NSW by-elections minus one day

The Labor government in New South Wales is bracing itself for a fearsome backlash at three of tomorrow’s four state by-elections, in the Labor held seats of Ryde, Cabramatta and Lakemba. It will be spared such embarrassment in Port Macquarie only by virtue of the fact that it is not running a candidate. Here it is the Nationals who face a potentially awkward result, with independent Peter Besseling threatening their chances of recovering a traditionally safe seat following Rob Oakeshott’s move to Canberra at the September 6 Lyne by-election. Labor seems gone for all money in Ryde, but its margins in Cabramatta and Lakemba are surely impregnable. It thus looks likely to have its majority reduced from 52 to 51 seats out of 93. The Liberals will be up from 22 to 23, while the Nationals can hope to increase from 13 to 14. If they fail, the number of independents will remain at five.

Lots and lots of splendid analysis from Antony Green at ABC Elections. Tune in here for live coverage tomorrow evening.

Ryde (Labor 9.9%): Deputy Premier John Watkins’ resignation announcement on September 3 marked the commencement of Labor’s present period of turmoil, prompting the attempted reshuffle that cost Morris Iemma the leadership and led Reba Meagher to quit politics. Watkins has held Ryde since it was re-created in 1999 out of abolished Gladesville, which Watkins won from the Liberals in 1995, and Ermington, which had been held for the Liberals by Michael Photios. Iemma might not have been exaggerating when he proclaimed Watkins “one of the greatest marginal seat campaigners in Labor history”: his win over Photios in 1999 was achieved in the face of a 4.1 per cent Liberal margin with a 10.7 per cent swing, and he picked up a further 8.9 per cent swing in 2003. The current margin of 9.9 per cent would thus be exaggerating Labor’s strength here even under happier circumstances. This point was forcefully driven home by the recent Taverner poll pointing to a gigantic 24 per cent swing and a landslide victory for the Liberals. Their candidate is solicitor and former Ryde councillor Victor Dominello, who won Liberal preselection over Hunters Hill councillor Richard Quinn by 22 votes to 17 in the final round. Labor’s candidate is Nicole Campbell, a Ryde councillor who works at the Department of Premier and Cabinet. Campbell stood against John Howard in the corresponding federal seat of Bennelong in 2001 and 2004, and was prevailed upon to stand aside in favour Maxine McKew last year. She also ran unsuccessfully in Epping at the March 2007 state election. Campbell won the poisoned chalice of the Ryde preselection ahead of council colleague Michael Butterworth, a former staffer to John Faulkner and McKew’s campaign manager.

Cabramatta (Labor 29.2%): Health Minister Reba Meagher was one of five cabinet ministers designated for the chop under the proposed reshuffle that prompted Morris Iemma’s Right faction to pull the plug on his leadership. However, Iemma’s demise didn’t save her, and she declined to nominate for a position in Nathan Rees’s new cabinet when it became clear she would not succeed. A week later she announced she was joining the exodus from parliament, initiating a by-election in the seat she had held since the by-election that followed the murder of her precesessor John Newman in 1995. Labor’s candidate is Nick Lalich, who has been mayor of Fairfield since the position became popularly elected in 2006 and was re-elected on September 13 with 61 per cent of the vote. Lalich is of Serbian heritage but was born in Egypt, his parents having escaped the German occuption during World War II. Liberal candidate Dai Le fits the profile of the electorate in that she is of Vietnamese descent, but unlike Lalich she lives outside the electorate, in Dulwich Hill. Le works as a producer for ABC Radio National, and once produced a television documentary on Phuong Ngo, the man convicted of the murder of John Newman. According to Linda Silmalis of the Sunday Telegraph, Labor polling conducted by UMR Research a week after Morris Iemma’s resignation showed Labor on 44 per cent of the primary vote (down 25 per cent on the 2007 election) and the Liberals on 33 per cent (up 17 per cent). However, more recent polling showed Labor’s position had improved slightly.

Lakemba (Labor 34.0%): Morris Iemma’s old seat has always been safe for Labor since its creation in 1927, particulary so since it acquired its current identity as a Lebanese enclave from the 1970s. Labor’s candidate is Rob Furolo, who has been the popularly elected mayor of Canterbury since 2004, having recently been re-elected with 55 per cent of the vote. He appears not to have faced serious opposition in his bid for preselection. The Liberal candidate is Michael Hawatt, who is also on Canterbury council. According to Linda Silmalis of the Sunday Telegraph, UMR Research polling conducted for Labor a week after Iemma’s resignation showed Labor’s primary vote on 44 per cent (down 30 per cent from 2007) and the Liberals on 30 per cent (up 17 per cent).

Port Macquarie (Independent 28.2% versus Nationals): Rob Oakeshott was elected in Port Macquarie as the Nationals candidate in 1996, and the seat was previously in Nationals hands since its creation in 1988. Oakeshott quit the Nationals to sit as an independent in March 2002, complaining of the influence of property developers in local branches and questioning whether the party was still relevant to an electorate transformed by tourism and demographic change. Such questions have frequently been asked by local Liberals, many of whom were angered when their party chose not to contest the by-election. This has added impetus to the independent candidacy of Peter Besseling, president of the Port Macquarie Pirates rugby union club and a press secretary to Oakeshott of 12 years’ standing. Among those backing Besseling are Ken Dodds, president of the Port Macquarie branch of the Liberal Party. The Nationals candidate have again nominated their candidate from last year’s state election, Leslie Williams, described at the time as a “teacher, student nurse and small business owner”. Complicating matters for Besseling are the entry of four members from the sacked Port Macquarie Hastings Council (Lisa Intemann, Bob Sharpham, Jamie Harrison and Cameron Price) and the likely high rate of preference exhausting under the state’s optional preferential voting system.

UPDATE (18/10/08): Daily Telegraph reports: “Labor is on the knife edge in Cabramatta following the resignation of former education minister Reba Meagher, with internal party polling having its candidate, former Fairfield mayor Nick Lalich, just one percentage point ahead of the Liberal’s Dai Le.”

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.

55 comments on “NSW by-elections minus one day”

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  1. Something I found out thanks to Barry O’Farrell – Port Macquarie branch of the Liberal Party only has 12 members.

    I don’t think the independants Price, Harrison and Sharpham are going to get any decent result. The majority of the independant vote is going to be split amongst Besseling and Intemann.

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention James Langley. He was the Federal Labor candidate for Lyne last year up against Vaile but resigned this year when Labor decided not to contest the election. He’s contesting as an independant.

  2. I’ll be voting in Cabramatta tomorrow… hopefully, it ceases to become one of the safest seats and we will actually get noticed (strongly doubt it).

    Most people I know were pretty unhappy about Reba (the member for Coogeematta) but voted Labor because that’s just you do ’round these here parts!

    I’m pretty sure the Libs don’t think they’re a chance, but nonetheless, I think it was a bit slack (borderline racism?) that they dredged up a Vietnamese Reba. To be fair, I don’t anything about Dai Le of Dulwich Hill (why would I?) she’s probably a lovely person. I know Labor consistently polls somewhere around the 60-70% primary (!) but there must be at least one coherent, non-wingnut Liberal Party member near here…. remembers Rocky Gattellari and begins to doubt it…

  3. William,
    One small correction to your blurb. Michael Hawatt is still a councillor on Canterbury City Council.

    Dai Le worked for the ABC as a current affairs producer. I suspect that she resigned to contest the by-election. ABC local radio (702) has been giving her plenty of coverage in their news bulletins and PM ran a story on her on yesterday.

  4. I wouldn’t call the last of those predictions ‘fairy safe’, but we’ll see.

    In other news, Unions NSW secretary John Robertson will fill the NSW Legislative Council vacancy caused by the resignation of Costa.

  5. Daily Telegraph reports: “Labor is on the knife edge in Cabramatta following the resignation of former education minister Reba Meagher, with internal party polling having its candidate, former Fairfield mayor Nick Lalich, just one percentage point ahead of the Liberal’s Dai Le.”

  6. “Labor is on the knife edge in Cabramatta following the resignation of former education minister Reba Meagher, with internal party polling having its candidate, former Fairfield mayor Nick Lalich, just one percentage point ahead of the Liberal’s Dai Le.”


    Internal poll, so take with a grain of salt. But in the current climate i wouldn’t be all that suprised if that was the result.

  7. In that Tele article:

    [ Latest polling points to massive swings of between 20 and 30 per cent in all three Sydney by-elections and an independent victory over the Nationals in Port Macquarie. ]

    Polling for Port Macquarie conveniently not mentioned for the rest of the story. (Who by? Not Labor, surely.) This, however, is much more interesting:

    [ Meanwhile in Port Macquarie, a NSW Nationals MP has been referred to the Electoral Commission on allegations of bribery after offering to pay for the reprinting of a Greens how-to-vote card in order to delete a rival’s name.

    Upper House member Melinda Pavey – the campaign manager for the Nationals’ Port Macquarie candidate Leslie Williams – admitted she had asked the Greens to remove Independent favourite Peter Besseling from the Greens how-to-vote card.

    However, Ms Pavey has claimed her offer to pay for a reprint – which it is estimated would have cost more than $50,000 – was a joke. ]

    If Labor had done that in Cabramatta, which is about as safe as Port Macquarie should be for the Nats (and has lately been for Rob Oakeshott), that’d be lethal. With them not running, though, I really can’t pick it. Where’s Oakeshott Country, or whatever he calls himself these days? Is this a big deal up there?

  8. As much as I’d like to believe Cabramatta is that close, ever since Cunningham it has been standard operating practice for the ALP to leak a “poll” saying the race is on a knife edge to scare back protest voters. Just more Labor lies.

  9. Though I have no idea what the Cabramatta swing will be, it doesn’t seem that unlikely that a South Vietnamese Refugee would pick up significant support there.

  10. Hmmmmm, well it would still be a great result for the people here if the seat became marginal Labor.

    Magpiepete, I think its great a South Vietnamese Refugee is running, just wish it would of been one from the electorate (there are plenty of intelligent and capable people here to choose from) and then there’s the whole Liberal Party thing…

    Anyway, I’m off to vote, will probably go to one of the bigger booths to try and feel the vibe.

  11. In fact, I just called up a few of my friends, Greens members who are working at the polls today and asked them for more detail, eg. “Who was offered the bribe?!?!?!” and they seemed pretty clueless as to what was going on. So if they don’t know, I doubt Nats voters will. But Besseling is still on the how-to-vote cards.

    The Nats have apparently been encouraging people just to put a “1” done and “Keep it simple”. Obviously this will work in their favour as the votes of independants like Intemann are unlikely to swing back to Besseling.

  12. Oz, I’d have to disagree with you about Jamie Harrison. The Port News’ unscientific street poll showed Harrison and Intemann equal at around 5.5%. Harrison did get over 4% of the vote when he ran in Lyne last year. I also don’t know what makes you think Intemann’s votes won’t end up with Besseling. At the last state election, about 6.4% of votes were exhausted under optional-preferential, and my suspicion is that more people will fill out their preferences this time, especially independent voters.

    My prediction for the other candidates’ primary vote: Galati 1%, Langley 2-3%, Russell 2-3%, Price/Sharpham/Rogers/Waldron 0.5%.

  13. Just got back from voting in Cabramatta… Labor candidate Nick Lalich and a couple of sitting Labor MPs (Andrew McDonald) were handing out HTVs. A very high up from Sussex Street was also there. My wife and I had a chat to him (my wife use to work with him). I asked about the Tele report quoted above, he just danced around it… “A lot of change, people unhappy blah blah blah”

    I’m predicting Labor will hold Cabramatta with a massive swing against it (20-25%)

  14. ajd, I think Intemann votes will end up with Besseling, when preferenced. But like I said, no one is officially directed preferences and there’s people at every boll booth, apparently “un-aligned” (Nats) telling people not to give preferences. I think a decent amount of independant votes are going to wallow.

  15. ajd, you’ve got you’re exhausted preference rates wrongs. At the end of the Port Macquarie count in 2007, 2717 votes exhausted their preferences, which was 6.4% of ALL votes. But it was an exhausted rate of 47.6% of the 5704 votes distributed as preferences. At NSW elections in recent years, it is rare for exhausted preference rates to be less than 40%. If a candidate issues a how-to-vote with no preferences, the exhausted rate is usually above 60%.

  16. [Health Minister Reba Meagher was one of five cabinet ministers designated for the chop under the proposed reshuffle that Morris Iemma’s Right faction to pull the pin on his leadership.]

    William I think there is a verb missing from this sentence. (Feel free to come and nit-pick at my website any time you like.)

  17. Now that the expectation is that Labor will suffer very big swings against it, 20% and more, anything less than 20% will be seen as an improvement, not that they deserve it.

  18. The Daily Telegraph doesn’t just report unfortunately. It has made it clear, long before Labor in NSW got into real trouble, that it was out for them. They are as bad as that rag in the west.

  19. @Antony GREEN: Thanks for correcting me about that Antony, in that case I’ve got to wonder how many first-pref Oakeshott/Williams votes had no preferences last time. I’m presently looking at the Harrison and Besseling HTV cards and both suggest numbering more boxes, but that may not have enough effect.

    I hope enough people notice how the ‘Just Vote 1’ posters are always placed right next to Leslie Williams posters, and draw the correct conclusion from that…

  20. Adam in Canberra

    I’ll nit-pick for William.

    [This archive was created by and is maintained by Dr Adam Carr of Melbourne Australia]

    Are you “in Canberra” or “maintaining the archive in Melbourne”? :mrgreen:

  21. Further GP, would you be happy with a rag like the Daily Morongraph doing to the Liberal Party what they have done to Labor over the years?

  22. No 31

    If the Liberal Party had performed as egregiously as the NSW ALP has for the last 13 years, I would rightly have no objection to the Terror’s reporting style.

  23. Adam

    This isn’t a nitpick but in Iran, Rafsanjani beat Ahmadinejad in the first round of the presidential election but lost in the run-off because Ahmadinejad got the votes from the Reformist candidates. Does that mean Ahmadinejad is more moderate than Rafsjani coz that’s a pretty scary thought?

  24. Ahmadinejad is more radical in a religious sense than Rafsanjani, but he ran as a populist reformist, while Rafsanjani, who is notoriously corrupt, was seen as the establishment candidate. Thus Ahmadinejad was rather paradoxically elected by people who don’t like the theocratic regime, but once elected he became more theocratic than ever. His problem now is that things haven’t got any better for the people who elected him, so they might kick him out if a more credible populist candidate appears.

  25. Antony: um, wouldn’t that be irrelevant, since 0% of Oakeshott’s votes ended up going anywhere else, given he won an absolute majority first count?

    In any case I defer to your advice on how many people didn’t fill in their preferences… maybe I’m just overestimating the amount of effort an average voter will put into their ballot paper, but I would think that people who knew they wanted to vote for a less likely candidate would go to the effort of filling out all their preferences…

  26. It’s depressing that so many people can’t be bothered taking another 10 seconds to fill out preferences. Or maybe they just don’t think there’s anyone else worth voting for.

  27. ajd: It may be irrelevant, but the numbers were counted out to produce a two-party preferred vote. Because everyone is so obsessed about getting a statewide 2PP vote, the various electoral commissions do this in seats even where it doesn’t matter. That’s why we know that 80% of Oakeshott’s preferences exhausted.

  28. It also might indicate that a decent proportion of Besseling supporters are unlikely to preference. Though again, that probably won’t matter since it’ll come down to him and Williams.

  29. The Port Macquarie News (while admitting it was unscientific) polled 150 at 9 spots in the electorate yesterday and had Beesling as the highest placed Independent level pegging with Williams on 32 %. The only other independents with more than 5% were the ex-councillors Intermann and Harrison. The other councillors (Sharpham and Price)had negligible votes. The colourful ex-labor candidate Langley has has a significant amount of free publicity but I would be surprised if this transfers into votes and he was on 3% behind the Greens and Tony Galati.

    I hope I am wrong but I am predicting a win for Leslie Williams due to the Steve Bradbury effect. A single, credible conservative independent candidate could have taken the seat easily. However the presence of 7 independents and optional preferencing means that the efforts to disposess the Nationals will be dissipated. The Nationals are well aware of this. At the booths today there were a large number of corflutes saying “just vote 1” – there was no candidate name on the posters but the authorisation was from the Nationals’ office.

    The suggestion that the Hon Melinda Pavey may or may not have offered support to the Greens to stop Beesling has surprised or shocked no one in PM.

  30. Antony/Oz: I suppose for tonight then, assuming a roughly equal primary vote for Williams and Besseling as the polls have suggested, it could come down to how many Greens/other Independent supporters preference. Anyone putting Besseling or Williams first may as well exhaust their ballot, since they’re going to be the last two. If forced to preference, those supporting the major independents (everyone other than Rogers, Price, Sharpham) would most likely preference Besseling. Could be disastrous for Besseling if independent voters fail to preference.

  31. I prefer the OED to some micky mouse online dictionary, thanks. But even by that definition you used it wrongly. You wrote “If the Liberal Party had performed as egregiously as the NSW ALP…” One can’t “perform egregiously,” only “egregiously badly” or whatever. That definition just makes it a fancy word for “very,” and obviously you can’t say “perform very.” But its *correct* definition is “to an outstanding degree,” so to “perform egregiously” would mean “perform extremely well.”

  32. In other news, does anyone here not think this is just ridiculous policy?


    [Australians will be unable to opt-out of the government’s pending Internet content filtering scheme, and will instead be placed on a watered-down blacklist, experts say.

    Under the government’s $125.8 million Plan for Cyber-Safety, users can switch between two blacklists which block content inappropriate for children, and a separate list which blocks illegal material.

    Pundits say consumers have been lulled into believing the opt-out proviso would remove content filtering altogether.

    The government will iron-out policy and implementation of the Internet content filtering software following an upcoming trial of the technology, according to the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.

    A spokesman for Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the filters will be mandatory for all Australians.]

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