Election day: September 14

Regardless of her motivations, the Prime Minister has done us all a good turn by advising well in advance of her plans to hold the election on September 14.

The Prime Minister has performed us all the service of advising well in advance that she will call the federal election for September 14, to be formally initiated by a visit to the Governor-General and the issue of the writs on August 12 (remember where you heard it first). Professional strainers for things to say have criticised the move, but not on any reasonable basis that I can see (the rather esoteric concern of the date coinciding with Yom Kippur aside). It’s a bit trite to complain of a decision about election timing being driven by political considerations, which will self-evidently be the case wherever politicians are given discretion over the matter. The salient point is that the public and the political system at large have gone from not knowing something important to knowing it, which can only be a good thing. Antony Green (see video embed at 2:47pm) has more, including the observation that the practice of ambushing the opposition with an announcement five weeks out from the date is a modern development, and a very obviously unhelpful one at that.

Some recent political odds and ends:

• Labor’s national executive has confirmed the endorsement of Nova Peris, who became the first Australian Aboriginal to win an Olympic gold medal as a representative of the women’s hockey team in 1996, as its Northern Territory Senate candidate. Peris’s endorsement occurred at the initiative of the Prime Minister, who was seen to be reacting against the party’s record of failure in securing Aboriginal representation in the federal parliament, and the backlash against Labor in remote areas at last August’s Northern Territory election and the presumed threat to the corresponding federal seat of Lingiari. Local preselection processes were contentiously overridden in seeing off the incumbent of 16 years, Trish Crossin, who had been a supporter of Kevin Rudd’s bid to return to the leadership. Vocal critics of the move included two former Labor Deputy Chief Ministers, Marion Scrymgour and Syd Stirling, along with Senator and Left faction powerbroker Doug Cameron. Scrymgour nominated for the national executive vote along with another former Territory minister in Karl Hampton, who was among those to lose his seat at last year’s election. It was was reported that “at least two” of the 24-member national executive voted against the Prime Minister’s wishes.

• Robert McClelland has announced he will bow out at the federal election after 17 years as member for the Sydney seat of Barton, which Labor holds on a margin of 7.7%. Another backer of Kevin Rudd, McClelland served as Attorney-General from the government’s election in 2007 until his demotion to emergency management in 2011, and was dropped altogether last March in the wake of Rudd’s failed leadership bid. He was seen to have undermined Julia Gillard last June by making an oblique reference in parliament to the AWU affair, which was invoked as validating the subsequent blizzard of news reports into various details of the matter. McClelland’s most widely discussed potential successor as Labor candidate is Morris Iemma, who succeeded Bob Carr as NSW Premier in August 2005, led his party to victory at the 2007 election, and was deposed in September 2008 in a move which doesn’t seem as clever now as it apparently did at the time. Reports have quoted sources saying Iemma is “likely” to put his name forward. Others mentioned have been Shane O’Brien, mayor of Rockdale and official with the Public Service Association of NSW, and Kirsten Andrews, a former staffer who now works with the National Heart Foundation.

• Paul Henderson, who led Labor to defeat in last year’s Northern Territory election, has announced he is bowing out of parliament. This will cause a by-election to be held on February 16 for his northern Darwin seat of Wanguri, where his margin was clipped from 14.4% to 7.0% last August. Labor has preselected Nicole Manison, a former Henderson government media adviser who had backing from both Henderson and his successor as Labor leader, Delia Lawrie. The Country Liberal Party has again endorsed its candidate from last year, Rhianna Harker, a former president of the Young CLP.

UPDATE: Morgan has published a result from its face-to-face polling of the past two weekends, which has Labor down half a point to 36%, the Coalition down 2.5% to 39% and the Greens up 1.5% to 12%. This pans out to a 50.5-49.5 lead to the Coalition on respondent-allocated preferences, and 50.5-49.5 to Labor when preferences are allocated as per the result of the last election.

Armadale and Araluen and Walter Taylor

Time for a new thread. Politics watchers have had pretty big fish to fry recently, but as electoral minutiae are this site’s raison d’etre, here’s a review of looming events which might have escaped your notice. Feel free to discuss what you’d usually discuss in comments.

• Voters in the safe Labor WA state seat of Armadale go to the polls on Saturday to choose a successor to Alannah MacTiernan, following her unsuccessful stab at the federal seat of Canning. I’m wondering if the date might have been chosen so as not to clash with the AFL grand final, and whether events on that front might result in a very low turnout on Saturday. With the Liberals sitting the contest out and no significant minor challengers emerging, the only other point of interest is how the Labor primary vote holds up with talk building of a threat to Eric Ripper’s leadership. Labor’s candidate is Tony Buti, a law professor at the University of Western Australia. Buti heads a ballot paper filled out by Jamie van Burgel of the Christian Democratic Party, independent John D. Tucak (who had extremely limited success as an upper house candidate for Eastern Metropolitan at the 2007 state election) and Owen Davies of the Greens. More from Antony Green.

• On Saturday week, voters in the Alice Springs seat of Araluen will choose a successor to outgoing Country Liberal Party member (and former leader) Jodeen Carney, who on August 19 announced she was retiring for health reasons. A by-election in the Northern Territory offers interesting parallels with the federal situation, as the Labor government has been on a parliamentary knife edge since the 2008 election returned a result of 13 Labor, 11 Country Liberal Party and one independent. The government assumed minority status when its member for Macdonnell, Alison Anderson, quit to sit as an independent in July 2009 – prompting the existing independent, Gerry Wood of the normally conservative electorate of Nelson, to guarantee Labor on confidence and supply in the interests of “stable government” (there was also a brief period in which Arafura MP Marion Scrymgour was on the cross-benches). As a CLP seat, Araluen gives Labor the remote prospect of improving their position, although the 24.6 per cent margin leaves them with little cause for optimism (it should be noted that election results can be hugely variable in the Northern Territory, where bite-sized electorates make candidate factors crucially important). The CLP candidate is Alice Springs deputy mayor Robyn Lambley, described by Ben Langford of the Northern Territory News as a “mediator and dispute resolution expert”. Labor’s candidate is Adam Findlay, a chef with no background in politics to speak of.

• On October 23, a Brisbane City Council by-election will be held in the ward of Walter Taylor, which has been vacated by Jane Prentice, the newly elected LNP member for the federal seat of Ryan. The LNP have nominated a former policy officer for Prentice, Julian Simmonds, who seems unlikely to be troubled given the 21.0 per cent margin from the 2008 election. Labor’s candidate is Louise Foley, who according to Tony Moore of Fairfax has “worked in the Queensland public service during the Beattie Government as a ministerial advisor in local government, planning, transport, education, main roads and with the office of Premier and Cabinet”. Also in the field are Tim Dangerfield of the Greens and independent William Borbasi. Walter Taylor was one of 16 wards won by Liberal in 2008, with 10 being won by Labor. Lord mayor Campbell Newman of the LNP serves a fixed four-year term regardless of the numbers on council.

Greatorex by-election live

7.44pm. Sadadeen booth now in, and CLP candidate Matt Conlan is home and hosed with 53.6 per cent of the primary vote. Paul Herrick now leads the Labor candidate 20.3 per cent to 16.5 per cent, while the Greens got a boost from Sadadeen to finish on 9.6 per cent, still down on 10.7 per cent in 2005. Only declaration votes and some more postals to come, which shouldn’t make much difference.

7.05pm. We’ve now got mobile, pre-poll, postal and the small Windmill booth, leaving only the large Sadadeen both (about two-thirds of the total) and declarations (a small handful). Barring something unexpected in Sadadeen, the CLP are looking very good – 62.4 per cent compared with an equivalent 51.4 per cent in 2005. Herrick (17.1 per cent) should finish clear of Labor (13.6 per cent), but it probably won’t be enough. Greens down from 8.7 per cent to 7.0 per cent.

7.00pm. Comparison of pre-poll votes from the 2005 election: the CLP are up from 55.0 per cent to 59.3 per cent, Labor are down from 37.6 per cent to 16.9 per cent and the Greens are up from 7.4 per cent to 7.6 per cent. Filling the gap from Labor’s decline is independent Paul Herrick, on 16.3 per cent. So the swing on pre-polls is not so big you would say the CLP is out of the woods yet.

6.53pm. Pre-poll votes are in, and they suggest a comfortable ride for the CLP candidate, who has 211 of 356 votes (59.3 per cent).

A by-election called Alice: form guide

The tea leaves will not be easy to read, but tomorrow’s Northern Territory by-election for the Alice Springs seat of Greatorex might be of broader interest as a test of the federal government’s intervention into Aboriginal communities. Here as elsewhere in Alice Springs, voters who were happy to back Labor at federal level have traditionally refused to touch the territory party with a barge pole, and there is little question that racial issues have played a role here. Labor nonetheless made a concerted bid to defeat sitting member Richard Lim at the 2005 election, fielding an extremely high-profile candidate in Alice Springs mayor Fran Kilgariff. They succeeded in narrowing the margin from 9.0 per cent to 1.5 per cent, but Lim nonetheless emerged as one of only four surviving Country Liberal Party members in a chamber of 25. After 13 years in parliament, Lim announced late last month that he was standing aside due to ill health in his family.

In Kilgariff’s absence, a correction in the CLP’s favour should have been expected even without taking into account the Martin government’s recent humiliation at the hands of the feds. With the party’s stocks further boosted by a high-profile candidate, the stage appeared set for a swing to the CLP that would no doubt have been over-interpreted as a pointer to the federal election. However, the waters may have been muddied by the emergence of an independent candidate whom local observers reckon to be in with a real chance. Should that come off, the parliament will have three CLP members and three independents. This will make it possible for the independents to band together and demand half the public funding available to the official opposition for “parliamentary running costs”, said by the Northern Territory News to total $900,000 a year.

The candidates in ballot paper order:

Jo Nixon (Labor). An audiologist by trade, Nixon is apparently known locally as “organiser of the annual Beanie Festival&#148, which the ABC describes as “increasingly famous”.

Paul Herrick (Independent). Until he quit the job to focus on his campaign, Herrick was the territory’s deputy chief fire officer with specific responsibility for the “southern region”. He has lived in the electorate for 16 years, competed in four Sydney to Hobart and two Melbourne to Hobart yacht races, and can boast involvement with “AFL Central Australia, Centralian Senior Secondary College Council, Rugby League Referees Association and the Alice Springs Cycling Club” (list compiled by the Centralian Advocate). Herrick is being heavily backed by Loraine Braham, the independent member for the north-western Alice Springs seat of Braitling.

Matt Conlan (CLP). Conlan is described by the Northern Territory News as “the Centralian John Laws”, which if accurate would surely make him a hard man to beat. He has nonetheless been targeted over the short term of his residence in Alice Springs. Nick Calacouras of the Northern Territory News describes him as a “radio shock jock”, while contentious Poll Bludger commenter Isabella calls him a “vocal critic of Labor’s soft touch when it comes to out of control Aboriginal crime in the town”. Conlan nonetheless describes his radio program as “non-political”. The Northern Territory News reports he won preselection unopposed after two unidentified rivals withdrew. Those mentioned as potential nominees had included Alice Springs alderman David Koch, former CLP president Jenny Mostran and Alice Springs businessman David Douglas.

Jane Clark (Greens). An Alice Springs alderman, Clark initially sought Labor preselection, seeking and receiving Greens endorsement when this fell through. It had earlier been reported that the Greens were not planning on running.

Tune into the Poll Bludger from early tomorrow evening for half-arsed live commentary.

A by-election called Alice

Richard Lim, one of four remaining Country Liberal Party MPs after the party’s debacle at the 2005 Northern Territory election, has announced he will retire as of next week. This means a by-election looms for his Alice Springs seat of Greatorex, possibly within weeks. Alice Springs was the only part of the territory that remained impervious to Clare Martin’s charms in 2005, and it seems unlikely voters will further swell her bloated majority by handing the seat to Labor. However, the Territory’s pocket-sized electorates mean there is always a chance an independent might do some damage.

Stuart by-election live

8.05pm. I suppose I should point out that Labor’s vote has fallen from 71.3 per cent at last year’s election, but that was a two-horse race. The two-party result is 68.7-31.3 (with Japanangka in second place), a remarkably modest swing of 2.6 per cent.

7.45pm. Wow, results – all at once. As expected, Karl Hampton has won easily. With all the booth results in, he is on 1123 votes for 58.2 per cent of the total. In second place is former Labor MP Gary Cartwright with 14.6 per cent. Of the two CLP candidates, Rex Granites Japanangka is outpolling Lloyd Spencer-Nelson 11.1 per cent to 7.8 per cent; of the independents, Anna Machado is on 7.1 per cent and the reluctant Peter Tjungarray Wilson on just 23 (1.2 per cent).

7.33pm. The NTEO seem to be dragging their heels.

1pm. Not sure how big an audience I’ll attract, but a half-hearted attempt at live-blogging the Stuart by-election count will begin at 6pm Northern Territory time. The count will not be a particularly exciting process, as the entirely remote electorate is served exclusively by mobile booths. Turnout at last year’s election was only 59 per cent (for a total of just 2535 votes) and will presumably be lower still this time. Discontent with the Martin goverment’s indigenous policies should theoretically make the election of interest, but by all accounts the issue will be decided by Labor’s organisational strength in Aboriginal communities. They have also chosen a good candidate – as well as being an indigenous adviser in the Office of Central Australia, Karl Hampton is the coach of the Central Australian Football League club the Pioneers. The CLP seems to have adopted a tactic of clogging the ballot paper with both official and unofficial candidates in the hope of at least embarrassing Labor by suppressing their primary vote. The official candidates are Rex Granites and Lloyd Spencer, described by the Northern Territory News as "Walpiri men with strong cultural links in different areas of the electorate". The independents include Anna de Sousa Machado, who was the CLP candidate at last year’s election; Gary Cartwright, the former Labor member for Victoria River (which became the new electorate of Daly in a redistribution that deprived him of his strongest areas) who is directing preferences to the CLP; and Peter Tjungarray Wilson, who told the ABC he "hates politics and is only running to support fellow candidate Anna Machado".

Bits and pieces

• The only seat still in doubt in Queensland is Bundaberg, which looks likely to be won by Nationals candidate Jack Dempsey. Dempsey led 9,778 to 9,568 at the close of count on Saturday, but the ABC computer was pointing to a 0.3 per cent Labor win. This was based on comparison with results from 2004, when Labor did much better on the as-yet-uncounted declaration and pre-poll votes (55.3 per cent versus 36.7 per cent) than polling booth votes (50.4 per cent versus 41.4 per cent). However, that trend is being substantially reversed this time around. Most pre-poll and postal votes have now been counted (roughly two-thirds of the non-polling booth total, itself 16 per cent of the overall total), and Dempsey’s lead has widened to 11,161 to 10,821. Most of the remaining uncounted votes are absentee votes, of which about 5 per cent will be exhausting minor party votes. With similar figures this time, non-exhausting absentee votes will need to break about 920-580 in Labor’s favour (roughly 70-30) if they are to win the seat. Very, very unlikely.

Charles Richardson of Crikey has been good enough to invoke my words of wisdom while criticising the media for buying Labor’s late-campaign spin about worrying internal polling:

Governments worry obsessively about overconfidence – the twin dangers of (a) seeming arrogant, which puts voters off, and (b) looking invulnerable, which makes voters think they can safely punish them without risking an opposition victory. So when they seem to be getting too far ahead, out comes the famous "private polling" to play down their chances. The media obediently went along. Having spent the previous week reporting the collapse of Coalition support, they started to have second thoughts. As William Bowe, the Poll Bludger, put it on Friday, "momentum is building behind the idea, if not the reality, of a late Coalition revival". But there was never any real evidence for it. The final polls from both Newspoll and Galaxy picked the result almost exactly, while the punters who swung Centrebet’s odds back towards the Coalition in the last week all lost their money.

However, if Glenn Milne in The Australian is to be believed, the Liberals in particular did enjoy a late-campaign recovery that spared them from being reduced to one seat, maybe even less. This of course could be yet another example of journalists receiving selective intelligence designed to serve the ends of those providing it, and should perhaps be viewed in the context of Liberal leadership ructions. It should be noted that Milne is commonly faulted for serving the ends of particular elements in the Liberal Party, intentionally or otherwise.

• Across the border to the west, the by-election for the Northern Territory seat of Stuart will be held the Saturday after next. Labor’s candidate is Karl Hampton, a ministerial officer to the retiring member, Health and Justice Minister Peter Toyne. The CLP is adopting its favoured tactic of running both white (Lloyd Spencer-Nelson) and Aboriginal (Rex Granites Japanangka) candidates (CORRECTION: thanks to Kerry Gardiner in comments for noting both candidates are in fact indigenous), which is calculated to boost its vote in remote communities (a circumstance born of the Territory’s practice of including candidate photos on ballot papers to assist illiterate voters). The party’s candidate at last year’s election, Anna de Sousa Machado, is running as an independent, as is Gary Cartwright, the Labor member for Victoria River (now called Daly) from 1990 to 1994. Rounding out the ballot paper is a third independent, Peter Tjungarray Wilson.

By-election alert

The Northern Territory Health and Justice Minister, Peter Toyne, has announced he is retiring from parliament due to ill health. This means a by-election will be held in his electorate of Stuart, assuming more than one candidate nominates. This is not a foregone conclusion – Stuart is a remote electorate in the west of the territory with an 84.3 per cent indigenous population, and has always been extremely safe for Labor. The electorate includes the troubled Yuendumu community, which has been in the news recently due to an outbreak of gang violence. The CLP could well be forgiven for sitting the contest out, but recent anger at the Martin government’s indigenous policies could make life interesting if a suitable independent comes forward.