Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull could lose house majority in key by-election

Citizenship crisis, which has forced eight lawmakers to resign so far, has put the ruling Liberal-National coalition neck and neck with opposition Labor

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 November, 2017, 7:26pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 November, 2017, 11:14pm

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is at risk of losing his one-seat parliamentary majority with a new poll showing the ruling Liberal-National coalition running neck and neck with the opposition Labor Party in a by-election in the Bennelong district of Sydney to be held on December 16.  

The by-election came after incumbent Liberal MP John Alexander resigned because of doubts over his citizenship status amid a dual-nationality crisis that has caused eight lawmakers to resign.

A Galaxy Poll published in The Daily Telegraph on Saturday showed Alexander, who is running to regain the seat after renouncing British citizenship, locked at 50-50 on a two-party preferred basis with Labor candidate Kristina Keneally, a former New South Wales premier and high-profile political commentator.

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Keneally’s popularity, combined with dissatisfaction with the performance of Turnbull’s government, has seen Labor’s support in Bennelong surge 10 per cent from its 2016 election showing, Galaxy Managing Director David Briggs told The Telegraph. Alexander won the seat in 2016 with a near 60-40 split on a two-party preferred basis.

Defeat to Labor in Bennelong would reduce Turnbull’s coalition to 75 seats in the lower house of parliament, with Labor rising to 70 seats and five other seats held by Greens and Independents.

The coalition is also fighting a by-election in the northern New South Wales constituency of New England, where National Party leader Barnaby Joyce resigned after discovering he held New Zealand citizenship. Joyce is expected to win the seat back comfortably. The New England by-election will be held on December 2.

The major parties have agreed to require lawmakers to publicly disclose their citizenship history and whether they believe they may be dual nationals by December 1. Those in doubt would be referred to the High Court, potentially creating the need for more special elections next year.