Aston by-election preliminaries

Following Alan Tudge’s retirement announcement yesterday, some early preselection talk and historical context for the looming federal by-election for Aston.

Yesterday’s announcement by former cabinet minister Alan Tudge of his resignation brings into view the first by-election of the Albanese government, for the highly marginal Melbourne seat of Aston. The date is yet to be determined, but will presumably be set later this month or early the next for a date in April or May. Tudge held on by 2.8% last year in the face of a 7.3% swing, part of a pattern of poor results for the Liberals in traditional areas of strength for the party in the city’s eastern suburbs that was repeated at the state election in November, together with a swing the other way in Labor strongholds in the west and north.

Aston has a place in by-election folklore as the seat that signposted the Howard government’s return to electoral health in April 2001, when Tudge’s predecessor Chris Pearce defended a 4.2% margin against a 3.7% swing. Labor held the seat for the first two terms after its creation in 1984, but it became progressively stronger for the Liberals after the Victorian landslip that cost Labor nine seats in the state in 1990. Pearce’s retirement in 2010 raised Labor hopes that the seat might provide a gain to balance expected losses in New South Wales and Queensland, but Tudge held out against a 3.3% swing by 1.8% and increased his margin at each of the next three elections.

My results page for the seat for the federal election can be viewed here, and features an interactive booth results map that opens if you click the “activate” button at the bottom of the page. As can be seen, Labor won most of the booths around Boronia in the electorate’s north-east, but not be enough to balance the Liberals’ dominance in Wantirna to the west and Rowville in the south.

Tudge’s announcement was inevitably met with a flurry of speculation as to who might run for the Liberals, with suggestions that Josh Frydenberg might use the seat as a vehicle for a comeback soon shot down. There has been no mention that I’m aware of as to who Labor might endorse, but The Australian reports the unsurprising news that senior Liberals want a “high-profile female candidate”, which they will presumably secure without recourse to a problematic rank-and-file preselection, which are rarely held for by-elections.

Samantha Maiden of news.com.au wrote on Twitter yesterday that the Liberal front-runner was Roshena Campbell, barrister, Melbourne councillor and wife of News Corp journalist James Campbell, but The Australian’s report names a number of other contenders: Cathrine Burnett-Wake, who served in the state’s Legislative Council last year but failed to win preselection for the November election; Sharn Coombes, a criminal barrister; Andrew Asten, a former staffer to Tudge; and Irene Ling, director of a property investment company.

Given the state of the polls, the by-election presents Labor with a seemingly golden opportunity to bag a handy seventy-eighth seat, and the Liberals with the corresponding danger of a morale-sapping loss. However, Antony Green offered some counterpoints to David Crowe of The Age, noting the Liberal vote was suppressed in the seat by the low profile kept by Tudge during the election campaign as a result of his ministerial difficulties and campaign resources being concentrated elsewhere. I would also add that history is against Labor to the extent that it has tended to have disappointing results in by-elections held the year after taking office:

• The Parramatta by-election of 22 September 1973 followed a bumpy opening year for the Whitlam government, so its failure to poach the seat was perhaps not a surprise. Nonetheless, the 7% swing to the Liberals was presumably in excess of expectations. The winning candidate was a young Philip Ruddock, later to move to the safer seats of Dundas and Berowra and to achieve a high profile as the Howard government’s Immigration Minister.

• Despite the stratospheric popularity of Bob Hawke during his first year as Prime Minister, Labor failed to make ground in any of the six by-elections held in that time, suffering a particularly disappointing failure in the marginal Brisbane seat of Moreton, where the Liberals were defending a margin of 1.6%.

• Labor was generally thought to have a shot in Gippsland when Peter McGuaran vacated it in the wake of the Howard government’s defeat, but a dominant position in opinion polls again failed to translate at a by-election, with Darren Chester retaining the seat for the Nationals with a surprisingly robust swing of 6.1%.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

76 comments on “Aston by-election preliminaries”

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  1. Looking at the recent Victorian State election results for the Rowville Electorate –
    Liberal 40.6%
    Labor 32.9%
    Independent 12.1%
    Greens 7%
    If Labor, a “Teal Independent” supported by Climate 200, and the Greens work strategically as they did in Kooyong they have a potential 52% to win Aston.

  2. I wonder if the Liberals will try and run Katie Allen in Aston, even though her seat used to be Higgins? She’d be the sort of well accomplished professional person Dutton would want back in his team, anyway just a thought I had.
    As for Labor, if they run a candidate, the reason will be Albanese thinks they can win the seat in a byelection, otherwise why would they bother? Albo can easily campaign down there with Dan Andrews, whereas Dutton is as popular in Victoria as Morrison was – ie. not very popular.

  3. BS

    I would argue your opinion

    Where did Bastiaan and Sukkar go to obtain the numbers to take control of the Victorian Division?

    And go to the Netball Courts

    Look at the names on their uniforms

    Not everyone answers Census questions correctly

  4. A lot of bludgers have said that governments never take seats off the opposition in a by-election because it hasn’t happened over the last 100 years.
    I wonder what Alan Bond thought when he was told he would never win the America’s Cup because no one had won it from the Americans in over 132 years.
    I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who complain that they can never win lotto, but on many occasions they admit to not buying tickets.
    Records are meant to be broken.
    Build that yacht!
    Buy that ticket!
    Put up a Labor candidate in Aston!
    Let us see what happens.
    If Pentecostal Morrison can get his miracle I’m sure Albo Australia’s No I Catholic can get one too.

  5. 98.6, exactly, there are so many naysayers on poll bludger who assert they’re progressives but yet are always bashing Labor or being all doom and gloom about the chances of Labor in an election.

  6. To those saying Aston/Knox is vanilla, culturally devoid suburbia – that may be true about Rowville, but the part of the electorate around Ferntree Gully and Boronia (particularly east of Dorset Rd), as well as Upper Ferntree Gully and The Basin are probably some of the nicest places in Melbourne’s suburbs. They are hilly, leafy and right on the edge of the Dandenong Ranges, and the National Park.

    These people are probably a bit more likely to care about the environment etc and are generally left of centre. The Greens got over 20% of the vote in this area and Labor TPP in these booths were around 55-65.

  7. “I wonder if the Liberals will try and run Katie Allen in Aston, even though her seat used to be Higgins?”

    @Evan

    I read that suggestion in the Age and Katie Allen had ruled it out. Allen apparently is committed to winning Higgins back it was reported.

  8. “Evan says:
    Saturday, February 11, 2023 at 4:57 pm
    98.6, exactly, there are so many naysayers on poll bludger who assert they’re progressives but yet are always bashing Labor or being all doom and gloom about the chances of Labor in an election.”

    In my experience across several websites (including this one), there are two main kinds of “progressives” who predictably keep bashing the ALP:
    a) True Greens supporters who live in the hope that they will attract more “disenchanted ALP voters” to vote for the Greens, to the extent to force Labor to form a Federal government with them (just as it’s the case right now in the ACT).
    b) Fake Greens who are in reality Liberal party stooges, who try to convince current ALP voters to stop voting for the ALP and switch to the Greens. This could eventually achieve what the Greens dream of: A federal government in coalition with the ALP. Why would the Liberals want that? Because they believe that such government would be a total mess, extremely unstable, and therefore they would be easily back in power at the following election.

  9. Because the cricket finished early, I went and looked at old by-election results on Saturday Night like the sad sack of potatoes I have become.

    Since the 1984 election, there have been 44 by-elections to the federal parliament.

    18 of which have been a government MP either quitting or dying or being disqualified. Only 5 times did the government lose the seat (Wentworth in 2018, Ryan in 2001, Canberra in 1995, Wills in 1992 and Adelaide in 1988). Only in Wentworth and Wills did they lose to an Independent. Wills is the only time the government lost the seat to an independent with the opposition running.

    In the 25 cases, where an opposition held seat went to a by-election, the government choose to run only 6 times. In the other 19 by-elections, the opposition lost their seat twice (Lyne fell to Oakshott in 2008 and Cunningham fell to the Greens in 2002).

    The government also choose to run against Sharkie in Mayo in 2018 when she got Section 44ed. That by-election was held on the super Saturday in 2018 where 4 by-elections were held and the government choose to run in 3 of them (Braddon, Longman and the aforementioned Mayo). Every single person who got the boot via section 44 was re-elected in house of reps. Their failure in this Super Saturday probably added fuel to the fire that burnt Turnbull out of office.

    So discounting the Super Saturday by-elections, there has only been 4 examples of the government running against the opposition. They were Eden-Monaro in 2020, Griffith in 2014, Gippsland in 2008 and Groom in 1988. The LNP actually got close in both of Eden-Monaro and Griffith; narrowing the gap in both cases. Gippsland was probably a bad choice for the Rudd government to attempt to win and the campaign was poorly handled too.

    Groom in 1988 was really a case of Labor running in order to direct preferences in a clash between Liberal and National after the Joh for Canberra fiasco the year before; the Liberals ended up taking the seat off the Nationals. So the government ran then not to win but to mess with the opposition.

    So although “it has been 100 years since a government won a seat at a by-election”, in recent history there has not been too many examples of the government running in the last 40 years to compare that to. It almost worked for both the Abbott and Morrison governments, so I would not discount that record being broken at some stage.

    Given that there has only been a change of party in 6 out of 44 by elections in that time, it shows that generally seats simply do not change hands at by-elections federally as often as they do at state level (nor for example overseas like in the UK).

  10. Yes , Alpo, I reckon that’s a reasonable assessment of some of the characters we encounter on PB.
    The die- hard Liberals are pretty easy to spot and they are capable of great examples of “shoot themselves in the foot” commentary. They are what I term the ” roll your eyes” posters- your immediate response is to roll your eyes at their comments ( and they engender a common response: LOL)
    A few disguise themselves pretty well but one gets the feeling that their open- minded commentary is not what it appears.
    Nothing would surprise me these days when dissembling, selective facts, bullshit and hypocrisy is rampant in political discourse. So , (excuse me, I am thoroughly cynical) point b. of your post registers strongly with me.
    Even so, PB is the greatest exponent of political discourse and opinion in this nation of ours, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. All power to the great WB.

  11. Gee, you would have to be pretty deluded to think that somebody would spend precious time on here in the hope that they might get a fellow poster tot switch from voting Labor to the Greens. WTF? Ha, ha. They walk amongst us

  12. “clem attlee says:
    Monday, February 13, 2023 at 10:42 am
    Gee, you would have to be pretty deluded to think that somebody would spend precious time on here in the hope that they might get a fellow poster tot switch from voting Labor to the Greens. WTF? Ha, ha. They walk amongst us”

    Fellow posters?… Oh no, no, you don’t waste time trying to convince “fellow posters”. You just agree with them or publicly dismantle their crap, in order to send a message to those who read these posts but never post themselves…. The “silent majority”?

  13. “Gettysburg1863 says:
    Saturday, February 11, 2023 at 10:02 pm

    Even so, PB is the greatest exponent of political discourse and opinion in this nation of ours, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. All power to the great WB.”

    On other occasions I had the opportunity to congratulate WB for this website. I have no idea what his political leanings are, but I don’t see any bias in the level and direction of moderation. Some posts may be deleted, but it’s usually the case only for posts that get very nasty and personal… fair enough.
    The combination of psephology (the main objective of the site) and free comment (that often drifts to all sorts of topics, usually of interest) is a very good formula. The Guardian has been getting a bit too hard with the comments sections (restricted opening, heavy moderation), and that’s why I have been posting more frequently here. I actually enjoy it…. 🙂

  14. Sukkar

    The credentials of the Aston candidate with the backing of “Eastern suburbs power broker” Sukkar says it all

    The Bastiann/Sukkar candidate will prevail – including if the nomination goes to the (recruited) members, the recruitment being from the Organisations which have provided the candidate

    Interesting that Sukkar, his margin in Deakin down to 350 (the ALP not spending in the Seat) and the numbers man for Dutton (celebrating in a Canberra restaurant whilst Murdoch and Morrison continued to work the phones, Morrison prevailing) is now flexing his authority in the Victorian Division contrary to the wishes of Dutton

    The Liberal Party is not a happy place, federally or at State levels

    The religious right is flexing the muscle it has – and the Opposition. Leader in Victoria is in its sights

  15. B.S. Fairman on Sat 8.20 & 9.19 pm

    Unlikely to be 1 April. Easter Sat is 8 April. Holidays till 23rd, so more likely to be 29 April.

    History lesson is very helpful in correcting media commentary.

    Note that Palmer balloon group got 6% in 2022. They have lost their name if not supporters, so most of that will go elsewhere.

    If Labor get 4% from that, i.e. two thirds of those votes, it will be very close. There was also 1% in New Libs that could go Labor.

    In Eden-Monaro by-election in 2020 Labor lost 3.3% from its primary vote, just winning from 36% primary with a very good local candidate in a long field.

    A 3% drop in the Lib primary, plus two thirds of the former Palmer balloon voters going to Labor, would see Labor win.

    Records eventually fall when the conditions are right. Josh, for all his hopelessness, might have saved Libs in Aston if he had been leader. Dutton won’t.

  16. Mary Doyle pre-selected unopposed as Labor candidate for Aston.

    “15.35 AEDT

    Benita Kolovos

    Mary Doyle is expected to be Labor’s candidate for the byelection in the federal seat of Aston, in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.

    Nominations for potential Labor candidates for the seat are due to close at 4pm on Thursday and Guardian Australia understands Doyle is the only nominee.

    Doyle, a mother of three, former union organiser and breast cancer survivor, slashed outgoing Liberal MP Alan Tudge’s margin from 10.1% to 2.8% in the May 2022 election.”

  17. Sukkar promotes his candidate, Hunt promotes his candidate, Kennett promotes his candidate, Frydenberg promotes his candidate

    So far (and they are all friendly to each other we are informed – well, this is hand to hand conflict with no prisoners taken between the Liberal Party factions (personalities) leaving out the “old guard” who have just had enough – but they have Cormack – and Kroger)

    The wife of the former Liberal Party senior employee, Campbell, now political editor for the Murdoch paper and who, herself, is a regular opinion contributor to Costello’s paper plus a Melbourne City Councillor is reported as saying she will move into the electorate (noting her opinions describe her as a Melbourne City Councillor but leave out she is a Liberal Party member)

    As a Melbourne City Councillor, I assume she does not currently live in Rowville (or anywhere near)

    But they have “Churches” there and if she does not like them she can always start her own in her garage

  18. More Albo ..

    She’s a great candidate. She ran less than a year ago, since the people of Aston voted, and she received almost an 8% swing, so it’s now sitting around about 53% whereas it was above 60, I think, before the election. So she’s a great candidate, she works in the finance sector. She has lived
    in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne for a long period of time. She studied performing at Tafe.

    She is someone who’s also had real-world experience with the health system. Mary got breast cancer when she was just 25. And going through that treatment and recovery has meant that she is a passionate advocate of Medicare.

    And she’s got a couple of kids, she’s a single mum. And she’s someone who I think would make an outstanding member of parliament.

    Albanese said it would be “a pretty tough ask to win a position from government during a byelection”, noting this had not been done for 100 years.

    He said:

    We think that it’s the right thing to do to contest the byelection. So of course the Liberal party will be hot favourites if they get around to selecting a candidate. There’s a bit of chaos on the other side at the moment, in the Vic branch, I think.

    But we are very early on selecting our candidate. Mary was preselected unopposed because the locals really wanted her to run again. Alan Tudge announced his resignation last week but he hasn’t actually resigned yet. So the byelection date hasn’t been established, I’m not quite sure what’s going on there. But when it is called, Mary Doyle will be the candidate.

  19. I read a columnist for the Guardian has put her hand up for Liberal preselection. I thought you h Guardian was a left wing rag? Why would a liberal party member be working there?

  20. And the Speaker has announced the date – April 1st. Half a point to BSF (only said it would be funny, not necessarily that it *would* be the date), nul to Dr Doolittle. So one of the major candidates is going to be an April Fool.

  21. Aston By-Election.

    Liberal Paty Candidate @RoshenaCampbell
    is a candidate worthy of support

    We would recommend that voters vote Labor then preference top to bottom all other candidates giving Roshena a high preference ahead of all other candidates

  22. #Aston By-Election. Liberal Party Candidate @RoshenaCampbell
    is a candidate worthy of support

    We would recommend that voters vote Labor then preference top to bottom all other candidates giving Roshena a high preference ahead of all other candidates

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