Higgins and Bradfield by-elections live

O’Dwyer (LIB) 34764 54.4% 0.2% 59.6%
Hamilton (GRN) 20778 32.5% 22.2% 40.4%
Australian Sex Party 2084 3.3%
Liberal Democrats 311 0.5%
Australian Democrats 1455 2.3% 1.1%
One Nation 199 0.3%
Democratic Labor Party 2452 3.8%
Independents 1828 2.9%
TOTAL 63871
COUNTED: 72.5%
BOOTHS (OF 38): 38
Fletcher (LIB) 39159 56.3% -3.2% 63.8%
Gemmell (GRN) 17608 25.3% 14.4% 36.2%
Democratic Labor Party 1477 2.1%
Australian Sex Party 2222 3.2%
One Nation 450 0.6%
Liberal Democrats 561 0.8%
CCC 702 1.0%
ENE 719 1.0%
Independents/CDP 6646 9.6%
TOTAL 69544
COUNTED: 73.1%
BOOTHS (OF 40): 40

Tuesday. 3726 postals from Bradfield, massively favouring the Liberals (75.4-24.6 on 2PP).

Sunday (9pm). Turnout on ordinary votes was 88.8% of the 2007 election in Higgins and 95.9% in Bradfield, compared with 89.3% at the Mayo by-election, 93.2% in Lyne and 89.4% in Gippsland. So it was actually quite high in Bradfield and only slightly below par in Higgins. Part of the reason in Higgins might be that it’s not a growth area. We could equally get a high number of pre-polls and postals bringing the number closer to average. I suspect we’ve seen half the pre-polls counted so far (the rest should come in quite quickly) and a third of the postals (which should dribble in over the next week).

Sunday (7.30pm). 2938 postals from Higgins added. Error in my Bradfield table corrected.

Sunday (4.30pm). 5841 pre-polls from Higgins and 3765 from Bradfield added. These have been particularly strong for Kelly O’Dwyer, increasing her two-party margin from 8.3 per cent to 9.1 per cent. Special hospital team (about 500 votes) also added from Bradfield; not yet available from Higgins.

Sunday (early). The AEC has seen fit to publish booth results, so too late to be any use, I hereby reinstate the table. Also, here’s a revised version of my regional Higgins breakdown. I’ve abolished the distinction between the “pink-green” area of Prahran-Windsor and “red” Carnegie – notwithstanding that there’s some distance between the two, the figures were near identical. The other distinction is between “deep blue” Toorak-Kooyong and the “light blue” bulk of the electorate.

Light Blue 52.76% -1.2% 24.4% 58.5% 1.1%
Deep Blue 61.13% -2.9% 19.8% 65.3% -0.7%
Marginal 41.03% 2.1% 27.9% 48.6% 6.8%

And here’s the Bradfield breakdown, the “marginal” area being what I described previously as “pockets on the edges of the electorate in the north-west at Asquith and Hornsby and in the south at Chatswood and Willoughby”.

Deep Blue 58.0% -5.6% 25.2% 66.0% -1.7%
Marginal 48.4% 0.2% 28.9% 57.1% 4.1%

The general impression is that while the Greens absorbed most of the missing Labor vote across the board, some of it leaked either to the Liberals or to other minor parties (the DLP in particular polled 6.6 per cent in the marginal areas of Higgins, and scored double the vote in the marginal areas of Bradfield compared with the rest of the electorate) and thence to the Liberals as preferences. This counterbalanced a fall in the Liberal primary vote in the deep blue areas of both electorates, which proved nowhere near the magnitude required to put them in danger. It’s interesting to note that this fall was lower in Higgins than in Bradfield, which it’s tempting to put down to resistance to Clive Hamilton among those at the highest end of the income scale.

9.20pm. I’ve performed a similar exercise in Bradfield. There are marginal pockets on the edges of the electorate in the north-west at Asquith and Hornsby and in the south at Chatswood and Willoughby. These areas swung to the Liberals 4.7 per cent in two-party terms. However, the wealthy Liberal heart of the electorate, from Killara north through St Ives, swung 5.1 per cent to the Greens.

8.40pm. Psephos in comments notes the trend detectable from Higgins in the table below (which I’m continuing to update as the last few booths come in) is reflected in Bradfield: “Hornsby Central, Labor’s best booth in the seat: Liberal primary vote up 5.9%.”

8.20pm. I’ll keep that coming in tabular form. “Light blue” zone is the bulk of the electorate; “deep blue” the riverfront from South Yarra through Toorak to Kooyong; “pink-green” Prahran/Windsor; “red” the Carnegie area.

Light blue zone 0.9% 20 out of 21
Deep blue zone -0.8% 6 out of 6
Pink-green zone 6.3% 6 out of 6
Red zone 7.1% 3 out of 3

8.02pm. While I’ve been quiet, I’ve been calculating the Higgins booth results provided by Antony into four zones. While this has been happening the Liberal-Greens margin has blown out to 9 per cent. All four zones have swung to the Liberals: the normally Labor-voting area in the south-east around Carnegie by 9.3 per cent; posh Toorak/Kooyong has swung 1.7 per cent; pink-green Prahran/Windsor 4.3 per cent; and the middle-Liberal balance, from Armadale to Glen Iris and Camberwell to Malvern, by 1.1 per cent. That’s assuming my calculations are correct, which I can’t state with total confidence.

7.38pm. Twelve booths now in from Higgins, swing steady at 5.4 per cent, Kelly home and hosed. Props though to the 400 or so voters of Toorak West for the short-lived entertainment they provided.

7.32pm. Another booth pushes Liberal two-party lead in Higgins to 5.4 per cent. Antony has abandoned commentary, but if he hadn’t I’m guessing he would be calling it now.

7.30pm. No alarms for the Liberals in Bradfield: projected margin 12 per cent.

7.28pm. Antony nonetheless says Higgins “can’t be called yet”.

7.27pm. Antony Green has eight booths in from Higgins and 9.2 per cent counted – O’Dwyer with an almost certainly sufficient 4.8 per cent two-party lead.

7.22pm. Possum, who took about 10 seconds to call the US election for Obama, says on Twitter: “Shorter Higgins – Greens went well with wealthy Lib voters but not so good with middle income Libs. Failed with ALP voters. game over”.

7.19pm. I’ve abandoned the table – it is not possible to keep up with the furious number crunching I needed to do to keep track as each new booth reported. Head to the ABC for elucidation on what’s happening.

7.15pm. That Toorak West result looking quirkier after Gardiner booth reports, but it’s still close. Having trouble keeping up due to AEC failure to report individual booths, so double check anything you see above.

7.13pm. Better result for Liberals in Higgins from Kooyong Park.

7.05pm. Both the booths have 2PP votes in, so my 2PP figures are now less speculative.

7.02pm. First Higgins booth is super wealthy, super Liberal Toorak West, and it shows a very interesting plunge in the Liberal vote.

6.49pm. Unless I’m mistaken – please let it be so – the AEC are not providing individual polling booth figures, which means I might as well pack up and go home.

6.46pm. Lady Davidson Hospital booth in from Bradfield – only 293 votes, but no evidence of a remarkable result.

6.36pm. Still nothing. These are urban electorates so there are no small booths that report quickly; the large number of candidates, particularly in Bradfield, might also be slowing things down.

6.20pm. Until I get notional 2PP counts, my 2PP will be based on the following preference estimates:

HIGGINS: ASP 80-20 to Greens; LDP 80-20 to Liberal; Dems 70-30 to Greens; ONP and DLP 80-20 to Liberal; all others 55-45 to Liberal.

BRADFIELD: DLP 80-20 to Liberal; ASP 80-20 to Greens; ONP and LDP 80-20 to Liberal; CCC and ENE 50-50; all others 75-25 to Liberal.

# and % primary vote figures are raw; primary vote swing and 2PP figures are based on booth matching.

6pm. Welcome to the Poll Bludger’s live coverage of the Higgins and Bradfield by-elections. First figures should be in in about 20 minutes.

Bradfield by-election: December 5

Friday, December 4

Ben Raue of the Tally Room cases the joint, and reports the following intelligence concerning the Christian Democratic Party:

Apparently the party has divided the seat’s polling booths between the nine candidates. Each candidate has their own how-to-vote card which puts themselves first then goes to all the other CDP candidates through a donkey vote. Then the the vote goes to the DLP, Bill Koutalianos, One Nation, Simon Kelly, Philip Dowling, Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy, Brian Buckley, Liberal Democrats, Peter Hanrahan, CCC, the Liberals, the Greens and the Sex Party last.

Friday, November 20

A candidates forum will be held at 6pm tonight at the Killara High School, hosted by the school and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.

Friday, November 13

The ballot paper draw has been conducted, and the full list of 22 candidates can be viewed here. Expect a high informal vote thanks to the Christian Democratic Party, which has been unable to make quite as much of a joke of this very serious process as they had hoped to: only nine candidates are being fielded, rather than the promised 11. Were I a Bradfield voter, I’d send these idiots a signal by placing them from 14 to 22.

Monday, November 9

News Limited reports that Zoo Weekly has approached “chk chk boom girl” Clare Werbeloff to promote its wares by having her run as a candidate. A similar enterprise proposed for the March state election in Queensland, at which former AFL player Warwick Capper was to join Pauline Hanson in running for Beaudesert, was thwarted when the great man and his policy brains trust, Mark Jackson, neglected to submit the nomination in time.

Friday, November 6

LATE: Antony Green has updated his by-election with candidate details, which lists two who had escaped my attention: medical practitioner Simon McCaffrey of the Democratic Labor Party, and fitter and turner Victor Waterson of One Nation.

EARLY: Imre Salusinszky of The Australian reports the Christian Democratic Party’s 11 candidates will run “an emotive anti-Muslim, anti-carbon trading campaign”:

The party’s propaganda for the December 5 by-election, which has been provided in advance to The Australian, declares “Enough!” and urges Australians to “Stand your ground in defence of Christian values”. It uses a selection of alternating slogans, including, “Ten-year moratorium on Muslim immigration”, “No nukes for Iran – we must defend Israel” and “No carbon tax – stop the ETS”.

Tuesday, November 3

The North Shore Times relates the aforementioned Simon Kelly is an “anti-safe seat campaigner”, and that the Liberal Democratic Party will also field a candidate.

Monday, November 2

Seven candidates are listed on Wikipedia: the aforementioned Paul Fletcher, Susie Gemmell, Marianna Leishman and Brian Buckley; another independent, “local IT businessman” Simon Kelly; and two Christian Democratic Party candidates, Leighton Thew and Heath Wilson.

Thursday, October 29

The Australian Sex Party has announced its candidate will be one Zahra Stardust, who is apparently no relation to Ziggy – her birth certificate reportedly records her as Marianna Leishman. Stardust-Leishman is billed as “a feminist writer and law graduate who also works as a trapeze artist, burlesque performer, showgirl, fire twirler and pole dance instructor”. Nominations close November 12, with the ballot draw to follow the next day.

Tuesday, October 27

Enjoy Paul Fletcher’s by-election website.

UPDATE: And, in the interests of balance, Greens candidate Susie Gemmell’s. Thanks to Spanners and Marg for their awareness-raising efforts in comments.

Monday, October 26

Speaker Harry Jenkins has confirmed that the Higgins and Bradfield by-elections will be held on December 5.

Monday, October 19

Brendan Nelson formally tendered his resignation today to Speaker Harry Jenkins, who is expected to announce an election date of November 28 or December 5 in the coming days. Antony Green has weighed in on local reports that the Christian Democratic Party might field as many as 11 candidates: one for each disciple other than Judas, which is presumably how Fred Nile and campaign manager Michael Darby view estranged party MLC Gordon Moyes. Already pencilled in are Leighton Thew and Heath Wilson. Antony says the plan would amount to the CDP “abusing its privileges as a registered party”, which allow it to nominate candidates without obtaining the signatures of 50 voters as independent candidates are required to to. He suggests reforming the law to require nominating signatures if a party wishes to field multiple candidates.

Saturday, October 10

With the by-election process still not officially under way, Phillip Coorey of the Sydney Morning Herald discusses the question of timing:

Governments set byelection dates and, on average, have opted in recent years for polls 52 days after resignations were tendered. That would push Bradfield and Higgins back to Saturday, December 5. They could be a week earlier on November 28. Either way, the polls would follow the final two-week parliamentary sitting in which the Coalition – if it doesn’t filibuster – will have to vote on Labor’s emissions trading scheme.

Saturday, October 3

The North Shore Times reports potential independent candidates include Ku-ring-gai mayor Elaine Malicki and “Australian nationalist” Brian Buckley (hat tip to Nick C in comments).

Tuesday, September 29

An exquisitely detailed report on the preselection by Imre Salusinszky of The Australian details the ballot thus:

Courtesy of the special rule, the first ballot took care of everyone apart from Fletcher (28 votes), Switzer (15), Coleman (14), Leeser (11) and, surprisingly, Burton (12) and Alexander (7). A second ballot redistributed the vote as follows: Fletcher (40), Switzer (23), Leeser (19), Coleman (14), Burton (11), Alexander (7). The tennis champ was retired, hurt. Burton and Coleman were eliminated in the third and fourth ballots. As Coleman fell, the Left moved strategically against Switzer. Leeser leapfrogged him, picking up 13 of Coleman’s 17 supporters. The fifth vote came out: Fletcher (47), Leeser (38), Switzer (26). Leeser’s supporters began to speculate on how soon Turnbull would be elevating their man to the shadow ministry: with Switzer eliminated, they assumed the Right would lock in behind Leeser. They were wrong. Switzer’s vote split straight down the middle. Neeham walked briskly down the stairs of the RSL, to a room next to a billiard parlour, where the candidates were holed up. He told them Fletcher had beaten Leeser by 60 votes to 51, and took them through the successive balloting.

Sunday, September 27

Paul Fletcher won last night’s Liberal preselection over Julian Leeser by a margin of 60 to 51 in the final round, according to VexNews. Tom Switzer and David Coleman reportedly made it through to the third round, the also-rans presumably having been knocked out in the first and second. Stephanie Peatling of the Sydney Morning Herald reports the preselection proceedings were delayed by a bomb scare. Fletcher holds dual British citizenship which he says he will relinquish on Monday, the High Court having established in 1999 that this constitutes “allegiance to a foreign power” when it overturned Queensland One Nation candidate Heather Hill’s election to the Senate.

Other candidate that I’m aware of: Susie Gemmell of the Greens.

Saturday, September 26

Today’s the big day for the Liberal preselection. Writing in The Australian, Peter van Onselen describes the procedure thus:

If you are reading this on Saturday, take a moment to feel for the 117Liberal Party members locked away from the outside world at the Hornsby RSL. There won’t even be a television in the background broadcasting the AFL grand final. If they’re lucky, theyll get a few newspapers to share around. The process will continue through the day as the 17 candidates formally work their way around small groups of preselectors in round table format to answer questions and make short pitches. By 7pm the voting process starts as each of the candidates gets eliminated. It is entirely possible we won’t know the result until the early hours of Sunday morning. If you are reading this article on Sunday, in all likelihood the result will be available on The Australian’s website, even if it wasn’t known in time to make it into the Sunday papers. The talk will quickly move from the process of the preselection to the choice of the candidate selected.

These are the 17 starters in vague order of likelihood of victory, as best as I can ascertain it.

Paul Fletcher. Former Optus executive, described by Imre Salusinszky as “a communications consultant and former staffer with former federal communications minister Richard Alston”. Phillip Coorey of the Sydney Morning Herald reports “number crunchers” give Fletcher slight favouritism ahead of David Coleman. This is partly because he has strong support from the Left, which accounts for 35 votes, while Right (30 votes) support is scattered among Julian Leeser, Tom Switzer, Sophie York, Simon Berger and “dark horse” John Hart. Fletcher is also rated the favourite by Peter van Onselen, who nonetheless observes he “has the twin negatives of being close to the left-wing clique The Group and not living in the area”.

David Coleman. An executive with the Packer family’s Publishing and Broadcasting Limited who is associated with the Left faction and the other side of town, having run for the federal Cook preselection and been mentioned in connection with the state seat of Cronulla. Described as a “centrist” by Peter van Onselen, who rates him one of four front-runners but warns he “doesn’t live in the area and the risk for him is not having enough support early in the count to last long enough to pick up expected preferences”.

Simon Berger. Openly gay staffer for Nelson. Not Friends with Miranda Devine, who says he squibbed the emissions trading system issue while in Nelson’s employ. Andrew Landeryou at VexNews reports he “enjoys the doctor’s strong endorsement”, and is “loosely associated with the Alex Hawke part of the Liberal Right, but the associations with most of these candidates and the dominant factions are very loose”. Phillip Coorey of the Sydney Morning Herald observes that Berger’s branch will be transferred to North Sydney under the current redistribution proposal. Peter van Onselen says both Berger and Leeser “should get strong local support but the difficulty for each of them is winning enough factional support to secure a majority if they make it to the final two”.

Julian Leeser. Menzies Research Centre executive director. According to Andrew Landeryou at VexNews, he would enjoy support from within the Alex Hawke sub-faction of the Right, but “also worked for factionally Left Phil Ruddock so he maintains good relations across the usually warring NSW Liberal tribes”. Phillip Coorey of the Sydney Morning Herald says Leeser is a member of a Berowra branch that will be transferred into the electorate under the current redistribution proposal. Peter van Onselen reports both Leeser and Tom Switzer have been playing up the idea that a local resident is necessary to forestall a challenge by an independent running on development controversies, but says Leeser’s challenge is “winning enough factional support to secure a majority” if he makes the final two.

Tom Switzer. Former opinion page editor of The Australian, adviser to Brendan Nelson and waiter for Studs Afloat in a strictly “pants on” capacity. Said by Andrew Landeryou of VexNews to be backed by the David Clarke faction of the Right. Friends with Miranda Devine. Peter van Onselen reports Switzer has been playing up the idea that a local resident is necessary to forestall a challenge by an independent running on development controversies.

Sophie York. Like Tom Switzer, Friends with Miranda Devine, and evidently very good friends at that: she lists York’s qualifications as “barrister, author, lieutenant-commander in the navy reserves, mother of four sons”, being “part of a new breed of conservative feminists, generous and warm but with courage and a steely intellect”, and sharing Switzer’s qualities of being “successful, normal and fun, with a fine mind, good judgment, loving family and clear moral compass”.

Paul Blanch. Candidate for Calare at the 2004 federal election, at which time he was a spruiked as a sheep farmer who owned a property near Bathurst, he is now described by Phillip Coorey of the Sydney Morning Herald as a “local lawyer and businessman”.

John Alexander. Former Davis Cup champion (loosely defined), “voice of tennis” and referee on Gladiators. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Alexander only recently joined the Liberal Party and attended his first branch meeting last week. A day before the preselection. Imre Salusinszky of The Australian reported Alexander had “unleashed a late offensive, telephoning about half of the 120 preselectors”.

John Hart. Chief executive of Restaurant and Catering Australia, rated a “dark horse” by Phillip Coorey of the Sydney Morning Herald.

Paul Ritchie. Public affairs manager for the NSW Business Chamber.

Namoi Dougall. A solicitor who once sat with Malcolm Turnbull on the Republic Advisory Committee.

Greg Burton. Another solicitor, Burton contested preselection for the state seat of Davidson in 2002.

Maureen Shelley. Former Ku-ring-gai councillor who challenged Bronwyn Bishop for preselection in Mackellar ahead of the 2007 election, losing by 90 votes to 17.

Philip Senior. A late entrant described by Peter van Onselen as an “author and business analyst”.

Richard Bell. Another late entrant, described by Andrew Priestley of the North Shore Times as a “barrister and community radio presenter”.

Robin Fitzsimons. Still another late entrant, described by Andrew Priestley of the North Shore Times as a “Sydney University senate fellow and neurologist”.

Mark Majewski. One more late entrant, described by Andrew Priestley of the North Shore Times as a “small business owner”. Majewski was the Liberal candidate for Blaxland at the 2007 federal election.


Arthur Sinodinos. Considered the front-runner if he chose to run but has declined to do so, pleading the demands of politics on family life. Phillip Coorey of the Sydney Morning Herald quotes a “senior source” saying that if Sinodinos had run, “there would have been potential to embarrass him over his relationship with the disgraced Treasury official Godwin Grech”. Peter van Onselen of The Australian has been promoting the idea that Sinodinos might want to enter state politics instead, perhaps replacing the outgoing Peter Debnam in Vaucluse.

Nick Campbell. State party president, said by Phillip Coorey of the Sydney Morning Herald to have put his hand up on news of Arthur Sinodinos’s no-show, but ultimately didn’t follow through.

Adrienne Ryan. Former Ku-ring-gai mayor and ex-wife of former police commissioner Peter Ryan, mentioned in relation to every NSW Liberal preselection since time immemorial, but not ultimately a contestant in this one.

Nick Farr-Jones. Former Wallabies rugby union star mentioned early in the hunt, but evidently thought better of the idea.

Monday, September 14

Ben Raue at The Tally Room reports the Greens have preselected Susie Gemmell, their candidate from the 2007 election and for the corresponding state seat of Ku-ring-gai in 2003 and 2007. Gemmell works as an adviser to state upper house MP and Senate candidate Lee Rhiannon.

Friday, September 11

Imre Salusinszky of The Australian reports a “draft timetable” circulating the Liberal Party has the preselection scheduled for September 26. According to Salusinszky, Fletcher is “narrowly favoured … at this stage”.

Tuesday, September 1

Malcolm Mackerras in Crikey tips a Liberal-Greens two-party margin of 59-41. He also provides an interesting rebuttal of the conventional wisdom that by-elections are bad for governments: true of the days when most resulted from the deaths of sitting members, he says, but trumped by the desire of voters to react against a “greed-driven resignation of the sitting member” by voting against their party. Without question there’s a lot of meat on these bones, but it doesn’t explain last year’s solid swing to the Nationals in Gippsland.

There may be an interesting new addition to the Liberal preselection race if an item in yesterday’s Crikey Tips and Rumours section is to be believed:

The contest for preselection in Bradfield is about to get a little more interesting with international lawyer Jason Yat-sen Li to declare his candidacy. Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull has been working very hard to convince Yat-sen Li to run. Turnbull and Yat-sen Li have been very close ever since they first met at the Constitutional Convention in 1998. Other front-runners for Bradfield, including Julian Leeser and Tom Switzer, fear that Yat-sen Li might just have what it takes to win the preselection, especially if he has Turnbull’s backing.

Li was the lead New South Wales Senate candidate in 1998 of the Unity Party, formed to send a multicultural message against Hansonism. He left the party shortly after, accusing it of negotiating preference deals with unsavoury right-wing micro-parties. I will hold off including him in my Liberal preselection form guide, which I will move up to the top of this post each time I add a new update:

Monday, August 31

It is expected that the by-election will be held in November: around the time, notes Dennis Shanahan of The Australian, that the Rudd government will reintroduce its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme legislation, daring the opposition to provide it with a double dissolution trigger. Helpful Liberal sources inform Glenn Milne that Malcolm Turnbull is “finished” if he can’t add 2 per cent to the Liberal primary vote. This is revealed in an interesting article for News Limited’s Sunday tabloids which doesn’t seem to be online:

The battle for Bradfield will be an internal Liberal party referendum on Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership. No more, no less. And for anyone who thinks that a cruel and unusual benchmark for a leader scraping the bottom of poll figures no politician would wish upon another, hark back a moment, if you will, to May, 2008. That was the time of the Gippsland by-election. A happier time for Brendan Nelson, whose decision to quit politics early has turned the contest for Bradfield into a make-or-break moment for Malcolm Turnbull.

Nelson was leader of the Liberal Party and Turnbull his putative challenger. Turnbull and his supporters told anyone who would listen that Gippsland was Nelson’s last stand. If Gippsland went, held by the Nationals for more than 20 years, so too would Nelson’s leadership. Gippsland happened in the full sunlamp glow of Kevin Rudd’s honeymoon. Back then, no one had heard of the global financial crisis. Nelson didn’t have an issue to fly with. But in tough-minded fashion, he grafted some. He opposed the Government’s alco-pops tax as an attack on the “ute-man” demographic in Gippsland, and he flayed Rudd over his broken election promises to bring down grocery and petrol prices. Critically, he used his Budget in Reply speech to propose a five-cents-a-litre-cut in fuel tax.

It flew. Behind the scenes, Turnbull described it as “populist crap”. But after Nelson announced – the first time around – he’d be retiring at the next election, Kevin Rudd had him around for a private cup of tea. Rudd declared Nelson’s speech on the Budget one of his finest moments as Liberal Leader. Unlike Turnbull, Rudd knew a good political manoeuvre when he saw one. The National Party went on to retain Gippsland with an 8.4 per cent swing against Labor.

Critically, the emphatic victory came off the preferences of the 20.4 per cent of the vote won by the Liberal candidate, Rohan Fitzgerald. And you know what that victory bought Brendan Nelson? Three weeks of clear air. That’s all. Three weeks before Turnbull and his supporters again began white-anting him before finally bringing him down five months later. So don’t let anyone tell you that posing the Bradfield by-election as a test for Malcolm Turnbull is a maliciously minded set-up. It is simply a matter of applying Malcolm’s own standards to himself.

The Liberal preselection will be decided at the end of September by 72 local branch delegates and 48 from the state council and state executive. There is talk of as many 20 candidates taking the field. Phillip Coorey of the Sydney Morning Herald reports talk in Liberal circles that some might be running to serve notice to the members for neighbouring Berowra and Mackellar, Philip Ruddock and Bronwyn Bishop, that it won’t do for them to squeeze out another term while the surplus of Bradfield preselection talent goes begging.

Elsewhere, AAP reports the Greens will preselect a candidate on September 14. There’s a crazy large guide to the electorate on Ben Raue’s The Tally Room. The similarly thorough Antony Green offers some late news on the 1952 by-election for the seat.

Tuesday, August 25

Phillip Coorey of the Sydney Morning Herald reports Brendan Nelson “will not stay until the next election” and will “make an announcement in the next 24 hours”, suggesting a by-election is imminent in his north Sydney seat of Bradfield. The electorate runs from Chatswood north through Killara, Turramurra and St Ives to Wahroonga and has been very safe for the Liberals since its creation in 1949, the inaugural member being a venerable Billy Hughes. Brendan Nelson came to the seat in 1996 after a preselection coup against David Connolly, member from 1974.

Nelson announced he would not contest the next election in February, leading to considerable jockeying ahead of a preselection that was delayed pending the announcement of new electoral boundaries. To head off branch stacking, the party’s state executive promptly ruled that any new members in the electorate would not be eligible to vote in the preselection ballot due nine months’ hence, whereas the rule normally requires only six months of membership. By all accounts the two front-runners will be Arthur Sinodinos, legendary former chief-of-staff to John Howard, and Tom Switzer, former opinion page editor for The Australian. However, other names were recently put forward by Phillip Coorey: Menzies Research Centre executive director Julian Leeser; Paul Fletcher, director of corporate and regulatory affairs at Optus; and David Coleman, an executive with the Packer family’s Publishing and Broadcasting Limited (last I heard) who is associated with the Left faction and the other side of the town, having run for the federal Cook preselection and been mentioned in connection with the state seat of Cronulla.

Antony Green has quickly whipped up a post on the matter, noting as a certain fact that Labor won’t run and that “the real contest in Bradfield is likely to be in Liberal pre-slection, not the subsequent by-election”.

UPDATE: According to Christian Kerr of The Australian, an “influential local Liberal” says: “If Arthur wants the seat, he’s got it. If he doesn’t run, then it’s an open race.”

UPDATE 2: The psephoblogosphere doesn’t stuff around: posts up already from Possum and Ben Raue.

UPDATE 3: Andrew Landeryou at VexNews says his sources believe Sinodinos is “not interested in running and has told people so as late as today”. He also names as another contender “master campaign tactician Simon Berger, an openly gay staffer for Nelson who enjoys the doctor’s strong endorsement”. Berger is “loosely associated with the Alex Hawke part of the Liberal Right, but the associations with most of these candidates and the dominant factions are very loose”. Leeser “would enjoy support from within the Hawke group. Interestingly, he once also worked for factionally Left Phil Ruddock so he maintains good relations across the usually warring NSW Liberal tribes”. Tom Switzer has support from the “Taliban Right” associated with local operative Noel McCoy and hard Right warlord David Clarke, “although they don’t really claim him as a member as such”. Apparently still in the mix is barrister Mark Speakman, recently discussed as a possible successor to Peter Debnam in Vaucluse and a challenger to federal incumbent Stephen Mutch in Cook way back in 1998, which led to the installation of Bruce Baird as a compromise candidate. Landeryou reckons David Coleman’s “decision to drag the party off to court over a previous preselection (for Cook before the last federal election) made him as popular as a bikini model in a Kabul coffee house”.

Mayo by-election thread

I’ve been too preoccupied to offer commentary on Saturday’s Mayo by-election, but maybe interested readers can do the job for me in comments. Liberal candidate Jamie Briggs is a short-priced favourite to succeed Alexander Downer in the traditionally safe seat, but two other candidates in the field are of at least theoretical interest. One is Bob Day, the cashed-up Liberal candidate for Makin at the November 2007 election who is running with Family First after being knocked back for preselection. The other is independent Di Bell, described on her website as “writer and editor in residence at our very own Flinders University” and “Professor Emerita of Anthropology at The George Washington University in Washington DC”. Bell has the backing of Senator Nick Xenophon, which was seen as a decisive factor in independent Kris Hanna’s surprise re-election in Mitchell at the 2006 state election after parting company first with Labor and then the Greens.

Lyne by-election preview

The September 6 by-elections for Mayo and Lyne initially loomed as fizzers, with Labor showing no inclination post-Gippsland to test the waters in unwinnable seats. They have instead respectively emerged as mildly and enormously interesting, thanks to the entry of non-major party players. In Mayo, housing tycoon Bob Day will bring a cashed-up campaign to bear against the Liberals as the candidate of Family First, having failed to win Liberal preselection for Mayo after unsuccessfully contesting Makin last year. Day would nonetheless have to be considered a long shot against Liberal candidate Jamie Briggs, but it’s a very different story in Lyne where independent state MP Rob Oakeshott has been rated the “clear favourite” by Antony Green. Imre Salusinszky of The Australian reports that Nationals polling puts his approval rating in the electorate at over 70 per cent, and says the party is concerned Labor will “direct resources to Mr Oakeshott’s campaign”.

Lyne covers a 100 kilometre stretch of coastline up to 400 kilometres north of Sydney, the main population centres being Port Macquarie (home to 33 per cent of the electorate’s population) and Taree (14 per cent). Smaller centres include Old Bar, Lake Cathie and Harrington on the coast, and Wauchope and Wingham further inland. The National/Country Party has held the seat since its creation in 1949. The electorate covers the entirety of Oakeshott’s state seat of Port Macquarie, which provides Lyne with 55 per cent of its voters. Oakeshott won Port Macquarie as the Nationals candidate at a 1996 by-election ahead of independent John Barrett, who had come within 233 votes of defeating Mark Vaile as Liberal candidate for Lyne in 1993. He was promoted to the front bench after the 1999 election, taking the sport and recreation, fisheries and ports portfolios. In March 2002 he quit the party, claiming its local branches were controlled by property developers and questioning whether the party was still relevant to an electorate transformed by tourism and demographic change. The Nationals campaigned aggressively against him during the 2003 campaign, in particular over his support for drug law reform, but he was overwhelmingly re-elected with 69.7 per cent of the primary vote. This fell slightly to 67.1 per cent at the March 2007 election, his two-candidate preferred margin down from 32.8 per cent to a still formidable 28.2 per cent.

The Nationals candidate is Rob Drew, who was mayor of Port Macquarie until the council was sacked by the state government in February. The Macleay Argus reports he won a preselection vote ahead of Taree solicitor Quentin Schneider by 48 votes to 15. State party leader Andrew Stoner was reportedly urged by “senior colleagues” to throw his hat into the ring, but perhaps sensibly decided to stay put. The prospect of an Oakeshott candidacy was a cloud on the horizon from the time of Vaile’s departure, with Oakeshott earlier threatening to run against Vaile at the 2004 election. There has also been intermittent speculation over the years that he might be enlisted by the Liberals, although this might never have been more than wishful thinking by the party. Most recently, powerbrokers including Senator Bill Heffernan approached him to contest the by-election as the Liberal candidate, hoping that his success might push the Coalition further along the road to a merger. The party has instead opted to sit out the contest, aware that its presence would only increase the already high likelihood of an Oakeshott victory.

The other thing to be noted is that win, lose or draw, Oakeshott’s candidacy will initiate a state by-election for Port Macquarie – though that is a subject for another post. While it would be open to Oakeshott to re-contest Port Macquarie, owing to what Imre Salusinszky calls “a quirk in NSW electoral law”, Oakeshott has declared that such a move would be “unfair to the community”.

Gippsland by-election post-mortem

This entry will shortly be expanded with a considered analysis of the result, the general thrust of which will be that the surprisingly large swing to the Nationals indeed sounds warning bells for the Rudd government, however keen Labor partisans might be to mark it down to local factors. Below is a localised breakdown of the two-party preferred result, grouped into the three municipalities covered by the electorate.

NAT ALP Swing to NAT
# % # % 2008 2007
Latrobe City 12,470 56.4 9,634 43.6 10.3 -2.7
Traralgon 7,025 61.3 4,442 38.7 11.0 -3.4
Morwell 2,073 45.9 2,444 54.1 8.4 -2.7
Churchill 836 44.0 1,063 56.0 8.5 -0.6
Rural 2,536 60.1 1,685 39.9 8.1 -1.7
Wellington Shire 12,554 67.7 5,987 32.3 5.3 -2.6
Sale 3,588 65.0 1,929 35.0 3.6 -3.8
Maffra 1,545 67.6 741 32.4 8.0 -3.7
Rural 7,411 69.1 3,317 30.9 5.4 -1.7
East Gippsland Shire 12,796 66.6 6,429 33.4 4.4 -0.8
Bairnsdale 4,230 66.0 2,175 34.0 2.3 0.6
Lakes Entrance 2,399 69.2 1,068 30.8 9.6 -1.3
Paynesville 1,125 67.6 539 32.4 5.8 -1
Orbost 1,042 69.1 467 30.9 2.3 -2.4
Rural 4,000 64.7 2,180 35.3 3.6 -1.4
TOTAL 71,630 63.2 41,920 36.8 6.6 -1.8

Episode one: Perspective. Labor has suffered a sobering 9.3 per cent slump on the primary vote and a two-party swing comparable to that of the September 1973 Parramatta by-election, which rebuffed the Whitlam government and brought Philip Ruddock to parliament. What’s more, Antony Green notes that Labor entered that campaign burdened by the Whitlam government’s proposed second airport at Galston. The Hawke government faced six by-elections in its truncated first term, picking up a 0.5 per cent swing in Richmond and suffering swings ranging from 1.2 per cent to 5.0 per cent in the other five. There are also state precedents such as Labor’s wins in Burwood and Benalla in the wake of the Kennett government’s defeat which suggest governments should be able to convert honeymoon opinion poll leads into votes at by-elections. As the above table demonstrates, most of the damage to Labor was done in the Latrobe Valley – hypotheses to follow shortly.

Episode two: Nationals versus Liberal. The by-election was the first time the Liberals contested the seat since 1987, so yardsticks for the Coalition parties’ relative performance are hard to come by. The best one available is the state upper house election in 2006, the only recent race involving the three parties competing separately without significant sitting member factors in play. In the equivalent booths, the Nationals and Liberals were evenly matched, with 25.4 per cent and 25.3 per cent respectively. The by-election by contrast has seen the Nationals almost double the Liberal vote, 40.4 per cent to 20.7 per cent. The combined Coalition vote is up a remarkable 12.2 per cent, giving merger opponents in the Victorian Nationals still more to work with. Labor scored 33.7 per cent for the 2006 state upper house, against 27.0 per cent at the by-election.

Episode three: West versus east. The corollary of Labor doing especially badly in the western part of the electorate is that they did less badly in the east, outside of localised outbreaks at Lakes Entrance (Chester’s home town) and Maffra. This is easy to explain: East Gippsland has a high concentration of older voters (21.0 per cent over 65 compared with a national 13.3 per cent), a sure predictor of low electoral volatility. By contrast, Latrobe’s age profile is almost perfectly consistent with the national average. It might nonetheless have been expected that discontent over the failure of the budget to increase the base level of the pension would have generated a backlash here, which may indeed have occurred to some degree.

Episode four: Climate change. In opposition, climate change worked for Labor as a symbol of Rudd’s modernity and Howard’s obsolescence. In government, it is becoming increasingly evident that Labor faces a stern political challenge in matching deeds to words against the backdrop of an eerily familiar oil shock. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Latrobe Valley, whose brown coal power stations provide Victoria with 85 per cent of its electricity. The 10 per cent swing here is a reminder that voters in low-income areas do not take kindly to bearing the sharp end of visionary government reform programs, as the Pauline Hanson phenomenon demonstrated last decade. Interestingly, the Liberals hit Labor hard on the issue in their television advertising, but the Nationals don’t seem to have mentioned it. It is likely the Liberals succeeded in driving Latrobe Valley voters away from Labor with this attack on Darren McCubbin, who had mused that local droughts might have been linked to coal-fired power, but that Darren Chester was as much the beneficiary as Rohan Fitzgerald.

Episode five: State factors. Talk of a sharp anti-Labor swing in the Latrobe Valley should sound a familiar note for election watchers. This is because the area proved the sting in the tail of Labor’s state election night triumph in November 2006, which was marred by the surprise loss of Morwell to the Nationals and Narracan (mostly in the neighbouring federal seat of McMillan, which significantly failed to swing at last November’s election) to the Liberals after respective swings of 7.0 per cent and 9.5 per cent. Local discontent over water issues was seen to be to blame: defeated Narracan MP Ian Maxfield complained that “the Liberal and National parties ran an incredibly effective scare campaign by claiming that we were sending sewage to Gippsland and taking fresh water into Melbourne”. Sure enough, the Liberals returned to the theme during the by-election campaign with television ads that prominently featured an image of John Brumby.

Episode six: Labor versus Labor. Another reason given for Labor’s poor state election performance in Morwell was dissent in the local party, leading many prominent members to quit in protest against an MP said by one to have surrounded himself with a “Left clique”. There was further talk of disunity ahead of the by-election, with 2007 Gippsland candidate Jane Rowe seen to have been elbowed aside in favour of Darren McCubbin. Given that neither appeared a match-winner in their own right, Labor would have done better to have stuck with Rowe who could at least have built upon her existing work in last year’s election campaign.

Episode seven: Night of the living Nationals. The big winners are unquestionably the state Nationals and especially their leader Peter Ryan, who holds the seat of Gippsland South and until recently employed Darren Chester as his chief-of-staff. So far on Ryan’s watch, the Nationals have held their own at the 2002 state election (while the Liberals lost 22 seats and 8.3 per cent of the primary vote), and defied predictions to retain party status in 2006 after winning two extra seats in the lower house (cancelling out losses caused by electoral reform in the upper house). Ryan was the only party leader at state or federal level who was anywhere to be seen in the parties’ television ads (UPDATE: Okay, not quite – there was one Kevin Rudd read-to-camera), where he presented a local face unencumbered by association with unpopular actions of current or recently deposed governments. The Liberals by contrast had Peter Costello campaigning in the electorate, which might not have been such a good idea.

Episode eight: Night of the dying Coalition merger. There was talk going into the by-election of the Nationals and Liberals running a joint candidate to push the Victorian parties down the same merger road being followed in Queensland. The result has surely vindicated the state party’s decision to follow its own course. There are now a number of reasons to suppose that what’s good for the Queensland goose might be less good for the Victorian gander. Firstly, the by-election result gives force to the idea that competing Nationals and Liberal candidates can maximise the total Coalition vote where there is compulsory preferential voting and thus little preference leakage – which is crucially the case at Victorian state level, but not in Queensland. Secondly, the near-parity of strength among the two Coalition parties in Queensland has rendered them unmarketable at state elections due to confusion as to who their candidate for premier is. As this doesn’t apply in Victoria, the Nationals can serve the broader Coalition cause by absorbing protest votes in rural and regional areas.

Episode nine: Local factors. Those of us watching at a safe distance were bemused by the focus on the parish pump issue of Traralgon’s post offices, but that town indeed swung savagely against Labor even by Latrobe Valley standards.

UPDATE: Reading back, I note that apart from one “oil shock” reference, I have spent little time here discussing the decisive issue of petrol prices – mostly because I can only offer statements of the obvious. It should also be noted that Peter McGauran might not have taken much of a personal vote into retirement, with complaints heard he was spending too much time in Melbourne. Meanwhile, Andrew Landeryou hears the Coalition ran an unsustainably expensive campaign, as suggested by the remarkable number of Nationals and Liberal television ads floating around.

Gippsland by-election live

Vote Swing 2PP
Darren Chester (Nationals) 24,184
12.2% 66.2% 7.2%
Darren McCubbin (Labor) 16,147
-9.3% 33.8% -7.2%
Rohan Fitzgerald (Liberal) 12,369
Malcolm McKelvie (Greens) 4,430
Ben Buckley (LDP) 2,731

8.38pm. Hooray! The AEC finally adds booth results.

8.14pm. The final booth has given the Nationals a big boost, pushing the swing to a headline-grabbing 7.25 per cent on the AEC figures. However, Antony Green’s booth-on-booth comparison (which I can’t do because the AEC doesn’t have booth-level figures on its website – the above is based on my earlier guess of how preferences would go) has it at 6.2 per cent.

7.49pm. All booths now in. My preference projection has the swing at 7.2 per cent, but the AEC notional count with three booths outstanding has it at 6.3 per cent.

7.35pm. Yet more good news for the Nationals with the addition of two Traralgon booths and Bairnsdale East – boosting the swing to 7.3 per cent on my figures. However, I’m still using my old preference guess, and these evidently flatter the Nationals a little. The ABC site, which is using the actual notional counts, has it at 6.6 per cent, although my figures are slightly more recent.

7.31pm. Bruthen and Glengarry added; the swing continues to bounce around in a narrow range around 6.5 per cent.

7.27pm. Devon North and Sale North added.

7.24pm. Six more booths added, including Lakes Entrance and Paynesville, adding a further 0.2 per cent to the swing.

7.17pm. Now 70 booths in and 45.7 per cent counted, 17 to come. The Nationals are obviously on the receiving end of a handsome swing, currently of 6.5 per cent.

7.11pm. Nine more booths, including Maffra and one each from Traralgon and Sale, have pushed the Nationals swing up to 6.8 per cent. 37.9 per cent counted.

7.05pm. Five more booths, including Traralgon East and Orbost, and the results are still better for the Nationals, with the swing sticking at 5.3 per cent. 24.5 per cent counted.

7.01pm. I’ve corrected an error that made the ALP primary vote swing come up as 0.0%. These primary booth swings, like the 2PP swing, are comparing like booths with like.

6.59pm. 50 booths now in, with two of the new ones from Morwell, bringing the swing back down a little.

6.55pm. Seven more booths in, all small rural ones, but they have boosted the Nationals swing still further.

6.50pm. 35 booths in, including Hazelwood North and Lakes Entrance East, adding up to 11.32 per cent counted, and the swing has increased further – now 5.7 per cent.

6.45pm. Antony Green has apparently called it for the Nationals.

6.44pm. By the way, the primary vote swing recorded above for the Nationals is really for the Coalition as a whole – i.e. I have added the Nationals and Liberal vote and compared it to the Nationals vote last time.

6.41pm. 23 booths now in, still a swing to the Nationals showing across the rural booths.

6.37pm. Fifteen booths now in in the above table, and the swing to the Nationals is still holding – though this is only 2.4 per cent of enrolled voters. All the booths are rural bar one – Morwell North. Love to give you a result there, but I don’t think the AEC is providing them.

6.30pm. The above table is based on the first eight booths; there are now 15 in. I usually have teething problems with my tables early on, so don’t quote me on the above quite yet.

6.21pm. Five small booths in. Do I have this right – the AEC isn’t going to let us see individual booth results, but just give a tick to indicate that the booth is in?

6.00pm. Polls close. I will be providing booth-adjusted results on a table soon to be added at the top of the post. I will be doing this manually and thus will not be quite as quick off the mark as those provided by Antony Green and the AEC. Antony will also be live blogging. You can also listen to two hours of live coverage at ABC Gippsland Radio.