Nationals leader David Littleproud says the Liberal Party needs to learn lessons from its historic by-election defeat but attacked Labor for engaging in “character assassination”.
The Liberal Party suffered a more than six per cent swing against it on Saturday to lose Aston in Melbourne’s outer-east – a seat it had held since 1990.
Mary Doyle’s victory for Labor marked the first time since 1920 a government has won a seat from the opposition at a by-election.
Mr Littleproud told Sky News Australia’s Laura Jayes on Monday while he was cautious about what advice he was willing to give the National Party’s Coalition partner in the wake of the defeat, there were a number of factors that contributed to the loss.
He cited the Victorian Liberal Party’s handling of the Moira Deeming suspension in the week of the by-election, the decision to parachute candidate Roshena Campbell into the seat from Melbourne’s inner-north and the fact voters have faced three elections within a year.
Liberal MP Alan Tudge resigned from Parliament in February less than nine months into his latest term, and there was also a Victorian state election in late November.
“I think there’s some big lessons here for the Liberal Party and while being the Nationals leader, I don’t want to give too much advice, but you don’t have to go too far past the cluster that was the Victorian Liberal Party last week in dealing with Moira Deeming,” Mr Littleproud said.
“It was untidy, and whatever resemblance of respect the brand had in Victoria was lost during that week.
“I think the fact also that the people of Aston were asked to vote three times in the last 10 months didn’t help.
“And effectively they had a candidate that was parachuted in and no matter how good she was – and I think she was a very credible candidate – the electorate wants someone that’s local. That’s a local champion that’s connected to their community.”
Ms Doyle also does not live in the electorate but argued in the lead-up to by-election day she was “a mum from the outer-eastern suburbs”.
Mr Littleproud also claimed Labor had been successful in carrying out a “character assassination” of Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and Ms Campbell.
“I think when you look at what the Prime Minister had been saying in parliament and then the literature that they were putting out into the electorate that it was a character assassination of Peter Dutton,” he said.
“I think Australians expect more of their politicians now.
“And the prime minister said he’ll bring a kinder, gentler parliament, that we should have a constructive debate in elections, like was experienced in New South Wales.”
During the by-election campaign, Mr Albanese took a swipe at Ms Campbell for not being from the area and compared Mr Dutton to a character from Winnie the Pooh.
Corflutes were also displayed around Aston emblazoned with a message that said “Peter Dutton was voted the worst health minister in 40 years”.
Mr Littleproud said last month’s NSW election – where both Liberal and Labor leaders were praised for their conduct – should be how elections are fought.
“Chris Minns and Dominic Perrottet fought on ideas – not on personalities or character assassination. And I think we, as politicians, need to do better because that’s why the Australian people don’t like politicians,” he said.
“When you’re trying to bring down an individual on character assassination. That’s not we should be doing a notion of the prime minister of this country. That’s an exalted position in society.
“And I think the Labor Party, while it might have achieved what it was looking for, I don’t think it’s advanced the narrative of federal politics any any further as a result.”
Mr Dutton on Sunday admitted to “failing” his own test and accepted responsibility for the by-election loss.
“We didn’t win the seat, so by definition, we have a lot of work to do. I accept responsibility and I’m the leader of the party,” he told ABC’s Insiders.
“We’ve failed that test… Now, the question is how we rebuild from here, the policies that we have, the brand rebuilding that we need to do in Victoria and it is a very significant issue for us.”
Labor now has 78 seats in the House of Representatives, while the Coalition has been reduced to 56 seats.