Yesterday’s papers: week two

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.

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.

178 comments on “Yesterday’s papers: week two”

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  1. From the Perth Now article mentioning the ad.

    A spokesman for the Liberal Party said the ad highlights Labor’s failure to provide a safer community, better health services, better school facilities and improve public transport and roads for a growing population over eight years in a booming economy.

    “Liberal MPs and candidates have been talking to many people across the state during this election campaign and most West Australians cannot identify three good things Alan Carpenter’s

    Labor have done in the past eight years,” the spokesman said.

    “Even if they do manage to identify something it is usually followed up with prolonged and heavy criticism that Labor did not do the job properly.

    “Instead of trying to fix these problems, Alan Carpenter has called the earliest election in 100 years.

    “He is now promising things that should have been done years ago.”,21598,24250445-5017005,00.html

  2. “can’t add up, can’t type. if my IQ drops any further I’ll be reaching for the phone and calling talkback radio” LOL – couldn’t drop that low surely.

  3. Interesting how most (maybe all of them) of the TV adverts by both parties have been negative to date. No “vision for the future” stuff.

  4. Typical Liberal Response re School’s Announcement.

    The Liberal Party’s Education Spokesman, Peter Collier, says his weekend announcement of 14 new schools, on top of what Labor has already committed to in the budget, has got Labor frightened.

    “All that the Government is doing is matching our commitment, that is fourteen new schools,” he said.

    “Now I’ve got to say this is deceit in the extreme. What we’ve got here is a Government that is yet again panicking. We have set the agenda on education. We understand how significant education is to the people of Western Australia.”

  5. Is this you Steve ? 🙂

    Train line to Mandurah. Saved the Yarragadee. Built Kwinana Desal plant. Saved Ningaloo. Meanwhile Omodei shot his son, Birney thought the Pope had a partner, Buswell keeps sniffing chairs, And Colin thought a Kimberley Canal was a good idea for eight years until last week. Maybe the Libs forgot that the speaking box in the corner of the room has speakers as well vision. And what about the vision impaired? This advert discriminates against the disabled in our community.
    Posted by: Steve of Boorlo 4:00pm today,21598,24250445-5017005,00.html

  6. Luke @ 150 – yes, that’s what I said. The external affairs power might allow the Feds to stop you from exporting, but how could it stop you from mining?!?
    Also, I still think it might infringe s. 117. If they allow it in some states surely they must allow it in all???
    I still don’t see the votes in banging up teenagers – even if they are unpleasant little yobbos (which some surely are and many others not). Even the most rabid vigilante must acknowledge that kids are just kids – doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be punished for crime – just means that they aren’t the same as adults…
    As for Christian Porter – I would have thought his time as a prosecutor would have taught him that crime is more complex than ‘string ’em up’, of course, that assumes that the electorate also is aware of this. However, Bateman is almost quartered by the Freeway and Leach Highway so transport is a big issue there I guess.
    Frank – what sort of response would you have liked from Collier “Nice to see the Premier investing in education at last?”

  7. with that ad, I can’t really think of many significant changes to society in the last century that were not made by the labor movement

    at the weekend I went past the monument to the Eight Hour Movement in Melbourne, and thought that if things were left to the Conservatives we would still have a six day sixty hour week and children working in mines, or AWA’s as they became known.

    welfare state, public health, women’s rights, public education…all of it from the labor movement.

    but let’s look at recent history in the terms that the Libs can undertsand. If I want to be a selfish middle class git, I can point out that in the last eight years my income has increased by 227% and the value of my house has increased by 330%.

  8. Skink – you should add to that list… the labor movement is also responsible for:
    1. The sun coming up in the west
    2. Gravity
    3. Rainfall and
    4. Sliced bread.
    Can you think of anything bad that has come out of the labor movement?
    Let me help you…
    a. Kevin Reynolds
    b. Painters and Dockers Union
    c. ‘No ticket – no work’
    If I wanted to be a normal middle class voter (which most people are and of whom you seem to be nothing but disdainful) I could say, maybe my wages have gone up but so has my mortgage/groceries/fuel. Yes, the value of my home has increased but how will my children be able to afford homes of their own. Do I think that the State Government had anything to do with either of these things – well, wages increase has to a large extent been a product of growth which has been a product of resources – so only a little and largely indirectly. As for house prices, there was a national house price boom but housing and land is very much a state-based issue. Interest rates however are principally federal and even then only influenced (rather than caused) by governments (under normal circumstances – of course government COULD adopt highly inflationary and destabilishing strategies but the best examples of these are the previous two ALP federal governments).
    So, what’s your point?

  9. Jesus, VPL, if you’re correct, what were Howard and Costello banging on about during the last election? Surely their formidable talents were responsible for providing all this largesse on a national scale?

  10. skink,
    I would also add that, in reality, all of those advances had already been “won” by the vast majority of people before they got into legislation. In many ways they actually hurt the poor by enforcing rigidity in the economy, reducing employment and output as a result.

  11. FC (151) Thanks for linking the Liberal ad. Even if your perspectives are skewed towards one side, I have to say that you are a fountain of knowledge on politics in your state. GB @ 156 (as often occurs with his plentiful posts on PB threads) is half right and half wrong. The ad is indeed, ‘cheap’, or at least economical with words, but it is not ‘nasty’. The message is sound: the Australian Labor Party government of the great state of Western Australia is seeking a third term so, if the electors are good (or bad) enough to return it, it gets another four years. No harm at all in reminding them of that.

  12. skink

    You would have to add all the work that labor has done and continues to do on giving women freedom, equality and protection both in the workplace, the marketplace and at home.

  13. 166 Fulvio, Howard and Costello had much to thank the WA and Qld government for achieving but I never quite heard them get around to it.

  14. Rod,
    And a conspicuous success that has been, hasn’t it. The trends in improvement of womens’ vs. mens’ employment conditions were given a huge push along by the legislation.
    Oh – it wasn’t? I suppose it was not that useful then, was it?

  15. 168 david – I take it you haven’t heard of the expression “cheap and nasty” before. It just means that it is not sophisticated, basic, with no real effect. Not nasty as in “mean and nasty”.
    It’s so good of you to keep an eye on me David. Where would I be without you?

  16. Gary, you don’t understand.

    It requires being calm, measured, temperate and in control of your emotions. You must be sophisticated, suave and capable of asserting your moral and intellectual superiority at all times. The benefits of your Public School education must be patent and demonstrable at all times.

    Yet your public persona must be impeachable, charitable and incapable of unworthy thoughts and actions.

    It is called being a liberal Party Supporter, the possessor of a certain je ne sais qua, sang froid and gentility, which entitles your opinions an utterances to be awarded an importance and unquestionable authority not otherwise afforded to lesser mortals.

    In short, you, like the name your pater has bestowed on and bequested to you, are the stuff of political royalty.

    Never mind that you genuflect only to the god of Mammon, that your heart is flinty cold and hard, that you treat the rest of mankind with odious contempt, and that you brook no opinion but that of your kind. Never mind.

    It is called being a Conservative.

    Gary, you are not aConsevative. Accept your station in life , be obedient and obsequious, as is your duty. Do not dare to question your betters.

    I trust and hope I have taught you something.

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