Mary Doyle started the campaign as a political underdog, but by the time she arrived at the Labor Party’s victory celebration at the Boronia Bowls Club on Saturday night she had become a political rock star.
The former trade union official had made political history by clawing back the once-safe Liberal seat of Aston after 33 years.
Cheers of “Mary, Mary, Mary” roared across the club in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs just before 9.30pm as Doyle arrived after observing the count from a nearby undisclosed location.
Supporters, after tucking into a dinner of roast meat, baked potatoes and salad, while they waited for Doyle to arrive cheered “she bloody did it!” and “come on Mary!”
Doyle, flanked by Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, hugged supporters as she made her way through the crowd to chants of “I love you Mary”.
“I’m a suburban mum and I’ve lived in the outer-eastern suburbs for more than 35 years. And as of tonight, I guess I’ll be the next Member for Aston,” a seemingly bemused Doyle told supporters.
“What we were trying to do hadn’t been done for 100 years, and Aston has been Liberal since Sinéad O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U was top of the charts way back in 1990.”
The federal byelection was triggered by the resignation of former Liberal cabinet minister Alan Tudge.
In a short interview with The Sunday Age and The Sun-Herald after her historic win, Doyle, who had her daughters Jamilah and Lily by her side, said was still processing the victory and was overwhelmed.
She became emotional as she reflected on her supporters, including those who approached her in shopping centres on the campaign trail, telling her that they connected with her.
“I felt a lot of that connection with people when I first stood last year,” Doyle said.
“I remember one man coming up to me and saying you just seem like a normal person, a real person.”
Doyle said she felt lost for words: “I’m ready to serve the people of Aston, absolutely. I’m just ready to go.”
Earlier, Doyle was overcome by emotion as she thanked volunteers for giving up their time to “make sure this area isn’t taken for granted by the Liberal Party”.
Doyle said Campbell had called her shortly earlier. “She was very gracious and I thank her for that and wish her all the best,” Doyle said.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who was in Tasmania as the results came through, congratulated Doyle on her victory and confirmed he would travel to Melbourne on Sunday morning.
Doyle also thanked Albanese, drawing parallels between her own upbringing and that of the Labor leader.
“I want to thank the bloke who, like me, was raised Catholic and grew up in public housing and also like me has excellent taste in music: the 31st prime minister of Australia Anthony Albanese,” she said.
“Anthony leads a government that Australians can truly be proud of, a government that has hit the ground running, trying to fix a decade of problems and neglect and scheming and rorting from the Coalition.”
The mood was sombre at the Liberal Party event at the Knox Italian Community Club in Rowville. Shortly after 9pm, failed Liberal candidate Roshena Campbell thanked leader Peter Dutton and former prime minister John Howard, and said a strong opposition was important for a healthy democracy.
Campbell said she felt “incredibly lucky to live in this country where we have a strong democracy”.
“I will always be proud to be a Liberal and I will always be proud to be Australian because we live in the greatest county in the world,” she said. “We will fight on.”
Dutton congratulated Doyle and thanked Campbell for her hard work in the campaign, saying the byelection was another “tough night” for the Liberals in Victoria. He promised to rebuild and said the party would “learn and grow stronger from today’s experience”.
“We have been out of government [in Victoria] 20 of the past 24 years. [There’s] a lot of work ahead of us to listen to the messages sent to us today from the people of Aston, but listen to them, we will,” Dutton said.
Liberal frontbencher Dan Tehan said the result was disappointing and that the party needed to present a “compelling case” to voters.
“We’ve got to make sure that we learn the lessons from tonight … and make sure that the next time we go to the Australian people, whether it’s a byelection or the general federal election that we’ve learnt those lessons,” he said.
“We’ve also got to understand that the Australian people give any new governments a chance and 10 months in that seems to be what we are seeing here tonight.”
Some Liberal figures at the election-night event were critical of those running the Victorian division, labelling them “freaks”.
Others blamed the week-long saga over Moira Deeming’s attempted expulsion from the state parliamentary team as a distraction after it was raised by Dutton in the federal partyroom.
A senior Victorian Liberal figure, speaking on the condition of anonymity, gave a scathing assessment of the Victorian division and declared state opposition leader John Pesutto’s push to expel Moira Deeming as a factor in the loss.
“We were talking about ourselves. It was handled poorly and they saw us as anti-Christian,” they said.
About 60 Liberal Party members and federal MPs, including Tehan and Jane Hume, gathered at the Knox Italian Community Club for Campbell’s election-night party shortly after 7pm.
The lacklustre event sparked up when footage of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews was beamed into the room, with attendees booing at images of Andrews returning from his trip to China.
Earlier, Brighton man John Sugunananthan spent the day volunteering for Labor at the Fairhills Primary School in Ferntree Gully before travelling to the Boronia Bowls Club.
Sugunananthan said he was compelled to volunteer at the byelection as he personally connected with Doyle’s campaign.
“I was raised by a single parent in government housing and I think Mary brings to politics the voice of the ordinary Australian,” he said.
“She brings lived experience and real understanding of struggle. That’s something that’s been missing from politics for a very long time in this country.”
In Ferntree Gully, 49-year-old small business owner Brett said he was in the Young Liberals when he was a university student but didn’t vote for Campbell as she wasn’t a local.
“You’ve got to have skin in the game and the candidate has to be from the local area,” he said.
“People aren’t stupid – they want to know you’re representing them and [that] you’ll be a local voice.