Pittwater dispatches

Those with a particular interest in Saturday’s Pittwater by-election are encouraged to drop by to this site after 6pm EST, from which time the numbers will be crunched booth-by-booth within seconds of their appearance on the State Electoral Office site (for some idea of how this will look, see the coverage of the triple M by-elections of September 17).

The by-election is being taken a lot more seriously than I had earlier anticipated, particularly after last week’s reports of internal polling showing the Liberals headed for defeat at the hands of independent candidate Alex McTaggart. This would not normally have been taken so seriously, but the figures came attached to a narrative widely favoured among the media: that the religious right has subverted the NSW Liberal Party in the wake of the Federal election outcome, and is about to get its come-uppance courtesy of environmentally conscious small-l Liberals of Sydney’s northern beaches. This sounds very much like a reprise of the unsuccessful "doctors’ wives" theory at the Federal election, which posited that affluent and educated voters were so disaffected over Iraq, Kyoto and asylum seekers that senior figures in the Government were in danger of losing their seats.

If the leak of internal polling was a tactical manoeuvre by a Liberal Party genuinely concerned for its hold on the seat, it might well have backfired by giving McTaggart a monopoly of media attention at the expense of a field that includes two other former mayors. It now seems certain that McTaggart will indeed harvest most of the purely negative anti-Liberal vote, whereas the Liberals would have been better served if this had split amongst as wide a range of rival contenders as possible. That at least will be my excuse for getting it wrong if McTaggart wins, but my prediction remains nonetheless.

A summary of noteworthy campaign shenanigans in the final week:

  • Alex McTaggart has lately been promoting himself as a man who can do business with the Government, and the Premier helped him demonstrate the point with an hour-long meeting followed by promises on "Mona Vale Hospital, the Currawong site and Careel Bay Marina". Many have questioned McTaggart’s judgement here, given the Liberals’ efforts to paint him as a Labor stalking horse. Christian Kerr of Crikey was particularly appalled by McTaggart’s decision to indulge in a photo opportunity with Roads Minister Joe Tripodi, almost going as far as to say it had single-handedly cost him the election. Tripodi’s popularity is such that Nationals MP Andrew Fraser received a sympathetic response following their recent confrontation on the floor of parliament, which most interstate obervers assumed would end his career.
  • Piers Akerman has weighted into the campaign for a second time in today’s Daily Telegraph, taking an ideological cudgel to those who would paint the NSW Liberal Party’s recent upheavals as a coup by right-wing extremists. After arguing that Brogden was responsible for his own demise, Akerman dismisses Alex McTaggart as "a political one-trick pony who was elected to the council after blocking Baywatch’s plans to film at Avalon, where he surfs".
  • Last week, Alex McTaggart reckoned leaked Liberal polling showing him ahead of their candidate was "a plot to scare the little old ladies into voting Liberal". Now, he says polling that he himself has done "anecdotally" shows he will "outpoll the Libs, we don’t even need preferences". McTaggart shocked readers of Saturday’s Manly Daily with the revelation that "if this was not a by-election and John Brogden was still the member, I would not be running".
  • Antony Green concurred with this site’s assessment when he told The Australian that the Liberals would "take a big hit with their vote", but would "probably win".
  • All minor players are specifically recommending a preference to McTaggart over Nicolaou.
  • The Poll Bludger’s form guide tip of the week: Paul Nicolaou. Centrebet is offering $2.20 for a Liberal win against $1.61 for McTaggart.
  • UPDATE (25/11/05): The Daily Telegraph’s Liberal sources say their position has "improved slightly since it became clear Mr McTaggart was ‘cuddling up to the Premier’"; the Sydney Morning Herald’s Liberal sources say they fear their primary vote will drop below 40 per cent; Centrebet’s Gerard Duffy says there has been "renewed interest in the Liberal candidate", and they are now offering $2.oo for a Liberal win against $1.72 for McTaggart.

    UPDATE (26/11/05): The flurry of late money for Nicolaou (including a $25 punt from the Poll Bludger) has continued, with Centrebet now offering $1.85 for both Nicolaou and McTaggart.

    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.