View from The Hill: Albanese would have no excuse for an Eden-Monaro loss after Coalition high flyers implode


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Anthony Albanese, who will campaign in Eden-Monaro on Thursday, has lost any possible claim to “underdog” status in the coming byelection.

The idea of Labor as underdog was always dubious in light of history, despite former member Mike Kelly’s personal vote. But the prospect of one or other of two NSW government high flyers having a tilt at the seat gave it some credibility.

Now, thanks to a rolling implosion within the Coalition parties, Labor starts as favourite to retain the seat, which it holds on a margin of less than 1%.

There’s a sting, however. If the favourite lost, defeat would carry even more serious implications for Albanese than a loss to a star candidate.

NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance’s Wednesday withdrawal as a contender for Liberal preselection, a day after throwing his hat in the ring, took the Coalition parties’ shenanigans to an even higher level of farce.

The last several days have seen a political shootout between NSW Deputy Premier and Nationals leader John Barilaro and Constance. Both are damaged as well as a big blow having been dealt to the Morrison government’s aspiration to defy history (no federal government has taken a seat from an opposition at a byelection for a century).

It started with Barilaro’s plan to run for the seat, which includes his state electorate where he had a very strong vote last year.

Barilaro wanted the Liberal party to step aside for him, but that was not a goer. Then Constance, whom he hoped would support him, stayed in the frame as a potential Liberal candidate, even though it was clear the two NSW ministers couldn’t both run, especially given the state government’s narrow majority.

The Nationals put out research favouring Barilaro; the Liberals had competing research.

By Monday Barilaro had hoisted the white flag – of course citing the family.

He was furious – at federal Nationals leader Michael McCormack, for not helping him, and at Constance for impeding him.

A blistering text went to McCormack, leaked to Sky on Tuesday. On Wednesday the Daily Telegraph reported “Barilaro told a parliamentary colleague Mr Constance was a ‘c…’”.

Constance cited the story in his withdrawal.

He told a news conference: “Stuff that — I hadn’t signed up to contest federally to be called that type of smear.”

“Why would I sit here for the next five weeks defending that type of front page? You can’t.”

But he also said: “I don’t believe John means it. I had that discussion with him. We’ve cleared it up. I forgive him”.

In short, Constance was all over the place, and likely a mix of reasons caused his meltdown.

Despite a touch of wild speculation that Barilaro might rethink, he quickly dispelled any such suggestion, saying: “My decision not to seek preselection for the Eden-Monaro byelection has not changed”.

The other name on the government side who’d been mentioned, Liberal senator Jim Molan, also ruled himself out on Wednesday.

Molan never seemed likely to contest. But he issued a statement saying “no one has tried to force me to not nominate, nor was I ever intimidated by the prospect of competing in a preselection or in a campaign”.

The Liberals will be well behind Labor – which is running Bega mayor Kristy McBain – in beginning their campaigning.

Nominations for Liberal preselection close Friday and then they have to organise a rank and file ballot.

Fiona Kotvojs, who pushed Kelly close at last year’s election, is seeking endorsement.

Pru Gordon, from the National Farmers Federation, a former adviser to two trade ministers and a former official with the department of foreign affairs and trade, is also in the field. A third contender is Jerry Nockles, now at World Vision, who formerly worked for federal Liberals.

The Liberal candidate, whoever they may be, will inherit the legacy of a Coalition display of bad behaviour and self-absorption, which is not a good start when you are asking for votes in an electorate that’s faced drought and fire and now struggles to recover amid economic devastation.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Eden-Monaro opens wounds in Nationals, with Barilaro attack on McCormack


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Eden-Monaro byelection has triggered an extraordinarily bitter attack by NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro on fellow National, deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.

In a text message to McCormack, a furious Barilaro said, “You will never be acknowledged by me as our leader. You aren’t. You never will be”. He accused McCormack of feeling threatened by his (short-lived) bid to switch to federal politics.

After giving every indication last week he wanted to contest the byelection, Barilaro on Monday announced he would not be seeking nomination.

This followed his failure to get the Liberals to make way, allowing him to be the only Coalition candidate. But he is also blaming McCormack for undermining him.

McCormack was known to be unenthusiastic about the prospect – in the event of a win – of having the volatile Barilaro in his federal party.

This would have put more pressure on McCormack’s leadership, which pre-COVID was under strain after a failed bid to overthrow him by Barnaby Joyce.

Publicly McCormack, while careful with his words, noted that if Barilaro decided “to put his hand up, he’s got to go through the pre-selection process. That is always the case with every National Party member.”

On Tuesday NSW Liberal Transport minister, Andrew Constance, from the state seat of Bega, which takes in a substantial part of Eden-Monaro in the south, announced his bid and is certain to be the party’s candidate, although the Liberals still have a preselection open.

Constance will come to the byelection with the memory of his prominent role during the bushfires still fresh in the voters’ minds. At that time, he was sharply critical of Scott Morrison’s performance. But Morrison will be now be happy to have him as Liberal candidate, giving his local popularity.

In his vitriolic message, which was leaked to Sky, Barilaro said: “Michael. Please do not contact me. Your lack of public enthusiasm or support for my candidacy went a long way to my final decision.

“Don’t hide behind the ‘members will choose the candidate’ rubbish, as you were the only one saying such lines. Don’t you think my branches would have backed me in?

“To feel threatened by me clearly shows you have failed your team and failed as a leader.

“You will never be acknowledged by me as our leader. You aren’t. You never will be.

“The Nats had a chance to create history, to change momentum, and you had a candidate that was prepared to risk everything to make it happen.

“What did you risk? Nothing.

“Hope you are proud of yourself.”

In his Monday announcement Barilaro said: “The polling showed I could win but sometimes in this game, you let ego get in the way of good decisions and I’ve got to make the best decision for me, my family, for the people of NSW – more importantly for the people of Eden-Monaro”.

The Liberals argued Constance would have a better chance of taking the Labor seat than Balilaro, despite the fact the regional centre of Queanbeyan is in Barilaro’s state seat of Monaro, and he won every booth in his electorate at the NSW election last year.

Eden-Monaro became vacant because of the resignation of Labor’s Mike Kelly due to ill health. Labor has chosen Bega mayor Kristy McBain, who is considered a strong candidate.

The contest is seen as an important test for opposition leader Anthony Albanese.

Labor has history on its side – it is a century since a federal government took an opposition seat at a byelection.

In response to Barilaro’s attack, McCormack said he respected his “personal decision not to contest the Eden-Monaro by-election due to family reasons.

“I have always supported the democratic election processes of the National Party of Australia. I wholeheartedly endorse the right of branches to select their local candidates first and foremost.

“My support of Mr Barilaro has been long standing and I respect his position as Deputy Premier and New South Wales Nationals’ Leader.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.