Coming attractions

Nominations for the Queensland election closed at noon today and those of you who enjoy a good read can peruse the fill list courtesy of our friends at the Electoral Commission of Queensland. It emerged today that National Party candidate for Maryborough Michael Giles would not be making the cut after all, with revelations he had failed to disclose "information that could embarrass the party", namely a domestic violence order that had once been taken out against him. Interestingly he is not on the ECQ list despite the fact that media reports of Giles’ problems did not emerge until early in the afternoon, shortly after the closure of nominations. The ABC report on the story describes the seat as "important" but the Nationals hadn’t been behaving as if it were. Giles, who has been battling cancer, told the Fraser Coast Chronicle on Friday that he had "a great deal of respect" for independent incumbent Chris Foley, whom he described as "a good mate of mine". Foley ran as an independent in a by-election last year after failing to win preselection for the National Party, who are presumably happy to have a seat held by Labor until 1998 in relatively friendly hands.

Blogging may be light on for the next day or two as the Poll Bludger marks today’s campaign milestone by reupholstering his Queensland election guide, which will soon feature definitive candidate lists and "campaign updates" appending electorates of interest. Watch this space.

Preferential treatment

In the wake of the Beattie’s promise to spend $150 million addressing land clearing yesterday, a lot of ink has been wasted over the issue of the Greens’ preference allocations, a subject the media has long had difficulty keeping in perspective. This Parliamentary Library research paper gives a good idea of just how little impact how-to-vote cards have on Greens voters, demonstrating that Labor enjoyed only a 3.5 per cent increase in their share of the Greens’ vote in seats where the party’s preferences were thus directed. In a compulsory preferential voting system that demands voters ultimately choose between Labor and the Coalition, at least 70 per cent of Greens voters will conclude that Labor is the lesser evil. Queensland of course has the complication of optional preferential voting, but as professional Democrats number-cruncher Senator John Cherry notes in this revealing exchange with Antony Green at Crikey, the 2001 result in the state seat of Indooroopilly saw a below-average number of exhausted Greens votes and an above-average flow of preferences to Labor, despite it being one of only two electorates where the Greens did not direct preferences.

Of more electoral significance is the fact that the Greens are running 72 candidates this time against 31 in 2001, as this will lead to wastage of preferences through exhausted votes in the same way that divided conservative votes damaged the Coalition last time. But the make-up of the Greens’ how-to-vote cards will have little bearing on this, as Beattie presumably well knows. The Poll Bludger imagines that Labor instead hopes to prevent these votes from being able to leak in the first place by encouraging the environmentally conscious to vote Labor rather than Green. Certainly Labor’s decision today to again run with the just-vote-one recommendation suggests that Greens preference deals are not hugely important to them. The question is, will the tactic work as well now that Labor are in as much danger from vote-splintering as a Coalition now relieved of three-cornered contests and facing a lesser threat from One Nation?

As for the Nats, it appears discipline is being maintained over the issue of One Nation preferences. Despite worrying noises in the lead-up to the campaign from candidate for Cook Graham Elmes, Springborg felt able to tell the Courier Mail yesterday that "we’ve got it all worked out – it hasn’t been an issue to date and it won’t be an issue". Despite state One Nation leader Bill Flynn’s bluster about his party being ready to assume opposition status, it seems that with Pauline now definitively out to pasture, One Nation no longer packs enough electoral punch to scare regional candidates into defying the party line.

Unhappy families: revisited

The Poll Bludger flatters himself to imagine that his posting from Friday on the state of the Queensland Coalition sent shockwaves through the Liberal Party and set light bulbs off over the heads of party heavies, prompting this report from today’s Courier Mail. The article quotes Liberal sources displeased that the National Party should still be contesting seats on the Gold Coast in this day and age, a difficult judgement to contest. An article by Stephen Wiesenthal in the Financial Review on Thursday (subscriber only so no link) provides a thorough overview of demographic developments in the area, in which the nation’s most rapid rate of urbanisation has soaked up waves of affluent emigrants from the southern states in a region once dominated by dairy farms. Federally the Gold Coast electorate of McPherson went from Country to Liberal Party control way back in 1972 and is currently held with a margin of 12.2 per cent. The newer seat of Moncrieff has been Liberal since its creation in 1984, with a National Party challenger in 2001 polling only 6.3 per cent against Liberal Steven Ciobo on 50.9 per cent. At the state level however, where a vote for the Liberal Party is a vote for a National Party premier, newcomers wanting a mainstream urban-oriented government have only one option. The Poll Bludger will not be the only one keeping a very careful eye on the Nationals’ performance in the winnable Gold Coast seats of Broadwater and Burleigh (plus not-winnable Southport), relative to that of Liberal candidates running in the tougher Currumbin, Mudgeeraba and Gaven.


If you haven’t yet taken a look at the Queensland election section at On Line Opinion then do so now, and not just because they’ve been kind enough to provide me with a link.
The site promises forthcoming commentary from contributors including persistent Labor power-broker Mike Kaiser and John Wanna of Griffith University, but so far the main point of interest is the Currumbin2Cook election blog conducted by site publisher Graham Young, a one-time Queensland Liberal Party vice-president who has recently run foul of the party’s dominant Santoro/Caltabiano faction. Young has been keeping a close eye on the media campaign and provides a detailed level of policy-picking-apart lacking from my own modest effort.

Poll that doesn’t count: number two

Poor old Gary Morgan. Every second Tuesday the political class holds its breath in anticipation of the latest Newspoll result, but when figures are released from the Roy Morgan organisation, with its many decades of history behind it, no-one cares a damn. Obviously it’s entirely his own fault – I don’t know a single person anywhere who thought Labor were going to win on polling day in 2001, but with his family company’s reputation for reliability and sound judgement squarely on the line, Morgan bellowed from the roof-tops that just such a result was a lay-down misere.

Anyway, Morgan’s first Queensland state poll for the campaign came out today, although it was conducted over a six week period ending last weekend. Labor’s primary vote is on 51.5 per cent, which by Morgan’s reckoning is actually at the lower end of their band for the current term which has ranged from 51 to a frankly unbelievable 57.5 per cent. The Liberals have improved 3.5 per cent to record one of their better showings with 24 per cent, while Morgan maintains an admirable consistency in his measure of National Party support which has never wavered more than 1 per cent above or below its current level of 8 per cent (Newspoll is currently 5 per cent more generous). The Greens have today been talking up their showing of 6 per cent in this morning’s TNS poll but Morgan only gives them 4 per cent, behind One Nation on five. Over the long term, Morgan shows that One Nation have perked up a few per cent since the imprisonment of Hanson while the Greens’ result continues their pattern of apparently random fluctuation between 3 and 6 per cent. So given that it’s already been established that Morgan consistently has Queensland Labor a few percentage points above what seems realistic, there are essentially no surprises here.

Simultaneously Morgan has released a federal poll showing Labor with a two-party preferred score of 55.5 per cent, which seems a bit rich. Nevertheless opinion polls are best viewed by looking at long-term trends and there seems to be one emerging on the basis of Morgan’s recent results – since the ascension of Mark Latham, Labor’s results have gone from 38 per cent to 41, 42.5 and now 45 per cent. Most of this has come off the Greens, who reached a high-water mark just prior to Crean’s demise, and the Democrats, now plumbing all-time depths after Andrew Bartlett’s recent performance with just 1.5 per cent in the latest survey.

I don’t know about you, but I think I’ll reserve my judgement until Tuesday’s Newspoll.

Rose and Reynolds

Friday began with some media outlets reporting as fact that Emergency Services Minister and member for Townsville Mike Reynolds was about to pull the plug on his political career and stand aside in favour of Townsville mayor and Shepherson inquiry survivor Tony Mooney. Beattie and Reynolds had nipped the story in the bud by daybreak, but as was no doubt the intention of whoever started the rumour, the incident added a touch of drama and attendant publicity to the allegations surrounding him. These relate to an alleged approach to Greens candidate Theresa Millard offering assistance in her bid for a place on council if she kept a low profile during her state election campaign. The Greens have lodged a formal complaint with the Crime and Misconduct Commission over the matter, a prosecutable offence if they know the allegations to be untrue. For his part Reynolds has been notably vehement in his denials, telling the Townsville Bulletin that Millard, his former media adviser, harboured personal malice towards him. However, barring sensational findings against Reynolds by the CMC during the campaign period (and Queensland Electoral Commissioner Bob Longland told the Courier Mail on Thursday there was no prima facie case of bribery) the this site’s judgement is that his 9.3 per cent margin two-party preferred margin will be enough to buffer him against Liberal candidate Margaret Shaw, while his existing 52 per cent primary vote should make him safe from Millard.

Merri Rose enjoyed a further campaign highlight overnight when she swore at television reporters on camera, as reported today in The Australian. The Poll Bludger is a big fan of rude words and not having been privy to footage of the incident, would love to hear from anyone who was – emails here please. With both parties jockeying for underdog status it would stand to reason that Lawrence Springborg would describe the Rose resignation as "no more than a mosquito bite on an elephant", but nonetheless the judgement is almost certainly correct. Even Rose’s Gold Coast electorate of Currumbin may not prove as interesting as earlier suggested – speaking on Brisbane radio on Thursday, the Courier Mail’s Mark Oberhardt said a senior Labor official had informed him that internal polling had them confident she would easily retain the seat.

Poll that doesn’t count: number one

The Courier Mail reports that something called TNS has conducted a poll from a respectable sample of 700 taken "at the height of the Merri Rose resignation scandal". To the extent that sense can be made of them, the results seem in line with The Poll Bludger’s expectations, showing a 55-45 two-party preferred split in Labor’s favour. The article reports an alarming-sounding 38 per cent primary vote for Labor, which is apparently "5 per cent lower than at the same time in the 2001 campaign", so obviously undecided respondents are not being distributed here (Labor in fact polled 49 per cent at the 2001 election). Typically though, Beattie has ignored the latter point and constructed an opportunity to predict impending disaster by talking of a "10 per cent primary vote swing against Labor", which assumes that every single undecided voter will vote against them. The poll has the Greens on 6 per cent and One Nation on 4, but frustratingly no result is given for the Coalition. Even less comprehensible in the revelation that "Labor has only 10 per cent of second preferences, the Coalition 38 per cent, independents 15 per cent, the Greens 12 per cent and One Nation 9 per cent" – this is presumably limited to those not supporting the major parties, in which case it would be a remarkable outcome given the high proportion of Greens voters represented, and is easy to dismiss given the small sample size. Unfortunately I only have the online article to go on for now – it may well be that the newspaper features a table that makes sense of everything.

Unhappy families

While Peter Beattie obviously could have hoped for a smoother start to his campaign, The Poll Bludger is not getting too excited about either the Merri Rose resignation or Mike Reynolds’ localised troubles in Townsville. Taking a step back for a moment, one need only look at the last two years’ Newspoll results to get an inkling as to why the Coalition can’t get a sniff no matter what disasters befall the government. Throughout that period the senior coalition partner, the National Party, were lucky to make it into double figures, and despite edging upwards in the past few surveys they are currently on a well-short-of-respectable 13 per cent. Even though the conventional wisdom says that the Liberals have been performing little better, they have left the Nationals in their wake in each survey, the current margin of 22 to 13 being the closest the Nationals have managed to get during the period in question. Put simply, the National Party has no business being the senior partner and the Queensland Coalition will not become competitive until this archaic anomaly is corrected.

In theory the Goss government’s introduction of one-vote one-value should have done the job by now, but the Nationals have carried on in their time-honoured habit of winning more seats than the Liberals from fewer votes. To an extent this can be explained in terms of the geographically concentrated nature of National Party support relative to the Liberals, an invaluable asset in single-member electorate systems, as well as the deep-rooted institutional dominance the Nationals attained throughout the long years of National/Country Party hegemony, notoriously secured by a system of malapportionment and gerrymandering that did more damage to the Liberals than Labor. This was in part perpetuated by National members lingering on in seats that could theoretically have been won by the Liberals, but weren’t due to the convention that challenges not be made against sitting members. However, attrition (and there was a great deal of that in 2001) should have rectified this over time.

The fundamental reason for the Liberals’ failure to assert themselves has been the devastating effect of the Pauline Hanson phenomenon upon their representation over the last two elections. The outcome of the last election left no room for argument about the necessity of avoiding three-cornered contests, but with only three MPs to show for themselves the Liberals entered negotiations from a pitifully weak position. The deal that was cut allowed the Liberals to contest 43 of the 66 Labor-held seats, which sounds good until you go through the Mackerras Pendulum* from The Australian on Wednesday and mark the electorates being contested by the Liberals (and if there are any eligible ladies out there, yes I’m still available). In the unusually well-stocked section of the pendulum featuring electorates held by Labor with margins of 20 per cent or more there are 16 seats to be contested by Liberal candidates against five allocated to the Nationals. Moving down to the other end of the Labor column, let’s say Malcolm Mackerras is right and there really is a uniform 7 per cent swing to the Coalition (yes I know he doesn’t really say that, but indulge me here). Assuming no changes to the One Nation and independents situation (and it would be to the Nationals’ benefit if there were) that will mean an extra eight seats to the Nationals and only six to the Liberals.

It could be that the significance of recent poll results is that those six electorates (Noosa, Clayfield, Kawana, Indooroopilly, Aspley and Mudgeeraba) are more likely to fall the Coalition’s way than the eight in the Nationals’ firing line (Burnett, Burleigh, Toowoomba North, Charters Towers, Broadwater, Thuringowa, Burdekin and Redlands). Certainly the Poll Bludger hopes this is so because a rejuvenated Liberal Party is the essential element for a revival of Queensland as a two-party state. At present though it appears it will take more than one election to effect this outcome.

* By the way, Mackerras has some different figures from the ones used in my list as he is using projections to calculate two-party Labor versus Coalition results in many cases where the ultimate two-candidate preferred outcome included independents, One Nation or both. I’m sticking with what I have because I’m interested in how close the seats came to changing hands last time, rather than the two-party contest.