Independent candidate Joe McGirr has ended more than 60 years of Liberal state election victories in Wagga, winning the state byelection at a preference count on Friday afternoon.
The two-party preferred result was 59.63 per cent for Dr McGirr and 40.37 per cent for Liberal Julia Ham.
As widely expected by political experts, the NSW Electoral Commission’s calculation of preferences at the Wagga Returning Office has delivered Dr McGirr the numbers to claim victory.
Speaking minutes after the result was handed down, Dr McGirr said he was “humbled and grateful for the support of the electorate”.
“Clearly, we wait 24 hours for the result to be confirmed, but the preference count distribution has taken place and it’s clear I have been successful,” he said.
“I’m very grateful and humbled to be given this opportunity by the voters in the electorate.
“I want to take the opportunity to thank a number of people, first and foremost: my family, who have been on this ride with my and particularly my wife, who has been absolutely superb.”
Dr McGirr said would make arrangements to resign his university positions and hoped to be in Parliament by Tuesday.
“I have some ideas for questions early on, certainly around the promises the government has made,” he said.
Dr McGirr said has was in contact with NSW Parliament’s Speaker of the House and hoped to attend his first sitting of parliament by Tuesday.
“There is a period now of waiting for appeals for 24 hours, if there aren’t any then the returning officer would issue the writs, as I understand it, and that would go to Sydney,” Dr MCGirr said.
“I’m anticipating, by winding up work here, that I would be able to get to Parliament for Tuesday, I’m hoping for that.
“I’m optimistic that I can start work in Parliament by Tuesday.”
Dr McGirr said when he launched his campaign back on August 19, his second attempt at the seat, he did not expect to win.
“When we started the campaign, I was reasonably confident that we could make a difference, that we could create some real competition in the seat,” he said.
“In that context, we had a another independent and very high quality candidates; by providing a credible alternative, as I said at the time, we could certainly create a real competition here.
“Whether I actually went to the extent of thinking we could win it, well as I said several times in the campaign, we were really up against it.”
The size of the election promises, particularly by Ms Ham as the Coalition government-backed candidate with more than $100 million in announcements, did sow doubt in the independent’s campaign.
“There were the resources of the major parties deployed down here; as the campaign went on the resources got greater and greater and come election day there was an army of people handing out (how to vote cards) at the polling booths,” Dr McGirr said.
“To be frank with you, I thought overcoming that was going to be difficult.
“That said, we did get a lot of support during the campaign, there was a lot of enthusiasm.”
Federal Riverina MP and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack congratulated Dr McGirr via social media.
“I congratulate Dr Joe McGirr on being declared the winner of the Wagga Wagga by-election and look forward to working with him for the best interests of the people of Wagga Wagga and the Shires of Lockhart and Tumut,” Mr McCormack stated.
Dr McGirr said he had since spoken with Mr McCormack.
“Michael has rung me to congratulate me and I have rung him back and thanked him,” Dr McGirr said.
“He has indicated a desire to work with me and I know Michael will always put the region at the forefront of his representation and so will I, so I think we can work together.”
Dr McGirr said he had not heard from former Wagga MP Daryl Maguire.
I congratulate Dr Joe McGirr on being declared the winner of the Wagga Wagga by-election and look forward to working with him for the best interests of the people of Wagga Wagga and the Shires of Lockhart and Tumut.— Michael McCormack (@M_McCormackMP) September 14, 2018
At a press conference soon after the result, Dr McGirr reached out to all Wagga residents, regardless of whom they supported at the byelection.
“I want to thank those of you who voted for me, particularly my supporters, I want to thank all the people of the electorate because it the election was a wonderful occasion.
“I particularly want to thank the other candidates who I thought made this a really engaging, professional election that stimulated a lot of interest; the conduct of the election was very professional.
“I want to reassure those of you in the electorate who did not vote for me that I will be working my very hardest to deliver better results for you and this community, which we all love.”
There were a lot of people who did not vote for Dr McGirr as their first preference.
Liberal candidate Julia Ham won more first preference votes at 25.52 per cent versus Mr McGirr’s 25.42 per cent.
However, Ms Ham appeared to fall victim to the lack of high-polling candidates asking their supporters to direct preference votes to her.
Ms Ham released a statement on Friday evening, saying she had called Dr McGirr to offer her congratulations on his victory and concede.
“The byelection campaign was a tough challenge and I respect the decision my community has made. In representing the people of Wagga Wagga in the NSW Parliament, Dr McGirr’s now has the opportunity and the responsibility to deliver on his campaign promises,” she said.
“This community is my home, and it is where I chose to raise my family.
“I care greatly about what happens here and about its future. My love for this region is the reason behind my desire to put myself forward as a candidate for Wagga Wagga.
“I want to see communities from Lockhart and Urangeline to Tumut and Talbingo get the services and infrastructure that they need.
“I want to make sure that local businesses are supported to grow and employ people, and families feel safe and looked after.”
Ms Ham said she would also ”take some time to consider my political future”.
“Particularly given the close result, we should put our political views aside and work to ensure that this electorate remains a great place to live and work for future generations,” she said.
“Having spent the past four weeks campaigning my heart out, my focus will now firmly return to my family, my farm and my duties as the Snowy Valleys Councillor.”
Labor candidate Dan Hayes conceded defeat on Monday.
The Commission this week delayed the preferences calculation, which was originally set for 9am on Thursday.
Seven candidates battled it out over a short campaign following Daryl Maguire’s decision to quit parliament last month after the Independent Commission Against Corruption heard evidence that he had sought kickbacks from Sydney property deals.
This article first appeared in the Daily Advertiser