Labor’s ‘negative’ campaign will affect Fadden byelection: Dutton

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Opposition Leader Peter Dutton says Labor’s “negative” campaign over outgoing opposition frontbencher Stuart Robert’s involvement in robo-debt will affect the polls on Saturday as voters decide whether to retain the Liberal National Party in the Gold Coast seat of Fadden.

Federal Labor ministers have been out in force in the Queensland seat over the past week campaigning for nurse educator Letitia Del Fabbro, in the second of what could potentially be three byelections this year triggered by resignations of former Liberal ministers embroiled in previous and ongoing controversies.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said Labor’s focus on robo-debt will affect the result in Fadden.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

Del Fabbro stood next to Government Services Minister Bill Shorten on Tuesday as he admonished the Coalition over the “mass act of unlawfulness perpetrated on hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Australians”, following Friday’s scathing findings of the royal commission into the former government’s welfare crackdown.

Dutton, who is running a cost-of-living campaign against the government in the hope of keeping the seat in opposition hands, said during a press conference this morning that Labor would continue its “negative campaign” in the hope of winning the seat.

“We’ve expected that, it’s what they do. And will it have an impact? Well, of course it does. They don’t spend the money they do with the negative ads if it doesn’t have an impact, but I just say to people of Fadden that there is a better way,” Dutton said.

Gold Coast councillor Cameron Caldwell is the Liberal National candidate for Fadden, and is expected to win, albeit with a smaller margin than the 10.6 per cent claimed by Robert at the May 2022 federal election.

Former Morrison government minister Stuart Robert has resigned from parliament.Credit: Rhett Wyman

Queensland LNP members who spoke to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on the condition of anonymity said they expected a swing of between 3 and 4 per cent.

Facing repeated questions about the effect of the royal commission’s findings on the robo-debt scheme will have on Saturday’s result, Dutton said he believed people would “look forward” and not backwards.

“The candidate standing for the LNP in the Fadden byelection on Saturday is Cameron Caldwell. That’s the choice that people have to make on the weekend. They don’t get to change the government. But it is an opportunity to send a message to the government that the government’s not doing well enough,” he said.

Dutton has accused Labor of using the commission findings for political advantage in the byelection, after commissioner Catherine Holmes SC said the evidence suggested Robert, as government services minister in November 2019, did not immediately tell officials to stop the scheme when told of its unlawfulness.

She also said he went “well beyond supporting government policy” as a cabinet minister in defending the scheme despite knowing its flaws. Robert said on Friday that he welcomed the findings and he “worked hard” to shut down the program, adding he had not been referred for further legal action over his role in the scheme.

Dutton told 2GB radio station there were lessons to be learned from the findings before accusing the government of “using the byelection as an opportunity to try and get some political advantage out of this to swing voters, but I think people are smarter than that on the ground”.

Del Fabbro has also been accompanied in her election campaign by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, as well as Agriculture Minister Murray Watt and Immigration Minister Andrew Giles in recent days.

Robert’s resignation followed that of former Liberal minister Alan Tudge – who had been involved in an affair with his former staffer – earlier this year, with a byelection in the suburban Melbourne seat of Aston delivering another seat for Labor.

Speculation is swirling about former prime minister Scott Morrison’s exit from parliament, with the robo-debt findings heaping further debate over his political future after Holmes said he had allowed cabinet to be misled over the scheme’s lawfulness, which Morrison denies.

Dutton told 2GB “it’s a decision ultimately for the individual”.

“I think it’s Scott’s decision as to whether he stays or goes. He’s a good representative of his local community and he’ll make the decision that’s right for him,” he said.

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