Jodie Belyea and Anthony Albanese
The prime minister has downplayed Jodie Belyea's chances of winning the Dunkley by-election. Image by Morgan Hancock/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

Labor, Libs downplay by-election result as ballots open

Dominic Giannini March 2, 2024

A federal by-election fought on cost of living and local crime has Labor and the Liberals tempering expectations of victory.

Saturday’s Dunkley by-election was triggered by the death of Labor MP Peta Murphy, who lost her battle with cancer at the end of last year. 

Labor holds the southeast Melbourne seat by a 6.3 per cent margin, with community leader Jodie Belyea fighting to retain it. 

But the opposition believes it can make headway with Frankston City Council mayor Nathan Conroy running for the Liberal Party.

Cost of living is front and centre in the community, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese using the final days before polling to spruik the government’s relief measures. 

Jodie Belyea
 Labor holds the Victorian seat by a 6.3 per cent margin, with Ms Belyea trying to retain it. Image by Morgan Hancock/AAP PHOTOS 

This included an emphasis on a bigger tax cut going to lower and middle income earners under the government’s revamped tax package. 

“When it comes to cost of living, we’ll examine every day, every week, every month, what more we can do – that’s what we’ve done,” he said. 

Voting in Ms Belyea would also ensure the community had a voice in government, Mr Albanese said.

“This is a community that needs a local champion,” he said.

“Jodie Belyea will be that local champion, I have every confidence that she will carry on Peta Murphy’s legacy.”

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said while the vote wouldn’t change the government, it could send a message to the prime minister he wasn’t doing enough.

“People are paying more and more at the supermarket under this government and your mortgage has gone up,” he said.

“You can understand that there is a level of anger on the ground here.”

A file photo of Peter Dutton
 Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said Dunkley voters could send a message to the prime minister. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS 

Mr Dutton also targeted local crime and tried to link a recent High Court decision releasing immigration detainees, some of whom have allegedly reoffended since being freed, with government inaction. 

“(Victoria Police’s) efforts are distracted away from the local response that the community here demands to apply resources to what’s a monumental stuff-up by the government,” he said. 

Labor has defended its response after imposing strict visa conditions and surveillance measures.

Mr Albanese slammed the opposition for fear-mongering.

“That’s what Peter Dutton does, it’s all about scare campaigns, he doesn’t worry about the facts, doesn’t worry about the reality,” he said.

The prime minister downplayed Labor’s chances, saying there was an average swing of more than seven per cent against the government at by-elections since the Hawke era. 

Mr Dutton also sought to temper expectations, saying while the six per cent margin would be hard to eclipse, anything more than a three per cent swing from the government would be a terrible outcome for the prime minister.

Ms Murphy recorded a 40 per cent primary vote at the 2022 federal election with a small swing towards her, while the Liberals had a 7.4 per cent swing against their primary, which dropped down to 32.5 per cent.