Mark Riley: Both parties are throwing everything they have at Dunkley poll

Headshot of Mark Riley
Mark Riley
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Anthony Albanese and Peter Dutton are fighting for the Dunkley trophy.
Anthony Albanese and Peter Dutton are fighting for the Dunkley trophy. Credit: Don Lindsay/The West Australian

The Parliament is acting like a giant funnel this week in a manner that has left many observers scratching their heads.

But there is a method to this apparent madness.

The chambers have been sprayed with a scattergun assault of claims and counterclaims about everything from asylum boats to electric utes, tax cuts to toxic masculinity, polling popularity to political deceit.

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It could easily appear random and disconnected, bordering on the chaotic.

But the intent is becoming clearer as all these disparate issues are finally expectorated from the metaphorical funnel in a united stream towards a single target — tomorrow’s Dunkley by-election.

Both sides are loading everything they can into that stream in the hope that some of it sticks in the minds of voters as they head to the polling booths along Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula.

Neither side really knows how this vote is going to go.

And that is making them profoundly anxious.

Particularly Labor.

There is much at stake for both leaders. They know a bad result can be weaponised by their opponents — especially within their own parties — to damage their leaderships.

But there is always more at stake for a prime minister.

Particularly a prime minister whose government holds the seat.

Even more so for a prime minister who has engineered a mid-term political reset to lead his government down a new path to the next general election.

One senior Cabinet minister who has been heavily involved in the Dunkley campaign conceded to me yesterday that the outcome was “right on the edge”.

That’s why we’ve seen and heard so much of Anthony Albanese this week, from breakfast television to morning radio and nightly current affairs programs.

He’s been trying to fire up the Labor base but also win over those in the middle who are unwedded to either side of politics and whose votes will determine who wins.

It’s also why we’ve seen so little of Peter Dutton.

The kind interpretation is that Dutton wants to leave the campaigning to the locals.

The unkind one is coming from Labor. It claims Dutton’s been asked to stay away because his unpopularity in Victoria will turn voters off.

But Labor is ensuring Dutton has a blanket presence by plastering posters of his face in slightly demonic repose outside every polling station to greet voters as they enter.

The message from Labor’s campaign strategists is none too subtle. Voters might think they’re supporting the charming local candidate, but they’re really backing this big, mean, scary guy.

It lacks elegance. But unfortunately, personal attacks can be effective.

It should be noted, though, that conservative campaign outfit Advance is unleashing equally pointed assaults against Albanese from the other side.

Despite all that, both leaders will be out and visible, campaigning alongside their Dunkley candidates tomorrow.

Albanese also plans to be there on Saturday before heading back to Sydney for dinner with partner Jodie and his son, Nathan.

Saturday is, among other things, the Prime Minister’s 61st birthday.

Although he won’t say so publicly, I’m sure his secret birthday wish is to get a win in Dunkley that he can brandish as an endorsement of his stage three redux.

The Prime Minister hurriedly called a news conference at 8.30pm on Tuesday after his tax changes passed the final hurdle in the Senate.

There were only three journos there. I was one of them and asked whether making the reworked tax cuts law just four days before Dunkley was “coincidence or timing?”

Albanese began his answer with: “Well, we hope to get a good result in the Dunkley by-election, and everyone in Dunkley will know that we wanted every single taxpayer in Dunkley to get a tax cut”.

Three “Dunkleys” in the first sentence was a strong enough signal for anybody that it was, indeed, timed for the by-election.

And tomorrow night we’ll see who emerges from the funnel’s spout as the victor.

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