Bill Shorten has put a dampener on speculation over his leadership after Labor held onto all four of its contested seats in the Super Saturday by-elections.
Labor was fighting to hold onto its position in Fremantle and Perth in Western Australia, Braddon in Tasmania and Longman, north of Brisbane, while the Liberal Party and Centre Alliance’s MP Rebekha Sharkie battled over Mayo in South Australia.
The by-elections were announced back in May following the resignation of five MPs, four of whom were forced to resign after they were discovered to be ineligible to sit in parliament because they held dual citizenship, according to section 44 of the constitution. While a fifth MP, Labor’s Tim Hammond, stepped down to spend more time with his family.
Shorten was facing increasing pressure for his party to win all four contested seats in the lead up to the by-elections, with speculation mounting he could be in line for a leadership challenge if he didn’t deliver.
The Labor leader wouldn’t be judged for breathing a sigh of relief this morning with poll results showing the party blitzed its competitors. The narrowest victory came from Braddon in Tasmania, where Labor MP Justine Keay won 52.7 per cent of the vote, followed by Longman in Queensland where Susan Lamb 55.4 per cent of the vote.
Lamb was up against One Nation member Matthew Stephen, who was forced go it alone and make do with cardboard cutouts of his boss Pauline Hanson, who is still holidaying in the UK. Hanson announced last week that she had a “big surprise” in store for election day, which turned out to be 50 life-size cutouts of her stationed around polling booths, but the surprise wasn’t enough to sway voters in One Nation’s direction.
The Liberal Party’s by-election efforts in the Queensland seat of Longman were derailed last week when it was revealed candidate Trevor Ruthenberg had wrongly claimed he’d earned a prestigious defence service medal. In South Australia, Centre Alliance’s Sharkie crushed her Liberal opponent Georgina Downer, daughter of former Foreign Affairs minister Alexander Downer, while in Tasmania Justine Keay cinched the win over Liberal Brett Whiteley.
With Shorten presumably off the hook until the next Newspoll comes out, talk has already swung in Malcolm Turnbull’s direction with media commentators suggesting he could be in the firing line ahead of the next federal election.
Shorten and Turnbull have both suffered at opposite ends of the polls, since taking their posts. While Labor has won the last 35 polls on a two-party preferred basis, Shorten’s personal approval rating has proved dismal, prompting speculation Anthony Albanese, who as proved popular among voters, could challenge for leadership.
The Coalition meanwhile has now surpassed 30 Newspoll losses in a row – the number Turnbull used to boot Tony Abbott out of office. The prime minister has dismissed calls for him to step down and pointed instead to his strong polling position preferred prime minister.
There was talk ahead of the by-election that a Liberal victory could entice the PM to call an early election, something he firmly denied, and it seems highly unlikely Turnbull would consider such a move now after failing to secure even one seat.