To speak Illawarra

Saturday’s Illawarra Mercury helpfully featured opinion polls conducted by local outfit IRIS of each of the five state electorates on the paper’s turf, each with sample sizes of 400 and margins of error approaching 5 per cent. The best way to read such a poll is to combine the results, which points to an Illawarra-wide swing against Labor of 21 per cent from a margin of error of about 2.2 per cent. Even by Labor’s recent standards this is a dismal result: the average swing in statewide polls has been about 16 per cent. Thanks to reader DaveM for passing this on.

I am using the occasion to offer the first look at my New South Wales election guide, which I will publish piece-by-piece as the campaign progresses. The electorates in turn, from north to south:

Heathcote (Labor 8.8%): Heathcote is being defended by Labor incumbent Paul McLeay, whose obligatory item of baggage is his resignation from the ministry in June 2010 after admitting he had used a parliamentary computer to visit pornography and gaming sites. The poll suggests McLeay might not even finish second: Liberal opponent Lee Evans has 49 per cent to 23 per cent for McLeay and 19 per cent for Greens candidate Phil Smith. The Liberal lead on two-party preferred is 62-38.

Keira (Labor 22.0%): Labor’s enormous margin might not be enough for their candidate, former Transport Department deputy chief Ryan Park, to succeed the outgoing David Campbell, the former Transport Minister who quit after Channel Seven screened footage of him leaving a gay sex club. Park trails Liberal candidate John Dorahy, who was the inaugural captain of NSWRL club the Illawarra Steelers in the 1980s, by 37 per cent to 44 per cent on the primary vote and 48 per cent to 52 per cent on two-party preferred.

Wollongong (Labor 25.3%): A margin of this size should surely be a bridge too far for the Liberals, but the poll suggests independent Gordon Bradbery, a local Wesley Uniting Church minister, is a shot at succeeding where Liberal candidate Michelle Blivacs is likely to fail. Defending Labor member Noreen Hay leads the primary vote with 34 per cent against 24 per cent for Blivacs and 23 per cent for Bradbery. With Bradbery likely to overhaul Blivacs after preferences on these figures, the final two-candidate preferred result has Hay holding on against Bradbery by 53 per cent to 47 per cent.

Shellharbour (Labor 26.8%): Here at least the poll suggests Labor is safe, despite the retirement after one term of sitting member Lylea McMahon. Their new candidate, United Services Union organiser Anna Watson, has 52 per cent of the primary vote to 34 per cent for Liberal candidate Larissa Mallinson, and a 61 per cent to 39 per cent lead on two-party preferred.

Kiama (Labor 12.0%): Labor member Matt Brown, who lost his job as Police Minister after the world learned of him dancing in his underpants at a late-night party in the office of Wollongong MP Noreen Hay, appears to be in all sorts of trouble with a primary vote of just 27 per cent. Liberal candidate and Shoalhaven deputy mayor Gareth Ward is on 42 per cent, and has a commanding 60 per cent to 40 per cent lead on two-party preferred.

In other news, I had this to say in Friday’s Crikey email:

The Daily Telegraph today has published a NSW state election poll from Galaxy Research, which has the Coalition leading Labor by 50% to 23% on the primary vote, and by 64% to 36% on two-party preferred. Which is par the course really: the two-party result sits roughly in the middle of Newspoll (62-38), Essential Research (62-38 by Antony Green’s reckoning), Nielsen (66-34) and the previous Galaxy poll (66-34).

You might well think Labor’s 23% represents a bedrock beneath which they cannot sink, but the Galaxy poll won’t even offer them that comfort. Fully 41% of Labor supporters say that they might change their mind, against only 24% for the Coalition. It would appear the number of voters who profess themselves ready to stay with Labor come what may has fallen below 13%.

Meanwhile, bookies are offering $1.03 on a Coalition win. If you have a lazy ten grand lying around, think of it as $300 of free money.

However, the election does offer one conclusion that isn’t foregone: the Legislative Council, where a single party majority is effectively impossible and much depends on who occupies the cross-benches.

The electoral system is cut from the same cloth as most of Australia’s other upper houses, and like the Senate it has staggered terms with half the members facing the polls at each election.

The results in 2007 were nine seats for Labor, eight for the Coalition, two for the Greens and one each for the Christian Democratic Party and the Shooters Party, which boils down to an 11-10 left-right split as far as the ongoing members are concerned. That means the right can tie things up by going one better this time, and score a majority by going two better.

With so much at stake, things have been getting even testier than usual between Labor and the Greens, with the latter proving disinclined to throw preference lifelines that might tar them by association.
Labor could well argue that the Greens will come to regret their reluctance to forge a popular front against an ascendant right, but the consequences of their decision should not be over-estimated.

One very significant difference between the Legislative Council and the Senate is that the former has optional above-the-line preferential voting. Those who simply number a single box above the line — the default option for most voters in both kinds of election — are committing to no more than a vote for the candidates of that party, with their preferences exhausting thereafter.

Micro parties such as the Shooters and Fred Nile group get elected not through Senate-style mass transfers of above-the-line preferences, but for the quite different reason of a low quota for election: with the entire state voting as one for 21 members, all it takes is 4.5% to win a seat.

Greens voters are somewhat more ready than most to number more than one box, but the 2007 election result suggests only a fraction of them do so along the lines recommended by the how-to-vote card.
It’s always possible that such a fraction could mean the difference between a seat taking a step to the left or a jump to the right. However, if the numbers in today’s Galaxy poll are anywhere near the mark, the only point of issue would be the size of the left’s overall defeat.

With a primary vote approaching 50%, the Coalition are a strong chance for 11 seats, and there seems no reason to think right-wing micro-parties won’t match their 2003 and 2007 performance in winning two seats between them.

That would leave Labor and the Greens looking at a collective 20 seats at best, and the incoming government requiring three out of four micro-party votes to pass legislation opposed by them.

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.

31 comments on “To speak Illawarra”

  1. After Kevin Rudd complained that the incompetence of the NSW ALP planning, was the reason NSW did not received any handout

    It seem after 2 years, nothing has changed. Again the government announce a rail project without a “detailed designed”. How can anyone put a cost to a rail network, if they do not know what the rail network is? Incompetence at its best

    “The documents show the Government was told the $2.6 billion cost has the potential to blow out by $340 million and more, because the Commonwealth refused to guarantee it will fund inflation costs.

    The advice said $2.6 billion “preliminary only” figure was done without using “a detailed design or options analysis”.”

  2. The ALP thinks that the candidate for Keira is future ministerial material.
    We’ll see if he can actually retain the seat.

  3. Thank you for shifting focus to the Legislative Council upper house. Many people will express their disgust at Labor by voting simply Liberal/Liberal, National/National, or Green/Green. But think again.

    A bicameral parliament depends on one house being able to stand aloof from the hegemony in the other. Putting the opposition party into the upper house is the obvious way to give effect to this, but not the only way, and not necessarily the best way.

    I’ve always felt that parties and bloc votes do not belong in upper houses. Above-the-line voting would be far more appropriate for lower houses, where stable government requires a clear majority, than for upper houses, which require no such thing.

    Could Crikey please give us some profiles on independents and minor parties that are running for the Legislative Council. This is where voters can still set the tone of what sort of government NSW will have for the coming decade.

  4. The threat to such formerly safe seats will be a shock to Labor but shouldn’t be. You can’t get a 60+% opposition State result wihtout the votes showing up somewhere. The fact that 3 out of 5 seats are either being contested by, or were frmerly held by, scandal tainted members doesn’t help either.

    As far as the upper house goes Labor and the Greens woudl eb wise to kiss and make up soon, but it may be so far gone the Greens don’t want to get associated with NSW State Labor.

    Like I said months ago, start the shredding machines.

  5. Being a voter in the electorate of Shellharbour, I would love to see a swing so far against Labor that we get (possibly for the first time ever) a representative from a party other than Labor. I don’t really care which party they come from (I’d even welcome the Christian Democrats), because I’d like Labor to finally realise we can be ignored no longer. If we were a swinging seat, we’d have our bridge over BongBong Rd, we’d have the Maldon-Dombarton line in place, the proposed high speed trains may get here (or at least we’d get a better timetable with clean, modern trains), perhaps they’d re-open Warrawong hospital etc etc. But as pretty much the safest labor seat in NSW, both major parties can safely ignore us, knowing that no matter what they do – or more importantly *don’t* do for us – we, as an electorate, will still be voting Labor.

  6. This coming NSW election should be very cathartic for rusted on Labor voters. Once they have voted Liberal or other once they won’t feel so bad about it next time.With many seats about to become marginal for the first time they may not be so taken for granted by Labor Party and like the Illawarra might get half decent candidates instead of party or union hacks.Steve Whan is the kind of candidate they need in future.
    What has Labor done for the Illawarra or the Newcastle region after many decades of mono government not much.

  7. But will Whan survive?

    That’s the trouble with these bloodbaths – the goodies are just as vulnerable as the
    no-hopers. Probably more so, because they often have less-safe seats.

  8. Most pedulum calculators work by simply shifting the 16% (difference between 52% last time and 36% this time) from one side to the other in each electorate eg 72% last election becomes 56% this election.

    These results are consistent with the notion that to go from 52% of the TPP to 36% of the TPP, multiply your TPP vote by 36/52 ie 69% in each electorate. So a seat that had 72% of the TPP changes to a loss and a seat with 73% a narrow win.

  9. TT at 9. My national party source (he is a friend) says Whan will probably survive. That will be a good thing.

  10. From what I hear, Whan is a good member, who works hard and is popular in the area.

    The National selecting someone from Queenbeyan could be a mistake in places like Cooma

    He would be one ALP member I am happy to survive

  11. No major surprises here, William. Australians do like records and there is the element that the media has most certainly inundated all with the observation that this could be Labor’s worst showing ever. There could be an effort by those politically disinterested to simply ‘go with the tide’ to see the worst result for Labor ever. This could add electoral salt into the wound.

    At those baselines, All soft coalition voters are drawn tightly towards the coalition, a sizeable number of consistent Labor voters are decided and the only voters left are the ones on the barricades (and, presumably, the members themselves).

    One would hope, however, that if sitting Labor members had any moral fibre, this is one election where they should perhaps eschew voting for themselves, in good conscience.

  12. The ongoing issue with pendulum calculators, such as those shown on Antony Green’s website is the reality of swings not being uniform.

    In the last federal election, his calculator worked OK when State figures were tweaked carefully but were still out on the final result (NSW/QLD/WA stronger for Coalition as expected and the rest generally stronger for the ALP). However, the Metro/regional picture was very mixed. Some sections of Sydney (notably, but not restricted to, the South West) were strongly swung towards the coalition (as the by-election for Penrith hinted at) but some regional areas in NSW gained a boost.

    Similarly, the NSW picture will possibly be bleaker than 23 seats to the ALP, since the swings are so deep as to unseat previously very safe ALP seats (as this poll shows). By contrast, strong coalition seats would not be expected to swing as much because they could be expected to be as ‘blue’ as they are ever likely to get.

    Thus, the statewide swing is moderated by saturation in safe coalition seats. The reality may be that the stronger swings in Labor marginals and even (previously) safe metro ALP seats will create a result that your calculator won’t show well.

  13. According to today’s OO, Labor Party insiders are fairly confident that Steve Whan can buck the trend and retain Monaro – perhaps the only seat with a margin under 10% that Labor has a chance of keeping.
    Otherwise, they have abandoned other marginal seats, and they’re putting their resources into retaining supposedly safer seats in Western Sydney, the Hunter and the Illawarra region.

  14. As we all agree that Steve Whan is a star performer why then is he never mentioned by Labor Insiders. Why John Robertson?
    Whan and David Borger would appear to an outsider as Labor’s best.

  15. Bluepill:

    [ The ongoing issue with pendulum calculators, such as those shown on Antony Green’s website is the reality of swings not being uniform. ]

    Ben Raue at The Tally Room has another calculator, which improves slightly on the basic ‘uniform swing’ model Antony uses – his idea is that the swing against Labor will be higher where they have more votes, so it avoids silly situations like a 20% swing against Labor in seats like Pittwater or Tamworth where they don’t have 20% to lose. It still doesn’t handle possible independent challenges (like in Wollongong) or locally notable candidates (like Steve Whan), but it’s a good start.


  16. The only thing that saddens me about voting in this election is that in Canterbury, my member will probably survive.
    Having voted ALP or Greens for over 30 years, I am thinking of voting for the Dark (blue) Side for the first time ever I hate this mob so much.
    I consider that the result will be worse than Labor suspects. I have been saying 13 MPs returned only. But with these sorts of figures it will be about 5.

  17. The Labor plan is to loose badly, but ensure Robertson wins his seat and re-build from there. Thats why Gillard has not been seen and who Bruce Hawker is no where on the media in this election. He is working behind the scenes, carfull not to have his name tarred with the black brush

  18. [It is now an accepted mantra that Labor’s 16 years have been the worst in NSW’s history. This is neither entirely true nor fair (especially to Carr and his handful of competent ministers, although the last four years have resembled this description).

    Labor’s ‘young Turks’, who inherited the NSW Right machine from tough pragmatists who knew how to win elections, have single-handedly reduced the government’s many achievements to ashes. In the process they have handed power to political third-raters, who have neither the common touch required to converse with ordinary people, nor a commitment to building a modern Labor ethos that straddles the contradictions of centre-left politics in the twenty-first century.]

    – Mark Aarons

  19. I doubt Linda Burney and Barbara Perry will be in any danger of losing!
    But I think that they can kiss goodbye to Verity Firth & Carmel Tebutt, if you’re talking female Labor ministers.

  20. 25

    That will likely split the right wing vote further. There is already the FF vs CDP after the infighting in the latter.

  21. I wouldn’t mind if the independent wins Wollongong – Noreen Hay is the sort of Labor hack who doesn’t deserve another term in parliament.

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