Road to nowhere

The past few days have seen a lot of discussion in the media about the state of play in all-important Queensland. On Monday, Michael McKenna of The Australian reported that the Liberals’ internal polling was worse in blue-ribbon Ryan than in any other Coalition-held Queensland seat, apart from Bonner. Liberal member Michael Johnson reportedly blames this on the government’s determination to solve western Brisbane’s traffic problems by building the Goodna bypass rather than upgrading the Ipswich Motorway, a decision made with a view to shoring up the Ipswich-based seat of Blair. As Graham Young puts it at Online Opinion: “People in Ipswich refer to the current motorway, which serves as their major link to Brisbane, as a carpark, and people in the western suburbs of Brisbane are happy to live in a quiet cul-de-sac and don’t want another link road with connections to them put through their area”. The Australian report also brings us the surprising news that Liberal polling has Gary Hardgrave leading in Moreton, held on a margin of 2.8 per cent.

Elsewhere, Labor strategists quoted by Dennis Atkins of the Courier-Mail say polling in regional Queensland points to “two party preferred votes north of 55 per cent”. Presumably this refers to the target marginals of Blair (5.7 per cent), Herbert (6.2 per cent), Flynn (7.7 per cent) and Hinkler (8.3 per cent). Also in the Courier-Mail, Madonna King says Liberal insiders “struggle to dispute” Labor talk that Bonner, Moreton, Blair, Herbert, Flynn and even Leichhardt (margin 10.3 per cent) are “in the bag”, although Labor is apparently less confident about Longman and Petrie. King says three-cornered contests in Leichhardt and Flynn are an “electoral gift to Labor”, while Lisa Allen of the Financial Review quotes a Liberal source lamenting the departure of Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch and his “98 per cent name recognition in that electorate”.

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.

378 comments on “Road to nowhere”

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  1. It’s a long time since Labor tried the two-candidate tactic. They used to do it in Tasmania where voters are very parochial and used to having multiple candidates from the same party to choose from at state elections.

    Howard’s problem is that he has now promised to upgrade, improve, fund and/or subsidise just about everything in Australia, and the huge sums of money promised just float around like confetti in the wind. After a while this ceases to have any effect, particularly since Rudd just smiles and says he’ll match whatever it is. No amount of pork-barrelling will turn this election around, because the mood for change is not about highways or hospitals.

  2. Roy Orbison at 48.

    I think Howard is trying to get some traction out of the apparent unpopularity of the Iemma government. The idea being, that when NSW Treasury rules out the extra funding, Howard be able to blame the NSW Government.

    Historically, there is some evidence to support the proposition that the ppl of NSW vote for opposing parties at Federal and State level. viz the 1976, 1980, 1988 and 1999, 2003 and 2007 state elections. Line the NSW results in those elections up against the (very) approximately contemporaneous 1975, 1980, 1987, 1990, 2001 and 2004 federal elections.

    There was a strong view in the early 90s that had Unsworth somehow managed to sneak over the line against Greiner in 1988 (and Greiner not gone with the unpopular Metherell education reforms), Hawke would have been toast in 1990 (he went pretty close to losing as it was).

    I think Howard is angling for some reminders about how the NSW ALP has been in the government benches in Macquarie St for quite some time now, and has not exactly shone on issues of health, transport, etc. cf. Abbot carrying on about the Royal North Shore problems…

    Of course, against this theory, there is absolutely no sign that the people of NSW are going to do anything other than swing solidly to the ALP this time around, and no sign that a few reminders about how poorly NSW is served by its state government is going to materially assist Howard.

  3. Let’s not forget that in addition to the “Right” having two parties vying in many seats, the ALP have a very sizable competion for the “Left” vote from the Greens. Pace Adam, spurning these people over things like the Pulp Mill, and all the other “me too” issues may cause a lot of informal votes, with Green first preferences refusing to enter a preference for either of the other parties. This could have a big effect in seats like Melbourne Ports. Instead of bagging the Greens at every opportunity, how about a bit of soft soap. This wouldn’t be too hypocritical, because a lot of ALP supporters feel sympathy with the majorit of the Green’s concerns, but feel unable to press on as quickly as the Greens would wish.

  4. Adam,

    Regarding Howard’s promises, it seems to me that they also open up another possible source of attack for Rudd: financial responsibility and risk of interest rate rises. Several senior economists have warned that more government spending risks interest rate increases. Rudd could choose not to match Howard’s promises and remaind people that Howard hasn’t kept his last promise on interest rates. He may well be sowing the seeds for the next rise now. At the very least, Howard’s profligacy on both spending on government ads, and spending in general, must begin to grate on the electorate. It looks like the benefits of all those spending cuts are being squandered for little gain.

  5. Thommo, I would agree about Flynn, but the polls are there for all to see.

    Gippslander, I doubt many green (small g) voters would be willing to waste their vote in the way you suggest. They badly want Howard out, and they will either vote ALP or preference the ALP as the only way to achieve that.

    More generally, it’s very easy for the Greens to play holier than thou on these issues, when their electoral objective is to assemble a Senate quota (14%). Labor has to win 50%+ of the 2PV, and do it in places like regional Qld, Perth, Tas and the NT where many people earn their living from mining and forestry. This requires a much wider straddle and many more compromises. Green electioneering requires them to attack Labor, because its our votes and our seats they are trying to win. When attacked we of course retaliate. I don’t think that will prevent co-operation after the election if the parliamentary situation requires it.

  6. Glen,

    The reason that the Nats and the Libs have not merged in to one entitty is that it would ensure the emergence of a “Rural Community Based Party”focussed solely on the needs of the Bush.

    You might find it hard to beleieve, but many Nats voters are agrarian socialists and fit closer to the ALP than the Libs in actual philosophical outlook.

    The Nats are in existence to extract benefits for Rural people. They believe the best way to achieve this is to coalesce with the Libs. However, there are many examples of the Nats working with Labor Parties over the years.

  7. Ps To my #55, although a bit off thread.

    How about stopping all this nonsense about strategic preference deals in the Senate, and allocate the preferences as the majority of your supporters wish.ie ALP,Greens,Democrats, then it doesn’t matter.,except put One Nation last.
    Ít’d save me the chore of below the line voting.

  8. Howard Hater says

    I wonder if today’s promise to upgrade the Pacific Highway will save Page and Cowper for the Nationals?

    Howard Hater,
    I suspect that this promise is aimed at Cowper, Lyne and possibly Richmond.
    The length of Highway through Page electorate is specifically excluded.
    Mark Vaile says

    We will be able to continue the duplication effort right through the mid-north and into the far north coast as far as about Woolgoolga as well as coming down from the Queensland border to Ballina.

    Woolgoolga is at the northern end of Cowper while Ballina is near the northern end of Page.
    Could this be another non core promise (like the $750million JWH promised for the same purpose in 1996)? 😆

  9. From a person who has lived in National Party seats that became part of three-cornered contests, they are a major problem for the coalition.

    I’ve been told of leakages of 10-20 per cent between the two coalition candidates in some seats.

    You’ve also got the problem of wasted cash (not just on advertising, but on competing internal polling), potential for conflict between the Libs and Nats on policies where they are at one, and further problems if the PM or another senior minister visits. They have to decide which candidate to tag along with.

  10. The Pacific Highway promise also helps the Libs in Paterson – it runs right through the seat if memory serves me correct.

    I’m surprised about the fact that it skips out Page – if that’s correct, why would the PM announce the deal in Grafton, an area where the upgrade will not be happening?

  11. And as for the Nats in opposition.

    Once Howard is gone, expect to see the Nats lift their collective game, name recognition and possibility of winning seats.

    Howard is a huge problem for the Nats, because he comes across very, very well in the bush. Many of the regional Libs are there because voters really warm to Howard.

    But take Howard out of the equation, and replace him with either Costello or Turnbull, and it will change dramatically.

    The Nats want Howard as PM because he’s so popular, but in opposition they want Costello because it gives them a real chance at taking some seats.

  12. Barry (60) says
    “Could this (road projects) be another non core promise”?

    Absolutely correct! These promises of funding for very long term road projects are almost meaningless.

    Under AusLink Federal funding is committed in five year blocks. The current funds and committments run for another eighteen months. So at best, a project might start in year 3 of a new government.

    In practice, by the time environmental studies and land resumptions are done, most big infrastructure projects take more than three years to get construction started, even given the funds to start with. And, since the States are the delivery agencies, the Commonwealth is reliant on their goodwill to progress the works. To cap it all off, there is now a chronic shortage of skilled resources in the engineering construction sector, making it very difficult to add new projects to schedules without putting something else back.

    There is no chance most of these recent road promises will actually be built in the term of the next elected government, whoever it is, which means they might never happen at all.

  13. The Nats will not ben in opposition, because the Coalition are going to be re-elected! In Queensland, the government will lose three or four seats at the most, nowhere near what Labor needs.

    Interesting how Labor is kicking own goals on the death penalty (something very much the territory of Queensland conservatives) while the Howard Government announces real, positive policy on the Pacific Highway upgrade. Not surprising really, is it!

  14. Thommo Says:
    October 10th, 2007 at 5:25 pm
    I live in Flynn and I would be very surprised if labor won this seat.

    Given the current polling figures in this seat and the fact that the conservative vote will be split due to a 3 way contest, Labor must be more than a good chance in Flynn.

    Also the ALP are putting a lot of effort into winning the seat. ie. adds with the Labor candidate & Kevin Rudd have been running for some time and will increase as the election proper begins.

    Labor is going to be putting a lot of resources into winning Flynn and I believe they will do so comfortably.

  15. Ruawake, sorry, my mistake – only one election for Campbell Newman. Even so I still think the general point is valid – the Liberals seem to lack quality members in Queensland. Watching from a distant state, Newman and Brough are their only performers I seem to notice. The rest are forgettable.

  16. My local state member is a Nats-leaning Independant. It was a pleasure to see the Libs and Nats fighting each other, while ALP preferences ensured the election of the independant.
    But it is surely true that many of the Nat’s workers would be more at home in the Bracks/Brumby style Alp. It breaks my heart to see these folk working their butts off for a pseudo Lib like McGauran.

  17. Adam @ 57, Of course many of the places where the ALP is torn, like Perth and Tasmania, also have very strong green votes and history, so it might actually make it easier to attract a light green vote in those places.

    The greens in WA or Tasmania are greens whereas the greens in NSW are watermelons, red inside and green on the outside. I would have really liked the opportunity to have voted for Rachel Siewert but I left WA before she went into politics. Now in NSW, I have Red Kerry. What a choice!

  18. Swing Lowe @ #65

    PM went to Grafton to promise $19million to upgrade Grafton Hospital. TV news covers the entire north coast, so making the announcement in Grafton gets media coverage in Richmond, Page, Cowper & Lyne.

    It sounds like both announcements have a catch. The hospital announcement is conditional on last week’s plucked out of the air policy – state government agreeing to JWH appointed local board.
    Highway upgrade maybe conditional on matching funding from state government.

    If my memory is correct, most of the Highway through Paterson has already been upgraded or is currently being upgraded. Section between Karuah and Bulahdelah is currently under construction leaving Bulahdelah town bypass as the only section to complete.

  19. Driving thru Milton, Brisbane, today and libs have a huge poster up saying “union bossess” are pulling the strings of the labor party.

    Some enterprising graffitti artist needs to sneak out at night and spray a big boo across it.

  20. Thommo & Adam,

    I too live in Flynn, albeit the Gladstone end of the electorate. As someone involved in the CT (Labor’s Chris Trevor) campaign, we’ve had a constant stream of Shadow Ministers visit to press the flesh and flesh the press.

    Rudd doing health & clean coal (twice), Plibersek doing housing affordability, Ferguson doing roads & rail, Evans doing clean coal & nukes (twice), Albanese doing nukes, Conroy doing broadband and I am sure I’ve missed one or two.

    I think the only Nat we’ve seen is Vaile doing a road or two.

    CT is going great guns & I like our chances!

  21. Election Rumour # 5, 376: NSW Governor Bashir (the stand-in GG) this afternoon flew to Canberra. Does this mean that Johnny will take the drive out to Yarralumla tomorrow?

  22. Thommo,

    What people think “out here” is beside the point. Australia is one of the most urbanised countries in the OECD and over 90% of voters live in capital cities or regional centres, not farms or small towns. That is where the election will be won or lost. I’m sure Labor would cheerfully accept a 20% vote in rural seats if it could guarantee 55% in urban marginals, because then it would romp in. Even in “rural” seats like Eden Monaro, most of the voters live in the larger regional centres like Queenbeyan.

  23. Thanks James J (79) – I guess that scotches that rumour. Given that both Bashir and JWH live in the Harbour city, I guess there’s no need for them to fly to Canberra to do the deed anyway.

    When’s Jeffery back in the country?

  24. SL@65
    ‘I’m surprised about the fact that it skips out Page – if that’s correct, why would the PM announce the deal in Grafton, an area where the upgrade will not be happening?

    To put pressure on NSW Labor Gov, that appears to be the PM + 2days modus operandi, $2.4bill conditional on being matched by NSW Gov – they say PM + 2days contribution will build road to Woollgoolga

  25. The other factor in play in Queensland will be Equine Flu, it only got into the country due to Howard hands off approach and his government’s privatising the quarantine services, this despite the racing industry pleading with him not to privatise the quanrantine services as it could let EI into the country.

    EI has hit the racing, show, rodeo and pony clubs hard, also hard hit are the riding schools, who don’t get any compo and may be shut down until Feb 08.

    Worst is that horses now vacinated in QLD are getting EI.

    http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,22562850-29277,00.html

  26. I live in Fairfax and I can tell you Labor is smelling of roses.

    I was going through the joys of getting a few basal cell carcinomas removed the other day, my GP – Noosa (Wide Bay) said that everyone he talked to wanted to “get rid of Howard”.

    He said that small business was sick and tired of red tape, the hospitality staff were angry about SerfChoices, retired people were angry about aged care, people were saying they cannot afford test and drugs.

    And to top it off Vinnies are giving people tents because they cannot find rental accomodation. 🙁

    If anyone think that Labor will not get a 10% swing in Qld they have rocks in their heads (remember this is only 52.9 tpp).

  27. The so-called upgrade of the Pacific highway is a complete furphy. All Howard is doing is re-announcing (re-gifting) the Auslink 2 money allocated last year. The intent to make the Pacific fourl anes was first announced in 1996 – some progress.

  28. All this election speculation is pointless but fun. Howard knows the state of play and really he is only acting like most people.

    If you knew the time and place of your final demise, wouldn’t you delay going there as long as possible.

  29. Well, the damned Hume isn’t even finished between Gundagai and Albury… they’ve hardly spent a dollar on new construction since Keating was thrown out. The Coalition have spent 11 years cruising on the infrastructure built up in the previous 13 (in _really_ difficult times!) without investing in the future. No wonder they’ve had surpluses!

  30. If Howard decides to dissolve while Bashir is administrator, I think it would have to be done at Yarralumla, so they would both have to fly to Canberra. But I’m increasingly of the view that he’ll have a week’s sitting before he dissolves.

  31. I find the proposition that Flynn is a guaranteed Labor win difficult to swallow as well.

    Herbert doesn’t surprise me, Beattie got nearly 60% in the state seats around Townsville last year. Leichhardt seems more plausible than Flynn.

    The claim by internal Lib sources in the Oz that Hardgrave is ahead in Moreton is the other curious note in recent articles about Qld. Don’t suppose you have any Queensland ALP sources to check this Adam?

    I do note that the Liberal claim to be ahead in Bowman is not contradicted by any Labor sources.

  32. When I last asked my Qld sources they were certain about Herbert, Moreton and Bowman, not optimistic about Flynn. But most MPs are really no better informed about seats other than their own than we are. The people who really know because they see the party polling aren’t talking. Logically, however, it’s hard to see how the Libs could hold Moreton in the face of the large statewide swing shown in every poll this year.

  33. more election speculation: apparently no WA minsters have made bookings to fly to canberra for next week, whereas all other members and senators from the west have made reservations. This from Jim Middleton on the ABC News.

  34. Bowman seems to have dropped off the top 6 in the C-M article.

    Bonner, Moreton, Blair and Herbert would not surprise me. After that… I would personally expect Petrie to fall before Flynn. But I haven’t seen any polling, obviously.

  35. I personally can’t believe Howard is going to recall parliament. It is an embarrassment and highlights the desperate plight of the Coalition. Just out of interest, has parliament ever sat more than 3 years after the last federal election? I can’t think of a time although from memory Menzies went quite a few weeks over 3 years in 1954 (and was quite possibly decisive) and so did McMahon in 1972.

  36. Until the very recent Albury by-pass, the Howard government has not extended the divided carriageway of the Hume Highway by one inch in its nearly twelve years.

    They are fond of saying that the Pacific Highway is a state responsibility and it is, due to some ancient Country Party machinations. Has anyone driven the New England Highway lately? How many Federal dollars have gone into that? Not too many, I would say.

    Howard just doesn’t get it. The great unwashed are sick up and fed (*) of the strings that are attached to everything. Where the flock does he think the State government is going to magically get 2.4 billion from to match his (our) largesse? People don’t believe this one and, as I said earlier, announcing it in the seat that will miss out (where, incidentally, a horrible bus crash took place) just underlines that the old bloke thinks that the old tricks never get old.

    Liberals? Can’t be trusted with infrastructure. Never could it, never will be able to.

    (*) Old Cheech and Chong reference.

  37. Getting back to Queensland, what do those of you who are local and/or in the know say about Ryan? Surely not? Also, has the supposed angst about local government reform petered out in the regional areas? Was there any polling to suggest it was ever going to be an issue in the first place?

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