One-horse race

Labor’s easy win in the Werriwa by-election is unlikely to go down as a watershed in Australian political history, but it provides a nice fillip for Kim Beazley by offering a contrast to the Cunningham debacle under Simon Crean. It will also enhance the prestige of others associated with the campaign, specifically New South Wales ALP general secretary Mark Arbib, subject of this revealing article by Mark Steketee in Wednesday’s Australian. Bumping aside Brenton Banfield from preselection may or may not have been a stroke of genius, but it was clearly astute to install another local in his place however little known he may have been. Labor was able to trade off the fact with newspaper advertisements noting that 10 of Chris Hayes’ 15 rivals lived outside the electorate (one as far away as Double Bay), which succeeded in tarring the other five with the same brush. For large numbers of unengaged voters, the perception that Hayes faced a cast of opportunistic blow-ins provided the prompt that was needed to make up their minds.

At the close of the evening’s count Chris Hayes emerged with 55.3 per cent, 2.7 per cent more than Mark Latham managed (the "2.01%" swing recorded by the Australian Electoral Commission suggests pre-polls and absentee votes ran against Labor last time). The other 15 candidates all finished well short of 10 per cent, with unofficial Liberal candidate James Young leading the field on just 7.9 per cent. There were vaguely noteworthy performances from the Greens’ Ben Raue, up from 3.1 per cent to 5.7 per cent, and Janey Woodger of Australians Against Further Immigration, whose 4.8 per cent was assisted by the donkey vote but might also have been boosted by recent talk of importing workers to cover skills shortages.

The Christian parties scored an impressive 8.2 per cent between them, Family First outperforming Fred Nile’s Christian Democrats with 4.3 per cent of the vote. Despite the influence of the 2000-strong congregation of the Liverpool Christian Life Centre, the Family First vote comes as something of a surprise. Neither party contested Werriwa at the federal election, but as Bryan Palmer of Palmer’s Oz Politics notes, the "mainstream protestant" Christian Democratic Party performed far better in New South Wales than the "Pentecostal-aligned" Family First. In Werriwa, the Senate vote was 2.4 per cent for the CDP against a mere 0.6 per cent for Family First. The 5.2 per cent who came on board for the by-election would presumably have voted for a Liberal candidate had one been available.

Apparently Deborah Locke’s campaign attracted more attention outside the electorate than in, as she finished in ninth place with 3.2 per cent. The others who did better were independent Joe Bryant (3.9 per cent) and Charles Doggett of One Nation (3.5 per cent). The AEC guessed that James Young would finish in second place by partnering him with Hayes for the notional two-candidate preference count, and it is likely that they will be proved correct. The point is entirely academic because Hayes is credited with 70.0 per cent of the two-candidate vote and this is not likely to change much regardless of who gets the silver after preferences.

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.