News For whom the bellwether tolls: Voters head to the Eden-Monaro polls

For whom the bellwether tolls: Voters head to the Eden-Monaro polls

Labor's Kristy McBain won over the Liberal Party's Fiona Kotvojs. Photo: TND/AAP
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The race for Eden-Monaro has been a relatively muted affair, perhaps a reflection of the relatively low stakes of the NSW south coast byelection.

With headlines dominated by the coronavirus, the campaign has largely flown under the radar until recent days – and why wouldn’t it?

Coming in the middle of a pandemic which has seen traditional campaigning like public rallies or door-knocking severely curtailed, and in a bushfire-ravaged electorate where enthusiasm for politicians is not exactly high, many people simply have bigger things to worry about.

The stories coming out of the campaign so far have been a string of vile spam emails targeting Labor candidate Kristy McBain with outrageous, defamatory claims, and a prime ministerial announcement of further support for businesses still reeling from the Black Summer fires.

Labor’s Eden-Monaro candidate Kirsty McBain with Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese. Photo: AAP

Scott Morrison copped flak for announcing that in the midst of the election campaign, but little else has entered the national conversation.

Indeed, the biggest stories from the race have come courtesy of people not even on the ballot paper.

The bizarre soap opera of NSW state colleagues John Barilaro and Andrew Constance, who did the hokey-pokey with their potential candidacies – they put their hand in, they took their hand out – before taking personal potshots at each other, briefly tickled a political press starved of news not related to COVID.

NSW deputy premier Barilaro was injected back into the news cycle this week, after The Australian reported his supporters were asking voters to preference McBain over Kotvojs, despite official Nationals how-to-vote cards urging the Liberals to be preferenced second after their candidate Trevor Hicks at number one.

The byelection is considered close enough that preferences from the Nationals could decide the contest.

Kotvojs came up only just short when she contested the seat in 2019, with Kelly scraping 50.85 per cent of the vote on the two-party count.

As we’re continually told, a government hasn’t won a seat off the opposition at a byelection for a century, so few would begrudge Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs not claiming victory on Saturday.

If Labor win, they simply retain the seat held by the retiring, popular former local MP Mike Kelly. If the government takes the seat, they simply add another vote to their already safe majority in the House of Representatives.

If McBain wins, it’s status quo. If it’s Kotvojs, the government just gets a little more breathing space.

It’s not hard to see why the major parties haven’t come out all guns blazing.

Eden-Monaro’s traditional prominence had been as the ‘bellwether’ seat of the federal parliament, but that status was lost when Kelly won in 2016 despite the Coalition winning government.

Having elected a member of the government of the day in every election between 1984 and 2013, local voters broke that trend in 2016 and 2019 by returning Kelly to parliament.