Yesterday’s papers: week two

Here’s two subscriber-only pieces I wrote for Crikey last week. The first is from Friday, and is showing its age only insofar as Centrebet is now offering $3.50 on a Liberal win.

For all that’s been said about the lessons of Northern Territory Labor’s near-defeat a fortnight ago, expectations that Alan Carpenter’s government will be comfortably returned in Western Australia are dying hard.

Saturday’s Newspoll showed 61 per cent of respondents expecting a Labor win, compared with 21 per cent for the Liberals. However, the poll put Labor’s two-party lead at just 51-49, and it was echoed by a 50-50 Westpoll result published the same day in The West Australian. This doesn’t seem to have impressed betting agency Centrebet, which has not revised its starting price of $4.25 for a Liberal win.

With just over a fortnight to go, Labor is taking to such perceptions with an axe. The process began on Wednesday when Alan Carpenter told television reporters his party faced a “knife-edge political situation”, and said he “always believed that we could lose”.

It was ratcheted up a notch yesterday morning when the ABC was told Labor had abandoned its most marginal seat of Kingsley to direct resources where it still had a chance. “Concern” was also expressed over Ocean Reef, Swan Hills, Riverton and Jandakot. The latter was particularly interesting, as just two weeks ago the party was trumpeting a 56-44 lead fuelled by gratitude over the Mandurah railway and Fiona Stanley Hospital projects.

Then came the real bombshell, courtesy of Geof Parry on the Channel Seven news: leaked polling across the five seats showed a swing to the Liberals of 7 per cent, which if consistent would give them 32 seats out of 59 along with another three for the Nationals. This was accompanied by findings that 57 per cent of respondents still expected Labor to win, while only 25 per cent thought the Liberals “ready to govern.

Later in the evening, a Labor candidate using a pseudonym wrote on my blog that the party’s strategy group was “cr-pping itself” over the data, which was “very real” and “not a tactic to scare voters”. Particular concern was expressed over the strategists’ failure to scotch the snowballing perception of Alan Carpenter as “arrogant” — a theme which has developed a life of its own since the early election was announced a fortnight ago.

When respondents to Saturday’s Westpoll survey were asked unprompted to name the single issue that would most influence their vote choice, fully 10 per cent responded with some variation on “Govt/Carpenter arrogance”. The apparent potency of this message has not been lost on the Liberals: the word “arrogant” appears twice, delivered with carefully modulated emphasis, in their latest 30-second radio advertisement.

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.

The second is from Monday: I should add that Wendy Duncan is a better chance than I believed at the time, as she has done very well on the preference tickets.

The range of issues turned up by state elections these days (law and order, hospital waiting lists, water supply) is usually so narrow it can be hard to tell one campaign from the next. Two concerns which don’t often rate a mention are equal opportunity and sexual harassment.

It is an indication of the extraordinary state of affairs in the WA Liberal Party that Labor is pursuing these unconventional lines of attack in its first negative advertising of the state election campaign. Commercial radio audiences are being targeted with ads in which a young girl declares her aspiration to grow up in “a place where women have a voice in the community” and “a society which respects women”. An older female voice then breaks the bad news that the Liberal Party “boys’ club” has “only one woman running in their held seats”, and that “Liberal Shadow Treasurer Troy Buswell thinks it’s funny to play with a woman’s bra in public and to sniff a woman’s chair”.

The two issues are closely related. As well as making him poison in the eyes of women voters, Buswell’s heavily publicised indiscretions clearly presented a stumbling block to the party’s efforts to recruit female candidates. His emergence as leader in January also coincided with the departure of the party’s existing two women in the lower house. Shadow Tourism Minister Katie Hodson-Thomas announced her retirement plans before entering the party room meeting that confirmed Buswell as leader, having earlier complained he had subjected her to “inappropriate” remarks in the presence of male colleagues (she admits to regretting the decision now her long-standing ally Colin Barnett is back at the helm). Shadow Attorney-General Sue Walker quit the party a fortnight later, citing factionalism and her lack of “trust” in Buswell. Walker will attempt to hold her seat of Nedlands as an independent against Bill Marmion, who won Liberal preselection as the only male nominee in a field of four.

One failure at least could be put down to misfortune rather than carelessness. When Barnett announced his retirement in February, the unopposed preselection nominee for his blue-ribbon seat of Cottesloe was Deidre Willmott, policy director for the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and a front-bench shoo-in. Willmott of course was compelled to stand aside when Barnett returned to the leadership a fortnight ago, and could not be persuaded with alternative offers of an upper house seat or a shot against Sue Walker in Nedlands. She has now been appointed chief-of-staff to Barnett and will no doubt take his place in Cottesloe if the Liberals lose the election, although this is not openly acknowledged.

When nominations closed on Friday, it was revealed the Liberals had managed a grand total of six female lower house candidates out of 58. Current polling suggests this will translate into two elected members out of about 24, both marginal seat newcomers with no obvious claim to a position on the front-bench. The situation is only slightly better in the upper house, where the most likely result will be four Liberal women out of 15. The Nationals too are likely to emerge with an all-male complement of three or four lower house MPs plus one in the upper house, unless their existing female MLC Wendy Duncan can pull off an unlikely win in Mining and Pastoral region.

The best Barnett has been able to make of the situation is to offer a front-bench position to Liz Constable, the long-standing independent member for the naturally Liberal western suburbs seat of Churchlands. Constable has been a notable presence alongside Barnett on the campaign trail, despite not yet having had much to say relating to her nominated portfolios of public sector management and government accountability.

Half-time report: upper house

As well as being the first conducted under one-vote one-value electoral boundaries for the lower house, the September 6 Western Australian election will also be the first to have a half-Senate style “six-by-six” arrangement. The six-region system was instituted in 1989, but until now there have been two regions with seven members and four with five. Neither the old nor the new arrangement amounts to “one-vote one-value” – both evenly divide membership between metropolitan and non-metropolitan zones, though the respective enrolment is 935,539 and 258,335. This was the agreement that was reached when the electoral reforms were passed shortly before the May 2005 changeover that gave effect to the February 2005 election result, the lag owing its existence to a quirk of WA’s constitutional arrangements (the results of the September 6 election will similarly not take effect in the upper house until May next year).

Labor’s retiring president of the Legislative Council, Nick Griffiths, complained in May that Attorney-General Jim McGinty had “shut out progressive reform in the Council to get an increased chance of winning in the Legislative Assembly” by instituting a system which, “short of a Labor landslide”, guaranteed a conservative upper house majority. He blamed this on McGinty’s insistence on cutting a deal with the Greens rather than the Liberals, with the former counter-intuitively prompting for the retention of rural vote weighting (I’m told this was on the insistence of senior figure and former Senator Dee Margetts, who declared herself intent on protecting the interests of the Agricultural region she represented). To get the numbers the backing also needed the backing of an outgoing Liberal-turned-independent member, Alan Cadby. However, Griffiths’ argument seems to overlook the point that the then Liberal leader, Matt Birney, had dealt his party out of the game by refusing to negotiate, so that he could boast the purity of the impotent with respect to one-vote one-value to regional constituents, including those in his own seat of Kalgoorlie.

It’s clear that a different seat of Greens MPs would prefer a one-vote one-value deal for the upper house, and such a reform would probably be instituted if the election result gives Labor and the Greens a collective majority. However, the analysis below indicates that the best Labor and the Greens combined can hope for is half the numbers in the new upper house. A creative maneuver by Labor to implement one-vote one-value during the government’s first term without the “absolute majority” required for constitutional amendments was ruled invalid by both the Supreme Court and the High Court in 2002 and 2003, so such a result would plainly be inadequate. In any case, it’s more likely that the upper house result will deliver Labor and the Greens 16 or 17 seats out of 36 against 19 or 20 to various parties of the right. The latter includes the Christian Democratic Party and Family First, who between them are unlikely to emerge empty-handed and might win as many as three seats.

Below is an assessment of the situation for the Legislative Council election, based on some fiddling with Antony Green’s indispensible election calculators. Also outlined below are the upper house preference tickets which reduce the situation to its essentials.


The Christian Democratic Party are a chance of a seat here if the swing against Labor is just the right size. They will get preferences from Family First, One Nation and serial independent John D. Tucak, who between them were worth over 0.5 of a quota in 2005. If that’s repeated this time and the Liberal vote is up from 32.2 per cent to around 35.5 per cent, CDP candidate Dwight Randall will remain ahead of third Liberal Alyssa Hayden and pick up her vote as preferences, which will add up to a quota and deliver Randall the seat. If the Liberal swing is too high, the result will be three Labor and three Liberal; if it’s too low, it will be three Labor, two Liberal and one Greens. Candidates assured of election are Jock Ferguson, Ljiljanna Ravlich and Linda Savage of Labor (only the second of whom is an incumbent), and incumbents Helen Morton and Donna Faragher (East Metropolitan being the exception to the rule of poor female representation in Liberal ranks).

Family First: CDP; Nationals; Liberal; Greens; Labor.
Labor: Greens; Family First; CDP; Liberal; Nationals.
Citizens Electoral Council: Liberal; Nationals; Greens; Labor; Family First; CDP.
Liberal: CDP; Nationals; Family First; Greens; Labor.
Greens: Labor; Family First; Nationals; Libreal; CDP.
Tom Hoyer: Nationals; Greens; CDP; Labor; Liberal; Family First.
One Nation: CDP; Family First; Nationals; Liberal; Greens; Labor.
Richard Nash: Greens; Labor; Nationals; Liberal; Family First; CDP.
John D Tucak: CDP; Family First; Nationals; Labor; Liberal; Greens.
Daylight Saving Party: Greens; Liberal; Family First; CDP: Labor; Nationals.


North Metropolitan contains the strong Liberal western suburbs, so there’s little prospect of the CDP overtaking their third candidate. Incumbent Peter Collier and newcomers Michael Mischin and Liz Behjat are thus assured of election. The question is who wins the third seat out of Labor number three Tim Daly and Greens incumbent Giz Watson. If there’s anything in the poll figures which have consistently had the Greens in double figures, Watson should be the favourite. Labor’s top two candidates are long-standing members Ken Travers and Ed Dermer.

Brian Peachey: CDP; Family First; Labor; Liberal; Nationals; Greens.
Citizens Electoral Council: Liberal; Nationals; CDP; Family First; Greens; Labor.
Christian Democratic Party: Family First; Labor; Liberal; Nationals; Greens.
Family First: CDP; Nationals; Liberal; Greens; Labor.
John Eyden: Family First; Liberal; Nationals; CDP; Greens; Labor.
Liberal: Nationals; CDP; Family First; Greens; Labor.
Labor: Greens; Family First; CDP; Liberals; Nationals.
Greens: Labor; Family First; Nationals; Liberal. CDP.
Douglas Greypower: Family First; CDP; Greens; Nationals; Liberal; Labor.
Eugene Hands: Greens; Liberal; Nationals; CDP; Family First; Labor.
Wally Morris: Nationals; Family First; CDP; Liberal; Greens; Labor.
Daylight Saving Party: Greens; Liberal; Family First; Labor; CDP; Nationals.
Christopher King: Family First; Greens; CDP; Nationals; Liberal; Labor.
One Nation: CDP; Family First; Nationals; Liberal; Greens; Labor.
Julie Gray: Greens; Labor; Liberal; Nationals; CDP; Family First.


It will be a pretty grim evening for Labor if they can’t manage three quotas here (their candidates are incumbents Sue Ellery and Kate Doust and newcomer Fiona Henderson), while the Liberals (whose top two shoo-ins are incumbent Simon O’Brien and newcomer Nick Goiran) aren’t so weak the CDP are likely to get a look-in. The question is who wins the final seat out of Liberal number three Phil Edman and Greens candidate Lynn MacLaren, who was briefly a member after filling a casual vacancy in late 2004. Edman will win the seat if the combined vote for the Liberals, CDP, Family First, One Nation and CEC adds up 42.9 per cent or three quotas. The first three collectively polled 41.0 per cent in 2005 (the CEC didn’t run), so the Greens might find the going tough.

Citizens Electoral Council: Liberal; CDP; Family First; Nationals; Labor; Greens.
Labor: Greens; Family First; CDP; Liberal; Nationals.
Christopher Oughton: Liberal; Greens; CDP; Family First; Nationals; Labor.
Christian Democratic Party: Family First; Liberal; Labor; Nationals; Labor; Greens.
Family First: CDP; Nationals; Liberal; Greens; Labor.
Eric Miller: CDP; Family First; Liberal; Nationals; Labor; Greens.
Liberal: Family First; CDP; Nationals; Greens; Labor.
Greens: Labor; Family First; Nationals; Liberal; CDP.
Nationals: Family First; CDP; Liberal; Labor; Greens.
Daylight Saving Party: Greens; Liberals; Family First; CDP; Labor; Nationals.
Steve Walker: Liberal; Labor; Nationals; Greens; Family First; CDP.
One Nation: CDP; Family First; Nationals; Liberal; Greens; Labor.


The Liberals are guaranteed two seats (Brian Ellis, who filled a casual vacancy in July 2007, and newcomer James Chown), Labor one (who won a seat in South West from number three on the ticket in 2005), and Nationals’ Avon MP Max Trenorden will have little trouble succeeding in his bid to move upstairs. Labor are likely to win a second seat for newcomer Darren West, but could lose it to third Liberal Chris Wilkins if there’s a big enough swing. The last seat is likely to go either to Christian Democratic Party candidate Mac Forsyth or Liberal-turned-Family First member Anthony Fels. Both are ahead of the Liberals on most tickets, including the Greens in Family First’s case. It’s likely to come down to whether Forsyth can either overtake One Nation or outpoll the combined vote for Fels, New Country and independent Shelley Posey. It’s surprisingly hard to construct a scenario where a third Liberal seat comes at the expense of either of these two rather than Labor.

Labor: Greens; Family First; CDP; Nationals; Liberal; One Nation.
Shelly Posey: Family First; CDP; One Nation; Nationals; Liberal; Labor; Greens.
Citizens Electoral Council: Liberal; Nationals; Family First; CDP; One Nation; Labor; Greens.
Liberal: Nationals; CDP; Family First; Greens; Labor; One Nation.
Greens: Labor; Family First; Nationals; Liberal; CDP.
Family First: CDP; Nationals; One Nation; Liberal; Greens; Labor.
Christian Democratic Party: Family First; Nationals; One Nation; Liberal; Labor; Greens.
Nationals: CDP; Family First; One Nation; Liberal; Labor; Greens.
New Country: Family First; CDP; One Nation; Nationals; Labor; Greens; Liberal.
One Nation: CDP; Family First; Nationals; Liberal; Greens; Labor.


Much depends here on the destination of the 5.9 per cent recorded in 2005 by the independent John Fischer-Graham Campbell ticket. This region is not traditionally strong territory for the Nationals, but they have a dream run on preferences and Wendy Duncan has at least some chance of overtaking third Liberal Mark Lewis and winning a third conservative seat. There is likely to be a parallel contest for a third “left” seat between third Labor candidate Jim Murie and Robin Chapple of the Greens, who was a member here from 2001 to 2005. Certain winners are Labor’s Jon Ford and Helen Bullock, respectively an incumbent and a newcomer, and Liberal incumbents Norman Moore and Ken Baston.

Greens: Labor; Nationals; Family First; One Nation; Liberal; CDP.
Nationals: CDP; Family First; One Nation; Liberal; Labor; Greens.
Labor: Greens; Family First; CDP; Nationals; Liberal; One Nation.
Christian Democratic Party: Nationals; Family First; One Nation; Liberal; Labor; Greens.
Liberal: Nationals; Family First; CDP; Greens; Labor; One Nation.
Citizens Electoral Council: Liberal; Family First; One Nation; CDP; Nationals; Greens; Labor.
Family First: Nationals; CDPl One Nation; Liberal; Greens; Labor.
One Nation: Nationals; CDP; Family First; Liberal; Greens; Labor.
Daylight Saving Party: Greens; CDP; Liberal; Labor; Nationals; One Nation.
New Country: Family First; CDP; One Nation; Nationals; Liberal; Labor; Greens.


Unless there’s a fairly solid swing against Labor, this should split three-all between left and right. If there’s a third left seat, it will go to either John Mondy of Labor or incumbent Paul Llewellyn of the Greens (Labor incumbents Sally Talbot and Adele Farina are assured of election). If the right win four, three will go to Liberal (incumbents Robyn McSweeney, Nigel Hallett and Barry House, who all won preselection ahead of former leader Paul Omodei, who refused to stand and fight for the lower house seat of Blackwood-Stirling) and one to Liberal-turned-Family First member Dan Sullivan, unless the Nationals perform very strongly in which case their candidate Colin Holt might edge ahead of Sullivan. If they win three, the third seat will be down to Sullivan and third Liberal Barry House.

Nationals: Family First; CDP; One Nation; Liberal; Labor; Greens.
Family First: CDP; Nationals; One Nation; Liberal; Greens; Labor.
Labor: Greens; CDP; Nationals; Family First; Liberal; One Nation.
Christian Democratic Party: Family First; Nationals; One Nation; Liberal; Labor; Greens.
Elaine Green: Family First; CDP; One Nation; Nationals; Liberal; Labor; Greens.
Greens: Labor Family First; Nationals; One Nation; Liberal; CDP.
Citizens Electoral Council: Liberal; Nationals; Family First; CDP; One Nation; Labor; Greens.
Liberal: Family First; CDP; Nationals; Greens; Labor; One Nation.
One Nation: CDP; Family First; Nationals; Liberal; Greens; Labor.
Filip Gugilemana: Family First; CDP; Liberal; Nationals; One Nation; Labor; Greens.
Daylight Saving Party: Greens; Liberal; Family First; Labor; Nationals; One Nation.
New Country: Family First; CDP; One Nation; Nationals; Nationals; Labor; Greens; Liberal.

WA election minus 16 days

• Call it expectations management if you will, but Labor is sending out strong signals that it is in big trouble despite what the betting markets think (Centrebet continues to offer $1.18 for Labor and $4.25 for Liberal). Yesterday Alan Carpenter spoke of his party being in a “knife-edge political situation”. Geof Parry of Seven News has today been told internal polling shows Labor headed for defeat on the back of a 7 per cent swing, although two-thirds expect them to win. The ABC was told the party had given up on its most marginal seat of Kingsley (although local resident Bogart writes in comments that he has “received calls and stuff in letter box last night”), and is “concerned” about Riverton and Swan Hills (with respective post-redistribution margins of 2.1 per cent and 3.6 per cent, and a prematurely outgoing sitting member in the latter case), as well as the new seats of Ocean Reef (notional margin of 1.6 per cent) and Jandakot (3.6 per cent). The latter comes as a surprise, as Labor was earlier trumpeting polling showing it ahead 56-44, and should presumably have cause for optimism due to the Fiona Stanley Hospital and Perth to Mandurah rail line.

• Upper house voting tickets were lodged on Monday, and can most easily be perused at ABC Elections. A lot more on this shortly. The Nationals have predictably backed off from their threats to preference Labor ahead of the Liberals depending on the reception to its push for 25 per cent of mining and petroleum royalties to be invested in regional areas. However, they have put Family First and the Christian Democratic Party ahead of the Liberals, which could yet turn up some interesting results. Surprisingly, the party is fielding candidates in all three metropolitan upper house regions. Their lower house card can be read here, though it’s hard to make sense of if you can’t put names to parties.

• The Greens are directing preferences to Labor in most places where it matters, but are offering open tickets in Morley (where ex-Labor incumbent John D’Orazio is running as an independent), Mount Lawley, Pilbara and Kimberley (despite its female indigenous incumbent). They will preference the Nationals ahead of the Liberals in Wagin and Central Wheatbelt, but are yet to declare their hand in Blackwood-Stirling and Moore.

• Monday’s West Australian released further results from last week’s Westpoll survey, providing unprompted responses to the question of “key issue in voting decision”. It indicates the meme of Alan Carpenter’s “arrogance” has caught on, with 10 per cent listed as nominating “Govt/Carpenter arrogance”. Other responses were 19 per cent for health, 12 per cent for law and order, 11 per cent for environment, 10 per cent for education and 10 per cent for “cost of living/economics”.

• The leaders’ debate will be held on Monday, the day after the Olympics closing ceremony, and screened as part of an hour-long edition of Channel Nine’s A Current Affair. Nine will reportedly have to air it unedited after the event as it lacks the facilities to screen it live.

Antony Green concurs with Peter Brent’s assessment that Saturday’s Newspoll should have put Labor’s lead at 52-48 rather than 51-49, and provides much detail on minor party preference flows at the 2005 election.

• The surprise early election announcement has resulted in a dramatic drop in the number of candidates, from 375 lower house candidates in 2005 to 161.

• Click here for audio of my appearance on Jennifer Byrne’s program on News Radio on Tuesday. Readers in the fashionable end of town can enjoy more of my media tartery in the latest edition of Western Suburbs Weekly.

• Joe Poprzeczny’s State Scene columns for WA Business News generally deserve wider coverage, so here’s an extract from his assessment in last week’s issue. I personally am standing by my existing assumption that any minority government will be a Liberal one, unless John D’Orazio or John Bowler get up in Morley and Kalgoorlie:

To begin analysing the possibilities it’s important to keep the number 30 in mind, because that’s how many seats a side must win in the 59-member lower house to form government … However, even if one or two seats in the ‘quite solid’ category tumbled into the Barnett dilly-bag, there are others outside the 29-seat category that could go the other way, that is, fall out of the Barnett dilly-bag into the Carpenter-McGinty sack. Consider the Barnett-led camp’s following problems. The first that needs highlighting within those remaining 30 seats is that four – Wagin, Central Wheatbelt, Moore and Blackwood-Stirling – are set to be won by the Brendon Grylls-led Nationals, which leaves Mr Barnett only a possible 26 seats remaining. Moreover, Mr Grylls has made it clear that he and his three lower house colleagues aren’t interested in being ministers. In other words, forget dreaming about another conservative coalition …

Mr Barnett, even if he does well, by which State Scene means if he wins 26 seats, would at best only be able to form a minority government, one relying on the four Nationals who wouldn’t join him in coalition. And it’s here that an entirely new factor – one that’s so far been overlooked – walks onto WA’s political stage. Let’s say Mr Carpenter wins all his impregnable-to-quite-solid Labor seats, giving him 29 seats, one short of being able to form government. And let’s say Mr Barnett wins the remaining 26 minus the four National seats, which is far from certain. What would that mean? Firstly, it puts the Nationals in a potent position to start talking turkey, as they say in the bush, on which side to support and under what conditions. Secondly, when it comes to offering the power to form a government surely WA Governor Ken Michael would feel under some obligation to offer the majority party – in this case Labor – the first offer of the Treasury benches since they’d have 29 MPs, to 26 non-Laborites plus the four Nationals …

Among those 26 seats are several that Mr Barnett is likely to have great difficulty winning, if indeed he even stands Liberal candidates. State Scene puts no fewer than six into this group. They include the three held by Independent Liberals – Janet Woollard, Liz Constable and Sue Walker. True, efforts are being made to coax them across, and he may succeed in one or two cases. But only a brave person would predict all three women can be counted on to offer him full and unconditional backing. This qualification may not trim the 26-seat number down to 23 seats, but it certainly means the 26 figure is far from rock solid. Moreover, many Liberals have been viewing the two provincial seats of Geraldton and Albany as set to fall into their dilly-bag. That, however, remains a brave prediction with their current Labor incumbents – Shane Hill and Peter Watson, respectively – far from easy marks. And there’s another problem; the seat of Kalgoorlie, which Mr Birney isn’t contesting. Although many see Kalgoorlie as being Liberal on the basis of the past two elections, that’s a brave claim since those figures reflect Mr Birney’s two performances. With Mr Birney now out of the race, and with sacked Labor minister, John Bowler, contesting Kalgoorlie as Independent Labor, it’s quite likely to go to him or Labor candidate, Mathew Cuomo, rather than to a Liberal. If Mr Bowler wins Kalgoorlie he’d be able to negotiate himself into becoming lower house speaker if Labor found itself with only 29 seats. And the Liberals are far from assured of winning Collie-Preston that’s being contested by their frontbencher, Steve Thomas, who faces a tough fight.

Yesterday’s papers

Below are two pieces on the Western Australian election which I wrote for Crikey earlier in the campaign. A third piece on the Liberals’ paucity of female candidates, published yesterday, remains subscriber only.

The first is from Friday, August 8, the day after the election was called:

Yesterday’s announcement of a snap election for September 6 was the second bombshell to hit WA politics this week, following Troy Buswell’s surprise resignation as Liberal leader on Monday. Uncharitable observers are making comparison to the events of 3 February 1983, when Malcolm Fraser sprang an opportunistic double dissolution on federal Labor in the failed expectation of locking the party in behind Bill Hayden. The distinction of course is that Alan Carpenter was aware the opportunity to face the disastrous Troy Buswell had already been lost three days earlier.

As always when an early election is announced, few are buying the official explanation that a poll is needed to “end the cynicism” and “clear the air”, particularly in light of Labor policy supporting fixed four-year terms. Opportunism being the name of the game, Carpenter would plainly have done better to have gone last week, with a recent poll suggesting Buswell was weighing the Liberal vote down by as much as 6 per cent. Even so, there remains an overwhelming perception that Labor is in the box seat. Centrebet is offering a mere $1.18 for a Labor victory, against $4.25 for the Liberals.

The precedents for pre-election leadership changes have certainly not been promising, at least since Bob Hawke’s time: Robert Doyle in Victoria, Kerry Chikarovski in New South Wales and Bob Cheek in Tasmania all led state Liberal parties into the electoral mincer less than a year after taking the reins. The WA Liberals are further encumbered by the fact that Colin Barnett is their fourth leader this term, and they must also overcome new electoral arrangements that will require a notional gain of nine seats in a chamber of 59 to form even a minority government.

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.

The second is from last Wednesday. My assertion that the 2001 result was “unexpected” was contested in comments by Bernie Masters, who at the time was the Liberal member for Vasse. I personally was living in Melbourne, so Masters might well be thought a better judge.

Hardly an analysis of Labor’s surprise close shave in the Northern Territory has failed to make note of the other campaign in progress in Western Australia. Certainly the two elections have much in common: both involve Labor governments that came to power unexpectedly in 2001, seeking third terms after a mid-term leadership change. However, the main cause of excitement has been that both Alan Carpenter and Paul Henderson rushed to the polls ahead of schedule, acting with all the cynicism that early elections invariably entail.

Henderson’s decision to go 11 months early was made on the pretext that an environment of “certainty” was needed to assist the Territory’s bid for the Inpex gas plant, which failed to ring true given the Opposition’s equal enthusiasm for the project. How much this had to do with the result is hard to say. The conventional wisdom has been that bad publicity attending early election announcements is usually washed away by the tide of the campaign, leaving more pragmatic concerns to guide voters’ judgements on polling day.

Certainly there are alternative explanations for the Northern Territory election, not least that it was a correction after an extraordinary result in 2005 that had no parallel in Western Australia. No party should ever feel pleased with a swing of over 8 per cent, but Northern Territory Labor still recorded its second best ever result in primary vote terms and equal second in terms of seats. There is also the fact that the party had effectively knifed the leader who delivered them the 2005 landslide, for reasons that would have seemed obscure to those without their noses to the political grindstone.

In one sense the early election in WA is a less extreme circumstance in that Carpenter has gone only five months ahead of time, after laying the groundwork with talk of a “dysfunctional” parliament that had most bracing for a poll in October. However, of more significance than the timing was the political context: Carpenter called the election on Thursday just one day after Colin Barnett returned to the Liberal leadership, clearly having fast-tracked the existing timetable to catch his opponent off balance.

The historical record provides some support for the idea that early elections comes with risks attached. John Howard’s near-defeat in October 1998 came five months ahead of time, as did Bob Hawke’s disappointing performance in December 1984 (the 1983 double dissolution meant a half-Senate election had to be held no later than mid-1985). Jeff Kennett went six months early with both his bids for re-election, with respectively unremarkable and disastrous results. Those with longer memories might recall Labor’s unexpected defeat in South Australia in 1979, when Des Corcoran surprised his own party by going a full year early. On the other hand, Peter Beattie performed strongly in 2006 when he like Carpenter opted for a September poll that wasn’t due until February.

If the effect varies according to circumstance, Carpenter’s early poll might still be said to have a lot going for it. While the Liberals have been busy retooling their advertising campaign around a new leader, Carpenter has been able to trumpet his government’s achievements to mass television audiences captured by the Olympics. There is also talk from political insiders of empty Liberal Party coffers, which might have been filled if Barnett had been given more time to restore the party’s electoral credibility.

Westpoll: 50-50; Newspoll: 51-49 to Labor

A polling bonanza for the Western Australian election, with a 51-49 result in Labor’s favour from Newspoll (UPDATE: Scanned graphic courtesy of James J; Peter Brent at Mumble doesn’t like the look of a mere 51-49 lead to Labor from even primary vote figures) and a comprehensive Westpoll survey in The West Australian. The latter includes a 50.2-49.8 statewide result in Labor’s favour from a sample of 400, plus electorate-level surveys of 400 voters from Scarborough (notional Liberal margin of 2.4 per cent, Liberals lead 52-48), Kingsley (notionally lineball, Liberals lead 54-46), Collie-Preston (notional Labor margin 0.9 per cent, 50-50), Kalamunda (notional Liberal margin 0.2 per cent, Liberals lead 54-46) and Riverton (notional Labor margin 2.1 per cent, Liberals lead 51-49). Full scan here. Other highlights of the past week:

• Nominations closed at noon yesterday, and the Poll Bludger election guide has accordingly been brought up to date with full candidate lists. A key feature is the late withdrawal of a large number of much-touted independent candidates. Two Labor-turned-independent MPs who had earlier planned on running evidently saw the writing on the wall: one-time Health Minister and Yokine MP Bob Kucera, who was earlier deliberating over whether to contest Nollamara or Mount Lawley, and Shelley Archer, the wife of CFMEU heavy Kevin Reynolds who was dumped from the party over dealings with Brian Burke, earlier weighing her options in Kimberley and her existing upper house seat in Mining and Pastoral region. On the other side of politics, former leader Paul Omodei has decided against nominating after most recently suggesting he would run for the South West upper house region. Troy Buswell’s predecessor as member for Vasse, Bernie Masters, has decided not to run against him after very nearly defeating him as an independent in 2005. The only remaining major party renegade still in the hunt is Ballajura MP John D’Orazio, contesting the new seat of Morley.

• Robert Taylor of The West Australian noted the Liberals’ unreadiness for the campaign in an article on Thursday, identifying two reasons for their lack of television advertising thus far: “The first is that they’re simply not ready. When the election was called, the Liberals did not even have advertising concepts in the can for former leader Troy Buswell, let alone a leader who had only been elected the previous day. The second is that they are woefully underfunded and Olympic period television advertising is extremely expensive. Labor is said to have booked significant airspace during the Olympics for about $250,000 … Liberal television advertisements are not expected to hit the airwaves until the Olympics are over, giving them roughly 10 days to establish their message before the media blackout comes into effect at midnight on the Wednesday before the poll.”

• On which subject, eastern states viewers can view the Labor television ad on the ALP site. Western Australian readers will have seen it a million times already. Interesting to note that the front page of the site includes a defence of the early election announcement.

• The Liberals do at least have two radio ads, both negative, which can be heard here. Message common to both: “If you couldn’t make things work with eight years of boom, what’s going to happen now that things are slowing down, prices are rising and interest rates are up?”

• Labor has also chosen the medium of radio to field its first negative ads, which fascinatingly pursue the theme of Liberal Party sexism: not conventional election campaign fodder, but well worth a run under the present extraordinary circumstances. As well as the lingering image problem from Troy Buswell’s tenure as leader, the Liberals can boast just one female candidate in a notionally Liberal lower house seat, and precious few in winnable Labor seats. The message is conveyed by a young girl declaring her aspirations for when she grows up, and the unlikelihood of them being realised through the vehicle of the Liberal Party. If you’re up early this morning (7am Saturday) you might hear me discussing the subject on the ABC’s AM program (UPDATE: Read and hear it here). More on the women candidates issue from Andrea Mayes of the Sunday Times.

• An interesting assessment of the overall situation from Kim Beazley in an article for WAToday, who in tipping a cliffhanger reminds readers that “the blue-collar component of the WA electorate is half that of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, and 50 per cent less than Brisbane”, and that “a large non-English speaking background electorate so richly supportive of Labor in the east” is “likewise missing”.

• The Liberals have landed an interesting candidate in the safe Labor southern suburbs seat of Cockburn: Corruption and Crime Commission intelligence analyst Donald Barrett, who has taken leave without pay from his position to stand against Energy Minister Fran Logan. Jessica Strutt of The West Australian reports that “some Labor MPs are simply paranoid about the Barrett factor – more particularly the ‘dirt’ he may have”.

• The Prime Minister was on the campaign trail in the northern outskirts seat of Mindarie on Thursday as Alan Carpenter announced a $147.5 million extension of the northern rail line.

• Deidre Willmott, who stood aside in Cottesloe to allow Colin Barnett to rescind his retirement plans, has been appointed Barnett’s chief-of-staff. There seems little doubt she will realise her claim to Cottesloe at a by-election if the Liberals fail to win government.

• State political editor Peter Kennedy told ABC Radio on Monday that a Labor source had revealed polling in Swan Hills showing 69 per cent believed the Liberals were not ready to govern, but clammed up when probed about voting intention or figures from other seats. However, Labor has been openly trumpeting polling from Jandakot showing them leading 56-44.

• Former Labor MP and lobbying kingpin MP John Halden made the eyebrow-raising claim in an article in Monday’s West Australian that Ben Wyatt, who replaced Geoff Gallop as member for Victoria Park in March 2006, would succeed Alan Carpenter as Premier before the next election. The following day he told the paper it was “no secret” in Labor ranks he was being groomed for the job.

• Crikey subscribers can read me having two bob each way on the relevance of the Northern Territory precedent.

WA election minus 28 days

Joe Spagnolo of the Sunday Times reports that the Liberal internal polling that persuaded Troy Buswell to go showed that even with Buswell as leader the party would have retained Bunbury (Liberal-held but notionally Labor post-redistribution) and won the notionally knife-edge new eastern suburbs seat of Kalamunda. However, they were trailing slightly in the must-win seats of Albany (Labor-held but now notionally Liberal) and Kingsley (northern suburbs, Labor-held, notionally line-ball). A report from Robert Taylor of The West Australian suggests the poll showed them winning all four if Barnett was leader, by a margin of 60-40 in Bunbury. However, Taylor also reports Labor polling is believed to give them a “nice buffer”.

• Independent Churchlands MP Liz Constable has been included in the new shadow cabinet, with the public sector management and government accountability portfolios: smartly chosen in the context of an election campaign that will emphasise Brian Burke and ministerial sackings, but potentially very dangerous thereafter. The formerly estranged Rob Johnson and Graham Jacobs (members for Hillarys and Roe, with the latter set to contest the new seat of Eyre) are back on the board.

• It now seems likely the Liberals will be unable to accommodate Deidre Willmott, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry policy adviser who had to abandon Cottesloe so Colin Barnett could shelve his retirement plans. This leaves the Liberals with a grand total of four female lower house candidates out of the 43 nominated so far: Liza Harvey in the marginal Liberal new northern suburbs seat of Scarborough, Andrea Mitchell and Milly Zuvella in Kingsley and Joondalup further north (respectively line-ball and marginal Labor) and Ruth Webb-Smith in long-shot Kimberley.

• Today’s West Australian reports that outgoing Carine MP Katie Hodson-Thomas is ruing her decision to retire, made on the day Troy Buswell became leader. Hodson-Thomas complained Buswell had made “inappropriate comments” to her in front of male colleagues.

• The West Australian’s Gary Adshead reports that Sue Walker, the Liberal-turned-independent member for Nedlands, is yet to have nominated for the election, prompting speculation she was “throwing in the towel”. Walker responded by telling Adshead that a man had come into her electorate office to say her “life was in danger”, but that “providing there’s nothing that stands between me and the close of nominations, I intend to nominate”.

• Alan Carpenter has announced a re-elected Labor government will spend $160 million rebuilding Albany Regional Hospital, after earlier committing only to a $55 million redevelopment. Albany was won by Labor in 2001 and retained by a 1.4 per cent margin in 2005, but the one-vote one-value redistribution has turned it into a 2.3 per cent Liberal seat by expanding it into rural areas beyond the city limits.

• In other policy news, the Kimberley canal is officially off the agenda of a first-term Liberal government. Word is that the once-bitten twice-shy Barnett will pursue a “small target” strategy.

• If you’re a Crikey subscriber, you can my read quick overview from today’s email. The upshot is that the Liberals are a better chance than the $4.25 being offered by Centrebet suggests.

UPDATE (9/8/08): The Sunday Times reports Labor polling conducted after the Liberal leadership change shows Labor leading 56-44 in the new seat of Jandakot, which has a notional Labor margin of 3.6 per cent.

It’s September 6

ABC Radio reports Alan Carpenter will go to Government House this afternoon to call a Western Australian state election for September 6. More to follow: yet-to-be-revised Buswell-era seat-by-seat election guide here. Hat tip to Zombie Mao.

UPDATE: Rather than do any actual work, I am republishing below the bulk of a post from a few weeks ago which was soon superseded by the Westpoll post. Elsewhere: “analysts” rate the snap election decision a blunder; Joe Spagnolo of the Sunday Times offers a non-exhaustive list of “seats to watch”; audio from ABC state political editor Peter Kennedy and Curtin University academic David Black; analysis from Tony Barrass of The Australian. The Liberals are off to a good start: John McGrath has quit the front bench, after being contentiously retained by Troy Buswell when the Corruption and Crime Commission found he had been involved in dubious dealings with Brian Burke.

When surveying the electoral landscape, one factor asserts itself with a force that makes all the sniffed chairs, snapped bras, lifted shirts and exposed Prince Alberts pale into insignifiance: the “one-vote one-value” redistribution (that at least is how it’s been marketed, but that’s a subject for another time). Going by the post-redistribution pendulum, you would never know that Labor was currently one seat away from minority government (at least when taking into account the three ex-Labor independents, which the pendulum doesn’t do). This is because the notional margins determined by Antony Green suggest Labor would have won 38 seats rather than 32 if the 2005 election had been held on the new boundaries. In the crude terms of uniform swings, the Liberals will need 51.4 per cent of the two-party preferred vote to be in contention for minority government (for a swing of 3.6 per cent), and as much as 2 per cent extra if they’re to go all the way.

2005 Election 24 8 2 34 8 15 23
Redistribution 32 8 2 42 6 11 17

The creation of eight new seats in the metropolitan area was always going to be good news for Labor, which holds 70 per cent of its seats. Even so, it seems remarkable that all eight have found their way to the Labor column. The Liberals do have the marginal new seat of Scarborough, but elsewhere they lose Serpentine-Jarrahdale as part of an unhelpful carve-up of the outer suburbs. An appreciation of the situation can be gained by breaking the area into six pieces: two zones of Labor and one of Liberal heartland, and three where the election will be decided. These are outlined in the map below (indicated by the black lines: the blue ones are upper house region boundaries), with electorates colour-coded to indicate party margins (ranging in Labor’s case from lightest red for under 2.5 per cent to deep red for over 15 per cent).

Inland outskirts. The luck of the draw has turned two Labor and two Liberal seats into three Labor and one Liberal, but all could go either way. Liberal-held Serpentine-Jarrahdale has been divided among four notionally Labor seats, while Darling Range is mixed with abolished Kenwick in a manner that produces one highly marginal seat (Kalamunda) and one that is relatively safe for Labor (Forrestfield). The new seat of Darling Range owes more to Serpentine-Jarrahdale than the old Darling Range, emerging with a slight notional Labor margin.

Riverside and northern beaches. The all-blue strip along the western beaches now accounts for five Liberal seats instead of four, although Labor would win Scarborough in a good year. The riverside seats of Nedlands, Alfred Cove, South Perth and Bateman (formerly Murdoch) have all maintained their identity. Three of the nine seats in the riverside and northern beaches region are held by conservative independents.

Northern mortgage belt. Further north is the volatile mortgage belt, where the new coastal seat of Ocean Reef has muscled in among four existing electorates. All are Labor or notionally so (Kingsley has been left white on the map as it is a statistical dead heat), but most if not all are likely to shift with the next change of government – as the northern suburbs did in 1983, 1993 and 2001.

Eastern suburbs. The really good news for Labor is that there are now 15 seats in its inner suburban heartland from Girrawheen east to Midland and south to Armadale, including the new seats of Nollamara, West Swan, Cannington and Gosnells. The only cost for them is that safe-ish Yokine (margin of 8.2 per cent) has turned into marginal-ish Mount Lawley (5.8 per cent).

Southern coastal. This safe Labor strip is now accommodated by six seats instead of five, with Kwinana created from the south of Cockburn and the north of Peel (the remainder of which is now called Warnbro).

South-eastern. Southern River and Riverton are joined by Jandakot: all are Labor marginals, the margin in Southern River having been cut from 11.8 per cent to 5.1 per cent.

Then there are the cutbacks in the country, which owing to the “large district allowance” have impacted on conservative areas in the south-west (like I said, a subject for another time). The exception is the effective abolition of the vast Mining and Pastoral region seat of Murchison-Eyre (held by Labor-turned-independent John Bowler) and its replacement with Eyre, which more closely resembles the abolished Liberal-held seat of Roe as it includes Esperance and Ravensthorpe. This has involved the transfer of Esperance and Ravensthorpe from the Agricultural upper house region to Mining and Pastoral, cutting Agricultural’s enrolment from 93,886 to 82,479. Thus truncated, the Agricultural region now has four lower house seats in place of seven. As well as the disappearance of Roe, Liberal-held Moore has essentially absorbed Nationals-held Greenough, while the two Nationals seats of Merredin and Avon have merged into Central Wheatbelt.

The South West region has gone from 11 seats to eight, which can roughly be explained as Leschenault being absorbed by Murray (now Murray-Wellington), Capel being absorbed by Vasse and Collie-Wellington (now Collie-Preston), and Liberal-held Warren-Blackwood merging with Nationals-held Stirling to form Blackwood-Stirling. The remaining development to be noted is the expansion of Bunbury, Albany and Geraldton, each of which has shifted from one party column to the other. Bunbury is the largest of the three cities, such that the Liberal-held seat has been able to expand into Labor-voting southern suburbs which were previously accommodated by Capel. Albany and Geraldton on the other hand are Labor-held seats which have had to expand into surrounding conservative rural territory. However, this does not mean they are going to fall into the Liberals’ lap: Labor’s past lack of campaigning effort in the rural areas means they are stronger here than the margins suggest.

Westpoll: Barnett Liberal landslide in WA

The West Australian, which has been gunning hard for the removal of Troy Buswell from the Liberal leadership for the past week, has published a “snap” Westpoll survey of 400 votes showing the Liberals would lead 57-43 on two-party preferred if Colin Barnett was leader. It also finds they would be in front even with Buswell at the helm, but only by 51-49. One normally likes to exercise caution in interpreting poll results, but I think it can be stated with confidence that the latter finding is definitely wrong. This means we can either dismiss the poll as rubbish and pay it no further mind, or take the view that the six-point difference says something enormously significant about the Liberal leadership even if it does come from a dud sample. Excitingly, the paper reports that the election “could be called as early as tomorrow”.

UPDATE: Click here for a timely trip down memory lane, back to a month before the 2005 election.

UPDATE 2: The following questions are not meant to indicate a conspiratorial mindset: they are merely questions that have sprung to my mind, as questions sometimes do.

• What do the dashes following “don’t know” indicate? That all but a statistically insignificant number of respondents did know, or that those who didn’t have been excluded from the calculation?

• Why would you lump “informal” together with “other”, rather than with “don’t know”?

• Given that this has been done, we can ascertain that the “others” vote is less than 4 per cent under Buswell, or less than 2 per cent under Barnett. This compares with 11.2 per cent at the 2005 election and between 8 per cent and 12 per cent in the past six Newspoll surveys. The Greens vote at least is in the ballpark of the 2005 election, down only from 7.6 per cent to 7 per cent (The West Australian rarely provides figures for the Greens, but on the four occasions it has done so in the previous year they have been between 8 per cent and 11 per cent). In the current political environment, would we really expect the combined major party vote to have shot from 81.2 per cent at the election to either 88 per cent (under Buswell) or 89 per cent (under Barnett)? The two Newspoll surveys this year have had it at 80 per cent and 76 per cent.

• Shouldn’t we expect the 7 per cent of respondents who would vote Coalition under Barnett but not Buswell to be largely parking their votes with minor parties or independents, rather than going straight for Labor?

UPDATE 3 (28/7/08): Robert Taylor in The West Australian:

Troy Buswell will not step side and Colin Barnett will not challenge for the Liberal leadership despite overwhelming evidence that the Cottesloe MP is the party’s best chance of defeating Alan Carpenter’s Labor Government at the coming election. Mr Barnett again made it clear yesteday that he was availbale to lead the Liberals despite having already announced his retirement at the next election. But Mr Buswell was adamant that no one had asked him to step down in favour of the former Opposition leader and he intended continuing in the role. And Mr Buswell received strong support from Liberal Party president Barry Court, who clutched a Bible as he said the chair-sniffing, bra-snapping Opposition Leader had shown strength to push through his problems and was beginning to have an impact on the Government in the polls.

UPDATE 4 (29/7/08): Peter Kennedy reports on ABC TV news that “Labor strategists have put a plan to the Premier” for an election on September 13 or September 20, thereby preventing the resumption of parliament in two weeks.

UPDATE 5 (4/8/08): Buswell quits.