Polls have closed in a byelection in Melbourne’s south-east to replace former premier Daniel Andrews in the seat of Mulgrave, as Labor braces for a swing against the government.
Eden Foster is defending Labor’s healthy 10.2 per cent margin on a two-party preferred basis. She took on nine challengers in the byelection that Andrews triggered when, in September, he resigned from the seat that he represented for more than 20 years.
Premier Jacinta Allan with Labor candidate for Mulgrave, Eden Foster.Credit: AAP
Polls closed at 6pm for counting to begin, with Foster tipped to be elected.
The 42-year-old clinical psychologist and the mayor of Dandenong grew up in Noble Park, which forms part of the electorate along with the suburbs of Mulgrave, Wheelers Hill, Springvale and Noble Park North.
Independent Ian Cook – and to a lesser extent the Liberal Party’s Courtney Mann, whose preferences benefited Cook — was seen as the biggest threat to a Labor victory.
While Andrews won comfortably in 2022 with a primary vote of 51 per cent, and 60.2 per cent after the distribution of preferences, byelections tend to swing against governments – particularly those that replace a former leader.
Independent candidate Ian Cook is again contesting the Mulgrave byelection.Credit: Eamon Gallagher
“As the results come in, no doubt there’ll be lots of analysis. We do know from history that byelections for governments can be challenging,” Premier Jacinta Allan conceded on Saturday at the Mulgrave Primary School voting centre.
Cook, who earned 18 per cent of primary votes in last year’s state election on an anti-corruption campaign against Andrews, had a partial victory this week in the ongoing “slug gate” saga.
The Supreme Court ruled former chief health officer Brett Sutton’s decision to shut down Cook’s catering company, I Cook Foods, over an alleged listeria outbreak was invalid because procedural fairness was not followed.
Expected low turnout in the byelection was adding to Labor’s nerves after electoral commissioner Sven Bluemmel said on Thursday that the number of early votes was below what was typically expected. About 47,000 people are registered to vote in the seat.
Courtney Mann is the Liberal Party’s candidate for the byelection.
Cook’s team on Wednesday complained that the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) had failed to advertise the byelection in culturally and linguistically diverse media after doorknocking households that were unaware the vote was taking place.
“We have similarly been notified by locals of the failure of the VEC to distribute any individual hard copy or ‘snail mail’ material to voters advising them of the byelection and requirement to vote,” the complaint to the commission said.
The Liberal Party was seeking to increase its primary vote with Mann, a 38-year-old political adviser raised in the electorate in Wheelers Hill.
A failure to lift support from 17.2 per cent – after bleeding votes to Cook at the last election – could destabilise Opposition Leader John Pesutto. The Liberals won the Warrandyte byelection in August, but Labor did not contest the seat.
Allan, who shrugged off suggestions the result was also a test of her new leadership, said Foster was a strong local candidate who was listening to the community concerns about cost of living and touted Labor policies on free TAFE and kinder as well as the new-look State Electricity Commission.
“Eden will bring a strong and powerful voice to the Victorian parliament on behalf of the Mulgrave community if Eden and the Labor team are fortunate to get through the byelection today,” she said.
Foster said cost of living had come up as an issue throughout the campaign and support for Andrews as local member had shone through.
“I have had many residents that have come in and said, ‘We’ve really loved the work Daniel Andrews has done in the community and for the community’,” Foster said.
Dandenong councillor Rhonda Garad was also contesting for the Greens. The Libertarian Party, Sustainable Australia Party – Stop Overdevelopment / Corruption, the Animal Justice Party and other independents were also in the race.
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