Roshena Campbell embodies Peter Dutton’s conservative vision

The night before Wednesday morning’s press conference, Dutton voted for Campbell in a secret ballot (which she won by a big margin) of top Liberal officials. His attendance at a meeting of the Victorian party’s administrative committee was seen as unusual and illustrated the importance of the byelection, in which a convincing win would assert his authority as opposition leader.


“If Labor does win the seat it will be an indication of the terrible state of the Liberal Party in Victoria,” ABC election analyst Antony Green said, highlighting the rarity of an opposition party losing a seat in a byelection.

Though Aston remains perhaps the most conservative seat in metropolitan Melbourne – described by a Liberal strategist as most akin to a western Sydney or suburban Brisbane seat – there are signs it is becoming more progressive.

Younger families are moving into cheaper suburbs like Bayswater, the Greens vote rose by 4 percentage points at the last election, and – though not a perfect guide – Labor would have won the seat if November’s state election results were extrapolated over the region covered by Aston.

These factors present a risk for Dutton, whose attacks on Labor’s climate change policies prompted Albanese to claim last week that Dutton had failed to learn the lessons of the 2022 election when progressive independents cleared out the Liberals’ moderate wing.

Dutton and Campbell’s rhetoric on Wednesday was designed, in part, to target the large rump of Aston electors who backed right-wing microparties at the last election, whose votes will be crucial.

More than 11 per cent of Aston voters supported the Liberal Democrats, United Australia Party or One Nation. About 65 per cent of preferences flowed back to the Liberal Party, meaning a significant proportion bled away from the Liberals.

As it stands, only one of those parties, One Nation, is registered to contest the election. A spokesperson for the party – which received more than 6 per cent of the vote in May – confirmed it would contest the byelection.

But several minor party sources told The Age up to three conservative parties were discussing supporting a like-minded candidate to stand in the seat, with preferences expected to flow back to the Liberal Party.


While it isn’t registered by the AEC, the Conservative Party – an offshoot of Civil Society Australia run by perennial right-wing candidate Vern Hughes – is backing volunteer community radio presenter Mark Gardner as an independent.

Former Liberal candidate Vasan Srinivasan, who heads the Victorian Indian Community Centre in the seat of Aston, said Campbell’s preselection was a proud moment for the Indian diaspora.

“We are the second-largest community in Australia, and it’s an amazing opportunity for us to be represented and to show our attachment to Australia,” he said.

He explained that while newer Indian migrants were favouring suburbs in Melbourne’s west, many Indian families who arrived in Australia in the 1980s and 1990s settled in and around Aston, where nearly 15 per cent of voters had Chinese heritage.

One federal Liberal MP, speaking anonymously to provide frank views, said Campbell should “win it in a canter”. “She’s obviously a very impressive woman … [but] she will still have to get the branch members on side.”

Neither major party candidate, including Labor’s Mary Doyle, lives in Aston, but Campbell has pledged to do so should she win.

Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.

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