Coalition hopes to exorcise the ghost of Scott Morrison as Cook goes to the polls

<span>Liberal candidate for the seat of Cook, Simon Kennedy (left), with Scott Morrison early last month.</span><span>Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP</span>
Liberal candidate for the seat of Cook, Simon Kennedy (left), with Scott Morrison early last month.Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP

The Liberal party will be hoping to the exorcise the ghost of Scott Morrison on Saturday as voters in Sydney’s south go to the polls to elect his replacement.

The byelection in the seat of Cook, which comes after Morrison announced his resignation from politics in January, is almost certain to be won by the Liberal candidate Simon Kennedy.

Nonetheless, the seat – which has been held by the Liberals by a comfortable margin since 1975 – has six candidates running, including members of the Greens, the Animal Justice party, the Libertarians, Sustainable Australia and an independent. Labor is not fielding a candidate.

Kennedy, a management consultant and former partner at McKinsey, was preselected for the seat in March despite speculation that the party might preselect a woman for the seat – something Morrison said he hoped might happen.

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Kennedy contested the seat of Bennelong, John Howard’s former electorate, in the 2022 election, losing to Labor. He moved from Maroubra, in the city’s east, ahead of that contest, and moved again – from Maroubra to Woolaware in the Cook electorate – after he was preselected, though not in time to register to vote in the byelection.

For his party, this is a chance to shake off Morrison’s fraught reputation and turn a new leaf, Dr Kevin Bonham, an election analyst, said.

“These days defeated prime ministers don’t tend to hang around and it’s been a nuisance having him there for as long as he’s been there,” he told AAP.

“It’s good for [the Liberals] to have him out of the way, have a new member in, and get on with things.”

The former prime minister has sat on the opposition backbench since his party lost power in 2022 in an election that many commentators thought was lost in large part due to Morrison’s unpopularity, particularly in inner-city seats.

The fallout from his leadership has lingered well after Morrison was ousted from the top job.

In August 2022, it was revealed he had appointed himself minister of health, home affairs, treasury, industry and finance during the Covid-19 pandemic, sometimes without the knowledge of the minister in charge of the portfolio.

While byelections are often seen as a gauge of general political feeling and the chance for a protest vote against an incumbent government, Saturday’s results are unlikely to tell us much, says Bonham, given Labor have not fielded a candidate.

“The margins in these byelections that are not contested by both major parties are meaningless,” he said.

Without a Labor candidate, voter turnout is also expected to drop, which has raised concerns at the Australian Electoral Commission.

Early voting numbers were down 11.2% compared with the 2022 federal election and 13% compared with the Indigenous voice referendum, according to AEC data released on Thursday.

Postal vote applications, which closed on Wednesday, are also down slightly, leading to the AEC to launch a huge campaign to engage Cook voters and remind them that voting in this byelection is compulsory.

“We’ve sent every Cook household an official guide, we’re advertising, we’re sending text messages and emails, we’re also on social media regularly and in discussion with media representatives … it’s more communication for a single byelection than we’ve ever done,” the AEC wrote on social media platform X.

Australia’s electoral commissioner, Tom Rogers, urged constituents to vote and reminded them that failure to do so could result in a fine and “will mean you have no say on who represents you in parliament”.

AAP contributed to this report