A tale of two states

Those who followed the Queensland election last September will find this morning’s lead election story in the Daily Telegraph oddly familiar. As has been the case in New South Wales, the Queensland campaign began with a barrage of horrible polling for the Coalition, including a 58-42 Newspoll result. Then came a Courier-Mail report of "secret Labor research", which showed "the Coalition may win some safe Labor seats while a host of marginal seats are too close to call". Today, the Telegraph brings us the headline "Iemma isn’t safe", atop a report which begins: "Premier Morris Iemma is looking down the barrel of a marginal seat blitzkrieg with secret polling revealing the state election is neck and neck in at least 10 key seats".

The Courier-Mail’s thesis that the election was up for grabs was easier to debunk, as it was not actually supported by the hard facts contained in the article. It only went so far as to say there were two particular seats where Labor was in trouble, and that a "host of marginal seats are too close to call". Given the size of Labor’s majority, the prospect of the Coalition being merely competitive in marginal seats did not suggest the Beattie government was in real trouble. The Daily Telegraph report is somewhat different, as it offers detail about what a Labor defeat might look like. If both papers can be faulted for playing along with Labor’s expectations management, the Telegraph has done so after a much harder sell.

The Labor-held seats of Camden, Riverstone, Menai, Miranda and Port Stephens are all set to fall. And the contest is line-ball in two other ALP seats – Penrith and Tweed. The loss of just one more seat would see Labor lose its majority and force it to form government with support from independents … The electoral landscape is so tumultuous that Riverstone – held by former senior minister and now Lower House speaker John Aquilina by a whopping 13.1 per cent – could now comfortably fall to the Liberals 53 to 47, on a two-party preferred basis.

However, it is also noted that "the Government would hold on to the volatile seats of Monaro, Gosford and The Entrance". The latter runs contrary to last week’s assertion by Imre Salusinszky of The Australian that polling by both parties had Labor in "a virtually hopeless position", with "one senior local Labor Party figure" declaring the seat to be "gone".

Highlights of week two

"Number’s up and Labor is worried", declared the headline in Wednesday’s Daily Telegraph. Their cause for concern: Newspoll and ACNielsen figures which respectively showed them leading 59-41 and 57-43. As the paper’s Simon Benson noted, this is not as "counter-intuitive" as it might sound. For a government carrying so much baggage, support at this level must inevitably be extremely soft. Should the polls generate a perception of inevitable Labor victory, the prospect emerges of an unpleasantly surprising protest vote on polling day.

That said, it’s a much happier problem to be facing than those that have lately confronted Morris Iemma’s Liberal counterpart. For Peter Debnam, the current week has panned out as follows.

Monday. The week starts optimistically in the wake of Sunday’s sort-of-campaign launch in Cronulla, not far from the proposed site of the government’s contentious Kurnell desalination plant. Some good press is forthcoming: Joe Hilderbrand of the Daily Telegraph writes of green groups’ applause for Coalition water policies, which unlike Labor’s feature the politically dicey prospect of recycled drinking water. Elsewhere, the paper reports that the launch has found Debnam "finally hitting his stride". Then in the afternoon, the Sydney Morning Herald unveils those ACNielsen poll results.

Tuesday. Assuming he got to bed at a sensible hour, Debnam would have woken to the even worse figures from Newspoll. He would then have steeled himself for the day’s big media event, in which he fronted the media with the Banning family in the key seat of Penrith. The Bannings are presented as a typical "mum and dad" couple speaking of the opposition’s "exciting" plan to lift the land tax threshold from $368,000 to $415,000. Come the evening, the Sydney Morning Herald reveals the Bannings run a real estate business and own eight rather than four investment properties, if those managed by an independent superannuation fund are included.

Wednesday. Debnam’s accusation that the government is "hiding" the rising cost of its Rail Clearways project comes at least partially unstuck when the government points to a press release from November identifying some of the increase cited by Debnam cited as missing.

Thursday. In the Sydney Morning Herald, Anne Davies reports that Liberals are expressing "open concern about Peter Debnam’s leadership style for the first time since he took the reins" – specifically that he "behaves as a one-man band despite talking about the team, is too aloof and relies too much on stunts that distract from policy messages". In The Australian, Ean Higgins and Brad Norington bring news that "party insiders" are describing Debnam as "privately depressed at his prospects", and showing signs of "desperation".

Friday. Andrew Clennell of the Sydney Morning Herald reports that Debnam is "still unable to confirm when the Liberals will start their television advertisements". His report also says the Liberals’ financial struggles mean candidates in "key marginal seats" are "mostly having to raise money without help from head office", with party state director Graham Jaeschke conceding key seat funding will be restricted to 15 target seats. Similarly, The Australian notes Debnam’s failure to gain support from business, "as firms fear Labor would ‘crucify’ them for advocating a change of government". It is also reported that "senior business figures" feel Debnam "lacks personal appeal and his front bench is weak". Wary as one should be of anecdotal evidence, there is plenty of it in this comments thread to support the idea that the Coalition is failing to make its present felt in important seats.

Still, it’s not all bad news: the Daily Telegraph’s "virtual voting" feature has "Liberal" (meaning the Coalition) on track for a 12-seat absolute majority, with "Labour" (meaning Labor) reduced to 25 seats after losing a further five to the Greens. Back on planet Earth, Labor’s campaign has not gone entirely without incident. On Tuesday, Michael Costa was told by Morris Iemma to go sit in the corner after claiming that he, Joe Tripodi and Frank Sartor had been victims of a "racist" opposition campaign against members with "Italian-sounding names" (Costa did not suggest that this extended to Iemma himself). The government has also been fending off accusations it influenced Connector Motorways’ decision to schedule the opening of the Lane Cove Tunnel – which it is feared will cause a repeat of the chaos that accompanied the August 2005 opening of the Cross City Tunnel – for the day after the election. The government has been keen to point out that Connector’s chairman is former Liberal Premier John Fahey.

When I eventually get round to updating the election guide, the following Campaign Updates will note electorate-level developments from the past week or so:

Lakemba (Labor 28.8%): Six weeks after the prospect was floated of radical Islamic cleric Sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly running against Morris Iemma, there was a brief flurry of talk on Wednesday that the boxer Anthony Mundine would run at his behest. By Thursday, Mundine was declaring that he still hoped to enter politics "maybe some time in the near future". Last August, it was reported that Mundine was planning on running against Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt in Marrickville. An earlier foray into politics came with the following declaration on Channel Nine’s Today program in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks: "if you understand the religion and our way of life it’s not about terrorism, it’s about fighting for God’s laws, and America’s brought it upon themselves (for) what they’ve done in history and so on". Channel Nine’s line to Mundine was then cut by an unfortunately timed technical glitch.

Tweed (Labor 4.0%): On Monday, Morris Iemma scored some good photo ops in Labor’s most marginal seat by meeting with Peter Beattie at the Queensland border, where measures to make life easier for cross-border taxi operators were unveiled. There was also talk of integration of rail and health services. However, Financial Review reporter Steven Scott thought Beattie a "curious choice of campaign partner, because many Tweed residents are jealous of the lower taxes, cheaper cost of living and better infrastructure north of the border". According to Cosima Marriner of the Sydney Morning Herald, Labor incumbent Neville Newell has "the air of a man who suspects he is already beaten", as he suffers a "perceived inability to get things done (which) has earned him some unflattering nicknames – Nodding Nevvie, Last Sleeper on the Tweed, and Chauncey Gardener (after the accidental politician played by Peter Sellers in the 1979 movie Being There)".

Bathurst (Labor 13.1%), Londonderry (Labor 10.9%) and Riverstone (Labor 13.4%): The opposition has pledged to begin construction of the Bells Line Expressway M2 Extension, to run from Quakers Hill in north-western Sydney to just north of Lithgow. This puts it at odds with the federal government, which according to a spokesperson for Roads Minister Jim Lloyd (quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald) believes the project to be "not viable, economically or socially". Such a road would provide a safer route through the Blue Mountains than the existing Great Western Highway and Bells Line of Road, allowing B-double trucks a direct route west of Sydney.

Wyong (Labor 12.3%): Brenton Pavier, the Liberal candidate dumped for forwarding a naughty joke text message to his fellow Wyong councillors, has abandoned plans to run as an independent. According to the Daily Telegraph, Pavier "said he had thrown his support behind new Liberal candidate for Wyong and personal friend Ben Morton". Still in the field as an independent is Greg Best, one of the recipients of the aforementioned text message. Best continues to deny Pavier’s claim that it was he who alerted the media to Pavier’s unstatesmanlike sense of humour.

Shellharbour (Labor 26.8%): Planning Minister Frank Sartor announced on Wednesday that tenders would be called for a long-delayed road link establishing flood-free access between Dapto and Horsley. Mario Christodoulou of the Illawarra Mercury reports that the road will cater both for existing residents and "more than 19,000 new residents expected to move into West Dapto". Lord mayor Alex Darling, who is mounting a strong independent challenge in the seat, told the Mercury he expected the project to "just disappear after the election, and they will not put any money in it".

Willoughby (Liberal 0.2% versus Independent): The North Side Courier reports that local mayor Pat Reilly will again run as an independent, after coming within 144 votes of winning the seat at the 2003 election. The seat was then being vacated by former Liberal leader Peter Collins; his successor was Gladys Berejiklian, who has since emerged as one of the opposition’s few political assets.

Maitland (Labor 10.3%): Last Friday, the Newcastle Herald reported that a Liberal Party poll conducted "late last year" showed Peter Blackmore, local mayor, former Liberal member and current independent candidate, was polling 36 per cent to Labor’s 30 per cent and the Liberals’ 20 per cent.

Ups and downs

As promised quite a while ago now, here are charts tracking New South Wales state opinion polling by Newspoll and Roy Morgan during the current term. These have been numbered to identify the approximate timing of the following events:

1. Caucus revolt over pokies tax (Aug 2003)
2. Claims of harassment by whistleblower nurses (Nov 2003)
3. Redfern riots (Feb 2003)
4. Clover Moore elected lord mayor of Sydney (Mar 2004)
5. Orange Grove affair; Bob Carr rebuked by ICAC over health inquiry (Jul/Aug 2004)
6. Federal election (Oct 2004)
7. Treasurer Michael Egan retires; Macquarie Fields riots (Jan/Feb 2005)
8. Bob Carr retires; John Brogden resigns (Jul/Aug 2005)
9. “Triple M” by-elections; RTA chief executive forced to resign (Sep/Oct 2005)
10. Liberal defeat in Pittwater by-election; Cronulla riots (Nov 2005)
11. Deficit budget (Jun 2006)
12. Carl Scully resigns (Oct 2006)
13. Milton Orkopoulos charged; Peter Debnam raises claims against Bob Debus in parliament (Nov 2006)

There have also been three polls conducted by ACNielsen since the middle of last year:

July/Aug 2006 51 40 42 18
Nov/Dec 2006 51 36 41 23
Feb 2007 57 46 37 17

A big thank-you is in order to regular reader and stats guru Geoff Lambert for providing me with the figures, and also with a chart illustrating his very interesting contribution to comments five days ago (note that this was before Tuesday’s Newspoll and ACNielsen figures):

Swing … what swing? The last two years of polls in NSW before the 2003 election showed an upward drift in the ALP TPP which, when projected forward as a linear regression to the election, gave a TPP of 59.6%. This was calculated on the basis of Newspoll+Morgan+Nielsen polls. Over that two years, the ALP TPP grew by about 0.07% per month. The actual election returned an average TPP of 56.2%, an error on prediction of 3.4%. This was due mainly to a “droop” occurring from about December 2002.

In the two year period 2004-early 2007, the upward drift of the ALP TPP is also about 0.07% per month. Projected to election day, the line points at a TPP of 58.6%. So far (to Jan 2007) there is no sign of a “droop”, indeed the ALP TPP seems to be inching up even faster. But, if we DO get a 2002/2003-type “droop” (3.2%) from the polls done in early 2007, the TPP on election day would be 55.2%, a swing of 1% against the Government and lead to a loss of zero seats, if evenly distributed. Recent Iemma schemozzles might enlarge the droop. It needs to be about 6.3% average before the Govt. will start losing seats. Sounds like a big ask.

There are no Nielsen numbers in the 2004-2007 data. Nielsen has a long time record of posting lower ALP TPPs than the other two.

Nowhere fast

The Sydney Morning Herald has just previewed a poll to be published tomorrow which shows Labor leading 57-43 in New South Wales. This hardens my impression that, for all the government’s extensive list of negatives, the Coalition will make very few inroads at the March 24 election. I will now set to work on charts tracking opinion poll results through the current term and add them to this post when I have finished. In the meantime, you might like to take another look at my election guide: seats on the Labor side of the table down to and including Heathcote have been brought up to date with photos, further candidate information and, in some cases, analyses of booth variations.

UPDATE: It’s even worse for the Coalition in Newspoll – Labor leads 59-41, "its best result on the two-party preferred measure since the eve of former premier Bob Carr’s third election victory in March 2003".

NSW election: highlights of week one

The New South Wales election campaign has begun without me, with the press taking Sunday’s Labor campaign launch as its cue to open festivities with pendulums, key seat summaries and – in The Australian’s case – Malcolm Mackerras’s too-bold-for-his-own-good predictions. Mackerras has tipped that Labor will be returned with a one-seat majority following the loss of Penrith, Port Stephens, Menai, Miranda and Wollondilly (a new notional Labor seat on Sydney’s southern fringes) to the Liberals, Tweed and Monaro to the Nationals, and Newcastle to independent candidate John Tate. He also tips four independent-held seats will fall to the Coalition: Manly and Pittwater to the Liberals, and Dubbo and Tamworth to the Nationals.

For those as keen on a punt as Mackerras, books on the election are being run by SportingBet, Centrebet, Sportsbet and Sports Acumen. They are currently offering short odds on Morris Iemma remaining Premier: $1.16 compared with $4.50 for Peter Debnam for each agency except Sports Acumen, which is offering $1.17 and $4.40. SportingBet is also taking bets on 14 individual seats, with the odds currently on offer converting into the following percentages. Note that this indicates the likelihood of winning the seat, rather than predicted vote share.

Wyong 48.7 47.0 4.3
Port Stephens 61.4 34.1 4.5
Penrith 45.8 49.9 4.3
Sydney 24.7 3.7 2.3 52.2 17.1
Marrickville 58.2 3.2 1.9 36.7
Tweed 48.3 47.4 4.3
Pittwater 12.5 49.9 3.9 33.7
Auburn 80.1 5.1 14.8
Murray-Darling 58.4 37.3 4.3
Epping 24.7 70.6 4.6
Goulburn 24.8 67.0 8.3
Lakemba 71.1 24.3 4.6
Vaucluse 24.3 71.1 4.6
Macquarie Fields 61.4 34.1 4.5

The first batch of Campaign Update entries for the Poll Bludger election guide will read as follows:

Wyong (Labor 12.3%): The Liberal campaign for this winnable Central Coast seat is off to what could kindly be described as an awkward start. Yesterday, Simon Benson of the Daily Telegraph gleefully revealed the party’s candidate, Brenton Pavier, had a profile up on Fairfax’s RSVP dating website. Pavier proved good enough of a sport to accept the paper’s invitation for a "date" yesterday with its reporter Kate Sikora. Unfortunately, it was interrupted by a call to Pavier from Peter Debnam, who told him he was about to be disendorsed. His crime was to have forwarded an SMS message containing a rude joke to his fellow Wyong councillors. The Poll Bludger finds this a little severe, and wonders whether it might underscore concerns that the state party has become unduly doctrinaire and puritanical. Debnam has moved very quickly to replace him with the party’s candidate from 2003, Ben Morton (a "federal government adviser"), who was then 21 and is now 25.

Newcastle (Labor 15.4%): The Newcastle Herald published a poll of 300 voters on Tuesday which indicated Labor was set to lose the seat to an independent, with their candidate Jodi McKay on just 24.0 per cent. The apparent front-runner was Bryce Gaudry, the sitting Labor member who had been dumped for preselection, on 22.7 per cent. The other main independent, Newcastle lord mayor John Tate, was on 20.3 per cent, with the Greens on 11.0 per cent and the Liberals on 8.3 per cent. Damien Murphy of the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the result has "come as a shock to Labor strategists who thought Mr Tate was shaping as Ms McKay’s main rival".

The Entrance (Labor 9.7%): On Wednesday, The Australian’s Imre Salusinszky reported that polling by both parties had Labor member Grant McBride in "a virtually hopeless position", with "one senior local Labor Party figure" declaring the seat to be "gone". It was also reported that Labor’s state general secretary, Mark Arbib, was going to "warn the party to expect double-digit swings against its MPs". Other seats said to be at risk included Penrith, Miranda, Menai, Port Stephens and Murray-Darling (which has become a notional Nationals seat after the redistribution).

Maitland (Labor 10.3%): Peter Blackmore, former Liberal member now running as an independent, accused Labor candidate Frank Terenzini of breaching the Electoral Act after posters were nailed to power poles without the permission of the electricity provider. Yeah, I know, big deal. What actually caught my eye about the report in the Newcastle Herald was Terenzini’s campaign slogan: "Frank Terenzini, criminal prosecutor. Someone you can depend on".

New South Wales election guide

The Poll Bludger’s New South Wales election guide is now operational – all 30,000 or so words of it. Virtue is of course its own reward, but if you think my labours deserve a little extra you are invited to follow the directions here. Further embellishments, like candidate photos and local issue summaries, will be added in due course. Please drop me a line if you spot any errors, particularly if they’re of a kind likely to invite ridicule. With that out of the way, I really am going to be keeping a low profile around here in the next four weeks or so; heavy duty state election coverage will commence thereafter.

New South Wales election: open thread

New reader "Politically Correct" has weighed in at my last Peel by-election post with some unrelated thoughts on the New South Wales Liberal Party, mostly concerning the state election that will be held on March 24. I have relocated it to this post to give it a more suitable home, and hopefully to stimulate further election-related discussion among the Poll Bludger community. A form guide to the February 3 Peel by-election will follow either tomorrow or the day after, depending on how good a time I have this evening. I am also making good progress on my seat-by-seat New South Wales election guide, which is optimistically scheduled for launch at the end of January.