Tanti smells victory

by Chris Griffith
Published 3 February 1996 in The Sunday Mail


my face


The Liberal Party was last night confident of victory after counting closed in the landmark Mundingburra by-election in Queensland.

But Liberal Party state director Jim Barron said it was too early to claim the north Queensland seat, and with it, the right to form government. "I'd rather be in our shoes than in theirs," he said.

Cheers and applause rang out at the party's headquarters in Townsville late last night when candidate Frank Tanti and party leader Joan Sheldon entered the building confident of victory.

Mrs Sheldon said the Coalition would seek discussions with Gladstone Independent Liz Cunningham and Speaker Jim Fouras to canvass the possibility of forming government.

She said the election result was a victory against machine politics and a victory for honesty and integrity in government. It was also a victory against arrogance.

She said Mr Goss had to recall parliament immediately because its closing down had led to political instability in Queensland.

There was absolutely no reason to have another state election, she said. "We've had elections up to our eyeballs."

A jubilant Mrs Sheldon said: "I'd like to declare victory after the 3,000 votes are in, but I think we're very close to it.

"We are on our count about 800 ahead in the primary, 52 percent of the two party preferred. We do have 3,000 sectional votes to count but let's wait and see."

Asked if Queensland had a new government, Mrs Sheldon said: "I sincerely hope so."

She said the thought of Queensland returning to conservative hands was "wonderful". "I think we can really get this state going. Queensland is a great state, it must be the Premier state and I'm determined it will be."

Cheers and clapping broke out and streamers fell from the ceiling when the party's hero, Frank Tanti, began to talk. He said he was "quietly confident".

"I'm glad to be in this position rather than be as close as it was last time. I think we've done our homework on the declared institutions and postals (votes).

"We'll wait till we get the final nod, but I am very please with what we have achieved."

Mr Tanti's biggest day in politics yesterday began when he woke at 5 am.

By 7 am Mr Tanti was eating a regulation breakfast of corn flakes and muffins with wife Ann, daughter Arlene, 15, and son David, 18.

"If I can get this for the Liberal Party, it's going to be huge Australia wide," he said.

Yesterday ended one of the longest campaign efforts in Australian politics, over 12 months of continuous campaigning by Mr Tanti since he originally won preselection for Mundingburra in December 1994.

He had previously been in campaign mode running as the local Division five candidate in the Townsville City Council elections which he lost by 182 votes.

The Tanti family has relied on part-time work, proceeds from the sale of Mrs Tanti's car, and a $5,000 loan from Mr Tanti's father to survive financially.

Nicknamed "the dry rot tester" for doorknocking over 5,000 houses in Mundingburra, Mr Tanti revealed over breakfast his high regard for his lucky number, 13.

"Everything happens if it has something to do with 13 or ends in 13".

( Hopefully, this was not to apply to yesterday being 13 years to the day since Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser announced the 1983 election, which he lost to Labor's Bob Hawke. )

Needing exactly 11,427 votes for victory, Mr Tanti did not eat his breakfast before he and his family left for Liberal Party campaign headquarters.

Supporters waved as he passed the local Mundingburra polling booth en route.

He was living on nervous energy, but mildly confident.

After a brief tete-a-tete with his Liberal minders, a local woman ran across the car park and gave Mr Tanti a kiss as he drove off to visit polling booths.

Mr Tanti then shook hands with voters by the gate at polling booths around Mundingburra.

By mid morning he had visited three booths -- Heatley, Cranbrook, and Aitkenvale. Three times Mr Tanti was only feet away from rival candidate Labor's Tony Mooney giving out cards.

But on no occasion did the two men shake hands or even acknowledge the other's presence. It was not that kind of contest.

The Tanti's then returned to the Liberal Party campaign office to rendezvous with Mrs Sheldon before Mr Tanti faced the media and voted at the Mundingburra State School at 11 am.

Mr Tanti, a diminutive figure, was swamped by the enormous barrage of cameras and journalists who greeted him as he arrived to vote.

For 18-year-old David, the by-election was his first opportunity to vote -- which he did proudly for his father.

This morning Mr Tanti and his family will attend their local Presbyterian church at 9.30 am. Afterwards, they will host a mid-morning get together at home for supporters.