Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has accepted responsibility for the Liberal Party’s historic byelection defeat in Aston, saying the party’s brand had “suffered terribly” in Victoria over recent years.
Dutton vowed to continue as leader until the next election and said he was determined to rebuild the party to put it in a winning position at the next federal election.
Labor’s upset victory in Aston, held by the Liberals since 1990, was the first time in a century that a sitting government has won a seat from the opposition in a byelection.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese celebrated Labor’s victory alongside successful candidate Mary Doyle on Sunday morning, accusing Dutton of being too negative and focusing too much on internal party issues.
“Australians have conflict fatigue, they want things to get done and that’s what we’ve been able to achieve through the national Parliament,” Albanese told reporters in Melbourne’s outer eastern suburb of Bayswater.
“After 10 years of being part of the problem, Peter Dutton now fails to be a part of the solution.”
Albanese said Dutton himself had acknowledged that he was focused on keeping the Liberal Party united following its 2022 election defeat.
“That’s why he’s just saying no to everything and not being a part of any solution,” Albanese said.
“He’s become an observer of Australian politics rather than a participant.”
Speaking on the ABC’s program on Sunday, Dutton pointed to longstanding difficulties in the nation’s second most populous state, saying: “Our brand has suffered terribly in Victoria.”
Despite the loss of the once safe Liberal seat, previously held by Alan Tudge, Dutton said he expected to lead the party to the next election.
“I have a leadership style, which I believe [my colleagues] appreciate, which is why people very strongly are expressing their support to me,” he said.
“But we have a particular problem in Victoria, there is no question about that.”
Senior Liberal figures, including opposition finance spokeswoman Jane Hume, have rallied behind Dutton following the defeat, saying his hold on the leadership was secure.
Acknowledging the Liberal Party had “many lessons” to learn from the Aston defeat, Dutton said: “Ours is now an opportunity to rebuild. We will do that over the course of the next couple of years and we will go into the next election in a position that will see us win it.”
The Liberal Party now holds just three seats in Melbourne, a city that previously sent party legends Robert Menzies, Andrew Peacock, Peter Costello into parliament.
Dutton said he was proud the Liberal Party had not gone through a “period of self-destruction” in opposition under his leadership as had occurred in the past.
He said the party needed to better sell its achievements, including on climate change and environmental issues.
“I think in recent years the Liberal Party has allowed itself to be defined by our opponents and I think it’s time for us to take that back,” he said.
“Stand up for what we believe in, whether it’s trendy or not.”
Dutton said he did not tolerate any discrimination but that Australians with conservative views about transgender issues should not be silenced.
The Liberal Party last week suspended Victorian state MP Moira Deeming for attending an anti-transgender rights protest in Melbourne that was crashed by neo-Nazis.
“I think people should have respect and the debate runs two ways,” Dutton said.
“There are very strong views within many parts of Australian society.
“Maybe not right here in the inner-city areas of our country, but in the outer metropolitan areas, this is an issue in terms of women’s rights and the gender issue that has parents and others very worked up.”
Albanese said Doyle’s victory over Liberal candidate Roshena Campbell showed the government’s “positive agenda is being well received”.
He praised Doyle, an organiser with the National Tertiary Education Union, as “an extraordinary individual” and said she would be sworn into parliament on budget day, May 9.
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