Photo finishes

I will use this post to provide ongoing commentary of late counting in doubtful seats over the coming days/weeks.

UPDATE (27/3/07): Christian Kerr points to a slow count in today’s Crikey:

The ever-protracted count for the NSW Legislative Council election is likely to be even slower this time, with the Australian Electoral Commission refusing to authorise any more overtime for the AEC staff engaged for the count. There have been unprecedented levels of cooperation between the AEC and the NSW electoral authorities this election, but after just two days of preparing for the Upper House count over the weekend, the AEC has gone into a panic about the likely level of overtime, and has literally ordered its workers to take a “rest”. Counting will now finish each day at 5pm, with no approval for overtime to complete the count. With Easter imminent, this delay is likely to push back the announcement of the Upper House results substantially. The NSW Electoral Commission is understood to have expected the AEC to finish the Legislative Council count by Wednesday. The AEC told staff that the Electoral Commissioner has been informed that he will have to adjust his timetable. No amended timeframe for the conclusion of the count was suggested. A major outcry from furious Government, opposition and minor parties about the delay in finalising the count for the Upper House count in 2003, marred by slow counting and a total meltdown in the computer software used for calculating the results, saw new procedures adopted for the 2007 election. Efficiency was supposed to have been increased by the use of AEC staff in the count.

Legislative Council

Roy Smith (Shooters) 83,320 0.61
Trevor Khan (Nationals) 57,727 0.43
Arthur Chesterfield-Evans (Democrats) 50,335 0.37
Janey Woodger (AAFI) 46,332 0.34
Robert Smith (Fishing) 45,460 0.34

Sunday 3pm. I’m not doing too well here – I now realise the Legislative Council Summary figures I was just getting excited about have been little changed in the past week. They tell us of 3.3 million votes out of roughly 4 million in total, including 293,240 "other" votes that include (I believe) both informals and below-the-lines. The progressive totals figures show us the destination of 13,566 out of a probable total of about 80,000 below-the-line votes; from these the Democrats have polled 5.6 per cent and the Coalition 17.2 per cent, bearing in mind that not all of these votes will stay within the party ticket. Using these figures to extrapolate the as-yet-uncounted votes, I have the Democrats with a fractional lead over the Nationals’ Trevor Khan, but the margin is far too close (and the method far too crude) for anything to be stated with confidence.

Saturday 11pm. Okay, turns out all that effort on the previous entry was wasted. Because as well as the daily PDF file update, the NSWEC also has on its main page a different count with 3,278,467 votes. This includes 293,240 "other" votes, which probably means about 200,000 informals plus yet-to-be-counted below-the-line votes. There would be about 700,000 further to come. These figures show that the Shooters Party are home, while the gap between the Coalition and the Democrats has narrowed considerably. If the Coalition’s share continues to decline at the same rate as it did between the 1.9 million count and the 3.3 million count, the outcome will be very close indeed.

Saturday 10pm. A further 765,023 votes have been added, bringing the total to 1,938,396 out of a likely 4 million. This has resulted in a significant shift in the aggregate vote from the Coalition (down from 35.4 per cent to 34.4 per cent) to Labor (up from 40.4 per cent to 41.4 per cent). If there was reason to think that trend would continue, Labor’s number 10 candidate Barry Calvert might still be out of the hunt. However, aggregate lower house figures (Labor 39.0 per cent, Coalition 37.0 per cent) suggest that won’t be the case, even when taking into account the Coalition’s traditionally lower vote in the upper house (33.0 per cent against 35.0 per cent in 2003). In the meantime, the drop in the Coalition vote has reduced their surplus over the seventh quota from 0.78 to 0.56, almost enough to return the Nationals’ Trevor Khan to twenty-first place, with the Shooters Party up from 0.53 to 0.55.

Friday 8pm. The NSWEC has published a group and candidate votes report, based on the results of 1,168,246 group votes and 5,127 below-the-lines. The totals in 2003 were 3,721,457 and a bit over 70,000. Ben Raue says the two combined suggest the Nationals’ Trevor Khan has moved up a spot from 20 to 21; if this continues, the final spot looms as a race between the Shooters Party (0.53 quotas), Unity (0.35), the Democrats (0.35) and AAFI (0.30), with the Fishing Party slowly but surely headed for the exit (don’t let the door hit your arse on the way out, Bob Smith).

Friday 3pm. Props to for pointing out the following message from the NSWEC: "Legislative Council progressive totals will be provided daily in this directory from the evening of Friday 30 March 2007".

Sunday 5pm. The raw numbers at present look straightforward enough: Labor 9, Coalition 8, Greens 2, CDP 1, Shooters Party 1. However, Stephen L in comments cautiously offers that the Democrats (and perhaps also AAFI and the Fishing Party) might do well enough on below-the-lines and preferences to stay in the hunt against the Nationals’ Trevor Khan, eighth Coalition candidate and Poll Bludger fan.

Lake Macquarie

Greg Piper 12,913 30.3 18,656 50.1
Jeff Hunter 17,294 40.6 18,550 49.9

Wednesday 2am. One more change of lead in the final strait has given Greg Piper a 106-vote win after the full distribution of preferences.

Monday 2.30pm. Another 940 absent votes have produced yet another change of lead, Jeff Hunter now ahead by 65 votes. Antony Green notes in comments that the closest outcome in modern times was the Liberals’ eight-vote win in Coogee in 1973; this was overturned on a legal challenge, and Labor won the ensuing by-election by 54 votes.

Monday 1.30pm. The lead changes again after the addition of 496 further absent votes, which have put Greg Piper 44 votes in front.

Friday 5pm. In an exciting late-count development, Greg Piper has done very poorly from the addition of 1,988 absent votes (23.7 per cent compared with 30.7 per cent overall), which have turned Labor incumbent Jeff Hunter’s 272-vote deficit into a 22-vote lead.

Thursday 10pm. More than 3000 postal votes and about 700 further pre-polls added; still no absent votes. Greg Piper’s lead has changed little, from 263 to 272.

Wednesday 9pm. Excellent account of today’s slow progress from Sally McEwan in comments, along with informed talk of deep Labor pessimism.

Tuesday 4.30pm. Very good call yesterday from Sally McEwan – the second batch of pre-polls has been very similar to the first, barring a slightly higher primary vote for the Liberals. This boosted Greg Piper’s lead by 243 votes; however, 122 "Dec Inst" votes have reeled him in slightly, going 59-15 in Labor’s favour. Piper’s lead is now 263, but with well over 5000 postal and absent votes pending, it’s still too close to call.

Monday 11.30pm. Sally McEwan corrects my previous description of Carey Bay as a conservative area: "Carey Bay pre-poll is different from Carey Bay conservative lakeside waterfront booth … The remainder of the pre-poll votes will favour Piper in the same proportion or greater".

Monday 10pm. Partial pre-poll results have been posted, 999 votes out of what scrutineer Sally McEwan says is about 2000. These votes are "a mix of Cooranbong and Carey Bay", which is to say they include the much touted Seventh Day Adventist community, along with another conservative area. As expected, these votes have strongly favoured Greg Piper, whose 158-vote deficit has turned into a lead of 64. This sounds a little disappointing from Piper’s perspective, because the remainder of the pre-polls will presumably be strong for Labor. Next comes about 3000 absent votes and 2250 postals – these differed only slightly from the polling booth results in 2003, though Labor’s vote was notably a little lower and the "others" a little higher.

Monday 2.30pm. Looks like those Dora Creek votes for Piper stayed missing – his tally there has gone from 533 to 508. No word yet on pre-polls.

Monday 4am. A scrutineer at the count, Sally McEwan, says in comments she can "confirm the expected advantage to Independent Piper from the pre-poll votes from Cooranbong". These votes "will be counted and distributed tomorrow". McEwan also reports that "24 or so Piper votes" from the Dora Creek booth are "missing", "leading to extra State Electoral officers being called from Sydney for a reconstruction of the Dora Creek booth tomorrow".

Sunday 5pm. Labor incumbent Jeff Hunter leads independent Greg Piper by 158 votes. That would normally be difficult to close, given Labor’s organisational efficiency with respect to pre-poll and postal voting. However, Lake Macquarie has the quirk of the Seventh Day Adventist community at Cooranbong, which produces a big flow of mostly conservative pre-poll votes due to its observation of the Sabbath on Saturday. In 2003, Labor polled 795 votes (34.2 per cent) to the Liberals’ 1173 (52.4 per cent) on pre-polls, compared with overall totals of 54.9 per cent and 30.7 per cent. Pre-polls accounted for 5.1 per cent of the total vote; also still to come are the less quirky absent (7.3 per cent) and postal (5.3 per cent) votes. The latter might go a little better for Labor than last time, as consciousness of their danger might have resulted in a better organised postal vote campaign.

Port Stephens

Craig Baumann 17,894 42.5 19,375 50.1
Jim Arneman 17,544 41.7 19,311 49.9

Wednesday 2am. The margin widened to 64 votes after completion of the full preference distribution.

Friday 3pm. The notional preference count has been completed, and it points to a 19-vote Liberal victory. However, a "proper" preference count will now follow, and these can turn up anomalies. For example, the primary vote recount cut Chris Baumann’s vote by five votes and Jim Arneman’s by six (UPDATE: And more pertinently, as Geoff Lambert points out in comments, there were variations of up to five votes at individual booths).

Thursday 10pm. Absent and postal votes are now coming in at a fair clip, and while it’s still extremely close, the trend has been with the Liberals. Antony Green‘s regular updates show how Labor candidate Jim Arneman’s lead narrowed and then disappeared in late afternoon counting, with the Liberals’ Chris Baumann currently ahead by 56 votes.

Tuesday 8pm. Not much progress today: polling booth re-check completed and 213 "Dec Inst" votes added, increasing the Labor lead from 76 to 86.

Monday 10pm. Either Port Stephens has had an extraordinarily high number of section votes, or the pre-polls have been entered on the wrong line – I will assume the latter. There are 1,244 of them and they have tipped the see-saw back towards the Liberals, whose deficit has narrowed from 153 votes to 76. However, the 2003 figures suggest Labor should do better on absent and postal votes. Slow progress on the polling booth re-check for some reason.

Monday 4am. The Daily Telegraph reports confident noises from a Liberal scrutineer, as "many votes were exhausting because of a decision by the Greens not to preference Labor". Conversely, the Australian Financial Review reports that "Labor strategists are sounding increasingly confident".

Sunday 5pm. Labor’s Jim Arneman was 153 votes behind the Liberals’ Chris Baumann at the close of counting last night, but is now 111 votes ahead. Pre-poll and postal figures from 2003 are probably no guide, as the seat was less fiercely contested last time.


Jodi McKay 12,951 31.2 13,793 50.7
John Tate 10,003 24.1 13,430 49.3
Bryce Gaudry 8,774 21.1

Friday 9.30pm. Those two-candidate figures quoted in the Herald have now been posted on the NSWEC site.

Thursday 10pm. Yesterday, the Newcastle Herald told us that "an Electoral Commission notional distribution showed Ms McKay on 13,793 votes and Cr Tate on 13,430". Today it reported that "preliminary counts show that Cr Tate would gain more than 2000 votes on McKay once preferences are distributed". On present indications, that would leave him about 700 votes in arrears.

Tuesday 2am. The NSWEC reveals nothing of the two-candidate preferred count that has evidently been conducted between Jodi McKay and John Tate, but the Sydney Morning Herald reports Tate conceding he is 700 votes behind. Morris Iemma is claiming victory.

Monday 4am. Yesterday’s recheck of first preferences from polling booths has increased Tate’s tally by 18 and reduced McKay’s by 12. The aforementioned Anthony Llewellyn says: "having reviewed the results in total now, my guess is a McKay win over Tate by around 500 … Gaudry will not pull ahead of Tate (of this I am now very confident)". The Sydney Morning Herald reports Labor "has become more confident".

Sunday 5pm. Still anybody’s guess as far as I can see. There is a 2.6 per cent gap between John Tate (24.1 per cent) and Bryce Gaudry (21.5 per cent), which might be closed with preferences from the Greens (11.2 per cent), who directed to Gaudry. Last night’s NSWEC notional preference count assumed Gaudry rather than Tate would finish second; if that is so, Labor’s Jodi McKay will win quite comfortably. If not, the race between McKay and Tate will come down to unpredictable preference flows. Last night, reader Anthony Llewellyn provided a preference breakdown from a booth at which he was scrutineering: if this is applied consistently, Tate emerges ahead with 12,792 votes to 12,327 (not counting preferences from the CDP and three other independents, who collectively account for 915 votes). However, Llewellyn also spoke of better preference flows for Labor at other less conservative booths.


Pru Goward 16,994 39.9 18,632 51.3
Paul Stephenson 10,544 25.3 17,657 48.7

Thursday 8pm. Paul Stephenson has conceded defeat after being buried by absent and postal votes, widening the lead to 975. This entry, and the figures above, will not be further updated.

Tuesday 2pm. A further 670 pre-polls have gone rather better for Goward than the previous two batches, increasing her lead by 10 votes. Even better for her are the 154 "Dec Inst Votes" (declaration and/or institution?), which have run 70-31 in her favour.

Monday 10pm. I was mistaken to say all the pre-polls were in – it was in fact only about half. The newly added second batch was not quite as bad for Goward as the first, but it still cost her another 40 votes or so.

Monday 2.30pm. Pre-polls are in (all of them, or almost all), and they are surprisingly poor for Goward – she has polled 35.7 per cent compared with her 39.8 per cent of ordinary votes, while Paul Stephenson has 30.6 per cent compared with 25.1 per cent. If preferences follow the same pattern, this will narrow the gap by 134 votes to a little over 300. In 2003, pre-polls were 5.6 per cent of the total – still to come are absents (8.8 per cent), postals (5.6 per cent) and a few others (0.7 per cent).

Monday 4am. Yesterday’s recheck of first preferences from polling booths appears to have unearthed 38 extra votes for Stephenson and only one for Goward. It appears that Goward is better placed than it seemed on election night due to an across-the-board increase in "plumped" voting (numbering one box and then exhausting) at this election.

Sunday 5pm. An updated count (polling booths only) has seen Pru Goward’s lead after preferences increase from 311 votes last night to a fairly handy 455. Talk of the Labor candidate beating Paul Stephenson into second place on preferences has faded.


Frank Terenzini 14,819 39.7 16,741 50.9
Peter Blackmore 10,093 27.1 16,157 49.1

Friday 9.30pm. The NSWEC has finally unveiled its notional Labor-versus-independent two-candidate preferred, which shows Frank Terenzini a comfortable 584 votes ahead. That wraps it up for my coverage of this seat.

Thursday 10pm. This count has stayed on ice for some reason, at least as far as the NSWEC website is concerned, but the ABC reports Labor is more than 1,000 votes ahead.

Tuesday 2pm. Very slow progress in the count, but Morris Iemma has claimed victory for Labor.

Monday 4am. The Sydney Morning Herald reports Labor "has become more confident".

Sunday 5pm. As with Newcastle, this is one that will depend on preference flows we don’t know about yet because the notional count was Labor-versus-Liberal, rather than Labor-versus-Peter Blackmore. For what it’s worth, the primary vote figures (Blackmore 27.1 per cent, Labor 39.8 per cent, Liberal 20.1 per cent) are similar to those Pru Goward faces in Goulburn (Paul Stephenson 25.0 per cent, Liberal 39.9 per cent, Labor 22.4 per cent). The difference being that Blackmore will need a strong flow of preferences from the Liberals, while Stephenson will need them from Labor. Can anyone suggest if supporters of one party or the other are more dutiful with respect to how-to-vote instructions?


Dawn Fardell 17,158 41.9 19,270 50.9
Greg Matthews 17,518 42.8 18,590 49.1

Wednesday 8pm. With most postals and about 600 absent votes now in, any remaining doubt is now gone. Fardell’s lead has now widened to 680 votes, or 0.9 per cent. No further updates will be added to this entry.

Tuesday 4.30pm. Pre-poll figures are now up at the NSWEC site, and they tell a different story to the Financial Review – 2318 for Dawn Fardell and 2177 for the Nationals, widening Fardell’s lead to a surely unassailable 521.

Tuesday 2am. It falls to the Australian Financial Review to inform us that "two-thirds of the pre-poll votes have been counted, according to the returning officer. The results have favoured Nationals challenger Greg Matthews, who garnered 1495 of the pre-poll votes on offer while 1453 went to incumbent independent Dawn Fardell". These results are yet to appear on the NSWEC site. However, this makes only a modest dent in what had been a 401-vote lead.

Monday 2.30pm. Re-checking of polling booth first preferences has now been completed, giving a 42-vote boost to Dawn Fardell. Most notably, 37 votes have been deducted from the Nationals at the Forbes booth.

Sunday 5pm. Independent candidate Dawn Fardell leads Nationals candidate Greg Matthews by 401 votes. The precedent of 2003, when then-independent member Tony McGrane did somewhat less well on non-ordinary than polling booth votes (from a near identical vote total to Fardell’s), suggests this could yet narrow.

NSW election live

5.05am. Looks like the Coalition vote continued to build as upper house voting continued into the wee hours, probably putting the final seat beyond the reach of the Democrats, AAFI and Fishing Party. Likely result: Labor 9, Coalition 8, Greens 2, CDP 1, Shooters Party 1.

2.05am. A considered assessment of the upper house from Stephen L in comments.

1.38am. Apologies, I had not noticed other developments in the upper house count: Labor is now looking at nine seats, not eight; and the Liberals’ eighth candidate is currently leading the Democrats, AAFI and Fishing Party in the hunt for the final place. The other seats have gone two Greens, one CDP, one Shooters Party.

1.28am. In fact, the Fishing Party has fallen behind Australians Against Further Immigration, on 45,817.

1.16am. The gap between the Democrats and the Fishing Party has increased to 49,320 to 44,677. May it ever widen.

12.55am. Did kind of okay with my predictions: wrong about Camden, Murray-Darling, Pittwater, Tweed and Wollondilly, the latter two of which I foolishly changed at the last minute. Goulburn, Lake Macquarie, Dubbo, Newcastle, Port Stephens and Maitland are still up in the air.

11.05pm. A little critique of the media coverage. I have been flicking between ABC Television and Sky News, trying to favour the latter because I know most of my audience is watching the former. I wished this had not been necessary because the ABC was greatly superior, despite some very good talent on Sky. No prize for guessing what makes the difference: Antony Green. His presence and authority keeps the coverage focused on the actual election, whereas Sky was forced to fall back on tedious big-picture chat. If Sky hopes to establish its brand among political bigwigs – which seems to be the rationale behind things like NSW Votes 2007 and interactive election night coverage – it should appreciate that such people tune into election coverage for election results.

I got a bit cranky earlier on at the NSWEC for what I falsely diagnosed as a slowly updating XML feed and a "virtual tally room" that did not provide booth results. It turns out there were booth results, but to get them you had to click on a link identified as "Election Night". Why? As for the XML feed issue, this turned out to be limited to one page on the ABC website. So qualified apologies are in order.

Finally, bouquets to my spendid web hosts, Unlimited Space, who got an undeserved cranky email from me this morning and subsequently shamed me with the quality of their response. I am entirely lost for words in attempting to compare their performance with the incompetent scumbaggery I had to suffer from Lycos.

10.38pm. Tony Burke’s guess is that the Fishing Party and the Democrats, but not the Shooters Party, will win upper house seats.

10.29pm. Upper house count trending in favour of the Democrats. Please let it be …

10.26pm. Reader John Thompson, who seems well on top of the Newcastle count, says: "A few more preferences from Newcastle must have come through and put Gaudry ahead of Tate for 2nd place. And therefore Labor will retain. Assuming the indicative count is correct".

10.18pm. The Democrats and AAFI can by no means be ruled out for that last upper house seat; the Fishing Party have slipped a little with another 150,000 counted.

10.10pm. My hurried initial upper house assessment: Labor 8, Coalition 8, Greens 2, CDP 1, Shooters Party 1, Fishing Party (please, no …) 1.

10.04pm. Nearly 1 million votes counted in the upper house, and my prediction of an AAFI win is not looking good: they’re on 1.5 per cent.

10.01pm. Lot of talk still about Port Stephens – they lead 14,118 to 13,610 on the two-party count with two booths to come, but one of them is Tea Gardens, which is a weak booth for Labor.

9.53pm. News flash: Pru Goward now leads in Goulburn on the notional count with only one booth to go, 14,619 to 14,309. And shouldn’t she do well on pre-polls and postals?

9.50pm. Debman is trumpeting swings that have reduced margins to winnable levels, which is true up to a point, but there were also swings to Labor in important seats: Monaro, Penrith and Keira.

9.45pm. Peter Debnam isn’t talking like a man who’s about to surrender the leadership, or who in any way has anything to be ashamed of.

9.29pm. The invaluable Oakeshott Country in comments tells us that Labor’s vote "shot up with last booths to 40%". With Peter Blackmore on 27.1 per cent, he would need an extremely strong flow of preferences to get up.

9.25pm. Kerry Chikarovski’s observation just now of a 9.0 per cent Liberal swing in Lane Cove is not an isolated case. 8.1 per cent in Cronulla; 10.5 per cent in Epping; 10.6 per cent in Hawkesbury; 13.3 per cent in Hornsby; 10.2 per cent in Ku-ring-gai; 7.2 per cent in North Shore; 9.1 per cent in Vaucluse; 8.8 per cent in supposedly endangered Terrigal. These are incredible results, exactly where the party needed them least. Could it be that the Labor’s success in painting Peter Debnam as a Vaucluse toff prevented similar results elsewhere?

9.22pm. Nationals look to be recovering from their scare in Barwon.

9.18pm. Reader John Thompson has emailed me with an extrapolation from the Newcastle preference figures provided earlier by Anthony Llewellyn, which have Tate winning over Labor 13651 to 12695. But as Llewellyn himself notes in comments:"Word is the booth I was at is at the more conservative end of electorate. Pref flows better for alp elsewhere. In which case I may be vindicated in predicting alp retain. Still early days."

9.15pm. Actual two-party figures from Goulburn, with about 15 per cent of the booths still to come, including a few from Goulburn: Stephenson 7955, Goward 7791.

9.10pm. Looks like Pru’s stuffed, if talk on the ABC about a big flow of Greens preferences to the independent is anything to go by.

9.06pm. Geoff Provest credits his win in Tweed to the Casino to Murwillumbah rail closure. Yeah, I remember now, Charles Richardson – that was why I backed him.

9.05pm. Sorry, that Epping swing was based on the premise that independent Martin Levine would run second, which is way off the mark.

9.02pm. Some laughably big swings to the Liberals in their safe Sydney seats: 7.9 per cent in Castle Hill, 9.4 per cent in Cronulla … 16.8 per cent in Epping! Labor now home in Balmain.

8.58pm. ABC computer has independent Greg Piper 0.2 per cent ahead in Lake Macquarie, but there seems to be a perception preferences to Piper will be stronger than this assumes. Several days of fun await us from Goulburn: a double contest, with Labor threatening to beat the independent to second, and a tight contest between Goward and the independent.

8.57pm. Raw figures from Dubbo: Dawn Fardell 14,128, Nationals 14,655, Labor 3,819, CDP 726 votes, Greens 789 votes. Surely Fardell will get up on preferences.

8.55pm. Haven’t said anything about Dubbo for a while. The ABC computer 1.2 per cent ahead, but that may be based on speculative preference predictions.

8.51pm. Some Broken Hill booths finally in from Murray-Darling, and just looking at raw figures it appears the Labor vote has plunged here also (and the population of Broken Hill seems to have gone down by a third).

8.49pm. Nick Greiner on Sky News says he will “take a punt” on independents winning Maitland and Lake Macquarie. Bit of a repeat of 1988 with respect to the Hunter, if nothing else.

8.43pm. More from Leopold on Goulburn in comments: "Goward still 251 votes behind in Goulburn. Two very good booths for Goward, Bowral (3,200 votes) and Moss Vale Central (2,300 votes) yet to report 2PP. On the other hand, Goulburn High (2,500 votes) is very good for Stephenson and is also yet to report. May well not be decided tonight".

8.41pm. Was off line for about six minutes. What did I miss?

8.37pm. Tony Burke on Sky News observes that state Liberal governments have suffered from Coalition control of both houses at the federal level, leaving voters searching for other ways to redress the power balance.

8.30pm. Star comments performer Oakeshott Country says: “The Marrickville and Lewisham Booths are still out. I think Labor will be safe in Marrickville.”

8.27pm. The assessment on the ABC just then didn’t look so good for Labor in Marrickville, but we all know that the ABC computer is less reliable with no Labor-versus-Coalition contests.

8.25pm. Liberals definitely home in Pittwater, almost definitely in Manly.

8.22pm. ABC computer says Labor retain in Maitland, but it might be underestimating Liberal preference flows to Peter Blackmore. It seems Newcastle is down to who finishes second out of John Tate and Bryce Gaudry; if it’s Tate he’ll win, if Gaudry Labor will win.

8.20pm. Thanks to Adam for pointing out that the Nats are under the pump from independent Tim Horan in Barwon.

8.19pm. Big lead for the Nationals in Murray-Darling, but no Broken Hill booths in yet.

8.18pm. I came into Pru Goward on the ABC half way through.

8.16pm. Big reverse in Labor’s favour in the previously interesting Riverstone.

8.15pm. Leopold on Goulburn in comments: “a whopping booth in from somewhere – maybe Bowral, though for all I know it was a bunch of small booths. Unless the trend turns around later in the count, Goward should get home. Anything above 40% primary will be hard to beat under OPV.”

8.13pm. Anthony Llewellyn in comments: “Just finished scrutineering in a newc booth. Pref flows for libs 56 Tate 24 gaudry 16 exhaust 4 mckay. Greens 9 m 8 t 50 g 34 e. Gaudry 15 m 32 t 53 e. Tate 40m 25 g 35e””. Make of that what you will.

8.11pm. Returning to earth now with aggregate vote figures: Labor now down 4.8 per cent. Conspicuously lower lift for the Liberals than the Nationals. Other parties’ gains lower than I would have expected.

8.09pm. Andrew Stoner has conceded defeat.

8.09pm. Labor by no means out of the woods in Port Stephens, only 0.6 per cent ahead with 35.6 per cent counted.

8.07pm. Thanks to Rebecca in comments for calling attention to Lake Macquarie – drat, Antony’s discussing it now. Independent Greg Piper might get up, but it depends on unpredictable preferences. And as Antony says, booths to come are mining areas, so who knows.

8.06pm. Do I have this right – that the independent might lose in Goulburn because Labor might get ahead of him into second place on Greens preferences?

8.04pm. ABC computer’s call of Camden as a Labor gain looks bold – only 0.9 per cent ahead.

8.02pm. But the notional two-party count, which I don’t think you can argue with, shows the slightest narrowing the margin in Goulburn, in absolute if not relative terms – from 303 votes to 294 votes (comparing 4813 votes counted with 8308)

8.01pm. Too much chat on Sky News and not enough results.

7.59pm. Talk in comments about Pru Goward’s primary vote edging upwards. What was that Barry O’Farrell was saying about the Labor exhaustion rate? I only caught the odd phrase here and there.

7.58pm. Big swing still there in Riverstone, Labor leading to 2.6 per cent.

7.54pm. Goulburn notional two-party count has Goward trailing 2,558 to 2,255.

7.51pm. ABC computer has Newcastle down as a gain for John Tate.

7.49pm. No trouble in any of the other Liberal-held seats like Lane Cove, South Coast and Terrigal.

7.47pm. Interesting early figures from Riverstone – a huge swing to the Liberals. The booths are Marsden Park, Schofield and Vineyard. Anyone know about them?

7.44pm. Looking very grim for Pru Goward in Goulburn. I am greatly surprised. Barry O’Farrell pretending to be unhappy.

7.42pm. 4.4 per cent swing to Labor in Penrith, a correction after a big swing in 2003.

7.38pm. New figures at the ABC site: Close in Balmain, but Labor should get over the line. The computer has Labor winning Camden, Keira, Kiama, Menai, Miranda, Monaro and The Entrance. Liberals down as winning Pittwater.

7.38pm. Liberals well ahead in Wollondilly but only 3.0 per cent counted.

7.38pm. Liberals home in Hawkesbury.

7.37pm. Liberals looking pretty good in Manly.

7.36pm. STILL no new results on the ABC site. Liberals apparently home in Pittwater.

7.34pm. Aggregate figures are interesting: Labor down 7.0 per cent on the primary vote with 12.7 per cent counted, although there are a lot of rural booths here and it has been coming down.

7.33pm. Labor doing better than expected in Newcastle, but preferences are wildly unpredictable.

7.32pm. Turns out you can see booth results on the NSWEC site by clicking on “Election Night” on the electorate page.

7.26pm. Nationals chap (only listening, couldn’t see who it was) disagrees with Antony, talking of “a lot of seats that are coming across”. But he might be seeing a better performance from the Nationals than the Liberals, consistent with the Victorian election.

7.24pm. Sky News says the Nationals are well ahead in Monaro, though only from 2 per cent of the vote.

7.23pm. “No signs of Labor losing any seats at all, says Antony, whose figures are half an hour ahead of anything I have access to.

7.22pm. “Menai looking better than Miranda”, says Barry O’Farrell. Antony calls the election. Says Labor have lost Tweed, which is the first I have heard of this. Curse you, Charles Richardson …

7.21pm. Still no new results on the ABC site. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this the fault of the NSWEC XML feed? If so, they are doing an extremely poor job.

7.20pm. Labor in front in Miranda.

7.19pm. With 10 per cent counted, Pru Goward looks to be in trouble; but this is from Goulburn. I expect the northern areas to do better for her, and ABC talking heads concur. But a downcast Barry O’Farrell is talking of disappointing results at the other end of the seat. This is a big surprise for me.

7.19pm. Peter Blackmore looking very good in Maitland from about 4 per cent of the vote.

7.18pm. First booth in Pittwater has a massive Liberal primary vote; God knows where it is.

7.17pm. Nick Greiner says a booth in Miranda shows an 8 per cent swing with a “good” preference flow and high rate of Greens exhaustion, suggesting a close result perhaps favouring Liberal.

7.15pm. John Gatfield on Sky News is talking about Liberal confidence in Pittwater and a better than expected performance in the Hunter Valley.

7.14pm. Adam Carr hears the Greens are not as doing as well in Balmain as the first booth suggested.

7.13pm. Listening to Sky News now. Liberals looking very good in Miranda; 49.1 per cent on the primary vote from 5.9 per cent.

7.12pm. Slender lead to the Nationals in Tamworth, according to the ABC computer. Primary figures looked okay for the independent though.

7.10pm. Looks like the NSWEC have a slow-updating XML feed, and a website that doesn’t give booth results. The only way of knowing what’s going on is to watch ABC TV.

7.09pm. Chris Hartcher looking okay in Terrigal.

7.08pm. ABC site hasn’t updated for a while; I gather the XML feed is updating in fits and starts.

7.06pm. Early figures from Balmain looking almost interesting for the Greens, though we’ve been here before.

7.04pm. Very early booth in Hawkesbury has Pringle better than I would have expected.

7.02pm. As always, the first booths to come in have mostly been small rural ones; they point to swings to the Nationals in the 3 per cent to 4 per cent range.

7.01pm. Small early swing to the Nationals in independent-held Dubbo; on this indication, it should be close.

6.59pm. Apparently Antony said Labor looking good in Monaro.

6.58pm. Someone on Sky News was talking up Orange. God knows why; Nationals looking safe from independent John Davis.

6.57pm. The Murray-Darling swing to the Nationals is 16.1 per cent, though only from 1.5 per cent. “No particular swing in Lismore”; yeah, Labor looking okay in Bathurst.

6.56pm. General early impression is of small swings, consistent with the exit poll.

6.55pm. Also looking better for Labor in Bathurst.

6.54pm. Looking better for Peter Draper in Tamworth now.

6.53pm. Antony Green has called The Entrance for Labor. Slowly getting back into the loop here …

6.52pm. Sorry, offline for a while there.

6.50pm. Early figures from Murray-Darling look very good for the Nationals.

6.48pm. First very small booth in Camden has the Liberals slightly ahead – I’m just seeing this from Sky News though and it might be a raw figure.

6.44pm. Stephen Loosley talking about losing five seats on Sky News.

6.43pm. First booth in from Tweed, worth 0.9 per cent, shows 6 per cent swing to the Nationals, enough to cost Labor the seat.

6.39pm. Early swing to the Nationals in independent-held Tamworth. Most of the other seats with results in are not of interest.

6.37pm. A very early result from Murray-Darling shows a very small swing, enough to make it lineball.. Labor guy not sounding optimistic.

6.36pm. Antony discussing Goulburn on ABC TV. One very small booth in, and a great result for Pru Goward. Their Liberal talking head (can’t see him) saying another booth is also good. I can’t say I’m surprised.

6.33pm. ABC2 no good to me in Perth – apparently it’s delayed two hours, like everything else they broadcast. But as Adam tells us in comments, you can see it online here.

6.30pm. Bloody hell, no individual booth results from the NSWEC. There’s a tiny country booth in from Murrumbidgee, but no way of knowing which one.

5.38pm. The poll covered Oatley, Riverstone, Wyong, Londonderry, The Entrance, Miranda, Menai, Camden, Port Stephens, Monaro, Tweed and Penrith. The Coalition would have wanted to be looking at a 54-46 lead here to be on the track for a majority, but it’s actually the other way round. The primary vote was Labor 46 per cent, Coalition 41.1 per cent, which sounds disappointing from the perspective of the non-major parties.

5.30pm. Hawker Britton exit poll announced on Sky News, based on polling in 12 key seats, says a 5 per cent swing against Labor.

Last orders

Sky News’ NSW Votes 2007 program reports tomorrow’s Newspoll will have Labor ahead 54-46 (UPDATE: Actually, it’s 56.5-43.5 – see update below), with Labor leading 42 per cent to 35 per cent on the primary vote). The program consisted of an extended interview with Anne Davies of the Sydney Morning Herald and Simon Benson of the Daily Telegraph. Asked for predictions, both agreed Menai was "a problem" for Labor, but Benson said he expected them to hold Miranda. Both agreed that Labor would lose Tweed to the Nationals and Newcastle to independent John Tate. Benson said the Liberals would recover Pittwater, but Davies disagreed. Davies described Manly as "touch and go".

Two more Campaign Updates to wrap up the election eve festivities:

South Coast (Liberal 1.6%): Has Labor really been silly enough to launch a late-campaign attack on the husband of Liberal member Shelley Hancock over alleged appearances in pornographic films? Such appears to have been the case after the Nine and WIN TV news showed an excerpt from one of the films on Thursday night, reportedly at the prompting of Labor "sources". However, Morris Iemma has denied all knowledge of the accusations. It should be stressed that the Hancocks say the scenes were "spliced into the movies without Mr Hancock’s knowledge or permission", and that he was "fully clothed in all the scenes from the movies, as were the actors". This matter first emerged during the 2003 campaign, when the Daily Telegraph reported that two 1990 newspaper clippings were anonymously sent to the media calling attention to "the production of pornographic films on the south coast, including the holiday resort once owned by Mrs Hancock and her husband Oswald. The Hancocks’ H-Ranch Motel, near Milton, featured in movies including Aussie Vice, Bushwhacker, Dick Tracer and True Blue". Shelley Hancock said at the time that she and her husband "vigorously denied any knowledge of the pornos and said the producer had said he was making a documentary". Nothing was said at the time of her husband’s appearance in the films.

Newcastle (Labor 15.4%): Allan Morris, the former Labor member for the federal seat of Newcastle, says Labor has "effectively given up" on candidate Jodi McKay in deciding to direct preferences to John Tate, lord mayor and independent candidate. The race had previously looked to be a three-way contest between McKay, Tate and the sitting member, Labor-turned-independent Bryce Gaudry, whose dumping as Labor candidate was loudly criticised by Morris. The field has most likely been narrowed to two after Gaudry was frozen out on preferences not only by Labor, but also by Tate. The significance of this has not been lost on punters: Tate’s odds have gone from $5 to $2.40 in the course of the campaign, while Gaudry has blown out from $2.25 to $3.10. In spite of everything, McKay is a slight favourite on $2.35.

UPDATE: I swear the display on the Sky News screen said Newspoll gave Labor an 8 per cent lead on two-party preferred, but as The Australian reveals, it’s actually 56.5-43.5. The primary vote figures are 42 per cent Labor and 35 per cent Coalition; interestingly, it is reported that "independent and minor-party candidates (excluding the Greens) enjoy 26 per cent of support in electorates outside Sydney, compared with 17.5 per cent at the 2003 election".

Second thoughts

Labor’s routine late-campaign line that the result will be closer than expected has been delivered with an extra urgency in the past few days. All-conquering Kevin Rudd was enlisted to warn voters "not wake up on Sunday morning, having engaged in a protest vote, a protest vote which went wrong, with a state Liberal government elected as a result". John Watkins just told Steve Price on 2UE that he expected a swing against Labor of between 5 and 7 per cent. Their concern is understandable, as Labor faces the situation campaign managers dread the most: a universal expectation of victory for a government that deserves to lose. Some might argue that Peter Beattie performed well in similar circumstances last year, but his government was eight years old rather than 12, and had a shorter (though by no means insubstantial) list of disasters for which it could not escape responsibility. It also had a more talented leader, which makes it all the more remarkable that Morris Iemma has built an apparently successful campaign on his superiority to the alternative.

I have thus made a slight reassessment to my predictions, based on the premise that today’s opinion polls will boost the anti-Labor protest vote. The Hunter seat of Port Stephens and the new seat of Wollondilly in Sydney’s outer south-west have been moved into the Liberal column; I would also be surprised if they did not win one out of Penrith, Drummoyne, Menai and Miranda, but I rate Labor’s chances at a little over 50 per cent in each case. However, I have also been shamed into a change in the other direction by Charles Richardson of Crikey and Geoff Robinson of the South Coast (in comments), who both think it odd of me to have picked Tweed for the Nationals in an otherwise grim assessment for the Coalition. Charles notes I have tipped "Nationals in Tweed and Labor in Murray-Darling, but if incumbency is powerful enough to keep Murray-Darling Labor I don’t see why it wouldn’t work in Tweed as well, where the demographics are better". The answer is that I think Peter Black might prove popular with the new voters brought into his electorate by the redistribution, but this might be due to my cartoon-ish view of rural life. However, I am persuaded that changing demographics will be enough to give Labor’s Neville Newell a very narrow win in Tweed.

Taken together, this puts my prediction at 51 seats for Labor, 23 for the Liberals, 11 for the Nationals and six for independents.

Verdicts in

Two polls today point to a clear Labor victory in New South Wales, but differ in their extent: ACNielsen has it at 56-44 in the Sydney Morning Herald, while it’s 53-47 in the Daily Telegraph‘s Galaxy poll. ACNielsen might have more value as a brand name, but a good word should be put in for Galaxy, which has performed extremely well on each of its three previous entries:

Federal 39 46 37.6 46.7
Queensland 48 38 46.9 37.9
Victoria 42 39 43.1 39.6

Both agencies took advantage of the public mood of disaffection by asking respondents if they thought either side deserved to win, knowing full well the response they would receive. According to Galaxy, 59 per cent said Labor did not deserve to win against 67 per cent for the Coalition; ACNielsen encountered a slightly more contended sample, with figures of 52 per cent and 57 per cent. It’s also interesting to note that both polls indicate a solid increase in the non-major party vote, both compared with 2003 and polls from the start of the campaign. The sense of disenchantment is echoed in each of of the major newspapers’ editorials, although most have given reluctant backing to the Coalition; the exceptions are the Sun-Herald, which alone backed Labor, and the Financial Review, which vaguely indicated a preference for the Coalition without providing an explicit endorsement:

Sydney Morning Herald: "As the Opposition Leader, Peter Debnam has run a disappointing campaign … Yet on the Coalition benches sits a core of talent that could form the nucleus of a good government. In Victoria, Steve Bracks came to power with a similarly small pool of front-bench talent to draw on. By concentrating power in that restricted group, his Labor Government was able to run that state effectively – to the point where, with fewer natural endowments its economy now outperforms NSW. Given the same opportunity, the Coalition could be expected to do the same here. As for inexperience – the argument has no force. In any democracy it stands to reason that a new government will be less experienced than the one it replaces. So what? In any case, Labor’s experience of government has been of repeated and widespread failure. Its supposed experience should be seen, if anything, as a liability. Labor’s best talent resigned soon after Bob Carr. When Michael Egan, Craig Knowles and Andrew Refshauge also quit the scene, Labor lost its edge in ability. Labor and the Coalition now face each other as equals in talent. It is, we admit, an uninspiring choice for voters, but when they enter the ballot box a choice must be made. As voters look from Labor after 12 years – tired, talentless and arrogant – to the Coalition’s untried and patchy team, they must assess the risks each represents. We believe the re-election of Labor is simply one risk too many".

Daily Telegraph: "It’s hard to envisage a more tired, rotten, arrogant, useless government than this lot. Equally, it’s hard to remember a worse campaign than that run by the tragi-comic NSW Liberals and their Speedo-clad leader, who decided five weeks ago to unleash himself on the voters without any pants on … However, today The Daily Telegraph recommends a vote for the Liberals. We happily endorsed Labor in 1999, with qualifications in 2003, but we cannot do so again – at the state level – this time. Labor has now shown it is a demonstrably bad Government – an irretrievably bad Government – with a talent pool shallower than our parched rivers, incapable of becoming a force for genuine good regardless of its future configuration. They simply do not deserve another four years. There is a chance that, despite the misgivings over his campaign methods and past judgment, that Peter Debnam and the Liberals could, in power, deliver a break with the drift and paralysis which mars this current Labor administration, and become a new, fresh, good government.".

The Australian: "The choice that presents itself to voters going into the polling booths tomorrow is not an enviable one. On the one hand incumbent Morris Iemma looks likely to fall over the line by running not just against his opponent but, cynically, against his Labor predecessor Bob Carr as well. On the other is Peter Debnam, a man who should be in the box seat but who has been unable to bring excitement, or policy, to the table … Despite the wealth of ammunition available to it, the Opposition has not been able to push even the most simple message, that the NSW Labor Government has passed its use-by date. But this is clearly the case. At the previous election, we endorsed Labor before the full extent of the state’s woes was known. In hindsight, voters were entitled to feel ripped off at the result. This time we recommend voters suspend their natural suspicion of Mr Debnam and punish the Government. We do so in the full knowledge that it won’t happen and that NSW will wake up on Sunday to the same horror it has today".

Australian Financial Review. "The Labor governments of Morris Iemma and Bob Carr before him have mishandled every important aspect of economic policy under their control, squandering the ‘premier state’ inheritance that fell into Mr Carr’s lap when Labor won government 12 long years ago. Twelve years of autopilot have left NSW with the slowest growth in the country for the past two fiscal years and the slowest growth of any state for the past eight years. Thousands of train passengers were stranded in peak hour in the middle of Sydney Harbour Bridge last week, hospitals and schools are crumbling, NSW has been, with Queensland, the worst manager of water resources, and its bizarre approach to energy markets and privatisation has frustrated the development of an efficient national electricity market. The roads system makes extensive use of private capital but the process has been poorly planned and managed … If the opposition were vaguely competent, Labor would be voted out tomorrow. Sadly the opposition Liberal Party and its leader, Peter Debnam, do not appear to be even vaguely competent. The party is riven by factionalism and in thrall to a right-wing cabal led by upper house MP David Clarke that prizes its own power above the party’s political success and has actively discouraged moderates such as former leader John Brogden. NSW voters are – perhaps understandably in the circumstances – showing themselves to be more forgiving than The Australian Financial Review".

Sunday Telegraph. "It’s impossible to document all of Labor’s failures here. We’ll list a few instead: the economy, land tax, the vendor tax, the Cross City Tunnel, Campbelltown Hospital, hospital waiting lists, everything to do with water, Milton Orkopoulos, Carl Scully, Stephen Chaytor, the Queen Mary 2 visit, trains, buses, school air-conditioning, police numbers, Cronulla riots, the M5 tunnel … Debnam hasn’t been able to sell himself as a viable alternative, and the electorate is right to be suspicious. His policies are wafer-thin, designed exclusively for seven-second television and radio news grabs … the Sunday Telegraph has agonised over the decision confronting voters, but believes a vote for change is necessary. The Coalition could hardly do any worse".

Sun-Herald. "Neither the Government nor the Opposition deserves to win next weekend’s state election. And no doubt many voters will find themselves struggling to put one side ahead of the other as they wait at polling booths on Saturday. The exercise of any real democratic choice seems almost impossible given that this is a two-party contest in which the ALP’s appalling track record is matched only by the Liberal Party’s abject failure to prove itself as a credible alternative … What Debnam has failed to show is that he can do any better on health, transport, education, the environment or service delivery. It has not helped that he’s been a lone voice – seemingly unsupported by a ministry that has remained in the shadows. The result is that the ALP, incredibly, looks to be the better option".

To tie up a few loose ends: five days ago, I promised that posts would be forthcoming summarising the main candidates for the upper house. Unfortunately I have not been able to fit this into my schedule. I will however take a punt on the outcome: nine seats for Labor, eight for the Coalition, two for the Greens, one for Fred Nile and one for Australians Against Further Immigration. The latter will benefit from a good position on the ballot paper, lower house candidates in most seats and the disappearance of One Nation and Pauline Hanson (who ran in 2003 as an independent); the three collectively accounted for 4.3 per cent of the vote in 2003, when 2.0 per cent was enough to win a seat for the Shooters Party. If I’m right, persistence will finally have paid off for the party’s perennial candidate, Janey Woodger. When taken together with ongoing members, this will put the numbers in the upper house at 19 for Labor, 15 for the Coalition (10 Liberal and five Nationals), four for the Greens, two for Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party and one each for the Shooters Party and Australians Against Further Immigration.

Finally, it’s worth noting that those of us outside the state will be getting a remarkably good deal in terms of election night coverage, provided we have pay TV. Not only will Sky News be providing its traditional coverage, but the ABC’s effort will also go to air nationally on ABC2. Failing that, there is also the ABC Radio coverage on News Radio and, best of all, live blogging here at Australia’s forty-fourth most loved political website.

Judgement day

Entries to the New South Wales election guide have now been appended with predictions; taken together, these point to comfortable Labor majority with 52 seats out of 93, down from 55 at the last election. The Liberals are tipped to go from 20 to 21, with the Nationals steady on 12; eight seats are down for independents, compared with six in 2003. I do in fact anticipate a fairly solid drop in the Labor primary vote, particularly in Sydney, and for a lot of fat to be trimmed from Labor two-party margins. However, this will not produce a big haul of seats because of the lack of low-hanging fruit. Camden is rated as the sole metropolitan exception, due to the profile of the Liberal candidate (local mayor Chris Patterson) and the substantial boundary changes that will curtail sitting member Geoff Corrigan’s incumbency advantage. By contrast, I am tipping the new seat of Wollondilly to go Labor’s way despite a smaller margin (4.6 per cent compared with 8.7 per cent), due to a) their coup in landing formerly independent mayor Phil Costa as candidate, and b) its location in Sydney’s semi-rural hinterland, which I imagine will make public transport less of a factor. Elsewhere in Sydney, the verdict on Penrith, Drummoyne, Menai, Miranda and Londonderry is "close but no cigar".

Outside Sydney, I am tipping the Nationals to gain Tweed while suffering a notional defeat in Murray-Darling, where Peter Black’s larrikin charm will reverse the effects of a redistribution that has put him 1.4 per cent behind the eight-ball. My assessment is that there will be a net decrease of one in the number of independents, if you include Steven Pringle in Hawkesbury and Bryce Gaudry in Newcastle (respective Liberal and Labor members who quit their parties after preselection defeats). Former Liberal member Peter Blackmore is marked down to win Maitland from Labor, while John Tate gets the nod in Newcastle (although it was a tough choice between him and Gaudry). The Liberals will finally recover Manly due to the appeal of their candidate Mike Baird and the low profile of the incumbent, David Barr. Sitting independents in Pittwater, Dubbo, Tamworth, Sydney, Northern Tablelands and Port Macquarie are tipped to be returned; I state this with great confidence in the latter three cases, but am less sure about the first three.

Damage control

One more round of Campaign Update’s before I take the plunge tomorrow (by which I mean today, it being 3am) and post my predictions:

Lane Cove (Liberal 2.8%), South Coast (Liberal 1.6%) and Epping (Liberal 7.6%): Despite last week’s public transport nightmare, pundits are increasingly turning their attention to seats held by the Liberals. Anne Davies and Andrew Clennell of the Sydney Morning Herald report that "a Young Liberals ‘flying squad’ has been sent in to help the seat of Lane Cove, as the party moves into damage control to protect its marginals in the final week of the election". Liberal member Anthony Roberts is said to have been "hurt by a report he was asked to leave the Longueville Hotel following an incident", which he denies. The report also says the Liberals are now concerned about South Coast, having rubbished confident talk from the Labor camp earlier in the campaign. The two parties have found a new source of disagreement further up the pendulum, in Epping; Labor reportedly believes vote-splitting between Liberal candidate Greg Smith and independent Martin Levine might deliver them an upset, which is "dismissed as fanciful by Liberal campaigners". Also mentioned are Terrigal and Goulburn; Simon Benson of the Daily Telegraph concurs that "MPs are talking about possible losses in Terrigal, South Coast and Goulburn".

Sydney (Independent 15.0% versus Labor): Clover Moore continues to get a hard time from Imre Salusinszky in The Australian. On March 5, Salusinszky reported Moore had potentially breached parliamentary guidelines by using her electorate allowance to "spruik achievements from her other role as Lord Mayor of Sydney". This time she faces "a former campaign insider accusing her of hypocrisy over donations from property developers". In other inner-city news, an assault complaint brought by independent Malcolm Duncan against glamorous Liberal action man Edward Mandla has been given way too much media coverage. Writing in the gay and lesbian magazine SX, Sydney blogger Sam Butler describes the avowedly gay-friendly Mandla as "powerfully built, with exfoliated and moisturised skin, distinguished grey hairs and a handsome smile … an ideal ‘Daddy’ fantasy for many of the otherwise politically-ambivalent twinks residing in and around Stonewall". One wonders if the Stonewall twinks’ ardour for older authority figures extends to Fred Nile; as with all other Liberal candidates, Mandla’s how-to-vote card suggests voters might care to give him their second preference in the upper house.

Newcastle (Labor 15.4%): Morris Iemma was up against it yesterday when he visisted Newcastle to shore up the floundering campaign of his personally chosen star candidate, Jodi McKay. As well as being ambushed by ferals, the Premier had to face the embarrassment of McKay’s inability to identify the Premier of Queensland. The Poll Bludger had previously felt that McKay had a better chance than was commonly believed, due to the split in the independent vote and the likelihood that most of these votes would exhaust. This theory is now harder to sustain, presenting the dilemma of who to back out of lord mayor John Tate and Labor-turned-independent sitting member Bryce Gaudry.

Top secret

The arrangements that govern public disclosure of how-to-vote cards for New South Wales elections have to be read about in depth to be believed. Antony Green explained it thus on this site yesterday:

If you are on the electoral roll for a NSW district, you will be allowed to visit your local Returning Officer on Saturday and examine registered material. But you cannot do it beforehand and you cannot look at it unless registered for that district. Parties are currently distributing pre-poll how-to-vote cards, but this does not mean the same preferences will be recommended on how-to-votes on Saturday. As for lower house preferences, you are only allowed to examine how-to-votes for your own district. The law prevents you from looking at how-to-votes in the other 92 districts. And access is only allowed on Saturday during the hours of polling.

Some further elaboration from Antony in today’s edition of Crikey:

Remember last November when the Liberal Party directed preferences against inner-Melbourne Green candidates in pre-poll voting, but on polling day recommended preferences to the Greens. Many candidates may play the same trick in NSW. As in Victoria, all how-to-vote material must be registered and approved. Unlike Victoria, there is no public access to the material before election day …

Now let me plead self-interest here. On Saturday, I’d like to know as much as I can about how preferences might flow. In other states that register how-to-vote material, the answer is to visit the Electoral Commission and examine the material. In NSW, that is not allowed. Instead, on Saturday I will visit the Returning Officer for my own electoral district of Marrickville, where I will be allowed to examine material registered for Marrickville, and registered material for the upper house. The law prevents me from examining material for any other electoral district, even if I visit those offices.

The stupidity of the laws may yet create a farce on Saturday. The problem is, how will party workers know that material being distributed by other parties and candidates is correctly registered? The answer is, they can’t. The only legal access to the material is in the office of each Returning Officer. The material cannot be examined in polling places. So if a candidate is handing out dodgy how-to-vote material in Deniliquin this Saturday, the only way anyone can check this material is registered is by checking with the Returning Officer in Broken Hill, several hundred kilometres away.

Also on this site, Antony politely described as "silly" the contrast between how-to-vote card secrecy and the availability of each candidate’s four-page child-related conduct declaration form on the Electoral Commission website. Owing to a populist afterthought by some underworked legislator, the Commission has been required to waste hundreds of megabytes and God knows how many hours of labour in publishing 793 of these identical forms, which are of no conceivable interest to anybody.