Kelly resignation opens up by-election in Eden-Monaro


The triggering of a federal by-election yesterday for the seat of Eden-Monaro will be a test for the major parties, but also will likely be the first test of how our voting will be affected after the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic in Australia.

Read my guide to the Eden-Monaro by-election.

Australia has been lucky to have the pandemic hit during a relatively quiet period for elections. It did coincide with council elections and state by-elections in Queensland, and it forced the delay of Tasmanian upper house elections originally scheduled for tomorrow. But apart from these there are no more elections scheduled until a rush of elections from August to October, which includes one state election and two territory elections.

It’s not clear how quickly the by-election will be held – the government has some discretion to delay – but when it is eventually held it seems likely that some things will change compared to past elections. We saw a massive surge in postal and pre-poll voting at the Queensland council elections. Eden-Monaro already had a high rate of pre-poll voting, with over 41% of all votes cast via pre-poll in 2019.

I will return to the theme of how Covid-19 may affect how we vote in a future post, but it is also worth pointing out that there isn’t actually much evidence of the disease in the community at the moment, and particularly in the council areas which make up Eden-Monaro.

This handy chart by Nick Casmirri organises NSW local government areas by region and colour-codes them by the recency of Covid-19 cases.

There have been no cases in the last three weeks throughout the Snowy Monaro, Snowy Valleys and Yass Valley council areas which make up the western end of the council. No cases have been reported for two weeks in Bega Valley. There have been more recent cases in the Queanbeyan area but even those are not of an unknown origin.

So unless we see a second wave of cases, it seems likely that there won’t actually be an immediate health crisis coinciding with a by-election, but I would still expect changes in how voters and campaigns behave out of an abundance of caution.

In addition to being a moment in the Covid-19 story, this by-election is a critical moment in federal politics.

You would have seen a lot of people talk about how no government has won a by-election from an opposition since 1920, but I don’t think that statistic really tells us much.

There just haven’t been that many by-elections overall, and they tend to be in relatively safe seats. Most by-elections are caused by the sitting member choosing to retire, and that doesn’t tend to happen in marginal seats.

Let’s look at the by-elections held over the terms of the current government and the last Labor government.

Labor faced five by-elections in Coalition seats in its first term in government. All were held by senior Howard government ministers and all took place in the first year of the government. They tended to be safe seats, with the most marginal being Gippsland, which was held by the Nationals by a margin of 5.9%. Labor contested Gippsland, suffered a negative swing, then sat out the other four. No by-elections were held for the remaining five years of the government, with MPs particularly avoiding resignations during the tight hung parliament after the 2010 election.

Three by-elections were held during the first term of the Coalition government, one of which was in the Labor-held seat of Griffith. There was a swing of 1.25% away from Labor with the departure of longstanding local member Kevin Rudd, leaving Labor with a 1.8% margin. The by-elections held in the last term were mostly held due to section 44 citizenship problems, which makes them quite different.

So in the last thirteen years we only have one case of a marginal opposition-held electorate being contested by the government, in Griffith, and in that case there was a swing to the government, one that would be big enough to win Eden-Monaro. It’s just not enough of a sample to say “this is a thing that doesn’t happen”.

As to Eden-Monaro: it’s obvious that Mike Kelly had a strong personal vote. It doesn’t seem worth the trouble to try and quantify it, but something in the area of 5% seems plausible. Remember that he only held Eden-Monaro by less than 1% in 2019.

So this seat really could go either way, and it would be silly to call this by-election one way or the other.

It’s worth noting that this is quite possibly the single electorate hit hardest by last summer’s bushfires. The south coast was hit hard, but so was the Snowy Mountains and areas to the west including Tumut. The electorate also includes the towns of Queanbeyan and Yass which surround Canberra. They were not directly threatened by fires, but Canberra experienced worse and longer-lasting bushfire smoke than any other major city. We could well see big shifts thanks to voters judging the performance of Scott Morrison during those fires.

This will also be the first political test for the federal government since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, so this could also play out in either direction.

Finally I should note that the choice of candidate for the Coalition parties could have a big impact. This electorate covers the state electorates of Monaro and Bega, which are held respectively by the Nationals leader (and deputy premier) and the deputy Liberal leader, arguably the two most important figures in the state government outside of Gladys Berejiklian.

It seems unlikely that Andrew Constance will run, but Monaro MP John Barilaro appears to be seriously considering a run. The Nationals came a distant fourth in Eden-Monaro in 2019, and have never held the electorate at a federal level, but that could change if such a prominent figure were to run.

If Barilaro runs (win or lose) that will trigger a state by-election in his state seat, which looked very marginal before a 9% swing to him at the 2019 state election.

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  1. Not sure if Fiona Kotvojs can win here considering she is a Conservative in a swingy seat, She came close last year but that was mainly because the Coalition exceeded expectations nationwide. She will become Brett Whiteley 2.0 (Except she won’t become an MP unlikely Whiteley) Don’t be surprised if the margin stays the same from the Federal or if there is a pro liberal swing it will be tiny, Constance could have won this but deciding to withdraw just because of an insult by a colleague, really??? Who cares what other people say he should have continued to run and focused on the people of Eden-Monaro instead of worrying about what the National’s said about him, Would be interesting to see if Palmer (UAP) and One Nation run here, If they do then i might see a chance of an upset Liberal gain as their preferences tipped Marginal coalition seats in its favour at last year’s federal election.

  2. It amazes me that the Liberals and Nationals have both managed to completely stuff up a once in a hundred year opportunity for a government to win a by-election. Oh to be a fly on the wall at the next NSW Government cabinet meeting…………….

    My only other thought is that Kristy McBain should buy a lotto ticket. Luck is meant to come in threes and she has already had two lucky events in a row!



  3. Problem with tweets is that they have limited text to have to use acronyms and one has to be so carful with acronyms – they can be misunderstood so easily:
    C##T – see you next time
    WTF – wow that’s fantastic or where’s that from
    GFC – global financial crisis

  4. my tip……… neither Constance nor Balliro will stand at the next state election

  5. It’s such a shame because Fiona Kotvojs performed admirably at the last election. She would have a been a good, low-profile local candidate to stand if those other two muppets hadn’t mucked things up. Despite Morrison’s popularity, I’m of a mind to tip a Labor retain in these circumstances.

    Way to go to show the people of Eden-Monaro you’re concerned about them by engaging in Machiavellian drama at a time of national crisis. At least Labor got their act together!

    Mike Kelly defends new role with Palantir after quitting Parliament due to health issues

    Katie BurgessKatie Burgess
    Federal Politics
    Eden-Monaro MP Mike Kelly has a new job after leaving Parliament due to health issues.
    Former member for Eden-Monaro Mike Kelly has defended taking a role with a US technology company, after resigning from Parliament due to ongoing health issues.

    Dr Kelly stood down over a fortnight ago after undergoing 10 operations in six months for renal issues linked to his military service in Iraq and Timor. His resignation has sparked a heated byelection in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

    But over the weekend, reports emerged Dr Kelly had been recruited by Palantir Technologies, shortly after stepping down.

    Dr Kelly had previously spruiked the work of the company during parliamentary proceedings, saying they “effectively vectored Osama Bin Laden’s location”.

    In a statement on Monday, Dr Kelly said he was offered a job at Palantir “by a friend I served with in Iraq when my health issues made it impossible to carry on as the Member for Eden-Monaro”.

    “I have known and respected Palantir for many years as they have some wonderful people within the organisation who I have known going back to my service in Iraq,” Dr Kelly said.

    “Every year of my time in Parliament I have rejected many job offers. With my health situation forcing my decision to leave Parliament it has, however, necessitated my looking seriously at alternative employment in a desk job that enables me to continue to make a difference within the limits of my health constraints, as I am not in a position to retire and have no desire to.

    “This new situation will enable me to continue to work on the causes that mean a great deal to me and that led me to go into politics in the first place. These causes include making Australia safer against the threat of terrorism and better able to defend ourselves generally including against pandemics, looking after veterans, improving our sovereign capabilities, making Australian businesses more competitive, improving the delivery of services to our community, improving our disaster response and fighting climate change
    The man who broke the bellwether and his agonising decision to call it quits
    Eden-Monaro MP Mike Kelly to resign from federal parliament
    Dr Kelly was the Minister for Defence Materiel for seven months in 2013, and held appointments as the parliamentary secretary for defence at various times between 2008 and 2013.

    He was Labor’s shadow assistant minister for defence industry and support from 2016 to June 2019, and shadow assistant minister for defence from then on.

    Dr Kelly was also part of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, where he would have received access to some material not available to the general public through in-camera hearings.

    However there are no rules about what politicians who have not been a government minister for longer than 18 months can and can’t do after leaving Parliament.

    “Having spent a number of years on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security defending Australian privacy and civil liberties, I also wanted to be in a position to continue this work,” Dr Kelly said.

    Dr Kelly also disputed reports that Palantir was involved in data mining and surveillance.

    “They provide tools to manage information and enable people and organisations to make the best use of the data they lawfully gather and manage. They are a trusted service among our friends and allies as well as many NGO and civil society organisations, such as the UN World Food Program. They are also involved with a range of pro bono activities such as the prevention of child sex exploitation and helping veterans involved with bushfire recovery,” Dr Kelly said.
    Labor MP Mark Butler defended Dr Kelly, saying he deserved to be able to continue to work.

    “I don’t think anyone expected … that he was simply just going to hang up his boots and not do any work anymore. He does still have an important contribution to make to this country and I’m very glad he has found the opportunity to do that,” Mr Butler said.

  7. Thanks WD for the article.
    I guess his parliamentary and military super is just not enough. This close connection between the Military Industrial Security complex and our elected representatives should be of concern. But of course since they are a “trusted service amongst our friends and allies” .. ie the same people who gave us WMD lies, the destruction of Libya, starvation blockade of Yemen and continuing unwanted occupation of Iraq and Syria.. no one will see any problem with this.
    Given all the noise about Gladys Liu and ex-Senator Dastyari… would a bit of consistency by our national media here be too much to ask?

  8. Peter K
    Well my friend you hit quite a few nails on the head. Yes his military pension would be more than enough alone( 30 yrs)!. Now Generals get 200 k per annum+ indexed for life,(FROM AGE 65), so a Colonel would have to get 150 K SURELY !!?? The parliamentary super is NOT defined benefit, being post 2004. However 15% of $200000+ x 13 yrs compounded by say 12% return adds up to around 1/2 a million +. Not to shabby eh !?

    The comparison to pre 2004 is pretty stark. The “World’s greatest Treasurer” (Swan) with 22 years would be on 250k+ indexed for life. Don’t forget Mrs Swan will continue to receive 50% of this after God, (or Lucifer !!) claims that conceited, delusional,& worthless prick !!. In contrast, poor old Pornstar Mike, will have to take his chances, & invest his 1/2 million himself, with the same risks as the rest of us. That IS TOUGH !!. So he will struggle on,- with say 25k on top of his military pension (IE 175K PER ANNUM MOSTLY INDEXED FOR LIFE !!). He so, SO (INDEED) NEEDS TO KEEP WORKING !!!. What a MASSIVE bullshit artist !!.

    My issue is not really with all this, however. As i said to the Hon Trent Zimmerman (my totally useless Fed MP {N Sydney}) when i “gently informed” him that i would not (ever) be voting for him (at the by election )!. “This by-election, is about one issue, & one alone: If an MP breaks his contract with his constituents (ie does not serve his full term) then he (or she) should be forced to pay the entire cost of the resulting by election” (barring exceptional circumstances). This should automatically & IMMEDIATELY, garnished from their parliamentary superannuation

    Naturally the soon to be elected Zimmerman disagreed with me. “But in business that happens all the time” he stated, thus demonstrating his total commercial ignorance. Needing moments to recover from this stunningly, bizarre view, I eventually managed to respond ” ARE YOU KIDDING ? ARE YOU F……G JOKING ?. DO YOU NOT KNOW WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU BREAK A CONTRACT IN THE REAL WORLD !!?. Then it hit me that he really did not know what i was talking about, because he had indeed, never worked in the real world, & never would.
    Zimmerman managed to defend the seat of N Sydney successfully, with the largest swing against a sitting Liberal member in Australia. Quite the accomplishment , & worthy of the man.

    Fine & fair enough, if Pornstar Mike feels that having been robbed of his rightful position – the Defence Ministry in the Shorten Government People should appreciate that it is now beneath him to serve his constituents, & honour his parliamentary oath. After all he has been present at most defence briefings for the last 10+ years. That information is worth a lot of money, to a lot of people. I mean for years he has been knocking back offers of twice , or more of his parliamentary salary. He has been such a devoted, & humble servant to the party, & the people. Being the modest bloke that he is, he has never talked it up…..!! Of course he has no idea where all those persistent rumours of said job offers have come from ….!! It would be ENTIRELY coincidental that they seemed to start around the time he was passed over for the defence shadow (position 2013 )!!. FUNNY THAT !!.

    In the end though we are all well rid of this despicable, disingenuous, inauthentic, deceitful, & duplicitous grub. If only we could learn from this & elect worthy people instead. Sadly that is unlikely. Sadly our media are so gullible lazy, shallow, & stupid that they fail to expose such reprobates.

    cheers WD

    ps i’ll respond to the rest later

  9. WD
    Of course when DLP advocates a defined benefits contributory scheme that would have included ( Age Pension, Disability and unemployment benefits scheme for all residents it was rejected by major parties) This would have been invested in a Sovereign Wealth Fund like Singapore’s. You never know if this had happened we might be owning Singapore Airlines and Ports in Red China other than the other way around.
    Queensland’s Defined benefits Scheme is being raided by State Government surepticiously. There are still a few Public Servants working who are still in Defined Benefits Scheme , unlike current schemes this money belongs to State Government and they are looking forward to day when all State super pension receipients die out and they can get their hands on money. By way I have a defined Benefits Pension emwhich I paid well over 12%. I commenced work with Qld Govt at age 27 and had to “buy back” 6 years of Super.
    The Qld Govt unlike Commonwealth Government paid Super at time of incurring debt. Ie my super was paid by both my employer Education Department and me from 1977 to 2010 when I retired.
    The reason Mike Kelly’s super is a cost today is that Commonwealth Government failed to pay his Super at the time they incurred it over last 40 years plus and they now owe it. If they had followed the example of Bjelke Petersen government they would now just be wIting for Mike Kelly to die so they can get their hands on the money.

  10. Peter K
    Many troubling subjects that you raise. I heard we are the 4th largest procurer of defence materiel by Value. That is quite a honey pot. No defence minister since Fraser, or possibly Hill have controlled the department. So god knows where the money is, & goes!?.

    I understand your concern over minor wars, & our involvement. However as an historian,& geo political cynic, i find it difficult to get too energised, & concerned over such things. The human toll on our veterans, & the ineptitude of approaching this (issue) is far more compelling. A far deeper understanding needs to be applied.
    An interesting discussion to have over a drink some time perhaps ?
    cheers WD

  11. The Australia Institute released a poll last week 51.5 to 48.5 to Labor. Polls recently seem about 2% out. Also there is no impact yet from “Pornstar Mike’s” duplicity in taking a job (long) BEFORE he resigned. No one should forget for one second why we are paying for a million dollar by-election.
    It is PURELY because Pornstar Mike will not keep his contract with the people of E-M, & it seems clear, that he knew full well,(that he would not) before he was elected last year

    McBain would seem the best candidate, though i would mark her down as another lawyer. However her record as Mayor may nullify this. Kotvojs seems eminently likeable, normal, & accomplished. It will be fascinating to see how the media treat her. Whether they will give her more air time than in 2019.

  12. My prediction is about a 5% swing to Government both Federally and in Queenslandin recognition of Covid handling. This has to be balanced out with a swing away from sitting member in a by election and a loss of Kelly’s personal vote. I think it unlikely that ALP will win this seat back.

  13. AJ
    Very bold my friend !.Do you really think Palachook has done such a great job ?
    5% SWING would be massive in E-M . Perhaps 52-48 is more the outcome if the cards fall. There are so many ”buts”. Perhaps the biggest question remains whether a loss in E-M will finish Albo ?. To me this is the most entrancing possibility.

  14. If it wasn’t for the bushfires & the virus I would have given this instantly to the liberal party. This seat will be tight & with the possibility that we might not know who the MP is for days.

  15. Bob
    It’s funny but i don’t really see the fires & virus being a direct influence. The wild cards are how much the minor parties splinter the vote. SFF, maybe even the Lib-Dems, make it far more un-predictable. Wreathy made this point a while ago. Even the Nats influenced the previous result. It has always been a very tight seat.

    However i’d bet we will know the result on the night, & in the end the result will be uncharacteristically conclusive. I’ll be betting on Kotvojs if she is anything less than even money. just waiting for SFF to decide whether they will run.

  16. As much as I hate the rabble, I tend to think that the candidate selection troubles will have blown over come election day. Kotvojs proved herself a capable local campaigner but will it be enough?

    That poll by the Australia Institute didn’t release primary votes. Despite the headline 2PP figure, it makes me suspicious that they had the combined Lib+Nat vote over 45%. As you point out WD, preferences will be crucial.

  17. WD
    I am happy with job Palazszcuk has done in actually handling Covid 19 outbreak. I think preparation prior to outbreak was disgraceful, however I can not see Libs doing a better job.

    It was Goss that abolished the centralised Education Store EdMart and Newman that abolished the whole of Government store SDS. These stores had stocks of PPE such as gloves masks and sanitisers. Qld Schools were being cleaned without chemicals a few years back. I wonder if they are still reliant on microfibre cloths or have they reverted to Chemical cleaning.

    The reason for the change from chemical to
    Microfibre cleaning was that in abolishing the stores they abolished the distribution system.

    Yes I think Palszczuk has done as good a job under circumstances as was possible. She is copping flac for standing her ground.
    Eden Monaro will go to government. See Monday Morning,s Newspoll.
    Of course minor parties will have an influence if they stand. Libs and Nat inter and inter fighting is obviously not good for chances of victory. However at these time of crisis opposition to government is viewed as semi- treasonous. Public Sector voters in Queanbeyan will give public Service a seat at table therefore I am confident Government victories in both E-M and Queensland.
    Frecklingron is just not cutting through to those who Liberal Party Candidate’s 2012! handbook described as Mr and Mrs Jone type of voters. She may be successful in buttressing solid Liberal voters but these voters don’t count.
    Jackie Trad’s departure from
    Cabinet makes ALP victory more likely.

    ALP can steam as much as they like but a result in October for a Green in South Brisbane would have consequences for ALP policy. Now that Jackie Trad is not in Cabinet she can sound more like a Green increasing her chance in South Brisbane but her comments will not do damage to ALP where It matters outer suburbs and provincial towns.
    Covid 19 restrictions put strains on policy directions of both alternate governments with divisions being driven in to even close friendships and families with bitterness which we have not seen since the Labor split of the 50’s.
    However as death toll rises overseas the benefits of a locked down economy will become self evident.

  18. Sorry all, I’ve had some problems with my Tally Room email which means I haven’t been notified about comments. If anyone has any issues with comments please contact me, otherwise I’ll be across them from now on.

  19. Apparently GetUp commissioned a poll which showed voters in EM ‘evenly-divided’ on the Coalition’s bushfire response but critical of its response to climate change. I am skeptical that the latter concern actually motivates voters, particularly now in a time of economic anxiety where economic issues are front and centre. In my opinion, If (and it’s a big IF) Labor aren’t finding fertile soil to criticise the Libs over the bushfire, they might not be as well placed as I thought.

    Furthermore, the fact that GetUp have refused to release the voting intention figures from the poll makes me bullish about the Coalition’s chances. All in all, I put a cheeky $25 on the Libs to win.

  20. As this area has been effected greatly by the bushfires I would say that Labor will win with a fairly small swing towards them. If this by election happened in say November last year the liberals would’ve just walked in this seat and won it. I don’t think the nationals will end up throwing in a candidate.

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