A bee’s donger

This time yesterday, Liberal member Fran Bailey held on to a 32-vote lead in McEwen which, though rapidly diminishing, was calculated by Antony Green to be 77 per cent likely to hold after the few remaining votes were counted. Those votes are now in: the last few absent votes broke 100-93 in favour of Labor’s Rob Mitchell, postals went 37-21 his way, pre-polls favoured him to the tune of 33-23, and further rechecking of booth votes cost Bailey 14 and Mitchell eight. All of which leaves Mitchell seven votes ahead. This is apparently the final result, pending the final recount, which could certainly turn up enough anomalies to overturn a lead as small as this. Adam Carr further argues that with a margin of fewer than 20 votes, “the Liberal Party’s lawyers will be able to scrape up some pretext or another for a court challenge”. He also states: “Unfortunately for Labor, most of the precedents are that the incumbent government loses the subsequent by-election (Nunawading, Mundingburra, Greensborough).”

Mundingburra of course was the Queensland by-election in February 1996 that cost the Goss government the one-seat majority it retained after the 1995 election. The other two are from Carr’s home patch of Victoria. There are probably about five people in the country who can tell you about the 1985 by-election for the state upper house province of Nunawading, and I am not of their number. UPDATE: Scratch that – the result cost the Cain government its short-lived control of the upper house, so probably quite a few people know about it, including me from now on. What’s more, it followed an initial tied result and a win for Labor decided by a draw from a hat. The Greensborough by-election refers not to the one Sherryl Garbutt won in 1989, but rather to the one Poll Bludger commenter Chris Curtis ran in as DLP candidate in 1977, which produced a massive swing to the then Labor opposition. ANOTHER UPDATE: A correction in comments from Brian McKinlay (of McKinlay case fame), who says Carr was in fact referring to yet another by-election for Greensborough which took place in 1973, which saw a Liberal win overturned by the court before being re-confirmed by the electorate. One might respond that the 1996 Lindsay by-election demonstrates that voters do not take kindly to initiators of legal challenges, but perhaps the 5.0 per cent Liberal swing on that occasion had more to do with Labor’s generally poor performance at re-matches than is generally realised.

Anyway, let’s assume now for the sake of argument that this result stands. We now have a new modern standard for close federal electorate results to beat Liberal candidate Ian Viner’s 12-vote win in Stirling in 1974. The historians among you are invited to relate other famous close shaves in comments. We also have Labor on 84 seats and the Coalition on 64, with two independents. This is pleasing from a personal perspective as it’s exactly what I predicted early in the campaign for New Matilda, although I did underestimate Queensland’s contribution to the Labor total. Unfortunately, the day before the election I upped the ante to 87 in a prediction for Crikey, which looked very good on election night but became progressively less good as counting proceeded.

This prediction was highlighted today in The Australian, which has promoted me from confuser of fact with opinion and baser of opinion on ignorance and prejudice to the slightly more elevated title of “pundit”. I suspected at first that The Australian compiled this list as a subtle dig at an online commentariat that had leaned a little too heavily to Labor in its predictions, but that doesn’t explain the inclusion of Malcolm Mackerras. In any case, Brad Norington bails me out in the accompanying article by trying on the line that Labor owes its win to “fewer than 12,000 people across nine electorates”. Those of you marvelling over the seven-vote margin in McEwen are invited to consider an election in which the Coalition held on to power after retaining each of Bass, Bennelong, Braddon, Corangamite, Deakin, Flynn, Hasluck, Robertson and Solomon by one solitary vote. On this basis, I hereby declare that my prediction of 87 seats was only out by 595 votes out of 12,350,549. It would in fact be far more accurate to say it was 0.2 per cent out, which isn’t so bad either I suppose.

UPDATE: Adam Carr on historical close results:

In terms of numbers of votes, the closest result in a House of Representatives contest was 1 vote (13,569 to 13,568), when Edwin Kirby (Nationalist) defeated Charles McGrath (ALP) in Ballarat (Vic) in 1919. The result was declared void in 1920. In 1903 Robert Blackwood (FT) defeated John Chanter (Prot) in Riverina (NSW) by 5 votes (4,341 to 4,336). This result was also declared void. The closest result allowed to stand was 7 votes (13,162 to 13,155), when John Lynch (ALP), defeated Hon Alfred Conroy (Lib) in Werriwa (NSW) in 1914. In terms of percentages of the vote, the closest result was Kirby’s voided win in Ballarat in 1919: he polled 50.002% of the vote. The closest result allowed to stand was that in the Griffith (Qld) by-election of 1939, when William Conelan (ALP) defeated Peter McCowan (UAP), after preferences, with 50.007% of the vote. The closest winning margin in recent times has been 50.011%, polled by Ian Viner (Liberal) in Stirling (WA) in 1974 and by Christine Gallus (Liberal) in Hawker (SA) in 1990.

Mitchell has 50.003%, so his percentage is lower than both Conelan’s in 1939, Viner’s in 1974 and Gallus’s in 1990.

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.

664 comments on “A bee’s donger”

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  1. Victoria is undertaking a review of the 2006 State election. the Greens did not even seek representation on this committee. That’s how concerned they are about electoral reform. Political prostitutes (And that’s an insult to prostitutes to which I apologize)

  2. Melb city which parties did seek representation? The Democrats? Family First? LDP? CDP? Independents?

    Not to mention the fact that the greens are a minor party and do not have enough politicians resulting in more difficulty to join a committee as Labor or Liberal.

  3. MelbCity at 552, more an issue of state soveriegnty than just recalcitrant bureaucracy…

    MelbCity at 551: “The nameless one cut coroners…”. Sounds a bit serious.

  4. MelbCity, it is extremely rude of you to repeatedly ignore my very polite and reasonable request not to repeatedly post on a certain subject in which not one single person other than yourself is the slightest bit interested. This is the last warning before I ban you.

  5. melb city: when it gets to the point where you have newspaper cuttings all over the wall and surveillance photo’s of the ‘nameless one’ stuck to your mothers attic roof.. .you should prolly stop.

    Dont know if you are there (yet), but im sure ranting on online message boards is atleast step 3 or 4 in the ‘obsessed lunatics ten point plan’.

    and cutting coroners up is step 11 😛

  6. On ‘The Australian’ – I buy the paper version less and less but the Weekend OZ is good value. Apart from the neocon sycophants Shamaham, Milli and Share-a-den, the reporting isn’t too bad. George Mega is a mega-man and Matt Price was priceless. As mentioned here by others, we deserve a quality national newspaper in a civilised society.

  7. Notes on the closest election for a H of R seat – Ballaarat in 1919. Edwin Kerby (Nationalist) defeated Charles McGrath (ALP) by one vote. Both were WWI veterans, RSL activists and prominent local sportsmen. The election was declared void in 1920 and McGrath won the special election that year with a primary vote of 51.75% to Kerby’s 39.32 (there were a couple of independents). Maybe Fran Bailey should heed that.

    Apart from that hiccup, McGrath was MHR for Ballaarat (in more recent times spelled Ballarat) from 1913-34. He represented the ALP until 1931, when he switched to the United Australia Party. He died in office, aged 60.

  8. I hate the GG with a passion too but having a go at it for consistently having a conservative point of view is a bit like blaming a Vampire for thirsting for blood. I think the point is the lack of media diversity. Maybe Moss Cass’s suggestion of a national newspaper along the lines of the ABC should have happened all those yars ago.. Our small population cannot sustain the sort of diversity you get in England for example where you have the Daily Torygraph and the Daily Hate Mail sitting next to The Guardian, the Daily Mirror, and the Independent

  9. William,

    Thank you so much. SNIP: I have acceded to a request from MelbCity to remove a statement critical of his motives, which is reasonable given that he doesn’t have the right of reply.

  10. 521 Bob Katter’s Hat says ‘According to 12pm news, the AEC has ordered a full recount in McEwen’

    Can’t find a trace of this news – can anyone help?

    Adam, at 559, thanks for ‘theonion- didn’t know about it – a better source than many.

  11. @ 528 Observer “vote for the Greens would of course be a vote for Labor”

    I would like to point out that the question of the direction of preferences is a matter much discussed by The Greens.

    Generally speaking the disposition of GRN preferences in lower house seats is left to be decided by local groups. At the last Federal election there was a very strong recommendation that the ALP be preferenced before LNP ie. there would have had to be a very good reason for this not to be adhered to by a local group.

    In NSW optional preferencing gives local GRN groups a bit more flexibility. In March Blacktown Greens were very pleased not to have to allocate preferences at all in Blacktown or Mt Druitt.

    Perhaps in those two electorates this may appear to be somewhat a hollow gesture, but the group did not want its preferences to even be a boots to the ALP candidates’ TPP.

  12. Is it just me or does this now leave the ACT leadership question to be decided by … [gulp] … six members. That’s an EVEN number, right?

    That’s going to turn out GREAT I can just tell.

  13. And more trouble for the WA Libs as well.


    [The future of West Australian upper house MP Anthony Fels once again hangs in the balance after charges were brought against him as sole director of a chemical company for alleged breaches of the workplace act.

    The Workplace Ombudsman alleges Mr Fels’ chemical products company Liquid Engineering failed to pay a worker his entitlements.

    The ombudsman has charged the company, which makes chemical products for domestic and industrial use, with three counts of breaching workplace laws for failing to pay the worker his wages, entitlements and superannuation in early 2005.]

  14. McGrath’s 1919 case is interesting. He was unopposed in 1917 because he was in the army overseas, a curious courtesy by the Nationalists, if they had run a candidate he would have lost in 1917.


    Can you tell me a site that summarises Metropolitan seats by voter type
    because I wish to calculate the postal vote % in capital city seats ONLY

    My reason is the possibility the postal vote (up 50% since 2004 to 6.47%)
    may have a higher % increase in the metrop. seats
    (if so , the Libs did something clever)

  16. Calare

    SIMPSON, David John Citizens Electoral Council 794 0.96 +0.13
    ALLEN, Michael Country Labor 20,266 24.60 +4.76
    BUCKINGHAM, Jeremy The Greens 2,351 2.85 +0.17
    COBB, John Nationals 39,941 48.48 +10.06
    PRIESTLEY, Gavin Independent 19,037 23.11 +23.11

    Most of Simpson’s vote is donkey and will go to Allen, putting him on about 25.3 to Priestley’s 23.2. Buckingham will then be eliminated. Priestley will need 90% of Buckingham’s votes to get ahead of Allen. If he does it will then be approximately

    ALLEN, Michael Country 25.5
    COBB, John Nationals 48.8
    PRIESTLEY, Gavin Independent 25.7

    Priesley will then need 95% of Allen’s votes to beat Cobb. Bear in mind that some of Allen’s vote is donkey and will pass to Cobb. I don’t think Priestley can achieve that. There is always some preference leakage.

  17. “The obvious solution is for the Liberal Party to expel all its members.”

    Indeed. Then they could float the party on the open market and suitable shareholders could make governance and policy decisions by a proper process.

  18. 582
    Martin B Says:
    December 10th, 2007 at 4:19 pm

    “The obvious solution is for the Liberal Party to expel all its members.”

    Ron: but a float needs an undertaker…..sorry underwriter

  19. Mulcahy was banned from the Liberal Party room then resigned from the liberal party.

    Stefaniak will probably remain as leader – for the time being or at least till it becomes clear whether Brendan Smith can get the mumbers.

  20. Fran Bailey is asking for a recount, will Malcolm T soon follow
    ACT libs imploding recall for kate (superwoman) carnell ?? this lot are making the Qld libs look almost good

  21. Ron Brown (362, 395, 408, 413),

    The Labor numbers men know their business better than I do. If a deal with the DLP will help Labor win government, it will do a deal with the DLP. If a deal with Family First will help Labor win government, it will do a deal with Family First. If a deal with the Greens will help Labor win government, it will do a deal with the Greens. The Labor Party does not exist in order to deliver Upper House seats to the Greens, or any other party.

    A secondary consideration for Labor is what it can do to maximise its chances of getting legislation through the Upper House, but this is decidedly secondary. In such a case, Labor is better off to have a choice of parties so that what the Greens will not support, the DLP or Family First will – and vice versa.

    In this year’s federal election, the deal offered by Family First was worse than the deal offered by the Greens, so Labor took the Greens deal. In Victoria last year, the DLP deal was a good one, so the ALP took it. Next time, the same hard-headed calculations will come into play and Labor will take the best deal on offer.

    This is all very simple. The problem is that supporters of doing deals with the Greens at all costs see the DLP and Family First as somehow beyond the pale, yet they are simply mainstream political parties with different views.

  22. 569- Yes and Patrick Cooks cartoons were also a highlight. I loved the way he drew John Howard by accentuating his neanderthal features.

  23. Jenny (363, 375),

    I knew that Labor had done a deal with Family First in 2004 because I read it in the newspapers. If Labor supporters are so out of touch with political news, they have only themselves to blame.

    I don’t agree that Family First is a right-wing fringe. Steve Fielding’s voting record shows that.

    I always vote below the line and recommend that everyone do so.

    It was 1974 when Vince Gair was offered the ambassadorship to Ireland. I remember the quote, though some of us would have thought it was the other way round and that frank McManus should have been party leader.

  24. gary (364, 386, 455, 538, 546),

    Bob Sanatamria and Daniel Mannix were never even members of the DLP, much less spokespersons for it, though Mr Santamaria contrived to present things differently.

    You say, “We should try to do deals with the Greens where it is in Labor’s advantage to do so.” That’s exactly my point and exactly when we do deals with the Greens.

    Family First voted against “Serfchoices”.

    The federal executive of the ALP was controlled by the left-wing in 1954, which is when the events leading to the Split started. Had Kim Beazley Senior been at the federal executive meeting instead of at an overseas Moral Rearmament conference, he would have voted the other way and the Split would probably not have happened. I do not accept that the NCC was gaining control of the ALP, any more than it controlled the DLP (a subject which I have posted on before). The industrial groups were set up to oppose communism in the unions, rightly in my view.

    The DLP recommended preferences to the Liberals, as I have already explained, as a way to pressure the ALP into reforming, which it did. Remember, the men and women who formed the DLP had been expelled from the ALP after Labor’s greatest ever victory in Victoria. It is hardly surprising that they reacted against the latter.

    Labor did not mess up its preferencing in the Victorian election. It did a preference swap with the DLP that assisted both parties. It will do so again if there is an advantage in it as per your principle, “We should try to do deals with […] where it is in Labor’s advantage to do so.”

  25. Lose the election please (400),

    I endorse what you have said. Preference deals are practical matters of political advantage, and they will vary from election to election.

  26. Mathew Cole (446),

    The DLP was never the “creature of the Catholic Church” or of Bob Santamaria. I know this because I was member for eight years, an executive member for five years and a state official for two years. Frank Dowling and Jim Brosnan built up financial support independent of the NCC from the late 1950s, which is one reason the Victorian DLP was able to last until 1978 when Bob Santamaria, having flirted with the ridiculous idea of a merger with the Country Party, had moved on to Malcolm Fraser as the saviour. Tom Burke was another one who, while he did not go with the DLP, had to fight off the left wing of the party to retain his membership of the party. (See The Split by Robert Murray.)

    Between 1965 and 1967, the DLP voted with the Coalition 48.95 per cent of the time, with Labor 35.79 per cent of the time and against both groups 12.10 per cent of the time. In the remaining votes, the DLP senators split or were absent. (Malcolm Mackerras, The Australian Senate1965-1967: Who Held Control, APSA, 1968).

    DLP policies such as support for a guaranteed annual income, trade unions, conservation, prison reform, electoral reform and the like are of the left. The DLP’s opposition to the Melbourne freeway network in 1970 was years in front of the Greens – obviously, given that they had not come into existence.

  27. Martin B @ 582

    “The obvious solution is for the Liberal Party to expel all its members.”

    Indeed. Then they could float the party on the open market

    Wouldn’t that require the Mint to reintroduce 1 cent coins? 😉

  28. Rod,

    Labor needs support from the Greens and Family First and Nick Xenophon to get legislation through the Senate. All of them have an interest in holding the Rudd Government to account in the way that the Liberals, Nationals, Greens and DLP hold the Brumby Government to account in the Victorian Legislative Council. This will make for unstable times.

    I also think we are going through a period when the old left-right division just doesn’t adequately convey the faultlines in politics. I still use the terms, but they miss a lot of aspects.

  29. “Labor needs support from the Greens and Family First and Nick Xenophon to get legislation through the Senate.”

    Only if the coalition plays oppositionist politics. They might decide that some legislation is better amended by them (from the Right) than the Greens (from the Left).

    And then there is Barnaby Joyce. There is always a deal that could be done with him instead of Fielding or Xenophon.

  30. Graeme (543),

    The principles I posted were from 1977. They are probably similar in the new DLP, but I do not know for sure. The DLP of today seems to have a base vote of about one per cent, which is one of the reasons members of the old DLP are not in the new DLP. We polled up to 19.1 per cent and had ten full-time officials when the party closed down in 1978, and that was before public funding of parties. As one former DLP president put it to me, he didn’t want to end up running the party ‘from someone’s kitchen table’. In other words, the DLP would be a serious political party and or not be at all.

    The DLP did not fluke a Legislative Council seat. It benefited from astute preference deals.

    There must be least 500 members for a party to be registered, so I assume the DLP has that many. In the old days, there were probably 20,000 active DLP supporters, though not formal members, in Victoria, so you can see how far it has sunk. The Macguarans supported the DLP in its court case against deregistration because DLP preferences helped elect one of the brothers.

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