The Leadership Implications Of Super Saturday For Turnbull And Shorten

Two men not even involved in the by-elections need good results

There are five seats up for grabs and a few dozen political hopefuls in the running to take up a new job in Canberra this weekend, but the results of the 'super Saturday' by-elections may seriously dent the future prospects of two men not even involved in the race.

Four of the five by-elections are Labor's to lose, but many will frame the results as a bellwether on both Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten.

Each man is battling his own various polling issues and trying to ignore barely-veiled mutterings about their grasp on each party's leadership.

Malcolm Turnbull with Longman candidate Trevor Ruthenberg (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)

A bad enough result on Saturday could spell doom for their aspirations, a good enough result could be the springboard to victory in the upcoming federal election due by mid-2019.

Both leaders face a mixed bag of polling results. Turnbull is far and away the more preferred Prime Minister, and Shorten's personal popularity ratings remain consistently sluggish.

However, Labor has enjoyed many months ahead on a two-party preferred count, maintaining a solid election-winning lead in the poll that really matters.

So while Turnbull is more popular than his party, Shorten's party is more popular than him.

Labor candidate Susan Lamb and Anthony Albanese campaign in Longman. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

What's more, the Member for Maribyrnong has popular people's choice Anthony Albanese breathing down his neck, with speculation the Sydney MP's recent moves -- talking up a more friendly attitude to business, hardening his stance on asylum seekers -- were to position himself as next in line should Shorten fall.

On Thursday, Albanese gave a " 100 per cent guarantee" he wouldn't challenge Shorten, but that's not saying he wouldn't grab the leadership if it suddenly became available.

Labor holds four of the five seats on offer at super Saturday. If they lose one or more -- it's possible, with Longman seeming ready to tip to the Coalition and Braddon also on a knife-edge -- the drumbeat will grow louder for Labor to consider dumping Shorten, whose personal popularity continues to crater.

Bill Shorten and Lamb (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Conversely, if Turnbull fails to lead his party to a win in at least one seat, the mutterings about his future will also grow.

The Liberals are hoping to capitalise on the controversy of Labor's dual citizenship crisis, and the recent drama around under-fire MP Emma Husar's expenses, so anything less than wrestling Longman or Braddon will be seen by many as a failure and a real missed opportunity.

Realistically, neither party is likely to dump its leader.

Labor has barely recovered from the farcical Rudd-Gillard-Rudd revolving door, and have spent the last few years trying to present a united, peaceful face under Shorten's leadership. Albanese has ruled out a leadership challenge, but it's unlikely Shorten would ever consider stepping down, effectively meaning he will almost certainly lead Labor the the next poll.

Turnbull with Mayo candidate Georgina Downer (AAP Image/David Mariuz)

Turnbull too has battled the demons associated with knifing a sitting Prime Minister, having come to the top job after deposing Tony Abbott. He too has used recent years to try and smooth things over, and the Liberals would be crazy to install a new leader just months from an election -- plus, Turnbull has the advantage of not having a ready-made replacement waiting in the wings. Perhaps by default, by lack of an option (because let's face it, neither Abbott nor Peter Dutton nor Scott Morrison nor anyone else in the senior party positions would boost the Liberal vote if they were installed as leader), he too will take his party to the poll.

But this all doesn't mean that a disappointing Saturday performance  won't be the albatross around their necks for a future poll, that it won't drag them down like lead weight and scupper their federal election campaign before it even begins.

A full national poll is due soon, and both major parties are using July 28 to practicing their moves for the big dance -- Labor pushing messages about healthcare, infrastructure and education, the Liberals talking up jobs, tax cuts and border protection, as well as fine-tuning their "kill Bill" message personally targeting Labor leader Shorten.

There are also whispers a good Liberal showing on super Saturday could entice Malcolm Turnbull to bring on a snap election later this year, to capitalise on a winning strategy and ride the momentum from a decent performance after endless months of bad polling and bad news.

There are five seats in play on Saturday, but everyone is looking forward to what will happen to two men not even involved in the fight.