The by-election gazette: final edition

The pace has quickened noticeably as the New South Wales triple-M by-election campaign has entered its final week – at least in Marrickville, the only one of the three seats where anything is at stake. For those who have a particular interest in the outcome, you could do worse than to log on to this site Saturday evening and hit "refresh" every minute or so. Booth results will be plugged into the Poll Bludger’s patented psephometer as they come through, so that adjusted swing results may be calculated and quick-time commentary maintained along the lines of my Queensland by-election coverage.

Marrickville (Labor 10.7% vs Greens): It was earlier believed that Carmel Tebbutt’s upper house seat was being left vacant so she could resume it if worst came to worst, but she has now announced that she will leave parliament if defeated on Saturday. There is nothing the Poll Bludger enjoys less than being perceived as cynical, but he can’t help interpreting this as a sign that Labor does not expect to lose. The pecularity of Tebbutt’s current position is starting to attract attention – she is still serving as Education Minister despite having resigned from her upper house seat on August 26. Political opponents and talk radio populists are making an issue of the ministerial salary she continues to receive, and of her absence from Parliament while a spate of arson attacks hits state schools – some of which are located in Macquarie Fields.

Macquarie Fields (Labor 23.5%): Something I hadn’t considered: Macquarie Fields is largely contiguous with the federal electorate of Werriwa, where voters were dragged back to the polls in February following Mark Latham’s retirement. Presumably the aggravation factor among those who do not care to have their weekends interrupted will be even more pronounced here, at the expense of Labor candidate Stephen Chaytor. This gives further reason to expect that both major parties will shed votes to independent and minor party candidates. They include: Greens candidate Ben Raue, 20 years old and already a veteran of two campaigns for Werriwa – first for the October 9 federal election, then for the February by-election; Janey Woodger, who has run in various elections over the past 10 years with Australians Against Further Immigration, doing well enough in the Werriwa by-election to get her deposit back; One Nation candidate Bob Vinnicombe, whose past efforts have been closer to the city in Blaxland (federal) and Auburn (state); independent Ken Barnard, who is running to protest against four-storey flats in Ingleburn; and Denis Plant of Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party, who appears to be an Anglican pastor.

Maroubra (Labor 22.5%): Who cares. Keep your eye open for my concluding summary of Saturday’s New Zealand election which I hope to post tomorrow evening.

The by-election gazette #7

I was recently reading through my earlier posts on the triple-M by-elections and was pleased to see I had been early off the mark in poking fun at the Daily Telegraph over its rough handling of John Brogden. This was prompted by a number of articles in the week before his career implosion which savaged his decision not to run in two of this Saturday’s three unwinnable by-elections. When news of his indiscretions at the Australian Hotels Association function became public the following Monday, the Telegraph ran an item peppered with quotes from "senior Liberal sources" who spoke of long-standing "concerns over Brogden’s political judgement", with the by-election decision listed as a key example. As I said at the time, the widespread currency of this assessment surprised me. But viewed in the context of an internal campaign against Brogden facilitated through a media with a demonstrated fondness for stirring the pot, it starts to make a little more sense.

Antony Green helps us put the decision in a more constructive context with a paper for the New South Wales Parliamentary Library on the last 40 years of the state’s by-election history. It tells us that a sharp upturn in the incidence of one-sided by-elections can be traced to the final re-election of the Wran/Unsworth Government in 1985. Neatly, Green’s study covers 40 by-elections before this point and 40 since, the number of one-sided contests skyrocketing from three in the earlier period to 25 in the latter. Quite why this shift has occurred is not clear, but in terms of recent practice there was obviously nothing remarkable about Brogden’s decision. As Green puts it, "it is understandable why the Liberal Party has chosen not to contest all three seats. While there were dramatic swings in Bass Hill and Rockdale following the retirement of Premier Wran, swings of this size are the exception. All three seats being contested on September 17 are substantially safer than any of the seats that saw dramatic swings during the period of the Unsworth Government".

Marrickville (Labor 10.7% vs Greens): The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Labor has been asking voters if they agree with Greens candidate Sam Byrne’s assessment of Anthony Albanese and Carmel Tebbutt as "the king and queen of Marrickville", which Byrne says he can’t remember saying. Most of the publicity generated by the Greens’ campaign has related to Tebbutt’s actions as Education Minister, the highlight being a desultory slanging match about homophobia. The Sun Herald tells us that an advisor to Tebbutt, Penny Sharpe, will fill Tebbutt’s upper house vacancy if she succeeds in her bid for the lower house. The vacancy has been left open since Tebbutt’s resignation so that she may resume it if she fails.

Macquarie Fields (Labor 23.5%): New Liberal leader Peter Debnam showed an early aptitude for the gentle art of understatement when he was recently heard "playing down the Liberals’ chance of winning". With a dissolute Opposition confronting an unpopular Government, expect a pronounced surge in support for independent and minor party candidates.

Maroubra (Labor 22.5%): Two entries back, I speculated as to whether Michael Daley’s preselection margin over Penny Wright of 140-110 included Wright’s affirmative action bonus. The answer is that it did, so Daley’s victory was more comfortable than I suggested.

The by-election gazette #6

As you are all no doubt aware, a fair bit has changed in New South Wales since the last by-election campaign update. John Brogden’s travails have so dominated media coverage of state politics that this site has been left with very little to report, except to note that the turmoil has obviously been to Labor’s advantage in Macquarie Fields. Nominations closed last Friday, and the ballot papers are ordered as follows:

Macquarie Fields: Bob Vinnicombe (One Nation); Ben Raue (Greens); Ken Barnard (Independent); Steven Chaytor (Labor); Denis Plant (Christian Democratic); Nola Fraser (Liberal); Janey Woodger (Australians Against Further Immigration).

Maroubra: Michael Daley (Labor); Kerri Hamer (Independent); Beth Smith (Christian Democratic); Nick Stepkovitch (Independent); Anne Gardiner (Greens); Victor Shen (Fishing Party).

Marrickville: Saidi Goldstein (Christian Democratic); Malcolm Woodward (Independent); Chris McLachlan (Independent); Carmel Tebbutt (Labor); Sam Byrne (Greens); Michelle Bleicher (Australian Democrats); Alasdair MacDonald; Lorraine Thomson (Independent); Pip Hinman (Socialist Alliance).

Dark horse in upset at Randwick

Last night’s Labor preselection for Bob Carr’s seat of Maroubra produced a surprise result, with Randwick councillor Michael Daley defeating Penny Wright 140 votes to 110. It is not clear if Wright’s 110 votes include her affirmative action weighting – if not, the margin would have been a narrow 140 to 132. Most reports suggested that the main threat to Wright was another Randwick councillor, Chris Bastic, with whom he had a deal to exchange preferences. Yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald has much, much more.

The by-election gazette #5

In New South Wales, the Iemma Government has used the opportunity of Labor’s defeats in Queensland to talk up the swings they will suffer at the triple-M by-elections, now set for September 17 (the same day as the New Zealand election). State secretary Mark Arbib added substance to the argument by telling the Sydney Morning Herald that "the last election was a high water mark in seats like Macquarie Fields and Maroubra" – although there was in fact a slight swing away from Labor in Macquarie Fields. A Liberal source quoted in the article may have hit the mark when he or she said Labor wanted to "sucker-punch us into running in all three". Cutting across all such speculation is Morris Iemma’s surprisingly positive Newspoll debut this week. The poll was full of surprises, most of them pleasant for Labor – their vote was up 37 per cent to 39 per cent on primary and 49 per cent to 50 per cent on two-party preferred, and Morris Iemma’s approval rating of 43 per cent was higher than anything recorded by Bob Carr in recent memory.

Maroubra (Labor 23.5%): The exciting tussle for Labor preselection comes to a climax tomorrow, an event with far higher stakes than the Liberal-free rubber-stamp by-election. Labor has been engulfed in disputes over the eligibility of preselectors, with Bob Carr himself being disqualified due to his branch meeting attendance record. Most of the fuss relates to the eligibility of the party’s Maroubra South branch, said to favour candidate Penny Wright. Wright is associated with the NSW party’s Catholic tendency, whose chief powerbroker Johnno Johnson (a former MLC) wields great influence in the Maroubra branches. Outsider candidate Anthony Andrews has questioned the validity of no fewer than 150 out of 267 preselectors, while Wright has disputed eight. Few reckon Andrews a serious chance, but if upheld his challenges would aid fellow Randwick councillors Chris Bastic, who has been widely rated a favourite, and Michael Daley, who hasn’t been. Lest it be concluded that he is acting as their stalking horse, Menios Constantinou of the Southern Courier reports that Andrews has also challenged members of Bastic’s and Daley’s families. Labor’s credentials committee has been grinding through the challenges since Tuesday; this morning’s Daily Telegraph reports that just five of nearly 170 complaints processed have been upheld, suggesting the Maroubra South branch has emerged unscathed and that Wright has the whip hand.

Marrickville (Labor 10.7% vs Greens): The Liberals are getting a surprisingly hard time in the media over their failure to field candidates in Marrickville and Maroubra, with the Daily Telegraph going in particularly hard against John Brogden. Today the paper took his statement that Liberal supporters should "vote against the Labor party" to indicate support for the Greens (whose "less known" policies include "decriminalising drugs and legalising marriages for same-sex couples") and "other fringe parties".

Macquarie Fields (Labor 22.5%): Last Monday Crikey reported that the Liberals would nominate one of the "whistleblower nurses" who troubled Craig Knowles during the Camden and Campbelltown hospital controversies. So it has proved with yesterday’s unveiling of candidate Nola Fraser. The Daily Telegraph reports that Fraser joined the party "earlier this week".

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).