Newspoll: 52-48 to Labor

Full results available from Peter Brent at Mumble. Labor’s 52-48 lead is a slight improvement on 51-49 from three weeks ago, and under the circumstances will come as an enormous relief for the Prime Minister. One sting in the tail is that Labor’s primary vote remains steady on a parlous 35 per cent. The Coalition is down one point to 40 per cent and the Greens are on 15 per cent, one point off their record-breaking effort from three weeks ago. The two-point slack has been taken up by “others” on 10 per cent.

Another sting in the tail is that the preferred prime minister rating has swung to Abbott: Rudd is down three points to 46 per cent and Abbott is up four to 37 per cent, which is respectively a personal worst and the best result achieved by a Liberal leader on Rudd’s watch. This is despite the fact that the leaders’ approval ratings are basically unchanged. Kevin Rudd’s approval is steady on 36 per cent and his disapproval is up a point to 55 per cent, while Tony Abbott is respectively up a point to 38 per cent and steady on 49 per cent.

A further question on prospective standard of living produces a neutral result: “improve” and “get worse” are both on 17 per cent, with 65 per cent nominating “stay the same”.

Next cab off the rank: Essential Research, which should be through at about 1pm EST.

UPDATE: Hats off to Dennis Shanahan, who shows he’s not scared of a renewed round of opprobrium from the Laborsphere.

UPDATE 2: Essential Research joins the party by also showing Labor’s lead up from 51-49 to 52-48, although it gets there by showing a primary vote recovery for Labor (up three to 38 per cent) at the expense of the Greens (down three to 11 per cent), with the Coalition down one to 40 per cent. Again, there’s a sting in the tail for Kevin Rudd – 40 per cent say Labor would have a better chance of winning if they changed leaders, against only 37 per cent who say he is the best person to lead the party to the election. However, the results on this measure are substantially worse for Tony Abbott – 29 per cent and 47 per cent. Kevin Rudd remains preferred prime minister over Abbott by 47 per cent to 30 per cent, and also over Julia Gillard by 36 per cent to 33 per cent. There’s also a very interesting finding on troops in Afghanistan, with 61 per cent saying out troops should withdraw.

Penrith by-election live

UPDATE (FRIDAY): At a safe distance, here is my Crikey piece on the by-election which was originally subscriber only.

By-elections have been a feature of Australian political life since the first democratically elected colonial parliaments were established in the mid-nineteenth century.

Compiling a comprehensive set of historic by-election results at state as well as federal level would involve painstaking research through the archives of various electoral authorities and newspapers-of-record.

It is possible that, buried in some such dark and dusty place, there might be found details of a by-election defeat as bad for a major political party as the one suffered by New South Wales Labor in Penrith on Saturday.

However, the lack of any such precedent in recent memory, together with the trend towards greater electoral volatility over time, suggests it isn’t very likely.

We do know that Labor has suffered the worst by-election swing recorded in the long history of New South Wales, thanks to exhaustive historical results compiled for the New South Wales Parliamentary Library by Antony Green.

The closest historical parallels that spring to mind are indeed from the Premier State: Bass Hill in 1986, when Neville Wran’s previously safe seat fell to the Liberals upon his retirement, and — distressingly close at hand as far as the government is concerned — Ryde and Cabramatta just after Morris Iemma’s departure in September 2008.

With respective two-party swings of 22.2%, 22.9% and 22.0%, Penrith looks to have surpassed all three, recording an election night swing of 25.5%.

One result that has its measure is the 1991 by-election for Geraldton in Western Australia, held as Carmen Lawrence’s Labor government groaned under the weight of revelations from the WA Inc Royal Commission.

On that occasion Labor’s primary vote fell from 47.6% to 16.6%, while the combined Liberal and Nationals vote went from 43.5% to 66.5%. Labor finished third behind the Nationals and thus did not even make the final two-party cut, making it impossible to determine a two-party swing.

It might also be worth mentioning Labor’s forfeit last year in the Tasmanian upper house seat of Pembroke, which the party was too scared to contest after the resignation of its sitting member Allison Ritchie.

(It should be stressed that this is limited to two-party contests, and thus excludes the fairly common occurrence of major party support being gouged by the emergence of popular independents. And while I’m making asides, it’s interesting to note that the by-election hall of shame is dominated by Labor).

In Penrith, Labor finished the night on 24.4% of the primary vote, losing almost exactly half of their 48.7% from 2007.

Three-quarters of the dividend was collected by the Liberals, up from 32.6% to 50.9%, while the Greens vote more than doubled from 5.5% to a still quite modest (for a by-election) 12.8%.

While the result has never been in doubt since former member Karyn Paluzzano announced her resignation in May, Labor might initially have hoped for something a little less bruising.

At the time of the 2008 by-elections the then Premier, Nathan Rees, had a Newspoll approval rating of 39%, which — mediocre as it was — proved to be a honeymoon peak. It clearly says something very alarming about the state of the Labor brand that Kristina Keneally has been able to do even worse with an approval rating of 47%.

Several factors suggest themselves as explanations for Labor’s ability to plumb new depths, of which the most newsworthy is the decline in Labor’s federal fortunes since Ryde and Cabramatta. Evidence of Rudd Government policy failures feeding into a general questioning of Labor’s competence in the electorate might be anecdotal, but it’s substantial in volume.

Of course, those rushing to judgement on the Prime Minister need to recall that the by-election follows a horror stretch for the State Government, even by its own abysmal standards.

There is also reason to think Penrith was especially unfavourable terrain for Labor to face a by-election.

As the experience of the corresponding federal electoral of Lindsay has shown, this is an area of fickle political loyalties which never fails to jump on the bandwagon when a swing is on.

The electorate’s outer suburban location also places a premium on transport issues, with local voters having suffered the worst of freeway gridlocks and a creaking public transport system.

A somewhat more nuanced picture of the result can be gained by comparing the two distinct parts of the electorate: Penrith and its surrounds, which account for about 80% of the voters, and the very different electoral terrain of the Blue Mountains, which the electorate touches upon at Blaxland, Glenbrook and Lapstone.

Labor was hit hardest in the former, down by about 26% compared with 21% in the Blue Mountains, and the dividend there more heavily favoured the Liberals.

There have been suggestions the Greens could have hoped for more from a Labor collapse on this scale, but the distinction between the two areas suggests their failure to do so says as much about Penrith as the state of the parties at large.

Penrith boasts slightly above average incomes but below average educational attainment, making it weak territory for the Greens. By contrast, the Blue Mountains has almost double Penrith’s proportion of professionals, and is thus a lot more representative of the kinds of seats where the party will be hoping to defeat Labor.

It is thus highly significant that the Greens outpolled Labor in every one of the four Blue Mountains booths, polling a collective primary vote of over 23% compared with about 11% in and around Penrith.

Accordingly, the result holds little comfort for Labor in the Greens targets of Balmain and Marrickille, and suggests they will struggle to stay ahead of the Greens in the neighbouring seat of Blue Mountains — academic though that may be, given the near certainty of it falling to the Liberals.

And while federal implications of state by-elections should generally be treated with caution, the scale of the overall result gives Labor ample reason to be nervous not only Lindsay, but also the other nearby marginals of Macquarie and Macarthur.

UPDATE (MONDAY): I have a subscriber-only article on the by-election in Crikey today.

My earlier preference projections proved too optimistic for Labor: with all the two-party booth counts conducted, the swing at the close of play is 25.5 per cent. This is a result without any precedent I’m aware of, at least as far as two-party contests are concerned. The swings in Ryde (22.9 per cent) and Cabramatta (22.0 per cent) in September 2008 were presumed at the time to show Labor as low as they could go, but tonight’s result is measurably worse.

The result comes despite an improvement in Labor’s leadership position since September 2008 – at state level, at least. According to Newspoll, Nathan Rees achieved the earlier swings on a honeymoon approval rating of 39 per cent, while Kristina Keneally has suffered Penrith on 47 per cent. However, Kevin Rudd’s approval rating in that time has dropped from 54 per cent to 36 per cent. Talk of federal connections to state election results can usually be taken with a grain of salt, but in this case it’s hard to believe Labor’s federal collapse has played no role in giving state Labor new depths to plumb. It certainly doesn’t bode well for them in Lindsay.

Swing 2PP/Swing
Thain (ALP) 8200 24.4% -24.4% 33.7%
Wright (GRN) 4221 12.6% 7.3% -25.5%
Saunders 724 2.2%
Ayres (LIB) 17067 50.9% 18.3% 66.3%
Leyonhjelm (ORP) 638 1.9% 25.5%
Sanz (DEM) 297 0.9% 0.0%
Green (CDP) 1516 4.5% -1.8%
Selby (IND) 884 2.6%
ALP LIB ALP 2PP Swing
Blaxland 20.4% 45.7% 37.3% -22.0%
Blaxland East 14.0% 51.8% 29.1% -21.9%
Braddock 29.4% 45.9% 41.2% -25.3%
Cranebrook 24.2% 52.2% 34.3% -28.4%
Emu Heights 23.0% 52.2% 33.4% -23.9%
Emu Plains 23.5% 55.6% 32.5% -20.8%
Glenbrook 15.9% 48.4% 33.1% -19.1%
Jamisontown 22.8% 52.7% 33.2% -27.5%
Kingswood 27.5% 43.7% 41.0% -26.1%
Kingswood Park 30.8% 46.7% 41.6% -25.3%
Kingswood South 29.2% 45.6% 40.7% -24.2%
Lapstone 16.0% 50.9% 32.4% -17.2%
Leonay 17.0% 65.2% 24.3% -20.4%
Nepean High 22.3% 55.5% 30.2% -25.4%
Penrith 27.9% 46.2% 40.0% -24.4%
Penrith North 28.2% 51.7% 37.9% -25.1%
Penrith South 27.8% 49.9% 37.8% -21.3%
Stuart Street 25.8% 51.2% 35.5% -19.1%
York 25.7% 53.0% 34.8% -25.5%

8.44pm. Penrith High is the final booth to report primary votes.

8.31pm. Kingswood Public School pushes swing up from 23.4 per cent to 23.6 per cent.

8.18pm. I suppose federal Labor can argue this result is no different from the Ryde by-election of September 2008, at which time it held an enormous lead in the polls – though I’m not sure how many will listen (it would be useful for them if late counting pulled the swing below 22.9 per cent). The riposte would be that Labor had a popular state leader this time and should have done better.

8.15pm. Labor haven’t come within cooee of winning a booth. The Greens have more than doubled their vote, but to still modest levels – Penrith not exactly being the latte belt. There’s a six point gap between the pro-Liberal and anti-Labor swings, which is reasonably good work for the Liberals.

8.12pm Jamistown Uniting Church Hall added. Two to go.

8.04pm. Cranebrook booth added – one of Labor’s worst results, but no real difference made.

8.02pm. So at this stage Labor seems to have suffered a slightly worse result than Ryde (22.9 per cent) and Cabramatta (22 per cent), and a good deal worse than Lakemba (13.5 per cent).

7.52pm. Another two booths added, five more go, and the swing continuing to settle at 23 per cent. I’m using real world 2PP figures now.

7.43pm. Jamistown Public and Penrith South results added. NSWEC link working now, BTW.

7.40pm. Three more booths including very large Jamison High School booth see the swing settle at about 23 per cent. Antony Green has 2PP counts and I don’t.

7.35pm. Stoopid NSW Electoral Commission PDF now points to wrong link.

7.33pm. Lapstone, Leonay and Emu Heights very slightly reduce the size of the swing.

7.31pm. St Dominic’s College booth added.
7.28pm. Kingswood Park booth keeps the picture consistent.

7.24pm. Blaxland High and Penrith PCYC booths very slightly improve the picture for Labor, the two-party swing now looking at 25 per cent. The Greens outpolled Labor at Blaxland High.

7.08pm. Preference distributions are guesses at this stage.

7.06pm. Swing of about 30 per cent against Labor at small Nepean Hospital – 267 votes all up. Not a good start for them, you would have to say.

6.15pm. Welcome to live coverage of tonight’s bloodbath in Penrith. I guess we should get first figures in about 20 minutes. In the meantime, enjoy this illuminating booth results map for the 2007 election.

Morgan: 51.5-48.5 to Labor

The latest weekly Morgan face-to-face poll has Labor shedding another two points on the primary vote – down over the last three surveys from 42 per cent to 40 per cent to 38 per cent – and the dividend again being picked up by the Greens, who have gone from 8.5 per cent to 11 per cent to 13 per cent. The Coalition is down half a point to 41 per cent. As a result there is only a slight change on the two-party vote, with Labor’s lead down from 52-48 to 51.5-48.5. There seems to be an anomaly with the “others” rating, which has supposedly jerked up from an anomalous 2 per cent to 6.5 per cent. The fact that last week’s figures only add up to 97 per cent probably has something to do with this.

Elsewhere:

• New South Wales Labor is bracing itself for tomorrow’s Penrith by-election, which you can discuss here. Tune into this site from 6pm tomorrow for live coverage.

• The Senate passed legislation yesterday that will allow pre-poll votes cast within the relevant electorate to be treated as ordinary rather than declaration votes, and thus to be admitted to the count on election night. This will account for about 4500 votes per electorate – roughly 5 per cent of the total. Nearly 20 per cent of the votes cast in 2007 were declaration votes of various kinds, slightly under half of which were pre-polls. The bill also allows changes to enrolment to be made online, and will prevent a repeat of the Christian Democratic Party’s effort from last year’s Bradfield by-election where it fielded nine candidates without having to go to the bother of obtaining the 50 supporting signatures required of independent candidates.

• Wyong councillor John McNamara has been chosen as the new Liberal candidate for Dobell. The nomination had been vacated by the withdrawal of original nominee Garry Lee, who seems to have been pushed because his establishment of a company to take advantage of the government’s insulation scheme threatened to muddy the election campaign waters. VexNews published a colourful account from a local Liberal who tipped the outcome earlier in the week, which suggested the party does not fancy its chances in the seat.

• The Queensland Times has published a list of eight starters for the June 27 Liberal National Party preselection in the new seat of Wright, to be held following the disendorsement of Hajnal Ban. Not included are the previously discussed Bill O’Chee and Ted Shepherd. Former Blair MP Cameron Thompson appears to be the front-runner, the others being Scott Buchholz, chief-of-staff to Senator Barnaby Joyce; Richard Hackett-Jones, “a long-term tax-review campaigner who helms the Revenue Review Foundation which advocates for a uniform rate of income tax”; Bob La Castra, Gold Coast councillor and perennial preselection bridesmaid; David Neuendorf, a Lockyer councillor; Scott White, an aircraft engineer; and the unheralded Erin Kerr and Jonathan Krause.

• Yet more trouble for the Liberal National Party, with the Courier-Mail reporting local members are calling for Forde candidate Bert van Manen to be disendorsed because “he had not kept his promise to fund his own election”. While van Manen was reckoned safe for the time being, “sources admitted there had been problems and his position might come under scrutiny if there were any further issues”.

• The Liberal National Party has preselected Logan councillor Luke Smith to run against Craig Emerson in the safe Labor southern Brisbane seat of Rankin.

• The Illawarra Mercury reports former rugby league player David Boyle will withdraw as Labor candidate for the winnable south coast New South Wales seat of Gilmore, after his installation by the national executive caused an uproar in local party branches.

• Following the withdrawal of original nominee Tania Murdock, the Nationals will preselect a new candidate tomorrow for the Labor-held north coast New South Wales seat of Richmond. The preselection has attracted four candidates, an interesting turnaround on the first round when Murdock was the only person interested. According to Alex Easton of The Northern Star, the nominees are “Richmond Nationals president Alan Hunter and lawyer Jim Fuggle from the south of the electorate; and businessman Phil Taylor and pharmacist Brian Curran from the seat’s north”. Oddly, Hunter was quoted on Wednesday saying “party members would not automatically appoint a candidate if there were no stand-out nominations”, with suggestions the one-time Anthony family stronghold should be left to the Liberals.

• The Tasmanian Liberals are hawking internal polling which it says shows Labor in trouble in as many three seats, although the only figure provided – a 37 per cent primary vote tie in Bass, which would translate to a comfortable win for Labor – doesn’t bear this out. The other two seats are Braddon and, it seems, Lyons. Barnaby Joyce has today been talking of a Queensland hit-list consisting of Leichhardt, Dawson, Flynn, Longman and Wright (a slightly creative inclusion given it’s a notionally LNP new seat), with Forde as a roughie.

• Left faction powerbroker and state party assistant secretary Luke Foley has taken the place of Ian Macdonald in the New South Wales Legislative Council, following the latter’s resignation after an adverse review finding into travel expenses.

Essential Research: 51-49 to Labor

The latest weekly Essential Research survey has Labor maintaining a slight 51-49 lead on the two-party vote, down from 52-48 last time, but finds their primary vote at a new low (for Essential) of 35 per cent. The Coalition is up one point to 41 per cent, and the Greens two to 14 per cent. I fancy that Essential has been less favourable to Labor lately than it used to be, so I’ve knocked up a chart showing the monthly deviation between the two.

Which certainly provides some support for the theory, although a tendency for fluctuations in the past means the jury is still out. For good measure, I’ve done the same for Morgan face-to-face polls, which seem to be continuing a long-term trend of favouring Labor by 2 to 3 per cent.

Essential also has some fascinating supplementary questions this week: one on attitudes to political parties on various measures, which finds the Liberals well ahead on immigration (41 per cent to 20 per cent) and Labor well ahead on “representing the interests of Australian working people” (42 per cent to 27 per cent), which should tell you a lot about what the coming campaign will look like. The Coalition has solid leads on handling the economy, foreign relations (a disappointing one for Rudd) and the vision thing, while Labor is in front on “standing up to the big multinational corporations” – though not by the margin you might expect under the circumstances. An interesting question on whether various groups have too much or too little influence finds concern about the media and the banks and, to a slightly less extent, big business, unions and religious groups. No such problem for environment groups, whose influence is reckoned to be about right. Respondents were found to be evenly divided on the the likely impact on the mining industry of the resources super profits tax.

Essential has also done something I love: ask for retrospective evaluations of past leaders. Absence has made the heart grow fonder in the case of Paul Keating, rated good by 40 per cent and poor by 26 per cent, but his ratings are lower than John Howard, who scores 51 per cent (impressive work for a recently defeated prime minister) and 26 per cent. Mark Latham is regarded with something close to revulsion, Brendan Nelson and Simon Crean seems to be best remembered as duds, while Kim Beazley and Malcolm Turnbull are on a more even keel.

Preselection news:

• The Liberal National Party could have another brush fire on its hands in Longman, where discontent continues to simmer about the party’s decision to nominate 20-year-old Wyatt Roy for a crucial marginal seat. Tony Abbott has reportedly criticised the LNP over the matter, and former Moreton MP Gary Hardgrave (whose old seat is being contested for the LNP by an even more contentious youngster in the shape of Michael Palmer, son of high-profile mining magnate Clive) has told the ABC’s PM program he has been “sounded out” as a replacement. However, Hardgrave stresses it is “now well past the possibility of it occurring”.

• Meanwhile, Hajnal Ban has announced she will not again contest the new preselection to be held after she was dumped as Liberal National Party candidate for the new Queensland seat of Wright. The Courier-Mail reports a new entrant to the contest could be former Nationals Senator Bill O’Chee, himself a former child prodigy who entered the Senate in 1990 at the age of 24, before losing his seat to One Nation in 1998. O’Chee later emerged as a Liberal to unsuccessfully contest preselection for Moncrieff. In between, as the Courier-Mail puts it, he “successfully sued the Queensland Police for wrongful arrest and was then sued himself for allegedly not paying legal bills”. Also thought to be likely starters are Gold Coast councillor Ted Shepherd and former Blair MP Cameron Thompson, an unsuccessful entrant the first time around.

• The Liberals have preselected Jassmine Wood, a “small business owner specialising in water systems” who contested the safe Labor seat of West Torrens at the March state election, to run against Labor’s Steve Georganas in the marginal Adelaide coastal seat of Hindmarsh. Georganas won the seat narrowly in 2004 on the retirement of sitting member Chris Gallus, but a relatively small swing at the 2007 election made it more marginal than the Labor gains of Makin and Wakefield. Another South Australian Liberal candidate who slipped through the net earlier is Liz Davies, chief executive of Storpac Smart Storage at Holden Hill, who was preselected a month ago for Makin.

Finally, I’m doing a weekly series for Crikey in which I survey the lie of the electoral land in different parts of the country. Subscribers can read today’s effort on South Australia here; for the rest of you, here’s last week’s entry on Western Australia.

Welcome to the first in a nine-part series examining the lie of the land ahead of the looming federal election, one geographic unit at a time. Grim news for the government being the flavour of the month, I thought I’d start in Labor’s obvious trouble spot of Western Australia.

The State of Excitement (as its licence plates once proclaimed it, to the condescending amusement of visitors) is home to exactly one-tenth of the House of Representatives’ 150 seats, a mere four of which are currently held by Labor. Remarkably, they managed to go backwards at the 2007 election in terms of seats, losing two (Cowan and Swan) and gaining one (Hasluck).

This was despite a 2.1% swing to Labor in two-party vote terms, which was actually slightly higher than in Tasmania (2.0%) and the Australian Capital Territory (1.9%).

However, it came off a low base of 44.6% of the two-party preferred vote in 2004, when the state led the nation in swinging to the Coalition (3.8% against a national result of 1.8%). That result was no doubt fuelled by the loss of local hero Kim Beazley, who had led the party to defeat at the two previous elections.

In theory, that should have given a resurgent Labor all the more opportunity to take up extra slack, as it did so spectacularly in Queensland. In practice, the resources boom took the sting out of the hostility the Howard government was encountering elsewhere.

Perth’s mortgage payers were probably no more pleased than any others that John Howard proved unable to fulfil his promise of keeping interest rates at record lows — and there was indeed a strong correlation between electorates’ shares of mortgage payers and swings to Labor (with one conspicuous exception, to be discussed shortly).

But while many Sydney mortgage payers had been dealt the double blow of higher monthly payments and capital loss, housing prices in Perth nearly doubled during the Howard government’s final term.

The other lightning rod for disaffection with Howard, industrial relations, also took on an unusual flavour in the land of the resources boom. Australian Workplace Agreements were actively popular among mining workers, who feared a more regimented industrial relations regime might threaten the astronomical pay packets they had been able to command in a seller’s labour market.

A related aspect of the industrial relations issue involved controversies surrounding local Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union heavyweights (in every sense of the word) Kevin Reynolds and Joe McDonald, whose star roles in anti-union Coalition advertisements prompted the Labor hierarchy to force them from the party during the course of the campaign.

So it was that the West provided the Liberals with their only two gains of the election — a curious echo of 1972, when Gough Whitlam’s triumph was tempered by the loss of Stirling and Forrest.

One of the two was the northern suburbs seat of Cowan, covering exactly the type of mortgage belt area that provided Labor with happy hunting grounds in other states.

But here the effect was more than cancelled out by the retirement of sitting Graham Edwards, a veteran state and federal member who had lost both of his legs to a landmine while serving in Vietnam. Edwards had done well to hold back the tide in 2004, and the loss of his personal vote was enough to deliver a narrow victory to Liberal candidate Luke Simpkins in his second run at the seat.

The other Liberal gain was in the established inner southern suburbs electorate of Swan, which essentially produced a status quo result by going down to the wire for the second election in a row. But whereas the electoral gods favoured Labor’s Kim Wilkie by 104 votes in 2004, the decision went 164 votes in favour of the Liberals’ Steve Irons in 2007.

For much of its first term, it seemed Western Australia would provide the Rudd government with abundant opportunities to fatten its majority, thanks to the departure of the locally popular John Howard, ongoing prosperity and perhaps also the defeat of the state Labor government in September 2008, upsetting though that may have been to the party at the time.

A mortgage belt seat like Cowan looked particularly promising, while the Liberal margin in Swan seemed too thin to defend in any case. A redistribution proved to Labor’s advantage in both cases, cutting the Liberal margin in the former by 0.5 per cent and turning the latter into a notional Labor seat.

Liberal front-bencher Michael Keenan’s 1.2 per cent margin of Stirling also looked tough to defend, although the seat’s established middle-suburban status and older demographic profile has generally made it resistant to big swings.

Most enticingly for Labor was a decision by perhaps the most capable and certainly the most charismatic minister in the Carpenter government, Alannah MacTiernan, to contest the southern urban fringe seat of Canning, where the redistribution had cut Liberal member Don Randall’s margin from 5.6 per cent to 4.3 per cent.

However, as the election year began, it seemed Western Australia‚Äôs traditional hostility to federal Labor was beginning to reassert itself. The initially cordial relationship between the Prime Minister and Liberal Premier Colin Barnett began to sour, first over the state’s share of GST payments, which a Commonwealth Grants Commission determination cut from 8.1% to 7.1% with further reductions to follow in future years, and then over the federal government’s health reforms, on which Barnett remains the only hold-out.

Whatever the merits in either case, a perception began to harden that the state was being milked for electoral objectives elsewhere. Even before the resource super profits tax was announced, talk was emerging of “disastrous” Labor internal polling in the most marginal of its four seats, the eastern suburbs electorate of Hasluck, which former LHMWU official Sharryn Jackson had won in 2001, lost in 2004 and recovered in 2007.

Once the planned new tax was unveiled, it was clear that all bets were off: writing off Western Australia was evidently part of the government’s electoral strategy, and it was now simply a question of defending the seats it already held. This point was recognised a fortnight ago by The West Australian when it chose the second most marginal of the four, Brand, as the subject for an opinion poll by Patterson Market Research, having identified that Hasluck was likely to fall in any case.

Brand had provided Kim Beazley with a home after 1996, when he jumped ship from his existing seat of Swan as the tide went out on the Keating government. Beazley suffered a scare on the first occasion, when Labor spent the week after its crushing defeat contemplating the nightmare of Gareth Evans as leader before Beazley ultimately pulled through by 387 votes.

In suggesting Labor’s position was comparable to the dog days of the Keating defeat, Westpoll’s headline figure of 50-50 in Brand powerfully illustrated the extent of its woes. However, the two-party result did not sit well with primary vote figures that had Labor one point in the clear, a more plausible reading of which would be a lead to Labor of about 51.5-48.5.

The Liberals’ attack has been extended deeper still into enemy territory, with even the Labor strongholds of Perth (held by Foreign Minister Stephen Smith on a margin of 8.1%) and Fremantle (where Melissa Parke replaced Carmen Lawrence in 2007, on a margin of 9.1%) currently being targeted by Liberal leaflet campaigns.

While such moves might achieve tactical benefit in diverting Labor resources, it seems likely the seats to watch in WA will be Brand and, if Labor are lucky, Hasluck. However, a new and unfamiliar dimension has been added to the state landscape by the local resurgence of the Nationals.

The WA Nationals have not held a seat in the House of Representatives since 1974, and last won a seat in the Senate at the 1975 double dissolution. The party has nonetheless remained a constant presence in state parliament, and achieved a breakthrough success at the 2008 state election on the back of its campaign to have 25 per cent of mining royalties set aside for regional projects — which it was able to realise when the indecisive election result left it holding the balance of power.

Significantly, the Nationals proved the option of first resort for country voters abandoning the ALP, scoring big in mining towns and regional cities where they had not had a presence in the past.

Six months after the election, the ever-entrepreneurial Clive Palmer announced at the party’s state conference that his financial muscle would be put to the service of the party’s ambitious campaign for a Senate seat.

The Nationals have since been able to fund an extended campaign of advertising on regional television similar in tone to that which powered their success at the state election, and in doing so have also boosted their prospects for the lower house.

The most obvious possibility is O’Connor, home to most of the party’s Wheatbelt heartland, where they have loomed as a vague threat to Wilson Tuckey in the past despite consistently unable to beat Labor to second place.

The redistribution has done the Nationals a disservice in this regard by hiving off the northern Wheatbelt to the new seat of Durack, the balance of which consists of the vast Kimberley and Pilbara areas, and compensating it with Kalgoorlie (the seat of that name having been abolished after a career going back to federation).

However, a glass-half-full Nationals observer might well view the changes as a chance to be competitive in two seats rather than one, particularly in light of their success in scoring 21.4 per cent of the vote in the Mining and Pastoral upper house region in 2008, where they had not even bothered to field candidates in 2005.

If state results were transposed on to the federal boundaries (which it must be said is an unreliable exercise, given the importance of incumbent members in state country seats), the primary votes for the Liberal, the Nationals and Labor would have been about equal, giving Liberal member Barry Haase almost as much to think about as Tuckey.

Westpoll: 62-38 to federal Coalition in WA

Following on from last weekend’s “50-50” result for Brand, The West Australian has produced another of its small-sample Westpoll surveys, conducted by Patterson Market Research. This one is statewide, and it does not bode well for the state’s already meagre Labor contingent. The poll has Labor’s primary vote at just 26 per cent, compared with the 36.8 per cent that won them four of the state’s 15 seats in 2007. The Coalition is on 52 per cent (including 5 per cent for the Nationals), against 47.1 per cent at the election. The Greens are only on 9 per cent, no different from the election and certainly not what they’re used to from polling recently. This pans out to 62-38 on two-party preferred, a swing of almost 9 per cent – enough to take out Stephen Smith in Perth, leaving just Melissa Parke in Fremantle. The poll also has just 19 per cent agreeing the RSPT will be positive to the state’s economy, against 63 per cent who say negative. Forty-three per cent say it will have a strong (quite or very) influence on their vote, 22 per cent say “no real influence” and 32 per cent say a “minor influence”.

The catch is that with a sample of just 400, the poll has a margin of error of about 5 per cent. However, it accords with the 63-37 result from WA in the most recent Nielsen poll, which would have involved a sample of about 150. If you add the two polls together, the margin of error comes down to about 4 per cent. At the lower end of that range is a swing against Labor of 4 or 5 per cent, which is what last week’s Brand poll pointed to if you distributed preferences as per the 2007 election. Even if that’s nearer the mark, it still suggests a distribution of primary votes that would leave Labor-plus-the-Greens short of a third Senate quota (and taken at face value, this poll shows Labor short of a second). With the Nationals in the hunt for the last seat, and likely to be boosted by preferences from WA First and right-wing micro-parties, this could lead to a Queensland 2004-style Senate result of three Liberal, one Nationals and two Labor. If the other states were to follow their usual three left-three right pattern, that could produce a Senate that differed from the current one in only one important respect: Steve Fielding’s Victorian seat would be taken by Labor, another fluke micro-party winner or, most probably, the Greens. Labor and the Greens would thus have 38 seats against 37 for the Coalition and one for Nick Xenophon. Instead of the Greens holding the balance of power, as most have been taking for granted, the Coalition plus Xenophon would have a blocking majority.

UPDATE: The latter sentence, of course, makes the unsafe assumption of Labor winning the election. I should also point out that the Liberals have a big hurdle to clear if they are to win three seats in Tasmania, where the result in 2010 was three Labor, two Liberal and one Greens. A three Liberal, two Labor and one Greens result would require a solid 5 per cent swing to the Liberals, which would probably win them Bass and Braddon.

Morgan: 52-48 to Labor

This week’s Roy Morgan face-to-face poll has Labor with a two-party lead of 52-48, down from 52.5-47.5 last week. Labor’s primary vote is down two points to 40 per cent, with the Coalition up 0.5 per cent to 41.5 per cent. The Greens are up 2.5 per cent to 11 per cent.

Problems for the Coalition at ground level dominate the latest round of federal preselection news.

• The Queensland Liberal National Party has dumped its candidate for the new Gold Coast hinterland seat of Wright, Logan councillor Hajnal Ban, for failing to disclose she was facing Civil and Administrative Tribunal action over the finances of an elderly former council colleague over whom she had power of attorney (a story broken on Sunday by the ubiquitous VexNews). The decision was reportedly made at the direction of Liberal federal director Brian Loughnane. Ban may technically nominate for the re-match, but has been told by the party not to bother. Widely mentioned in connection with the new preselection are Cameron Thompson, who lost his seat of Blair in 2007 and ran against Ban in the initial preselection, and Scott Driscoll of small business lobby group the United Retail Federation, described by Phillip Coorey of the Sydney Morning Herald as “a controversial and opinionated character”.

• Brisbane councillor Jane Prentice has won the Liberal National Party preselection for the Brisbane seat of Ryan, which was held after incumbent Michael Johnson was expelled from the party. Marissa Calligeros of Fairfax reports Prentice received 158 votes against 39 for Christian Rowan and 23 for Wayne Black. Johnson complained on Twitter that the party had chosen an “opportunistic politician” in Prentice over a “talent” in Rowan, a Brisbane medical practitioner who ran for the Nationals in Gympie at the 2004 state election.

• The Northern Star reports the Nationals candidate for the north coast NSW seat of Richmond, Tania Murdock, has pulled out “citing personal attacks on her and issues with parts of the local party”. Labor’s Justine Elliott won the seat from Nationals member Larry Anthony in 2004, but ongoing urbanisation is strengthening the Liberals (whose candidate is Tweed councillor Joan van Lieshout) in the area relative to the Nationals. Elliott currently holds the seat with a margin of 8.7 per cent.

• Yet another on the Coalition casualty list is Liberal candidate for Dobell Garry Lee, a Wyong businessman who interestingly set up a company last year to take advantage of the government’s insulation scheme. Lee announced this week he was withdrawing for personal reasons. It is thought likely the runner-up from the May 14 preselection vote, school teacher Kristy Knox, will put her name forward again.

• The Liberals have preselected Luke Westley, marketing manager for Adelaide Produce Market and candidate for Enfield in the March state election, as candidate for Adelaide. Among the also-rans was Houssam Abiad, whose failure despite backing from factional enemies Alexander Downer and Christopher Pyne may have had something to do with anti-Israel comments publicised by perennial career-wrecker VexNews. Others in the field of eight were factional conservative and former Young Liberals president Sam Duluk, recruitment consultant David Maerschel and real estate agent Vivienne Twelftree.

ABC Riverina reports the Liberals have preselected Cargill Beef marketing manager Andrew Negline in Riverina, ahead of Julie Elphick, John Larter, Paul McCormack and Charles Morton. The Nationals last week preselected former Daily Advertiser Michael McCormack to replace retiring member Kay Hull.

• The latest Reuters Poll Trend figure, a weighted average of various pollsters’ results over the past month, has Labor leading 50.2-49.8. Reuters has published the result as part of an Australian 2010 Pre-Election Package compiled for the benefit of foreign media.

State matters from New South Wales:

Roy Morgan has published NSW state voting intention figures derived from its two most recent national phone polls, producing a small sample of 360. This shows Labor’s primary vote crashing six points since February to 28.5 per cent, with the Liberals up three to 44 per cent, the Nationals down one to 1 per cent and the Greens up five to 16 per cent.

• Simultaneous with announcing his departure from NSW cabinet last week, Labor’s member for Campbelltown announced he would not contest the next election, creating a vacancy in one of the depressingly small number of seats Labor can be reasonably sure of winning (margin 18.5 per cent). The Macarthur Advertiser reports Campbelltown’s Labor mayor Aaron Rule has denied being interested, saying he would support fellow councillor Anoulack Chanthivong. Another possibility is Paul Nunnari, a policy adviser to West who unsuccessfully contested preselection for the federal seat of Macarthur. Wollondilly MP Phil Costa denies he will seek refuge from his own highly marginal seat.

• The Great Lakes Advocate reports the NSW Nationals have nominated Forster solicitor Stephen Bromhead as candidate for Myall Lakes, to be vacated on the retirement of sitting member John Turner.

Imre Salusinszky of The Australian writes that the Right faction forces associated with state upper house MP David Clarke have warned Barry O’Farrell against a repeat of his unsuccessful attempt to sway the Riverstone preselection in favour of Nick Tyrrell, who had the backing of Alex Hawke’s rival Right sub-faction, against Clarke-backed winner Kevin Connolly. Further turf wars between the rival groups loom in Baulkham Hills, Castle Hill and Hornsby, the latter of which is to be vacated by the recently announced retirement of sitting member Judy Hopwood.

State matters from Victoria:

• The Monash Journal reports the Victorian Liberals have endorsed Theo Zographos, a 21-year-old “has worked part-time as an electorate officer”, as its candidate for the eastern Melbourne suburbs state seat of Oakleigh.

• The Ballarat Courier reports the Victorian Liberals’ administration committee has installed Ballarat councillor Ben Taylor as candidate for
Ballarat East, cutting short the normal preselection process. Labor’s Geoff Howard holds the seat with a margin of 6.7 per cent.