Yesterday’s papers

Below are two pieces on the Western Australian election which I wrote for Crikey earlier in the campaign. A third piece on the Liberals’ paucity of female candidates, published yesterday, remains subscriber only.

The first is from Friday, August 8, the day after the election was called:

Yesterday’s announcement of a snap election for September 6 was the second bombshell to hit WA politics this week, following Troy Buswell’s surprise resignation as Liberal leader on Monday. Uncharitable observers are making comparison to the events of 3 February 1983, when Malcolm Fraser sprang an opportunistic double dissolution on federal Labor in the failed expectation of locking the party in behind Bill Hayden. The distinction of course is that Alan Carpenter was aware the opportunity to face the disastrous Troy Buswell had already been lost three days earlier.

As always when an early election is announced, few are buying the official explanation that a poll is needed to “end the cynicism” and “clear the air”, particularly in light of Labor policy supporting fixed four-year terms. Opportunism being the name of the game, Carpenter would plainly have done better to have gone last week, with a recent poll suggesting Buswell was weighing the Liberal vote down by as much as 6 per cent. Even so, there remains an overwhelming perception that Labor is in the box seat. Centrebet is offering a mere $1.18 for a Labor victory, against $4.25 for the Liberals.

The precedents for pre-election leadership changes have certainly not been promising, at least since Bob Hawke’s time: Robert Doyle in Victoria, Kerry Chikarovski in New South Wales and Bob Cheek in Tasmania all led state Liberal parties into the electoral mincer less than a year after taking the reins. The WA Liberals are further encumbered by the fact that Colin Barnett is their fourth leader this term, and they must also overcome new electoral arrangements that will require a notional gain of nine seats in a chamber of 59 to form even a minority government.

For all that, the Liberals have more going for them than interstate observers might assume. WA has hardly been a happy hunting ground for Labor in recent years: Geoff Gallop’s unspectacular re-election in 2005 was the only time the party’s primary vote has topped 40 per cent since 1989, a period covering seven federal and four state elections. Published polling during the Buswell period was not as bad for the Liberals as might have been expected, mostly putting Labor’s two-party lead at around 53-47. Buswell’s departure has also lanced a number of boils, reconciling vocal dissidents including former front-benchers Rob Johnson and Graham Jacobs.

Underdogs they might remain, but discerning punters should find those odds from Centrebet more than a little tempting.

The second is from last Wednesday. My assertion that the 2001 result was “unexpected” was contested in comments by Bernie Masters, who at the time was the Liberal member for Vasse. I personally was living in Melbourne, so Masters might well be thought a better judge.

Hardly an analysis of Labor’s surprise close shave in the Northern Territory has failed to make note of the other campaign in progress in Western Australia. Certainly the two elections have much in common: both involve Labor governments that came to power unexpectedly in 2001, seeking third terms after a mid-term leadership change. However, the main cause of excitement has been that both Alan Carpenter and Paul Henderson rushed to the polls ahead of schedule, acting with all the cynicism that early elections invariably entail.

Henderson’s decision to go 11 months early was made on the pretext that an environment of “certainty” was needed to assist the Territory’s bid for the Inpex gas plant, which failed to ring true given the Opposition’s equal enthusiasm for the project. How much this had to do with the result is hard to say. The conventional wisdom has been that bad publicity attending early election announcements is usually washed away by the tide of the campaign, leaving more pragmatic concerns to guide voters’ judgements on polling day.

Certainly there are alternative explanations for the Northern Territory election, not least that it was a correction after an extraordinary result in 2005 that had no parallel in Western Australia. No party should ever feel pleased with a swing of over 8 per cent, but Northern Territory Labor still recorded its second best ever result in primary vote terms and equal second in terms of seats. There is also the fact that the party had effectively knifed the leader who delivered them the 2005 landslide, for reasons that would have seemed obscure to those without their noses to the political grindstone.

In one sense the early election in WA is a less extreme circumstance in that Carpenter has gone only five months ahead of time, after laying the groundwork with talk of a “dysfunctional” parliament that had most bracing for a poll in October. However, of more significance than the timing was the political context: Carpenter called the election on Thursday just one day after Colin Barnett returned to the Liberal leadership, clearly having fast-tracked the existing timetable to catch his opponent off balance.

The historical record provides some support for the idea that early elections comes with risks attached. John Howard’s near-defeat in October 1998 came five months ahead of time, as did Bob Hawke’s disappointing performance in December 1984 (the 1983 double dissolution meant a half-Senate election had to be held no later than mid-1985). Jeff Kennett went six months early with both his bids for re-election, with respectively unremarkable and disastrous results. Those with longer memories might recall Labor’s unexpected defeat in South Australia in 1979, when Des Corcoran surprised his own party by going a full year early. On the other hand, Peter Beattie performed strongly in 2006 when he like Carpenter opted for a September poll that wasn’t due until February.

If the effect varies according to circumstance, Carpenter’s early poll might still be said to have a lot going for it. While the Liberals have been busy retooling their advertising campaign around a new leader, Carpenter has been able to trumpet his government’s achievements to mass television audiences captured by the Olympics. There is also talk from political insiders of empty Liberal Party coffers, which might have been filled if Barnett had been given more time to restore the party’s electoral credibility.

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.

112 comments on “Yesterday’s papers”

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  1. And another Laura Norder Pledge from the Libs.

    The City of Joondalup will get $250,000 to deal with thugs and hooligans if a Liberal Government is elected.

    Shadow police minister Rob Johnson announced the funding as part of a $6 million package for local councils and community groups to install CCTV cameras, security screens, locks and lighting.

    Mr Johnson made the announcement at Mullaloo Beach, within the City of Joondalup, which was the scene of an ugly brawl on Australia Day this year.

    “Hoons, graffiti and anti-social behaviour are major concerns in local communities across WA,” Mr Johnson said.

    “There is no reason why the people of WA should have to put up with intimidation, violence and anti-social behaviour.”

  2. There was some gibberish in the West Australian newspaper regarding “polling shows that Premier’s arrogance is a major factor”

    Westpoll asked voters the reasons they may consider not voting for the ALP, and ‘arrogance’ was ticked by ten per cent of voters.

    no doubt some of the pollsters out there will put me straight, but isn’t this called ‘leading the witness’ ?

    a classic beat-up from the West – since when was ten per cent a ‘major’ figure.

    if I conducted a poll asking why voters might not vote for Colin Barnett, and have a box marked “Because he looks like Shrek”, then a considerable number of people who would not vote for him under any circumstances are bound to tick that box – probably at least ten per cent

    Next day I can gleefully run a story headlined “Barnett’s big mishapen head a major factor with voters”

  3. Skink, in fairness to The West, the report does say: ‘The results showed up in a range of “unprompted” issues when voters were asked what issues or factors they were thinking about when they indicated their voting preference.’ I presume this means there was not in fact a “box” to be ticked marked “Carpenter’s arrogance”.

  4. And the Federal Libs aren’t helping Barnett with stuff like this re Nuclear Power, despite ruling out a Nuclear Power Plant for WA.

    THE Liberals have reignited the nuclear debate, with a frontbencher saying Australia must have nuclear power if it is to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

    But the government has vehemently rejected the push and says people do not want nuclear power plants in their suburbs.

    Liberal frontbencher Ian Macfarlane opened the latest round of the radioactive debate when he talked up “yellowcake” in a speech.

    “It’s a black and white answer. Or should I say a black, green and yellow answer,” he said in the speech, to be delivered in Brisbane tonight.

    “Clean coal, renewables and yellowcake – we must include nuclear in our future baseload clean energy mix.”

    Mr Macfarlane, who was resources minister in the Howard government, said it was an “inconvenient truth” that only nuclear power could provide baseload electricity while cutting emissions.

    He dismissed fears of a Chernobyl-type disaster, saying that “burying mere tonnes of radioactive waste in geological stable rock” was low-risk.

    In his speech to the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Mr Macfarlane said Australia should make full use of its generous uranium reserves.,21598,24207945-5005361,00.html

  5. Frank @ 9

    Hmm. They should stop playing silly buggers and cut to the chase. Safe storage is now possible, if underpriced. What they really want to do is open up is the number of uranium mines and uranium sales o/s, including to India. Nuclear power stations in Australia are simply not commercially competitive.

  6. According to Seven News, the “Leaders Debate” will not be shown live as according to Ch 9, they don’t have the facilities for a live broadcast, but they have assured that it will be screened unedited.

    I know that the ABC couldn’t do it as their studios would be unavailable due to the construction of the Tally Room, but you’d think Nine would hire from the ABC, a Digital Outside Broadcast van for the event.

  7. Gary Bruce

    reply “Hi Ron , Yes, you’re right… ” , also added normaly would refer to flaw I mentioned , didn’t partly as poor prefs calcs effect wouldn’t take account of all of th rounding flaw that I mentioned Gracous as well as very clever Guess for mine subject to MOE that th practicol efect is , one could regard Newspoll as a conservative figure & indeed ‘theoreticaly’ reduces MOE factor to Labors gain and converseley there’s some favourable Labor upside inherrent in that Poll

    Trend Gary in future polls will be more revealing to us all

  8. 16 I don’t get that Frank, how does that occur?

    If you see the list of seats, the ALP gain 2, while the lib/nats gain none 🙂

  9. That’s amazing. It shows the task before them to win government. The next lot of polls will tell us the real story I think. If the Libs are in front then, Carpenter will be in trouble. Personally, I don’t expect that to be the case but who knows.

  10. I am a little puzzled: that link actually shows a Labor landslide from 53.3 per cent 2PP. Whereas Antony’s Newspoll blog post has the Labor 2PP at 52 per cent, giving Labor a gain of four seats from the 2005 election and the Libs/Nats a loss of two.

    Even this figue looks good for the ALP 🙂 THough with the very low number of independnts standng, it will be interesting how the National and green preference deals will play out, as I notice in most cases the ALP are putting the Christian Democrats last.

    BTW, here is the Liberal Statewide HTV card.

  11. I’ve noticed in Gearlton there is a candidate called Trevor Sprigg, whom I’m assuming isn’t related to the recently deceased member for Murdoch.

    Oh dear it looks like a misprint, cos according to the WAEC website the candidate is actually:

    SPRIGG, Philip Christian Democratic Party WA

    Unless of course he is also known as Trevor.

  12. Just looking at the Nationals HTV card, it seems if the sitting member if it’s a Liberal or ALP member, they don’t get the second preference, hence Murray Cowper and Gary Snook in More being lower on the National’s ticket, same with Carol Martin.

    Interesting strategy.

  13. William @19. My web designer has loaded up the August 10-14 Newspoll incorrectly. I’ll get it fixed tomorrow.

    Hopefully I’ll have the Legislative Council calculators up tomorrow as well, though I’m having problems getting resources because of the Olympics. I’ve put up all the group tickets at

    I can’t get my LC pages published until I can get an XML guru released from the Olympics project. Ive had my own input to the Olympics site at Click on the swimming events to see how I’ve applied my elections database software to the Olympics.

  14. Antony, I see you’ve got Moore as being: Marginal Liberal 2.8% v NAT, instead of a safe LIB 18.7% (on the main page). Is this figured from the 2005 election in Greenough / Moore / bits and pieces of Merredin, and have you figured out similar Lib v Nat margins with any other country seat likely to be so? I’m thinking of Blackwood-Stirling and Central Wheatbelt particularly.

  15. Antony,

    With the Statewide HTV cards I posted, plus the ALP HTV cards on their website, can you predict an educated guess of the outcome using them as a template ?

  16. Moore was easy because Libs and Nats contested all three seats in 2005, and we had actual 2CP counts for Greenough and Merredin. All of the old Moore was in the new Moore, so the easy assumption was to take the Moore distribution of preferences, but distribute Labor at the last count using the distribution of Labor preferences in Merredin and Greenough.

    Trying to do the same for Blackwood-Stirling, Wagin and Central Wheatbelt is difficult because the Libs and Nats didn’t contest every constituent seat in 2005. I don’t think it’s worth guestimating ghost Liberal and National votes in seats they didn’t contest in 2005. However, I’d expect Labor to finish third in all three seats, as they will in Moore.

  17. Anthony,
    Good to see your software has another (more predictable) use every 4 years.
    While the web developers are looking at it, may I suggest they also look at the width of that “Gained” text. It seems to result in each of the rows with it being one pixel too thick. My javascript is a bit rusty (as is my html), but I think it is the way the strong tag is implemented in the CSS – putting it in a grey box. Either the box needs to be narrowed or the rows widened – either by a pixel.

  18. I can guess election outcomes no better and no worse than anyone else. My interest is in modelling election night counts and it’s what I do for a living. One of the reason I rarely get to blog late in a campiagn is I’m usually up to my ears testing the software, verifying the data and trying to get the graphics to work properly. Try running a system that fully automates picking the winner, pulling up the correct winning candidate picture, drives a bottom of frame strap on the TV output and publishes the same results to the website. And I can change all the paramaters, turn off receipt of preference counts from the electoral office, over-ride an automatic prediction and even model new preference estimates. But you’ve got to be confident all your data is right first, which always means having to generate sensible test data for rehearsal, which is also an enormous hassle.

    The biggest annoyance is people who want statewide 2PPs out of the system. I predict every seat based on booth modelling, and based on the final two candidates finishing in each seat. But you can’t get that data to add up to an overall 2PP total, and it’s of no use anyway, because the prediction in each seat is a more reliable guide to the election result that any overall 2PP.

  19. That second video was funnier than the first. A bunch of city idiots in a shearing shed in Miling, probably annoying the farmers. (Of all towns within 300 km of Perth, why was Colin Barnett there? It’s tiny…some little place on the way from nowhere (um… Dally) to Moora, not even in the street directory.)

  20. And they vote Frank.

    Yes, unfortunately 🙁 IT reminded me of the Chaser Decides segments with actual voters, though not as funny.

  21. Paul Murray reckons the Libs were “lucky” to win Week one of the Campaign.

    However, political seasons, just like meteorological ones, are full of false dawns. Those opinion polls merely show that the election is no longer the fait accompli it had been up to Mr Buswell’s resignation.

    Even though Labor out-campaigned the Liberals with much better targeted policies, the Government still lost the first week.

    This was a combination of the top-and-tail effect of the significant backlash against Mr Carpenter’s unprincipled decision to call an election six months early, which overwhelmed most of his message midweek, and the double-whammy opinion polls to end the week.

    So the Liberals, very much caught on the hop, got lucky in week one. They won’t have that luxury from here on

  22. “unprincipled decision” – hell anyone would have thought Carpenter committed murder rather than do what many governments have legally done in the past and go a few months early.

  23. In a very close 2PP contest Labor benefits from the conservative vote being bottled up in the ultra-safe rural seats + sitting Labor MP votes in Albany, Geraldton & Collie-Preston. How organized are the Nats going to be to hand out cards in these 3 seats? Experience down here in Vic in 2006 was that Nat preferences drifted a lot.

  24. Antony never makes predictions, which is why he has a prefect record of correct picks (nought out of nought), compared to the rest of us, and certainly compared to others such as Malcolm Mackerras – whose record by the way isn’t as bas as some suppose, although he did predict a landslide for John Kerry. Has Malcolm made an Obama/McCain prediction?

  25. Frank @ 39 -great to see some of my local identities demonstrating their political acumen. Perhaps explains why Michael Keenan is our federal MP.

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