Oakeshott began his political career in state politics. Originally elected as the National Party candidate for the state seat of Port Macquarie in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1996, he left the party to become an Independent in 2002. Oakeshott retained the seat until 2008, when he resigned to contest the federal seat of Lyne in a by-election which he won with a large margin.
The 2008 by election
Standing as an Independent against the National Party’s Rob Drew, Oakeshott won virtually every booth in the electorate, receiving about two-thirds of the primary vote.
FIRST PREFERENCES NSW LYNE BY ELECTION – 2008
Candidate Party Votes % Swing
Rob OAKSHOTT Independent 47,306 63.8 +63.8
Rod DREW Nationals 6,946 22.8 -29.3
Susie RUSSELL The Greens 5,206 7.0 -0.1
Others 4,089 5.4 + 4.8
Notes: The Australian Labor Party had won 32 percent of the primary vote in the previous general election. For this by-election, no Australian Labor Party candidate was present. It partly explains why Oakeshott's PV was so overwhelming. Rod DREW was a new candidate,therefore the 2PP margin swing below reflects the previous election result of Mark Vale.
TWO CANDIDATE PREFERRED NSW LYNE BY ELECTION – 2008
Candidate Party Votes % 2007 Swing
Rob OAKESHOTT Independent 54,770 73.8 ----- +73.8
Rob DREW National 19,377 26.1 58.5 -32.4
Australian Electoral Commission. By-Elections. Lyne 2008
Australian Electoral Commission. Seats by Division, Lyne 2007
In his first term, Oakeshott voted 32 times with the ruling Labor government -including support of the proposed emission trading scheme- and nine times with the opposition. Oakeshott claims this record is not necessarily indicative of support for Labor's policy platform- because he believed in “allowing governments to govern”.
Source: Tom Arrup. Profile. Rob Oakeshott. The Age. Fairfax Media. 23 August 2010.
Second term 2010 -2013.
Oakeshott was re-elected in the 2010 general federal election.
FIRST PREFERENCES NSW DIVISIONS. LYNE 2010
Candidate arty Votes % 2008 Swing (%)
Candidate Party Votes % 2008 Swing
Rod OAKESHOTT Independent 40,061 47.1 63.8 -16.7
David GILLESPIE The Nationals 29,216 34.3 22.8 +15.7
Fred LIPS ALP 13,459 13.4 ----- +13.4
OXENFORD The Greens 3.645 4.2 7.0 -3.8
Others 586 0.6 5.4 -4.7
Source: Australian Electoral Commission. Divisions NSW Lyne. https://results.aec.gov.au/15508/Website/HouseDivisionFirstPrefs-15508-130.htm
The softening of Oakeshott’s primary vote in the 2010 general election (-16.7%) could be read as punishment for Oakeshott giving at least a perception that he was ‘supporting’ the traditionally National party voter’s opposition, the Australian Labor Party - particularly the proposed Emissions Trading Scheme.
However, much of this slump could also be attributed to the pull-back that can occur at a general election after a by election and/or the presence of an Australian Labor Party candidate in 2010, absent in 2008.
TWO CANDIDATE PREFERRED NSW DIVISIONS: LYNE 2010
Candidate Party Votes % 2008 Swing
Rob OAKESHOTT Independent 53,297 62.7 73.8 -11.1
David GILLESPIE National 31,670 37.2 26.1 +11.1
Source: Australian Electoral Commission. House Division. Lyne 2PP 2010 https://results.aec.gov.au/15508/Website/HouseDivisionFirstPrefs-15508-130.htm
The 2PP preference flows of the Greens (82.3%), the Australian Labor Party (86.2) and Independent candidate Barry Wright (60.7) in favour of Oakeshott over Gillespie was very helpful given these three accounted for 18.6 % of the first preference vote in 2010. Oakeshott will be glad to see these players at the 2019 election in Cowper.
Neither the Australian Labor Party or the Coalition had enough members to form government on their own. Oakeshott eventually joined independent Tony Windsor and Australian Greens member for Melbourne to establish stable government given concerns that a 76-seat government was "a by-election away from trouble". On 7 September 2010, Oakeshott gave his backing to the formation of a Labor minority government.
Source: Mark David. Labor over the line. Windsor and Oakeshott hand power to Gillard.
Sydney Morning Herald . 7 September 2010, p.1.
Shortly before the Australian Labor Party leadership spill (2012) Oakeshott stated that he would not continue to support the minority Labor Government if Labor changed leaders. Prime Minister Julia Gillard survived the leadership spill and Oakeshott continued his support for the minority Labor Government. With the diverse crossbench holding the balance of power. Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and other crossbenchers provided confidence for Labor while retaining the right to vote on conscience in other matters.
Oakeshott's support for Labor didn't play well with some of constituent in an era historically accustomed to National -ALP match ups in both federal and State elections. In the State election that followed, a State electorate -Port Macquarie- would be framed as a litmus test of voters reaction to Oakeshott’s support of an ALP minority government.
The Independent holding the Port Macquarie seat, Peter Besseling,claimed he was not expecting voter backlash targeted at him for Oakeshott’s choices, hoping State issues would take precedence.
"What we are working on is state issues. This is a state election and less face it, there's going to be a change of government, but it's about what the State member can do to make sure that we have a better society"
The Nationals Port Macquarie candidate Leslie Williams focussed on her “strong campaign. But you know the only poll that is going to matter is on polling day, so I don't get too caught up in what people are telling me out there". On the other hand, she also observed
"Certainly there are a lot of people who are very disappointed with Rob Oakeshott's move to install a minority Labor government, so I guess there is a possibility that may have some impact on Peter's campaign,"
Source: ABC News: Close Battle expected for Port Macquarie electorate.26 March 2011. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-03-26/close-battle-expected-in-port-macquarie-electorate/2641240.
Oakeshott retired from politics before the 2013 election, leaving the question of electoral back lash unanswered. He claimed he was quitting because he was worn out from the extra work it takes for an Independent to keep with and support a minority government.
The 2016 campaign
Oakeshott contested the Division of Cowper at the 2016 election, challenging National incumbent Luke Hartsuyker. Cowper had absorbed Port Macquarie after the latest redistribution.
Comeback In June 2016, Oakeshott announced his candidacy for a return to federal politics at the federal election on 2 July. While Hartsuyker retained the seat, Oakeshott reduced the National majority from a comfortably safe 11.7 percent to a marginal 4.5 percent. Oakeshott came close as anyone in more than half a century to breaking the Nationals' long-term hold on this seat.
The 2PP preference flows of the Greens (78.7%), the Australian Labor Party (77.1) and others in favour of Oakeshott over Hartsuyker was not enough to win the seat on 2nd preferences.
Still, he managed to reduce the 2PP margin from 61.7 to 54.5 and shaved 7.1 percent from the National primary vote inside only 3 weeks of campaigning. He was always going to come back for another tilt at Cowper on these results-
The retirement of Hartsuyker brought the announcement on after the Labor candidate tipped his hand.
Sources: Australian Electoral Commission. Election 2013. NSW Division Cowper. https://results.aec.gov.au/17496/Website/HouseDivisionFirstPrefs-17496-113.htm https://results.aec.gov.au/20499/Website/HouseDivisionPage-20499-113.htm