Turnbull govt seeks by-election boost ahead of federal polls

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visiting a cafe in Canberra to speak on his government's income tax cuts last month. His personal popularity is at its highest level in two years, according to the latest opinion poll.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visiting a cafe in Canberra to speak on his government's income tax cuts last month. His personal popularity is at its highest level in two years, according to the latest opinion poll.PHOTO: REUTERS

Aussie PM may bolster leadership by winning at least one of five seats

SYDNEY • Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is looking for a strong showing for his Liberal-National coalition in special by-elections being held in Australia this weekend as he looks to bolster his leadership ahead of a nationwide election to be held within a year.

Polls show that the centre-right ruling coalition has a chance to win up to two of the five electorates up for grabs in the so-called Super Saturday by-elections, the bulk of which have been triggered because incumbent Labor candidates were deemed ineligible due to their holding citizenship of other nations at the time of the last election in 2016.

Should Labor lose a seat to the government, it will place pressure on party leader Bill Shorten and give the Prime Minister bragging rights: The last time an incumbent government won a seat from the opposition in a by-election was in 1920.

Picking up at least one of the five seats contested will also double Mr Turnbull's razor-thin parliamentary majority to two and make him less beholden to his backbench.

Three prime ministers have been ousted by their own parties since 2010.

Mr Turnbull's personal popularity is at its highest level in two years, according to the latest opinion poll.

Bolstered by a strengthening economy and surging employment, his government has also improved its performance in opinion polls this year and has a reasonable chance to win re-election.

Some political analysts believe a very strong showing in today's by-elections could tempt Mr Turnbull, 63, to call an early federal poll.

Polls indicate that the government has a strong chance of winning the Labor-held seat of Longman, in Queensland state, after the far-right One Nation Party led by Ms Pauline Hanson encouraged its supporters to vote for Mr Turnbull.

A victory in Longman could also provide a possible blueprint to securing re-election at the next federal poll. "There are a lot of marginal seats in Queensland, where Hanson has sway. She delivered the election to (prime minister) John Howard in 1998, she could do it again," said Dr Nick Economou of Monash University in Melbourne.

Meanwhile, Mr Shorten's popularity has been waning, and frontbencher Anthony Albanese has been tipped as a possible replacement if seats are lost.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2018, with the headline 'Turnbull govt seeks by-election boost ahead of federal polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe