Scott Morrison’s controversial move to install former Labor party
president Warren Mundine as Liberal candidate in the ultra-marginal
NSW seat of Gilmore has triggered a local implosion.
As members of the Liberal state executive were voting on Tuesday to
admit Mundine to their party and nominate him as the candidate, Grant Schultz, who had been selected by the locals in
December, was exiting the party, as were some of his supporters.
South Coast state Liberal MP Shelley Hancock (who is Speaker in the NSW parliament) pointedly observed: “Only
recently Scott Morrison was talking about the importance of grassroots
processes when preselecting candidates”.
Schultz, son of the sharp-tongued former MP the late Alby Schultz,
told the South Coast Register that his dad would be “rolling in his grave in utter disgust and anger” at what had happened.
“He would take the same view of mine that the leadership of Scott
Morrison has taken the party to the days of Eddie Obeid and the
faceless men of Labor,” said Schultz, who is a local real estate
agent. “To turn their backs on the democratic principles of this party
is quite frankly extraordinary and without precedent in this party’s
Not quite. Late last year Craig Kelly, who helped bring Malcolm
Turnbull down, was protected from his locals who wanted to deselect
him. The Prime Minister feared that unless Kelly’s future was
guaranteed, the maverick backbencher could defect to the crossbench.
Morrison and senior party figures have been in negotiations with Mundine for months, and party research has tested his popularity. Gilmore is currently held by Ann Sudmalis, who last year announced she wouldn’t stand
again, alleging branch stacking and bullying against her.
Gilmore stretches along the NSW coast from Kiama in the north to
Tuross Head in the south. It takes in popular resort and
retirement areas and farming land.
The government’s grip on the seat is wafer-thin – less than 1%. In the
present climate, it is likely to be lost to Labor whoever the Liberals
put up. With this kerfuffle, and Schultz declaring he will run as an
independent, their chances could simply be further diminished.
To complicate the picture, the Nationals are considering whether to
enter the race, with local branch members wanting former state
minister Katrina Hodgkinson to stand.
Philip Ruddock, president of the NSW party, explained the refusal to
accept Schultz in a brief statement. “Mr Schultz nominated against a
sitting member who later withdrew and given these circumstance the
party has elected to not proceed with the endorsement. The party
should be able to consider the best candidate to represent voters,
their aspirations and concerns in each community.”
Mundine doesn’t live in the electorate, although he has family
connections there. He has been quoted as saying, “I love the place. I
feel most comfortable in that area, for me it’s like going home.”
ABC election analyst Antony Green describes Mundine as “a brave
choice” (in the Humphrey Appleby sense), pointing out that “it’s the sort of regional seat where
personal vote matters.”
In 2001 Mundine ran unsuccessfully in third place on the ALP Senate
ticket. Later he failed to get Labor preselection for a lower house
He was ALP national president in 2006-07. But his public profile has
come through his role as an Indigenous voice. He was a member of John
Howard’s Indigenous advisory council, and chaired that of Tony Abbott,
a position he lost under Malcolm Turnbull. (In late November Mundine
tweeted “I wish Malcolm Termite would crawl back into his little hole
he come from.”)
Mundine left the ALP in 2012 and became increasingly identified with
the conservative side of politics. He has also built a media presence
on Sky, where he has a program “Mundine Means Business”.
As he weighed his future in recent months, Mundine has been double dating.
In 2018 he joined the Liberal Democrats, and was being considered as a
potential Senate candidate for them.
Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm says he spoke to Mundine
late last year about reports that the Liberals were courting him.
Mundine played down the speculation as media talk, Leyonhjelm says.
But he said he had some issues with section 44 of the constitution
through his business interests which needed sorting out, and he
suggested leaving the discussion about the possible Senate spot until
the new year.
That’s where matters lay until last week when the president of the
Liberal Democrats received a letter from Mundine resigning from the
party. Leyonhjelm wasn’t totally surprised: he’d been watching
Mundine’s recent pro-Liberal tweets.
The Prime Minister will appear with Mundine in Gilmore on Wednesday. Morrison on Tuesday wouldn’t be drawn on his candidacy. But he
said that he’d been “a friend of Warren for some time” and described
him as a “top bloke” who had “a lot to offer”.
Be that as it may, this is shaping as a very inauspicious start to the
campaign of someone who will carry the tag of a captain’s pick
Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.