Labor’s Mary Doyle has defeated the Liberals’ Roshena Campbell to snatch the federal seat of Aston in a historic upset win in the crucial byelection in Melbourne’s outer east.
It marks 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.
With 71.1 per cent of the potential vote counted at 11pm on Saturday, Doyle was ahead of Campbell, leading 54.3-45.7 per cent on a two-party preferred margin – a 7.1 per cent swing against the Liberals.
The byelection was triggered by the resignation of former Liberal cabinet minister Alan Tudge.
Doyle – a former trade union official – campaigned on the promise of bringing the pressures faced by ordinary people to Australian politics.
She arrived to a rock star welcome at the Boronia Bowls Club on Saturday night after making political history and clawing back the once-safe Liberal seat of Aston.
Cheers of “Mary, Mary, Mary” roared across the club in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs just before 9.30pm as Doyle arrived after being in a nearby undisclosed location for the count. Supporters cheered “she bloody did it” and “come on Mary”.
Doyle, who was flanked by Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, hugged supporters as she made her way through crowd and people yelled “I love you Mary”.
“I’m a suburban mum and I’ve lived in the outer-eastern suburbs for more than 35 years. And as of tonight, I guess I’ll be the next Member for Aston,” Doyle told supporters.
Doyle said she had been the underdog in the campaign, even despite Labor’s victory in the May 2022 federal election.
“This is an extraordinary endorsement of the Albanese government’s positive plan,” she said.
Doyle was overcome by emotion as she thanked volunteers for giving up their time to “make sure this area isn’t taken for granted by the Liberal party”.
Addressing Labor faithful, Marles said Doyle’s win was recognition of her values of “decency and hard work.”
“Mary Doyle is going to be fantastic for our nation’s parliament,” he said. “But an even better member for Aston. This is so deserved.”
Doyle said Campbell had called to congratulate her. “She was very gracious and I thank her for that and wish her all the best.”
In a short interview with and after her historic win, Doyle said was still processing the victory.
“I’m just so overwhelmed,” said Doyle, who had her daughters Jamilah and Lily by her side. “I was really quite taken aback. I was obviously hoping to win, but I was quite overwhelmed by the result.”
She became emotional as she reflected on her supporters, including many people who had come up to her in shopping centres and while she was out in public campaigning, telling her that they connected with her on a human level.
“I felt a lot of that connection with people when I first stood last year,” Doyle said. “I remember one man coming up to me and saying you just seem like a normal person, a real person.”
Doyle said she felt lost for words. “I’m ready to serve the people of Aston, absolutely. I’m just ready to go.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who was in Tasmania when the result came through, called Doyle to congratulate her on the victory. He had been campaigning in the seat earlier in the day and confirmed he would return to Melbourne on Sunday morning.
Doyle also thanked Albanese, drawing parallels between her own upbringing and that of the Labor leader.
“I want to thank the bloke who, like me, was raised Catholic and grew up in public housing and also like me has excellent taste in music: the 31st prime minister of Australia Anthony Albanese,” she said.
“Anthony leads a government that Australians can truly be proud of, a government that has hit the ground running, trying to fix a decade of problems and neglect and scheming and rorting from the Coalition.”
Addressing the Liberal event shortly after 9pm, Campbell thanked Liberal leader Peter Dutton and former prime minister John Howard, and said a strong opposition was important for a healthy democracy.
Campbell said she felt “incredibly lucky to live in this country where we have a strong democracy”.
“I will always be proud to be a Liberal and I will always be proud to be Australian because we live in the greatest county in the world.
“We will fight on,” Campbell added.
Dutton congratulated Doyle and thanked Campbell for her hard work in the campaign, saying the byelection was another “tough night” for the Liberals in Victoria. He promised to rebuild and said the party would “learn and grow stronger from today’s experience”.
“We have been out of government [in Victoria] 20 of the past 24 years. [There’s] a lot of work ahead of us to listen to the messages sent to us today from the people of Aston, but listen to them, we will,” Dutton said.
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 byelection 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.”
Liberal frontbencher Jane Hume said there was no agitation in the party room to change the leader.
“He [Dutton] leads a united team,” Hume said.
“We lost control of the brand and that is something that we need to deal with.”
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.
Dutton said the Deeming saga was one of a number of factors that “fed into the result”.
“Victoria is a very difficult market for us,” he said, adding it was “quite remarkable” that the Victorian Liberal party had not been in government at the state level for almost a quarter of a century.
“I don’t give up and I will make sure that we build this party, particularly here in Victoria, into an election winning machine by the time of the 2025 general election,” Dutton said.
A senior Victorian Liberal figure, speaking on the condition of anonymity, gave a scathing assessment of the Victorian division and declared state opposition leader John Pesutto’s push to expel Deeming as a factor in the loss.
“We were talking about ourselves. It was handled poorly and they saw us as anti-Christian,” they said.
When asked about the Deeming saga, Tehan said the key for any political party is “not to be talking about yourself”.
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 member of the Liberal Party’s shadow cabinet, who asked not to be named so they could speak freely, said the disastrous result would create serious problems for Dutton.
“The country has stepped to the left in a post-Christian nation, with the Liberal Party run by the Monkey Pod [conservative faction] and the moderates and centrists that won in 2019 on the outer,” the federal MP said.
The Monkey Pod factional grouping of conservative MPs are deeply loyal to Dutton and eat lunch together when parliament sits in a room in Parliament House named after a table made of Monkey Pod wood.
“Normally, a byelection has a swing against the government of 4 per cent. In Aston, a 6 per cent swing to the government is effectively a 10 per cent swing to the government. This is the worst byelection result in 100 years,” the shadow cabinet member said.
Another senior Liberal speaking with on the condition of anonymity deemed the result “an absolute disaster”.
Former Victorian Liberal president Michael Kroger said it would require “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.”
Brighton man John Sugunananthan had spent days volunteering at Fairhills Primary School in Ferntree Gully.
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.”
The Aston byelection followed 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.
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 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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