Why the Dunkley By-Election Matters

The federal electorate of Dunkley is set to vote at a by-election “before early February”, according to the Electoral Commission. The by-election follows the death of the former public defender and late Dunkley Labor MP, Peta Murphy, who died of breast cancer in December.

Dunkley is located in outer-suburban Melbourne in the city’s south-east. It has been split between the ALP and the Coalition since it was created in the 1980s.

Since the 2022 election, Melbourne’s seats are majority Labor by a wide margin. Just 3 of the 22 seats are held by the Liberal Party. 

Is that about to change? Much of the Australian public remain unsure about Peter Dutton.

On the other hand, Albanese’s popularity has taken a hit since his election. A December 2023 poll of around 2,000 people found just 33% of respondents believe the Albanese government has the right priorities. Cost of living was the top priority for 48% of respondents and a top 3 priority for 83% of respondents.

This clearly represents a push-back against the Voice campaign. It is also precisely the sentiment that Peter Dutton is attempting to speak to.

The same poll found Labor leading by 52.8% to 47.2% on a two-party preferred basis at the national level. That actually increases to 54% in outer-suburban metropolitan areas. (Dutton’s support is lowest in inner and middle suburbs and highest in regional cities and the country.)

So while Dutton wants to speak to the metropolitan outer suburbs, and he needs to get beyond his support in the regions to be able to win, he hasn’t proven that he can do so yet. For the Liberals to build momentum in the generally more progressive city of Melbourne will be an extra challenge.

At present, just 33% of respondents say the Liberals led by Dutton are ready for government. Some 47% of respondents disagreed with a further 20% unsure.

In the outer suburbs, support for Liberal government rises to 36% with just 41% disagreeing. So while the suburbs are the only way the Liberals can win the next election, they still look a dice proposition under Dutton leadership.

After a win campaigning against the Voice in 2023, pressure will build on Dutton if the Liberals fail to gain traction in Dunkley.

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