The Guardian has furnished us with the only opinion poll of the past few days, an automated phone survey of 1565 respondents conducted between Friday to Monday. It leaned slightly to the Coalition compared with the trend of other polling, crediting them with a lead of 46% to 34% on the primary vote (with the Greens on 10%) and 55% to 45% on two-party preferred.
For your further entertainment, here are some local area situation reports.
The single most interesting zone in the election is the Northern Rivers region just south of the Queensland border, home to three Nationals-held seats: Ballina (24.6%), Tweed (21.7%) and Lismore (24.3%). Ballina and Lismore have been held safely by the Nationals since time immemorial, but Tweed was held by Labor from 1999 to 2007 as indeed was another local seat, Clarence (31.9%), where Labor is not thought to be competitive now.
As unassailable as the margins may appear, it’s universally reckoned that a very different set of rules applies at the coming election compared with 2011. Emphasising the extraordinary nature of the 2011 result, fully a quarter of the region’s voters switched from the Coalition to the Labor column at the federal election in September 2013 this in the context of a poor result for Labor not just nationally but locally, with a 6.7% swing to the Nationals unseating Janelle Saffin in Page.
The specific issue which might cause voting patterns to snap into line with the federal election this time out is coal seam gas exploration, the local backlash against which has caused the government to suspend exploration licences in sensitive areas and promise tougher regulation all round, while deferring much of the important detail until after the election. Labor is purposefully offering a tougher line, angering explorers by threatening to terminate their licences without compensation.
The biggest danger to the Nationals clearly lies in Ballina, where incumbent Don Page will be taking into retirement the personal vote he has built up over 27 years, which makes the 24.6% margin from 2011 particularly deceptive. The electorate encompasses Byron Bay, and has a large green-left constituency living aside the more traditional regional Nationals-voting base, to the extent that the seat might even present an opportunity for the Greens.
It might be anticipated that the work of the Independent Commission Against Corruption will make this region a washout for the Liberals, who are attempting to defend Wyong (4.6%), The Entrance (11.8%) and Gosford (11.9%). The first two seats are being vacated by ICAC casualties Darren Webber and Chris Spence, while Gosford is being defended by the last Liberal standing in the local region, Chris Holstein.
Despite their travails, the Liberals have been putting some effort in locally, particularly in the last week. Mike Baird toured the region and promised to spend $126 million duplicating the Pacific Highway at Lisarow, and relocate 200 Department of Finance and Services jobs from Sydney to Gosford. Labor has made a pitch for the environmental vote by promising to cancel without compensation the $800 million Wallarah 2 coal mine in Wyong, operated by South Korean company Kores. The Liberals promised the mine would not proceed before the 2011 election, but then allowed it to proceed through planning processes that appear likely to conclude shortly with it being granted conditional approval.
Quite a lot being written on this seat in south-eastern New South Wales, which appears to be playing out very differently to the aforementioned Nationals seats at the other end of the state. It might have been thought that the seat would be a Labor gimme, and not just because of the slender Nationals margin of 2.0%. Labor up-and-comer Steve Whan is attempting to win back the seat after after losing it to John Barilaro of the Nationals in the 2011 landslide, since which time he has found a place for himself in the Legislative Council, and been rated as a leadership contender after John Robertson’s resignation.
Whan was a notably popular local member, and suffered one of the smallest swings in the state in the course of losing his seat. Furthermore, nearly half of Monaro’s voters live in Queanbeyan, which is essentially a commuter suburb of Canberra. As Mark Coultan of The Australian notes, this gives the electorate the state’s highest proportion of public servants, and a corresponding sensitivity to federal government job cuts. Under similar circumstances at the state election in 1999, Monaro recorded a thumping swing to Labor of 16.0%. Coultan’s report further notes that the electorate is effectively part of the Canberra media market, the news content of which is all Abbott, all the time which, naturally, is bad news for Barilaro.
Despite all that Ean Higgins of The Australian reports that Labor is not fully confident, since Barilaro too has also proved very popular. In staging the party’s campaign launch last weekend, Nationals leader Troy Grant targeted the electorate with a promise of a regional education hub in Queanbeyan.
Sydney’s blue belt
Earlier in the campaign, Rick Wallace of The Australian reported on the growing strength of the Greens in the traditional blue-ribbon seats encompassing expensive real estate near the big cities, naturally making note of the party’s success in winning the seat of Prahran at the Victorian election in November, together with its primary vote of over 20% in Hawthorn.
John Black, former Labor Senator and now director of demographic profiling company Australian Development Strategies, related that a modelling exercise derived from Queensland election trends foreshadowed large swings to the Left in seats thought to be safe, including Willoughby, North Shore, Vaucluse and Manly (not to mention Warringah, Wentworth and North Sydney federally, respectively held by Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Joe Hockey). As Black sees it, support in these areas is derived from a new strain of Greens voter, wealthier and more likely to vote on job security than their more earthy peers.
It should be cautioned that similar talk was abroad in 2004 and 2007, when the proposition was that Howard government policies in relation to asylum seekers and Iraq war were troubling the collective conscience of doctors’ wives. It was indeed the case the Liberal margins in such electorates softened a little during this period, before bouncing back in 2010, but at no stage were any of the members seriously endanger them. Black does allow that he does not expect the Liberals to lose any such seats on this occasion, but thinks their members will be given a nodding acquaintance with their own mortality.