Idle speculation: February edition

The previous federal election thread was getting long and unwieldy, so I’ve closed it and set up shop here. Perhaps you might like to discuss today’s front page splash in The Australian, "Labor in strongest electoral position since 2001", based on a 56-44 Newspoll result.

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.

324 comments on “Idle speculation: February edition”

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  1. Keep calm, Labor voters. Mad Mark was well ahead in February 2004, and that ended in tears as we recall. If we are still ahead in April, after Howard has done his worst over the first two months of sittings and after the National Conference, then we can start getting excited.

  2. I think Adam is right to urge caution, but there are a number of reasons for ALP voters to be optimistic. In essence, the issues that count are starting to run Labor’s way, something that hasn’t been able to be said since the early 90s. IR is the biggie, of course, the one issue that cuts right into the lives of those swinging voters who wouldn’t otherwise give a fig about politics (and if not them, then it plays into worries they might have about their children). I suspect one of the reasons that WorkChoices is so often downplayed by the commentariat is that such journalists don’t really know anyone on the minimum wage, and so have trouble getting their heads around it.
    However, IR isn’t the only issue running against the government – global warming, Iraq, interest rates and even David Hicks are all becoming negatives for Howard’s team. I’d be wary of writing off the wily old fox just yet, but when the tide turns in politics, it can turn with surprising speed.

  3. Funny, we’re speculating so far in advance. We could go further in speculating, surely? In the US they’re already speculating about the US election.

    Maybe we could start an “idle speculation about the 2016 election”?

  4. Oh, and I just read the old thread, and wanted to comment on how they determine which senators are long-term and which are short-term at a double dissolution. The method should really involve two separate counts, one with a 1/7 quota and one with a 1/13 quota. Since Senate counts are computerised, it would be quite easy.

  5. Agreed, Adam. Long way to go. Alexander the Great was in a similar vote position and 20 points in front as preferred PM at this stage of his leadership.

  6. Mr Q, Glen Milne referred to the seats of Adelaide and Hindmarsh in his column but not Boothby or Sturt, so I presume they are the ones he was referring to, but you do raise a good point. Boothby and Sturt are within striking distance … but there would still have to be a fairly generous swing for Labor to capture them.

    Agreed with comments all round about needing cool heads about the latest opinion polls. We’ve been down this road a few times before. But still, Howard should be sweating. This is not the dream run to a 5th win he was hoping for.

  7. If I were John Howard, I would be praying like crazy for rain, or raindancing (whatever takes his and Janettes fancy) as the longer the drought goes on, the more focussed the electorate will be on climate change .. and despite the recent conversion that has happened , climate change is an issue where the PM looks like being left high and dry (pardon the pun).

    Not that the ALP’s credentials are much better (especially at the NSW and QLD state government issue) but it is an issue that does make the PM look like yesterday’s man. He might have been OK if he had the conversion a year ago .. or the Libs might be OK if there was a different leader (but too late in the cycle for that).

    It could be the issue that resonates with the liberal Liberals who aren’t much concern with IR.

    John Winston Howard may be the first climate change political refugee!!

  8. Ben,

    The problem with your suggestion re determining which senators are long-term and which short-term after a double dissolution is that the two different counts could produce different results; you could do the fist count and end up with 12 senators and then do the second count for the six long-termers and find that one of the six had not even been elected as one of the 12. You would need to change the rules for counting to prevent that happening, and I have no idea how they could be worded to prevent it. If you counted for the six long-termers first, you could still find one of them missing out completely when you re-counted for the whole 12.


    I’m with you in not getting excited about the possibility of a Labor victory. But the colation and its newspaper cheer squad are definitely worried. Thus, we have from today’s Australian editorial a claim that Kevin Rudd is backing away form the pledge to rip up the IR laws when he isn’t. He is, however, setting the agenda, but he has to keep doing that for possibly the rest of the year. I am starting to feel cautiously optimistic, but I remind myself that John Howard is a crafty operator, that the Murdoch press wants a Liberal government and that the Australian people have moved away from their past values. That is the significance of the eight Catholics in the federal Cabinet and the fact that more Catholics voted for the coalition in the last federal election than the ALP: they have psychologically joined the middle class and been conned into acting against their objective working class interests. Kevin Rudd’s task is to recapture this muddle class.

  9. It’s extremely unlikely that the scenario you describe, Chris, would take place. In fact, I’m not sure it’s even theoretically possible. But maybe you could put some contingency in place in the extremely unlikely case.

  10. Of course it is too early to get excited and crack the Western Australian reds in celebration, but Howards water con and Julie Bishops Education con were interesting indicators of play, as we the rodent returning last night to ‘ability to manage the economy’.

    I think part of the challenge for Rudd is keeping all of Howard’s incompetences and failures a key filter for economic ability. This guy can’t spot a con from the Amercians before a war, watched AWB pay money to Saddam and has given us rising interest rates when he promised the marginals so clearly last election that he wouldn’t.

    Would you trust this guy with a corner shop? Surely not!

  11. Ben,

    My scenario is certainly theoretically possible because the different quotas would change the order of exclusions and thus preference-counting, which can be significant in STV elections. Even if it is extremely unlikely, it still has to be covered in the rules. Otherwise, you could have an election with two different results. The first decision you have to make is one of principle: which is the ‘fairer’ or ‘more desirable’ result – the one in which the 12 senators are chosen first and the six long-termers selected from them, or the one in which the six long-termers are chosen first and the next six added though use of the lower quota. The first would be more representative, but the second would be closer to the normal result in a half-Senate election. Someone with more expertise than I could run the possibilities through a computer to see the effects of different approaches and different rules for dealing with the situation.

  12. Hugo, regarding the votes that may flow to the ALP on the IR issue:

    I agree that many people are worried about the effect of WorkChoices on themselves and their families. Labor have indeed been successful in convincing voters that the package will be detrimental to the conditions of many, many individual workers. But the Coalition have also been successful in getting the electorate to accept their counterargument, that WorkChoices is good, indeed necessary, for the national economy. Come election time, many voters will be torn between the two messages, both of which they accept. I believe that for a great many, the concerns they have for their own immediate conditions, which would otherwise cause them to vote to return to a pre-WorkChoices world with the ALP, will be trumped by the belief that in doing so they may be jeopardising Australia’s longer-term economic performance, which would eventually be to their own detriment. I believe people becomes surprisingly long-sighted when forced to choose in voting booths and a great many opt for solutions they believe have the best long-term outcomes, even when they’re scared of short-term ones.

    Of course, I believe whole-heartedly that WorkChoices is NOT necessary, or indeed even desirable, for the Australian economy.* But the ALP has yet to successfully challenge the popular belief that it is. I hope Rudd realises how crucial it is to winning any substantial swing off the issue that he neutralises that belief to a point where voters are at least in two minds about WorkChoices’ economic benefits. His attempts in the last week to highlight research showing collective bargaining to be the most efficient form of wage negotiation for business are a good start. Arguing against WorkChoices on economic grounds will be tough for Julia and Wayne, but I believe it’s absolutely essential if Labor’s to win.

    *[This is the place for discussion of political strategy and not policies, so I’ll refrain from lengthy explanation of why I believe this, suffice to make two points: that record productivity growth occurred in Australia in the 1990s and continues to occur in the United States now under conditions much more favourable to unions than those afforded by WorkChoices; and the notion underpinning WorkChoices that we can ever get into the same ballpark to compete for investment with emerging markets on wages in either low or high-skilled sectors is one of total and utter economic illiteracy.]

  13. When I say making economic arguments will be tough for Julia and Wayne I mean no disrespect to that pairing’s rhetorical talents. There’s just a tinge of sadness on my part that Lindsay Tanner and Craig Emerson, such highly capable economic thinkers, aren’t the team charged with making those arguments. Can only hoping those latter two are passing lengthy notes up from the lonely end of the Shadow Frontbench.

  14. South Australia may be a key state, but it’s highly unlikely to provide more than three extra seats for Labor. Sturt and Boothby should be on the knife edge if current polls are to be believed but will probably return to traditional Liberal form by election time. Kingston is promising for Labor but at 56-44 in two-party terms in the Advertiser poll is no better than the current Newspoll across Australia. Kingston may be a bit more aspirational than Wakefield, where Labor is polling really well, and Amanda Rishworth is by no means Labor’s strongest candidate in South Australia. Should she and Nick Champion win in Kingston and Wakefield respectively, they will join Adelaide MHR Kate Ellis as federal members from the powerful right-wing shop assistants’ union.

  15. I don’t care how bloody right-wing they are so long as they win their seats. On basic Labor issues the SDA people are perfectly sound, and they are admirably hawkish on security issues (although if the Australian was correct all of them except Danby signed the bring-poor-David-home letter).

  16. amanda rishworth will be a great candidate for kingston

    if amanda rishworth is not strongest candidate that made mark butler a dud

  17. That’s right adam who cares if their from sda (right) or amwu (hard left). I know a lot sda people they are good people. I think it’s time as Labor people to get over the left and right bullshit because the main aim now is to see the end of Howard

  18. Adam,

    You are right again, though I don’t think Phil Robins was being critical in describing the SDA as right-wing. There would surely be only a small fringe left in the ALP that would want to go back to the dictatorial ‘purist’ impotence of the Victorian Left of 1955 onwards. In any case, the SDA represents hundreds of thousands of low-paid workers who are at risk from the Howard Government’s IR laws. Better to have the SDA as a force for good in the Labor Party than joining Tony Abbott’s supposed ex-DLPers in the Liberals.

  19. Adam,

    I’m curious about what you think are ‘basic Labor issues’ and about your view on the treatment of David Hicks. I’m not interested in some partisan point-scoring exercise, it’s just I don’t deal with people who defend the SDA and the treatment of Hicks. (for what it’s worth, I was an active member of the SDA for five years, back in the day) I’d appreciate reading anything you’d care to write that might help me better understand your point of view.


  20. That three members from the SDA stable look set to win house seats in South Australia merely points to the dominance of the right-wing faction in the state’s Labor Party. Amanda Rishworth may well be a better campaigner than her Labor predecessor in Kingston, David Cox, but she’s unlikely to match him as a (shadow) minister. That’s becoming a problem for SA Labor. Kevin Rudd has only one South Australian in his shadow ministry and the talent pool won’t be a whole lot deeper next time.

  21. My definition of “basic Labor issues” is: workplace relations (ie, incomes), health, education, social security, child care, and aged care – improving the living standards of the lowest-earning 25% of the population and improving the life prospects of their children. On all of those issues, during my time in Canberra, I saw no difference between the SDA MPs and other Labor members – in fact they are better then some supposedly more “left” MPs.

    On Hicks: Hicks is unrepentant Islamofascist and anti-Semite who chose of his own free will to go and train as a terrorist with al-Qaida so that he could commit acts like 9/11 and Bali. The fact that he didn’t get the chance to do so is irrelevant. As far as I am concerned he can rot in Guantanamo. However, I have to concede that even vermin like Hicks are entitled to their day in court, and the Bush Administration has stuffed this up as it has stuffed up everything else. My view now is that Hicks should be brought back to Australia. If he can’t be charged with an offence under Australian law, he should be placed under an extremely restrictive control order (ie, basically house arrest), until he confesses what he did, tells ASIO everything he knows, and promises not to have anything further to do with Islamofascists domestic or foreign.

  22. And three cheers for Ray, Danby and Bishop, the three ALP members who refused to sign the “poor-David” letter, which even most of the evil groupers of the SDA signed.

  23. Adam, you all ready believe Hicks is guilty. If it was left up to you a trial would be unnecessay wouldn’t it and whether he receives a fair trial or not would be irrelevant? What ever happened to “innocent until proven guilty”? If Hicks is guilty he deserves everything he gets.

  24. Adam –
    You seem particularly sure that David Hicks is in fact guilty of all you state. How do you know this? Because Howard says so? Because Bush says so? Not the most reliable of sources, I’m sure you’ll admit. You may well be right about Hicks, but in a free society (which we are supposedly defending in this sometime bogus war on terror), he is entitled to the presumption of innocence. Hicks has now been held without charge in the worst possible prison for over 5 years, which is why the issue is starting to get a little political traction – even people who up till now have held a similar view to yours are starting to see that to treat any human being like this diminishes the free society that we are apparently so proud of.

  25. My belief in Hicks’ guilt is based on prima facie evidence: he was apprehended under arms in Afghanistan. What was he doing there? Duck shooting? Anyway, he has said himself that he was training with al-Qaeda. He has never denied any of the allegations made in the first indictment, and in his letters to his father (full of anti-Semite bile), as broadcast on SBS, he confirms this.

    I have said he entitled to a trial. I have also said that I am favour of transferring him to Australian custody (not “bringing him home” on the basis that he was a cute 9yo – is this the most insulting publicity campaign ever or what?). Since he can’t be prosecuted retrospectively, he must be dealt with as a security threat unless and until he renounces his Islamofascist views.

  26. It is not off topic as Hicks should be a key election issue (but almost certainly wont be).

    Adam where did Hicks say he was a member of al-Qaeda. That he was involved with the Taliban to some extent seems clear but the step from involved with the Taliban which would cover everyone in Afghanistan pre-invasion to being an active member of al-Qadea is one I’m not aware has been made.

    As to the first indictment to appear before a kangaroo court so far from fair (well except fo course it was fair enough for Bush and Howard) that the US Supreme court quashed it. So no real reason for Hicks to make any response to such a disgraceful arrangement – so clearly in breach of basic human rights and civilised standards.

    That said I clearly remember Hick’s lawyers not only denying the allegations in the so called indictment, but openly laughing at many of them as impossible, absurd and bizarre. From memory one involved Hicks taking covert action against an embassy or something that had been closed for two years prior to the offence.

    He can be prosecuted retrospectively, just the Commonwealth would have to pass retrospective criminal legislation first, the Commonwealth having admitted many times that Mr Hicks has not broken any Australian Laws.

    I think after 5 years of torture his threat to be a burden on Medicare for many years to come is likely to be much greater than any other threats he poses, but I’m pretty sure Commonwealth authorities have pretty damn extensive powers to monitor and prevent any theat.

  27. Adam he was training with the Taliban, not Al Quada. He was under arms fighting against the invasion. Also, anti-semitism isn’t against the law, and if it was, anti-islam should be as well. Or are you allowed double standards?

  28. Double standards? You mean those that would expect a fair trial and even given one will jump up and down like stuck pigs complaining about the process and safeguards – but are happy to cheer and clap from the sidelines as another Australian is tortured and put before a kangaroo court?

    Oh I think we can draw a pretty safe conclusion on double standards without moving to religious comparisons.

  29. Enviroyouth, I hope your not condoning anti-Semitism and implying support for the Taliban during the war in Afghanistan … your casual remark seems… well, just that … far too casual …

  30. Sorry enviroyouth I was merely referring to the double standard held by anyone who approves of Hick’s treatment and is ever hoping for a fair trial themselves. It is a double standard.

    As for far too casual again those who have been far too casual with human rights and the errorison of them in Hicks’ case then getting all uppity about casual grammar after reading absurd conclusions into it … I don’t know how can they expect human rights to be extended to them.

  31. Adam – you say Hicks is “entitled to a trial” but then you also think that if there’s no law under which he can be charged he should be under a very restrictive control order.

    People like you scare the absolute hell out of me. Your kind have the potential to do vastly more damage to western democracy than any idiot with a gun or a bomb. No amount of bombing will ever bring down our system unless people like you change the fundamental principles by which we live, such as presumption of innocence, the abolition of torture, and so on.

    If there’s no law under which he can be charged, he ain’t guilty of any crime. It’s as simple as that. Unless you honestly think that people should be punished for what they think, then you have to learn to tolerate those who you disagree with, even violently.

    Labor should have the guts to make Guantanamo an election issue. With Bush’s popularity crashing there is no longer any harm in a bit of Latham-esque “most dangerous and incompetent President” style talk (and I haven’t noticed too many people apologising after he was crucified for that one, but he was right, wasn’t he?).

  32. If I went off and trained with a foreign terrorist organisation and got caught I would expect to dealt with in a way that prevented me from doing any further harm to anyone. I agree that the Bush Administration has not dealt with the issue of captured al-Qaeda/Taliban fighters very well, but given the way the US was attacked on 9/11 I don’t really blame them for putting security first and keeping these people in preventive detention. As I said, I am in favour of Hicks being given a trial. My preference is that he be tried here, but it doesn’t seem that he can be prosecuted here unless we pass retrospective legislation (to which I am opposed), the choices are that he face a trial of some sort in the US or that he be transfered to Australian custody and put under a control order. I favour the latter course.

  33. Oh come on the distinction between al-Qaeda and the Taliban has already been pointed out to you, it is a proper and necessary distinction and it is quite dishonest to fail to draw it. For as evil and disgusting as it was the Taliban was the government of an independent nation (prior to its conquest) and Mr Hicks was disobeying neither Australian law (according to our PM and AG) nor Afghan law. So no crime in either his native country nor in the country he was physically located.

    If going off and training with a foreign terrorist organisation was not a crime it is a bit difficult to understand your proposition.

    You are opposed to retrospective Australian legislation but are quite happy for an Australian to be tried before a farce of a court based on foreign retrospective legislation; and very unreliable evidence obtained by torture.

    In essence both the US reaction and support for it is based on what I can only conclude is a mind numbing fear.

  34. I am 100% against anti-semitism. I was just saying that there is no law against it, while there is a law that lets the police raid houses just because the occupants are muslim. The ALP supported that law, which is the same as being anti-islamic. If the police did this against jews it would be anti-semitism but because its muslims Adam and and the ALP seem to think its ok.

    Again, I am against the Taliban, I was just pointing out that they aren’t (or weren’t) al-Quiada. Which is what Adam implied.

  35. Haven’t you people ever heard of national security? In times of emergency it is frequently necessary to detain people who are reasonably held to be potential security risks without charging them with an offence. During World War II Australia interned large numbers of Germans and Japanese. Most of them were not guilty of anything, but in wartime this was not a risk which any responsible government could afford.

    In the case of Hicks, he is by his own admission an adherent of violent jihadist Islamism, the ideology responsible for 9/11, Bali I and II, London and Madrid. He was captured bearing arms in a war zone after training in terrorist skills (whether technically with al-Qaeda or the Taliban is irrelevant – in the context of Hicks there is no difference).

    Hicks chose to become a combatant in a war against western society generally and Australia in particular. Until he repudiates that choice, he must expect to be treated accordingly. The issue is not whether Hicks broke Australian law as it stood at that time. The issue is whether a responsible government can release a trained and committed jihadist into Australian society. I say it cannot. If Hicks is returned to Australia, it must be to a preventive regime of some sort.

    Yes Hippyboy, we in the ALP did support those laws, and I was very proud to be working for an MP who argued strongly that we should do so. We did that to protect you against the kind of people who blew up trains in London and Madrid. You should be grateful.

  36. Well, I’m not. We are not at war, so there can be no pow’s. There is no proof that Hick’s is a jihadist, we have the US’s word on that. He was bearing arms on the side of the Taliban against the illigal and immoral invaders (us in case you’ve forgotten). That war is over. Since your so concernded about violent jihadist’s, why isn’t the ALP and the rest of the coalition of mostly unwilling going after Bin Ladin?

  37. What can one say to someone who continues to defend the indefensible in the face of all human experience, common decency and logic? To someone wh purports to be the repository of all political knowledge yet descends into sophistry; someonewho pretends superiority yet doesn’t have the common sense of a jackass if he honestly believes the tripe and propaganda he is biliously regurgitating?
    Give me an inappropriate apostrophy any day, you pompous git.

  38. You’re proud to have been part of the implementation of the new anti-terrorism laws… that just says it all really.

    When will you conservative (I don’t care which party you work for) idiots wake up and realise that however soft and cuddly the present group of politicians may be, if you put in place the apparatus of a police state then all it takes is a slight change in leadership for you to HAVE a police state. Democracy is not some magical thing that will automatically protect itself from this eventuality.

    Hitler was elected. Mussolini was elected. Hell, even Lenin was elected at one stage. It can happen.

    Personally, I think if you are more afraid of a bomb on a train than of an all-powerful government having the ability to lock you up, keep you under surveillance, or imprison you in a hellhole in Cuba, Australia or anywhere else without open and fair due process, then you are both foolish and a coward. You won’t get a better opportunity to risk your life for the sake of real freedom (i.e. accept the risk of terrorism but keep your liberties), but you can’t even understand what it means.

  39. Oh look! An election coming up!

    Anyway on that topic, it will be interesting to see how climate change plays out as an election issue, given Howard’s gaffe on it in Parliament (and an almost equally poor effort on Lateline the other night)

  40. If you can judge it on momentum day by day, Rudd is slightly in front of Howard at the moment. As we all know he is well ahead in the polls. Big deal. Labor was in front early in 2001 and 2004 and still lost.


    Something just feels a bit different this time. 2001 had the once in a lifetime electroal benefit of 9/11 and Tampa (however questionable it is in retrospect, hearing stories (though eventually proven to be a lie) can shock any person at that moment.). 2004 had the benefit of low interest rates, an unelectable in retrospect, opposition leader (if elected, Latham would have had to quit three months in, so it’s probably better that he didn’t get elected), a good economy and a still winnable war. Three years later, the mood feels a tiny bit different. Yes the economy is still good (for the moment) but three interest rate hikes, rising house prices and a war that is turning into a modern Vietnam may be having an impact.
    With Rudd, there’s just something that feels competitive about the guy. If he can outline good stuff on all of these things, plus at least make some changes to the IR Laws, he will win. And in a landslide. If he does half these things (he hasn’t done none on them yet), Howard will win, but only slightly. You feel like it is like the 1999 Victorian State Election again.
    Even my father, whom has voted for Howard for over a decade and is someone who has gained greatly in his job (manager) and his life from his policies, says he is losing trust in him. As I said, this time it just feels a bit different.

  41. What feels different this year for me is just how uncomfortable the coalition seem to be. I remember in 2001 when they were behind in the polls they still did the day to day politics really well, they acted like the polls didn’t matter at all.

    But this year the list of gaffes, unpopular policies and bad commentaries is just getting longer and longer.

    and C-Woo my parents are the same, they have never voted for anyone but the coalition in the past but now they are planning to vote for Rudd, and they are very clear that they are voting for Rudd, not Labor

  42. Hi All,

    Just been crunching some figures and thought I’d share.

    I noticed that only 2 seats in QLD were listed as ‘marginal’ (ie. less than 5%) in a recent article and it got me thinking. South-East QLD seats suffered huge anti-Latham swings in 2004 so I decided to check the margins on these seats prior to the 04 election (presuming that people who voted Labor in 2001 would come back to to the fold with a more conservative QLD based (non-Latham) contender). This is what I found :

    Moreton 1.2%
    Blair 1.1%
    Herbert 1.4%
    Longman 1.5%
    Petrie 3.5%
    Bowman 2.8%

    Bar Morton and all those seats have current margins well above 5% but it’s quite concievable that at least 5 of them will return to the ALP based on the pre-2004 margins. With the inevitable return of the new seat Bonner (on a 0.6% margin) that would be a fairly easy 6 seat gain in QLD (the “correction” pundits have been predicting).

    In addition you’ve got Macquarie, Wentworth and Lindsay in NSW; Kingston, Wakefield and Makin in SA; Hasluck and Stirling in WA; Braddon and Bass in TAS; and Soloman in NT ALL under a 3% margin. (to put that in perspective a 3% swing from the last election would have Labor on 50.3% TPP and the Coalition on 49.7% .. difficult to see it being that close)

    Add the above up and you get 17 seats .. enough for an ALP majority .. and that’s on relatively minor swing.

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