House of Representatives By-Elections


December 16, 2017
Margin: Liberal 9.7%
State: New South Wales
Region: Northern Sydney

Primary Two-Party
Date Pollster Sample LIB ALP LIB ALP
14/12/2017 Galaxy 524 40 38 51 49
12/12/2017 ReachTEL 819 41 36 53 47
10/12/2017 Newspoll 529 39 39 50 50
16/11/2017 ReachTEL 864 36 29 54 46
15/11/2017 Galaxy 579 42 39 50 50
John Alexander (Liberal)
Kristina Keneally (Labor)
Justin Alick (Greens)
Any other candidate
Odds subject to variation

Candidates in ballot paper order

Australian Liberty Alliance

Sustainable Australia

Science Party

Liberal (top)

Labor (bottom)

Australian People's Party


Affordable Housing Party

Non-Custodial Parents Party

Australian Conservatives

Christian Democratic Party

Australian Progressives


The second of the by-elections arising from the Section 44 fiasco is being held in the inner northern Sydney seat of Bennelong, which was famously lost by John Howard when his government was defeated in 2007. The Liberal member, John Alexander, announced his resignation on November 11 after receiving confirmation of his status as a dual British citizen, and confirmed he would seek re-election at the subsequent by-election.

As in New England, the government moved promptly in having the by-election held as promptly as possible, setting the date for December 16. However, whereas Barnaby Joyce was correctly presumed to be safe in his Nationals stronghold seat, Bennelong is a loseable seat for the government, despite the solid margin built up by three successive swings to the Liberals on Alexander's watch. Labor promptly threw down the gauntlet by announcing its candidate would be Kristina Keneally, the Premier during the Labor government's terminal phase from December 2009 to March 2011.


Bennelong covers the northern shore of Sydney’s Parramatta River from Gladesville west to Ermington, and extends north through Denistone and Ryde to Epping. While the Ryde area has leaned to Labor in the post-war era, riverside suburbs to the south and east have helped keep the seat in Liberal hands for all but one term since its creation in 1949.

The seat has been transformed over the past few decades by the arrival of migrants from China, Hong Kong and South Korea, giving it a stronger east Asian identity than any seat other than Watson. The Asian communities are most heavily concentrated around Epping, Marsfield and Eastwood, the latter being a focal point of the Korean community. Labor research reportedly indicated that the Asian voters leaned slightly to the Liberals, but the Anglo voters they were replacing had tended to do so by a ratio of two to one.

John Howard became the member in 1974 in succession to Sir John Cramer, the seat's inaugural member from its creation in 1949. In holding the line against the electorate's demographic change for as long as he did, Howard had become the only Liberal MP to hold a seat that ranked in the top 20 for most non-English speakers. The vulnerability of his position was established when his margin was pared back from 7.8% to 4.3% amid an otherwise strong result for the Coalition in 2004, aided in part by a strong showing for Greens candidate Andrew Wilkie, former Office of National Assessments whistleblower and now the independent member for Denison.

Howard's defeat in 2007 made him only the second serving Prime Minister to lose his seat, the first being Stanley Melbourne Bruce’s defeat in the Victorian seat of Flinders when Jim Scullin led Labor to power in 1929. Labor's win was achieved from a 5.5% swing to its candidate, Maxine McKew, a veteran ABC political journalist who had first been mentioned as a potential Labor MP when party heavyweights proposed accommodating her in the safe western Sydney seat of Fowler. The bombshell announcement that she would run in Bennelong was influenced by the calculations of McKew’s partner of 17 years, former Labor national secretary Bob Hogg.

McKew was immediately elevated to parliamentary secretary after her election, and emerged throughout her term in parliament as a steadfast ally of Kevin Rudd. She developed a correspondingly frosty relationship with Julia Gillard, of whom she was highly critical in a book published in 2012. McKew's aspirations were dashed by the anti-Labor backlash across Sydney at the 2010 election, with a 4.5% swing easily enough to account for her 1.4% margin. Despite talk that Kevin Rudd’s popularity among Asian voters powered both the swing to Labor in 2007 and the backlash in 2010, the swings on both occasions were evenly distributed throughout the electorate, and well in line with the broader Sydney pattern.

Kevin Rudd's return to the prime ministership ahead of the 2013 election notably failed to improve Labor's position, with the 4.6% swing to Alexander comparing with a statewide result of 3.2%. Alexander did even better to pick up a 2.0% swing in the face of a 3.8% statewide swing to Labor in 2016.


John Alexander was a professional tennis player from the late 1960s, achieving his highest world ranking of number eight in 1975, and became a tennis commentator for Channel Seven after his retirement in 1985. He won preselection for Bennelong with the support of factional moderates, and was reckoned to have been in the Malcolm Turnbull camp when he toppled Tony Abbott in September 2015.

Alexander entered the Section 44 frame a week after the High Court's ruling in October 2017 that five members were ineligible to sit in parliament due to their dual citizenships. He initially asserted that he believed his British-born father had renounced his citizenship prior to his birth in 1951, but inquiries with the British government established that this was not the case.

Kristina Keneally was raised and educated in the United States, living mostly in Ohio, before moving to Australia in 1994. She became youth services director at St Vincent de Paul, and secured the state seat of Heffron in 2003 after a factionally charged preselection contest with incumbent Deirdre Grusovin. Keneally was elevated to cabinet after the 2007 election, and promoted to Planning Minister when Nathan Rees becamer Premier in September 2008.

Nathan Rees’s hold on the leadership was complicated by his alignment with the Left, with the Right acquiescing amid a perception it lacked a credible candidate of its own. When a continued souring of the polls throughout 2009 caused Rees's party room to collapse, the Right saw in Keneally a chance to revitalise the government's image, and she won a party room leadership vote against Rees in December 2009.

Keneally quit parliament a little over a year after the defeat of her government in March 2011 to take up a position as chief executive of Basketball Australia. Despite the scale of the election loss, and corruption scandals that consumed her one-time allies Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi, Keneally remained popular personally, and maintained her profile as a political commentator for Sky News from July 2014.