It’s been a tough year for Malcolm Turnbull but with two by-election wins under his belt, his colleagues believe he has secured his prime ministership heading into a potential 2019 election.
Liberal John Alexander retained his Bennelong seat on Saturday, defeating former Labor premier Kristina Keneally, and restoring the government’s one-seat majority in the House of Representatives.
Just weeks earlier Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was returned to his seat of New England, with the two outcomes putting to rest the citizenship crisis for now.
Mr Turnbull insists he’s heard the message from the voters of Bennelong in particular, who hit the government with a more than five per cent swing away from Mr Alexander.
“We hear, and we hear with humility, that the message is from the people of Bennelong to get on with the job, get on and deliver,” the prime minister told reporters on Sunday.
“We have got a lot of work in progress.”
He cited the government’s new childcare subsidy arrangements and small and medium business tax cuts – both of which passed parliament earlier this year but come into effect next year – and its plan for a new energy policy.
Senior Labor frontbencher Tony Burke said Mr Turnbull and others in the coalition appeared to have received no message at all from the Bennelong voters.
The swing seen there would be big enough to throw the coalition out of office in a general election.
“If … they say to the people, ‘we haven’t heard anything from you, the only message we’re hearing is that you love us,’ then they’re unlikely to shift where the public is currently at,” Mr Burke told ABC television.
“Their view is that this is an endorsement that they are already doing everything right.”
He said the next general election would be hard but he was buoyed by the fact one-in-eight people who voted Liberal in Bennelong a year ago switched to Labor on Saturday.
“Certainly there are enough people willing to change their votes that with the right work and the right policy, we can get there,” he said.
Labor colleague Ed Husic agreed it was a very big result for his party and if replicated in the next election, a safe Liberal seat like Kooyong – held by Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg – would be reduced to a marginal seat.
“To have these type of swings in safe Liberal seats, there will be a lot of nervous eye twitches and collar-pulling into 2018,” Mr Husic told Sky News.
Junior federal minister Craig Laundy believes the government must now focus on the economy.
“Next year becomes a knock-em-down, drag-em-out discussion about the economy … I’ll take that fight every day of the week and twice on Sunday,” Mr Laundy told Sky News on Sunday.
He said the economy was enjoying strong employment growth, and as company profits grew that would also flow to employees’ wages.
“I think the message is starting to cut through but I think we still have a lot of work to do selling that message,” he said.
He expects the government will go full-term into 2019.
Asked if Mr Turnbull’s leadership was secure for the term, Mr Laundy simply said: “Yes.”