5 March 2017
Politicians always come and go. Sometimes, they go before people even notice that they’ve been there. But occasionally you see politicians come on the scene, and others rate them as worth looking out for in future, whether as future ministers or leaders or whatever. And then, all of a sudden, they go, for one reason or another.
This thought crossed my mind when I heard about a by-election soon to happen in the Gosford area north of Sydney.
But I’m actually making mischief here! I don’t know if Kathy Smith, the outgoing politician responsible for this by-election, was considered someone to look out for. Only those close to Smith would’ve known if she was one to look out for, until ill health forced her to leave the New South Wales Parliament just two years after entering it.
I was actually thinking about when voters in the Gosford area had to vote in a by-election more than thirty years ago, following the untimely death of a politician who might well have become a leader if fate hadn’t intervened so tragically – Paul Landa.
For sure, it’s only speculation to suggest that Landa might’ve ended up a leader. But his death, from a heart attack, didn’t come long after he’d positioned himself to lead. Given what he did before then, I’m inclined to wonder if he was a possible leader, until he was suddenly lost to politics, in late 1984. This loss triggered a by-election around Gosford.
Landa entered the Upper House of State Parliament in 1973. Also there at the time was a certain individual named Neville Wran. Before the end of that year, Wran left the Upper House to run for a seat in the Lower House at a state election, and after winning that Lower House seat, he became leader of the Labor Party.
Wran led Labor to an election win, and became Premier, in May 1976. And Landa was one of his ministers. Despite winning only narrowly in 1976, Wran became very popular, and went on to win three more elections, before resigning in 1986.
It’s important to note that Wran couldn’t have become Labor leader, let alone Premier, if he’d still been in the Upper House. Constitutionally, governments in New South Wales are formed in the Lower House, of which the Premier must be a member. This is also the case in most parliaments across Australia, as well as in Federal Parliament, where the Prime Minister must be a member of the Lower House. Although Wran came to be rated as a possible Labor leader while in the Upper House, he had to transfer to the Lower House if he was to lead. This he duly did – and the rest is history.
As for Landa, who’d been among Wran’s minister since his 1976 election win, he made the decision to transfer to the Lower House ahead of an election which was due in late 1984, but actually came earlier that year. It’s fair to assume that he must’ve considered himself a possible successor to Wran – otherwise, why would he have transferred? Landa duly left the Upper House, and in that 1984 election, he won the Lower House seat of Peats, in the Gosford area. But by year’s end, he was gone, having died of a heart attack. A by-election was subsequently held in Peats early in 1985.
Given what happened to the Labor Party after Landa’s death, one can only wonder what the Wran Government lost when it lost Landa. When Wran ultimately decided to resign, many of his ministers had bad reputations at the time, though one of them might well have seemed likely to succeed him. In the end, it was a minister from the Upper House, Barrie Unsworth, who ended up succeeding Wran as Labor leader and Premier, but he had to leave the Upper House and attempt to win a seat in the Lower House in a by-election, in order to be in the job. This he duly did, but he came close to losing the by-election. And Labor lost office two years later. Might this have happened under Landa? We’ll never know that one.
But the Peats by-election in the Gosford area from long ago came back to my mind when I heard about the resignation of Smith. As it turns out, the by-election for her old seat will happen at the same time as by-elections are happening in two other seats. The results of these by-elections will be watched, even though one of them came about for unfortunate reasons that nobody could’ve foreseen.