SYDNEY • Australia's ruling coalition is facing a major defeat in a state by-election after voters vented their frustration over recent political infighting that led to a change in prime minister.
Rural voters in Wagga Wagga, an agricultural electorate in New South Wales (NSW), posted a 29 per cent swing against the Liberal Party in first preference voting, according to Australian Electoral Commission figures yesterday, in a result that will strip the party of the rural seat for the first time since 1956.
Independent candidate Joe McGirr was expected to win with a leading primary vote of 24.69 per cent, although counting will continue today to confirm the result.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian conceded defeat on behalf of the party in a news conference, saying her government had heard the "strong message" the voters had sent.
The by-election has been seen as the first test of sentiment since new Prime Minister Scott Morrison took over leadership of the Liberal-National coalition last month following a backbench revolt.
Deputy leader, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, told the ABC's Insider's programme that the loss was due to "local factors".
Mr Stewart Jackson, politics lecturer at the University of Sydney said the by-election result indicated voter anger.
He said: "There's a certain anger in the rural areas in any case overlaid by problems with the Liberal brand and National brand. In terms of the federal level, there's instability of leadership and federal instability in other policy areas."
Mr Morrison faces a test today as he steers the government through a hostile session of Parliament, where he is expected to be challenged about allegations of Liberal Party bullying, particularly of women.