Senate debates

Wednesday, 28 February 2024

Matters of Public Importance

Dunkley By-Election

4:14 pm

Photo of James PatersonJames Paterson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Cyber Security) Share this | Hansard source

I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this motion moved by Senator Hume. On Saturday, as we all know, there's a very important by-election taking place in Dunkley, a beautiful community in south-east Melbourne. This by-election has been brought about by tragic circumstances. The very untimely death of Peta Murphy, the late member for Dunkley, has necessitated this by-election, and we shouldn't make any comments about the by-election without reflecting on her life and her contribution to this parliament. From the other side of politics, I always thought Peta was a thoroughly decent person, someone who radiated warmth and thoughtfulness, was here for the right reasons and fought for the causes she believed in. And it is tragic that we now have to hold a vote to replace her. But, consistent with the values of our democracy, it will be hard fought, so that the people Dunkley have a choice over who represents them in the future and the direction they want our country to move in.

The people of Dunkley, like many other Australians, are struggling right now; they're really, really struggling. I was there on the prepoll booths last week, and I heard firsthand from voter after voter how much they are struggling to make ends meet—how they're struggling with their rent, how they're struggling with their mortgages, how they're struggling with their groceries, how they're struggling with their petrol and how they're struggling with every other aspect of the cost of living. And many of them feel that this government has not heard them, does not understand and does not appreciate how tough things are for them right now. They feel that this government was distracted for its first 18 months, that it was pursuing other priorities that didn't line up with the urgent challenges they faced in their lives—in particular, the pursuit of a divisive change to our Constitution with the Voice.

Now, let's be clear. This is going to be a tough by-election for the Liberal Party. And while there is a desperate, last-minute attempt by the government to manage expectations and raise the prospect that the government might lose this by-election, that would be an utterly extraordinary thing. No government since the end of World War II has lost a by-election in their first term. In fact, the last time any first-term government lost a by-election in their first term was in 1932: the East Sydney by-election, where the newly elected UAP government lost the seat to Lang Labor. If you have to go back nearly a century for a precedent to find a by-election being lost by a first-term government, I think that tells you something.

We also know that, since World War II, governments on average suffer a 3.6 per cent swing against them at by-elections, and it is 3.2 per cent in Victoria, It's even lower for first-term governments, at 1.5 per cent, and lower again in Victoria, at 0.7 per cent. This government is less than two years old and should be judged against that first-term average of 1.5 per cent. We all know that less than a year ago, in the Aston by-election, the government generated a very strong swing of six per cent to it and achieved its own history by winning a by-election from an opposition for the first time in more than 100 years. So, for the Liberal Party to overturn that six per cent swing against us and achieve more than a 6.3 per cent swing in this by-election is going to be a very tough thing indeed.

But I think the people of Dunkley are going to send this government a message. They are going to send this government a message about its misplaced priorities, and they're going to do so through an outstanding local Liberal candidate in Nathan Conroy. Nathan and his family have a great Australian story. He came to this country, like many Australians, at the age of 19 seeking a better life for himself and his family. He came from Ireland, and he grew up as the son of a single mother in public housing. But upon his journey to this country he's made a great contribution. He's made a great contribution in the private sector, in his career and to his community. He's someone who's been elected not just once, not just twice but three times as mayor of his local community, a feat never achieved before in the city of Frankston and a testament to the way in which he is connected to his community, represents his community and will stand up and fight for his community. If the people of Dunkley vote for Nathan on Saturday, they will have a champion here in Canberra—someone who will stand up and tell this government that it has let down the people of Dunkley when it comes to the cost of living, has failed the people of Dunkley when it comes to national security and needs to get its priorities back in order.


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