MUNGO MACCALLUM. Alexander wins return to obscurity

So after all that, the bomb did not drop, the world has not ended. John Alexander has been re-elected and Australia’s champion, Bennelong’s champion, will relapse into the obscurity of the backbench whence he came.

But he has given Malcolm Turnbull a few frights; our prime minister could have been forgiven for donning a safety helmet, and a real one, not the one he wears for photo-ops during his numerous visits to factories inhabited by the hard-working Australians he so often invokes.

It needn’t have been like this; it should have been a doddle. Alexander had built up a very healthy cushion and although there is normally a swing against the government in a by-election, this was less of a by-election than a temporary recess.

Alexander, like Barnaby Joyce, was still the same candidate, an object of sympathy from the voters rather than censure. Both were seen as victims of an aberration in the constitution confirmed by over-literalist unelected High Court judges.

And Alexander, while something of a political nonentity, was considered a reasonable local member; the only things really held against him were his multi-million dollar property in the southern highlands and his residence in the prestigious eastern suburbs instead of his less salubrious electorate.

True, he was facing a more than plausible opponent in Kristina Keneally, but he was also backed by most of the cabinet and even John Howard, the man comprehensively ejected from government and his constituency in 2007, but now considered an older statesman – at least by the conservative media.

In the circumstances, a swing of more than five percent against the government could hardly be considered a triumph. Still, a win’s a win, and given that the alternative would have been catastrophic, Turnbull can be forgiven for a spot of relieved gloating.

Unsurprisingly both sides claimed a victory of sorts, their supporters loyally cheering their respective leaders – although it was interesting that while Laborites chanted for Bill, the Libs opted for Turnbull –  perhaps they felt that using his first name would have been offensively familiar for their patrician prime minister.

But both of them deserved credit for throwing themselves into the campaign, especially Turnbull, who was criticised for not doing enough in New England, and more crucially in Queensland, where the coalition’s defeat in the state election may be rather more relevant to his long-term chances of survival.

From now on there can be no holding back; if, as is likely, the still unresolved issues of dual citizenship lead to further by-elections, it can be assumed that Turnbull will go in boots and all. And he seems to be developing a taste for it; the relentless bashing of Keneally for the real or imagined sins of the past gave us a glimpse of the street fighter concealed in the urbane façade of the corporate lawyer.

And since by all reports Keneally will be bumped into the senate in place of Sam Dastyari,  Turnbull will still have her to kick around for a while. So he will have plenty of opportunity to practise a bit more kicking and gouging while waiting for the real thing.

Obviously she is not the target Dastyari afforded, but she’ll do until someone better comes along.  Turnbull may carry on about the need to respect women, but, as always, that was one of his policies – until it was changed.


Mungo MacCallum is a veteran political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy.

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3 Responses to MUNGO MACCALLUM. Alexander wins return to obscurity

  1. ian Hawkins says:

    Dear John Alexander is a nice person, no doubt about that, but his original preselection is typical of what is wrong with the politics of both major parties. He carries too much baggage for ordinary voters. Abbott`s involvement in arranging that preselection is just how those born to rule operate. Keep it within their kind. They just don`t see it or don`t care, the rusted on small l liberals will always vote Liberal, just as the rusted on Labor will always vote Labor despite that they know that Shorten is not Prime Minister material. The polls prove it.
    I`m an octogenarian and so have been through many elections starting at about 12 years as what perhaps would be called a liberal groupie in todays language, Flying A.N.A DC3 from Melbourne to Sydney to attend an RGM speech night ! That`s devotion. Can you imagine how it sickens me to see Howard and even Abbott try to latch onto Menzies` dynasty.
    In my mind the names of a few former and political figures stand out as having helped to shape our politics into the mess that it currently is and need not be. There was Joe Bejelke-Petersen, changing the Country Party to the National Party in the hope of muscling into liberal territory in outer suburban electorates, didn`t work, Joe for PM, wow. Then later K. Rudd, developed the current method of replacing a Parliamentary leader. That`s been a disaster. The Democrats broke up Labor, kept Menzies in power for 23 years, thank goodness, but when they fell apart that gave the religious zealots the idea to move in on the liberal party. Now we have a situation where the small l liberals are never going to hold government again. So it will be bye-bye Malcolm Turnbull with Barnaby Joyce sitting behind him holding him to the 9 point agreement he forced upon him the night of Abbott`s demise.

  2. Mike Yewdall says:

    Yes, if Keneally is dropped into the Senate in place of Dasher Dastyari you can rest assured that the likes of Dutton, Joyce, and of course Turnbull will be dragging Eddie Obeid into every attack on her. That screeching harpie Michaelia Cash will think it’s one long Christmas. Keneally will be expecting it, naturally, and will brush it off as irrelevant. Which, of course, it is.

  3. Don Aitkin says:

    Most parliamentarians are on on the back bench, Mungo! Most Ministers started there, too.

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