The by-election gazette #4

Queensland Labor’s deadline for state election preselection nominations closed this week, requiring MPs to lay their cards on the table with respect to their plans for next term. The harvest of retirees (Nita Cunningham in Bundaberg, Terry Sullivan in Stafford, Jim Fouras in Ashgrove and Lesley Clark in Barron River) would not normally have been regarded as remarkable, but in the environment of dual by-election campaigns there were numerous reports referring to an "exodus" of Labor MPs. However, the perception could become reality if we are to believe reports from Christian Kerr in Crikey, who tells us two prospective retirees do not propose to wait until the election.

The party would presumably go to some length to prevent such an outcome, given that the conventional wisdom now holds that Labor will go down in both this weekend’s Queensland by-elections. This is largely on account of quarterly opinion poll results thoughtfully brought forward a month ahead of schedule by Newspoll, which show Labor slumping to 40 per cent (down 7 per cent from both the last poll and the February 2004 election) and the conservative parties on 42 per cent combined. Reports in today’s Courier Mail variously say that "Labor polling shows the party is unlikely to hold Redcliffe and Chatsworth", and that "conservative forces grow more confident of victory".

Also in Crikey, Charles Richardson reports that the Poll Bludger has not "yet" made a prediction on the outcome. Thus pressured, I am compelled to take a punt on a contest I would have preferred to have sat out. Deep breath: Labor to hold narrowly in both.

The by-election gazette #3

With campaigning for the two Queensland by-elections entering the final week, it’s high time they were promoted up the By-Election Gazette’s batting order.

Redcliffe (Queensland, Labor 7.1%): The Courier Mail reported on Saturday that both major parties believe Labor has the edge in Redcliffe but is "struggling" in Chatsworth, in contrast to impressions at the start of the campaign. The paper’s Malcolm Cole reported that "scandals surrounding the Government – particularly the (Ray) Hollis issue and the hospitals crisis – do not seem to have bitten" in Redcliffe, and that if Labor faces danger it is due to the "head office decision to shoehorn (Lillian) Van Litsenberg into the party’s candidacy". Liberal sources are quoted saying a Labor win would have been certain had the nomination gone to Redcliffe councillor Peter Houston, who had to be talked out of running as an independent after failing to win preselection.

Chatsworth (Queensland, Labor 11.4%): The aforementioned major party polling mentioned in Saturday’s Courier Mail had Labor "struggling to retain" Chatsworth, but today the paper quoted a Labor source saying they "might have clawed back some ground". Labor’s strategy in both seats is to encourage a protest vote against Federal Government workplace relations reforms, and there are "indications" that this is "starting to bite".

Still no word on the date for the "triple M" by-elections in New South Wales, which are now likely to be held in October rather than September.

Maroubra (NSW, Labor 23.5%): Local paper Southern Courier (follow the link and try to make your way to page four of the current issue) profiles four front-runners for the Labor nomination and tells us the Greens candidate is Anne Gardiner, a former nurse at Prince Henry Hospital. Over the page we get all the dirt on the Labor preselection stoush, including candidate Penny Wright’s eye-catching assessment that the affirmative action loading might do her more harm than good. Hats off to all concerned at the Courier.

Marrickville (NSW, Labor 10.7% vs Greens): The Sydney Morning Herald confirms that Marrickville deputy mayor Sam Byrne will be the Greens candidate. His council colleagues Colin Hesse and Saeed Khan had earlier been mentioned as contenders.

Macquarie Fields (NSW, Labor 22.5%): The Macarthur Chronicle tells us that Campbelltown councillor Aaron Rule has declined to run, leaving the field clear for council colleague Steven Chaytor. Chaytor was senior adviser to Gough Whitlam from 1999 to 2005 (perhaps the pasta sauce ads were his idea) and was reportedly Mark Latham’s preferred candidate for the Werriwa by-election. Before the preselection vote, the Sydney Morning Herald spoke of a dirty tricks campaign in which Chaytor supporters suggested rival Brenton Banfield was an unsuitable candidate due to his legal work for a client on child pornography charges, making him susceptible to Liberal smears. Mike Steketee of The Australian reported that the suggestion was enough to prompt state party secretary Mark Arbib to pull the plug on Banfield, and all concerned were persuaded to step aside for little-known compromise candidate Chris Hayes. In other news, Christian Kerr offers this in today’s Crikey email:

The Libs might be leaving Labor and the Greens to fight it out in Marrickville, but stand by for a surprise candidate in Macquarie Fields. Liberal leader John Brogden is wooing the whistle blower nurses from the Camden/Campbelltown hospital scandals. One may well be succumbing to his charms. If he woos her, it will be a huge coup.

The nurses in question were Nola Fraser, Sheree Martin and Giselle Simmons, who complained that the seat’s outgoing member Craig Knowles – then the Health Minister – threatened and intimidated them after they raised concerns about unnecessary deaths at the hospital. An inquiry by the Independent Commission Against Corruption cleared Knowles of corrupt conduct in relation to the incident.

The by-election gazette #2

For background on the New South Wales by-elections, Antony Green’s assessment in Crikey cannot be recommended highly enough. The foreground looks as follows:

Marrickville (NSW, Labor 10.7% vs Greens): After earlier ruling out a switch to the lower house when she failed to win her own faction’s support for the deputy premiership, Carmel Tebbutt has been prevailed upon to stand as Labor’s candidate for Marrickville. Labor are obviously concerned that the seat might fall to the Greens (whose likely candidate, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, is Marrickville deputy mayor Sam Byrne), and hope Tebbutt’s status as a former deputy mayor and figure of the party’s left might shore up their position. Greens MLC Lee Rhiannon offers the interesting view that this "continues the ALP tradition of bringing in a woman when the party is on the nose with the electorate". David Fisher of the Daily Telegraph suggests two factors influenced Tebbutt to take the bait: an ongoing ambition to assume the deputy’s position, which she conceded to John Watkins last Thursday, and a desire to "bank favours" that can be cashed after the 2007 election. "Former NSW Labor Party powerbroker" Graham Richardson told today’s Financial Review that Tebbutt would "win it for them. If it was anyone else standing, I’d be worried. But not with her." Antony Green notes that the Greens vote in local booths in the federal election was well down on their support at the 2003 state election, from 28.5 per cent to 23.7 per cent. He also says too much is being made of the Greens’ success in winning five wards to Labor’s four at the council election, since Labor led on the aggregate vote 39.7 per cent to 29.2 per cent. Even so, the Premier is leaving oven the possibility that Tebbutt’s upper house vacancy will remain unfilled, in which case Tebbutt could resume it if she lost the by-election.

Macquarie Fields (NSW, Labor 22.5%): The Sydney Morning Herald today reports that this seat is likely to be the only one of the three that the Liberals will contest.

North of the border, Queensland’s conservative parties have been busily breaking the first rule of campaigning from opposition by making themselves the issue. Further reading: Ambit Gambit, the blog of former Queensland Liberal Party vice-president Graham Young.

Redcliffe (Queensland, Labor 7.1%): The media has been making a big deal out of the Greens’ refusal to direct preferences to Labor in either by-election, although it is well established that this has only a fractional effect on the outcome. The Liberals are greasing the wheels in Redcliffe with a promise to build a rail link from Petrie to Kippa-Ring, which is easy for them to say. This issue is the bugbear of independent candidate Terry Shaw, who heads a group called Where’s Our Railway. The Courier Mail reports today that "Nationals leader Lawrence Springborg emerged as the Liberal Party’s secret weapon yesterday as he accepted a request to campaign in the bayside seat and appear in the party’s by-election material". The Poll Bludger has his doubts about the firepower of this "secret weapon", and thinks Liberal MP Bruce Flegg may have spoken the painful truth when he dismissed Springborg as a "farmer from Darling Downs" with little appeal to the urban south-east. Writing in the Courier Mail, Paul Williams of Griffith University also notes "the absurdity of Lawrence Springborg as the National Party leader campaigning for Liberal candidates when the parties are so publicly at odds with each other". On which subject …

Chatsworth (Queensland, Labor 11.4%): The tenor of relations between the conservative parties is indicated by this unhelpful press release from the Nationals, which sets Michael Caltabiano up for a fall and sternly insists that the party will continue to field candidates in seats Labor can lose only if the Liberals get a clear run. Caltabiano has also been copping heat from Labor opponents on Brisbane City Council for indulging in council-funded self-publicity initiatives ahead of his imminent departure. Meanwhile, the Beattie Government reportedly hopes its announcement that work on the $1.6 billion Gateway Bridge duplication will start next year will have an impact here.

The by-election gazette #1

The previous post on the New South Wales by-elections (for which no date has been set, but they are expected for early September) ended with a promise that the follow-up would focus on the two to be held in Queensland on August 20. It also said that there might yet be more by-elections to come in New South Wales. Since the second point was proved correct within 12 hours of posting, the first has been invalidated. For the sake of future simplicity (and to save me the effort of having to think up headlines), the Poll Bludger introduces the first instalment in a regular series of the itemised by-election snippets.

Macquarie Fields (NSW, Labor 22.5%): The latest member of our by-election family is the south-eastern Sydney seat of Macquarie Fields, which includes Campbelltown and Liverpool. Craig Knowles took over the seat from father Stan at a 1990 by-election and in time was groomed for the leadership, handling the health and transport portfolios. Since neither area proved a notable success for the government, his gloss diminished over time and he was not rated as a front-runner when Bob Carr called it quits. Facing demotion under Morris Iemma, Knowles has instead decided to join Carr and Andrew Refshauge in the departure lounge. If he imagined there might be less opprobrium attached to a by-election held simultaneously with two others, he was disabused by today’s front page headline in the Daily Telegraph: "BREACH OF TRUST – Knowles dumps voters and you’ll foot the bill". The Australian reports that Labor "hopes" a preselection vote can be held on August 27, and that Stephen Chaytor and Aaron Rule have already emerged as favourites. Both are Campbelltown councillors and former employees of Gough Whitlam.

Marrickville (NSW, Labor 10.7% vs Greens): Most talk surrounding Labor’s preselection assumed that Carmel Tebbutt would secure the deputy premiership and jump from the upper house into this seat, which corresponds with husband Anthony Albanese’s federal seat of Grayndler. The Sydney Morning Herald today reported that the first was a precondition of the second. Among the virtues of the arrangement was Tebbutt’s association with the Left, which it was hoped would blunt the Greens’ vote. But today Tebbutt withdrew for the contest for deputy premiership to leave the way clear for Transport Minister John Watkins for the deputy premiership, invoking the interests of factional unity. The Poll Bludger has heard nothing of alternative candidates to Tebbutt. An AAP report quoted Malcolm Mackerras giving the Greens had a "one in four chance" of winning.

Maroubra (NSW, Labor 23.5%): The Australian reports today that the Labor preselection field has narrowed to Penny Wright, Chris Bastic and Michael Daley.

Redcliffe (Queensland, Labor 7.1%): The Courier-Mail reported on Saturday that "Labor insiders believe they will hold Chatsworth and lose Redcliffe". Their candidate is school teacher and Redcliffe councillor Lillian van Litsenburg, who saw off council colleague Peter Houston for preselection. There was talk Houston would run as an independent, but he hasn’t. Liberal candidate Terry Rogers, who slashed the margin as candidate in 2004, was nominated unopposed. The highest profile independent is Rob McJannett, who has come good on his threat to run as an independent if not nominated by the Nationals. McJannett polled 14.3 per cent here in 2004 and 18.6 per cent in Murrumba in 2001. Last week he told the Redcliffe and Bayside Herald he had "a little bit of a grudge" against the Liberals over their refusal to accept a preference deal last time. Family First planned to run both here and in Chatsworth if they could register on time, which they evidently couldn’t.

Ballot paper: Terry Shaw; Rob McJannett; Rod McDonough; Terry Rogers (Liberal); Susan Meredith (One Nation); Lillian van Litsenburg (Labor); Pete Johnson (Greens).

Chatsworth (Queensland, Labor 11.4%): Those of a mind to talk up the Liberals’ chances are focusing on the loss of Terry Mackenroth’s personal vote and the high profile of Liberal candidate Michael Caltabiano, state party president and Brisbane City Councillor. A large part of the electorate coincides with Caltabiano’s council ward of Chandler, in which he polled 68 per cent of the vote in last year’s council election. What’s more, he did it against Chris Forrester, who is also Labor’s candidate this time around. That popularity may be under strain now he has abandoned council for a stab at state parliament, thereby forcing Chandler voters to a second by-election (in which he has promised not to run). A surprisingly uncluttered ballot paper is rounded out by Greens candidate Elissa Jenkins and Barry Myatt of One Nation. Both ran for their respective parties in the seat of Bonner at the federal election.

Ballot paper: Barry Myatt (One Nation); Michael Caltabiano (Liberal); Chris Forrester (Labor); Elissa Jenkins (Greens).

It’s raining by-elections: NSW edition

This site came into existence at the start of a long fallow period for by-elections at both state and federal level, the only interruptions being last year’s Dubbo by-election in New South Wales and the federal Werriwa by-election in February. Recent upheavals in New South Wales and Queensland have brought the drought to a sudden end, with four vacancies needing to be filled in the immediate future and the promise of more to come in New South Wales.

Labor’s Andrew Refshauge today added to the merriment resulting from the retirement of Bob Carr by announcing that he too would pull the plug on New South Wales state politics, after factional argybargy cost him the deputy premiership. This raises the prospect of an interesting contest for his seat of Marrickville, which is one of those traditionally safe inner city Labor electorates in which the party finds itself nervously eyeing the rise of the Greens. The Greens’ vote surged from 11.8 per cent to 28.0 per cent at the 2003 election, with the Liberals finishing a distant third on 12.4 per cent. Refshauge’s 49.1 per cent was close enough to an absolute majority to keep him out of trouble, and his eventual two-party margin over the Greens was 10.7 per cent. This would have much narrower if New South Wales did not have optional preferential voting, which allows Liberal voters who have no time for either Labor or the Greens to let their votes exhaust. The overwhelming majority did just that – upon the exclusion of the Liberal candidate, 12.8 per cent of the votes went to the Greens as preferences, 11.4 per cent went to Labor and 75.8 per cent exhausted. Given the overwhelming tendency of major party voters to follow the party’s how-to-vote card, most of those exhausted votes would have gone to anyone-but-Labor under full preferential voting, making life very interesting if Labor fell more than a point or two below 50 per cent.

The ABC reports that Carmel Tebbutt hopes to use Marrickville as her vehicle to switch from the upper to the lower house, which she will need to do if she is to realise her ambition of becoming Deputy Premier (also in her path is a rival aspirant, Transport Minister John Watkins). The Liberals face an interesting tactical decision in deciding whether to field a candidate, given that they are painting the Government as a sinking ship being deserted by its captain and his deputy. If that’s as true as they say it is, they should feel confident enough to enter the fray. But tactically speaking, they would be better off leaving the field to the Greens in the hope that they might cause Labor an embarrassment to match that suffered by the federal party in Cunningham in 2002. The most likely outcome is that optional preferential will save Labor’s day (the Greens would not have won Cunningham under such a system), but that might change if the doubts being expressed over new Premier Morris Iemma gain traction in the coming weeks.

Bob Carr’s seat of Maroubra is a different matter, as it is a more traditionally working class Labor seat in which the Greens have only modest support (8.0 per cent at the 2003 election, compared with 64.3 per cent for Labor and 24.1 per cent for Liberal). No doubt Labor’s 23.5 per cent two-party majority will take a hit, the relative force of which will be loaded with portent for the future of the Iemma Government. But from the perspective of who actually assumes the seat, the real action lies in the Labor preselection vote to be held on August 27. The Sunday Telegraph reported that the ALP head office would allow such a vote rather than installing a nominee through the party’s contentious N40 rule, as they are eager to "soothe tensions still simmering after Peter Garrett was parachuted into the federal seat of Kingsford-Smith". Front-runners include Chris Bastic, former Randwick mayor and campaign director to Bob Carr; Dominic Sullivan, another former Randwick mayor; Anthony Andrews and Michael Daley, both lawyers and Randwick councillors; and Penny Wright, former government relations officer with the ANZ and current "full-time mother of four". On Friday, Jonathan Pearlman of the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Wright had the edge in part due to the 20 per cent loading for female candidates under the party’s affirmative action rules; a day earlier, AAP cited Labor sources saying Bastic and Daley had emerged as favourites.

The date for these by-elections is yet to be nominated, although they will surely be held concurrently (which brings us to the following fun historical factoid: Bob Carr and Andrew Refshauge entered parliament as the members for Maroubra and Marrickville following by-elections on the very same day, 22 October 1983). The fun may not end there, because the upheavals currently under way in the New South Wales Labor camp have produced a crop of thwarted and demoted party figures who might find better things to do in life between now and the next election, due in March 2007. These include Grant McBride (member for The Entrance, margin 9.5 per cent), Bob Debus (Blue Mountains, 14.7 per cent), Diane Beamer (Mulgoa, 17.9 per cent), David Campbell (Keira, 22.5 per cent versus the Greens) and Craig Knowles (Macquarie Fields, 22.5 per cent).

For a bigger picture view of New South Wales post-Carr, Antony Green has plenty to say at ABC Online. As for Queensland, the by-elections for Chatsworth and Redcliffe have been set for August 20, three Saturdays from now, and will be dealt with in a post to follow shortly.

By-election bonanza

Unexpected turns of events in state politics have brought welcome relief from the election drought, with by-elections looming for one seat in New South Wales and two in Queensland. The former of course is Maroubra, the seat that will be vacated with the unheralded retirement of Premier Bob Carr. The Poll Bludger has never "done" a New South Wales election before, but this is how Antony Green characterised the seat prior to the 2003 election:

South-eastern suburbs along Anzac Parade from Kingsford to La Perouse. Includes NSW University, South Coogee, Maroubra Beach, Maroubra Junction, Matraville, Malabar, Chifley and La Perouse. Created in 1950, Maroubra has always been Labor held, with only three MPs, Bob Heffron 1950-68 (Premier 1959-64), former Wran government Minister Bill Haigh 1968-84, and Bob Carr since 1984. It had always been thought that Carr was holding Maroubra until he could take over the Federal seat of Kingsford-Smith from Lionel Bowen. Instead, as the only senior minister remaining after the 1988 election disaster, Carr became Labor leader, and the man who it had always been claimed wanted to be Premier, Laurie Brereton, took over Kingsford-Smith in 1990. The electorate has the state’s third highest proportion of public housing dwellings (13.8%).

The electorate corresponds with the northern coastal part of Kingsford-Smith, which has since passed on to Peter Garrett. Labor’s 23.5 per cent two-party majority in 2003 (3.6 per cent higher than 1999) is wildly out of proportion with the equivalent federal booths, suggesting it is heavily inflated by Carr’s personal vote. Channel Seven News reports that Liberal leader John Brogden deems it "likely" that the party will field a candidate, as you would hope from a party claiming that Carr is exiting a sinking ship. The Poll Bludger has searched in vain for speculation as to who Labor’s candidate might be.

The Queensland by-elections are for the seats of Chatsworth, being vacated by Treasurer Terry Mackenroth, and Redcliffe, home of retiring former Speaker Ray Hollis. These two are particularly intriguing, as they offer a crucial test for the Queensland Liberal Party. The Liberals currently hold five of the Coalition’s 20 seats, which means they offer Brisbane voters the prospect of a government in which their representatives become subordinate to their agrarian coalition partners. No wonder then that the Brisbane voters entrusted them with one seat out of 40 at the last election. The by-elections are an entirely different prospect, since a vote for the Liberals means not only a free swing at a third-term government going through a rough patch, but also a chance to give Brisbane greater leverage within the Opposition. If they can’t make hay with the sun shining that brightly, the Poll Bludger will despair of them forever.

The Courier-Mail has published results of a TNS poll of 300 voters showing the Coalition leading Labor in Redcliffe 35 per cent (including 5 per cent for the Nationals) to 29 per cent on the primary vote, with Liberal ahead 51-49 on two-party preferred. The Liberals are expected to again nominate Terry Rogers, the candidate who cut their margin from 17.6 per cent to 7.1 per cent at last year’s election. Redcliffe has form for the Liberals, having been held by one-time party leader Terry White until 1989. White’s defiance of Joh Bjelke-Petersen in 1983 led to the collapse of the Coalition and an election that allowed Joh’s Nationals to form a majority in their own right. He was unseated by Hollis at the 1989 election that brought Wayne Goss to power, and came within 0.4 per cent of defeat at the 1995 election which ultimately led to Goss’s demise. The only fly in their ointment this time around is that the Nationals are considering fielding a candidate, which one sincerely hopes is a deliberate attempt to sabotage the Liberals since it could otherwise be described only as an act of monstrous stupidity. Monorail booster Rob Mcjannett, who polled 14.3 per cent here as an independent last year, was reportedly saying he would again run as an independent if not give Nationals preselection.

With an existing margin of 11.4 per cent, Chatsworth looks a bigger ask. Labor has held the seat since 1972 and their smallest margin in recent memory was in 1995, when Mackenroth won by 4.2 per cent. Nevertheless, the Liberals have an exceedingly high profile candidate in the form of Michael Caltabiano, state party president and a former party leader on Brisbane City Council. Labor’s preselection hopefuls are Peter Houston, a lively figure on Redcliffe City Council, and ministerial adviser Stella Rey.

New Dawn for Dubbo

The voters of Dubbo defied the Poll Bludger’s predictions to deliver a comfortable victory to independent candidate and Dubbo deputy mayor Dawn Fardell at Saturday’s by-election. The assessment of a likely National Party victory was based on the precedent of the Tamworth by-election of 8 December 2001 (held after Tony Windsor made his move for the federal seat of New England at the federal election held a month earlier), given the similarities between the electorates and the fact that the by-elections came at roughly similar points in the electoral cycle. On the earlier occasion the National Party recovered the seat that Windsor took from them in 1991, John Cull picking up an extra 24.7 per cent from a very low base of 11.6 per cent at the 1999 election and then winning a surprisingly high proportion of Labor and independent preferences (54.6 per cent) relative to the independent front-runner, Tamworth mayor James Treloar (Cull would go on to lose the seat to independent Peter Draper at the 2003 election). Saturday’s result could hardly have been more different, with Dawn Fardell’s 50.1 per cent being much higher than Tony McGrane’s 41.6 per cent at the 2003 state election and 22.7 per cent in 1999. The small field of candidates meant the National Party were still able to manage a small improvement on the primary vote, to 42.8 per cent from 38.2 per cent last year. Greens candidate Terrance Loughlin scored a meagre 3.7 per cent, not surprisingly for this electorate, while little-known independent Makere Rangihaeata did about the same.

The outstanding statistic here is the respective improvement in the Nationals’ vote compared with the Tamworth result – 4.6 per cent against 24.7 per cent. This is a sobering outcome both for the state Coalition and more broadly for the National Party, whose exasperation with their own failure to defend heartland seats has been the focus of considerable attention recently.

Dubbo by-election preview

Tomorrow sees the end of an Australia-wide by-election drought going back to the Katherine by-election in the Northern Territory in October last year. Voters in Dubbo will go to the polls to choose a replacement for independent state MP Tony McGrane, who passed away on September 15. The state Labor Party, who have recently been taking a hammering in the opinion polls, have sensibly decided they have little to gain from fielding a candidate in a safe conservative seat where they would certainly suffer an embarrassing result as well as unnecessary expense. The real point of interest is whether the electorate will give the resurgent John Brogden-led Coalition a vote of confidence by returning the seat to the National Party.

Dubbo was held for the Coalition from 1959, Gerry Peacocke winning it for the Nationals in 1981 after the retirement of recently deposed Liberal leader John Mason. Peacocke, described by Antony Green as "an old-style irascible National Party MP", is perhaps best remembered for describing then-premier John Fahey as "a gutless little wimp" after he failed to tell him personally that he had been dumped from cabinet. When Peacocke retired at the 1999 election the Nationals preselected local talkback radio host Richard Mutton, but long-serving Dubbo mayor Tony McGrane ran against him as an independent and won by a mere 14 votes. His foothold established, McGrane had a less nervous time of it at the March 2003 election, leading the Nationals candidate 41.6 per cent to 38.2 per cent on the primary vote and prevailing by 5.5 per cent after preferences.

This time around the Nationals have nominated Jan Cowley, the party’s Parkes Electoral Council secretary, whose preselection opponents included Sam Peacocke, son of Gerry, and former mayor Greg Matthews. The Daily Liberal quoted a "key supporter" of McGrane saying his backers would endorse a new candidate if the nomination went to Matthews, who they linked to Richard Mutton; presumably the candidate they had in mind was Parkes mayor Robert Wilson, widely mentioned as a likely starter and described by the Daily Liberal as a friend of McGrane’s. Wilson indeed declined to run, but Dubbo deputy mayor Dawn Fardell has taken the field and should give Cowley a run for her money, having won public backing from state indepedents Richard Torbay and Peter Draper and federal independents Peter Andren and Tony Windsor. Ben Shields – who is on Dubbo City Council, along with Fardell, Matthews, Mutton and Sam Peacocke – was reportedly keen to run as a Liberal candidate but the party hierarchy thought better than to enter the contest. Rounding out the field of four are two candidates who contested the corresponding federal seat of Parkes at the October 9 election – Terrance Loughlin, of the Greens, and Makere Rangihaeata, a Citizens Electoral Council candidate at the federal election who is now running as an independent.

The final element that warrants a mention is New England MP Tony Windsor’s allegations of bribery against Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson and Senator Sandy Macdonald, with some suspicious folk linking the timing of Windsor’s announcement earlier this week with tomorrow’s poll. The suggestion is that Windsor, who also gave strong backing to Tony McGrane at the 1999 election, was seeking to give Fardell a boost over Cowley. If so, the impassioned rejection of his claims by businessman and supposed go-between Greg Maguire might mean the move has backfired, although many will continue to accept Windsor’s version of events. The episode has called attention to the long-standing debate in these parts about the relative merits of independent and major party representation; although the Poll Bludger cannot claim any connection with this particular part of Australia, and has no opinion polling to go on, his gut feeling is that the mood has swung in favour of the latter and that Jay Cowley will prevail. The impact of this on the numbers in the lower house will be barely measurable – from 55-6-32 to 55-5-33 – but it will provide a shot in the arm for an opposition that already has good cause to feel confident about its future prospects.