If Super Saturday was a test of Bill Shorten’s leadership, then he appears to have passed with flying colours.
The Labor opposition looks to have retained the four seats it contested in the five by-elections, even with a small swing against it in the marginal Tasmanian seat of Braddon.
But more significantly, Labor’s strong showing in the Queensland seat of Longman will have shattered any complacency within the Turnbull government that its electoral prospects were on the rise.
There’s no way of putting a gloss on the outcome for the Coalition in Longman – at the time of writing the party’s primary vote had dropped by more than 10 points to about 28 per cent.
In the past week, it was anonymous Labor MPs who chattered to the media about the by-election cloud hanging over the opposition leader.
But that swiftly changed on Saturday night, as Labor MPs reminded voters on social media how the PM had said Super Saturday was a contest between him and Mr Shorten, and anonymous Liberal frontbenchers wasted no time backgrounding the media against their leader.
More than any other seat being contested this weekend, Longman was the one that most interested party tacticians and political pundits. The outer-suburban seat contains both traditional Labor and Liberal voters, including lower-income workers and baby-boomer retirees.
Labor ran hard on its ‘health not banks’ campaign, the Libs laid claim to delivering the benefits of a stronger economy, and One Nation did its best to foment anger against the establishment parties.
On the numbers as they stand late on Saturday night, it would appear that only the government’s campaign failed, particularly with the seniors.
And given there are enough marginal seats in Queensland alone to hand government to Labor, the Coalition’s sub-30 primary vote in Longman will have set off alarms in the brains of every Queensland Coalition MP. Including the hopeful prime-minister-to-be, Peter Dutton.
There will be a lot of spin in coming days, from both the victors and the vanquished, about what the by-election results ‘really’ mean, including the extent to which they can be taken as an indication of what voters would do in a federal election.
However, only two things are clear from these results – Mr Shorten’s leadership is safe for now, and there will not be a federal election this year.
The extent to which Malcolm Turnbull himself dragged down the LNP vote in Longman is hard to determine. But given that Mr Turnbull emphasised the by-elections were a referendum on his and Mr Shorten’s leaderships, the PM will have to take a large share of responsibility for the poor outcome.
Deflecting the blame to Big Trev and his medal will not be a satisfactory explanation for the Coalition’s very poor performance in Longman.