Penrith by-election live

UPDATE (FRIDAY): At a safe distance, here is my Crikey piece on the by-election which was originally subscriber only.

By-elections have been a feature of Australian political life since the first democratically elected colonial parliaments were established in the mid-nineteenth century.

Compiling a comprehensive set of historic by-election results at state as well as federal level would involve painstaking research through the archives of various electoral authorities and newspapers-of-record.

It is possible that, buried in some such dark and dusty place, there might be found details of a by-election defeat as bad for a major political party as the one suffered by New South Wales Labor in Penrith on Saturday.

However, the lack of any such precedent in recent memory, together with the trend towards greater electoral volatility over time, suggests it isn’t very likely.

We do know that Labor has suffered the worst by-election swing recorded in the long history of New South Wales, thanks to exhaustive historical results compiled for the New South Wales Parliamentary Library by Antony Green.

The closest historical parallels that spring to mind are indeed from the Premier State: Bass Hill in 1986, when Neville Wran’s previously safe seat fell to the Liberals upon his retirement, and — distressingly close at hand as far as the government is concerned — Ryde and Cabramatta just after Morris Iemma’s departure in September 2008.

With respective two-party swings of 22.2%, 22.9% and 22.0%, Penrith looks to have surpassed all three, recording an election night swing of 25.5%.

One result that has its measure is the 1991 by-election for Geraldton in Western Australia, held as Carmen Lawrence’s Labor government groaned under the weight of revelations from the WA Inc Royal Commission.

On that occasion Labor’s primary vote fell from 47.6% to 16.6%, while the combined Liberal and Nationals vote went from 43.5% to 66.5%. Labor finished third behind the Nationals and thus did not even make the final two-party cut, making it impossible to determine a two-party swing.

It might also be worth mentioning Labor’s forfeit last year in the Tasmanian upper house seat of Pembroke, which the party was too scared to contest after the resignation of its sitting member Allison Ritchie.

(It should be stressed that this is limited to two-party contests, and thus excludes the fairly common occurrence of major party support being gouged by the emergence of popular independents. And while I’m making asides, it’s interesting to note that the by-election hall of shame is dominated by Labor).

In Penrith, Labor finished the night on 24.4% of the primary vote, losing almost exactly half of their 48.7% from 2007.

Three-quarters of the dividend was collected by the Liberals, up from 32.6% to 50.9%, while the Greens vote more than doubled from 5.5% to a still quite modest (for a by-election) 12.8%.

While the result has never been in doubt since former member Karyn Paluzzano announced her resignation in May, Labor might initially have hoped for something a little less bruising.

At the time of the 2008 by-elections the then Premier, Nathan Rees, had a Newspoll approval rating of 39%, which — mediocre as it was — proved to be a honeymoon peak. It clearly says something very alarming about the state of the Labor brand that Kristina Keneally has been able to do even worse with an approval rating of 47%.

Several factors suggest themselves as explanations for Labor’s ability to plumb new depths, of which the most newsworthy is the decline in Labor’s federal fortunes since Ryde and Cabramatta. Evidence of Rudd Government policy failures feeding into a general questioning of Labor’s competence in the electorate might be anecdotal, but it’s substantial in volume.

Of course, those rushing to judgement on the Prime Minister need to recall that the by-election follows a horror stretch for the State Government, even by its own abysmal standards.

There is also reason to think Penrith was especially unfavourable terrain for Labor to face a by-election.

As the experience of the corresponding federal electoral of Lindsay has shown, this is an area of fickle political loyalties which never fails to jump on the bandwagon when a swing is on.

The electorate’s outer suburban location also places a premium on transport issues, with local voters having suffered the worst of freeway gridlocks and a creaking public transport system.

A somewhat more nuanced picture of the result can be gained by comparing the two distinct parts of the electorate: Penrith and its surrounds, which account for about 80% of the voters, and the very different electoral terrain of the Blue Mountains, which the electorate touches upon at Blaxland, Glenbrook and Lapstone.

Labor was hit hardest in the former, down by about 26% compared with 21% in the Blue Mountains, and the dividend there more heavily favoured the Liberals.

There have been suggestions the Greens could have hoped for more from a Labor collapse on this scale, but the distinction between the two areas suggests their failure to do so says as much about Penrith as the state of the parties at large.

Penrith boasts slightly above average incomes but below average educational attainment, making it weak territory for the Greens. By contrast, the Blue Mountains has almost double Penrith’s proportion of professionals, and is thus a lot more representative of the kinds of seats where the party will be hoping to defeat Labor.

It is thus highly significant that the Greens outpolled Labor in every one of the four Blue Mountains booths, polling a collective primary vote of over 23% compared with about 11% in and around Penrith.

Accordingly, the result holds little comfort for Labor in the Greens targets of Balmain and Marrickille, and suggests they will struggle to stay ahead of the Greens in the neighbouring seat of Blue Mountains — academic though that may be, given the near certainty of it falling to the Liberals.

And while federal implications of state by-elections should generally be treated with caution, the scale of the overall result gives Labor ample reason to be nervous not only Lindsay, but also the other nearby marginals of Macquarie and Macarthur.

UPDATE (MONDAY): I have a subscriber-only article on the by-election in Crikey today.

My earlier preference projections proved too optimistic for Labor: with all the two-party booth counts conducted, the swing at the close of play is 25.5 per cent. This is a result without any precedent I’m aware of, at least as far as two-party contests are concerned. The swings in Ryde (22.9 per cent) and Cabramatta (22.0 per cent) in September 2008 were presumed at the time to show Labor as low as they could go, but tonight’s result is measurably worse.

The result comes despite an improvement in Labor’s leadership position since September 2008 – at state level, at least. According to Newspoll, Nathan Rees achieved the earlier swings on a honeymoon approval rating of 39 per cent, while Kristina Keneally has suffered Penrith on 47 per cent. However, Kevin Rudd’s approval rating in that time has dropped from 54 per cent to 36 per cent. Talk of federal connections to state election results can usually be taken with a grain of salt, but in this case it’s hard to believe Labor’s federal collapse has played no role in giving state Labor new depths to plumb. It certainly doesn’t bode well for them in Lindsay.

Swing 2PP/Swing
Thain (ALP) 8200 24.4% -24.4% 33.7%
Wright (GRN) 4221 12.6% 7.3% -25.5%
Saunders 724 2.2%
Ayres (LIB) 17067 50.9% 18.3% 66.3%
Leyonhjelm (ORP) 638 1.9% 25.5%
Sanz (DEM) 297 0.9% 0.0%
Green (CDP) 1516 4.5% -1.8%
Selby (IND) 884 2.6%
Blaxland 20.4% 45.7% 37.3% -22.0%
Blaxland East 14.0% 51.8% 29.1% -21.9%
Braddock 29.4% 45.9% 41.2% -25.3%
Cranebrook 24.2% 52.2% 34.3% -28.4%
Emu Heights 23.0% 52.2% 33.4% -23.9%
Emu Plains 23.5% 55.6% 32.5% -20.8%
Glenbrook 15.9% 48.4% 33.1% -19.1%
Jamisontown 22.8% 52.7% 33.2% -27.5%
Kingswood 27.5% 43.7% 41.0% -26.1%
Kingswood Park 30.8% 46.7% 41.6% -25.3%
Kingswood South 29.2% 45.6% 40.7% -24.2%
Lapstone 16.0% 50.9% 32.4% -17.2%
Leonay 17.0% 65.2% 24.3% -20.4%
Nepean High 22.3% 55.5% 30.2% -25.4%
Penrith 27.9% 46.2% 40.0% -24.4%
Penrith North 28.2% 51.7% 37.9% -25.1%
Penrith South 27.8% 49.9% 37.8% -21.3%
Stuart Street 25.8% 51.2% 35.5% -19.1%
York 25.7% 53.0% 34.8% -25.5%

8.44pm. Penrith High is the final booth to report primary votes.

8.31pm. Kingswood Public School pushes swing up from 23.4 per cent to 23.6 per cent.

8.18pm. I suppose federal Labor can argue this result is no different from the Ryde by-election of September 2008, at which time it held an enormous lead in the polls – though I’m not sure how many will listen (it would be useful for them if late counting pulled the swing below 22.9 per cent). The riposte would be that Labor had a popular state leader this time and should have done better.

8.15pm. Labor haven’t come within cooee of winning a booth. The Greens have more than doubled their vote, but to still modest levels – Penrith not exactly being the latte belt. There’s a six point gap between the pro-Liberal and anti-Labor swings, which is reasonably good work for the Liberals.

8.12pm Jamistown Uniting Church Hall added. Two to go.

8.04pm. Cranebrook booth added – one of Labor’s worst results, but no real difference made.

8.02pm. So at this stage Labor seems to have suffered a slightly worse result than Ryde (22.9 per cent) and Cabramatta (22 per cent), and a good deal worse than Lakemba (13.5 per cent).

7.52pm. Another two booths added, five more go, and the swing continuing to settle at 23 per cent. I’m using real world 2PP figures now.

7.43pm. Jamistown Public and Penrith South results added. NSWEC link working now, BTW.

7.40pm. Three more booths including very large Jamison High School booth see the swing settle at about 23 per cent. Antony Green has 2PP counts and I don’t.

7.35pm. Stoopid NSW Electoral Commission PDF now points to wrong link.

7.33pm. Lapstone, Leonay and Emu Heights very slightly reduce the size of the swing.

7.31pm. St Dominic’s College booth added.
7.28pm. Kingswood Park booth keeps the picture consistent.

7.24pm. Blaxland High and Penrith PCYC booths very slightly improve the picture for Labor, the two-party swing now looking at 25 per cent. The Greens outpolled Labor at Blaxland High.

7.08pm. Preference distributions are guesses at this stage.

7.06pm. Swing of about 30 per cent against Labor at small Nepean Hospital – 267 votes all up. Not a good start for them, you would have to say.

6.15pm. Welcome to live coverage of tonight’s bloodbath in Penrith. I guess we should get first figures in about 20 minutes. In the meantime, enjoy this illuminating booth results map for the 2007 election.

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.

238 comments on “Penrith by-election live”

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  1. Is it any surprise that there is a big swing against Labor from people with the grave misfortune to be working or inpatients in a NSW hospital? 😀

  2. I worked there for 10 years ending in 1995 – it has had an absolutely massive upgrade but that doesn’t count when there is a swing on

  3. They’d be those rightwing Union nurses we always hear about on the news… hardcore Lib voters if ever there were a bunch.

  4. Truthy yes those public servant Nurses historically have been Liberal voters but as with most things the Liberals do there best to sent them off to the ALP.

  5. Antony: “I think there must be one finger typists filling in the spreadhseet at the Penrith returning office”

    Certainly pretty slow for a state seat…..

  6. To be fair, I think hospital votes are always a bit odd in terms of election to election comparisons. (As an only somewhat related curiosity, I wonder if any studies have ever been done into trends in airport votes?)

  7. If Labor were smart, they’d roll KKK now, put some dudd in place and then resurrect her after the election defeat. No point putting your best talent to the blow torch of the punters.

  8. Oh yes and hold the state election early.

    Whats with this “dely delay delay” crap? Do you think the punters are going to get happier about you not letting them have their say in a DEMOCRACY?

    Labors going to get a caning either way, no point putting off the ineviatable. Call a state election now, and face the punters.

  9. ABC news reporting a 20% swing – less than a record – must be getting that from the parties.
    Greens 14% – but mainly in the lower mountain booths – which would be their stronghold

  10. ltep: Perth, Melbourne and Sydney airports have polling booths – often separate ones for international and domestic as well. They usually attract about 100 votes or so.

  11. That’s interesting the EC just started showing Hawkesbury Council results – KKK is to blame and must face the people now!

  12. Labor 25% primary at Jamison High – I used to threaten my kids that if they played up again at their school – I would send them to Jamison – the reputation of random violence there used to bring some control for 3 weeks

  13. Interesting pattern with the Liberals apparently getting bigger swings in the more Labor-friendly areas. More slack to take up, I guess.

  14. [Interesting pattern with the Liberals apparently getting bigger swings in the more Labor-friendly areas. More slack to take up, I guess.]

    Well you’d have a percentage of rusted on’s.

    Then you’d have a percentage of swing voters.

    There would in theory be more swingers in Labor booths and less in Lib friendly booths.

  15. One interesting thing to note is that the Christian Democrats have suffered a swing against them in every booth so far, while the Greens have had a swing to them in every booth so far – I kind of expected the opposite… but there you go.

    Oakeshott – that is a pattern that reflects what happened in the Bradfield and Higgins by-elections -labor leaning booths swung more strongly to the Liberals while the more the Liberal-leaning booths swung Green.

  16. I think I have had enough for tonight Labor’s only hope in March is if the story about O’Farrell and the Shetland pony is true

  17. With 14 out of 21 booths reporting and only 49% turnout, it’s looking like the turnout for this by-election will be very low – perhaps lower than for the Bradfield and Higgins by-elections?

  18. [With 14 out of 21 booths reporting and only 49% turnout, it’s looking like the turnout for this by-election will be very low – perhaps lower than for the Bradfield and Higgins by-elections?]


    It’s 49% COUNTED. Not 49% Turnout.

    We won’t know the turn out until all the votes are counted.

  19. Jimmy D
    Penrith is an electorate in two parts – the West bank of the river and lower mountains are Doctors’ wives territory – Greens often get over 10% and the Lib vote is higher but the 2pp is usually low 50s for Labor. The east side of the river is Labor heartland – if they are getting 25% in Jamieston the Joe Tripodi’s seat is really at risk – this may be a good estimate of what the base level of support is in NSW

  20. 84

    Not aware that NSW has fixed terms. Qld and the Commonwealth do not have these so no non-municipal fixed terms in Townsville.

    A post number would have been good especially as he make a correct correction in 82.

  21. TheTruthHurts: No, the % counted figure stops at the turnout figure. So let’s say 80% of people vote, and it presently says 49%, that means well over half the votes actually cast at the election are counted.

    JimmyD: Mind you, the WA by-election in Victoria Park (2006) was 64% turnout – the two federal ones were both around 80%.

  22. OC

    [I think I have had enough for tonight Labor’s only hope in March is if the story about O’Farrell and the Shetland pony is true]

    Not true. Labor’s only hope is if enough people believe something is true. The actual truth is pretty irrelevant. 😉

  23. [She just needs to send a request to the Governer. If only she had the courage and the conviction of a real leader.]

    And the Gov’nor can tell her to get nicked. 😛

  24. 13% of the 2pp is in 70/30 result which is a 30% swing
    3 of the west side booths are in : Blaxland HS, Leonay, Emu Plains PS and my back of envelope preference figures for those 3 are ALP 17%, Lib 24% Exhausted 41%. The coalition is said to be going to run a just vote 1 campaign – if so and this is repeated I think the chance of Wallsend getting a Liberal member is relatively high.

  25. Tom: NSW definitely has fixed terms. The measure to introduce them passed at a referendum in 1995 with about 75% of statewide voters in support. Victoria and SA also have them, not sure about the others (I know for a fact WA and QLD don’t.)

  26. [And the Gov’nor can tell her to get nicked.]

    Well lets see if the Governor does… won’t know until you try.

    My guess is the Governor will do what the Premier requests.

  27. Well this is not a good result for Labor, although expected. Dumping Rees certainly made a huge difference, didn’t it? I wish NSW could go to an election now and get this over and done with as I don’t see how things can get better for NSW Labor within the next 9 months.

  28. What a shame that NSW residents can only vote Labor out, not bring criminal charges against corrupt ALP members. Seems democracy can only go so far however.

  29. Truth: From just 9 days ago in the news ( but the same quote appeared largely intact in other publications as well)

    “But Governor Bashir says only a vote of no confidence could bring on an early election. She has told 702 ABC Sydney she cannot sack the government. “The only way that they can disappear, so to speak, is if there’s a vote of no confidence,” she said. […] “Elections do come round from time to time so it’s back in the hands of the people.””

  30. [Your quoting “The Land” as a serious political commentary?]

    If you bothered to look at the bottom the story actually originated from the SMH. Another right wing conspiracy I presume.

  31. 87

    The 49% referred to in 82 is the votes counted. It will not be the total turnout until all the votes are counted and 82 says that the turnout won`t be known until all the votes are counted.

    Only a referendum, Lang-esque or worse conduct or a vote of no confidence that is caused by engineering or a few more by-election defeats like this could get an early election.

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