Shake it to the right

The Poll Bludger suspects that a proportion of his audience groans with dismay when he devotes a post to the upper house. Those thus inclined are asked to perservere with today’s sermon because it relates to that highly topical barbecue stopper, the prospects for Family First. A nugget of information that had earlier escaped notice was this article from Colleen Egan in the Sunday Times, reporting that Liberal internal polling has the new party tracking at 4 to 5 per cent in some areas. This site’s previous predictions for the upper house were based on the assumption that Family First would not greatly improve upon its Western Australian Senate vote of 0.85 per cent. Clearly this underestimated the party’s political sophistication, a lesson which should really have sunk in by now.

The reason Family First did not poll well in Western Australia was that it made no effort to, having correctly concluded that a Senate outcome of three Liberal, two Labor and one Greens was all but certain. This prompted it to devote its finite resources elsewhere, to great effect. Now that it faces the more realistic prospect of winning seats in the Legislative Council, the state branch has sprung into action. In its sights are the two regions that return seven rather than five members, South West and North Metropolitan, and perhaps also the five-member region of Agricultural. As Egan reports, the party has demonstrated its astuteness by targeting South West through regional television ads and North Metropolitan through suburban newspapers. In these areas, Family First could well manage the more plausible lower end of the 4 to 5 per cent range cited by Egan. This could be enough to deliver a seat at Labor’s expense in North Metropolitan, and to put them in the running in the other two regions.

Equally importantly, it could mean that their preferences save the day for One Nation-turned-New Country incumbents Frank Hough in Agricultural and Paddy Embry in South West. Embry will be further boosted by the occupant of second place on his party ticket, former Western Australian Farmers’ Federation president Colin Nicholls (a situation echoed in Mining and Pastoral where One Nation-turned-independent member John Fischer is joined by former federal member Graeme Campbell). If that can push his vote up to near double figures, a solid bloc of Family First preferences could be enough to deliver Embry a 12.5 per cent quota. Previously I had assumed that One Nation’s decision to put their former colleagues last would prove the death knell for all three. But if Family First performs well, and if the joint tickets of Paddy Embry/Colin Nicholls and John Fischer/Graeme Campbell prove as appealing as one might expect, there will be little of the right-wing vote left over for One Nation, which for the first time will be identified on ballot papers without the "Pauline Hanson" prefix.

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.