There’ll be a lot to watch on Saturday

There’ll be a lot to watch on Saturday more besides Turnbull versus Shorten

The stakes for the Nationals in the seat of New England are extraordinarily high. Lukas Coch/AAP

Apart from the main game, watch for the drawcard contests on Saturday night.

Among them will be the performance of the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT), the battles in the Nationals’ seats of New England and Cowper, where high-profile players from the Gillard hung parliament are trying to come back, and the fate of Labor frontbencher David Feeney, being pressed by the Greens in Batman.

Nick Xenophon is looking at getting three South Australian senators and possibly one from some other state.

The big question is whether NXT will be able to break into the House of Representatives. Newspoll has NXT in South Australia at 27%, just behind Labor’s 28%, with the Coalition on 32%, while a poll done for the party has it at 24%, Labor on 26% and the Liberals at 36%.

NXT has been breathing down the neck of former minister Jamie Briggs, who had to quit the frontbench over an incident in a Hong Kong bar involving a public servant, and it is also doing well in the sprawling Liberal seat of Grey. With such high state-wide numbers, NXT is a potential threat in other seats.

If NXT did take Mayo or Grey it would be eroding the Coalition’s numbers, giving the government less of a buffer against Labor. A lower house win would mean NXT would become a player in negotiations in the event of a hung parliament.

In New England, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is the favourite against former independent member Tony Windsor.

The stakes for the Nationals in this seat are extraordinarily high. The strength of the minor partner in the Coalition depends substantially on the personal clout of the leader. So, if disaster struck Joyce, the party would be in serious disarray. Joyce only recently took over the leadership; there is no trained-up understudy waiting in the wings.

The New England contest has become willing and dirty. Windsor declared his wife was “deeply upset” by a Nationals ad that, he claimed, suggested he was having an affair (it didn’t, unless you had a pretty strange mind). The Australian reported someone he went to school with accusing Windsor of whipping him with a riding crop.

Earlier, Windsor sought to explain comments from a one-time supporter, who is now backing Joyce, by alluding to the man’s Vietnam war-related breakdown (subsequently Windsor apologised to the man).

The fight has become a honeypot for activists – from GetUp!, the maritime, teachers and nurses unions as well as the CFMEU, Animals Australia, and opponents of coal seam gas.

Joyce, who as leader has had to split his campaigning inside and outside the electorate, is spending most of the final week there.

Windsor announced his New England challenge early. His close ally in the hung parliament, Rob Oakeshott, left his declaration that he would run in Cowper until the very last minute.

Oakeshott, also an independent, was formerly the member for Lyne; like Windsor, he did not stand in 2013. He has followed the transfer of his home town of Port Macquarie to Cowper. The Nationals sitting member Luke Hartsuyker hasn’t been helped by being dumped from the ministry earlier this year.

At first Oakeshott’s candidacy was brushed aside, with some suggesting he was just lured by the public funding. But on recent polling the Nationals, given Oakeshott will get a good flow of preferences, are taking it seriously.

The Victorian regional electorate of Murray, vacated by the Liberals’ Sharman Stone, is a contest between the Liberals and Nationals. The Nationals are running former footballer Damian Drum, who left the Victorian parliament to contest the seat; the Liberal candidate, Duncan McGauchie, is a former adviser to the Baillieu government.

The neighbouring Indi, which former Liberal member Sophie Mirabella is attempting to reclaim, is generally regarded as safe for the incumbent, independent Cathy McGowan.

In the early part of this campaign a lot of attention centred on the Greens threat to a handful of Labor seats. Now that the Liberals are directing their preferences to Labor, the ALP seats are shored up. But Feeney’s Batman is considered still in play. The Greens already hold Melbourne.

Also worth watching out for on Saturday is the NSW seat of Eden-Monaro, which borders the ACT. Liberal Peter Hendy, one of those at the centre of the Turnbull coup – last-minute number-counting was done at a meeting in his Queanbeyan home – is trying to fend off Labor former member Mike Kelly. Eden-Monaro has been in the hands of the government of the day at every election since 1972, but there is speculation this could be the election when it loses that prized “bellwether” status.

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