term government would be comfortably returned.

Dr Kelly said some Tumbarumba voters felt their federal member “didn’t try hard enough” to speak out on the Baird government’s council amalgamations, but across the electorate he felt the issue was not significant.

“If you look at the swings [to Labor] in Tumbarumba, Batlow, Tumut, they are all pretty similar to 2007,” he said.

The most successful of the independent candidates, Daniel Grosmaire, a Queanbeyan-based former soldier who returned a modest 1700 first preference votes, said Dr Hendy’s absence from all of the five candidate forums he had attended in the last month of the campaign was a “symptom” rather than a cause of a general loss of confidence from some of the Liberals’ 2013 supporters. He doubted the forums and the Mediscare campaign were key factors locally.

There was no comment from Dr Hendy or his campaign this week, with a spokesman pointing to the election night statement where the defeated MP said he was “very proud of the campaign my team and I waged … above all, we retained our honesty and integrity”.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.


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