News National Race for Bennelong narrows as Keneally gains and Bernardi enters the fray

Race for Bennelong narrows as Keneally gains and Bernardi enters the fray

john alexander
Labor candidate for Bennelong, Kristina Keneally (left) with former member for Bennelong John Alexander. Photo: AAP
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Liberal MP John Alexander is facing a battle on two fronts as he fights to win back his Sydney seat so crucial to the fortunes of the Turnbull government.

As new polling suggested Mr Alexander and Labor candidate Kristina Keneally are neck and neck in the fight for the seat of Bennelong, Australian Conservatives leader Cory Bernardi lobbed another grenade by announcing he would also run a candidate in the byelection.

Mr Alexander, who has held the seat since 2010 and won the seat in 2016 with a 19 per cent margin, appears to have had that buffer wiped out, according to a Galaxy poll.

The new poll showed Labor had enjoyed a 10 per cent swing on a primary-vote basis, up to 39 per cent against the Liberal Party’s 42 per cent.

Voter approval of Mr Alexander has dropped from 50.4 per cent at the 2016 federal election to 42 per cent, with Ms Keneally close behind at 39 per cent, according to the poll.

Another poll by ReachTEL, commissioned by Fairfax Media, showed Mr Alexander on 53 per cent compared to Ms Keneally on 47 per cent, or a 7 per cent swing against him.

With the announcement of an Australian Conservatives candidate to also contest the seat, Mr Alexander now faces a whole new challenge to regain the seat at the December 16 byelection.

Speaking at the Australian Christian Lobby national conference in Sydney on Saturday, Senator Bernardi said people needed to support candidates who would “change politics”.

He told the ABC he would announce his candidate on Tuesday.

“People are craving a principled and credible alternative to the major parties,” he said.

On Tuesday, high-profile former NSW premier, Ms Keneally announced she would contest the byelection for Labor, a move which ABC election expert Antony Green immediately branded a coup.

The byelection was sparked in the federal seat of Bennelong when Mr Alexander resigned amid uncertainty over his dual-citizenship status through his British-born father.

But the British Home Office confirmed on Friday Mr Alexander was no longer eligible for British citizenship after he renounced even “the possibility” of holding it through his father.

“Today started off with some great news … I had official notification from the (UK) Home Office that I am indeed something that I’ve always believed I am – Australian and solely Australian,” he told reporters in Sydney on Friday.

But the MP’s eligibility was never confirmed and constitutional law expert George Williams said the decision to step down seemed “somewhat rash”.

Mr Alexander is standing by his decision and is now in the clear to defend his seat in the December 16 vote.

On November 14, Ms Keneally announced she would run for the federal seat of Bennelong in a bid for Labor to wrest the crucial Sydney seat from Mr Alexander at the upcoming byelection.

Standing alongside Opposition Leader Bill Shorten in the Sydney suburb of Eastwood, Ms Keneally quickly declared herself an underdog to win back the seat, which Mr Alexander held by almost 10 per cent.

“I’m under no illusions that this is going to be a tough campaign,” she said.

—with AAP

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