The all important Bennelong by election was held on the weekend. In a result that I think both parties can claim to have had a win the Liberal Party were returned with a margin of 54.9 to 45.1 (1) which is a 2 party preferred swing of 4.9 percent to the Labor Party. Now the Liberal Party can claim victory because firstly they won the seat and most importantly polls throughout the campaign were anywhere between 50-50 to one rogue 54-46 poll that was released through internal Liberal polling. In that sense to limit the swing to under 5 percent when the average by election swing is about six percent away from government’s. By the same token the Labor Party can point to a 7.3% swing to Kristina Keneally on first preferences and the turning of a safe seat to a more marginal seat although I would question whether this swing would be repeated under a less publicised general election campaign where the focus is on 150 seats rather than just on one seat. I think the Labor point is reasonable however the polls suggested this seat would be line ball going into the final days of the campaign and so they would be disappointed they couldn’t have done slightly better on the night. I think the Sam Dastyari incident (2) took some shine off the Labor campaign because it meant the focus was more on the impact of foreign donations and the influence of China in Australian Politics than on Labor’s campaign which focussed on Health and Education even if some of the claims made by Kristina Keneally were found to be untruthful or misleading (3) (4).
There are other impacts on this by election win that I think will play out in the new year. I think this win ensuring that the Government have 75 votes out of 149 again plus the speaker means that the citizenship issue will be brought up again when Parliament returns. Now Labor proposed a tit for tat we’ll refer four of ours and an independent to the high court if you refer four of yours which the Liberal Party rebuffed and without John Alexander the vote went 74-74 with all 5 cross benchers voting with the Labor Party. With John Alexander back the Liberal Party will instead focus on referring the 3 Labor MP’s and Rebekah Sharkie as they would now theoretically win such motion 75-74 (It’s 3 Labor MP’s now as the member for Batman David Feeney was already referred to the High Court by Tony Burke as his case seems a lot more straight forward (5)). I think the majority returning gives the government a chance to become more disciplined in 2018 and possibly start building a case to win re-election in 2019, something that looks unlikely at this stage as the polls have stubbornly shown the Labor Party leading the Coalition 53-47. I would also be very surprised if Kristina Keneally doesn’t now end up in Federal Politics at some stage, for the most part her campaign was impressive and the Sam Dastyari Senate spot now being vacant would be an obvious landing spot for her.
The other big news to come from this week is the Cabinet Reshuffle by Malcolm Turnbull (6). The biggest change to come from the reshuffle was not surprising, it has been long thought George Brandis would take over from Alexander Downer as the High Commissioner to the UK. This meant the cabinet position of number 1 lawmaker Attorney General will go to Christian Porter, this is a logical step as Porter has already been Treasurer and Attorney General of Western Australia and for a future leader of the Party it made sense to move him to a more public role. This is particularly the case as Christian Porter is in a marginal seat and so he could lose his seat at the next election because the Liberal Party are particularly travelling badly in WA. Barnaby Joyce moves across to the Infrastructure Ministry which seems to be the cabinet position of choice for the Nationals leader. The role of Agriculture goes to unknown backbencher David Littleproud and the new National Deputy gets a raft of Regional ministries as well as sport. Peter Dutton who is the Conservative powerbroker in the Liberal Party and possible Opposition leader if the Liberal’s lose the next election becomes the Home Affairs Minister which is the big joining of some of our national security portfolio’s. Most of the other moves are shuffling the decks with some ministers moving around portfolio’s but as with all reshuffles there are losers. The big loser from the reshuffle is Darren Chester who goes from being a Minister who was doing a great job to the backbench. Now this move was not popular amongst the National’s and continues a bad end of the year for the National’s (7). While the official line of the decision to drop Darren Chester was because he is from Victoria and with Bridget Mackenzie joining cabinet from Victoria there needed to be a rebalance to ensure Queenslanders were represented more accurate to reflect the fact that there are more Nats MP’s and Senators from Queensland. This would be a bit more believable if Keith Pitt a Queensland MP wasn’t also demoted to the backbench and indeed there have already been some rumblings that he would join the cross bench (8). It would seem much more believable to believe the alternative line which is that their demotions are linked to Darren Chester and Keith Pitt backing Bridget Mackenzie for the role of Deputy Nationals leader over Barnaby Joyce’s choice which was Matt Canavan. The National’s really need to work on their discipline because they were the chief reason for the Royal Banking Commission backflip and they also had George Christiensen threaten to jump ship if Malcolm Turnbull wasn’t replaced as Prime Minister.