Idle speculation about the federal election

Adam Carr asks: "William, could we have a thread dedicated to idle speculation about the federal election, as you have done for the NSW election?" His wish is my command. By way of a conversation starter, I note that the Australian Electoral Commission recently released an extensive list of parties that have been deregistered by virtue of last year’s electoral law "reforms", one of which sought to do away with minor parties taking the name of major parties in vain, principally Liberals for Forests. This was to be achieved by deregistering all parties that had never achieved federal parliamentary representation six months after the passage of the bill, then requiring them to register again under the new rules. I didn’t think this worth mentioning at the time, as I assumed it would be a fairly simple matter for parties other than Liberals for Forests, leaving aside the irritation of some added paperwork. However, those with their noses closer to the grindstone of minor party politics evidently don’t see it that way. Stephen Mayne, until very recently a principal of the People Power party, had this to say in today’s Crikey email:

The Howard government is known for its cynicism but the deregistration of 19 political parties when the nation wasn’t paying attention on December 27 must surely go down as one of its lowest acts. What sort of democracy allows a government to unilaterally and automatically deregister all political parties that don’t have an MP? Talk about abusing control of both houses … If this had happened before the 2004 election there is no way that Family First would have got up in Victoria because it relied on preferences from the likes of liberals for forests. The strangest part of this debacle is that the media has shown no interest whatsoever in reporting this assault on democracy. Imagine if there was some form of business where the regulator could get away with saying all small competitors were automatically deregistered. The big have got bigger in John Howard’s Australia and the corner store competing with Woolworths knows exactly how all these minor parties must feel.

The practical upshot is that most existing minor parties must provide renewed proof that they have at least 500 members. The exceptions are the Greens, other than the Queensland branch; Family First; the Australian Democrats; the Nuclear Disarmament Party; the NSW division of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (curiously, given that One Nation only ever won a seat in Queensland), and the Democratic Labor Party (which evidently persuaded the AEC it was the same party that existed prior to 1978). I personally am unclear as to how often parties are required to do this in the normal course of events; anyone who can enlighten me is invited to do so in comments.

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.

244 comments on “Idle speculation about the federal election”

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  1. The Senate term is fixed. The current Senate will finish on June 30 2008, regardless of when the election is called. The Senate election (unless it is a double dissolution, which will not be called) must take place after July 2007.

    The reason why Howard won’t call an election until July 1 is because doing so earlier would knock the House of Representatives elections out of whack with the Senate.

  2. Why do our political journalists get paid so much to spread confusion. Steve lewis offers us the following comments on a poll of Sentae voting intentions, financed by an unnamed company back in November last year.

    here are the first couple of paragraphs:

    THE Howard Government risks losing its Senate majority and the ability to easily pass legislation, as the Greens eye balance-of-power status after the coming election.
    As the Coalition and Labor tussle over their environment credentials, support for the Greens has surged to nearly 13 per cent, according to a special Newspoll examining voter intentions for the Senate.
    Support for the Coalition has collapsed from 45 per cent at the 2004 election to 37 per cent now, jeopardising its Senate majority.

    The Greens could double their Senate numbers – of four seats – after the election due by the end of the year, placing the party in a powerful position to influence legislative outcomes.

    This could allow the Greens to block contentious legislation and force the Government to amend its reform agenda.

    What Steve does not make clear is that a Senate election after 1 July this year is that the Senators elected then will not take up their positions till 1 July 2008. If the Coalition is returned they will not be able to do anything about the Government legislation till after that date.

    However, if the figures quoted are anywhere near correct the coalition will not be returned an they qre the ones that will have a blocking majority for the next six months.

  3. Much as I would love to believe the Greens are on 13% in the Senate I think it is worth noting that Senate polls are *always* wrong. For some reason people feel the need to say they will vote differently in the two houses, but most end up voting the same way. Some House of Reps polls are wrong, for all sorts of reasons, but taking an average can be an accurate reflection on the situation at the time. Not so for the Senate.

    (Of course this could mean the Greens are actually on 18% – one can dream – but I don’t think it is likely).

  4. As has been pointed out this site should be about psephology rather than political ideals, but this nonsense needs to be answered

    Ray says: FFP supports the green aganda of the Greens, but opposes many of its anti social/family policies.

    Actually Family First has made lowering the price of petrol – ie encouraging people to pollute more – one of their major campaigns. At the state election they repeatedly emphasised their calls for more big dams. That is a policy which would destroy the ecology of the areas below the dams, probably drown the areas behind the dams, and encourage more wasteful water use. At no point did they promote solution such as reducing leakage, rainwater tanks etc.

    FF are entitled to promote these policies. What is disgraceful is the way they push them, and then try and say they are not an anti-environment party, and even have their supporters claim these policies don’t exist.

  5. here here Stephen – neither important to labor nor ‘mainstream’ in any meaningful way – whether or not they can remember God on a give day.

  6. Howard will likely call the election in October, for some reason he likes elections in that month. Howard called the 98 and 04 elections for oct with the 01 election delayed until early november for easily assumed reasons.

    The previous Labor government on the other hand liked March, with the exception of the 84 and 87 elections which were the result of a changing of the electoral law and a double dissolution the three other elections that Labor called were in March.

    A cursory glance of the state elections shows a tendency towards spring or autumn elections as well, but I guess its hard to say what effect something will have on the election date when it is unknown why Howard likes October elections

  7. I think there are some serious question marks on that poll.

    The poll claims that we’re on 28.5% in Tasmania. Yet who believes that the Greens are really doing that well? The state-by-state polls usually don’t include Tasmania, as the sample size is so small it has no credibility.

    And in general, all state polls which are simply breakdowns of federal figures usually have very high standards of error.

    Looking at other state figures they also don’t seem reliable. The Greens polling 14% in Queensland, and less in NSW and Victoria doesn’t make sense, and the idea that WA doesn’t even rate up there doesn’t make sense.

    Much as I would like these figures, I can’t seriously believe that it is a credible poll. The only thing I can take from it is that we’re doing well in the polls, but maybe not as well as 13%.

  8. Agreed on the reliability of the Senate poll – unless we know the size of the sample there is no way of establishing the size of the statistical error margin.

    The lack of intellectual rigour in reporting of polls by political reporters is unbelievable.

    The other interesting question is who commissioned and for what purpose?

    To be of any use by the time you disaggregate down to the state level it would have had to have a very large sample and that is not cheap.

    Just goes to show that for most stories in the Australian you have to peel away the onion rings – and when you get there you may well have reason for tears.

  9. I think the election timing must depend on the budget and inflation / interest rate rises. If the Govt gets no interest rate rises thru to may and is going to go with a typical inflationary budget in a context where inflation was a bit on the high side anyways (depends how you read yesterdays numbers for how you fall) the election would need to be before and interest rate rise … so could be early in a still tight economy.

  10. The ignorance of political journalists never ceases to amaze. Even if that poll turns out to be correct (which I doubt), even a big rise in the Green vote will make no difference to the overall position in the Senate, for reasons we have discussed before. The seats up for election are those contested in 2001, not those contested in 2004. The best result the Greens can get is to retain their seats in NSW and Tas, and win the Democrat seats in Vic, Qld, WA and SA. So the Senate would then be Coalition 39, ALP 28, Greens 8, Family First 1. For the Coalition to retain control of the Senate in 2008, all they have to do is win three seats of six in five of the six states. I will bet my We Want Gough badge they will do so. There is no realistic chance that the Coalition will lose control of the Senate before 2011, for which we can all send a thankyou note to M. Latham Esq of Bonkersville NSW.

  11. I agree with you entirely Adam about Howard maintaining the majority in the Senate. However, what are the chances of the Greens actually picking up those seats in Vic, Qld, WA and SA? Considering the greens did not pick up in Qld, SA and Vic last time I find it hard that they will this coming election except perhaps Vic. The Greens didn’t even pick up in NSW last time which means re-electing Kerry is going to be difficult.

    I can see an improvement in the Green vote at the next election but I guess the question is, is it going to be stong enough to pick up seats?

  12. As I’ve said a number of time, for the Coalition to hold just a blocking half of the Senate would require the very unusual result of them only winning 2 from 6 senate seats in one state, which has occurred twice (NSW 1990 and 1998) in the last 16 years. For the coalition to lose its majority, this would need to happen in two states, which is not very likely considering that there isn’t a strong minor party in the centre (eg the Democrats) to take away otherwise coalition votes.

  13. All the more reason to vote for the Democrats this time around – the only party that can break Coalition control. The Greens are only ever going to take seats off Labor (sadly, the ones who deserve to lose are always at the top of the ticket).

  14. The Greens never have polled better in the Senate than they have done in the House of Reps. This time they might struggle to retain their NSW seat. Family First might do well, depending on the flow of preferences (They are assured of Coalition preferences).

    If Labor wins the federal election, the Coalition will lose it’s Senate majority. If the Coalition wins they might keep their senate majority. I bet when Labor is next in power they will make changes to the Senate to prevent something like the Coalition getting a majority there ever again. Increase the number of senators to say 13 or 14 and maybe having the whole Senate elected instead half the senate elected.

  15. Tristan Jones is an early contender for the clanger of the year on this site.

    “The Greens have never polled better in the Senate than they have done in the House of Reps”.

    Actually the Greens have ALWAYS polled better in the Senate than the House of Reps, except in New South Wales. I have no idea why New South Wales has the reverse pattern of every other state in this – I’d love any suggestions people can offer.

    However, in 2004 the Green vote in Victoria was 8.8 in the Senate and 7.45 in the Reps. Likewise (to varying degrees) in Tassie, Qld, SA, ACT, WA and NT.

    The last Senate spot is wide open in most states. The Greens would have to be very lucky to pick them all up, but very unlucky not to get at least two. Predicting which ones those will be (other than Tasmania) is basically a lottery.

  16. Tristan
    I think Fanily First may be overstated, they did not do well in SA and Vic, I feel people may be worried about a church influence in the community as well as in the government. One place is enough.

  17. The Senate, my perspective:


    The Greens

    If the Liberal Party persist with their policy of putting the Greens last in the Upper House (Vic & SA) the Greens will have trouble winning more than two senate seats.

    Bob Brown is a shoe-in.
    Kerry Nettle is in for the fight of her life. LESS THAN 50% chance of re-election vs 3rd ALP.

    Queensland will be almost impossible for the Greens to win unless Pauline Hansen performs strongly again. She is the only reason the Greens came close last time – they were almost elected on Nats preferences.

    So Tasmania and .. WA? for the Greens.

    The deterioration of the Democrats as a source of preferences may harm the Greens somewhat as well.


    The Democrats will finally die this year. Sandra Kanck will remain as a pseudo-independent historical relic.


    Family First will double their vote from the last Federal Election. 4% National, with strong results in SA/QLD (5 or 6%) offsetting poor performances in NSW/WA 2%.

    They have a fair chance of snagging another senate seat.

    The most important aspect of Family First for pundits is the effect of their lower house presence on a change of government, depending on their preferencing.

    Liberals with narrow margins will be hoping the ALP and FF don’t do a lower house/upper house preference swap.

  18. Tristan says: “If Labor wins the federal election, the Coalition will lose it’s Senate majority.” Dear Tristan, would you care to bet any amount you like on that proposition?

  19. Tristan,

    The federal government cannot make the Senate elected all at once without changing the constitution. A referendum used to be required for this, but given various High Court decisions, I suppose the government could sign a treaty with New Zealand corporatising the Senate and then use the external affairs power and the corporations power to have it declared constitutional.

    The government can however abolish proportional representation and divide the states into single-member senatorial districts without any constitutional amendment. Given the way Helen Coonan and the like carried on when the government did not control the Senate – she could have been Paul Keating – no principle would be permitted to stop it doing so. Practical politics might.

    The only prediction I make is one I have been making for years: the Democrats are finished. No ifs, no buts – they will lose all their Senate seats – and it will be their own fault.

  20. Chris, that is an idea of truly Santamarian craftiness. Remember it for when we are in government. One of the great ironies of recent political history is how the Whitlamesque centralising drive of the Howard Government has created all these lovely new powers for the next Labor government. Never again will a Bolte or a Bjelke-Petersen, or the Constitution, or the Senate, be able to obstruct us.

    I would think there is a fair chance the DLP will outlive the Liberals and the Nationals as well.

  21. I’m not sure the Liberals would want single member senate elections in Tasmania (for example) or the ACT, and it would just create another series of lovely redistribution programs across the various states, additional to the lower house.

    I think both parties also like the existing system.

  22. Speaker,

    I do not accept that the current DLP is the same organization as the original DLP, though I do accept that it is philosophically similar. The original DLP voted to disband in 1978. John Mulholland argues that this decision was unconstitutional. There is no way that the issue will ever go before a court, so we just have to agree to disagree.

    Philosophically speaking, the DLP will outlast the Democrats, whose self-destruction is probably related to the fact that they had no natural constituency in the way that every other parliamentary party has had. Just being middle-class and middle-of-the-road isn’t enough in the long run. They should have amalgamated with the Greens years ago.


    I am not sure that the DLP will outlast the Nationals and the Liberals. I think the DLP has many years of life in it yet, but I do not think either the Liberals or the Nationals are approaching extinction, even if they lose the federal election. Look overseas at the Whigs/Liberals/Liberal democrats!

    I am a federalist because I believe in the spread of power. However, the Liberals with typical short-sightedness have created the possibility for the most powerful federal Labor government ever.

    My hope is that, if Labor wins, it does not use this unprecedented power to pursue the economic rationalist line evident in some comments on education.

    Western Suburbs Magpie,

    Both major parties whinge when they do not control the Senate. (I’d prefer the whinging to the result Queenslanders gave us in 2004). There would be a huge outcry against whichever party tried to eliminate the minor parties from the Senate. I do not think principle stops them – look at what Labor and the Liberals attempted to do to the Greens in Tasmania – but each major party knows that single-member Senate seats could result in the other party controlling the Upper house when the first party is in government. They prefer the minor party with the balance of power to that scenario. The desire for total power probably explains the stupidity of the Victorian Liberals in passing up three opportunities to influence the nature of proportional representation in the Legislative Council.

  23. I think the real obstacle to the major parties making the Senate single member electorates is Tasmania. Without a change in the constitution they would still get 12 seats. Tasmania is electorally flat, that is the variations across the state are relatively small, and it is not uncommon for one party to control all the lower house seats.

    A single member system would often see one party win all six seats there. Since Tassie often goes against the mainland it would not be uncommon for one party to have a majority in the house, but virtually no Senators in Tasmania. Since the other states will always have pockets of opposition support this would mean that it would be quite common for the opposition to have control of the Senate in their own right.

  24. Ironies of history – for decades conservatives feared that if a federal Labor government was not impeded by the states, the Senate or the High Court, it would procede to bring in the Red Republic. Now the fear is that Labor will “implement the economic rationalist line.” In fact, Chris, a Rudd government will probably be the nearest thing to a Christian Democrat government Australia has ever had.

  25. I reckon anyone involved in any way with Great Barrier Reef tourism are going to be looking very carefully at party policies on how they will try and save the reef. It could change quite a few seats.

  26. Howard has done a good job of rallying the right-wing vote behind him, why should conservatives vote for Families First when they have John Howard, unless they are committed Christians? Labor finds it more difficult to rally the left-wing vote, hence the Greens are stronger than Families First.

  27. I miss Ray advocating that FF is a moderate centeralist party. Hilarious to see the US VP (who I understand is coming here) find himself unable to answer a very fair question about why did doesn’t apply the inhumane anti-lesbian policy of the Bush II administration to his own daughter … funny how homopobia loses its power when dealing with your own daughter – not funny he is too gutless to challenge the vicious and unfair policy of the Administration he is part of.

  28. I suppose you are a Greens supporter No Way ?

    The Greens are the most wacko, self-righteous party in Australian Politics. They have managed to hide so far but accountability is coming.

    Banning Leather, GM Food Anti Science, Stupid Dangerous taxes on Currency Transactions and Investment.. the health policy includes “Alternative Medicine” – (Aura Rebalancing and Crystal Therapy ?)


    So Family First is against Gay Marriage ? Wow how weird, no one holds that opinion.. umm except for most of the world.. and the Libs, Nats and.. Labor. Wackos.

  29. The Greens are not against banning leather, what gave you that idea?
    They also aren’t anti science.
    Alternative means accupununcture, chiropractic, things of that nature.

  30. In South Australia’s most marginal federal seat, Kingston, Labor is ahead 56-44 on a two-party preferred basis, according to an Advertiser poll of 592 voters on Monday night. Of those who helped Liberal Kym Richardson win by a handful of votes in 2004, 10 per cent now say they will vote for Labor’s Amanda Rishworth.

    The Advertiser says: “If the swing to Labor was repeated across Adelaide, the ALP would win all of the city’s marginals [two of which it currently holds] and out under pressure the Liberal seats of Sturt and Boothby, held by Christopher Pyne and Andrew Southcott.”

    The Kingston poll showed primary support for Labor at 37 per cent with the Liberals at 29 per cent, Greens and Family First each 6 per cent,
    Democrats 2 per cent, others 5 per cent, undecided 13 per cent.

  31. I guess in relation to the Kingston poll all the usual caveats – but it is fantastic – hopefully targeted polling is getting a feel for how volatile the ‘rudd bump’ in the polling is? If we assume the Beazley base (consistently in 50+ 2pp for labor) is solid then it is the demographic spread and volatility that will be key. I would like to know a bit more of the demographics of the seat – but still great to see 2 pp in a marginal hitting not too far below the rudd bump.

    ‘Greens hater’ there are a lot of latham supporters (pre-last election) who will be delighted to see hate explicitly expressed in Australian politics again. I am not one of them.

    Nor am I a green supporter, although the greens have many very well thought out and expressed policies that would clearly benefit Australia. This contrasts them with FFP which has scarry and dangerous policies it is not at all open and clear about. Take the rather interesting example above with willingness to treat homosexuals as some kind of subhuman animals.

  32. I wonder how Downer has been affecting Kingston. In the last two weeks there was a report in the Advertiser saying that Downer pushed a regional grants coordinator to favor Mayo, which neighbours Kingston, and this week Downer took Julie Bishop around tiny schools in Mayo that getting their funding reduced to the same per student rates that every other school in the state gets, the view that the hills are more important to the liberals than the south is coming through pretty clear in the local media

  33. Thanks Snow and Phil. Re a tight marginal in WA, no polling that I can remember, but I do know the Howard pork barrel is about to rain (or in once case has already started) on the electorate. Will be interesting to see how this affects things.

  34. “There is no realistic chance that the Coalition will lose control of the Senate before 2011”

    Two words and two numbers: “Double Dissolution 2008/2009”

    The new government will be popular and have some central planks of their platform (IR reforms, for instance) frustrated by a disoriented and fractured opposition. They’ll save up a small collection of popular bills, and if they work quickly they’ll catch the opposition and minor parties on the hop and storm home.

    “The Greens want leather banned.”

    That’s not an Aust Greens policy and this thread’s about the Federal election. The policies of the Victorian Greens shouldn’t be relevant.


  35. Wanting to ban leather, even if it was a policy and you haven’t even established you are reading the Vic Greens policy right, makes the greens unfit for a balance of power exactly how?

    Anyone who sees my leather shoes or belts will know that the animals did not get sacrificed for anything resembling the fashion industry.

  36. Darryl is of course correct that the Coalition could lose control of the Senate before 2011 if a Rudd Government is obstructed by the Senate and calls a double dissolution election in 2008 or 2009. But it will not happen as a result of the outcome of the 2007 election.

    Labor Prime Ministers obstructed by the Senate have two precedents: Scullin and Whitlam. Scullin rejected advice to call an early double-D and his government was destroyed (admittedly more by the Depression and Jack Lang than by the Senate, but the rejection of the Fiduciary Notes bill was a major factor in Scullin’s demise). Whitlam called Snedden’s bluff and called a snap DD in 1974, obtaining a Senate which would have passed at least some of his legislation had it not been corrupted by Tom Lewis and Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Is Rudd a Scullin or a Whitlam? I don’t claim to know.

  37. “The Greens policy on banning leather is relevant federally in proving the Greens are weird and unfit for a balance of power role. ”

    The Australian Greens policy is relevant, yes and what you’ve quoted is NOT the policy of the Australian Greens. Does this mean you think the Aust Greens are not weird and unfit?

  38. You are very right Phil, just wiht numbers like those you’d be tempted to move focus a little bit and pour money in the less marginal coalition outliers.

    Would be silly to pork barrel won seats (or if you are Howard – lost seats). Couldn’t be giving up ‘winners’ currently in coalition hands but the bruvvers and sisters could all land next door rather than in these marginals that must fall and fall solidly or Labor is playing to lose.

  39. Stephen L,

    Thanks for that view on Tasmania. I guess 12 Tasmanian senators from the same party would though things out a bit.


    The ironies never end. Tony Abbott thinks the DLP “is alive and well inside the Howard government” despite the clear evidence that the DLP senators would have voted down both lots of the anti-family IR legislation. A former DLP vice president is worried about how right wing the ALP has become, with the spread of the economic rationalist PPPs and performance pay for teachers, not to mention a socialist left premier who sold the State Bank to the Commonwealth Bank, which was then privatised, as the last announcement to the ALP caucus before the budget presentation so that no Labor MP had time to object. An ALP insider thinks that a “Rudd government will probably be the nearest thing to a Christian Democrat government Australia has ever had”. I hope you are right.

    Kevin Rudd has the Liberals on the run. The attacks on him and Labor will only grow.’

    Thank you,
    Chris Curtis

  40. Sacha Blumen,

    I used to dream of being Victoria’s first DLP premier, but alas! I do not see the connection between my post and your question as the sale of the State Bank was before the 1992 election. However, I will give a brief answer. Victoria suffered in the early ‘nineties because of the national recession. In the three years to 1991/92, Victoria’s current revenue was 11.2 per cent of GSP (compared with NSW’s 13.6 per cent), while Victoria’s outlay’s were 12.1 per cent (compared with NSW’s 13.0 per cent (Kenneth Davidson, “Audit Commison report a political exercise”, The Age, 8/5/1993). In other words, if Victoria’s taxation level had been the same as NSW’s it would have had a surplus and not have required any budget cuts. In 1992, Victoria has the smallest public sector workforce of all the states, 17.9 per cent, compared with an average of 19.6 per cent (Michale Salvaris, The impact of Liberal/National policies on employment and public sector spending). Staffing of secondary schools was with a PTR of 10.8:1 about the same as in 1981 under the Thompson Liberal Government when the PTR was 10.9:1. South Australia’s 1990 secondary PTR was 10.5:1. In summary, the madness of 1992-99 was ideological not economic ion motivation. The steps I would have taken would have been to increase taxation to NSW levels, to keep government ownership of the people’s assets and thus the income stream they would provide n the future and to invest heavily in education to build the skills and knowledge of Victorians to face the future. I would also have dumped the low-standard VCE and the pretend abolition of technical schools.

  41. I hope the “ALP insider” is not meant to be me. I am an ex-staffer to a backbencher, I do not belong to a faction, and I have no access to “inside.”

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