It polls for thee

Saturday’s West Australian provided Westpoll (a.k.a. Patterson Market Research) results from surveys of 200 respondents in four well-chosen marginal seats, namely the regional battlegrounds of Bunbury and Albany and the marginal suburban seats of Joondalup and Riverton. The Gallop government would no doubt have been very interested to learn that the Liberals will win huge primary vote majorities in all four. Seat-by-seat breakdowns as follows:

Bunbury (0.2%) 36 55 8
Albany (3.7%) 37 56 1
Riverton (3.1%) 39 54 4
Joondalup (3.1%) 38 53 5

Where the action is (country edition)

The Poll Bludger is no statistician, but he’s slowly reaching the For Dummies level on capacity on Microsoft Excel and has managed to extract some figures demonstrating the relationship between the decline of One Nation and the rise of the Coalition at the federal and Queensland state elections. At the federal poll, there were 18 Queensland seats that One Nation contested in both 2001 and 2004. Removing Dawson and Rankin due to the corrupting effects of large fluctuations in support for independents and other minor parties, the Pearson R measure (which produces a figure between -1 and 1) of correlation between the primary vote swings for One Nation and the Coalition is a highly significant -0.51, while the figure for Labor of 0.09 is significant only in that it is positive, suggesting there is no reason to expect an improvement in Labor’s vote where One Nation collapses.

Both results are supported when similar exercises are conducted for Western Australian federal seats (-0.31 for the Coalition, 0.11 for Labor) and seats at the Queensland state election (-0.45 for the Coalition, 0.03 for Labor). In case of the latter election, generally reckoned to have been a disaster for the Coalition, there were 10 seats where the Coalition vote was up and the One Nation vote down by at least 10 per cent, out of a mere 19 seats in which the two election results could easily be compared. What this means in rough terms is that if you cut two-thirds out of the One Nation vote in every seat in Western Australia and hand two-thirds of it back to the Coalition (from whence it no doubt came), you will if anything be erring on the side of conservatism. This is particularly significant outside Perth, where hostility has been roused by the government’s ardent pursuit of one-vote one-value reforms. Assuming the One Nation vote behaves as expected, the following marginal Labor seats outside Perth are gone for all money:

Bunbury (0.2 per cent): Ominously for Labor, Robert Taylor of The West Australian reported of this classic bellwether electorate that "both sides are pretty well ready to call (it) for the Liberals". It’s not hard to see why. The redistribution cut the margin by 1.3 per cent, and Antony Green estimates 10.3 per cent of the redrawn electorate voted for One Nation in 2001. If they behave in anything like a predictable fashion, the Liberals will easily recover the seat.

Murray (0.7 per cent): Murray mostly consists of the abolished Liberal electorate of Murray-Wellington, being made notionally Labor with the addition of urban territory in and around Mandurah. The estimated One Nation vote for the new electorate is 19.5 per cent, a figure that dwarfs Labor’s margin.

Collie-Wellington (2.6 per cent): This electorate consists in roughly equal measure of voters from abolished Collie, a traditionally Labor seat held by the National Party from 1993 to 2001, and Murray-Wellington, a seat long held by retiring Liberal member John Bradshaw. Labor would be hoping the loss of Bradshaw’s incumbency factor over much of the electorate might help them remain competitive, but would be nervously contemplating the likely destination of the 15.9 per cent One Nation vote.

Geraldton (2.7 per cent): Labor won Geraldton in 2001 with a mere 26.8 per cent of the primary vote, the secret of their success being the 21.7 per cent recorded by One Nation. The Liberals were badly damaged in the final week of the election campaign when it emerged that member Bob Bloffwitch had failed to declare a pecuniary interest in a local company for which he had been lobbying for public funding. Applying the usual broad strokes, and assuming no unusually prominent independent emerges, the Coalition can expect to be boosted well over 40 per cent with little or no improvement for Labor.

Albany (3.7 per cent): Labor won this seat at the 2001 election for the first time since 1971 with a 15.6 per cent two-party swing. This result seems particularly aberrant, having been heavily influenced by the mortgage broking scandal due to a high retiree population and a local member who had been embroiled in the affair. Here also, Labor will struggle to improve substantially on its 31.6 per cent from 2001 while reversion to old habits can be relied upon to push the Coalition vote back over 40 per cent.

These five seats alone are one more than Labor can afford to lose. Nor are they the only non-metropolitan seats which might be identified as endangered. Although the following have safe-looking margins, it needs to be remembered that non-metropolitan seats in Western Australia have little more than 10,000 voters and are accordingly more prone to volatility than city seats:

North West Coastal (5.4 per cent): Some of the government’s actions in recent times suggest either a blasé attitude to this seat, or a belief that it might be sacrificed to shore up votes elsewhere. Specifically, in an electorate where recreational fishing is a way of life, the government has courted the Greens with local marine park sanctuary zones and talk of having the entire area placed on the World Heritage register.

Murchison-Eyre (7.7 per cent): The popularity and high profile of local member John Bowler might save the day for Labor here, especially given some unhelpful confusion in the Liberal camp in December over whether their candidate Colin Brand had withdrawn or not (it eventually became clear that he hadn’t).

Kimberley (8.5 per cent): Carol Martin won considerable kudos for becoming the first aboriginal woman ever elected to an Australian parliament in 2001. But she was boosted at that election by local issues which have since lost currency, and has suffered a redistribution that might be worse than it looks, having cost her the largely aboriginal area of Fitzroy Crossing.

Whither Werriwa #2

Crikey‘s mole in the New South Wales ALP, "Boilermaker Bill McKell", shines some light on internal goings-on ahead of the Werriwa preselection:

For (Bob) Carr, an imminent by-election in Werriwa comes at the worst possible time and in the worst possible location. Just about every crisis and fiasco facing the NSW Government has its proxy in Liverpool and Campbelltown – the anchors at either end of the Werriwa electorate. The shambles that is the commuter rail system. The crisis in public health delivery with bed shortages, ‘code reds’ where ambulances have been turned away from the emergency ward at Liverpool, and the shortcomings in patient care exampled at Campbelltown Hospital. And, perhaps most dangerously for Carr, Orange Grove isn’t just a fiasco – it’s local.

And if all that were not enough, Latham’s sudden exit means that there is no likely successor for Werriwa waiting in the wings. This promises a factional free for all – where the ranks of the local branches have been left swollen and bloated by years of stacking. Fairfield and Liverpool are basically made up of a series of rotten boroughs, created in the interests of local MPs like the Left?s Paul Lynch and the Right’s Joe Tripodi. Who knows how that lot will react if the NSW Branch pulls the preselection in to Head Office for an N40 preselection.

Amanda Hodge and Nick Leys of The Australian reckon that this will indeed be the outcome, reporting today that "ALP sources said yesterday a new Werriwa candidate would be chosen not by ALP rank and file but by NSW head office to avoid further problems". "Boilermaker Bill McKell" fears that "with promises of federal funds for health, roads and transport", the Liberals "might just have a chance". However, Antony Green concurs with the Poll Bludger’s assessment that Labor is unlikely to face a disaster of sufficient scale to cost them seat – at least not to the Liberals. The Cunningham precedent suggests that the Greens might be the bigger threat, but Sydney’s south-west is much less fertile ground for them than the coast and this prospect can probably be discounted. That just leaves the possibility of a high-profile independent taking the moral high ground over an appointee imposed by state office. Perhaps Sam Bargshoon might have another go.

All stupid on the western front

Yesterday, readers of this site were told that the announcement of a Western Australian election for February 19 was "all but certain to follow no later than Friday" since this was "the only logical course for (the government) to follow". Some might argue that Geoff Gallop made a fool of the Poll Bludger when he declared later that same day that this would not occur, but the riposte to this is obvious – Gallop has in fact made a fool of himself. During the course of its term the government has tried in vain to have the third Saturday in February set as the permanent election date under a proposed system of fixed four-year terms. It has nothing to gain from failing to put its money where its mouth is by calling the election for that date, which will also be the first Saturday after the four-year anniversary of the 2001 election. The only possible motive for the decision is political self-interest, and the obviousness of this fact is such that it can only prove self-defeating.

One observer who had not discounted the possibility of a delayed election was Joe Poprzeczny of Western Australian Business News (subscriber only), who last week ran a table outlining the various likely and unlikely dates. February 19 was indeed rated as the "most logical" date. After the "possible" February 26 came an "unlikely" March 5, owing to a public holiday. March 12 was "possible"; then came three Saturdays that weren’t, on account of Easter, and another three that were "unlikely", due to school holidays. Then came April 30, which was late enough to be dubious on constitutional grounds.

Western front communiqué #6

• One aspect of the Mark Latham descendancy that cannot pass unremarked is its impact on the Western Australian election, not to mention the Western Australian election’s impact on it. While the Queensland Labor leadership’s public interventions got the most press, the Western Australians’ were the most frantic. With a Friday announcement of a February 19 election the only logical course for them to follow, Geoff Gallop’s government faced two possible scenarios going into the campaign – ongoing collateral damage from instability at the federal level if Latham stayed, or a morale-boosting return to prominence for local boy Kim Beazley if he went. It fell to Jim McGinty, Health Minister, Attorney-General and Left faction power-broker, to go one better than Peter Beattie and Bob Carr had yet done with a public demand on Sunday that Latham quit. That achieved, an election announcement is all but certain to follow no later than Friday.

• In other illness-related retirement news, the Albany Advertiser reported yesterday that Cyril Rodoreda has withdrawn as the Liberal candidate for Stirling, which had been looming as one of a large number of interesting contests between the Liberals and the Nationals in the south-west. Nationals member Monty House is retiring after 19 years in parliament, and the party has nominated WA College of Agriculture principal Terry Redman in his place. In keeping with the usual fluidity of conservative politics in the south-west, former Nationals vice-president Vicki Brown, who had been spoken of earlier as the party’s likely candidate, is instead running as an independent.

• For us serious psephologists, the biggest sensation of the week is that Antony Green has made minor adjustments to three of his post-redistribution seat margin estimates. Of these the most exciting is the extra 0.1 per cent breathing space afforded to the Liberals in finely poised Darling Range.

Whither Werriwa

The Poll Bludger does not make it his business to commentate on the political state of play outside of election season, so here at least the "whither Labor?" stuff will remain on ice until 2007. As far as this corner of cyberspace is concerned, the big story to emerge from today’s retirement announcement by Mark Latham is that a by-election looms for his south-western Sydney seat of Werriwa. Whoever ends up winning will become the fourth successive member for Werriwa to take their seat after a by-election, a tradition going back to 1952 when young Sydney barrister Edward Gough Whitlam added 12.4 per cent to Labor’s margin after the death of member Hubert Lazzarini. Werriwa remained Whitlam’s home until he quit politics after leading Labor to a second successive electoral disaster in 1977. John Kerin, who held the seat of Macarthur for Labor at the 1972 and 1974 elections before being swept away in 1975, won a by-election on 23 September 1978 with a swing of 12.1 per cent, similar to that achieved by Whitlam 26 years earlier. Kerin would go on to serve successfully as Primary Industry Minister in the Hawke Government and unsuccessfully as Treasurer in the period when Paul Keating sat on the back-bench after his failed first challenge in 1991. For some reason he saw fit to re-contest the seat at the 1993 federal election but moved to the back-bench immediately afterwards and bowed out from politics before the year was through. Then came the turn of Mark Latham, who easily survived a 6.3 per cent swing to the Liberals at a by-election held on 29 January 1994.

The Constitution and the Electoral Act are silent on the timing of by-elections, such that the government could theoretically not hold one at all if that were of any advantage to them. Since this is never the case, there seems no reason to doubt that what the Australian Electoral Commission describes as the "guiding principle" regarding such matters will be observed, namely "to hold the election as early as possible so that the electors are not left without representation any longer than is necessary". Since Latham has yet to hand his resignation to the Speaker, and in view of the wide discretion allowed to the government in setting the date, it is still hard to say when that might be exactly.

While a great deal has been written on the subject of who might replace Latham as Labor leader, the Poll Bludger has heard nothing about who might be in contention to replace him as member for Werriwa, but does not doubt that intensive manoeuvering is already under way. Presumably the Carr-for-Canberra idea is dead and buried, as the possibility of him filling the vacancy is nowhere being canvassed. Whoever gets Labor’s nomination, the precedent of Cunningham in 2002 suggests there is no certainty they will carry the seat. Thus will the new Labor leader arrive in the job facing a potentially dangerous early test of electoral strength, although it is likely their honeymoon effect will prevent a replay of Cunningham where Labor lost a safe seat to the Greens a year after the struggling Simon Crean took over.