Malcolm Turnbull joined John Alexander in Ryde on by-election eve. (ABC News: Marco Catalano)
Australia’s political class is holding its breath today over the result of a crucial by-election, that could not only determine the future of a government but also the fate of its leader.
Polls indicate a tight contest in the Bennelong ballot, with even Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull conceding 100,000 people in Sydney will be casting judgment on his Government.
However, party strategists from both sides believe the Liberal Party has a slight upper hand in the ethnically diverse electorate.
“People will be casting a judgment on the Government, which I lead, of course,” Mr Turnbull told Melbourne radio station 3AW on Friday.
“[Losing] would reduce the Government down to 75 seats out of 150 in the House of Representatives.
“It certainly brings Bill Shorten one seat closer to being Prime Minister.”
Labor is hoping to capitalise on dissatisfaction with the Coalition Government.
“This really does give us the opportunity of sending a message to Malcolm Turnbull that the job he’s doing is just not good enough,” Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek told reporters on Friday.
Liberal candidate John Alexander quit Parliament last month amid the citizenship fiasco, worried he could be a British dual citizen.
His campaign has been hampered by allegations he delayed in revealing his constitutional concerns, and accusations the Coalition is running anti-China rhetoric in its attack on outgoing Labor senator Sam Dastyari.
The former tennis champ has also had to battle rumours he will retire at the next general election.
The Opposition rolled out star candidate Kristina Keneally in a bid to capitalise on the saga, however the Coalition has repeatedly attacked her record as premier of New South Wales.
The campaign has been dirty and personal, and the major parties have thrown masses of resources at the battle.
Tanya Plibersek was campaigning on the final day with Kristina Keneally. (ABC News: Marco Catalano)
The China factor
Bennelong’s large Asian population will be crucial in the vote.
Despite much being made of the Dastyari saga during the campaign, community leaders are quick to point out Chinese Australians are not a monolithic voting bloc.
“Our community is not really bothered too much about the international politics,” Tony Tang from the Ryde Community Forum told the ABC.
“We’re more concerned with local issues and policies.”
The electorate is also home to many Korean Australians.
“They’re not politically ‘I am Liberal supporter, I am Labor supporter’, they don’t want to do that,” Jason Koh of Korean language newspaper Hanho said.
“So a high proportion of them are swing voters.”
The electorate of Bennelong covers Sydney’s lower north shore, including the suburbs of Epping, Ryde and Eastwood.
At the 2016 election, Mr Alexander was returned to Parliament with a margin of almost 10 per cent.
But by-elections are often a significant reflection on the life of a government, and the loss of Bennelong would mean minority government for the Coalition.
Anecdotally, some voters seem to have warmed to Ms Keneally. They might have unpleasant memories of the final incarnation of the Labor state government she ran from December 2009 to March 2011, but they don’t blame her for it.
The sentiment is that she did her best in difficult circumstances.
There is also uncertainty about how much faith to put in to polling in Bennelong.
There are significant language barriers in the diverse electorate, and voters are sick of seemingly endless robocalls gauging public opinion that they are hanging up on pollsters.