Newspoll: 50-50 in South Australia

With less than a fortnight until election day, Newspoll has finally come good with a poll of South Australian state voting intention, and it will hopefully provide a wake-up call to betting markets which continue to have the Liberals at an absurdly inflated $3.60. The two parties are in fact shown at level pegging, with the Liberals leading 39 per cent to 36 per cent on the primary vote. Most alarmingly for Labor, Mike Rann’s personal ratings are behaving exactly as Alan Carpenter’s did during the 2008 Western Australian campaign, with his disapproval rating (up ten points to 48 per cent) surging past his approval (down five to 45 per cent). Isobel Redmond by contrast is up seven points on approval to 58 per cent, with disapproval up two to 20 per cent. Rann nonetheless maintains a 44-41 lead as preferred premier, but this is down from 48-31 at the last poll. The Greens’ primary vote is down two points to 10 per cent. It should be noted however the period in which the poll was conducted extends back to January. Past experience suggests Newspoll which conduct a new poll over the weekend for release at the end of the campaign.

UPDATE: You can read my mid-campaign match report in Crikey.

Advertiser: 53-47 to Labor in Newland

The third electorate-level Advertiser poll of the campaign (hope they correct that headline soon) is again consistent with the conventional wisdom in showing the Liberals performing less well in Newland than the neighbouring marginal Morialta, where a poll on Sunday pointed to a 10 per cent swing and a 52-48 margin in favour of the Liberals. This poll has Labor incumbent Tom Kenyon with a 53-47 two-party lead over the Liberal candidate, contentious former federal Makin MP Trish Draper, compared with a 5.2 per cent post-redistribution margin. Primary votes after distribution of undecided and informal are 43 per cent Labor, 41 per cent Liberal, 5 per cent Family First and 4 per cent Greens. Mike Rann holds a slender lead over Isobel Redmond as preferred premier, 45 per cent to 43 per cent. The sample size is 524, which produces a margin of error of around 4 per cent.

Highlights, such as they are, of week two:

• Mike Rann has said he is prepared to have another debate with Isobel Redmond following Wednesday’s encounter, dispensing with the campaign strategy rule which says incumbents should agree to one debate early in the campaign only to prove they’re not spooked by their opponent. Redmond has responded by calling for an “old-style town hall public meeting” in a regional area. Wednesday’s debate was screened on Channel Ten at the difficult time of 5.30pm, and seems to have been highlighted by an apology from Mike Rann to Michelle Chantelois and her family for any distress their friendship may have caused. Like most debates it was universally perceieved as a nil-all draw, although Michael Owen of The Australian reckoned a sharp-dressed Redmond scored a style win over Rann, who was “a victim of the Ten Network make-up artist and looked drawn and washed-out”. Chat on ABC Mornings with Matthew Abraham and David Bevan suggests he may have been suffering a cold.

Pia Akerman of The Australian reports Isobel Redmond has “revived Liberal plans for a new hospital in the Barossa Valley, bolstering her bid for key marginal seats in the region”. Redmond announced $35 million would be spent on a new 55-bed hospital at Tanunda, on which they promised to spend $12 million in their unsuccessful bid for re-election in 2002. This would replace existing hospitals at Angaston and Tanunda (47 beds between them), which would respectively be demolished and converted into an aged care facility. While located in safe Liberal Schubert, the 30 kilometre radius it would serve covers parts of Light (Labor 2.4 per cent) and Stuart (Liberal 0.4 per cent). Health Minister John Hill complains the funding comes from the $1 billion the Liberals say they will save by rebuilding Royal Adelaide Hospital, a figure the government hotly disputes. The government is “yet to release departmental findings on the business case for a new hospital in the Barossa”.

• ABC Mornings presenters Matthew Abraham and David Bevan complain that after successfully staging candidates debates for Hartley and Mawson in week one, this week they have been rebuffed or had no response from Labor’s Morialta MP Lindsay Simmons, Norwood MP Vini Ciccarello, Mitchell candidate Alan Sibbons and Unley candidate Vanessa Vartto.

• The Labor launch on Sunday was light on for showpiece election commitments, being highlighted by a vague promise that 100,000 extra jobs would be created over six years. This would be achieved with help from $194 million on 62,600 extra training places and apprenticeships. Michael Owen of The Australian noted this “mirrored a re-election promise by Anna Bligh a year ago”, although the time-frame then was three years. The Liberal launch will be held on Sunday.

• Mike Rann has given the federal government’s health plans the most enthusiastic response out of the state premiers, saying he was “prepared to strongly support the direction of these reforms”. Isobel Redmond said she “would not be interested in handing over our health system to a federal Labor Government that has so badly mismanaged the home insulation scheme”.

• The odds on a Liberal win have narrowed, albeit from a high base: Centrebet is now offering $3.60 compared with a starting price of $4.50.

UPDATE (6/3/2010): Nominations having closed yesterday, the election guide has now been updated with full candidate lists in ballot paper orders, photos for all major candidate and campaign updates. Antony Green offers a systematic overview of nominations by party (South Australia’s fairly liberal party registration laws being what they are, there are a couple of little-heralded minor parties in the mix). Labor has got the better of the ballot paper draw in Bright, Hartley, Light, Newland and Stuart, while the Liberals have been favoured in Mawson, Morialta and Norwood. The Liberals have the top position in Mitchell, which is bad news for independent member Kris Hanna; Chaffey favours Karlene Maywald over Liberal candidate Tim Whetstone; and Frome favours Liberal candidate Terry Boylan over independent member Geoff Brock.

Advertiser: 52-48 to Liberal in Morialta

The Sunday Mail has published a survey of 574 voters in the eastern Adelaide seat of Morialta which shows Liberal candidate John Gardner with a 52-48 lead over Labor incumbent Lindsay Simmons, pointing to a swing to the Liberals of nearly 10 per cent. This supports the general view that Labor faces a particular problem in this seat – more so than in other seats with smaller margins – and replicates the result of a Labor internal poll I’ve heard rumours of. The primary vote figures are 43 per cent for the Liberals (35.2 per cent at the 2006 election), 35 per cent for Labor (47.7 per cent), 4 per cent for the Greens (6.3 per cent) and 3 per cent each for the Democrats (3.0 per cent) and Family First (5.7 per cent).

Highlights of week one:

• Mike Smithson writes in today’s Sunday Mail that Liberal tracking polling of six marginal seats had them 48-52 behind in October, 51-49 ahead a month ago and 53-47 ahead 11 days ago. Leaving aside the trend, the meaning of these figures depends entirely on what the six seats are, which we are not told. If it’s the six most marginal Labor seats, it points to a swing of about 7.5 per cent on the latest figure: enough to cost Labor seven seats, which would reduce them to 21 seats out of 48. “The rumour on the street”, says Smithson, is that Labor polling tells a similar story. Curiously, Smithson’s line in last week’s column was that Mawson, Hartley and Newland would be “retained by Labor and that’s that”. Norwood, Light and Chaffey were rated “strong possibilities” for the Liberals, along with independent-held Frome and Mount Gambier, but Morialta was “still a better than an even chance” for Labor. Smithson also believed Labor were an outside chance in Liberal-held Stuart and Unley and independent-held Mitchell.

Greg Kelton of The Advertiser wrote a week ago that Liberal polling gave them “a very strong chance of winning Newland, Mawson, Light and Morialta”. Labor is reportedly “banking” on picking up Mitchell from independent Kris Hanna, which could be a perverse consequence of a Liberal resurgence relegating Hanna to third place and denying him a win on Liberal preferences. UPDATE (1/3): Today Kelton reports Labor is pessimistic about Morialta, Newland and Light, but more bullish about Hartley and Bright.

• The formal announcement of the campaign came days after Mike Rann announced a plan to resolve Adelaide’s signature infrastructure headache by duplicating the Southern Expressway. This presently runs one way towards the city in the morning before changing direction for the afternoon. Rann trumped the opposition in making the surprise announcement last Wednesday, which had planned to make a similar promise later in the day. Greg Kelton of The Advertiser reports Isobel Redmond had somehow “fluffed an opportunity to get in first” during a radio interview in the morning, “despite prompting from her staff”. Labor’s $445 million costing for the project ($370 million for the duplication, with the remainder to be spent on the Darlington interchange) compelled the Liberals to recalculate their own sums, which reportedly had it at $270 million. Shadow Finance Minister Rob Lucas was sent out to “take one for the party” (in the words of a Liberal source quoted by Greg Kelton) by announcing that while Labor’s Labor’s promise would be matched, further details would not be forthcoming until later in the campaign. Isobel Redmond was apparently unable to do so because of “other engagements”, while Shadow Treasurer Steven Griffiths was “believed to be in Maitland”. The confusion in the Liberal camp let Labor off the hook over a statement made by Transport Minister Patrick Conlon seven months ago that the cost of the project – then put at $280 million – was more than the government could afford. The most sensitive marginal seats serviced by the expressway are Mawson and Bright, along with Mitchell which Labor hopes to recover from independent Kris Hanna. Transport Minister Pat Conlon has further sought to concentrate the electorate advantage by promising quotas on the employment of workers on the project, which will require that 750 out of 1500 come from the southern suburbs, and another 200 be workers who are young or from “other disadvantaged groups”. However, he concedes this unwieldy sounding policy does not come with an “iron-clad guarantee”.

• Staying in the general area, the Prime Minister joined Mike Rann yesterday in promising an $18 million overpass to improve safety at the intersection of Victor Harbor Road and Main Road in McLaren Vale, located in the marginal seat of Mawson.

• Renato Castello of the Sunday Mail reports the government hurried through a rezoning at Gawler Racecourse shortly before it went into caretaker mode, allowing for development of a 4.3 hectare shopping centre and office development. It is unclear how clever an idea this is vis-a-vis the knife-edge marginal of Light, as the development is opposed by a local council that believes it will divert trade from downtown Gawler.

• Mike Rann went to Port Augusta on Thursday to promote $18.2 million of local spending on the mining industry and a promised $5 million sporting complex, presumably in a bid to keep the heat on the Liberals in Stuart.

• During an ABC Radio debate with Hartley Labor MP Grace Portolesi, Liberal candidate Joe Scalzi gamely voiced support for anti-abortion corflutes which have appeared around Adelaide courtesy of independent upper house candidate Trevor Grace. The posters, which feature a premature baby’s disfigured head, are the subject of an investigation by the Advertising Standards Bureau.

• Vickie Chapman has complained to the Electoral Commission about a newsletter in which Labor MP Vini Ciccarello claims credit for two projects in Kensington. The projects are actually located in Chapman’s seat of Bragg, but are to be transferred to Ciccarello’s seat of Norwood as a result of the redistribution.

• Port Adelaide mayor and Liberal Party member Gary Johanson says he is considering running as an independent against Deputy Premier and Treasurer Kevin Foley in Port Adelaide. Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses SA campaign co-ordinator Colin Thomas, who polled 8.8 per cent as Greens candidate in federal Port Adelaide in 2007, will run as an independent against Racing Minister Michael Wright in Lee.

• Former Democrats MLC Sandra Kanck has re-emerged as an election candidate, albeit in the radically unwinnable third position on the party’s upper house ticket. The lead candidate is Jeanie Walker, followed by Tom Salerno.

• After long-running and uninteresting stand-off between the two parties, which at one point had broadcaster Channel Ten threatening to withdraw, the leaders debate has been set for Wednesday.

Advertiser: 50.5-49.5 to Maywald in Chaffey

The Advertiser has published a poll of 571 respondents from the South Australian state seat of Chaffey, held by the state’s sole Nationals MP Karlene Maywald. It finds an effective dead heat in two-party terms between Maywald and Liberal candidate Tim Whetstone, with the former on 50.5 per cent. Primary vote figures after distribution of the undecided are 40 per cent for Whetstone, 30 per cent for Maywald, 14 per cent for Labor, 11 per cent for Family First and 3 per cent for the Greens. The result at the election was 53.2 per cent for Maywald and 28.2 per cent for the Liberal candidate, resulting in a 17.2 per cent Nationals-versus-Liberals margin after preferences. The margin of error on the poll is around 4 per cent. The paper appears not to have repeated the mistake of its poll of the electorate in August 2008, when it merely asked respondents which party they would vote for without naming Maywald as an option. When asked who Maywald should support in the event of a minority government, 53 per cent said Liberal and 33 per cent Labor. Maywald has served as a minister in Mike Rann’s government since 2004, currently in the water security and River Murray portfolios. She has nonetheless maintained she would support a “conservative” government in office.

Please feel free to use this thread for general discussion of the South Australian election.

South Australian election guide

My seat-by-seat guide to the March 20 South Australian election is open for business. If you’re a Crikey subscriber, you can read my general overview of the situation in today’s daily email, which I’ll republish here at a later time. In the meantime, enjoy the following charts showing the electoral progress of South Australia since it entered the modern world with the introduction of one-vote one-value in 1970, the first showing vote share and the second the proportion of seats one by each party (so where the red dips below the line in the middle Labor had a majority; where the blue rises above it, the Liberals had one). Note that I’ve lumped the Liberal Movement, a feature of the 1975 election, together with the Australian Democrats on the vote share chart, rightly or wrongly. I’m afraid I can’t for the life of me work out how to rearrange the seat share chart the way I want it in Excel, hence the lack of a title.



UPDATE (12/1/10)

I’ve calculated results for marginal electorates from the equivalent booths at the last two federal elections, to give some sense of where Labor over- and under-performed in 2006.

FED 2004 SA 2006 FED 2007
LIGHT (Wakefield) 44.0% 52.4% 51.6%
MAWSON (Kingston) 48.5% 53.1% 52.5%
NORWOOD (Adelaide/Sturt) 49.3% 53.5% 54.0%
NEWLAND (Makin/Sturt) 42.4% 55.1% 48.8%
HARTLEY (Sturt) 47.0% 54.8% 52.3%
MORIALTA (Sturt) 44.0% 57.4% 49.9%
BRIGHT (Boothby/Kingston) 43.7% 56.4% 46.7%
ADELAIDE (Adelaide) 49.5% 60.5% 55.3%

And here’s my piece in yesterday’s Crikey Daily Mail:

With one federal and three state elections in the offing, 2010 looms as the most event-packed year on the electoral front in recent history. As far as timing is concerned, the only wild card in the deck is the federal election. Kevin Rudd could use the emissions trading scheme trigger to call a double dissolution election at any time, although doing so in the first half of the year would commit the government to a highly problematic half-Senate election no later than mid-2012. Less troublesome would be a double dissolution later in the year, which would have to be held no later than October 16. A normal House of Representatives and half-Senate election could be held at any time from August 7, and could legally be delayed until as late as April 2011 next year – although it most assuredly won’t be.

Barring extraordinary circumstances, no such uncertainty surrounds the state elections. Victoria’s fixed term legislation sets the date for the last Saturday in November, which will be the 27th. South Australia likewise has a fixed election date of March 20. Tasmania does not have fixed terms, but Premier David Bartlett has announced the date well in advance – annoyingly also for March 20, setting up a repeat of the two states’ simultaneous elections in March 2006.

Today’s lesson concerns South Australia, for which I have just published my seat-by-seat election guide. Mike Rann’s rise to power after the February 2002 election completed Labor’s clean sweep of state and territory governments, which remained intact until the Carpenter government’s defeat in Western Australia in September 2008. The Rann government’s electoral fortunes since have followed a familiar pattern. It came to power as a minority government when conservative independent Peter Lewis made a shock post-election decision to throw his lot in with Labor, after saying during the campaign that any talk he might do so was “sleazy nonsense”. Faced by a fracturing opposition under the indecisive leadership of Rob Kerin, Rann brought home the bacon at the 2006 election, picking up a 7.7 per cent swing and winning six seats from the Liberals.

The trajectory of first-term minority government to landslide re-election had earlier been followed by Labor in Queensland (elected 1998, re-elected 2001) and Victoria (1999 and 2002), and was partly reflected by NSW Labor’s experience in winning a one-seat majority in 1995 followed by a resounding win in 1999. In each case Labor went on to win only slightly less emphatic third victories. While the polls suggest the Rann government will be re-elected (the most recent Newspoll gave it a 53-47 two-party lead), it seems unlikely it will do so in quite as fine style as Bob Carr in 2003, Peter Beattie in 2004 or Steve Bracks in 2006.

While poll respondents have strongly indicated they will not let the Michelle Chantelois allegations influence their vote, the issue is an electoral negative if only because the looming court cases threaten to distract Rann in the early part of the next term. The issue is also feeding into perceptions he will not see out the next term, taking some of the shine off his personal vote-pulling power. With no clear heir apparent in place, it also raises the prospect that ministers’ energies will be diverted into jockeying for the succession. Most importantly, Rann will not enjoy the electoral gift of a long-serving and increasingly unpopular Coalition government in Canberra.

The Liberals by contrast have stumbled almost by accident on a leader whose Newspoll approval rating for October-December was 51 per cent – the best result for a South Australian Opposition Leader in 17 years. As Antony Green demonstrates, voters don’t really get to know Opposition Leaders until an election campaign. If Isobel Redmond really is as saleable as her 33 per cent net positive rating makes her appear, and if she and her party can run a sufficiently tight ship, a lot of the 31 per cent who profess themselves undecided about her will break her way during the campaign – and many will jump on the Liberal bandwagon in doing so.

For all that, the odds remain stacked in Labor’s favour. It would take the loss of five seats to cost them their majority, and most likely six to cost them government given that one of the three cross-benchers is Labor-turned-Greens-turned-independent member Kris Hanna. In the context of South Australia’s compact 47-seat House of Assembly, that represents a considerable hurdle for the Liberals, who will need an overall swing of about 7 per cent.

The two pieces of low-hanging fruit are the seats of Light, based on Gawler just to the north of Adelaide, and Mawson, which consists of outer southern suburbs plus the McLaren Vale wine-growing area. Both are naturally conservative seats that are very likely to return to the fold.

Interestingly, the next four seats up the pendulum are the eastern suburbs neighbours of Norwood, Newland, Hartley and Morialta, which can brace themselves for some heavy duty pork-barrelling in the weeks to come. The 3.7 per cent margin in Norwood looks surmountable, but the seat recorded an unusually small swing to Labor in 2006 due to the popularity of the Liberal candidate, former Adelaide Crows star Nigel Smart. With a considerably lower profile entrant this time around, its natural margin would be at least 6 per cent.

Even more problematic is Newland (5.2 per cent), where the Liberals have scored an own goal by endorsing Trish Draper, the federal member for Makin from 1996 until her retirement in 2007. Draper continues to carry the baggage of an episode in 2004 when she was accompanied at taxpayers’ expense by her then boyfriend Derick Sands on a study trip to Europe. While she just managed to retain Makin at the 2004 election, she did so in the face of the biggest swing to Labor in the state – a woeful result for an electorate so heavily stacked with mortgage payers. Far from being forgotten, this episode made a return to the front pages last year, when Sands lost a defamation case he pursued against Channel Seven and the ABC over reports he had been identified as a suspect in a murder investigation.

In Hartley (5.6 per cent), the Liberals have made the less than inspiring decision to re-nominate Joe Scalzi, the long-term back-bencher who lost the seat to up-and-coming Labor member Grace Portolesi in 2006. Despite the relatively higher margin, the Liberals probably have more reason to be optimistic about Morialta (6.8 per cent), where incumbent Lindsay Simmons faces former Young Liberals president and Christopher Pyne staffer John Gardner. The only other seat with a margin that would normally be considered surmountable is Bright, located on the coast south of Glenelg around Brighton, where Labor member Chloe Fox has achieved an impressive electoral track record.

If the Liberals are to fall short in more than one of the seven aforementioned seats, they will need to make up for it with a freakish double-digit swing in Adelaide (10.5 per cent) or Florey (12.0 per cent). The government has been very mindful of the significance of the former seat in particular, making a number of contentious policy decisions relating to the city centre with a view to protecting its member, Jane Lomax-Smith.

Further up the pendulum are a number of Adelaide seats which normally lean moderately to Labor, where margins were engorged in 2006 by an Adelaide-wide swing of around 9 per cent. Even if the momentum the Liberals have been building in recent polling continues, they appear to be at considerable risk of achieving their biggest swings in these seats, where Labor can afford to take the hit.