Downer told party members in Mayo this week that she would return to Melbourne in January for family reasons, after returning to her childhood home state last year to snare preselection for a by-election tilt at her father Alexander’s old seat.
A second unsuccessful attempt to enter parliament at this year’s federal election was shrouded in controversy when InDaily revealed Aldgate man Paul Roy Bunney had been arrested and charged with stalking Downer, with a charge sheet alleging he posted “personal details about her on the internet and followed her causing serious apprehension and fear”.
Bunney denied the accusations, telling the Mount Barker Magistrates Court in June he would be defending himself under “the implied freedom of political communication”.
But InDaily can reveal Downer has now asked police not to pursue the case, with SAPOL confirming this morning that “charges against the suspect have been withdrawn”.
Downer told InDaily today she was unsure about the status of the charge but confirmed she had requested police drop the case.
However she declined to comment on the reasons for her decision.
Bunney was a campaign volunteer for independent incumbent Rebekha Sharkie at the time of the alleged offence, but the Mayo MP distanced herself from the furore, telling InDaily at the time: “While everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence, allegations of this nature are extremely serious and this person has been told in clear terms that they cannot be a part of my campaign in any capacity.”
Activist group GetUp, with which Bunney was also involved, similarly suspended his membership.
Bunney told InDaily today police prosecutors had withdrawn the charge citing “the stress of the trial for Ms Downer and her return to Victoria as reasons for no longer proceeding”.
He said while he “should feel relieved that it’s all over… to be perfectly honest, I’m a bit disappointed that I haven’t had an opportunity to clear my name”.
He said he considered the court case “an opportunity to set the record straight”, adding: “I thought we had a very good case.”
“The allegation of unlawful stalking has been very embarrassing, stressful and proved very expensive to defend,” he said.
“It has damaged my name, reputation and associations with others.”
He said he had applied to the court for costs against the prosecution.
Downer’s return to Victoria, meanwhile, ends her bid to secure party endorsement for the SA senate seat expected to be soon vacated by Liberal discontent Cory Bernardi.
The former Mayo candidate was considered the firm favourite among party circles, with factional insiders now favouring Tindall Gask Bentley Lawyers managing partner Morry Bailes for the role.
Bailes, a regular legal columnist for InDaily, is the immediate past president of the Law Council of Australia and a past president of the SA Law Society.
He is currently overseas and did not respond to inquiries but has previously indicated he is open to nominating for the senate, having been elected as a party vice-president in August as the conservative Right seized control of the Liberal state executive.
Other Right wingers mentioned in dispatches are Bailes’ TGB colleague and Young Liberal federal vice-president Jocelyn Sutcliffe, and Grain Producers SA CEO Caroline Rhodes, who today indicated she was “not ruling anything in or out at this stage”.
It’s understood Downer’s return to Melbourne was prompted by family pressures, with her husband Will Heath – a partner at law firm King & Wood Mallesons – regularly commuting between three states.
But multiple party sources have suggested Victorian members had indicated “there would be an opening for her in state parliament”.
“I think that’s where she’ll end up,” said one insider.
The Victorian Liberals are seeking to regroup and refresh after an election drubbing a year ago this month.
Asked whether she was aware of such an opportunity, Downer told InDaily: “I have no idea… it’s not a conversation I’ve been privy to.”
As to whether she would rule out such a move, she said she was “very focussed on making sure my family has a smooth move back to Melbourne and my kids settle back into a new school”.
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