Controversy over Peter Hendy's role in the leadership change that brought Malcolm Turnbull to power has dogged the first weeks of the 2016 election campaign, and potentially threaten the freshman MP's hold over the bellwether seat of Eden-Monaro.
According to Road to Ruin, Niki Savva's explosive account of Tony Abbott's rise and demise, Hendy was intimately involved in the so-called 'G8' that plotted Abbott's ousting as prime minister. Hendy, after deciding that he no longer had confidence in Abbott's ability as prime minister, initiated a role as a conduit between Communications minister and challenger Malcolm Turnbull, deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop and other parliamentary colleagues as leadership discussions took place in 2015. Hendy's home in Queanbeyan was the meeting ground for the group of backbenchers and ministers that eventually gathered the numbers for Turnbull.
It is this behind-the-scenes but pivotal role that has led some Canberra-based Liberal Party members to hope for Hendy's defeat at this election. In a decision that could prove costly to Hendy, they have refused to volunteer on his campaign.
All of this makes Hendy's fortunes in Eden-Monaro particularly interesting. Assuming that the voters of Eden-Monaro continue their forty-year run of picking a representative whose party wins office, a Hendy victory in Eden-Monaro would appear to vindicate the leadership change from Abbott to Turnbull.
If Hendy loses, though, it may be with the devastating accompaniment of an overall Coalition loss at the election.
A Queensland native, Hendy has lived in Queanbeyan—Eden-Monaro's most populated town—for fourteen years. His campaign in 2013 was pitched at increasing jobs in the region. “Everything we can do for small business across the region we will do over the next few years to ensure we have the jobs for the people,” he said at the time.
In 2013, Hendy found unexpectedly receptive ears for this message. Despite the NSW Liberal Party's belief that he would lose, Hendy was able to defeat incumbent MP Mike Kelly.
That long-shot campaign may have been an additional factor in Hendy's eventual decision to back Turnbull over Abbott. According to Niki Savva's book, the NSW party machine informed Abbott and leading Liberals Julie Bishop, Scott Morrison and Joe Hockey to not bother visiting Eden-Monaro during the 2013 federal campaign. But Julie Bishop visited anyway—as did Malcolm Turnbull.
Prior to his political career, Hendy had gained substantial experience working in the private and public sectors. He was Chief Executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Chief of Staff to the Minister for Defence. Possessed of a Bachelor of Economics degree and First Class Honours from the University of Queensland, Hendy also holds a PhD for his work researching the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry's influence on government policy.
In this campaign Hendy has the advantage of a redistribution that made Eden-Monaro a little friendlier to the Liberal Party, yet he's also facing a popular challenger in former MP Mike Kelly, who is seeking to return to Parliament on a platform of unfinished business.
In his first speech to the Parliament, Hendy outlined the perspective he would take as Eden-Monaro’s representative. “I am an economist by profession but let me emphasise I am not an ivory tower ideologue who simply cares between Right and Left [sic]. What is important is between right and wrong. We need to do the right thing by the people of Eden-Monaro and all people who live in regional areas.”
Doing the right thing by the people of Eden-Monaro was key to Hendy's campaign in 2013—whether he's done that since will be judged by voters on July 2.
Dr. Hendy and his office did not respond to requests from UniPollWatch for an interview.