Voters in five federal electorates are set to go to the polls on July 28 in what is being dubbed ‘Super Saturday’. The outcomes of the respective by-elections will also be a key litmus test for both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader ahead of the next election.
Four of the polls have been triggered by the latest round of the citizenship crisis, three of which affect Labor held seats, plus Rebekha Sharkie of the Nick Xenophon aligned Centre Alliance Party. Meanwhile, a fifth MP, Labor’s Tim Hammond is vacating the seat of Perth citing family reasons.
Below we have provided a snapshot analysis of each of the seats that are in play.
Incumbent MP – Rebekha Sharkie
Party – Centre Alliance Party
2PP Margin – 4.97% (Centre Alliance vs Liberal)
Located in the wealthy Adelaide Hills region, the electorate of Mayo has traditionally been a safe Liberal seat. However, in 2016 Nick Xenophon Team candidate Rebekha Sharkie defeated former minister Jamie Briggs.
The Liberal Party has pre-selected Georgina Downer, daughter of former MP for Mayo and Australia’s longest serving Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. She is currently a research fellow at the Melbourne-based think-tank the Institute of Public Affairs and has also worked as a diplomat and a lawyer.
Labor have not yet preselected a candidate and are expected to run third in the contest. The Liberals are optimistic about their chances of regaining the seat and it would provide the Government with much needed breathing space by extending its majority in the House from one to two.
Incumbent MP – Susan Lamb
Party – Labor
Margin – 0.8% (Labor vs LNP)
Perhaps the most fascinating of all the by-election tussles will be in the Queensland seat of Longman, just north of Brisbane. After months of speculation, Susan Lamb was eventually forced to resign due to holding dual British citizenship. Earlier this week the LNP pre-selected former Newman Government MP Trevor Ruthenberg as its candidate.
Longman takes in areas such as Caboolture, Morayfied, Burpengary, Bribie Island and parts of the Sunshine Coast hinterland. It has been won by the Liberal Party/LNP in six of the past eight federal elections, however, Labor secured the seat in the 2016 poll off the back of One Nation preferences.
The LNP are hopeful of wrestling the seat back from Labor. A recent Reachtel poll taken had the LNP ahead of Labor 53-47 2PP. One Nation preferences will be key to determining who wins, with Pauline Hanson’s Party picking up 9.4 per cent of the vote in 2016.
Incumbent MP – Justine Keay
Party – Labor
2PP Margin – 2.5% (Labor vs Liberal)
The rural Tasmanian electorate of Braddon is another marginal seat that Labor picked up at the 2016 election. With the Liberal Party preselecting former MP Brett Whiteley, the upcoming by-election is a re-run between him and Labor’s Keay.
It is expected to be a tight contest and, along with Longman, will attract the most attention from the Government and the Opposition regarding visits and funding announcements. Despite the narrow margin, Labor are favoured to hold the seat but the Opposition will not be taking it for granted.
Incumbent MP – Josh Wilson
Party – Labor
2PP Margin – 7.5%
The Liberal Party have chosen not to stand a candidate, meaning it will be safely retained by Labor and Josh Wilson.
Incumbent MP – Tim Hammond
Party – Labor
Margin – 3.3%
The one by-election not triggered by an MP being found to hold dual citizenship, with Labor MP Tim Hammond resigning for family reasons. Again, the Liberal Party have opted not to run a candidate with former Kevin Rudd staffer Patrick Gorman all but certain to win the seat.
By-elections usually don’t favour governments. Indeed, the last time a federal by-election was won by a governing party was in 1920. Moreover, the by-elections held in late 2017 indicated that the electorate held a degree of sympathy for MPs ensnared by Section 44 of the Constitution. Whether that sympathy remains for this round of MPs is yet to be seen.
The Government would be very disappointed if it did not pick up Mayo in South Australia. The Xenophon vote tanked in the recent state election and the Liberal Party won every state seat that is in Mayo. Due to her family ties to the seat, Georgina Downer already has high name recognition and will have far greater resources than Rebekha Sharkie.
The Prime Minister will be hopeful of picking up one or two seats for a few reasons: it would provide much needed breathing space in Parliament; it would be a mandate for the recent budget; and it would build momentum ahead of the next election. Failure to win any seats would be disappointing for the Government, although it is highly unlikely that it would resurrect any leadership speculation.
There is, however, far more on the line for Bill Shorten and his leadership. Labor have polled ahead of the Government in 31 consecutive Newspolls and are seemingly on track for victory at the next election. If they were to lose either Longman or Braddon it would be devastating and spark leadership rumblings. On the other hand, convincing wins for Labor in these two seats would be seen as a repudiation of the Government’s economic agenda and add to a growing sense that Mr Shorten will be Australia’s 30th Prime Minister.
It should not be forgotten that the Longman poll may also have consequences for One Nation and its leader Pauline Hanson. As already mentioned, One Nation polled nearly 10 per cent in the seat in 2016 and has historically done well in the area at a state and federal level. Despite strong support in opinion polls, One Nation has underperformed in both the WA and QLD state elections. A poor showing in Longman would therefore not bode well for the Party and its long-term future.