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Arrest of former detainee throws curveball days before Dunkley by-election

Ellen RansleyNCA NewsWire
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Camera IconNot Supplied Credit: News Corp Australia

One of Anthony Albanese’s last chances of talking up his tax cuts in parliament before this Saturday’s by-election was overwhelmed by controversy after the arrest of released detainee.

Labor backbenchers may have kept the dixers coming during Question Time on how every Australian will benefit from the new-look stage three package that cleared the Senate this week, but the Coalition’s questions were dominated by news a former immigration detainee had been arrested in Victoria on sex offences.

The 43-year-old man was one of the cohort of 149 people released after the landmark NZYQ High Court decision late last year, that has left the government open to attacks over its handling of the case.

QUESTION TIME
Camera IconPrime Minister Anthony Albanese fielded dixers on tax cuts during Question Time while the Coalition hounded the government on immigration. NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman Credit: News Corp Australia

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In a twist just two hours later, Victoria Police announced they would be withdrawing the charges against the man who was charged on Wednesday with stalking and assault.

But it was too late for the government after a terse question time, as the political fallout from the arrest dominated the afternoon news cycle on the last sitting day of the session.

The Coalition has for weeks been prosecuting the argument that Labor is “weak” on immigration, and used the arrest to pepper the government with questions on.

Immigration Minister Andrew Giles fielded repeated questions, including why he had not used his powers to re-detain the person and “protect the two Victorian women”.

QUESTION TIME
Camera IconImmigration Minister Andrew Giles fielded a number of questions on the NZYQ cohort. NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman Credit: News Corp Australia

“I want to be very clear, that I am not in a position, and I will not comment on any individual case, because I will not risk prejudice to any court proceedings,” he said.

The Coalition also asked the Prime Minister whether he had full confidence in the minister – to which he said only “yes”.

Mr Albanese will try to recover some of the lost ground when he campaigns in Dunkley on Friday, alongside Labor’s candidate Jodie Belyea.

Both parties are downplaying their expectations in the outer-Melbourne seat won for Labor in 2022 by the late Peta Murphy with a margin of 6.3 per cent.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said on Thursday he would consider it a win if Liberal candidate Nathan Conroy stripped at least three per cent that margin.

In the weeks leading up to the Dunkley by-election, right-wing group Advance has been running advertising undermining Labor’s performance on community safety.

It was expected the group would seize on the latest arrest to mount a last-ditch attempt to thump Labor at the polls.

The Coalition will do the same, with Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley taking to X immediately after Question Time wrapped up.

PRIME MINISTER FRANKSTON
Camera IconLabor is tempering expectations, but believes Jodie Belyea could hold on to the seat. NCA NewsWire / Nicki Connolly Credit: News Corp Australia

“If you live in Frankston and you’ve got a problem with Victorian women being assaulted by foreign criminals, vote against Labor,” she wrote.

“If you do not want to see Australian women being assaulted by foreign criminals, vote against Labor.

“Send Labor a message.”

The latest Newspoll from earlier this week found Labor’s changes to stage three had done little to bolster the government, with their primary vote slipping to 33 per cent to the Coalition’s 36 per cent.

Separate MyGov and YouGov polls on Monday both found the Liberals were leading Labor 51 per cent to 49 per cent on a two-party basis in Dunkley.

Both Mr Albanese and Mr Dutton downplayed their expectations during their party room meetings this week.

The Coalition appears happy to settle for a swing of between three and four per cent, while Mr Albanese suggested Labor was prepared for a swing of up to seven per cent.

Originally published as Arrest of former detainee throws curveball days before Dunkley by-election

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