Highlights of week two

"Number’s up and Labor is worried", declared the headline in Wednesday’s Daily Telegraph. Their cause for concern: Newspoll and ACNielsen figures which respectively showed them leading 59-41 and 57-43. As the paper’s Simon Benson noted, this is not as "counter-intuitive" as it might sound. For a government carrying so much baggage, support at this level must inevitably be extremely soft. Should the polls generate a perception of inevitable Labor victory, the prospect emerges of an unpleasantly surprising protest vote on polling day.

That said, it’s a much happier problem to be facing than those that have lately confronted Morris Iemma’s Liberal counterpart. For Peter Debnam, the current week has panned out as follows.

Monday. The week starts optimistically in the wake of Sunday’s sort-of-campaign launch in Cronulla, not far from the proposed site of the government’s contentious Kurnell desalination plant. Some good press is forthcoming: Joe Hilderbrand of the Daily Telegraph writes of green groups’ applause for Coalition water policies, which unlike Labor’s feature the politically dicey prospect of recycled drinking water. Elsewhere, the paper reports that the launch has found Debnam "finally hitting his stride". Then in the afternoon, the Sydney Morning Herald unveils those ACNielsen poll results.

Tuesday. Assuming he got to bed at a sensible hour, Debnam would have woken to the even worse figures from Newspoll. He would then have steeled himself for the day’s big media event, in which he fronted the media with the Banning family in the key seat of Penrith. The Bannings are presented as a typical "mum and dad" couple speaking of the opposition’s "exciting" plan to lift the land tax threshold from $368,000 to $415,000. Come the evening, the Sydney Morning Herald reveals the Bannings run a real estate business and own eight rather than four investment properties, if those managed by an independent superannuation fund are included.

Wednesday. Debnam’s accusation that the government is "hiding" the rising cost of its Rail Clearways project comes at least partially unstuck when the government points to a press release from November identifying some of the increase cited by Debnam cited as missing.

Thursday. In the Sydney Morning Herald, Anne Davies reports that Liberals are expressing "open concern about Peter Debnam’s leadership style for the first time since he took the reins" – specifically that he "behaves as a one-man band despite talking about the team, is too aloof and relies too much on stunts that distract from policy messages". In The Australian, Ean Higgins and Brad Norington bring news that "party insiders" are describing Debnam as "privately depressed at his prospects", and showing signs of "desperation".

Friday. Andrew Clennell of the Sydney Morning Herald reports that Debnam is "still unable to confirm when the Liberals will start their television advertisements". His report also says the Liberals’ financial struggles mean candidates in "key marginal seats" are "mostly having to raise money without help from head office", with party state director Graham Jaeschke conceding key seat funding will be restricted to 15 target seats. Similarly, The Australian notes Debnam’s failure to gain support from business, "as firms fear Labor would ‘crucify’ them for advocating a change of government". It is also reported that "senior business figures" feel Debnam "lacks personal appeal and his front bench is weak". Wary as one should be of anecdotal evidence, there is plenty of it in this comments thread to support the idea that the Coalition is failing to make its present felt in important seats.

Still, it’s not all bad news: the Daily Telegraph’s "virtual voting" feature has "Liberal" (meaning the Coalition) on track for a 12-seat absolute majority, with "Labour" (meaning Labor) reduced to 25 seats after losing a further five to the Greens. Back on planet Earth, Labor’s campaign has not gone entirely without incident. On Tuesday, Michael Costa was told by Morris Iemma to go sit in the corner after claiming that he, Joe Tripodi and Frank Sartor had been victims of a "racist" opposition campaign against members with "Italian-sounding names" (Costa did not suggest that this extended to Iemma himself). The government has also been fending off accusations it influenced Connector Motorways’ decision to schedule the opening of the Lane Cove Tunnel – which it is feared will cause a repeat of the chaos that accompanied the August 2005 opening of the Cross City Tunnel – for the day after the election. The government has been keen to point out that Connector’s chairman is former Liberal Premier John Fahey.

When I eventually get round to updating the election guide, the following Campaign Updates will note electorate-level developments from the past week or so:

Lakemba (Labor 28.8%): Six weeks after the prospect was floated of radical Islamic cleric Sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly running against Morris Iemma, there was a brief flurry of talk on Wednesday that the boxer Anthony Mundine would run at his behest. By Thursday, Mundine was declaring that he still hoped to enter politics "maybe some time in the near future". Last August, it was reported that Mundine was planning on running against Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt in Marrickville. An earlier foray into politics came with the following declaration on Channel Nine’s Today program in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks: "if you understand the religion and our way of life it’s not about terrorism, it’s about fighting for God’s laws, and America’s brought it upon themselves (for) what they’ve done in history and so on". Channel Nine’s line to Mundine was then cut by an unfortunately timed technical glitch.

Tweed (Labor 4.0%): On Monday, Morris Iemma scored some good photo ops in Labor’s most marginal seat by meeting with Peter Beattie at the Queensland border, where measures to make life easier for cross-border taxi operators were unveiled. There was also talk of integration of rail and health services. However, Financial Review reporter Steven Scott thought Beattie a "curious choice of campaign partner, because many Tweed residents are jealous of the lower taxes, cheaper cost of living and better infrastructure north of the border". According to Cosima Marriner of the Sydney Morning Herald, Labor incumbent Neville Newell has "the air of a man who suspects he is already beaten", as he suffers a "perceived inability to get things done (which) has earned him some unflattering nicknames – Nodding Nevvie, Last Sleeper on the Tweed, and Chauncey Gardener (after the accidental politician played by Peter Sellers in the 1979 movie Being There)".

Bathurst (Labor 13.1%), Londonderry (Labor 10.9%) and Riverstone (Labor 13.4%): The opposition has pledged to begin construction of the Bells Line Expressway M2 Extension, to run from Quakers Hill in north-western Sydney to just north of Lithgow. This puts it at odds with the federal government, which according to a spokesperson for Roads Minister Jim Lloyd (quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald) believes the project to be "not viable, economically or socially". Such a road would provide a safer route through the Blue Mountains than the existing Great Western Highway and Bells Line of Road, allowing B-double trucks a direct route west of Sydney.

Wyong (Labor 12.3%): Brenton Pavier, the Liberal candidate dumped for forwarding a naughty joke text message to his fellow Wyong councillors, has abandoned plans to run as an independent. According to the Daily Telegraph, Pavier "said he had thrown his support behind new Liberal candidate for Wyong and personal friend Ben Morton". Still in the field as an independent is Greg Best, one of the recipients of the aforementioned text message. Best continues to deny Pavier’s claim that it was he who alerted the media to Pavier’s unstatesmanlike sense of humour.

Shellharbour (Labor 26.8%): Planning Minister Frank Sartor announced on Wednesday that tenders would be called for a long-delayed road link establishing flood-free access between Dapto and Horsley. Mario Christodoulou of the Illawarra Mercury reports that the road will cater both for existing residents and "more than 19,000 new residents expected to move into West Dapto". Lord mayor Alex Darling, who is mounting a strong independent challenge in the seat, told the Mercury he expected the project to "just disappear after the election, and they will not put any money in it".

Willoughby (Liberal 0.2% versus Independent): The North Side Courier reports that local mayor Pat Reilly will again run as an independent, after coming within 144 votes of winning the seat at the 2003 election. The seat was then being vacated by former Liberal leader Peter Collins; his successor was Gladys Berejiklian, who has since emerged as one of the opposition’s few political assets.

Maitland (Labor 10.3%): Last Friday, the Newcastle Herald reported that a Liberal Party poll conducted "late last year" showed Peter Blackmore, local mayor, former Liberal member and current independent candidate, was polling 36 per cent to Labor’s 30 per cent and the Liberals’ 20 per cent.

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.

25 comments on “Highlights of week two”

  1. I hear more rumblings of trouble in Willoughby, Liberal HQ is freaking out over Pat Reilly running again. Sources indicate that it is one of the 15 seats the party is treating as key seats.

  2. It’s probably a sign of the passion of this election that the Poll Bludger’s excellent analysis is failing to attract much e-chatter, even from the political junkies that populate sites like this. At any rate, I suspect not much of note is likely to happen until the final week. I guess that means we have at least a fortnight more of Debnam in his budgie smugglers.

  3. William – a couple of fixups for Willoughby in the first paragraph on ur election guide….

    a: the seat existed from 1884 – accidently wrote 1984
    b: the seat exchanges voters with ChatsWOOD not Chatsworth 😛 oops

    hope that helps – havent found any other errors yet

  4. Lock up Debnam not 10 Year Olds

    Mr Debnam wants the ability to charge all 10 year olds under the Crimes Act.

    Mr Debnam does not understand that Children grow and learn at different ages.

    There is already the ability under Doli incapax to for the Courts to determine whether a 10 year old is criminally responsible.

    Anyway Mr Debnam might be able to charge 10 years old with “anything”.

    Pete claims he has had an interesting week, what else will the next week hold.

  5. “Number’s up and Labor is worried” – William, was the redundant apostrophe in the original, or is it your addition?

  6. Houndgrel,

    if you read the policy, it does not stipulate that 10 year olds will be locked up, or indeed charged under the Crimes Act. In fact, the policy is aimed at holding youths of the 10-14 age bracket responsible for minor crimes that in most cases, are conscious, deliberate acts; offensive conduct, offensive langauge, malicious damage etc. The commission of major crimes is an extremely different story, and attempting to place all changes under the one umbrella is misleading. Police have been handstrung, particularly in the face of the Young Offenders Act, and remedial methods of punishment are having even less of an effect than more punitive approaches.

    The ‘legal experts’ and ‘snivel libertarians’ will attack this policy till the cows come home, however we are in a society that is constantly in a state of change, and if anyone believes that the 10-14 year olds of today are ignorant or unable to discern between right and wrong in relation to minor crimes, you must be living on another universe. Spend a night with a Car Crew at Mount Druitt, or even the Northern Beaches, and try to maintain your current view.

    Progress or change in other aspects of government (namely police) seems to be promoted regularly, however any encroachment on the domain of the ‘legal professionals’ faces concerted opposition. Seems more like the need to maintain a monopoly on policy as oppose to any genuine concern about the likely consequences of change.

  7. Debnam must be in serious trouble if he has to make campaign announcements in Wahroonga, on Sydney’s North Shore, very blue ribbon Liberal territory.
    The Libs only held Willoughby last time by 100 votes.
    This is following the pattern of recent state elections: a supposedly unpopular government, but an even more woeful opposition, and on election day, the government is comfortably reelected.
    As a Labor voter, I’m not complaining, but you’d think the Libs in NSW could have found a better leader than Debnam. Oh well, I guess we’ve got another 3 weeks of Pete campaigning in his budgy smugglers.

  8. Adam: here you go, pedantic one. Factiva has it as “Number’s up and Labor is worried” (below) against the online version’s “Number’s up. Labor’s worried”, so I guess an online sub didn’t like it either. I personally thought “number IS up and Labor is worried” was acceptable, in a headline-speak kind of way, though I grant you that it’s ugly to omit “is” the first time and not the second.

    Number’s up and Labor is worried
    Simon Benson
    824 words
    28 February 2007
    Daily Telegraph
    1 – State
    Copyright 2007 News Ltd. All Rights Reserved

  9. William – but what does “number’s up and Labor’s worried” mean? What number is up? Surely it means Labor’s poll numbers are up. In which case the apostrophe is wrong.

  10. While it clearly doesn’t make sense, I think it’s somehow a play on saying that someone’s “number is up”, ie. their time has come to an end, they’re gonna meet their fate, and in this context means they’re gonna lose after time in power, while also saying that the ALP’s numbers in the poll have gone up.

  11. Stewart,

    I have searched for Mr Debnams policy http://www.peterdebnam.com.

    Somehow the day the policy is re-released 2nd March the blog entry has dissapeared.

    A search on a link to policies Re-empowering police reveals an empty page.

    In the absence of better information relying on the ABC 2nd March who have stated “The News South Wales Opposition has released more details about its promise to lower the age of criminal responsibility to 10.”

    All 10 year olds in the state are not members of car crews or hoodlum gang. The Courts should make the reasonable decision on criminal responsibility.

    I do not live on another Universe ( New South Wales in fact). A place without a manned Police Station where strong community gives children responsibility and does not have to rely on Police on most occasions.

    Maybe Mr Debnam wants new laws that make is easier for people to be charged by Police with ” anything” because with 1000 fewer police there will be less resources available to investigate crime.

  12. What Ben says. So “the” number is up, and Labor is worried. The omission of “the” is consistent with the convention that articles are dropped in “headline-speak” (hence “man bites dog”). That at least would be my excuse if I was the Daily Telegraph, which I’m not. I report – you decide.

  13. It’s the “subs” (subeditors). There is an unofficial competition between them to create the most smart-arsed headline. Always has been. Frank Devine (ex Oz and NY Daily News editor) once said that they were a law unto themselves.

  14. Edward, it would be great to see Pru ascend the Liberal leadership. Things would rapidly turn around and a landslide Liberal win would be on the cards for 2011. But does she have the numbers? Despite her considerable talent and freshness the selectors in Epping refused her in favour of a candidate from the right (their favoured candidate appears decent enough, but rejecting Goward was foolishness). Goward would be popular among most voters, but that never comes on the radar of the extreme right in NSW. Who cares what voters want?!

  15. Pru Goward being touted as leader before the election? Have the Tories given up already.

    Interestingly out here in Blacktown and Toongabbie there are not many Liberal posters in front yards. In previous elections even tho’ the Liberals had no chance whatsoever they would organise lots of posters. Even the Chanticleer chook farm out on Quakers Hill Parkway which is normally plastered with Liberal Party posters sports only one. Perhaps the Libs are saving their powder for more winnable seats.

    However, in Blacktown incumbent carpet bagger Paul Gibson is actually spending money for the first time. He has paid out heaps to have his gruesome visage plastered on bus shelter advertising space throughout the rotten borough thereby frightening the living daylights out of old ladies, schoolchildren and the terminally unemployed these being the only people in western Sydney who actually travel by bus (yet another legacy of the neglect of the region by the Liberals and the A(nother) L(iberal) P(arty).

    This is of course pretty historic since it is the first time non-resident funky Gibbo has been seen anywhere near a bus stop in his electorate.

  16. Debnam’s penchant for stunts reminds me of Ted Ballieu’s campaign in Victoria. I spoke to (former WA Opposition leader) Matt Birney on the night of the Victorian election and he thought the scuba suit wasn’t a good look for a politician.

    Saw Debnam in a scuba suit recently.

  17. For betting enthusiasts, Sportingbet has Goulburn as one of the seats it is taking bets on – http://www.sportingbet.com.au/uipub/sport.aspx?l1id=34&l2id=531527&l3id=561104&l4id=561115
    The odds would suggest that “Others” is currently doing better than the ALP there, so Goward must be doing well. The Goulburn post also has an article about this (sorry no link), opening with:
    “Punters have abandoned the Liberal and Lbaor State election hopes, with Bookmakers reporting “sgnificant” money for Independent candidate Paul Stephenson and The Greens’ Bill Dorman.”
    The story then goes on to say that Goward is out to $1.23 (from starting at $1.05) and money being bet strongly on Stephenson and Dorman (bringing Any Other Candidate being backed in from $51 to $6). Other seats they are taking bets on are almost as interesting!

  18. History quiz: In the week before the 1991 election, when it was so obvious that Greiner was going to romp home that all the media buzz was about how quickly Carr would resign, who was most often touted as his successor? Where are they now?

  19. My guess is Peter Anderson.
    Descendent of a powerful Sussex St family. Lost Penrith in 1988 (to Guy Matheson – whose slogan was “who is this Guy”. Was handed Liverpool when George Pacullio spat the dummy when he was not selected as leader. Lost pre-selection to the Left’s Paul Lynch before 1995 and Carr refused to let him in the upper house.
    Answer to second question: Who cares?

  20. I take it back – I do care.
    He became chairman of the Tow Truck Authority in 1997 and resigned in 2002. The TTA was referred to ICAC in the same year.
    He was chairman of the Ministerial Standing Committee on Hearing (Department of Health) until 2005 when he was succeded by the Hon Sue West.
    He was chairman of the Penrith Regional Gallery in the same year.

  21. So there you go. Next Leader one day, chairman of the Tow Truck Authority the next. Let that be a warning not to call elections before anyone actually votes.

    I had some dealings with Anderson when he was Health Minister, he was actually quite a smart guy. Compared with Ron Mulock anyway.

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