Election date entrails examined

As anyone who has heard a news report in the last 24 hours will be aware, speculation is rife that John Howard will call an election tomorrow for October 9. While this would mean an unusually long election campaign, the theory is that he will be willing to risk it out of desperation to head off an aimless two week session of parliament with the legislative decks already cleared and the Senate waiting to rake through the children overboard affair. The rumblings began on Wednesday when Liam Bartlett of ABC Radio in Perth pressed Howard on the question of whether parliament would resume on Monday, to which he would only reply that it was "scheduled to". Yesterday he told an ABC interviewer in Tasmania he would be leaving for Canberra rather than his usual destination of Sydney, perhaps suggesting he was planning a visit to Yarralumla.

More cutely, the Launceston Examiner reported on Wednesday that Liberal candidate for Bass Michael Ferguson had campaign posters up around the electorate – which, under Launceston City Council’s rather strange rules governing such things, will see him fined if an election is not held within two months. At The Age, Olympics reporter Geoff McLure read great significance into a request to the Australian Olympic Committee from the Prime Minister’s office for a pronunciation guide for the names of all Australian gold medallists, to be provided no later than Sunday morning.

For all the weight of evidence, the Poll Bludger is not so sure. Rational alternative explanations are available for each of the substantial matters raised above. Howard’s unilluminating remarks are wholly consistent with his established straight bat approach in which he sticks to factual statements that leave all his options open. The plane flight to Canberra rather than Sydney also leaves his options open, while sparing him another journey to attend parliament on Monday. As for a new session of parliament, Laura Tingle and Sophie Morris of the Australian Financial Review said yesterday that the "decks" were less "cleared" than most imagined, reporting "the government has set an ambitious agenda for legislation in federal parliament next week", which "will be dominated by issues on which the government still believes it can ‘wedge’ Labor, from school funding to the additional private health insurance rebate for seniors announced earlier this week". Howard might also be tempted by the notion that Labor will end up chasing its tail on the children overboard issue, perhaps associating themselves too closely with indignant histrionics from the Greens and Democrats in the Senate. Most likely he will go over internal polling today and baulk at going early, instead hoping to somehow swing momentum back in the Government’s favour during the coming session of parliament.

If he needed another reason to hold off, Roy Morgan today provided it – their fortnightly face-to-face poll of 2000-odd respondents showed Labor headed for a landslide victory. The Coalition’s primary vote was down to 39 per cent, their worst showing since the peak of Mark Latham’s honeymoon period in February, although Labor’s rating of 43.5 per cent was no better than their average over the past six months. The two-party preferred split had Labor on a commanding 55.5 per cent, although this gives them 70 per cent of the preferences from minor parties and independents, an unreasonable figure despite the Greens recording their best performance since March with 9 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.