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Labor set for 'ugly win' in Eden-Monaro by-election as John Barilaro admits he was wrong

Labor’s Kristy McBain is likely to win the Eden-Monaro by-election battle as Nationals leader John Barilaro concedes he was wrong to predict the seat would go to the Liberals. 

It is a close contest with Liberal candidate rival Fiona Kotvojs, who was pipped at the last election by Labor’s Mike Kelly, who has retired due to health issues. 

With most of the vote counted, Ms McBain has a narrow lead of 50.85 per cent on projected preference flows while Dr Kotvojs is expected to take 49.15 per cent, according to the Australian Electoral Commission on Sunday morning.

It comes as NSW state Nationals Leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro admitted he was wrong for predicting a win for the coalition government on Saturday night.

‘I think the way it looks this morning, it’s going to take a big effort but maybe Labor will hold on,’ he told Channel Seven’s Sunrise program. 

Labor's Kristy McBain (left) is likely to win the Eden-Monaro by-election battle. Pictured with Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese at Merimbula Primary School in Merimbula, NSW, Saturday, July 4

Labor’s Kristy McBain (left) is likely to win the Eden-Monaro by-election battle. Pictured with Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese at Merimbula Primary School in Merimbula, NSW, Saturday, July 4

NSW state Nationals Leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro admitted he was wrong after predicting a win for the coalition government on Saturday night

NSW state Nationals Leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro admitted he was wrong after predicting a win for the coalition government on Saturday night 

Mr Barilaro's change of heart comes after he declared during a television appearance on Saturday night that he would have won the seat if he had chosen to run. Pictured with his family

 Mr Barilaro’s change of heart comes after he declared during a television appearance on Saturday night that he would have won the seat if he had chosen to run. Pictured with his family

Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon said it is an ‘ugly win’ for the party who isn’t ‘claiming the win yet’.

‘We are very cautious about that, but things are looking … good for us, and they will continue to improve, I think, over the course of the balance of the counting,’ he told the ABC.

‘It is a bit of an ugly win for us, I concede, but it is a win just the same. It was a difficult election for us.’

Labor frontbencher Tony Burke told Sky New’s Sunday Agenda program he is ‘very hopeful’ Ms McBain would take it out. 

‘You’d certainly rather be in Kristy McBain’s position this morning than anyone else’s.’ 

Federal government frontbencher Angus Taylor declined to call the result just yet, saying having been involved in the NSW electorate since 1975 he knows all sorts of things can happen.

‘But what is very clear is that there’s been a very strong swing in primary votes against Labor,’ he said on Sunday.

The primary swing against Labor since the last election was just under three per cent, but the swing to the Liberals was a more modest 0.8 per cent. 

Coronavirus safety measures meant the count was much slower than usual and many people lodged the votes before Saturday.

Ms McBain told supporters on Saturday night it was okay the results were still too close to call.

Liberal candidate for Eden-Monaro Fiona Kotvojs votes at Jerrabomberra Public School polling station, north of Queanbeyan, NSW, Saturday, July 4

Liberal candidate for Eden-Monaro Fiona Kotvojs votes at Jerrabomberra Public School polling station, north of Queanbeyan, NSW, Saturday, July 4 

Supporters wait for Liberal candidate for Eden-Monaro Fiona Kotvojs at the post election function at the Royal Hotel in Queanbeyan, NSW

Liberal candidate for Eden-Monaro Fiona Kotvojs votes at Jerrabomberra Public School polling station, north of Queanbeyan, NSW, Saturday, July 4

‘We said we wanted to make sure that we shone a spotlight on people in Eden-Monaro that were doing it really tough, and I think this election campaign we have definitely done that,’ she said.

Both candidates vowed to continue fighting for the people in the southeast NSW seat that has been battered by drought, summer’s bushfires and the coronavirus recession, no matter the election outcome.

‘We have still got, in our community, a tough couple of years coming ahead,’ Dr Kotvojs said.

‘A government that gives leadership, a government that gives direction, a government that sets a base that supports people is what we need.’

Ms McBain said her resolve would not fade when the spotlight on the region did.

Volunteers wait for the results of the by-election for the seat of Eden-Monaro at the Labor party election function in Merimbula, NSW, Saturday, July 4

Volunteers wait for the results of the by-election for the seat of Eden-Monaro at the Labor party election function in Merimbula, NSW, Saturday, July 4

‘The lesson we have learnt from the Black Summer bushfires is that leadership matters. It matters when you show up and it matters that you listen to people,’ she said.

About 38 per cent of voters in the southeast New South Wales region went to the polls early and their ballots are still being counted, while 15 per cent made postal votes.  

Mr Barilaro’s change of heart comes after he declared during a television appearance on Saturday night that he would have won the seat if he had chosen to run. 

The deputy premier had initially declared he would contest for the seat but then backed out of the race early on. 

Appearing on Sky News on Saturday evening the NSW Deputy Premier was asked if he thought he could have won. 

‘I think so,’ Mr Barilaro replied. 

‘On the ground, I know I had wide support. I could have had a go at it,’ he said. 

VOTES COUNTED ON SUNDAY

EDEN-MONARO RESULTS AT ABOUT MIDDAY SUNDAY SATURDAY 

86 of 86 polling places returned 

88,031 (77.1% of enrolment) 

PRIMARY VOTE

LABOR – Kristy McBain – 36.18 per cent 

LIBERALS – Fiona Kotvojs – 37.78 per cent 

NATIONALS – Trevor Hicks – 6.62 per cent 

GREENS – Cathy Griff – 5.63 per cent 

SHOOTERS, FISHERS AND FARMERS – Matthew Stadtmiller – 5.42 per cent

HELP END MARIJUANA PROHIBITION – Michael Balderstone – 2.37 per cent

TWO-PARTY PREFERRED

LABOR 50.87 per cent 

LIBERALS 49.13 per cent 

Political commentators speculated Mr Barilaro declared he would not run after polling showed victory was not assured – some suggesting he would regroup his efforts for the next federal poll.  

Both major parties are already rehearsing their excuses should they lose the battle that has been fought against the backdrop of drought, bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic in the past six months. 

The by-election for the federal seat in the south eastern corner of NSW was triggered when respected Labor member Mike Kelly resigned from parliament due to health concerns.

A total of 114,000 voters will decide what is shaping up to be a test-run for a federal election with the seat seen as a bellwether electorate. 

Labor leader Anthony Albanese was trying to claim underdog status in the lead-up. 

‘Eden-Monaro has always been held by the party in government, that’s one of the reasons why we are up against it in this by-election,’ Mr Albanese said at a Merimbula polling station where Ms McBain cast her vote on Saturday. 

Voters and party representatives interact outside Bungendore Public School on July 04 in Bungendore

Voters and party representatives interact outside Bungendore Public School on July 04 in Bungendore

The seat of Eden-Monaro was vacated when Labor MP Mike Kelly (pictured) retired for medical reasons

The seat of Eden-Monaro was vacated when Labor MP Mike Kelly (pictured) retired for medical reasons 

‘The only time that hasn’t happened is when Mike Kelly won the seat in 2016 and then again last year.’

In contrast, Liberal backbencher Jason Falinski pointed to the history of by-elections, where a government has not won a seat from the opposition in 100 years.

‘Obviously Labor would be feeling a lot of pressure today to make sure that they maintain this seat,’ he told ABC television.

The vast electorate that surrounds the ACT has suffered from drought, floods, bushfires and the coronavirus recession in recent months.

THE SEAT OF EDEN-MONARO 

Eden-Monaro in southern New South Wales was Australia’s bellwether seat from 1972 until 2016, when Labor’s Mike Kelly won back his old seat even though Malcolm Turnbull’s Liberal-National Coalition government was narrowly re-elected. 

This electorate had voted for every winning side from Gough Whitlam to Tony Abbott.

If the Liberal Party’s Fiona Kotvojs prevails on Saturday against Labor’s Kristy McBain, it will be the first time since 1920 that a federal government has won a seat from the Opposition at a by-election.  

In the election lead-up, Roy Morgan had the Liberal Party slight ahead of Labor in Eden-Monaro as Newspoll did.  

Eden-Monaro covers bushfire damaged areas of the NSW South Coast. 

‘Today is a chance to send government a message that six months on from bushfire we shouldn’t still be waiting for assistance, a chance to send a message that businesses need help, and they need a plan for the future,’ Ms McBain told reporters after casting her vote.

Ms Kotvojs said the electorate needs to be rebuilt after a tough six months.

‘So people need to think about which of the candidates is able to be a strong voice in government to deliver, which of the candidates brings a breadth of skills to be able to deliver for this diverse electorate,’ she told reporters after casting her vote at a Jerrabomberra polling booth.

Nationals candidate Trevor Hicks hopes voters will look past the slick campaign machines of the two major parties and vote for him instead.

‘It really need somebody at this stage to support them after the fires, after the COVID restrictions that we’ve had, and the drought that has affected so many farmers,’ Mr Hicks told Sky News.

The electoral commission has warned people it may take longer than usual to cast their vote due to coronavirus safety measures.

Voting places will have hand sanitiser and social distancing measures in place, and people have been asked to bring their own pen or pencil. 

Scott Morrison said on Thursday employment was a major factor in the by-election.  

‘Right here, right now, it’s about jobs and jobs here in Eden-Monaro,’ he told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.

‘I need someone here on the ground … who will fight for those jobs and will storm into my office and say, ‘The primary producers need this now, boss,’ or, ‘The timber millers need this’.’

NSW state ministers John Barilaro and Andrew Constance knocked each other out of contention at the start of the race, while in the final week Mr Barilaro, the deputy premier, has faced accusations he’s undermining the Liberals so he can have a clear tilt at the seat in 2022. 

Labor has accused the government of talking big in the lead-up to voters going to the polls, especially about the bushfire recovery, but also about having poor follow-through when it comes to delivering what people need.

Kristy McBain (pictured) is the local mayor for Bega and is the favourite to win the federal seat

Kristy McBain (pictured) is the local mayor for Bega and is the favourite to win the federal seat

NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance (pictured with wife Jennifer) declared he would run before pulling out

NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance (pictured with wife Jennifer) declared he would run before pulling out

‘This electorate doesn’t need someone who will just sit there and give a tick to the government, this electorate needs someone who’ll speak up for them,’ Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said in the coastal town of Narooma on Friday.

‘We’ve been focused on the needs of the people of Eden-Monaro, we’ll continue to be so after polls close at six o’clock, when parliament resumes in August, when the budget comes down in October, throughout next year.’

Labor candidate Kristy McBain, a former mayor of Bega, rose to prominence advocating for her community during the summer’s bushfire crisis.

‘I need to get over the line here so that I can amplify the voices of the people that matter right now and that’s the people that are feeling left behind and forgotten in Eden-Monaro,’ she said.

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the delivery of help to people in the region really needed a voice in his government.

‘We really need people with boots on the ground as part of my government to ensure that we’re delivering rather than sniping from the sidelines,’ he told the Sounds of the Mountains radio station on Friday.

‘I need my Liberal candidate to be the member for Eden-Monaro so we can make this rebuilding dream a reality.’

Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs defended her own home near Cobargo from bushfires in January. 

One local woman from Cobargo famously refused to shake Prime Minister Scott Morrison's hand during the bushfire crises until he offered more support to volunteer firefighters

One local woman from Cobargo famously refused to shake Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s hand during the bushfire crises until he offered more support to volunteer firefighters

THE EDEN-MONARO BY-ELECTION 

EDEN-MONARO BY-ELECTION

* To be held on July 4.

* There are 14 candidates contesting the seat.

KEY CANDIDATES

* Kristy McBain – Labor

* Fiona Kotvojs – Liberal

* Trevor Wicks – Nationals

* Cathy Griff – Greens

* Matthew Stadtmiller – Shooters, Fishers and Farmers

WHERE

* Electorate covers 41,617 sq km in southeast NSW surrounding the ACT. Major centres are Queanbeyan, Merimbula, Narooma, Bermagui, Bega, Eden, Cooma, Yass, Batlow and Tumut.

WHY

* Labor MP Mike Kelly has retired from parliament for health reasons.

HURDLES

* NSW Liberal minister Andrew Constance and NSW Nationals leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro initially jockeyed over potentially running for the seat. Both ended up withdrawing. Barilaro may contest the seat at the next federal poll.

* Electoral commission has made extra health arrangements to ensure the election does not spread COVID-19. This could delay a result in the count.

* Labor was hit by a scandal mid-election when the national executive was forced to intervene in Victoria over branch-stacking.

* Many voters are still living in tents or caravans following the devastating bushfires and will use the election to take aim at the government over the slow pace of the recovery.

LIKELY RESULT?

* Betting agencies have Labor scraping over the line. No opposition party has lost a seat in a by-election to a governing party candidate in 100 years.

 

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