analysis

Jodie Belyea scores a win for Albanese but Dutton also secures Dunkley boost

Headshot of Katina Curtis
Katina Curtis
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Labor's Jodie Belyea won the Dunkley by-election on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's birthday.
Labor's Jodie Belyea won the Dunkley by-election on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's birthday. Credit: AAP

In the wake of Saturday’s by-election in Dunkley, both major parties are claiming a win — but only one will be sending someone to Canberra.

Labor’s Jodie Belyea is set to hold the south-east Melbourne seat for the party, taking over from Peta Murphy, who died from cancer in December.

Every election result provokes navel-gazing as politicians try to work out what message voters sent.

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This vote provides a useful “real world” check halfway through the normal election cycle in a way that polling focus groups and doorknocks can only attempt to offer.

As counting progressed on Sunday, the result was an overall swing away from Labor of 3.6 per cent, almost bang on the average anti-government swing. It may become stronger as postal votes come in, but it was not enough to make the seat change hands.

Labor’s primary vote bumped up by nearly 1 per cent compared with the 2022 election, and the Liberals gained 6.6 per cent.

This latter result both sides put down to the absence of One Nation or United Australia Party candidates – with Labor strategists pointing out the Liberals didn’t win back all of the stray conservatives.

The Coalition spent the last week in Parliament focused on scare campaigns over boat people and the “ute tax” label on Labor’s proposed vehicle emissions standards.

But everyone on the ground in Dunkley says the only thing voters cared about was the cost of living.

The feedback in other Labor seats is similar to what that coming from voters in Dunkley: everyone is hurting, people are cranky about rising prices but they’re not angry with the Government.

“People want to hear we understand that is something everyone is feeling and we have focused our attentions on it,” one MP said.

This shapes the battle for the general election, likely a year away.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said there would be more cost of living support in the budget.

“We work each and every day to do more,” he said on Sunday.

Ms Belyea said she wanted to see the Government “leaning into” the review of Coles and Woolworths “and seeing how we can make our food and consumables much cheaper”.

Ahead of the vote, one senior Liberal said the party would accept but be disappointed with a swing of 3-4 per cent, and anything above 4 per cent would make the seat winnable next time.

After the result was clear on Saturday, deputy leader Sussan Ley said the result put 11 Labor-held seats in play, including Aston, Higgins and McEwen in Victoria, Parramatta, Gilmore and Bennelong in NSW, Lyons in Tasmania and Boothby in South Australia. The Liberals also are targeting Tangney and Hasluck.

“That is enough in the next Parliament to form government,” she said.

If all 11 seats changed hands and nothing else changed, Labor would hold 67 seats and the Coalition 66, neither with a majority.

Behind the scenes, Coalition MPs are becoming uneasy about their lack of public policies.

Shadow minister Dan Tehan on Sunday morning quoted Mr Albanese’s approach as opposition leader of looking to kick with the wind in the last quarter.

“That’s what we’ll be doing in terms of rolling out policies,” he said.

“We have obviously got a budget coming up in May. We have to see what sort of mess they make with that, and then we have got to put our plans in place.”

By this time in the last election cycle, Labor had already released signature policies, including cheaper childcare, multibillion-dollar funds for housing and manufacturing, and industrial relations changes on casuals and criminalising wage theft.

Labor is hitting hard on the notion Opposition Leader Peter Dutton is all negativity and no plan – with one MP saying the message didn’t come from focus groups but voters on the streets.

Coalition MPs are worried that the “Noalition” tag is starting to stick and once it settles in people’s minds, it will be hard to shake.

That will make it harder to win the contests to send people to Canberra.

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