Gaven by-election

The Poll Bludger has been a bit preoccupied lately, and failed to notice that a Queensland state by-election now looms in the Gold Coast seat of Gaven after Labor MP Robert Poole "chose to resign rather than do as Premier Peter Beattie demanded and return early from a trip to Thailand". The seat would naturally lean slightly towards the Coalition, but was won comfortably by Labor at the 2001 and 2004 landslides.

Labor’s preselection will be held on March 18 (the day of the South Australian and Tasmanian elections) and it looms as a contest between the Left’s Phil Gray, Poole’s former campaign manager, and Labor Unity’s Liz Pommer, described by the Courier-Mail as "a 43-year-old career bureaucrat who has headed the Government’s efforts to control Schoolies week". The prize is none too tempting – Antony Green gives Labor no chance of retaining the seat, which seems a sensible assessment in view of the circumstances of Poole’s departure and Labor’s defeats last year in Chatsworth and Redcliffe. However, the victor will presumably get the opportunity to build their profile for another crack at next year’s state election.

Absurdly, the National Party maintains its claim on Gaven within the context of the Queensland Coalition, despite uniformly humiliating performances in the rapidly-changing Gold Coast area throughout the current decade. A reader informs the Poll Bludger that the Liberals "had a candidate who was already campaigning until it was ruled that only the Nats would contest the seat, prompting the angry resignation of state Liberal Vice President Jim MacAnally". While this could potentially create the conditions for a successful independent challenger, the Nationals appear to have done well in preselecting Alex Douglas, a GP who has worked in the local area for 18 years and is married to Gold Coast City Councillor and Nationals senior vice-president Susie Douglas.

UPDATE: Graham Young at Ambit Gambit brings us results from a TNS poll of Gaven voters published in today’s Sunday Mail showing Labor might not be as doomed as you would think. The reason – what Young describes as "the most cack-handed negotiations you have ever seen in your life" in which the Liberals conceded the seat to the Nationals. As Young puts it, and as the Poll Bludger has been arguing for some time, urban areas of south-east Queensland contain large numbers of "Liberals who will never vote National, and enough of these might vote third party and exhaust their preferences to give Labor a win". The poll has Labor on 26 per cent, the Liberals on 25 per cent and the Nationals on a derisory 8 per cent, the catch being that the Liberals are not allowed to field a candidate. However, a note of caution is in order given that TNS only managed to extract a response from about 230 voters in the rather small sample of 300, with 24 per cent registered as don’t know, informal or refused.

Queensland by-elections live

In conclusion then, the Poll Bludger’s reputation as a person who gets things right sometimes has taken a hit with what would appear to be dual victories for the Liberals in today’s Queensland by-elections. My defence is that the margin in each case looks to be below 2 per cent, which I have always used as my rough margin for permissible error. Normally I like to avoid making partisan judgements, but I must confess to being pleased with the result. Firstly, Peter Beattie needed another two backbenchers like he needed a hole in his head; secondly, I consider a Liberal ascendancy in Queensland conservative politics to be an essential precondition to a return to normal two-party system, difficult though it may be to imagine how this might come about. With two more seats in parliament they can now bring seven seats to bear against the Nationals’ 15 and will have more clout in the crucial negotiations over which party contests which seat at the next state election.

Tonight’s results in summary, bearing in mind that postals, pre-polls and absentees remain to be counted:

. Chatsworth Redcliffe
. 2005 2004 Swing 2005 2004 Swing
LABOR 2PP 48.2 61.4 -13.2 48.9 57.1 -8.2
LIBERAL 2PP 51.8 38.6 13.2 51.1 42.9 8.2
Labor 43.0 56.3 -13.3 39.6 50.1 -10.5
Liberal 47.5 35.0 12.5 40.9 35.6 5.3
Greens 7.5 8.7 -1.2 6.7 6.7
One Nation 2.0 2.0 3.4 3.4
Rob McJannett 3.9 14.3 -10.4
Others 5.5 5.5

8.16pm. With preferences in from the last booth, it’s a 1.1 per cent ball game in Redcliffe.

8.11pm. Results from Clontarf have eased the Liberal lead in Redcliffe to 1.5 per cent. The Redcliffe booth should clip it further, though probably not enough.

8.09pm. My first look at the ECQ’s notional prerefence distribution has a 1.7 per cent lead to the Liberals in Redcliffe, although this is without results from the Clontarf and Redcliffe booths where the primary vote figures lean slightly towards Labor. Figures from all booths are shown in Chatsworth where Caltabiano has an almost identical lead of 1.8 per cent.

7.55pm. The final booths for Chatsworth may well have delivered Labor a knockout blow. Belmont, easily the biggest booth in the electorate with 5,600 voters, has delivered the Liberals a huge 19.5 per cent swing; Carina Heights, with 2413 voters, has swung 14.1 per cent; Tingalpa South, with 2629 voters, has swung 9.5 per cent. With all booths in, the Liberal primary vote is up 12.2 per cent and Labor is down 13.1 per cent. The margin going in was 11.4 per cent, so Labor will have to do extremely well on pre-polls and postals and preferences from the Greens (who have eased from 8.6 per cent to 7.5 per cent) to stay in contention.

7.47pm. The last booth for Redcliffe, Clontarf (1787 votes), shows a swing of 7.5 per cent on my reckoning – that’s based on half the minor party/independent vote exhausting and the rest splitting evenly as preferences. This has barely impacted on the total scores noted below. Time will tell how accurate that is – it will need to be biased in the Liberals’ favour if Labor are in the hunt here.

7.44pm. Stepping back and looking at aggregate figures, I gather I might be writing Labor off too soon in Redcliffe. With one booth still to come they trail 39.5 per cent to 41.0 per cent, with a substantial 19.6 per cent vote for minor parties.

7.36pm. Some overdue good news for Labor in Redcliffe. Woody Point, with 1341 voters, only swings 4.0 per cent. Probably too late though.

7.34pm. Another nail in the Redcliffe coffin: the Redcliffe booth, with 2642 voters, swings 10.1 per cent.

7.33pm. If Labor still had hope in Redcliffe, the large Scarborough booth has probably ended it – 2390 votes and a swing of 10.0 per cent.

7.29pm. Carina Central in Chatsworth, with 887 voters, swings to the Liberals 11.5 per cent.

7.25pm. Results from Redcliffe continue to be show swings of between 7 and 10 per cent, enough for a narrow Liberal victory. Just in: Clontarf Beach (1882 voters, 8.8 per cent); Humpybong (2248 voters, 7.0 per cent); Kippa-Ring (1957 voters, 9.4 per cent).

7.21pm. Continuing mixed news for Caltabiano. The biggest Chatsworth booth so far, Gumdale (3016 votes), gives him a handsome 14.0 per cent swing. But Tingala, with 1721 votes, is a big disappointment – 4.5 per cent.

7.19pm. The Bayside booth in Chatsworth, good for 1447 votes, shows a below par 7.2 per cent swing to Caltabiano.

7.14pm. The biggest booth yet in Redcliffe, Woody Point South, shows a swing of 8.7 per cent – at the lower end of the current range but still on the Liberal side of the seat’s 7.1 per cent margin.

7.12pm. The drought breaks in Redcliffe with four medium sized booths. Swings range from 8.3 per cent to 11.2 per cent, suggesting the Liberals should get over the line.

7.05pm. Another good booth for Caltabiano, although a smaller one this time: Whites Hill with 609 votes has recorded a 15.7 per cent swing.

7.01pm. Much better news for Michael Caltabiano from Carina, the biggest booth yet with 2260 votes. By my reckoning he’s got a 13.4 per cent swing. My ignorance of local geography could be a factor here – it could be that Carina is in Chandler ward and the other two are not. On these indications it looks like it’s going to be close. Only one tiny booth in so far in Redcliffe.

6.57pm. The Camp Hill booth in Chatsworth, with 1079 votes, also shows a slightly disappointing swing to the Liberals – 8.9 per cent. These results will probably lean slightly in Labor’s favour because they are based on the 2004 preference distribution when there was a Greens candidate but not one for One Nation, who are polling at about 2 per cent.

6.43pm. The first substantial booth is in from Chatsworth, with 1199 voters. By my somewhat clumsy reckoning, the swing against Labor is only 6.3 per cent.

Numbers crunched

Ignore me. Former Labor Senator John Black’s number crunching in yesterday’s (print only) Courier Mail is far beyond my powers of sophistication, being based on modelling from marketing company Australian Development Strategies. Apologies to Black for the following acts of larceny, and also for the removal of his Monty Python references. Let’s start with his view of the big picture:

We start in 1998, when the good old boys from One Nation came along. Peter Beattie lucked out, and won office with just 39 per cent, losing about 4 per cent of his unskilled blue-collar vote to One Nation. That election saw One Nation poll 22.7 per cent and split the conservative base as it stole rusted-on National Party farmers (about 11 per cent) and Liberal Party small business types (about 7 per cent). De facto first-past-the-post voting created carnage in Opposition ranks.
In 2001, the One Nation vote collapsed, with the combined One Nation/City Country Alliance vote falling by 11.6 per cent, while Labor’s vote rose by about 10 per cent, and the Liberals also fell again – by about 2 per cent. Most observers reasonably concluded that Labor picked up some Liberal voters and the vast majority of disaffected One Nation voters. However, the ADS demographic profiling, which compared Labor’s 2004 state and federal votes, shows Labor’s inflated state majority in 2001 and 2004 coming from former Liberal voters, not One Nation. These Liberals – in outer urban marginals – flooded across to state Labor in 2001 and stayed in 2004, with One Nation voters taking their place in the Liberal pile.

The profiling also shows that Queensland One Nation voters taken from state Labor in 1998 – older, poorer, unskilled, blue-collar workers – have returned to federal Labor candidates in Queensland, but not to state Labor, preferring the state Liberals. Presumably state Labor’s market research confirms this analysis, which explains the recent parliamentary stunts from Beattie about the Howard Government’s new industrial relations

ADS research shows the new Smart State Labor voters are indeed smarter, which contains a large element of risk for Beattie. When compared with Queensland’s federal Labor voters, they are more likely to be female, younger, better educated, well paid, white-collar workers, typically para-professionals, personal assistants and receptionists. If and when these Liberals decide the state Liberals are worth voting for, as they did with Campbell Newman at the Brisbane mayoral ballot, the electoral tide will leave Team Beattie well and truly stranded.

The only part of this that sounded jarring to these ears was the notion that an identifiable demographic group moved from Labor to One Nation to Liberal at the four state elections between 1995 and 2004, given that the Liberals went from 14 seats to five in that time. But the primary vote figures do show that the Liberal vote was not spectacularly lower in 2004 (18.5 per cent) than 1995 (22.7 per cent), and that the real disaster over that time has been the Nationals’ progress from 26.2 per cent to 17.0 per cent. Closer examination reveals Labor’s safest seats, home to the blue-collar One Nation demographic referred to by Black, were not caught up in the tidal shift towards Labor from 1995 to 2004.

The following scatter plot shows the change in Labor’s vote between 1995 and 2004 in seats contested by the Liberals in 2004, with the Y axis marking Labor’s primary vote from 1995. Seats where independents accounted for more than 10 per cent in either election are excluded, and no allowance is made for redistributions. The Pearson correlation is -0.43, which I understand to be pretty significant as these things go.

No similar pattern can be discerned if we view seats contested by the Nationals, until we introduce a bit of colour coding to mark the region of each electorate. If you draw a nice fine line between 5.7 and 6.1 on the X axis, you get a zone of Labor underachievement to the left which includes all 10 rural and remote electorates and only six from elsewhere. The 11 city, town and coastal seats to the right stand as testimony to the decline of the Nationals’ saleability in urban Queensland, and all should be left to the Liberals in future. Note that the urban outlier that swung away from Labor, the seat of Logan, is the safest Labor seat in the sample, which may be regarded as consistent with the trend identified in the first chart.

Having drawn the big picture, John Black moves on to the business at hand:

Which leads us to the real state Labor votes in Chatsworth and Redcliffe. One of the benefits of demographic profiling in the Smart State is that researchers can benchmark the party votes in each state seat, thereby measuring each candidate’s personal vote … In Chatsworth, the personal vote for former treasurer Terry Mackenroth was a respectable 5.7 per cent, while the personal vote for Ray Hollis in Redcliffe was 3.9 per cent. This means that the Chatsworth primary starting vote for Labor’s Chris Forrester, will be about 50.6 per cent, which will have to be adjusted up for a likely decline in the Green vote, but down for a new One Nation candidate. Preferences will take this starting ALP preferred vote up to about 55 per cent, so that, if Caltabiano is able to transfer his notional 6 per cent plus personal council vote in corresponding booths in Chatsworth over to his new seat, he should need an additional party-based swing of about 2 per cent to win easily. If he can’t get this party swing on election night, obviously the voters will have concluded that despite the Team Beattie track record on hospitals, roads and schools, the state Liberal Party, with Caltabiano as president, is even more lamentable.

In Redcliffe, Labor’s Lillian van Litsenburg should start with a primary vote well below 50 per cent, with an additional four candidates in the field, leaving her with a notional preferred vote starting point, of about 53 per cent. The additional minor party candidates, varying rates of vote exhaustion and a poor by-election turnout of Government voters, mean that van Litsenburg would lose to Liberal Terry Rogers, on these factors alone. This could make for a long count and not necessarily mean Redcliffe is a good pointer to the future of Team Beattie’s large majority, as the seat is also "old Labor" and politically stable. Chatsworth, on the other hand, is chock-a-block with the sort of Liberal yuppies who have been voting for Liberals John Howard and Campbell Newman – but against the Queensland state Liberals – in that ring of state seats outside Brisbane, but within the great

If the Labor primary vote in Chatsworth (after you have taken off Mackenroth’s 5.7 per cent) stays above 42 per cent tomorrow night, then Team Beattie will probably be back in George Street in 2007, whatever the spin from a Liberal machine that has elevated self-harm to an art form … However, if feedback from Chatsworth ALP doorknockers and Newspoll is any guide, Sideshow Pete is in big trouble, as voters in the Smart State seem smart enough to realise the truth isn’t all it seems in Sideshow Alley.

The Poll Bludger cannot fault Black’s analysis except to point out that he provided similar commentary before the federal election and did not do particularly well, tipping only the narrowest of Coalition majorities. I too underestimated the outcome, and my defence could be used by Black as well – we got the relativities right, but underestimated an underlying across-the-board shift to the Coalition (I like to think that the Latham-Howard election eve handshake accounted for a proportion of this). This time around, with no confusion between national and local factors, Black’s number crunching carries more weight. He has succeeded in further weakening the Poll Bludger’s confidence in his prediction of Labor victories, but nevertheless they still stand.

Late news: The Courier Mail reports Labor sources expect to lose Chatsworth but are "hopeful of holding Redcliffe in a tight contest".

The by-election gazette #4

Queensland Labor’s deadline for state election preselection nominations closed this week, requiring MPs to lay their cards on the table with respect to their plans for next term. The harvest of retirees (Nita Cunningham in Bundaberg, Terry Sullivan in Stafford, Jim Fouras in Ashgrove and Lesley Clark in Barron River) would not normally have been regarded as remarkable, but in the environment of dual by-election campaigns there were numerous reports referring to an "exodus" of Labor MPs. However, the perception could become reality if we are to believe reports from Christian Kerr in Crikey, who tells us two prospective retirees do not propose to wait until the election.

The party would presumably go to some length to prevent such an outcome, given that the conventional wisdom now holds that Labor will go down in both this weekend’s Queensland by-elections. This is largely on account of quarterly opinion poll results thoughtfully brought forward a month ahead of schedule by Newspoll, which show Labor slumping to 40 per cent (down 7 per cent from both the last poll and the February 2004 election) and the conservative parties on 42 per cent combined. Reports in today’s Courier Mail variously say that "Labor polling shows the party is unlikely to hold Redcliffe and Chatsworth", and that "conservative forces grow more confident of victory".

Also in Crikey, Charles Richardson reports that the Poll Bludger has not "yet" made a prediction on the outcome. Thus pressured, I am compelled to take a punt on a contest I would have preferred to have sat out. Deep breath: Labor to hold narrowly in both.

The by-election gazette #3

With campaigning for the two Queensland by-elections entering the final week, it’s high time they were promoted up the By-Election Gazette’s batting order.

Redcliffe (Queensland, Labor 7.1%): The Courier Mail reported on Saturday that both major parties believe Labor has the edge in Redcliffe but is "struggling" in Chatsworth, in contrast to impressions at the start of the campaign. The paper’s Malcolm Cole reported that "scandals surrounding the Government – particularly the (Ray) Hollis issue and the hospitals crisis – do not seem to have bitten" in Redcliffe, and that if Labor faces danger it is due to the "head office decision to shoehorn (Lillian) Van Litsenberg into the party’s candidacy". Liberal sources are quoted saying a Labor win would have been certain had the nomination gone to Redcliffe councillor Peter Houston, who had to be talked out of running as an independent after failing to win preselection.

Chatsworth (Queensland, Labor 11.4%): The aforementioned major party polling mentioned in Saturday’s Courier Mail had Labor "struggling to retain" Chatsworth, but today the paper quoted a Labor source saying they "might have clawed back some ground". Labor’s strategy in both seats is to encourage a protest vote against Federal Government workplace relations reforms, and there are "indications" that this is "starting to bite".

Still no word on the date for the "triple M" by-elections in New South Wales, which are now likely to be held in October rather than September.

Maroubra (NSW, Labor 23.5%): Local paper Southern Courier (follow the link and try to make your way to page four of the current issue) profiles four front-runners for the Labor nomination and tells us the Greens candidate is Anne Gardiner, a former nurse at Prince Henry Hospital. Over the page we get all the dirt on the Labor preselection stoush, including candidate Penny Wright’s eye-catching assessment that the affirmative action loading might do her more harm than good. Hats off to all concerned at the Courier.

Marrickville (NSW, Labor 10.7% vs Greens): The Sydney Morning Herald confirms that Marrickville deputy mayor Sam Byrne will be the Greens candidate. His council colleagues Colin Hesse and Saeed Khan had earlier been mentioned as contenders.

Macquarie Fields (NSW, Labor 22.5%): The Macarthur Chronicle tells us that Campbelltown councillor Aaron Rule has declined to run, leaving the field clear for council colleague Steven Chaytor. Chaytor was senior adviser to Gough Whitlam from 1999 to 2005 (perhaps the pasta sauce ads were his idea) and was reportedly Mark Latham’s preferred candidate for the Werriwa by-election. Before the preselection vote, the Sydney Morning Herald spoke of a dirty tricks campaign in which Chaytor supporters suggested rival Brenton Banfield was an unsuitable candidate due to his legal work for a client on child pornography charges, making him susceptible to Liberal smears. Mike Steketee of The Australian reported that the suggestion was enough to prompt state party secretary Mark Arbib to pull the plug on Banfield, and all concerned were persuaded to step aside for little-known compromise candidate Chris Hayes. In other news, Christian Kerr offers this in today’s Crikey email:

The Libs might be leaving Labor and the Greens to fight it out in Marrickville, but stand by for a surprise candidate in Macquarie Fields. Liberal leader John Brogden is wooing the whistle blower nurses from the Camden/Campbelltown hospital scandals. One may well be succumbing to his charms. If he woos her, it will be a huge coup.

The nurses in question were Nola Fraser, Sheree Martin and Giselle Simmons, who complained that the seat’s outgoing member Craig Knowles – then the Health Minister – threatened and intimidated them after they raised concerns about unnecessary deaths at the hospital. An inquiry by the Independent Commission Against Corruption cleared Knowles of corrupt conduct in relation to the incident.

The by-election gazette #2

For background on the New South Wales by-elections, Antony Green’s assessment in Crikey cannot be recommended highly enough. The foreground looks as follows:

Marrickville (NSW, Labor 10.7% vs Greens): After earlier ruling out a switch to the lower house when she failed to win her own faction’s support for the deputy premiership, Carmel Tebbutt has been prevailed upon to stand as Labor’s candidate for Marrickville. Labor are obviously concerned that the seat might fall to the Greens (whose likely candidate, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, is Marrickville deputy mayor Sam Byrne), and hope Tebbutt’s status as a former deputy mayor and figure of the party’s left might shore up their position. Greens MLC Lee Rhiannon offers the interesting view that this "continues the ALP tradition of bringing in a woman when the party is on the nose with the electorate". David Fisher of the Daily Telegraph suggests two factors influenced Tebbutt to take the bait: an ongoing ambition to assume the deputy’s position, which she conceded to John Watkins last Thursday, and a desire to "bank favours" that can be cashed after the 2007 election. "Former NSW Labor Party powerbroker" Graham Richardson told today’s Financial Review that Tebbutt would "win it for them. If it was anyone else standing, I’d be worried. But not with her." Antony Green notes that the Greens vote in local booths in the federal election was well down on their support at the 2003 state election, from 28.5 per cent to 23.7 per cent. He also says too much is being made of the Greens’ success in winning five wards to Labor’s four at the council election, since Labor led on the aggregate vote 39.7 per cent to 29.2 per cent. Even so, the Premier is leaving oven the possibility that Tebbutt’s upper house vacancy will remain unfilled, in which case Tebbutt could resume it if she lost the by-election.

Macquarie Fields (NSW, Labor 22.5%): The Sydney Morning Herald today reports that this seat is likely to be the only one of the three that the Liberals will contest.

North of the border, Queensland’s conservative parties have been busily breaking the first rule of campaigning from opposition by making themselves the issue. Further reading: Ambit Gambit, the blog of former Queensland Liberal Party vice-president Graham Young.

Redcliffe (Queensland, Labor 7.1%): The media has been making a big deal out of the Greens’ refusal to direct preferences to Labor in either by-election, although it is well established that this has only a fractional effect on the outcome. The Liberals are greasing the wheels in Redcliffe with a promise to build a rail link from Petrie to Kippa-Ring, which is easy for them to say. This issue is the bugbear of independent candidate Terry Shaw, who heads a group called Where’s Our Railway. The Courier Mail reports today that "Nationals leader Lawrence Springborg emerged as the Liberal Party’s secret weapon yesterday as he accepted a request to campaign in the bayside seat and appear in the party’s by-election material". The Poll Bludger has his doubts about the firepower of this "secret weapon", and thinks Liberal MP Bruce Flegg may have spoken the painful truth when he dismissed Springborg as a "farmer from Darling Downs" with little appeal to the urban south-east. Writing in the Courier Mail, Paul Williams of Griffith University also notes "the absurdity of Lawrence Springborg as the National Party leader campaigning for Liberal candidates when the parties are so publicly at odds with each other". On which subject …

Chatsworth (Queensland, Labor 11.4%): The tenor of relations between the conservative parties is indicated by this unhelpful press release from the Nationals, which sets Michael Caltabiano up for a fall and sternly insists that the party will continue to field candidates in seats Labor can lose only if the Liberals get a clear run. Caltabiano has also been copping heat from Labor opponents on Brisbane City Council for indulging in council-funded self-publicity initiatives ahead of his imminent departure. Meanwhile, the Beattie Government reportedly hopes its announcement that work on the $1.6 billion Gateway Bridge duplication will start next year will have an impact here.