In July, a reader of this column who is a leading Wagga medical specialist, suggested byelections should be eliminated and in their place, the seat “awarded” to the runner-up at the previous general poll or to a caretaker “nominee” of the party whose MP’s death, resignation or expulsion triggered the byelection.
In this case, after Daryl Maguire’s resignation, for example a Liberal caretaker would act as MP until the March poll when a fresh pre-selection would be held.
Sounds more logical than the panic decision by the Premier which has not only got her and the Liberals offside with their “partner”, the Nationals, she also ruled them out of tomorrow’s Wagga poll.
Actually, there are some interesting statistics, almost parallel in some cases between tomorrow’s poll and the 1957 byelection caused by the sudden death of the last Labor MP for Wagga, Eddie Graham, who held the seat for 13 years and was the Minister for Agriculture throughout, still a record for that portfolio in Australian politics.
If you were to search the foundation stones on public buildings during the time Graham was MP you would understand why his period was regarded as the rock on which Wagga thrived; Wal Fife, who won that byelection for the Liberals, like many conservative supporters then and now, acknowledged Graham’s work, he didn’t need a premier and an aircraft load of cabinet ministers holding his hand at election times.
One example of Graham’s input was the Wagga Teachers College, the first wholly residential co-educated tertiary institution on a single campus in Australia; the first lectures were given on June 9, 1947, and the college became the forerunner of, first, the Riverina College of Advanced Education and, then, CSU.
However, it is important to remember that 1957 was the middle of the greatest split ever in the ALP from which the Democratic Labor Party was formed.
The DLP decided to field a candidate in the Wagga byelection, the first time the new party had a candidate in a federal or state election outside Victoria.
It chose leading Wagga lawyer, Jim Kennedy, a member of the city’s well-respected Kennedy family, but it split the Labor vote and ultimately had a major role in Fife winning the seat, largely on DLP preferences, as Fife explained to me.
In the finish Fife won by about 3000 votes; he further explained that Graham had a big following within conservative voters, particularly the National Party (then the Country Party, which was represented by Bill Lampe, then Wagga Show Society secretary).
There were seven candidates in 1957 including three Independents (Ald Alec Cook, MTC race caller George O’Donoghue and motor cycle champion/businessman Jack Skeers) with two Independents amongst the seven candidates tomorrow, Dr Joe McGirr and Cr Paul Funnell, both of whom have strong followings - McGirr gave Maguire his biggest ever fright in a previous State poll and is big, like Funnell, on health and education.
Those two factors should not be lost upon voters as it has taken decades of Liberal representation to get stages one and two of the current Wagga hospital built although some parts of stage two are not open because of staffing shortages.
The complex has been minus appropriate parking facilities from the start.
Stage three awaits but the big issues, as the Independent candidates have foreshadowed are deficiencies in hospital staff and health funding shortfall.
The necessity for a green field site for the new hospital was ignored by the major parties when it should have been the priority.
Labor’s candidate, Dan Hayes, at 37, is the closest in age to Fife, 28, when he won in 1957, and is the youngest candidate tomorrow.
The Liberals’ candidate this time, Julia Ham, has drawn number two, the same spot from which Fife won.
Hayes has drawn last but unlike his party’s 1957 candidate, Dudley Graham (Eddie’s nephew), does not have the great Labor split of the fifties to contend with, rather it’s the Liberal candidate this time who must carry the baggage of a very unpopular party at both NSW and federal levels, created from the shenanigans of recent months; indeed, many of my political contacts around the nation say the Liberal Party is at its worst since its foundation.
The two other candidates this time are the Christian Democrat, Tom Arentz, and Seb McDonagh, Shooters and Fishers.
One most interesting comparison to 1957, which Fife highlighted in his book, A Country Liberal, was that it was the Labor State Government then, as described by one of its own, the MP for Monaro, Jack Seiffert, “who sent every minister in Cabinet to Wagga and promised the earth. They lost the election. Fife pulled the jackpot and the Government is still paying”.
Shades of the Liberals current pork barrelling!
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