The by-election gazette #7

I was recently reading through my earlier posts on the triple-M by-elections and was pleased to see I had been early off the mark in poking fun at the Daily Telegraph over its rough handling of John Brogden. This was prompted by a number of articles in the week before his career implosion which savaged his decision not to run in two of this Saturday’s three unwinnable by-elections. When news of his indiscretions at the Australian Hotels Association function became public the following Monday, the Telegraph ran an item peppered with quotes from "senior Liberal sources" who spoke of long-standing "concerns over Brogden’s political judgement", with the by-election decision listed as a key example. As I said at the time, the widespread currency of this assessment surprised me. But viewed in the context of an internal campaign against Brogden facilitated through a media with a demonstrated fondness for stirring the pot, it starts to make a little more sense.

Antony Green helps us put the decision in a more constructive context with a paper for the New South Wales Parliamentary Library on the last 40 years of the state’s by-election history. It tells us that a sharp upturn in the incidence of one-sided by-elections can be traced to the final re-election of the Wran/Unsworth Government in 1985. Neatly, Green’s study covers 40 by-elections before this point and 40 since, the number of one-sided contests skyrocketing from three in the earlier period to 25 in the latter. Quite why this shift has occurred is not clear, but in terms of recent practice there was obviously nothing remarkable about Brogden’s decision. As Green puts it, "it is understandable why the Liberal Party has chosen not to contest all three seats. While there were dramatic swings in Bass Hill and Rockdale following the retirement of Premier Wran, swings of this size are the exception. All three seats being contested on September 17 are substantially safer than any of the seats that saw dramatic swings during the period of the Unsworth Government".

Marrickville (Labor 10.7% vs Greens): The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Labor has been asking voters if they agree with Greens candidate Sam Byrne’s assessment of Anthony Albanese and Carmel Tebbutt as "the king and queen of Marrickville", which Byrne says he can’t remember saying. Most of the publicity generated by the Greens’ campaign has related to Tebbutt’s actions as Education Minister, the highlight being a desultory slanging match about homophobia. The Sun Herald tells us that an advisor to Tebbutt, Penny Sharpe, will fill Tebbutt’s upper house vacancy if she succeeds in her bid for the lower house. The vacancy has been left open since Tebbutt’s resignation so that she may resume it if she fails.

Macquarie Fields (Labor 23.5%): New Liberal leader Peter Debnam showed an early aptitude for the gentle art of understatement when he was recently heard "playing down the Liberals’ chance of winning". With a dissolute Opposition confronting an unpopular Government, expect a pronounced surge in support for independent and minor party candidates.

Maroubra (Labor 22.5%): Two entries back, I speculated as to whether Michael Daley’s preselection margin over Penny Wright of 140-110 included Wright’s affirmative action bonus. The answer is that it did, so Daley’s victory was more comfortable than I suggested.

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.