News National Paul Bongiorno: Labor’s plan to win over regional Australia

Paul Bongiorno: Labor’s plan to win over regional Australia

Labor's Eden-Monaro candidate Kristy McBain with Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese.
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Labor’s win in the marginal regional electorate of Eden-Monaro has given the party a new template to win regional Australian seats and Anthony Albanese intends to push hard for it to be applied.

The Labor leader is buoyed by what he calls “an against the odds” victory made possible by the record in local government leadership of his hand-picked candidate Kristy McBain.

As soon as the former Labor member Mike Kelly confirmed in late February his long battle with poor health was forcing him to quit politics, Albanese got on the phone to the mayor of the Bega Valley Shire.

Albanese says he gave Ms McBain a weekend to consider being Labor’s candidate for the seat.

She came to his attention during the bushfire crisis in early January when he, unlike the prime minister, spent days in the communities of southern New South Wales devastated by the firestorm.

Albanese said her leadership was outstanding and was in line with the way in which she had carried out her mayoral duties before the darkest days of Black Summer.

Labor’s Kristy McBain won over the Liberal Party’s Fiona Kotvojs.

During the campaign, he and shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers went with the candidate to a small business run by a chicken farmer.

Albanese was photographed holding a rooster but it was the farmer doing all the crowing about the way McBain had sorted out a town water access problem he had.

When Mc Bain claimed victory on Sunday – before the final count but with the trend firmly established – she spelled out the issues facing the electorate” bushfire relief, economic impacts of COVID-19, the drought “and a whole range of local issues.”

She said she was prepared “to work with anyone and everyone to make sure we get outcomes for our community.”

Albanese who has been a regional development and local government minister says he has his eyes on other likely candidates of a similar mould around the country.

ALP national president Wayne Swan says ”the big lesson is that community candidates like McBain can win for Labor in regional Australia”

It’s a long way from The Sunday Telegraph’s front page proclaiming  that the “Popular PM delivers Labor a brutal by-election lesson.”

The front page of Sydney’s The Sunday Telegraph.

Far from being “Scomo’s Scorcher” as the headline screamed, Mr 68 per cent could only deliver a two-party preferred swing of 0.44 per cent in the Australian Electoral Commission’s results late Monday.

A position even senior Liberals privately concede is unlikely to change.

Swan says the Eden-Monaro result is a re-affirmation of the last election and shows Labor is still well in the game.

A different story to the one spun by senior government ministers like Angus Taylor, whose electorate neighbours Eden-Monaro.

Taylor says the result shows “very strong support” for the government, the prime minister and the Liberal candidate – he stresses the 3 per cent first preference swing against Labor.

The problem with this narrative: it ignores the fact that Australia has a preferential voting system and on the weekend a majority of the voters preferred Labor’s Kristy McBain.

Mc Bain’s inclusive style is more in tune with Australians revulsion at divisive partisan politics in this time of national crisis.

A mood Scott Morrison has, for the most part, accurately read.

All the more strange then that the government’s representatives on the Sky and ABC TV panels on Saturday night spent an inordinate amount of time attacking Anthony Albanese.

Their message was the same as the Murdoch tabloid’s: Albanese is on the skids.

Could this reveal that they fear that the Labor leader is more potent than is comfortable for them and that he has more “ugly wins” up his sleeve thanks to other regional champions?