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. I am not sure why the Libs bother campaigning – just let The West do it for them

    Along with 6PR, and Perth Now.

    Speaking of Perth Now, here’s some fun 🙂

    PERTHNOW gives you the chance to grill Colin Barnett. Post a question to the Opposition leader online for your chance to get the answers YOU want.

    We’ll sort through the best questions and ask Mr Barnett on your behalf.

    No spin or sidetracking, just direct answers courtesy of PerthNow and The Sunday Times.

    We’ll publish the best question and Mr Barnett’s responses in The Sunday Times on Sunday,21598,24212633-2761,00.html

  2. From the article on Unions running Ads attacking Labor was this gem in the comments section.

    As a bus driver I am personally insulted at the lack of respect and treatment from this government. We are trying to avoid action but when the government won’t assist there is no choice. For so long negotiation and nothing. Maybe Carpenter and co would like to do this job and see the crap we out up with, and the dangers.

    Posted by: Mark of Perth 9:06am today
    Comment 7 of 13

    Small problem, the Bus companies are private operators, and have been since they were privatised by the Court Liberal Govt.,21590,24211272-2761,00.html

  3. Ahh, the Hillbilly is threatening to take hjis bat and ball if he doesn’t get his own way.

    Nationals leader Brendon Grylls has thrown down the gauntlet to the major parties, saying supporting the “royalties for regions” plan is a must if they want his support after the State election.

    The Nationals have again ruled out joining a coalition with the Liberals, with Mr Grylls saying any support for either major party after the election is conditional on them accepting his party’s plan to set aside 25 per cent of mineral royalty payments for regional areas.

    With the election race likely to be tight, the Nationals could have a say in post-September 6 negotiations, but Mr Grylls, who has already been rebuffed by the Liberals and Labor, was standing firm today.

    “I will once again put our royalties for regions plan on the table, and we’ll see if Colin Barnett walks away from the meeting again,” he said.

    He was referring to a planned meeting with the Opposition leader about the proposal, which was cancelled when Mr Barnett pulled out, describing it as a media stunt.

    Meanwhile, the Nationals, WA Family First and the Christian Democrats will preference each other as they battle for spots in the Upper House at the election.

    Mr Grylls said his party’s Lower House candidates would make their own decisions on who to preference. His preferences in the Central Wheatbelt contest would go first to the Christian Democrats’ Ross Patterson before the Liberals.

  4. “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.

    And didn’t Richard Court do exactly the same thing in 1996 and won with an increased majority ?

  5. Carpenter wouldn’t be surprised if Labor loses the election. Wonder what he’ll do for a living now the barbarians are at the gates?

    I seem to recall Gallop saying the same thing at the 2005 Election 🙂

    But I still reckon Barnett on Sunday at his Policy Launch will announce something that will either be popular, or more likely, be something that will cause him to lose, like the Canal.

  6. And the Libs are once again divided on Policy.

    Health Minister Jim McGinty today said Labor would ban smoking in alfresco dining areas, cars carrying children and children’s playgrounds if it won a third term.

    Smoking also would be banned between the flags on patrolled beaches.

    Opposition health spokesman Kim Hames said apart from the alfresco bans, he broadly supported the move.

    Mr Barnett had earlier said he did not see the need for such restrictive laws.,21598,24213169-2761,00.html

  7. Frank, Isn’t the modern version of the political campaign bible correct, when it says:

    “Better to be a live Underdog than a dead lion?”

  8. Hey Frank
    Which labor politician do you work for?

    None, but member of the ALP.

    Which Liberal Party staffer do YOU work for ?

    Pot Meet Kettle.

  9. Frank Calabrese @ 53

    Gryll’s gambit has a refreshing air of honesty about the Nats’ penchant for using the public purse for rolling out the pork barrel, decanting regional slush funds for party political purposes, and generally looking after sitting members, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

    To gain even a thin veneer of policy respectability, answers would be required for the following policy questions:

    (1) Why stop at 25%?
    (2) How would the slush be allocated?
    (3) What objectives would the slush attain?

    Conversely, if the electorate gives a clear mandate to either of the main parties, is it a corollary that the regions would be entitled to 0%?

    For those who are interested in the proposition that history repeats itself, slush (skimmed off fat) was the cook’s perquisite in the British navy during the Napoleonic wars. The slush was then sold by the cook for personal profit. I would suggest that an appropriate policy name would be: ‘Gryll’s Slush Gambit’

  10. Life just got a lot tougher still for Kim Hames and John Day, in their marginal seats… they’re getting a bit less of the lunatic fringe god-bothering vote. It’s only a few percent, but considering the Libs seem to be losing preferences from everywhere, it’ll add up

    And to think the Libs need to grab 9 seats from Labor, as well as holding on to their seats, it doesn’t look good for the Libs.

  11. Are the Libs in any real danger of losing any marginal seats? I would have thought it was a matter of Labor hanging on.

    With the redistribution due to One Vote One Value, there are some seats which were safe liberal, but are now Marginal, or in John Day’s case, they’ve moved to a new seat.

    Plus there are some seats like Collie-Preston which have both sitting labor and liberal members running against each other.

  12. Libs want to relax tough Fishing Restrictions.

    Liberal leader Colin Barnett will reconsider tough recreational fishing restrictions.

    While promising to relax current fishing rules, Mr Barnett stopped short of saying whether restrictions introduced by the current Labor Government, would be lifted.

    He said that if elected, a Liberal Government would convene an expert panel which would revisit the decison to ban recreational fishing for popular species such as dhufish, for four months of the year.

    But Fisheries Minister Jon Ford said any relaxation of the current laws would risk the collapse of vulnerable populations of fish, including dhufish.

    Mr Ford said research had shown a number of popular species could be wiped out by over-fishing.

    “Mr Barnett thinks he can just make some vague reference to relaxing the fishing laws without any insight into the dire consequences of doing that,” Mr Ford said.

    “He talks about getting rid of the seasonal restriction but this seasonal restriction is the only way of making a big difference to saving our iconic fish.

  13. Frank

    Re the fishing, I posted this about fishing in the NT.


    I think you may have a point re push polling and the NT, but in a round about way.

    That article you linked to mentions the effectiveness of the push polling in the NT especially in relation to fishing ” where half the population loves fishing for barra”.

    The push polling apparently said that labor was to give the aborigines land/ sea rights that would threaten this NT past time.

    Interesting about a week before this NT election the high court did just that.

    Push polling in the NT does not need a phone campaign, with such small electorates a whispering campaign in the pubs is just as effective. IE “See we told this would happen if labor got in”

    Maybe the libs plan a similar campaign re fishing in WA.

  14. re: Christian Democrat Preferences in Dawesville and Kalamunda.
    This will make very little difference as the CDP and Family First did the same thing at the 2005 election, which means it will not make the swing vary compared to other seats. If there is a swing to or from the Liberals, it will be the same in Dawesville and Kalamaunda because the preferences are the same at both elections.

    I had access to the tally sheets from 2005 and have actual minor party preference counts. In Dawesville, Family First polled 2.9% and preferences flowed 60% to Labor, the CDP polled 0.7% and flowed 39% to Labor.

    In Darling Range (now Kalamunda), the CDP polled 3.8% and preferences flowed 56% to Labor, while Family First polled 2.9% and preferences flowed 45% to Labor.

  15. Apparently Labor has given up on Kingsley

    I’m pretty sure Labor only won it last time because of the fact Colin Edwardes replaced his wife Cheryl to run for the seat and suffered a backlash because of the Nepotism involved.

  16. The polling must be quite bad for them to abandon it

    It appears to be that way, it must have been a very brave move by Labor to write the seat off, but from Williams page.

    In this they may have been assisted by discontent over the Liberals’ nomination of Edwardes’ husband Colin, Wanneroo councillor and a principal of the “Northern Alliance” faction of northern suburbs Liberal potentates. Dissension in the local Liberal camp was indicated by the candidacy of Marie Evans, wife of former federal Cowan MP Richard Evans, who attracted 11.5 per cent under the “Community 1st” banner. Most blamed the attempted Edwardes succession when the seat emerged as Labor’s only gain of the election, although the 3.3 per cent swing was not greatly higher than the northern suburbs average.

  17. Quite bad is relative. It only needs to be a small swing in that seat. No use wasting resources on a seat that is not normally Labor and looks like going back to the fold.

  18. Quite bad is relative. It only needs to be a small swing in that seat. No use wasting resources on a seat that is not normally Labor and looks like going back to the fold.

    Quite true, Kingsley was always a Liberal seat, and the infighting over pre-selection last time ensured it went to the ALP, and only just.

  19. It is true that Kingsley was always a Liberal seat up (until 2005) but remember there were small swings to Labor in the other northern metro marginals as well (eg Wanneroo where according to Antony’s site, Di Guise received 3.6% 2PP).

    Anyone know what’s happening in Ocean Reef?

  20. I hope Barnett becomes really cocky. I don’t recall the last Newspoll being particularly kind to him as such though.

    Yep, whereas Carpenter has been the opposite and has talked down a victory by saying it will be a knife-edge result, a tactic used I believe by Howard.

    And speaking of Arrogance, Talk about the Pot calling the Kettle Black from Paul Murray 🙂

  21. The Kingsley result could be truobling for Labor for two reasons;

    1) If there is a swing on in the Northern suburbs, several other seats could go as well…and the northern suburbs are where WA elections can be won and lost

    2) If other seat, particularly northern ones, are shaky enough to need extra resources, that could be trobling for them and a reinforcing of point 1.

  22. Seems weird as there still seems a huge amount of activity from ALP in Kingsley as I live there and recieved calls and stuff in letter box last night. I think it must be a wierd “we are underdogs” strategy.

  23. How many Northern seats does Labor hold and by what margins?
    Sending resouces to other seats doesn’t necessarily mean trouble BTW in those other seats.

  24. I would have thought we’d all be expecting some swing against the ALP this election given the latest polling. It’s not so surprising that this low lying fruit would be picked as it were is it?

  25. Gary,
    I would guess that Barnett is talking up the possibility of a victory as I do not think that many in the Liberal Party actually believe it. He has to try to overcome the feelings that the Libs cannot win to get more out to assist on polling day. The only way to do that is to try to make them think there is a point.
    I would agree with him (and Carpenter) BTW. There is a chance and, considering this government’s record, it indicates how poor the Libs have been over the last few years that they are not romping it in.

  26. I have been told by another reliable media source that the Kingsley stuff is rubbish

    Thought that story sounded suss, I wonder who leaked the story in the first place ?

  27. sounds like bolocks to me

    labor will lose kingsley tho

    way too upper middle.

    As I said above, it only went to Labor last Election because of the split in the Liberal vote due to Colin Edwardies running and the Community 1st candidate being the wife of a former Liberal Member for Cowan.

  28. I note Mark Olson doesn’t like the 600 extra nurses, but that’s not surprisingly that during the 2005 State Election he signed a pact with the Libs re Nurses Salaries.

    The Australian Nursing Federation says a Labor promise for 800 extra nurses over four years will fall well short of what is needed in the health system.

    Empty promise

    State secretary Mark Olson has scoffed at Labor’s pledge saying WA nurses want a commitment that they will be the highest paid in the country.

    He says the Government must also address major parking shortages at the major hospitals if it is to attract or retain nurses in the profession.

    Mr Olson says with 400 current vacancies, and more nurses retiring, 200 extras a year will not cover the shortfall.

    “It would be very good if they materialised, however what I didn’t see today in the Government’s announcement was any new strategies to make it happen, ” he said.

    “And I don’t count the plans for any further childcare as being an initiative that’s going to deliver any meaningful number of nurses.”

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