Here’s two subscriber-only pieces I wrote for Crikey last week. The first is from Friday, and is showing its age only insofar as Centrebet is now offering $3.50 on a Liberal win.
For all that’s been said about the lessons of Northern Territory Labor’s near-defeat a fortnight ago, expectations that Alan Carpenter’s government will be comfortably returned in Western Australia are dying hard.
Saturday’s Newspoll showed 61 per cent of respondents expecting a Labor win, compared with 21 per cent for the Liberals. However, the poll put Labor’s two-party lead at just 51-49, and it was echoed by a 50-50 Westpoll result published the same day in The West Australian. This doesn’t seem to have impressed betting agency Centrebet, which has not revised its starting price of $4.25 for a Liberal win.
With just over a fortnight to go, Labor is taking to such perceptions with an axe. The process began on Wednesday when Alan Carpenter told television reporters his party faced a “knife-edge political situation”, and said he “always believed that we could lose”.
It was ratcheted up a notch yesterday morning when the ABC was told Labor had abandoned its most marginal seat of Kingsley to direct resources where it still had a chance. “Concern” was also expressed over Ocean Reef, Swan Hills, Riverton and Jandakot. The latter was particularly interesting, as just two weeks ago the party was trumpeting a 56-44 lead fuelled by gratitude over the Mandurah railway and Fiona Stanley Hospital projects.
Then came the real bombshell, courtesy of Geof Parry on the Channel Seven news: leaked polling across the five seats showed a swing to the Liberals of 7 per cent, which if consistent would give them 32 seats out of 59 along with another three for the Nationals. This was accompanied by findings that 57 per cent of respondents still expected Labor to win, while only 25 per cent thought the Liberals “ready to govern.
Later in the evening, a Labor candidate using a pseudonym wrote on my blog that the party’s strategy group was “cr-pping itself” over the data, which was “very real” and “not a tactic to scare voters”. Particular concern was expressed over the strategists’ failure to scotch the snowballing perception of Alan Carpenter as “arrogant” — a theme which has developed a life of its own since the early election was announced a fortnight ago.
When respondents to Saturday’s Westpoll survey were asked unprompted to name the single issue that would most influence their vote choice, fully 10 per cent responded with some variation on “Govt/Carpenter arrogance”. The apparent potency of this message has not been lost on the Liberals: the word “arrogant” appears twice, delivered with carefully modulated emphasis, in their latest 30-second radio advertisement.
Of course, the polling leak and accompanying talk of internal panic might just be a ruse to boost Labor’s winning margin rather than avert defeat. On the other hand, the shift to the Liberals recorded in last weekend’s polls was entirely consistent with the anti-Troy Buswell effect that was well understood to be at work in the preceding surveys. We have evidence now that is not merely anecdotal that the perception of arrogance is starting to bite. And those generous odds from Centrebet are still there for the taking.
The second is from Monday: I should add that Wendy Duncan is a better chance than I believed at the time, as she has done very well on the preference tickets.
The range of issues turned up by state elections these days (law and order, hospital waiting lists, water supply) is usually so narrow it can be hard to tell one campaign from the next. Two concerns which don’t often rate a mention are equal opportunity and sexual harassment.
It is an indication of the extraordinary state of affairs in the WA Liberal Party that Labor is pursuing these unconventional lines of attack in its first negative advertising of the state election campaign. Commercial radio audiences are being targeted with ads in which a young girl declares her aspiration to grow up in “a place where women have a voice in the community” and “a society which respects women”. An older female voice then breaks the bad news that the Liberal Party “boys’ club” has “only one woman running in their held seats”, and that “Liberal Shadow Treasurer Troy Buswell thinks it’s funny to play with a woman’s bra in public and to sniff a woman’s chair”.
The two issues are closely related. As well as making him poison in the eyes of women voters, Buswell’s heavily publicised indiscretions clearly presented a stumbling block to the party’s efforts to recruit female candidates. His emergence as leader in January also coincided with the departure of the party’s existing two women in the lower house. Shadow Tourism Minister Katie Hodson-Thomas announced her retirement plans before entering the party room meeting that confirmed Buswell as leader, having earlier complained he had subjected her to “inappropriate” remarks in the presence of male colleagues (she admits to regretting the decision now her long-standing ally Colin Barnett is back at the helm). Shadow Attorney-General Sue Walker quit the party a fortnight later, citing factionalism and her lack of “trust” in Buswell. Walker will attempt to hold her seat of Nedlands as an independent against Bill Marmion, who won Liberal preselection as the only male nominee in a field of four.
One failure at least could be put down to misfortune rather than carelessness. When Barnett announced his retirement in February, the unopposed preselection nominee for his blue-ribbon seat of Cottesloe was Deidre Willmott, policy director for the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and a front-bench shoo-in. Willmott of course was compelled to stand aside when Barnett returned to the leadership a fortnight ago, and could not be persuaded with alternative offers of an upper house seat or a shot against Sue Walker in Nedlands. She has now been appointed chief-of-staff to Barnett and will no doubt take his place in Cottesloe if the Liberals lose the election, although this is not openly acknowledged.
When nominations closed on Friday, it was revealed the Liberals had managed a grand total of six female lower house candidates out of 58. Current polling suggests this will translate into two elected members out of about 24, both marginal seat newcomers with no obvious claim to a position on the front-bench. The situation is only slightly better in the upper house, where the most likely result will be four Liberal women out of 15. The Nationals too are likely to emerge with an all-male complement of three or four lower house MPs plus one in the upper house, unless their existing female MLC Wendy Duncan can pull off an unlikely win in Mining and Pastoral region.
The best Barnett has been able to make of the situation is to offer a front-bench position to Liz Constable, the long-standing independent member for the naturally Liberal western suburbs seat of Churchlands. Constable has been a notable presence alongside Barnett on the campaign trail, despite not yet having had much to say relating to her nominated portfolios of public sector management and government accountability.