According to insiders, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (front) can’t lose Super Saturday even if Opposition Leader Bill Shorten survives.
According to insiders, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (front) can’t lose Super Saturday even if Opposition Leader Bill Shorten survives.

Why Turnbull can’t lose Super Saturday

SOME senior Coalition strategists reckon Malcolm Turnbull can't lose from the outcomes of tomorrow's five by-elections.

They argue if Labor wins both of the hotly contested seats - Longman in southeast Queensland and Braddon in northwest Tasmania - Bill Shorten's leadership will be untouchable.

"Shorten remains our best asset for the next federal election so if he's safe we can push voters to turn away from Labor," says one Liberal insider who's deeply involved in planning the next federal campaign.

The other two scenarios - a Labor loss in Longman or the lotto winner picking up both that seat and Braddon - are fast tracks to instability, infighting and disunity.

"Bingo! We win again."

 

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (centre) runs the gauntlet with LNP candidate for Braddon Trevor Ruthenberg at the Sandstone Point Hotel north of Brisbane today. Picture: Darren England/AAP
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (centre) runs the gauntlet with LNP candidate for Braddon Trevor Ruthenberg at the Sandstone Point Hotel north of Brisbane today. Picture: Darren England/AAP

 

Of course politics is never that simple, but this is a compelling thesis that will play on the minds of those who are masterminding the last day of what's been a gruelling nine-week campaign in Longman.

Some party tragics will sleep out tonight to protect their booth spots and fend off any dirty deeds from the unions on the Labor side or exuberant Young LNP types on the other side of the divide.

Labor's Susan Lamb is standing again because she was caught up in the citizenship fiasco, which started just over 12 months ago when then Greens senator Scott Ludlam dropped his little bombshell which went on to light fires throughout the Parliament.

She's up against the LNP's Trevor "Big Trev" Ruthenberg, a former state MP who came and went with the advancing and then receding tide of Campbell Newman earlier this decade.

They have their own unique challenges. Ruthenberg has a very low primary vote - about 34 per cent, according to the latest Courier-Mail YouGov Galaxy poll - and he will need every bit of preferential support he can get from the disparate other candidates.

 

Susan Lamb is looking to regain the seat for Labor after the citizenship fiasco. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP
Susan Lamb is looking to regain the seat for Labor after the citizenship fiasco. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP

 

The most fertile ground for Ruthenberg is One Nation, represented by Matthew Stephen, a Caboolture businessman who ran at the state election last December for the bayside seat of Sandgate.

That Galaxy poll this week put One Nation at 18 per cent of the primary vote but experienced operators in the Labor and LNP teams reckon when the dust settles support for Pauline Hanson's party will be well over 20 per cent and could nudge 30 per cent at some booths.

It's worth remembering that when Annastacia Palaszczuk won re-election last year the three state seats which broadly fit in Longman - Morayfield, Glasshouse and Pumicestone - saw One Nation score primary votes of 25 per cent, 25 per cent and 20 per cent respectively.

 

 

 

 

It will be a battle for preferences from this One Nation vote. In 2016, when One Nation directed preferences away from the LNP's Wyatt Roy, Labor picked up 56.5 per cent of Hanson's preferences.

This helped cut Roy's lead of 422 votes to a deficit of 1390 and saw Lamb elected.

This tells us this time Labor will not get anything like 56 per cent of One Nation preferences - some estimates and indications from polling where people are asked about preferences, the LNP is getting at least 70 per cent of Hanson's preferences,

 

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten with Labor’s candidate for Braddon, Justine Keay. Picture: Aaron Francis/The Australian
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten with Labor’s candidate for Braddon, Justine Keay. Picture: Aaron Francis/The Australian

 

Lamb has hardly anywhere else to turn for preference love. She'll get some from the Greens but that party seems to be in a trough nationwide at the moment and doesn't have much love to give.

The other candidates making up the seven people who aren't from a major or recognisable minor party all look like they'd rather play at the conservative end of the pool.

These calculations to one side, Labor should be in the box seat in the contest for Longman.

They've got history on their side both in terms of governments not winning seats off the opposition at a by-election and oppositions usually getting a positive swing in any by-election.

Next, there should be some sympathy for Lamb, just as there was for Barnaby Joyce in New England and John Alexander in Bennelong last year.

Finally, the issues are on Labor's side. Health is No.1 and the ALP has successfully painted Turnbull as a thief who's taken $37 million from the Caboolture Hospital to give a tax cut to the banks.

The hospital claim seems to be working and is giving Labor some heft when they need it. Likewise, attacking the Government for cost of living and painfully high youth unemployment (18 per cent up from 12 per cent in 2017) should pay dividends.

 

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and prospective alternative Labor leader Anthony Albanese
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and prospective alternative Labor leader Anthony Albanese

 

The biggest negative dragging this back is the leader Bill Shorten.

Neither of the major parties bothered with tracking polls - it's expensive and this is a particularly hard seat to survey - but when they did go in it the field both Labor and the LNP found Lamb was a net positive while Shorten was, in the words of a Coalition insider, "toxic".

Just as Shorten was a dead weight on the Labor vote in Bennelong last year, he is holding the party back here.

If he suppresses the vote enough to cause a loss he will be in trouble come Sunday or Monday.

There will be plenty of corridor chatter and lots of agitation. Whether it's enough to push Shorten out - don't forget he's a factional animal who works the numbers better than anyone - remains to be seen.

But disunity in itself can be death. Politics might get very interesting in the next 48 hours.

Dennis Atkins is The Courier-Mail's national affairs editor