Ryan Bayldon-Lumsden: The murder suspect standing for re-election in Australia

Ryan Bayldon-Lumsden: The murder suspect standing for re-election in Australia

Outside an Australian community centre, local election candidates make last-ditch efforts to win over people who are filing into the makeshift polling station.

Most voters are too pre-occupied trying to dodge the flyer-thrusting politicians to notice a clue that this is not your ordinary campaign for a seat on the City of Gold Coast council.

Incumbent councillor Ryan Bayldon-Lumsden is seeking re-election.

But concealed beneath his beige trousers is the outline of an electronic ankle bracelet - a device which allows police to track his movements.

The 31-year-old is charged with murdering his stepfather, Robert Lumsden, at the family’s home in August last year.

Further details about the proceedings can’t be reported at the moment for legal reasons, but his lawyers have indicated at a pre-trial hearing that he will plead not guilty.

And because a Queensland Supreme Court judge granted him bail, he is able to campaign ahead of Saturday’s election - becoming perhaps the only Australian in recent history fighting both a political battle and a murder charge simultaneously.

’Voters always get it right’

Deciding to stand for public office again has been called "selfish", "strange", "entitled" and "unbelievable".

But when approached by the BBC outside the polling booth at Runaway Bay, Mr Bayldon-Lumsden is defiant.

"I believe democracy is the most important thing, and voters always get it right," he says.

"So if voters want me, they’ll choose to re-elect me. And if voters don’t want me, they’ll vote for someone else."

But few think it is that simple.

After being charged, Mr Bayldon-Lumsden was suspended from the council, while still receiving his full salary of A$160,000 (£82,700; $105,000) a year.

Critics say this means almost 50,000 people in his area have not had a voice on the local council.

BBC News Ryan Bayldon-Lumsden BBC News

Some voters are unaware of Mr Bayldon-Lumsden’s murder charge

"We’ve had issues from parks simply not being mowed, right through to major development applications going through our community, without actually having someone sitting at the table to represent us," says one of his rival candidates Joe Wilkinson.

If Mr Bayldon-Lumsden were to be re-elected, it’s far from clear if or when he would be able to resume office.

Deciding whether to suspend him again - and leave residents without a councillor once more - would fall on the Queensland Minister for Local Government, Meaghan Scanlon.

She would need to "consider the public interest factors involved in this matter and decide whether to exercise intervention powers", her department says, though no decision will be made until after the election.

This week Ms Scanlon said she wanted to be "really clear" that neither she, the state’s premier, nor their offices "have had any conversations with that councillor or their legal team" following his suspension.

She was responding to rumours swirling in the community that the murder suspect had been told he would not be suspended again if re-elected on Saturday.

And should he win, Mr Bayldon-Lumsden argues he must be allowed back into the job and the council chamber.

"There’s nothing that requires a suspension," he says.

"Democracy should be the priority here, so if the community decides they want me to stay as their representative, then that should be the case.

"I think it’d be a brave state government to go against the will of the people in a democratic election."

’Anyone but Ryan’

With Australia’s compulsory voting system, turnout will be high. His five rival candidates have banded together in a policy that one summed up as "anyone but Ryan".

These elections feature preferential voting, allowing constituents to rank their favoured candidates in order.

"We’re encouraging people to put Ryan last," says Jenna Schroeder, who like all candidates in the Division Seven district, is running as an independent.

BBC News Jenna Schroeder BBC News

Jenna Schroeder is one of five candidates running against Mr Bayldon-Lumsden

Although the killing was huge news locally, she estimates up to 40% of voters do not realise the implications politically.

"I have known Ryan for quite a while and this all came as a shock," Ms Schroeder says.

"I can appreciate that people really like him as a person, but we have to separate that person from the candidate and look at the community, because that’s what a councillor does, right?

"They represent the community. And if we don’t have someone doing that, we need to let people know."

Another contender in Saturday’s race, Edward Sarroff, believes Mr Bayldon-Lumsden should sort out his legal case before trying to get back into politics.

"He’s got very serious charges that he needs to deal with in his personal life," says Mr Sarroff.

"I feel that the community, to an extent, have romanticised it. They want to feel like they’re helping this guy out... That’s with the courts.

"No one’s denying he’s done good work for the community. The problem is, he’s not able to do any work for the community right now."

Voters weigh in

In the nearby suburb of Labrador, the waterfront is packed with early morning joggers and locals walking with dogs and take-away coffees.

And most people the BBC spoke to seemed oblivious to the peculiar situation playing out in their neighbourhood.

"It’s certainly unusual," says Bob Partridge, 79, pulling off his goggles after completing his daily swim in the local saltwater lagoon.

"If I was in his position I wouldn’t stand, and it’s unlikely I’ll vote for someone who can’t represent me."

BBC News Bob Partridge BBC News

Bob Partridge was surprised to hear Mr Bayldon-Lumsden was running

His friends Ruby and Neil Luxford, say they found it worrying to learn their councillor was missing in action.

"He’s innocent until proven guilty," Ms Luxford, 68, says. "But if he wants to stand again, he should wait until his court case has come up, is over and then see."

Another pensioner, who marches off for his ocean dip before I can ask his name, gives short shrift.

"He’s being paid $160,000 a year and can’t vote on council. It makes me sick. It’s my birthday today and just talking about this is ruining it."

Australians can cast a ballot in person up to a fortnight before an election day, in what’s called pre-poll.

And sitting at a picnic table overlooking the water, Sharyn Smith tells me she met Mr Bayldon-Lumsden at the polling booth earlier this week.

"I was surprised to see his name on the ballot paper given the circumstances. I thought it was a very strange thing," Mrs Smith said.

"But he was very chatty and appeared nice. I felt a little bit for him. It must be a very hard thing for him to do, because he’s getting so much scrutiny."

Having won with almost 80% of the vote after preferences at the last election in 2020, some of his rivals believe Mr Bayldon-Lumsden can win again.

It’s "definitely feasible" says Joel McInnes, one of several candidates who said he’d chosen to stand because of the "bizarre" situation.

"It’s been surprising to me how much support he has had," he says.

"There have been a few people that have come up and confronted him and told him what they really think about him running. And he has handled himself quite well in those situations."

"He can definitely still do it," says Bruce Byatt - who questions Mr Bayldon-Lumsden’s "moral compass" in standing.

And Jenna Schroeder agrees a win is "possible" - pointing to the councillor’s "name recognition".

"The biggest anomaly is those disengaged voters who are voting for someone who they like the look of, once they get in the booth."

BBC News A poster for Mr Bayldon-Lumsden BBC News

The 31-year-old’s dog Rufus has featured in campaign material

One resident who clearly is engaged, and a supporter of Mr Bayldon-Lumsden, is Baerbel Seifert.

"I’ve lived in my area for over 30 years and he’s the only one who came in and actually did something. All the other ones made a lot of promises, and nothing happened.

"We don’t know what happened in the legal case, so I think he deserves a chance to do it again."

For a man with such a serious charge hanging over him, Mr Bayldon-Lumsden seems relaxed.

One of his promotional placards features a family dog - with the slogan: "Rufus says Vote Ryan."

"The support in the last two weeks of pre-poll has been very positive," he says.

"And that support has meant the world to me, my mum and my sister. I just want to get back in and keep doing great things for the local area."

It will be many months before his criminal case comes to trial.

But by Saturday night, it will become clearer whether Mr Bayldon-Lumsden has kept his political dream alive, for now at least.

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