Former Liberal leader John Hewson says the Abbott government’s mishandling of several issues has boosted the importance of the Canning by-election in Western Australia.
Dr Hewson says it’s a seat the government should not lose on September 19, given its near-12 per cent margin, but a sizeable swing against it can be expected.
“They have had a pretty terrible four or five weeks in terms of mismanaging a series of issues,” he told Sky News.
These include the travel entitlements controversy sparked by former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop, dissent over same-sex marriage and the booking of royal commissioner Dyson Heydon for a Liberal Party function while he was heading an investigation into union corruption.
“As issues have evolved, they haven’t handled them well and that has confirmed a few doubts about the standing of the government,” Dr Hewson said.
Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop said while the by-election, triggered by the sudden death of veteran Liberal MP Don Randall, was about the people of Canning, federal by-elections were always in the national spotlight.
“I don’t believe we’ll lose the by-election,” she told ABC television.
Pressed on whether a large swing against the coalition would affect Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s position, Ms Bishop said: “Let’s see how the Canning by-election turns out.”
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann was also evasive when asked on Network Ten whether Mr Abbott would lose his job if the government lost Canning.
“We’re working to win,” Senator Cormann responded.
Labor said it would not target the Liberals’ candidate for Canning over his war service in Afghanistan.
Opposition frontbencher Brendan O’Connor said the contest would be about policy rather than personalities such as the Liberals’ Andrew Hastie, a former SAS officer who commanded a unit that was investigated for chopping off the hands of dead Taliban fighters.
“Clearly he has shown enormous courage and has been someone who has been defending this nation in a very difficult conflict,” Mr O’Connor told Sky News.
Ms Bishop, who will be campaigning with Mr Hastie this week, said the Afghanistan story was years old and she could not believe it was suddenly front page news.
Meanwhile, the Western Australian Greens are promoting their Canning candidate, Curtin University lecturer and small-business owner Vanessa Rauland.
Ms Rauland says it is a chance for the people of Canning to show Mr Abbott they are fed up with his “destructive approach”.
“His relentless attacks on solar energy, public transport and housing affordability have made Western Australians realise that he is not representing our needs,” she said in a statement.