And the winner in Canning is … Malcolm Turnbull



Think about it. The Liberals dumped their first term prime minister six days out from what everyone thought was a tight by-election and still won. Chaos, division, acrimony and even leaks against the new leader all counted for almost nothing in terms of the final result.

In two party terms, Labor recorded a more than 6 per cent swing. More than the 2.5 per cent usual after a sitting member dies.

So, we welcome to Canberra the very conservative Andrew Hastie, an Abbott man arriving just in time for a new Turnbull regime. Whatever that turns out to be it won’t be the reactionary administration the parliamentary Liberal Party worked out the people of Australia did not want.

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The final anti-Liberal swing is still to be determined. Some believe the pre-poll votes will boost it. Almost 10 per cent of those enrolled voted before Abbott was dispatched to the dustbin of history.

Andrew Hastie

Taste of victory: Andrew Hastie raises a glass of beer in triumph. Photo: AAP

As WA minister Michaelia Cash told Sky News: “The atmosphere in Canning changed with the election of Malcolm Turnbull as leader.”

If three ReachTel polls and a Galaxy poll in the electorate in past weeks are any guide the new Liberal Leader stopped the rot. The 10 per cent swing was arrested.

That the Liberals were in this pickle in the first place is ample testimony to just how toxic the brand had become under Tony Abbott.

By any measure the margin of 11.8 percent secured by the late Don Randall meant we were talking about a Liberal heartland seat.

For some the result is a rejection of Labor’s Bill Shorten. But a swing around 6 per cent across Australia would in fact see the Opposition Leader close to winning a general election.

In many ways the Canning by-election had already claimed its biggest victim. The federal Liberal party room saw what was happening in one of its safer seats and really didn’t need to wait to draw any conclusions.

Canning poster

One of the posters seen in Canning on election day. Photo: AAP

Especially as media mogul Rupert Murdoch had let the cat out of the bag. Tony Abbott was thinking of rushing to a double dissolution election to head off any challenge to his leadership.

Denials came thick and fast last weekend but a majority of Liberal MPs were not persuaded.

As several Liberals said to me: “Tony (Abbott) is crazy enough to do it.”

They believed the embattled prime minister was prepared to take the Liberal ship down with him.

What gave this by-election importance in the first place was the realisation that 30 consecutive negative Newspolls, supported bolstered by the findings of five other polling organisations over 17 months, meant Abbott was a dead man walking. Or at the very least the party’s prospects were terminal with him at the helm.

The defeated Labor candidate in Canning, Matt Keogh, buoyed by the increased party vote anyway, got a huge cheer when he told campaign workers: “We did get rid of Tony Abbott.”

The focus is now firmly back on Malcolm Turnbull and his reshaped front bench. How far he goes, who he leaves in and who he dumps could have far reaching implications for the unity and success of his government.

At least Canning is done and dusted. Future challenges should be so easy.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics. He is Contributing Editor for Network Ten, appears on Radio National Breakfast and writes a weekly column on national affairs for The New Daily. He tweets at @PaulBongiorno

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