Last Tuesday’s post on Peter Debnam’s pitch for sympathy by portraying himself as something less than an underdog might have been ahead of its time. He was then only going so far as to say the election should be seen as a chance to "send Labor a message". On Friday, he upped the ante by declaring: "the Labor Party is going to win the election in a week. If the polls today are correct, they’re about to win the election and you’re about to get another four years of the same". Compare and contrast this with the 1996 statement from Geoff Gallop, then the WA Opposition Leader, cited in the earlier post: "Information I have seen in the polls throughout this campaign indicates the Court Government will be returned comfortably on Saturday". Brad Norington and Imre Salusinszky of The Australian nonetheless felt able to report that "publicly admitting to likely defeat is unheard of in politics".
Reaction to the manoeuvre was perhaps not as Debnam would have hoped. An unnamed Liberal MP quoted in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph described the decision as "stupid". The ABC’s Quentin Dempster was even less charitable on Friday’s edition of Stateline, putting it to Debnam: "I now ask you, in the interests of restoring some healthy democratic competition to this election, to step aside immediately as leader, to allow Barry O’Farrell to lead the party to the election". Debnam has since been trying to have it both ways, arguing that he did not mean what he appeared to mean when he said that "the Labor Party is going to win the election". Yesterday a Liberal election rally was told: "I’m fighting to win this election. There is not one defeatist bone in my body and never has been".
Debnam can at least take heart from yesterday’s editorial in News Limited’s Sunday Telegraph, which made a torturously qualified call for a change of government. It correctly noted that the Liberals would be much better placed if O’Farrell was leader, but concluded that a Debnam-led Coalition "could hardly do any worse" than the incumbents. However, Fairfax’s Sun-Herald went the other way, with a verdict headlined: "Unfortunately, it has to be Labor".
A few more Campaign Updates for the election guide:
Camden (Labor 8.7%): Today’s Sydney Morning Herald carries an ACNielsen poll from an impressive sample of 952 voters in this seat in outer south-western Sydney. The results are relatively encouraging for the Liberals: a 53-47 two-party split in Labor’s favour, or a swing of nearly 6 per cent. The primary vote figures were Labor 47 per cent, Liberal 41 per cent, Greens 5 per cent, independents 3 per cent and other parties 5 per cent. However, the poll was conducted "last weekend" before the politically bewildering double whammy of the Liberals’ transport policy failure and Wednesday night’s public transport fiasco. On Saturday, Caitlin O’Toole of the Financial Review reported that "polls" showed the Liberals were in fact ahead here: none had been published, so this presumably referred to party polling.
Pittwater (Independent 5.4% versus Liberal): Alex McTaggart, who won this blue-ribbon seat as an independent when John Brogden quit in late 2005, has obviously not been studying his election campaigning textbook. McTaggart modestly informed the Sydney Morning Herald’s Andrew Clennell that he need not bother coming to see him, as he was "going to win anyway". Clennell made the trip regardless and was told by McTaggart that he did not believe in doorknocking, which he considered "in your face" and unpopular with voters. McTaggart also said his own polling showed "a 2 per cent swing from him to the Liberals on primary votes", a hard statement to read given there was no Labor candidate at the by-election. Last Saturday’s Financial Review reported that Liberal polling had them trailing 57-43 on two-candidate preferred.
Hawkesbury (Liberal 14.6%): It seemed an awful stroke of bad luck for Liberal-turned-independent member Steven Pringle when another candidate bearing his surname drew top spot on the ballot paper. However, Steven Pringle says he smells a rat with respect to Australians Against Further Immigration’s Gregg Pringle, telling the Penrith Press: "I was surprised and somewhat flattered, but then discovered he doesn’t even come from within the electorate. Now you have to be suspicious. Why would anyone with the same surname, from outside the electorate, nominate for Hawkesbury, just two weeks out from an election?" One explanation might be that the AAFI, in its determination to field no fewer than 71 candidates, was relaxed about their connections to the electorates they were running in.