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. How much of this swing is anti-Rudd Labor vs anti-NSW Labor vs anti-corrupt MP retiring vs usual by-election pissed off with having to vote early?

    I’m guessing this first is almost non-existent but will get a good run.

  2. [How much of this swing is anti-Rudd Labor vs anti-NSW Labor vs anti-corrupt MP retiring vs usual by-election pissed off with having to vote early?]

    Unless there’s an exit poll asking that question we’ll never know.

  3. Bad News: Labor look to be unelectable in NSW for the foresseable future(probably next 10 years)

    Good News: The ex-member of Penrith got her parliamentry pension bonus by staying on an extra week.

    Always good to take care of number 1, stuff the state, stuff the voters.. heck stuff the party… i’m right jack.

  4. If this was a mining based seat then the media would run that but this is clearly a rejection of the NSW Government.

    I’m bascially going to call it now and say the ALP cannot hold any seat they currently hold by less than 10%

    As Truthy earlier said they should put KK on ice for she is their only talent.

  5. [Truthy advocates a vice-regal coup d’etat against the NSW Constitution. Why am I not surprised at this latest idiocy?]

    When you are polling 65% vs 35% it’s less like a coup and more like people power.

    Get the message… the punters want Labor OUT.

  6. [Unless there’s an exit poll asking that question we’ll never know.]

    That’s never stopped us before!!

    I’ll go with 5% usual by-election, 10% anti-NSW Labor and 5% extra due to the circumstances of the by-election.

  7. I’m pretty sure this will be the only topic for Insiders tomorrow. Might even watch it to see how far Barrie Cassidy and co can spin this.

  8. Wow, the ALP get up to 42% 2PP in Kingswood… add this to the booths won in Cabramatta and the shut-out in Ryde, and you can imagine the local MPs in a few other seats getting nervous…

    While a by-election tends to amplify things, the trends in Sydney’s west since Howard lost have been horrific for the Labor brand and have showed up at both Council and State level.

  9. Antony’s really fired up tonight

    “Does anyone want to ring and ask about the preferred premier’s rating rather than the intended vote in future polls?”

  10. I am curious what was the tipping point for the NSW Government. A decade ago they ruled NSW and looks strong so was there a particular moment whne the wheel nuts fell off.

    The Liberals in the mid ninties were polling just in the mid 20s of the primary vote

  11. #112

    No tipping point, they just got old and tired like all governments do. This mob have just got older and tireder than other governments because they clung on one election too long.

  12. Mexican Beemer, #112 it was the late 1990’s (1999) in the mid 90’s (1995) there was a very close election, and Carr looked like he would only last a term or so until the Liberals imploded.

    With great respect to the member for Wentworth and the member for Vaucluse (both of whom I have a great deal of time for), I would suspect that the polls moved substantially as soon as the Liberal Party (both Federal and State) stopped being led by MPs from the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney.

    But it was probably also the fact that Labor no longer had the Howard government to blame for everything going wrong.

  13. Probably this was overwhelmingly for state issues…but the problem for Labor is that it could conflate with the federal swing. With the small margin of error Rudd is now left with, he can’t afford a repeat of 1990 when Cain Labor nearly brought down the Hawke government. Nine seats lost in Victoria.

  14. You have to feel pity for the long suffering NSW voters, what a fine choice they have, the next election really is about polishing a turd. Sometimes this process we have really does let us all down.

  15. Antony calls the result “unprecedented”. I guess it kind of sums up where NSW Labor is at that we regard such a massive swing as pretty ho-hum.

  16. The Religious Nutjobs are claiming it as a win for O’Barrell:


    It was a test of Barry O’Farrell’s leadership. No-one worked as hard for the result. He earned the win. Vindicated, now next March 26th. 9 minutes ago via TweetDeck Retweeted by the_kennel

  17. Frank Calabrese @ 123

    The Religious Nutjobs are claiming it as a win for O’Barrell

    To whom do the tin foil hat conspiracy theorist wing of the Labor party credit the win to?

  18. I wonder how many CDP voters preferenced the libs. Because the 2 party candidate prefered count has Labor on 9590 and Liberals on 18864. The Liberal primary vote is 17067 and the CDP got 1516 votes. So that brings them nearly up to their total.

    The Greens got 4221 and the other candidates got 648, 297 and 884. Since Labor only got 8200 primary votes that would mean most Green voters didn’t bother giving Labor their preference. I guess the 2 party prefered vote wouldn’t be as bad had Labor gotten most of the Green votes.

    A simple vote 1 message (like Labor did in Queensland) by the Liberals could really screw Labor.

  19. Thinking about the conversion of Labor revulsion to Liberal attraction:

    (1) Informal
    2007 2.9% (on ordinary; 2.7% on total)
    2010 3.5%

    So a bit higher but not much more

    (2) Exhausted votes rate (as % of total formal)
    2007 9.5%
    2010 15.2%

    Presumambly, former ALP voters who would not vote ALP, but nor could they bring themselves to preference all the way to Liberal (is this 5.7% basically a large part of the increase in Greens vote of 7.0%??)

    In all I would guess that Liberals have been quite successful in converting anti Labor sentiment to pro-Liberal (at 2PP of 25.2%, nothing like a statement of the obvious! :D)

  20. Back from the pub. There were some hot boys out tonight – but politics draws me home unfortinately.

    Kristina Keneally Party (there was no mention of Labor on the Labor candidates campaign material) suffers 24% swing against it.

    Greens do exceptionally well with nearly 13% of the primary vote.

    Anyone still like to tell me that Kristina Keneally was the right choice for parliamentary leader of NSW Labor – following the coup orchestrated against Nathan Rees by factional war-lords ?

  21. The most interest thing I find from this election is

    The new dynamics of the green vote, the fact that green preferences had decidely moved away from the ALP to the Coalition. ie The Green had a 7% swing to them and then more than 6% of this went on to the coalition

    I wonder if William have any stats for the move from the last election to this one

    If this was applied accrossed the state, the horrible 58-42 2PP that the ALP had been getting is probably closer to 61-39 2PP

    The second equation is why had there been a change in the flow of the Green preference.
    a. have they figured out that the ALP really only pay lip service to the “greatest moral challenge of our time” to get green preference
    b. are they inner city latte sippers, who takes their revenge against bad government policies
    c. are they the mortgage belt swing voters, whose main concern is about job, interest rate, investment dollar, export dollars and their business

    If we are seeing a new dynamics in the green vote, maybe it has significant effect on elections.

    We have just witness the Green vote not following the last election results, the Green vote lost by Labor had gone directly to the Liberals, will the increase in federal Green vote follow the same pattern?

  22. Laocoon @ 118: I think exhaust rate stats are out tomorrow but my observation on scrutineering Greens preferences at Emu Plains PS is 13% to Libs, 23% to Labor, 64% exhausted. The Vote 2 Labor dirty trick may actually have cost them votes.

  23. Frank


    yeah, this is a sad day for the liberals, who only receive 64% of the 2PP vote, that is 36% less than the highest vote possible

    O’Barrel will only have a 14% margin in the litmas test seat of Penrith

    That is disgusting bad for the liberals

    Kristina is claiming victory for the ALP in that the expected 30% swing did not occured, showing that the ALP had recovered 5% of the vote in the day before the election, at this rate, the ALP will win 100% of the vote in Penrith in the March election

    Baseball Bat, Baseball Bat, Baseball bat

  24. The preferencing to Liberals was almost certainly a protest. There are people who genuinely believe their vote is wasted unless they preference the likely winning candidate.

    The Labor scrutineer was heartened that the transfer of Greens prefs to Libs was nowhere near as high as to Labor. The greens, frustratingly, may yet save Labor in some seats (Blue Mountains, Wollongong) (we’d rather win those seats)

  25. dovif
    [ie The Green had a 7% swing to them and then more than 6% of this went on to the coalition]
    How do you know this? I havent seen the preference count up yet

    Liberal primary – 17067
    Liberal 2PP – 18864

    Even if ALL the Liberal 2PP increase came from Greens (surely entirely improbable), then that is only 43% of Greens vote, this is only 5.4% in total

  26. #134
    [ Baseball Bat, Baseball Bat, Baseball bat

    I hate to say it, but with Kristina Keneally at the helm of NSW Labor, come 26 March 2011 I suspect it’s gunna be NUKES.

  27. If there was a tipping point, it came just after the last State election, when a government re-elected by people holding their collective noses as they marked their ballot papers behaved as if it had received a stunning mandate, and paid no attention to the messages it was being sent. The NSW ALP as currently constituted has more in common with GOLKAR in Indonesia when Suharto was in power than with a normal political party. It has become a patronage network for insiders, pure and simple. All the things that have gone wrong for them are simply manifestations of that: the arrogance of power, or a determination to drink every bottle in the bar as the ship sinks. And someone should drop this rubbish about Keneally being popular: really popular leaders don’t see their parties experiencing swings of more than 20%. The only long-term hope for them is if there is a 20% swing against them State-wide next year, which wipes out and discredits the entire old regime. When it happens, I will look back with pride on my contribution to the swing as a NSW voter, and think, like Paul Fussell, “Thank God for the Atom Bomb”.

  28. deconst

    thanks…I was just working out the exhaustion rate manually (well actually, HP12C calculator ;-)) from the aggregate numbers which are there.

  29. Over a hundred and thirty comments and yet no one has claimed right-wing bias or Murdoch infiltration at The Nepean News or The Western Week-ender.

    Antony Green’s comment must of stung.

  30. If the next NSW election sees a 20% state wide swing then these seats might fall. some are hard to see falling for they would require a major swift in life long voting habits

    This list was sourced from Adam’s website.

    13 FAIRFIELD Joe Tripodi 20.6
    14 CAMPBELLTOWN Graham West 18.6
    15 KOGARAH Cherie Burton 17.5
    16 MAROUBRA Michael Daley 15.9
    17 WALLSEND Sonia Hornery 15.6
    18 SMITHFIELD Ninos Khoshaba 15.4
    19 STRATHFIELD Virginia Judge 15.0
    20 TOONGABBIE Nathan Rees 14.4
    21 OATLEY Kevin Greene 14.3
    22 EAST HILLS Alan Ashton 14.1
    23 PARRAMATTA Tanya Gadiel 13.7
    24 BATHURST Gerard Martin 13.0
    25 CESSNOCK Kerry Hickey 12.4
    26 KIAMA Matt Brown 12.0
    27 BLUE MOUNTAINS Phil Koperberg 11.1
    28 GRANVILLE David Borger 11.1
    29 MACQUARIE FIELDS Andrew McDonald 11.1
    30 MULGOA Diane Beamer 10.9
    31 SWANSEA Robert Coombs 10.9
    32 ROCKDALE Frank Sartor 10.4
    33 RIVERSTONE John Aquilina 10.1
    34 RYDE John Watkins 09.9
    35 CHARLESTOWN Matthew Morris 09.3 (Ind)
    36 PENRITH Karyn Paluzzano 09.2
    37 HEATHCOTE Paul McLeay 08.4
    38 DRUMMOYNE Angela D’Amore 07.7
    39 MARRICKVILLE Carmel Tebbutt 07.2 (Green)
    40 COOGEE Paul Pearce 07.1
    41 LONDONDERRY Allan Shearan 07.0
    42 WYONG David Harris 06.9
    43 MONARO Steve Whan 06.3
    44 GOSFORD Marie Andrews 04.9
    45 THE ENTRANCE Grant McBride 04.7
    46 CAMDEN Geoff Corrigan 04.0
    47 BALMAIN Verity Firth 03.8 (Green)
    48 WOLLONDILLY Phil Costa 03.1
    49 MENAI Alison Megarrity 02.6
    50 MAITLAND Frank Terenzini 01.7 (Ind)
    51 NEWCASTLE Jodi McKay 01.1 (Ind)
    52 MIRANDA Barry Collier 00.7

  31. pedant @138

    The only long-term hope for them is if there is a 20% swing against them State-wide next year, which wipes out and discredits the entire old regime.

    Unfortunately, when the dust settles Dodgy Joe and Lucky Eddie will still be in the parliament.

  32. That’s funny, one past was put into moderarion then the next one went straight though. my computer must have upset William’s server.

    naughty computer

  33. With a bunch like Keneally and co in power in NSW, it’s almost impossible to read anything into preference flows, because frankly they are lucky to get any votes from other than rusted on supporters. Even a left leaning green could justifiably put this NSW government last, because patronage networks whose members don’t appear to believe in anything other than looking after themselves (and who are manifestly stupid and administratively incompetent to boot), simply don’t fit into a traditional left-right continuum. Similarly I doubt that this result has any federal significance whatsoever.

  34. Frankie V. @ 143

    “Unfortunately, when the dust settles Dodgy Joe and Lucky Eddie will still be in the parliament.”

    Maybe, but post-Hiroshima they will be discredited Kings of the Mud, with SFA capacity to do anything. Frankly, I doubt that they would stick around, except as a pension strategy: it isn’t much fun being a power broker with no power to broker.

  35. Peter Young @ 141

    What was Antony’s comment. I seem to have missed it.

    I hope to provide a fast and authoratative analysis of the results. No doubt the regular media conspiracy theorist posters from Pollbludger will be of the view I’m just publishing biased drivel that is pre-determined by the general media narrative coming from the News Limited-ABC conspiracy to undermine the Rudd government. No folks, I’m here writing all this on my own. I don’t have Janet Albrechtson and Keith Windschuttle behind me telling me what to write.

  36. The local newspapers are just that. They concentrate on local issues, some state issues and hardly ever bother reporting national issues. Most of those papers are just full of ads.

  37. [Similarly I doubt that this result has any federal significance whatsoever.]
    I agree. I wonder, although it might seem counter-intuitive, that the result is just *so bad* for Labor that it is only possible to credibly ascribe it to the voters’ attitude to the state government; it is as if every other consideration (e.g. federal government) is entirely extraneous to the task at hand – namely to get rid of state Labor in a decisive way (i.e. baseball bats with spikes on, as someone wrote today)

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