AusPol: Explaining the Dunkley By-Election


Voters in the outer Melbourne electorate of Dunkley will be headed to the polls on March 2, electing the successor to former Labor MP Peta Murphy. Retaining Dunkley is vital to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, as his government clings onto a thin parliamentary majority.

Albanese’s Labor Party currently only holds 77 seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives, a narrow one above the majority threshold. Should Labor fall below a majority, it could be forced to negotiate with the crossbench to pass legislation in the House.

A Labor defeat in Dunkley would empower Liberal leader Peter Dutton, leaving the Albanese government in a vulnerable position ahead of the next election. The Liberal Party has attacked the government on its handling of the economy, and has been growing in support at Labor’s expense.

The by-election was triggered by the death of incumbent Peta Murphy, a popular MP who passed away from breast cancer in December last year.


Jodie Belyea (left) with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (right). Credit: Anthony Albanese, via X[1]


Hoping to bank on her popularity, Labor have selected Jodie Belyea as their candidate. An ally of the late MP, Belyea has been presented by Anthony Albanese as a continuation of Murphy’s legacy,[2] and boasts a similar profile as a women’s activist.

Challenging her will be the Liberal Party’s Nathan Conroy, the thirty-one-year-old mayor of Frankston, and an Irish immigrant. Amid falling approval for the Albanese government, Conroy, along with Liberal leader Peter Dutton, will be hoping to defeat Labor here in Dunkley, to prove that the Liberals can topple the government at the next election.


Electorate profile

Dunkley sits on a 6.3 per cent margin, and was previously held by the Liberals from 1996 to 2016. In 2019, Murphy flipped the seat after redistricting, and consolidated her hold over it in 2022.

Lying in southern outer-metropolitan Melbourne, Dunkley extends down to the Mornington Peninsula. Frankston is the commercial centre of the electorate, and is home to a large working-class population.

A map of Dunkley. Credit: the Australian Electoral Commission[3]


In the south of Dunkley are the wealthier suburbs of Mount Eliza and Frankston South, where the Liberal Party tends to do well with high-income voters.

In contrast, the north is dominated by the suburbs of Carrum Downs and Frankston North, which are home to an abundance of lower to middle-income earners.[4] These two suburbs make up the ‘mortgage belt’, which designates suburbs with high rates of home mortgaging.

Other suburbs in Dunkley include Langwarrin, Langwarrin South, Sandhurst, Seaford, and Skye.



As we outlined in our coverage of the Aston by-election, by-elections are limited to a single electorate, and are triggered by an incumbent MP’s resignation, removal from office, or death, as is the case in Dunkley.

Due to the national attention placed on by-elections, as well as low turnout, they are typically an outlet for enthusiastic voters to vent their frustrations with an incumbent government.


Liberal Party advertising boards at the early voting centre in Frankston.


The ABC’s chief election analyst Antony Green finds that the average by-election swing against Labor governments within Labor seats is 8.2 per cent, which poses a concern for Labor, as it leaves Dunkley in play for the Liberal Party.

Subsequently, the parties contesting Dunkley have been aggressively campaigning in the seat. Farrago spoke to campaign volunteers from multiple parties at the Frankston early voting centre, who mostly came from other seats like Higgins, Isaacs, and even as far as Ballarat.


The Stage 3 tax cuts

Labor’s chances of holding the seat hinge on whether voters are convinced that the government has adequately addressed cost-of-living issues.

In a uComms poll, 79 per cent of Dunkley residents reported incomes growths slower than the cost of living, while a leaked Labor internal poll reported that the cost of living was the primary concern of voters at 69 per cent.

To ease cost-of-living pressures, Labor has amended the Morrison government’s Stage 3 tax cuts, effective July 1, which have been altered to give more to lower and middle-income earners. uComms found that 66.3 per cent of Dunkley residents supported the government’s amendments, compared to 28.1 per cent opposed. Other polls have reported a similar amount of support nationally.


Nathan Conroy (left) with Liberal leader Peter Dutton (right). Credit: Peter Dutton, via Facebook[5]


While the Liberal Party has reluctantly backed Labor’s amendments, Liberal leaders have accused Labor of breaking a promise, on the basis of its pledge not to scrap Stage 3.

Most national opinion polls have not shown a boost in support for Labor for its Stage 3 overhaul, and voters have soured on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, posing a concern for Labor nationally.

To Labor’s benefit however, a new Painted Dog Research poll found that Dunkley voters rated Albanese as a better economic manager than Liberal leader Peter Dutton by 20 per cent, while Albanese was rated as more trustworthy than Dutton 46 per cent to 17 per cent.



The Liberal Party has also found an ally in Advance, a right-wing lobby group who gained notoriety for their contribution to the Voice to Parliament referendum’s ‘no’ campaign. Dunkley voters rejected the Voice by 5.8 per cent in the October referendum, and Advance will be hoping that Dunkley will once again deal a blow to the government at the ballot box.

Advance has significantly outspent the Liberal Party on social media advertising, according to The Guardian, and advertising trucks delivering anti-Labor messages, dubbed ‘truth trucks’, have become symbolic of Advance’s influence in Dunkley.


A parked truth truck. “Inflation, interest rates, broken promises. Send Labor a message,” it reads.


In emails to party members, Labor National President Wayne Swan has warned about Advance’s campaign, calling for public funding to combat their ad flurry.

“We’ve got a great local team on the ground putting in the hours to make sure Labor holds Dunkley, but this development puts it at real risk,” Swan said.


Other candidates

Via preference flows, minor candidates will also be crucial in determining Dunkley’s winner. uComms’ poll found that 12.8 per cent of Dunkley residents would vote for a minor candidate. Out of the 17 per cent undecided, 46 per cent leaned towards a minor candidate, and preferenced Labor over the Liberals by 17 per cent.

Most candidates contesting Dunkley have also urged voters to preference Labor over the Liberal Party. The Greens, the Animal Justice Party, and the Victorian Socialists are all directing their preferences to Labor. Also backing Labor is ‘For Every Child’, another lobby group who have campaigned on increased funding for public schools.


‘For Every Child’ advertising boards urging voters to vote on public school funding in the by-election.


Only independent candidate Darren Bergwerf and the Libertarian Party have directed their preferences towards the Liberals. The Australian Democrats have not directed preference flows towards any party.


Labor is narrowly favoured to win

Retaining Dunkley will not be an easy task for Labor, but it is still narrowly favoured to win. According to RedBridge’s Kos Samaras and Tony Barry, Labor’s Stage 3 overhaul has helped it in Dunkley, while the Liberal Party will face an uphill battle trying to overcome a 6.3 per cent margin.

Samaras thinks that Dunkley will be decided by the mortgage belt, where low and middle-income earners are the most affected by cost-of-living pressures.

“Eighty per cent of borrowers in Carrum Downs are suffering from negative cash-flow,” Samaras notes. “We have yet to see what that looks like at the ballot box.”

Opinion polls currently favour Labor, with uComms showing Labor winning Dunkley by two per cent, as does Labor’s leaked internal poll. On the other hand, YouGov shows the Liberals leading by one per cent, with a 6.1 per cent margin of error.

Not so differently, Painted Dog Research shows Labor leading the Liberals 34 per cent to 24 per cent. However, with 26 per cent undecided, the potential for a Liberal upset looms over Dunkley, pending the party’s ability to win over undecided voters.

This article was initially published on Friday 1 March via Instagram.

[2] “I’m proud that Jodie is working hard to continue Peta’s legacy… Jodie met Peta through her work for a not-for-profit organisation that supports local women doing it tough. I know Jodie will build on Peta’s legacy.”

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