The Inside Word

NRL to Vegas, politicians to Dunkley.

Peter V’landys, the head of the National Rugby League (NRL) is hoping to make history, taking the game to Las Vegas expecting to crack the US’s lucrative Broadcasting market. Meanwhile, at home, a very different battle is shaping up in the outer suburbs of Melbourne.

This Saturday the gladiator sport of politics will be fought out in the federal seat of Dunkley, held by the Government by a margin of 6.3 per cent. It’s a mini referendum, a litmus test as to how the ALP Government is traveling, and all indications are ominous.

History has shown that governments usually lose by-elections with an average swing of 7.1 per cent, since Bob Hawke was Prime Minister. It’s the perfect opportunity for punters to send a protest vote to Canberra.

This trend ended last year when the Liberal Party lost the incumbent blue-ribbon seat of Ashton to the ALP. The shock result reinforces the trend that Victoria is a basket case for the Liberal Party at both a federal and state level.

Of the 39 federal seats in Victoria, the Liberal Party holds six while, the Nationals hold three. If the Coalition is to have any chance of getting within striking distance at the next election, winning seats in the second most popular state is crucial.

This takes us to the Dunkley by-election, a different circumstance triggered by the tragic death of former MP Peta Murphy. In these situations, the public is far more sympathetic to the incumbent government. Quite different from the Ashton by-election where the Opposition was punished by former Minister Alan Tudge’s departure.

For Saturday’s by-election, the ALP has endorsed Jodie Belyea, and the Liberals have selected Frankston City Mayor Nathan Conroy, who has taken leave from Council to contest the seat of Dunkley.

The reversal of the Stage 3 tax cuts, squarely aimed at quelling voter anger around cost-of-living pressures, show the Government is well aware of the vulnerability of their two-seat majority and will aim to sandbag every seat they have to maintain a working majority,

The political strategy seemed to be working until the perennial issue of ‘immigration and the released detainees’ derailed the Dunkley campaign. The Government also failed to effectively communicate messaging around the tax cuts to the public, cementing the possibility of a by-election loss.

Indeed, for the first time all major polls have the Coalition’s nationwide primary vote in the lead with the TPP nearing 50 per cent and above.

Is it any wonder former Prime Minister Scott Morrison has decided to retire from Parliament comforted that his NSW Liberal party will retain the seat of Cook.

A loss in Dunkley, will put added pressure on Prime Minister Albanese, who has been combatting a reputation of poor political decision-making since the folly of the Voice Referendum. The PM’s decision to spend next Saturday night at the Mardi Gras rather than in Dunkley will only reinforce this perception.

For Peter Dutton a win or even a marginal loss will only enhance his leadership standing, putting the Coalition in a competitive position for a real game at the next federal election.

The only sure winner next Saturday will be Peter V’landys’ NRL spectacular in Vegas, provided his players stay out of trouble off the field.

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