The Eden-Monaro By-Election of 4/7/20 was interesting for a number of reasons. 9/7/20
Amazingly there was a two-party-preferred swing to the Liberals of 0.37% and the margin was close, 50.48% Labor to 49.52% Liberal. Both the major party candidates were known to the electorate, Kristy McBain of Labor was a lawyer and Mayor of Bega Shire, and Dr Fiona Kotvojs, the Liberal was a science graduate and off-grid farmer who stood unsuccessfully at the 2019 Federal Election. Given that the electorate was very badly affected by the bushfires and Morrison was seemingly very callous and out of touch this is remarkable. It seems that he learned from the fact that he had ignored the fire warnings and took advice from the doctors early. This seems to have overshadowed his former errors. The overshadowing seems remarkable because some these people still do not have houses and the fire relief effort seems to have been mismanaged as well.
Labor’s primary vote was 35.9%, a fall of 3.27%. Former member, Labor’s Mike Kelly was popular and the fact that there are more parties in a by-election may have contributed to this fall, but the blandness of Labor and the lack of policies from Albanese must have contributed also.
The Liberals Primary vote was 38.35%, up 1.34%. In essence, Morrison has used the COVID19 crisis to turn Australia into a one party state. The government has formed a group with the Premiers, ostensibly to manage COVID19, but it also excludes everything else including Parliamentary scrutiny. Albo seems to recognise that criticism will not be welcomed in a time of crisis, so goes along into oblivion. This situation is working well for Morrison as, helped by the need to stimulate the economy, he gets access to the largest pork barrel in history. Given that he has proved a dab hand at pork barrelling with the Sports Rorts and Regional Development grants, this advantage is likely to give him the next election. Eden Monaro was just a bit close to and soon after the bushfires, but the fact that Eden Monaro was even considered possible to be the first government win of an opposition seat in a by-election for a century shows how the next Federal election is likely to go.
The minor party issues are also interesting. The Shooters got 5.36%. They were astute enough to change their name to Shooters Fishers and Farmers and this has paid dividends as they now have 2 lower house seats in NSW as well as one upper house one. Their 5.36% has them almost up to the Nationals at 6.4% which makes John Barilaro’s hope to win the seat looks almost silly. It must never be forgotten that the founder of the Shooters, John Tingle, took advantage of his friendship with Bob Carr, his position with sometimes balance of power in the upper house and concerns over guns to make a lasting deal that funds the gun lobby. Tingle persuaded Carr that only the Gun Clubs could keep track of individual gun owners, and made a deal that to hold a licence, gun owners had to shoot at a registered club at least once a year. The gun clubs can thus check them out, and hopefully report any crazies. In return for this the Gun Clubs get money to maintain the database of shooters. This of course can be used to organise shooters politically. Small political parties need quite a lot of money to keep track of members and keep them politically active. What an advantage the Shooters have! Now with the Fishers and Farmers in the name, the Nationals seem more of a tail on the neo-Liberal dog and a friend of miners and irrigators than workers for ordinary farmers. So the Shooter’s Fishers and Farmers are on the move. The Gun Control lobby needs to stay on its toes!
The Greens at 5.62% vote went down 3.16%, but the non-major vote tends to be divided up, so more independents and small parties in by-elections make it harder for the Greens. The Major party vote was 74.25, and the non-major vote 25.75. (My own hobby horse is that the major parties have a huge gerrymander as the preferential system means that together they get 75% of the vote, but almost all the seats).
The 3 Independents got 3.06% and the 5 tiddler parties 2.92% between them. The HEMP (Marijuana) Party 2.27%, Science 1.11% and the Lib Dems, Christians, and Australian Federation Party 0.69%, 0.65%, and 0.19%, all trying to keep their issues and upper house profiles alive. The Christians are sinking to an almost terminal level, but with the huge religious influence in the Liberal party they are hardly necessary.
So the key points were the strength of the Liberals based on COVID and their licence to pork-barrel, and the corresponding weakness of Labor- just enough to stop a challenge to Albo but with no chance at a Federal election if something does not change significantly. The weakness of the Nationals and the corresponding rise of the Shooters as the alternative is a bit of a worry, with the Greens and the others hard to assess.