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.

Gippsland by-election preview

June 26: With two days to go, I’ve promoted this post to the top of the website batting order (scroll to the May 5 entry at the bottom of the post for a general overview). Brendan Nelson today engaged in expectations management on a heroic scale when he predicted Labor would win the by-election, which nobody else other than John Black (see below) seems to expect. The Nationals are sounding rather more optimistic. In a boldly detailed prediction at Australian Policy Online, academic Brian Costar tips the Nationals to gain a 1 per cent swing. Courtesy of Andrew Landeryou comes printed campaign material from the Liberals, Nationals and Labor. The Herald-Sun reports that Liberal how-to-vote cards will not feature images of Brendan Nelson. Below are two late-campaign Liberal attack ads, with another hat-tip due to Landeryou.

June 24: John Black, former Labor senator and chief executive of Australian Development Strategies, sets out the case for his belief that Labor will win the by-election, contrary to the conventional wisdom that the Nationals will retain the seat. The future of Australia Post services in Traralgon continues to generate a surprising volume of column inches, with former Australian Railways Union official and current chamber of commerce president Harvey Pynt appearing in a television commercial to back Rohan Fitzgerald’s campaign on the issue.

June 16: A summary of events since I went quiet a few weeks ago:

• A surprisingly modest field of candidates has emerged. In ballot paper order, they are Malcolm McKelvie (Greens); Rohan Fitzgerald (Liberal); Ben Buckley (Liberty and Democracy Party); Darren McCubbin (Labor); Darren Chester (Nationals).

• Antony Green has published the definitive guide to next Saturday’s action.

• The Greens are refusing to direct preferences to Labor, candidate Malcolm McKelvie declaring there is “barely a skerrick of policy daylight between the Australian Labor Party and the Nationals” on “climate change and clean coal, forestry policy, genetically modified foods and social justice issues”.

• According to the Latrobe Valley Express, “concerns” that the two existing Australia Post operations in Traralgon will be rolled into one have “dominated the efforts” of the Nationals and Liberal candidates during the campaign.

• Peter Costello caused a stir last week when he hit the campaign trail in Gippsland, the Herald Sun talking of “fresh speculation of a political revival”.

• Independent Distillers of Australia, representing the makers of pre-mixed drinks, are running local television ads in a bid to turn the by-election into a referendum on the “alcopops” tax hike. Speaking on ABC Radio’s PM program, Brian Costar of Swinburne University said he “couldn’t think of a longer bow to draw to make an association between that ad and the outcome in the by-election”. I’m not so sure: if a flannel-shirted wood-chopping Bundy-and-cola pre-mix swiller isn’t the authentic voice of Gippsland, I’d like to know what is.

Here’s Labor’s ad:

The Nationals have adopted a more positive tone in their two YouTube ads, one of the meet-the-candidate variety and another conveying the endorsement of state Nationals leader Peter Ryan:

Liberal candidate Rohan Fitgerald’s ad focuses on climate change, though it’s not clear whether he’s for or against:

P.S.: Courtesy of Andrew Landeryou, another Nationals ad I missed. Landeryou notes it shows Darren Chester “doing what few candidates are willing to do normally, appear in their own attack ads”.

May 26: Glenn Milne (again) this morning launched a non-story about an “edgy” arts act which Labor candidate Darren McCubbin had OK’d in his capacity as a local festival director. Brendan Nelson joined in, but it then emerged the festival had received funding from the previous federal government. Andrew Landeryou offers a “script in development” based on the episode. Highlights:

Peter Ryan: “Hey young one, nice work leaking that review of the gay play put on at the arty farty festival run by that fairy McCubbin. Brilliant idea giving it to Milne too, he’s so needy these days with Cossie out of the picture.”

Later …

Ryan (incredulous): “You mean we gave these pervs money when we were in government? We gave taxpayer money to a sex show that was celebrating ‘c*ck-stroking’ and ‘neckophilia’ ?

Acting COS: “That’d be right. George Brandis was Arts Minister too. I think he got sucked in by all those arts wankers.”

Other news: Despite Labor’s prodigious efforts to dampen expectations, they are at least running television advertisements, which can be viewed on the ALP site. The negativity is notably directed entirely at the Nationals, rather than the Liberals. The Liberty and Democracy Party have announce a candidate, “well-known local councillor” Ben Buckley, who you can read about in comments.

May 12: Glenn Milne reports on the National Party’s by-election focus group research in The Australian:

Down in rural Victoria with an industrial back end that picks up the La Trobe Valley, the good burghers of Gippsland now apparently rank the cost of living as the No1 issue at the impending by-election, according to National Party research. Based on Utting’s work and the Nationals’ own focus groups the battle that is now looming in Gippsland is one about perception. Labor will seek to convince voters that inflation and the cost of living are things largely outside their influence, especially given the context of the US sub-prime mortgage meltdown. The Nationals for their part, will be seeking to drive home the message that the prices buck stops with Rudd. Expect to see ads that feature a laughing image of the Prime Minister with text along the lines of: “To get elected, Labor promised to ease the pressure on working families,” followed by a list of increased prices including petrol, milk, cheese, bread, poultry, fruit, vegetables along with rents, electricity and house prices. Increases in interest rates, and declining consumer and business confidence indices will rightly get a guernsey as well.

May 6: The Nationals have filed a complaint with police after a photographer hired by Labor was caught taking pictures of Darren Chester from a parked car. Rick Wallace of The Australian reports the Nationals “believe the photographer was assigned in an attempt to catch out Mr Chester in an inadvertently unflattering pose – such as stumbling or scratching himself – with the images to be used to ridicule him in campaign ads or brochures” (in which case they would presumably have been in a position to file a complaint even if the photographer hadn’t been caught). Labor state secretary Stephen Newnham says the photographer was acting on his own initiative while in the area to take shots of Darren McCubbin, and that his actions were not condoned by the party. Peter Ryan is “expected to complain about the incident in state parliament this week”.

Map below shows booth results from the 2007 election: click on the image to toggle between vote and swing results. A green number indicates a majority or swing for the Nationals, a red number for Labor. The size of the number indicates the total number of votes cast, ranging from less than 250 for the smallest to over 3000 for the largest.

May 5: The Gippsland federal by-election has been officially set for June 28, the first of what is likely to be a series of unwelcome electoral tests for the opposition. This one follows the departure of the seat’s member since 1983, Howard government Science Minister and (later) Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran, who has quit to take a position as chief executive of Thoroughbred Breeders Australia. The by-election offers the exciting prospect of a three-way contest between the incumbent Nationals, Liberals who hope the seat might go the way of Farrer and Murray in shifting their way on the retirement of a long-serving Nationals member, and an ALP enjoying massive honeymoon leads in all published opinion polls.

The electorate of Gippsland has covered the far east of Victoria since federation, and has been in National/Country Party hands since the party was founded in 1922. Gippsland currently covers the Princes Highway towns of Morwell, Traralgon, Bairnsdale and Orbost, extending north to Maffra and Omeo. The Nationals’ hold appeared to be in serious jeopardy for the first time when the redistribution ahead of the 2004 election added Traralgon and strongly Labor-voting Morwell, a symptom of the region’s relative population decline. This cut the margin from 8.0 per cent to 2.6 per cent, but McGauran was returned in 2004 with a 5.1 per cent swing and suffered a correction of just 1.8 per cent last November.

McGauran’s retirement announcement gave impetus to scheming by Liberal operatives to impose a merger on reluctant state branches of both Coalition parties. This prompted NSW Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan to approach the state independent member for Gippsland East, Craig Ingram, to spur things along by running as a “joint Liberal-Nationals candidate”. It was concurrently suggested that a similar scheme might involve Rob Oakeshott, ex-Nationals independent member for Port Macquarie in the New South Wales parliament, if Mark Vaile called it a day in Lyne. Ingram admitted to being “interested” in Heffernan’s proposal, but the state Nationals argued Ingram had demonstrated his unsuitability by helping scuttle the Kennett government in 1999.

In any case, the Nationals were determined that the seat should go to Darren Chester (right), chief-of-staff to state party leader Peter Ryan, who was raised in Sale and lives in Lakes Entrance. Chester was opposed for preselection by 63-year-old former army officer Russell Smith, who reportedly had little support. The by-election marks Chester’s second run for parliament, his first being an unsuccessful run against Craig Ingram at the 2002 state election. He also contested Senate preselection against Peter McGauran’s brother Julian ahead of the 2004 election, but was defeated by 34 votes to 21. Senator McGauran went on to defect to the Liberal Party in January 2006.

Labor at first looked set to re-endorse their candidate from the 2007 election, East Gippsland councillor and two-time mayor Jane Rowe. However, shortly before the preselection was due to be decided by the party’s administrative committee (without reference to locals), Rowe stood aside in favour of Wellington Shire mayor Darren McCubbin (left), who had not previously been a party member. Rick Wallace of The Australian reported that some in the ALP had feared Rowe’s status as a single mother ”would prove a detriment in the deeply conservative Victorian electorate”, although Rowe insisted she had withdrawn so she could devote more time to her daughters. McCubbin’s caused friction with local branch members who backed alternative candidate David Wilson, deputy mayor of Latrobe City, with Duncan Hughes of the Financial Review writing of members being urged by dissidents not to contribute funds to the campaign. There had earlier been talk that Labor had been rebuffed in an approach to Christian Zahra, who held the neighbouring electorate of McMillan from 1998 until 2004 when he fell victim to an unfavourable redistribution and a statewide anti-Labor swing.

The Liberal candidate is 36-year-old Central Gippsland Health Service bureaucrat Rohan Fitzgerald (right), who appears to have been preselected without opposition. There were earlier suggestions that Julian McGauran might seek the nod, but few took them seriously. The Greens have nominated Yarragon doctor Malcolm McKelvie.

Further reading: Possum Comitatus at Crikey charts historical trends in Gippsland and other Coalition seats likely to face by-elections soon, concluding it to be Labor’s best shot out of the bunch (although a poor performance locally at the 2006 state election and a relatively weak swing at the federal election might suggest otherwise). Nick Economou of Monash University concurs the seat is winnable for Labor in an extensive overview of the contest on the 7.30 Report. Malcolm Mackerras argues otherwise, observing that there is no historical support for the notion that federal governments can expect favourable by-election swings during their honeymoon periods (no link located). Peter Brent weighed in at Mumble on April 27. Gerard McManus of the Herald Sun reports Labor internal polling has them on 36 per cent to the Nationals’ 32 per cent and the Liberals’ 19 per cent, which after preferences would mean a comfortable win for the Nationals.

One-horse race

Labor’s easy win in the Werriwa by-election is unlikely to go down as a watershed in Australian political history, but it provides a nice fillip for Kim Beazley by offering a contrast to the Cunningham debacle under Simon Crean. It will also enhance the prestige of others associated with the campaign, specifically New South Wales ALP general secretary Mark Arbib, subject of this revealing article by Mark Steketee in Wednesday’s Australian. Bumping aside Brenton Banfield from preselection may or may not have been a stroke of genius, but it was clearly astute to install another local in his place however little known he may have been. Labor was able to trade off the fact with newspaper advertisements noting that 10 of Chris Hayes’ 15 rivals lived outside the electorate (one as far away as Double Bay), which succeeded in tarring the other five with the same brush. For large numbers of unengaged voters, the perception that Hayes faced a cast of opportunistic blow-ins provided the prompt that was needed to make up their minds.

At the close of the evening’s count Chris Hayes emerged with 55.3 per cent, 2.7 per cent more than Mark Latham managed (the "2.01%" swing recorded by the Australian Electoral Commission suggests pre-polls and absentee votes ran against Labor last time). The other 15 candidates all finished well short of 10 per cent, with unofficial Liberal candidate James Young leading the field on just 7.9 per cent. There were vaguely noteworthy performances from the Greens’ Ben Raue, up from 3.1 per cent to 5.7 per cent, and Janey Woodger of Australians Against Further Immigration, whose 4.8 per cent was assisted by the donkey vote but might also have been boosted by recent talk of importing workers to cover skills shortages.

The Christian parties scored an impressive 8.2 per cent between them, Family First outperforming Fred Nile’s Christian Democrats with 4.3 per cent of the vote. Despite the influence of the 2000-strong congregation of the Liverpool Christian Life Centre, the Family First vote comes as something of a surprise. Neither party contested Werriwa at the federal election, but as Bryan Palmer of Palmer’s Oz Politics notes, the "mainstream protestant" Christian Democratic Party performed far better in New South Wales than the "Pentecostal-aligned" Family First. In Werriwa, the Senate vote was 2.4 per cent for the CDP against a mere 0.6 per cent for Family First. The 5.2 per cent who came on board for the by-election would presumably have voted for a Liberal candidate had one been available.

Apparently Deborah Locke’s campaign attracted more attention outside the electorate than in, as she finished in ninth place with 3.2 per cent. The others who did better were independent Joe Bryant (3.9 per cent) and Charles Doggett of One Nation (3.5 per cent). The AEC guessed that James Young would finish in second place by partnering him with Hayes for the notional two-candidate preference count, and it is likely that they will be proved correct. The point is entirely academic because Hayes is credited with 70.0 per cent of the two-candidate vote and this is not likely to change much regardless of who gets the silver after preferences.

Belated Werriwa overview

So about this by-election then. Tomorrow the voters of Werriwa return to the polls due to the retirement of former Labor member Mark Latham, whose life story does not need repeating here. Nor does the make-up of the electorate, which has changed little since the federal election guide entry was composed last year.

When Latham pulled the plug on January 18, two questions emerged – who would be the Labor candidate, and whether the Liberals would bother. Local lawyer and Campbelltown mayor Brenton Banfield was reckoned to be the best-credentialled Labor contender, and many were unimpressed by the manner in which he was bumped aside. Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald on March 12, Alan Ramsey quoted (at length, naturally) from a detailed testimony by Banfield ally John Dowling that was mailed to branch members. Dowling complained that factional heavies assured Banfield he would not have to face a preselection vote, but withdrew their support when focus groups suggested he could fall victim to negative campaigning over his legal work for sex offenders. Banfield was persuaded to step aside and the nomination instead went to Australian Workers Union official Chris Hayes. Most saw this as a less-than-inspiring outcome.

In early February, newspaper reports quoted “Labor insiders” anticipating a 10 per cent swing to the Liberals, enough to deliver them the seat. This was obviously nonsense, as indicated by the Liberals’ ultimate failure to field a candidate. Laurie Oakes offers a far more plausible story in this week’s Bulletin:

Polling by the major parties after Latham quit showed quite clearly that the Liberals would be wasting their time if they entered the by-election contest. There was no resentment over Latham’s departure. Werriwa voters accepted that the former leader was entitled to pull out because of his health problems. In summary, the view was: ‘The poor bugger copped a walloping. His health suffered. He wants to spend time with his family. That’s fair enough’. And there was an added consideration: ‘Anyway, Howard’s got a big enough majority. He doesn’t need to win this one’.

With no threat from the Liberals, Labor’s remaining fear is of a repeat of the 1991 by-election in Wills or the 2002 by-election in Cunningham, respectively lost to independent Phil Cleary after the retirement of Bob Hawke and the Greens’ Michael Organ after the retirement of Steve Martin. Many in the party expressed concern that the unpopularity of the state government and the large field of 16 candidates might provoke unpredictable behaviour from voters. Significant local issues include the recent Macquarie Fields riots which took place in the electorate, and the Carr government’s hugely unpopular closure of the local Orange Grove shopping centre which benefited Labor patrons Westfield but left a number of locals without jobs.

One major difference with Cunningham is that this is not historically strong territory for the Greens, who have nominated 19-year-old Ben Raue. By general acclaim the candidate best placed to pull off an upset is Deborah Locke of the unregistered People Power party, a former fraud squad detective whose whistle-blowing was credited with bringing about the Wood Royal Commission into police corruption. Locke’s candidacy has generated valuable publicity including a Sunday Telegraph back cover and a 2GB interview. Stephen Mayne of Crikey reports that “the three independents who will be handing out HTVs across the electorate, former Labor branchstacker Sammy Bargshoon, Ned Mannoun and James Young, have all decided to give their preferences to Locke ahead of the other key contenders”, since they mutually agree she has the best chance of winning.

The best-known of the remaining candidates are Joe Bryant, a former Blacktown deputy mayor, and James Young, a Liberal Party member and former staffer to Jackie Kelly. Bryant took great pride in being described as a “Liberal trojan horse” by former Labor premier Barrie Unsworth when he ran for election two decades ago, and the Blacktown City Sun reported on March 8 that he “became a well-known local figure for his fight with the Commonwealth Bank”. Young is considered likely to absorb much of the homeless Liberal vote, and like Bryant he will deliver a solid flow of preferences to any non-Labor contender who emerges from the pack. Also worth noting is Sam Bargshoon, who turned against Labor after being burned by the Orange Grove closure and scored 4.9 per cent of the vote when he ran against Latham last year.

For all that, a Labor win would have to be considered the likely outcome. Writing in the Canberra Times on March 1, Malcolm Mackerras noted the following differences between the current circumstances and those of the Cunningham by-election:

First, the sudden and wholly unexpected nature of (Latham’s resignation) means there is not likely to be any high-profile independent candidate waiting in the wings. Here there is a major difference with Cunningham, where speculation that Labor MP Stephen Martin would resign was rife for six months before he actually did resign. Second, there are interesting sociological differences between Cunningham and Werriwa. These suggest that Cunningham is the sort of Labor seat where the Greens might fluke a one-off win. By contrast, Werriwa is not in that category of safe Labor seat … (the parliamentary library’s “relative socio-economic disadvantage” index) for Werriwa is 950 (in 17th place out of 150) compared with 1014 for Cunningham (at 104) … The third reason I expect Labor to win Werriwa lies in the difference of party leader. Simon Crean was leader at the time of Cunningham, Kim Beazley at the time of Werriwa.

These perceptions have been further strengthened by recent political developments. The rise in interest rates and the government’s decision to send more troops to Iraq, blamed for their recent slump in the opinion polls, have given traction to Labor’s appeal for voters to “send John Howard a message” by voting for Labor directly. Most persuasive of all to the Poll Bludger’s mind is the number-crunching done by Bryan Palmer at Oz Politics which suggests that historically speaking, Labor’s vote is likely to fall little if at all from the 52.6 per cent recorded by Mark Latham at the federal election. My own calculations suggest that Labor picks up roughly 20 per cent of the non-Labor vote as preferences at by-elections which are not contested by the Coalition, although this fell as low as 15.7 per cent at the Cunningham by-election. Even on the latter figure, Labor would need to fall to about 41 per cent if they were to lose the seat. This would entail the loss of 11 per cent from their primary vote at the October election, substantially greater than the 6.2 per cent decline that cost them Cunningham. Accordingly, it is the Poll Bludger’s considered judgement that Labor can rest easy.

Where’s Werriwa

As readers are no doubt aware, an intriguing federal by-election looms for Mark Latham’s seat of Werriwa on March 19. Since Bryan Palmer at Oz Politics has been kind enough to declare that he has been keeping Western Australian coverage to a minimum on the grounds that Antony Green and myself are doing “a great job covering this one”, I am more than happy to return the favour. Palmer is indeed doing an outstanding work tracking the by-election campaign and there is little further of value that the Poll Bludger would be able to add, at least until the state election blows over.

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.