Many and varied goings-on

Apologies to those who missed their daily dose of the Poll Bludger’s penetrating psephological insights yesterday, which was my first posting-free day since August 27. I trust the following round-up of recent campaign updates from the federal election guide will demonstrate that I have not been entirely idle:

Brisbane (Qld, Labor 0.9%): For a candidate with no serious chance of winning, the National Party’s Nick Withycombe has been grabbing his fair share of headlines. The Nationals’ insistence on running here and in Rankin, intended to boost their profile in a Senate contest that pits them against the Liberals for the seat certain to be lost by One Nation, has set off one of the Queensland Coalition’s customary episodes of internal friction. Matters were further aggravated when Withycombe suggested the openly lesbian Liberal candidate Ingrid Tall would lose votes because of her sexuality, although some more suspicous folk have noted the convenience to the Coalition of having one candidate appealing to social liberals while the other appeals to conservatives. In the first week of the campaign a controversy erupted over Withycombe’s military record that will sound familiar to those following the American presidential race. The Courier Mail reported "senior Australian Defence Force sources" saying Withycombe’s claims to have been the first Australian soldier in Baghdad were "either untrue or grossly exaggerated". But a week later a "Department of Defence spokesman" was quoted saying "Brigadier Maurie McNairn has said publicly that Major Withycombe was the first Australian soldier to enter Baghdad during last year’s combat operations". Withycombe also claimed to be a victim of email hacking and a bogus phone call telling him a local candidates debate had been postponed. The debate proceeded without him, with Ingrid Tall being repeatedly shouted down by what she described as a "left-wing stacked audience".

Wentworth (NSW, Liberal 7.9%): As Antony Green points out, the key to the battle for Wentworth is not who wins first place or even second, but third. Should Malcolm Turnbull crash so badly enough that he ends up with the bronze, his preferences will give Peter King the edge over David Patch. If David Patch loses enough votes to Peter King that it’s him who comes third, his preferences will put King ahead of Turnbull. If Peter King takes third, the way his preferences divide will decide the issue between Turnbull and Patch. The polls suggest that Greens preferences will decide the contest between Patch and King, hence King’s newly discovered enthusiasm for the Tasmanian wilderness which led one wag at a door-stop to ask exactly how many old growth forests there were in his electorate (King may be confronting a contradiction with his efforts to stitch together a local coalition of pot-smoking tree-huggers and blue-rinse monarchist tories). Although most Greens voters ignore the how-to-vote card their preference recommendation will be very interesting. If Labor’s assessment is that King has a better chance of winning the seat than Patch, it’s arguably in their interest if the Greens favour King ahead of Patch as this will maximise the chances of keeping the seat out of Turnbull’s hands.

Kalgoorlie (WA, Liberal 4.4%): The death of Labor candidate Kevin Richards on Sunday left Labor with only four days to find a replacement. Among those who put their names forward were Megan Anwyl, who lost the state seat of Kalgoorlie against the trend of the February 2001 election that brought the Gallop Government to power; and, most interestingly, Labor-turned-independent state MP Larry Graham. Graham, who will retire from state politics at the coming election, held his seat of Pilbara at the 2001 election after losing preselection to an unpopular candidate backed by Left unions who again thwarted his bid on this occasion. Instead a deal has been brokered in which the nomination has gone to state upper house MP Tom Stephens, who will abandon his existing position on the understanding that he will be nominated for Graham’s seat of Pilbara for the imminent state election if unsuccessful on October 9. Stephens first entered parliament in 1982 and served in minor portfolios in the last months of the Lawrence Government, and major ones (including Housing and Local Government) since the Gallop Government came to power in February 2001.

Kennedy (Qld, Independent 8.3%): Last Thursday, Ian Gerard and Patricia Karvelas of The Australian reported that National Party polling showed "support for Mr Katter has dropped 15 per cent and, for the first time, he is coming second to the ALP’s Alan Nenilan (sic), followed by the Nationals’ Mr Doyle". The report cited concerns that Katter "represents only the fringe elements of Kennedy and does more harm than good for industries in the electorate", noting that "the north Queensland beef industry, a previously rich source of rural angst, is booming and One Nation has all but collapsed as a political force". One who thinks differently is Martin Tenni, north Queensland party executive member and former Bjelke-Petersen Government minister, whose letter to state president Terry Bolger reporting "one thing is definite, we cannot win Kennedy" was leaked to The Australian.

Stirling (WA, Labor 1.6%): In a crucial Perth suburban seat widely tipped as a Liberal gain, Labor member Jann McFarlane received unwelcome publicity when a talkback caller described by Michael Brissenden of the ABC as "a stay-at-home mum who just happened to have been conducting some timely internet research" asked a curly question about the impact of Labor’s tax policy on people like herself. McFarlane’s response – that Labor was "looking for where the disadvantage is and what we can do to adjust the policy" – was seized on by the Prime Minister who responded with his now-celebrated Hilton sisters impersonation. The following day Mark Latham had to concede that the caller would indeed be worse off; it was little comfort to Labor when she was revealed to be a Liberal Party activist.

Moreton (Qld, Liberal 2.5%): The prevailing local issue in this crucial Brisbane seat has been the Ipswich Motorway, a federally funded road which the Queensland Government wants widened, while the Federal Government’s preferred option has been to construct a "missing link" between Ipswich and Goodna to relieve pressure on the existing road. Few of the interested parties have been impressed by the Federal Government’s stance, and Roads Minister Jim Lloyd raised the possiblity early in the campaign that they might change their mind. The road also runs through the less marginal electorates of Oxley and Blair.

Bennelong (NSW, Liberal 7.8%): The contest for the Prime Minister’s seat has garnered more interest than it normally would due to the efforts of various "small-l" liberals aggrieved by the Howard Government’s eight years of accumulated political incorrectness. Chief among these has been John Valder, the former Liberal Party president who branded him a "war criminal" over Australia’s involvement in Iraq. To this end Valder has forged an alliance with left-wing journalist Margo Kingston that has co-opted the name of her best-selling tome of anti-Howard ramblings, Not Happy John.

Calare (NSW, Independent 25.0%): National Party candidate Robert Griffith appeared to ruffle a few feathers last week when he said independent incumbent Peter Andren’s electoral success was due to "ignorance with respect to the voters". He apparently meant that the voters were ignorant of what to his mind are Andren’s pro-Labor sympathies, saying locals "vote for a local guy that they like but still want the Government returned".

Mayo (SA, Liberal 14.3%): Brian Deegan, high-profile independent and would-be slayer of Alexander Downer, appeared to abandon any notion of extending his electoral appeal beyond the ideological fringe with his reaction to the Jakarta bombing, suggesting that the Australian Government "negotiate" with Jemaah Islamiah.

Corangamite (Vic, Liberal 5.4%): The Bracks Government’s announcement of $12 million in funding for safety upgrades on the Great Ocean Road last week was widely seen to indicate Labor’s high hopes for this seat, which covers the Victorian coast west of Melbourne.

Riverina (NSW, Nationals 19.9%): On Sunday morning two home-made bombs, apparently made of firecrackers and petrol, exploded in the garage of Victoria Brooks’ home in Wagga Wagga, destroying her car.

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.