News Item

Why the Eden-Monaro by-election is important for religious freedom

The upcoming 4 July by-election in the Federal seat of Eden-Monaro is of national significance for people of faith across the nation.

With Labor yet to take a position on Scott Morrison’s religious discrimination bill, a Liberal victory in the seat would provide more certainty for the passage of the legislation, which seeks to ensure religious freedom is protected for all Australians.

The seat is currently held by Labor with a margin of less than 1%. The by-election was sparked by the resignation of Mike Kelly MP, who is stepping down due to personal health issues relating to his service in the Australian Army.

The electorate covers a large area surrounding the Australian Capital Territory with the northern edge including the towns of Yass and Bungendore with Batlow and Tumbarumba are on the Western fringe. The Victorian border forms the southern edge. The eastern boundary follows the coast to include towns like Eden in the south to Bodalla further north before heading inland to skirt around the neighboring seat of Gilmore. The electorate includes in the Snowy River country, towns like Bega, and Cooma as well as the city of Queanbeyan which is only a short drive to the nation’s capital.

The most recent Essential poll puts Scott Morrison’s approval on a new high of 65% and disapproval to a new low of 26%, a reflection of his handling of the COVID-19 situation. Expectations should be tempered by the fact that no government has won a seat from an opposition at a by-election in 100 years. A win in this marginal seat would certainly be read as an affirmation of Morrison’s handling of the COVID-19 situation.

The seat is set to be hotly contested with the number of people and parties on the ballot already sitting on double digits. The Liberal Party has chosen Fiona Kotvojs as their candidate. She has some experience campaigning already, running as the Liberal candidate in Eden-Monaro in the last Federal election. She is a small businesswoman, farmer, Army reservist and spent over 10 years volunteering as a Lifeline counsellor. Ms Kotvojs is also a director of Oxfam.

The Labor party chose their candidate early on, handing the spot to small business owner and Bega mayor, Kristy McBain. She has the strong support of Labor leader Anthony Albanese who has highlighted her leadership role during the bushfire crisis. She has also been endorsed by pro-choice/abortion EMILY’s List.

The coalition initially engaged in some controversy with a raft of potential high-profile candidates including NSW Nationals Leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro, who announced he would run before quickly withdrawing. Liberal Party MP for Bega and Minister for Transport and Roads, Andrew Constance also announced before changing his mind. There was some speculation whether the National Party would in fact run against its coalition partner, but it is now is expected to name its candidate within days making this a three-corner race.

As the eyes of the nation turn to Eden-Monaro as a litmus test on leadership, let us pray that the voters of Eden-Monaro choose wisely.

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