Late counting: Aston and New South Wales

A post covering the concluding stages of counting for the Aston by-election and the state election in New South Wales.

Click here for full display of New South Wales state election results.
Click here for full display of Aston by-election results.

I’m continuing to update the results pages a couple of times a day, and thought a post might be in order for those wanting a focused discussion on the results. Obviously the result in Aston is not in doubt: postal votes continue to trickle in, and while they have swung less forcefully than election day and pre-poll votes, they have done nothing to dispel an impression of Labor accounting for a 2.8% Liberal margin with a swing of between 6% and 7%.

In New South Wales, the only seat that remains in doubt is Ryde, which would leave Labor a seat short of a majority with 46 seats out of 93 if they won, and put the Coalition on 36 in the seemingly more likely event that the Liberals retain their present lead. The Liberals hold a 232 vote lead on the raw two-candidate preferred count, but since the Electoral Commission is only counting primary votes on absents and enrolment/provisionals, it is not possible to say exactly where things stand. Absents have been weak for the Liberals and strong for the Greens, so I would estimate it at between 80 and 90 votes. Since the only outstanding votes are postals and these have been favouring the Liberals by 55-45, this seems more likely to widen than to narrow. Labor’s best chance is for anomalies to be discovered when the distribution of preferences is conducted next week. UPDATE: As Antony Green notes in comments, since all ballot papers are data entered in the check count, this seems especially unlikely, although “there can be questions over whether there has been an error in the batch entry of ballot papers”.

New South Wales by-elections live

Live coverage of the count for the New South Wales state by-elections in Bega, Monaro, Strathfield and Willoughby.

Full display of results: Bega, Monaro, Strathfield and Willoughby.

Saturday, February 19

The Willoughby count has been updated with 9673 postals on the primary vote, and while these have leaned less heavily to the Liberals than postals did in 2019, they suggest Tim James’ lead is likely to widen from here rather than narrow. James has added 4357 primary votes, or 45.0% compared with 43.4% of all either votes, while Penn has gained 2651, or 27.4% compared with 32.2%.

End of Thursday

Counting has completed in Willoughby for what I expect will be all votes other than postals, leaving Tim James on 8365 (51.76%) to Larissa Penn’s 7797 (48.24%), with 2085 votes having exhausted. The total of 18,247 votes counted is put in the shade by the 25,071 postal votes that have now been received, which will be supplemented by a small number over the next week, counting of which will finally begin on Saturday.

End of Tuesday

I’m bumping this thread back to the top of the page because the NSWEC is conducting a new two-candidate preferred count in Willoughby between the actual leading candidates, Liberal Tim James and independent Larissa Penn, having conducted what proved to be a superfluous Liberal-versus-Greens count on the night. With results reported from 14 out of 24 booths, preferences are flowing heavily enough against the Liberals (10.2% to Liberal, 42.7% to independent and 47.1% exhausted) to perhaps make James nervous. The numbers are available at the NSWEC website – they are not being published to the media feed unfortunately, so my own results display doesn’t show them. James presently leads 51.4-48.6, which increases to 51.9-48.1 if the preference flow so far is projected across the yet-to-report booths.

That leaves, so far, 18,033 postal votes that have been received, which is more than the sum of the votes so far counted with many more still to arrive, none of which will be counted before the weekend. Ordinarily I would point to the fact that Gladys Berejiklian polled 66.5% of postals in 2019 compared with 57.6% of election day and pre-poll votes and deem the door still closed. But that was from a total of a mere 2269, in contrast to the present extraordinary circumstance where postal ballots were sent to every enrolled voter in the electorate. It may be that, as in the United States, that pool of postal voters, which is traditionally older and more conservative, is now dominated by those most concerned about COVID-19.

For more on the by-elections, below is a discussion between myself and Ben Raue which was recorded on Monday afternoon:

End of Saturday

Counting closed last night with quite a bit of the pre-poll vote still unreported – I’m unclear as to whether that will be finished off today or tomorrow. In the very unusual circumstances of these by-elections, there will then be very little to report for a full week, since counting of the unprecedentedly large number of postal votes will not start for another week, as was explained here. There may be a few other types of vote added to the count (absents, provisionals and telephone voting), but these will be few in number.

What we may see is a preference throw between the two leading candidates in Willoughby, Liberal candidate Tim James and independent Larissa Penn, to supersede the redundant count between the Liberals and the Greens that was conducted on the night. James leads by 43.5% to 32.2% on the primary vote, which as it stands might be dangerous for him under full preferential voting, but exhausted votes will result in a weaker flow to Penn. Besides, postal votes are likely to widen the gap, with Gladys Berejiklian having polled 66.5% on postals in 2019 compared with 57.6% on election day and pre-poll votes.

The headline-grabber is Labor’s win in Bega from a thumping swing of 14%, based on all election day votes and two out of six pre-poll booths. Michael Holland duly gains the seat formerly held for the Liberals by Andrew Constance, who will now run in Gilmore at the federal election. It was a better night for the Nationals, who have held Monaro against a 6.3% swing, with four of six pre-poll booths in together with the election day vote. This is a fairly creditable result, given they have held some of the 9.1% swing John Barilaro picked up at the 2019 election.

Labor appears to have held Strathfield with no substantial swing either way, leaving Jason Yat-Sen Li with a 4.4% lead based on all election day votes plus two out of three pre-poll booths. There’s presumably a good reason why no one is countenancing the possibility that the avalanche of outstanding postal votes might overturn this, but it’s very far from mathematically impossible. This would ordinarily be reckoned a soft result for an opposition party at a by-election: mitigating circumstances might include a particularly appealing Liberal candidate, the popularity of outgoing Labor member Jodi McKay, and the fact that independent Elizabeth Farrelly, who was recently a Labor council election candidate, polled nearly 10% and recommended an exhausted vote.

New South Wales by-elections minus one day

One day to go until Super Saturday, and the long and arduous counting process that is likely to follow.

Only one day to go before New South Wales’ quartet of state by-elections, for which the consensus remains that Willoughby, Monaro and Strathfield
will remain with Liberal, the Nationals and Labor respectively, but with Alexandra Smith of the Sydney Morning Herald reporting that “Dominic Perrottet is bracing for Bega to fall to Labor”.

Antony Green at the ABC notes that while this will be far from the first electoral event since the onset of the pandemic, it is “the first held at a time when there is significant levels of infection in the population”. This has resulted in the novelty of all voters being sent postal ballot papers, a familiar enough procedure from local government elections but a first at parliamentary level. Since counting of the many postal votes will not begin until the election day rolls have been scanned as a check against multiple voting, it will take a full week counting of postal votes begins, which will assuredly leave results up in the air as of tomorrow night wherever they are not clear cut.

This site will offer live publications of results at booth level and attendant commentary from tomorrow evening. For now, here is thread for discussion of the big event, and New South Wales state politics in general.

New South Wales by-elections minus six days

Dominic Perrottet’s first electoral test looms, with concerns in the Liberal Party that the Bega result may send the government deeper into minority.

Entering the final week of the campaign for New South Wales’ Super Saturday, consisting of four by-elections for which the rough order of interest seems to be Bega, Strathfield, Monaro and Willoughby, the latter being forfeited by Labor. The preceding links take you to my election guide pages, where you will also find live reporting of the results complete with booth results and swings and a mapping feature come Saturday. However, projecting the results will be made highly fraught by the fact that every enrolled voter will be sent a postal vote ballot without having to register, which will presumably lead to a collapse in election day turnout. This has been felt necessary as the NSW Electoral Commission has advised against use of the iVote electronic voting system after failures at the local government elections in December.

To summarise the situations in turn:

Bega. Call it expectations management if you will, but a report on the Seven Network last weekend spoke of “new secret polling”, apparently for the Liberals, which showed them to be in trouble. Yoni Bashan of The Australian reports a view in the Liberal camp that Andrew Constance’s personal popularity has obscured the party’s weakening position in the seat over the past two decades:

Property prices are booming along the coastal fringes of Bega, a haven of retirement living where wealthy newcomers, mainly from capital cities, have swelled the local population, bringing a left-leaning perspective to the region’s once conservative outlook. The result has seen a gradual erosion in support for the Liberal Party over the past decade, according to political observers, who say there are growing doubts over the NSW government’s ability to retain the seat at a by-election on February 12. “The situation in Bega is that it has been getting worse for the government, progressively, over the past 20 years,” said a senior Liberal strategist. “As the population has grown, a lot of the people moving there have been people from Canberra, particularly retired public servants. They generally vote Labor.”

Monaro. The aforementioned article in The Australian notes that the Nationals have no corresponding concern about holding Monaro to match those held by the Liberals in Bega.

Strathfield. The Liberals are seemingly not optimistic of taking the seat being vacated by former Labor leader Jodi McKay, although there is some concern in the Labor camp that independent Elizabeth Farrelly will take a bite out of their vote and fail to return it as preferences, with her how-to-vote card recommending an exhausted vote.

Willoughby. Nothing came of suggestions that Liberal candidate Tim James might face an independent challenge from one of the women he defeated for preselection, with his best-credentialled opponent looking to be Penny Hackett, president of Dying With Dignity NSW, who is running for the Reason NSW party.

New South Wales by-elections: February 12

The New South Wales government fires the starter’s gun on a short by-election campaign, despite suggestions it might have been an idea to hold off.

It is now confirmed that the four looming by-elections in New South Wales will be held on February 12, despite reports overnight that they might be delayed until March 19 — which would have been inconvenient from my point of view, since that is the day scheduled for the South Australian state election. The New South Wales Electoral Commission has pleaded that its iVote digital voting system is not currently fit for use, after problems encountered in last month’s local government elections, and last night’s Sydney Morning Herald report said a February 12 by-election would require “an adequate alternative to in-person voting can be achieved, such as postal voting”.

I now have election guide pages in place: Bega, Monaro, Strathfield and Willoughby.

The Liberals and Nationals now have candidates in place in each seat, following the weekend’s preselection upset in Willoughby. This saw Tim James, executive director of the Menzies Research Centre and former chief-of-staff to Planning Minister Anthony Roberts, defeat former Willoughby mayor Gail Giles-Gidney in the final round by 58 votes to 52. Excluded in the first round was former television reporter Kellie Sloane, with 31 votes to Giles-Gidney’s 41 and James’s 37. While the success of the male candidate was inevitably widely noted, it would appear most of Sloane’s supporters swung behind James in the second round, despite James being of the hard right and both Giles-Gidney and Sloane being identified as moderates.

With its preselection of Bryce Wilson, Queanbeyan-Palerang councillor and adviser to federal Bean MP David Smith, Labor now has candidates in place for each seat except Willoughby, which it will presumably not contest.

Poll relativities and the state of New South Wales

How the federal pollsters are differing, and an update on New South Wales by-elections likely to be held on February 12.

Past time for a new thread, though inevitably given the time of year there is not a lot to report. Polling fans might care to take note of Mark the Ballot’s latest update of a poll aggregate that tracks a three-point increase in the “others” vote over the past six months of last year, which came cleanly at the expense of the Coalition, and a neat display of pollster house effects that calibrates what close observers will have already noticed: that Resolve Strategic is (relatively speaking) high for “others” and low for Labor, Essential Research is high for both major parties, and Roy Morgan is high for the Greens.

Then there’s the New South Wales state by-elections, which deserves a thread of its own but won’t get one until the date is formally announced. The Speaker, Jonathan O’Dea, has strongly indicated it will be February 12. A milestone was reached last week when four of the departing MPs finally lodged their formal resignations. Not among them was Holsworthy MP Melanie Gibbons holding out until she is confirmed as the federal candidate for Hughes, if indeed that occurs. That leaves:

Strathfield (Labor 5.0%): Both parties now have candidates in place for the seat being vacated by Jodi McKay. Labor’s is Jason Yat-Sen Li, a former lawyer who worked for a time for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and is now executive chairman of Vantage Asia Holdings. Yat-Sen Li was Labor’s candidate for Bennelong in 2013 third on the Senate ticket in 2019. The Liberal candidate is Bridget Sakr, who has gained prominence as a victims support advocate after her daughter and three of her cousins were killed in a car crash in Oatlands in February last year.

Bega (Liberal 6.9%): The Liberal candidate to succeed Andrew Constance is Fiona Kotvojs, a beef farmer who has twice been narrowly unsuccessful as the Liberal candidate for Eden-Monaro: in 2019, when she fell 0.8% short of unseating Mike Kelly, and at the by-election following Kelly’s retirement in July 2020, when Kristy McBain retained the seat for Labor by 0.4%. Labor’s candidate is Michael Holland, an obstetrician-gynaecologist at Moruya District Hospital and lecturer at the Australian National University medical school.

Monaro (Nationals 11.6%): The Nationals have had their candidate to succeed John Barilaro in place since October: Nichole Overall, a local historian, communications consultant and freelance writer. Conversely, Labor initially planned to forfeit before a rebellion by local party branches prompted a change of heart.

Willoughby (Liberal 21.0%): The Liberals are yet to conduct a preselection that has attracted three candidates: Willoughby mayor Gail Giles-Gidney, who is reportedly backed by Gladys Berejiklian, Paul Fletcher and Andrew Bragg; former television journalist Kellie Sloane, who is backed by Mike Baird; and Menzies Research Centre executive general manager Tim James, a factional conservative. Labor will not contest the seat, and in the absence of a strong independent emerging, of which I’ve seen no indication, the winner should have an easy time of it.

A woman’s place

More on Pearce preselection prospects, another parliamentary retirement announcement, and a poll suggesting WA voters favour Tanya Plibersek over Anthony Albanese.

After an eventful conclusion to the year’s parliamentary sittings, more retirement announcements and preselection news, plus an opinion poll of sorts.

• The Financial Review reports there are two leading candidates to replace Christian Porter as the Liberal candidate in Pearce: Libby Lyons, former director of the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (and granddaughter of Joseph and Enid Lyons), and Nicole Robbins, a Melville councillor and high school teacher. No mention is made of Miquela Riley and Alyssa Hayden, who featured in a report in The West Australian on Thursday. Michael Read of the Financial Review reports former state Hillarys MP Peter Katsambanis has indicated he would have been a contender had not the state government’s “heavy-handed” border restrictions left him stranded in Melbourne, but he would have had to contend with the party leadership’s clear preference that a woman be selected to succeed Porter.

Phillip Coorey of the Financial Review reports Christian Porter’s decision to jump ship was influenced by internal polling for his seat that was, according to a source familiar with the matter, “not good”. However, the remainder of the report emphasises Labor’s hard path to a majority: the Coalition “claim they will hold Bass and Braddon in Tasmania”, “feels comfortable in all-important Queensland but may lose at least one seat”, and “believe they can win Lyons in Tasmania and, if Andrew Constance is preselected, Gilmore in southern NSW”. Elsewhere in the Financial Review, Michael Read of the Financial Review reports both parties expect Labor to win the Melbourne seat of Chisholm from Gladys Liu.

• Damian Drum, who has held the rural Victorian seat of Nicholls (known before 2019 as Murray) for the Nationals since 2016, has announced he will not contest the election. Rob Harris of the Sydney Morning Herald reports the Liberals now hope to recover the seat, which Drum won upon the retirement of Liberal member Sharman Stone. Anticipated Nationals preselection candidates are Sam Birrell, former chief executive of the Committee for Shepparton; Michael Dobbie, former paralympian and staffer to Liberal MP Jane Prentice and Nationals MP Darren Chester; and Amanda McClaren, former Strathbogie Shire mayor. The only Liberal mentioned is Stephen Brooks, a “Cobram school teacher, irrigator and former international commodities trader”. Rob Priestly, Greater Shepparton deputy mayor and co-owner of an industrial laundry firm in Shepparton, recently announced he would run as an independent.

• The Katina Curtis of the Sydney Morning Herald reports the Liberals have pushed back the closure of nominations for the Warringah preselection to January 14, in the hope that Gladys Berejiklian might yet agree to run, and also in Parramatta, where the Liberals are hoping the retirement of sitting member Julie Owens will help them knock over the 3.5% Labor margin. State Parramatta MP Geoff Lee has thus far resisted entreaties to run, which have displeased Dominic Perrottet, who would sooner avoid further by-elections.

• The West Australian has a poll by Painted Dog Research in which 801 Western Australian respondents were presented with a four-way preferred prime minister question, putting Scott Morrison at 41%, Tanya Plibersek at 32%, Anthony Albanese at 22% and Peter Dutton at 4%. Plibersek led Morrison by 41% to 36% among women, while Morrison led 47% to 25% among men. When asked who they trusted more out of the Premier and the Prime Minister, Mark McGowan scored 78% and Morrison 22%. Here too there was a significant gender gap, with McGowan’s lead of 71-29 among men comparing with 86-14 among women.

Affairs of state:

Antony Green notes on Twitter that South Australia’s parliament has adjourned ahead of the election without having corrected the legislative anomaly that means pre-poll votes are not counted on election night, which is now unique to the state. As a result, the election night count will be “quick, over early, but will be very incomplete with no guarantee we will know the outcome until the declaration votes start being counted on the Monday after the election”.

Yoni Bashan of The Australian reports Bridget Sakr, who has gained prominence as a victims support advocate since her daughter and three of her cousins were killed after in February last year after a ute mounted the kerb, is considering an approach from the New South Wales Liberals to run in the looming Strathfield by-election. The seat is being vacated with the retirement of ousted Labor leader Jodi McKay, who held the seat by 5.0% in 2019.

Beware the Ides of March (or May)

Odds shorten on a May federal election; Morrison threatens a nuclear option for preselections in New South Wales; plus news on state by-elections, actual or potential.

Yesterday’s tabling of a proposed parliamentary schedule for new year resulted in another spin of the election date speculation wheel, the consensus being that it will be held on either May 7 and 14. The government has, as they say, pencilled in March 29 as the date for the budget, although “sources close to Mr Morrison” tell The Australian he may make use of his eraser if his polling improves over summer, such that March is “still a live option” for the election. That would presumably lead to South Australian Premier Steven Marshall exercising his option to delay the March 19 state election by up to three weeks in the event of a March federal election, a matter Scott Morrison denies having discussed with him.

Other election news, federal and state:

• Scott Morrison told the Liberal federal executive he was considering asking it to exercise powers to override state divisions in preselections to impose his preferred candidates in key New South Wales seats, including state MPs Andrew Constance in Gilmore and Melanie Gibbons in Hughes (Alexandra Smith of the Sydney Morning Herald reports state Police Minister David Elliott is resisting entreaties to run in Greenway). Such a move would be “seen as a declaration of war by key members of the NSW state division”, specifically its conservatives and moderates.

Sarah Martin of The Guardian reports Natalie Baini, who until recently was a cultural diversity manager at the Australian Football League, has withdrawn her preselection challenge against Liberal MP Fiona Martin in Reid and will instead run as an independent, complaining the party had failed to act on her complaint against “inappropriate conduct of some senior members of the party and the government”.

Alexandra Smith of the Sydney Morning Herald reports Labor will yield to the insistence of local party branches and field a candidate in John Barilaro’s seat of Monaro, despite Labor leader Chris Minns rating it an “impossible task”.

John Ferguson of The Australian reported last week on “intense speculation” that a Victorian state by-election could be on the cards in Kew, whose embattled Liberal member, Tim Smith, had been “linked with potential job prospects in Britain, where he once lived”. Sunday Herald Sun columnist “Backroom Baz” rates that Smith will linger until the election if the preselection goes to his ally David Davis, the Shadow Treasurer and Opposition Leader in the Legislative Council, but would be disposed to inflict the by-election on the party if it instead goes to Jess Wilson, a former staffer to Josh Frydenberg and current policy director at the Business Council of Australia. Also in the field are Lucas Moon, former soldier and commercial manager of construction company Winslow, who has been endorsed by Tim Costello; Monica Clark, a family lawyer; Felicity Sinfield, a police officer and Boroondara councillor; and Michael Sabljak, a former electorate officer to federal MP Michael Sukkar.