A handful of parliamentary seats are up for grabs this weekend as five electorates go to the polls for what has been dubbed the Super Saturday of by-elections. But do you know who is standing, what the results mean for the government, or why they are even taking place?
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.
In case you’re unsure of what the term means, a by-election is called whenever a vacancy occurs in the House of Representatives because of the death, resignation, absence without leave, expulsion, disqualification or ineligibility of a member. The whole country doesn’t vote, only the registered voters in those specific electorates.
The date of a by-election is set by the Speaker, or the Governor-General, and polling must take place on a Saturday. The Senate does not hold by-elections to replace ineligible senators, and the parties themselves elect their own successors.
There are two by-elections taking place in Western Australia, in Perth and Fremantle, which are both considered to be fairly safe Labor seats, so much so that no Liberal Party candidates are running. The electorate of Perth was held until recently by Tim Hammond and Fremantle was held by dual citizen Josh Wilson.
Centre Alliance candidate Rebekha Sharkie is hoping to reclaim the seat of Mayo, in South Australia, despite some tough competition from Liberal Party candidate Georgina Downer, whose dad Alexander held the seat for 24 years. Until Rebekha Sharkie took the seat in 2016, it had been a safe Liberal electorate, meaning the Centre Alliance has a tough fight on its hands to keep it.
It’s a similar story for the Queensland seat of Longman. Labor’s Susan Lamb won that seat by a tiny majority – just 0.8 per cent – in 2016. Historically the seat is an LNP-inclined electorate, having only fallen to Labor once before in its history. Liberal candidate Trevor Ruthenberg was tipped to take the seat in a recent YouGov poll, while Pauline Hanson’s One Nation preferences look set to decide the vote.
The last electorate to go to a by-election on Saturday is the Tasmanian seat of Braddon. Labor’s Justine Keay won that with a 2.2 per cent margin in the 2016 election, though the seat itself has swung between Labor and Liberal since its creation.
As none of the contested seats are currently held by the Coalition – the formal agreement between the Liberal Party and the National Party of Australia – the government are not at risk of losing their majority if their candidates fail to walk away with any seats from this weekend’s by-elections.
If the Liberal candidates are unsuccessful, then the government will simply continue as it is. However, Labor face a bigger risk, particularly after a recent poll revealed that Bill Shorten’s party look set to lose a seat at a by-election to the federal government for the first time in 98 years. The opposition has not lost a seat to the federal government since 1920, when the Nationalist party, under the leadership of Prime Minister Billy Hughes, took the seat of Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, from Labor.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has until May next year to call the next federal election, however it is generally accepted that a strong showing for Liberal Party in the by-elections on Saturday could trigger an early election.
However, this is still a risk as the Coalition has not been ahead in the polls on a two-party-preferred basis since the last federal election in July 2016.