Labor may narrowly hold Eden-Monaro but the results of the by-election will hinge on preference flows from the enormous number of early voters.
With almost 39 per cent of the votes counted, Labor’s Kristy McBain is slightly ahead on 50.75 per cent after projected preference flows.
Liberal Fiona Kotvojs is expected to take 49.25 per cent of the two-party preferred vote.
But another 38 per cent of the southeastern NSW electorate’s voters voted early and their ballots are still being counted, while 15 per cent made postal votes.
No results have been released yet from the pre-poll ballots.
Liberal candidate for Eden-Monaro Fiona Kotvojs votes at Jerrabomberra Public School polling station, north of Queanbeyan, NSW, Saturday, July 4, 2020
Labor candidate for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain (left) and Australian Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese are seen at Merimbula Primary School in Merimbula, NSW, Saturday, July 4, 2020
As votes began to be counted on Saturday night NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro declared during a television appearance that he would have won the seat if he had chosen to run.
Mr Barilaro had initially declared he would run for the seat but then backed out of the race early on.
‘There are 43,000 votes sitting in the pre-poll voting centre counting facility in Fyshwick in Canberra,’ Labor senator Tim Ayres told party supporters in coastal town Merimbula.
‘That does mean that it’s going to be some time before anybody with any confidence will be able to predict the results either this evening or through the day tomorrow.’
So far, Labor’s primary vote is down more than four points on its 2019 election result and the Liberals have also had a small swing against them.
The Greens’ primary vote has also dropped, by 3.57 points.
But Labor appears to be picking up good preference flows from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party and the Help End Marijuana Prohibition party.
Supporters wait for Liberal candidate for Eden-Monaro Fiona Kotvojs at the post election function at the Royal Hotel in Queanbeyan, NSW
Labor sources said the trend in pre-poll preferences appeared to be broadly in line with what was seen among Saturday’s votes.
But Liberal frontbencher Angus Taylor pointed to his party’s scrutineers saying primary vote results from Yass and Merimbula pre-polls were more favourable to Dr Kotvojs.
‘This is a repudiation of the left-wing politics that (Labor leader Anthony) Albanese and the Greens stand for,’ he said.
‘When you look at the booths, it’s those tradie-type booths, whether it’s in Queanbeyan or Cooma … that’s where we’ve done the best.’
Senator Ayres continued to cast Labor as the underdog.
‘It would be an extraordinary upset victory for the Labor Party at this time in this seat to claw back a victory for the Labor party in Eden-Monaro,’ he said.
NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro, who initially considered running in the by-election for the Nationals, said there hadn’t been a sense of anger from voters heading to the booths on polling day.
Nationals candidate Trevor Hicks conceded about 9pm, with his party steady on 6.7 per cent of the vote.
‘I wish I could go a bit further, but obviously it was always a hard task with COVID restrictions and, you know, in such a short time that we’ve had,’ he told supporters.
‘But I think we’ve made an impact for the farmers of this region.’
Deputy NSW Premier John Barilaro (pictured with his family) left school to work in his father Domenico’s window frame and door manufacturer, Ryleho, which he later managed
Volunteers wait for the results of the by-election for the seat of Eden-Monaro at the Labor party election function in Merimbula, NSW, Saturday, July 4, 2020. Voting has ended with Labor’s Kristy McBain or Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs expected to win the vote
The polls have closed in the Eden-Monaro by-election, which has turned out to be a tight contest between Labor and the Liberals.
Both major parties are already rehearsing their excuses should they lose the battle that has been fought against the backdrop of drought, bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic in the past six months.
There are 14 candidates running but the race is widely expected to come down to a contest between Labor’s Kristy McBain and Liberal Fiona Kotvojs, neither of whom is likely to win on primary vote alone.
About half of the total of 114,000 voters have already cast their votes by post, betting odds have the Labor candidate slightly ahead.
The by-election for the federal seat in the south eastern corner of NSW was triggered when respected Labor member Mike Kelly resigned from parliament due to health concerns.
A total of 114,000 voters will decide what is shaping up to be a test-run for a federal election with the seat seen as a bellwether electorate.
VOTES COUNTED ON SATURDAY
EDEN-MONARO RESULTS SO FAR BEFORE MIDNIGHT SATURDAY
62,216 votes counted (54.4 per cent of electorate)
LABOR – Kristy McBain – 36.85 per cent (down 2.9 points on 2019 result)
LIBERALS – Fiona Kotvojs – 37.35 per cent (up 0.87 points)
NATIONALS – Trevor Hicks – 5.48 per cent (down 1.17 points)
GREENS – Cathy Griff – 5.79 per cent (down 3.19)
SHOOTERS, FISHERS AND FARMERS – Matthew Stadtmiller – 5.78 per cent (didn’t run in 2019)
HELP END MARIJUANA PROHIBITION – Michael Balderstone – 2.62 per cent (didn’t run in 2019)
LABOR 51.29 per cent (up 0.44 points)
LIBERALS 48.71 per cent (down 0.44 points)
Labor leader Anthony Albanese was trying to claim underdog status in the lead-up.
‘Eden-Monaro has always been held by the party in government, that’s one of the reasons why we are up against it in this by-election,’ Mr Albanese said at a Merimbula polling station where Ms McBain cast her vote on Saturday.
‘The only time that hasn’t happened is when Mike Kelly won the seat in 2016 and then again last year.’
In contrast, Liberal backbencher Jason Falinski pointed to the history of by-elections, where a government has not won a seat from the opposition in 100 years.
‘Obviously Labor would be feeling a lot of pressure today to make sure that they maintain this seat,’ he told ABC television.
The vast electorate that surrounds the ACT has suffered from drought, floods, bushfires and the coronavirus recession in recent months.
Voters and party representatives interact outside Bungendore Public School on July 04, 2020 in Bungendore, Australia
The seat of Eden-Monaro was vacated when Labor MP Mike Kelly (pictured) retired
‘Today is a chance to send government a message that six months on from bushfire we shouldn’t still be waiting for assistance, a chance to send a message that businesses need help, and they need a plan for the future,’ Ms McBain told reporters after casting her vote.
THE SEAT OF EDEN-MONARO
Eden-Monaro in southern New South Wales was Australia’s bellwether seat from 1972 until 2016, when Labor’s Mike Kelly won back his old seat even though Malcolm Turnbull’s Liberal-National Coalition government was narrowly re-elected.
This electorate had voted for every winning side from Gough Whitlam to Tony Abbott.
If the Liberal Party’s Fiona Kotvojs prevails on Saturday against Labor’s Kristy McBain, it will be the first time since 1920 that a federal government has won a seat from the Opposition at a by-election.
In the election lead-up, Roy Morgan had the Liberal Party slight ahead of Labor in Eden-Monaro as Newspoll did.
Eden-Monaro covers bushfire damaged areas of the NSW South Coast.
Ms Kotvojs said the electorate needs to be rebuilt after a tough six months.
‘So people need to think about which of the candidates is able to be a strong voice in government to deliver, which of the candidates brings a breadth of skills to be able to deliver for this diverse electorate,’ she told reporters after casting her vote at a Jerrabomberra polling booth.
Nationals candidate Trevor Hicks hopes voters will look past the slick campaign machines of the two major parties and vote for him instead.
‘It really need somebody at this stage to support them after the fires, after the COVID restrictions that we’ve had, and the drought that has affected so many farmers,’ Mr Hicks told Sky News.
The electoral commission has warned people it may take longer than usual to cast their vote due to coronavirus safety measures.
Voting places will have hand sanitiser and social distancing measures in place, and people have been asked to bring their own pen or pencil.
Scott Morrison said on Thursday employment was a major factor in the by-election.
‘Right here, right now, it’s about jobs and jobs here in Eden-Monaro,’ he told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.
‘I need someone here on the ground … who will fight for those jobs and will storm into my office and say, ‘The primary producers need this now, boss,’ or, ‘The timber millers need this’.’
NSW state ministers John Barilaro and Andrew Constance knocked each other out of contention at the start of the race, while in the final week Mr Barilaro, the deputy premier, has faced accusations he’s undermining the Liberals so he can have a clear tilt at the seat in 2022.
Labor has accused the government of talking big in the lead-up to voters going to the polls, especially about the bushfire recovery, but also about having poor follow-through when it comes to delivering what people need.
Kristy McBain (pictured) is the local mayor for Bega and is the favourite to win the federal seat
NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance (pictured with wife Jennifer) declared he would run before pulling out
‘This electorate doesn’t need someone who will just sit there and give a tick to the government, this electorate needs someone who’ll speak up for them,’ Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said in the coastal town of Narooma on Friday.
‘We’ve been focused on the needs of the people of Eden-Monaro, we’ll continue to be so after polls close at six o’clock, when parliament resumes in August, when the budget comes down in October, throughout next year.’
Labor candidate Kristy McBain, a former mayor of Bega, rose to prominence advocating for her community during the summer’s bushfire crisis.
‘I need to get over the line here so that I can amplify the voices of the people that matter right now and that’s the people that are feeling left behind and forgotten in Eden-Monaro,’ she said.
But Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the delivery of help to people in the region really needed a voice in his government.
‘We really need people with boots on the ground as part of my government to ensure that we’re delivering rather than sniping from the sidelines,’ he told the Sounds of the Mountains radio station on Friday.
‘I need my Liberal candidate to be the member for Eden-Monaro so we can make this rebuilding dream a reality.’
Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs defended her own home near Cobargo from bushfires in January.
Saturday’s by-election was triggered when respected Labor member Mike Kelly retired for health reasons.
Dr Kotvojs ran against him in the 2019 general election, wiping two points off his margin to come in just 1685 votes behind.
Both Labor and Liberals anticipate another tight race this time around.
One local woman from Cobargo famously refused to shake Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s hand during the bushfire crises until he offered more support to volunteer firefighters
THE EDEN-MONARO BY-ELECTION
* To be held on July 4.
* There are 14 candidates contesting the seat.
* Kristy McBain – Labor
* Fiona Kotvojs – Liberal
* Trevor Wicks – Nationals
* Cathy Griff – Greens
* Matthew Stadtmiller – Shooters, Fishers and Farmers
* Electorate covers 41,617 sq km in southeast NSW surrounding the ACT. Major centres are Queanbeyan, Merimbula, Narooma, Bermagui, Bega, Eden, Cooma, Yass, Batlow and Tumut.
* Labor MP Mike Kelly has retired from parliament for health reasons.
* NSW Liberal minister Andrew Constance and NSW Nationals leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro initially jockeyed over potentially running for the seat. Both ended up withdrawing. Barilaro may contest the seat at the next federal poll.
* Electoral commission has made extra health arrangements to ensure the election does not spread COVID-19. This could delay a result in the count.
* Labor was hit by a scandal mid-election when the national executive was forced to intervene in Victoria over branch-stacking.
* Many voters are still living in tents or caravans following the devastating bushfires and will use the election to take aim at the government over the slow pace of the recovery.
* Betting agencies have Labor scraping over the line. No opposition party has lost a seat in a by-election to a governing party candidate in 100 years.