Fran’s our man

The Age reports that the Federal Court has ruled on Labor’s appeal against its 12-vote defeat in the Victorian seat of McEwen at last November’s federal election, confirming Liberal member Fran Bailey’s victory. The report says the court overturned a number of determinations made on individual ballot papers, with nine ballots originally admitted deemed informal and 142 that were excluded deemed formal, but the effect was in fact to increase Bailey’s margin from 12 votes to 27. The judgement can be read here.

UPDATE: Reports such as this one from Ben Doherty in The Age, monopolised by Labor sources, led to a perception the court would most likely initiate a by-election or reverse the result. However, it may be that the court proved even more liberal in its determinations than Labor had counted on: 76 previously informal votes were admitted for Bailey against 66 for Mitchell, typically on the grounds that numbers were “reasonably discernible”. Only nine votes originally admitted were ruled informal, costing Bailey two votes and Mitchell seven. Most of these involved particular numbers being used twice for separate candidates, although Mitchell curiously lost three votes which lacked official markings (presiding officers’ initials and a watermark). One much-publicised complaint by Labor involved a ballot on which the candidates’ names were crossed out and replaced with those of V8 Supercar drivers, which was admitted as a vote for Bailey. Nothing in the table of determinations included in the judgement gives any indication that this was overturned.

UPDATE 2: Fran Bailey reckons “we have reached a stage in Australia where we must insist on voter identification” at polling booths, saying “the very close result in McEwen has shown up this particular anomaly”. Can’t see how, myself.

Play it again, Fran

Two months after the November 24 federal election, the fun is still not over: Labor’s candidate for McEwen, Rob Mitchell, has launched a challenge against his 12-vote defeat at the hands of Liberal member Fran Bailey, who won on a recount that overturned Mitchell’s initial seven-vote win. The disparity between the two counts can essentially be put down to differing rulings by the divisional returning officer, who oversaw the first count, and the state returning officer, who adjudicated on 640 disputed ballots. Ben Doherty of The Age reported on Labor’s complaints after the poll was declared on December 18:

The Age was told that on one ballot paper, an elector had crossed out the names of all the candidates, replacing them with the hand-written names “Mark Skaife”, “Craig Lowndes”, “Todd Kelly” and other V8 Supercar drivers. The voter then donkey-voted, numbering the boxes alongside one to eight downwards. The numbers favoured Ms Bailey on preferences and, after being ruled informal in the initial count, it was contested by the Liberal Party and ruled a formal vote for the recount … Most of the disputed ballots are in question because of hard-to-read numbers, or “1”s which might be ticks.

The High Court now has the power either to overturn Bailey’s win, or declare the result void and initiate a by-election. For what it’s worth, the Electoral Act states that the court “must make its decision on a petition as quickly as is reasonable in the circumstances”.

Post-match report: country Victoria

For the most part, the November 24 federal election saw Labor pick up swings of similar magnitude in Victoria across city and country seats, notwithstanding the unusually small swings in the inner-city. However, one intriguing variation with respect to country Victoria was a relatively weak Labor performance east of Melbourne, particularly in the West Gippsland electorate of McMillan.

McMillan MP Russell Broadbent enjoyed one of the best evenings of his chequered electoral career by suffering a swing of just 0.2 per cent, a result which echoed the surprise Coalition wins in the local seats of Narracan and Morwell at the November 2006 state election, following respective swings of 9.5 per cent and 7.0 per cent (the defeated Labor member for Narracan, Ian Maxfield, is the husband of Labor’s unsuccessful McMillan candidate, Christine Maxfield). These electorates correspond with the rural areas of McMillan which gave Broadbent his best results: the small booths here gave early indications on election night of a swing in Broadbent’s favour, providing the Liberals an unwarranted early morale boost. However, the three large Pakenham booths which came in later followed the outer suburban script, swinging to Labor by around 7 per cent. There were also relatively strong performances for the Coalition in the neighbouring electorates of Flinders and Gippsland. Flinders followed the pattern of McMillan in that the biggest swings were recorded in the urban fringe centre of Somerville. Peter McGauran defied occasional talk about the long-term security of his hold on Gippsland by holding on to all but 0.4 per cent of his primary vote, suffering an evenly distributed 1.8 per cent two-party swing.

Labor enjoyed stronger performances to the west and north of Melbourne, the most significant result being the party’s first win in Corangamite since 1929. Darren Cheeseman built his win on especially solid swings from the Geelong booths and the large country centre of Colac, giving him enough fat to survive a surprisingly strong Liberal performance on postal votes.

Gavan O’Connor failed to make much of an impression in his bid to hold Corio as an independent, although his 12.7 per cent share of the vote earned him a handy $22,115 in public funding. His candidacy was probably responsible for a relatively mild 3.3 per cent swing to Labor. Interestingly, booths in Geelong’s industrial northern suburbs produced above-average votes for O’Connor and, in a number of cases, two-party swings to the Liberals. To the north of Melbourne, Labor achieved an evenly spread swing across Bendigo (5.2 per cent), Ballarat (5.9 per cent) and McEwen (6.4 per cent). This moved the first two from marginal to technically safe Labor status, but famously fell 12 votes short of delivering them Fran Bailey’s seat of McEwen. The swing against Bailey peaked at South Morang (10.6 per cent) and Wallan Wallan (9.1 per cent), but there was no clearly discernible pattern to its distribution.

With one exception, electorates in the west and north of Victoria saw big swings to Labor in regional cities and little movement in rural and small town booths. Sophie Mirabella suffered an especially strong 7.1 per cent swing in Indi, which peaked at over 10 per cent in Wangaratta and was only slightly smaller in Wodonga. Swings were considerably more modest at Mansfield, Euroa and Nagambie in the south of the electorate. Similarly, two large booths in Mildura produced double-digit swings to Labor that were not reflected elsewhere in Mallee, which swung 3.5 per cent overall. In Wannon, Liberal veteran David Hawker also suffered double-digit swings in a number of booths in the large coastal towns of Warrnambool and Portland, whereas there was little movement from most rural booths. However, this trend was bucked in Murray: booths in the dominant town of Shepparton produced swings consistent with the divisional total of 5.8 per cent, although there were some interesting exceptions in the city’s outskirts and its satellite town of Mooropna.

UPDATE: Great fun to be had in retrospectively comparing assessments of Gavan O’Connor’s prospects from Glenn Milne of The Australian and Jason Koutsoukis of The Age.

Post-match report: Melbourne

In Melbourne as elsewhere, the November 24 election produced a pattern of strong swings in outer suburbs and weak ones nearer the city, which cut across the partisan divide. The swing against veteran Liberal moderate Petro Georgiou in blue-ribbon Kooyong was just 0.05 per cent, while Peter Costello faced a similarly mild 1.7 per cent shift in neighbouring Higgins. This pattern carried over to the conservative dead zone of Melbourne, which swung only 1.1 per cent in Labor-versus-Liberal terms. However, the real story here was Greens candidate Adam Bandt’s success in edging out the Liberal candidate to take second place. The Greens’ primary vote was up 3.8 per cent to 22.8 per cent, 0.7 per cent behind the Liberals. This gap was bridged after distribution of minor party preferences, with Bandt leading the Liberal candidate 21,996 (25.1 per cent) to 21,405 (24.4 per cent) at the second last exclusion. Liberal preferences then took Bandt to within 4.7 per cent of victory, producing the first ever “Labor versus Greens” two-party result in a federal seat at a general election. This is the first time Melbourne has met the AEC’s definition of a marginal seat (6 per cent or less) since 1904.

Beyond the swing-resistant inner core of Melbourne, Kooyong and Higgins lay a band of seats separating it from the volatile outer suburbs. Batman followed the broader pattern of mild swings of around 4 per cent in inner suburban Northcote, and heavier ones of 6 per cent to 7 per cent at Preston and Reservoir further to the north. The Greens’ vote was up 3.2 per cent to 17.2 per cent, a potentially bridgeable 3.4 per cent behind the Liberals. Jagajaga, Chisholm and Menzies produced near identical swings of 4.6 per cent to 4.7 per cent, respectively staying safe for Labor’s Jenny Macklin and Anna Burke and the Liberals’ Kevin Andrews. On the bayside, Melbourne Ports produced a relatively gentle 3.4 per cent swing which was nonetheless the biggest movement in the electorate since 1993, while its safe Liberal neighbour Goldstein swung 4.0 per cent.

The two biggest swings were in the Melbourne area were in the outer suburban suburbs of Calwell in the north and Holt in the south-east. Calwell topped the table at 11.1 per cent, with swings topping 15 per cent at Craigieburn on the outermost urban fringe. The 10.1 per cent swing in Holt was most pronounced in the south, peaking with a mighty 17.5 per cent swing at the electorate’s largest booth of Narre Warren South. Swings in the north were in the range of 5 per cent to 9 per cent. In what might be regarded as the defining booth result of the election, a 10.96 per cent swing to Labor was recorded at Kath and Kim’s home of Fountain Gate.

Labor added some fat to a number of margins in traditionally safe south-eastern seats that were cut uncomfortably fine in 2004. After previous member Ann Corcoran suffered an unexpectedly close shave in 2004, newcomer Mark Dreyfus boosted the Labor margin from 1.5 per cent to 7.7 per cent in Isaacs, which produced heavier swings in the inland suburbs of Keysborough and Carrum Downs than along the coast. Immediately to the north, Simon Crean increased his margin from 7.4 per cent to 13.0 per cent in Hotham, with particularly strong swings recorded in Springvale. In Bruce the swing to Labor was an evenly distributed 4.8 per cent, increasing Alan Griffin’s margin to 8.3 per cent.

Liberal seats in the eastern suburbs mostly followed the trend of their Labor-held neighbours. Only in the case of Deakin was the swing enough for a seat to change hands, Labor winning the seat for only the second time since its creation in 1937. Their candidate Mike Symon picked up 5.7 per cent on the primary vote and 6.4 per cent on two-party preferred to prevail with a margin of 1.4 per cent, ending the 11-year parliamentary career of Liberal member Phil Barresi. Labor achieved an identical swing further afield in McEwen, which was famously 12 votes short of what was needed to unseat Fran Bailey. The swing peaked at South Morang (10.6 per cent) and Wallan Wallan (9.1 per cent), but there was no clearly discernible pattern to its distribution. Labor’s other disappointment was a 5.3 per cent swing in La Trobe that fell 0.5 per cent short of delivering them the seat. The Dandenong Ranges formed a rough dividing line between suburbs on the city side where the swing was in the order of what Labor required, and the hill suburbs and surrounding small towns where it fell just short at around 4 per cent.

On safer ground for the Liberals, Bruce Billson’s seat of Dunkley returned to the marginal zone with a swing of 4.2 per cent that was felt more heavily in Frankston than Mornington and Mount Eliza. In outer suburban and semi-rural Casey, Tony Smith suffered a 5.4 per cent swing that was higher in suburban Croydon and Kilsyth than in the satellite towns of Monbulk and Woori Yallock. It is interesting to note a particularly sharp 8.1 per cent swing in Aston, which memorably gave the Liberals a bigger margin in 2004 than Kooyong. Any thoughts that this might have marked a long-term realignment can now be laid to rest, as the respective margins are now 5.0 per cent and 9.5 per cent.

Labor’s safe seats in the west and north of Melbourne produced remarkably consistent swings of between 5.5 per cent to 6.7 per cent, excepting the aforementioned Calwell. Wills followed the pattern of neighbouring Batman in producing smaller swings of around 4 per cent at Brunswick at the southern end nearer the city, increasing to around 7 per cent at Glenroy in the north. Bill Shorten’s candidacy appeared not to make much difference one way or the other in Maribyrnong, which swung to Labor by a locally typical 5.8 per cent which was evenly distributed through the electorate. There was similarly consistency in the swings in Gellibrand (6.5 per cent), Gorton (6.3 per cent) and Lalor (6.7 per cent).

Post-match report: South Australia

Welcome to episode two in the slower-than-anticipated Post-Match Report round-up of federal electorate results, which today brings us to South Australia.

Of the three seats that were highly marginal for the Liberals going into the election, Kingston emerged with the smallest Labor margin following a relatively subdued 4.5 per cent swing. The swing was reasonably consistent throughout the electorate, though slightly heavier at Morphett Vale and the Liberal-voting suburbs to the north than along the coast. Makin produced the third biggest swing in the state, perhaps boosted by the retirement of sitting member Trish Draper, with the 0.9 per cent margin obliterated by an evenly distributed 8.6 per cent shift to Labor. In Wakefield the swing was 7.3 per cent, which was markedly lower than in the small towns in the north of the electorate than in the low-income outer Adelaide centres of Elizabeth and Salisbury.

Only at four of Boothby‘s 42 booths did Nicole Cornes achieve a swing greater than the 5.4 per cent needed to win the seat. All were in strong Liberal areas, including the coast around Brighton and the Adelaide Hills suburb of Flagstaff Hill. Labor’s worst results came in the area closest to the city, with swings to the Liberals recorded at Mitcham, Myrtle Bank, Kingswood and Hawthorn West. The Greens’ vote picked up 3.1 per cent, perhaps benefiting from embarrassment surrounding Cornes’s performance. In Sturt the Labor candidate Mia Handshin picked up a close-but-no-cigar swing of 5.9 per cent that was concentrated in the heavily mortgaged northern end of the electorate, with swings near or above 10 per cent at Dernancourt, Gilles Plains and Windsor Gardens. Pyne now sits on an uncomfortable margin of 0.9 per cent.

The 7.2 per cent swing in Adelaide was slightly higher than the state average of 6.8 per cent, and was driven in remarkable degree by the stronger Labor areas to the north and north-west of the city. The swings in many of these booths cracked double figures, whereas the strong Liberal booths to the north-east and south-east of the city mostly came in at well under half that. Labor’s Hindmarsh MP Steve Georganas also had a much more relaxing election night this time around after prevailing by 108 votes in 2004, picking up a 5.0 per cent swing that was fairly evenly distributed throughout the electorate.

Labor’s biggest swing in South Australia was wasted in the safe Liberal rural seat of Barker, where Liberal member Patrick Secker went to preferences for the first time since 1998 after his primary vote fell from 53.2 per cent to 46.8 per cent. Labor was up 8.6 per cent on the primary vote and 10.4 per cent on two-party preferred. Swings were larger in the bigger centres than the small rural booths: all five Mount Gambier booths produced above average swings, peaking at a remarkable 21.4 per cent at Mount Gambier North. Talk of a swing in Grey big enough to endanger the Liberals was partly borne out by double-digit swings in the seat’s traditional Labor centres of Whyalla, Port August and Port Lincoln. Swings were much more gentle in the many smaller rural and remote booths, dampening the overall shift down to an insufficient but still severe 9.4 per cent.

Alexander Downer’s seat of Mayo followed the statewide trend in swinging to Labor by 6.5 per cent. Particularly heavy swings were recorded at the southern coastal towns of Victor Harbor and Goolwa. Nine years after coming within an ace of winning the seat, the Australian Democrats can now manage only 1.5 per cent. The Greens did well to increase 3.4 per cent to 11.0 per cent, partly assisted by the donkey vote. Another good seat for the Greens was Port Adelaide, where they picked up 3.3 per cent and boosted Labor from a 3.7 per cent increase on the primary vote to 6.8 per cent on two-party preferred. Remarkably, all but one of the 10 booths in Paralowie, Salisbury and Parafield to the east of Port Wakefield Road produced a double digit swing, a trend which carried over into neighbouring Makin. Swings in booths further west varied around the 4 per cent mark.

The Lord taketh away

The verdict from the McEwen recount is in: Labor candidate Rob Mitchell’s six vote win has been overturned, and Liberal member Fran Bailey declared re-elected by just 12 votes. This gives the result level pegging with the Liberals’ 1974 win in Stirling as the closest federal electorate result of modern times. Labor is still considering a legal challenge, but it’s an open question as to whether a re-match would really be in their interests. It seems very likely that we can now settle on a final result of 83 seats for Labor and 65 for the Coalition plus two independents. Two other recount demands await adjudication:

• The Greens will reportedy call for a recount for the Victorian Senate, a contentious move given that nearly 3.3 million ballots would need to be rechecked. Antony Green’s projection shows both the Coalition and Labor winning third seats upon the exclusion of eighth placed Family First, the Liberals doing so with a surplus of 21709 votes (0.68 per cent) and Labor with 6088 (0.19 per cent). At this point Greens candidate Richard di Natale is left stranded on 13.4 per cent, 0.9 per cent or 27804 votes short of a quota. This of course assumes that all votes are cast above the line, when there are in fact 65101 (2.05 per cent) below-the-line votes for which we presently have only first preference results. These are unlikely to make much difference, as most are votes for parties whose preference tickets favoured the Greens ahead of Labor. Much of the leakage would come from Liberals going below the line to ensure the Greens did not get their vote. Against this can be weighed Labor voters who gave their first preference to a Labor candidate before switching to the Greens, but past experience suggests this is unlikely to account for more than 10 per cent out of 14123. If the assumption of all votes behaving as ticket votes were to hold, the Greens would need for Labor to finish around 2000 votes below the quota after Family First’s exclusion, which is roughly 8000 less than they presently appear to have. The distribution of the Liberal surplus would then be enough to give di Natale the narrowest of victories. In support of their recount appeal, Greens spokesman Jim Buckell provided The Age with an interesting list of claimed irregularities: “309 Greens Senate votes from one booth were not recorded at all; in Isaacs 150 votes were missed; in Dunkley 173 Greens votes were recorded as 17; and in Gellibrand, some Greens votes were attributed to another minor party”. However, it seems most unlikely that the required average of around 215 votes per electorate would be found to have wrongly favoured Labor over the Greens.

• Labor candidate Jason Young’s request for a recount in Bowman following his 64-vote defeat has been knocked back by the divisional returning officer. Young is continuing to pursue his recount request further up the Australian Electoral Commission hierarchy, but one suspects he is unlikely to find any joy.

On a completely unrelated note, here is a chart I knocked together showing each state’s deviation from the national Labor two-party preferred vote going back to 1949.

The first thing to note is the hyperactivity of Tasmania, which can in large part be put down to its small population of five seats. Nonetheless, the results tell a story of a natural Labor state which turned around temporarily following the Whitlam government’s tariff cuts and Labor’s opposition to the Franklin dam at the 1983 election. The largest state by contrast has stayed within a narrow 5 per cent band on the Labor side of the ledger, dipping below the line only in 1987 and 1998. Victoria’s long-lost standing as the jewel in the Liberal crown looks very much like a symptom of the 1954 Labor split and the party’s subsequent paralysis at state level, and its Labor vote has only once fallen below the national result since 1980. The exception was the 1990 election which also proved aberrant for reliably conservative Queensland, state government factors providing the explanation in each case. It can also be seen that the Coalition’s relative strength in Western Australia at the 2007 election was matched only by 1961, there is nothing new about its conservative leaning.

On another completely unrelated note, I have just had to pay a fee to renew the domain. This wasn’t hugely expensive ($50 to be precise), but it nonetheless offers a good excuse to pass the hat around among those of you who enjoy giving me money.