Blowout by a ‘blow-in’ expected in Cook byelection

Federal Liberal candidate for the seat of Cook, Simon Kennedy, is expected to easily win Saturday's byelection.

Federal Liberal candidate for the seat of Cook, Simon Kennedy, is expected to easily win Saturday's byelection. Photo: AAP

The Liberal Party is expected to romp home in Saturday’s byelection in former PM Scott Morrison’s safe Sydney seat – but that doesn’t mean it will be all smooth going.

With Labor opting against contesting, a uComms poll from late March (commissioned by the Australia Institute) found a likely two-party preferred result of 65 per cent for Liberal candidate Simon Kennedy over the likely runner-up, the Greens’ Martin Moore (35 per cent).

But both major parties will have a close eye on the performance of Morrison’s heir apparent Kennedy, amid some strong views on looming political issues for both sides.

Kennedy won the contentious pre-selection battle with the support of party elders after being parachuted in from outside Cook, to the chagrin of local branch members.

Labor’s decision not to run on Saturday, despite its former candidate putting his hand up, has frustrated voters looking for an alternative to the Liberals.

Stephen Mutch, the MP for Cook from 1996 to 1998, said it was disappointing that no community independent candidate was pursuing the southern Sydney seat.

“It is a two-party stitch-up, the Labor Party has reaffirmed that by not running a candidate,” Mutch said.

“They’ll avoid independents like Dai Le and the teals happening in as many seats in as possible.”

In 2022, Le famously snatched another Sydney seat, Fowler, from former Labor senator Kristine Keneally, who was trying to move to the Lower House.

simon kennedy cook

Simon Kennedy with outgoing Cook MP Scott Morrison. Photo: AAP

Heir apparent

Cook is one of the country’s safest seats. Kennedy’s pre-selection is another in a series of men – often from outside an electorate – nabbing prized blue-ribbon electorates, while women must fight for representation in the Liberal party-room.

The former consultant beat popular Sutherland Shire mayor Carmelo Pesce and veterans’ advocate Gwen Cherne after previously running in the seat of Bennelong – which the Liberals lost to Labor in 2022.

Simon Earle, Labor’s candidate against Morrison in 2020, said he was willing to run, but the party decided not to run a byelection candidate for political reasons.

Labor’s decision makes Moore, a climate activist and artist, the nominal opposition to the Liberals in what is expected to be a blowout for a “blow-in”.

All you need to know about Saturday's vote: AEC edition

Source: Australian Electoral Commission

Integrity and honesty the big issues

But none of that means Saturday’s contest will be humdrum. The Australia Institute’s survey also turned up some surprising depth of feeling about political integrity among Cook voters.

The survey of 914 people in the electorate found overwhelming support for truth in political advertising and a strong National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC).

Of those surveyed, 84.6 per cent agreed that truth in political advertising laws were a must before the next federal election. Support for strengthening the NACC was similar, with more than two-thirds saying they thought it should be allowed to hold public hearings in “unlimited” circumstances (35.6 per cent) or when a hearing is in the public interest (35.2 per cent).

“Cook is Liberal Party heartland, but there is clear demand among Cook voters for integrity reforms like truth in political advertising laws and public hearings when in the public interest for the National Anti-Corruption Commission that the Liberal Party has so far not supported,” Australia Institute democracy and accountability program director Bill Browne said.

“Neither major party can afford to be complacent given voters in safe seats are as supportive of integrity reforms as marginal ones are.

“In Australia, it is perfectly legal to lie in a political ad – and it shouldn’t be.

“Our electoral system is long due for reform and Parliament should pass these laws before the next election, to pre-empt a fake news free-for-all.”

Poor turnout expected

The Australian Electoral Commission has flagged concern over poor pre-polling turnout that could indicate lower voter numbers on Saturday.

Early voting is down more than 11 per cent on the same period ahead of the 2022 election, and down nearly 13 per cent on local turnout at last year’s Voice referendum.

“While byelections traditionally have [a] lower turnout than a full federal election, it’s still below expectations, and just as important to have your say,” electoral commissioner Tom Rogers said.

“While it may be that more people vote on byelection day this time around, typically if someone casts their vote early in one election, they’ll do so in the next one,” Rogers said.

“While it is more communication for a single byelection than we’ve ever done, ultimately we know that political campaigning activities and media coverage are always key vehicles for awareness and motivation.”

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