The view from Billinudgel

A many-cornered contest
A Coalition win in Eden-Monaro is unlikely, but would be regarded as another of Morrison’s miracles and a disaster for Albanese

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese with preselection candidate for the seat of Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain. © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

A three-cornered contest, they warned us – it will be messy and unpredictable. But what did they know? The fiasco of the Eden-Monaro byelection already has at least seven corners, and counting.

The only apex approaching stability appears to be Labor’s Kristy McBain, a prominent local who has remained a candidate for almost a fortnight. Her opponents will presumably also be locals, since the stars of Macquarie Street have cut and run with almost indecent haste.

NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro apparently decided it was all too difficult, and defied the travel bans to retire to his country mansion for a weekend of rest and recreation. And he slammed his federal counterpart, Michael McCormack, for not supporting him (which was silly) as well as for being a failure and a wimp (which was not).

And in the process, Barilaro gave his friend and colleague Andrew Constance, the Liberal transport minister, a hefty backhander, which so spooked the sensitive Constance that he too pulled the pin, for which he was penalised by losing his job as leader of the Legislative Assembly.

Constance was already on the nose with his own federal leader, Scott Morrison, having taken a swipe at ScoMo over his bushfire blunder in the electorate. Constance was probably warned that he would have a seriously limited future in Canberra if he ever got there. The friction between Morrison’s home state and his national administration remains unabated.

But both Coalition parties insist that they will, somehow, at some time, locate viable candidates and leave the four-cornered brawl between the big boys to resolve itself – or not.

In the meantime, the darling of the hard right, the bellicose fundamentalist Jim Molan, also announced his non-appearance in the contest, citing health reasons. At least he didn’t blame any of his colleagues – not yet, anyway.

This exercise in self-indulgent bickering is obviously seen as a free kick for Labor and its leader, Anthony Albanese, who needs a highly marginal byelection at a time of Morrison’s sudden rise in popularity like he needs a positive COVID test.

However, it may make things harder for the Opposition. On paper, history shows a Coalition win would be most unlikely, but it would be regarded as another of Morison’s miracles if he can pull it off – and thus a disaster for Albanese, who has everything to lose.

The Labor leader can – and will – exploit the Coalition’s wobbly heptagon of competing disloyalties as far as possible, while concentrating on local issues, particularly the aftermath of the bushfires, which is still a source of resentment in the area.

But he must have been wishing that the deranged suggestion that Tony Abbott should be resurrected and parachuted into the South Coast could have become more than a fantasy. Yet another corner in the shit fight would have provided a punchline worthy of the Three (no, the Eight) Stooges, as well as producing a pleasing symmetry.

However, the current imbroglio shows that however COVID-19 ends up, we will not be left with the new bipartisan consensus politics that some wishful thinkers were hoping for. Eden-Monaro is traditionally described as a bellwether seat, an electorate that leads and mirrors the political mood of the country.

But a bellwether is in fact the treacherous sheep that leads its trusting flock to the abattoir for slaughter. And the bellwether’s chimes are ringing long and loud this week.

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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