Old, new, borrowed and blue

The AEC contentiously green-lights a party called the New Liberals, plus the resolution of the Tasmanian state election and Upper Hunter by-election.

Four entirely unrelated items of electoral news after a week without new poll results:

• The Australian Electoral Commission has approved the registration of a party called the New Liberals. In doing so it rejected a 55-page Liberal Party submission that included CT Group polling to support its argument that voters would confuse the new party with the old. The judgement cited the similarly unsuccessful bid to deny Liberals for Forests in 2001, in which it was determined that a ban on words as generic as “liberal” and “labour” demanded “clear language” from the Electoral Act – although it conceded the name New Liberals landed “much closer to the line”. The Howard government’s dissatisfaction with the 2001 ruling resulted in a new clause targeting names implying a “connection or relationship” with an existing party, but the AEC has ruled this doesn’t catch the New Liberals. The judgement also expressed reservations about the CT Group survey, in terms implying a dubious attitude to much of the modern practice of opinion polling. The Liberals can now apply for an internal review, followed by an appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

• The count for the Upper Hunter by-election has been finalised, confirming a 5.8% winning margin for Nationals candidate David Layzell and a two-party swing to the Nationals of 3.3%. Antony Green crunches the ballot paper data (a welcome feature of NSW election counts) to determine how each candidate’s preferences divided between Nationals and Labor, which in aggregate was very similar to the 2019 election.

• Resolution also for the Tasmanian state election, which had a post-script after elected Adam Brooks was charged with firearms offences the day after his election was declared, prompting him to decline his seat. This was resolved through Tasmania’s recount procedure for lower house vacancies using the ballots that elected the outgoing member, which naturally went overwhelmingly to other Liberals. The result was a win for Felix Ellis, a member of the previous parliament who initially failed to win re-election, finishing the distribution with 5881 votes (53.4%) to Stacey Sheehan’s 5132 (46.6%). The party numbers remain Liberal 13, Labor nine and Greens two, with one independent.

• I had a paywalled piece in Crikey yesterday on the recently launched Australian Polling Council’s new code of conduct. Both council and code draw inspiration from the British Polling Council, though to my own disappointment it does not follow the British example in requiring members to publish full breakdowns and weighting bases for each poll. However, pollsters will be required to publish a range of other detail that is often absent from media outlets’ reporting of polls they commission, including margin of error calculations that account for demographic imbalances in the sample. The nine pollsters who are members of the council include most of the familiar names, but not Resolve Strategic and Roy Morgan.

Upper Hunter by-election live

Live coverage of the count for the NSW state by-election in Upper Hunter.

Click here for full display of latest results.

9.23pm. We’re still awaiting a pre-poll result from (I think) “Upper Hunter EM Office”, but that’s it for my commentary until the small hours. My live results page will continue ticking over tonight and over the coming days. A reminder that this is the only place you can find swings reported at booth level, that took me at least a week of fairly heavy-duty labour, and that donations are gratefully received through the “become a supporter” button at the top of this page.

8.43pm. Clarence Town now in on TCP, and it swung 22.5% to the Nationals.

8.38pm. Oddly, despite the Nationals doing quite badly on that Quirindi pre-poll, they got a 4.0% swing on two-party. I still have a big gap on my TCP swing projection and overall swing projection, which is presumably because two of the three booths where we only have primary vote results, Clarence Town and Singleton Heights, both had Labor down by about 17% on the primary vote. When their TCP numbers are in, presumably the TCP swing projection will shift in favour of the Nationals.

8.15pm. The Quirindi pre-poll booth is in on the primary vote, and it’s weaker for the Nationals than their overall election day result — down 6.8% as compared with 2.0%.

8.07pm. We’re at the stage of the count where the election day pattern is clear, and those booths yet to report results — 11 for the TCP count, but only one for the primary — are not going to change things much. The known unknowns are the pre-poll booths, of which we will get the Singleton and Quirindi results later this evening, and whether the dynamic there is different from election day; and how non-major party candidates go on preferences, which holds out at least the theoretical possibility of Labor not making the final two-party count, followed by who-knows-what.

7.49pm. As someone just pointed out to me on Twitter, the large-ish Clarence Town booth has the Nationals up 14.6% on the primary vote, so the conventional TCP-based projections should get a kick in their favour when its TCP result is in.

7.42pm. Projections based only on the TCP count — mine, Antony Green’s and Kevin Bonham’s — all show very little swing. However, my overall projection, which presumes to make use of primary vote results from booths where the TCP is yet to be reported, adds about 2% to the Nationals.

7.37pm. The largest booth to report so far, Muswellbrook Indoor Sport Centre, has recorded the biggest drop in the Nationals primary vote — 9.4%.

7.35pm. My preference projections are back to showing much the same splits as occurred in 2019, with no particular increase in the exhaustion rate. My projection of the Nationals swing/winning margin has accordingly come down a fair deal, without suggesting they’re in any danger (from Labor).

7.25pm. There’s quite a big gap between my two-candidate preferred swing of 2.1% to the Nationals, which booth-matches the TCP results in the 12 booths where they’ve reported, and my overall projected swing of 7.6%, which projects the changes in preferences on to the 14 booths that have so far only reported primary votes. Presumably the former figure will inflate as those 14 booths reports their TCP numbers.

7.15pm. Six booths now in on two-party. The exhaustion rate now looks higher than at the election, which sees off any hope Labor might have had that something would turn up on preferences. The gap in the primary vote swings in favour of the Nationals has also widened, the projected Nationals primary vote is now in the thirties, and my projection says 100% Nationals win probability — over Labor. But could one of the minor party candidates preference snowball their way ahead of Labor into second place?

7.12pm. I’ve just corrected a bug that was screwing up my projected two-party swing display. It’s predicting a swing to the Nationals of around 5%.

7.08pm. Observe my booth results map carefully and you will now see numbers indicating the two-party results in the two booths where they are available. Now I’m sure everything’s working, a plug for donations if you find this useful or interesting, which you can do through the “become a supporter” button at the top of the page — naturally there was a fair bit of work involved in all this.

7.06pm. Antony Green’s numbers basically align with my own, which is always reassuring.

7.03pm. Okay, now we’ve got two booths in on two-party preferred, and they are behaving very similarly to how they did at the 2019 election. That’s enough for my system to effectively call it for the Nationals, but I’d want to hold out for a few more booths. Note that this is entirely a two-party model, which is to say it rates the Nationals a near certainty of beating Labor — it’s a different story if another candidate makes the two-party cut. I may be being generous though in allowing that as a possibility, given the gap between second and third.

7.01pm. So going off primary vote projections based on the existing booth-matched swing, both Nationals and Labor are projected to be in the twenties (though only just in the case of the Nationals). I guess with that much non-major party vote out there you can’t rule out something surprising happening with minor candidates when preferences are distributed. Kirsty O’Connell, One Nation and Shooters are all just above 10%.

6.59pm. I observe that Kirsty O’Connell won the Wingen booth. You can see this by observing the booth results map at the bottom of my full live results page — the booth is colour-coded in grey, whereas other booths that have reported are green or red depending on who out of the Nationals and Labor has the highest primary vote.

6.56pm. A bit surprised there are still no two-party numbers — the NSWEC may be holding them back until they’re satisfied they have picked the right candidates for the notional count.

6.54pm. I believe we can be confident the final preference count will be Nationals versus Labor.

6.52pm. Primary vote results coming in at a fair clip, and there’s a fairly steady picture of the Nationals primary being down 3%-4% and Labor being down 5%-6%. If that holds, Labor needs to pull a rabbit out of its hat on preferences, on which we will continue to fly blind until two-party counts start to come in.

6.47pm. Eleven booths now on primary, and Labor’s drop is back to being a few points worse than the Nationals. Still nothing on two-party.

6.45pm. Ten booths now in on the primary vote and things looking a little better for Labor. But with the non-major party vote so high, this is very hard to read without information on preferences, which we won’t have until a two-party count comes through.

6.43pm. Given the booths in so far are from Nationals territory, they would have to be encouraged that their primary vote is almost holding up — Labor’s greater drop comes off a lower base. Other than that, the presence of a One Nation candidate is gouging support from Shooters.

6.40pm. Eight booths in on the primary vote now, and the Nationals still holding up somewhat better than Labor on the primary vote. Still nothing on two-party preferred though — maybe the preference dynamics will be different this time.

6.37pm. I think I’ve picked out most of the bugs, but disregard my projection until a TPP result gets reported. At the moment we’ve got five small booths in on the primary vote, and it does seem like Labor are down more than the Nationals.

6.30pm. That’s more like it. Two booths in. Only 201 votes, but so far, so interesting — both major parties down about the same amount on the primary vote.

6.28pm. Okay, the first booth is in and, frankly, disregard my results display for now — there’s a pretty big glitch in there.

6.15pm. Greens activist @seamus_polsci relates on Twitter that “the NSWEC has indicated that they will only be counting the election managers (Singleton early voting) and Quirindi early voting tonight (about 7,700 voters out of just about 19,000) rest will start counting from 9am tomorrow”.

5.45pm. Polls will close in 15 minutes. I’m in my usual state of semi-confidence about my live results facility working — it’s complicated on this occasion by the fairly high chance that the two leading candidates will not be those picked out by the NSWEC for the notional two-candidate preferred count, who, I think it’s safe to say, will be the Nationals and Labor candidates. Anyway, we’ll see how we go.

Some explanatory notes about the booth results map at the bottom of the page. Where no result is in for a booth (i.e. all of them at first), the location is indicated by a white dot. When a primary vote result is reported, the dot becomes colour-coded to indicate the party that won the primary vote. When a two-party result is reported, the dot turns into a number indicating the (colour-coded) winning party’s percentage two-party vote.

Upper Hunter by-election and Resolve Strategic state poll

One poll finds Gladys Berejikilian’s government with a commanding lead, while another suggests a tight race for tomorrow’s Upper Hunter by-election.

Two items to relate from New South Wales: tomorrow’s by-election in Upper Hunter and the first results from Resolve Strategic’s new state polling series, which the Sydney Morning Herald sneaked out on Wednesday without me noticing.

To start with the former, the by-election was initiated after the resignation of Nationals member Michael Johnsen, whose demise you can read all about in my by-election guide. Naturally, this site will be all over the count tomorrow night and beyond — my live results facility is ready to go and can be viewed here (if the format looks screwy at first, try a hard refresh). As you can see, this will feature neat displays of vote totals, booth results and swings, projections and, in an exciting new-ish feature, a map-based display of booth results at the bottom of the page.

The by-election event is fraught with significance for a number of reasons:

• The Nationals retained the seat at the March 2019 election by a margin of 2.6%, well within the range of a typical mid-term by-election swing. However, the clear pattern of strong electoral performances for incumbents since the onset of COVID-19 suggests the hurdle will be quite a bit harder to clear than the margin applies. This is awkward for Labor leader Jodi McKay, who is struggling with weak poll ratings and poor name recognition (more on that below).

• The parliamentary majority of the Berejiklian government is on the line — or at least it was until last Thursday, when Gareth Ward’s move to the cross bench ensured the government’s minority status come what may tomorrow, at least for the time being. The Coalition cleared the hurdle by two seats at the March 2019 election, winning 48 out of 93 seats, but one of these was lost when John Sidoti, the Liberal member for Drummoyne, moved to the cross bench in March pending an ICAC inquiry into his property dealings.

• As noted, the government is down another number owing to sexual violence allegations against Gareth Ward, who holds the seat of Kiama for the Liberals on a margin of 12.0%. The Sydney Morning Herald reports the Liberals are waiting on tomorrow’s result before “counselling” Ward about his future, the upshot of which may be another by-election.

• The Hunter region and its distinctive local economic and political concerns rose to the surface of national politics this week after the Morrison government announced it would bankroll a gas-fired power plant in Kurri Kurri as part of a $600 million play for the corresponding federal seat of Hunter, where Labor member Joel Fitzgibbon’s margin was sliced from 12.5% to 3.0% at the 2019 election, with One Nation securing 21.6% of the vote.

Monday’s Daily Telegraph had a YouGov poll of 400 respondents conducted last Tuesday to Thursday which, notwithstanding its small sample and wide error margin, pointed to a highly complicated contest arising from a field of 13 candidates. The primary vote numbers were Nationals 25% (34.0% at the 2019 election), Labor 23% (28.7%), Shooters Fishers and Farmers 16% (22.0%), One Nation 11% (did not contest), the Greens 6% (4.8%) and independent Kirsty O’Connell on 6%, despite the latter having received endorsement and $3000 in campaign funding from Malcolm Turnbull, who owns a farming property in the electorate. This panned out to a 51-49 lead for the Nationals over Labor on two-party preferred, although the primary vote numbers suggest it’s far from clear which two candidates will make the final count.

On to the Resolve Strategic poll in the Sydney Morning Herald, which had the Coalition on 44% of the primary vote (41.6% at the last election), Labor on 28% (33.3%), the Greens on 12% (9.6%), Shooters on 4% (3.5%), and independents and others 12% (12.0%). As with the federal polling from this series, no two-party preferred is provided, but it can be conservatively estimated that this would amount to a 4% swing to the Coalition, which won the election with a fairly handy break of 52.0-48.0. Gladys Berejiklian was credited with a commanding 57-17 lead over Jodi McKay as preferred premier.

The Sydney Morning Herald report says the poll was conducted from “1228 voters between mid-April and May”. I believe the deal here is that it combined responses from the surveys that have produced the pollster’s first two monthly results, which have been conducted mostly online, with a small cohort of phone polling add to the April survey.

Upper Hunter by-election minus twelve days

An important New South Wales state by-election attracts a large field of candidates, with Shooters Fishers and Farmers and at least one independent looking competitive in a marginal Nationals-held seat.

Less than two weeks to go until the Upper Hunter by-election, on which hinges the parliamentary majority (though not, by any stretch, the hold on power) of Gladys Berejiklian’s government. Conversely, a bad result for Labor may put pressure on the leadership of Jodi McKay, who would appear to be struggling with low name recognition: the last poll that gauged her personal ratings, from Ipsos was back in October, had her at 22% approval and 25% disapproval, leaving fully 53% uncommitted. My guide to the by-election can be found here – it needs an update, and will get one later today.

The by-election has attracted a bloated field of 13 candidates, including five independents alongside the nominees of the Nationals, Labor, One Nation, Shooters Fishers and Farmers, the Greens, the Liberal Democrats, Animal Justice and Sustainable Australia. The Nationals preselection was won by construction engineer David Layzell ahead of Singleton mayor Sue Moore – according to Max Maddison of The Australian, both Coalition and Labor strategists believe the local branch had “missed a trick” by overlooking Moore, who had been widely expected to win.

Labor’s candidate has been carefully chosen to assuage local concerns about its commitment to coal mining: Jeff Drayton, CFMEU mining division official and former Muswellbrook deputy mayor. As an approving Daily Telegraph reports, Drayton promises to be “just as loud just as often” as federal counterpart Joel Fitzgibbon, specifically regarding “inner-city greenies telling us what to do”, a designation that “most likely” applies to his own party’s climate spokesman, Adam Searle.

Absent from the field is the Liberal Party, the seat being reserved to the Nationals under the Coalition arrangement. This has given Malcolm Turnbull, who owns a farming property in the electorate, licence to stick his oar in by endorsing Kirsty O’Connell, Aberdeen farmer and independent candidate. Turnbull’s advocacy for the local area to transition from mining was one reason the Nationals were at the forefront of the successful charge to overturn his recent appointment to the state government’s Net Zero Emissions and Clean Economy Board. Turnbull suggests Gladys Berejiklian would “privately appreciate” O’Connell being elected ahead of Layzell.

Another independent is former Dungog mayor Tracy Norman, who has entered a preference swap with O’Connell, a move that was likewise applauded by Turnbull. Both O’Connell and Norman were critical of a recent Independent Planning Commission ruling to extend operations at a coal mine near Muswellbrook, which was applauded by the Nationals, Labor, One Nation and Shooters candidates along with independents Archie Lea and Steve Reynolds.

Two items of polling have emerged, though both are now showing their age: a uComms poll for the Australia Institute that looked encouraging for the Nationals, which was covered in this post; and a poll commissioned by Shooters Fishers and Farmers, and reported on in fairly vague terms by Linda Silmalis of the Daily Telegraph, had “the Nationals at 25, Labor 21 and Shooters 18 on primaries”. The latter result was quite a bit better for its commissioning party than the former, which had Shooters on single figures.

Stable but serious

Infra-factional argybargy at both ends of the Victorian ALP, plus a poll result for NSW’s Upper Hunter state by-election.

Detailed below are some recent electoral developments, the juiciest of which relate to factional power struggles within Victorian Labor, whose federal preselection process has been taken over by the party’s national executive in the wake of the Adem Somyurek branch-stacking affair. Note also the post below offering a half-time report on the Tasmanian state election campaign.

• Josh Bornstein, employment lawyer and partner at Maurice Blackburn, has pulled out of a challenge against Kim Carr for the safe position on Labor’s Victorian Senate ticket that is reserved to the Left. This followed a report in The Australian that trawled through a decade’s worth of his voluminous social media activity, turning up criticism of party and union figures including Chris Bowen and Penny Wong. The Age reports Left faction unions were divided between Carr and Bornstein, with one or more further challengers likely to emerge. One such is Ryan Batchelor, executive director of the McKell Institute and son of former state MP Peter Batchelor.

• The Age report also says that Sam Rae, a partner at PwC and former state party secretary, is “being encouraged” to run in the new seat of Hawke on Melbourne’s north-western fringe. An earlier report indicated that a stability pact being negotiated between the main factions would reserve the seat for the Right, potentially setting up a turf war between the Victorian Right forces associated with Richard Marles and Bill Shorten, who are emerging as the main rivals for influence within the faction.

• Andrew Laming’s bid to retain preselection in Bowman has predictably fallen foul of the Liberal National Party’s candidate suitability panel.

• I’ll have a dedicated post up shortly for the May 22 by-election in the New South Wales state seat of Upper Hunter, my guide for which can be found here. Results of a uComms poll for the Australia Institute are encouraging for the Nationals, who hold seat seat on a margin of 2.6%. When added together properly, the poll credits the Nationals with a primary vote of 38.5%, compared with 34.0% at the 2019 election; Labor with 23.8%, compared with 28.6%; One Nation, who did not contest in 2019, with 13.8%; the Greens with 10.1%, more than double their 4.8% vote share in 2019; and bookies favourite Shooters Fishers and Farmers with only 8.2%, compared with 22.0%. The poll was conducted on April 7 and 8 by automated phone polling and SMS from a sample of 686.

• A new site called OzPredict offers cleanly presented poll-based forecasting of the next federal election, with the promise of more features to follow.

Easter eggs

Preselection jockeying for Andrew Laming’s seat of Bowman, a looming state by-election in NSW, and a post-mortem into yet another election defeat in the ACT.

The interruption of Easter means we’re not likely to see any opinion polls this week. A new post is wanted though, so I offer the following loose assemblage of news items. My own efforts have late have been consumed by my Tasmanian election guide, which is currently being buffed and polished ahead of publication later today.

Lydia Lynch of the Brisbane Times reports the executive of Queensland’s Liberal National Party has voted to reopen preselection nominations for Andrew Laming’s seat of Bowman, by a bare margin of 11 to 10, but for which the position would be assured for businesswoman Fran Ward, the only candidate to nominate against Andrew Laming when he still intended to run. The Australian reports that “conservative forces” were keen that this should happen to open the way for Henry Pike, communications adviser for the Property Council and unsuccessful candidate for Redlands at the October state election. The Brisbane Times report says the preselection looms as a three-way contest between Ward, Pike and barrister Maggie Forrest. Senator Amanda Stoker has ruled herself out, despite expectations she could use the seat to resolve a difficulty where she and James McGrath are in competition for the safe first and loseable third positions on the LNP Senate ticket, the second position being reserved to the Nationals.

• A by-election will be held in the New South Wales state seat of Upper Hunter following the resignation of Nationals member Michael Johnsen after he was accused of raping a sex worker. I will have a dedicated post and election guide up for the by-election hopefully later in the week. For what it’s worth, Sportsbet has Shooters Fishers and Farmers as favourites to win the seat, paying $1.50 compared with $3.25 for the Nationals and $8 for Labor.

• The Canberra Times reports on the findings of an internal review into the ACT Liberals’ sixth successive election defeat in October, finding more effort should have been made to win over “soft Greens voters” who might be persuaded by a pitch targeting the Greens’ “anti-small business bent” and “soft law and order policies”. The review was conducted by Grahame Morris, lobbyist and one-time chief-of-staff to John Howard, Vicki Dunne, recently retired Liberal MP, and Daniel Clode, the party’s campaign manager in 2016.