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By Bernie Ripoll

Following the outcome of the “Super Saturday” by-elections many will pass off the results as a fait-accompli, but the mainstream media and polling certainly wasn’t espousing that view over the past 6 weeks.

The historic five by-elections held on 28 July have more significance than just Labor retaining all four of its own seats and the Liberal party unable to regain the seat of Mayo in South Australia from independent Rebekah Sharkie. It also puts to bed the speculation around Bill Shorten’s leadership and clearly frames the big issues for the next federal election, most likely to be held in May next year.

The parties will disagree on the specifics that account for the results but there should be no argument that it was framed as a test of leadership and a dry-run for the real campaign to come later. The pressure has now come off Bill Shorten giving him clean air at least internally to pursue his own agenda. It will be the Liberal National Party corporate tax cuts for the big end of town versus Labor’s health, education and wages for working people.

The test now for the government is to internally rationalise the outcome, which continues the drift towards an election loss under consistent two-party polling. Do they double down on the corporate tax cut strategy or completely change tack on a new economic agenda? Either way it means change will be forced.

Giving the government more cause for concern was its inability to hold the primary vote against Labor or the independents and a failure to sell its agenda on the hustings. It’s widely believed the by-elections were deliberately set as long as possible and to coincide on the same day as the Labor party national conference, to allow plenty of campaign time believing it had a superior edge.

It’s still a long time until a general election and Malcolm Turnbull does not appear to be a Prime Minister in a hurry but nevertheless time is running out, either on its proposed economic reform agenda or looking like they can win an election before coalition marginal seat holders get very nervous and demand change.

While by-elections are generally pushed aside as a contest with nothing to gain, in this case there are clearly winners and losers.

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