Essential Research: 65-35 to Coalition in NSW

No polling respite whatsoever for Labor in New South Wales, with an Essential Research survey of 900 respondents conducted over the past three weeks among the worst the government has ever suffered: the Coalition primary vote on a possibly unprecedented 54 per cent against 24 per cent for Labor, with the two-party result at 65-35. The Greens vote is 12 per cent, similar to the 11 per cent from Newspoll last week, but whereas that represented a six point fall in Newspoll the Essential result is that same as their previous poll conducted in late January and early February.

NSW election minus 10 days

On Monday, The Australian published further detail from last week’s Newspoll survey regarding election issues. This showed the Coalition best to handle every issue going, the narrowest lead being for climate change (32-25) and the widest for the economy (59-18). What stands out for me is that the issues which have gained most since 2007 on the question of whether respondents considered them “very important” 2007 – the economy, up from 60 per cent to 71 per cent, and public transport and roads, up from 56 per cent 66 per cent – are the very ones on which the Coalition holds the most commanding leads (59-18 and 54-19 respectively). The same would probably have applied for “cost of living”, which 73 per cent rate very important with the Coalition favoured 50-24, but this was not part of the mix in the 2007 poll.


• The local branch of the Greens has opted to direct preferences to Labor in Coogee, while elsewhere the Greens will be directing preferences to independents Mike Jackson in Wallsend and Gillian Sneddon in Swansea. The Liberals will direct preferences to John Tate in Newcastle, Greg Piper in Lake Macquarie, Shayne Connell in Wallsend and Barry Johnston in Charlestown. Johnston will in turn direct preferences to Liberal candidate Andrew Cornwell. According to the Newcastle Herald, Johnston, Cornwell and Labor member Matthew Morris are “said to be evenly matched in polling”.

• Market researchers purporting to be from Marrickville Council have reportedly been asking respondents if they were aware that the local mayor, Greens candidate Fiona Byrne, had “led a boycott against Israel on council recently”, and inviting them to consider whether they thought foreign policy was properly the council’s concern. The council says it has not conducted any such polling.

• Antony Green on the possible impact of former Leichhardt mayor Marie Sheehan’s independent candidacy in Balmain: “The Liberals could lead on the first preferences and, if they do, a split-up of preferences between Labor, Greens and independents could lead to a surprise Liberal victory.”

• Imre Salusinszky of The Australian reports that Labor strategists have “virtually written off Education Minister Verity Firth in Balmain, but still hold out hopes of saving Deputy Premier Carmel Tebbutt in Marrickville” – however, “On-the-ground Liberal sources suggest the opposite picture”. Salusinszky earlier reported that saving Tebbutt had become the number one priority of state Labor boss Sam Dastyari.

Amos Aikman of The Australian notes Kristina Keneally was putting more effort than you might have thought earlier this week into Wyong, held on a margin of 6.9 per cent: “Perhaps buoyed by unexpected wins in the nearby federal seats of Dobell and Robertson last year, the party is hoping for a successful Hail Mary pass.”

• Pre-poll voting commenced on Monday.

• Recent additions to the election guide have focused on the western and south-western suburbs: Riverstone, Granville, Macquarie Fields, East Hills, Toongabbie, Smithfield, Fairfield, Blacktown, Bankstown, Mount Druitt, Liverpool and Auburn.

Newspoll: 63-37 to Coalition in NSW

UPDATE: We now also have, courtesy of the Daily Telegraph, a Galaxy survey of an undisclosed number of respondents in Marrickville which shows Deputy Premier Carmel Tebbutt set to be dumped by Greens candidate and local mayor Fiona Byrne. The poll has the Greens leading 44 per cent to 33 per cent on the primary vote and 57 per cent to 43 per cent after preferences. Of the 16 per cent who voted Liberal, 16 per cent planned to preference the Greens, 12 per cent Labor and 65 per cent would exhaust. The poll was conducted on Wednesday and Thursday.

I wouldn’t have thought opinion polling for the remainder of the NSW election campaign was likely to turn up much in the way of surprises, but the latest Newspoll offers a real curiosity: a six-point dive for the Greens, who are down from 17 per cent to 11 per cent. This has allowed both major parties to make gains, with Labor up three to 26 per cent and the Coalition up four to 50 per cent – a very rare achievement in modern politics. The two-party result is 63-37, which compares with 62-38 in the bi-monthly poll conducted over January and February. However, given the impact of optional preferential voting, the improvement in Labor’s primary vote means this is a “better” result for them than last time.

On personal ratings, there has been a substantial drop in the uncommitted response for both leaders. I am tempted to link this to the decline in support for the Greens – with a leader-centred election campaign now in full swing, the Greens are being squeezed out of the media space and wavering voters are jumping off the fence. Kristina Keneally has lifted herself off the floor with a four point increase on approval to 34 per cent, but she’s also up a point on disapproval to 58 per cent with uncommitted down five to 8 per cent. Barry O’Farrell’s approval rating is up even further than Keneally’s, by six points to 49 per cent, with disapproval up two to 37 per cent and uncommitted down eight to 14 per cent. O’Farrell’s lead as preferred premier has narrowed slightly, from 47-32 to 48-35.

A question on firmness of voting intention more or less replicates the Galaxy result of last week in finding what remains of the Labor vote softer (53 per cent say definite, 38 per cent say not definite, 8 per cent say they could go either way) than for the Coalition (70 per cent, 22 per cent and 5 per cent). A question on which party respondents expect to win shows 11 per cent getting the answer wrong and 77 per cent getting it right. Full tables courtesy of GhostWhoVotes.

I had the following to relate in a post earlier today – since this was only a few hours ago, I’ve reupholstered the existing thread with the Newspoll results rather than start again.

• The Daily Telegraph reports Labor internal polling is so bad that John Robertson appears headed for defeat in his bid to move from the upper house to the lower house seat of Blacktown, which has a margin of 22.4 per cent. To be precise, while “one union source” believes the polling shows him holding on by between 3 and 5 per cent, “other senior party sources said it was worse and he could lose the seat”. Also likely to fall are Mulgoa (margin 11.1 per cent, being vacated by the retirement of Diane Beamer), Smithfield (15.5 per cent, held by Ninos Khoshaba), Macquarie Fields (11.1 per cent, held by Andrew McDonald) and even Toongabbie (14.5 per cent, held by former Premier Nathan Rees).

• Yesterday saw the closure of nominations and the drawing of ballot paper positions. There are 498 candidates for the Legislative Assembly, down from 537 in 2007, and 311 for the Legislative Council, down from 333. The Coalition lucked out by drawing “group A” for the Legislative Council, which will put them on the far left of the ballot paper.

• Sean Nicholls of the Sydney Morning Herald reports the entry of former Leichhardt mayor Maire Sheehan into the race for Balmain has given an “unexpected boost” to Labor member Verity Firth in her bid to hold off a challenge from Jamie Parker, Greens candidate and mayor of Leichhardt. Antony Green agrees the entry of Sheehan could further split the non-Labor vote, with Sheehan declaring she will not be directing preferences. Sheehan sided with Liberal and Labor councillors in 2004 which deprived Jamie Parker of the mayoralty for four years.

• The Australian Financial Review reports the Liberals will announce today (and may have already done so) that they will not be directing preferences.

Latest additions to the election guide, focusing on Sydney’s outer west and south-west:

Wollondilly (Labor 3.3%): Labor did well to recruit local mayor Phil Costa as candidate to this newly created seat in 2007, who did much to allow them to retain the seat. He is gamely taking the field again, but faces certain defeat at the hands of local councillor Jai Rowell.

Camden (Labor 4.0%): Labor’s Geoff Corrigan has held this south-western outskirts seat since 2003, but now stands no chance of holding off local mayor and Liberal candidate Chris Patterson, who is making a second tilt after falling short in 2007.

Londonderry (Labor 6.9%): This seat has had two Labor members since it was created in 1988: Paul Gibson, who moved to Blacktown in the shake-up resulting from the reduction in the size of parliament in 1999; Jim Anderson, who died on the morning of the 2003 election; and Allan Shearan, a former Blacktown councillor who has remained on the back bench in his two terms in parliament. He stands next to no chance of winning a third, with Hawkesbury mayor Bert Bassett looking certain to win the seat for the Liberals on his second attempt after falling well short in 2007.

Penrith (Labor 9.2%/Liberal 16.5%): Until June last year, the Liberals had only hend Penrith for a single term since its creation in 1973. Then came Labor member Karyn Paluzzano’s resignation after admitting lying to the Independent Commission Against Corruption, followed by a record-shattering by-election in which Labor was dumped by an unprecedented 25.7 per cent swing. The coming election is a re-match between Liberal member Stuart Ayres and Labor candidate John Thain, who despite his profile as the local mayor has no chance of winning.

Blue Mountains (Labor 11.1%): This seat has been something of a bellwether since Labor gained it from an independent when Neville Wran’s government came to power in 1976, falling to the Liberals with the election of the Greiner government in 1988 before Labor resumed it when Bob Carr came to power in 1995. Outside of the seven-year Liberal interregnum it was held for Labor by Bob Debus from 1981 until 2007, when he moved to federal politics for a term as member for Macquarie. Former Rural Fire Services commissioner Phil Koperberg has since held it for a single troubled term, and will not seek another. Liberal candidate Roza Sage, a local dentist, is odds on to defeat Labor candidate Trish Doyle, a staffer to Koperberg.

Mulgoa (Labor 11.1%): Mulgoa existed for one term after 1988 and was re-created in 1999, having been held at all times by Labor. Diane Beamer, who crucially won Badgerys Creek for Labor in 1995 before moving to Mulgoa after it was abolished in 1999, is bowing out at the coming election, further complicating Labor’s difficult task of retaining the seat. The candidates are Prue Guillaume for Labor and Tanya Davies for Liberal, both Penrith councillors. As noted above, internal polling reportedly has Labor bracing for defeat.

NSW election minus 16 days

Some happenings from the slow-motion train wreck that is the New South Wales state election campaign:

• Pauline Hanson has announced she will make yet another run for election, this time as a candidate for the New South Wales Legislative Council. This is her second tilt at this particular office, her first being in 2003 when polled an insufficient 1.8 per cent. Hanson has often been accused of running for office to access generous public funding arrangements for candidates with enough profile to clear a vote threshold, but the system in New South Wales was reformed late last year to prevent that happening (and in any case, she failed to clear the threshold in 2003). Antony Green offers a lowdown on Hanson’s electoral life and times.

• Imre Salusinszky of The Australian reported on Monday that Labor’s furniture-saving strategy involved abandoning any seat with a margin in single figures and focusing its energies on seats within the range of 10 per cent to 25 per cent. With new campaign finance laws limiting expenditure in any given electorate to $150,000, Labor reportedly plans to knock on the door of such limit in its western Sydney and Illawarra heartlands, while limiting the spend in its held seats of Blue Mountains and Heathcote to $20,000.

• The Greens have announced they will direct preferences to independent Gordon Bradbery in Wollongong. This is bad news for Labor member Noreen Hay, who was found by an Illawarra Mercury local poll last week to hold a narrow 53-47 lead over Bradbery, a local Wesley Uniting Church minister.

• Damon Cronshaw of the Newcastle Herald reports Lake Macquarie councillor Barry Johnston will run as an independent in Charlestown, where Labor member Matthew Morris will battle to defend his 14.6 per cent margin.

• Nominations close at noon today.

Meanwhile, I will continue to build on my election guide region by region and provide overviews in turn. The newest additions are from the Newcastle/Hunter region and its rural surrounds, home to a brace of seats in the low-teens margin range where the results are expected to be closest. The last time the Hunter region expressed its displeasure with Labor in a big way was with the defeat of the Unsworth government in 1988, when Newcastle and Swansea were won by independents, Cessnock fell to a Liberal and Port Stephens went within an ace of going the same way. The rebellion proved short-lived: Labor comfortably recovered the three seats it lost in 1991 and boosted its margins where they had held on.

The picture since has been of Labor security in every electorate except Port Stephens, which the 1991 redistribution rendered winnable for the Liberals. However, they were not able to fulfil their promise until the retirement of sitting member John Bartlett in 2007, when Liberal candidate Craig Baumann secured a 68-vote win. The 2007 election also saw Labor again come under assault from independents, unseating them in Lake Macquarie and running them close in Newcastle. This election represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Liberals to make more serious inroads in the Hunter region than just Port Stephens, although there is again the complication in some seats that independents might beat them to it. The seats of consequence are as follows:

Wallsend (Labor 15.6%): Wallsend covers the north-western suburbs of Newcastle, and has an unbroken record as a Labor seat going back to 1894, including when it was named Kurri Kurri from 1930 to 1968 and exclusing its abolition during the proportional representation years of 1920 and 1927. Sonia Hornery came to the seat at the 2007 election, and may have done herself some local favours by publicly opposing the privatisation of an aged care facility in her electorate, costing her her position as parliamentary secretary. The Liberals have endorsed Christopher Dolan, a paediatric nurse at John Hunter Hospital’s neo-natal intensive care unit. A Newcastle councillor, Shayne Connell, is running as an independent.

Charlestown (Labor 14.6%): Charlestown succeeded the abolished seat of Kahibah in 1971; between them they have been in Labor hands since 1927, outside the interruption of an independent Labor in the early 1950s. Part of a local Labor dynasty, Matthew Morris has held the seat since 2003. His Liberal opponent is Andrew Cornwell, a veterinarian.

Cessnock (Labor 12.4%): Outside of the interruption of proportional representation between 1920 and 1927, Labor won Cessnock at every election after its creation in 1913 with the exception of 1988, when Liberal candidate Bob Roberts defeated sitting member Stan Neilly. Neilly recovered the seat in 1991, and it has been held since by Kerry Hickey. With Hickey joining the Labor exodus at the coming election, the seat will be contested for Labor by Port Stephens council officer Clayton Barr. Barr is opposed by councillors galore: mayor Alison Davey for the Nationals, James Ryan for the Gerens and independents Allan McCudden and Dale Troy, who was elected to council as a Liberal.

Swansea (Labor 10.8%): Formerly held by the notorious Milton Orkopoulos, currently serving 13 years for offences including sexual assault of a minor, Swansea stayed in Labor hands with Robert Coombs’s comfortable win in 2007. This time Coombs faces not only Liberal candidate and Lake Macquarie deputy mayor Garry Edwards, but also independent Gillian Sneddon – a former staffer to Orkopoulos who informed police of a call she had received from a man claiming to have been abused by him at the age of 15. Sneddon has since been seeking compensation for harrassment and bullying she claims to have been subjected to in the office afterwards.

Newcastle (Labor 1.2% versus Independent): Newcastle has been held by Labor for all but one term since proportional representation was abolished in 1927. The exception once again involved the Unsworth government’s defeat in 1988, when it fell to Newcastle Chamber of Commerce and Industry president and independent candidate George Keegan. Current member Jodi McKay was only just able to hold off further independent challenges after sitting member Bryce Gaudry was dumped for preselection in 2007. Lord Mayor John Tate polled 24.1 per cent of the vote last time, while Gaudry himself managed 21.0 per cent. Tate is again taking the field, and McKay does not appear well placed to hold him off.

To speak Illawarra

Saturday’s Illawarra Mercury helpfully featured opinion polls conducted by local outfit IRIS of each of the five state electorates on the paper’s turf, each with sample sizes of 400 and margins of error approaching 5 per cent. The best way to read such a poll is to combine the results, which points to an Illawarra-wide swing against Labor of 21 per cent from a margin of error of about 2.2 per cent. Even by Labor’s recent standards this is a dismal result: the average swing in statewide polls has been about 16 per cent. Thanks to reader DaveM for passing this on.

I am using the occasion to offer the first look at my New South Wales election guide, which I will publish piece-by-piece as the campaign progresses. The electorates in turn, from north to south:

Heathcote (Labor 8.8%): Heathcote is being defended by Labor incumbent Paul McLeay, whose obligatory item of baggage is his resignation from the ministry in June 2010 after admitting he had used a parliamentary computer to visit pornography and gaming sites. The poll suggests McLeay might not even finish second: Liberal opponent Lee Evans has 49 per cent to 23 per cent for McLeay and 19 per cent for Greens candidate Phil Smith. The Liberal lead on two-party preferred is 62-38.

Keira (Labor 22.0%): Labor’s enormous margin might not be enough for their candidate, former Transport Department deputy chief Ryan Park, to succeed the outgoing David Campbell, the former Transport Minister who quit after Channel Seven screened footage of him leaving a gay sex club. Park trails Liberal candidate John Dorahy, who was the inaugural captain of NSWRL club the Illawarra Steelers in the 1980s, by 37 per cent to 44 per cent on the primary vote and 48 per cent to 52 per cent on two-party preferred.

Wollongong (Labor 25.3%): A margin of this size should surely be a bridge too far for the Liberals, but the poll suggests independent Gordon Bradbery, a local Wesley Uniting Church minister, is a shot at succeeding where Liberal candidate Michelle Blivacs is likely to fail. Defending Labor member Noreen Hay leads the primary vote with 34 per cent against 24 per cent for Blivacs and 23 per cent for Bradbery. With Bradbery likely to overhaul Blivacs after preferences on these figures, the final two-candidate preferred result has Hay holding on against Bradbery by 53 per cent to 47 per cent.

Shellharbour (Labor 26.8%): Here at least the poll suggests Labor is safe, despite the retirement after one term of sitting member Lylea McMahon. Their new candidate, United Services Union organiser Anna Watson, has 52 per cent of the primary vote to 34 per cent for Liberal candidate Larissa Mallinson, and a 61 per cent to 39 per cent lead on two-party preferred.

Kiama (Labor 12.0%): Labor member Matt Brown, who lost his job as Police Minister after the world learned of him dancing in his underpants at a late-night party in the office of Wollongong MP Noreen Hay, appears to be in all sorts of trouble with a primary vote of just 27 per cent. Liberal candidate and Shoalhaven deputy mayor Gareth Ward is on 42 per cent, and has a commanding 60 per cent to 40 per cent lead on two-party preferred.

In other news, I had this to say in Friday’s Crikey email:

The Daily Telegraph today has published a NSW state election poll from Galaxy Research, which has the Coalition leading Labor by 50% to 23% on the primary vote, and by 64% to 36% on two-party preferred. Which is par the course really: the two-party result sits roughly in the middle of Newspoll (62-38), Essential Research (62-38 by Antony Green’s reckoning), Nielsen (66-34) and the previous Galaxy poll (66-34).

You might well think Labor’s 23% represents a bedrock beneath which they cannot sink, but the Galaxy poll won’t even offer them that comfort. Fully 41% of Labor supporters say that they might change their mind, against only 24% for the Coalition. It would appear the number of voters who profess themselves ready to stay with Labor come what may has fallen below 13%.

Meanwhile, bookies are offering $1.03 on a Coalition win. If you have a lazy ten grand lying around, think of it as $300 of free money.

However, the election does offer one conclusion that isn’t foregone: the Legislative Council, where a single party majority is effectively impossible and much depends on who occupies the cross-benches.

The electoral system is cut from the same cloth as most of Australia’s other upper houses, and like the Senate it has staggered terms with half the members facing the polls at each election.

The results in 2007 were nine seats for Labor, eight for the Coalition, two for the Greens and one each for the Christian Democratic Party and the Shooters Party, which boils down to an 11-10 left-right split as far as the ongoing members are concerned. That means the right can tie things up by going one better this time, and score a majority by going two better.

With so much at stake, things have been getting even testier than usual between Labor and the Greens, with the latter proving disinclined to throw preference lifelines that might tar them by association.
Labor could well argue that the Greens will come to regret their reluctance to forge a popular front against an ascendant right, but the consequences of their decision should not be over-estimated.

One very significant difference between the Legislative Council and the Senate is that the former has optional above-the-line preferential voting. Those who simply number a single box above the line — the default option for most voters in both kinds of election — are committing to no more than a vote for the candidates of that party, with their preferences exhausting thereafter.

Micro parties such as the Shooters and Fred Nile group get elected not through Senate-style mass transfers of above-the-line preferences, but for the quite different reason of a low quota for election: with the entire state voting as one for 21 members, all it takes is 4.5% to win a seat.

Greens voters are somewhat more ready than most to number more than one box, but the 2007 election result suggests only a fraction of them do so along the lines recommended by the how-to-vote card.
It’s always possible that such a fraction could mean the difference between a seat taking a step to the left or a jump to the right. However, if the numbers in today’s Galaxy poll are anywhere near the mark, the only point of issue would be the size of the left’s overall defeat.

With a primary vote approaching 50%, the Coalition are a strong chance for 11 seats, and there seems no reason to think right-wing micro-parties won’t match their 2003 and 2007 performance in winning two seats between them.

That would leave Labor and the Greens looking at a collective 20 seats at best, and the incoming government requiring three out of four micro-party votes to pass legislation opposed by them.

Galaxy: 64-36 to Coalition in NSW

GhostWhoVotes reports the latest Galaxy poll for New South Wales has the Coalition on 50 per cent of the primary vote, down a point on the previous poll, with Labor up three to 23 per cent and the Greens steady on 14 per cent. This translates into 64-36 on two-party preferred, which compares with 62-38 from Newspoll, 61-39 from Essential Research (as adjusted by Antony Green) and 66-34 from Nielsen and the previous Galaxy. Contrary to expectations that Labor’s numbers might represent their irreducible bedrock of support, no less than 41 per cent of Labor voters say there is a chance they will change their vote before election day, compared with only 24 per cent of Coalition supporters.

The poll is of interest in being the first test of public opinion on the carbon tax, respondents having been asked if “Kristina Keneally is correct to take the long term view on the carbon tax issue or does it show that she is out of touch with the needs of the people of New South Wales”. The result had 37 per cent opting for “correct” and 55 per cent “out of touch”. If you were of a mind, I suppose you could spin this as saying supporting the carbon tax is about the most popular thing the government is doing right now: further questions find the Coalition rated better to handle every policy area (roads, water, public transport, health, education, law and order, helping families and the sale of electricity assets) by margins of between 14 per cent and 38 per cent.

Also: 47 per cent say they will just vote one, while 51 per cent say they will allocate preferences; Barry O’Farrell’s lead as preferred premier has narrowed from 32-54 to 34-50; and there are another three questions you can find out about the link, the basic thrust of which is that the government is unpopular.

It seems the current parliament officially expired overnight – this is good timing, because this site’s previously slow work rate on the New South Wales is about to pick up.