Phoney war dispatches: calm before the storm edition

With the election appearing even more imminent than was realised, the Poll Bludger has abandoned sleep and meal breaks to complete his guide to the federal election, which when unveiled will be a colossal bonanza of fun facts and figures covering each of the 150 House of Representatives seats, plus a complete state-by-state run-down on all the Senate election action. If the wind blows in the right direction this should be with you within the fortnight. Once that blockage has worked its way through the system postings will proceed on an almost-daily basis, so do stay tuned.

The Daily Telegraph reported on Thursday that "an anonymous person or persons" had booked Sydney’s Wentworth Hotel, scene of the last three Liberal Party election night celebrations, for the evening of Saturday, August 7. However, "whomever made the booking indicated they would confirm or cancel by next Friday, May 28" – it will be clearer then if this was merely a red herring. Then on Channel Nine’s Sunday program, Laurie Oakes got straight down to business in an interview with National Party minister Larry Anthony, telling him "I understand you’ve made a six-week block-booking of highway billboards and advertising space in bus shelters, staring on July the 1st in your electorate". Anthony, who holds the crucial New South Wales marginal seat of Richmond, did not deny the booking but insisted that no significance should be attached it. August 7 is the last Saturday in the relevant six-week period.

• While last week’s Roy Morgan poll offered hope to Liberals wishing to argue that Newspoll had been an aberration and the Government really did get a fillip from the budget, an ACNielsen poll taken over the weekend has undoubtedly tipped the balance the other way. Optimists in the party are now pinning their faith on the notion that the dividend will not be yielded until the tax cuts and benefit payments hit wallets on July 1. In keeping with the general trend of post-budget polling the figures offered a contradictory mix of support for the budget (46 per cent saying it would be good for the country, 29 per cent saying bad) with declining support for the Government. The answer may be found in the 63 per cent of respondents (up 12 per cent) who said they considered the Iraq war unjustified, which strongly suggests the Abu Ghraib scandal to be a factor in all this. The Coalition was down three points to 39 per cent while Labor rose one to 43 per cent, with Labor’s two-party preferred vote reaching a formidable 56 per cent. It is well worth noting that the Greens gained 2 per cent to reach double figures. Howard’s approve-disapprove figures narrowed from 55-37 to 52-41, while Latham’s widened from 54-33 to 58-29. Howard’s lead as preferred prime minister has all but disappeared, from 50-41 last fortnight to 47-43 now.

• Labor received a welcome boost in its campaign for the crucial South Australian marginal seat of Makin with moralistic Liberal member Trish Draper in a spot of bother over revelations she had taken a boyfriend on an overseas trip at taxpayer expense in clear violation of the rules. Typically Labor are too scared about skeletons in their own closet to run with the issue, so its electoral impact is likely to be localised.
Also of potential significance in the Adelaide marginals (which also include Adelaide and Hindmarsh) was Mitsubishi’s decision this week to close its Lonsdale plant at a cost of 650 jobs over the next 18 months.

• Another ray of light for the Coalition could be Western Australia, home to an unpopular state Labor Government and three seats that could be won from Labor with swings of 2.1 per cent or less. The West Australian’s Westpoll, published today, suggested they may not be too far out of reach. This was despite figures on the budget that were at least as unfavourable as those of the other polls, with 30 per cent saying Labor could do better and only 9 per cent saying they couldn’t. Taken late last week from a rather thin sample of 404, the poll had Labor falling an implausible eight points from the 40 per cent it recorded the previous month, with the Coalition rising from 39 to 44 per cent.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.