03 June 2016
by Primrose Riordan
Coalition rolls out the big guns for Mayo assault
The Liberal Party is fighting to stop what used to be one of its safest seats in South Australia, Mayo, becoming the first lower-house seat to fall to the popular Nick Xenophon Team.
Former prime minister John Howard plans to visit the seat next Tuesday after a low-profile policy visit from Education Minister Simon Birmingham on Thursday.
Recent polls have Senator Xenophon's party ahead of Labor in South Australia. The seat is held by former infrastructure minister Jamie Briggs. Malcolm Turnbull, who arrived in Adelaide on Thursday afternoon, skipped Mr Briggs' seat last time he was in town but committed to visiting the seat in the campaign. He will be there on Friday.
Before Thursday only major projects minister Paul Fletcher and assistant immigration minister James McGrath had visited the seat, according to Mr Briggs' social media posts.
The editor of the local Adelaide Hills paper The Chronicle, Ian Osterman, said it was unusual to have many ministers in the seat during elections.
"There's been very few and far between visits from frontbenchers as it's always been considered a very safe seat," he said.
Mr Briggs rejected this, saying it was the same at the last election.
"People are concerned that voting for Nick Xenophon's candidate wil risk a hung Parliament and all the uncertainty that delivers," he said.
Mr Howard has otherwise been focused on major Coalition battles such as in the marginal seats of Lindsay in NSW and Petrie in Brisbane.
The seat is held by a healthy 12.5 per cent margin, and is being contested by former adviser to Mr Briggs, Rebekha Sharkie for the Xenophon team, Labor's Glen Dallimore, and the Greens' Nathan Daniell.
Mr Osterman, a long tome critic of the Liberals, and Adelaide Hills Council Mayor Bill Spragg, agreed Mr Brigg's demotion over the summer after an incident in a Hong Kong bar was likely to hurt his vote.
"There is a considerable dissatisfaction with the sitting member that was brought to [a] head by the Hong Kong business," Mr Osterman said.
Mr Spragg, who has twice previously run against Mr Briggs as an independent in the seat, said it was vulnerable to candidates offering an alternative to the major parties.
"Most definitely it's been shown that Mayo even though it's considered a safe Liberal seat, when the second candidate is another party than Labor then there's often been a good fight," he said.
"In 1998 John Schumann almost unseated Alexander Downer, in the byelection when Jamie Briggs was elected the Greens ran a very strong second because Labor didn't field a candidate."
Mr Spragg said transport was a hot issue in the region, with the number of Adelaide commuters. Mr Briggs has been campaigning on his ability to secure funds for local projects such as $16 million for the Bald Hills Road interchange on the South Eastern Freeway in the Adelaide Hills.
Senator Xenophon said while he was suspicious of recent polls, his candidate had a good chance.
"Rebekha Sharkie is working that electorate quite hard and she's got a fighting chance of winning that seat," he said.