Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Liberal candidate for Bennelong John Alexander arrive at a press conference at Epping in Sydney, Friday, December 15, 2017.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Liberal candidate for Bennelong John Alexander arrive at a press conference at Epping in Sydney, Friday, December 15, 2017. AAP Image - Mick Tsikas

Poll: Libs have Bennelong licked (just)

THE race between Kristina Keneally and former tennis champ John Alexander has tightened in the final days of the campaign, with the latest polling pointing to a wafer-thin victory by the Liberal Party in the crucial Bennelong by-election.

But there is still the potential for an upset at the polls today, driven by anger in the Chinese community over Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's aggressive rhetoric on foreign interference.

If exercised at the polling booths, that anger would demolish Malcolm Turnbull's majority government.

An exclusive YouGov Galaxy poll, conducted for The Saturday Telegraph in the past three days, shows the Liberal Party should scrape through to win the seat by a slim margin of 51 per cent to Labor's 49 per cent, with preferences from Liberal defector Cory Bernardi's party.

But the result is precarious and senior Liberal and Labor strategists concede it could go either way.

Labor candidate Kristina Keneally gets a kiss from Smarty outside the Epping railway station on the last day of campaigning in the Bennelong by-election. Picture: John Feder/The Australian.
Labor candidate Kristina Keneally gets a kiss from Smarty outside the Epping railway station on the last day of campaigning in the Bennelong by-election. Picture: John Feder/The Australian.

The poll of 524 Bennelong voters on Wednesday and Thursday nights predicts a 9 per cent swing away from the government, with Mr Turnbull admitting the stakes are high for him personally.

Protestors disrupt a press call with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal Candidate for Bennelong John Alexander at Putney today. Picture: Tim Hunter
Protestors disrupt a press call with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal Candidate for Bennelong John Alexander at Putney today. Picture: Tim Hunter

"People will be casting a judgment on the government, which I lead, of course," he said. "Confidence in my leadership is a matter for the Liberal party room and of course on the floor of the house.

"We would no longer have an absolute majority in the House of Representatives.

"This is why there is so much at stake."

Ms Keneally campaigns on Friday — also at Epping train station.
Ms Keneally campaigns on Friday — also at Epping train station.

The poll comes as The Daily Telegraph can reveal Labor spent $250,000 on the Bennelong campaign, excluding the union spend, compared with the Liberals' spend of close to $1 million.

The Galaxy poll gives Mr Alexander a narrow lead over Ms Keneally of just two percentage points, with a primary vote of 40 per cent.

Mr Alexander campaigns at Epping train station on Friday morning.
Mr Alexander campaigns at Epping train station on Friday morning.

The Greens received 8 per cent of the primary vote, Mr Bernardi's Australian Conservatives Party's 25-year-old candidate Joram Richa secured 7 per cent and the Christian Democratic Party scored 3 per cent.

Galaxy's David Briggs said a "very close" result is expected in the by-election.

"Primary support for John Alexander has plummeted since the last election but he is likely to be returned with the help of preferences from the Australian Conservatives and Christian Democratic Party candidates," he said.

Ms Keneally appears with Deputy Leader of the Opposition Tanya Plibersek at Epping on Friday.
Ms Keneally appears with Deputy Leader of the Opposition Tanya Plibersek at Epping on Friday.

"Primary support for sitting member John Alexander has plummeted by more than 10 percentage points since the election last year and now stands at 40 per cent.

"In contrast, Kristina Keneally is almost 10 percentage points higher than the vote achieved by Labor candidate Lyndal Howison at the last election."

If Mr Alexander loses the by-election, Mr Turnbull will lose his majority in the House of Representatives, with the Coalition holding 75 out of 150 seats.

The Prime Minister said this week a win for Ms Keneally "certainly brings Bill Shorten one seat closer to being Prime Minister. Australia cannot afford that."

Labor's strategy relied on direct voter contact through their 4000 volunteers during the campaign, while the Liberal Party had robo-calls from former prime minister John Howard and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, phone calls to voters, advertising and multiple direct mail outs.

Labor NSW general secretary Kaila Murnain said 9000 people were needed to switch their vote from the last election.

She said the Liberal campaign had been the most personal attack on a candidate she had ever seen.

"This is the dirtiest personal campaign I've ever seen from the Liberals," she said.

"They didn't talk about issues, Medicare, NBN, they've avoided talking about schools altogether and just attacked Kristina personally. I have never seen a prime minister every day get up and personally attack a local candidate."

Ms Murnain said Ms Keneally had been the ideal candidate - with a strong public profile and hard work ethic.

She said she is concerned that voter turnout will be low in the week before Christmas, with a $50 fine failing to act as an incentive to get people to the booths.



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