Forget Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott. The Canning by-election will say far more about the fate of Labor leader Bill Shorten, politics experts have told The New Daily.
The vote, triggered by the death of Liberal MP Don Randall, was largely regarded as a reality check for the Tony Abbott government.
Thought to be the strongest indicator of whether Mr Abbott would hold onto his job, the shock turn of events on Monday that left the country with a new PM has shifted the goal posts.
“I think the question now is what constitutes success for Bill Shorten,” University of WA lecturer William Bowe told The New Daily.
“I think Labor has already formed an idea that Bill Shorten is going to struggle against Malcolm Turnbull, but if that is given a focal point in the form of a very small swing then there will be a lot of bad press for him next week.
“If the situation does get bad enough then the hurdles in place for a leadership spill in the Labor party might not look insurmountable.”
Until the final results are in on Saturday, the best indication of the final result in Canning was in a ReachTEL poll conducted on Monday evening.
It registered a significant lead for Liberal candidate Andrew Hastie on a two-party-preferred basis at 57-43 per cent if Mr Turnbull was prime minister.
According to University of Sydney political lecturer Stewart Jackson, for the Liberal Party the result will indicate whether voters have an issue with the seller or with the message.
“By-elections normally have a swing against the sitting government – even if it is doing reasonably well,” Dr Jackson told The New Daily.
“If it were a really solid win, if they got 57 or 58 per cent on the two-party-preferred, that would consolidate his [Malcolm Turnbull’s] leadership.
Check the Sunday edition of The New Daily for all the latest results from the Canning by-election
“If it is only a narrow win, it indicates you can change leaders, you can change horse mid-stream, but it doesn’t effect the underlying feeling people have for the policies you are putting forward.”
Already the change has seen the Liberal leader surge ahead of ALP leader Bill Shorten in the national polls.
Mr Turnbull easily leads as preferred PM, 70 per cent to 30 per cent.
Without Abbott, it is all just hype
Traditionally, Canning was a safe Liberal seat and Mr Randall retained it at the 2013 Federal Election with 61.81 per cent of the vote after distribution of preferences.
With Mr Abbott in charge, early predictions indicated up to a 10 per cent swing against the Liberal Party in Canning.
“Unless the outcome is particularly pronounced one way or the other, then this by-election is going to be fish and chip wrapping in about two days time.”
Although unlikely, a win for the ALP in Canning would signal the Coalition was in dire straits, Dr Jackson told The New Daily.
“[It would indicate] nothing will save them [the Liberal Party] now,” he said.
“I have been thinking [the swing will be] between four and six per cent, probably the five to six mark – against the Liberal Party.”
‘The product is the problem’: Shorten
Both parties mounted a last ditch effort to win the support of Canning constituents on Friday.
Liberal deputy leader Julie Bishop travelled to her home town to campaign with her party’s candidate Andrew Hastie, while ALP leader Bill Shorten spent the day beside Labor candidate Matt Keogh.
Speaking to the media on Friday morning, Mr Shorten said even before Saturday, the by-election had claimed a victim.
“Already, there’s been one big loser out of the Canning by-election – that’s Tony Abbott,” he said.
“I think it’s the first time in Australian political history that even before the votes have been cast, the Liberal Party has run up the white flag.
“Whilst they didn’t like Mr Abbott’s … approach, I suspect more importantly they didn’t like Mr Abbott’s policies.”
There will be 12 candidates on the Canning ballot paper, including representatives standing for minor parties like Pirate Party, Animal Justice Party and Sustainable Population Party.
Voters head to the polls between 8am and 6pm (WST) on Saturday.