Here’s what the Bennelong by-election means for the Government


Political heavyweights have been traipsing the streets and railway stations of Bennelong, decked out in campaign gear for either John Alexander or Kristina Keneally.

In multiple visits, Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten have covered a fair swathe of the 60-square-kilometre electorate.

Only four people have held the seat since it was proclaimed in 1949. But both sides think it is possible Kristina Keneally could become the fifth representative for Bennelong and that is what has sparked the flurry of political glad-handing.

The result in this seat will determine whether the Government keeps its working majority or has to deal with minority government.

What happens if Keneally wins?

If Ms Keneally wins Bennelong, the Government would lose its one-seat majority.

Labor's numbers would be boosted to 70 and the Coalition would fall to 75. That means Labor could defeat the Government on a vote if it had the backing of all five crossbenchers.

The Government would only have 74 votes to its opponents' 75, because the Speaker only votes in the case of a tie.

But even though the Coalition would no longer be assured of winning every vote, it could still govern.

Independent MP Cathy McGowanhas given an assurance she would not support a no-confidence motion and she would ensure it could pay its bills.

But on other legislation or motions, Ms McGowan is prepared to vote with Labor on a case-by-case basis.

Most recently the five crossbenchers — Bob Katter, Andrew Wilkie, Rebekha Sharkie, Ms McGowan and Adam Bandt — joined with Labor on the motion to refer MPs to the High Court.

So a Labor victory in Bennelong would mean that even if the Coalition applied super discipline to ensure every one of its MPs was in the chamber for every vote, it could still face some losses.

The Prime Minister has already said it would be a precarious situation for the Government.

What if Alexander wins?

If Mr Alexander wins Bennelong back, the Coalition will have 76 members and get its working majority back.

Labor would have 69 MPs and even if it convinced all five crossbenchers to join it on a vote, it could not defeat the Coalition because the numbers would be 75 to 74 — a tight, but still clear result.

But … how long before it all changes again?

More by-elections are possible.

Labor's David Feeney has been referred to the High Court to have his eligibility tested, meaning there is a possibility of a new contest in his extremely marginal seat of Batman in inner-Melbourne.

If that happened it could fall to the Greens, but in that case the crossbench would increase by one at the expense of Labor.

By early next year, even more MPs might be sent to the High Court, which could potentially order even more by-elections.

But that possibility is at least a few months away.

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