The battle in Aston is just getting voters to bother turning up

Both major parties are predicting a tight result in the crucial Aston byelection, with Labor’s hope of a history-making win hinging on whether it can convince apathetic voters to turn up to polling booths on Saturday.

On the eve of the election, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said he thinks the Liberal Party can retain the seat in Melbourne’s outer east but was predicting a close outcome when voters decide who will replace retiring MP Alan Tudge.

Labor’s candidate for the seat Mary Doyle (left) and Liberal candidate Roshena Campbell.

A last-minute blitz by Labor reminding Aston residents to vote is expected to be key to the outcome with pre-polling numbers down by more than 5 per cent, based on the same period in 2022.

Labor and Liberal party sources said a low voter turnout would help the Liberal Party with younger voters and transient voters, who are more inclined to vote Labor, less likely to cast a ballot.

One Labor campaigner, speaking to The Age on the condition of anonymity to discuss the party’s tactics, said they had changed their strategy in the final week of the campaign with an almost obsessive focus on encouraging people to vote.

“The biggest problem for Labor will be the turnout, but we’ve done everything we can to counter that.”

Regardless of the result, history will be made in Aston when polls close with Labor’s Mary Doyle or the Liberals Party’s Roshena Campbell set to become the first woman to represent the electorate, which takes in the suburbs of Wantirna, Bayswater, Boronia, Ferntree Gully, Rowville and Lysterfield.

The Liberal candidate for Aston, Roshena Campbell, has used Chinese social media platform WeChat in her bid to retain the mortgage belt seat for the Coalition.Credit:Eddie Jim

The Liberal Party held on to Aston at the last federal election in May, but saw its margin slashed from 10.1 per cent to 2.8 per cent following a backlash against former prime minister Scott Morrison and personal scandals surrounding Tudge.

Both the major parties have attempted to paint themselves as the underdogs ahead of the vote, with internal polling indicating a close outcome in the mortgage-belt electorate where both candidates have listed cost-of-living pressures as the primary concern for constituents.

A defeat for the Liberal Party would buck a century-old trend with no national government winning a seat from an opposition at a federal byelection since 1920.

Dutton, who visited the electorate for the fifth time on Friday, told Channel Nine, byelections are always close. “I think we get there, but it’s a tight race – as byelections always are,” he said.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is expected to campaign alongside Labor’s candidate for Aston Mary Doyle on Saturday.Credit:Joe Armao

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will visit Aston on Saturday, but ahead of polling day was talking down his party’s prospects telling ABC radio, “it’s very difficult and history tells us that that’s the case”. He said it would be “astonishing” if the Liberal Party didn’t win the seat with a two-party preferred result in the 60s.

Campaigning in Aston on Friday, where more than 14 per cent of residents have Chinese ancestry – almost three times higher than the national average – Dutton refused to criticise Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ secret trip to China, instead praising Chinese-Australians.

“China is an incredibly important trading partner for our country, and we have an incredible diaspora community here of Australians of Chinese heritage. They are people who have worked hard, they have educated their kids, they are entrepreneurial, they are working hard for their families, their community and their country, and they are wonderful Australians,” he said.

The comments signalled a shift in tone from the opposition leader whose hawkish anti-China rhetoric was partly blamed for deterring Chinese-Australians who turned on the Liberal Party at the federal election, in a trend that continued in last weekend’s NSW state election.

Labor has attempted to harness any anti-Coalition sentiment on Chinese social media platform WeChat with an article published on March 23 which said: “Sadly, the former Liberal government fuelled anti-Chinese rhetoric, cut off opportunities for local businesses, hindered our economic development, and divided communities rather than uniting residents.”

Labor also posted a letter from Foreign Minister Penny Wong to Aston residents, highlighting Labor’s efforts in “reshaping Australia’s position on the world stage” and “engaging with key trading partners”.

Monash University politics lecturer Dr Zareh Ghazarian said Aston would be the test of whether the Liberal Party could reconnect with voters who abandoned it at the last federal election.

Amid reports some Liberal MPs had started to question whether Dutton should continue to lead the party if the Liberals lost the seat, Ghazarian said a win to Labor would “put pressure on the leadership of Peter Dutton in the lead-up to the next election in 2025”.

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