Don’t count Shorten out, despite what the you read in the headlines.
Don’t count Shorten out, despite what the you read in the headlines.

Three reasons Albo won’t take on Shorten

THE "Super Saturday" by-elections are a month away and, in the shadows of the last sitting week of Parliament before these half a million Australian voters cast their ballots, there's lots of talk of outcomes and consequences in Canberra.

It's mainly aimed at Labor which, according to the conventional wisdom and the punditry, has the most to lose. And there's nowhere else where the pressure is greater than in the outer-suburban and semirural seat of Longman, an hour up the Bruce Highway from Brisbane.

After Labor's Susan Lamb snatched it from the LNP's Wyatt Roy - winning by a few thousand votes on the back of One Nation preferences - she kept out of the spotlight until it was turned on her during the citizenship debacle that swept through Parliament last year.

Lamb lost her seat and is now recontesting it at one of the July 28 by-elections.

But it's not just her fate that rests on the outcome. Her leader Bill Shorten will be praying she can repel the LNP's Trevor Ruthenberg because, if she doesn't, the Labor leader's job could be on the line.

It's a 50/50 contest and every vote is going to be crucial.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, Shadow Minister for Communication Michelle Rowland and Labor's candidate for Longman Susan Lamb visit the Morayfield Health Hub in the seat of Longman. (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, Shadow Minister for Communication Michelle Rowland and Labor's candidate for Longman Susan Lamb visit the Morayfield Health Hub in the seat of Longman. (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)

Labor is also under pressure in the Tasmanian seat of Braddon, in the Apple Isle's far northwest.

The Liberals are facing their toughest fight in the Adelaide Hills seat of Mayo where a gamble on the Downer name looks like busting.

In Mayo, former Nick Xenophon MP Rebekha Sharkie has returned to recontest the seat after losing her spot and having to get her citizenship in order.

Mayo was the ancestral seat of the Downer family - held for 24 years by Alexander Downer who went on to be Australia's longest-serving Foreign Minister.

However, it doesn't look like the Downer magic has stood the test of time. Alexander's daughter Georgina is standing after studying at Melbourne University and working in Victoria after holding a range of Foreign Affairs posts.

Her long absence from Adelaide has not stood her in good stead and the latest ReachTEL poll gives Sharkie a towering lead of 62 per cent to 38 per cent on a two-party preferred basis.

The Liberal primary vote is languishing in the low 30s and, if repeated on July 28, will send shudders through the ranks of many Coalition MPs already looking nervously at their futures.

Braddon is seen as the seat the Liberals might pick up - but because of local circumstances rather than any national sentiment.

The Tasmanian economy is in better shape than it's been for decades and the State Government, led by the popular and competent Will Hodgman, was elected on the back of a strong
5.3 per cent swing just four months ago.

The former Liberal MP Brett Whiteley is standing again and is regarded as still being popular in the electorate.

It might be a tough job to overturn a century of electoral history and have a government win a by-election from the opposition but a Liberal victory is seen as better than even money.

The real contest will be in the Queensland seat of Longman where Lamb is back in the hunt against the LNP's Trevor Ruthenberg, who was the state member for Sandgate in the brief Campbell Newman era.

Longman LNP candidate Trevor Ruthenberg with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)
Longman LNP candidate Trevor Ruthenberg with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)

Longman looks like what the latest poll says it is: 50/50 on the two- party vote. The Australia Institute poll taken late last week gave Labor's Lamb 39.1 per cent of the primary vote and Ruthenberg just 34.9 per cent.

One Nation scored 14.4 per cent of the vote in the ReachTEL poll, which is a significant improvement on the 2016 election outcome when Pauline Hanson's party managed 9.4 per cent. In many recent elections - particularly in Western Australian and Queensland state polls - One Nation underperformed on polling day, which means a slice of that 14 per cent could evaporate in a month's time.

If that happens, where those votes go will be crucial to the outcome in Longman. The latest poll gave Labor and the LNP 50 per cent each after a distribution of preferences, which shows just how much the two parties need every extra vote.

If Labor loses there will be plenty of attention on Shorten's position as leader - reflecting the fact he remains personally unpopular despite the ALP maintaining a record-winning streak in the national opinion polls.

Some not-at-all-subtle positioning by Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese has kept his name in the headlines. Whether he can parlay that into a challenge or a bid for the leadership is another thing.

Three things are against an Albanese move. He has maintained to everyone who has spoken to him about this that he would "never" challenge Shorten which means, if true, there won't be a direct contest.

As one Labor insider insisted, you'd have to amass all of North Korea's nuclear arsenal to dislodge Shorten. "He's not going anywhere," we are told.

Second, Kevin Rudd's changes to the rules to change leaders mean any move would be complicated and difficult - and subject to a rush to the polls by a government wanting to capitalise on Labor divisions.

Third, Shorten has one skill above any other. He can muster and use the numbers better than anyone in his generation.

Don't count Shorten out, despite what the you read in the headlines.

Dennis Atkins is The Courier-Mail's national affairs editor. Don't miss Dennis Atkins and Malcolm Farr's politics podcast Two Grumpy Hacks available for free on iTunes or Soundcloud or wherever you get your favourite listening