The Bennelong by-election is likely to lead to a change of leadership in the Liberal Party which if wisely done, could significantly improve the governance of Australia and increase the Liberal’s chances in the general election which may come earlier than expected.
According to a Newspoll conducted on the weekend of 9 and 10 December, the Bennelong by-election is now on a knife edge. The Liberals’ primary vote has fallen from 50.4 per cent in the 2016 election to 39 per cent and Labor’s has risen from 28.5 per cent to an equal 39 per cent. The Greens are stable at nine per cent; the Christian Democrats have fallen from 6.4 per cent to two per cent as votes are transferred to the new Australian Conservatives who registered, for a new party, a high 9 per cent. On the two-party preferred vote, the Liberals and Labor are equal at 50 per cent.
The party polling leaked earlier suggested the Liberal incumbent, John Alexander, was home and hosed. This was never believable and suggested the sort of tactical leak Machiavellian staffers like to engage in.
The argument that Labor’s Kristina Keneally was a poor choice was always a doubtful proposition. An attractive lady with a fascinating American accent and an ability to communicate, the fact that she was brought in as Premier at the end of a disastrous period of Labor rule is probably barely remembered by many voters. It is doubtful that many swinging voters would blame her personally for the failures of that period. The Labor Party would be advised to keep opposition leader Bill Shorten out of the campaign. His negative image recalls his too many misrepresentations and manipulations and only neutralises Keneally’s impact.
As to the Liberal incumbent John Alexander, the fact that he was once a tennis ace is probably only remembered by older Australian-born voters, many of whom would doubt the relevance of that to political life.
Conservative voters, those inclined to vote for the Australian Conservatives or the Christian Democrats, will probably deny him their first preferences. This was, after all, one of the few electorates which voted No in the recent same-sex marriage survey, albeit narrowly. In addition, Alexander abandoned Abbott when Turnbull mounted his coup.
The Chinese vote, 17.1 per cent of the electorate, will be crucial. A distinction should be made between those born on the Chinese mainland, over 22,000, with those born in Hong Kong, over 5000. According to a knowledgeable source, people from Hong Kong can be expected to vote independently but those from the mainland are more likely to follow community leaders’ advice. Most of them will reflect Beijing’s views. This is what happened in 2007 when John Howard lost the seat.
As to whether they will favour the Liberals or Labor, financial interests close to the Communist government —crony capitalists —have done very well from the approach adopted by both parties, particularly in relation to approving the acquisition of vast tracts of prime agricultural land, mining interests and even strategic assets, such as the long term lease of the Port of Darwin. Neither side seems much concerned about our growing, indeed excessive, economic dependence on Communist China, greater than that of any other similar country.
But it is in the echelons of retired Labor politicians where we find a push for a more “independent” foreign policy. This seems to mean abandoning or loosening our links with the United States and falling even more into the Communist Chinese orbit. This might suggest that with the Turnbull government’s newly found determination to restrain those who seem to prefer to act in Beijing’s interests, the Dastyari affair and the activities of former Labor politicians, that there might be a marginal Communist preference for a Labor government, especially when they consider the downside of a possible return to a conservative government under Abbott which would be likely to be close to President Trump.
If Bennelong is lost or even just held, there will be new calls for a change of Prime Minister. As Turnbull approaches the 30 Newspolls which he famously said Abbott had lost (actually there were 29) he now says he regrets this. No doubt he does. He says he should have relied only on economic leadership, but this leadership has resulted in little more than a dramatic increase in our heavy debt burden.
It is said by apologists that he has a significant list of achievements; what is clear is that this is not the view of the rank and file Liberal voter. On that, the view of committed Labor and Greens voters as well as the gallery is irrelevant. They don’t vote Liberal.
On the other hand Tony Abbott offers a bag of increasingly attractive conservative Trump-like reforms, especially in energy, immigration and similar key issues which the elites oppose but which are attractive to the Liberal rank and file. Presented by a campaigner of his calibre, and in the context of the widespread acceptance that the policies of Green-Labor and the LINOs have failed, especially for energy prices, this could prove attractive to a wider electorate in a general election.
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