Malcolm “Stanley Melbourne” Turnbull didn’t get a massive electoral fright in Bennelong today (16 Dec), with John Alexander retaining his seat quite easily when forced to re-contest it after losing a bout with the Constitution.
But neither was it the unalloyed vote of confidence the embattled PM would have yearned for. He would have sweated big drops of relief at the win, without which he would have lost control of the Reps, while wishing for a far smaller swing to Labor than the electorate handed him.
His leadership troubles are far from over, however, with the dangerous holiday period looming for mischief makers.
Mr Alexander, who had a long, distinguished career in top-grade tennis, reaching No 4 in the world and taking seven singles titles from the 1960s to the 1980s, suffered a swing of 5-plus per cent to Labor in the seat that ex-PM John Howard lost in the 2007 stampede to Kevin Rudd. His margin was previously about 10%.
Mr Howard was only the second PM to lose his seat – and government – at an election. The first was the elegant spats-wearing Anglophile Stanley Melbourne Bruce, who got tossed out of the Flinders electorate in 1929 as Australia’s economy worsened.
Right: S.M. Bruce pictured with Billy Hughes (top row far right), the PM he replaced in 1923. Hughes remained an MP until his death in October 1952 aged 90 years, one month and three days. He had been an MHR for 51 years and seven months.
Labor leader Bill Shorten’s grin last night in a post-poll speech made the Cheshire Cat look positively surly as he predicted (surprise!) great things for Labor in a federal election.
“If Labor could replicate this swing, which was accomplished by all of you, led by [former NSW Labor leader] Kristina [Keneally], in Bennelong, I have no doubt that at a general election Labor will form a government,” he beamed.
What might all this mean for the future of our current MP for Flinders, Health Minister and relative cleanskin Greg Hunt? He has been quietly positioning himself as the Jim Hacker of Australian politics, the pristine compromise candidate who might slip through the roughhouse of current Coalition manoeuvrings to topple Turnbull.
Hunt leaped deftly from Environment to Health and Sport – how much cleaner could you get? – early this year as the Great Barrier Reef crisis and the odorous Adani coal project loomed menacingly over him, potential career-ending problems. Josh Frydenberg took the title of Environment and Energy, an oxymoron of a portfolio if ever there was one.
Bandicoot has heard whispers that Hunt recently quietly canvassed local Liberal heavyweights on what support he might count on were he to toss his hat into the leadership ring. Responses were not overwhelmingly encouraging, apparently.
That is certainly not to rule Hunt out. His main rivals appear at this stage to be the deplorable Peter Dutton, the frenetic, prolix motormouth Scott Morrison and the small, perfectly formed and beguiling Julie Bishop.
Who else might be in the mix? Mathias Cormann? Christopher Pyne? Certainly not the now near-certifiable Tony Abbott or any of his dark claque.
The Coalition is close to being a leadership desert. Hunt could well be the compromise, as Bandicoot wrote on 18 January this year, describing him then as “a low-key, highly competent member of the government’s inner circle”. (/http://morningtonpeninsulabandicoot.com/2017/01/18/hunt-moves-closer-to-the-top/)
But first he must – if Bandicoot has indeed been given the good oil – do more massaging of the Liberal grandees in S.M. Bruce’s former electorate, to persuade them of his worth. Then count the numbers in Canberra. It’s been a long time between PMs for the Mornington Peninsula.
■ Woollarawarre Bennelong (c. 1764 – 3 January 1813; also known as “Baneelon”) was a senior man of the Eora, an Aboriginal people of the Port Jackson area, at the time the British settled in 1788, according to Wikipedia.