Labor will use a looming federal byelection to test its support in south-east Queensland after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told colleagues the party could increase its majority in parliament with victories in every state at the next election.
The Labor plan seeks to turn the July 15 ballot in the Gold Coast seat of Fadden, previously held by former cabinet minister Stuart Robert, into a campaign against the Coalition that reaches a broader audience in surrounding seats.
But Opposition Leader Peter Dutton assured Coalition MPs on Tuesday they could recover ground among Australian voters by highlighting government tax hikes on aspirational families as well as the impact of inflation on the cost of living.
The Liberal National Party campaign in Fadden is also expected to highlight Labor’s increase in tax revenue from superannuation funds as a key issue given the importance of retirement savings to older voters on the Gold Coast.
Albanese told Labor caucus members he believed the government could win seats in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania at the next election and in some cases named the seats he had in mind.
While the resignation of Western Australian Labor premier Mark McGowan sparked questions about whether this would weaken support for Labor in that state, Albanese said the party could win the Perth seats of Canning and Moore – the former held by Coalition defence spokesman Andrew Hastie and the latter by backbencher Ian Goodenough.
Albanese listed the seat of Menzies in Melbourne, held by Liberal backbencher Keith Wolahan, and the seat of Banks in Sydney, held by Liberal frontbencher David Coleman. Labor also regards the South Australian seat of Sturt, held by Liberal MP James Stevens with 50.45 per cent of the two-party vote, as a priority target.
While he did not name specific seats in Tasmania, he mentioned the north of the state – a strong sign of his hope to defeat outspoken Liberal MP Bridget Archer in Bass and her Liberal neighbour Gavin Pearce in Braddon.
The caucus meeting ended without any of the assembled MPs raising questions for Albanese or ministers, the second week in a row where the meeting has been relatively brief and free of any significant debate.
Dutton told Coalition MPs in Parliament House on Tuesday that they could win back voters on issues including the cost of living and rising energy costs. He mentioned concern in Victoria about tax hikes, without elaborating, and claimed the government was focused on “niche social issues” rather than the financial hardship facing families.
The Coalition won Fadden with 61.1 per cent of the two-party vote at the 2016 election, increased his hold on the seat to 64.2 per cent in the next election, but dropped to 60.6 per cent at the 2022 election. The Labor campaign will try to whittle away that support by reminding voters of the concerns surrounding Robert in his time as a minister.
Robert was the subject of media reports over several years about his use of a Rolex watch given by a Chinese businessman, his decision to fly to Beijing to help a mining company led by a Liberal Party donor, his removal as a minister in February 2016 because of the trip to China and his restoration to the ministry in August 2018.
This masthead has also reported more recent concerns after a cache of leaked emails revealed Robert’s help for a consultant friend, David Milo, in pursuing contracts with government agencies.
Robert has denied any conflict of interest in his friendship with Milo. Asked last year if he had helped companies win government contracts, he said: “Of course not. What a load of rubbish.”
The Labor candidate in Fadden last year, Letitia Del Fabbro, a nurse and educator, is seen as the leading contender to run at the byelection.
While Labor does not expect to win Fadden, it is hoping its message can reach voters in electorates in and around Brisbane such as Bonner, Longman and Dickson, which Dutton holds by a margin of just 1.7 percentage points.
The Liberal National Party will hold a preselection this Saturday to choose its candidate for the seat, with locals naming businesswoman Fran Ward and Gold Coast councillor Cameron Caldwell as leading contenders, while adding that surgeon Dinesh Palipana also has support in the local branches.
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