Yesterday’s news today

Hold the front page! In a heavy-hitting exclusive headlined “Revealed: How the ALP keeps secret files on voters”, the intrepid sleuths at The Age have blown the lid off the political scandal of the decade. Labor, it turns out, has “secretly recorded the personal details of tens of thousands of Victorians – including sensitive health and financial information – in a database being accessed by campaign workers ahead of this Saturday’s state election”. Contained within this database are “profiles of constituents based on its communications with MPs, attendance at rallies, membership of groups, letters to newspapers and through polling and surveys”. Perhaps a moment of quiet reflection might be in order at this point, so that we can fully contemplate the debt of gratitude we owe The Age for its heroic vigilance on our behalf.

Small problem though. As the article eventually gets round to acknowledging, observers of electoral politics have known all about Labor’s Electrac database and its Coalition equivalent, Feedback, for years. All the way back in 2003, Peter van Onselen and Wayne Errington published an academic paper which The Age’s breathless efforts have failed to displace as the definitive work on the subject. Shorter accounts by van Onselen and/or Errington were published in Online Opinion and Democratic Audit in 2004. More recently, in a column in The Australian, van Onselen reviewed the practice in light of the parties’ dissemination of postal vote applications to aid their information-gathering.

The Age’s front page report tells us that its investigations have “revealed how Labor is building profiles of constituents based on its communications with MPs, attendance at rallies, membership of groups, letters to newspapers and through polling and surveys … The system allows searches based variously on people’s names, addresses and their stances on issues such as gay rights and the environment.” Personally, when I encounter the word “revealed”, I await to be told something I didn’t already know. But the only substantial difference between the previous quote and the following from van Onselen and Errington is that it focuses on Labor’s database rather than the Coalition’s:

Constituents are tagged based on information gathered through contact with the electorate office, local newspaper coverage (letters to the editor provide good information about issues of interest to particular voters), doorknocking and telephone canvassing. Feedback provides specific tags for voting information (to identify swinging voters, strong or weak party identification), issues of concern, any history of party donation, ethnic identity, and alternative contact details.

None of this is to deny that the specific material The Age has accessed from Labor’s database is highly newsworthy in its right. However, the paper is blowing its own trumpet far too loud when it asserts that “little has been known until now about how the software is used”. Similarly, The Age is quite right to argue, as van Onselen, Errington and many others have done in the past, that the major parties’ collusion in quarantining their activities from privacy legislation is of very serious concern. But these concerns existed last week, last month and last year. What ultimately stands out from The Age’s exposé is its appearance four days out from a state election, in terms that would give the casual reader cause to specifically impute the practice to one party rather than the other.

Victorian election minus five days

The first editorials are in: the Sunday Herald-Sun backs Labor, while the Sunday Age wimps out. Other than that, we have a fair bit of micro-polling going on:

Stephen McMahon of the Herald-Sun reports a 500-sample Galaxy poll commissioned by the Victorian Association of Forest Industries shows Labor with a two-party lead of 51-49, from primary votes of 36 per cent for Labor, 42 per cent for the Coalition and 16 per cent for the Greens. The margin of error is approaching 4.5 per cent.

• The Sunday Herald-Sun has conducted a dubious “survey of 200 people across the electorates of Mitcham, Mt Waverley, Melbourne and Bendigo”. We aren’t given any details on the methodology, but the fact that 20.5 per cent were rated “yet to make up their minds” makes clear the poll was uninformed by expertise of any kind. Of the rest, 45 per cent backed the Coalition (compared with 43.5 per cent across the four seats in 2006), 34 per cent Labor (36.5 per cent) and 22.5 per cent Greens (13.5 per cent). Even if the poll were conducted properly, the margin of error would be approaching 8 per cent.

John Ferguson of the Herald-Sun quotes a senior Labor source identfying the significance of the “f— you vote”, voicing fears that wavering late deciders might collectively “decide the Government’s had enough time”. Ferguson’s report also tells us that “Labor does not expect the two Ballarat seats to be in play but senior Liberals have indicated that seats such as Yan Yean might swing sharply”. Bendigo East is rated “in real danger of falling”, with “questions also over Bendigo West”. It is also suggested the Nationals might be a show to unseat independent Craig Ingram in Gippsland East, but they might again lose Mildura to an independent after having recovered it from one in 2006.

James Campbell of the Sunday Herald-Sun reports on findings from focus group research conducted by John Scales, formerly of Morgan and Crosby Textor. This suggests Labor has done well out of its television advertising, particularly the “blank slate” attacks on Ted Baillieu and ads designed to “humanise” John Brumby. The “boot camp” policy is said to have gone down well, but Myki, the desalination plant and Labor’s performance federally all loom as negatives. John Brumby was found to be more popular among swinging voters than his party. Michael Bachelard of The Age reports both parties are believed to have spent an “average” amount on television advertising of “perhaps $3 million to $4 million each”. Labor has favoured humourous negative ads over the traditional “formula of grainy black, white and red colouring and a gravelly voice-over”, as it feared being seen as “bullying”.

The Age reports the Coalition has threatened to sue the ALP for defamation unless it drops a television accusing Ted Baillieu of benefiting financially from the sale of schools under the Kennett government. The latest version of the ads, which recycle an attack waged during the 2006 campaign, further link Baillieu’s real estate firm to the sale of the Preston and Northcote Community Hospital, despite the fact that he was no longer a director by that point. The Age notes Baillieu “remained indirectly linked to Knight Frank through a shareholder and alternate director of holding company DBF Holdings, which in turn was a shareholder of Knight Frank”.

Morgan phone poll: 52.5-47.5 to Labor in Victoria

Morgan has produced another poll on the Victorian state election, and this one’s a lot more credible than the last – a statewide phone survey conducted from a sample of 943 over the past three nights, with a margin of error of a bit over 3 per cent. Despite nervous talk emanating from the Labor camp, the poll gives them a comfortable two-party lead of 52.5-47.5, from primary votes of 39 per cent for Labor, 41.5 per cent for the Coalition and 15.5 per cent for the Greens. I gather the poll consists of the inner-city results from Tuesday topped up with a further 667 responses from elsewhere, with the former presumably weighted downwards to reflect the fact that they only account for 4.5 per cent of statewide enrolment. However, I’m not entirely sure what to make of Gary Morgan’s accompanying spiel in which he says the headline two-party figure is “slightly ‘misleading’ as it includes a very high ALP Two-party preferred vote (72.5%) cf. L-NP (27.5%) in the marginal Inner Melbourne seats of Richmond, Northcote, Brunswick and Melbourne”. It isn’t clear to me why the predictable weakness of the Liberals in this area would contribute to a “misleading” total any more than would Labor’s corresponding weakness in rural areas and wealthier parts of the city. The poll also has John Brumby leading Ted Baillieu as preferred premier 47.5 per cent to 35.5 per cent, although Baillieu has better personal ratings: Brumby is on 38 per cent approval and 43 per cent disapproval, while Baillieu’s approval and disapproval are both 40 per cent.

Victorian election minus nine days

Four fun facts:

Roy Morgan has exposed itself to ridicule by not only publishing a phone poll of the four Labor-versus-Greens seats from a sample of just 276, but also purporting that meaningful conclusions can be drawn from the seat-by-seat breakdowns (“Greens set to win Inner Melbourne seats of Richmond & Northcote; Vote in Brunswick & Melbourne ‘too close to call’”). The best that can be done with the poll is to combine the results and compare them with the 2006 election, which shows the Greens up 17 points on the primary vote, Labor down 16 points and the Liberals up three, with a two-party swing to the Greens of 8 per cent – and even then a margin of error approaching 6 per cent must be taken into account. For what very little it’s worth, a uniform 8 per cent swing would deliver the Greens Melbourne, Richmond and Brunswick, but not quite Northcote. We aren’t told how preferences were allocated, but clearly it wasn’t on the basis of the last election – the Greens’ preference share has gone from 74 per cent to 41 per cent.

SportingBet has the Liberals short-priced favourites to take Mount Waverley, Gembrook and Forest Hill, narrower favourites in Mitcham, South Barwon and Mordialloc, and even stevens in Frankston and Prahran. A little surprisingly, Labor are short-priced favourites to retain all seats reckoned to be under threat from the Greens. Taken together, this points to Labor winning a reasonably comfortable victory with between 49 and 51 seats out of 88.

• Antony Green’s upper house calculators are now open for business. Antony’s own experiments with various plausible scenarios have raised at least the possibility of boilovers in Eastern Victoria, where Family First, the Democratic Labor Party or (most likely) the Country Alliance might be a show, and Northern Metropolitan, where independent carers’ advocates have drawn first spot on the ballot paper and done well out of preferences.

• The Victorian Electoral Commission has upheld a complaint against Democratic Labor Party material purporting to provide instructions on how to vote “Labor for Northern Victoria”, but in doing so has ruled that the Australian Labor Party too is forbidden from identifying themselves simply as “Labor” on how-to-vote material.

Victorian election guidance

The Poll Bludger’s Victorian election guide is now open for business, sort of – profiles are available for all Labor-held seats, but only the two most marginal Coalition seats have been completed at this stage. The others will be mopped up over the coming days. Also:

• The Geelong Advertiser has surveyed 245 voters in South Barwon, but we aren’t told how the poll was conducted. Labor’s Michael Crutchfield, who holds the seat on a margin of 2.3 per cent, was found to be trailing Liberal candidate Andrew Katos 32 per cent to 48 per cent, with the Greens on 10 per cent.

• Newspoll and Nielsen have both published further results from the polls which appeared in The Australian and The Age on Saturday. Newspoll finds health rated a very important issue by 86 per cent of respondents, compared with 67 per cent during the 1992 campaign and 79 per cent in 2006, with education roughly steady on 73 per cent, law and order up from 57 per cent in 2002 to 68 per cent and public transport up from 54 per cent to 64 per cent. For some reason, water planning is down from 87 per cent in 2006 to 65 per cent, and environment from 68 per cent to 49 per cent. Labor has a 10 point lead as best party to handle education, but the Coalition leads by 10 points on public transport, eight points on law and order and six points on the economy – although the latter hasn’t translated to the leaders, with 50 per cent rating John Brumby better to handle the economy against 39 per cent for Ted Baillieu. The two leaders were fairly evenly matched on a range of personal attributes, but Baillieu performed better as trustworthy (nine points ahead) and arrogant (eight points behind), while Brumby had a 19 point lead as experienced. Full results can be viewed courtesy of GhostWhoVotes. Nielsen inquired about the growth rate of Melbourne, which 50 per cent deemed “too fast” and 43 per cent “about right”, with effectively zero opting for “too slow”. There was a striking uniformity in these responses among Labor, Coalition and Greens supporters. Respondents were fairly evenly divided as to whether Labor (27 per cent) or the Coalition (29 per cent) were better to handle growth, with 14 per cent opting for the Greens.

• The Peter Mickelburough of the Herald-Sun reports Labor polling shows voters resisting the Liberals “because they view Mr Baillieu as lacking leadership, having a weak and negative personality, being out of touch with real people and being ‘part of the boys’ club’”. I’m not sure what the paper means when it refers to “the latest betting, exclusively for the Herald Sun”, but it apparently shows “the Coalition could pick up six seats or more in Melbourne, while the Greens are hot favourites with bookies to win the inner seats of Melbourne and Brunswick” (this was before the Liberal preference arrangements were announced). That would leave Labor with a small majority of 47 seats out of 88.

James Massola of The Australian reports the Greens candidate for Melbourne, Brian Walters, claims to have seen polling for Melbourne, Richmond and Brunswick which puts his party’s primary vote in the forties, giving them a good shot of winning each even without Liberal preferences. However, we are not told on whose behalf the poll was conducted.

• Many a column inch has been spent on the Liberals’ bombshell preference announcement, further enhancing the campaign’s status as the most Greens-centric in mainland Australian history. Liberal sources quoted by Patricia Karvelas and Milanda Rout of The Australian describe the decision as “suicidal”, and say they are “convinced it will condemn them to another four years in opposition”. One source quoted in the article said the decision was largely motivated by “rising anger among grassroots members” about the existing practice of favouring the Greens over Labor, and the need for the party to retain said members “to do basic tasks such as man polling booths”. Writing in The Age, Paul Strangio of Monash University emphasised the Nationals’ bearing on the decision, in light of the recently formalised coalition arrangement between the two parties.

• As John Brumby prepares to officially launch Labor’s campaign in Bendigo today, Stuart Rintoul of The Australian writes of a “fierce bidding war” for the city’s electorates of Bendigo East and Bendigo West. Labor and the Liberals have respectively promised $528 million and $630 million for a new hospital, while Labor “has also pledged $91m for four new junior secondary schools (a $19m blowout on 2006 estimates), and has spent big on highway and rail infrastructure”.

• Labor has also targeted Geelong with a $165 million health plan that will fund a new $85 million hospital in Grovedale, which is of particular interest to the electorate of South Barwon. The remainder of the money will fund an expansion of Geelong Hospital.

Antony Green weighs up the upper house preference tickets, and offers a projected outcome in which Labor and the Democratic Labor Party each lose a seat and Liberal and the Nationals each gain one, with the Greens retaining three seats and the balance of power.

• With the closure of nominations and ballot paper draws having transpired at the end of last week, Antony Green also surveys the field and finds an increase in the number of lower house candidates from 459 in 2006 to 502, driven by the entry of the Democratic Labor Party (36 candidates after having only contested the upper house in 2006), the Country Alliance (29 candidates) and the Sex Party (17 candidates), and a near doubling in the number of independents from 33 to 75.

• In late candidate announcement news, the Liberals have endorsed Cindy McLeish as their candidate for the regional seat of Seymour, which Ben Hardman holds for Labor on a margin of 6.7 per cent. Their original candidate, Mike Laker, withdrew a week into the campaign for “personal reasons”, which few doubt revolve around a talk radio caller’s claim that Laker had told him that the government was planning to house 50 Somali families in the electorate and provide them with free cars. McLeish ran against Laker in the original preselection vote, but lost by 45 votes to 12. She was reportedly backed in the original ballot by local electorate chairman Mike Dalmau and upper house MP Donna Petrovich, and Laker has declared himself “frustrated” by the lack of support the two had been giving to his campaign.

Victorian upper house tickets: Libs put Greens last

The announcement today of the parties’ registered preference tickets for above-the-line upper house votes has, to say the least, proved more than usually interesting. With their cards now on the table, the Coalition has indeed come good on its talk of putting the Greens last. Twitter is also alive with talk that the policy of putting the Greens last extends to every seat in the lower house (UPDATE: Now confirmed in an AAP report). Suffice to say that this is momentous news.

As usual, I have made the effort to simplify the upper house tickets by ignoring where the parties have placed candidates who don’t matter, either because they are certain to be elected or certain not to be (note that I’m ignoring most independents here). No party has lodged a split ticket, and only the DLP could be found playing complicated games with their ordering. With very few exceptions, preferences have been allocated in such a way as to create neat left-right divides, in which each bloc will win either three or two seats and divide the spoils between them. The only flies in this ointment are Northern Metropolitan, where preferences to and from Stephen Mayne are all over the shop, and Northern Victoria, where the Country Alliance seem to have charmed all and sundry, including the Sex Party.


Democratic Labor Party: Family First; Liberal; Labor; Greens.
Labor: Greens; DLP; Family First; Liberal.
Family First:: DLP; Liberal; Labor; Greens.
Greens: Labor; DLP; Family First; Liberal.
Liberal: Family First; DLP; Labor; Greens.


Family First: DLP; Country Alliance; Liberal; Labor; Greens.
DLP: Country Alliance; Family First; Coalition; Labor; Greens.
Coalition: Country Alliance; Family First; DLP; Labor; Greens.
Labor: Country Alliance; Greens; DLP; Family First; Coalition.
Country Alliance: DLP; Family First; Coalition; Labor; Greens.
Greens: Labor; DLP; Family First; Coalition; Country Alliance.


Group A (Carers): Stephen Mayne; Greens; DLP; Sex Party; Family First; Christian Party; Country Alliance; Labor; Liberal.
Christian Party: DLP; Family First; Country Alliance; Liberal; Stephen Mayne; Carers; Labor; Greens; Sex Party.
Stephen Mayne: Carers; Sex Party; DLP; Greens; Family First; Christian Party; Liberal; Labor; Country Alliance.
Family First: Stephen Mayne; Christian Party; Carers; Country Alliance; DLP; Liberal; Labor; Sex Party; Greens.
Country Alliance: Sex Party; DLP; Labor; Liberal; Carers; Family First; Christian Party; Stephen Mayne; Greens.
Greens: Stephen Mayne; Carers; Sex Party; Labor; DLP; Family First; Christian Party; Liberal; Country Alliance.
Sex Party: Carers; Stephen Mayne; Greens; Country Alliance; Labor; Liberal; Family First; Christian Party.
DLP: Christian Party; Carers; Stephen Mayne; Country Alliance; Family First; Liberal; Labor; Sex Party; Greens.
Labor: Sex Party; Greens; Carers; Country Alliance; DLP; Stephen Mayne; Family First; Liberal; Christian Party.
Liberal: Sex Party; Family First; DLP; Country Alliance; Christian Party; Carers; Stephen Mayne; Labor; Greens.


Country Alliance: DLP; Family First; Coalition; CDP; Labor; Sex Party; Greens.
Christian Democratic Party: DLP; Family First; Coalition; Country Alliance; Labor; Greens; Sex Party.
Family First: CDP; DLP; Country Alliance; Coalition; Labor; Sex Party; Greens.
Greens: Labor; Sex Party; DLP; Family First; CDP; Coalition; Country Alliance;
Coalition: Country Alliance; Family First; DLP; CDP; Sex Party; Labor; Greens.
Labor: Country Alliance; Greens; Sex Party; DLP; Family First; Coalition; CDP.
Sex Party: Country Alliance; Greens; Labor; Coalition; CDP; Family First; DLP.
DLP: Country Alliance; CDP; Family First; Coalition; Labor; Sex Party; Greens.


Liberal: DLP; Family First; Christian Party; Labor; Greens.
Labor: Greens; DLP; Family First; Liberal; Christian Party.
DLP: Christian Party; Family First; Liberal; Labor; Greens.
Christian Party: DLP; Family First; Liberal; Labor; Greens.
Family First: Christian Party; DLP; Liberal; Labor; Greens.
Greens: Labor; DLP; Family First; Christian Party; Liberal.


Sex Party: Greens; Liberal; Labor; Family First; DLP; Christan Party.
DLP: Christian Party; Family First; Liberal; Labor; Sex Party; Greens.
Family First: Christian Party; DLP; Liberal; Labor; Sex Party; Greens.
Christian Party: DLP; Family First; Liberal; Labor; Greens; Sex Party.
Greens: Sex Party; Labor; DLP; Family First; Christian Party; Liberal.
Liberal: Family First; DLP; Christian Party; Sex Party; Labor; Greens.
Labor: Greens; Sex Party; DLP; Family First; Liberal; Christian Party.


Sex Party: Greens; Labor; Liberal; Family First; DLP.
Labor: Greens; Sex Party; DLP; Family First; Liberal.
Family First: DLP; Liberal; Labor; Sex Party; Greens.
DLP: Family First; Liberal; Labor; Sex Party; Greens.
Greens: Sex Party; Labor; DLP; Family First; Liberal.
Liberal: Family First; DLP; Sex Party; Labor; Greens.


Coalition: DLP; Family First; Country Alliance; Labor; Greens.
Family First: Country Alliance; DLP; Coalition; Labor; Greens.
Labor: Greens; Country Alliance; DLP; Family First; Coalition.
Greens: Labor; DLP; Family First; Coalition; Country Alliance.
Country Alliance: DLP; Family First; Coalition; Labor; Greens.

UPDATE: It might be helpful to reprint the calculations I did a few weeks ago of Labor-versus-Greens two-party results in the four electorates likely contested between the two, projecting the likely results for the Greens both with and without Liberal preferences. This was derived from results of both the 2006 and 2010 federal elections, and indications of Liberal voters’ fealty to how-to-vote cards based on a Victorian Electoral Commission ballot paper study. I was persuaded that this was likely to prove slightly unflattering to the Greens, as the rate of Liberal rebellion from the how-to-vote card might increase if the party changed its preference policy.

2006 STATE
Melbourne 45% 27% 22% 48% 40%
Richmond 46% 25% 20% 46% 39%
Brunswick 48% 30% 17% 45% 40%
Northcote 53% 27% 15% 42% 37%
Melbourne 36% 37% 22% 57% 49%
Richmond 39% 37% 20% 55% 48%
Brunswick 46% 31% 19% 48% 41%
Northcote 46% 33% 17% 49% 42%

Nielsen: 52-48 to Labor in Victoria; Newspoll 51-49

GhostWhoVotes informs us a state Nielsen poll in The Age has Labor with a two-party lead of 52-48, and that the Greens primary vote is steady on 16 per cent. More to follow.

UPDATE: We now also have Newspoll which puts Labor’s lead at 51-49, from primary votes of 37 per cent for Labor, 39 per cent Liberal and 5 per cent for the Nationals. The poll also shows a striking five point drop for the Greens to 14 per cent, which is coming off an all-time high and is not replicated in Nielsen. The two pollsters also give divergent impressions of John Brumby’s popularity: whereas Nielsen has his personal rating at plus 13 (approval 53 per cent, disapproval 40 per cent), Newspoll has it at minus six (42 per cent, 48 per cent). Newspoll also has Ted Baillieu at minus six (40 per cent, 46 per cent), while Nielsen has it at evens (45 per cent). Brumby has a slightly wider lead as preferred premier from Nielsen (53-37) than Newspoll (50-36). As was the case before the federal election, the Coalition’s supporters appear to be firmer in their intentions than Labor’s.

UPDATE 2: Full tables from the Nielsen poll here, courtesy of GhostWhoVotes.

Victorian election: week two, part one

John Brumby and Ted Baillieu went head-to-head on Friday for a low-rating and soon-to-be-forgotten leaders debate. Milanda Rout of The Australia wrote approvingly that Ted Baillieu “took a risk and showed he had some political backbone”, by “throwing insults and delivering the best and funniest lines of the debate”. John Ferguson of the Herald Sun thought Baillieu’s dithering over preferences meant he “won the theatre, but lost the politics”. Shaun Carney of The Age believed Brumby suffered from lack of experience – this was his first leaders debate, as there wasn’t one when he ran against Jeff Kennett in 1996 – while James Campbell of the Sunday Herald Sun faulted Brumby for “staring statesmanlike into the distance and talking about the future”. If you’d prefer to make up your own mind, you can watch it on iView.


Tim Colebatch of The Age makes the unarguable assertion that Ted Baillieu’s efforts to get his message out have been “drowned out by factional opponents beating their drum to insist that the Liberals should not direct preferences to the Greens”. He also casts an eye over the Liberals’ recent record in Tasmania, the only case study where the Liberals have pursued the strategy of privileging Labor over the Greens advocated by John Howard and Helen Kroger:

Tasmania went to the polls in March. The Liberals topped the vote, but both sides ended up with 10 seats and the Greens with five. Liberal leader Will Hodgman had first rights but, under pressure from right-wing powerbroker Senator Eric Abetz, refused to negotiate with the Greens. Labor leader David Bartlett went ahead and did so. So Labor and the Greens now have a coalition government, and it’s working well. The federal election saw the Liberal vote in Tasmania slump to 39 per cent after preferences — the party’s lowest vote in any state since World War II. Opinion polls show a collapse in Liberal support at state level. And The Mercury reports that Hodgman has now taken on Abetz for control of the party, declaring: “We cannot give away the middle ground. I will fight to make sure that doesn’t happen, even if it costs me my job.”

• Former federal Wills independent Phil Cleary has confirmed he will run in the seat of Brunswick. This further complicates the contest between Labor candidate Jane Garrett and Cyndi Dawes of the Greens, with Cleary making no secret of his intention to direct preferences to the latter. The seat is being vacated by the retirement of Labor member Carlo Carli.

David Rood of The Age tells of “secret party research” from the ALP telling a familiar tale of ongoing inner-city drift to the Greens. The report found the most potent campaign remedy would be pamphlets trumpeting the fact that the Greens had voted with the Liberals 69 per cent of the time in parliament, as distinct from an existing strategy of “promoting the party’s stance on climate change and other progressive issues like social housing”.