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. Jen (544),

    The problem with the Greens seeking to alter Kevin Rudd’s positions is that to do so he would have to break several election promises, and he is not going to do that. He wants more than one term. The Greens should try, of course, to push Labor in their direction, but I do not think Labor can afford to let them succeed. I say this irrespective of my own views because I happen to agree that Labor’s IR laws will be too right-wing, more right-wing than anything the DLP senators would have supported.

  2. Albert Ross (571),

    You have highlighted a problem with Greens preference deals. It seems they are unenforceable because local groups can make their own decisions, which means Labor will be wary in the future.

  3. Spiros (599),

    The Coalition will play ‘oppositionist politics”, but there will be occasions when the ALP and the Coalition will outvote the Greens. Barnaby Joyce may on occasion help with the numbers, but he will never come near the famous Ian Wood or Reg Wright who, if I remember correctly, crossed the floor over a 100 times.

    If I have missed any comments in response to my earlier posts, I apologise, but I think I have taken enough bandwidth to make my points re the DLP, the Greens, Family First and preferences. That does not mean I will not return to the fray at a later stage.

  4. Is there an outside chance of an upset in Parkes?

    Whilst there have been several comments and updates about the division of Calare on this and previous threads, I note that in the neighboring Division of Parkes, the National Party candidate has also failed to be elected on first preferences (46.77% at present). As in Calare, an independent (20.73%) is behind an ALP (Country Labor) candidate (25.37%) while the sum of other candidate’s votes is 7.13%.

    My question to William, Adam, or anyone else with a knowledge of such things is… is there a webpage somewhere (AEC or otherwise) that indicates the other candidate’s preference recommendations or actual preference flows?

  5. The AEC says the margin in McEwen is six votes.

    Fargo, re Parkes, not that I know of. If the Greens preferenced Horan, he might have a chance. If they preferenced Labor, he doesn’t. Like Priestley, he would have to be very lucky. None of the local papers seem to have picked up an any suggestion that Horan could still win, all the most recent stories are about the Nats claiming the seat immediately after the election.

  6. The AEC is referred to in the ABC article as confirming the margin as five, Adam, so I’m inclined to think that the virtual tally room is either a typo or – hopefully not! – the two ballots were found separately and the count has been updated for one and not the other.

  7. You’d imagine the AEC would’ve updated ages ago if it was really 5 votes. The ‘2 votes turning up’ story has been out for hours without the AEC updated from 6 votes.

  8. I wish to apologise to William for the following!

    After today I will never, never ever vote for the Australian Labor Party again, for last week I criticised the performance of my Union rep outside of working hours went running to Management and had me fired!!

  9. Chris, if the Labor Party starts playing tootsies with groups like the DLP and Family First, then they will have guaranteed that one long term Labor, but now Greens, supporter WON’T be giving them my prefs the next time around.

    There are only two things about religion that I want to hear from any political party that I vote for.

    Firstly I want to know that they believe in complete separation between religion and the state.

    Secondly I want to know that they endorse the relevant UN resolutions with respect to freedom of belief and non-belief.

    One of the things that worries me about Rudd is that he has, on occasion, paraded his religious beliefs in political situations, just as Howard did.

    In my opinion Australia would be a better place if both major parties continued on the path which we saw through the days of Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke and Keating, when there was a general understanding that neither major party would play the “religion card”.

    Schismatic parties like Family First and the DLP , both of which focus heavily on not just membership of a particular religion, but on particular sects of a particular religion, should not be given any oxygen at all by the major parties in my view.

    Such dalliances might look appealing when it comes to getting a few preferences flowing their way at one election or another , but they inevitably end up in bad policy (as we saw with the DLP’s obsessions in the 1960’s and early 70’s) and a heightening of religious tensions in Australia, in a world which surely demonstrates the disasters that can flow from such things time, after time, after time.



  10. BMW

    That’s shocking and you should fight for your rights.

    Go over this clowns head and talk to the union.

    They will sort the fool out!!!

  11. Rod,
    well said.
    Both the DLP and Fundies First sound so reasonable until the truth emerges.
    They support sustainable environmental policies (read nuclear), and rights for all humans (read anti-abortion) and pragmatisim in their poltiical allegiances (read pro-GST).
    At least The Greens declare and stand by their policies.

  12. Hi Scaper

    The Union is the CPSU SDA Victorian branch, I accept I should have spoken nicer to the person but I’ve had a crap time at work for a while and while understanding the restrictions on Unions in the workplace I was hoping with a Rudd victory that the Union might finally offered something rather than being invisible I was even willing to join it if they lifted their game.

    Back in my Health days the ANF and the HSUA reps were always available thats why I’m always happy to support those Unions and was happy to fully support the Y@AW

  13. BMW
    I would include the SDA right alongside the othrr rightwing political entities that I mentioned previously. DLP, FF adn teh Right to Life (just threw them in , but they all belong together).

  14. BMW – if you’re still there, please see my message on BF.

    You must not lie down and let this bloke get away with it. Quite aside from your personal plight, a single bad egg like that can do massive damage to the union movement, so I fully expect you will get plenty of support.

  15. Yes, I’m still on BF as in Bigfooty except I’ve been spending a large amount of time here something about an Election 😉

  16. BMW, many years ago I used to run a community legal centre in Victoria called “Job Watch”. In those days we often used to be able to intercede in situations where there were problems of the kind you mentioned, by maintaining good relationships with unions, government and decent employers. With a bit of “brokerage’ we found everyone was prepared to accept that they had got it wrong every now and then.

    It is a long time since I’ve had anything to do with Job Watch (almost 17 years, in fact!) but they are still going. Might well be worth a call. see http://www.job-watch.org.au/ or ring (03) 9662 1933 (Amazing, they still have the same phone number they had in 1990! )



  17. Rod (611),

    The Labor Party has been “playing tootsies” with the DLP and Family First for years. You can punish the Labor Party for doing so by giving your preferences to the Liberals if you wish. From a practical point of view, Labor will consider how many people would act in this way, but I do not think there will be many.

    I never saw the DLP as a religious party, though I know many outside did. I experienced it as a pro-worker, pro-welfare, pro-environment, pro-democracy party. In fact, it is my experience of the untrue things said about the DLP that makes me disregard the labels so freely applied to Family First. They weren’t true in the case of the DLP, as both the stated policies and the actions of the DLP senators make clear, so I expect that they are not true in the case of FF, which voted against the sale of Telstra, against Work “Choices” and for refugees.

    At least 16 times this year, The Australian has published claims that the states have squandered their GST revenue on high public sector wages and/or that the state Labor governments are controlled by the teacher unions. No facts in support of these claims are ever included. On the first 15 occasions, The Australian refused to publish a letter from me detailing the specific evidence that the claims were false. The sixteenth letter was published, but that will not stop The Australian repeating the false claims in the future. The Age published a false claim in support of the Kennett Government that most of the more than 8,000 teachers dumped were not actually teaching, but were on stress leave or doing administration. The Age has not published my correction of this claim. In both cases, readers will assume what the newspapers said is true, even though it is not, and will repeat the claims, not knowing them to be false.

    Another example is the claim that John Howard changed the definition of unemployment, when it has not changed since 1960. I am sure that many claiming John Howard did it genuinely believe that to be the case, but it still is not true.

    That is the reason I post on the DLP. They say history is written by the victors, and the DLP was not the victor, so I am vigilant in safeguarding its reputation.

  18. Chris, Im well aware that Santamaria and Mannix were not members of the DLP, but they were the parties chief cheerleaders. Neither were particularly enamoured with left of centre policies. You said previously that the DLP preferenced against Labor because the DLP leadership wanted Labor to reform, which it did. So what is the rationale for the existence of the DLP now? Why dont you all join the ALP? Why is there a need for the DLP? There is nothing remotely Labor about your party sport. There is only ONE Labor Party in this countryand it is not the DLP!

  19. Chris Curtis

    If you have a complaint about false or misleading reports being published in the Australian, or any other print media, and they won’t correct it, make a complaint to the Press Council.

    Web page here http://www.presscouncil.org.au/

    It won’t necessarily stop their errant behaviour but it might straighten them up a bit. Provided it is a legitimate complaint and you can document it the Press Council will give you a hearing. If it goes to adjudication (by the Press Council) the paper is obliged to print the finding.
    I got a ruling from the Press Council a few years ago regarding use of the term “illegal immigrants” for refugees/asylum seekers. It is still on the Press Council books but still regularly ignored by the media.

  20. gary (628),

    I am not a member of the DLP. The rationale for the existence of the current DLP is something you would do better to ask someone who is in it. I think you exaggerate when you say, “There is nothing remotely Labor about your party”, though it is less Labor than it used to be; in some areas, such as IR, private profit partnerships and privatisation, it is less Labor than the original DLP was.

    Rossco (629),

    Thanks for that information. Just as your favourable ruling is not being carried out, past experience suggests that I would not get far. I have lodged three complaints with the Press Council, with one being dismissed, one being mediated and one being upheld. The dismissed complaint was against The Age for making false claims about teacher salaries and refusing to publish a letter of correction – probably 20 years ago. The Press Council ruled that as it was opinion The Age could do what it liked, though The Age did publish the adjudication. The mediated one was against The Australian, which had published a dishonest statement about my election campaigning. It agreed to publish a letter to the editor from me, but then appended a comment from the reporter who made the original false report justifying himself. The upheld one was against the newspaper of the Federated Teachers Union of Victoria, which was engaged in an anti-union campaign against VSTA teachers at Whittlesea College in 1990-91 and which published outright lies about events at that school. The newspaper was for a long time one of only two in the country that refused to publish adjudications against it. It finally published the adjudication when I had a letter published in The Age pointing out this fact. (The anti-union attitude of the FTUV was an eye-opener and fits with BMW’s experience.) I am now off-off-topic, but I will consider your suggestion because the adjudication would be published, at least in part.

  21. Back on the question of newspapers, there was a rumour a while back that the Guardian was going to establish a specifically Australian online presence, but I haven’t heard anything about it since, and there’s nothing obvious from trawling the web (except the Australian Guardian, which is the last vestige of the old Communist Party organ). Anyone heard anything?

  22. @ 603 Chris Curtis Says:

    Albert Ross (571),

    You have highlighted a problem with Greens preference deals. It seems they are unenforceable because local groups can make their own decisions, which means Labor will be wary in the future.


    I should point out that I am not a spokesperson for The Greens or even the group which I am part of. I just related the situation as it was for the two elections this year.

    In Chifley GRN preferences in 2007 were decided by the group but it probably would not have been possible to have preferenced Diaz before Price even if we had wanted to unless there had been an overwhelming reason to do so.

    The rules relating to optional preferential voting in NSW state elections gave us the luxury of not preferencing anyone because we did not feel that the ALP or any other candidate was worth us doing so. Having said that many of those who did vote 1 for the GRN candidates in Mt Druitt and Chifley did allocate preferences as they were of course entitled to.

    My understanding is that not all the GRN powers that be were thrilled with our decision but there was no attempt to overturn it. I dare say that if a Group were to be too maverick with its preferences then some action would be taken.

    It would be a good thing if the Federal system was the same as that in NSW where a clear mark on the ballot is enough to have it counted as formal and electors are free to allocate preferences as they see fit.

  23. http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/12/11/2115570.htm?site=victoria

    AEC to recount ballots in McEwen

    Posted December 11, 2007 13:03:00

    The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) will conduct a recount of votes in the Victorian federal seat of McEwen.

    When counting closed at the weekend Labor’s Rob Mitchell was declared the winner by seven votes. That has since been cut to a five vote margin.

    The seat was held by Liberal Fran Bailey who demanded the recount, claiming some ballot papers were missing and others not accepted.

    The recount of more than 100-thousand ballot papers will begin tomorrow.

  24. Hi all,

    Does anyone have a copy of the Liberals’ HTV card for McEwen? I’m curious to judge the 1/7 ‘debacle’ for myself.


  25. Albert,

    I did not assume you were a Greens spokesperson. My point is that Labor did a deal across the country with the Greens and then local Greens branches decided to renege on the deal but were pulled into line, but what if they had refused to be pulled into line? If the deal doesn’t stick once made, parties will be wary of making another one next time around.


    Good luck. The CPSU is a left union, so it shows that the position on the political spectrum doesn’t count for much in the treatment of individuals, just as the FTUV was a left union but behaved in a disgracefully anti-worker way at Whittlesea College.

  26. Not telling,

    The Liberal HTV won’t help. The Liberals are talking about 1s and 7s on voters’ ballot papers, not on the HTV. I used to collect HTVs, but I didn’t botehr this time. All I can say is that it was too big.

  27. Chris Curtis,

    I thought the news reports mentioned that the high number of informal votes where 1s and 7s looked the same was BECAUSE the liberal HTV cards used italic font with similar-looking 1s and 7s?


  28. Not Telling,

    I didn’t hear those news reports. I don’t think many voters make an effort to copy the font on HTVs. If the voters misread the numbers on the Liberal HTV, that would be a Liberal “own goal” of delicious effect. I don’t actually know what an “own goal” is, but it seems to fit.

  29. Chris

    There are two types of “own goal” in popular usage:

    1. in Association Football where a defending player (but not the goal keeper) is the last player to make contact with the ball before it crosses the goal line of the goal.

    2. a British Army term used to describe an event where an IRA member is killed or injured by a premature detonation of an explosive device they are making, transporting or installing.

  30. Chris

    The point you raise assumes that the Greens don’t stick to preference agreements once they are made. I can assure you that once we say that we will preference a certain way that is the way it stays – for that election.

    Sometimes as with the last NSW state election the agreement was made at HO level and as a local group we didn’t break it we just bent it. I daresay that if Blacktown had been a marginal the situation would have been different.

    Personally I don;t think that their should be HTVs and that what we do on polling days outside polling stations is merely occupational therapy for the politically afflicted ie. the results of our labours are very much in eye of the beholder.

    I mean a large proportion of people who voted GRN in Blacktown in March ignored our HTV and preferenced anyway.

  31. Like I say – BMW should go to the Workplace Rights Advocate for advice. If the company has over 100 employees BMW may have recourse to unfair dismissal provisions – depending on what specific reasons were given for dismissal.

    I should also say that unions like the Victorian CPSU have thousands of members in workplaces across the state. It is not fair to blame all of them (as ‘the union’) based on the actions of one delegate in one workplace. If this workplace has a dysfunctional delegate structure it should be fixed in that workplace.

  32. Albert,

    Thank you for the “own goal” explanation.

    I read in the press – sorry I didn’t keep the article – that in one NSW seat the Greens reneged on the prefernce deal in this year’s election and that in one Victorian seat the local Greens intended to renege but were talked around by party officials.

    Handing out HTVs does make a difference. In the 1970 Senate election we manned some booths in Diamond Valley that had been left unmanned in the past. I was the only person handing out at Midhurst and the DLP vote shot up, I think to near 30 per cent, though my memory cannot be that precise after 37 years.

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