22 January 2017
Ministerial and parliamentary entitlements have constantly made bad names out of politicians. There’s a blurry line between what they can and can’t claim taxpayer funds for, in terms of trips taken for work and various allowances of all sorts. I’ve lost count of how many times they’ve ended up in news headlines because of questions over their entitlements, often referred to as lurks and perks.
I don’t need to go into details about what triggered the resignation of Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley earlier this month. Enough has been written and said of that, and most people as such would know that she’s just another politician to have crossed some ethical line regarding lurks and perks, perceived or otherwise. Of course, for many years, public cynicism of politicians has grown and grown, and lurks and perks have been part of the reason for that growing cynicism. Admittedly, some politicians have taken stands against lurks and perks, but they’ve been far and few between.
Questions unsurprisingly loom over what the future holds for Ley, a senior minister in the Turnbull Government until she resigned. Although it’s not unheard of for ministers to come back after resigning in the wake of scandals, it doesn’t appear likely that Ley will return as a minister. Whether she remains in Federal Parliament is yet to be seen, given that she’s been there for the best part of two decades.
But I doubt that her trouble over lurks and perks will cost her as far as the next election is concerned. Although she might retire, I can’t her seat falling into other hands – at least not at this stage.
She holds Farrer, a rural seat in southern New South Wales which has been in the hands of the Liberal Party for much of its existence. Created in 1949, Farrer takes in the regional centre of Albury, and runs along the northern side of the Murray River, which makes up much of the state’s border with Victoria. It’s fair to assume that a seat like Farrer would more likely be in the hands of the Nationals rather than the Liberals.
When Ley entered Federal Parliament in 2001, she won Farrer for the Liberals upon the retirement of Tim Fischer, a National, who’d held the seat since 1984. Fischer, who was the leader of the Nationals for most of the 1990s and Deputy Prime Minister for several years, is in fact the only non-Liberal to have held Farrer since its creation.
Over time, despite the existence of the Liberal-National Coalition, there have been times when the Liberals and Nationals have run against each other in some seats – hence the existence of three-cornered contests, when you add the Labor Party to the mix. Generally, however, they don’t run against each other where there are sitting members. This means that the Liberals won’t run against sitting Nationals, and the Nationals won’t run against sitting Liberals. A three-cornered contest is possible, though, when a sitting Liberal or National retires at election time.
If Ley, a Liberal MP, retires at the next election, the Nationals might field a candidate in her seat of Farrer. But if she chooses to stay on, the Nationals won’t run against her. In seats like Farrer, Labor has never been regarded as a threat, and only the most incredible circumstances would give Labor a chance there.
Perhaps only a well-known Independent candidate could threaten Ley in Farrer if she stays on. Given the past success of Independents like Peter Andren and Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, in rural seats where Labor was never really going to threaten the Coalition, Ley’s seat could fall in that category. The next election won’t be for some time, and there’s no sign of Independents looking to threaten Ley, so if there’s any danger in Ley’s seat, it’s not obvious at the moment. The likelihood will probably be survival for Ley in the short term.