Vini, vidi, vici

A poll in today’s Advertiser shows Labor maintaining its clear lead in the inner-city electorate of Norwood, one of the key seats for the Liberals if they are to win government (okay, stop laughing). After distribution of the undecided, Labor member Vini Ciccarello leads Liberal candidate and former Adelaide Crows star Nigel Smart 44 per cent to 40 per cent, showing little change on the three previous polls conducted by The Advertiser. However, the Liberals might take some encouragement from an apparent rise in the number of undecided voters, from 11 per cent to 15 per cent.

Also out today are Newspoll results showing a slight easing in Labor’s lead. Their primary vote of 44 per cent is the lowest since the last quarter of 2004 and 2 per cent down on the previous survey. This has been of direct benefit to the Liberals who are up from 35 per cent to 37 per cent, although Labor’s two-party lead of 54-46 suggests they are still heading towards a big win. Although the margin of error for minor party ratings means the figures are essentially meaningless, it is still interesting to note that the Democrats have risen to 2 per cent after being stuck on 1 per cent since the last poll of 2004, which has come at the expense of the Greens who are down to 3 per cent.

SA election: highlights of week one

One week into the official campaign period for the South Australian election, no indications have emerged to discourage the conventional wisdom that Mike Rann’s Labor government will easily secure a second term. Labor has had a clear two-party preferred lead in all published polling since it came to office (barring one aberrant Newspoll result from late 2004), and if anything this has widened as the election has approached.

How very different things might have been if independent Hammond MP Peter Lewis had done as he said he would during the 2002 election campaign and backed the Liberals to remain in government. Liberal leader Rob Kerin’s affable and non-confrontational style proved such a hit in his short period as Premier that he nearly salvaged victory for an accident-prone eight-year government, but these very same qualities have proved disastrous in opposition. Kerin’s colleagues grew increasingly exasperated by his lack of killer instinct as Labor cemented the opinion poll lead it opened up during its honeymoon period, and he suffered further self-inflicted damage through his hands-off approach to factional wars surrounding the Unley preselection and Stephen Baker’s removal as the party’s state treasurer. A successful leadership challenge would have been inevitable under normal circumstances, but such was the certainty of an impending election defeat that none of the credible alternatives wanted the job.

The comical coup attempt in November from Waite MP Martin Hamilton-Smith (which he was compelled to withdraw after failing to attract the eight supporters needed to call a spill) remains hard to explain. It was reported that figures in the state party’s Right faction (including federal heavies Alexander Downer and Nick Minchin) goaded him on in the hope that he would "open the way" for their favoured candidate, Iain Evans. It’s hard to see how this would have come off given that Evans is clearly intent on keeping his powder dry until after the election. The best theory I can come up with is that the party powerbrokers were rattled by the scale of the defeat that Kerin seemed to be leading them towards, encouraging the line of political logic exquisitely articulated by Sir Humphrey Appleby in Yes, Minister – "something must be done, this is something, therefore we must do it". Writing in the Sunday Mail on the weekend, Channel Seven political reporter Mike Smithson noted that Evans has been "virtually nowhere to be seen" in the first week of the campaign, with most of the weight being carried by upper house leader and Shadow Treasurer Rob Lucas.

The Prime Minister’s first and apparently final campaign visit last week proved of little help, as he proved understandably unwilling to endorse the opposition’s line that talk of a strong economy is Rann government hype – a point refuted last week by Richard Blandy, a former economics adviser to Dean Brown’s Liberal government and current Flinders University economics professor. Even more puzzling is the party’s promise to cut 4000 public service jobs and its ready admission that this will boost the unemployment rate in the short term. This might be interpreted as a defeatist gesture pitched not at swinging voters in marginal seats, but rather at traditional Liberal voters who might be persuaded to stay on board through a pitch towards small government and low taxes. It might also add credibility to their capacity to fund coming election promises. By contrast, Labor has the luxury of being able to stand on its outwardly impressive economic record and the highest leadership approval ratings in the land, prompting the campaign slogan "Rann gets results". While this appears to have a fair weight of evidence behind it, few have been persuaded by their claim to credit for the $6 billion Air Warfare Destroyer project bestowed upon the state by the federal government. All the same, Labor clearly has a saleable message and is putting it across through an impressively slick presidential-style campaign.

In view of all this, the seats to watch at this stage are all on the Liberal side of the pendulum. The Liberals hold seven seats by margins of less than 6 per cent – Hartley (2.1 per cent), Stuart (2.3 per cent), Light (2.6 per cent), Mawson (3.5 per cent), Morialta (3.6 per cent), Bright (4.6 per cent) and Newland (5.5 per cent). The last two are in as much danger as the first four due to the retirement of sitting members Wayne Matthew and Dorothy Kotz. Changing demographics mean that Labor cannot rest on its laurels in either of its two most marginal seats, Norwood (0.5 per cent) and Adelaide (1.1 per cent), but both appear to be off the radar at this stage. Putting the bottom end of the Mackerras pendulum to one side, and leaving aside seats currently held by independents (a subject for another time), local factors mark the following as roughies:

Kavel (Liberal 12.8%): Outside of the Poll Bludger’s election guide and Flinders University academic Haydon Manning’s summary in the Sunday Mail, there has been surprisingly little talk of what could potentially be the most sensational single result to emerge from the election: a lower house seat for Family First. There seems every reason to believe this might happen, because their candidate in Kavel came within 2.9 per cent of winning the seat as an independent in 2002. That candidate is Tom Playford, Baptist pastor and son of the legendary Liberal Premier of the same name, who held the office from 1938 to 1965. Playford the Younger polled 18.7 per cent of the primary vote in 2002, ahead of Labor (18.0 per cent) and the Democrats (9.1 per cent). At the penultimate count, Playford led Labor 28.1 per cent to 24.5 per cent, with the Liberals’ Mark Goldsworthy on 47.4 per cent. Enough preferences leaked to Goldsworthy after Labor’s exclusion to put him over the line, although Playford was reportedly in the lead at the close of counting on election night. There are two reasons to advise caution over his prospects of going one better this time around. Firstly, Goldsworthy was making his debut at the 2002 election, at which he replaced recently ousted Premier John Olsen. This time he will enjoy the benefits of incumbency, although it remains to be seen if this will cancel out what is likely to be a statewide drop in the Liberal vote. Secondly, the likelihood of an overall higher vote for Labor means he faces a bigger hurdle to win second place.

Finniss (Liberal 15.9%): Held by retiring former Premier Dean Brown, Finniss is well beyond Labor’s reach but it offers the National Party its best chance of extending an empire that is currently limited to Karlene Maywald’s seat of Chaffey. Their candidate is Alexandrina mayor Kym McHugh, who considered standing for the Liberal preselection that went to Kangaroo Island mayor Michael Pengilly. McHugh was ultimately persuaded to stand for the Nationals by Maywald, who along with Queensland Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce has been energetically campaigning on behalf of McHugh and other party candidates in Flinders and MacKillop.

Unley (Liberal 9.1%): Although well outside the range of a reasonable uniform swing, Unley bears watching due to a combination of factors: a new Liberal candidate without the advantages of incumbency, the messy circumstances surrounding the downfall of his predecessor Mark Brindal, and the appeal of Labor’s candidate, Unley mayor Michael Keenan, who was head-hunted by Mike Rann and installed without a preselection vote.

After a few more days of consideration, the Poll Bludger will append his election guide with predicted outcomes for all 47 seats.

SA campaign updates: episode one

Welcome to the first in the Poll Bludger’s series of electorate-level fact bites from the South Australian campaign. Hopefully I will also find time over the weekend to step back and assess the bigger picture three weeks out from polling day – Tasmanian campaign coverage will probably have to wait until next week.

Hammond (Independent 2.3% versus Liberal): A day after an Advertiser poll showed him heading towards an easy victory over independent incumbent Peter Lewis, Liberal candidate Adrian Pederick’s campaign has been rocked by allegations that his mother took out a restraining order against him 15 years ago. The Australian reports that the order, which it received from an anonymous source (Lewis denies it was him), includes a claim from police that Pederick "caused personal injury to (his mother) and is, unless restrained, likely again to cause personal injury". It also says the existence of the order was "widely known within the farming district of Coomandook". Today the paper reports that the party’s Right faction is hoping to dump Pederick in favour of Chris Kenny, a former journalist and press secretary to Alexander Downer who unsuccessfully contested preselection for Unley last year. Interestingly, there hasn’t been a word about this in The Australian’s South Australian stablemate, The Advertiser.

Bright (Liberal 4.6%): Liberal candidate Angus Redford, an upper house MP who hopes to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Wayne Matthew, has created a stir with some hyperbolic rhetoric about law and order. According to last weekend’s Sunday Mail, Redford has issued a pamphlet in which a photo of a burnt-out car bears the caption: "West Bank, Beirut or Baghdad? No – It’s Adelaide 2006! How can we feel safe with Mr Rann in charge?". The article quotes Iraqi Kurdish community spokesman Sherko Kirmanj declaring the analogy "offensive for both communities", while the Mail’s leading article decried Redford’s "scare tactics". It may also have been a bit rough on Beirut, which I understand to be fairly placid these days.

Little Para (Labor 7.1%) and Taylor (Labor 17.9%): These safe Labor seats are both occupied by members who have quit the front bench in the past year (Lea Stevens and Trish White respectively), and yesterday’s Advertiser reported speculation that one or the other may be about to stand aside for Tony Zappia, Salisbury mayor and unsuccessful candidate for Makin at the 2004 federal election. They will be cutting it fine if so, with nominations to close at noon on Thursday, although it is not unknown for members to delay resignation to prevent factional opponents from marshaling their forces for preselection.

Polls: this, that and the other

Today’s Advertiser carries two interesting electorate level polls with impressive samples of around 550 voters, which provide support for two items of conventional wisdom about the coming South Australian election – that the Rann government will win a handsome majority, and that quirky independent MP Peter Lewis is gone for all money in Hammond. The first proposition is backed by a poll of voters in Stuart (top), a vast electorate covering the eastern part of the state in which Labor are competitive thanks to their strength in Port Augusta. It has Labor’s Justin Jarvis on 47 per cent of the decided primary vote against 42 per cent for Liberal veteran Graham Gunn (veteran seems almost an understatement for a man who entered parliament in 1970) for a lead of 52-48 on two-party preferred.

The Hammond poll (bottom) backs up Malcolm Mackerras’s assertion in Saturday’s Australian (where he predicted that Labor would pick up six seats overall) that Peter Lewis would "get done like a dinner". It shows Lewis in distant third place on 13 per cent of the decided vote compared with 48 per cent for Liberal candidate Adrian Pederick and 25 per cent for Labor (who unveiled James Peikert as their candidate earlier this week). If these figures are accurate, the best preference flow in the world would not be enough to boost Lewis to second place ahead of Labor, and even if it did the Liberal vote is close enough to 50 per cent to assure Pederick of victory. It also suggests that a majority of the voters abandoning Lewis are heading for Labor rather than Liberal – together with the Stuart results and Saturday’s Advertiser poll, this undercuts the notion that the Labor swing will be confined to Adelaide.

Bass Braddon Denison Franklin Lyons Total
Labor 39 41 35 37 48 42
Liberal 38 42 28 29 30 32
Greens 20 10 36 24 18 22

Also just to hand is a detailed breakdown of the EMRS poll for the Tasmanian election (above) which was published in the Mercury on Saturday. There are a number of reasons why these results should be treated with caution. While the total sample of 1002 is substantial, the margin of error blows out significantly when it comes to the seat-by-seat breakdowns. Even more troubling is the extremely high undecided rating (23 per cent in Saturday’s poll) that is a consistent feature of EMRS polling, which suggests they are making no effort to twist the arms of voters reluctant to declare a preference (larger polling agencies ask undecided voters who they are "leaning towards", and they usually get an answer). The following table, showing the course of aggregate EMRS polling over the past year, is probably more useful.

Puttin’ on the writs

Mike Rann formally initiated the South Australian election campaign yesterday when he advised Governor Marjorie Jackson-Nelson to issue the writs, which he had delayed until the second last day possible. This is not greatly remarkable given that the election was fixed for March 18 in any case, but it nonetheless attracted censure from The Advertiser which extravagantly claimed that "the public service has been frozen in the headlights of the approaching poll since before Christmas". Notwithstanding the nameless terrors confronted by public servants, it seems the only practical effect was that candidates wishing to festoon lamp posts and stobie poles with election paraphernalia had to hold back until the formal beginning of the campaign – or rather, until 24 hours beforehand, owing to a loophole requiring councils to give a day’s notice when ordering that posters be removed.

Of far greater importance to the campaign and world history in general was the Poll Bludger’s arrival in town, where I will be spending the next week soaking up the electoral ambience. My arrival brought me face-to-face with a much-touted vote loser for the Rann government, namely the new Adelaide Airport which opened on Friday after long and expensive delays. It appears that a few teething problems were overlooked in the rush to commence operations in time for the election – those of us who exited the plane from the rear were required to access the terminal by crossing the tarmac and using a service entry, where a sign warned of $5000 fines for "trespassers".

Why stop at one

Regular readers will be aware that the Poll Bludger was hoping Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon would hold off on an early election, in contrast to widely held expectations, so the campaign would not clash with that for South Australia (which will formally begin when Premier Mike Rann instructs the Governor to issue the writs, which he must do no later than Tuesday). As we now know, Lennon has gone one better than that and the Tasmanian election will be held on March 18, the same day as South Australia’s.

Comments on the previous post suggest there are only two historical precedents for this – on June 2, 1970, when elections were held simultaneously in South Australia (when the Dunstan Labor government defeated the one-term Liberal government of Steele Hall, which had signed its own death warrant by abolishing the state’s indefensible rural vote weighting) and Victoria (Sir Henry Bolte’s last win before retiring); and on February 8, 1986, when voters in Western Australia and Tasmania respectively re-elected Brian Burke’s Labor and Robin Gray’s Liberal governments. UPDATE (22/2/06): I thought this couldn’t be right, and so it has proved – yesterday’s Australian reports that this will be "the 12th time two states have held concurrent elections".

Unfortunately the Poll Bludger has not been keeping a spare Tasmanian election guide handy to deploy at the appropriate moment. I plan to devote thorough posts to each of the state’s five multi-member electorates over the coming weeks and then to assemble them on to a single page, which will hopefully be in business a good fortnight out from polling day. One small consolation is that there will no concurrent upper house election in Tasmania – an upper house guide for South Australia is on the increasingly daunting "to do" list.

In the absence of my own efforts, you could obviously do a lot worse than to peruse Antony Green’s guides for Tasmania and the South Australian Legislative Council. Also worth noting on the latter count is a newcomer to the online psephological community,, which will in due course feature an election calculator by Graham Allen similar to those he kindly developed last year for the Poll Bludger’s Western Australian Legislative Council guide.

With both campaigns under way early predictions of the likely outcome are rolling in thick and fast, not least in the comments thread accompanying the previous post. The early consensus is that the Liberals have no chance of winning government in Tasmania but that the Labor government is more than likely to lose its majority. In South Australia, polling over the last few months has contributed to a growing expectation that the Liberal opposition faces a complete rout. However, most locals who have expressed an opinion have sounded a note of caution, not least due to the recent tone of reporting in The Advertiser. The paper has recently excoriated the Rann government for allowing parliament to remain idle over summer, and has rated Rob Kerin’s early Liberal campaign launch as "an unusually refreshing display of backbone, courage and innovation". Be that as it may, a poll taken by The Advertiser on Wednesday and published yesterday (above) gave the Liberals no cause for comfort – Labor maintained its 11 per cent lead from the previous poll and widened its two-party lead from 55-45 to 57-43.

An EMRS poll published in today’s Mercury suggests the Tasmanian election is likely to be more interesting. The total sample of 1002 voters is extremely impressive – the aforementioned Advertiser poll covered only 722 voters, and was itself the most comprehensive poll the paper had ever conducted. It has Labor’s statewide vote falling to 32 per cent, compared with 25 per cent for the Liberals and 17 per cent for the Greens (it can be presumed that the undecided have not been redistributed, so these figures cannot be directly compared with the previous election – Labor 51.9 per cent, Liberal 27.4 per cent, Greens 18.1 per cent). Most remarkably of all, electorate-level results had the Greens leading Labor in the inner Hobart electorate of Denison by 36 per cent to 35 per cent, although a small sample size of 200 means this should be treated with caution. The Mercury rates the likely outcome based on these figures as 11 seats for Labor, seven for Liberal and five for the Greens.

The crow flies

Thirty-one days out from polling day, and a month later than promised, the Poll Bludger’s guide to the March 18 South Australian election is finally in business. All 47 lower house seats have been gone through with a fine-tooth comb, with a separate upper house guide hopefully to follow later in the campaign.

This guide is a Poll Bludger first in that each electorate is dealt with on a separate page, a virtue born of necessity – ever since the site moved to WordPress and changed hosts (I believe the latter to be the more likely culprit), it has become impossible to fully download my longer election guides on most computers. Anyone who can work out why this might be is welcome to offer their insights. Interestingly, the problem does not extend to the Google cached pages (compare with this).

The Poll Bludger is off on a well-earned three-day holiday and will tackle South Australian campaign blogging in earnest on his return.