What now then

The Poll Bludger’s Western Australian Legislative Council guide has now been padded out with post-match reports for all six regions. For those of you who don’t care much, the important thing is that Labor and the Greens fell one seat short of what was needed to pass one-vote one-value legislation. But since the results do not take effect until May 21, the government has two months in which to persuade departing member Alan Cadby to allow it through as a parting gesture to the Liberal Party which dumped him for preselection. For those of you who do care much, the entries read as follows:

Agricultural: Barring the exception of 2001, Agricultural has returned four Coalition and one Labor members at each election under the current system. But this was the first time the region returned three Liberal and one Nationals member rather than two of each. The key to this outcome was a 9.4 per cent rebound in the Liberal vote to a historically typical 39.4 per cent, whereas the Nationals’ 19.3 per cent was only 0.3 per cent higher than last time. Labor’s vote was up from 20.2 per cent to 26.7 per cent, but their only serious source of preferences was the Greens (4.4 per cent) and they fell short of the 33.3 per cent required for a second seat. Lachlan Dunjey of the Christian Democratic Party narrowly missed out on the fifth seat from just 1.9 per cent of the vote, having been boosted by preferences from Liberals for Forests, One Nation, New Country and Family First. This left him a fraction behind the Liberals’ third candidate (who had received preferences over the CDP from the Nationals and the Democrats) at the second last count. Another coat of paint and it would have been a case of Rowe’s elimination delivering decisive preferences to Dunjey, and not the other way round.

East Metropolitan: Labor cracked the 50 per cent mark, up from 44.2 per cent to 50.6 per cent, which meant three easy quotas on the primary vote. The Greens’ only chance was to win a seat at the expense of the Liberals, but their stable 6.5 per cent vote was too low for this to be a serious prospect. The Liberal primary vote of 32.1 per cent was close enough to two quotas that preferences from the Christian Democratic Party and Family First put them well over the line.

Mining and Pastoral: Mining and Pastoral returned to normal in returning three Labor and two Liberal members, which has been the outcome at each election under the current system except 2001. More than half of the 25.2 per cent vote for independents and One Nation in 2001 returned to the majors, with Labor up from 39.5 per cent to 44.0 per cent and the Liberals up from 26.7 per cent 35.7 per cent. This gave them both two clear quotas on the primary vote, but only Labor had enough of a surplus to remain in the hunt for the final place. They ended up winning it because their minor party opposition was split between the Fischer/Campbell ticket, which scored 6.0 per cent of the primary vote and received preferences from the CDP and the Liberals, and the Greens, who scored 7.6 per cent and received preferences from the Public Hospital Support Group, Liberals for Forests and the Democrats. The mutual hostility of these two groups meant the elimination of one was always going to send a decisive quantity of preferences to Labor at the other’s expense. However, Labor’s primary vote was still markedly below the pre-2001 norm whereas the Liberals equalled their 1996 result.

North Metropolitan: A straightforward outcome with Labor (42.4 per cent) and Liberal (40.3 per cent) each scoring three quotas on the primary vote without enough of a surplus to freeze the Greens out of the final place. This was despite a slight easing in the Greens’ vote from 9.7 per cent to 8.8 per cent, or 0.7 of a quota.

South Metropolitan: The talk of the early count was the prospect that the final seat would go to Murray McKay of the Fremantle Hospital Support Group, who polled just 1.3 per cent. But in one of those strange twists characteristic of systems combining preferential voting with proportional representation, a resurgence by the Liberals later in the count ensured that the seat stayed with Labor. This was because the Liberals had the Christian Democratic Party ahead of FHSG on preferences, which ultimately allowed the CDP to get their nose ahead of FHSG at a crucial point in the count. Had this not happened, the distribution of preferences after the CDP’s elimination would have put the FHSG ahead of the Greens, whose preferences would then have got them ahead of Labor. Instead, the elimination of the FHSG unlocked the preferences of left-leaning parties who had favoured the Greens over the CDP, whose subsequent elimination unlocked the preferences of right-leaning parties who had favoured Labor over the Greens. Lynn MacLaren’s failure to retain the seat for the Greens was the most disappointing of their three upper house defeats, the result of a fall in the primary vote from 9.0 per cent to 7.8 per cent. This was still more than the Greens polled when Jim Scott was successful in 1993 and 1996, but since then the Democrats’ share of the minor party vote has shifted largely to parties hostile to the left.

South West: Well might Wilson Tuckey be cranky with the National Party, whose decision to preference the Greens ahead of Family First decided the contest between the two for the final seat. Had Labor or the Greens won one seat elsewhere, the National Party would effectively have signed its own death warrant by facilitating an upper house amenable to one-vote one-value legislation. The Nationals might argue that their candidate could have got past the Greens if the Coalition vote had been just slightly higher, in which case the Greens preference deal would have delivered them the seat at the expense of Family First – to which the obvious response is that the deal itself, with a party held in very low regard by the Nationals’ rural constituency, cost them the very votes that might have allowed this to happen. Instead the Greens were able to retain their seat despite fading from 8.5 per cent to 7.6 per cent on the primary vote. One Nation collapsed from 14.2 per cent to 2.2 per cent, from which a mere 0.7 per cent wound up with Paddy Embry. This made room for substantial improvements by both Liberal (from 35.4 per cent to 39.0 per cent) and Labor (from 30.7 per cent to 37.7 per cent), whereas the Nationals sank further from 6.2 per cent to 5.4 per cent.

With the Western Australian election now put to bed, the Poll Bludger can kick back a little and enjoy a looming quiet stretch on the electoral calendar. For election junkies desperate for their next hit, the forecast for the next 12 months is as follows:

Tasmania: Thanks to the apple isle’s nifty system of annual rotating elections for the 15 Legislative Council seats, one fifth of Tasmanian voters will go to the polls on May 7 in the first electoral test for Premier Paul Lennon. The three electorates up for grabs are Murchison in the north-west, which is being vacated by conservative independent Tony Fletcher; the Launceston-based Paterson, held by Council President and independent Liberal veteran Don Wing; and most interestingly of all, the Hobart outskirts seat of Rumney which Lin Thorp narrowly won for Labor in 2000. With nothing else on the horizon, these elections will get the full treatment. Lennon may call an election for the House of Assembly at any time, but when Opposition Leader Rene Hidding suggested he would do so at some stage this year Lennon was quick to rule it out. By the Poll Bludger’s count the latest he can go is November 25 next year, but a date nearer the anniversary of the election of July 20, 2002 is more likely.

Northern Territory: The Territory’s first ever Labor government is up for re-election at some time year. Chief Minister Clare Martin must call an election for the 25-seat Legislative Assembly for no later than October 15. The four-year anniversary of the 2001 election falls on August 18.

South Australia: The next election is scheduled for March 18, 2006, although the government can go early in the event of a deadlock between the houses. If there has been any talk of Premier Mike Rann plotting for an early poll, the Poll Bludger has not heard of it.

Service resumes

The Poll Bludger is back in business after a week off line, and will be keeping a close eye on the final stages of the count for the Western Australian Legislative Council before turning attention to the March 19 Werriwa by-election. Late counting in Western Australia has produced no reversals of fortune in the lower house; the Liberals have narrowly won Bunbury and Murray, and independent Janet Woollard has retained Alfred Cove at the expense of Liberal Graham Kierath after an unpredictable preference distribution. Antony Green has published a full analysis of the upper house count based on figures from Thursday, concluding that contests are still in play for the seventh seat in South West, between the Greens and Nationals, and for the fifth seat in Agricultural, between Liberal, the Nationals, Labor and the Christian Democratic Party (the Poll Bludger prematurely called it for Labor in the previous post). Green reports that the prospect of a Fremantle Hospital Support Group boilover in South Metropolian is "receding", since a Liberal revival has made it unlikely that they will stay ahead of the Christian Democratic Party at the crucial point in the count (as discussed in the previous post). Their elimination would unlock a flood of preferences to the Greens who would emerge in front of the CDP but behind Labor, who would ultimately win the seat.

Assuming no sudden revival for the Fremantle Hospital Support Group, that leaves Labor on 16 seats, Liberal on 14, the Nationals on one and the Greens on one, with two in doubt. As far as the Poll Bludger is concerned, the magic number here would be a combined total of 19 for Labor and the Greens, as this would give one-vote one-value supporters an absolute majority on the floor with which to pass constitutional legislation. Since a victory for the Greens appears the more likely outcome in South West, the contest for Agricultural assumes a tremendous importance and the Poll Bludger will be over it like a rash in the coming days. By Green’s reckoning the Christian Democratic Party are currently poised to prevail over Labor at the final count by 1313 votes, although this assumes that all votes are ticket votes. Green thinks the bigger threat to the CDP comes from either the Nationals or (more likely) the Liberals, who need to overhaul a 411 vote deficit against the CDP at a key point in the count to coast home on preferences. Given that a CDP member representing a non-metropolitan region would probably take a dim view of one-vote one-value, the most likely outcome is a replication of the 18-16 deadlock from the previous parliament.

Another place

There is still much counting to be done for the Legislative Council, but two clear patterns have emerged. One is that Labor has done well, winning a second seat in Agricultural for the first time and also picking up an extra seat in Mining and Pastoral, and perhaps also in South Metropolitan and South West. Under their best case scenario of 17 seats, there is also the possibility of another two Greens members producing the constitutional majority required to pass one-vote one-value legislation (outside Mining and Pastoral of course). The other pattern is of a near wipeout for the minor parties. None of the former One Nation members proved competitive, and of the five Greens members only Giz Watson in North Metropolitan can be entirely confident. They still might win as many as three seats, with Paul Llewellyn still a good chance in South West but Lynn MacLaren needing a miracle in South Metropolitan.

One exception to the latter pattern is the possibility that Keith Woollard might have pulled off Western Australia’s first successful act of micro-party preference harvesting on behalf of his Fremantle Hospital Support Group in South Metropolitan. On the current count they have just 1.6 per cent of the vote, but this will be engorged with preferences from Forest Liberals (0.4 per cent), the Public Hospital Support Group (0.5 per cent), the Democrats (1.1 per cent) and Family First (1.9 per cent). That might put them ahead of the Christian Democratic Party, who scored 2.3 per cent and stand to receive preferences from One Nation (1.2 per cent) as well as the small Liberal surplus (roughly 2 per cent). They would then get preferences from anyone inclined to put single issue minor parties ahead of the Greens, who would most likely be left behind since they have polled a disappointing 8.0 per cent. Their preferences would flow on to the FHSG candidate in turn who would then have a 16.7 per cent quota. In the other scenario, where FSHG is eliminated ahead of the Christian Democratic Party, a straight contest will emerge between Labor and the Greens in which Labor appears to be well ahead.

In the seven-member South West region, the Liberals have won three quotas off the primary vote to Labor’s two, with the Greens, the Nationals, Labor and Family First all in the hunt for the final two places. An outcome of three Liberal, three Labor and one Greens would have very interesting implications for the ultimate make-up of the chamber, since it would be the first time parties of the left had won four seats here. Agricultural appears to have delivered a heartening result for Labor, who look sure to win a second seat for the first time since the current system was introduced in 1989. On the primary vote, the Liberals won two quotas with the Nationals and Labor on one each, with the final place set to go to Labor after preferences. This is a straightforward case of the combined Labor and Greens vote adding up neatly to two quotas; since the Greens’ vote was only 3.8 per cent there was little doubt which of the two would take the second seat. Thus ends Dee Margetts’ second spell as a parliamentarian. Frank Hough’s New Country ticket also performed poorly, winning only 3.2 per cent.

Mining and Pastoral reverted to type, returning three Labor and two Liberal members with the defeat of John Fischer and Robin Chapple of the Greens. There were status quo results in seven-member North Metropolitan, with Liberal and Labor each winning three quotas on the primary vote and the Greens set for the final seat after receiving Labor’s surplus as preferences; and in East Metropolitan, where Labor are poised for a clear three quotas with more than 50 per cent of the primary vote. The Liberals are falling about 3 per cent short of a second quota, but with preferences from the Christian Democratic Party, Family First, New Country and One Nation they will have little trouble getting there ahead of the Greens.

Humiliating backdown

For about one hour, this entry proclaimed that Charles Richardson of Crikey and myself shared the honours for best Western Australian election prediction since we ended up reaching identical conclusions after my late change of heart on Albany. On re-reading Richardson’s piece I see that he did warily predict that Labor would take Kingsley, which unquestionably makes him the king of the castle. He scores a further point for expressing more doubt about Alfred Cove than myself. Kingsley, a formerly Liberal seat where Labor ended the night with a lead of 1.1 per cent, is my only clear wrong call apart from Greenough, which only half counts because it is a Nationals gain from the Liberals (it might emerge as Richardson’s only error). The other swap between the Coalition parties, Liberal candidate Graham Jacobs’ apparent victory at the expense of the Nationals in Roe, was correctly tipped by us both. In Alfred Cove independent member Janet Woollard is struggling to prove us right by staying in front of a Labor candidate she must keep in third place to ride over Liberal Graham Kierath on preferences; and Labor might yet hold Bunbury and Murray, tipped as Liberal gains. But in each case the predicted outcome is still the more likely and everything else went according to script.

The key to Labor’s win was a strong performance in the northern suburbs marginals, which constitute a collective bellwether of far greater utility than Bunbury. Labor picked up swings of between 3 and 4 per cent in Mindarie and Wanneroo as well as Kingsley (which should be of some comfort to the Edwardes clan), and also held firm in Joondalup. This area switched sides en masse with the three previous changes of government in 1983, 1993 and 2001 and the Liberals are unlikely to lose sight of the fact next time. Elsewhere, a 2.0 per cent swing was not enough to see Labor’s Tony McRae off in Riverton, while Jaye Radisich added a handsome 3.3 per cent to her shaky margin in Swan Hills. The picture was patchy outside Perth but Labor performed well where they needed to, picking up a huge 6.9 per cent swing in Collie-Wellington and holding firm in Geraldton.

How to vote

The long-awaited West Australian election editorial nominates Labor as the lesser of the available evils, but the paper makes up for it with a second successive front page on the matter of independent candidate Choy Chan Ma in Riverton. Labor member Tony McRae is reported as having gone "into hiding" while much is made of Liberal Party complaints to the Crime and Corruption Commission and the Electoral Commission (although the latter has already investigated the candidate’s complaint and found no wrongdoing). Elsewhere, Robert Taylor reports that the Coalition is "comfortable" with the prospect of governing with the support of Churchlands independent Elizabeth Constable but "horrified at the thought of relying on Alfred Cove‘s Janet Woollard"

The Westpoll results mentioned earlier in the Sydney Morning Herald are from a survey taken on Monday and Tuesday, before Colin Barnett’s costings disaster:

Primary 2PP
Bunbury 32 49 7 41 59
Joondalup 39 50 4 46 54
Riverton 42 43 5 49 51
Albany 39 45 5 44 56
Murray 38 53 4 43 57

Manna from Newspoll

Two agonising weeks without a serious opinion poll have finally come to end with a survey from everybody’s favourite, Newspoll. The verdict: Labor ahead 45 per cent to 39.5 per cent on the primary vote and 54-46 on two-party preferred. That’s enough for me to make good on my earlier threat to withdraw Albany as a projected Liberal gain, thus returning my projected Labor majority to five. The Poll Bludger rarely gets excited about personal approval ratings, but it’s hard not to notice that Colin Barnett’s disapproval has broken through the 50 per cent barrier, defying the conventional wisdom that an opposition leader can expect to get a personal boost out of an election campaign.