Regardless of the result, the Canning by-election on 19 September is shaping as a catalyst for an early trip to the polls for the rest of Australia’s voters.
Brought about by the untimely and unfortunate death of the personally popular Liberal member Don Randall, the 19 September poll is both a leadership test for Prime Minister Abbott and a potential stop gap for a disaster-prone coalition government.
Early Newspoll results in the apparently safe Western Australian Liberal seat (currently held on a margin of 11.8%) are, however, broadly in line with national polling and show that a swing against the Liberals in the region of 11% is possible.
Whilst this is not an by-election-winning prediction for the Opposition it does make the contest in Canning far more interesting than perhaps it should be.
Canning has gone with the Government in 21 of the last 26 elections and was last held in a Labor Government way back in 1993 in the days of the 2nd term Keating Government. Canning was also held from 1998 – 2001 by Labor’s Jane Gerick who won the seat with a resounding 53.5% of the two party preferred vote during the near miss re-election of the 2nd term Howard Government. Gerick lost the seat in a contra-landslide to Randall as part of Howard’s 3rd term Government in 2001. (Ominously for the 19 September by-election candidates, Gerick also died prematurely from a brain haemorrhage on Christmas day 2003.)
Perhaps on the proven success of the national security and counter-terrorism agenda that has played so well for Abbott from time-to-time during this Government, Former Special Air Service Captain Andrew Hastie has been endorsed as the Liberal candidate for the seat. Look out for media appearances with senior ministers in the national security space replete with a phalanx of national flags.
The Barnett Liberal Government in Western Australia has arguably lost control of the political high ground in the State and WA Liberal fortunes have traditionally been reflected in Canning’s federal polling. None of this bodes well for a decisive victory for Liberal’s Andrew Hastie.
The only other confirmed candidate at the time of writing is the curiously aptly named Teresa Van Lieshout whose pedigree is from the conservative side of the fence with former links to One Nation, the Palmer United Party and the religious right.
Should Canning be returned to the Liberals against this State trend, it will be viewed by a nervous Federal Coalition party room as something of an endorsement of the general direction of the Abbott Government and will provide the Prime Minister with just the fillip he needs to maintain his tenuous hold on the prime ministership. The opportunity to deliver a coup-de-grâce on the struggling but improving fortunes of the Labor leader on the back of an inevitable poll lift would be difficult to resist and an early Federal election would be a great temptation.
A loss in Canning, particularly to an as yet unnamed Labor candidate, would undoubtedly sound the death knell on the Abbott prime ministership and would inevitably herald the return of Malcolm Turnbull to the Federal Liberal Leadership.
Turnbull has recently polled as high as 57% as preferred Liberal leader(SMH 18 August) and, despite being roundly despised by many of his colleagues, offers the Coalition their best hope of avoiding a complete routing at the next Federal election.
The inevitable “sugar shock” in the polls that the re-emergence of Malcolm Turnbull would almost certainly provide will prove too much to withstand and it would not be long before he was knocking on the door of Government House in Canberra.
Either way you cut it, the Canning by-election on 19 September is a landmark moment in the Australian political calendar and will prove most interesting viewing for those interested in the political future of the current government.
Make sure you’ve got Antony Green’s* blog in your favourites and don’t touch that dial.
*ABC Election analyst whose blog appears here: