The federal opposition has responded to the government’s criticism of their recent by-election win, framing their victory as a response to the increasing cost of living under the Labor party. Cameron Caldwell, a former Gold Coast City councillor, emerged as the clear winner of the seat of Fadden for the Liberal National Party (LNP) in a field of 12 candidates, including Labor’s Letitia Del Fabbro.
Caldwell, whose campaign centered on the cost of living, expressed his confidence in the LNP’s direction and pledged to return the party to government. The Australian Electoral Commission data showed a 2.5 percent swing to the LNP on a two-party preferred basis, solidifying the seat as a stronghold for the coalition.
Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles was quick to downplay the significance of the LNP’s win, describing it as “pretty lethargic” and suggesting it did not bode well for coalition leader Peter Dutton. Marles emphasized that the cost of living had been a prominent focus for the government since taking office, dismissing the notion that Dutton, a Queenslander, would derive any comfort from the result.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers also weighed in, noting that the LNP had underperformed in comparison to the historical average swing of four percent against a sitting government in a by-election. He pointed out that Fadden was a strong LNP territory and highlighted the substantial campaign expenditure disparity, with the LNP outspending Labor tenfold.
However, Deputy Leader Sussan Ley offered a contrasting perspective, hailing the result as a resounding endorsement for Caldwell and the Queensland LNP. Ley anticipated that postal and pre-poll votes would further favor their party. She acknowledged the influence of cost of living concerns during the campaign, asserting that it sent a strong message to Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese about the impact of his policies on everyday Australians.
The newly elected Caldwell will replace former minister Stuart Robert, who resigned from federal parliament in April. The Labor Party had sought to exploit Robert’s association with the robodebt scandal that plagued the previous coalition government. Robodebt refers to the unlawful debt recovery program that wrongly saddled almost 500,000 welfare recipients with substantial Centrelink debts between 2015 and 2019.
In her concession speech, Del Fabbro acknowledged that winning Fadden had always been an uphill battle for Labor and considered their performance to be a significant achievement. She emphasized the importance of not taking the Gold Coast for granted, delivering a message to the LNP.
The seat of Fadden has historically been a stronghold for the LNP, with Labor having won it only once in 1983 during the election of the Hawke government. As the LNP celebrates its victory, the opposition intends to build on the issues of cost of living that resonated with voters, pushing for policies that address the anxieties surrounding the future affordability for ordinary Australians.