Super Saturday in Australia

Gregory Holland, Senior Consultant - APAC

In a near eight-week campaign, one to rival the 2016 Federal Election, Australia’s five Super Saturday results are in.  Across four states and five seats, over nearly 400,000 people have gone to the polls to give the nation their opinion of the leaders and parties and a possible insight into the outcome of the Federal Election.

There was no surprise in the seats of Perth and Fremantle – both previously held Labor seats were safely retained, as the Liberal Party decided not to stand a candidate. The real focus, then, was on the seats of Braddon in Tasmania, Longman in Queensland and Mayo in South Australia. Braddon going into the by-election was held by Labor by 2% and Longman by only 0.8%.  

With Labor holding both seats, it will buoy the ALP on the road to victory and put to bed lingering concerns over Bill Shortens electability as Prime Minister. While he may not be personally popular with the electorate, these results prove that is no barrier to Labor winning the government.

Meanwhile, the overwhelming win by Centre Alliance candidate Rebekah Sharkie in Mayo over Georgina Downer shows that even a star candidate could not trump Sharkie as a hard-working local MP. Not having lived in the electorate for 20 years was effectively used against Downer by Sharkie, who at every opportunity trumpeted her local credentials.

 Mayo used to be a Liberal jewel in the crown, but this seat is effectively lost for the Liberals as long as Sharkie remains the local MP.

Who will be the next Prime Minister?

The Government started off with high hopes of a win in either Longman or Braddon or both, and likewise for Labor both seats were considered a must win. A loss in either would have bought to the surface lingering leadership doubts about Bill Shorten and likely set off a new round of Labor leadership instability in an election year.  The results now settle that issue.

 For Malcolm Turnbull the loss in Mayo, while not totally unexpected, would be disappointing.  Not being able to regain a safe Liberal seat would be disheartening.  Sharkie won the seat with a swing to her.

 For the Government, winning either Braddon or Longman would have been a crowning glory and turned nearly 100 years of by-election history on its head.  No sitting Government has won an Opposition held seat in a by-election in the last 98 years.

 With the parliamentary status quo reaffirmed from these by-election results, though, both Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten face no immediate leadership implications.

What happens at the next Federal Election?

Labor had everything to lose and not a lot to win, with four of the five seats already Labor held. The results confirmed, though, that Labor could hold its marginal seats and even make some inroads. In Braddon, Labor will hold the seat with the same margin by which it won in 2016: around 52% of the two-party preferred vote.

 The surprise is the result in Longman, where Labor has comfortably won the seat with a 4% swing to it. Of concern to the Government will be the crash in its primary vote to 26% against Labor’s 41% - If those results were carried over to a general election, the Opposition would wine more than 25 seats from the Government.


What about One Nation?

Despite pundits writing off One Nation following the Queensland state election, their vote increased in a clear indication that they will be a major player in the Federal election. Their preferences will now decide the outcome in several key marginal Queensland seats.

Longman has seen the One Nation vote increase from 9% in 2016 to 15% on Saturday. This support came from a collapse in the Liberal Party primary vote, down 10% from 2016, which will have to be of serious concern to the Government.  

Queensland is now ground zero for the Federal election.  The Government currently holds five seats in on a margin of 1.7% or less, and One Nation will be key to who wins these seats.

Labor could form Government just by winning those five Queensland marginal seats alone. The result in Longman, if replicated across Queensland, would see Labor win up to eight Queensland Government seats. - more than enough to put Bill Shorten in the Lodge.


Looking Ahead

Notwithstanding all of the above, however, one should not put all one’s eggs in one basket. The election will now be held in May 2019.  The economy shows signs of improvement, and personal income tax cuts will have been in operation for more than six months.  The Government can exploit the unpopularity of Bill Shorten as the Leader of the Opposition over the next six months of Parliamentary sittings. Observers should also keep in mind the precedent set by the Howard Coalition Government in 2011, when it lost a strong Liberal seat in a by-election, only to go on and win the General Election later that year.


If corporate Australia doubted Labor's electability into Government, however, Super Saturday should well and truly put that to rest.  This was effectively an opinion poll of over 400,000 voters and Labor just got a big tick of approval, particularly in the key seat of Longman.  With the election less than a year away, corporate engagement with Labor should be paramount.

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