The Politics    Friday, July 3, 2020

Southern discomfort

By Paddy Manning

Images of Kristy McBain and Fiona Kotvojs

Kristy McBain (via Twitter) and Fiona Kotvojs (via Facebook)

Tomorrow’s result in Eden-Monaro is on a knife edge

There is no shortage of predictions for tomorrow’s byelection in Eden-Monaro, from The Australian’s Peter van Onselen calling it [$] “Scott Morrison’s to lose” to Graham Richardson tipping “a pretty good Labor win” on Sky News. A poll of 643 residents for the Australia Institute indicates that ALP candidate Kristy McBain is ahead of the Liberals’ Fiona Kotvojs by 52:48 after preferences, but with 14 candidates and a margin of less than one per cent, nobody knows how the result will pan out. Major issues are in play in an electorate still reeling from the Black Summer bushfires and COVID-19, with many residents fearing the withdrawal of the JobKeeper stimulus in September. No government has won a byelection in an Opposition-held seat since Kalgoorlie in 1920, but ABC election analyst Antony Green writes that tomorrow could well be a “once-in-a-century” election. Such a crucial vote in a traditional bellwether seat, in the absence of a general election, seems strange, like a tree falling in an otherwise empty forest. Whether the result comes tomorrow night or not, it is hard to tell whether the result in Eden-Monaro will have a national impact. Most likely, the impact will be felt on all sides.

Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs – who almost won the seat in 2019 from popular MP Mike Kelly (who retired due to ill health) – has faced persistent questioning about her past opposition to marriage equality and her reputed climate scepticism, which could matter in an electorate recently devastated by bushfires. Not helping Kotvojs’s chances would be the messy start to the Liberals’ campaign, when state transport minister Andrew Constance toyed with the possibility of running, before pulling out after a face-off with Deputy Premier and NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro. Also not helping would be the uncertainty over the future of JobKeeper, which Labor has accused the government of burying until after the byelection. This has prompted fears that the government has bad news coming, as Eden Chamber of Commerce member Jenny Robb (who you’d think would be a natural Liberal voter) told the ABC’s PM last night. Another drag would be the funding cuts for the ABC, which bite especially hard in regional areas, as well as cuts to other public institutions, especially in a town like Queanbeyan, which has a preponderance of public servants. (And on that score, you’d think today’s news that the federal police have handed up a brief to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, asking it to press charges against ABC journalist Dan Oakes over a report on alleged war crimes by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, would not go down well in either progressive or conservative-leaning parts of the electorate.) 

Labor candidate Kristy McBain, the former mayor of Bega, is well regarded. Leader Anthony Albanese has campaigned hard in the electorate, including on the issue of ABC funding, pledging to restore the $84 million cut in the 2018 budget when indexation of funding was removed for the current three-year term. He also weighed in on the potential charges against Oakes, saying it was “a complete outrage that a journalist could be charged and prosecuted for doing their job. Freedom of the press isn’t something that is a matter of convenience. It’s an essential component of our democracy”. But Labor has been trying to dampen expectations lately, emphasising the loss of Mike Kelly’s personal vote and the upwelling of support for the federal government, particularly the popular response to the prime minister’s pandemic response. Rightly or wrongly, there is an expectation that, if McBain loses badly tomorrow, Labor will suffer a bout of leadership instability, as the AFR’s Phillip Coorey wrote [$] this morning.    

Perhaps the heaviest fallout will be among the Nationals, whose campaign has been an utter shambles, beset by bitter internal acrimony between the forces loyal to leader Michael McCormack (represented by endorsed candidate Trevor Hicks) and those loyal to former leader Barnaby Joyce (represented by Barilaro). The Australian this week has reported that Barilaro has been urging his supporters to put Labor as second preference after Hicks, so that Kotvojs loses and he, Barilaro, is not prevented from running in 2022 by the Coalition’s prohibition on three-cornered contests. Astoundingly, Barilaro – whose poisonous texts to McCormack were leaked early on in the campaign – has not denied those reports. In fact, he praised Mike Kelly, and has taken pot shots at the federal government’s ABC cuts. His ally, Joyce, has joined the fray, accusing the Liberals of hoping the Shooters outpoll the Nats. It’s been a display of rank ill-discipline that can only help Labor. On Sky News today, Barilaro made the point that he’d worked closely with McBain during the bushfires and she had been “a great local mayor”. McBain cheekily retweeted his interview, writing: “I’ll work with people from all sides of politics to get the best for Eden-Monaro.”

Whoever wins tomorrow, hopefully some good will come out of Kelly’s retirement. It took a byelection to force the federal government’s hand, but perhaps the voters of Eden-Monaro will finally receive the bushfire relief they deserve. 

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

“Get rid of him! Get a woman in there! Put [a female AMP employee] in his spot. How we change culture is by doing shit and not just talking about doing shit.”

In what has been called AMP’s #MeToo moment, female employees stage a revolt against the board’s appointment last month of Boe Pahari as chief executive of the asset management arm, despite knowing he had previously sexually harassed a subordinate.

“We advise the Australian side to look at the national security legislation in Hong Kong in a correct and objective light. Stop interfering in China’s internal affairs with Hong Kong as a pretext, and refrain from going further down the wrong path.”

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, in Beijing, hits out at Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s reported offer of safe haven to Hong Kong nationals fleeing the mainland’s security crackdown.

The Eden-Monaro Missile Crisis
As both sides of parliament brace for tomorrow’s byelection in Eden-Monaro, it’s been suggested that the timing of Scott Morrison’s $270 billion defence announcement was as much about votes in the seat as it was about the country’s strategic future. Paul Bongiorno on the all-in race.

The number of MyGov account logins available for sale on the dark web, among a list of more than 150,000 hacked “” logins.

“On or before midday on 3 July 2020, the first respondent is to either: (a) personally make a decision in respect to the applicant’s visa application; or (b) ensure that a decision in respect to the applicant’s visa application is made by another portfolio minister or a lawfully authorised delegate.”

The Federal Court orders Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton to make a decision on the protection visa application of an Iranian asylum seeker who arrived here in 2013, or face contempt of court. Dutton avoided contempt of court charges by deciding to refuse the man a protection visa.

The list

“[Nakkiah] Lui only started working in TV because Sally Riley, who was ABC’s head of Indigenous at the time, sent an open call-out for Black Comedy: Are you a blackfella who thinks you’re funny? It changed Lui’s life. ‘There’s real strength and solidarity in the Aboriginal community in the industry at the moment,’ she says. ‘And there’s been such a history of work preceding me.’”

“I borrowed a friend’s camera and travelled to Brooklyn to sit on Cecil’s doorstep. I waited there, ten hours a day, and on the seventh day Cecil opened his front door just a little and peered out. ‘I’ve been watching you. You seem very patient – come inside.’ … I told him I’d travelled from Australia to make a film about him, and then suggested that I live with him so we could get to know each other. Cecil laughed. ‘You’re very forward, aren’t you?’ A week later I moved in.”

“Moving to net zero emissions, rapidly, and agitating for the rest of the world to join us, is about averting catastrophe. We are facing devastation and our leaders continue to tinker at the edges. Responding to climate change will require a litany of policy changes, ranging from the minute to sweeping reforms. We can’t fool ourselves into thinking this can be solved through merely the painless and the acute. A carbon price is a big idea, it is an ambitious idea – but at this point, ambition is necessary.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.

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