Kristy McBain claims victory for Labor Eden-Monaro

 

Labor's Kristy McBain has claimed victory in the Eden-Monaro by-election.

About 80 per cent of the votes have been counted, with more than 44,000 pre-poll and postal votes slowing the process considerably.

Outgoing MP Mike Kelly, who quit parliament due to health reasons, has congratulated Ms McBain, acknowledging her success despite the challenges presented by COVID-19.

"Congratulations to Kristy McBain for her victory in Eden Monaro and the hard working volunteers who laboured under such difficult conditions," he said on Twitter.

"Delighted at the attention we drew to our issues. As painful as leaving has been this has made it all a little bit easier."

Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs won the most first-preference votes but, with the help of preferences from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party, Ms McBain emerged the victor nearly 20 hours after the polls closed.

Speaking on ABC's Insiders, Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon called the result an "ugly win," but a "win just the same".

Postal votes are still being counted and the Australian Electoral Commission is not expected to announce a final result until later this week.

An AEC spokesmann said Ms McBain would not be formally elected until the remaining 7-8000 postal votes had been returned and counted but these were not expected to have too big of an impact on the result.

"Postal votes typically hold true to the margin," he said.

Despite the win, Labor suffered an estimated three per cent swing against it, in what was a very close shave for leader Anthony Albanese.

On two party preferred, Ms McBain was ahead with 51.04 per cent of the vote this morning - an increase of 0.2 per cent compared to 2019, according to the latest count by the Australian Electoral Commission.

The Liberals' primary vote was up about 0.77 per cent compared to the last federal election, with candidate Dr Fiona Kotvojs securing a whopping 6.75 per cent swing toward her on two party preferred in a polling booth near her residence in Cobargo.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was criticised after his visit to Cobargo in the aftermath of the summer bushfires when he attempted to shake hands with several upset locals, with Labor using the footage in their election TV ads, however it does not appear to have impacted Liberal support.

Earlier this morning, Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon said the party was "not claiming the win yet".

"We are very cautious about that, but things are looking ... good for us, and they will continue to improve, I think, over the course of the balance of the counting," he told the ABC.

"It is a bit of an ugly win for us, I concede, but it is a win just the same. It was a difficult election for us."

Dr Fiona Kotvojs arrives at the post-election function last night. Picture: David Beach/NewsWire
Dr Fiona Kotvojs arrives at the post-election function last night. Picture: David Beach/NewsWire

Mr Fitzgibbon conceded the result shows the party needed to lift its first preference vote but was "never likely" to do that in the Eden-Monaro election where a first-time candidate was seeking to replace an extremely popular local MP in Mike Kelly.

"I have not campaigned alongside a better candidate than Kristy McBain, so we will have her again next time and she will have the opportunity to consolidate herself in the electorate and I have no doubt she will lift the vote the next time around," he said.

Mr Fitzgibbon, who is in the party's right faction, said Mr Albanese - from the left - "absolutely" would lead Labor to the next election.

"This was always going to be a closely run thing," he said. "(Mr Albanese) inherited a broken Labor Party after the 2019 election .. and he very quickly, having been elected unopposed, set upon a rebuilding process, and quickly began to take the Labor Party back to the sensible centre ground."

This morning, Prime Minister Scott Morrison thanked Dr Kotvojs on social media for her work during the by-election.

"It will be a while before the final results of the Eden Monaro by-election are determined," he said.

"For now I would like to thank our Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs for all her hard work and diligence during her campaign.

SATURDAY ON A KNIFE-EDGE

Respected election analyst Antony Green early Sunday morning declared Labor "looks to have won" the Eden-Monaro by-election, although late last night some senior Coalition figures claimed victory in the bellwether seat.

No formal winner was announced - and a result could be weeks away with counting continuing.

Late last night it appeared voters had delivered a savage message to Labor in the Eden-Monaro by-election, with some senior Coalition figures claiming victory.

Nervous Labor MPs were hoping postal votes would help them pull-off a miraculous victory despite Labor's primary vote falling by 3 per cent.

Just after 11pm Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs told jubilant supporters in Queanbeyan it had been 100 years since a government had won an opposition-held seat at a by-election.

"The average swing against the government has been 3.8 per cent in those by-elections. So far, we are going the other way," she said.

Strong preference flows from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party and even the Nationals were expected to prop up Labor candidate Kristy McBain.

The swing will shake Anthony Albanese's leadership, with frontbencher Richard Marles saying he was "nervous" as the results flowed in.

New party rules make it difficult to roll a leader but sources said Mr Albanese had been advised by colleagues to accept responsibility for any loss and not blame the pandemic.

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro fuelled rumours he was urging Nationals voters to direct their second preference to Labor by admitting he had put Labor ahead of the Liberals at the last federal election.

Federal Nationals president Larry Anthony downplayed the rogue campaign by some National Party members claiming it had been "cooperative" on the ground.

The southeast NSW electorate, which takes in Merimbula, Bega and Yass, was up for grabs following the early retirement of popular Labor MP Mike Kelly.

With more than 50pc of votes counted, the Liberal vote was up one per cent and the Greens down at least three per cent.

An emotional Kristy McBain refused to concede in Merimbula last night but joked Mr Albanese might be regretting parachuting her into the race. "This one's a bit nerve-racking … I want my kids to be able to grow up here … and live here for the rest of their lives," she said.

"We need to continue to fight every single day to support the people that are being left behind and are falling through the cracks."

At the close of counting last night Labor had 51.18 per cent of the two-party vote to the Liberals' 48.82 per cent.

Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs casts her vote today. Picture: Rohan Thomson/Getty Images
Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs casts her vote today. Picture: Rohan Thomson/Getty Images

BARILARO'S BOLD CLAIM

As voting closed, NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro took to TV to declare he could have won the seat if he had chosen to run.

Speaking on a Sky News panel on Saturday evening, Mr Barilaro said he could have won.

Mr Barilaro, who was touted as a frontrunner before he pulled out, had been wooed by local Nationals members to reconsider. Instead, he asked former deputy mayor Trevor Hicks to put his hand up and the farmer won preselection.

Mr Barilaro said he believed he could have won. "I think so," he said.

"On the ground, I know I had wide support. I could have had a go at it."

It was widely speculated that Mr Barilaro had pulled out of the race after polls showed a victory was not assured.

He also said he believed the Liberals would win.

"I think the Libs will get there," he said on Sky News.

Sources close to Mr Barilaro also claimed he felt "unsupported" by Nationals leader Michael McCormack, who was rumoured to have encouraged NSW Liberal Transport Minister Andrew Constance to run.

Mr Constance also pulled out, with the Liberals later preselecting Mrs Kotvojs, an arch rival of Mr Barilaro, who has previously slammed her on Facebook after she posted a doctored image of former Eden-Monaro Labor MP Mike Kelly.

The post was put up after the federal election after Mr Kelly defeated Ms Kotvojs.

It said: "We gave Mike a close shave at the election, let's give him the full cut at the next".

Mr Barilaro commented, declaring the post "a disgrace".

The image was later removed.

Polling has put Labor slightly ahead of the Liberal Party in the historic vote, which was the first federal campaign of the COVID-19 era.

TEMPERS FLARE AT BY-ELECTION

A scuffle erupted in Eden Monaro over a provocative Liberal Party sign, with Australian Electoral Commission forced to intervene.

An eye witness at the Masonic Hall in Queanbeyan said the scuffle broke out after a Labor voter "punched the sign", resulting in a Liberal volunteer getting her hand caught in the A-frame.

"She screamed, and so the AEC came out," the eye witness said.

"Then there was pushing and shoving between Liberal volunteers and the voter.

"The AEC eventually moved him on."

It is understood officials directed the sign to be turned away from the street.

Supported by Liberal MPs Dave Sharma and Senator Zed Seselja, Dr Kotvojs cast her ballot shortly after 10am at Jerrabomberra Public School.

Earlier, in the coastal town of Merimbula, Labor's Kristy McBain cast her ballot alongside her husband and three children.

She said she hoped a fake email campaign claiming she had COVID-19 and had to pull out of the race didn't affect her party's chances.

Voting is underway in today’s by-election. Picture: Rohan Thomson/Getty Images
Voting is underway in today’s by-election. Picture: Rohan Thomson/Getty Images

EARLIER: Labor is on track to secure an "ugly win" in the Eden-Monaro by-election following a significant drop in primary support across the vast regional NSW electorate.

Preferences from the Greens and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party have likely delivered the seat to Labor candidate Kristy McBain, even as her party has suffered an estimated three per cent swing against it, in what was a very close shave for leader Anthony Albanese.

On two party preferred, Ms McBain is ahead with 51.04 per cent of the vote - an increase of 0.2 per cent compared to 2019, according to the latest count by the Australian Electoral Commission.

The Liberals' primary vote is up about 0.77 per cent compared to the last federal election, with candidate Dr Fiona Kotvojs securing a whopping 6.75 per cent swing toward her on two party preferred in a polling booth near her residence in Cobargo.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was criticised after his visit to Cobargo in the aftermath of the summer bushfires when he attempted to shake hands with several upset locals, with Labor using the footage in their election TV ads, however it does not appear to have impacted Liberal support.

Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon said the party was "not claiming the win yet".

"We are very cautious about that, but things are looking ... good for us, and they will continue to improve, I think, over the course of the balance of the counting," he told the ABC.

"It is a bit of an ugly win for us, I concede, but it is a win just the same. It was a difficult election for us."

Mr Fitzgibbon conceded the result shows the party needed to lift its first preference vote but was "never likely" to do that in the Eden-Monaro election where a first-time candidate was seeking to replace an extremely popular local MP in Mike Kelly.

"I have not campaigned alongside a better candidate than Kristy McBain, so we will have her again next time and she will have the opportunity to consolidate herself in the electorate and I have no doubt she will lift the vote the next time around," he said.

Mr Fitzgibbon, who is in the party's right faction, said Mr Albanese - from the left - "absolutely" would lead Labor to the next election.

"This was always going to be a closely run thing," he said. "(Mr Albanese) inherited a broken Labor Party after the 2019 election .. and he very quickly, having been elected unopposed, set upon a rebuilding process, and quickly began to take the Labor Party back to the sensible centre ground."

This morning, Prime Minister Scott Morrison thanked Dr Kotvojs on social media for her work during the by-election.

"It will be a while before the final results of the Eden Monaro by-election are determined," he said.

"For now I would like to thank our Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs for all her hard work and diligence during her campaign.

 

EARLIER: Eden-Monaro in the southeast corner of NSW is no ordinary seat.

The picturesque electorate, which takes in the agricultural centres of Yass and Bega, holiday hot spots such as Merimbula and Eden and bushfire devastated communities including Cobargo, has traditionally been a bellwether seat.

That means the party which wins Eden-Monaro traditionally wins government.

That was until 2016 when Labor's Mike Kelly bucked the trend.

With his early resignation, the history books will need to be updated again following today's by-election when either Labor's Kristy McBain or the Liberal's Fiona Kotvojs become the first woman to represent the seat in Canberra.

Labor Eden-Monaro candidate Kristy McBain. Picture: Andrew Taylor
Labor Eden-Monaro candidate Kristy McBain. Picture: Andrew Taylor

If the Liberals manage to claw back the seat from Labor, another record will fall as it will be the first time the Government has won a seat held by the Opposition in a by-election in 100 years.

Despite their political differences, former lawyer Kristy McBain and Oxfam director Fiona Kotvojs have a lot in common.

Both women grew up in the electorate but were forced to leave their families for tertiary studies - something they are passionate about fixing.

Dr Kotvojs and Ms McBain were both the first members of their families to go to university and both have supportive tradie husbands who have allowed them to chase their political dreams.

The recent fires which ripped through the electorate also gave both women a stronger drive to make sure their damaged community had a voice in Canberra.

Ms McBain, 37, was the Bega Valley mayor during the devastating summer bushfires which tore through her community. The mother-of-three spent day after day at the emergency operations centre working 18 hours a days as her community burnt to the ground.

"This is a community I have grown up in, I know people that have been impacted, I know people that were waiting for ambulances, you know people that are cut off and you know people who have just suffered the most horrible loss," she said.

"You are the person everyone wants information from and that made me realise how important local leadership was.

"If I wasn't calm during an evacuation meeting, would they have been calm? I highly doubt it. I was trying very hard to keep those very dark moments to the car."

Labor candidate for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain with Labor leader Anthony Albanese in Queanbeyan on June 13. Picture: AAP/Mick Tsikas
Labor candidate for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain with Labor leader Anthony Albanese in Queanbeyan on June 13. Picture: AAP/Mick Tsikas

On one of those rural properties, between Narooma and Cobargo, Dr Kotvojs and husband Alan made the decision to stay and defend their home as the fire swept through.

The couple managed to save their house but lost fences on their cattle and truffle farm at Dignams Creek.

"It got 20 metres from the front door and 30 metres from the back," she said.

"We had planned (to stay and defend) when we built because it wasn't a case of if the fires come through, but when."

A 20-minute drive to the south west of Dr Kotvojs's farm in Cobargo, locals gave Prime Minister Scott Morrison a hostile reception after his return from holidays in Hawaii which could shape today's election.

As mayor, Ms McBain had been in that town only hours earlier and believes Mr Morrison should have checked with her before visiting the devastated community.

"You have to gauge your community. The Prime Minister hadn't reached out and asked my opinion on him coming in or not. If he had've, I would have said it's really raw. These people at the showground are literally running out of their homes with what they have got on their backs," Ms McBain said.

Liberal candidate for the federal seat of Eden-Monaro, Fiona Kotvojs, campaigns in Queanbeyan. Picture: Sean Davey
Liberal candidate for the federal seat of Eden-Monaro, Fiona Kotvojs, campaigns in Queanbeyan. Picture: Sean Davey

While Labor goes into the race as slight favourite, Labor leader Anthony's Albanese leadership could come under pressure if Labor - which holds the seat by a wafer thin margin of 0.9 per cent - loses a seat under his watch.

Working in the Liberals favour is the Prime Minister's very high approval rating in the wake of the coronavirus. But as the pandemic eases and the painful economic impact of COVID-19 is felt, both sides know that the residents of Eden-Monaro crave the security of a job.

Dr Kotvojs, who spent eight years in the Army Reserve, believes keeping young people living and working in regional areas is "fixable" even post-pandemic.

Kristy McBain with her husband Brad and children Ruby, Max and Jack. Picture: Andrew Taylor
Kristy McBain with her husband Brad and children Ruby, Max and Jack. Picture: Andrew Taylor

"If you want to make changes and deal with serious issues, you have to take a long term perspective," Dr Kotvojs said.

The government is also spruiking its investment in the Snowy 2.0 project which will unlock more than 2000 regional jobs. But for Dr Kotvojs, whose straw-bale rammed earth house has compostable toilets and is off-the-grid, it's not about favouring any power-generation over another. Instead, she says it's "about getting the mix right".

"We have to have reliable energy and we have to have affordable energy," Dr Kotvojs said.

"It has to be all things … because there are people that last winter had their power disconnected because of the cost of it."

As the daughter of a coal worker, Ms McBain says she wants Australia to move towards a "cleaner greener economy" but believes there needs to be a transition plan for workers.

"There is no discussion about a plan for the future. How do we transition these jobs," Ms McBain said.

"If we don't you end up with a whole range more people getting work.

"We have to start talking about renewables and how they could potentially create more jobs."

Originally published as Who will win the Eden-Monaro by-election?

Liberal Eden-Monaro candidate Fiona Kotvojs. Picture: Sean Davey
Liberal Eden-Monaro candidate Fiona Kotvojs. Picture: Sean Davey

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