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Tom Elderton
Tom Elderton.jpg
Position 30th Prime Minister of Georgeland
Term in office July 1, 2019 -
Preceded by Clare Price
Succeeded by Incumbent
Political party Georgeland Alliance
Total time in office Incumbent
Born 18th September 1980
Constituency Emilypolis
Spouse Marcy Elderton (married 2011, separated 2019)

Thomas Bartholemew Elderton (b. 18 September 1980) is the 30th Prime Minister of Georgeland, having been elected in the general election of June 21, 2019. He is the second-youngest Prime Minister in the country's history (after Campbell Rhodes, the second to be the child of a former prime minister (after Michael Fisch, and the first to win election from neither government nor opposition. Leader of the Georgeland Alliance since 2016, he has represented the seat of Emilypolis in the Georgeland House of Commons since that year.

Early life and family

Elderton was born in Emilypolis to Michael and Rachel Elderton on 18 September 1980. He was the second son of the couple, who had one older son and would subsequently have one daughter. In 1980, the senior Elderton was Conservative MP for Emilypolis, the same seat his son would later represent. Elderton and his three siblings were educated at St. Brendan’s College. The same year Elderton entered the school, his father was defeated. Elderton Sr. switched parties to Labour in 1988 and returned to Parliament as MP for Smithfield. His father's frequent absences meant the younger Elderton and his siblings saw their parents infrequently, and Elderton has mentioned he did not enjoy his time at St. Brendan's, especially the periods where, due to his parents' absence, he was a boarder.

In 1997, Elderton entered the University of Scoita where he studied a double arts/law degree. As a young law student, he was an articled clerk for prominent law firm Rochester & Burnside, for whom he would later work. He graduated in 2001, the same year his father became Prime Minister. That same year he continued studying for a masters degree in political science while working part-time for his father's constituency office. In 2003, while still studying, he became a junior associate at Rochester & Burnside.

During his undergraduate period, Elderton dated Kelly Cole, and they were briefly engaged from 2003-04. As an associate, Elderton met Marcy Hopkins at a legal function, and they dated for several years before becoming engaged in 2006 and married in 2007. The couple have two daughters and one son. Unlike some of his predecessors, Elderton does not bring his family to campaign events and, aside from one photography shoot during the 2019 campaign, his children (all under ten) have not made any public appearances. During the same election campaign, Elderton confirmed he and his wife are currently separated.

Early political involvement

In 2007, Elderton moved from Rochester & Burnside to rival firm Rothman & Hill. Around the same time, he became more active in politics. At university he had not been particularly politically involved, although he did hand out Liberal tickets during the 2001 election, at which his father failed to secure a majority. In 2003, after his father resigned the Liberal whip and formed the Georgeland Alliance, Elderton joined the new party, but had little involvement with it fr some time. In 2007, he was elected Treasurer of his local party branch, and a delegate to the party conference that same year. Elderton left Rothman & Hill in 2008 to form his own solo practice in Aliceport, where he and his wife had moved due to her mother's illness. In 2010, Elderton sought to be selected by the Alliance for his father's seat of Smithfield, the senior Elderton having retired, but was defeated by Jasmine Furner, ostensibly because he no longer resided in the seat. Elderton said later his father encouraged him to run before he was ready. Elderton returned to Aliceport, but the family moved back to Emilypolis after Marcy Elderton's mother's death in 2011. While continuing his legal practice, specialising in criminal defence, Elderton took a stronger role organising for the party. He was Chair of the national conference in 2011, and the following year was elected Scoita State President. In 2013 he became chair of the party's national campaign committee. The party made gains, winning six House of Commons seats (up from three), and seven Senators.

Member of Parliament and Alliance Leader

At the 2015 state election the Scoitan branch of the Alliance polled 17%, but due to the electoral system this resulted in only 12 seats out of 87. Elderton had hoped and pledged to build the party into a viable force, replacing the Tories. When this did not eventuate, Elderton resigned, effective 1 January 2016. In February, he was selected as the party's candidate for Emilypolis, the seat once held by his father. At the 2016 election, Elderton won the seat with 38% of the primary vote, winning on Tory preferences. The party's leader, Christine Hinkle, declared after the election that she would resign as leader. Her deputy, John Bedford, had failed to retain his Senate seat. Elderton, with name recognition, youth appeal and strong connections inside the party, was considered a front-runner to replace Hinkle, despite being a first-term MP. After initially denying he would stand, Elderton eventually nominated to replace Hinkle. He was the only candidate, and at the special conference on 3 December, he was elected leader unopposed.

Elderton and the Alliance, along with the Conservatives and Green Party, opposed the appointment of Campbell Rhodes, the sitting prime minister's husband, as President. As the Martingate scandal unfolded, Elderton joined other opposition to the appointment and said he would not support Rhodes' appointment under any circumstances. However, on 10 June he said he would be prepared to support the appointment if Deborah Rhodes resigned. This deal was rejected. Elderton and the rest of the Alliance voted against the appointment, which was rejected by a small majority of 173 votes to 166. Immediately following the vote, a motion of no confidence in the government passed the House of Commons, with Elderton and the Alliance joining thirteen LDP rebels, the Tories, and two independents in voting for the motion. The motion triggered another general election, the second in a year.

During the election campaign, Elderton called for a compromise, again agreeing to vote to confirm the PM's husband as president if she resigned. With the deal again rejected, Elderton said he would continue to vote against the appointment. Elderton impressed voters and media with his erudite and shrewd commentary on the unfolding scandal. However, a small swing in support for the Conservatives under Madeline Woods, plus low turnout in some key seats, saw the Alliance reduced from nine seats to three, including his own. Elderton, after the election, offered his resignation as leader, but the party did not accept it and he continued to be leader.

Immediately following the election, some of the LDP rebels along with some key independents, notably Ryan Stone and Edwina Haggard, formed a new party, Reform, with a platform to be based on constitutional, political and judicial changes to increase democratic representation. Soon after the party's formation, Elderton and Stone, the new party's leader, commenced negotiations for a merger between Reform and the Alliance. Ultimately the deal was rejected by Alliance members, who believed it gave too much influence to Reform and not enough to the much more established Alliance. Elderton and Stone instead agreed to sit jointly as the New Coalition, with each party retaining its own autonomy.

As the Martingate scandal faded away, and Rhodes was appointed president, polls showed public trust in government in sharp decline. The Alliance and Reform coalition surged in support, with many polls responding favorably to proposals for change. The Liberal Democrats and Tories, by the end of 2018, had barely 25% of the vote between them, with the New Coalition having almost half. Elderton led as preferred prime minister over both Rhodes and the Tory leader, Michael Armstrong by Christmas 2018.

2019 election

In January 2019, Rhodes was replaced by Clare Price in a lightning party room coup. Elderton again repeated the New Coalition's mantra of leadership stability, and continued calls for an end to "party deals" choosing leaders. By this time, a series of defections and by-elections had increased Alliance membership in the House to a dozen MPs, and the Liberal Democrats teetered on the edge of losing their majority.

In March, the Price government passed the Elections (Proportional Representation) Act, with Alliance support. The Act mandated that elections held after 2019 would be held under a proportional system, ending the instant-runoff system, and single-member electorates, that categorised Georgeland politics. Some polls indicated the New Coalition would win a majority even with the new system.

The Price government finally fell in May 2019 after losing another vote of no confidence, this time due to the defections of more members to the new Free Progressive Party. This followed a series of state elections in Bradmarch, Delmago Island and West Mainland in which the Alliance or Coalition had won power for the first time. With the defeat of the government, Elderton entered as the favourite to form a new administration.

During the campaign, on May 23, Elderton announced a National Commission of Regulatory Audit if the New Coalition took power. The commission would look into more than 50,000 government regulations and recommend a strategy for streamlining and cutting those which form barriers to economic growth. 

On June 5, Elderton's critic for agriculture, Leanne Pershaw, was reported by the GBC to have shares in several agribusiness firms. A week later, Elderton stood her down as critic and said she would not be agriculture minister. The scandal was somewhat dimmed by reports the following week that multiple Tory MPs held shares in water companies, companies largely reported to have contributed to a major drought in rural areas.

Elderton handily won the first debate, and performed well in the second, according to most polls. He attracted criticism on May 24 when he referred to Clare Price as "a difficult woman" during an interview with the GBC; the phrase was widely considered inappropriate; Elderton, the following day, apologised to Price and admitted he had spoken carelessly. 

On June 5, social media began circulating reports Elderton and his wife Marcy had split following an affair. Elderton made no official comment, and few mainstream outlets reported the story. However, it was a trending topic on Twitter and Facebook for several days. Neither of the couple addressed the story directly; on June 16, Elderton confirmed he and his wife were separated, but made no further comment.

As returns came in on election night, June 21, it was not immediately clear who had one. It became apparent quite early that the Liberal Democrats had been defeated, but a low turnout (the lowest in decades) and unusual swings meant the result was not known by midnight. Elderton, to his gathered supporters in Emilypolis, did not declare victory and merely told them to "wait and see." The following day, the GBC reported it was "more than likely" Elderton would be the new Prime Minister, but not whether he would govern in minority or majority.

On June 27, Martin Hall announced Elderton had been approached to form a government. On June 29, the division of Fairhaven was called for the Conservatives by a single vote. This automatically triggered a recount, in which it was shown about 500 preferences had been incorrectly assigned. The Alliance candidate, John Bedford , was declared elected, and gave Elderton the 133 seats required for majority government. Had the result stood, he would have been denied a majority by one vote. The Tories and Liberal Democrats were reduced to crossbench status as the coalition of state-based populist parties, Vox, won enough seats to be the Opposition in the new parliament. 

Prime Minister

See also: Elderton Ministry

First hundred days

Elderton was sworn in as Georgeland's 30th Prime Minister on 1 July by President Campbell Rhodes, who remarked as he did so that few probably expected the situation. He was sworn in at the head of a coalition government, appointing Reform's Commons leader, Edwina Haggard as Deputy Prime Minister, despite Senator Stone being Reform's leader. He further appointed Natalie Smith as Treasurer, Bedford as Defence Minister, and Andrew Taylor as Foreign Minister. Several Senators who did not retain their seats, including Douglas Jankowski and Nellie Baggett, were appointed to the ministry on the understanding they would serve only until their terms expired. The new ministry consisted of 50% women, a first for the country.

The first meeting of the new Cabinet, on July 3, formally endorsed the proposal for a National Audit Commission, with the legislation to be drawn up by the Department of Finance.

On 19 July, news media reported a story that President Campbell Rhodes had told Elderton he was a habitual user of medical cannabis, as a means of pain relief from chronic back pain caused by early-onset osteoarthritis. Elderton confirmed at a press conference the next day that Rhodes had told him this information and had given him permission to reveal it to the public. That same day, the President at his own press conference contradicted Elderton and said he had told the prime minister that he could reveal or conceal the information as he saw fit, but that he was disappointed. It later transpired that Rhodes had been using cannabis for pain prior to its legalisation, meaning he had transported it across state lines. While no longer a felony, it was a misdemeanour at the time (during the early 2000s). Media reaction was mixed, as was political comment, with many publications focussing on the apparent breakdown of trust between the prime minister and president. A movement for a formal inquiry into the president's cannabis use was shut down by Elderton on 1 August. Elderton confirmed the matter was closed as no crime was committed, and that he recommended the president continue in office to the next election.

Treasurer Natalie Smith handed down her first Budget on August 13. The Budget included a scaled reduction in income tax, but an increased import excise on petroleum. The petrol tax was criticised by the Liberal Democrats as an attempt to increase fuel prices, but others, including Vox and the Green Party, endorsed it as a climate change measure.

With the support of all parties except the Conservatives and the Rally for Freedom, on 11 September 2019 Parliament declared a Climate Emergency. The motion had little legal effect, but did give the federal government increased authority over climate change-related environmental policy and signalled a focus on the issue; during the election, Elderton had been accused of trying to obfuscate on climate change.

International visits

Elderton's first international trip took place from July 16 to August 3. He visited the United Kingdom, France, Canada and the United States. His decision to meet with US President Donald Trump, something neither Deborah Rhodes nor Clare Price had done, was criticised by the political left but endorsed by right-wing commentators and politicians.

On 23 September, Elderton attended the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York City. That same trip, he was photographed with climate activist Greta Thunberg, and called her an 'inspiring future leader' when posting the photograph to Instagram.

Floods

Beginning in early December 2019, increased rainfall due to the Indian Ocean Dipole caused severe flooding across Georgeland, especially on the coasts of the two northern islands, Scoita and Bradmarch. Elderton pledged more than 300 million dollars in flood prevention and visited the affected areas. As the flooding continued, Elderton declared a state of emergency and directed federal disaster relief agencies to begin evacuating the areas affected by flooding. On Christmas Day 2019, eleven people including three children were killed when flood waters overwhelmed a bus attempting to evacuate the town of Fairhaven in northern Scoita. Elderton declared a national day of mourning and attended the funeral of four of the passengers.

On 1 January 2020, Elderton made a formal offer to the Australian government of three firefighting helicopters and 200 emergency personnel to assist with the wildfires causing havoc across the country. The offer was reportedly initially rejected according to the Guardian; on 5 January the government announced the offer had been accepted.

Changes to government

On 4 January 2020, Elderton announced a minor government reshuffle to replace the Senators who had not been re-elected in his ministry. Frank Bowman assumed the Finance Ministry, while Yasmin Foley was appointed to replace Nellie Baggett as Minister for the Arts and Sport.

Covid-19 response

The outbreak of the coronavirus disease pandemic in March 2020 was the first significant test of Elderton's government, with Elderton and the cabinet co-ordinating federal and state efforts to contain the virus. The first confirmed cases in Georgeland were announced on 3 March, and on 17 March the government announced all international flights in and out of the country would be suspended. With confirmed cases surpassing 1000, on 28 March, Elderton announced the Federal Pandemic Committee, a cross-government body consisting of state and federal health ministers and officials. Elderton declared the pandemic a "grave national emergency" as lockdowns across the country began to shut down sectors of the economy. On 1 April, Elderton made a televised address declaring the country 'closed for business'. The following day, a 75% wage subsidy for those unable to work during the pandemic, with an expenditure of roughly $320 billion, the largest-ever single government program. On April 21, the FPC assumed Cabinet authority, giving its decisions a legally-binding nature, the first evocation of a clause in the Disaster Response Act of 2012. This decision essentially federalised much of the coronavirus reponse, but state leaders remained closely involved. The pandemic took a personal toll on Elderton as two members of his government died either from Covid-19 or from exacerbated stress. On 19 May Joan Hunter, the federal local government minister, died from complications arising from Covid in a Topstad hospital. On 17 July, Florence Roberts, the Alliance's Senate leader and federal Environment Minister, Florence Roberts, died of a heart attack. Her family subsequently revealed that the stress of governing during the pandemic had contributed to her death. Elderton gave the eulogy at Roberts' funeral and was visibly in tears, something the media remarked on as a humanising moment for a leader generally considered a technocratic, stoic person.

By October 2020, the number of cases in Georgeland had significantly declined. Elderton and the FPC announced a slow re-opening plan for sectors of the economy, and extended the coronavirus supplement payments until at least January 2021. In Treasurer Natalie Smith's second budget, announced on October 12, the national debt was confirmed to be around $62 billion. Elderton's government announced a series of spending cuts, which attracted criticism. One of those cuts was to the wage subsidy, a decision attacked by welfare groups.

In general, Elderton's response to the pandemic was viewed positively, with a poll in July indicating 59% support for his actions, with that number raised to 74% in September. After the budget however, this dropped to 61%, and by the time of the 2021 budget had fallen to only 46%, with most citing the lack of strong, continuing financial support as a factor.

Georgeland had a high take-up of the Covid-19 vaccine rate, with 90% of those eligible vaccinated by the end of 2021. Elderton's government was praised for its highly-effective rollout of the vaccine and, in early 2022, of Rapid Antigen Tests.

Immigration policy

When campaigning during the 2019 election, Elderton committed the Alliance to a system of immigration detention, akin to that in Australia, though he emphasised those detained by authorities would have access to the legal system. A wave of refugees has sought asylum in Georgeland since the start of the Syrian Civil War and, from 2020, the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban. In an effort to reduce the number of unlawful arrivals, Elderton's government passed the Immigration Reform (Border Protection) Act, which mandated those arriving without a valid visa and/or at an unauthorised point of entry (such as by people smuggling) would be detained in specially-built facilities. The act was controversial, with the Vox opposition and Liberal Democrats, among others, voting against it, but passed the Senate due to support from the Conservatives, on 18 March 2021. The federal President, Campbell Rhodes, refused to sign the bill, instead recusing himself from office for 72 hours to permit the bill to be signed into law by the Acting President, Stephen Potter.

In July 2021 the bill was brought before the Supreme Court by refugee advocates, who argued the Georgeland government had a duty of care to asylum-seekers that was not met by detention, and that the use of ministerial discretion powers was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court's decision was delayed several times due to the ongoing pandemic, with some hearings and arguments held virtually. On 13 December the Court ruled, in a 5-2 decision, that the Act was constitutional and that the duty of care was sufficient.

Security reforms

Preceded by
Clare Price
Prime Minister of the United Islands of Georgeland
July 1, 2019 -
Succeeded by
Incumbent
Preceded by
John Bedford
Leader of the Georgeland Alliance
December 3, 2016 -
Succeeded by
Incumbent
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