Wisdom after the event

The Western Australian branch of the ALP has posted an expurgated version of a report conducted by former Senator Robert Ray into its recent state election defeat. The highlights for mine are as follows:

• Ray cites various elections over the past year-and-a-bit to observe that the advantages of incumbency are clearly not what they used to be. In particular, “a formerly inviolable rule of politics was that if opinion polls showed the country or State ‘heading in the right direction’ by more than 55%, re-election was a certainty”. The Howard government was nonetheless defeated with 58 per cent supporting such a proposition, and Alan Carpenter’s Labor joined the club with the figure on 54 per cent. Trumping the statistic in the latter case (and no doubt the former as well) was the belief of 53 per cent that it was “time to give someone else a go”.

• “As a rule, the higher the voter turnout, the better Labor does.” This time it was 82 per cent compared with 85 per cent in 2005. “Was the Labor vote lower because of the reduced turnout or was the loss of community support for Labor a driver of lower turnout? So far, no plausible explanation has been offered.”

• “Too many in the electorate thought that the surplus was just sitting around, unused”, when it was in fact being committed to capital works programs. Voters “readily formed the view that they, as individuals, had not benefitted from the boom and were resentful that the Government was not spending some of the surplus on them.”

• Colin Barnett “looked like he had made a personal sacrifice to resume the leadership and had been unfairly ambushed by the calling of the election”.

• “Dream team” candidates who were defeated in decisive seats such as Mount Lawley and Morley were placed in the wrong seats – though it’s unclear where they should have run instead. Bumping Bob Kucera aside in Mount Lawley is universally recognised as an error, though I do wonder what role the Royal Perth Hospital played in Labor’s loss of that particular seat.

• Ray faults The West Australian for “displaying a bias not seen since the Murdoch excesses of 1975”, which “spread to the rest of the media as though it was the norm”. On the former count, I wonder if Ray remembers the role Murdoch’s Adelaide News paper was said to have played in the defeat of Des Corcoran’s South Australian government in 1979, an election which had many parallels with this one.

• Ray rightly complains that Labor did not run an ad responding to the Liberal effort which gave viewers 30 seconds of silence to think of “three good things Alan Carpenter’s Labor has done in eight years of boom”, which would have written itself. The West Australian reported shortly after the election that such an ad had been considered but rejected on the grounds it would have seemed “reactive”.

• The Nationals “had a simple message, promoted it for 18 months and were allowed to get away with the fiscal irresponsibility of their promises and the illusion of their independence from the Liberal Party”. Blame lay with a “Perth-centric” Labor campaign, which was no doubt inspired by the new electoral landscape ushered in by one-vote one-value.

Wild west wash-up

Upper house results from the Western Australian election are coming through this afternoon, and we will also have Premier-elect Colin Barnett announce his new cabinet. The first upper house result comes from Mining and Pastoral, which has gone two Labor (Jon Ford and Helen Bullock), two Liberal (Norman Moore and Ken Baston), one Nationals (Wendy Duncan) and one Greens (Robin Chapple). Full preference distribution here. It earlier appeared possible that second Nationals candidate David Grills might win a seat at the expense of the Greens, but Chapple emerged 8168 to 7070 ahead at the final count.

This post will be progressively updated as information becomes available.

UPDATE (1.30pm): Cabinet announced. Included are three Nationals (Brendon Grylls in regional development, Terry Waldron in sport and recreation and Terry Redman in agriculture) along with independent Liz Constable, who takes education from Peter Collier, who instead gets energy and training. Constable is one of only three women out of 17, and the only one in the lower house. The others are Robyn McSweeney as Child Protection and Community Services Minister and Donna Faragher as Environment Minister, the latter a surprise inclusion at the expense of former Shadow Women’s Affairs Minister Helen Morton.

UPDATE (3.30pm): North Metropolitan, East Metropolitan and South Metropolitan have all gone Liberal three, Labor two and Greens one. Still to come are Agricultural (likely result Nationals three, Liberals two and Labor one, although the third Nationals seat might go to Liberal-turned-Family First member Anthony Fels) and South West (looking like three Liberal, two Labor and one Nationals).

UPDATE (3.40pm): Three Liberal, two Labor and one Nationals in South West.

UPDATE (4.50pm): Three Nationals, two Liberals and one Labor in Agricultural. Final result: 16 Liberal, 11 Labor, five Nationals, four Greens.

UPDATE (Saturday): Full preference distributions:

North Metropolitan
East Metropolitan
South Metropolitan
South West
Agricultural
Mining and Pastoral

Listed below are close-ish results at the final counts. There were no tremendously close calls earlier in the counts that might have proved decisive, such as Family First or CDP candidates getting ahead of Liberal or Nationals candidates in South West or Agricultural.

EAST METROPOLITAN
Greens #1: 41489 (15.0%) ELECTED
Labor #3: 37106 (13.5%)

SOUTH METROPOLITAN
Greens #1: 43516 (15.5%) ELECTED
Liberal #3: 40174 (14.3%) ELECTED
Labor #3: 34640 (12.4%)

SOUTH WEST
Liberal #3: 22124 (14.4%) ELECTED
Greens #1: 20992 (13.6%)

AGRICULTURAL
Nationals #3: 11096 (15.2%) ELECTED
Labor #2: 8971 (12.3%)

Hat safe, trumpet blown

The Western Australian Electoral Commission has completed its weekend preference distributions from seats in doubt, providing Labor with a small degree of consolation through wins in Albany (a heroic effort by sitting member Peter Watson, who picked up a 2.6 per cent swing to retain his notionally Liberal seat) and Kwinana (believed last week to have fallen to independent Carol Adams). That puts the final result at Labor 28, Liberal 24, and Nationals four, with three independents: Liz Constable (Churchlands), Janet Woollard (Alfred Cove) and John Bowler (Kalgoorlie). All are committed to support the new government in one way or another, with Constable promised a position in cabinet and Bowler agreeing to act in concert with the Nationals.

Before I launch into FIGJAM mode, it behoves me to own up to my various errors over the past six weeks. As is always the case when I ambitiously attempt to pick the result of every seat, I made quite a few wrong calls: I did not pick the Liberal wins in Jandakot, Southern River, Mount Lawley, Wanneroo and Morley, and I wrongly believed Labor would lose Albany, Collie-Preston and North West. In a nutshell, I underestimated the anti-Labor swing in Perth and overestimated it elsewhere. I was embarrassingly dismissive of what proved to be a spot-on Westpoll survey from Morley a week before the election, describing the ultimately victorious Ian Britza as the “stop-gap Liberal candidate”. The Nationals’ haul of five or even six upper house seats also came out of left field, defying my prediction that Christian parties would hold the balance of power. And of course, I hesitatingly predicted Labor would win the election with a one-seat majority: a pretty good call with regard to seat relativities, but wrong with respect to the direction of the result.

With that out the way, here are some highlights of my observations over the past six weeks.

Western Suburbs Weekly, 25/8/08

August 6, this site:

Eleven seats and 5 per cent is certainly a big hurdle, but I don’t think it’s undoable. Labor should rue the missed opportunity of calling the election last week.

August 8, Crikey:

For all that, the Liberals have more going for them than interstate observers might assume. WA has hardly been a happy hunting ground for Labor in recent years: Geoff Gallop’s unspectacular re-election in 2005 was the only time the party’s primary vote has topped 40 per cent since 1989, a period covering seven federal and four state elections. Published polling during the Buswell period was not as bad for the Liberals as might have been expected, mostly putting Labor’s two-party lead at around 53-47. Buswell’s departure has also lanced a number of boils, reconciling vocal dissidents including former front-benchers Rob Johnson and Graham Jacobs. Underdogs they might remain, but discerning punters should find those odds from Centrebet more than a little tempting.

August 22, Crikey:

Of course, the polling leak and accompanying talk of internal panic might just be a ruse to boost Labor’s winning margin rather than avert defeat. On the other hand, the shift to the Liberals recorded in last weekend’s polls was entirely consistent with the anti-Troy Buswell effect that was well understood to be at work in the preceding surveys. We have evidence now that is not merely anecdotal that the perception of arrogance is starting to bite. And those generous odds from Centrebet are still there for the taking.

September 7, this site:

I’ll eat my hat if the Nationals back a Labor government.

Such conclusions required no great insight, based as they were (excluding the last one) on the state’s voting record, the well-understood workings of the political cycle and polling which showed Labor’s mid-year lead was built entirely on the unpopularity of Troy Buswell. These considerations nonetheless failed to penetrate the judgement of the ace political guns at The West Australian, who repeatedly insisted that Labor was home and hosed.

The Labor hierarchy knew better of course, and on two occasions presented the media with accurate internal polling which the paper’s too-clever-by-half commentators disdainfully dismissed out of hand. When the first such announcement was made in the second week of the campaign, The West’s report gave equal prominence to the views of optimistic “Labor insiders”, while Robert Taylor argued in his comment piece that Labor was cynically creating a misleading impression by providing selective data.

The second announcement came early in the final week when Labor’s scare campaigns over uranium mining and GM crops were reaching a hysterical pitch, collectively sending a message that was surely impossible to miss. However, Taylor responded with a piece which should sound eerily familiar to those old enough to remember last year’s federal election campaign:

While the nightly tracking poll on Monday recorded an alarming drop to 45 per cent for the ALP from a high of 52 per cent on a two-party preferred basis last Thursday — the same night the last Westpoll gave Labor a 54 per cent vote — other key indicators remained strong for the Government. Foremost among them were the 55 per cent of people who believed the Liberal Party was not ready to govern. It’s hard to see those people walking into the booth on Saturday and voting for a party they don’t believe can be in government. There’s no doubt that Labor heavies are worried by the sudden drop in support. But there’s also no doubt they believe the election is still there to be won and that the raw primary vote figure can recover just as quickly as it dropped. Even on the figures released yesterday, Labor only has to improve between 2 and 3 per cent by polling day and it wins. That’s because after the one vote, one value redistribution, on paper at least, Labor enjoys a 17-seat majority … But the poll produced by Labor yesterday wasn’t too much different from the way things were running in the last week of the 2005 election campaign when Geoff Gallop came from behind just a week out to record a comfortable victory. And it showed that the new train line to Ellenbrook and the blatant scare campaign on uranium were working, though it also confirmed that when the Liberals finally got on message at the weekend and hit the electorate with advertisements about Labor’s failed promises, people started to listen. But again, only 24 per cent of those polled said they could remember something that appealed to them about a Barnett message while 38 per cent said they could remember and liked something the Premier had said.

Note the writer’s determination to overlook the headline figure staring him in the face; his focus on whichever minor indicators happened to fit with his preconceptions; and most of all, his mystical faith in a “narrowing” that would swing the result the way of his prediction. Taylor’s conviction that Labor would enjoy a late 2 to 3 per cent swing was built largely on the fact that that’s what happened in 2005, which apparently had nothing at all to do with Colin Barnett’s last-minute costings debacle.

As notable as the actual content of the article was its placement on page seven. The next day, when Labor predictably declined to assemble the state’s media for a second successive poll leak announcement, the paper splashed a non-story across the front page of its first edition headlined: “Speculation ALP back on track as new polling figures withheld”. It soon became clear that Labor’s polling showed nothing of the kind. Meanwhile, Carpenter continued to signal his party’s very real desperation by repeating the same phrase 14 times in a single doorstop interview.

Such failings wouldn’t be worth remarking upon if all they amounted to was a wrong guess about an election result (there but for the grace of God go I). The problem was that the paper felt the certainty of Labor victory justified it in applying the blow-torch to the government day after day while all but ignoring the Liberals. One example was the feeding frenzy which followed Alan Carpenter’s refusal to confirm Michelle Roberts’ position in cabinet after the election. This prompted an overheated front-page lead headlined “I dare Premier to dump me: Roberts” (as former Liberal leader Matt Birney noted: “She never said any such thing”) plus a follow-up the next day, as well as inspiring the extraordinary lapse of editorial judgement shown to the right. By contrast, Colin Barnett’s refusal a week earlier to confirm Shadow Treasurer Troy Buswell’s tenure didn’t rate a single mention. It fell to other media to pressure Barnett into making what The West would have loudly trumpeted as a “backflip” if the shoe had been on the other foot.

Don’t take my word for it though: Matt Birney offered many pertinent observations about the paper’s story selection while appearing on 6PR’s election night panel, having earlier accused it of “aiding and abetting” his own side of politics throughout the campaign. For my part, I’ve pocketed a tidy sum from a bet laid on the Liberals at the peak of the market. I reckon I deserve it.

UPDATE (16/9/08): Eric Ripper elected new Labor leader following the withdrawal of the popular favourite Alannah MacTiernan. Remarkably, the deputy position has gone to newly elected Kwinana MP Roger Cook, who until a few days ago looked like he had lost the seat to an independent.

The longest day

UPDATE (9.30pm): Liberals win Nedlands by 987 votes.

UPDATE (9pm): Janet Woollard wins Alfred Cove by 405 votes. Liberals win Morley by 340. Labor wins Collie-Preston by 411. Labor wins Kwinana by 300. Only Nedlands to go, where the Liberals are believed to be home and hosed.

UPDATE (3pm): Alan Carpenter resigns as Labor leader.

UPDATE (11.30am): Nationals back the Liberals. Colin Barnett the new Premier.

UPDATE (11am): Brendon Grylls to hold press conference at 11.30am.

Perth’s Sunday Times newspaper brings a remarkable account of yesterday’s deliberations by the WA Nationals’ state parliamentary party, which met to decide who it would back to form government. Appearing under the headline: “DONT YOU DARE: Nats’ boss last-ditch plea to stop WA Labor marriage”, the report by Joe Spagnolo relates that federal leader Warren Truss made a “last-ditch plea” to talk state leader Brendon Grylls out of “a shock alliance with Labor”. Agricultural region upper house MP Max Trenorden, a known opponent of any deal with Labor, is quoted saying: “I am not going to say whether I am happy with the decision or not, but I’m certainly not going to commit suicide over it.” We will find out what that means exactly later today, after the parliamentary party puts its recommendation to the state council.

The Nationals’ endgame comes as the Western Australian Electoral Commission spends the weekend conducting preference counts in 11 seats designated as in doubt. The big news from the six counts conducted yesterday was that Labor retained Albany by a surprisingly comfortable 96 votes, while falling 64 votes short in Riverton. In North West, the Nationals fell 67 votes short of overtaking the Liberals in the second last count and taking the seat from Labor with their preferences, the final result being a 719 vote (6.9 per cent) Labor win over Liberal. Also determined were Forrestfield (Labor by 98 votes), Wanneroo (Liberal by 322) and Pilbara (Labor by 534).

Of the five seats to be counted today, two are genuinely in doubt: Alfred Cove, which the Liberals might recover from two-term independent member Janet Woollard, and Kwinana, where Labor has been gaining on independent front-runner Carol Adams in late counting. This puts the numbers at Labor 27, Liberal 24, Nationals four, independents two and two in doubt. The two confirmed independents are both in the orbit of another party: Churchlands MP Liz Constable has been promised a position in a Liberal cabinet, while Kalgoorlie MP John Bowler has resolved to work in concert with the Nationals. Nonetheless, any Liberal-Nationals arrangement will have to rely on the support of one or possibly two independents to maintain a majority in the lower house, whereas Labor plus the Nationals will equal a clear majority.

It’s the opposite story in the upper house, through which any Royalties for Regions deal would also need to navigate. While final seats remain in varying degree of doubt in all regions except North Metropolitan, the Liberals appear certain to win 16 seats out of 36 while Labor can hope for no more than 13, and are more likely to win 11. With the Nationals looking at five or six seats, the support of the Greens would probably be needed to pass a Labor-Nationals scheme that was opposed by the Liberals.

Westpoll: Liberal favoured for Nationals alliance

The West Australian has published a Westpoll survey of 400 respondents, of whom 181 (exact figures provided) said they preferred that the Nationals form an alliance with the Liberals against 129 who preferred Labor (44 per cent to 32 per cent). Of the former group, “33 per cent said they believed National voters were traditionally more Liberal than Labor, 32 per cent said the big swing in the election showed voters wanted to get rid of Labor, 21 per cent said Labor had ignored country people, 15 per cent said they preferred Mr Barnett and 6 per cent said it was because of Labor’s one-vote, one-value legislation”. The Liberals were favoured 53-47 on voting intention, although Alan Carpenter retains a lead of 47 per cent to 37 per cent as preferred premier. “Nearly eight out of 10” expressed support for major city projects being shelved to accommodate Royalties for Regions.

The West also reports Jim McGinty “has conceded Labor has probably lost the crucial seats of Wanneroo and Riverton”, where the Liberals say they lead by 280 and 62 votes. The Liberals believe themselves to be 28 votes behind in Albany, whereas Labor thinks the Liberals are one vote ahead. Unless recounts are called, the matter should be settled with tomorrow’s full distribution of preferences. Other seats which might yet hold surprises in store:

North West. Labor’s Vince Catania is the presumed winner of this seat having gained a 1.3 per cent swing, an outwardly remarkable result. However, hidden within this figure is one of the stories of the election: the Nationals polled 22.3 per cent after failing to contest the equivalent seats in 2005, gouging 10.1 per cent from the Liberal primary vote along with 7.2 per cent from Labor. This puts them in third place on 22.3 per cent behind 36.4 per cent for Labor and 27.0 per cent for Liberal. Preferences from independent Lex Fullarton (7.1 per cent), and to a lesser extent Greens candidate Peter Shaw (7.2 per cent, most of which will flow to Labor) might yet give them the 4.7 per cent boost they need to get ahead of the Liberals, in which case they would comfortably win the seat on Liberal preferences. The difference between the primary and notional two-party results suggest as many as 40 per cent of Nationals preferences were flowing to Labor (UPDATE: A Labor source writes to say it was more like a third, Labor’s other preferences coming from Fullarton; expects a significant proportion of Fullarton votes, including donkey votes, to go straight to Labor rather than helping the Nationals close their gap on the Liberals). However, it would have been a very different story in the Agricultural and South West region seats which the Nationals actually won, and to which their MPs will have to return after deciding which horse to back.

Kwinana. Independent candidate Carol Adams, who it must be said has reason to be displeased with the ALP, may have crowed too early when she expressed interest in the police and local government portfolios. As the count progressed her primary vote deficit against Labor increased from 15.4 per cent to 18.7 per cent, leaving her needing 77 per cent of preferences from the other candidates. Antony Green estimates she will receive 85 per cent, perhaps 90 per cent, of the 18.8 per cent Liberal vote. However, her share of other candidates’ votes (10.5 per cent Greens, 3.8 per cent Family First and 1.7 per cent for another independent) is likely to be in the high sixties. That makes it a very close call.

Alfred Cove. On Wednesday, The West Australian reported that Liberal candidate Chris Back was “closing” on independent member Janet Woollard, who led by just 20 votes. However, nothing has been heard since. Woollard trails Back 43.3 per cent to 25.3 per cent on the primary vote, and will need about 73 per cent of the preferences from Labor (20.3 per cent), the Greens (9.5 per cent) and the Christian Democratic Party (1.5 per cent).

In the upper house, the only certain result is the reliable North Metropolitan region, which has returned three Liberal, two Labor and one Greens member. The Liberals have also done very well to win three seats in the other two metropolitan regions, in which the Greens and the third Labor are fighting for the final seats. The Nationals have won two seats in Agricultural and are in what looks like a winning battle with Family First for a third, with the remainder going two Liberal and one Labor. South West also has the Nationals leading Family First in a contest for the final seat, the others going three Liberal and two Labor. The Nationals have also won one seat and possibly two in Mining and Pastoral, the second seat coming down to a fight with the Greens, while Labor and the Liberals have won two each.

Labor will thus win between 11 and 13 seats, and the Nationals three to six. Getting a Labor-Nationals Royalties for Regions deal through without the support of the Greens or Family First would require the best case scenario for both parties, which almost certainly won’t happen: the Greens are ahead in all three of their doubtful seats, to add to their certain win in North Metropolitan. The Liberals on the other hand will definitely have a majority of the 36 seats together with the Nationals, appearing almost certain to win 16 seats.

UPDATE: It’s confirmed that Labor is home in North West and Pilbara. The Sunday Times has a very interesting article on the Nationals’ deliberations, suggesting Warren Truss is desperately trying to talk Brendon Grylls out of a possible deal with Labor. Nationals MP Max Trenorden, an opponent of the Labor option, says he is “not going to say whether I am happy with the decision or not, but I’m certainly not going to commit suicide over it”.

Photo finishes (lower house): episode three

Labor needs to win four out of these five to be in a position to form a majority if John Bowler and Carol Adams (assuming she wins) support them.

ELECTION NIGHT
LATEST
ALP LIB Total ALP LIB Total
Riverton 8002 8034 16036 9534 9602 19136
Wanneroo 7299 7293 14592 10769 11014 21783
Albany 8182 8065 16247 9629 9572 19201
Forrestfield 8177 7935 16112 9581 9450 19031
Collie-Preston 8299 7883 16182 9909 9488 19397

Riverton. Going into the election with a 2.1 per cent margin, Labor’s Tony McRae has done remarkably well to remain in the hunt while some neighbouring seats were recording swings upwards of 6 per cent. Liberal candidate Mike Nahan has complained Labor pulled out all stops to retain this seat while fatally neglecting Jandakot and Southern River. Nahan nonetheless holds a 68 vote lead, which has widened by 18 since yesterday.

Wanneroo. This might be a similar story to the Riverton area in that Labor held back the tide in Joondalup, but were dumped in its safer neighbour Wanneroo. Labor member Dianne Guise led by six votes at the close of election night but it’s been one-way traffic ever since, Liberal candidate Paul Miles now believed to be ahead by 240. The swing was especially severe at the northern end of the electorate where the new development is concentrated: Carramar, Tapping and Banksia Grove accounted for 4908 booth votes compared with 2642 in 2005, and Labor’s share of that vote went from 61.4 per cent to 52.0 per cent. A similar story in this area helped the Liberals gain the corresponding seat of Cowan at the federal election.

Albany. Peter Watson is another Labor member who has performed outstandingly, picking up a 2.6 per to remain in the hunt in a seat that had been pulled from underneath him by redistribution. However, late counting has pared his lead back from 117 to 57 since Saturday. The Albany booths recorded an anti-Labor swing of just under 1 per cent, suggesting the swing to Labor in the Stirling parts of the electorate (where they played dead at previous elections) approached double digits. The Nationals vote was up from 5.1 per cent to 13.4 per cent, despite their nomination of a 20-year-old candidate.

Forrestfield. The Labor lead fell precipitously on Monday, but has since stabilised as counting proceeds slowly – with about 500 votes added today it’s gone from 115 to 131.

Collie-Preston. Labor’s Mick Murray looks home and hosed with a 421 vote lead and no trend against him.

Morley. The Liberal lead dipped intriguingly yesterday, but the rate slowed today with 691 new votes breaking only 356-335 to Labor, putting the lead at 375.