Northern Territory election minus nine days

A quick review of the main happenings on the Northern Territory campaign trail. Further background is available from my seat-by-seat election guide.

• The Northern Territory News has gone on the attack over Labor’s handling of the revelation that one of its candidates had a spent conviction for assault. The candidate in question is Ken Vowles, who has been charged with the crucial task of defending the marginal northern Darwin seat of Johnston after the retirement of sitting member Chris Burns. On Monday, the News learned that Vowles had received a fine and a community service order for assault causing bodily harm over an incident involving his “then-girlfriend’s lover” when he was 21 (he is now 40). At issue was a law prohibiting publication of spent minor convictions after 10 years without the offender’s consent. Editor Matt Cunningham says Paul Henderson’s deputy chief-of-staff initially threatened that action would be taken under the law if the paper ran the story, but that Vowles’s consent was later forthcoming after he threatened to run a front page empty but for the word “censored”. Henderson says that he had advised Vowles to offer his consent as soon as he became aware of the matter at around 8pm, which Cunningham says was half-an-hour before the threat of legal action was made.

• It also emerged last week that Peter Rudge, an independent candidate for the equally important Darwin seat of Nightcliff, served 18 months in jail for manslaughter in 1996 over an incident which the court found was “close to self-defence”. Paul Henderson said at the time that he would consider legislative change to require candidates to publicly disclose any criminal history.

Nigel Adlam of the Northern Territory News and Malcolm Mackerras in The Australian have tipped identical outcomes: Labor to retain government by nabbing a thirteenth seat in Sanderson, amid an otherwise status quo result. Mackerras doesn’t elaborate, but Adlam goes all the way with tips for who will and won’t increase their majority. Of Sanderson, Adlam says Labor’s Jodie Green is “dynamic and energetic”, whereas CLP incumbent Peter Styles “hasn’t done himself any favours by badmouthing Mr Mills in the community”. More broadly, Adlam says the oil and gas boom is being well managed, and voters will hesitate to hand power to an opposition that is “a bit of a rabble”. He also takes it for granted that Nelson independent Gerry Wood would support Labor to remain in government, remarkable as that may sound to outsiders attuned to the federal sphere. Late last month, Adlam offered the following in a report which had previously escaped my notice:

The NT News understands that Labor polling shows Ken Vowles will win Johnston, following the retirement of Chris Burns, and Michael Gunner will retain Fannie Bay. This would leave Sanderson as the make-or-break election seat.

Labor said reports that the CLP’s Xavier Francis would defeat the Labor candidate and former AFL star Dean Rioli in Arafura were “nonsense”. “I’ve been on the campaign trail with Dean and seen how he’s treated – like royalty,” an ALP source said. Former policeman Ross Bohlin is expected to do little more than muddy the waters in the Palmerston seat of Drysdale. He is standing as an independent in the rock-solid conservative constituency after being sacked by the CLP’s central management committee. Mr Bohlin is expected to pick up a solid vote but CLP candidate Lia Finocchiaro is still tipped to beat Labor’s James Burke, possibly on preferences.

• Territorians are by all accounts being bombarded with television advertising as the cashed-up parties concentrate their efforts on the post-Olympics final fortnight. Labor’s spots are noteworthy for their failure to mention the party by name, and also for the contrast their positive tone makes with the party’s efforts during the Queensland campaign. More familiar is Arnhem MP Malarndirri McCarthy’s pitch in a regional advertisement that “there is more to be done, but we are heading in the right direction” – an almost word-perfect recitation of Labor’s much derided campaign slogan for the 2007 New South Wales state election.

The CLP’s pitch appears to be a more positively framed variation on Tony Abbott’s suite of three-word slogans from 2010. The opening salvo introduced voters to the party’s “five point plan”, each point of which has since been followed up with its own dedicated ad. However, the unlikely-to-be-surpassed televisual highlight of the campaign so far has been the remarkably fortuitous assault on Shadow Attorney-General John Elferink as television cameras filmed him making a law-and-order announcement, which the CLP wasted little time uploading to YouTube.

Northern Territory election: August 25

With polling day three-and-a-half weeks away, my seat-by-seat guide to the Northern Territory election is almost ready for action, and will be posted after a bit more proof reading leading today (UPDATE: Make that tomorrow) (UPDATE 2: No, make it Monday). Local legal academic and former Labor MP Ken Parish relates the campaign has been off to a somnolent start, with both sides keeping their powder dry until the final fortnight after the Olympics are finished.

The only published polling one ever sees for the Northern Territory comes from Newspoll on the eve of the election, so for outside observers particularly the situation is not easy to read. But with a Labor government seeking a fourth term in a traditionally conservative polity after 11 years in office, and the examples of New South Wales and Queensland etched firmly in mind, the auguries seem to indicate that Labor is headed for an almightly shellacking. So it comes as a surprise to see Sportingbet taking bets on all 25 seats individually, and offering the CLP as clear favourites in only 12 of them.

Echoes of uncertainty have also been heard from the CLP camp itself. Last week the Northern Territory News reported on a confidential party document which warned its lack of policy development might cause voters to “stick with the devil they know”. Last year the paper reported that internal polling showed the party going backwards, putting it at risk of losing Port Darwin without making compensating gains. While the provenance of internal polling is always open to dispute, it is easy enough to believe the report’s claim that Paul Henderson was shown to be “comfortably the preferred Chief Minister” in comparison with the CLP’s uninspiring Terry Mills. One wonders how Mills’s leadership might have played out if he were subjected to the steady drumbeat of polling that federal and state leaders have to endure.

As it stands, Mills had little trouble seeing off a challenge in August 2010 from David Tollner, who held the federal seat of Solomon from 2001 to 2007 before entering Territory politics in 2008. Tollner only secured two votes in the party room against eight for Mills, but he is believed to have won over another two supporters since. He also returned to the front bench after a year of penance in the wake of the leadership challenge, with yet more alleged internal polling suggesting he was the most popular member on either side of parliament.

On the other side of the coin, Paul Henderson appears to have kept internal predators at bay through a difficult period of minority government, and things seem to have been eerily quiet on the scandal front. Ken Parish also makes the interesting observation that the government has been able to “keep politics off the front page” by fiendishly exploiting the Northern Territory News’s notorious obsession with crocodiles. He also suggests Labor may be coming off an artificially low base from the 2008 election result, which had a lot to do with Henderson’s poorly received decision to call the election a year ahead of time.

For all that though, my money is firmly on the CLP. Labor has been handicapped by the effective loss of the remote seat of Namatjira (formerly Macdonnell) with Alison Anderson’s defection to the CLP, so the starting point is 12-12-1 rather than the 13-11-1 recorded at the 2008 election. Independent Gerry Wood presumably had stability in mind when he announced mid-term that he would back Labor to remain in government, and if re-elected would be open to negotiation (though he would have to look past the fact that he accuses CLP members of being behind blackmail and physical threats against him).

It would only take one extra seat for the CLP to go one better, and a number of Labor’s look hard to defend. Fannie Bay (0.9%) and Daly (5.8%) are challenging by dint of margin alone, and the latter has shown a tendency to be volatile. Candidate factors are of paramount importance in the Northern Territory’s bite-sized electorates, so the retirements of Chris Burns in Johnston (margin 6.9%) and Jane Aagaard in Nightcliff (10.7%) make life a lot tougher there than the margins indicate. Conversely, the CLP should enjoy considerable sophomore surges in seats where Labor could realistically hope to make countervailing gains (although the same can be said for Labor first-termer Michael Gunner in Fannie Bay).

What follows is a quick regional breakdown of the electoral terrain into five regions, with party status identified as per the results of the 2008 election (so not including the defection of Alison Anderson in Macdonnell/Namatjira).

Darwin (ALP 6, CLP 3). Labor’s first ever election win in 2001 was built on a breakthrough in the capital, where they previously held only one or two seats. The CLP’s only holdout was the CBD electorate of Port Darwin, with an entire bloc of the middle and northern suburbs (Millner, Nightcliff, Johnston, Casuarina, Sanderson and Karama) moving to Labor, mostly for the first time. The 2005 landslide delivered Labor a clean sweep, Port Darwin being caught up in the flood. In 2008 the CLP recovered Port Darwin together with Sanderson and Fong Lim (formerly Millner). Labor’s most obviously endangered seats are Fannie Bay (0.9%), which Clare Martin wrestled from the CLP in 1995 and Michael Gunner narrowly retained when she retired in 2008, along with Johnston (6.9%) and Nightcliff (10.7%), which are respectively being vacated with the retirements of Chris Burns and Jane Aagaard. Conversely, the CLP has modest margins in its three seats, but will likely benefit in each from sophomore surge.

Palmerston (ALP 0, CLP 3). The CLP retained its hold on Palmerston’s three seats in 2001, but only Blain survived in 2005, with one of the casualties being party leader Denis Burke in Brennan. Both Brennan and Drysdale returned to the CLP fold in 2008. The CLP has surrendered its sophomore surge advantage in Drysdale by dumping its member Ross Bohlin, who will run as an independent. The margin is 9.3%, so Labor is not likely to pose a threat.

Alice Springs (ALP 0, CLP 3). Labor has never won a Territory seat in Alice Springs, despite being fairly competitive there at federal level, and did particularly poorly in 2008. The retirement of independent member Loraine Braham helped the CLP secure a clean sweep last time, and there is no reason to expect different this time.

Pastoral (ALP 1, CLP 2, IND 1). This basically refers to four seats outside of Darwin/Palmerston and Alice Springs which do not have Aboriginal majority populations. The only one held by Labor is electorally volatile Daly on the outskirts of Darwin (margin 5.8%). Katherine and Goyder are reliably conservative, although Labor managed a narrow win in the latter in 2005. Nelson has been held very securely since 2001 by independent Gerry Wood, who despite his hefty margin would be mindful of how independents have been faring in state elections lately – especially given his mid-term determination to support Labor in office.

Remote (ALP 6, CLP 0). This encompasses the seats with Aboriginal majority populations. One of these, Namatjira (the name of which has with good reason been changed from Macdonnell), presents Labor with a serious headache. Local Aboriginal community leader Alison Anderson had held the seat for Labor since 2005, but quit the party in 2009 and joined the CLP last year. If the electorate’s track record is anything to go by, personal will trump party loyalty and Anderson will retain the seat. The other five seats are held by Labor on hefty double-digit margins. The retirement of former deputy leader Marion Scrymgour in Arafura might have been problematic, but Labor has presumably done well by landing the services of former Essendon AFL star Dean Rioli.

Newspoll: 58-42 to Coalition

GhostWhoVotes reports that Newspoll shows little change from a fortnight ago, with the Coalition’s two-party lead down from 59-41 to 58-42. However, it wouldn’t be a current opinion poll if there wasn’t an unpleasant twist for the government, and this time it’s a new low on the primary vote of 26 per cent, down a point on last time. The Coalition are down as well, by two points to 48 per cent, with the Greens up one to 13 per cent. Julia Gillard’s personal ratings have recovered from last week’s disaster, although they are still the second worst she has ever recorded: her approval is up four to 27 per cent and disapproval down seven to 61 per cent. Tony Abbott has failed to hold on to an improvement recorded last time, his approval down five to 34 per cent and disapproval up two to 54 per cent, and his lead as preferred prime minister has narrowed from 43-34 to 40-35.

This week’s Essential Research shows no change in voting intention, and indeed the series has not recorded any shifts worth mentioning since mid-June. The current scores are 32 per cent Labor, 49 per cent Coalition and 10 per cent Greens, with the Coalition leading 56-44 on two-party preferred. Further questions find respondents believe to be the world in general and Australia in particular to be less safe than at the time of the September 11 attacks; little change in opinion on the carbon tax, with support down two points since August 1 to 37 per cent and opposition up one to 52 per cent; continuing broad support for the idea when it is specifically tied to compensation and investment in renewable energy; a belief nonetheless that the current scheme has been rushed; and a confused picture on whether governments should control either or both houses of parliament (though it is clear not many would opt for neither).

Further:

• A by-election looms in the north coast NSW state seat of Clarence following the resignation of Nationals MP Steve Cansdell. Cansdell has admitted to signing a false statutory declaration so that a staff member could take the blame for a 2005 speeding offence, which would otherwise have cost him his licence. The last time there was a by-election in the Grafton-based seat, in 1996, the result was a triumph for Labor: months after losing his seat of Richmond at the federal election, Labor candidate won the seat from the Nationals with a swing of 14.0 per cent, adding a handy buffer to what had previously been the one-seat majority of Bob Carr’s government. This time, Labor need not bother fielding a candidate: after winning the seat on Woods’s retirement in 2003, Steve Cansdell consolidated the Nationals’ hold in 2007 before picking up a swing of nearly 20 per cent in the electoral avalanche that was the March state election, pushing his party’s margin above 30 per cent.

• The Prime Minister has flagged support for trials of American-style “primaries” as part of its preselection process for some Coalition-held seats ahead of the next election. In keeping with the recommendation of the post-election review conducted by Bob Carr, Steve Bracks and John Faulkner, 20 per cent of a preselection ballot will be determined by those willing to register as official party “supporters”. Sixty per cent will be determined by branch members and 20 per cent by affiliated trade union members. The NSW Labor Party has resolved to follow a more radical path in five electorates before the 2015 state election, with 50 per cent determined by primaries and the remainder determined by branch members and unions. Two such experiments were conducted last year, by the NSW Nationals in Tamworth and Victorian Labor in Kilsyth. The former was a highly successful effort in which 4293 voters participated in the selection of Kevin Andrews, who duly unseated independent incumbent Peter Draper; the latter was something of a damp squib, attracting only 170 participants and selecting an electorate officer who did nothing to hold back the anti-Labor tide. The lesson seems to be that a degree of community enthusiasm is requried for the procedure to be worth the effort. This is least likely to be forthcoming when the party is not a serious prospect of winning the seat, and most likely in areas where the party is traditionally strong. Herein lies the catch: it is not in such areas where party branches are moribund, which is the very ill that primaries presume to cure. All that being so, trials in Coalition-held seats do not seem greatly promising at a time when every indication suggests seats will be swinging the other way.

• Antony Green has published analyses of the New South Wales election in March and the Queensland election of October 2009. Among other things, these tell us that the respective two-party splits were 64.2-35.8 to the Coalition, with exhausted minor party votes accounting for 12.9 per cent of the total formal vote; and 50.5-49.5 to Labor, with 7.7 per cent exhausting. In New South Wales, Labor’s primary vote of 25.6 per cent was its worst result since 1904, while the Coalition’s 51.8 per cent was its best result since 1932.

• The delicate balance in the Northern Territory’s Legislative Assembly shifted a fortnight ago when Alison Anderson, who won her outback seat of MacDonnell as a Labor member in 2008 and quit the party the following year, joined the Country Liberal Party. The numbers in the chamber are now 12 each for the Labor government and CLP opposition, with Nelson independent Gerry Wood continuing to provide Labor with a decisive vote on confidence and supply.

• The New South Wales government has introduced a bill that will ban donations to political parties from organisations of any kind, and include spending by affiliated unions within caps on party spending during election campaigns. One of the Keneally government’s final acts was to set caps of $9.3 million on electoral communications spending by parties and $100,000 for each candidate, and to ban donations from the alcohol, gambling and tobacco sectors.

Morgan: 55.5-44.5

The latest Morgan poll combines two weekends’ worth of face-to-face polling, and shows Labor with a lead of 55.5-44.5 on two-party preferred: down two points on the poll conducted on the weekend of February 20/21, which was in turn down a point on the poll from the two previous weekends. Labor’s primary vote is steady on 45 per cent, the Coalition’s is up one point to 38.5 per cent and the Greens are down half a point to 8.5 per cent.

Preselection news:

Damien Madigan of the Blue Mountains Gazette reports Blue Mountains mayor Adam Searle has suffered a further blow in his bid to succeed Bob Debus as Labor candidate for Macquarie after the party’s credentialing committee voted down a bid to have 30 out of the 143 preselectors ruled invalid on grounds of branch stacking. Searle had been thought unlikely to get the nod in any case after the national executive allowed the matter to be determined by rank-and-file preselection, as the local numbers are believed to favour Susan Templeman – partly due to the 20 per cent loading in favour of female candidates. The report further relates that “sources close to the Searle camp say it is very difficult for him to win”; he is “seriously considering his position”; and there is “no truth to media reports last week suggesting Clr Searle was willing to accept the Labor Party’s candidacy for the State seat of Blue Mountains in exchange for losing out in Macquarie”. Madigan also reports of an unsuccessful a challenge to Searle’s presidency of the Mid-Mountains branch by a staffer of Blue Mountains state MP Phil Koperberg.

• The Sydney Morning Herald reports sitting member Craig Thomson won Labor’s preselection vote in Dobell with 66 votes against 21 for challenger David Mehan, the candidate from 2004. Soraiya Gharahkhani of the Camden Advertiser reports Nick Bleasdale’s winning margin over wheelchair athlete Paul Nunnari in Macarthur was 40 votes to three.

Louise Hall of the Sydney Morning Herald reports last weekend’s New South Wales Liberal state upper house preselection, which doled out winnable positions to Catherine Cusack of the Left and Natasha Maclaren-Jones and Peter Phelps of the Right, was the result of a “wide-ranging factional deal designed to keep the peace within the Liberal Party” – presumably the same one that locked in moderate support behind David Clarke.

Menios Constantinou of the Wentworth Courier reports five candidates will contest Liberal preselection for the state seat of Coogee: “clear favourite” Bruce Notley-Smith, a Randwick councillor and Malcolm Turnbull staffer; Edward Mandla, who ran in Sydney in 2007; and David Shaloub, Bruce Morrow and Justin Owen, of whom no information is provided.

The Northern Territory News reports mango farmer Gary Higgins has been preselected as Country Liberal Party candidate for the Darwin outskirts seat of Daly, which Rob Knight holds for Labor on a margin of 7.8 per cent.

Hendo off the hook

No Morgan poll on voting intention this week, although they do have a survey of 687 respondents on carbon emissions trading schemes. Apart from that:

• Paul Henderson’s Labor government has survived today’s no-confidence debate in the Northern Territory parliament, disappointing those hoping for a precedent-setting no-confidence motion and possibly an election to tide them over until the double whammy in South Australia and Tasmania next March. Nelson independent Gerry Wood announced he had reached an agreement to back Labor on confidence supply in the interests of “stable government”. Wood’s decision rendered irrelevant the defection of Macdonnell MP Alison Anderson, who deprived Labor of its one-seat majority and appeared ready to back the Country Liberal Party to bring down the government.

• Margaret May, the long-serving, low-profile Liberal member for the safe Gold Coast seat of McPherson, has announced she will not contest the next election. The Gold Coast News reports she is “battling serious health concerns”. Newspaper reports have been taking for granted that the opening will be of interest to Peter Dutton, who went down to the wire in his outer northern Brisbane seat of Dickson in 2007 and has been further damaged by the redistribution proposal.

Andrew Clennell of the Sydney Morning Herald reports NSW Liberal leader Barry O’Farrell is being “pressured” to purge parliamentary ranks of dead wood/members standing in the way of his sources’ promotion prospects. Those named are deputy leader and North Shore MP Jillian Skinner, Wakehurst MP Brad Hazzard, Baulkham Hills MP Wayne Merton, Castle Hill MP Michael Richardson and Cronulla MP Malcolm Kerr. Skinner, Hazzard and Merton are named by Clennell as supporters of O’Farrell, who is said to harbour ongoing concerns about the leadership ambitions of Manly MP Michael Baird. Baird and Willoughby MP Gladys Berejiklian are said to be possible successors to Skinner in the deputy’s position.

• The hearing into Liberal National Party candidate Andrea Caltabiano’s challenge against her defeat by Labor’s Steve Kilburn in Chatsworth at the Queensland state election in March has begun, with lawyers to sum up their cases on Monday. The LNP claims to have found enough routine-sounding anomalies to justify overturning Kilburn’s 74-vote win or having a new election declared, although the Electoral Commission of Queensland argues otherwise. Mark Oberhardt of the Courier-Mail reports a judgement is expected next month.

• Shawn O’Brien offers a beginners guide to fixed term reform for federal parliament at Online Opinion.

Morgan: 60.5-39.5

Two polls from Morgan, which as ever moves in mysterious ways. Without question the headline finding is the face-to-face poll of 1832 respondents conducted over the previous two weekends, showing a healthy spike in Labor’s two-party lead to 60.5-39.5 from 57.5-42.5 at the previous such poll. The 574-sample phone poll was probably conducted to get more bang from their buck out of some other survey they were conducting for some other reason. It shows Labor’s lead at a more modest 57-43. Furthermore:

• Northern Territory MP Alison Anderson, on whose whim (along with fellow independent Gerry Wood) hangs the future of Paul Henderson’s floundering government, has advised that Tuesday will be nothing less than “the biggest day in Territory history”, which should alarm survivors of Cyclone Tracy and the 1942 air raids. Tuesday was to be the day Anderson would make known her attitude to the government’s future, but it’s presumably been brought forward a day now that Speaker Jane Aagaard has agreed to a request from Anderson, Wood and the CLP for parliament to resume on Monday. Notice will then be given of a no-confidence motion on Friday, which if successful – and given the pitch of Anderson’s rhetoric, any other outcome would be an enormous anti-climax – will result in either a new election or an immediate transfer of power to the Terry Mills-led CLP. The procedure for such a motion was established late last year in legislation establishing fixed four-year terms, which like similar legislation in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia provides for an escape clause in the event of no-confidence or blocked supply. As Antony Green explains, it thus marks a test case for the aforementioned states, which have never experienced such a situation in the fixed term era. If the motion passes, the parliament will have eight days to back an alternative government, after which the Administrator will have the authority to issue writs for an election which the Chief Minister will be obliged to advise. The government’s ongoing crisis reached its current pitch on Tuesday when Anderson quit the ALP – not as she foreshadowed due to dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of an indigenous housing program, but because she blamed Henderson for an allegedly racist article about her and other indigenous MPs in Saturday’s edition of the Northern Territory News. The same day saw Arafura MP Marion Scrymgour return to the Labor fold after two months of independence, leaving the numbers at Labor 12, CLP 11, independents two. While Anderson’s tone of certainty might be taken as a clue, Wood’s precise attitude remains unclear: although of presumably conservative sympathies, he has expressed concern at the CLP’s readiness to govern, and was quoted this week saying an election was “certainly an option”. Anderson tells The Australian her gauge of the public mood is that there is “a push for an election so that they can teach Hendo a lesson”.

• Talk of John Della Bosca challenging Nathan Rees for the New South Wales premiership has focused attention on the theoretical prospect of a leader sitting in the upper house. While dismissive of the rumours, Imre Salusinszky of The Australian muses that Della Bosca “could serve a symbolic first 100 days in the Legislative Council and hope to have gained sufficient traction by that point to make the switch feasible”. He also notes that in the current environment, no lower house seat is so safe for Labor that Della Bosca could be guaranteed to win a by-election even if a sitting member agreed to make way. The Sydney Morning Herald reports party operatives hope Della Bosca can assume Bankstown from Tony Stewart by forging a deal in which Stewart receives an apology for his sacking over an incident involving a staff member last year, for which he is suing the government. Another Herald report mentions Riverstone, where John Aquilina has said he will not contest the next election. Della Bosca’s home patch, Gosford, is deemed unsuitable in part due to the lingering local unpopularity of his wife Belinda Neal following the Iguana’s episode, but also because it is too marginal and sitting member Marie Andrews would be unwilling to make way in any case. The Herald reports that a move to Bankstown “could pave the way for a graceful exit from politics for Ms Neal”, who is unlikely to retain preselection in her Gosford-based federal seat of Robertson. It will be recalled that when Barrie Unsworth was parachuted into Rockdale at a 1986 by-election to assume the premiership upon Neville Wran’s retirement, he suffered a 17 per cent dive in the primary vote and came within 54 votes of defeat. In May, Malcolm Mackerras wrote an article in The Australian decrying what he saw as the outdated convention that places leaders in the lower house, complaining that “New South Wales has Nathan Rees as Premier when John Della Bosca should be premier”, and suggesting the federal Liberals “should replace Julie Bishop as its federal deputy leader with Senator Nick Minchin and explicitly not ask Minchin to transfer to the House of Representatives”.

Christian Kerr of The Australian notes the British Conservatives have “turned a PR disaster into a triumph” by conducting an American-style open primary to choose the successor to one of many MPs disgraced in the country’s expenses scandal. Having done so, the party has given “everyone in the constituency a stake in the success of their candidate”. The New South Wales Nationals have decided to hold such a vote in one yet-to-be-chosen seat for the next state election.

• Antony Green comments on the potential availability of various double dissolution triggers, and on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme bill in particular, where the Coalition appears to be playing a good hand with its apparent plan to oppose it at the second reading.

• Danna Vale, Liberal member for the southern Sydney seat of Hughes, has announced she will quit at the next election. The margin in Hughes was cut from 8.6 per cent to 2.2 per cent at the 2007 election, and by Antony Green’s reckoning the redistribution proposal unveiled yesterday will further reduce it to 1.1 per cent – less than a sitting member’s personal vote is generally reckoned to be worth. No word yet on who might be up for the tough task of keeping the seat in the Liberal fold.

• The Victorian Parliament’s Electoral Matters Committee has published a report recommending that consideration be given to adopting the weighted inclusive Gregory method for surplus transfers in upper house elections, as opposed to the (non-weighted) inclusive Gregory method currently employed both in Victoria and for the Senate. Under weighted inclusive Gregory, which was introduced in Western Australia at the last election, the system achieves mathematical perfection of a sort with every individual vote cut up and distributed among the final quotas at equal value. The inclusive Gregory method saves time, but it means individual votes which are used in surplus transfers more than once in the count are inflated in value on the second and subsequent occasions. Usually only small handfuls of votes are involved, but like anything these could be decisive in the event of a close result.

• The abolition of Laurie Ferguson’s Sydney seat of Reid threatens an interesting Labor preselection for one of the seats which have moved into its turf: Parramatta, Blaxland and McMahon, as Lowe has been renamed. Antony Green has composed what promises to be a headline-grabbing post noting that the New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australian redistributions (only proposals in the first two cases) have between them given Labor a notional boost of five seats. Those wishing to discuss these matters are asked to do so on the New South Wales redistribution thread.

Houses in disorder

No Morgan poll this week, but the past week’s tide of political shenanigans and skulduggery can be held back no longer:

• The by-election for the Tasmanian upper house district for Pembroke will
be held tomorrow, which in partisan terms is the most interesting such contest for many a long year. Labor will not attempt to retain the seat being vacated by outgoing member Allison Ritchie – possibly a first in Australian electoral history – but two independents, James Crotty (who was expected to win the aborted Labor preselection) and Honey Bacon (the widow of former Premier Jim Bacon), are identifiable with the Labor cause in one way or another. Most interestingly, the field also includes a high-profile Liberal in Vanessa Goodwin, who performed impressively in both the state seat and federal seat of Franklin in 2006 and 2007 without quite bringing home the prize. This is the first time the Liberals have fielded an upper house candidate since 2000, when their poor performance reminded them why they are better off leaving the chamber to independents in most circumstances. This site will provide live coverage of the results tomorrow evening. Anybody wishing to discuss the election is invited to do so on the dedicated thread.

• The Northern Territory government is in turmoil, with Macdonnell MP and Indigenous Affairs Minister Alison Anderson threatening to quit the ALP and reports Chief Minister Paul Henderson faces a challenge from Karama MP Delia Lawrie. The government has been in a minority position since Arafura MP Marion Scrymgour quit the party early last month. Nick Calacouras of the Northern Territory News says Lawrie “avoided the media after Tuesday’s caucus meeting and snuck out the back with Transport Minister Gerry McCarthy (Barkly) and the three indigenous Labor ministers – Karl Hampton (Stuart), Malarndirri McCarthy (Arnhem) and Alison Anderson”. Darwin academic, former Labor MP and Club Troppo blogger Ken Parish is quoted saying Henderson “would be replaced by Christmas”. Anderson has been threatening to walk out over the government’s alleged failure to deliver on indigenous housing promised in a federal-territory program announced early last year. She is not ruling out joining the CLP, which would leave the fate of the government in the hands of independent Nelson MP Gerry Wood. Wood has generally been presumed to be of conservative sympathies, but he has expressed doubt as to whether “some of these new (CLP) members are ready to govern”. In any case, there seems reason to suspect Anderson’s defection threats are born of a desire to strengthen her hand as she seeks a better deal on indigenous housing (UPDATE 1/8/09): Paul Toohey of The Australian doesn’t quite see it that way, saying Anderson was in discussions late last year with the CLP about crossing the floor, and that she “will, sooner rather than later, destroy (Henderson’s) government. She has also raised the prospect of an quitting from politics altogether, which she says she will do in any case at the next election. However, Labor would probably be favoured to win an ensuing by-election, with Anderson’s electorate officer John Rawnsley having won her backing to succeed her for preselection.

• The Right faction of the New South Wales Liberal Party is being rent by a split between forces associated with state upper house MP David Clarke and his former protégé, youthful federal Mitchell MP Alex Hawke. The philosophical basis of the friction involves the Christian social conservatism of the former sub-faction (the “hard Right”) and the laissez-faire economic orientation of the latter (the “soft Right”), although there has also been talk of hard Right elements seeking a purge of Jesuit-educated Catholics. Principals of the Clarke group include state upper house MP Marie Ficarra and Epping MP Greg Smith, while the Hawke camp can claim state party president Nick Campbell. The dispute boiled over on Monday at the AGM of the Sydney University Liberal Club, which Clarke and Ficarra reportedly attempted without success to take control of (subject of a vibrant discussion at VexNews), and again at a Lane Cove Young Liberals meeting the following night. Phillip Coorey of the Sydney Morning Herald reports the split could deliver soft Right support to factional moderate Philip Ruddock in Berowra, who faces a challenge from Noel McCoy of the hard Right, and Scott Morrison in Cook. Coorey relates that Greg Smith is believed to be carrying the flag for the hard Right’s campaign against Ruddock, which most recently manifested itself in a confrontation during a branch meeting in Cheltenham:

On Sunday night in Berowra, Mr Ruddock and Mr Smith attended a meeting of the Cheltenham Branch in Mr Ruddock’s electorate. By six votes to one, the moderates blocked a bid by Mr Smith to admit three new members. The same majority admitted seven new members sympathetic to Mr Ruddock.

The dissension could result in the state party initiating its federal preselection process as soon as the draft boundaries are announced next Friday, rather than waiting as currently planned until they are finalised early next year. UPDATE (1/8/09): Imre Salusinszky of The Australian reports Noel McCoy saying: “Now that I have clearance from the state director to speak to the media, I can tell you that I am not contesting the seat of Berowra.” Meaning either that there was a lot of smoke without fire, or that recent events have caused him to revise his estimate of his chances.

Michelle Grattan of The Age reports that “wealthy Toorak businessman” Andrew Abercrombie has emerged as a contender for the Liberal Higgins preselection, in challenge to heir presumptive Kelly O’Dwyer. Nominations for both Higgins and Aston closed yesterday.

James Massola of The Canberra Times reports on movement at the station in Canberra ALP branches, with Bob McMullan having announced the next election will be his last and expectations Annette Ellis might follow. This would make available both Fraser and Canberra to those aspiring for a safe seat. Massola says that “depending on who you talk to, constitutional scholar George Williams, former Julia Gillard adviser Jamie Snashall, former Mark Latham adviser Michael Cooney and Rudd’s masterful chief of staff Alister Jordan are all in the box seat for one or other of these prize seats”.

Moonee Valley Community News reports Moonee Valley councillor Rose Iser has confirmed she will run for Greens preselection in the state seat of Melbourne, which the party narrowly failed to win in 2002 and 2006. Also in the field are “former Liberty Victoria president Brian Walters SC, former candidate Jen Alden, and first-timer Bruce Poon”.

• Les Twentyman, youth worker and independent candidate at last year’s Kororoit by-election, has announced he has decided against taking the field at next year’s state election.

• On behalf of The Poll Bludger and all who sail in her, heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of valued comments contributor Judy Barnes, who has died at the age of 71.

Morgan: 59.5-40.5

The latest Morgan face-to-face poll has Labor’s lead at 59.5-40.5, up from 58.5-41.5 a fortnight ago. Primary votes are Labor 50.5 per cent (up 1.5), Coalition 35.5 (down 0.5) and Greens 7.5 (down 1). Elsewhere:

• The redistribution of Tasmania’s electoral boundaries has been finalised. Several amendments have been made from the original proposal, which you can read about here. Antony Green calculates the new boundaries have increased Labor’s margin in Braddon from 1.4 per cent to 2.5 per cent, while reducing it in Denison from 15.6 per cent to 15.3 per cent, Franklin from 4.5 per cent to 3.7 per cent and Lyons from 8.8 per cent to 8.4 per cent. Bass remains at 1.0 per cent.

• A bill to introduce fixed terms was introduced to the Northern Territory parliament on Wednesday. David Bartlett says similar legislation will be introduced in Tasmania next year, confirming the next election will be held on March 20, 2010 and setting up an ongoing clash with South Australia’s elections (to Antony Green‘s dismay). I’ll have much more to say on fixed four-year terms next week.

• Tomorrow is Victorian local government election day, which in most cases means today is the last day for submission of postal votes. Read and comment about it here. Ben Raue at The Tally Room has council and ward map files for viewing in Google Earth.

• In Queensland, poll-driven decisions on water policy are being seen as a harbinger of an early election.