Australian Elections

John Alexander Wins Bennelong, But Warning Signs For Coalition

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Bennelong By-Election 2017

The citizenship drama in the Australian Parliament did not cost John Alexander his seat. His re-election, however, came with distressing signs for Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition government.

Both major Australian political parties can hang their hats on something from Saturday’s results.

John Alexander Wins Bennelong: The Results (2PP)

John Alexander Wins Bennelong 2017

John Alexander Wins: The Coalition’s Good

Labor recruited well in this seat, getting former NSW premier Kristina Keneally to run against John Alexander. Of course, you may remember her from such landslide defeats as the 2011 NSW state election, but it was hardly all her fault. Time heals these sorts of things, and Keneally was seen as a star on the comeback trail.

Keneally had been accused of campaigning overzealously, but it worked to some extent in this safe Liberal seat. Alexander pulled through, and Malcolm Turnbull maintain his slim House of Representatives majority. Had Alexander lost to Keneally, the Coalition would be left with 75 seats out of 150. A Coalition loss of majority could have meant a challenge to Turnbull’s leadership of the Liberal Party. It seems inevitable, anyway, given their poor polling position, but Turnbull’s premiership will be uncontested entering 2018.

On the local level, the Coalition regained their veteran MP for Bennelong, who stands the best chance of anyone to hold the seat at the next federal election.

Considering that Labor just won the Queensland state election further north, holding Bennelong is a relief for the Coalition. The news is far from universally good, however.

John Alexander Wins: The Coalition’s Bad

Without question, polling for the Liberal-National Coalition is in a bad spot overall, and has been. The most recent Newspoll has Labor ahead 53-47 on a two-party preferred basis, which would amount to a three-percent swing to the ALP. It would also mean an estimated 82 seats and a majority government for Bill Shorten and Labor. The ALP has led in 24 consecutive Newspoll releases.

The Bennelong results saw John Alexander returned with a swing to Labor of 5.5 percent. Such a result replicated across Australia could put Labor over 90 seats. It’s always a bit preposterous with the “if replicated nationally” line, since it will never be exactly uniform. Nevertheless, if it averages out to that, Malcolm Turnbull would lose the next election badly.

New England’s by-election earlier in December, in which Barnaby Joyce was re-elected, was a better result, but with a slightly different situation. Bennelong is an inner metropolitan seat across the river from Sydney. New England is in regional northern New South Wales, with a strong National Party bent. Alexander’s seat was held by former prime minister John Howard for decades; Labor only won it once in Kevin Rudd’s 2007 landslide. Both are considered “safe” seats, but they went in opposite directions. The Nationals’ Joyce increased his majority, while the Liberals’ Alexander reduced his.

Labor isn’t going to be a contender in seats like New England, but if seats like Bennelong are close in the next federal election, Bill Shorten will have a very good night.

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