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Super Saturday results: Malcolm’s bye-bye election?

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @mdavidcartoons)

Despite several assassination attempts, Bill Shorten is alive and kicking this morning. The results of Super Saturday should finally put to rest rumours of a challenge by Anthony Albanese. However, as political editor Dr Martin Hirst reports, it could be Malcolm’s bye bye election.

ON 12 JULY, just two short weeks ago, Malcolm Turnbull said the Super Saturday by-elections would be a test of leadership.

He made the contest a personal mano-e-mano match-up between himself and Bill Shorten:

The contest is between me and Bill Shorten as the prime minister and the opposition leader,” Turnbull told the ABC in Brisbane.

Turnbull continued:

“It’s a test of the parties, but it’s really about the people of Longman deciding whether they want to vote for Bill Shorten and his higher taxes, fewer jobs, lower wages and less economic growth.” 

He said the same thing to The Australian two days before the vote. It goes without saying that this also became a mantra in the mainstream media. All the pundits were agreed on this and they even wrote that if Labor lost in Braddon and Longman Shorten would face a challenge, but if the Liberals lost it wouldn’t affect Turnbull’s leadership.

Well, at least Barrie Cassidy had the decency to admit he (and other journalists) had got it badly wrong.

It didn’t take long for Super Saturday to turn into a disappointing night for the Prime Minister, for Big Trev in Longman, Georgina Downer in Mayo and Brett Whiteley in Braddon. In fact, instead of Bill Shorten having to look over his shoulder for a challenge that nobody in the ALP believes was (or is) going to happen, it is Turnbull who woke up this morning with a headache and the worry of whether or not Tony Abbott or Peter Dutton might challenge him.

(I don’t think they will, at least not yet. The longer they let Fizza swing in the breeze, the more they can blame the next general election defeat on him. This will clear the decks for either one of them to take over.)

It was all over very quickly. Georgina Downer conceded in Mayo just after 8:30pm AEST, ABC psephologist Antony Green called Labor wins in Longman and Braddon about an hour earlier.

In Longman, Big Trev Ruthenberg conceded just before 9 and, at 9:15pm, Whiteley came out in Braddon and didn’t concede, but he did say it was unlikely he would win.

In short, it was a rout. A whitewash for the Government and Malcolm Turnbull.

The Liberals tried last night to spin it in a different way, of course.

They didn’t want to talk about the leadership issue because their attempts to “Kill Bill” had failed miserably. Instead, they lamely tried to say the by-elections were about local issues.

The ever-whiny Christopher Pyne-y wanted us to believe that “Big Trev” Ruthenberg’s lies about his medals and military service were the decisive factor in Longman.

Well, sure, that was an issue, but Turnbull’s presence on Bribie Island on the last full day of campaigning certainly didn’t help.

Video of Turnbull and Ruthenberg being sternly told off by voters went viral and it summed up the campaign rather nicely.

So to did the cardboard cut-outs of Pauline Hanson.

Her non-presence on the polling booths no doubt hurt One Nation, but their candidate was himself a massive liability.

In Longman, the swing to Labor was around 4.2% and this is very significant because Queensland is a key battleground in federal elections. Labor needs to do very well in Queensland to win government.

The Longman result is a good start; importantly the Coalition vote fell more than 10%, some leaked to One Nation and some to Labor. However, Pauline Hanson can’t really claim to have done well in Longman; the climate was right for her to make a big splash, but she was unable to cash in, even when Peter Dutton helped out with another scare campaign about migrants.

In Western Australia, the ALP vote rocketed up by about between 7% and 8%. Speaking of leadership, the coalition didn’t even bother standing candidates in Perth and Freemantle. That’s not leadership, that’s conceding defeat. It’s perhaps also a sign the LNP isn’t as cashed up as it needs to be.

However, no expense was spared in Mayo, where Centre Alliance candidate, Rebekha Sharkie was up against Melbourne resident and blow-in Georgina Downer. Despite the expensive campaign and the help that Downer got from Liberal heavyweights, Sharkie managed a swing towards her of around 3.6% (as of 10am Sunday morning).

There’s no doubt that Labor’s cause in Braddon was helped by the strong showing of local independent, Craig Garland. The preference flow from Garland favoured Labor’s Justine Keay, even though she and Brett Whiteley both leaked first preference votes to the independent.

Pyne even tried to argue that the result in Braddon was a clear message to Shorten that he had failed. He also pulled out the furphy that by-elections always favour opposition parties. Seriously, what planet does that man live on?

The battles in Longman and Braddon were supposed to be very tight and, despite polls showing Labor had a small, but consistent lead, there was plenty of confidence among coalition MPs and supporters that they could win both of them.

Turnbull was half right about Super Saturday. If it was a test of leadership then he failed. If it was a test of leadership then it seems voters are actually happy with Bill Shorten. It will be very interesting to see the “preferred PM” numbers in the next Newspoll.

As Bill shorten said at Susan Lamb’s victory party; the by-election results have set the scene for a Labor victory at the next full federal election.

The real question after Super Saturday is: Will Malcolm Turnbull be the coalition leader at the next federal poll?

Nobody got a chance to ask him last night because he’d suddenly become the invisible man after being on the hustings every day and a permanent fixture (it seemed) on the ABC news channel.

You can follow political editor Dr Martin Hirst on Twitter @ethicalmartini.

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