While Mad March may be over, the festival of democracy continues in South Australia.
Off the back of a downright bizarre state election, which delivered a surprisingly sensible result, voters in the federal seat of Mayo will now head to the polls, presumably as part of a “Super Saturday” sometime in June.
Last week independent Rebekah Sharkie, another casualty of our serial career-killer constitution, resigned over some bureaucratic muddling in processing her British citizenship renouncement.
Anyone who has dealt with Service SA can empathise.
After hedging her bets in Victoria, Georgina Downer has now been confirmed as the Liberal’s choice to take back the once blue-ribbon seat.
Occasional Flat White contributor, former diplomat and daughter of Alexander, Downer has received rare cross-factional endorsement and a successful preselection by default.
In an electorate that has previously weathered the hubris of Jamie Briggs, concerns remain that Downer’s nomination might be viewed by voters as simply another act of political entitlement.
However, there can be no doubt that Downer remains a strong – blissfully female – candidate, of formidable political stock, complete with actual, real, discernible talent to back it up.
Amazing how powerbrokers can find one when it matters most.
Similarly, now-former MP Sharkie has made clear her intention to re-contest Mayo, which she has held since the Turnbull Government’s strategically questionable 2016 double dissolution.
Since then, she has assiduously built up a strong community following and boasts resounding personal support to make the late Bob Such blush.
Aside from its strong frontrunner candidates, this is a by-election where everyone has something to prove.
The stage is set for no holds barred contest between a newly-rebranded, electorally-bruised independent party and perpetually-limping government grasping for a much-needed win.
Sharkie’s Centre Alliance party, of former Nick Xenophon Team fame, has undertaken a recent rebadge in the absence of their namesake.
Potentially meditating somewhere in Nepal, Nick Xenophon has been missing in action since his considerable overreach at March’s South Australian election. Fielding more candidates than he could contain, the campaign was more hot air than the winds of change.
With zero time to solidify their message before its maiden voyage to the polls, Centre Alliance risks all the success of Family First’s catastrophic Australia Conservatives brain-snap.
And without their figurehead to put some stick about, the party risks falling into further chaos and squabbling between its rag-tag band of members.
Anything less than an emphatic Sharkie win is a death knell for Centre Alliance.
Similarly, buoyed by a single sort-of-not-disastrous Newspoll, this government has long been the victim of circumstance as well as their own incompetence.
With recent issues relating to citizenship, marriage plebiscites and Barnaby’s sex life behind them, it’s an opportunity for a fresh start ahead of next year’s poll.
Despite their recent statewide win, crucial southern by-elections have traditionally been overshadowed by federal faux-pas.
Another campaign fuelled by painfully out-of-touch ministerial visits and quips about canoes will not only mean a true-to-form loss, it will burn a genuinely decent candidate who had other opportunities elsewhere.
Far and away from the more conservatively palatable east coast, South Australia is a notoriously difficult state for the Coalition. Getting over the line in Mayo might just be Popeye’s spinach to a government who has never had more fun.
In typical South Australian tradition, nothing about this poll is certain. Labor and Greens preferences will be telling.
Labor has an opportunity to kill off a Liberal-leaning vote that could prove pesky in government. On the flip side, Mayo will never be theirs and chaos can be enticing. Whatever their strategy, it will involve wedging a new Premier from his Prime Minister.
No matter who is victorious next month, they will have little time to solidify their position before next year’s federal election. Similarly, a failed tilt this time might pave the way for a two-election strategy. It’s a long road ahead.
Between grassroots approaches or political dynasties, this contest is far from called and harder to read. But whatever this vote represents, unfortunately it will little to do with Sharkie and Downer.
Illustration: Georgina Downer/Twitter.
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