As test-runs go, Saturday wasn’t great for Malcolm Turnbull.
It’s true that no government has won a by-election from an opposition in 98 years, but the Liberals felt they were actually close in Braddon and Longman.
Clearly the message of economic growth and job creation wasn’t enough in those marginal, working-class seats.
“We will look very seriously and thoughtfully and humbly at the way in which voters have responded,” the prime minister said on Sunday.
That could mean dumping the unpopular corporate tax cuts, which seem unlikely to pass the Senate anyway.
Turnbull says the government is committed to cutting tax rates for big businesses, but he stopped short of promising to take it to the next election.
Not going ahead with the tax cuts would mean money to fund health spending, potentially neutralising Labor’s strongest attack.
Bill Shorten found something that worked in Queensland, delivering a strong primary vote for Labor while demolishing the Liberal National vote.
He consistently focused on the Caboolture hospital – not just an important health care centre, but also a major employer.
“My candidates are more fair dinkum than their candidates, and my policies are more fair dinkum than their policies,” Shorten said, explaining his victories.
If the swing to Labor is repeated across other marginal Queensland seats, Shorten will be prime minister next year.
But the federal election campaign will be a different beast.
Labor, the unions and GetUp were able to focus their considerable campaigning machine on just two seats – in May they will be fighting for many more marginals, spreading those resources thinner.
The coalition may also learn a lesson about choosing better candidates, rather then relying on rehashed failed MPs and famous family names.
And the decision to personally attack a popular Braddon independent candidate backfired when he publicly endorsed Labor.
The Braddon misfire is especially costly, as success in that winnable poll on Saturday would have changed the entire narrative.
But the Longman demolition hurts the prime minister more in the long term, as it shows the significance of voting changes in Queensland.
Turnbull will have to be serious about humbly listening and changing tack if he expects to avoid handing over the keys to the Lodge’s new tenants next year.