Going south

The big news from yesterday’s deadline for registration of how-to-vote cards was the Liberals’ change of heart regarding the Greens, whom they now propose to put ahead of Labor in seats including Melbourne (which the Greens came within 1.9 per cent of winning in 2002), Richmond (3.1 per cent), Northcote (7.9 per cent) and Brunswick. Throughout the week, the party’s website carried a how to vote card that had the Greens last in every seat other than the aforementioned, where voters were instructed to make up their own minds. The Poll Bludger can only speculate as to what prompted the change of heart; the most intriguing possibility is that the Liberals have ratted on a deal which gave Labor the better half of the bargain, in exchange for an alternative arrangement with the Greens. The Age plays up the impact of the Greens’ decision to distribute split tickets in Morwell (4.9 per cent), South Barwon (5.0 per cent), Ripon (7.4 per cent), Ballarat East (7.6 per cent), Mitcham (7.7 per cent), Monbulk (8.3 per cent), Ballarat West (9.0 per cent), Bendigo West (16.0 per cent) and Footscray (24.9 per cent), although this is only to be of consequence where the result is extremely close. The real dividend for the Liberals is that Labor resources will be diverted to once safe inner-city seats. Duncan Hughes of the Australian Financial Review reminds us that "parties can register any number of cards to be distributed on polling day, which means haggling between parties can continue until the eve of the poll", although last-minute indecision would presumably carry political costs.

In other news, the Geelong Advertiser today follows up on its South Barwon survey of October 16 with a second poll, albeit of only 254 respondents (of whom 67 are reported as undecided). It nonetheless backs up the thrust of the earlier poll in having Liberal candidate Michael King leading Labor incumbent Michael Crutchfield 49 per cent to 38 per cent after distribution of the undecided.

Whistling in the dark

The Victorian election campaign has been surprisingly poorly served for opinion polls; apart from last week’s obligatory Newspoll, there have only been the three electorate-level polls conducted by the Geelong Advertiser for South Barwon, Bellarine and Lara. Roy Morgan has today unveiled a "qualitative survey of 251 Victorian electors", but it gives no figures on voting intention and is really just a bloated vox-pop. To add insult to injury, the newspapers have been bereft of leaked internal polling, and light on for off-the-record assessments by party strategists. The Poll Bludger will accordingly need more time for field work before adding his eagerly awaited predictions to the election guide. As for the upper house guide that was promised by Tuesday, it really is nearing fruition now and will be posted some time this weekend.

One more Campaign Update for the election guide:

Hastings (Labor 0.9%): Last weekend, Steve Bracks announced that commercial net fishing in Westernport Bay would come to an end if Labor was re-elected. Thomas Hunter of Crikey reports: "It appears to be another big win for Rex Hunt – who joined Bracks to make the announcement – and the recreational fishing lobby. Commercial fishing operators well remember what happened in 2002 when a fortnight before the election Bracks, again flanked by Hunt, made the same commitment for the Lake Tyers and Mallacoota fisheries. Sure enough, those commercial fisheries disappeared shortly after the election". Commercial fishing lobby group the Blue Wedge has accused the government of using the proposal to buy the support of recreational fishing groups for the Port Phillip Bay channel deepening project – a hot issue on the Port Phillip Bay side of the Mornington Peninsula, particularly in the marginal Liberal seat of Nepean.

Highlights of week two-and-a-half

The Poll Bludger’s visit to Melbourne is not off to a good start, for reasons you need not concern yourselves with; suffice to say that the weather hasn’t helped. There has been a good deal more heat on the electoral front, mostly generated by the Labor and Liberal parties’ stimulating preference tactics. Matthew Murphy and Farrah Tomazin of The Age report that Nationals are "planning an anti-Liberal advertising assault throughout country Victoria; no word yet on whether they are going so far as to withhold preference recommendations from the Liberals. That will become clear after tomorrow’s noon deadline for the registration of how-to-vote cards. If there has been a deal, Labor would seem to have the better half of it: not only are they a chance of maintaining control of the upper house, but they will be relieved of the necessity to devote campaign resources to holding off Greens challenges in the inner city; by contrast, the Coalition parties will be turning their efforts against each other.

Further local developments to be added to the election guide when I can get a reliable internet connection:

Cranbourne (Labor 10.8%): Glenn Osborne of the Cranbourne Leader provides a useful summary of the public transport auction for this area in Melbourne’s outer east, in which the Liberals appear to be placing the higher bids: "The Liberals have offered a $6 million rail link to Cranbourne East, and while Labor has not committed to that project, it has promised a $25 million upgrade of the Dandenong rail corridor to improve service frequency on the Cranbourne and Berwick-Pakenham lines. The Liberals also promised to build a rail overpass or underpass at Clyde Rd and duplicate the missing 900m stretch between Kangan Drive and Berwick for $25 million. Labor says it can’t be done at that price and has instead pledged to upgrade the intersection with lights at Enterprise Ave. Labor also says it will provide extra bus services for Cranbourne and Narre Warren. Casey residents, with high numbers of under-driving age residents, would benefit from the increased frequency of buses from Frankston to Cranbourne West (route 791), Berwick to Narre Warren circle (route 840) and Cranbourne to Narre Warren South (route 841)".

Doncaster (Liberal 0.8%): and Box Hill (Liberal 1.1%): Labor has declined to match a Liberal promise to spend $35 million extending the number 48 tram route a further four kilometres from Balwyn North to Doncaster. Michael Howard of the Manningham Leader reports a claim from Transport Minister Peter Batchelor that the line would "cause traffic congestion on Doncaster Road, would be unable to make regular stops due to the road’s gradient and would actually cost as much as $60 million to construct". The latter claim has been rejected by the Public Transport Users’ Association. The government has also rejected local calls for a train line to be built to Doncaster, instead having committed to an $80 million upgrade of bus services.

Morwell (Labor 4.9%): Labor’s Traralgon branch secretary Lisa Proctor, a former Latrobe councillor and unsuccessful preselection contestant at the 2002 election, has quit the party along with three other "senior members" of the branch and will run against Brendan Jenkins as an independent, directing preferences against him. Local unrest also worked against Jenkins in 2002 when Brad Platschinda, a CFMEU-backed timber worker campaigning against the Bracks government’s logging policies, polled 14.7 per cent and contributed to an unusual 4.4 per cent swing to the Liberals.

Albert Park (Labor 12.5%): Deputy Premier John Thwaites’ seat of Albert Park is not itself an electoral hot-spot, but it is home to St Kilda’s Palace nightclub and Palais theatre, ownership of which has reverted to the government following a ruling yesterday in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. The government hopes to use the land for a $100 million redevelopment of an area that also includes Luna Park and the Esplanade Hotel; however, the owners are considering an appeal. The Liberals have promised to re-start the tender process for the project if elected.

Macedon (Labor 9.3%): Among the independent candidates fielded against Labor member Joanne Duncan is Dave Barry, a Sunbury police officer unhappy with understaffing at Sunbury area police stations. Wayne Flower of the Herald-Sun reports that Barry rang 3AW to tackle Steve Bracks over the issue, claiming "numbers were being distorted by inner-city stations, which had retained higher police numbers despite a downward trend in crime figures".

Monbulk (Labor 8.3%): The Liberals have promised to commit $22 million to building a bypass around the town centre of Belgrave, which Labor has criticised on the grounds that it would deprive the main street of business and require construction of an "ugly" bridge. Ellen Whinnett of the Herald-Sun reports that "the announcement brings to $909 million the amount of money promised by the Liberals for upgrading roads across Victoria".

South Barwon (Labor 5.0%): Labor was shedding support locally due to its plans to end the Geelong ring road at a T-junction in Waurn Ponds, feeding 30,000 vehicles a day into one set of traffic lights. It has now promised to commit an extra $62.5 million to creating a continous link to Angelsea Road via a two kilometre overpass even if the federal government does not agree to provide funding.

Yan Yean (Labor 9.5%): Labor campaign promises in this area have included a 112-bed "medi-hotel", a new mental health team and expanded chemotherapy services at the Northern Hospital in Epping, along with a $10.5 million expansion of the TAFE campus at Epping. The Liberals have promised to spend $12 million extending the Epping rail line to South Morang.

Hastings (Labor 0.2%): and Tarneit (Labor 17.4%): Hastings and Werribee have been mooted by the Liberals as possible sites for its centrepiece water policy, a $400 million desalination plant.

Use your collusion

Talk of a Labor-Liberal deal to shaft the Nationals and the Greens on preferences was ridiculed in some circles, and Labor’s upper house tickets did indeed suggest that the Liberals had some other motive in putting the Greens behind Labor. However, Labor’s lower house how-to-vote cards have now been unveiled and they indeed point to the nightmare scenario for the Nationals: in contrast to their upper house tickets, Labor has put the Liberals ahead of the Nationals in every seat where it’s likely to matter. Earlier speculation about such a scenario suggested it would almost certainly deliver the Nationals-held seats of Shepparton and Rodney to the Liberals, and would put Swan Hill, Lowan and party leader Peter Ryan’s seat of Gippsland South at varying degrees of risk. Only Benalla and Murray Valley look safe for them, as Labor are sure to run second and thus their preferences will not be distributed.

Foiled one more time

The Liberal how-to-vote cards for the lower house are now available for viewing on the party website. As in the upper house, the Greens and other parties of the left are last – except in the vital inner-city seats of Melbourne, Richmond, Northcote and Brunswick, where supporters are advised: "Place number 1 in the box for the Liberal Candidate. Then number all of the remaining boxes from 2 to 5 in the order of your choice". While this is a little better for the Greens than a straighforward recommendation that they be put last, it will still reduce their flow of preferences compared with 2002, which probably ends the threat to the Labor sitting members – of whom the most senior and most endangered was Health Minister Bronwyn Pike in Melbourne.

Foiled again

UPDATE: The Speaker at Upperhouse.info is progressively posting his invaluable upper house election calculcators; first cab off the rank is Northern Metropolitan.

To give some idea of the setback the hapless Victorian Greens have suffered from the Coalition preference tickets, it’s worth taking a look at Antony Green’s assessment of how the 2002 result would have looked under the new system. Operating under the assumption that the Coalition would preference Labor last, Antony reckoned the Greens would have won seats in Eastern Metropolitan, Eastern Victoria, Northern Metropolitan, Southern Metropolitan and Western Metropolitan, as part of an overall result of Labor 20, Coalition 15 (including one Nationals seat) and the Greens five. However, two of those Greens wins (Western Metropolitan and Western Victoria) would have relied on Liberal preferences; without them the seats would have gone to Labor, giving them a clear majority with 22 seats. While the Labor vote will no doubt be lower this time, the Liberals’ preference decision has turned the slim outside chance of a Labor majority into a genuine possibility. The Poll Bludger will leave it to others to consider whether this was sound tactics; it will perhaps make more sense if it subsequently emerges that Labor has agreed to give the Liberals preferences in country seats at the expense of the Nationals. On a region by region basis, the Greens’ prospects now look as follows:

Eastern Metropolitan: The 2002 figures suggest that Labor, Liberal and the Greens would have been very evenly placed after the first four seats were decided, with Liberal on 0.66 of a quota, the Greens on 0.63 and Labor on 0.60. With the Liberals preferencing the Greens ahead of Labor, the Greens would only have needed to stay ahead of one or the other (after distribution of preferences from "others" – 0.11 of a quota, though that would presumably be higher in the context of a multi-member election). But without the prospect of Liberal preferences, the Greens would have had to rely on Labor being eliminated first. Fortunately for the Greens, Labor’s vote is likely to be lower this time, and they will also be boosted by preferences from People Power and the Democrats. However, there is the corresponding likelihood of a higher Liberal vote, which will be further boosted by preferences from the DLP and Family First. If that adds up to 50 per cent (the Liberal primary vote was 44.3 per cent in 2002), the Liberals will win a third seat at the expense of the Greens – although that would have been true regardless of what the Liberals had done with their preferences.

Northern Metropolitan: Here at least the Greens look very likely to win a seat, having scored a full quota off their own bat on the 2002 results. The only conceivable result that might thwart them is if the Liberal vote (23.0 per cent in 2002) surges sufficiently to give them 33.3 per cent and a second quota after the addition of Family First preferences. This would involve draining enough votes from Labor to pull them below a third quota (from 57.4 per cent in 2002 to below 50 per cent after the addition of DLP preferences) and from the Greens to pull them below a first (from 16.8 per cent to less than 16.7 per cent after Democrats and People Power preferences). Labor could then get the Liberal surplus and win the final seat at the Greens’ expense. However, it’s more likely that the Greens will either get a quota on their own, or come close enough that the surplus over Labor’s third quota will win them the seat.

South Eastern Metropolitan: The Liberal preference ticket has scuttled the Greens’ chances here, making an outcome of three Labor and two Liberal all but certain. Had the Liberals put Labor last, their surplus over the second quota could potentially have made the Greens competitive, provided the Labor vote (54.2 per cent in 2002) was more than a fraction below 50 per cent after the addition of Family First, Christian Party and DLP preferences. As it stands, the Liberals will surely get the 33.3 per cent needed for two seats, and their surplus will equally surely secure the last seat for Labor.

Southern Metropolitan: The Greens could well manage a 16.7 per cent quota here without the surplus of either major party – they polled 15.4 per cent in this region in 2002, and will receive preferences from People Power and the Democrats. However, a three Liberal and two Labor outcome is equally possible – the parties’ respective vote in 2002 was 44.2 per cent and 37.9 per cent, so a straight 4.5 per cent shift from one to the other would give Labor a narrow two quotas, and the Liberals the 50 per cent needed for a third seat with Family First and DLP preferences. The significance of the Liberal preference decision is that an outcome of 3-1-1 (as distinct from 2-2-1) is now less likely, because the Liberal surplus over the third quota will boost Labor rather than the Greens.

Western Metropolitan: If the Liberals had the Greens ahead of Labor on preferences, the 2002 figures (Labor 3.73 quotas, Liberal 1.54, Greens 0.58) would have given the Liberals one seat with enough of a surplus to deliver another to the Greens. But with Labor getting Liberal preferences, Labor would have won a fourth seat instead. This time though, the Labor vote is likely to be lower and the Greens are a good chance of winning a seat with Labor’s surplus over the third quota. But that could be endangered if the Liberal vote rises from 25.6 per cent to over 30 per cent, giving them a shot at a second seat at the Greens’ expense. It’s also worth noting the possibility of a wild card outcome: People Power and the Democrats are trading preferences, as are Family First and the DLP; People Power and the DLP have each other second; all are ahead of the main contenders on the Liberal and Labor tickets, except that Family First is second last on the Labor ticket. One possible scenario involves People Power or the Democrats harvesting enough preferences to get ahead of the fourth Labor candidate and then the first Greens candidate, picking up the preferences of each and snowballing to victory.

Western Victoria: Again, a replay of 2002 with Liberal preferences going to the Greens ahead of Labor would have given the Greens a seat they would not have won otherwise. The results were Labor 2.84 quotas, a combined 2.54 for the Liberals and Nationals, and 0.50 for the Greens. Democrats preferences would have put the Greens ahead of the Coalition, and Coalition preferences would then have given the Greens a quota. It’s still possible to construct a scenario where the Labor vote falls enough that their surplus over the second quota is lower than the Greens vote, without falling so far that the surplus can’t get the Greens ahead of the third Coalition candidate. But a lot of things would have to go right for that to happen.

Eastern Victoria: In 2002, the Greens would have won a seat on Labor preferences: the results being 2.84 quotas for the Liberals, 2.46 for Labor and 0.60 for the Greens. However, this time it seems certain that votes will shift from Labor to Liberal, so that the Labor surplus will be inadequate to the task and the Coalition will win a third seat.

Northern Victoria: Regardless of the preferences here, it is hard to envision a result other than Coalition three, Labor two.

Upper house latest

From Antony Green in comments comes the shock news that the Liberals have actually come good on their threat to put the Greens behind Labor on their upper house preference tickets in all eight regions. As Antony puts it, "it is a Liberal ticket that would rather see a Labor majority in the Council than the Greens win the balance of power". The tickets do not yet seem to be up on the VEC site as far as I can see, but I gather that will be rectified shortly. For those who have been wondering why I haven’t been making quicker progress on my upper house region summaries, I have abandoned the idea of doing them one by one as blog posts and will post a separate page covering all eight regions, hopefully by tomorrow. In the meantime, Antony’s guide to the upper house regions is now available on the ABC site.

UPDATE: The tickets can be viewed on the ABC site, or at the VEC site by clicking on the party names in the candidate lists.

Newspoll: 55-45

The Australian has broken the Victorian opinion poll drought with a Newspoll survey of 1000 respondents, which shows Labor maintaining a handy lead. No primary vote figures are quoted in the online version (anyone with a hard copy to hand is invited to fill the blanks in comments), but Labor’s two-party lead of 55-45 compares with 54-46 in the last poll two weeks ago, while still representing a 3 per cent swing on the 2002 election. Ted Baillieu is recording much better approval ratings than his predecessor, but Bracks’s rating is up 3 per cent as well.

In other news, yesterday saw the closure of nominations and the draw of ballot paper positions; the Poll Bludger election guide has been updated accordingly.

UPDATE: Primary vote figures are Labor 44 per cent, Liberal 36 per cent, Nationals 4 per cent and Greens 8 per cent. Hat tips to Josh and Peter Brent in comments.