Pittwater by-election live

. McTaggart Nicolaou CDP IND GRN DEM
Primary 40.2 38.2 8.2 6.0 7.5 0.9
Swing -22.3 +5.3 -6.5 -1.2
Two-Candidate 56.1% 43.9% 82% COUNTED

8.36pm. News report on ABC Online.

8.32pm. The last reporting booth, Avalon (the electorate’s second biggest), has added insult to injury – the only booth with a primary vote majority for McTaggart, his two-candidate vote was 65.6 per cent. His overall raw two-candidate vote is now up to 55.9 per cent, so it seems my calculations were doing their job.

8.30pm. Only the two-candidate result from Avalon still to come. I have McTaggart on 56.1 per cent, compared with a raw figure of 54.6 per cent.

8.23pm. I somehow failed to notice that the large (9.5 per cent) Avalon booth had yet to submit its results earlier. It’s the biggest booth in McTaggart’s Northern Ward and its result has further widened his lead.

8.15pm. Most of the two-party count is now in. The SEO has McTaggart with 54.4 per cent and Nicolaou on 45.6 per cent. Special votes evidently lean particularly in the Liberals’ favour because my projection has McTaggart on 53.0 per cent. Either way, the outcome is not in doubt. After earlier having laughed off Liberal talk of a primary vote below 40 per cent and a 46.5-53.5 defeat on two-candidate, I now promise never to disbelieve a politician again.

7.58pm. An ordinary night at the office for the Greens, whose supporters have evidently jumped on the Alex McTaggart bandwagon. Those who thought the Democrats had already hit rock bottom have been given cause to think again. Patricia Giles and Robert Dunn both polled disappointingly.

7.55pm. The last primary vote figures for the night are in, from Mona Vale (10.2 per cent) and Mona Vale Beach (3.4 per cent). Nicolaou at least led on the primary vote in these booths, but in both the Liberal vote was down 23.1 per cent.

7.50pm. Now to survey the damage. The Liberals did not do quite so badly outside of the Pittwater Council area – the lost about 15 per cent of the primary vote in Narrabean and 12.7 per cent in Terrey Hills. But within the council area their vote was down almost half, generally moving from the sixties to the upper thirties.

7.44pm. Well, I got one thing right – my preference estimates were all but perfect. Results from four booths show McTaggart getting 49.5 per cent (I gave him half), Nicolau getting 16.1 per cent (my guess was 16.6 per cent) and 34.4 per cent exhausting (33.3 per cent for me).

7.41pm. Another flurry of results leaves only two booths to be counted, one of which is Mona Vale, the electorate’s largest. But with McTaggart ahead on the primary vote, nothing can save the Liberals now.

7.22pm. Eight booths are in all of a sudden and it’s clear we have a boilover here – barring a miracle in the larger booths, McTaggart has won.

7.15pm. It might also be worth mentioning that the actual two-candidate vote at War Vetarans Home (616 votes) was 59.7 per cent for Nicolaou and 40.3 per cent for McTaggart.

7.11pm. Presumably the SEO is maintaining its habit of providing booth results in indigestible bursts. Allow me to while away the time with two small observations – a) the exhaustion rate is almost certain to be lower than the War Veterans Home reults suggest; b) the Scotland Island booth actually had an increase in turnout, from 198 to 219 voters, and dit not record a single informal vote.

7.00pm. There were 86 votes for the four minor candidates at War Veterans Home – of these 32 went to McTaggart, nine went to Nicolaou and 45 exhausted. A tiny sample, but if representative, it will mean that my two-party calculation flatters McTaggart. I will wait for another booth before I replace my estimates with the actual results.

6.41pm. Results from two quirky small booths are in. Scotland Island is particularly eccentric, having voted 47.7 per cent for the Greens in 2003. This time both their vote and the Liberal vote (from 30.1 per cent to 19.6 per cent) is way down. In the smaller War Veterans Home, the Liberal vote is down from 66.8 per cent to 53.6 per cent, enough to almost make it interesting if played out over the whole electorate. Also interesting to note that the booth is not in Pittwater Council.

Click for full-sized image

Welcome to the Poll Bludger’s live coverage of the Pittwater by-election. Providing my internet connection behaves, the site will provide updates every few minutes on the progress of the count as each booth result comes in. The first of these should be in a little after 6.30pm EST. The table above will provide raw figures for the primary vote along with a two-candidate preferred calculation which assumes that a) the primary vote swing for or (more likely) against the Liberal Party will be the same in uncounted booths as in those for which results are available, and b) that half of the preferences of the four minor candidates will go to independent Alex McTaggart, a sixth will go to Liberal candidate Paul Nicolaou and a third will exhaust.

The above map provides a rough idea of Pittwater’s council ward boundaries, which should shed some light on local variations in voting patterns. The electorate also includes populated areas of neighbouring Warringah Council around Terrey Hills (part of which is beyond the western limit of the map) and Narrabean. The map also includes the locations of polling booths and provides percentages figure indicating each booth’s share of the total vote at the 2003 State election. There will be one change in the booth arrangements for the by-election, with the Lagoon Street booth (located a short distance north of the Narrabean booth) replaced by Narrabean Beach (located further south). The percentage figure provided for Narrabean Beach is that for Lagoon Street, hence the asterisk.

Both McTaggart and Greens candidate Natalie Stevens represent the Pittwater Council’s Northern Ward, where the tickets they led respectively polled 25.7 per cent and 18.6 per cent of the vote at last year’s council election. Christian Democratic Party candidate Patricia Giles is a former mayor who represents Central Ward, where her ticket polled an impressive 49.2 per cent. The remaining candidates are independent Robert Dunn, another former mayor, and Democrats candidate Mario Nicotra.

Pittwater dispatches

Those with a particular interest in Saturday’s Pittwater by-election are encouraged to drop by to this site after 6pm EST, from which time the numbers will be crunched booth-by-booth within seconds of their appearance on the State Electoral Office site (for some idea of how this will look, see the coverage of the triple M by-elections of September 17).

The by-election is being taken a lot more seriously than I had earlier anticipated, particularly after last week’s reports of internal polling showing the Liberals headed for defeat at the hands of independent candidate Alex McTaggart. This would not normally have been taken so seriously, but the figures came attached to a narrative widely favoured among the media: that the religious right has subverted the NSW Liberal Party in the wake of the Federal election outcome, and is about to get its come-uppance courtesy of environmentally conscious small-l Liberals of Sydney’s northern beaches. This sounds very much like a reprise of the unsuccessful "doctors’ wives" theory at the Federal election, which posited that affluent and educated voters were so disaffected over Iraq, Kyoto and asylum seekers that senior figures in the Government were in danger of losing their seats.

If the leak of internal polling was a tactical manoeuvre by a Liberal Party genuinely concerned for its hold on the seat, it might well have backfired by giving McTaggart a monopoly of media attention at the expense of a field that includes two other former mayors. It now seems certain that McTaggart will indeed harvest most of the purely negative anti-Liberal vote, whereas the Liberals would have been better served if this had split amongst as wide a range of rival contenders as possible. That at least will be my excuse for getting it wrong if McTaggart wins, but my prediction remains nonetheless.

A summary of noteworthy campaign shenanigans in the final week:

  • Alex McTaggart has lately been promoting himself as a man who can do business with the Government, and the Premier helped him demonstrate the point with an hour-long meeting followed by promises on "Mona Vale Hospital, the Currawong site and Careel Bay Marina". Many have questioned McTaggart’s judgement here, given the Liberals’ efforts to paint him as a Labor stalking horse. Christian Kerr of Crikey was particularly appalled by McTaggart’s decision to indulge in a photo opportunity with Roads Minister Joe Tripodi, almost going as far as to say it had single-handedly cost him the election. Tripodi’s popularity is such that Nationals MP Andrew Fraser received a sympathetic response following their recent confrontation on the floor of parliament, which most interstate obervers assumed would end his career.
  • Piers Akerman has weighted into the campaign for a second time in today’s Daily Telegraph, taking an ideological cudgel to those who would paint the NSW Liberal Party’s recent upheavals as a coup by right-wing extremists. After arguing that Brogden was responsible for his own demise, Akerman dismisses Alex McTaggart as "a political one-trick pony who was elected to the council after blocking Baywatch’s plans to film at Avalon, where he surfs".
  • Last week, Alex McTaggart reckoned leaked Liberal polling showing him ahead of their candidate was "a plot to scare the little old ladies into voting Liberal". Now, he says polling that he himself has done "anecdotally" shows he will "outpoll the Libs, we don’t even need preferences". McTaggart shocked readers of Saturday’s Manly Daily with the revelation that "if this was not a by-election and John Brogden was still the member, I would not be running".
  • Antony Green concurred with this site’s assessment when he told The Australian that the Liberals would "take a big hit with their vote", but would "probably win".
  • All minor players are specifically recommending a preference to McTaggart over Nicolaou.
  • The Poll Bludger’s form guide tip of the week: Paul Nicolaou. Centrebet is offering $2.20 for a Liberal win against $1.61 for McTaggart.
  • UPDATE (25/11/05): The Daily Telegraph’s Liberal sources say their position has "improved slightly since it became clear Mr McTaggart was ‘cuddling up to the Premier’"; the Sydney Morning Herald’s Liberal sources say they fear their primary vote will drop below 40 per cent; Centrebet’s Gerard Duffy says there has been "renewed interest in the Liberal candidate", and they are now offering $2.oo for a Liberal win against $1.72 for McTaggart.

    UPDATE (26/11/05): The flurry of late money for Nicolaou (including a $25 punt from the Poll Bludger) has continued, with Centrebet now offering $1.85 for both Nicolaou and McTaggart.

    Purported Pittwater party polling

    Reports of "leaked" internal Liberal polling for next Saturday’s Pittwater by-election have provoked a frisson of excitement among those with an interest in talking up the contest. The poll reportedly has Liberal candidate Paul Nicolaou trailing his most fancied independent rival, local mayor Alex McTaggart, with a 46.5-53.5 split on two-candidate preferred. The results were a gift from "a senior Liberal who did not want to be named" to Lisa Muxworthy of the Manly Times, who smartly cultivated her source by reporting it exactly the way he or she would have wanted – a close race with the outcome to be determined by the undecided, and no luxury of a protest vote for those who normally support the Liberals. Anne Davies of the Sydney Morning Herald spruiked the contest by telling us "the parochial peninsula electorate has shown in the past that it can record large swings when a new candidate is endorsed, particularly if they are not a local". This was presumably a reference to surfer Nat Young’s strong performance against Jim Longley at a by-election way back in 1986, when sewage pollution on local beaches was a national news story. Christian Kerr of Crikey has also invoked the spectre of Nat Young while making plenty of space available for those predicting a Liberal humiliation, citing word-of-mouth evidence to suggest a swing not far shy of 20 per cent.

    The Poll Bludger is not persuaded. It is axiomatic that leaked party polls are to be taken with a grain of salt, for reasons which hardly need explaining. Most of those reporting the Liberal figures seem to be conscious of this, with the Sydney Morning Herald providing a nice quote from Alex McTaggart about "a plot to scare the little old ladies into voting Liberal". I have a very particular theory on this occasion, which rests on two pillars – firstly, that the best lies are based on a foundation of truth; secondly, that political parties know this (and much else about the art of deception) better than anyone. On this basis, I suggest that the Liberals have indeed conducted polling that has them on 46.5 per cent, but that this is on the primary rather than the two-party preferred vote. This sounds about right – a sobering 12.9 per cent primary vote slump that would give the Liberals no cause for optimism about the 2007 election, but not enough to threaten their hold on so safe a seat. It would not be too hard to persuade an inquisitive journalist that all minor candidate votes should indeed be added to McTaggart’s two-candidate preferred score, since they will all "give" him their preferences. But in reality, 46.5 per cent would be enough for Nicolaou to win quite easily.

    This brings us back to the Nat Young precedent. Leaving aside the fact that some who will vote next Saturday were not even born in 1986, it is worth noting that Young actually fell some way short with 46.9 per cent of the two-candidate vote – an excellent result, but still a clear victory for the Liberals. More importantly, this was in the days when the opportunities of optional preferential voting had yet to catch on. Young gathered 72 per cent of preferences from the 33 per cent who voted for other candidates, with an exhaustion rate of just 4.1 per cent. These days, a third of that vote can be expected to disappear courtesy of those who "just vote one". Even assuming the Liberal poll results are not completely fictitious, it would be quite astonishing if they honestly accounted for this.

    Pittwater form guide

    The campaign for Saturday week’s Pittwater by-election limps on uneventfully, although some observers remain excited at the prospect of John Brogden’s demise causing a backlash sufficient to endanger the Liberal candidate, former party fund raiser Paul Nicolaou. Local ratepayers association types have been penning letters to the editor and badgering suburban newspaper journalists to vent their outrage that Nicolaou was until recently a resident of Lane Cove, scoring particularly well with last week’s revelation that he moved into his new Mona Vale address too late to get on the roll for the by-election. However, history suggests suburban voters don’t get terribly excited about this kind of thing and that a messy preselection outcome was the real prerequisite for a Liberal defeat, and this the party has managed to avoid. They are also boosted by a field of rival contenders that includes the mayor, two former mayors and another councillor besides. Since New South Wales has optional preferential voting, preference exhaustion from the scattered anti-Liberal vote will make it very difficult for any of the independents to cause Nicolaou real trouble.

    The candidates in ballot paper order:

    Alex McTaggart (Independent). Widely perceived as the main threat to the Liberal Party due to his current status as Pittwater Mayor. Despite his forceful denials, McTaggart has been subject to repeated suggestions that he is receiving help from the Labor Party. The most interesting was a small item in the Sun-Herald noting that postal vote applications sent out by McTaggart suggested access to the electronic electoral rolls, which are apparently available "only to the major parties". For what it’s worth, Piers Akerman reckons Pittwater Council is "significantly on the nose with ratepayers and is perceived as arrogant and uncaring", and that McTaggart is "seen as a councillor elected on a single NIMBY (not in my back yard) issue – a ban on television crews at his local beach, Avalon".

    Paul Nicolaou (Liberal). The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Nicolaou would shed as little as 5 per cent of the Liberal vote, according to "Labor polling" – though why they would bother to conduct any was not made clear.

    Patricia Giles (Christian Democratic). The former Pittwater mayor’s electoral record is better than incumbent Alex McTaggart’s, but she would surely be better off without the Fred Nile brand.

    Robert Dunn (Independent). A former mayor and Liberal Party member, Dunn told Lisa Muxworthy of the Manly Daily that he was running because he was "appalled" by the "contempt" the Liberal Party had shown Pittwater by nominating a Lane Cove resident. He is apparently no more pleased with the member for the corresponding Federal seat of Mackellar, Bronwyn Bishop, having scored a reasonable 7.7 per cent in his run against her at last year’s Federal election.

    Natalie Stevens (Greens). Stevens became the first Greens member on Pittwater Council at last year’s election, winning a seat in the five-member Northern Ward with 18.6 per cent of the vote.

    Mario Nicotra (Democrats). Nicotra was also the Democrats candidate for Mackellar at the Federal election. He tells the Manly Daily that Mona Vale Hospital "should be rebuilt as a showcase healing centre" incorporating, among other things, "complementary medicines, natural healing, homoeopathy, acupuncture and other services".

    Pittwater preselection puts Paul in pole position

    The New South Wales Liberal Party has followed the Poll Bludger’s orders and chosen Paul Nicolaou as its candidate for the November 26 Pittwater by-election. Former state and federal MP Stephen Mutch withdrew from the race late last week, presumably after concluding that he didn’t have the numbers, and Nicolaou prevailed over John Brogden staffer Rob Stokes with a healthy margin of 49 votes to 28. Nicolaou goes into the by-election with a 20.1 per cent Liberal margin and no challenge from Labor, although much is being made of Pittwater Mayor Alex McTaggart’s decision to run as an independent. McTaggart enjoys the happy circumstance of effectively identical electorate and municipal boundaries, but he has only been Mayor for a year and his council electoral record suggests he would have limited voter recognition. The group he led in Northern Ward last year won 25.7 per cent of the vote, a good deal less than the 49.2 per cent vote for Patricia Giles’s group in Central Ward. Giles’s claim that she was approached by Labor with an offer of assistance if she ran as an independent has a ring of truth about it, although Labor has vehemently denied it. She has instead entered the field as the candidate of Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party, effectively denying herself broad-based support. The other confirmed candidate is another Pittwater Councillor, Natalie Stevens, who will run for the Greens.

    Mutch ado about something

    The Liberal Party’s preselection for the Pittwater by-election has taken an interesting turn with the nomination of former Federal MP Stephen Mutch, who if successful could conjure an interesting election from what ought to be a straightforward Liberal walkover. Mutch threw his hat into the ring last week at a time when the preselection was looking increasingly like a lay down misere for Paul Nicolaou, favoured candidate of the "small-‘l’ liberal" faction known as "The Group" who nonetheless had cross-factional support. Other prominent figures who had been mentioned were progressively falling by the wayside, including Paul Ritchie ("close to the hard right and Christian fundamentalists", according to the Sun Herald), Robert Webster, Jason Falinksi and Adrienne Ryan, more than one of whom said they were withdrawing to give Nicolaou a clean run. Had he been given one, it seems clear the Liberals would have defused the threat of a rival independent getting enough traction to threaten the party’s hold on the seat.

    Mutch threatens to make life interesting because he is an identifiable figure of the Right, having lost his Federal seat of Cook in 1998 when a coup by moderates delivered preselection to former Greiner-Fahey Government minister Bruce Baird. This was a major controversy at the time partly because it went against the wishes of the Prime Minister, who is now making it clear that he wants Nicolaou in Pittwater. It would not be hard to sell a Mutch preselection win as both an act of factional revenge and the coup de grace of a power grab that ended the career – and very nearly the life – of the popular former member. Whether this perception is fair or not is neither here nor there.

    Community groups and writers of letters to the editor have been vociferous in their demands not only for a locally based candidate, which is predictable enough, but also for an ideological moderate, which is more telling. Saturday’s Manly Daily publicised a call by Harvey Rose and Jim Revitt, present and past holders of the title "Pittwater Citizen of the Year", for the election of an independent candidate in defiance of the "hard Liberal right", who stood "clearly against the widespread view of moderate Liberals throughout Pittwater". Rose said he was considering taking on the job himself. Another candidate who might have been of interest was Patricia Giles, a former Pittwater mayor who told Rebecca Woolley of the Manly Daily she had been approached by Labor with an offer of campaign assistance if she ran as an independent (which was denied by state general secretary Mark Arbib). She will instead run as the endorsed candidate of Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party, forestalling any possibility that she might harvest support from those who see the Brogden episode in terms of a takeover of the Liberal Party by the "religious right".

    The Manly Daily names four confirmed candidates for Liberal preselection besides Nicolaou and Mutch – Robert Stokes, Stephen Choularton and Julie Hegarty, who were all covered in my earlier post, plus local businessman Mike Musgrave. The Sun Herald reports that the decision will be made by "a conference of 48 members from local branches and 48 from the state executive and the state council", of which the latter groups are often claimed to be under the control of the David Clarke/Opus Dei religious right. As much as the election buff in me wants them to pick Mutch, it will be Nicolaou if they have any sense at all.

    UPDATE (19/10/05): Via Crikey, the Manly Daily reports that Pittwater Mayor Alex McTaggart is considering running as an independent.