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Will Super Saturday be a Downer for the Government in Mayo?

The Mayo by-election will be a battle between Liberal political royalty and a popular independent.

South Australia is probably one of the most evenly distributed political jurisdictions in the country. Both major parties have safe seats and there are enough marginal seats to make the State a focal point during any federal election.

South Australians recently went to the polls in what was billed by the then Labor Premier as a 'referendum on renewable energy'. Unfortunately for Labor, people were tired of the blackouts and high power bills, and the Coalition was ushered to victory.

Ordinarily this would be good news for a Government facing a by-election in the South Australian seat of Mayo, sitting on a margin of just 5%. However, Mayo is not like most other seats.


Taking in the well-to-do areas of the Adelaide Hills down to the edge of Lake Alexandria and the coast south of Adelaide, Mayo has a high proportion of retirees and tree-change voters. While it does have a strong boutique agricultural sector, it's predominantly well-off commuters and people enjoying their sunset years.

Most believe Mayo to be a traditionally safe Liberal seat, with former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, holding the seat since its creation in 1984 until his retirement in 2008.

The reality is that while voters in Mayo have never backed Labor, they have often flirted with minor party and independent candidates.

In 1990 and again in 1998, the Democrats gave Downer a real scare, polling around 20% in both elections. At the 2008 by-election, the Liberals retained the seat by a slim margin with the Greens polling 21%. And in 2016, Nick Xenophon Team candidate Rebekha Sharkie finally took the seat away from the Liberals.

Rebekha Sharkie (Centre Alliance)

Rebekha Sharkie was swept up in the momentum of the Nick Xenophon Team at the 2016 election, however her popularity with voters stems from her strong community focus.

Born in the UK, the source of her constitutional conundrum, Sharkie has lived in the Adelaide Hills for many years. She started her career as an executive assistant in local law firms, moving to become a state political staffer in 2005.

Sharkie's passion to help local youth led her to take on the role of National Executive for Youth Connections, an organisation that helps homeless and underprivileged youth. She also holds the accolade of being the first ever female Chair of the Mount Torrens Soldier's Memorial.

The Labor and Greens this week placed Sharkie 2nd on their how to vote cards. This, combined with the strong grass roots, image that has connected with the hyper-parochial voters of Mayo, will make Sharkie very difficult to beat on 28 July.

Georgina Downer (LIB)

The Liberal Party is hoping South Australian political royalty will convince the voters of Mayo to return to the Coalition.

The Downer family has been synonymous with South Australian politics since the late 1800's. Georgina Downer's great grandfather was twice Premier of South Australia, her grandfather was Minister for Immigration and her father, Alexander, was Minister for Foreign Affairs under the Howard Government.

Downer's credentials are impressive, having achieved a masters in economics from the London School of Economics and serving as a diplomat in the Australian embassy in Tokyo.

True to her conservative roots, Downer was most recently a Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs.

There is no doubt that Downer has the credentials to become a highly successful politician. However, this by-election will likely turn on preferences whether voters believe Downer can meet them at a 'street level' and be a strong local representative.

Advoc8's prediction: Centre Alliance hold.

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