John Alexander must feel like the player returning from injury who draws Roger Federer in the first round.
The reliable, if unspectacular grass court technician can still make it through, but he’ll have to be on his game. And then some.
Exaggeration? Perhaps. Kristina Keneally is not the world’s No.1 player, but there’s no doubt she’s a heavy hitter. An intimidating opponent with an established profile who must be taken very seriously.
The December 16 Bennelong byelection match-up between KK, as she’s become known, and JA as he was known on the professional tennis tour, is a political script worthy of Netflix.
It is an enticing pitch: a foreign national who renounced her American citizenship – but retained her accent – and rose to the highest office state politics offers, versus a doughty quintessential Aussie bloke who represented but turned out to have British allegiances. All of this to decide whether the government has a majority or not.
The suburban Sydney seat is set to become ground zero of n politics right up to the Christmas break.
Malcolm Turnbull can’t take a trick. Beset on all sides with an untidy cavalcade of resignations, subsequent High Court referrals, and the insurgency over marriage equality, he has once again has been outmanoeuvred by Bill Shorten on the politics.
Suddenly, a byelection that looked reasonably safe, even a formality given Alexander’s nearly 10 per cent buffer obtained in 2016, is anything but predictable.
Such moments are always difficult for governments especially in contestable metropolitan seats, and doubly so when the governments are unpopular.
But “unpopular” doesn’t convey the trench this government is in.
Shorten’s pitch when unveiling the former NSW premier – the first woman to hold that office – signalled the fight to come.
Labor hopes to make the race a referendum on the Turnbull government – a referendum on the now politically toxic NBN. A vote on the same-sex marriage betrayal some within the Coalition would have Turnbull undertake. A chance for voters to send a message to Canberra about anything and everything from flat wages growth, to the abolition of Sunday penalty rates, climate change and soaring energy costs, and any other grievance.
This is no New England byelection, where Barnaby Joyce faces certain return. In Bennelong, both sides are in it to win it. They will throw everything at it. It will get dirty and Keneally’s past links to notorious figures Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald will be mentioned. The former NSW premier is not without her baggage.
The Coalition must go in as clear favourite, but Labor has given itself an excellent chance of an upset win – one that would rock the Turnbull administration to its core.