Labor’s quadruple edge in the citizenship crisis: Candidates, time, history and money
For a party that just lost five sitting MPs, the ALP is well advanced in its preparations to attempt to get them all returned to Parliament.
No date has yet been set for what is being called a “Super Saturday” of by-elections in four states, but organisationally, Labor has stolen a march on its rivals.
Sources from both camps agree the Opposition has a quadruple edge over the Liberals — candidates, time, history and money.
In an extraordinary turn of events, three Labor MPs and a Centre Alliance MP were forced to resign this week after the High Court’s ruling on Labor’s Katy Gallagher.
Three Labor MPs and a Centre Alliance MP were forced to resign this week after the High Court’s ruling on Katy Gallagher. (ABC/AAP)
The ALP moved quickly to endorse the same MPs for the looming by-elections, but the Coalition is working out whether to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars contesting five seats, leaving it exposed for the general election in 12 months’ time.
The Government is most hopeful of taking the South Australian seat of Mayo from Centre Alliance candidate Rebekha Sharkie, with sources suggesting businesswoman Georgina Downer is set to be endorsed as their candidate.
Ms Downer is a Melbourne-based lawyer, former diplomat and conservative think-tank fellow who also happens to be the daughter of former foreign minister Alexander Downer.
But the party’s chances would depend on whether Labor runs a candidate, which would help its preferences.
Liberal sources are less optimistic about the party’s prospects in Longman, held by Labor’s Susan Lamb, predicting the ALP will not only outspend them, but get the “sympathy vote” too.
The LNP is in the process of choosing a candidate for the by-election but it is not exactly swimming in cash in Queensland and is focused on raising enough money to defend its 21 federal seats (many of which are marginal) in a year’s time.
Liberals in Tasmania expect the former Member for Braddon, Brett Whitely, to try and win back the seat from Labor’s Justine Keay, and point to recent polling which shows the party’s primary vote in the state is increasing.
In Western Australia, the Coalition is unlikely to contest the Labor-held seat of Fremantle and is still deciding whether to run a candidate in Perth, following the shock resignation of the Labor member Tim Hammond.
In contrast, the Greens have already selected and announced their candidate for the marginal seat.
The Prime Minister has long goaded Labor into the resignations that occurred on Wednesday, incredulous that the dual-citizenship cancer had not eaten equally at Labor as well as his own side.
One Liberal source says it’s more important for Mr Shorten to hold the seats. (ABC News: Matthew Roberts)
It raises questions about why the Coalition was not better prepared for what most had anticipated as an inevitable purge of Labor’s dual-citizens, in the wake of the Gallagher test-case.
But one Liberal source played down the significance of the looming polls, saying it was “more important for Bill Shorten to hold these seats than it is for Malcolm Turnbull to win one”.
That source also noted the Coalition would have to buck a 97-year trend of governments never winning seats from their opponents in by-elections.
The last time that happened was in Kalgoorlie in 1920, after the sitting member had been expelled for sedition, no less.
Labor wants Speaker Tony Smith to call the elections at the earliest possible date, to limit the political damage, which would be June 16, 2018.
But that weekend would coincide with the Liberal Party’s Federal Council meeting in Sydney. The ABC has been told Mr Smith is more likely to choose June 23 or June 30.
It is ultimately for Mr Smith to decide, but his recent record would suggest he likes to move quickly and nominate a polling day about five or six weeks after an MP resigns from Parliament.
Sources on both sides have told the ABC there was no reason why all five by-elections could not be held on the same day, setting up a “Super Saturday” style polling day.
It would be unprecedented to have five by-elections on one day but then, no-one could have predicted the depths of the citizenship debacle which has so far forced the resignations of 15 federal MPs and senators.