It has been a tumultuous week in state and federal politics. Since Eden-Monaro MP Mike Kelly resigned due to health concerns, it has been a back and forth in the Coalition parties as they decide who should be put forward as a candidate.
Bega Mayor Kristy McBain was endorsed as the Labor candidate for Eden-Monaro last Friday, and as of Thursday morning remains the only confirmed candidate.
Deputy Premier John Barilaro took last weekend to make up his mind about whether he would run, ultimately deciding not to, with leaked text messages revealing he blamed this on Michael McCormack’s lack of public support.
Transport Minister Andrew Constance confirmed he would be running for pre-selection for the Liberal Party on Tuesday, but just 24 hours later withdrew.
Pre-selection for the Liberal Party closes today (Friday). It will then take a fortnight for candidates to be vetted before local Liberal members can vote on their preferred candidate.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that there are at least three potential candidates the Liberal Party is considering for pre-selection: Former Navy seaman Jerry Nockles, farmer and former teacher Fiona Kotvojs and Pru Gordon, the general manager for economics and trade at the National Farmers’ Federation.
Senator Jim Molan confirmed he wouldn’t run for the seat, despite rumours last week that he would.
“It is my belief that the most important contribution I can make to the Morrison government, and to serve the people of New South Wales who supported me so strongly, is to continue to engage on national security and sovereignty issues in the Senate,” he said in a statement.
“I thank colleagues and supporters who have suggested to me that I may be the right person to put myself forward to represent the people and communities of Eden-Monaro, to fight for their views in recovering from both bushfire and Covid-19, and to represent their interests in Canberra.”
He said the decision to not run came down to the fact that there are “a range of good Liberal candidates for Eden-Monaro who will be subject to the democratic process of pre-selection,” and also because he has to have surgery on a condition he has been putting off for the last year due to politics.
There was also brief speculation that former Prime Minister Tony Abbott would be put forward for pre-selection, however his office confirmed that these were just rumours.
In the 2019 election, the now-departing Labor MP Mike Kelly won with 39 per cent of the first preference count, and a 2.71 per cent swing against him.
Liberal party candidate Dr Kotvojs, who is running for pre-selection, was trailing close behind with 37 per cent of the first preference votes. However, there was a larger swing against the Liberals at 4.33 per cent, albeit less than expected in a three-cornered contest – the Nationals attracted just 7 per cent of the vote.
It is unknown at this stage whether the Nationals will put forward a candidate for the marginal seat. Mr Barilaro and Mr Constance both voiced their opinion that a three cornered contest was not in the best interest of the electorate, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison also made comments suggesting he did not have similar qualms.
David Sheldon, who took a tilt last time, told The Times that he would not run again as an Independent for this by-election, but he believes the electorate needs an independent voice.
“Would I consider [running] as an independent? No. Do I think the region needs an independent? You bet it does. Because all of the political parties need a big shake up.”
He said that during the 2019 election campaign he noticed some “disgraceful behaviour” from some of the campaigners and political parties. He also said that Mr Barilaro said at a Christmas party that he would not go into Mike Kelly’s seat. Despite contemplating it, Mr Barilaro seems to have stuck to his word.
Labor’s margin in the electorate is sitting at just 0.9 per cent, and they no longer have the personal vote for Mr Kelly to rely on.
Questions have been raised as to how much of Labor’s vote is due to the party, and how much is due to Mr Kelly himself. With such a tight margin, this may prove a powerful distinction in whether Labor can make it out on top.
It is also worth noting, however, that no government has taken a seat from the opposition in exactly a century, not since the Kalgoorlie by-election in December, 1920, that was caused by a member being expelled from the House of Representatives.
Labor therefore has precedence on their side, but with the way the by-election has played out so far, it seems that anything is possible
Cobargo, located in the Eden-Monaro electorate, made headlines during the recent bushfires for residents’ unwelcome reception of the Prime Minister. There are also countless bushfire affected families across the region still waiting for bushfire support money from the government.
Despite the recent bushfires likely to be a focus during the by-election campaigns, the Prime Minister seems to be focusing on his government’s management of Covid-19 rather than the fires.
“We are showing, I think, the leadership through this crisis that Australians are seeking from the government,” the Prime Minister said.
“And importantly we are focused on what success looks like for our country.
“And it’s not just beating the virus. It’s about ensuring that we can get Australians back to where we were and make us even stronger after that.”
An Essential Research survey released last Tuesday reported a huge 70 per cent voter support for the government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis, up from 45 per cent the previous month. This demonstrates that Morrison and the Liberal Party at large may be gaining back the trust of the community following his handling of the bushfire crisis.