Aston loss piles pressure on Dutton

| April 2, 2023

The rout of the Liberals in Aston is a disaster for Peter Dutton.

The party has defied history – in the worst possible way. This is the first time in more than a century that a government has taken a seat off an opposition at a byelection.

Both government and opposition expected a Liberal win, although they predicted a tight result. In the event Labor had a comfortable victory.

The centrepiece of Labor’s campaign was targeting the opposition leader, and Aston voters responded with a resounding ‘no’ when asked for a judgement on Dutton.

In 2001, a byelection in Aston put then prime minister John Howard back into the electoral game. In 2023, this byelection has undermined what authority the opposition leader has had.

There are no obvious alternatives to Dutton (although deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley and shadow treasurer Angus Taylor have aspirations).

But over coming months it’s likely there will be muttering and undermining of Dutton.

Dutton prides himself on having held together a party that is divided over whether to go to the right or the left. This defeat can be expected to intensify that internal argument.

It will also reduce Dutton’s ability to reform the debilitated party organisations, including and especially in Victoria.

On Saturday night Dutton made the point that “it’s a tough market for us in Victoria”. Aston will feed into what has been a strong narrative – that Dutton, from Queensland and the right, is unelectable in this progressive southern state.

The timing of Alan Tudge’s departure from parliament was, certainly in retrospect, the worst possible. As if Tudge had not previously done enough damage to the Liberal party. Aston voters had already punished it over his behaviour with a big swing at the general election.

In the byelection, many voters were frustrated they were at the ballot box for the third time in less than a year.

While the cost of living is at the front of people’s minds, Aston showed they are not blaming the Albanese government. They accept that the interest rate hikes and price rises are being driven by factors almost all outside the government’s control.

The Liberals had a strong candidate in Roshena Campbell, but she was parachuted into this outer-eastern suburban seat from Brunswick, seen as a long way away when localism is increasingly the electoral flavour. One is reminded of the fate of Labor’s Kristina Keneally when she was parachuted into a seat that wanted a local in last year’s election.

Labor’s Mary Doyle does not live in Aston but has resided in the region for some 35 years.

The Aston outcome reinforces the point that the Labor government’s honeymoon continues to flourish. The news of the past fortnight’s parliamentary sitting showed a government that was busy and chalking up wins, most notably this week’s deal to get its safeguard machinery legislation in place, which is key to implementing its climate policy.

One achievement of the Labor government that would have resonated with some Aston voters is the improvement in Australia’s relations with China. This electorate has a high proportion of residents of Chinese heritage.

Dutton has promised to listen to the messages from the byelection, and to rebuild the party. It’s one thing to recognise there are lessons, but another to decipher precisely what they are, and yet another to put solutions in place.

It does, however, seem likely that voters are unimpressed with the Opposition’s constant negativity – which just deepens Dutton’s problem as he comes closer to having to formally declare his position on the Voice to Parliament.

This article was published by The Conversation.



  1. Max Thomas

    Max Thomas

    April 4, 2023 at 12:49 pm

    Following “the rout of the Liberals in Aston” Mr Dutton said that Liberal Party values will not change. However, looking through the party’s constitution it seems the values horse has long since bolted. Even a cursory glance through the values espoused therein shows that the party boat has drifted far from its moorings.
    Continuing with the mangling of metaphors, the Liberal Party seems uninterested in allowing its constituency ‘tail’ to wag the party ‘dog’. The departure of Chipp and Fraser; the ostracism of Turnbull, among others, for defending party core values would have founder Menzies rolling over.
    The pursuit of power for its own sake isn’t a uniquely conservative trait. There is ample evidence that the primary purpose of winning government is to gain access to the treasury, thus enabling the distribution of booty to the faithful.
    Arguably, the exception to this would be The Australian Greens party. But if the pursuit of virtue is its mission then it is also its fatal flaw. Having substituted the Gaia hypothesis for God, the political means adopted by The Greens to attain their objectives are not of the people; they become the gift of a supreme entity: namely the state. There was a 2% swing away from The Greens at the Aston by-election.
    Following the Aston by-election, Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, said “The Liberal Party are a nasty, bigoted outfit and people have worked them out. That might be why they keep losing.” I suspect that Labor strategists know it’s not so simple.
    Prime Minister Anthony Albanese takes a more personal view. He said Liberal leader Peter Dutton has been part of the problem for his party and now “fails to be part of the solution”.

  2. Max Thomas

    Max Thomas

    April 7, 2023 at 11:33 am

    Politicians sometimes mistakenly project their conclusions onto the electorate. Voters become obliging folk who will act according to the wishes of those who would represent them. Decades ago, John Passmore’s precautionary Boyer Lectures on ‘The Limits of Government’ evidently fell on deaf ears. People have been encouraged to believe that government really can reverse the tide. And if not by persuasion or by being seen to be doing something, it is by regulation that people may be perfected. Pulling a wonky economic brake lever and attempting to emend history by attaching to it a “Voice” from the wilderness, illustrate the illusion, indeed the futility, of power.