The defeat of the Liberals in Aston is a disaster for Peter Dutton.
The party has defied history – in the worst possible way. It is the first time in more than a century that a government has taken away an opposition seat in a by-election.
Both the government and the opposition expected a Liberal victory, although they predicted a tight result. In the event that Labor won a comfortable victory.
The centerpiece of Labour’s campaign was aimed at the Leader of the Opposition, and Aston voters responded with a resounding ‘no’ when asked to pass judgment on Dutton.
In 2001, a by-election in Aston brought then Prime Minister John Howard back into the election game. In 2023, this by-election has undermined the authority of the opposition leader.
There are no obvious alternatives to Dutton (although Deputy Liberal Leader Sussan Ley and Shadow Treasurer Angus Taylor have aspirations).
But there will likely be mutterings and undermining about Dutton in the coming months.
Dutton prides himself on having held together a party that is divided over whether to go right or left. This defeat is expected to reinforce that internal discussion.
It will also reduce Dutton’s ability to reform the party’s weakened state organizations, including and especially in Victoria.
On Saturday night, Dutton made it clear that “it’s a tough market for us in Victoria”. Aston will add to what has been a strong narrative – that Dutton, from Queensland and right, is ineligible in this progressive southern state.
The timing of Alan Tudge’s departure from Parliament was, certainly in hindsight, the worst possible. As if Tudge hadn’t done enough damage to the Liberal Party before. Aston voters had already chastised him for his behavior with a big swing in the general election.
Read more: Labor wins Aston by election; Updates on NSW Elections and Trump Polls
In the midterm elections, many voters were frustrated to be at the polls for the third time in less than a year.
While the cost of living is a high priority, Aston showed they don’t blame the Albanian government. They accept that the interest rate hikes and price increases are caused by factors almost all of which are beyond the government’s control.
The Liberals had a strong candidate in Roshena Campbell, but she was parachuted into this out-of-eastern Brunswick suburban seat that was seen as remote as localism is increasingly the electoral taste. One is reminded of the plight of Labor’s Kristina Keneally when she was parachuted onto a seat that wanted a local in last year’s election.
Labor’s Mary Doyle does not live in Aston, but has lived in the area for some 35 years.
The Aston outcome confirms the point that the Labor government’s honeymoon continues to flourish. News from the parliamentary assembly over the last two weeks showed a government busy and winning, notably this week’s deal to get its protection machinery legislation in place, which is vital to the implementation of its climate policy.
An achievement by the Labor government that would have appealed to some Aston voters is the improvement in Australia’s relations with China. This electorate has a large proportion of residents of Chinese descent.
Read more: View from The Hill: Dutton saddles up for Aston race amid Victorian Liberal infighting
Dutton has promised to listen to reports from the by-election and rebuild the party. It’s one thing to recognize that there are lessons, but another to decipher exactly what they are, and another to offer solutions.
However, it seems likely that voters are unimpressed by the opposition’s continued negativity – which only deepens Dutton’s problem as he gets closer to having to formally declare his position on the Voice to parliament.