Crime, aspiration and the underdog status: Albanese and Dutton make final pitches in tight Dunkley race

<span>Anthony Albanese describes the Labor candidate for Dunkley, Jodie Belyea (to his right), as ‘someone who will carry on Peta Murphy’s legacy’ in the electorate.</span><span>Photograph: Morgan Hancock/AAP</span>
Anthony Albanese describes the Labor candidate for Dunkley, Jodie Belyea (to his right), as ‘someone who will carry on Peta Murphy’s legacy’ in the electorate.Photograph: Morgan Hancock/AAP

According to Peter Dutton and Anthony Albanese, the battle for Dunkley will either come down to law and order, or tax cuts and the legacy of the late MP Peta Murphy.

As the tight race to win Saturday’s byelection turned to a sprint, the two leaders descended on Frankston to make their final pitches to voters on Friday – though neither would admit that its political importance goes well beyond Melbourne’s south-eastern fringe.

First up, at the home ground of the Frankston Dolphins football club, was Dutton, who described the poll as an opportunity for voters to “send a message” to the Labor government for “failing” to get on top cost-of-living and crime.

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“If people here in Dunkley are worried about law and order issues, if you’re worried about crime, the last person you want to vote for is Anthony Albanese,” the opposition leader said, standing alongside the Liberal candidate for Dunkley, Nathan Conroy, and supporters clad in blue.

He doubled down on the opposition’s question time attacks on the government over a person charged after they were released from immigration detention – even though Victoria police have admitted they got the wrong man and withdrawing charges.

Dutton also continued to blame Albanese for the release of 149 “hardened criminals” – despite it being a binding ruling of the high court – and backed a tweet by Liberal MP Sussan Ley urging voters in Dunkley concerned about alleged assaults by “foreign criminals” against “Victorian women” to vote against Labor.

“It’s clear that the government has made the community less safe by releasing these people,” he said.

Conroy described voters in Dunkley as being scared.

“People are sleeping with weapons next to themselves and there’s a lady in Carrum Downs – burgled twice in the last month – has just got a camera and she’s more nervous now waiting for that alert to ping on her phone,” he said.

“This shouldn’t happen in Australia in 2024.”

‘Get things done’

Meanwhile, Albanese spoke from the home of Frankston & District Netball Association, joined by supporters in red, after posing for photos with cafe workers in Frankston and then visiting an early voting centre in Carrum Downs.

Albanese said the brand-new netball facility was “physical evidence” of how effective Murphy was as a “local champion”.

Instead of offering a message to Canberra, the prime minister said voters in Dunkley could send a local representative “who can get things done as a voice in my government”.

“Not just be another bloke, sitting behind all the other blokes on Peter Dutton’s team, opposing everything, being negative about everything, running fear campaigns,” Albanese said.

“This will be a tight result. But I’m confident that we have the right policies, that we have the best candidate and that we have in Jodie Belyea, someone who will carry on Peta Murphy’s legacy as a strong voice for Dunkley.”

He said Labor’s changes to stage three tax cuts would provide tangible cost of living relief for low- and middle-income earners but not punish high income earners.

“We understand the aspiration isn’t something that just applies to people who are politicians and people above $200,000 [salaries] a year,” Albanese said.

“Aspiration is something that all Australian families have … people want and aspire to something better for their kids.”

He did not rule out further relief in May’s budget.

Claiming the underdog status

The Liberals claim Conroy was the “underdog” in the byelection, which was triggered by Murphy’s death from cancer in late 2023. The Labor MP had been elected in 2019 on a two-party preferred margin of 2.7%, later increasing it to 6.3% at the 2022 election.

“[It is] a very, very significant margin,” Dutton said.

Despite the attempt to lower expectations, the byelection has been seen as a critical test of the opposition leader’s electoral strategy of focusing on outer-suburban and regional seats to help him win office next year.

Meanwhile, for Labor, it has been seen as a chance to turn its recent fortunes around.

But there was one thing both leaders agreed on – a tight result.

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Albanese noted that since 1983, the average swing against governments in government-held seats in byelections was 7.1%. He compared the latest poll to the wipe-out John Howard faced at the Ryan byelection in 2001, where Labor gained the seat with a 9.7% swing away from the government.

“It was very much a safe Liberal state [and] John Howard went on to win elections,” he said.

But Dutton is giving Labor a much smaller buffer.

“If there is a 3% swing against the government, particularly given there was an over 6% swing to the government in Aston only a matter of months ago,” he said.

“That would be a devastating result for the prime minister.”