5 July 2020

UPDATED: Labor's McBain claims victory in tight Eden Monaro race

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Kristy McBain has claimed victory in Eden Monaro for the ALP. Photo: Kristy McBain Facebook.

UPDATED 2.30 pm, July 5: Labor’s Kristy McBain has claimed victory in Eden Monaro as persistent postal and pre-poll voting trends mean it is almost impossible for the Liberals to win the seat.

It’s a victory for preference voting and, possibly, contrary minded locals who chose to vote across party lines. The victory also comes with a notable dip in ALP primary votes.

About 94,000 votes have been counted including 44,000 pre-polls and postal votes. The Liberals needed to see at least 60 per cent of the latter going their way to win the extremely close race, but that hasn’t happened and McBain is now around 1000 votes ahead on a two-party preferred basis.

As of this afternoon, that equates to a 50.77 per cent share of the vote, to Fiona Kotvoj’s 49.23 per cent.

McBain has attributed that win to “local issues on the ground” in the hard-hit and very diverse electorate. Liberal hopes that Scott Morrison’s leadership on coronavirus would translate to a stronger swing didn’t materialise, perhaps because COVID-19 came hot on the heels of severe drought and devastating bushfires in an electorate where poverty rates are significantly higher than the national average.

McBain told media in Merimbula this morning that her priorities would be bushfire recovery and jobs for the region. “It will be a big job but I’m ready to hit the ground running”, she said.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese described Saturday’s poll as “an election unlike any ever seen in this country”, adding that Fiona Kotvojs would also have needed preferences to win the seat, in common with most Australian politicians

UPDATED: 10.30 am July 5: Nobody has formally claimed victory in Eden Monaro, but after a night of counting in which voters showed they’d made their own choices, it looks increasingly likely that the ALP will hold the seat with the slimmest of margins.

And it’s likely all down to minor parties who say they wanted to send a clear message to government about neglecting regional Australia.

Shooters Fishers and Farmers candidate, Matt Stadtmiller, who picked up 5.4 per cent of the vote and directed preferences towards Labor told Region Media this morning that he was “very happy” with the result and “looking forward to taking on the government before the next general election to let them know regional people don’t have faith in the Coalition any more.

“You’ve only got to look at somewhere like Tumbarumba where we picked up 190 votes to the Nationals’ 39 as a sign that the Council mergers at state government level have made people very cranky”, he said. “People understand that the State and Federal governments are linked when you have the Coalition in both parliaments”.

The official count won’t be completed for more than two weeks but very late last night with 77 per cent of the vote counted, the ABC’s election analyst Antony Green called it for Labor as unexpected preferences continued to flow towards Kristy McBain.

Labor’s first preference votes have dropped by a little more than 2 per cent of the total, currently sitting on 36.2 per cent, while Fiona Kotvojs for the Liberals enjoys a first preference lead on 37.8 per cent. As the night wore on, the early swings of up to 4 per cent against Labor were countered by a stronger performance on pre-polls and postal votes.

And in a Melbourne Cup field of candidates, the Shooters Fishers and Farmers and Nationals have made unexpected bedfellows for the ALP as many locals took the chance to vote across political lines in an electorate that’s been battered by major disasters.

That means Labor is currently sitting on 51.04 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote – a margin very close to Mike Kelly’s .09% buffer in 2019.

Tweeting close to 2 am, Antony Green said that the Liberals would need to win more than 60 per cent of the remaining outstanding ballots, which are mostly postal votes, to turn the tide. That doesn’t look likely as postal votes were trending at best just over 50 per cent for Fiona Kotvojs.

The Nationals vote was down by 2.2 per cent and the Greens by 3 per cent.

Speaking at Merimbula around 11 pm, Kristy McBain was careful not to claim victory. “We still have a big challenge ahead of us. Recovery is going to be hard in Eden Monaro and we need to continue to fight every single day to support the people that are being left behind and are falling through the cracks,” she said.

Disaffected supporters of NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro may have played a key role in the election outcome. Photo: File.

10 pm, July 4: On a night where there are still no clear answers, it may well be that the most influential figure in the Eden-Monaro by-election is someone who wasn’t running.

Eden-Monaro sat on a razor-thin margin of .09 per cent, but while the Labor vote declined by around 3.6 per cent and the Greens vote by a similar margin, it still looks likely that Labor’s Kristy McBain will sneak home on preferences as she sits neck and neck with Liberal Fiona Kotvojs.

And those preferences will number some very unlikely ALP bedfellows indeed, including the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party voters – and some Nationals.

Labor scrutineers were claiming on the night that between 20 and 30 per cent of National Party preferences are going to the Labor candidate, reinforcing the speculation that rogue how-to-vote cards are directing them away from the Kotvojs campaign.

While NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro wouldn’t say who he voted for this time, he was frank about where his preferences went in 2019 – to his old colleague, the ALP’s Dr Mike Kelly.

The speculation is that Barilaro remains furious about his stoush with neighbouring NSW Liberal member Andrew Constance, intends to run in the next Federal election, and that his supporters have wreaked revenge by adding their preferences to those of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, Greens and minor candidates.

Labor candidate Kristy McBain maintained a very slight lead as votes cast on Saturday were counted, but pre-polls amounted to more than half the votes, in a COVID-19 environment where many chose the early voting option rather than braving election day queues (and, no doubt, the lack of democracy sausages).

Over 42,000 pre-polls were cast, including more than 4000 votes at the Queanbeyan city centre alone.

The bushfires and McBain’s personal popularity as Bega Valley mayor clearly boosted the ALP vote on the far south coast, where there is significant anger in some communities about the slowness of the bushfire response and the number of people who are still without homes or electricity.

Indeed, the Shooters Fishers and Farmers candidate Matthew Stadtmiller made it clear that his party wanted to sharply differentiate themselves from the Coalition over the bushfire recovery process and drought response. The Shooters Fishers and Farmers appear to have picked up a swing of around 5.5 per cent or more.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s COVID-19 leadership approval ratings appear not to have made much impact on the ground, although Liberal Fiona Kotvojs polled well in her home territory on the coast and the Queanbeyan and Jerrabombera booths mostly swung slightly towards the Liberals, perhaps also reflecting the loss of Mike Kelly’s strong personal vote.

Speaking to the ABC, Liberal senator Jim Molan said of the Nationals leader “John has to satisfy himself to the people of Eden Monaro if he ever wants to run. That’s for John to sort out.

“We are in a Coalition and that’s working brilliantly. We don’t want to get mixed up with any of the friction that’s going on”.

Nationals president Larry Anthony told the ABC that he’d hoped for a tight exchange of preferences, conceding that “I would prefer John didn’t vote that way.

“But if the Nationals hadn’t have run, would those votes have gone to the Liberals? Not necessarily in Queanbeyan, where John Barilaro has been successful in getting Labor voters to vote National, and that will flow through to the Liberals”.

Both postal and pre-poll votes are still coming in slowly, apparently held up by social distancing restrictions in the Canberra counting centre. Counting ceased at 11 pm.

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