Malcolm Turnbull will “humbly” rethink his policies after Labor claimed victory in four by-elections, thanks to what Bill Shorten called his “fair dinkum” candidates.
The marginal Queensland seat of Longman and the Tasmanian seat of Braddon stayed in Labor hands, despite months of feverish campaigning.
Coalition frontbenchers concede they have to rethink their approach and listen to minor party voters ahead of the federal election in May.
“We will look very seriously and thoughtfully and humbly at the way in which voters have responded,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Sydney on Sunday.
“We will be carefully considering the analysis of the by-elections, particularly in Braddon and in Longman.”
But Mr Shorten already had a ready answer for his opponent.
“My candidates are more fair dinkum than their candidates, and my policies are more fair dinkum than their policies,” he told reporters on Sunday.
Labor framed the by-elections as a choice between “hospitals and the big banks”, taking aim at the government’s plan to cut taxes for Australia’s biggest businesses.
The prime minister said the coalition will try to pass its big business tax cuts in the spring session of parliament, but stopped short of promising to take them to the next election.
“We are committed to ensuring that Australia has a competitive company tax rate,” he said.
With vote counting continuing on Sunday, Labor’s Justine Keay, Susan Lamb and Josh Wilson – who resigned from parliament over their dual citizenship – were set to return to Canberra to represent Braddon, Longman and Fremantle.
Former Kevin Rudd staffer Patrick Gorman will become the MP for Perth, and the Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie regained the South Australian seat of Mayo.
Both party leaders criticised the media on Sunday, with Mr Turnbull saying newspaper polls were “wrong”, while Mr Shorten said journalists were in a Canberra bubble for writing about leadership tensions in Labor.
“What really matters to voters is how is their family going and how is their health,” Mr Shorten said.
Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese was highly visible during the campaign and appeared to be positioning himself as an alternative leader in case Mr Shorten lost seats.
The result in Longman gives Labor hope it can win a significant number of seats in Queensland at the next federal election,
Ms Lamb’s win in the Queensland seat of Longman, with an expected 54.5 per cent of the two-party preferred vote, came on the back of a One Nation drain of LNP votes.
A similar swing at a general election could topple senior government figures such as Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.
Mr Turnbull said Labor had told “outrageous lies” about health cuts in Longman and he said the coalition had to counter that approach.