August 20, 2013 – 6:47PM
Federal political reporter
Kevin Baker, the Liberal candidate for Charlton. Photo: Simone De Peak
The Liberal candidate at the centre of a controversy over offensive comments on a web forum has quit.
Kevin Baker’s name will still appear on the ballot paper as the Liberal candidate because nominations closed last week and early voting started on Tuesday, but he is considered unlikely to win Charlton.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott had signalled he would consider Mr Baker’s future as the candidate for the NSW Labor-held seat after he came under fire for running a car enthusiasts’ website that included racism and offensive comments about women.
Labor demanded Mr Abbott dump Mr Baker as his candidate for former minister Greg Combet’s seat of Charlton over the “Mini-Mods” web forum.
The forum, which has been pulled down since the criticism broke, featured a general discussion section with the banner: “Talk about anything you want – no censorship, no stress!”
According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, the forum included jokes calling the Pope a paedophile, referring to women making love on pool tables and “Tit banter”.
In a statement issued late on Tuesday, Mr Baker said he had decided not to run as the Liberal candidate for Charlton.
“I understand that while my name will still appear on the ballot paper, my campaign is over,” he said.
“I deeply regret the posts made on my website and decided that it was not appropriate to continue as the party’s candidate.”
NSW Liberal Party state director Mark Neeham said the party had accepted Mr Baker’s resignation.
“Consequently the party will not be represented in Charlton at the election,” Mr Neeham said.
An Australian Electoral Commission spokesman said electoral laws required that after nominations closed and the ballot paper order was drawn, “they are the ballot papers that are used for voting; no changes are made”.
The Liberal party disendorsed Pauline Hanson for the Queensland seat of Oxley in 1996, but the ballot papers had already been printed and she was elected with the party next to her name. The dumping meant she entered Parliament as an independent.
Labor currently holds the NSW seat of Charlton on a 12.7 per cent margin and Pat Conroy is running for the ALP. Mr Conroy was the deputy chief-of-staff to the retiring MP, former climate-change minister Greg Combet.
Liberal sources said Mr Baker was extremely unlikely to win the seat despite his resignation – especially after the web forum controversy and with Mr Baker ceasing campaigning.
At an earlier media event, Mr Abbott said he would be briefed on the issue, but noted Mr Baker had apologised for the comments.
“He’s done the wrong thing. To his credit he’s pulled down the site. He has abjectly and quite properly apologised but, yep, he’s done the wrong thing,” he said.
Mr Abbott had left the door open to potentially dumping Mr Baker as a candidate, saying he would review further information about the issue later on Tuesday.
“I’m going to receive a further briefing on this later today,” Mr Abbott said.
In a statement, the Labor campaign said Mr Baker’s website “included offensive references about incest, domestic violence, racism and child abuse” and “jokes about having sex with strippers”.
“Mr Abbott has no option but to follow the lead of former prime minister John Howard.
“Following the close of nominations in the 1996 election Mr Howard publicly ’disendorsed’ the then Liberal candidate for Oxley Pauline Hanson after derogatory comments she had made,” a Labor statement said.
“Even though she would still appear on the ballot as a Liberal on polling day, Mr Howard said Ms Hanson would never be welcome in the Coalition party room.”
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had called on Mr Abbott to dump Mr Baker as a candidate, although he initially fumbled his lines.
Mr Rudd said Mr Abbott should “show some leadership and man up” and remove the candidates for Dobell and McMahon (where Liberal candidate Ray King has come under fire over his appearance before the Wood Royal Commission).
The Prime Minister later admitted he meant to refer to Charlton and McMahon.
With Judith Ireland