Unholy Sabbath polling

After last night’s sort-of-triumph in the Victoria Park by-election, the morning has brought two opinion polls to warm the Labor supporter’s heart. After a quiet week on the polling front from the previously prodigious Advertiser, its News Limited stablemate the Sunday Mail has published a survey of 607 voters showing Labor with 45 per cent of the decided vote against 37 per cent for the Liberals, for a two-party lead of 55-45 – which fits in nicely with this site’s election guide predictions.

In Tasmania, the Launceston Examiner has published the second EMRS poll of the campaign showing Labor’s statewide vote up on the previous survey from 40 per cent to 44 per cent, with the Liberals down from 33 per cent to 28 per cent and the Greens down from 22 per cent to 18 per cent, with 10 per cent undecided. I will ferret around to see if I can locate a table, so stay tuned.

Tasmanian election: Braddon form guide

The electorate of Braddon covers the north-western coastal areas of Tasmania plus King Island in the Bass Strait, and is dominated by Burnie and Devonport. Smaller centres include Currie, Penguin, Savage River, Smithton, Stanley, Ulverstone, Waratah and Wynyard. This is an electorally mixed area in which timber and mining industries that traditionally provided a solid working-class base for Labor were balanced out by conservative small towns and farming districts. The economic decline that buffeted the area’s industries, along with the political upheaval caused by the Franklin Dam controversy, dramatically tilted the balance in the Liberals’ favour in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Recent years have seen a return to the good old days from Labor’s perspective, barring the 2004 federal election when a backlash against Mark Latham’s conservationist forestry policy returned the seat to the Liberals with a 7.0 per cent swing. As this result indicates, this is a relatively weak area for the Greens who have uniquely failed to win seats in the two elections held since the number of members in each electorate was cut from seven to five. It has also raised Liberal hopes that they might gain a seat from Labor, despite the lengths gone to by the state party to quarantine themselves from Latham’s policy.

As Antony Green notes, the electorate’s diversity encourages parties to "balance their tickets with candidates from different areas":

In 2002, Burnie-based MPs Steve Kons and Bryan Green pulled in most of Labor’s vote in Burnie and areas to the west, while Devonport’s Brenton Best and Mike Gaffney from Latrobe helped Labor’s vote in the east of Braddon. Based in Sassafras, Jeremy Rockliff similarly dominated the Liberal vote in the east of the electorate, while Burnie based Brett Whiteley polled well in Burnie and surrounding councils.

Bryan Green is a member of Labor’s Left faction with a background in the Forestry Union, and is reckoned by Greens leader Peg Putt to be a "dyed-in-the-wool" advocate for the industry. He assumed ministerial responsibility in this area when he was promoted from Primary Industries Minister to Infrastructure, Energy and Resources Minister in the reshuffle after Treasurer David Crean’s retirement in February 2004. Green achieved a personal victory at the 2002 election when he outpolled Steven Kons to become the electorate’s strongest performing candidate (after polling 7.3 per cent to Kons’ 17.6 per cent when both were first elected in 1998), and he was mentioned as a potential rival to Paul Lennon when talk of a leadership challenge briefly surfaced after the 2004 federal election debacle. Shortly after Jim Bacon’s retirement, Ellen Whinnett of The Mercury reported that "the generally good-humoured Green has been anointed Labor’s hard man after Paul Lennon became Premier and began to soften his image", prompting the Liberals to label Green as Labor’s "attack puppy". Whinnett listed Green’s strengths as being a "charismatic parliamentary performer, excellent public speaker (and) rising Labor star", while his weaknesses were that he was "easily provoked, prone to intemperate comments (and) perceived as unyielding".

As the mayor of Burnie, Steven Kons brought a high profile to parliament upon his election in 1998 when he achieved a quota in his own right on debut. Kons is a member of the Right faction and is known to have frosty relations with factional opponent Bryan Green – The Mercury reported in June 2004 that "it was common knowledge that before the last election, former premier Jim Bacon and his former chief of staff had spoken to the pair over their bickering". Kons was promoted to the front bench with the primary industries and water portfolio in the reshuffle that followed Treasurer David Crean’s retirement due to ill health in January 2004, which occurred a month before Jim Bacon quit in similar circumstances.

Brenton Best of the Left faction was first elected at the 1996 election with 4.4 per cent of the vote and has been a consistent improver since, lifting to 7.3 per cent in 1998 and 10.6 per cent in 2002. However, Labor’s overall strength on the latter occasion meant he only won narrowly over a party colleague, Latrobe deputy mayor Michael Gaffney. In May 2002 Best became the third Tasmanian MP in one month (after former Labor-turned independent Senator Shayne Murphy and Rumney Labor MLC Lin Thorp) to be charged with drink driving, recording a blood-alcohol reading of 0.13 after side-swiping a parked car. Labor has copped heat at Best’s end of the electorate over the removal of accident and emergency and obstetric services from Mersey Hospital; he was spared having to vote on a Liberal motion calling for their reinstatement because he was acting as Speaker due to David Polley’s absence from the chamber, a circumstance his opponents found more than a little convenient.

The newcomers on Labor’s ticket are Peter Hollister, who served as mayor of Devonport from 2002 to 2005 when he lost the position to Lynn Laycock, and Leonie Batchelor, a staffer to Senator Nick Sherry. Antony Green argues that Hollister presents a particular threat to Brenton Best, who was able to dominate the Devonport vote in 2002.

At the 2002 election, neither of the sitting Liberal members (Carole Cains and former Premier Tony Rundle) sought re-election. With the Greens failing to get a member up, they succeeded in maintaining their two seats despite a 9.2 per cent dive on the primary vote. The star performer was 32-year-old Jeremy Rockliff, whose family have been farmers in the Sassafras area for 150 years. Rockliff was the state Young Liberals president from 1994 and 1995 and now holds the shadow primary industries, water and environment and arts portfolios. He was elected with 13.1 per cent of the primary vote, by far the strongest showing of the five Liberal candidates.

The other successful Liberal candidate was Brett Whiteley, a Burnie councillor and state party vice-president, who polled 7.4 per cent. Whiteley might not have recovered from a charge laid against him for breaching the Electoral Act during the 2002 campaign, after he issued his own Liberal how-to-vote cards that listed and pictured the party candidates in his own order of preference. Defeated Liberal leader Bob Cheek later wrote that he had "never seen four men so angry" as when he discussed the matter with the other Liberal candidates, each of whom considered taking it to the Court of Disputed Returns (which was considered unlikely to succeed). Whiteley pleaded guilty and was placed on a 12 month good-behaviour bond by the court and fined $5000 by the Liberal Party, whose Devonport branch called for his expulsion. However, Ellen Whinnett of The Mercury wrote in June 2003 that his promotion from Shadow Infrastructure Minister to Shadow Police Minister followed strong parliamentary performances, and was "the clearest sign yet that he has been forgiven".

The enormous amount of adverse publicity generated by Whiteley’s bungle has created an opportunity for rivals within the party. The likeliest candidates from this remove appear to be John Oldaker, a farmer, Vietnam veteran and Circular Head councillor who polled a respectable 21.2 per cent as an independent candidate at last year’s election for the upper house seat of Murchison, and Leon Perry, a staffer to Senator Richard Colbeck who Antony Green says is "very well known in Devonport as coach of the East Devonport Swans". Rounding out the ticket is Heather Woodward, a hairdresser from Smithton (which produced the biggest anti-Labor swing of any booth in the country at the 2004 federal election).

Paul O’Halloran, an assistant principal at a Devonport college, is rated as the best chance to end the Greens’ lockout in Braddon. The ABC reports that the remaining candidates are "youth worker Scott Jordan, physiotherapist Andrea Jackson, artist Di Ransley and activist John Coombes".

Tasmanian election: Bass form guide

The Tasmanian election campaign has already entered its final fortnight, and unfortunately there has been hardly a word on it so far on this site. Every effort will be made over the next two weeks to provide background on the contests for each of the five electorates, which will be dealt with in alphabetical order. That makes Bass, the north-eastern electorate dominated by Launceston and famed for the 1975 federal by-election result, the first cab off the rank. Time constraints mean that many important historical and psephological details will have to pass unremarked – fortunately, Antony Green‘s election guide (from which I got the figures for the vote and seat graphs below) tells you everything you need to know.

As can be seen from the graphs, Bass was an arm wrestle between the Labor and Liberal parties prior to the emergence of the Greens as an enduring force in 1989. The effect of the seismic statewide shift away from Labor at the 1982 Franklin dam election was relatively subdued here due to the electorate’s distance from the site in question, although it should be stressed that this is only true in relative terms. The Greens’ failure here in 1996 marked the first time since 1986 that they failed to win a seat in each electorate, although they in fact won more of the vote in Bass than in Braddon. Then came the electoral reform that the major parties contrived to neuter the Greens by cutting representation from seven members per electorate to five. Only Denison returned a Greens member at the 1998 election, when Labor won more seats than the Liberals in Bass for the first time since the pre-Franklin dam era.

The Greens returned to prominence at the 2002 election, doing well enough to elect members in every electorate except Braddon. Counting on election night suggested that the Liberals would be reduced to one seat in Bass, as had been the case in Denison, Franklin and Lyons. However, Liberal candidate Peter Gutwein narrowly edged out Labor’s Anita Smith late in the count despite Labor’s primary vote amounting to 2.95 quotas, a result widely put down to an apparent Labor blunder in fielding six candidates. Since Tasmanian voters are only required to number five boxes to cast a formal vote, many votes from Labor supporters who had only done the bare minimum required of them ended up exhausting. However, Antony Green assesses that the result was caused by leakage of Labor votes to Liberal candidates, Sue Napier in particular. Labor received no corresponding benefit from leaking Liberal votes because its highest profile candidates, Jim Cox and Kathryn Hay, were elected early in the count.

This indicates the importance that the popularity and profile of individual candidates plays in determining outcomes under Tasmania’s system of Robson rotation, and the damage parties can suffer when a popular incumbent retires. Those unfamiliar with such intricacies would do well to peruse Antony Green’s guide before proceeding further.

Labor’s only sitting member going into the election is the Left faction’s Jim Cox, who has had a long and interesting career in state politics. Shortly after he was first elected in 1989, Cox was the subject of a bribery attempt by local businessman Edmund Rouse, whose diverse interests included the chairmanship of the then-fledgling forestry company Gunns. Rouse hoped to entice Cox into defecting from Labor to prevent the party from forming a government in accord with the Greens, an outcome likely to damage his business interests. Cox took the matter to the police and agreed to take part in a 10-day sting operation that led to the imprisonment of both Rouse and fellow conspirator Tony Aloi. Cox lost his seat at the 1992 election that dumped Michael Field’s troubled Labor government from office, but he recovered it in 1996 and has strongly consolidated his position at subsequent elections. He currently holds the finance, racing and sport and recreation portfolios in the Lennon government.

Labor suffered a blow when its other sitting member, Kathryn Hay, announced she would not seek re-election after just one term. A former Miss Australia winner, Hay became Tasmania’s first Aboriginal MP when elected to parliament in 2002 at the age of 27. Fortunately for Labor, they have found an ideal replacement in former federal member Michelle O’Byrne, whom no-one blamed for losing Bass at the 2004 election. O’Byrne is a member of the Progressive Policy Forum faction which broke away from the Left during preselection disputes in 2003, and which also includes her brother David O’Byrne, state party president and secretary of the LHMWU. This is not O’Byrne’s first attempt to return to politics in the short time since her defeat – she had to be persuaded against nominating for the casual Senate vacancy created by the retirement of Sue Mackay in July 2005, agreeing to do so on the condition that the Left would back the eventual victor, Carol Brown. Party sources were reported as saying this was a face-saving exercise by O’Byrne, who was likely to be defeated in any case after a cross-factional deal delivered the numbers to Brown.

The highest-profile of the remaining candidates is Grant Courtney, another member of the Progressive Policy Forum. The local branch secretary of the Australian Meat Industry Employees Union, Courtney has been prominent in the union’s campaigns against live sheep exports and the lockout of Blue Ribbon meat workers. He also put his hand up to replace Sue Mackay in the Senate in July 2005, reportedly running against the wishes of his faction. Other tilts at public office included an unsuccessful run for Launceston City Council in October 2002 and endorsement as Labor’s candidate for the upper house seat of Rosevears in May 2002. His notably poor performance on the latter occasion, when he polled just 8 per cent of the vote, put an end to Labor’s pretensions of gaining a majority in the notoriously independent chamber.

Also on the ticket are George Town school teacher Michael Greene, whose preselection appeared in doubt when Left union official and state executive member Nicole Wells refused to endorse it in December 2005 on the grounds that he had not been a financial member of the party for the requisite six months; Michelle Cripps, regional development consultant for Northern Tasmania Development; and Scottsdale High School principal Steve Reissing.

The Liberals are going into the election with both sitting members on board. Senior among them is Sue Napier, the former party leader deposed by Bob Cheek in August 2001. Napier reportedly did not wish to resume the leadership after the 2002 election debacle which cost Cheek his seat in Denison. Although re-elected relatively comfortably, Napier’s vote declined sharply and it was not clear on early counting that she would prevail over Peter Gutwein. There have been numerous suggestions over the year’s that Napier might exit state politics to take up one of Tasmania’s bumper crop of Senate seats. The most intriguing of these was the suggestion that the moderate faction would install her in the number two Senate position as part of a move to demote Right faction warlord Eric Abetz from one to three, but Napier herself scotched the idea. Abetz had earlier been instrumental in thwarting her move to replace the retiring Brian Gibson shortly after she lost the leadership in late 2001, installing Guy Barnett in her place. More recently, Napier was touted as a potential replacement for veteran John Watson in the event that he chose to retire mid-term, which has not come to pass.

Peter Gutwein‘s narrow victory in 2002 came at the expense of Liberal incumbent David Fry. The Liberals might have ended up wishing the outcome had been otherwise, as his maverick behaviour has won comparisons with defeated former leader Bob Cheek, who last year wrote a tell-all book about the inner workings of the state party. Early in the term Gutwein went against party policy by calling for an end to old-growth logging, and his call for Catholic Archbishop Adrian Doyle to stand aside while an inquiry into sex abuse allegations in the church was under way prompted a tongue-lashing from veteran Denison MP Michael Hodgman. Gutwein’s reputation as a moderate in a state party dominated by the Right fuelled accusations the he was undermining Rene Hidding’s leadership and hoped to take the job for himself. He was briefly dumped from the front bench in December 2003 after crossing the floor to support a Greens motion calling for a commission of inquiry into child sex abuse, which Ellen Whinnett of The Mercury reported “infuriated his colleagues, who claimed Mr Gutwein’s move was self-promoting and painted them as uncaring on the issue of child abuse”. Hidding blamed the episode for a 6 per cent drop in Liberal support recorded in an EMRS poll in early 2004, which showed a particularly poor result in Bass. The party felt compelled to reinstate him mainly because of difficulties in spreading the portfolio workload across seven parliamentary members. He currently holds the police and education portfolios.

The Liberals’ non-incumbent candidates include the aforementioned David Fry, who failed to retain the seat he assumed on a recount after Liberal colleague Frank Madill retired in 2000; Pam Fratangelo, a former Lions Club president and current executive officer of Women Tasmania, and Sam McQuestin, who owns a number of hospitality industry businesses in Launceston. The Mercury’s Insider column reported in July 2005 that Fratangelo has worked on both sides of the political fence, as a staffer in the previous Liberal government and a campaigner for narrowly unsuccessful Labor candidate Anita Smith at the 2002 state election.

Sitting member Kim Booth brought the Greens back to Bass after a term in the wilderness (so to speak) with an easy victory at the 2002 election. Interestingly, Booth is a former owner and operator of a building and saw-milling company. The best known of the Greens’ remaining candidates is Jeremy Ball, an electorate officer to Booth and former actor who had roles in the television series Water Rats and a brief cameo in the Hollywood blockbuster The Matrix, in which Keanu Reeves pinches his mobile phone (the film was shot in Sydney). He was also Booth’s successor as the party’s federal candidate for Bass at the 2004 election. Rohan Wade of The Mercury reported that Ball, who is now 36, was the youngest person to be arrested at the Franklin Dam protests in the early 1980s.

Other candidates: Les Rochester is a Tamar Valley councillor and former television journalist who has received widespread publicity for his campaign against Gunns’ proposal for a pulp mill in northern Tasmania.

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.

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, Upperhouse.info, 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.