Mug’s game

Brian Burke and Noel Crichton-Browne appeared on Paul Murray’s 6PR program this morning discussing the state of play in important marginal seats. On balance, Burke expects a narrow win for Labor, Crichton-Browne a narrow win for the Coalition, and Murray stands by his assessment of a minority Coalition government. Meanwhile, Charles Richardson at Crikey has made a detailed prediction that adds up to Labor maintaining its current seven-seat majority.

Murray (Labor 0.7%): Burke and Crichton-Browne both agree that the Liberals will win this seat, in part due to local hostility over the fact that Labor candidate Nuala Keating does not live in the electorate. Richardson tips this as the only Liberal gain out of what he sees as the five "battleground" seats. Labor people have expressed pessimism owing to demographic change from the area’s rapid population growth and a concentrated swing to the Coalition at the federal election. The Poll Bludger does not like being this far out on a limb and has amended his initial assessment that Labor would retain the seat, which for the time being reduces his projection of Labor’s majority from five seats to three.

Kingsley (Liberal 2.5%): Burke and Crichton-Browne agree this is the one seat that Labor has a serious prospect of picking up from the Liberals. Crichton-Browne criticises the process of Liberal candidate Colin Edwardes’ preselection, saying little time was given for others to nominate. He also argues that voters feel one parliamentary superannuation payment should be enough for the Edwardes household, but ultimately concludes that the Liberals will narrowly retain the seat.

Mindarie (Labor 1.2%): Burke says Labor polling showed the Liberals with a substantial lead going into the campaign, but feels the Liberals have frittered it away. Crichton-Browne tips the Liberals to win, citing the strength of evangelical churches in the area and the importance of Family First who are directing preferences to Liberal. Richardson nominates it as one of five "battleground" electorates but tips Labor to hold, as does the Poll Bludger.

Swan Hills (Labor 0.3%): Crichton-Browne is one of a number of observers who have noted that Liberal candidate Steve Blizard does not seem popular in the electorate, but still expects him to win the seat from Labor member Jaye Radisich. Burke thinks the local popularity of Radisich might make the difference. Another battleground seat where Richardson thinks the Liberals will fall short; the Poll Bludger concurs.

Joondalup (Labor 3.1%): Burke says Liberal candidate Dean Solly is one of two candidates whose personal strengths will improve the Liberals’ chances (the other being Andrew Partington in Albany) and believes this puts them in contention here. Crichton-Browne notes doubtfully that "Labor is defending a big margin", an assessment shared by Richardson and myself.

Geraldton (Labor 2.7%): Paul Murray reckons the strength of Shane Hill’s performance since he won the seat for Labor in 2001 will make the difference here, and Crichton-Browne roughly agrees. Burke cites heavy pork-barrelling by the government but sounds less sure of the outcome than Murray and Crichton-Browne. Richardson and the Poll Bludger say Labor.

Riverton (Labor 3.1%): Burke is critical of Labor for making its contentious promise to divert road freight traffic from Leach Highway too late in the campaign. Crichton-Browne thinks this and the dummy candidate controversy should deliver the seat to the Liberals, but Burke is less sure. Richardson says Labor and so does the Poll Bludger.

Alfred Cove (Independent 8.2% vs LIB): Crichton-Browne thinks it "still possible" that Graham Kierath could defeat independent member Janet Woollard. Richardson says "it’s a toss-up, but I’m tipping Woollard to hold on". The Poll Bludger’s money has always been on Woollard.

Albany (Liberal 3.7%): While Noel Crichton-Browne calls it for the Liberals, Burke merely says it will be "very difficult" for Labor. Charles Richardson warily tips Labor to hold. It remains in the Liberal column for the Poll Bludger but late opinion polls might change his mind.

Darling Range (Liberal 0.6%): Richardson rates this as an outlier in the event of a Labor blowout, but all concerned have their money on the Liberals holding on.

Bunbury (Labor 0.2%): Nobody is tipping that Labor will retain this seat.

Unless I missed something, the 6PR panel did not rate Collie-Wellington (Labor 2.6%) or Wanneroo (Labor 3.1%) worth a mention, and both myself and Richardson have them in the Labor column. Richardson includes Serpentine-Jarrahdale among the seats to watch if there’s a swing on to Labor, and Labor apparently think themselves in with a chance. Richardson also concurs with my judgement that the Liberals will win Roe from the Nationals, and that no other seats will change hands between the Coalition parties.

Judgement reserved

You know the Coalition has had a bad day when The West Australian’s front page devotes equal space to criticising both parties. Under the heading "double trouble", the left half of the page covers what most would have regarded as the major story on election eve, the universal thumbs-down given to the Coalition’s costings announcement, while the right is an exposé of a mere dummy candidate put up by Labor in Riverton. Admittedly, the latter seems like an unusually clumsy piece of work on Labor’s part. The West reports that independent candidate Choy Chan Ma thought that a form she was asked to sign at Labor member Tony McRae’s office related to her work as a voluntary interpreter, and was unpleasantly surprised to find herself running for parliament. Ma is a Chinese Malay in an electorate "where Malays and Indians account for 30 per cent of the population".

Also in The West are a number of reports on turmoil afflicting the conservative side of politics in the south-west. A spray delivered by Liberal candidate Graham Jacobs against the Coalition hierarchy is reported in vague terms, with Jacobs criticising "policy on the run" from Colin Barnett which he blames on "underhanded tactics" by the National Party, from whom he is attempting to win the seat. It is also reported that Wilson Tuckey, federal Liberal member for O’Connor, got federal government permission to spend "several thousand taxpayer dollars" on letters promoting Jacobs and his Liberal colleagues in Geraldton and Stirling at the expense of the Nationals.

However, those of us waiting with bated breath to see which side wins The West’s reluctant editorial endorsement will apparently have to wait until tomorrow.

Murdoch’s goons

The Australian has come out for the return of the Gallop government in an editorial that follows the traditional format, with ridicule of the government followed by an assessment that the alternative would be even worse. The paper’s News Limited stablemate, Perth’s Sunday Times, followed much the same outline last weekend except that it also managed a few kind words for Labor, reaching the upbeat conclusion that "the Gallop Government deserves another term in office". The West Australian’s verdict is eagerly awaited.

Momentum seized

Perth talk radio host and former West Australian editor Paul Murray tells erstwhile sparring partner Peter Brent of Mumble that he sees six seats as likely Liberal gains and six more as possibilities, with the most likely outcome being a minority Coalition government. Robert Wainwright of the Sydney Morning Herald thinks otherwise, reporting today that "the West Australian Labor government appears to have seized the momentum in the final days of a see-saw election campaign and is now a slight favourite to win on Saturday". The assessment is based on the Prime Minister’s refusal to lend substantial backing to the canal project and the Premier’s renewed interest in Albany, earlier reckoned to be a write-off. In light of the bucketing Colin Barnett is copping over his belated costings announcement and its $200 million hole, the Poll Bludger continues to favour the latter view.

Some recent updates to the election guide:

Albany (Labor 3.7%): The three-cornered contest for this seat has taken a confusing twist with Nationals candidate Beverley Ford dumping on the Coalition’s proposal to build a local hospital for $40 million, to the delight of endangered Labor member Peter Watson. Health Minister Jim McGinty had earlier described the hospital promise as "lunacy". Ford’s campaign manager has written to Peter Brent at Mumble talking up her chances; the Albany Advertiser reports that Professor David Black of Curtin University thinks her likely to finish third, but says she "can complicate the situation for the Liberal candidate". All five respondents in an Advertiser vox pop tipped Watson to win.

North West Coastal (Labor 5.4%): Rod Sweetman, the outgoing Liberal member for abolished Ningaloo who failed to win preselection elsewhere, continues to exasperate his former colleagues. The ABC reports that Sweetman has spoken highly of the Gallop government’s achievements in his electorate, saying it has been "a pretty good time of late for the Gascoyne region and particularly Carnarvon. We have been a very fortunate community over the last little while".

Kimberley (Labor 8.5%): Liberal candidate Ron Sos Johnston told a candidates’ debate on Wednesday it was "no secret that Barnett and myself are at loggerheads over the canal project and how he has gone about it". The Liberals appear not to have given up hope, unveiling late-campaign promises including a $500,000 birthing suite at Kimberley Hospital. Paul Murray thinks it more likely to fall than North West Coastal.

Central Kimberley-Pilbara (Independent 16.2% vs ALP): Independent candidate and former ATSIC WA chairman Barry Taylor has endorsed a boycott of the election by the community of Ngalingkadji in protest over lack of housing maintenance. Fifty-five votes were cast there at the federal election, 35 of them for the same Tom Stephens who will be Labor candidate at the state poll.

Collie-Wellington (Labor 2.6%): Liberals have been muttering darkly about the pace of an investigation into the leak of candidate Craig Carbone’s drink-driving record to the Sunday Times. It has been noted that Labor member Mick Murray’s wife works at Collie police station, though Murray denies her involvement.

Girrawheen (Labor 8.5%): Family First will direct preferences to Jon Kelly, Wanneroo mayor, Labor renegade and independent candidate, ahead of Labor member Margaret Quirk.

Shake it to the right

The Poll Bludger suspects that a proportion of his audience groans with dismay when he devotes a post to the upper house. Those thus inclined are asked to perservere with today’s sermon because it relates to that highly topical barbecue stopper, the prospects for Family First. A nugget of information that had earlier escaped notice was this article from Colleen Egan in the Sunday Times, reporting that Liberal internal polling has the new party tracking at 4 to 5 per cent in some areas. This site’s previous predictions for the upper house were based on the assumption that Family First would not greatly improve upon its Western Australian Senate vote of 0.85 per cent. Clearly this underestimated the party’s political sophistication, a lesson which should really have sunk in by now.

The reason Family First did not poll well in Western Australia was that it made no effort to, having correctly concluded that a Senate outcome of three Liberal, two Labor and one Greens was all but certain. This prompted it to devote its finite resources elsewhere, to great effect. Now that it faces the more realistic prospect of winning seats in the Legislative Council, the state branch has sprung into action. In its sights are the two regions that return seven rather than five members, South West and North Metropolitan, and perhaps also the five-member region of Agricultural. As Egan reports, the party has demonstrated its astuteness by targeting South West through regional television ads and North Metropolitan through suburban newspapers. In these areas, Family First could well manage the more plausible lower end of the 4 to 5 per cent range cited by Egan. This could be enough to deliver a seat at Labor’s expense in North Metropolitan, and to put them in the running in the other two regions.

Equally importantly, it could mean that their preferences save the day for One Nation-turned-New Country incumbents Frank Hough in Agricultural and Paddy Embry in South West. Embry will be further boosted by the occupant of second place on his party ticket, former Western Australian Farmers’ Federation president Colin Nicholls (a situation echoed in Mining and Pastoral where One Nation-turned-independent member John Fischer is joined by former federal member Graeme Campbell). If that can push his vote up to near double figures, a solid bloc of Family First preferences could be enough to deliver Embry a 12.5 per cent quota. Previously I had assumed that One Nation’s decision to put their former colleagues last would prove the death knell for all three. But if Family First performs well, and if the joint tickets of Paddy Embry/Colin Nicholls and John Fischer/Graeme Campbell prove as appealing as one might expect, there will be little of the right-wing vote left over for One Nation, which for the first time will be identified on ballot papers without the "Pauline Hanson" prefix.

We’ve got a great big convoy

The West Australian has a front page photo today of a congested Kwinana Freeway clogged with semi-trailers under the heading, "Q. Why will another 2000 trucks be sent down the freeway? A. To save one marginal seat". That seat being Riverton, where freight traffic through Leach Highway has been a burning issue since Labor pulled the plug on the Fremantle Eastern Bypass. Labor now proposes to send articulated vehicles on a detour around the electorate, a point nicely demonstrated by The West’s map of the route, the electorate and the bypass promised by the Liberals. The paper also reports that Stephen Smith has discovered some optimism since Sunday and now expects to Labor to win.

Campaign updates

Some recent embellishments to the Western Australian election guide:

Alfred Cove (Independent 8.2% vs LIB): Voters in this electorate are being bombarded with advertising across all media from a bewildering range of interested parties. Radio ads for independent challenger Katherine Jackson tell listeners not to believe advertisements and media reports that she has cut a preference deal with Liberal candidate Graham Kierath. Workers compensation lawyer Paul O’Halloran appears to think otherwise, and has gone to the trouble of running his own radio ads boosting independent incumbent Janet Woollard (a "nice lady") and exhorting Jackson supporters to ignore her how-to-vote card and put Kierath last (she is in fact running a split ticket; those following the pro-Labor ticket are directed to put Woollard ahead of Kierath). Then there’s Graham Kierath’s blog, a project he has tackled with admirable enthusiasm.

Perth (Liberal 10.5%): The Poll Bludger hears that the Liberals are putting an unusual amount of resources into their campaign here, and that the Christian Democratic Party are spending a lot of money targeting the government’s gay law reforms. The electorate is home to much of Perth’s gay community, which counts Labor member John Hyde among its number.

Balcatta (Labor 10.9%): While this new seat is all but certain to remain in the Labor fold, Liberals are keen to note that Labor does not have the advantage of a sitting member, and that the federal seat of Stirling was won with swings of 6 to 8 per cent in the booths located in this electorate. In the more affluent part of the electorate covered by the state seat of Carine, two large booths swung to Labor.

Swan Hills (Labor 0.3%): Sensing that a triumphant Jaye Radisich might emerge as Labor’s electoral heroine, the party made her one of only three speakers at Labor’s belated campaign "launch" on Sunday, along with Geoff Gallop and Kim Beazley.

Cottesloe (Liberal 12.3%): Colin Barnett handed his opponents a gift last Wednesday when he told a candidates forum for his electorate of Cottesloe that he would place a five-storey limit on coastal high-rise, but only in his own electorate.

Collie-Wellington (Labor 2.6%); Murray (Labor 0.7%): Robert Wainwright of the Sydney Morning Herald reported on Saturday that Labor expects to hold Collie-Wellington but "struggle" in neighbouring Murray.

Home stretch

Labor powerbroker and federal MP Stephen Smith was quoted in The West Australian this morning saying his party was behind going into the final week of the state campaign. This is standard operating procedure for the Western Australian ALP, which in 1996 went so far as to concede defeat before polling day. Reporter Robert Taylor adds meat to the bones of Smith’s claims:

Recent Labor polling is believed to be calling a metropolitan-wide swing to the Liberals of about 1.5 to 2 per cent. If that were to hold in a uniform way, the seat of Swan Hills, at 0.3 per cent, and the new electorate of Mindarie, nominally Labor by 1.2 per cent, could fall. But coalition strategists list neither seat high on their lists of possible wins. After Bunbury, which is expected to fall, and Albany, where polling for the National Party is believed to show incumbent Peter Watson at risk, the coalition sees Geraldton and Murray, based around Pinjarra, as its best chances of wresting seats from Labor. The Government has poured money into Geraldton in the past four years and lawyer Shane Hill is regarded as a quality local member but both sides expect a sizeable swing to the coalition in country areas and on a margin of just 2.7 per cent, Mr Hill could fall victim. In the city, the coalition believes Joondalup and Riverton are stronger winning chances than Swan Hills.

This actually suggests that it is the Coalition which has its work cut out for it, as it must win five of the seven seats named to form a minority government. It also emboldens the Poll Bludger in his predictions, despite recent charges of unadventurousness, since seats that are line-ball going into the final week tend to fall the way of the government and/or the sitting member.

Also from Robert Taylor today was an acerbic piece on yesterday’s Labor campaign "launch", which included jibes to the effect that Tony Dean will not retain Bunbury for Labor and Graham Kierath will not recover Alfred Cove for the Liberals. Assessments have also emerged from two retiring independent MPs – Phillip Pendal, ex-Liberal independent member for South Perth, wrote in The West today that the Liberals are "quietly upbeat" about Geraldton as well as Albany and Bunbury, while Larry Graham, oft-quoted member for Pilbara and one-time Labor man, told Paul Murray on 6PR that he felt Labor to be in the "better position".