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Eden Monaro By-Election Has National Implications

There are strong rumors in Canberra that the member for Eden-Monaro, Mike Kelly, is about to retire because of ill health. If this is the case then it could have national implications.

Mike Kelly is a highly respected Labor Member of Parliament who is popular in his electorate. He was previously a lawyer in the Army and reached the rank of colonel. He saw service in Somalia and Iraq, which is where he contracted his illness.

If Mr. Kelly retires next week it will leave a large hole in the Parliament. He was a very valued member of Parliament’s national security committees, where his knowledge of military and national security law was invaluable. He was also a hard-working member for his electorate, particularly in the post bush fire environment.

However, retirement is likely to have much bigger national implications. The ensuing by-election will become a de facto leadership contest between Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese. No government has won a seat from an opposition at a by-election in the last 100 years. Nevertheless, if the Prime Minister doesn’t win this by-election it will be seen as a blow to his authority. There is a good chance he will struggle because of residual resentments flowing from the bush fire.

Eden Monaro is a large electorate that runs from Queanbeyan next door to Canberra, down to the South Coast of NSW, all the way to the Victorian border and up to the ski fields and the Snowy Mountains.

Labor has not nominated a candidate to stand in place of Mr. Kelly for obvious reasons. It is likely that they will be looking for a popular candidate with bush fire credentials. Mr. Albanese will prefer to fight the contest on Mr. Morrison’s response to the bushfire rather than the way he has dealt with the Covid 19 pandemic which has garnered massive approval from the public.

On the other hand, the Coalition has a plethora of candidates who may run for the seat: the Nationals leader in NSW, John Bariloro; NSW Senator, former general, Jim Molan; and NSW Transport Minister, Andrew Constance.

Andrew Constance was a leader in the response to the bush fire. He lost his own home and became the spokesman for the people who had been damaged by the fire. However, he admits he was mentally damaged by the fires and is still fragile. Whether he is up to a highly contestable campaign must be the subject of doubt.

Jim Molan is strongly supported by the Queanbeyan branch of the Liberal Party whereas Andrew Constance gets his support from the coast. Senator Molan was also involved in fighting the bush fires, operating as a helicopter pilot. He would also be able to replace the national security knowledge that would be lost through Mike Kelly’s departure.

The most interesting candidate is John Barilaro. He is highly ambitious and has his sights set on the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack’s job. Barilaro is more assertive than the current leader of the Nationals. He has differed with the current federal deputy Nationals leader, David Littleproud, on water policy and has had differences with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

Barilaro’s policy stance is to protect farmers’ interests first, second, and last. He will not tug his forelock to the Prime Minister in the way Michael McCormack is criticized for doing.

He was a very popular mayor of Queanbeyan. He has fought battles for people of the high country by protecting brumbies in the mountains and fought a battle against the Murray Darling Basin Authority.

Eden Monaro has never had a Nationals member but John Barilaro could be a massive vote winner locally and nationally. Whether Scott Morrison can stand the pain is another question.

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