Highlights of week two

Another round of Campaign Updates for the Victorian election guide:

South Barwon (Labor 5.0%): On Sunday, Ted Baillieu promised a Liberal government would spend $80 million duplicating Princes Highway from Waurn Ponds west to Winchelsea in the neighbouring electorate of Polwarth. Road issues are a major sore point in South Barwon; the recently announced route of the Geelong ring road is expected to feed 30,000 vehicles a day into a single set of traffic lights at Waurn Ponds, while Princes Highway itself has been the site of a number of fatal accidents. Tuesday’s Geelong Advertiser said there were "reports that Labor strategists had all but given up hope of holding the seat".

Lara (Labor 22.4%): More evidence of a Labor slump in the Geelong region comes from a poll of 311 voters in Lara, published in Saturday’s Geelong Advertiser. As with the paper’s Bellarine poll the previous weekend (and indeed that for South Barwon a fortnight before), results were given to within one decimal place, allowing us to determine the raw figures: Labor 122 (50 per cent after distribution of the undecided), Liberal 87 (36 per cent), Greens 25 (10 per cent), Family First 5 (2 per cent) and others 7 (3 per cent). In 2002, Labor polled 66.1 per cent to the Liberals’ 25.2 per cent. Once again, too many of the Advertiser’s respondents (67) were listed as undecided because the paper neglected to twist their arm.

Oakleigh (Labor 15.2%) and Frankston (Labor 5.8%): The big ticket items in the Liberals’ $1.7 billion health policy announced yesterday included a $60 million expansion of the Clayton campus of the Monash Medical Centre (actually in Clayton, although that’s unlikely to be the electoral target market; despite the current margin, nearby Oakleigh was in Liberal hands until 1999), and a matching of Labor’s promised $45 million investment in Frankston Hospital.

Doncaster (Liberal 0.8%) The Liberals have promised to spend $35 million extending the number 48 tram route a further four kilometres from Balwyn North to Doncaster – sound policy no doubt, but of benefit only to the already Liberal-held electorates of Doncaster and Box Hill.

Bendigo East (Labor 13.0%) and Bendigo West (Labor 16.0%): Following AAPT’s announcement on Monday that it will close its Bendigo call centre next year with the loss of 380 jobs, Labor has promised to "find another company" to replace it.

Eltham (Labor 4.8%): The Diamond Valley Leader reports that Liberal candidate Craig Ondarchie claims he has had his car vandalised and a threatening note placed on his windshield.

Let’s make a deal

Today’s Herald-Sun reports that Labor and the Greens are on the brink of closing a deal in which Labor will get Greens preferences in sensitive lower house seats, and the Greens will get Labor preferences in the upper house. In reality, the former part of the bargain is of little consequence: it is well established that the Greens lack the power to influence the preference decisions of more than a handful of their supporters. Furthermore, Rick Wallace of The Australian notes that "how-to-vote cards for the upper house have to be submitted several days before those for the lower house", making it possible for minor parties to "strike a deal to get what they want from Labor and Liberal in the upper house, then rat on them when it comes to the lower house". That possibility aside, the deal seems like sound tactics on Labor’s part. Upper house seats decided on Labor preferences are now certain to go to the Greens rather than Family First, preventing a repeat of Steve Fielding’s Senate win in 2004. The cost to Labor is that Family First will surely not be putting them ahead of the Liberals like they did in 2004: Labor’s brains trust presumably had reason to think this was not going to happen in any case. It was earlier reported that Labor was considering a separate preference swap with Family First in eastern suburbs marginals, which could potentially have decided very close outcomes in Labor’s favour at no meaningful cost. However, this idea is said to have been scuttled due to "rank-and-file unrest".

The other ball in play is the possibility of a Labor-Liberal deal at the expense of the Greens and the Nationals. Unlike minor party supporters, Labor and Liberal voters by and large follow the how-to-vote card, so the significance of their preference allocations is not limited to the upper house. This respectively gives them power to swing the result in Liberal-versus-Nationals and Labor-versus-Greens contests, leading to talk that Labor might put the Nationals last in exchange for Liberal preferences in lower house seats vulnerable to the Greens. On the one hand, such a deal would put the Nationals’ seven lower house seats at risk, particularly Rodney and Shepparton; on the other, it would terminate the Greens threat to Labor in Melbourne, Richmond, Northcote and Brunswick. This prospect has generated much excitement in the media, with Paul Austin of The Age reporting that "senior Nationals (have) privately vowed to destroy any chance the Liberals had of victory" if it goes ahead. Specifically, they have threatened to direct preferences to Labor in former Liberal leader Denis Napthine’s seat of South-West Coast, won by less than 1 per cent in 2002. However, Ted Baillieu says he has "made it very clear" that "we are giving our preferences to the National Party and they are giving their preferences to us".

UPDATE: Some comments worth relating from Brian Costar of the Swinburne University of Technology in this week’s issue of the Weekly Times, concerning the possibility of a Labor-Liberal preference deal: "I don’t believe it will happen for one minute. Last time, (prior to the 2002 election) in the pre-poll period, Labor gave its preferences to the Liberals … but when it got serious they just gave their preferences to the Nats". Costar is quoted as saying the source of the story was likely to have been a "strategic leak" from the Labor camp, "designed to send a message to the Greens ‘not to get too smart’ as well as to spread discord between the Nationals and Liberals".

Upper house part two: Western Metropolitan

Having picked the Liberal Party dead zone of Northern Metropolitan to open the batting for my upper house summaries, I shall tackle the rest in ascending order of Coalition strength. Next cab off the rank is Western Metropolitan, which differs significantly from Northern Metropolitan in that it lacks its strong inner-city component and accompanying new-left Greens-voting element. On 2002 figures (as calculated by Antony Green), this area gave Labor 62.2 per cent of the vote (3.73 quotas) compared with 25.6 per cent (1.54) for the Liberals and 9.6 per cent (0.58) for the Greens. The respective figures for Northern Metropolitan are 57.4 per cent (3.45), 23.0 per cent (1.38) and 16.8 per cent (1.01). As such, the region is by no means a sure thing for the Greens, although they would have won a seat in 2002 by getting ahead of Labor’s fourth candidate on Democrats preferences and picking up the Labor surplus. This would have been a close-run thing, and it is quite possible that Labor could have won a fourth seat instead.

It remains all but certain that of the first four seats, Labor will win three and the Liberals will win one. The final seat is very much up for grabs, and the result will depend as much on preference deals as votes. For the Greens to win, they will need to stay ahead of the fourth Labor candidate: this will be made easier by the likely decline in the Labor vote, but harder by the drying up of preferences from the declining Democrats. If this hurdle is cleared, it is likely that Labor’s surplus will give them enough preferences to win them the seat. Talk that the Liberals might put the Greens last is very unlikely to matter here: if the Liberals do not win the seat themselves, their second candidate seems sure to be the last man standing and his preferences will not be distributed. Alternatively, the Greens could fail to overtake the fourth Labor candidate, who would then receive their preferences and thus win the seat. The other most likely scenario is that the Liberal primary vote will increase by enough to either win them a second quota in their own right, or come close enough that minor and micro-party preferences will do the rest. There is also a fourth possibility: that a minor or even micro-party candidate will harvest enough preferences to get ahead of the fourth Labor, second Liberal or first Greens candidate, and thus to snowball their way to a quota. Indeed, the arithmetic is such that this region seems to offer the best prospects for an upset win by Family First, People Power or some other independent force yet to appear on the radar.

Labor thus had three safe seats to play with during preselections – and as in Northern Metropolitan, this left them with too many pegs and not enough holes. Western Metropolitan covers: a) the entire area of two abolished provinces represented by two Labor members, Doutta Galla (Justin Madden and Monica Gould) and Melbourne West (Kaye Darveniza and Sang Ngyuen); b) half the area of one other, Melbourne North (Marsha Thomson and Candy Broad); and c) a quarter of the area of a fourth, Melbourne (Glenyys Romanes and Gavin Jennings). Monica Gould, who was a minister in the Bracks government’s first term and Legislative Council president in its second, has done her party a favour by retiring, despite being only 49. Candy Broad and Kaye Darveniza has been accommodated in Northern Victoria, while Marsha Thomson will move to the safe lower house seat of Footscray. The big loser is Sang Nguyen, who in 1996 became Australia’s first Vietnamese-born parliamentarian. Nguyen will exit politics after being dumped by his Labor Unity faction; he complained at the time that "everyone in the Labor Unity leadership group promised me if I looked after Bill Shorten, they would look after me".

As in Northern Metropolitan, the first and third positions have gone to the Right and the second to the Left. Top of the ticket is Sports Minister Justin Madden, known far beyond Victoria as the towering ruckman who played 332 VFL/AFL games for Carlton and Essendon between 1980 and 1995. Madden came to politics via his role as president of the AFL Players Association, and was recruited for the safe upper house seat of Douta Galla within two years of his last AFL game. He was immediately made Sports Minister in the Bracks government, a position which was expanded during the current term with responsibility for the Commonwealth Games. Doubts were initially raised over the security of his position in parliament resulting from the cut in upper house numbers, but these were settled by Steve Bracks’ edict that seats be found for all ministers. It was originally planned that Madden would move to the lower house by replacing the retiring Sherryl Garbutt in Bundoora, an arrangement that froze out long-term aspirant Colin Brooks. However, the late announcement of Northcote MP Mary Delahunty’s retirement led Bracks to insist on a new arrangement to accommodate Brooks. This was done by switching Madden to Western Metropolitan in place of Right faction convenor Fiona Richardson, who was instead preselected for Northcote, while Brooks took Bundoora.

The Left originally wished for the second position to go to Hume councillor Mohamad Abbouche, following a deal in which Abbouche defected from the Right and delivered his numbers to federal MP Maria Vamvakinou in the Calwell preselection. However, this was vetoed by Steve Bracks, presumably due to controversies surrounding Abbouche involving allegations of branch stacking and failure to declare a donation. His replacement was another figure in the Arab community, Khalil Eideh, millionaire manager of family-owned transport company Blue Star Logistics and president of the Alawi Islamic Association. Mark Davis of the Financial Review described the latter organisation as "strongly pro-Syrian in the complex world of Lebanese politics", and said Eideh was "known inside the Labor Party for definite pro-Syrian views on Middle East affairs". This point was sharply underscored in June with the emergence of a letter from Eideh to the Syrian government, in which Eideh promised "absolute loyalty" to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and warned that "the threat from the colonial and Zionist is increasing on our Arabic world". Soon afterwards, Ellen Whinnett of the Herald-Sun reported that the Left and Right were considering a deal in which the former would dump Eideh and the latter would dispose of controversial Keilor MP George Seitz. Eideh secured his position in August after meeting with Jewish leaders and convincing them of his contrition.

Third on the ticket is National Union of Workers state secretary Martin Pakula, who emerged as the influential union’s leading figure after the departure of Greg Sword in 2004. Pakula is associated in the public mind not with the seat he will soon be assuming, but with his unsuccessful preselection challenge against Simon Crean in Hotham. Factional alignments and the support of influential Cambodian community figurehead and Clayton MP Hong Lim led to a general expectation that Pakula had the numbers, so there was great surprise when Crean decisively won the local ballot 190 votes to 88. Weeks later, Pakula declared his interest in a state upper house seat and had his nomination accepted by the national executive a month after the official deadline. Pakula’s preselection froze out Sam Nguyen and another hopeful, Geelong MLC Elaine Carbines, who has had to settle for the undesirable third place on the Northern Victoria ticket.

The theoretically winnable fourth position has gone to another member of the Right, Henry Barlow, a former Wyndham mayor and current adviser to Energy Industries and Resources Minister Theo Theophanous. Barlow ruffled factional feathers by nominating against Steve Bracks’s chief-of-staff Tim Pallas for the Tarneit preselection, but he was persuaded to withdraw.

Pole position on the Liberal ticket is occupied by Bernie Finn, who has been rewarded for his persistence after a failed attempt to return to parliament in Macedon at the 2002 election. Finn had earlier been the member for Tullamarine from his surprise victory at the 1992 election until his defeat in the successor seat of Yuroke in 1999. Finn is also known for his other career as an outspoken radio announcer (he recently volunteered to personally execute the Bali nine), having worked over the years for 3AW and the now-defunct 3AK. He is now listed as "a ministerial adviser to a federal parliamentarian". Paul Austin of The Age reported that Finn secured support from the Kroger-Costello camp to win last October’s preselection ballot over Kennett camp rival Jenny Matic by 25 votes to 18. His wife, Catherine Finn, has been nominated as the party’s candidate in her husband’s old stamping ground of Yuroke. The potentially winnable second position is occupied by Stephen Reynolds, a former police officer and current public service compliance officer.

The Greens have nominated Colleen Hartland, a Footscray public housing support worker, former Maribyrnong councillor and party spokesperson on drugs policy. Hartland once stood as an independent in Footscray way back in 1992, but did not much trouble the tally board operators. In yesterday’s Sunday Herald-Sun, Channel Seven political reporter Brendan Donohoe showed what they pay him for with this line about her old gig on the Parliament House catering staff: "she may have served tea and scones to the politicians sometimes through gritted teeth, but in a few weeks she could be back to serve them all some political curry – a green curry that Bracks and others may find hard to digest".

New and improved

The Poll Bludger’s Victorian election guide is now twice as fact-filled, fun-packed and good-looking as it was before, if you can possibly imagine such a thing. For starters, there are now candidate photos, if looking at politicians is what excites you. Even better is the return of the "Parish Pump" feature that was introduced for the South Australian election in March, but which went missing at the Queensland election because I had too much on my plate. Here you will find, for selected entries, outlines of important local issues with the potential to swing the result.

Highlights of week one

The first week of the official Victorian campaign period ended with the one and only televised leaders’ debate, which Labor staged in textbook fashion for a modern election front-runner: it was held as early in the campaign as possible, with no offer of a re-match on the table. It was precisely thus for John Howard at the 2004 federal election, except that Steve Bracks went one better by holding it on a Friday night, which minimised the size of the potential audience. The Poll Bludger caught bits and pieces of the audio webcast through a faltering internet connection, and agreed with the consensus that an initially shaky Ted Baillieu improved as the debate progressed, while Bracks performed with sufficient competence to ensure the occasion would be forgotten within a week. "A dull nil-all draw", reckoned Monash University’s Nick Economou, which is the usual verdict on these occasions. Accordingly, Bracks got what he wanted: he avoids the charge of cowardice levelled at Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke when they refused to face their opponents in 1983 and 1987, while still depriving his opponent of meaningful campaign oxygen.

Beyond that, the main theme to emerge in the first week was the negativity of both sides’ advertising, prompting much tut-tutting about Americanised campaign tactics. Another feature was the localised nature of early election promises, which provided grist for the mill of the first round of election guide Campaign Updates:

Cranbourne (Labor 10.8%): The Coalition took advantage of a local sore point with Thursday’s promise to spend $10 million extending the Cranbourne rail line 1.5 kilometres to a new station at Cranbourne East, which Labor promised at the 1999 election but has so far failed to deliver. Also on Thursday, Environment Minister John Thwaites promised $21 million would be spent on an extension to Cranbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens.

Yan Yean (Labor 9.5%): and Mill Park (Labor 26.8%): Here too the Coalition has promised to come good on an unfulfilled Labor rail line extension promise from 1999, extending the Epping line (which until 1959 extended a further 15 kilometres to Whittlesea) to South Morang at a cost of $12 million. Labor claims this costing ignores the factor which has prevented the government from proceeding with the project: the resulting need for track duplication further down the line, which it claims would cost as much as $300 million. Local residents have received letters from Transport Minister Peter Batchelor apologising for the decision to delay the project.

Ivanhoe (Labor 12.5%): The $1.7 billion health package announced by Steve Bracks on Thursday included creation of an elective surgery centre at the Austin Hospital in Heidelberg.

Bellarine (Labor 8.3%): A poll in the Geelong Advertiser last Saturday showed Labor member Lisa Neville trailing Liberal candidate Don Gibson on the primary vote. The paper provided results from its survey of 352 respondents to within one decimal place, from which it can be inferred that the raw figures were Liberal 119, Labor 101, Greens 42, Family First 6 and others 15, with 69 undecided. The size of the latter figure suggests that undecided respondents were not given a follow-up question asking who they were leaning towards, a common failing of polls run by local newspapers. After distribution of the undecided, the results are Liberal 42 per cent, Labor 36 per cent, Greens 15 per cent, Family First 2 per cent, others 5 per cent.

Upper house part one: Northern Metropolitan

Welcome to the first in an eight-part series covering the five-member upper house regions in the newly reformed Victorian Legislative Council (background detail available here). And what better place to start than with the part of Victoria that was lucky enough to have the Poll Bludger living in it from 1997 to 2005: the Northern Metropolitan region. Except in its outer reaches, this region covers some of the safest Labor territory in the state: from the city at its southern extremity, it passes through a thin band of north-eastern suburbs extending beyond the city limits, to Whittlesea in the north and along the Yarra Valley to Watsons Creek in the east.

The replacement of single-member elections with proportional representation in this electorally one-sided area has meant a squeeze for Labor and a new opportunity for the Liberals. The region covers all of the old province of Jika Jika and half of Melbourne and Melbourne North, each of which was a Labor stronghold. The only two Liberals representing any part of this region in either house are Bill Forwood and Graeme Stoney – and only one quarter of their old provinces coincide with the new region. Even so, Labor has found room in Northern Metropolitan for one newcomer along with the two members for Jika Jika. All other members from the area have being accommodated elsewhere – with safe seats in the case of Gavin Jennings, Candy Broad and Marsha Thomson, and highly unsafe ones for Glennys Romanes, Lidia Argondizzo and Robert Mitchell. By contrast, the Liberals are guaranteed to have at least one member in what had formerly been a dead zone. Even more significantly, the region looks sure to provide a safe seat for the Greens, who have never previously had a Victorian MP at either state or federal level. Barring an unforeseen electoral convulsion, all evidence indicates the result will be three seats for Labor and one each for the Liberals and Greens.

Of Labor’s three seats, the first and third have gone to the Right and the second to the Left. At the top of the pile is Theo Theophanous, factional chieftain and member for Jika Jika since 1988. Originally associated with the Socialist Left, Theophanous shifted his numbers to Labor Unity via a tumultuous Left split in 1996 that initially put him in the front seat of a new group called the Labor Renewal Alliance. Colleagues in this group included his brother Andrew, the former federal MP who was jailed in 2002 for immigration fraud, and the other Right faction nominee for Northern Metropolitan (more on whom shortly). Along the way, Theophanous found time to serve as Consumer Affairs and Small Business Minister in the Kirner government, Leader of the Opposition in the upper house throughout the Kennett government, and Energy Industries and Resources Minister in the second term of the Bracks government.

The Left’s candidate is Jenny Mikakos, an old rival of Theophanous going back to the memorable Batman preselection ahead of the 1996 federal election. Then a Northcote councillor and taxation lawyer, Mikakos had won support from the hard left Pledge faction to replace the retiring Brian Howe, and was also backed by Labor Unity as part of a complicated deal that froze out the candidate of the Socialist Left – Theo Theophanous. The complicated factional manoeuvres were ultimately trumped when the national executive intervened to install ACTU president Martin Ferguson. The Unity-Pledge alliance ultimately bore fruit for Mikakos at the 1999 state election, when she defeated incumbent Pat Power for the Jika Jika preselection. Mikakos has since rejoined the Socialist Left, and was promoted to a parliamentary secretary position following the 2002 election. She created a stir in May when she compared the mass exile of Pontic Greeks by Turkey during and after World War I to the Jewish holocaust, angering the Turkish and Jewish communities.

Third on the ticket is Nazih Elasmar, a figurehead of the Lebanese Christian community who in January received the Order of Australia for "service to the Lebanese community of Victoria through cultural, charitable and welfare organisations". Elasmar is also a former mayor of Darebin, a position he held at the time the council was sacked by the Kennett government in 1998. He has worked for many years as an electorate officer to Theo Theophanous, and followed him along the path through the Labor Renewal Alliance to Labor Unity. A report on Channel Nine’s Sunday program in 1998 accused Elasmar of stacking branches for the Right in Northcote ahead of Mary Delahunty’s preselection in 1997.

Topping the Liberal ticket is ASIC manager Matthew Guy, who ran for the lower house seat of Yan Yean in 2002. He is probably best known as the subejct of then Police Minister Andre Haermeyer’s attack on him under parliamentary privilege before the 2002 election, in which he was labelled a "liar and a thief". Guy was accused of telling the media "political opponents" had vandalised his car without making any such claim in his police complaint, and of having been picked up by police for stealing election signs. When parliament next sat 12 days later, Haermeyer was compelled to make a personal explanation in which he accepted only that Guy had not been charged over the signs incident. The Liberals complained to the Ombudsman who eventually found there had been unauthorised access to Guy’s police files three days before Haermeyer made his claims, and that the person responsible was the husband of Attorney-General Rob Hulls’ personal assistant – although the Ombudsman accepted the latter’s insistence he had not contacted Haermeyer’s office about the matter.

The Greens preselection inevitably attracted considerable interest from party activists, candidates including Gemma Pinnell (who ran for the lower house seat of Richmond in 2002, and the federal lower house seat of Melbourne in 2004), Yarra councillor Jenny Farrar and former Yarra mayor Greg Barber. Barber and Pinnell were reckoned by all to be the front-runners, and the former prevailed by what was described in the press as "a couple of handfuls of voters". As well as his council credentials (he was the first member of the Greens ever to become a mayor in Australia), Barber has a Masters in Business Administration and works as a "corporate campaigner" for the Wilderness Society.

NB: This entry will be spiced up with tables and statistics at a later time, but this will do for the moment.

Victorian election guide

As promised, the Poll Bludger’s Victorian election guide is now open for business. Candidate photos and further embellishments will be added in due course, but this no-frills edition should keep you going for now. Politely worded emails calling attention to errors and omissions will be very gratefully received; death threats and defamation actions, somewhat less so.

Spring carnival form guide

With Victorian Premier Steve Bracks having visited the Governor this morning to observe the formality of issuing the election writs, the campaign period is now officially under way. As promised earlier, the Poll Bludger election guide will definitely be in business from tomorrow. In the meantime, I have knocked together the following graphs indicating the progress of the two-party contest in the past term, as recorded by the two major polling agencies. First up, Newspoll:

The numbers indicate the timing of the following events. 1. The government’s Scoresby Freeway tolls backflip; 2. The Royal Children’s Hospital consultancy tendering controversy; 3. Opposition calls for a royal commission into police corruption; 4. Refunds announced for speeding fines due to faulty cameras; 5. Federal election campaign and Coalition freeway funding promise; 6. Police Minister Andre Haermeyer dumped in reshuffle; 7. New Police Minister Tim Holding admits he didn’t read a memo regarding the police files issue; 8. Robert Doyle’s backflip on freeway tolls; 9. Commonwealth Games; 10. Ted Baillieu replaces Robert Doyle as Liberal leader.

Next up, Roy Morgan:

There have also been four ACNielsen/AgePoll surveys conducted since late last year, which have produced impressively consistent results.

24 Oct ’06 42 40 13 56 44
21 Aug ’06 43 41 11 55 45
25 May ’06 43 41 10 55 45
25 Nov ’05 43 39 11 56 44