Ms Milne goes to Canberra

Greens candidate Christine Milne ended up winning the sixth Tasmanian Senate seat more comfortably than earlier predicted. Most observers thought Milne would need enough Labor votes going below-the-line to send her preferences to keep open the gap between her and Family First. But in the event, unexpectedly large numbers of those who voted for the Democrats and ex-Labor independent Shayne Murphy, who both directed their preferences to Family First ahead of the Greens, went below-the-line and favoured the Greens. This allowed Milne to reach a quota with 420 votes to spare even before the elimination of Labor.

Senate cliffhangers

Apologies for the Poll Bludger’s silence over the past 10 days. After taking about a week off your correspondent has been hard at work reupholstering his federal election guide to add summaries of the outcomes for each electorate, and will eventually do the same for the Senate guide. Speaking of which, two Senate seats are going right down to the wire and depending on how they pan out, the Coalition will either attain its absolute majority or fall one short, while the Greens might add two more new seats to their one clear win in Western Australia. At some point today the Electoral Commission will "press the button" on their vote-counting gizmo which will spit the Tasmanian result out the other end. Whether the sixth seat goes to the Greens or Family First is anybody’s guess. The latest from the ever-helpful Geoff Lambert is that "there is sufficient below-the-line vote and sufficient leakage away from the tickets in the below-the-lines to see the Greens elected by a margin of about 2800, it seems. The progress of count sometimes surprises though".

The count in Queensland has been a bit of wild ride over the past week, and the final result will not be processed until Thursday. The Nationals had long had their neck just in front of One Nation at a crucial point of the count where they would be able to overrun the Greens on preferences if they held on. But on Friday there was what Antony Green described as "a dramatic change to the count" suggesting they had "counted something quite specific which had caused that change". The result was to put One Nation ahead of the Nationals, which would mean victory for the Greens since One Nation had been frozen out on preferences by all and sundry. Since then however the trend has gone back the other way, but Geoff Lambert reports that a "big parcel" of below-the-line votes added today gives One Nation "a whisker more than the Nats (by 40!) – based on the tickets, of course". Another correspondent, Chris Maltby, says that "it’s certainly swung back in (Greens candidate) Drew Hutton’s favour, but I reckon One Nation are still behind the Nats by 650 or so". If all voters had gone above-the-line this lead would be about 2500, suggesting a number of minor party below-the-line voters were specifically putting the major parties (or perhaps the Coalition in particular) last. Maltby also notes that One Nation will need all of Pauline Hanson’s preferences to threaten the Nationals, whereas her below-the-line voters might not have any specific attachment to the party she has since abandoned.

ACT Election wash-up

Labor looks to have won the first-ever absolute majority in the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly, appearing set for nine or 10 seats in the 17-seat chamber. While the Democrats predictably collapsed, the Greens hardly improved at all and can only be confident of winning one seat, that being the one they held already in Molonglo. With the independent vote also in decline both major parties increased their primary vote, Labor looking set to pick up the Democrats’ seat in Ginninderra while retaining their third seat in Brindabella. They are also a chance of winning a fourth seat from the Liberals in Molonglo. What follows are the primary vote figures from the end of the evening with about 85 per cent of the vote counted, with the Poll Bludger’s best guess of the likely seat outcomes in brackets.

2004 46.9 (9) 34.7 (7) 9.3 (1) 2.3 (0) 6.8 (0)
2001 41.7 (8) 31.6 (7) 9.1 (1) 8.1 (1) 9.5 (0)
Molonglo (7) ALP LIB GRN DEM OTH
2004 45.6 (3) 32.2 (3) 11.6 (1) 1.4 (0) 9.2 (0)
2001 39.3 (3) 34.0 (3) 12.6 (1) 7.7 (0) 6.4 (0)
Brindabella (5) ALP LIB GRN DEM OTH
2004 46.0 (3) 40.3 (2) 7.1 (0) 1.5 (0) 5.1 (0)
2001 44.0 (3) 31.8 (2) 5.5 (0) 6.9 (0) 11.8 (0)
Ginninderra (5) ALP LIB GRN DEM OTH
2004 50.0 (3) 32.3 (2) 8.3 (0) 4.3 (0) 5.1 (0)
2001 42.8 (2) 28.0 (2) 7.9 (0) 9.7 (1) 11.6 (0)

Molonglo: The only electorate in which the Liberal vote fell, no doubt due to the 3 per cent polled by Liberal-turned-independent member Helen Cross. Her preferences will probably save the Liberals from dropping a seat to Labor, although they are not out of the woods yet. Labor incumbents Katy Gallagher, Ted Quinlan and Simon Corbell are all set for re-election, but Liberal member Jacqui Burke has again failed to impress voters, being outpolled by Liberal newcomers Richard Mulcahy and Zed Seselja. The Greens have gone backwards on the primary vote and have fallen well short of their stated hope for a second seat. They are nonetheless assured of one seat, with Deb Foskey having the edge out of those seeking to replace the retiring Kerrie Tucker.

Brindabella: The Liberals have performed much better than expected here, but not well enough to be in contention for a third seat. Opposition Leader Brendan Smyth has been easily re-elected but his fellow incumbent Steve Pratt has performed disappointingly and is in a wrestle for the other position with Steve Doszpot. The last seat emerges as a contest between the Greens and a third Labor candidate, and at present Labor appears to have the edge. John Hargreaves has been easily re-elected but colleague Karin MacDonald holds only a narrow lead over challenger Mick Gentleman, although the most likely result is that both will get up.

Ginninderra: Labor looks well placed to win a third seat at the expense of the Democrats, the other two staying with the Liberals. Chief Minister Jon Stanhope has dominated the Labor vote with a personal total of 35.2 per cent. It is not clear who the other Labor winners will be, incumbent Wayne Berry having attracted only 4.6 per cent. Liberal Bill Stefaniak has achieved a quota in his own right but colleague Vicki Dunne has not done as well, holding only small leads on the primary vote over the remaining Liberal candidates.

Another Senate update

The only person who really knows what’s going on, Antony Green, offered an illuminating contribution to yesterday’s Crikey newsletter detailing the state of play in the Senate. In New South Wales, the huge accumulation of preferences by Liberals for Forests meant none flowed on to the Greens, who were eventually eliminated ahead of both Liberals for Forests and Labor. Greens preferences then gave the seat to Labor. Family First’s victory in Victoria is now confirmed, for reasons that have been widely canvassed elsewhere. In Queensland, no trend has emerged in late counting to suggest an outcome other than three Liberal, one National and two Labor. In Western Australia, the outcome of three Liberal, two Labor and one Greens has never been in doubt. Antony Green refers to a "fevered hope" among the Democrats that they might win a seat in South Australia by overhauling their current 2,600 vote deficit relative to Family First, then making it home on Family First and Greens preferences. However, he can’t see this happening, which means Greens preferences will be deciding the issue between Labor and Family First rather than Labor and the Democrats – and thus that Labor as well as Liberal will win a third seat.

Only in Tasmania does the outcome remain entirely unclear, with below-the-line votes to determine whether the final seat is won by Family First or the Greens. Antony Green does not share the Poll Bludger’s previously expressed sentiment that the Liberals had "blundered" by not fielding a fourth candidate when they won more than three quotas: "If it was not their original intention, someone in the Liberal Party will be claiming great foresight in standing only three candidates. The result is that a full 0.29 of a quota goes straight to Family First rather than lingering with a fourth Liberal candidate". One possible scenario that might have unfolded had this not occurred is that the fourth Liberal would have knocked out Family First, whose preferences could have put incumbent Labor-turned-independent Senator Shayne Murphy into contention. Certainly it does not appear, as suggested earlier, that the Liberals might have been a chance to win the seat themselves.

ACT Election: Conclusion

A word about that Canberra Times poll. The sample of 327 isn’t much, but it’s not completely useless and even the extreme end of its margin of error is still good news for Labor. After allocation of the undecided it has Labor on 55 per cent, Liberal on 30 per cent and the Greens on 11 per cent. This puts the Liberals roughly level with their 31.6 per cent from 2001, and it’s far from the only reason to think they won’t improve this time. For the Greens, 11 per cent feels a little on the low side, but only a little. The federal election demonstrated that the dividend they will receive from the decline of the Democrats has been over-estimated, and while they should improve on their 9.1 per cent from 2001, Senator Bob Brown’s prediction of four seats may be dismissed as another of his extravagant boasts. No doubt Labor’s score is excessive, but probably not to the degree that many would assume.

There are a number of good reasons to expect a particularly strong showing for Labor. Firstly, it would be a bit out of character for the voters of Canberra to deliver yet more power to the Liberal Party in the week that the Coalition secured a historic majority in both houses of federal parliament. Secondly, there has been a long term trend of "normalisation" in the ACT since the first election was held in 1989, when eight of the 17 members returned represented groups cranky about the establishment of self-government. The influence of independents has since progressively declined which is always good news for the traditionally dominant party, that being Labor in Canberra’s case. Thirdly, to an observer of recent state elections there seems to be a familiar pattern at work – the Labor Government that came to power in a minority position, and went on to win the following election in a landslide. Outstanding examples include Bob Carr in 1999, Peter Beattie in 2001 and Steve Bracks in 2002.

For these reasons, the Poll Bludger’s tips are as follows. Molonglo: Labor 4, Liberal 2, Greens 1. Brindabella Labor 3, Liberal 2. Ginninderra: Labor 2, Liberal 2, Greens 1.

ACT Election: Molonglo

Taking in the central part of Canberra, Molonglo returns seven rather than five members and has a lower quota of 12.5 rather than 16.67 per cent. Voters in the electorate have backed the Liberals and the Greens in slightly higher numbers than elsewhere at each of the three elections under the current system. Labor enters the race with its three elected members from last time present and correct – Deputy Chief Minister Ted Quinlan, Health and Planning Minister Simon Corbell and Education Minister Katy Gallagher. For the Liberals the story is unhappily more complicated. Their only competing incumbent is Jacqui Burke, who initially failed to retain her seat at the 2001 election, losing out to Liberal newcomer Helen Cross. Burke recovered her seat by filling the vacancy created by defeated Chief Minister Gary Humphries’ move to his current position in the Senate when Margaret Reid retired in 2002. Cross has since quit the Liberal Party and now sits as an independent; the other Liberal, Greg Cornwell, is retiring. Should Cross retain her seat she will presumably do so at the expense of the cast of unfamiliar Liberal candidates. The Greens too are fielding three little-known candidates with their member Kerrie Tucker retiring, having just failed in her bid to win Gary Humphries’ Senate seat. Even so, Senator Bob Brown has fantasised out loud about winning a second seat here, and it must be conceded that this is at least technically possible if they can pick up a reasonable surplus from Labor. But the Poll Bludger thinks he has caught the whiff of a landslide at this election, and not just because of yesterday’s poll in the Canberra Times. He accordingly predicts that Labor will win four seats in Molonglo, confining the Greens to one and the Liberals to two. The identity of the newcomers is anyone’s guess.

ACT Election: Ginninderra

Ginninderra covers the northern part of Canberra, including Belconnen and Nicholls. Its voting habits have been little different from those at the other end of town in Brindabella (the other five-member electorate), except that Labor didn’t quite get over the line to win a third seat here in 2001. It instead was taken by Roslyn Dundas of the Australian Democrats, the party’s first ever seat in the Assembly and probably also its last. Labor’s two members are senior Government figures certain of re-election – Chief Minister John Stanhope and Assembly Speaker Wayne Berry. Liberal front-benchers Vicki Dunne and Bill Stefaniak also appear safe, although they would be mindful of the outcome in 2001 when Dunne defeated Liberal incumbent Harold Hird, who is contesting again as an independent. Nobody expects the Liberals to be in contention for a third seat, and it also appears certain the Greens will overtake the Democrats (they respectively polled 7.9 and 9.7 per cent in 2001). It will then come down to one of the Greens (Meredith Hunter or Ben O’Callaghan) and a third Labor candidate. Assuming no leakage of preferences (a wrong assumption, but still useful for broad outline purposes) that will mean a contest between the total Greens vote and Labor’s surplus over 33.3 per cent (i.e. two quotas). Crispin Hull of the Canberra Times is convinced the Greens can’t lose, but having seen what stable first-term Labor governments could do to their opponents in Queensland and Victoria, the Poll Bludger is not so sure. Despite its modest sample of 327, yesterday’s poll in the Canberra Times offers further evidence to this effect.

Still in play

It appears that Queensland National Party Senate candidate Barnaby Joyce is firming in his position just ahead of Family First at the crucial point of the count, after which Family First and One Nation preferences would boost him to a full quota. From Tasmania, another update from Geoff Lambert: "The scrutineers say there is a very high leakage of below-the-lines, i.e. deviation from the tickets. For the Libs 29%, ALP over 60% and Others (not Family First) 45% of below-the-lines favour Greens over Family First. This should see Greens grab the sixth spot – just. These are from a sample of 1000 below-the-lines mostly from Franklin. The underlying below-the-line rate and primaries will vary in other places, but I don’t think the leakage rates will".

Further bad news for Labor with the latest House of Representatives figures. The Australian Electoral Commission has removed Wakefield from the doubtfuls, with Liberal David Fawcett leading Labor member Martyn Evans by 0.62 per cent. And a seat that was formerly marked down as a Labor gain – Larry Anthony’s north coast seat of Richmond – has moved back into the doubtful column with a thud, Anthony now trailing by just 0.02 per cent.