A BY-ELECTION will be held by March next year to fill the vacancy on Mornington Peninsula Shire Council by Paul Mercurio, who is now the MP for Hastings.
Mercurio won the seat for Labor at last month’s state election, ending 16 years of continuous Liberal representation by Neale Burgess, who did not seek re-election.
Just days after Mercurio’s win was confirmed, he was rushed to hospital and underwent surgery for atrial fibrillation, a heart condition that causes irregular, sometimes rapid, heart beats.
Late last week he was discharged from hospital and had posted a short video on Facebook as he waited to be checked by surgeons and “hopefully” allowed to home to rest and “get stuff ready for parliament”.
Widely known for a starring role in Baz Lurhmann’s successful 1992 movie Strictly Ballroom, Mercurio played the seemingly prophetically named character, Scott Hastings.
Mercurio was elected to council in late 2020 and voluntarilly stood down to contest the state election on 13 July, which means that until the by-election result is known his Watson Ward constituents will not have had any direct representation in council for nine months.
The then mayor Cr Anthony Marsh said he would be available to Watson Ward residents and now the new mayor, Cr Steve Holland, has said that they are welcome to contact him or deputy mayor Debra Mar.
Holland, a member of the Liberal Party, said was “looking forward to working with all of our newly elected MPs on the outcomes that matter to our community”.
The Liberal candidate for Hastings Briony Hutton received more first preference votes than Mercurio, but lost on a two-party preferred basis, which saw the Labor candidate win the seat 51.35% to 48.65%.
In a Facebook post while votes were still being counted, Hutton said she expected Greens preferences to flow Labor’s way but “the good news” was that more people in Hastings voted Liberal than Labor.
She would have still run as the Liberal candidate even if she had known the outcome “for I have met so many wonderful people and learned so much along the way”.
Her campaign manager, Simone Clencie (described by Hutton as “the star behind the scenes”), also took to Facebook saying to how deeply disappointed” she had been at “the constant harassment, propaganda and downright hateful comments thrown at you from the general public, to our Labor opponents and the local media”.
“Together, we made a conscious choice not to answer ‘those’ questions around your personal beliefs, from the local media and others who sought to do harm rather than genuinely understand. It was undignified and beneath you Briony,” Clencie wrote.
The News was one of several media organisations that unsuccessfully sought comment from Hutton (and later Clencie) about her links to church groups and Liberal Upper House candidate Renee Heath, a member of the City Builders Church who Liberal leader Mathew Guy had said would be banned from the party room if elected (“Liberals full of promise, all quiet on Labor front” The News 10/10/22).
Heath was elected and the ban has since been overturned.
“We are a nation of Christians, Muslims, Catholics, Hindus and non-believers. Your beliefs Briony are one of mutual respect, interest and understanding. Not hate, nor judgement. To those who tried and continue to sow conflict, they choose to destroy instead of to build. Shame on them,” Clencie’s post continued.
Elsewhere on the peninsula Nepean was won by Liberal Sam Groth, after being held for one term by Labor’s Chris Brayne; and Liberal Chris Crewther won Mornington, held by fellow Liberal David Morris since 2006 (“Turf war splits peninsula Liberals” The News 22/8/22).
Kate Lardner, who stood as an independent in Mornington, received 22.42% of first preference votes, ahead of Labor’s Georgia Fowler, 21.98%, but lost to Crewther by 1.4% after distribution of preferences.
“We see victory not in crossing the finish line first, but in giving people in our community hope for a better way of doing politics,” Lardner said, adding that her team had “achieved a significant shift in our community towards active democracy”.
“But we still have much work to do in engaging people further, for future elections.
“I’m not sure what will come out of this movement we have created, but I look forward to being a part of it and seeing where it ends up.”