Crystal ball time

Dan Van Blarcom may consider himself the inaugural recipient of the Poll Bludger Kiss of Death. Apparently if this site describes you as "promising" (see somewhere in the middle of this lengthy posting) that means you can expect the entire nation to be shown a photo of you wearing a swastika armband before the week is through. For such has been the fate of the now-disendorsed National Party candidate for Whitsunday, who in my defence certainly boasted a promising CV – respected commodore of the local yacht club, trusted announcer of boating reports on local radio. Unfortunately it has now emerged that self-appointed fuhrer of the Queensland Nazi Party (admittedly at the age of 16) and member of the Freedom Vigilantes and the League of Rights had been tactfully omitted. Van Blarcom maintains he was working as an undercover agent, but details of this claim are sketchy enough that the National Party has been unable to accept it.

Having established that unpromising precedent, the Poll Bludger will devote the final weekend of the campaign to putting his crystal balls on the line and calling the result seat-by-seat. This will require a lengthy process involving cutting-edge techniques of data collation and analysis, computerised statistical modelling based on breakthrough artificial intelligence technology, and the tossing of a few coins. This and a new round of campaign updates will be added to the Queensland election guide either tomorrow or Monday, depending on how I go.

A bunch of dickheads

The idea for a post on Graham Elmes, the colourful National Party candidate for the Cape York electorate of Cook, had been brewing for a while, but the last day’s events have prompted an article by Michael Madigan in the Courier Mail which said a large amount of what needed to be said. For those who have just joined us, Elmes is the former Cooktown mayor who sent chills down the spine of his party by loudly countenancing the possibility of a One Nation preference deal after Springborg had unequivocally declared that no such deals would occur. Elmes hit the news again today when he described his own party’s hierarchy as "a bunch of dickheads" for reasons which from this distance are difficult to discern.

All of which should be of purely academic interest, because the Mackerras pendulum has Cook as Labor’s ninth safest seat. The results in a three-horse race in 2001 were Labor 63.8 per cent, One Nation 20.6 per cent and National Party 15.5 per cent. The story behind this outcome is most intriguing for those of us who enjoy spending our spare time poring through election results. Madigan notes that "about 8000 of the 21,000 votes in Cook are rock-solid Labor, coming straight out of indigenous communities". Furthermore, Elmes today was heard to complain about the remarkably low number of informal votes recorded in these areas. The Poll Bludger went through the ECQ results for Cook from 2001 and looked at the kind of booth results to which they seemed to be referring. After paring it back in a maliciously selective fashion, 14 booths were isolated that accounted for a total of 1616 votes. Of these 1477 (91.4 per cent) were cast for Labor and not a single one was informal.

The Poll Bludger wouldn’t care to speculate why this might be, but the phenomenon would appear to knock Elmes out of contention from the beginning. There are a few reasons to think again on this count. Within the indigenous communities, Labor’s monopoly may be dented, however marginally, by respected indigenous independent candidate Bruce Gibson, who had seemed to many deserving of National Party preselection. Beyond them (and we’re talking about 60 per cent of the electorate here) there are Elmes’ fellow graziers in the north, certain to fall in behind him, and the much-vaunted nervous sugar growers in the south. Although One Nation are running again, most of their vote from last time will come home to Elmes. A Greens candidate is unlikely to have too much joy, but such effect as he has will be to Labor’s detriment.

Most important of all is the departure of Labor member Steve Bredhauer, a popular and energetic cabinet minister whose decision to retire while still in his forties has come as a great surprise. The personal following of an incumbent member is an enormous electoral asset in a regional electorate like Cook, and its disappearance is always keenly felt. This seems likely to be pronounced in view of his replacement, James O’Brien, a young staffer to Bredhauer with a political science degree, no dirt under his fingernails and no public profile of any kind. While Elmes scores headlines with his tough talking and independent outlook, O’Brien has barely been mentioned in the regional media, never mind nationally.

At the very least, a dramatic correction may be expected on election night. At the most, the seat may even provide the Nationals with a welcome surprise – providing they wouldn’t prefer it remain with Labor rather than have a cannon as loose as Elmes among their fragile ranks.

Accentuate the positive

Liberal candidate Ray Stevens scored a free kick in his campaign for the Gold Coast seat of Gaven yesterday after a sloppy tackle from Labor incumbent Robert Poole. Poole’s campaigners had been distributing brochures calling attention to Stevens’ alleged extravagance as a member of Gold Coast City Council, illustrating the point with a depiction of Stevens as a pig with his snout in the trough. Graham Young helpfully provides a reproduction of the offending item at On Line Opinion.

Certainly the pamphlet errs on the robust side, but not on a scale that would rate a mention by normal Australian campaigning standards. The reason this campaign is different is that Peter Beattie has comprehensively succeeded in persuading everyone that muck-raking has no place in this election and only positive campaigning is good enough for the people of Queensland. This is fine for him – his party is the one that’s carrying the accumulated baggage of 10 out of the last 12 years in office. To the extent that Beattie even faces an opposition, its members are too little-known within the electorate for a smear campaign to gain any traction. By contrast, the only logical campaign for the Coalition is one calling attention to the government’s failings and calling on voters to "restore the balance" with a protest vote. This is exactly what they are doing with television advertisements lampooning Beattie’s propensity for apologising, although it presumably hasn’t been lost on the Coalition that this is exactly what the electorate likes about him. It’s also something the Gaven pamphlet has given Beattie yet another chance to do. Sure enough he has responded by criticising his own side and calling for higher standards all round in time-honoured Shepherdson inquiry fashion. Indeed, so convenient has this opportunity been that Graham Young asks, "will anyone believe that Beattie had nothing to do with it?".

As for the state of play in Gaven, a poll in the Gold Coast Bulletin gives us some idea how it, and by extension the rest of the Gold Coast campaign, is travelling. Despite having kept his thoughts largely to himself in the past three years, Poole’s vote is recorded at 47 per cent against Stevens’ 32 per cent, figures almost identical to the last election which Poole won on a margin of 7.6 per cent. Equally interestingly, and in contrast to earlier polls conducted before people had given the matter any thought, 71 per cent of respondents said they would not direct preferences.

Australian independents day

Today the Poll Bludger celebrates Australia Day with a tribute to that exemplar of the can-do spirit that made this country what it is, the independent election candidate. At the election to be held on Saturday week, the people of Queensland will get to pass their verdict on no fewer than 49 beaut Aussie battlers who would no sooner kowtow to some dickhead party boss than their larrikin Anzac forebears would salute a British officer. Let’s have a squiz at what these jokers are up to.

The first thing to be noted is the amount of post-One Nation detritus floating around. The key example of this is the loose aggregation of independents who have assembled under the wing of maverick federal independent Bob Katter, who are hoping to tap into local fear and loathing over deregulation of the sugar industry. They include our old friend Jeff Knuth in Burdekin, who won the seat for One Nation in 1998 and ended up opting for the City-Country Alliance after efforts to launch his own splinter group failed to get off the ground. A rival One Nation candidate in 2001 put paid to any chance he had of retaining the seat, which went to Labor’s Steve Rodgers. Unfortunately for Knuth he again faces the very same One Nation candidate, and if he couldn’t win in those circumstances in 2001 there’s no reason to think he will now.

However, Andrew Lancini can be marked down as a roughie in Hinchinbrook. A prominent figure on the local council, Lancini did well to poll 17.4 per cent as an independent in 2001. Long-serving National member Marc Rowell had cut a destructive preference deal with a One Nation candidate who almost defeated him, while Lancini made headlines with a decision late in the campaign to direct his preferences to Labor. If Lancini can elbow his One Nation opponent aside to corner the market in this particular piece of electoral real estate, it’s theoretically possible he could pull off an upset.

The group’s other two candidates are running in the Townsville-area seats of Thuringowa (David Moyle) and Mundingburra (Sandra Hubert). Hubert is unlikely to cause Labor’s Lindy Nelson-Carr too many problems but Moyle is a popular local councillor running in a seat which Labor can’t take for granted, having lost it to One Nation in 1998 and now facing the challenge of replacing a sitting member vacating her seat in the hope of entering federal politics.

Jeff Knuth is far from the only member of Pauline’s class of ’98 who doesn’t know to quit while he’s behind. Like Knuth, David Dalgleish, Harry Black and Peter Prenzler were all One Nation dropouts who unsuccessfully contested their seats as part of the City-Country Alliance in 2001 and are now taking the field as independents. Dalgleish won Hervey Bay in 1998 with a lot of help from National Party preferences but in 2001 his competition included a One Nation candidate who succeeded only in splitting their collective vote straight down the middle (18.4 per cent each, with just seven votes separating them). Dalgleish now has a clear run of the far right vote but in the unlikely event that he can match his 1998 performance, he cannot now count on a flood of National Party preferences to finish the job for him.

Harry Black won Whitsunday in 1998 and was also put out of contention in 2001 by vote-splitting between the Nationals, One Nation and himself. The equation is no better for his run at this election, with a promising Nationals competitor in Dan van Blarcom and another One Nation rival facing him in a crowded market.

Peter Prenzler managed to beat Labor and National candidates to make the final two-candidate preferred cut in his 2001 bid for re-election in Lockyer, but the seat was comfortably won by current One Nation state parliamentary leader Bill Flynn. There doesn’t seem any reason to think he will go one better this time.

Elected as a One Nation candidate in 2001, Elisa Roberts is now attempting to hold Gympie as an independent and without wishing to draw any direct inferences, the Poll Bludger cannot help noticing how much it would benefit the Nationals if further independent challengers were to water down Roberts’ primary vote. Two such candidates have indeed emerged among the Melbourne Cup field contesting the seat, the more promising of whom is ambulance officer and Cooloola Shire Councillor Wayne Sachs. This is going to be a tough one to call because while Nationals candidate Christian Rowan is putting in a strong showing, a Labor victory is not beyond the realms of possibility even in this notoriously right-wing electorate, providing votes split between Roberts, Rowan and Sachs in a sufficiently messy fashion.

Other leftovers from the days of Hansonmania include Colene Hughes in Ipswich, Phil Connolly in Gaven and Dominic Frisone in Mulgrave. Hughes ran unsuccessfully for One Nation in Bundamba at the 1998 state election and for Oxley at the federal election later that year (at which Hanson unsuccessfully contested the neighbouring seat of Blair), as well as being a Hanson-backed independent at the 2000 Bundamba state by-election when One Nation’s party status was in legal limbo. Connolly was One Nation’s candidate in Surfers Paradise in 1998 and polled 8.8 per cent as an independent in neighbouring Gaven in 2001. Dominic Frisone failed to win back Mulgrave for One Nation in 2001, which Labor had earlier recovered from them at a mid-term by-election.

Moving right along from the post-Hanson mess, three candidates have stepped forward to fill the void created by the major parties’ pitiful failure to select a single indigenous candidate. Cook candidate Bruce Gibson, a business consultant to traditional Cape York land owners, was earlier spoken of as a possibility for the National Party nomination that eventually went to Graham Elmes. Gibson will be taking on two white major party candidates in a seat that has a 40 per cent aboriginal and islander population. A little further south in Townsville, erstwhile Palm Island Aboriginal Council chair Delena Foster will be making a run against Labor’s Mike Reynolds. Despite the fact the council was dissolved last year over mismanagement of funds, Foster has an admirer in One Nation’s Bill Flynn. Further south still, local indigenous identity Adrian McAvoy hopes to promote his cause with a challenge to Peter Beattie in Brisbane Central.

The Poll Bludger is intrigued by Redcliffe candidate Rob Mcjannett, who polled an impressive 18.6 per cent in Murrumba in 2001. Mcjannett has a keen interest in promoting monorail developments, recently lending his weight to a rather bizarre proposal to construct one in outer suburban Melbourne. Mcjannett, who has also weighed in on public transport issues during his current campaign, describes the monorail as "the safest mode of transport on the face of the Earth with zero fatalities for decades", which should cause amusement for fans of The Simpsons.

Bungil deputy mayor Ruth Spencer has stepped down from council to challenge Nationals MP Howard Hobbs in Warrego but seems to be running a rather low-key campaign at this stage. Clayfield candidate Robyn McGee is a serial writer of letters to the editor, and keen Courier Mail readers will have recently encountered her protesting the death penalty in relation to Saddam Hussein, complaining about the failure of heads to roll (figuratively speaking of course) over the child abuse scandal and getting stuck into Beattie over the Merri Rose affair. Next door in Sandgate Ron Eaton is having another bash after scoring 13.1 per cent last time by peddling One Nation-style economic quackery minus the racism, and he will be joined by Rod McDonough, the Democrats’ candidate for the corresponding electorate of Lilley at the 2001 federal election. Yeerongpilly candidate Andrew Lamb ran in Algester for the Christian Democrats in the 2001 state election and as an independent in Moreton in the federal election later that year. During the latter campaign he won headlines, but not too many votes, with his robust critique of the Koran.

In their Labor stronghold seats of Inala, South Brisbane and Brisbane Central, Henry Palaszczuk, Anna Bligh and Peter Beattie are unlikely to lose any sleep over Socialist Alliance ratbags Adrian Skerritt, Carol Wynter and Lynda Hansen (not to be confused with Nicklin Labor candidate Linda Hanson), while Beattie also faces proven electoral non-achiever Alan Skyring.

Another variety of independent is the single-issue crusader running without hope of victory in order to promote a particular issue. This category includes truckie Glen Poulton in Whitsunday advocating reform of his industry; cannabis enthusiast Billy Tait in Townsville; and disabled rights advocate Anita Gordon, who is running as part of a campaign for pedestrian safety measures in the National-held Sunshine Coast seat of Maroochydore.

There has been much talk of dummy candidates, but the only explicit allegation has been Labor’s claim against Darling Downs candidate Kathy Sankey, a former staffer to federal Nationals MP Bruce Scott. That just leaves those who have the Poll Bludger wondering if they’re fair dinkum about getting their deposit back – Andrew Ryan (Barron River), Adrian Wone (Bundaberg), Bruce Chalmers (Darling Downs), Leo de Marchi (Everton), Warren Simondson (Greenslopes), Martin Poole (Gympie), Michael Ward (Ipswich West), Bruce Piggott and John Murphy (Keppel), Connie Wood (Kurwongbah), Ron Frood (Logan), Ed Vaughan (Mirani), Dave Noke (Mount Coot-tha), JF Barnes (Mount Gravatt), Wayne Kirk (Mount Ommaney), Gary Pead (Mudgeeraba), John Ryan (Thuringowa) and Malcolm Groves (Warrego).

UPDATE: Warren Simondson writes to say, "I’m not ‘fair dinkum’ about getting my deposit back – I’m fair dinkum about representing my electorate. I’ve invested $20,000 of my own money derived from my small business, Ctrl-Alt-Del IT Consultancy, in my campaign. I have placed half-page colour ads in the local paper and distributed over 30,000 flyers. Check out the website" Robyn McGee takes exception to being described as a "serial writer of letters to the editor" despite her recent flurry of activity on this front, and sets the record straight on her views re Saddam Hussein: "I was not, per se, protesting the death penalty in relation to Saddam Hussein. Rather, I was protesting John Howard’s support of the death penalty on the principle that as the leader of a nation that opposes the death penalty he has an obligation to condemn it wherever it occurs … the problem with state-sanctioned murder (a.k.a. the death penalty) is that it makes murderers of all the people of the state who therefore become no better than those the state seeks to put to death". Also, Bruce Chalmers may consider himself withdrawn from the also-rans list following his endorsement by Bob Katter.

Polls that don’t count: numbers three and four

The Poll Bludger has been a little too busy to give Thursday’s Queensland election Newspoll its due weight and by now there’s not much left to say that hasn’t already been said. For the record it shows Labor on 50 per cent (up from 46 in the last Newspoll and 48.9 at the last election), Liberal on 19 per cent (down from 22, up from 14.3), the Nationals on 17 per cent (up from 13 and 14.2), Greens on 4 per cent (steady and up from 2.5) and One Nation on 2 per cent (down from 3 and 8.7). Compared with the last election we might read that as Labor holding firm and the Coalition absorbing 6 to 7 per cent of a disappearing One Nation vote, with not much cause for excitement for the Greens. Anyone who doubts Newspoll’s reputation for accuracy is well deserved need only look at their final poll going into the last Queensland election – a spot-on 49 per cent for Labor and 13 per cent for each of the Coalition parties, against 14 per cent each at the actual election. However, as far as the two-party preferred measure goes (it shows Labor leading 57.5 to 42.5 per cent compared with a guesstimate of 60/40 from the last election), The Poll Bludger presumes to offer Newspoll the following advice – ditch this measure and give respondents the option of answering with "none of the above", an option which will certainly be exercised by an enormous number of voters from all points of the political spectrum on polling day.

One striking change from other Newspolls of the current term that has gone unremarked has been the Nationals’ recovery at the expense of the Liberals, just as the Poll Bludger had finished harping on about the Liberals’ dramatic lead throughout the course of the current term. Until now the gap between the Coalition parties had never been less than 9 per cent – all of a sudden it’s now down to 2 per cent. The Poll Bludger doesn’t quite know what to make of this, especially when taking into account that nowhere will voters actually have competing National and Liberal candidates to choose between. Perhaps the publicity surrounding the election announcement has sharpened distinctions in the public mind between the state and federal contests and focused attention on the fact that voters face a choice between Beattie and Springborg. Unless Newspoll carefully targets voters in particular electorates and points out to them the specific choice facing them, many who respond that they plan on voting Liberal will presumably end up having to vote National. If anyone can offer the Poll Bludger any intelligence on this matter he would be most grateful, because the shift to the National Party makes perfect sense if voters who would have chosen Liberal are now being informed by their questioner that this option is not available to them. The Poll Bludger also suggests that a proportion of potential Liberal voters would sooner vote Labor (perhaps explaining their 4 per cent spike against the last Newspoll?) or cast an exhausting vote for an independent if denied the option of voting for their preferred party, hence the urgent importance for the Coalition of fielding Liberal candidates in urban areas.

For the second weekend in a row the Courier Mail is giving results from a TNS poll of 700 respondents. The Poll Bludger is wondering if TNS is monitoring the same sample of 700 throughout the campaign, which would be an interesting way of going about it. In-depth results are unfortunately not available but the poll, which records a percentage of undecided voters rather than distributing them proportionately as Newspoll would, finds that Labor have picked up 4 per cent on last weekend to reach 42 per cent, compared with the Coalition still stuck on 30 per cent. The poll confirms a general perception that neither One Nation or the Greens have much to crow about, with both losing ground (although it doesn’t say how much).

Campaign updates

Some of those Queensland election guide entries were showing their age so updates have now been added where necessary. Readers are invited to take a another look at the entries for Broadwater, Bundaberg, Burdekin, Burleigh, Burnett, Charters Towers, Currumbin, Darling Downs, Glass House, Gympie, Hervey Bay, Hinchinbrook, Kawana, Maryborough, Mundingburra, Noosa, Springwood, Thuringowa, Toowoomba North and Townsville. Also note the definitive lists of candidates as provided by the Electoral Commission of Queensland. TGIF because the Poll Bludger now hopes to absorb the last few days’ events in coming posts.

Highlights of day nine

Only a token effort today unfortunately, on the day in our history when the Liberals and Nationals both decided that they too wanted in on the just-vote-one action. Cut out of preference deals, minor parties and independents might as well follow suit, except in so far as they might preference each other. With talk of dummy independents in the news today, The Poll Bludger will take a very suspicious view of any independent recommending preferences to a major party. Labor has accused Darling Downs candidate Kathy Sankey, a long-serving staffer to federal National Party MP Bruce Scott, of running to absorb votes leaking from those displeased with incumbent Ray Hopper’s mid-term decision to join the National Party after being elected as an independent. Thuringowa Councillor and independent candidate David Moyle made similar claims last week against Labor – who ever could he have had in mind? The only other independent running in Thuringowa is one John Ryan, whose candidacy had wholly escaped the Poll Bludger’s attention until the Electoral Commission released its candidate list yesterday.

Following up from earlier postings, disendorsed Nationals candidate for Maryborough Michael Giles today added weight to the Poll Bludger’s view that the party is content for independent Chris Foley to retain the seat, while the Council for Civil Liberties weighed in with the possibility that Springborg’s public declaration of the cause of Giles’ troubles may have been illegal. Meanwhile in the case of Reynolds vs Millard, the Crime and Misconduct Commission today ruled that one side was saying one thing and the other side was saying another thing, and no-one could say for sure who was telling the truth.

Coming attractions

Nominations for the Queensland election closed at noon today and those of you who enjoy a good read can peruse the fill list courtesy of our friends at the Electoral Commission of Queensland. It emerged today that National Party candidate for Maryborough Michael Giles would not be making the cut after all, with revelations he had failed to disclose "information that could embarrass the party", namely a domestic violence order that had once been taken out against him. Interestingly he is not on the ECQ list despite the fact that media reports of Giles’ problems did not emerge until early in the afternoon, shortly after the closure of nominations. The ABC report on the story describes the seat as "important" but the Nationals hadn’t been behaving as if it were. Giles, who has been battling cancer, told the Fraser Coast Chronicle on Friday that he had "a great deal of respect" for independent incumbent Chris Foley, whom he described as "a good mate of mine". Foley ran as an independent in a by-election last year after failing to win preselection for the National Party, who are presumably happy to have a seat held by Labor until 1998 in relatively friendly hands.

Blogging may be light on for the next day or two as the Poll Bludger marks today’s campaign milestone by reupholstering his Queensland election guide, which will soon feature definitive candidate lists and "campaign updates" appending electorates of interest. Watch this space.