Winners picked: upper house edition

At long last, I present my assessment of the state of play in the upper house. I always reserve the right to change my mind up until the close of polls, and that goes double here because there are no doubt subtleties that I have missed. If anyone thinks they can spot any, please raise them in comments.

Northern Metropolitan: The key test here is likely to be the combined Labor and Greens vote, which will produce three seats for Labor and one for the Greens if it adds up to more than two-thirds of the total. Stephen Mayne of People Power has constructed an optimistic alternative scenario in which their candidate Barbara Biggs gets ahead of Family First with independent and Democrats preferences, but it would seem more likely that the latter bloc will be outweighed by the combined DLP and Family First vote, so that Biggs will be eliminated and the Labor surplus will instead go to the Greens. The more likely threat to an outcome of three Labor, one Liberal and one Greens would be an unheralded 10 per cent dive in the Labor vote which failed to transfer to the Greens, in which case the Liberals might win a second seat at the expense of the Greens. This would have to be rated as very unlikely.

ASSESSMENT: Labor 3; Liberal 1; Greens 1.

Eastern Metropolitan: With Liberal and Labor sure to bag two seats each, the final place looms as a three-way struggle between Liberal, Labor and the Greens. If the combined Liberal and Family First vote is over 50 per cent, the seat will go to Liberals. Given that the Liberals scored 44.3 per cent in this area in 2002, and the Family First 2004 Senate vote here was 2.2 per cent, the Liberals will be looking good if they are picking up a swing in excess of 3 per cent in the eastern suburbs. Otherwise, the key test will be whether the combined vote for the Greens, Democrats and People Power is greater than Labor’s surplus over the 33.3 per cent they will need to win their second seat. However, Antony Green raises the prospect of a wild card outcome, noting that the contest "gets interesting" if a) the Liberal plus Family First vote is below 50 per cent, b) the Labor plus Greens vote is below 50 per cent, and c) the combined People Power plus Democrats vote is higher than the combined Family First and DLP vote. One of the first two scenarios is plausible, but the third looks very unlikely given that the combined Family First and DLP vote in this area was 3.8 per cent at the 2004 federal election. Stephen Mayne’s scenario for a win for People Power candidate Karin Orpen puts the People Power vote at a very optimistic 2.9 per cent.

ASSESSMENT: Liberal 3; Labor 2.

South-Eastern Metropolitan: This is the Greens’ weakest metropolitan region, so it seems very unlikely that they will poll higher than Labor’s surplus over 33.3 per cent, even after the addition of preferences from the Democrats and People Power (and especially in light of the Liberals decision to put them last on preferences, depriving them of any Liberal surplus). On the basis of the 54.2 per cent Labor scored in this area at the 2002 election (as calculated by Antony Green) it seems equally unlikely that Labor could fail to reach the 50 per cent they need for a third seat after they receive the Greens vote as preferences. For the final seat to go to either Liberal or the Greens, Labor would need to suffer a double-digit swing.

ASSESSMENT: Labor 3; Liberal 2.

Southern Metropolitan: Southern Metropolitan is Labor’s weakest metropolitan region – there is little prospect of them winning a third seat, and a slight risk that they won’t win a second. If Labor does win a second seat, the final position looms as a tussle between the Liberals and the Greens. The Liberals polled 44.2 per cent here in 2002 and will receive preferences from Family First, the DLP and an independent candidate, which the 2004 Senate figures suggest will add up to around 3 per cent. If that adds up to more than 50 per cent, the Liberals will win the seat. The Greens vote in this region was 15.4 per cent at the 2002 state election and 12.8 per cent at the 2004 Senate election; the only boosts they will receive beyond their primary vote will be preferences from People Power and the Democrats, along with Labor’s surplus over 33.3 per cent. If that all adds up to more than 16.7 per cent, the Greens will win the seat. The alternative scenario is that Labor’s vote (which was 37.9 per cent in 2002) falls well below 33.3 per cent, giving the Greens a slim chance of overtaking Labor’s second candidate (one Evan Thornley) and winning his seat, for a final result of three Liberal, one Labor and one Greens.

ASSESSMENT: Liberal 2; Labor 2; Greens 1.

Western Metropolitan: The Greens would need a big improvement on their recent performances to win a seat here, following the Liberal decision to put the Greens last on preferences. There would need to be a substantial boost in their vote at the expense of Labor, and little improvement in the Liberal vote. If that does not occur, the Liberals could win a second seat if their vote reached 33.3 per cent after the addition of Family First preferences. Otherwise, Labor would win a fourth seat and be well on their way to maintaining their upper house majority. The Liberal vote in 2002 was 25.6 per cent, while the Family First 2004 Senate vote was 1.5 per cent.

ASSESSMENT: Labor 4; Liberal 1.

Eastern Victoria: The Coalition parties have done Labor a huge favour here by preferencing the Greens last, giving them some hope of winning a third seat. Past experience suggests the Greens vote will be in the 8 per cent ballpark, which can now be added directly to a Labor vote that was 40.6 per cent at the 2002 state election and 30.4 per cent at the 2004 Senate election. If the surplus of this sum over 33.3 per cent is greater than the equivalent figure for the combined Coalition vote (47.2 per cent in 2002, 50.8 per cent for the 2004 Senate), Labor will win the seat. However, the odds are stacked against this outcome and it is more likely that the final seat will go to either the Liberals or Nationals. The determining factor here will be whether the Nationals vote (10.2 per cent on 2002 figures) exceeds the Liberal surplus over 33.3 per cent (3.7 per cent in 2002), after the Nationals receive preferences from Family First, People Power and the DLP and the Liberals receive preferences from the Country Alliance. As such, the most likely outcome would look to be two Labor, two Liberal and one Nationals. Wild card possibilities include the dim prospect of the People Power getting ahead of the Greens with preferences from the DLP, Family First and the Labor surprlus, and then coasting to victory on Greens preferences.

ASSESSMENT: Labor 2; Liberal 2; Nationals 1.

Western Victoria: Labor and the Liberals are each assured of two seats; the final seat could go to Labor, Liberal or the Greens. Labor’s vote here in 2002 was 47.3 per cent; if this falls by less than 5 per cent, they are very likely to win the final seat. The Greens have a narrow window of opportunity: they need for the combined Labor and Greens vote to be near or above 50 per cent, and for their own share of it to be greater than Labor’s surplus over 33.3 per cent. On 2002 figures, Labor and the Greens respectively polled 47.3 per cent (a 14.0 per cent surplus) and 8.3 per cent. Alternatively, the Liberals might reach the 50 per cent needed for a third seat after receiving preferences from the Nationals, Family First and the DLP. The Coalition vote in 2002 was 42.3 per cent, while preferences should boost them a further 3 to 4 per cent. The Nationals vote in this region is too low to give them a serious shot of squeezing out the Liberals. There are a couple of wild card scenarios here, one of which involves the DLP snowballing ahead of the third Liberal with preferences from Family First, the Country Alliance and People Power.

ASSESSMENT: Liberal 3; Labor 2.

Northern Victoria: The Coalition will surely improve upon its combined 49.1 per cent vote in 2002, and are thus assured of three seats. Barring a Nationals collapse, they are all but certain to win one of these three seats. The question is whether Labor can manage a second. They polled 37.4 per cent, and will only receive preferences from the Greens and half those of the Country Alliance. Even so, their vote would need to fall by about 10 per cent if they were to fall short. A possible wild card is celebrity chef and independent candidate Stefano di Pieri. If his vote breaks the 5 per cent barrier, he might get ahead of the Greens and pull off a miracle.

ASSESSMENT: Labor 2; Liberal 2; Nationals 1.

Add that all together and you get a final result of Labor 20, Liberal 16, Nationals two and two for the Greens. Look back later though and you may find I have changed my mind.

UPDATE: Be it noted that my original assessment of Liberal 3, Labor 2 in Southern Metropolitan has been withdrawn.

Morgan’s last word

Channel Nine has given details of the final Roy Morgan poll of the campaign: Labor leads 53-47 on two-party preferred, but trails 39 per cent to the Coalition’s 41 per cent on the primary vote. The Greens are on 12 per cent, which is remarkably consistent with other agencies’ findings, while Family First is on 3.5 per cent. Laurie Oakes tells Nine viewers he "wouldn’t be surprised" if the Greens won two lower house seats, "or even three".

UPDATE: Full details here.

UPDATE II: Speaking on the ABC’s Stateline program, Paul Austin of The Age has just said their poll tomorrow will show the race is “perhaps a bit closer than some people might have thought”.

Winners picked

Today’s Herald-Sun carries extraordinarily detailed data from a Galaxy survey of 942 voters, including "weighted sample" figures of a type that polling agencies normally keep very quiet about. The primary vote figures are Labor 42 per cent, Coalition 39 per cent and Greens 12 per cent, with Labor’s lead ballooning out to 55-45 after preferences. This compares with 52-48 from Galaxy’s survey at the beginning of the campaign.

In other result prediction news, assessments for each seat have finally been added to the Poll Bludger’s election guide. The biggest call is that Health Minister Bronwyn Pike’s seat of Melbourne will indeed fall to the Greens, a conclusion I have been hesitant to reach, but the weight of the consensus has finally worn me down. I am also tipping that Labor will lose every seat it holds by 2.8 per cent or less, namely Evelyn (0.3 per cent), Hastings (0.9 per cent), Gembrook (1.6 per cent), Kilsyth (2.1 per cent), Ferntree Gully (2.3 per cent), Mount Waverley (2.3 per cent) and Bayswater (2.8 per cent). There follows a 1.6 per cent gap in the electoral pendulum, beyond which I am tipping Labor to lose Eltham (4.8 per cent) and South Barwon (5.0 per cent) but hold Prahran (4.4 per cent), Mordialloc (4.5 per cent), Bentleigh (4.8 per cent) and Morwell (4.9 per cent). I am fairly confident about the first set of judgements and less so about the second, although exceptions in the latter case include South Barwon (where numerous unrelated sources point to a Labor defeat) and Morwell (where Labor suffered even graver local problems last time). Beyond that, I will be keeping an eye on Ballarat East (7.6 per cent) and Bellarine (8.3 per cent), but am tipping them to stay with Labor.

On the other side of the pendulum, I am hesitantly predicting an upset Labor win in former Liberal leader Denis Napthine’s seat of South-West Coast (0.8 per cent) due to perceived federal government plans for a nuclear reactor in Portland. I will also be keeping an eye on Bass (0.6 per cent), which might behave unpredictably given the exceptional circumstances in 2002, when independent MP Susan Davies polled 22.2 per cent as she attempted to move on from her abolished seat of Gippsland West. Davies was a once and future Labor candidate, and Labor played dead in the ultimately forlorn hope that Davies would outvote them. Nonetheless, the prospect of a Labor gain here has been little mentioned. I have also heard the Wodonga-dominated seat of Benambra (4.0 per cent) mentioned as a roughie, due to the retirement of long-standing Liberal member Tony Plowman, Labor’s preselection of Wodonga mayor Lisa Mahood and the complication of Nationals candidate Bill Baxter, member for the corresponding upper house region of North Eastern. Even so, both have been tipped to stay with the Liberals.

Nationals seats threatened by the Liberals are hard to call without firm knowledge of Labor’s how-to-vote cards. Reports have indicated that Labor will preference the Nationals in Shepparton (4.3 per cent) and Gippsland South (10.9 per cent versus Labor), but nothing has been said of Rodney (10.0 per cent). Accordingly, Rodney alone has been tipped as a Liberal gain, and then only conditionally. So, with rights reserved for changes of heart prompted by new information or further opinion polls, I predict that the Liberals will gain nine seat from Labor and one from the Nationals, Labor will gain one from the Liberals, the Greens will gain one from Labor, and independent members in Mildura (18.5 per cent versus Nationals) and Gippsland East (11.8 per cent versus Nationals) will be untroubled. This would change the current numbers of Labor 62, Liberal 17, Nationals seven and independents two to Labor 53, Liberal 26, Nationals six, independents two and Greens one. Detailed assessments for the upper house will follow later in the day, so do stay tuned.

Highlights of the last day or so

With the ban on electronic election advertising to kick in at midnight tonight, the Australian Financial Review reports that Labor’s spending on television advertising has been "more than double" that of the Liberal Party, which has struggled to raise money from corporate backers due to the apparent certainty of its impending defeat. Nonetheless, the Herald Sun reports that Centrebet has cut its price for a Coalition victory from $9 to $6.50 following Ted Baillieu’s well-received performance on the campaign trail.

Melbourne (Labor 1.9% versus Greens), Richmond (Labor 3.1% versus Greens) and Northcote (Labor 7.9% versus Greens): Following Monday’s leak of alarming party polling regarding the threat from the Greens in Melbourne, Labor has attempted to shore up its environmental credentials by having Peter Garrett hit the campaign trail in the party’s endangered inner-city seats. Labor has also distributed a letter by prominent human rights lawyer Julian Burnside to voters in Richmond, in which Burnside praises member Richard Wynne’s stand on refugee issues. Interestingly, Richmond voters have been spared a letter from Garrett, which has instead been circulated in Melbourne and Northcote. The Australian reports that Garrett’s letter echoes the party’s questionable line that a vote for the Greens might deliver government to the Liberals, despite the certainty that any Greens members holding the balance of power would support a Labor rather than Coalition minority government.

South West Coast (Liberal 0.8%), Hastings (Labor 0.9%) and Morwell (Labor 4.9%): Labor has seized on the federal government’s review of nuclear power options to promise it will stop any move to build a nuclear power station in Portland, which left-wing think tank the Australia Institute identified along with Westernport Bay as one of the two best available sites in Victoria. However, Ziggy Switkowski’s report has stressed the need for any potential reactors to be sited near major population centres, so the most likely contenders would be either Hastings on Westernport Bay or co-location with existing coal-fired plants in the Latrobe Valley.

Gippsland South (Nationals 10.9%): Following yesterday’s report that Labor was "considering" reversing its decision to direct preferences to the Liberals ahead of the Nationals in Shepparton, the ABC today reports that the party has confirmed it will do likewise in Nationals leader Peter Ryan’s seat of Gippsland South. Labor registered two sets of cards with the Victorian Electoral Commission last Friday, and is keeping its opponents guessing as to which will be distributed on polling day. Nothing has been reported on the other potentially endangered Nationals seats, Rodney, Swan Hill and Lowan.

Highlights of week three-ish

I have naughtily neglected yesterday’s Roy Morgan poll of 778 voters conducted over the weekend ("for Channel Nine"), showing Labor leading the Coalition 44 per cent to 38 per cent on the primary vote and 55-45 on two-party preferred. Much is being made of a spike in the Greens’ vote from the 7-8 per cent range to 12 per cent, not least because it is borne out by yesterday’s ACNielsen poll in The Age. Morgan has followed this up today with further figures from the same survey regarding upper house voting intention, which I wouldn’t read much into and will discuss tomorrow after further consideration (in other poll news, McNair Ingenuity Group principal Matt Balogh has responded to this site’s skepticism regarding his group’s Sunday Herald-Sun survey in comments). In the meantime, here are some more Campaign Updates for the election guide:

South-West Coast (Liberal 0.8%): On the weekend, Liberal member and former leader Denis Napthine described Labor’s promise to create a new national park in his electorate at Cobboboonee as "an outrageously bare-faced grab for votes among the latte-swilling, chardonnay socialist, crystal-gazing, new-age tree-huggers of inner-suburban Melbourne", whose company the Poll Bludger is presently keeping in Richmond. The comment appeared to go against the party’s support for the proposal as outlined on the Liberal website; however, Baillieu told The Age there was in fact no difference of opinion, and that Napthine was "indicating what I indicated, which is that we want to know there is local support for those proposals" (though there is nothing about this in the party’s policy statement). Duncan Hughes of the Australian Financial Review reports that Napthine has also been at odds with Baillieu over the prospect of a coalition government after the election and the status of the party’s plan for a dam on the Maribyrnong River.

Benalla (Nationals 2.0%): The government’s ban on cattle grazing at the Alpine National Park was publicised during Monday’s protest by farmers and graziers at Parliament House, which was headed by 200 aggrieved mountain cattlemen on horseback. Ted Baillieu by all accounts received a warm reception at the protest, which was not attended by any Labor representatives. The issue also emerged during the 2004 election campaign when it was revealed the federal Department of Environment had made a submission supporting the ban, despite Nationals member for Gippsland Peter McGauran assuring the cattlemen they had the federal government’s support.

Shepparton (Nationals 4.3% versus Liberal): The ABC reports that "the Labor Party is considering changing its preferencing five days out from the state election, to preference the National member over the Liberal candidate". The report quotes the Labor candidate, James Taylor, saying his cards will indeed put Nationals member Jeanette Powell ahead of Liberal challenger Stephen Merrylees, in reaction to the Liberals’ decision to direct preferences to the Greens in key inner-city seats. It also quotes a "senior ALP source" who describes the new-look ticket as "the party’s interim position".

Morwell (Labor 4.9%): The Age has a received a copy of the letter sent to Labor’s state secretary by Derek Amos, the party’s Traralgon branch president and member for Morwell from 1970 to 1981, in which he quit the party in protest against current member Brendan Jenkins and his factional backers in the Left. The letter complains of "our local member and his surrounding Left clique", which has "ignored, criticised or punished" those who "have a different view of the world". Amos’s resignation was part of a joint action with three other local party members including Traralgon branch secretary Lisa Proctor, who is running as an independent and directing preferences against Jenkins.

Frankston (Labor 5.8%): Frankston has been heavily targeted by the Liberals with election promises, starting with a pre-campaign commitment to spend $250 million building a bypass around the Frankston town centre, which is expected to suffer traffic congestion when the EastLink project is completed. The Frankston Standard reports that other promises for the electorate include "a technical college … $1 million towards development of a new park … a beach vehicle for authorities, removal of a Moorooduc Highway crossing, lower fares or free travel on public transport (a reference to the scrapping of zone three fares, of benefit to a large swathe of the eastern suburbs), school maintenance, more hospital beds and medical staff, and $730 a child in funding for pre-schoolers".

Mildura (Independent 18.5% versus Nationals): The Victorian Electoral Commission has dismissed a complaint by independent member Russell Savage about National Party flyers and advertisements which accused him of failing to criticise the Bracks government. Savage has threatened to take the matter to the Court of Disputed Returns if he loses his seat.

Home straight

The Poll Bludger’s insufficiently proof-read upper house election guide is now available for viewing. It will be cleaned up and maybe expanded a little in due course. I will also be back in the land of regular internet access tomorrow, so campaign developments in the final week will be covered in a more timely fashion than they have been of late.

Return to Earth

Today’s ACNielsen poll in The Age tells of a Liberal revival in more believable terms than yesterday’s effort in the Sunday Herald-Sun. The survey of 1018 respondents has Labor leading the Coalition 41 per cent to 40 per cent on the primary vote, with the Greens on 12 per cent and Labor leading 54-46 on two-party preferred. This points to a 4 per cent swing which, if evenly distributed, would cost Labor seven of the 62 seats it currently holds in the 88-seat lower house. Voters are now forming opinions of Ted Baillieu, most of them favourable: his approval rating is up from 40 per cent to 49 per cent from three weeks ago, with disapproval also up from 30 per cent to 37 per cent and the uncommitted down from 29 per cent to 14 per cent.

Another headline-grabber in today’s Age is a report that "the Greens are on the cusp of defeating Health Minister Bronwyn Pike and winning their first seat in Victoria’s lower house, according to Labor Party polling". According to the report, the poll has the Greens primary vote in Pike’s seat of Melbourne at an improbable 40 per cent, compared with 23.3 per cent at the 2002 election, with Labor down from 46.7 per cent to 41 per cent and the Liberals down from 20.1 per cent to 21 per cent to 16 per cent.

Reversal of fortune

Remarkable poll results from McNair Ingenuity Research in today’s Sunday Herald-Sun give the Coalition a commanding primary vote lead of 46 per cent to 39 per cent one week out from the Victorian election. From this it is somehow inferred that Labor still holds a 50.5-49.5 lead on two-party preferred, suggesting an extraordinary 77 per cent of minor party and independent preferences will go to Labor. McNair managing director Matt Balogh reckons the figures "may reverse on the day a little bit", a clear indication that he himself does not believe them. The sample size is an almost but not quite respectable 609.