Morgan phone poll: 53-47

I held off doing a post on yesterday’s unconvincing Morgan phone poll result in the hope they would give us a face-to-face poll this week, but either they’ve gone on Christmas break or are returning to their old pattern of combining results fortnightly. Yesterday’s effort was a phone poll from a sample of just 493 respondents, conducted on the back of a survey about climate change. The results were not unlike those of last week’s similarly dubious poll: Labor up a point to 42 per cent, the Coalition down 1.5 per cent to 41.5 per cent and the Greens down one to 9.5 per cent, with Labor’s two-party lead steady on 53-47.

Elsewhere:

Phoebe Stewart of the ABC reports Palmerston deputy mayor Natasha Griggs has been preselected as the Country Liberal Party candidate for Darwin-based Solomon, defeating three other candidates including Darwin City Council alderman Garry Lambert and Tourism Top End head Tony Clementson. Bob Gosford of The Northern Myth further writes that Bess Price, described by the Northern Territory News as an “indigenous domestic violence campaigner”, has nominated for CLP preselection in the territory’s other electorate, Lingiari. Price has the backing of Alison Anderson, Labor-turned-independent member for Macdonnell, and says she has “always voted Labor” in the past.

VexNews hears the NSW Liberals could dump Chris Spence as candidate for The Entrance early in the New Year. At issue is Spence’s comprehensive resume as a former One Nation activist: research officer to the party’s state upper house MP David Oldfield, federal candidate for Fraser in 1998, state candidate for Barwon in 2003, New South Wales state party secretary, national and state president of the youth wing “Youth Nation”, and ACT branch president and regional council chair.

Samantha Maiden of The Australian reports possible scenarios for federal intervention into the NSW Labor Party include replacing secretary Matthew Thistlethwaite with an administrator answerable to the federal executive, and stripping Joe Tripodi and Eddie Obeid of their preselection (respectively for Fairfield and the upper house).

• Nick Minchin told ABC Television on Wednesday that it would be “healthy for democracy” if restrictions were placed on television election advertising to reduce the costs of campaigning.

• The Labor national executive has endorsed Rob Mitchell for a second try at McEwen, to be vacated at the next election by retiring Liberal Fran Bailey. The court ruling in Mitchell’s unsuccessful legal challenge against the 2007 result saw his margin of defeat increased from 12 to 27.

Damien Madigan of the Blue Mountains Gazette reports the the state leadership change has inspired Labor’s national executive to delay its preselection decision for Macquarie, where Blue Mountains mayor Adam Searle is expected to be named successor to the retiring Bob Debus.

• Reader Sacha Blumen points me to a Wentworth Courier article from a month ago (see page 22) naming two potential Labor candidates for Wentworth – “Paddington veterinarian Barry Nielsen and Darlinghurst barrister Phillip Boulten” – in addition to Stephen Lewis, described in last week’s edition as a Slater & Gordon lawyer, anti-high rise activist and members of the Jewish Board of Deputies. Former Australian Medical Association president Kerryn Phelps has also been mentioned in the past. This week the Courier reports the Greens have endorsed Matthew Robertson, a Darlinghurst-based legal researcher for the Refugee Advice and Casework Service.

• Antony Green berates those of us who were “examining the entrails of the booth by booth results to try and divine some patterns” from Saturday’s by-elections, arguing such entrails are only interesting for what they tell us about “how Labor voters react to the Greens as a political party”. The conclusion is that “Labor voters in the ritzier parts of Bradfield seem more likely to view the Greens as a left-wing alternative to Labor than Labor voters in less affluent areas”. Antony has since conducted some entrail examination of his own to conclude that the resulting positive relationship between the two-party Liberal vote in 2007 and the Liberal swing at the by-election is unusual for urban electorates. My own post-mortem was published in Crikey on Monday.

• The NSW Nationals have announced the state seat of Tamworth will be the laboratory for its open primary experiment, in which the party’s candidate will be chosen by a vote open to every person enrolled in the electorate. The naturally conservative seat is held by independent Peter Draper, having been in independent hands for all but two years since Tony Windsor (now the federal member for New England) won it in 1991.

Robert Taylor of The West Australian has written an action-packed column on Labor federal preselection matters in Western Australia. It commences thus:

On the surface, the WA Labor Party’s powerful state administrative committee looks to have a straightforward job next Monday when it meets to approve candidates in crucial seats for next year’s Federal election. In typical Labor fashion, three of the candidates for the most winnable Liberal seats of Swan, Cowan and Canning are unopposed, the backroom deals having already been done between the factional powerbrokers to obviate the need for a vote and all the inherent dangers that accompany them. In Durack, where there’s an outside chance of Labor rolling incumbent Barry Haase in the redrawn Kalgooorlie-based electorate, former State Geraldton Labor MP Shane Hill is also unopposed, but that’s because he was really the only one who wanted it badly enough. In Stirling, where Labor has a second to none chance of rolling incumbent Michael Keenan, something obviously went wrong because two people decided to nominate against the favourite Louise Durack, but an upset is highly unlikely.

So the administrative committee had very little to worry about until last Thursday when the Corruption and Crime Commission released its long-awaited report on goings-on at the City of Wanneroo, which handed a couple of misconduct findings to deputy mayor Sam Salpietro and fired a salvo across the bows of Wanneroo mayor Jon Kelly. The problem for Labor is that Mr Kelly is the party’s hope in the seat of Cowan, held by the Liberals Luke Simpkins with a thin 2.4 per cent margin. Labor sees a combination of the local mayor and Kevin Rudd as an irresistible combination in Cowan and had all but pencilled in the seat as a win before last week’s report. The CCC made it clear that in its opinion Mr Kelly was prepared to curry favour with former premier-turned-lobbyist Brian Burke in order to further his own political ambitions. Mr Kelly argued both at the commission and since the report came out that he did everything possible to distance himself from Mr Burke, but put bluntly the CCC just didn’t believe him – which must make the ALP’s administrative committee wonder whether the voters of Cowan will either.

• Dennis Shanahan of The Australian has been in touch to point out an error in last week’s Newspoll post, which stated both Newspoll and the Nielsen poll were both conducted on the Friday and Saturday. Newspoll’s surveying in fact continued throughout Sunday, with The Australian releasing the result at the end of the day.

Newspoll: ??-??

Following last week’s surprising and almost certainly rogue Newspoll result, The Australian sent its pollster out into the field again over the weekend for an eagerly anticipated follow-up survey. However, when the results were published yesterday, all that was offered was attitudinal results on asylum seekers – although breakdowns by party support made clear that voting intention had also been ascertained. This sent Gary Morgan on the offensive:

Newspoll should have conducted another poll as soon as possible when they saw the dramatic change in their results – and if different, released the data to correct the misconceptions caused by their “rogue” poll … A statistical analysis of the data reported on Australians’ attitudes to “boat people” issues – specifically the breakdown by “Political support” – suggests the ALP vote in that poll was very strong. The percentage supporting each political party clearly should have been released. Polls and their publishers should not seek to set the agenda by selectively releasing polling data. Polls and their publishers are powerful but with that power comes responsibility.

Queried by Andrew Crook of Crikey, The Australian’s editor Chris Mitchell explained that “even Crikey” should be able to understand that a non-fortnightly set of voting intention figures would cause a disturbance in the force. Mitchell further invoked a Beatles-and-the-Stones style arrangement between Newspoll and Nielsen in which they have agreed not to step on each other’s releases. Yet just one month ago, on the same day that Nielsen produced its regular monthly poll, The Australian published a “special Newspoll survey” on the Liberal leadership in between its regular fortnightly polls, and was not in the least bit shy about informing us that the sample produced the same 58-42 split in favour of Labor as recorded the previous week. In fairness, it should be noted that Crikey “understands that on Sunday morning, Newspoll chief Martin O’Shannessy contacted his Nielsen counterpart John Stirton and agreed not to release the two-party preferred vote to The Australian”.

My own concern with all this is that I was hoping for a new poll result to hang my regular set of electoral updates off, and didn’t get one. Here they are:

• The saga surrounding the YouTube Downfall parody aimed at Mitchell MP Alex Hawke over his feud with former Right ally and state upper house MP David Clarke has lifted a rock on preselection manoeuvres for safe Liberal state seats. Hawke-Hitler is portrayed in the video castigating himself for having backed Hills Shire councillor Andrew Jefferies to depose incumbent Wayne Merton in Baulkham Hills. The Clarke forces have been hoping the seat might instead go to Damien Tudehope, who has a not inconsiderable public profile as spokesman for the NSW Family Association – and whose son Thomas has just resigned as Malcolm Turnbull’s media adviser after being linked to the aforesaid YouTube video. The infamous episode where 40 Clarke supporters showed up at a Young Liberal branch meeting at Hawke’s office, prompting Hawke’s staff to call the police, reportedly occurred as part of efforts to secure Baulkham Hills for Tudehope. In Castle Hill, Clarke faction operative Dominic Perrottet (whose brother Charles has just resigned as Clarke’s chief-of-staff after he too was linked to the YouTube video) has been plotting to depose incumbent Michael Richardson. On the other side of the pendulum, Hawke is apparently backing another ally, state Young Liberals president Scott Farlow, for the seat of Drummoyne (which Labor’s Angela D’Amore holds by a margin of 7.6 per cent), while Clarke man Kevin Conolly hopes to again contest Riverstone, where he ran against Labor’s John Aquilina in 2007.

Stephanie Peatling of the Sydney Morning Herald reveals the identity of the abortive Right challenger to Philip Ruddock in Berowra: Richard Quinn, a Hunters Hill councillor. A Ruddock supporter specifically identifies Quinn’s backers as “the Taliban faction”, meaning the forces associated with David Clarke. Quinn has “now expressed interest in Bennelong”, which would put him up against former tennis player and unsuccessful Bradfield preselection aspirant John Alexander, plus another previously unheralded entrant in “businessman Mark Chan”.

Lisa Carty of the Sydney Morning Herald explains Labor’s recent western Sydney preselection shenanigans in terms of a deal in which the Right will retain its hold on Fowler following Julia Irwin’s retirement at the next election, despite the numbers in local branches being finely poised between the two factions. The Right’s favoured candidate for Fowler is Ed Husic of the Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union, who was defeated by Louise Markus when he ran in Greenway at the 2004 election. In return for not pursuing a claim in Fowler, the Left will be awarded Werriwa at the expense of Right incumbent Chris Hayes. However, state secretary Matt Thistlethwaite is quoted in the article saying there is “no deal to shift (Hayes) to Macarthur”. That hasn’t stopped an avalanche of reports about whether Werriwa will go to Reid MP Laurie Ferguson, as proposed by Julia Gillard and the soft Left, or Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union organiser Damien Ogden, the candidate of Anthony Albanese and the hard Left.

Andrew Clennell of the Sydney Morning Herald reports claims Labor internal polling of 650 voters in Robertson shows Belinda Neal set to be dumped by a swing of “about 20 per cent”, although this has naturally been denied by state secretary Matt Thistlethwaite. The report also quotes Labor sources suggesting recent talk of a run for the premiership by her husband John Della Bosca has been raised for use as a “bargaining chip” to protect Neal’s position.

• The Queensland Liberal National Party has preselected Hajnal Ban, Logan councillor, Nationals candidate for Forde in 2007 and recipient of an eye-watering Russian surgical procedure to lengthen her legs, as its candidate for the new Gold Coast hinterland seat of Wright. Unsuccessful candidates included Cameron Thompson, the former Liberal member for
Blair (who was presumably handicapped by an understanding that the seat was the domain of the Nationals), and Gold Coast councillor and former children’s television presenter Bob La Castra.

• Former Senator, one-time Democrats leader and blogosphere identity Andrew Bartlett will run for the Greens at the federal election in Brisbane, which Labor’s Arch Bevis holds with a diminished post-redistribution margin against the LNP of 3.8 per cent. Antony Green explains why he won’t win.

Peter Kennedy of the ABC reports Labor preselection nominations for Canning, Cowan and Swan will close on December 1, and candidates will be chosen by mid-December.

• The Macquarie Street blog of Poll Bludger regular Oz informs us that NSW upper house MP Gordon Moyes, long estranged from the Christian Democratic Party from which he was elected, has announced he is joining Family First.

Steven Wardill of the Courier-Mail reports that Anna Bligh will respond to the state’s review on accountability by moving to impose a $1000 cap on political donations unless the federal government does likewise before July 2010, as well as imposing a ban on “success fees” to lobbyists.

Morgan: 58-42

The past fortnight’s face-to-face Morgan polling has Labor’s two-party lead down from 60.5-39.5 to 58-42. Labor is down three points on the primary vote to 47.5 per cent, the Coalition is up 0.5 per cent to 34.5 per cent and the Greens are up one to 9.5 per cent. Apart from that:

Phillip Coorey of the Sydney Morning Herald reports on the state of play after the redistribution proposal abolishing Laurie Ferguson’s Sydney seat of Reid:

There was a rumour he was eyeing Parramatta under a plan which would see the incumbent in that seat, Julie Owens, move to Greenway, a Liberal seat which is assuredly Labor thanks to the redistribution. For various reasons, that scenario is not going to fly. More solid is a plan, backed by Ferguson and his support group in the Left, for him to move to the western suburbs seat of Fowler. It is held by Julia Irwin but it is anticipated she will retire at the election. Irwin belongs to the Right but the Left controls the branches in Fowler and wants the seat back. Ferguson, however, faces resistance to getting any seat at all, and that includes from elements of his own faction. “How do you think we would look in terms of renewal?” said one powerbroker. Left kingmakers are leaning towards the Liverpool Mayor, Wendy Waller, for Fowler. The Right is pushing Ed Husic, who ran for Greenway in 2004 but was the victim of a race-hate letterbox campaign … Ultimately Rudd has the final say, a power the Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, could only dream of given the looming preselection fights among NSW Liberals. But it is a power that needs to be used wisely, sparingly and sensitively. “Kevin should not be unfavourable to Laurie,” warned a Ferguson friend, claiming Ferguson had helped Rudd win the leadership.

• Very soon after the previous report appeared, it emerged the NSW Liberal Party was changing its rules to allow, as Imre Salusinszky of The Australian describes it, a three-quarter majority of the state executive to “rapidly endorse a candidate on the recommendation of the state director and with the go-ahead of the state president and the party’s state and federal parliamentary leaders”. The rules are ostensibly designed for by-elections or snap double dissolutions, but can essentially be used at the leaders’ pleasure. This places the party on a similar footing to Labor, whose national executive granted sweeping federal preselection powers to Kevin Rudd and five party powerbrokers earlier this year. The most obvious interpretation of the Liberal move is that it’s an attempt to stymie the influence of the hard right in party branches, and Salusinszky indeed reports the reform is expected to be opposed by “a large part of the Right faction”. However, the Labor parallel demonstrates it can equally be seen as part of a broader trend to centralisation necessitated by the ongoing decline in membership and resulting opportunities for branch-stacking.

• From the previously cited Phillip Coorey article, Nathan Rees’s chief-of-staff Graeme Wedderburn is said to be assured of a winnable position on the Senate ticket at the next election: second if Steve Hutchins retires, third at the expense of incumbent Michael Forshaw if he doesn’t. “Unless, of course, he can be persuaded to enter state politics, which is another option being floated.”

Phillip Coorey of the Sydney Morning Herald (again) notes that South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi is causing angst by agreeing to appear at a hard-right fundraiser in Cook, where federal member Scott Morrison continues to battle the forces that initially delivered preselection to factional operative Michael Towke before the 2007 election.

• The ABC reports that Tony Crook, Goldfields pastoralist and candidate for Kalgoorlie at the 2008 state election, has been “recruited” to stand as Nationals candidate against Wilson Tuckey in O’Connor. In response to a reader’s email, I recently had occasion to transpose the state election booth results on the new federal boundaries. In O’Connor, the Nationals would have polled 38.0 per cent to the Liberals’ 25.3 per cent and Labor’s 20.7 per cent. In Durack (successor to Barry Haase’s seat of Kalgoorlie), it was Labor 29.2 per cent, Liberal 29.7 per cent and Nationals 28.5 per cent. It should be noted that these numbers are heavily distorted by the presence of sitting Nationals members at state level, as well as the impact of state issues like Royalties for Regions and one-vote, one-value. The Nationals’ federal campaign in Western Australia will be bankrolled by litigious Queensland mining billionaire Clive Palmer, with the stated objective of gaining a Senate seat.

• There is increasing talk that former NSW Opposition Leader Peter Debnam will vacate his seat of Vaucluse at the next election. He faces multiple preselection challenges in any case, the apparent front-runner being University of NSW deputy chancellor Gabrielle Upton. Local paper the Wentworth Courier has taken aim at Debnam with an article and accompanying vox pop on his parliamentary inactivity during the current term.

Sonia Byrnes of the Cooma-Monaro Express reports that Queanbeyan councillor John Barilaro will nominate for Nationals preselection in the state seat of Monaro, which the party has won the right to contest without challenge from the Liberals. Labor’s Steve Whan holds the seat by 6.3 per cent.

• Commenter Hamish Coffee relates that a local newspaper has Clover Moore dismissing rumours she won’t seek another term as state member for Sydney.

Ben Raue at The Tally Room reports that the South Australian Greens are conducting their preselection for the Legislative Council ticket at next year’s state election. The candidates are Carol Vincent, who as SA Farmers Federation chief executive offers an unusual pedigree for a Greens candidate; Tammy Jennings, one-time Democrat and current convenor of the state party; former convenor and unsuccessful 1997 lead candidate Paul Petit; and the apparently little-known Mark Andrew. At stake is a very likely seat for the first candidate, and an outside chance for the second.

• The Sydney Morning Herald has carried a piece from NSW Liberal leader Barry O’Farrell outlining the party’s position on campaign finance reform: caps on spending extending to third parties, caps on donations and bans on donations from other than individual citizens, tighter regulation of lobbyists and extension of Independent Commission Against Corruption powers to cover the nexus between donations and government decisions.

• Mumble man Peter Brent gives the once-over to the recent Essential Research survey on which leader is best equipped to handle “issues of national importance”, noting how much these questions are influenced by incumbency.

Courtesy of the latest Democratic Audit of Australia update:

• Last month’s Audit seminar on campaign finance, Dollars and Democracy: How Best to Regulate Money in Australian Politics, will be the subject of tonight’s episode of The National Interest on Radio National from 6pm. A fortnight ago, Electoral Commissioner Ed Killesteyn appeared on the program discussing enrolment procedures and electoral boundaries.

• The Audit’s submission to the Victorian Electoral Matters Committee inquiry into the Kororoit by-election gets it right on proposals to tighten laws on misleading campaign advertising, namely that the cure would be worse than the disease.

• Brian Costar discusses campaign finance reform on Meet the Press.

• The Queensland Government has published its green paper on “a range of topics including political donations and fundraising, lobbying, whistleblowing and pecuniary interest registers”.

• Norm Kelly argues the merits of a ban on overseas donations in Australian Policy Online.

Essential Research: 59-41

The latest weekly Essential Research survey shows Labor’s two-party lead at a commanding 59-41, up from 57-43 last week and 56-44 the week before. Also featured are questions on whether the Liberals should support (51 per cent) or oppose (20 per cent) the government’s plans for an emissions trading scheme, whether the federal government should take over health services from the states (62 per cent support, 11 per cent oppose), whether they should take over all hospital services from the states (57 per cent support, 18 per cent oppose), how much support the government should provide for Australians who get into various kinds of trouble overseas, whether 16 and 17 year olds should be allowed to vote (13 per cent yes, 79 per cent no), and whether respondents feel like they’re being worked too hard (yes). Elsewhere:

• Mia Handshin has unexpectedly withdrawn from her bid to win Christopher Pyne’s Adelaide seat of Sturt, where she fell 0.9 per cent short in 2007. Brad Crouch of the Sunday Mail said the announcement came “within hours” of her being queried by the paper over her family’s involvement with the real estate group of former Entrepreneur of the Year Cathy Jayne Pearce, the collapse of which has cost investors more than $20 million. However, Michael Owen of The Australian reports Handshin’s withdrawal has “sparked speculation she will contest an eastern suburbs seat, Hartley, at the March state election, and the Hartley MP, Grace Portolesi, 41, will run in Sturt against Mr Pyne at the next federal election” (UPDATE: The ABC reports Portolesi denying she is interested in federal politics). A “Labor hardhead” quoted by Christian Kerr in the same paper described Handshin as “a potential premier”. Kerr said there had been earlier suggestions from the Labor camp that Handshin should replace perennial back-bencher Vini Ciccarello in the state seat of Norwood. However, with Ciccarello’s nomination confirmed this “seems out in the short term”, and former member Greg Crafter hopes to use his “clout in the branches” to eventually secure the seat for his son Sam, “an executive with gas giant Santos and a former adviser to Premier Mike Rann”. It should be noted that every seat named is none too safe for Labor: Sturt has been won by the party twice since its creation in 1949, most recently in 1969, Hartley was gained from the Liberals in the 2006 landslide, and Norwood was won narrowly when the Rann government came to power in 2002 and gave Labor its smallest swing in Adelaide in 2006.

Andrew Landeryou at VexNews provides complete lists of candidates for the contested Liberal preselections in Wannon, Higgins, Aston and the state seat of Sandringham. Higgins and Sandringham are two-horse races, the former between front-runner Kelly O’Dwyer and Andrew Abercrombie, the latter between incumbent Murray Thompson and challenger Margaret Fitzherbert. In Wannon, the previously discussed Daniel Tehan, Rod Nockles, Louise Staley, Stephen Mitchell, Hugh Koch, Matt Makin, Elizabeth Matuschka and Katrina Rainsford are joined by Simon Price (unsuccessful Colac Otway Shire Council candidate and former electorate officer to Stewart McArthur, previously mentioned as an aspirant for McArthur’s old seat of Corangamite) and one David Clark. In Aston, Nick McGowan, Sue McMillan, Darren Pearce and Alan Tudge are joined by proverbial bad penny Ken Aldred and a squadron of little-known contenders: Neil Angus, Terry Barnes, Michael Flynn, Michael Kabos and James Matheson.

Joe Spagnolo of the Sunday Times reports that former WA Police Union president Mike Dean has joined the Liberal Party, but will not as earlier rumoured contest the seat of Hasluck at the next federal election. Dean says he has decided not to proceed due to personal issues, but does not rule out a future career in state politics. Robert Taylor of The West Australian reported last month that state Labor MPs John Quigley and Ben Wyatt said Dean had asked them for support in winning Labor preselection for Swan. He told Spagnolo that some in the ALP had “wrongfully presumed he was one of them” and that he had “broken some hearts I didn’t expect to break”.

• The Sunday Times also reports that Gallop-Carpenter government minister Alannah MacTiernan “has delayed her decision on whether to join Kevin Rudd in Canberra”. It is open knowledge that the option of contesting Canning is available to her, but she is believed to be weighing up the option of staying in state politics with a view to assuming the leadership.

Michael Stedman of The Mercury reports that Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett has floated the possibility of publicly funded election campaigns and spending caps for state lower house elections. His comments were in response to complaints by Peter Whish-Wilson, Greens candidate for Windermere during the May periodical upper house elections, about the stringent spending cap of $12,000 which exists for upper house elections.

• Speaking of the Tasmanian Legislative Council, Liberal candidate Vanessa Goodwin pulled off a historic win for the party in Saturday’s Pembroke by-election, which you can read all about here.

Party games

No Morgan poll this week. Here’s some of the other mail:

• The Launceston Examiner reports that Brigadier Andrew Nikolic, veteran of numerous overseas postings and until recently the Australian Defence Force’s director-general of public affairs, has “confirmed that he is interested” in Liberal preselection for the federal seat of Bass. Also said to have his eye on the preselection is Senator Guy Barnett, who will otherwise have to settle for the slighly less appealing prospect of number three on the Liberal ticket.

Michelle Grattan reports on a “glowing reference” for Kooyong preselection aspirant Josh Frydenberg from John Howard. Another of Frydenberg’s backers is Andrew Peacock. His principal rival, industrial relations lawyer John Pesutto, is supported by Institute of Public Affairs executive director John Roskam, who was himself sniffing the breeze before deciding not to proceed. Former Liberal president and Fraser government minister Tony Staley has given his seal of approval to Peter Jonson, a 62-year-old former Reserve Bank official known to the web at large as Henry Thornton.

• The Townsville Bulletin reports there are rumours that prodigious McDonald’s franchiser George Colbran again hopes to run for Labor in Herbert, where he narrowly failed to unseat Peter Lindsay in 2007. Colbran reportedly says he “won’t commit either way”.

David Rood of The Age reports that John Brumby has “cleared the way” for Keilor MP George Seitz to be dumped at the next election, amid the fallout from the Ombudsman’s recent report into Brimbank City Council. The party’s administrative committee will decide this evening whether to take preselections for western suburbs seats out of the hands of local branches, in which Seitz and others remain powerful. Also affected will be Kororoit MP Marlene Kairouz, whose preselection ahead of last year’s by-election formed the backdrop of much of the shenanigans investigated by the Ombudsman, and Derrimut MP Telmo Languiller. Labor sources quoted in the article wonder why both Languiller and Western Metropolitan MLC Theo Theophanous aren’t equally being targeted along with Seitz, so it evidently should not be taken for granted that either Languiller or Kairouz are endangered.

• Taking his cue from Manmohan Singh’s assumption of the Indian prime ministership from the upper house, Malcolm Mackerras argues for an end to the convention that Australia’s party leaders must sit in the lower house, which he relates to the anachronistic presumption that it is the more democratic chamber.

• Final score from the Fremantle by-election: Carles 10,664, Tagliaferri 9,100. Margin: 3.96 per cent. I expected Labor would rein it in a little on late counting, but no.

• With the whiff of a dying government in the air, talk of electoral reform is very much in vogue in London this season, just as was when the scandal-ridden Major government was breathing its last. Conservative leader David Cameron opposes proportional representation but promises to “look seriously” at fixed terms. Health Secretary Alan Johnson – “still the favourite to lead Labour if Gordon Brown is removed from the top job“ – has suggested the government at last look seriously at the “Alternative Vote Plus” model which has been floating around since the 1998 report of the Jenkins commission, which was set up when Tony Blair came to power. It proposes a slightly watered down version of German/NZ style MMP, combining constituency members with party list members to produce a proportional result. Unlike Germany and NZ however, there would be a cap on the number of party list members which might make results less than fully proportional. The “Alternative Vote” part of the title refers to Australian-style preferential voting for the constituency seats, which the Jenkins commission appeared to be taken with as it had just helped defeat Pauline Hanson. From the Jenkins commission report, a “note of reservation by Lord Alexander”:

My colleagues also think that AV will contribute to a less confrontational style of politics because candidates will be inhibited from attacking rivals too strongly as they wish to gain their second votes. I do not see it as particularly desirable that candidates from different parties, who are different precisely because they do not agree on all issues, should be pulling their punches in order to seek approval from voters who support other parties. In any event, from my observation of Australia, which is the only single large country to use AV, their politicians tend to be, if anything, more blunt and outspoken than our own.

Morgan: 58-42/54.5-45.5

Unpredictable Roy Morgan has unloaded two very different sets of poll results: one using its usual face-to-face methodology, but based on one week’s sample rather than the recently more usual two, and the other a phone poll in which respondents were also asked about leadership preference, contrary to normal Morgan practice. The face-to-face poll is from 999 respondents, and shows Labor’s lead narrowing from 60-40 to 58-42. Labor’s primary vote is down 0.5 per cent to 49.5 per cent, while the Coalition is up a quite healthy 3.5 per cent to a still not-healthy 37.5 per cent. The Greens are down a point to 8 per cent.

However, the phone poll has Labor’s two-party lead at a more modest 54.5-45.5, from primary votes of 45 per cent Labor, 40.5 per cent Coalition and 7.5 per cent Greens. At present, a dedicated page for the phone poll result tells us only that Kevin Rudd leads Malcolm Turnbull as preferred prime minister 60.5 per cent to 26.5 per cent; that Rudd’s approval rating is 57.5 per cent; and that Turnbull’s approval rating is 43 per cent. Perhaps it will be fleshed out with more information at a later time.

Two other pieces of news:

• It seems Andrew Wilkie will run as an independent candidate for Denison at next year’s Tasmanian state election. Wilkie is the former Office of National Assessments analyst who quit over the Howard government’s actions before the Iraq war, and subsequently ran as a Greens candidate against John Howard in Bennelong in 2004 and as Bob Brown’s Tasmanian Senate running mate in 2007.

• A beleagured British Labour Party is considering sweeping electoral reforms, including an elected upper house. House of Commons reforms might presumably include some kind of preferential voting, which Britain’s three-plus party system badly needs, or more radically proportional representation, with which Britons have become familiar through elections for the Scottish and Welsh parliaments, its members of European Parliament, and local government.

Keeping it holy

… with some God-fearing Good Friday news nuggets to tide you over until the pubs re-open.

• Senate polls have consistently proved themselves to be pointless endeavours, but let the record note that Roy Morgan has produced one from their last three months of surveys. This might be of at least some use if Morgan gave South Australian respondents a chance to indicate support for Nick Xenophon, but they presumably don’t because he is not up for re-election next time (unless there’s a double dissolution of course). Nonetheless, South Australia shows an “others” result of 19.5 per cent compared with 8 per cent nationally.

• The Tasmanian Liberals have preselected three candidates for the Hobart electorate of Denison for next year’s state election, after earlier delaying the process due to concerns about a “lack of high-profile talent”. The nominees are 70-year-old incumbent Michael Hodgman; lawyer Elise Archer, who polled a solid 3.2 per cent at the 2006 election; and Matt Stevenson, state president of the Young Liberals. No sign of contentious Hobart alderman Marti Zucco, but two positions remain to be filled.

• Yesterday’s Crikey Daily Mail had a piece by Malcolm Mackerras noting the looming by-election in New Zealand for Helen Clark’s seat of Mount Albert, and the absurdity of such a thing in a supposedly proportional representation system. If it loses, Labour will be deprived of one of the seats entitled to it by its national vote share at last November’s election. New Zealand’s mixed-member proportional system is modelled on Germany’s, but departs from it in that vacated constituency seats in Germany are filled by unelected candidates from the party’s national lists – which New Zealand was obviously loath to do as it would randomly match members to electorates with which they had no connection.

• Mackerras also notes that the May 12 election in the Canadian province of British Columbia will be held in conjunction with a second referendum seeking to replace its first-past-the-post single-member constituency system with “BC-STV” (British Columbia-Single Transferable Vote). I take this to be identical in every respect to Hare-Clark as it operates in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory (complete with Robson rotation and optional preferential voting), except the number of members per region will range from two to seven. A referendum was also held at the previous election in 2005, but it received 57.7 per cent support while requiring 60 per cent to be binding. Get funky with the official website of British Columbians for BC-STV.

UPDATE (11/4/09): The West Australian carries a second Westpoll survey of 400 respondents on the May 16 daylight saving referendum, showing 47 per cent supporting and 51 per cent opposed compared with 42 per cent and 57 per cent at the poll last month. The West’s report says this means “community support for daylight saving has climbed steadily over the last month”, but I don’t need to tell you all what a load of bollocks that is. Taken together, the surveys suggest the proposal is most likely headed for defeat by the same narrow-ish margins as in 1975, 1984 and 1992.