House of Representatives By-Elections


July 28, 2018
Margin: Nick Xenophon Team 5.0% versus Liberal
Region: Adelaide Fringe/Fleurieu Peninsula
State: South Australia

Primary vote
Two-candidate preferred
Two-party preferred


Among the four seats caught up in the latest round of Section 44 by-elections is the sole House of Representatives seat of the Centre Alliance – the latest reformulation of what was once the Nick Xenophon Team – which is already licking its wounds following a disappointing showing at the South Australian election on March 17. English-born Rebekha Sharkie gained the seat from the Liberals at the election of July 2, 2016, which came two-and-a-half months after she applied to renounce her British citizenship. This did not become official until June 29, twenty days the close of nominations, which the High Court ruled to be the relevant date. Sharkie's cause at the election was boosted by Liberal member Jamie Briggs' resignation from the junior ministry the previous December. It appears likely her Liberal opponent this time will be Georgina Downer, whose father, Howard government Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, held the seat from 1984 to 2008.


Prior to her recruitment by the Nick Xenophon Team, Rebekha Sharkie had a background in Liberal politics, having worked in the electorate offices of state Liberal MPs Isobel Redmond and Rachel Sanderson, and briefly worked part time for Briggs himself. Her Liberal opponent is Georgina Downer, research fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs and daughter of Alexander Downer, who won preselection unopposed following the withdrawal of rival conservative aspirant Michael van Dissel. Downer unsuccessfully sought preselection in the blue-ribbon Melbourne seat of Goldstein, and has long lived in Victoria.


Based around the Adelaide Hills, Fleurieu Peninsula and Kangaroo Island, Mayo was created with the expansion of parliament in 1984 from territory that had mostly been in Barker, which in turn absorbed the Riverland from the abolished seat of Angas. Labor has never held any of the seats concerned, but Mayo has been remarkable in its support for minor parties, having very nearly been won by the Australian Democrats in 1998 and the Greens in 2008, before Rebekha Sharkie achieved her victory for the Nick Xenophon Team in 2016.

The inaugural member for Mayo was Alexander Downer, whose father Sir Alec Downer held Angas from 1949 to 1963. After an ill-fated stint as Opposition Leader from May 1994 to January 1995, Downer emerged as Foreign Minister when the Howard government was elected in 1996, only to face a serious challenge at the 1998 election when Democrats candidate John Schumann, former lead singer of folk group Redgum (of “I Was Only Nineteen” fame), came within 1.7% of toppling him after finishing second ahead of Labor. Downer was not troubled again, but the by-election held in September 2008 following his resignation from parliament saw Greens canidate Lynton Vonow poll strongly in the absence of a Labor candidate, coming within 3.0% of winning the seat.

The narrowly successful Liberal candidate was Jamie Briggs, who had worked in the Prime Minister’s Office as chief adviser on industrial relations, and won the preselection ahead of the party’s recently ousted state leader, Iain Evans, and future Family First Senator Bob Day. After easier victories at the 2010 and 2013 elections, Briggs was promoted to an outer shadow ministry position that he was lucky to keep after backing Tony Abbott during Malcolm Turnbull's leadership challenge in September 2015. Two months later a DFAT official accused him of behaving inappropriately towards her in a bar in Hong Kong, which ultimately led to his resignation in late December.

Briggs' troubles put him under further pressure in Mayo, which was being targeted by the Nick Xenophon Team as their best chance for a lower house seat. He was duly defeated by the party's candidate, Rebekha Sharkie, who had 55.0% of the vote after preferences, receiving the bulk of Labor and Greens preferences after trailing Briggs 37.8% to 34.9% on the primary vote.

Numbers represent two-party vote percentages at polling booths, coloured in grey for an NXT majority and blue for a Liberal majority, and varying in size to reflect the number of votes cast. Numbers with black borders are from pre-poll voting centres.