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Historic Victory As Labor Wins Benalla By-Election; Rural Voters Vent More Anger On Coalition

Whilst counting of postal, absentee and pre-poll votes is not yet complete, the ALP appears to have scored an historic victory by winning the National Party electorate of Benalla in today’s by-election.

Benalla By-Election 13-5-00
Candidate Party %
SMITH, Maurie Ind 0.72
HILL, Bill Ind 6.82
THORPE, Alf ARP 0.29
ALLEN, Denise ALP 41.98
MACKENZIE, Janet Greens 2.05
SYKES, Bill NPA 41.00
ROWE, Geoff Ind 7.14

With results from all 45 polling booths now in, the ALP’s Denise Allen has 41.98% of the primary vote, compared to 41% for the National Party’s Bill Sykes.

On the two-party-preferred count, Allen leads the Nationals by 50.43% to 49.57%, a swing of 7.84% over the September 1999 result when the seat was won by the National Party’s former leader, Pat McNamara.

The 1999 result was itself a 7.85% swing from the 1996 general election. Since 1996, the ALP has secured a total swing of 15.69% in Benalla, an electorate held continuously by the conservative parties since 1904.

The ALP’s victory in Benalla gives it 44 seats in the Legislative Assembly, compared to 41 for the coalition parties. There are 3 independents who have committed themselves to supporting the Bracks government.

The addition of Benalla means that Bracks will require the support of only one independent to pass legislation, including constitutional changes. This is valuable breathing space over the next three years.

The Labor government does not control the Legislative Council, holding only 14 seats, compared to 24 for the Liberals and 6 for the National Party.

The full counting of pre-poll and absentee votes in Benalla will now take place, followed by the formal distribution of preferences. A full re-count is also likely. It is possible that the National Party could snatch a narrow victory, but this appears most unlikely on current trends. Counting of postal votes shows the ALP leading narrowly.

The Benalla result will be of concern to the conservative parties in Spring Street. It continues a trend that began with the State election and continued in the Frankston East and Burwood by-elections.

The ALP victory in Benalla represents another stunning reversal of political fortunes in less than a year. In May 1999, Victoria’s coalition government was led by Jeff Kennett and his deputy, Pat McNamara. Now Victoria has a Labor government, Kennett and McNamara are out of politics and their seats are held by the Labor Party.

The result will do little to calm the fear of conservative politicians at the federal level that the electoral tide is running against them across the nation. Following the 4.61% swing against the coalition in 1998, which nearly defeated the Howard government, the ALP has won elections in Tasmania and New South Wales, by-elections in Queensland, government in Victoria, and notched a respectable swing in a Northern Territory by-election. Opinion polls throughout 2000 have shown the Federal government struggling.

The introduction of the Goods and Services Tax on July 1 will be the next important indicator of the fate of the Howard government. Significantly, whilst still at a low level, media attention has turned to discussion of the possibility of Howard being replaced by Treasurer Peter Costello before the election due in late 2001.

Labor Wins Benalla By-Election

8.25pm – ALP candidate Denise Allen maintains a lead of 50.45% of the two-party-preferred vote. Postal and absentee votes are yet to be counted.

May 13 – 8.00pm – Updated counting shows the ALP’s Denise Allen ahead in the Benalla by-election, leading the National Party’s Bill Sykes by 50.57%.

These figures do not include the votes from Alexandra, a booth with over 1600 voters, but at this stage it would appear difficult for Labor to lose.

Early Figures Show Swing in Benalla – Nats Clinging To Narrow Lead

7.00pm – Early figures from the Benalla by-election show a sizable swing against the incumbent National Party.

With 16% of the vote counted, the National Party’s Bill Sykes is on 41%, Labor’s Denise Allen is on 40% and independent candidates are polling 14%, split evenly between Bill Hill and Geoff Rowe. The Greens candidate, Janet Mackenzie, is polling 2.3%.

Two-party-preferred figures calculated by the Victorian Electoral Commission show the National Party winning the seat with 50.68% of the vote, a swing of 6.73% over last September’s general election result.

The early figures show the ALP winning in Bright, Merrijig, Porpunkah, Strathbogie, Wandiligong and Whitfield.


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Malcolm Farnsworth
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