A word about that Canberra Times poll. The sample of 327 isn’t much, but it’s not completely useless and even the extreme end of its margin of error is still good news for Labor. After allocation of the undecided it has Labor on 55 per cent, Liberal on 30 per cent and the Greens on 11 per cent. This puts the Liberals roughly level with their 31.6 per cent from 2001, and it’s far from the only reason to think they won’t improve this time. For the Greens, 11 per cent feels a little on the low side, but only a little. The federal election demonstrated that the dividend they will receive from the decline of the Democrats has been over-estimated, and while they should improve on their 9.1 per cent from 2001, Senator Bob Brown’s prediction of four seats may be dismissed as another of his extravagant boasts. No doubt Labor’s score is excessive, but probably not to the degree that many would assume.
There are a number of good reasons to expect a particularly strong showing for Labor. Firstly, it would be a bit out of character for the voters of Canberra to deliver yet more power to the Liberal Party in the week that the Coalition secured a historic majority in both houses of federal parliament. Secondly, there has been a long term trend of "normalisation" in the ACT since the first election was held in 1989, when eight of the 17 members returned represented groups cranky about the establishment of self-government. The influence of independents has since progressively declined which is always good news for the traditionally dominant party, that being Labor in Canberra’s case. Thirdly, to an observer of recent state elections there seems to be a familiar pattern at work – the Labor Government that came to power in a minority position, and went on to win the following election in a landslide. Outstanding examples include Bob Carr in 1999, Peter Beattie in 2001 and Steve Bracks in 2002.
For these reasons, the Poll Bludger’s tips are as follows. Molonglo: Labor 4, Liberal 2, Greens 1. Brindabella Labor 3, Liberal 2. Ginninderra: Labor 2, Liberal 2, Greens 1.
Taking in the central part of Canberra, Molonglo returns seven rather than five members and has a lower quota of 12.5 rather than 16.67 per cent. Voters in the electorate have backed the Liberals and the Greens in slightly higher numbers than elsewhere at each of the three elections under the current system. Labor enters the race with its three elected members from last time present and correct – Deputy Chief Minister Ted Quinlan, Health and Planning Minister Simon Corbell and Education Minister Katy Gallagher. For the Liberals the story is unhappily more complicated. Their only competing incumbent is Jacqui Burke, who initially failed to retain her seat at the 2001 election, losing out to Liberal newcomer Helen Cross. Burke recovered her seat by filling the vacancy created by defeated Chief Minister Gary Humphries’ move to his current position in the Senate when Margaret Reid retired in 2002. Cross has since quit the Liberal Party and now sits as an independent; the other Liberal, Greg Cornwell, is retiring. Should Cross retain her seat she will presumably do so at the expense of the cast of unfamiliar Liberal candidates. The Greens too are fielding three little-known candidates with their member Kerrie Tucker retiring, having just failed in her bid to win Gary Humphries’ Senate seat. Even so, Senator Bob Brown has fantasised out loud about winning a second seat here, and it must be conceded that this is at least technically possible if they can pick up a reasonable surplus from Labor. But the Poll Bludger thinks he has caught the whiff of a landslide at this election, and not just because of yesterday’s poll in the Canberra Times. He accordingly predicts that Labor will win four seats in Molonglo, confining the Greens to one and the Liberals to two. The identity of the newcomers is anyone’s guess.
Ginninderra covers the northern part of Canberra, including Belconnen and Nicholls. Its voting habits have been little different from those at the other end of town in Brindabella (the other five-member electorate), except that Labor didn’t quite get over the line to win a third seat here in 2001. It instead was taken by Roslyn Dundas of the Australian Democrats, the party’s first ever seat in the Assembly and probably also its last. Labor’s two members are senior Government figures certain of re-election – Chief Minister John Stanhope and Assembly Speaker Wayne Berry. Liberal front-benchers Vicki Dunne and Bill Stefaniak also appear safe, although they would be mindful of the outcome in 2001 when Dunne defeated Liberal incumbent Harold Hird, who is contesting again as an independent. Nobody expects the Liberals to be in contention for a third seat, and it also appears certain the Greens will overtake the Democrats (they respectively polled 7.9 and 9.7 per cent in 2001). It will then come down to one of the Greens (Meredith Hunter or Ben O’Callaghan) and a third Labor candidate. Assuming no leakage of preferences (a wrong assumption, but still useful for broad outline purposes) that will mean a contest between the total Greens vote and Labor’s surplus over 33.3 per cent (i.e. two quotas). Crispin Hull of the Canberra Times is convinced the Greens can’t lose, but having seen what stable first-term Labor governments could do to their opponents in Queensland and Victoria, the Poll Bludger is not so sure. Despite its modest sample of 327, yesterday’s poll in the Canberra Times offers further evidence to this effect.
It appears that Queensland National Party Senate candidate Barnaby Joyce is firming in his position just ahead of Family First at the crucial point of the count, after which Family First and One Nation preferences would boost him to a full quota. From Tasmania, another update from Geoff Lambert: "The scrutineers say there is a very high leakage of below-the-lines, i.e. deviation from the tickets. For the Libs 29%, ALP over 60% and Others (not Family First) 45% of below-the-lines favour Greens over Family First. This should see Greens grab the sixth spot – just. These are from a sample of 1000 below-the-lines mostly from Franklin. The underlying below-the-line rate and primaries will vary in other places, but I don’t think the leakage rates will".
Further bad news for Labor with the latest House of Representatives figures. The Australian Electoral Commission has removed Wakefield from the doubtfuls, with Liberal David Fawcett leading Labor member Martyn Evans by 0.62 per cent. And a seat that was formerly marked down as a Labor gain – Larry Anthony’s north coast seat of Richmond – has moved back into the doubtful column with a thud, Anthony now trailing by just 0.02 per cent.
The electorate of Brindabella covers the rural areas in the south of the Territory and outer southern Canberra including Tuggeranong. Five members are to be elected under the Hare-Clark system, with a quota of 16.67 required for election. It is only compulsory for voters to number one candidate for each vacancy (so five in Brindabella and Ginninderra and seven in Molonglo), after which they have the option to exhaust. At the first two elections under the current system Brindabella returned two members for each major party plus independent Paul Osborne. In 2001 Labor broke through to win a third seat at Osborne’s expense, their primary vote increasing from 28.5 to 44 per cent. Their challenge this time is to try and hold that seat against the rising tide of the Greens.
In this respect the bar has been raised by the retirement of member Bill Wood, a veteran of the first ACT Legislative Assembly in 1989, who will take with him a name recognition that is very important in these elections. Incumbents John Hargreaves and Karin MacDonald are assured of re-election while the remaining Labor candidates, Mick Gentleman, Paschal Leahy and Rebecca Logue, appear from this distance to have about as much chance as each other of taking a third seat. To do this they will also need to overcome the two Greens candidates, Graham Jensen and Kathryn Kelly. Crispin Hull of the Canberra Times argues that Labor will need to substantially improve on the 44 per cent of the vote they received to win the third seat in 2001, when the non-major party vote split in several directions and petered out through exhaustion and leakage to the major parties. This time they will face a consolidated Greens vote. However, Antony Green notes that the 6.9 per cent vote for defeated independent Paul Osborne, who is not contesting this time, "is more likely to return to the major parties than to go to the Greens".
There are also two sitting Liberal members who appear certain to be re-elected – Opposition Leader Brendan Smyth, who held the federal seat of Canberra for one year after the 1995 by-election that lit the fuse on the Keating Government, and Steve Pratt, the CARE aid worker who was imprisoned in Yugoslavia on spying charges in 1999.
The Tasmanian Senate result must be considered a big disappointment for the Greens, who were widely expected to win a quota on the primary vote. Instead their primary vote was down to 12.8 per cent from 13.8 per cent in 2001 and they are grappling with Family First in a struggle for the final place. Antony Green offers a set of calculations based on the assumption that all votes are above the line, although Tasmania is the one state in which this is not more-or-less accurate. From a starting position of just 2.31 per cent, Family First would absorb the hefty Liberal surplus remaining after the election of their third and final candidate, and receive handy additions upon the elimination of the Christian Democrats and Labor renegade Shayne Murphy. That would put them ahead of Labor’s third place-holder, whose elimination would decide the result. If all Labor votes were above the line, Family First would emerge with 1.0579 of a quota compared with 0.9421 for the Greens. Green notes that "analysis based on treating all party votes as ticket votes almost always provides an accurate estimate of the final outcome", but if ever there might be an exception to the rule this could be it. No fewer than 24 per cent of Tasmanian voters went below the line in 2001, and this would include a disproportionate number of Greens voters and Labor voters making an effort to ensure their vote does not end up with Family First as per the party’s preference deal. One who has looked at all this very closely is Geoff Lambert, noted election obsessive and frequent correspondent. His number crunching runs as follows:
(In 2001) 24% of all votes were cast below the line. It ranged from about 13% for the big parties up to 57% for The Greens (one candidate, Bob Brown). But this figure for The Greens is biased by Brown in 2001. In other years, it’s been about 25%. These figures may or may not be repeated in 2004 – probably they will, especially since the ballot paper was so small this time around.
75% of below-the line votes show ‘1’ for the #1 candidate (i.e. for candidates on top of the party lists). The latter is important, because the ‘1’ for #1 votes from the booths are ALREADY in the count … only the below-the-lines for postal/prepoll and the below-the-lines for #2,3,4 candidates have yet to show up on the system. On this basis, I would expect that the Greens #2 and #3 are carrying about 25% of 25% of 13% of the vote, i.e. about 0.8% of the state total. That will bring (Greens candidate) Christine Milne up to about 13.6%, which is still not enough. And 0.8% is probably an overestimate because it will be dragged down by the same sorts of things happening in other parties, although to a lesser extent.
On the other hand, there could be leakage from the #1 to #4 candidates of other groups. This is known to happen in the Tasmanian House of Assembly, where a lot of people voted (e.g.) 1 Robin Gray, 2 Christine Milne (and vice-versa). It is hard to know how many, but at least in this category it is potentially enough. The below-the-line for (ALP+LIB) will be about 15% of 80% = 12% of the total votes cast. Milne will need to pick up a leakage of only about 15% of these to creep up to a quota. It is at least arguable that a number of these people were peeved with the decision by everyone to preference Family First ahead of the Greens and so would hop over to the Greens early on in their papers (they have to go to Greens by preference 2 or 3 of the majors of course). That this sort of thing can swing a result was seen here in my local Council election, where the leading group lost almost half a quota through such a process.
There is little hope for Milne to gain on the postals and pre-polls. What has been counted so far shows her going backwards. The bottom line of this analysis is, I think, that Christine Milne MIGHT be elected, but it won’t be on the strength of postal/pre-polls, nor on the strength of Greens below-the-line, but it CAN be done on the strength of below-the-line leakage from Lib and ALP. The scrutineers should be able to tell whether this is likely from tomorrow (i.e. today).