A tale of two states

Those who followed the Queensland election last September will find this morning’s lead election story in the Daily Telegraph oddly familiar. As has been the case in New South Wales, the Queensland campaign began with a barrage of horrible polling for the Coalition, including a 58-42 Newspoll result. Then came a Courier-Mail report of "secret Labor research", which showed "the Coalition may win some safe Labor seats while a host of marginal seats are too close to call". Today, the Telegraph brings us the headline "Iemma isn’t safe", atop a report which begins: "Premier Morris Iemma is looking down the barrel of a marginal seat blitzkrieg with secret polling revealing the state election is neck and neck in at least 10 key seats".

The Courier-Mail’s thesis that the election was up for grabs was easier to debunk, as it was not actually supported by the hard facts contained in the article. It only went so far as to say there were two particular seats where Labor was in trouble, and that a "host of marginal seats are too close to call". Given the size of Labor’s majority, the prospect of the Coalition being merely competitive in marginal seats did not suggest the Beattie government was in real trouble. The Daily Telegraph report is somewhat different, as it offers detail about what a Labor defeat might look like. If both papers can be faulted for playing along with Labor’s expectations management, the Telegraph has done so after a much harder sell.

The Labor-held seats of Camden, Riverstone, Menai, Miranda and Port Stephens are all set to fall. And the contest is line-ball in two other ALP seats – Penrith and Tweed. The loss of just one more seat would see Labor lose its majority and force it to form government with support from independents … The electoral landscape is so tumultuous that Riverstone – held by former senior minister and now Lower House speaker John Aquilina by a whopping 13.1 per cent – could now comfortably fall to the Liberals 53 to 47, on a two-party preferred basis.

However, it is also noted that "the Government would hold on to the volatile seats of Monaro, Gosford and The Entrance". The latter runs contrary to last week’s assertion by Imre Salusinszky of The Australian that polling by both parties had Labor in "a virtually hopeless position", with "one senior local Labor Party figure" declaring the seat to be "gone".

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.

27 comments on “A tale of two states”

  1. Riverstone is a surprise: anybody who lives in that seat might be able to give us some insight about what is going on. Then again, I think we’re used to deliberate misinformation from the Labor party in particular just before an election.
    The only thing the SMH website is talking about today is Peter Debnam in speedos vs Daniel Craig(James Bond) – yep, that’s the inanity media coverage of politics has sunk to.

  2. I live in the Riverstone electorate, and I must admit that this morning’s report about Riverstone possibly falling to the Libs surprised me too. One thing I have noticed is that the ALP hasn’t even bothered to put up their election signage in the Hawkesbury end of the electorate (well, not that I’ve seen anyway, the exception being a vacant shop in South Windsor) whilst closer to Riverstone itself, there are a lot of ALP signs. The Liberals on the other hand are getting quite a bit of coverage throughout the electorate with their signage.

    Obviously, we won’t know the real result until March 24, and I don’t trust the polls at the moment, given that it changes from week to week. That said, and being in the seat of Riverstone, my prediction is that whoever wins Riverstone will win it with a small margin.

  3. I live in Camden, and I can believe the Libs are winning here.

    I also reckon the battle isn’t over in Macquarie Fields, where Nola Fraser has been campaigning very hard, and could be a backlash against Andrew McDonald for the fact that he’s not a local.

  4. yep, but he works at the hospital, so that counts for a lot in small towns. Still, Nola Fraser the second time around is going to be a hard ask.

    how does she come across?

  5. And for those who spend too long on here, and less listening to the news, Iemma has headed over to Gov House, so its on!

  6. Last Monday, these polls would not have been surprising. Today they are. Last Monday’s polls were themselves not actually surprising, when you looked at the trends over the last 12-24 months, these trends were pointing to something very close to what last Monday’s polls showed. The trends were pointing at about a 1% swing to the ALP state-wide. I emphasise state-wide. The Tele figures represent an average swing of 8.7% to the Liberals, in 11 out of the 93 electorates- these are all swinging electorates.

    The fact that they ARE swinging electorates COULD have something to do with it. However, the Newspoll and Nielsen polls, if properly done, would have sampled these 11 electorates equally. If the Tele figures ARE real, then the swing TO the ALP in the other 82 seats must have been quite a bit bigger than the current 1% state-wide average. And, you would have thought both pollsters were smart enough to have noticed this and reported it.

    What we need to know is:

    When were these 11 polls done?

    The implication in the story is that they were “recent” and an “improvement on previous ALP polling”. The text says “if an election were held at the weekend”. But this is not the same as telling us the polls were held at the weekend. The average TPP in the 11 polled electorates is 49.4%. The state-wide TPP hasn’t been that low since early 2005. My guess would be that these polls are relatively old.

    Who did the polls, who leaked them- and why?

    Obviously, all the usual caveats apply because of the source and the motives behind the poll.

    Were other electorates polled, what did the results show?

    How big were the samples?

    The economics of polling usually dictate that about 1,000 to 2,000 people are polled. The margin of error (95% confidence limits) for this size is in the plus or minus 2-3% range. Spread among 11 electorates, N would drop to 100-200, with an associated margin of error of 7-10%. Here “error margin” (for N=100) means a “95% confidence limit” or that one poll in twenty of that size could be at least 10% WRONG.

    Similar calculations done for 90% confidence limits (because the Tele sampled 11 electorates) would show an error margin of about 8% or N=100. That is to say, in the poll reported this morning, if the number polled per electorate is as low as 100, there is very probably at least one result that is 8% out. Riverstone, for instance, reported as 47% ALP might really be 55% ALP (or 39% ALP!), under such circumstances.

  7. The NSWEC web-site flipped to saying “the writs have been issued” at about 11 am this morning. This is for the Assembly. LC will follow. Nominations may close Thursday (???) because the web-site also flipped to saying that the list of candidates would be available “from Friday”. But they might mean Friday NIGHT. Pre-polling starts next Monday. The Electoral Commission started practising counting votes last Friday afternoon.

    Writs for a general election of members of the Legislative Assembly must be issued within four days after:
    the proclamation dissolving the Assembly has been published in the Government Gazette
    the date of the expiration of the Assembly, that is, on the completion of the four year term.

    I don’t know when either of these things happened- this morning?- there is nothing in last Friday’s Gazette.

  8. “And for those who spend too long on here, and less listening to the news, Iemma has headed over to Gov House, so its on!”

    Huh? I thought that NSW had fixed terms and fixed election dates? Why does the Premier still have to visit the Governor? Shouldn’t the Governor be directed to issue writs etc automatically?

    What would happen if the Premier were to NOT visit the Governor and, refused to advise that writs for an election be issued? Would you have to seek a writ of mandamus in the Supreme Court?

  9. Hmmmmm

    The Governor must issue General Election writs, though by-election writs are issued by the Speaker. The Governor is, by convention, supposed to act on the advice of the Premier or Government. As I understand it, the Premier rolls up at Gov. House and advises Prof Bashir orally (?) to issue such writs.

    The writ (writs??? only one for each house?) is probably a piece of paper- but what would I know?- legally, a “writ” is a WRITten instruction. In this case, it is an instruction BY the Governor TO the Electoral Commissioner to hold a general election. It specifies: the date of nominations, the date of the election and the date by which the Electoral Commissioner must return the writ (with the results, and signed by the Commissioner) to the Governor

    It’s all in the Constitution, which says:

    11A Elections to be held pursuant to writs. Every general election of Members of the Legislative Assembly and every periodic Council election shall be held pursuant to writs issued by the Governor.

    I don’t think the fixed term, nor the timing of elections, is in the Constitution, so there is no mechanism for making the issuing of writs “automatic”- but then again, what would I know? So many of these things are extra-Constitutional, even extra-statutory.

    If the Governor refused, perhaps the Speaker could do it. Failing that, there would be a Constitutional crisis, for which there is little precedent. One vaguely historical precedent is the 1983 Federal election, where the Governor General refused to do it until after he had had his lunch.

    Incidentally, arising out of the 2003 election, there was a proposal to put up a Constitutional amendment at this year’s NSW election to alter the Constitution in respect of the conduct of elections, in particular to remove the method of electing the LC and put it into the Electoral Act (to make it easier to change). It was thought that, if this amended were approved, then this year’s LC results could be counted under the new rules which would then be possible. This sounds very Irish and many thought it was open to challenge, but the Solicitor General thought it was “do-able.”

    “Our Antony” may have been one source of the idea of taking these clauses out of the Consitution because he has been pushing it for some time; though the idea of making it “retrospective” seems to have arisen from the pollies on the Parliamentary Committee.

    Does anybody know what happened to this notion?

  10. Let it be noted that I predicted last week or the week before that there would be a flurry of “leaked internal polling” showing Labor losing this seat and that seat. It’s a tired old ruse but it works every time because the media can’t resist playing along.

  11. It’s disappointing to see polls like this being reported by newspapers with no indication of sample size. As Geoff Lambert points out, polls by electorate often have small sample sizes and can be wildly unreliable. “Tumultuous” “electoral landscape?” Sounds fishy.

  12. Adam did this happen in Vic? I didn’t see anything. If so, could you guess (or do you know) why it didn’t happen?

  13. Section 24A of the constitution ensures a fixed term by stating:
    The writs for a general election of Members of the Legislative Assembly must name as the day for the taking of the poll at that general election:
    (a) if the previous Legislative Assembly expired—the fourth Saturday in March next following the expiry, or
    (b) if the previous Legislative Assembly was dissolved—a day that is not later than the fortieth day from the date of the issue of the writs.

    Section 24B states that the Governor can only dissolve the house if no confidence has passed or supply has been denied in the house. It then contradicts itself by saying that the governor keeps his/her reserve powers

    Section 7B states that unlike much of the rest of the constitution the date for the issuing of the writs can not be changed without a referendum. I think this section was voted in via referendum at the 1995 election

  14. Labor internal polling is simply a lie. We saw the same thing in Melbourne, with Labor internal polling supposedly showing the Greens on 40% in Melbourne, and showing a swag of seats supposedly going to fall to the Liberals. And we all know how accurate that polling was.

  15. there are 10-15 seats which vote differently between state and federal elections. many of these seats have excellent sitting members and
    margins in the range of 7 to 15%. this is where the state election will be
    won or lost. A good example of this is the Sutherland shire seats
    which fall in Cook & Hughes. Cronulla is the only seat which seems
    to not massively cross vote.I suspect the opinion polls are correct enough
    to show a 10% plus swing is not on.

  16. Alister, the Greens were over 40% TPP in Melbourne. And there was a swag of seats that very nearly did fall to the Liberals

  17. Oakshott Country – the provision you refer to is the fixed dissolution date, not the issue of writs. The 4 day issue of writs provision is in the Parliamentary Electorates and Elections Act and should be modified to say the writ is issued the same day as the dissolution. It can be changed by simple amending act. It was a provision which applied if a parliament expired, such as in 1904, 1907 and 1925. It should have been amended when the fixed parliamentary terms was introduced, but government’s have found letting the power of office hang on for a couple extra days came in useful. And for Labor, waiting the couple of extra days makes it tougher for remote postal voters, who in only two weeks, struggle to get their ballot papers and return them in time.

  18. I’m not really sure why anyone takes these ‘leaks’ seriously? Apart from attempting to claim the underdog tag, these internal polls are not only unreliable, but also contribute nothing to the debate.

  19. They’re not intended to contribute to a debate. They’re intended to stop Labor voters straying from the fold for fear they’ll let the Libs sneak in, if not statewide at least in particular seats. It looks very obviously bogus to us intellectual blogreading types, but it appears to work out there in voterland.

  20. Riverstone is on the Greenway result at the 2004 Federal election is a cert for the Liberals. It should be a notional Liberal seat and not Labor.

    The demographic of the electorate has changed drastically over the last few years with McMansions being built over all the really good arable land that was farmed by market gardeners.

    Having said that Aquilina is well known and well liked. Additionally there is a large Maltese descent population in the area and he is no tyro in running tough campaigns havning been campaign manager for the electorally unapplealing Frank Mossfield a couple of times . His posters are all over place the southern end of the electorate and there are very few Lib ones around and even in the northern end around Rouse Hill there are almost no Liberal ones. What posters there are mainly homemade ones made by landowners protesting about not being able to sell the land they inherited from their parents or bought twenty years ago as “sure fire investments” to land developers.

    I call it as the Lib “gain” in a squeaker.

  21. Here in Mulgoa Beamer is promising a $9 million bridge expansion for Mamre Rd over the M4 and another $14 million Northern Rd/Glenmore Park roundabout debacle fix. Allegedly the money is all in the May budget! This after assiduously asserting to concerned residents that any Glenmore Park fixes would have to be 100% paid for by the Developer! What a turnaround in 3 months. She’s a haphazard local member, totally controlled by the TWU, as is her staffer Greg Davies, former mayor of Penrith City Council. Wayne Forno and Steve Hutchins pull the strings out here. We’ve had so much taxpayer funded “Community News” ALP propaganda delivered here in the past 3 months as probably in the past intervening 12 years. Apparently Di is now cold calling the over-55s directly on the office phone, push-polling a Liberal fear campaign. This is probably the most amount of work Beamer has ever done in the past 12 years as the local member. Just like her boss Morris. . . never done a real day’s work in the private sector. Where do these hacks come from!?

  22. I find the speculation about Riverstone interesting. There is very little correlation between Greenway and Riverstone – except that they overlap in area. Yes, John Aquilina is a popular local member and he works his proverbial off. The big differences between Aquilina and the failed federal candidate are that Aquilina is known, liked and not Muslim. And he doesn’t have to fight against the force of Hillsong volunteers (I still reckon they were paid!). Aquilina will win, but with a reduced majority – he is door knocking in the north of the electorate and the scuttlebutt is that he’s being well received. Perhaps it’s all as he’s a genuinely nice bloke. I also think that the scare campaign on interest rates hurt Greenway – that will be different this time around and has no bearing on the State election.

  23. The Goat Lady Sings

    Yesterday, Penelope Wynne, the Goat Lady of Seaforth, nominated for the seat of Manly.

    Manly is only going to be important in the scheme of things if the Libs win enough seats to make the Manly result determine the difference between a hung Parliament and a Coalition majority. Since either of these things seems very unlikely, Manly is just a sideshow. But interesting.

    The Goat Lady is seen as a spoiler sucking votes away from David Barr (IND) and (possibly) shunting them towards Baird (LIB). Her support is local….. seat-wide, people are guessing a 5% vote max. This MIGHT determine the result, but the crystal ball is very clouded in Manly. There has been polling, but firm figures of what it shows are hard to dig up. In no case do the rumoured polling figures add up to 100%. One rumour has Baird on 46%, which would guarantee him a win; another has him on 34%, which could guarantee a loss. Previous LIB vote has been consistently at about the 42% mark (1991, 1995, 1999, 2003). On the normal, pre-Goat Lady, flow of preferences, the Libs need about 43.5% primaries to get them over the TCP line.

  24. I was brought up with well known politians and even though i respect most of them, I personally refuse to follow my families unofficial creed of “Labor and Catholic” John Aquilina is a pompus snot that would not have a care or clue about what Riverstone (as a town or electorate) needs. Its unfortunate that a man who got his start at local meetings held in the Sam Lane Community centre can become so far detached from the battler of the west. but he never was one I suppose. he has had numerous falls from grace but the people of this community also unfortunately know no better than to believe one of their own could be so different. I find it ammusing that he is still considered to be liked in this electorate, I wonder who these people are and if they have ever spoken to him? (not during election time as i have witnessed the attempt at charm? during these times.) John Aqulina (sorry soozie) is far from a genuinely nice bloke. Personally or politically. On a more general less personal note… Nothing has been completed by Labor in this community, we suffer on horrid roads lined with flowers on telegraph poles that mark the many deaths on them, land had still not been released and as standard the only time they give us the time of day is at election time. The best thing that could happen to this town and this state is a Liberal majority.

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