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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Sophie Mirabella, most unpopular woman in Parliament

Liberal frontbencher Sophie Mirabella is in trouble.  Her northern Victorian seat of Indi is now in serious doubt after the Australian Electoral Commission found 1,000 misplaced votes in favour of independent candidate Cathy McGowan.  But she won't be missed because she comes across, rightly or wrongly, as the coldest, hard-faced woman in Parliament.

In 1995, Sophie Panopoulos began a live-in relationship with Colin Howard QC, dean of law at Melbourne University.  She was a bright 26 year old with a promising legal career ahead of her and he was a 66 year old, brilliant constitutional law expert.  The relationship ended in 2001 although they remained good friends until his death in 2011.  Her relationship with Howard was later the subject of a bitter dispute between Mirabella and Howard's adult children, Mervyn and Lesley.

Mirabella was granted Power of Attorney over Howard's estate.  It was alleged that he gave her gifts of $100,000 to help her election to Federal Parliament and another substantial sum to buy her farmhouse at Wangaratta in 2007.  There was also a home in Melbourne valued at over $1 million involved.

Colin Howard, QC

Mr Howard's adult children were understandably upset, but she told them that Colin's financial details, his power of attorney and his will were private matters.  "I have been advised that family members sometimes feel they have a right to ask about a parent's affairs, but in fact they have no formal legal right to do so", she wrote.  And she's right, inheritance is a personal decision and you alone decide what happens to your money, if you want to leave it to your pet dog, you can.

Colin Howard told his children he wouldn't be leaving them any money and Mervyn and Lesley Howard insisted they didn't need it anyway and if they did get any money, they would give it to charity.

They acknowledged that their father's feeling for Mirabella never wavered, before or after her marriage to Greg Mirabella in 2006. They knew he moved house to be close to Mirabella and her husband. Their main concern was that their father was looked after properly and treated with dignity during his last days. 

A socially awkward man, Colin Howard spent his last days battling Alzheimer's Disease in an aged-care facility.

And then there was the incident on ABC's Q & A where she recoiled in horror when lobby group GetUp Director Simon Sheikh suddenly slumped forward onto the desk.  She was struck dumb and stared at the unconscious man as Greg Combet and crew members rushed to his aid.  Mirabella's reaction sent Twitter into overdrive with comments like "Disgusted at Sophie Mirabella's reaction, no thought of helping someone in need."

Ms Mirabella said later that she was in shock and was "unaware it was a medical emergency" at the time and contacted Simon to wish him a speedy recovery from a severe case of the flu.  GetUp tweeted "Folks, please don't criticize Ms Mirabella, it was an extraordinary circumstance and everyone was shocked."

Outgoing federal MP Tony Windsor said last Sunday that Sophie Mirabella wins the "nasty prize" and she would be the person he would miss least in Parliament.  He's hoping she loses her seat to independent Kathy McGowan and he won't be the only one.

But Ms Mirabella wasn't fazed by Mr Windsor's comments. "Afterall, Mr Windsor is the man whose electorate voted only 8 per cent for Labor but he defied his electorate to put Labor in power, giving us the most hapless government since Federation" she said.

Edit 18 September 2013: Today, with counting finally over, Sophie Mirabella has lost her seat and will not demand a recount. Last week, even before the count was completed, Mirabella told Tony Abbott that win or lose, she would not accept a front bench position in his government.