The view from Billinudgel

A win’s a win
The Eden-Monaro result shows that Morrison’s popularity has not substantially changed voting patterns – and Labor has still not cut through

Labor’s Kristy McBain and Anthony Albanese. Via Twitter

It was a messy and unedifying campaign, full of gaffes, sabotage and dirty tricks. And a pretty ordinary result.

At the time of writing, the Electoral Commission has not yet declared it – there are still some pre-polls and postals to be sorted – but it is clear that unless an unlikely number of Liberals voted early and/or often, Labor is across the line in Eden-Monaro.

Not comfortably – the seat will still be marginal, as it was under two terms of the popular Labor retiree Mike Kelly. But a win’s a win, whether by a nose or by the length of the straight. Even in a field of 14, they do not pay for a place.

And, in fact, almost all of the other candidates swung their preferences to Labor’s Kristy McBain, so although Labor’s primary vote went back by about 3 per cent, the final outcome hardly budged. A very small byelection, not many interested.

This confounded the pundits, who had over-hyped the event something fierce. The Australian’s Dennis Shanahan declared on the very day of polling that the contest would reverberate all the way to the next election, that it would show once and for all whether the noble and fearless leadership of Scott Morrison would finally vanquish the pusillanimous Anthony Albanese.

But, of course, it did nothing of the kind. If it showed anything (and it obviously did not show much), it demonstrated that Morrison’s soaring popularity has not substantially changed voting patterns, and that Labor has still not cut through. The punters are not happy with either side, and will need a lot of convincing before they are ready to give either of them a real mandate, whether for change or for steady-as-she-goes leadership.

Eden-Monaro will be forgotten very quickly. It will be consigned to history long before, unfortunately, Dennis Shanahan can be. And quite apart from the real concerns of coronavirus and China, the government now has another problem to confront. Mathias Cormann is ready to hang up his big black boots.

The Cormannator has been a fixture of the Coalition government since it came to power in 2013, holding the position of finance minister for every Liberal prime minister, regardless of ideological bent or basic competence. He has been a reliable mediator in a fractious Senate and, just as vitally, has acted as a spokesperson for the conservative cause, rasping out the talking points with robotic efficiency.

He has never been lovable, and the fact that his Belgian accent reverberated in the manner of a baddie in an old war movie could be off-putting. His depiction of Bill Shorten as a “a girly man” grated. His gloating cigar smoking ahead of the 2014 budget was not forgiven. And in the end, Malcolm Turnbull branded him as a traitor.

But he will be missed, both as minister and fixer. Such officers are hard to replace, and Morrison is not exactly overwhelmed with talent on his backbench – or his front bench, for that matter. Another bloody reshuffle will be needed, while the economic crisis deepens and the question of how to deal with the end of JobSeeker and JobKeeper looms.

And there are rumours of another possible resignation, as the strangely absent Immigration Minister David Coleman is said to be pondering his future. It’s almost enough to make a leader wish that he was back in marketing.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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