Place your bets

The Northern Territory is the only Australian jurisdiction that the Poll Bludger has never graced with his presence, and it must be conceded that the election guide predictions are a little wanting for first-hand local knowledge. The laughter from up north can be heard already – Ken Parish had this to say at Troppo Armadillo:

I’m a bit surprised that Poll Bludger William Bowe is apparently so sanguine about Labor retaining Millner. Maybe he doesn’t quite realise that the CLP has a long and quite successful history of running dummy independents in close marginal seats to maximise the party’s vote. The "independent" is invariably a close CLP associate and proceeds to swap preferences tightly with the official candidate. Phil Mitchell is very much in that tradition, and with a margin of around 90 votes I expect him to have a significant influence. I reckon Millner is a lineball proposition; I wouldn’t want to call it either way. As for the Pollbludger’s prediction that Labor will win the seat of Araluen in Alice Springs from the CLP, I don’t think so sunshine. Do you want to put money on it? Alice Springs is injun country for Labor, and I don’t see anything in the tea-leaves likely to change that scenario. I’d give Labor’s Fran Kilgariff (current Alice Springs mayor and daughter of a legendary former CLP federal member) a very rough chance of unseating the CLP’s Richard Lim in Greatorex despite a margin of some 9%, but I certainly wouldn’t have her as favourite. Generally I’d be surprised to see any seats change hands in Alice Springs.

I had perhaps naively assumed that Phil Mitchell was running because he thought he might win, and concede that I might have understimated the impact a high-profile dummy independent candidate can have in a concentrated Darwin electorate. But Parish’s opinion that the seat is a "lineball proposition" encourages me to maintain my assessment that the seat will stay with Labor, since I expect them to enjoy a bigger-than-anticipated overall swing. As for Araluen, I never wanted to put money on it, but am now persuaded that Labor’s traditionally low primary vote here makes it a long shot. The 134-vote two-party margin from 2001 was influenced by a CLP dissident running as an independent and directing preferences to Labor, and this scenario does not look like it’s about to be repeated. With the adjustment of this prediction, this site’s current projection is that Labor will win 14 seats, the CLP nine and independents two. For what it’s worth, the punters appear to share my rosy view of Labor’s prospects – Centrebet is offering $1.30 for a Labor win and $3.15 for the CLP.

The following snippets from Parish’s post were news to me:

• The CLP candidate for Millner, Paul Mossman, "has found himself in all sorts of trouble over some appallingly sexist statements he made on an Internet political discussion board". Mossman posted on an Inside Politics thread regarding a 13-year-old girl in Florida who had been denied an abortion, saying she "should have just kept her legs closed in the first place". The comment has since been removed but the cached Google page remains. Other comments on the site by Mossman include one stating that there are "plenty in line waiting their chances" to assume the CLP leadership, and several supporting views expressed by fellow commenter Philippe Gregoire, a man with far too much to say.

• It is rumoured that Goyder MP Peter Maley, who was dumped first from the CLP front bench and then from the parliamentary party, is considering running as an independent. Maley’s actions in returning to his lucrative legal practice while still serving as a parliamentarian do not bespeak a man who is keen to continue in politics, but the word is that he might nominate "purely to screw Burke and deny the seat to the CLP".

Long way to the top

The Poll Bludger is proud to unveil his seat-by-seat guide to the forthcoming Northern Territory election, to be held no later than October 15. This guide is probably more thorough than it needed to be for a parliament representing barely enough voters to account for two federal electorates, but two factors allowed its growth to get out of hand. One was the lack of anything better to do, given that there is unlikely to be another state election until South Australia goes to the polls on March 18 next year. The other was the nature of Northern Territory politics which, despite modest stakes and bite-sized Legislative Assembly electorates of roughly 4500 voters, turned out to be a lot more interesting than I had realised.

The modern era of Northern Territory democracy began in 1974 when a fully elected 19-member Legislative Assembly replaced the partly appointed Legislative Council that was established in 1947. The first eight elections for the Assembly, between 1974 and 1997, produced comfortable majorities for the Country Liberal Party. After failing to win a single seat in 1974, Labor’s representation remained stuck at the lower end of the six-to-nine seats range, which encouraged a conventional wisdom that gave Labor little chance of ever coming to power. It was felt the party was too closely identified with policies favourable to the indigenous population to win more than a handful of seats in metropolitan and pastoral areas, and that the small size of electorates (the Assembly increased from 19 to 25 members in 1983) provided sitting CLP members with insurmountable advantages of incumbency, since they were known personally to almost every one of their constituents. The failure of Labor to unseat a single sitting CLP member at the five elections between 1983 and 1997 meant the latter item in particular appeared to be carved in stone.

The 2001 election accordingly came as a shock to long-term observers. Led by an effective media performer in Clare Martin and facing a visibly tiring Country Liberal Party government (further burdened by what was then considered an unpopular Coalition government in Canberra), Labor picked up a 5.8 per cent swing and won a clean sweep of Darwin’s northern suburbs, winning Casuarina, Johnston, Karama, Millner, Nightcliff and Sanderson from the CLP. All but the latter two involved the defeat of a sitting member. Labor thus emerged with a bare majority of 13 out of 25 seats, a slightly fortunate outcome given that they trailed the CLP 40.6 per cent to 45.4 per cent on the primary vote and 48.1 per cent to 51.9 per cent on two-party preferred. All seven northern suburbs seats were won with margins of 7.2 per cent or less, the only comparably marginal CLP seat being Araluen in Alice Springs where they survived a 17.2 per cent swing to hold on by 2.0 per cent.

With Labor now in government, few of the existing items of conventional wisdom still apply. Previously, CLP claims that the sky would fall in if Labor ever came to power were impossible to disprove. Clare Martin’s government has not been without incident – it suffered from self-inflicted wounds over its zealous policing of pool fencing laws, a cause of major irritation in the top end, and the sacking of under-performing Health Minister Jane Aagaard in 2003. Its abolition of mandatory sentencing might also still rankle among an electorate notably concerned with law and order issues. But overall, the government and in particular its leader have projected an image of confidence and competence, and have not exhausted enough political capital to counter-balance the long list of factors now weighing in their favour. Chief among these is that the incumbency shoe is now on the other foot, with Labor enjoying the advantage of sitting members in all the important marginal seats. The Poll Bludger has two reasons to think this factor will be even more pronounced at the coming election. One is the tendency of voters to give new members the benefit of the doubt whey they first face re-election, which applies in all but one of the seven northern suburbs marginals. The other is the geographic concentration of these electorates, which has presumably made it a simple matter for the Martin government to concentrate largesse where it has been most required.

Party unity is another point in Labor’s favour. Labor has had no trouble galvanising behind the first leader ever to deliver it victory, whereas the CLP has faced the inevitable upheavals associated with adjusting to opposition after 27 years in government. In December 2003 the parliamentary party dumped Denis Burke, the leader who took it to defeat in 2001, in favour of Terry Mills – only to reinstall Burke in February after Mills stepped aside, conceding that he "wasn’t up to the job". While Burke’s return to the leadership was unopposed, few will be persuaded that the splits that led to his departure have been covered over. The CLP is going to have a very hard time persuading the electorate to trade in a stable government for a leader it has already rejected once, and who lost the confidence of his colleagues less than 18 months ago.

Labor’s failures in past Northern Territory elections have stood in contrast to its performance at the federal level. Until the creation of a second seat at the 2001 election, the federal electorate of Northern Territory was held by Labor as often as not. Since then, Labor has held the non-Darwin seat of Lingiari by bigger margins than the CLP has held Solomon, which remains highly marginal. Most of the exceptional circumstances that have underwritten the CLP hegemony at the territory level no longer exist, but many observers are maintaining an unwarranted caution about Labor’s prospects. The Poll Bludger is inclined to tip a sizeable swing in Labor’s favour, but such a swing will not necessarily deliver any new seats. The aforementioned Araluen is the only real CLP marginal, and the 2001 result here was distorted by preselection squabbles and high-profile independent challengers (despite a 17.2 per cent two-party swing, Labor’s primary vote was only up 1.6 per cent from 1997). The next most marginal CLP seat is Port Darwin (7.3 per cent), but local factors suggest that an eye should be kept on Daly (9.5 per cent), Goyder (14.8 per cent) and especially MacDonnell (8.5 per cent). For their part, the CLP reportedly has high hopes of winning Sanderson from Labor, but the Poll Bludger’s judgement is that the tide will be flowing too heavily in the other direction.

The power of one

These are momentous times in the electoral history of the Poll Bludger’s newly readopted home state of Western Australia, which is about to become the last state to abandon rural vote weighting for the lower house and adopt what is known, more or less accurately, as "one-vote one-value". After numerous amendments made to secure the support of the Greens and ex-Liberal independent Alan Cadby in the upper house, the bill finally completed its passage through parliament on Tuesday, just days before members elected on February 26 were due to take their seats and put the necessary majority beyond the government’s reach. The legislation as passed abandons Labor’s campaign promise that the five remote electorates in the upper house region of Mining and Pastoral would be quarantined from its effects. Instead, concerns about servicing of remote areas have been accommodated through a measure similar to that which operates in Queensland, in which electorates with an area of more than 100,000 square kilometres will be deemed to have a bonus enrolment of "phantom" voters equal to 1.5 per cent of the electorate’s area in square kilometres. Other electorates will have roughly 21,000 voters, compared with the current average of about 26,000 for metropolitan and 14,000 for non-metropolitan seats.

The bill provides for two extra members in each house, with the metropolitan area gaining eight lower house seats and the non-metropolitan area losing six. This is unambiguously bad news for the Coalition in general and the National Party in particular, but few who are not directly affected would argue that it amounted to a violation of natural justice. The existing system has produced all manner of absurdities, like the existence of tiny non-Perth urban electorates such as Mandurah, Albany, Bunbury, Kalgoorlie, Dawesville and Leschenault. Furthermore, the Liberal leadership chose to deal itself out of the game by insisting that there could be no merit in any alternative to the status quo. This troubled some of the wiser heads in the Liberal Party, as Robert Taylor reported in The West Australian on May 7:

(Liberal upper house leader Norman) Moore knew that Independent Alan Cadby, who holds the balance of power on the legislation, might be interested in a Liberal version of electoral reform. Mr Moore confirmed in Parliament yesterday that he met Labor’s Electoral Affairs Minister Jim McGinty to discuss the possibility of another model emerging … Mr Moore’s plan increased the size of the Legislative Assembly by four MLAs, kept the status quo in the Legislative Council and guaranteed five Lower House seats in the remote Mining and Pastoral region but within their existing boundaries. The effect of his model was to save two Lower House country seats and reduce the number of country seats transferred to the city from six to four … Mr Moore took his plan to Tuesday’s Liberal party room meeting and by all accounts then listened in amazement as Mr Birney turned the debate into a test of his own leadership. Mr Birney refused to discuss the plan, arguing that the Liberals would lose all credibility in the bush if they voted for the legislation no matter what eventual form it took in the Parliament. An argument was also put that by voting for a one vote, one value model, the Liberals would merely provide the Nationals with ammunition at the next election.

Birney must take a dim view of his country constituents if he imagines they would prefer the purity of the impotent to a sober display of pragmatism in the face of the inevitable. The result of Birney’s idealism in pursuit of a low principle is that lower house representation in the non-metropolitan south-west, currently home to 14 Coalition and four Labor members, will indeed fall from 18 seats to 12. Moore’s plan promised a better outcome for all concerned. Proposals to increase the number of politicians are always vulnerable to populist rabble-rousing, but adding all four new members to the lower house would have been easier to sell as a necessary boost to country representation (for some historical perspective on this matter, check out the remarkable list of Western Australian electoral facts assembled by shy Perth blogger "Ross of Rockingham" – among other things, it tells us that the original electorate of Murchison had 24 voters when it was created in 1890). As for Birney’s reported concern regarding the threat from the Nationals at the distant 2009 election, this seems an insignificant consideration at the best of times, especially now that the affected area will have fewer seats.

The Western Australian Electoral Commission has prepared an indicative map showing how non-metropolitan electoral boundaries might look under the new system, which projects some rather quirky outcomes. Since the Mining and Pastoral region accounts for roughly three-quarters of the Western Australian land mass, the Queensland-style model largely replicates Labor’s original proposal to maintain the strength of the region’s representation while providing for one-vote one-value elsewhere. However, there will now be very large discrepancies within these five seats, which will have to be dramatically redrawn. The WAEC projects the existence of a vast and sparsely populated new electorate called Eyre, covering desert emptiness from north of Kalgoorlie to the South Australian/Northern Territory border, which will have an estimated 9215 voters – substantially fewer than the smallest electorate under the current system, the absurdly compact south-west seat of Leschenault (12,104 voters). It is almost double the estimated 18,179 voters in the projected new Mining and Pastoral seat of Pilbara, which will take in relatively populous mining areas on the north-west coast.

Much has been made of the fact that Matt Birney’s own electorate of Kalgoorlie, the only one of the five Mining and Pastoral seats not held by Labor, will be abolished under the new model. Where the current electorate of Kalgoorlie is based entirely within the city that bears its name, the projected new electorate of Dundas will absorb the whole city and surrounding areas as far east as the South Australian border. While this might look impressive on the map, Dundas will add a mere 961 new voters to the current enrolment of Kalgoorlie for an increase of about 7 per cent. Birney’s margin at the February election was 2024 votes. The new legislation only slightly aggravates an already existing problem, namely the Liberal leader’s relatively insecure hold on what was traditionally a Labor seat. Other changes projected by the WAEC for the Mining and Pastoral region include the expansion of the state’s northernmost seat of Kimberley, which will boost Labor’s margin through the recovery of remote territory it lost at the previous redistribution, and the creation of Murchison, which is similar to the seat of Ningaloo that existed before the previous redistribution. This area has normally been considered Labor territory, but Ningaloo was won narrowly by the Liberals at both elections of its short life (1996 and 2001). Murchison joins Dundas as the other seat with a conspicuously small enrolment, in this case an estimated 10,019 voters.

As far as the major parties are concerned, these changes are a case of swings and roundabouts. The 12 seats that will replace the existing 18 in the non-metropolitan south-west are quite a different matter. The six seats tipped for abolition include four held by the National Party (Greenough, Merredin, Wagin and Stirling) and two by the Liberals (Leschenault and Dawesville). That leaves the following survivors:

Moore: The WAEC projects that this electorate will include all of the existing electorate of Moore except for the Shire of Toodyay, along with the northern half of the exisiting electorate of Merredin (which does not include Merredin proper) and most of the area of the electorate of Greenough. Moore looms as an interesting contest between the Liberals, who won the seat for the first time in 1986, and the Nationals, who had a morale-boosting win in Greenough at the expense of a sitting Liberal member at the February election and for whom Merredin is a party stronghold. The National Party members for Merredin (Brendon Grylls) and Greenough (Grant Woodhams) could be left contemplating a run against the newly elected Liberal member, Gary Snook.

Geraldton: Labor’s Shane Hill narrowly won the existing seat of Geraldton at the past two elections, but would have to do very well to hold it now that it is set to be augmented by more than 8000 new rural voters from the solid conservative seat of Greenough. The weak performance by the National Party in Geraldton at the recent election suggests that it will fall to the Liberals, but the newly elected Nationals member for Greenough, Grant Woodhams, could prove popular enough to buck the trend if obliged to seek refuge here in 2009.

Avon: The WAEC projects that this electorate will be augmented by one shire from Moore, four from Merredin and two from Wagin. None of this suggests the seat will become any less safe for the National Party, particularly in light of the stature of the sitting member, party leader Max Trenorden.

Murray: Located on Perth’s expanding southern fringe, the WAEC envisions this electorate making up the numbers by absorbing the southern half of the metropolitan electorate of Peel. This would make a fairly safe Labor seat out of one in which Liberal newcomer Murray Cowper prevailed by 198 votes at the recent election.

Mandurah: The WAEC projects the abolition of the existing electorate of Dawesville to boost the numbers in Collie-Wellington and Mandurah, with Mandurah set to take in the populous area north of the Dawesville Channel. Since the Liberals won Dawesville by 4.1 per cent and Labor won Mandurah by 12.3 per cent, this will still be a Labor seat but with a softer margin. Given that Mandurah was held by the Liberals before 2001, it looms as one to watch for the next election.

Collie-Wellington: The existing seat is over quota so this will not need to expand too dramatically to meet the new enrolment requirements. It will absorb the southern part of Dawesville while losing the Shire of Dardanup to Capel. Labor’s Mick Murray did well to blow out his margin from 2.6 per cent to 9.3 per cent at the February election, but the new additions will probably make life harder for him.

Capel: Capel will lose its ungainly appendage south of Busselton along with a small area in the north to accommodate the expansion of Bunbury, while gaining the Shire of Dardanup from Collie-Wellington in the north and most of the Shire of Bridgetown-Greenbushes from Warren-Blackwood in the south-east. This will do nothing to change its status as a safe Liberal seat in which the National Party would need to field an exceptionally strong candidate to be competitive.

Bunbury: Bunbury will expand to incorporate those areas of the City of Bunbury it does not currently include, from Leschenault in the east and Capel in the south, plus a further coastal strip west of Bussell Highway in the south. These changes will strengthen Liberals newcomer John Castrilli’s precarious hold on the seat.

Vasse: Currently hugging the Cape Geographe coast, this electorate will dramatically expand in area to accommodate all of the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River (currently in Warren-Blackwood) and most of the Shire of Busselton (taking in an area currently in Capel). This will strengthen the Liberal hold on a seat that should be a safe seat for them, although they have survived strong challenges from the National Party and an independent at the past two elections.

Warren: This electorate is less closely related to Warren-Blackwood than the name suggests, as it will include most of the abolished seats of Wagin and Stirling. It looms as a tense struggle between the Nationals and the Liberals. Affected members are Liberal veteran Paul Omodei, member for Warren-Blackwood; the newly-elected Nationals member for Stirling, Terry Redman; and Terry Waldron, Nationals member for Wagin since 2001.

Albany: Labor have done well to win Albany at the last two elections, enjoying narrow wins in a seat that was held by the Liberals from 1974 to 2001. Albany will now expand to take in an area from the National Party seat of Stirling, and while many of the new voters will be from outer Albany suburbs where Labor performs well relative to the remainder of Stirling, Labor successes will probably become even rarer here in future.

Roe: Roe will absorb the south-eastern corner of Merredin, including Merredin itself, and the Shire of Dumbleyung from Wagin. This is all National Party territory, which makes the seat doubly interesting in light of Graham Jacobs’ success in winning the seat for the Liberals in February after the retirement of the sitting Nationals member.

If the results from the last election were replicated under these boundaries, the Coalition would have won nine of the 12 seats, of which between one and four would have been won by the Nationals (who won five seats on February 26). The WAEC has not prepared an indicative map for the metropolitan area, but the seats would presumably have been won in proportions similar to the actual result – about 29 from 42, compared with 24 from 34. Throw in a status quo result in Mining and Pastoral and assume that the two independents would have held their seats, and you have Labor on 36 seats and the Coalition on 21, compared with 32 and 23 in the current parliament. Given that the Nationals would have borne the brunt of the cut in Coalition numbers, it is hard to see why Birney was terrified at the thought of losing votes to the Nationals, but relaxed about losing seats to Labor.

The other half of the bargain is that the Legislative Council will gain two extra members. The state will still be divided into three metropolitan and three non-metropolitan regions, but these will have six members each instead of five or seven. The principle of rural vote weighting will thus endure in the upper house, which is the only place where it belongs. This change was insisted upon by the Greens despite the Poll Bludger’s conviction (as argued here) that it was not in the party’s own interest. Labor correctly concluded that they would be little affected and were happy to oblige.

In like Lin

Today’s periodic elections for the Tasmanian Legislative Council produced a handsome win for Labor incumbent Lin Thorp in Rumney and a predictably indecisive outcome in Murchison, where the result will be decided by preferences. At the close of counting, with declaration and absentee votes still to come, Thorp was on 51.0 per cent of the primary vote (up from 45.7 per cent in 1999), with Sorell mayor and independent candidate Carmel Torenius a distant second on 24.6 per cent. The remainder was divided evenly between the Greens’ Glenn Millar and independent David Traynor. Thorp prevailed in all but one of the 24 booths. The surprise of the evening was the poor showing in Murchison from Burnie mayor Alvwyn Boyd in Murchison, who finished fourth out of a field of five candidates with 14.2 per cent. It may be inferred that the benefits of a high profile on council do not extend even slightly beyond the area of the municipality, since only a part of the City of Burnie is located within Murchison, and that prospective candidates in locally focused elections need to campaign hard and early (Boyd did not announce his intention to run until the day nominations closed). The front-runner at the close of counting was Australian College of Midwives president Ruth Forrest with 29.0 per cent, ahead of Kevin Hyland (26.5 per cent) and John Oldaker (21.3 per cent). The gap between Oldaker and Hyland is too wide to be bridged by preferences from the Greens’ Scott Jordan (9.0 per cent), especially given Oldaker’s vocal opposition to land handbacks to the Tasmanian Aboriginal Land Council. Hyland is still an outside chance, but a win for Forrest seems by far the most likely outcome.

Murchison and Rumney: part two

The division of Rumney is based around Storm Bay about 25 kilometres east of Hobart and includes Sorell, Richmond and Port Arthur. It was won for Labor upon its creation in 1999 by Lin Thorp, who did exceptionally well to defeat incumbent Steve Wilson, member for the abolished division of Monmouth from 1980. Although he sat as an independent, Wilson went on to contest the lower house division of Lyons as a Liberal at the 2002 state election, but scored only 3.7 per cent to finish fourth out of the five candidates on the Liberal ticket. Thorp outpolled Wilson by 45.7 per cent to 44.9 per cent on the primary vote and emerged just 65 votes (0.2 per cent) ahead after preferences. Peter Tucker, one-time Tasmanian Liberal staffer and currently a PhD candidate at the University of Tasmania, informs the Poll Bludger that Thorp has built a high profile in her electorate, appearing at "every sausage sizzle and school fete going".

Given that Thorp was able to win the seat under much less favourable circumstances in 1999, she would have to be the favourite to win given the apparent lack of disaffection with the Lennon government. The most fancied of her three opponents is Carmel Torenius, the mayor of Sorrell. Torenius ran on the Liberal ticket for Lyons at the 1998 state election and polled an uninspiring 2.9 per cent, although her profile would have improved since. Also in the field are Greens candidate Glenn Millar, a former staffer for Christine Milne who has been campaigning against Walker Corporation’s Ralph’s Bay canal estate proposal (also opposed by Thorp), and Clarence City Council alderman David Traynor. Traynor is a former ALP member who was the party’s candidate for Monmouth in 1993, and was also on their lower house ticket for Franklin in 1992. The 25.8 per cent he recorded on the former occasion was considerably inferior to Thorp’s performance in 1999, although Thorp benefited from greater organisational support from her party which by that time was fancying its chances of an eventual Council majority. At the very least Traynor has the potential to serve as an irritant by splitting the Labor vote.

The division of Murchison is the state’s largest, covering the north-western corner of the state including Burnie west of Shorewell Creek (accounting for roughly a quarter of the town’s population) and the entirety of the state’s west coast. Its population centres include logging towns that swung savagely against Labor at the federal election, delivering the corresponding electorate of Braddon to the Liberals with a 7.1 per cent swing. As the mayor of Burnie, Alvwyn Boyd has the highest profile out of the five candidates but most of his municipality is located in the neighbouring division of Montgomery. He also began his run late, coming forward on the day nominations closed. Last year Boyd suggested he would not seek to remain mayor beyond October, but he is apparently reconsidering this while promising to see out his current term as mayor without pay if elected to parliament. The other candidates are Kevin Hyland, self-employed truck driver and deputy mayor of Waratah-Wynyard; John Oldaker, Circular Head councillor, farmer and Vietnam veteran; Ruth Forrest, state president of the Australian College of Midwives; and Scott Jordan of the Greens. Oldaker has been the most vocal opponent of calls for "cultural ownership" of Rocky Cape and Sundown Point to be tranferred to the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania, which emerged as an issue after the Legislative Council’s recent surprise decision to allow the transfer of Cape Barren and Clarke islands at the other end of Bass Strait.

Murchison and Rumney: part one

On the first Saturday of each May, voters in either two or three of the 15 divisions that make up the Tasmanian Legislative Council elect members to serve six-year terms. Three such elections were scheduled for this year – in Murchison in the state’s north-west, Rumney to the east of Hobart and Paterson in Launceston – but nobody has stepped forward in Paterson to challenge Don Wing, a former Liberal turned independent who entered parliament in 1982 and became Council President in 2002. To the Poll Bludger’s knowledge, this is the first time a state parliamentarian has been elected unopposed since 1993 when Tony Fletcher, now retiring as independent member for Murchison, enjoyed a clear run in the since-abolished seat of Russell. Three independents and one Greens candidate will compete to fill the vacancy in Murchison, while in Rumney Labor’s Lin Thorp faces a field of three challengers in a seat she won narrowly in 1999.

This time last year your correspondent had a fair bit to say on the chamber’s evolution and political make-up, the striking feature of which has always been the dominance of independents. The Liberals have a long-standing tradition of not formally endorsing candidates, while Labor’s representation historically wavered between one seat and two. The reduction of the chamber from 19 members to 15 in 1997 strengthened the hand of the major parties by creating larger divisions that placed greater organisational demands on candidates, but only Labor has been able to capitalise. Their representation has since increased to five, and at one point they harboured fantasies of securing an outright majority. The Liberals reacted by endorsing two candidates at the 2000 elections, but both performed poorly and they have not since repeated the mistake.

The voting rights of the Council President are governed by a complex mix of rules and conventions, the practical upshot of which is that tied votes are usually resolved in the negative. This means that Labor must secure the support of three independents other than Don Wing in order to pass legislation. This brings us to what promises to become a regular annual event at the Poll Bludger, the audit of the independents’ record in siding with or against the government when the house divides.

. 2004-05 2002-04 expiry
Tanya Rattray-Wagner 7/12 (58%) 2010
Norma Jamieson 3/12 (25%) 2/11 (18%) 2009
Ivan Dean 5/12 (42%) 1/11 (9%) 2009
Kerry Finch 7/12 (58%) 10/17 (59%) 2008
Paul Harriss 2/12 (17%) 2/36 (6%) 2008
Sue Smith 5/10 (50%) 11/34 (32%) 2007
Jim Wilkinson 6/11 (55%) 14/34 (41%) 2007
Greg Hall 5/12 (42%) 16/36 (44%) 2006
Tony Fletcher 2/12 (17%) 4/36 (11%) 2005
Don Wing 0/0 (-) 2/14 (14%) 2005
Colin Rattray 19/36 (53%) 2004

The left column tallies divisions that have occurred since last year’s elections, at which Tanya Rattray-Wagner replaced her retiring father Colin Rattray as the independent member for Apsley and Terry Martin retained Elwick for Labor upon the retirement of David Crean, brother of Simon and a former state Treasurer. The middle column covers the previous two years (all votes recorded for Don Wing were from the period before he assumed the Council Presidency). Based on the latter figures, the Poll Bludger last year characterised Harriss, Fletcher, Dean, Smith and Jamieson as the "Council Opposition" with the remainder holding the balance of power. Ivan Dean has proved more inclined to support the government in the past year, while Sue Smith has become even more of a borderline case. Along with Harriss, Tony Fletcher has consistently been the most troublesome member from Labor’s point of view and they will presumably be pleased to see the back of him. The others have remained true to earlier form, with Rattray-Wagner following more-or-less in her father’s footsteps.

Saturday’s elections will presumably return a member for Murchison with similar conservative credentials to Fletcher’s. The more important question for Labor is whether they can retain their delicate hold on Rumney, which looms as the first substantial electoral challenge faced by Paul Lennon since he assumed the premiership shortly before last year’s elections. A closer examination of these contests will follow in the coming days.