Family affairs

Family First’s preference recommendations for the South Australian lower house have proved kinder to Labor than might have been expected, with split tickets (in which how-to-vote cards contain two sets of preferences, one favouring Labor and the other Liberal, with voters instructed to take their pick) to be offered in four important seats. Antony Green has more in today’s Crikey email:

The Advertiser heads up this morning’s story on Family First’s preferences with the headline "Family First gives Kerin leg up in 8 key seats". Nice spin by Family First, which the paper appears to have fallen for, but to all intents and purposes, a load of nonsense … the real story was in the fifth par and went without comment. "In four other key seats, the party will offer split tickets, leaving it up to the voters to decide whether the preferences go to Labor or Liberal. They are all Liberal seats – Morialta, Light, Mawson and Newland". Now the Advertiser has published more polls in this election campaign than any paper I can remember. Those polls have consistently shown a big swing to Labor, putting in doubt a string of Liberal seats including, wait for it, Light (2.3%), Morialta (3.3%), Mawson (3.6%) and Newland (5.5%). Also relevant is that all four seats saw above average Family First primary votes in 2002, 6.9% in Newland and 4.5% in Light, in both seats delivering three-quarters of preferences to the Liberals. So the fact that Family First are splitting their preference in these seats could be disastrous for the Liberal Party and a much bigger story than what Family First is doing in more marginal seats.

Of the eight seats with preferences to the Liberal, four are Labor held. Norwood (0.5%) and Adelaide (0.6%) may be Labor’s most marginal seats and make up the 606 votes that Mike Rann keeps repeating are all that lie between him and defeat. But these two seats also saw Family First’s lowest votes in 2002 and there is little doubt, given the polls, that Labor will win both seats easily. Preferences are also against Labor in Florey (3.6%) (where Family First could hardly preference Labor given member Frances Bedford’s stance on gay and lesbian issues – PB), but in 2002 Family First polled an above average 6.6% and delivered 65% of preferences to the Liberals. How much better can Family First do than that?

Family First is directing preferences to the Liberal Party in its two most marginal seats, Hartley (2.1%) and Stuart (2.1%). Family First did not contest Stuart in 2002, and it is hard to see how the party can do well in such an enormous outback electorate. But Family First polled 4.6% in Hartley last time with 70% of preferences to the Liberals, so against a swing to Labor this time, the question again has to be asked, what help will Family First’s preferences be anyway? Minor parties have to work enormously hard to deliver more than 70% of preferences one way or the other. It takes lots of troops on the ground delivering how-to-vote cards. Given the polls, the Liberals need lots of Family First preferences to hang on to a string of its own seats. That Family First says it is issuing open tickets in Light, Morialta, Mawson and Newland is a further blow to the Liberal campaign, a very different story to the headline delivered by the Advertiser.

Personally, I expect these preferences to still flow 60% to the Liberal Party. At the 2004 Federal election, directing preferences against an open lesbian Liberal candidate in Brisbane, Family First only delivered 54% of preferences to Labor. Attempts to direct preferences against pro-choice Liberals Don Day and Kym Hames at the 2005 WA election also produced only even splits. But still, the fact Family First aren’t out there helping the Liberals is the bigger story. Some in the Labor Party view Family First as little more than the Liberal Party at prayer. The decision it has made in these seats suggests that Family First is slightly more pragmatic than some give it credit.

In other news, the parties’ preference tickets for above-the-line votes in the upper house are due to be published round about now, but no word on them just yet – not that I would have time to deal with them right away if they were. Also on the back-burner is the reupholstering of the election guide, although when it’s done (hopefully tomorrow) you’ll hardly recognise it. Among the new snippets of electorate-level info:

Hartley (Liberal 2.1%): Writing in last week’s Weekly Times Messenger, Christian Kerr suggested Liberal member Joe Scalzi might defy the pundits and retain his seat due to his efforts to "make land tax an issue in his patch and among people who came to Australia from Europe in the ’50s and ’60s". The local importance of the latter group is indicated by Labor’s efforts to stress that their candidate, Grace Portolesi, is also of Italian heritage.

Morialta (Liberal 3.6%): Also from Christian Kerr, this time in today’s Crikey email, comes this observation: "What was sitting MP Joan Hall doing at the humble Howard hoe-down to celebrate his 10 years last week. Has she given up?".

Kaurna (Labor 10.8%): Labor member and Environment Minister John Hill received a vote of confidence last November when the health portfolio was temporarily added to his responsibilities upon the resignation of Little Para MP Lea Stevens, to avoid the need for a cumbersome pre-election reshuffle. The talk is that he will maintain health after the election, with environment to be assigned elsewhere.

Enfield (Labor 15.9%): Dennis Bertoldo of the Standard Messenger (an old Perth work colleague of the Poll Bludger’s, unless I’m much mistaken) reports that Labor member John Rau has extracted a grovelling retraction and apology from 18-year-old Liberal candidate Samuel Joyce, who had issued a press release that criticised Rau over a delivery of contaminated soil to a Housing Trust development site. Joyce craftily stated that he was "indebted to Mr Rau’s lawyers for mentioning the sum of $65,000 in damages plus costs" and noted the burden this would add to his "still accumulating HECS debt", which to the Poll Bludger’s mind makes Rau look like of a bit of a bully. Rau denied threatening to sue Joyce for this sum, saying he had merely called his attention to the precedent of Mitchell MP Kris Hanna’s successful action against outgoing Bright MP Wayne Matthew.

Mawson (Liberal 3.5%): The intensity of the contest in this seat was demonstrated last week when Labor matched a Liberal promise to build an ambulance station at the Southern Districts War Memorial Hospital in McLaren Vale. Tanya Westthorp of the Southern Times Messenger reports that Mike Rann announced $800,000 would be spent on its construction and $970,000 a year contributed towards operating costs.

Norwood (Labor 0.5%): Labor’s most marginal electorate will host the party’s major campaign rally on Sunday.

Hammond (Independent 2.3% vs Liberal): A poll of 200 voters conducted by the Murray Valley Standard before independent member Peter Lewis withdrew his nomination had Liberal candidate Adrian Pederick on 36.5 per cent, Labor candidate James Peikert on 17 per cent and Lewis on 15 per cent. The high rate of undecided voters is a sadly typical feature of non-professional opinion polling.

Mount Gambier (Independent 25.0% vs Liberal): That said, the Murray Valley Standard are masters of the art compared to the Border Watch, whose "straw poll" of 100 voters – presumably conducted at the Mount Gambier Arms just before closing time – failed to get an answer out of 51 of them. Of the remainder, 23 backed independent incumbent Rory McEwen against 11 for Labor and 10 for Liberal. The accompanying article draws attention to this intriguing insight from Antony Green:

There are reports the CFMEU is putting considerable effort into Labor’s campaign in this seat. This would be unlikely to elect a Labor MP, but it might be enough to defeat McEwen by squeezing his primary vote, as suggested by the Advertiser’s opinion poll. Given Mike Rann has promised that McEwen can stay in Cabinet if Labor is re-elected, there will be a few Labor factional leaders who realise that one way of creating a cabinet vacancy is to defeat McEwen. If there is a vigorous Labor campaign in Mount Gambier, it is more about internal Labor politics in the formation of the next cabinet than realistic hopes of Labor winning Mount Gambier.

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.

7 comments on “Family affairs”

  1. As always, take any ‘Tiser election reporting with a large grain of salt. They reported incorrectly yesterday – as indeed did the Oz – that FF had agreed to preference Labor in the Upper House in exchange for a conscience rather than binding Caucus vote on the Relationships Bill – a “deal” reps from both parties were quick to deny.

  2. Not sure of the precise technical answer, but a split ticket is effectively where a minor party (in this case) produces a how-to-vote card allowing voters to choose which major party they will direct their preferences to, rather than directing preferences one way or the other. They do this by creating a how-to-vote card that is physically “split” into halves, each side showing a different set of preferences, usually one side with Lib/Nat ahead of the ALP and the other with the reverse.

    This is basically to allow the voter to choose where their preferences go, rather than being dictated to by the party of their choice, but I always think the whole issue of “directing” preferences/split tickets etc (at least in a lower house election) is rather misleading, as there is absolutely no necessity to follow the party line anyway. Obviously many people do follow how-to-vote cards or it would otherwise not be an issue? As I recall reading somewhere (it may have been on this site), the whole issue of where the Greens will direct their preferences has become a traditional much publicised campaign non-event in every election in recent times. It will be interesting to see if the same becomes true of Family First.

    Poll Bludger, thanks indeed for your excellent site – very entertaining and informative. I’m sure it must make a mess of the rest of your life to keep things up to date (especially with 2 state elections most inconveniently scheduled for the same day, not to mention a couple of by-elections in close proximity), but rest assured there are many of us who would struggle through the day without a regular psephological instalment.

  3. quote:Mr Green”But Family First polled 4.6% in Hartley last time with 70% of preferences to the Liberals, so against a swing to Labor this time, the question again has to be asked, what help will Family First’s preferences be anyway? Minor parties have to work enormously hard to deliver more than 70% of preferences one way or the other.”

    Thought id just note that FF had the donkey vote 1 position. Also the donkey vote went from FF to lib (ALP recieve the donkey flow this time). thus i dont think either of those figures will be that high this time. Also the resdistribution took out paradise from the seat, the location of the AOG church.

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