Geoff Shaw may not be a team player in a political sense, but he's well regarded by the footy team he plays for, the Frankston Districts Tigersharks. Photo: Ken Irwin
Two young women are walking down Wells Street, Frankston: happy faces, nicely turned out and unfailingly polite. Excuse me, proud youth of this battling town, what do you think of Geoff Shaw?
''He's a c---,'' says Jenny, 23. She's an apprentice carpenter.
Why is that? ''In the last election I was handing out vote cards for the Greens. He shook my hand and as he walked away, he wiped off the hippie germs on his pants.''
Jenny's friend Chrissy Ashurst, 23, a student youth worker says ''He's absolutely pathetic … what's he done for Frankston? I see so many shops closed down and empty.''
Jenny and Chrissy are also unhappy that their local member has honesty issues, tried to bully Denis Napthine to appoint a favoured judge or magistrate (nobody knows for sure) has a history of pushing people around (taxi drivers), and in recent months has focused his coercive talents on the running of the state of Victoria.
''So there's that, too,'' says Chrissy.
Marching past is a man in his 70s, wraparound sunglasses, razor burn and thin lips. His opinion of Shaw?
''He's great!'' says Ian, 70.
Why is that? ''He's got balls. He stands up for what he believes in. The rest are a pack of wimps.''
There are two things to learn here about Frankston: it's a profane and divided town, at least when it comes to Mr Shaw, who this week faces expulsion or more likely suspension from Parliament for bad behaviour outed more than two years ago.
Last week, as his beatific face, New Testament beard and all, stared from the front pages, day after day, the man himself virtually shrank away, no longer the brawling gladiator who caused all this constitution-rocking trouble. The big question though isn't Where is Geoff Shaw? but How in the sweet Lord's name did he get elected in the first place?
The short answer, according to the true believers: he took the job with two mighty hands and made Frankston relevant, where previous representatives ''did virtually nothing''.
A local Liberal Party identity who claims to have her finger on the pulse believes Shaw is the best local member ''Frankston has ever had'', a sentiment echoed by half the locals interviewed for this story. This Liberal woman was running hot with outrage on Shaw's behalf until we checked the spelling of her name. ''I can't put my name to this. I want to. I really do. Someone needs to stand up for Geoff. But I have a number of business deals hanging in the balance at the moment. I can't associate with this sort of thing.''
Shaw's spiritual home, the Peninsula City Church, likewise denied him. ''No comment.''
Similarly distancing themselves are the party members who say Shaw joined the Liberals only months before preselections opened, with the sole purpose of running as a candidate.
Nonetheless, they admit, the local accountant ''scrubbed up well'', had charisma and ''ticked all the right boxes'' - a small business background, wife and children and links to the local church and community groups. As one insider told The Sunday Age last week, ''There were certainly no alarm-bells back then … He'd go around to the little old ladies and totally charm them. It turns out he did quite the con job.''
Shaw's ascension came down to a mixture of circumstance and blustering righteousness: former Frankston mayor Rochelle McArthur was the early favourite to win the preselection ballot, but pulled out after her husband became seriously ill.
What made Shaw an attractive replacement was his evangelical Christianity. It won him the backing of influential people in the party's hard right, including controversial upper house MP Bernie Finn, then party vice-president Sandra Mercer Moore, and south-east powerbroker Inga Peulich.
Indeed, the day of the Frankston preselection, Finn was spotted outside the convention venue talking to delegates as they entered - odd for a politician who represents the western suburbs.
Finn says he helped Shaw campaign before the 2010 poll, but insists he had little to do with his preselection. He was at the Liberal convention, he says, simply because a staffer, who happened to be a preselection delegate, needed a lift, not because he was actively lobbying on Shaw's behalf.
''I'd heard he was inclined to be on the conservative side, and that's always welcome,'' says Finn. ''But I have no influence in Frankston.''
There's no doubt, however, that Shaw found a parliamentary ally in Finn, who has similar views on topics such as abortion and gay rights, and also has a tendency to attract headlines. In fact, during the last sitting week of parliament, as Labor and the government traded blows over Shaw's misconduct, the independent MP abandoned his post to sit alone in the public gallery of the upper house, to watch Finn deliver a colourful speech blasting the ABC, calling for federal Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to be awarded a knighthood, and insisting that ''the climate change industry is a scam''.
Perhaps, he felt lonely for some like-minded company. Whatever the circumstances of Shaw's preselection, one thing is certain: he's always had the loner quality of the class oddball. He wasn't the only Christian conservative in the class of 2010 - an election many Liberals didn't think they would win - but he was certainly the most overt. In his inaugural speech to Parliament, the new backbencher created his own version of the ''welcome to country'', telling the chamber: ''In taking my place in the Legislative Assembly it is appropriate for me to acknowledge the original owner of the land on which we stand - God, the Creator, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Bible.''
His biblical piety was on display again when he erected a roadside sign in 2012, pleading for his estranged wife to reunite with him. The sign declared: ''Please Forgive Me, Sally; I Love You'' and cited a biblical reference, Psalm 42: ''As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you.''
Since then the controversies have come thicker than a plague of locusts: comparing homosexuality to dangerous driving and murder; allegedly abusing a mother who had called his office seeking help for her disabled child; intervening in a bizarre road rage dispute; scuffling with protesting taxi drivers on the steps of Parliament.
The tipping point, however, was the misuse of parliamentary entitlements, which came to light when former employees blew the whistle, revealing Shaw had authorised them to use his taxpayer-funded car and fuel card to make statewide deliveries for his hardware business.
It was a light-the-fuse moment for the relatively new Baillieu government. With the benefit of hindsight Liberal MPs now admit they should have established the facts, condemned Shaw's actions, and required him to pay back whatever money was owed.
Instead, Baillieu continued to defend his MP as ''a good local member'' while key advisers from his private office shielded him from the media glare. For Shaw, it wasn't enough. Aggrieved at having the matter referred to the Ombudsman - and encouraged by the anti-Baillieu forces to fuel leadership tensions - Shaw defected from government to sit on the crossbench, precipitating Baillieu's demise.
Still, the path of appeasement continued. When Shaw deliberately walked into a taxi-driver protest and ended up in a scuffle on the steps of Parliament last year, he demanded an immediate inquiry by the privileges committee. He got one.
When Shaw grew sick of Speaker Ken Smith, the man who referred Shaw's actions to the Ombudsman, it was Smith who fell on his sword. And when Shaw began agitating to wind back Victoria's abortion laws, describing them as ''some of the worst in the world'', Napthine initially left the door open, telling The Sunday Age he would assess any bill on its merit.
If the government had a healthy majority, things would no doubt have been different. But Napthine's survival for the past 15 months has rested on an unwritten pact with a ''rogue'' MP who has had a taste of power and wants more. It wasn't until last Tuesday, when Shaw threatened to bring down the government after Napthine refused to guarantee he would not be sanctioned for the misuse of his car, that the Premier decided he'd had enough. ''I will not be held to ransom by some rogue MP from Frankston,'' he declared.
Former state MP Gary Rowe, who was once Napthine's parliamentary secretary and one of the preselection candidates who ran against Shaw four years ago, was not surprised. ''Napthine tolerates fools to a point, and Shaw has obviously gone too far,'' he said.
Others are more sympathetic, pointing to the break-up of his marriage early in his parliamentary career as a turning point. One Liberal MP told The Sunday Age he believed Shaw had clearly ''cracked under the pressure''. ''The only thing that surprises me is that it's taken so long.''
If Shaw at least appears disloyal to the party that nurtured him, it's worth noting he was never a lifelong devotee of the Liberal Party, and clearly not a team player, not as far as politics goes.
On the footy field it's a different matter. Shaw plays for the Frankston Districts Tigersharks, in the over-35s reserves - in recent weeks he's been on the bench with a groin injury. His coach, Shane Dawes, who went to school with Shaw but didn't become friendly with him until recent years, describes a player who has an awkward kicking style but is good on the mark, takes plenty of ribbing from teammates in good humour, isn't given to grand-standing or throwing his weight around and will talk about his political woes when asked.
''I remember him winning a best and fairest award 20 years ago when he was playing at Langwarrin. He's one of the boys.''
Dawes feel Shaw has been given a rough time in the media, especially during the marriage break-up when he was wearing his pain like a red flag. ''He didn't do himself any favours talking about it on the radio … but it might have been kinder to leave him alone.''
President of the Tigersharks Phil Jones describes Shaw as a man with a heart. ''My wife died four years ago and he was constantly on the phone and sending emails, seeing how I was coping. He's pretty decent.''
It's also accepted that Shaw is passionate about Frankston, where he has lived since the age of seven. He did the rounds as a paper boy, attended St John Primary School, John Paul College, and completing a bachelor of business and accounting at Chisholm Institute. Before politics, he was a bouncer at Frankston's 21st Century nightclub and started an accounting company with his now-estranged wife in the early '90s.
But even then, controversy engulfed him. In 1992, he was found guilty of unlawful assault from his stint as a bouncer, leaving a man with broken ribs and cuts.
Despite the bad news and biffo factor, business people in downtown Frankston largely remain Shaw enthusiasts, less interested in his transgressions than the fact that ''he pops in and says hello'' and ''works hard''. In September, Fairfax Media visited the likes of Bob Sacco who runs Mamma Giovanna Pizza to gauge the love for Shaw.
''I feel the same way as I did six months ago,'' said Mr Sacco. ''If he done something wrong they should charge him. But they dropped the charges, so what's the problem? I tell you. He's a football between Labor and Liberal. It's not fair. I tell you something else. He runs in the next election I think he'll get re-elected.''
Three years into his parliamentary career, Shaw is now branded with all the cliches associated with politicians on the nose: ''embattled'', ''rogue'', ''controversial'', ''besieged''. Come this week, there may be another: ''banished''.
On Tuesday, Labor leader Daniel Andrews will attempt to find Shaw in contempt of Parliament for misusing his taxpayer-funded car for commercial gain, and will seek to expel the independent MP.
It's an extraordinary move - the last time a politician was permanently cast from Spring Street was 1901 - but Andrews insists ''enough is enough''.
However, some MPs from both sides of politics fear banishing Shaw would set an unhealthy precedent, and may not hold up to a legal challenge. He's not the first politician to breach entitlement rules and probably won't be the last. As one senior source admitted: ''We can't just get rid of someone because they're a tool.''
Boiled down, the privileges committee was split along party lines: Coalition MPs found he misused his car and should repay $6838 in costs, but could not prove he ''wilfully'' contravened the MPs code of conduct. Therefore, unlike the four Labor MPs on the committee, they ruled he was not in contempt of Parliament.
Labor's expulsion plans depend largely on whether former Liberal speaker Ken Smith agrees to cross the floor, knowing it could risk a byelection in Frankston, a seat held by the slender margin of 2.1 per cent.
If the ALP was to win such a byelection, it would give both sides 44 seats in the chamber, making Parliament unworkable, and potentially paving the way for an early election. But when things get this personal and ugly, as in any bad marriage, reason goes out the window.
The chequered history of the controversial member for Frankston
■ November 2010 - Accountant Geoff Shaw wins the seat of Frankston from Labor MP Alistair Harkness, who had served two terms, with a 6.8 per cent swing, helping the Coalition form government with a small majority.
■ April 2011 - Police called after Shaw refused to leave his wife Sally's home. The pair had recently separated.
■ May 2011 - Shaw tells a young gay man in an email that his right to love whoever he pleased is as invalid as the right of a molester wanting to abuse children. Victoria's Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner call his comments ''potentially dangerous''.
■ June 2011 - Shaw admits he had been charged over a serious assault while working as a bouncer at Frankston nightclub 21st Century. He received a fine and a good behaviour bond over the 1992 attack, but escaped conviction.
■ August 2011 - When police pull over a 21-year-old driver in his electorate, Shaw intervenes. Police reported the member for Frankston (a karate enthusiast) had a word to the driver about his swearing and a scuffle broke out between the two, who had to be pulled apart by an officer.
■ May 2012 - Shaw makes his personal life public, repeatedly putting up a hand-made sign on Golf Links Road in his electorate declaring his love for ex-wife Sally and pleading for her to forgive him and take him back.
■ Baillieu government launches an investigation into reports Shaw used his taxpayer-funded car to run his hardware business.
■ October 2012 - Labor MPs claim Shaw called Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews a ''wanker'' and made an obscene gesture in Parliament.
■ December 2012 - Police launch an investigation into the MP after the Victorian Ombudsman finds he used his parliamentary car to run his business.
■ March 2013 - Shaw quits the parliamentary Liberal Party, claiming many Victorians share his lack of confidence in the leadership of the government. Premier Ted Baillieu resigns later that day.
■ October 2013 - Shaw is involved in an altercation with taxi drivers protesting on the steps of Parliament.
■ December 2013 - Prosecutors withdraw all charges against Shaw regarding the misuse of his parliamentary car and petrol card, saying there was not a reasonable prospect of criminal conviction.
■ February 2014 - Parliamentary speaker Ken Smith steps down after Shaw sides with the opposition in declaring the long-term MP has lost the confidence of the house.
■ June 2014 - Shaw tells a radio station he will back a vote of no confidence against the Coalition should the opposition bring one, effectively threatening to bring down the government.