Labor headed for historic upset in Aston byelection

Labor candidate for Aston, Mary Doyle, is heading for an upset win against Liberal candidate Roshena Campbell as counting progresses in the crucial byelection in Melbourne’s outer-east.

It will be the first time in a century that a sitting government has won a seat from the opposition in a byelection. The last time was in 1920.

Peter Dutton has visited the electorate six times, with the Liberal Party desperate to keep the seat.Credit:Chris Hopkins

Counting is taking place across all polling booths in the Liberal-held electorate in what is considered a key test for Liberal leader Peter Dutton.

With 43.8 per cent of the vote counted, Doyle was ahead of Campbell, leading 53.45-46.55 per cent two-party preferred margin.

Liberal frontbencher Dan Tehan said the result was “disappointing” and said the party needed to present a “compelling case” to voters”.

“We’ve got to make sure that we learn the lessons from tonight … and make sure that the next time we go to the Australian people, whether it’s a by election or the general federal election that we’ve learnt those lessons.“

“We’ve also got to understand that the Australian people give any new governments a chance and 10 months in that seems to be what we are seeing here tonight.”

Some Liberal figures at the election night event were critical of those running the Victorian division labelling them “freaks”.

Others blamed the week-long saga over Moira Deeming’s attempted expulsion from the state parliamentary team as a distraction after it was raised by Dutton in the federal partyroom.

When asked about the Deeming saga, Tehan said the key for any political party is “not to be talking about yourself”.

When asked what the result meant for Dutton’s leadership, Tehan said he had done a “superb job” in unifying the party.

“What we’ve got to do is make sure that we’re developing the policies that people will then know when we go to the general election, what we stand for.”

A senior Liberal familiar with the electorate told The Sunday Age it would be difficult to the party to find a path to victory in this once-safe Liberal seat.

“We’ve lost”, the senior Liberal said, speaking with The Sunday Age on the condition of anonymity. “It’s an absolute disaster,” they added.

Former Victorian Liberal president Michael Kroger said “it would be a Herculean effort to come back” from the swing against the party.

“It comes back to one thing, what does the Liberal Party stand for? What are we arguing for?” Kroger said on Sky News.

“We need courage, you need a grand narrative, you need ideas. Whereas Albo’s people can say there’s 10 or 12 things they’re doing.”

Liberal Party stalwart Michael Kroger speaking to Liberal politician Dan Tehan at the Knox Italian Community Club.Credit:Penny Stephens

Around 60 Liberal Party members and federal MPs including Dan Tehan and Jane Hume gathered at the Knox Italian Community Club for Campbell’s election night party shortly after 7pm.

The lacklustre event sparked up when footage of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews was beamed into the room, with attendees booing at images of Andrews returning from his trip to China.

The mood at the Labor function was upbeat. There were audible cheers from the crowd at Boronia Bowls Club as early polls flashed up on a television screen, showing a small swing towards Labor on first preference count.

Former Labor MP Carolyn Hirsh said she was hoping that the party will make history tonight.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visited the Bayswater Primary School polling station on Saturday.Credit:Annika Smethurst

“We haven’t done it for 100 years. But if anyone can do it, I think it’s Mary,” Hirsh said. The 85-year-old said she was hopeful, but she was not getting excited yet.

“Once we know which suburbs those swings are coming from and if they are Liberal stronghold area, then I’ll get excited,” she said.

Brighton man John Sugunananthan has spent the days volunteering at the Fairhills Primary School in Ferntree Gully.

He plans on spending the rest of Saturday evening cheering on Mary Doyle with dozens of other supporters filling the Boronia Bowls Club.

Sugunananthan said he was compelled to volunteer at the byelection as he personally connected with Doyle’s campaign.

“I was raised by a single parent in government housing and I think Mary brings to politics the voice of the ordinary Australian,” he said.

“She brings lived experience and real understanding of struggle. That’s something that’s been missing from politics for a very long time in this country.”

At 8pm, Labor supporters were tucking into a dinner of roast meat, baked potatoes and salad, while they waited for Doyle to arrive.

Early results in the Wantirna South booth – which has a large population of Chinese-Australians – were concerning for the Liberals.

Senior Liberal sources had previously told The Age they feared that they would be punished by the Chinese community in the electorate over the Morrison government’s rhetoric on China and the deterioration in relations between Beijing and Canberra.

The byelection follows the resignation of former Liberal minister Alan Tudge, who suffered a significant swing against him at last year’s election to hold the seat on a slim 2.8 per cent margin.

In a history-making byelection, Doyle and Campbell battled it out to become the first woman to represent the electorate, which takes in the suburbs of Wantirna, Bayswater, Boronia, Ferntree Gully and Rowville.

Three Liberal MPs earlier told The Age there was some concern about Campbell’s inner-north residency, citing former Labor senator Kristina Keneally’s unsuccessful run in Fowler as an example of locals rejecting candidates parachuted into seats.

In Ferntree Gully, 49-year-old small business owner Brett said he was in the Young Liberals when he was a university student but didn’t vote for Campbell as she wasn’t a local.

“You’ve got to have skin in the game and the candidate has to be from the local area,” he said.

“People aren’t stupid – they want to know you’re representing them and [that] you’ll be a local voice.

“If you are going to support a community, if you’re going to represent a community, you’ve got to live in the community.”

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