Phoney war dispatches: what the papers say

Michael Bachelard of The Age reports the blue-ribbon Melbourne seats of Kooyong (9.8 per cent) and Goldstein (10.0 per cent) are in danger of falling “because John Howard has refused to move aside”. This is according to a “senior Liberal figure” who desribes the Prime Minister’s new position on the leadership as a “catastrophe” driven by “selfishness”, and believes “next Tuesday’s Newspoll should be a catalyst for a change”. Elsewhere in Victoria, Deakin (5.0 per cent), McMillan (5.0 per cent), Corangamite (5.3 per cent), La Trobe (5.8 per cent) and McEwen (6.4 per cent) are rated “almost certain to go”, while Dunkley (9.4 per cent) and
Flinders (11.1 per cent) are “also under pressure”.

Simon Benson of the Daily Telegraph reports that Labor polling in 10 New South Wales marginals pointed to swings of between 8 and 12 per cent, which was deemed so implausible it was redone – “only to return the same results”. The report also confirms no effort will be made to win seats from Labor, and says the Liberals have “started polling the blue-ribbon seat of North Sydney because of fears Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey could fall” (although similar noises could be heard during the 2004 campaign).

• Steve Lewis of The Australian reckons the Prime Minister’s announcement that he will hand over the reins to Peter Costello in an increasingly hypothetical next term of government amounts to him “sacrificing his own seat to save the Coalition”, since it will enable Maxine McKew to point to the certainty of a mid-term by-election. Significantly, the Prime Minister is now promising to serve a full term as member for Bennelong if the government is returned.

Michael McKenna of The Australian reports that Moreton MP Gary Hardgrave “appears to have misled federal parliament” over the AFP’s inquiries into the “phantom staffer” and “printgate” affairs. An AFP spokesman is quoted saying a formal interview was requested with Hardgrave, which appears at odds with his statement in parliament on August 7: “I have not even been required for an interview by the AFP in the five-and-a-half months since this matter began”.

• Focus group sessions conducted by the Sydney Morning Herald, as reported by Peter Hartcher and Annabel Crabb, provide many pages of grim reading for the government and its supporters.

• Malcolm Mackerras tells the Canberra Times that the Greens’ Senate candidate in the ACT, former MLA Kerrie Tucker, is a “50-50” chance to lead the party to an unprecedented Senate win at the expense of Liberal incumbent Gary Humphries.

• Venturing slightly off topic, Sean Parnell of The Australian reports from Queensland that “senior conservatives fear Anna Bligh will use a state electoral redistribution late next year as the trigger for an early election, consigning an ill-prepared Coalition to another three years in Opposition”.

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.

319 comments on “Phoney war dispatches: what the papers say”

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  1. The next big poll is the Newspoll on Tuesday and it’s “Sydney to a brick” that the TPP for the ALP will have a 6 in front following this weeks debacle.

    The good news in the poll will be there is no “I” in John Howard or Peter Costello but there are far too many to count in “Liberal/National Coalition humiliating annihilation”.

    The attempt by the Libs to introduce a duumvirate leadership is a genuine attempt to invigorate the Party in the eyes of the public. But, the punters don’t seem to be buying it at the moment and such arrangements seem rather antipathetical to the traditional Liberal modus operandi.

    My guess is that once the poll is out, Howard will despatch someone (probably Downer) to do the usual soundings of the Cabinet and other Liberals. There will no doubt be a comprehensive review at the next Party Meeting next Tuesday or Wednesday.

    I expect Howard to announce that the dual/transitional leadeship arrangement has run it’s race already and can’t go on because people are confused. At that, I expect there to be a vote and finally the Liberal MPs will accept the responsibility, face the reality and make the toughest decison of their lives.

    And so will end the glittering and stellar political career of Peter Costello.

  2. D’accord, GG. I’ll second your “6” scenario in tomorrow night’s Newspoll. Hasn’t been a week in Oz Pol like this for quite some time. Team Smirk/Rodent are a rabble and the nation knows it. “Insiders” is de rigeur viewing this morning.

  3. what if an election is called this evening? Might the GG scrap the “regular” Newspoll and do another, on the basis that “voters will only make up their minds when the election is called”?

    57-43 my guess – statistically no different from the last

  4. William,

    It is incorrect to say that JWH is promising to serve a full term for Bennelong “come what may”. The commitment is only valid if the Government is also returned. As it is odds on that the Government will not be returned voters in Bennelong will almost certainly be facing a by election within six months if Howard is re-elected.

  5. Thanks for providing the link back to the Hartcher-Crabbe report on focus testing the swinging voters by Nielsen. I was pretty sure this had precluded those that had shifted because of Workchoices. Then I couldn’t find the article last night. Your link gave me a chance to reread. Here it is

    “Surprisingly, perhaps, the biggest single item of contention between Labor and the Government this term – the Government’s Work Choices reforms – did not figure prominently in the group discussions. John Stirton explains that this is partially due to the selection process for swinging voters, which tends to filter out people with pre-existing strong views on industrial reform.”

    If you screen this lot out, you’ve missed the biggest reason for the change. If some of the reasons of the remainder for changing seem a bit superficial, it may be because that’s all that are left. The people examined are either ‘undecideds’ or wavering. Most of the polling has suggested there is only a small percentage of ‘undecideds’.

    Moreover, these people may not be able to articulate their reasons for changing too easily – hence the brief flutter of hope that the change inclination may be soft – but they, too, might have been influenced by the huge loss in credibility over Workchoices, which then fed in to scepticism about other government positions.

    My own reading is that the change in voting intentions is not soft at all, and we are looking at wipeout possibilities.

    This may well be compounded as the reality of the leadership duumvirate slowly seeps in.

  6. Betfair (the site where the punters set the odds) has Labor at 70% chance of winning government, and about 50% chance of winning Bennelong.

    Surely these odds will move (big time) if tonight’s Newspoll is 60+ for Labor.

  7. Talked to a local Liberal Party member last night who is in the marginal seat of Moreton and who I have known for 12 years. I asked what the mood was within the local Liberal branch.
    His response?
    “We know Moreton is lost – we just dont know by how much”.
    When asked about the Government overall, his reply was something along the lines of “We are hoping for Rudd to make a huge mistake, but other than that – it looks very grim”.
    Seems the psychological warfare (locally) may have already been won by Labor – and thats before the election has been called!

  8. I hate those focus group thingys, I find them incredibly depressing. It just shows up peoples confusion and apathy towards the whole process. Enjoyed Hugh Mackays artcle in the same paper much more, who famously said back in mid May that by the end of July We’d know if the public was serious about changing government. He thinks they’ve made up their mind.

  9. The thing I don’t understand is if the Liberal Party’s internal polling is so good like they’re claiming, why don’t they just call the election now? The longer they leave it the more hopeless it’s looking for them.

  10. However bad the next round of polling is, they can`t seriously be contemplating dumping Howard now can they? I think you`d be lucky to get $1.10 Timbo.

  11. Good point ‘Call the election please’ to which one may ask the question if it is a ‘core’ or ‘non core’ promise.


  12. If Labor 2PP in this Newspoll is in the (say) 56-60 range it will (correctly) be seen as status quo – in which case Howard’s not going to be challenged.

    Over 60, then anything’s possible.

    If Labor is 55 or less (seems unlikely, but we’ve just had a week unlike any other, so who knows) the Libs will be talking about this week as the momentum-changing point of the campaign.

  13. “If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin to break” I wonder just how much effect all this fire and brimstone stuff has on the electorate, and for that matter in what direction? Ie does the stench of death make people want to give the libs a final kick to put them out of their misery, or stir up some sympathy out of a desire to even the odds a bit and bring things back to a more normal contest? Any views? (Sorry about the melange of metaphors.)

  14. paradise I’d expect it would stir up some sympathy and perhaps enough to get them over the line in a few marginals.

  15. It sounds obvious but hubris is Labor’s biggest danger at this stage. The biggest danger of huge poll leads is that it may encourage some of the camp followers like Sharan Burrow to start making promises on Rudd’s behalf.

    I don’t think there is a sympathy vote per se.

  16. I enjoyed Hugh Mackay’s latest piece, but it wasn’t real analysis. It was Hugh being sincere.

    He started the piece by essentially agreeing with the government that there are no obvious or explicit reasons for the govt being so far behind (other than age). Then, onto that blank sheet, he projects his personal beefs – essentially the ‘trust’ issues Labor thought would run their way in 2004 and didn’t. I’d like to think there is some electorate-wide conscience, waking up not just to the government’s darker side, but the shared complicity in this. But where is the data, quantitative or qualitative, to support this?

    As for Howard’s lawyerly ‘promise’ to Bennelong… It is funny how AAP missed the weasel words, so the headlines all weekend have been: ‘Howard commits to full term’.

    But that’s a triple-edged sword for Howard. At a local level, McKew will hammer away the qualification in his promise. And at a national level, plenty of punters will just see the headline and think Howard has contradicted his statement last week that he’d not serve a full term (as PM).

  17. Call the Election Please (10)
    “The thing I don’t understand is if the Liberal Party’s internal polling is so good like they’re claiming, why don’t they just call the election now?”

    Claims about internal polling are worth about as much as claims like “I have legal advice that says I was acting within my powers to deport Dr Haneef”. Just as you can get legal advice to say whatever you want by asking a vague question, so to with polling. Even more so with polling because not only can you bias the question, you can also bias the group sampled. It could be a poll of Coalition Ministerial staffers for all we know. The fact that Howard has left calling the election till he is vulnerable to criticism of delaying the inevitable shows that he knows full well they are in trouble. If not we’d be voting now.

    Apologies if your comment was intended with irony that I missed 🙂

  18. re jhockey and his “handbag full of knives” comment to julie gillard

    1.stop using your arab cousins tactics or are you showing your true colours? are in australia not araba iif you dont like it re-emigrate

  19. Dyno @ 17 – The entire union movement’s relevance is riding on this campaign and Burrow is too seasoned to make such an amateur mistake.

    The ACTU and unions have invested big money in the “Your rights at work” campaign. There is a definite feeling of everyone shut your mouth. At this stage, I think the unions are going to just concentrate on the marginal seats, WorstChoices and not much else.

    Timbo @ 19 – Totally but Fran Kelly and Misha Schubert didn’t seem to be talking sense to me.

  20. In all of this, there is one old headline that is the back of my mind, to say this all ain’t over


    I can’t see a way back for the Libs, however, there are have been come backs before (not from THIS far behind…or have there been?)

    Can someone tell me before the major changes of government post WW2 (49, 72, 83, 96) how many seats the opposition needed to win to get government? I think the the Libs needed 9 in 96. Were any of them bigger than 16?

    Gee, if Kooyong and Goldstein are in trouble, has anyone done an analysis on Higgins? Is Pete in trouble? I thought Victoria would have been the best result in terms of losing seats for the Libs. Now it looks like at least 5 will go!

    What was Howard thinking? Insiders said that there Libs will go up in Newspoll, just because of “gravity” for the ALP. Will it?

    I am really trying to work out what the Libs are playing at. Why doesn’t Howard retire now? Is it a concession that Costello can’t win an election?

    There will be more leadership talk this week. I can feel it.

  21. Costello told Channel 9 this morning that he has ruled out a leadership before the election. “I told the PM last year that I would go as his Deputy and Treasurer. Last year, I said I would. I will. That’s it.”

    This is great news for Labor who will be able to highlight their New Leadership slogan as well as the uncertainty of the question of who is going to be PM after Howard goes to the backbench. (if they win),23739,22426688-5003402,00.html

  22. RGee at 22 – you may well be right about Burrow – time will tell.

    But she was just a hypothetical example – my point is that as Labor people think victory is becoming certain, they may start the post-election manouevring early. This isn’t always a good look.

  23. I’d doubt many Labor people are thinking victory is certain. I doubt they’ll ever think they’ve won until election night.

  24. #30

    I’d say post election maneuvering has already been occurring i.e.
    Downers claim Labor had been going around telling business
    execs they had the election in the bag. As much as I see Downer as a walking septic tank, how else would you elicit parity of funding contributions? Not by telling everyone your a sure bet to lose I would hazard a guess. Trick is to show cautious confidence without hubris, so far so good.

  25. Oldtimer, yeah Milne said Galaxy on Monday for the other news Ltd papers and Newspoll on tuesday. Of course Milne could be wrong, he has been known to be wrong before. Or I need my hearing checked. 🙂

  26. Howard will never give in the PMship. He would have to be blasted off the leadership with explosives. IMHO he would rather lose than handover to Costello. Saying that he would serve the remainder of his term on the back benches if he were to be reelected without giving a specific date leaves his option open to the possibilty of clinging on to power longer and getting ever so closer to Menzies’ record. That is all that is important to him.

    What about all the garbage about Julia Gillard not being good enough. Get real. I would put Rudd/Gillard up against Howard/Costello any day. Team Smirk are going to get killed in the campaign. A campaign which Howard will be forced to call, hopefully, at the end of next week.

  27. SirEggo @ 23

    Hawke needed to pick up 12 seats in 83, which is the largest requirement since 1946.

    As a proportion of the seats in the House, this was less than Labor needs this year (9.6% in 1983 vs 10.7% in 2007), but Labor did pick up 24 seats in 1983.

  28. Centre, you can see how much Hockey’s reference to Julia having a handbag of knives, went down with the women on the panel on Insiders this morning. If they go to hard on Julia they will alienate or/and offend alot of women voters. The fear campaign has got to be factual for anyone to swallow or believe, which the Liberals find it very hard to do.

  29. {Howard will never give in the PMship. He would have to be blasted off the leadership with explosives.}

    Check out this article be Hockey in the GG. Howard will only go out in a pine box or be ejected from the chamber as a common member of the public by security guards.

    {JOHN Howard could stay in parliament for a very long time after he hands over the prime ministership, Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey says.

    Mr Hockey said Billy Hughes stayed in parliament for 30 years after he lost office in 1923.

    “It is not uncommon for prime ministers to stay in parliament after they have finished their term,” he said on Channel 10.

    “I wouldn’t put it past the prime minister to still be in parliament for a long period of time.
    “John Howard is committed to the parliament, he loves parliament.”

    Mr Howard last week announced that he would step down next term if his Government is re-elected.

    Yesterday, he said he would serve out the full term on the back bench, sparing the voters of Bennelong a by-election. },25197,22426566-12377,00.html

  30. Further to Hockey’s “handbag full of knives” remark – the sexism raises a question I haven’t seen disussed much – how has the shift in voter sentiment reported in polling been split on gender lines? Does Rudd appeal better to women than Howard, or vice versa? Where has the gain in Labour support come from – women or men or both? I could easily imagine SerfChoice might be a bigger fear to women than men, because they more often occupy the sort of part time and casual positions most at risk.

    Speaking of splitting up voter groups, I’d also be interested in an analysis by age group. I have a pet theory that there has been a fundamental shift in the young vote away from the coalition in recent years because of the absurd rise in house prices. It is a trend that obviously disadvantages the young, unless there is wage inflation to match. Put labour policies in palce to prevent that as well, and you effectively lock them out of the housing market unless daddy is rich. That must cost votes.


  31. I’d love to see the explanation from all the Lib hacks of how Howard didn’t promise to serve the full term if he decides not to stay on the back bench.

  32. Don Wigan (5). Yes it would be interesting to have further info on how they screened people. My guess is that their objective is to get a group of uncommited (rather than swinging) voters. I can understand why they might do this but it probably means that a number of people who at previous elections have been swinging voters have been screened out (ie now have some pretty firm ideas about voting JWH out).

    On this basis, the uncommited voters they are canvassing are the difference between a 60% and 50% TPP for the ALP, hence the comment in the article that ALL of the swinging voters would have to go the coalition’s way for them to win.

    Timbo (8) It also explains why few of them appear to pay much attention to politics – you’re more likely to have firm views if you do. If the pollsters are looking for this type of group its unsurprising that this is what is eventually reported. If it’s any consolation, I think this is one of the few elections where their vote may be relatively unimportant.

    Dyno (17) good point. I liked the comment on Insiders that the ALP should be weighing everything down with bricks.

  33. Mackay’s article was, frankly, unimpressive. He’s saying the same sort of thing as some of the conservative commentators – “people who don’t agree with me must be asleep”.

  34. Fulvio
    1.if jhockey was of asian etc heritage i would have used an appropriate tag
    depending on heritage- i am like all here (i hope) an australian first and as such believe that things like a fair go and the like have been seriously eroded- like many different countries at present- and our leaders need to set standards ,not degrade threaten and denigrate.

    2.this guy has form for both aggresive and derogatory statements esp women and as such i personally have said enough is enough about his resorting to statements that are fundamentally unaustralian and his innuendo re people and institions

    3.these arrogant bullies must be put in their place when and where they say such ridicolous crap as “handbag full of knives”-this statement alone shows the utter banality and base emotions that this anti-social mob has used to rule us

    4.we used to set the standard for the world in so many areas now sadly we seem to adopt some of the worst bits to frame our society by

  35. I wonder if Howard agrees with this?

    Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, in his new book, says the US went to war in Iraq motivated largely by oil.

  36. It’s apparent to me after reading the header blog, that there is now no such thing as a “marginal” Labor seat but sure as hell there plenty of Liberal ones right up to 12 percent 2PP.

  37. Dyno, Hugh Mackay has a deserved reputation for reading the ‘group psychology’ of the Australian population in an extraordinarily accurate fashion. His commentary on every single one of the past six Federal elections, and last four NSW state elections has been spot on. With regard to the coming election, he was sceptical of the Labor position until after the last Budget, and his view has been firming up since. I am greatly heartened by his piece; it has markedly reduced my anxiety level.

    I suggest that you do a few googles on ‘”Hugh Mackay” election’ and read his articles and speeches. In my view he has a better handle on what makes Australians tick than any of the pollsters, or MSM political hacks.


    Alan H

  38. Monday night’s Newspoll is the first in six months that I’m not worried about. If it shows any improvement for the government then it will cement Howard in place and we can vote him out in a month or two. More likely it’ll be a bit worse for the government and the good times will continue next week.

    Having said that, I hope it’s not so bad for Howard that he quits or is challenged and replaced. I can’t stand the thought of him not facing the wrath of the people.

  39. “Team Smirk – love it
    We also had Team Coward on Insiders. Any others?

    How about the Ho-Co train wreck?” – 41 Baz

    How about “Rat-Tip Team”.

  40. If the ALP is winning Kooyong, it’s a trainwreck of epic proportions.
    Petro ought to ditch Howard and join Labor.
    It seems to me the Liberals are screwed, but a terrorist attack in this part of the world or some major Rudd stuffup could yet save the rodent, so Labor supporters, don’t be too complacent.

  41. Gusface, everything you say about Hockey personally and about his political history is probably true, and accords with my assessment of the facile two faced bully.

    My point is that those are his characteristics, and to ascribe the source of any part of them as being ethnic in origin can and does cause offence, which I am sure was not your intention.

    I just don’t like to give the divisive opportunists on the other side any excuse to point the finger at those who oppose them.

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