Victorian Senate overview

Welcome to the belated second installment in our six-part series looking at the state Senate contests, today’s subject being Victoria. As a service to bewildered Victorian voters, what follows is a guide to how your preferences will trickle down to the serious contenders (very generous interpretation here) if you vote above the line. This irons out the meaningless subtleties within the various party tickets and focuses on where the preferences will land where they matter. The DLP and Christian Democrats for example have placed most Coalition candidates ahead of most Labor candidates, but what matters is that Labor’s Jacinta Collins is ahead of Liberal Judith Troeth as these two will be fighting it out for one of the last two places. Also, Labor have submitted a complicated ticket that appears designed to obscure the fact that Family First have done astonishingly well out of them.

Coalition: DLP; Christian Democratic; Family First; Liberals for Forests; Democrats; Greens; Labor; Socialist Alliance; One Nation.

Labor: Liberals for Forests; Family First; DLP; Christian Democratic; Greens; Democrats; Socialist Alliance; Liberal; One Nation.

Greens: Socialist Alliance; Democrats; Labor; DLP; Liberals for Forests; Liberal; Family First; Christian Democratic; One Nation.

Democrats: Family First; Liberals for Forests; Greens; half-Liberal, half-Labor; Socialist Alliance; DLP; Christian Democratic; One Nation.

Family First: Christian Democratic; DLP; Liberals for Forests; Labor; Democrats; Liberal; One Nation; Socialist Alliance; Greens.

One Nation: Christian Democratic; Family First; Liberals for Forests; Liberal; DLP; Labor; Democrats; Socialist Alliance; Greens.

DLP: Family First; Christian Democratic; Labor; Liberal; Liberals for Forests; One Nation; Greens; Democrats; Socialist Alliance.

Liberals for Forests: Family First; DLP; Democrats; Labor; Liberal; Greens; Christian Democratic; One Nation; Socialist Alliance.

Christian Democratic: Family First; DLP; Labor; Liberal; Liberals for Forests; One Nation; Labor; Socialist Alliance; Democrats; Greens.

Socialist Alliance: Greens; Labor; Democrats; Liberals for Forests; Liberal; DLP; Family First; CDP; One Nation.

After Labor and the Coalition win their inevitable two seats, there will most likely be a tight contest between Liberal, Labor and Greens candidates for the final two positions along with either Family First or the Democrats. In the contest between the latter two, the group tickets suggest Family First will finish ahead and then absorb Democrats preferences and not the other way round.

Beyond that, the deck is stacked in favour of Labor and Family First and against the Liberals and the Greens. If either of the latter two are to win one of the last two seats up for grabs, they will have to do so with something very close to a full quota on the primary vote – 43 per cent for a third Liberal seat, or 14.3 per cent for the Greens’ David Risstrom. The usual successful scenario for the Greens involves their candidate overtaking the Democrats and then absorbing their preferences, allowing them to defeat the third place-holder on Labor’s ticket. But this time the Democrats are preferencing Family First, as are both the major parties. If Risstrom needs preferences to achieve a quota he can only get them from Labor and the Democrats, and then only if Family First are eliminated before him. The Coalition was able to win in 2001 with a modest 39.5 per cent of the primary vote in 2001 with the help of preferences from One Nation (who polled 2.4 per cent) and the DLP (2.2 per cent). Since neither can be relied upon this time, they will struggle to retain the third seat.

Family First’s challenge is to finish on top of the minor party pile, and then overtake either major party and absorb their surplus over the second quota. If they succeed, they will most likely to do at the expense of the Coalition leaving Labor and the Greens competing for the other seat. If they fall short, a full complement of preferences from the "Christian coalition" will then flow on to Jacinta Collins and deliver her a third Labor seat, with the other place going to either Liberal or the Greens.

The Poll Bludger made a special effort to think this through by himself without drawing upon the efforts of other commentators. With that effort out of the way, he now calls your attention to what others think. Malcolm Mackerras: "In Victoria, my assessment is that the 1998 result will be repeated exactly. In 1998, each of the Labor and Coalition tickets secured three places". Charles Richardson at Crikey (no link): a number of scenarios are "possible", "but they point to the most probably winners being 2 Labor, 1 Liberal, 1 National Party, 1 Green and 1 Family First". A more equivocal assessment is offered by Antony Green.

Family First, Labor last

Antony Green has dropped a line to advise caution in my assumption that Liberal preferences will overwhelmingly favour the Greens over Labor in Melbourne purely on account of the how-to-vote card. As Green points out (and as the Poll Bludger should know because he lives there), the Liberals struggle to find volunteers to attend to the booths in this inner-city electorate, so most Liberal voters will indeed have to make up their own minds. It could be that many will have noted the words of wisdom of much-loved conservative commentator Andrew Bolt of the Herald Sun.

This difficulty is normally associated with minor parties, who would love to be able use a disciplined flow of preferences as a bargaining chip but lack the organisational strength to get how-to-vote cards into voters’ hands at the booths. As has been frequently remarked, this kind of problem will not necessarily apply to Family First, which has arrived on the scene with a pre-existing support base in the Pentecostal churches that brought it into being. On Friday, Family First announced that it would, as expected, recommend preferences to the Coalition in almost all of the seats in which it is fielding candidates. This could well deliver a substantial number of swinging votes to the Coalition.

The Poll Bludger went delving into the results from the only other election Family First has contested, the February 2002 state election in South Australia, searching for evidence to support this theory. He was a little disappointed to discover that most of the party’s candidates were eliminated in the earlier rounds of the count so their two-party preference could not be easily assessed, but one electorate that fit the mould was the northern Adelaide seat of Wright. The Family First candidate made it to the final round with 2105 votes of which 1541 were primary and 564 were preferences, mostly from the Democrats. These 2105 votes went on to favour the Liberal candidate to the tune of 62-38, despite being diluted by Democrats votes that would mostly have favoured Labor. However, it should also be noted that Family First preferences appeared to favour Labor in the electorate of Elizabeth – the Poll Bludger would be intrigued to know if their preference recommendation differed here.

UPDATE: Quentin Black, who fell 530 votes short of winning the seat of Hartley for Labor at the state election (which would have given Labor a parliamentary majority), writes in to note that Family First received 918 votes in the seat which split 80/20 in the Liberals’ favour. For what it’s worth, a 50-50 split would have made it line-ball. But as reader Peter Fuller points out, the party has spread its resources thinly in terms of the lower house for the coming election by fielding 106 candidates, whereas it "cherry-picked" seats at the state election – including Hartley, which is home to the Paradise Assemblies of God Church. He also notes a fairly obvious point I had missed in relation to Elizabeth, that it was a "straightforward case of donkey voting".

Newspoll, Morgan and Westpoll

Tomorrow’s Newspoll has Labor maintaining most of its surprise lead from last week, now leading 52-48. Roy Morgan’s face-to-face poll released today had the parties evenly split on two-party preferred. Morgan has suffered enough from the Poll Bludger in one week so he will make no comment on their headline "Hung Parliament Looks Likely". The poll is a big improvement for the Coalition on last week’s comparable face-to-face poll, where they trailed 53-47, but in the ballpark of Friday’s phone poll where they led 51.5-48.5.

Better news for Labor today with The West Australian’s Westpoll running 200-sample surveys of Stirling (Labor 40 per cent; Liberal 37 per cent), Hasluck (Liberal 40 per cent; Labor 37 per cent; Greens 10 per cent) and Kalgoorlie (Liberal 42 per cent; Labor 32 per cent; independent Graeme Campbell 10 per cent). No further breakdown was given; the undecided are presumably not distributed. On these figures Labor would hold on to Stirling and Hasluck, currently assessed by the Poll Bludger and many others as seats they will lose, while they could be philosophical about the tall order confronting them after the death of candidate Kevin Richards in Kalgoorlie, held by Liberal Barry Haase with a margin of 4.3 per cent.

Around the grounds

Week five, and what better way to kick it off than with a batch of new campaign updates for the House of Representatives guide.

Melbourne (Vic, Labor 19.9%): The electorate of senior Labor front-bencher Lindsay Tanner was the subject of an ACNielsen poll in yesterday’s Sunday Age, and it indicated a growing threat to him from the Greens. From a significant sample of 1,006, the results had Tanner on 49 per cent (47.6 per cent in 2001), the Greens’ Gemma Pinnell on 27 (15.8 in 2001) and Liberal Jerry Dimitroulis on 22 per cent (24.9 in 2001). This would mean that for the first time the Liberals would be eliminated before the Greens, who would then receive the overwhelming majority of Liberal preferences. Had Liberal rather than Greens preferences been distributed in the final round in 2001, Lindsay Tanner would have prevailed by roughly 5 per cent. ACNielsen’s two-candidate preferred result favouring Labor over the Greens by 63-37 can be dismissed, as the overwhelming majority of Liberal voters will follow a how-to-vote card that wasn’t available to them during the survey. Tanner could hardly lose with 49 per cent of the primary vote, but he would emerge with an uncomfortable margin and the Greens could feel justified in describing the seat as "marginal Labor/Green".

Eden-Monaro (NSW, Liberal 1.7%): The Eden woodchip mill has emerged as a bargaining chip in preference negotations between Labor and the Greens, who are keeping their options open on preference recommendations in 26 marginal seats pending the full release of environmental policies. Labor will need to factor in a possible lengthening of the odds against them in Eden-Monaro in weighing up the merits of such a deal. The Coalition was earlier seen to have put its pro-logging vote in jeopardy when it proposed to phase out old-growth logging in Tasmania, calculating that anti-logging sentiment in the cities was of greater concern.

Fairfax (Qld, Liberal 9.5%): Labor candidate Dr Ivan Molloy showed admirable loyalty in declining to distance himself from the politically (and indeed intellectually) stupid statement of his wife, state member for Noosa Cate Molloy, that she held Liberal sitting members "accountable" for the Bali and Jakarta bombings. Dr Molloy reacted with a column in The Australian that found less objectionable language to express broadly similar sentiments, but his wife’s statements seem more likely to linger in the public mind.

Solomon (NT, Liberal 0.1%): David Tollner was in the news yet again when it emerged that a neighbour had been attacked by his bull mastiff, curiously named Brussels Sprout, which reportedly resulted in the 27-year-old mother of three being hospitalised for two weeks. The Age reported on September 23 that Tollner’s lawyers wrote to the paper warning that they would be sued for damages if any "false allegations" concerning the incident led to the loss of his seat.

Gippsland (Vic, Nationals 2.6%): Peter McGauran was embarrassed last week when it emerged the Department of Environment had made a submission calling on the Victorian Government to deny access to the Alpine National Park high country by mountain cattlemen, who had been assured by McGauran as their local member that they had the Government’s support.

Trouble and strife

Judith Brett, professor of politics at La Trobe University and author of Australian Liberals and the Moral Middle Class, let fly with her handbag yesterday at those of us who have employed the term "doctors’ wives" to characterise voters who are deserting the Liberal Party in their safest urban electorates (the Poll Bludger’s defence is that he has always employed quotation marks). Among Brett’s numerous well-made points:

Women have always been more sensitive than men to the moral dimensions of politics. They first left their homes to enter public politics in large numbers in the 19th century to support moral causes such as temperance and the abolition of slavery … It was the fear of the moral power of women voters, in particular their opposition to the male pleasures of drinking and gambling, that motivated much of the opposition to the female franchise … Until feminism and the 1970s, the Liberal Party was the natural home of the morally concerned woman looking to cast her vote in the national interest … That Liberals would even use a term such as "doctors’ wives" to describe morally motivated, well-educated middle class women shows the depth of their conviction that self-interest is the main political motivator, that no matter what they say about values, politics is really about class and these women are too woolly-minded to realise it.

That said, it must be granted that class obviously has a fair bit to do with it since these are specifically "middle class" women under discussion; women lower down the social spectrum are as likely to be shifting their votes the other way. Certainly Newspoll’s demographic analysis graphs in Thursday’s Australian, which span results from the past three years, do not suggest any seismic shift on either side of the gender divide since 2001. If Liberal voters in safe urban seats are abandoning their party, there doesn’t seem any particular reason to think that women are driving the phenomenon.

Whatever the reason, it is indeed being seriously suggested that the Liberals harbour fears for members up to and including John Howard in Bennelong, Peter Costello in Higgins and Tony Abbott in Warringah. It was reported last weekend that in Joe Hockey’s seat of North Sydney, a traditionally safe Liberal electorate that was nevertheless won by independent Ted Mack in 1990 and 1993, Liberal internal polling had the combined Labor and Greens vote at 52 per cent. The Poll Bludger suspects that the Liberals are playing games here in a move to scare supporters out of registering a protest vote, just in case. George Megalogenis and Elizabeth Colman of the Australian are on the money when they say the members for these seats are merely "comparing notes on the rumblings from formerly rusted-on supporters" and that a post-materialist anti-Howard backlash can only prove decisive in the more marginal city seats of Adelaide and Deakin in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, as well as the wild card of Wentworth.

An innings and 300 runs

For the second week in a row ACNielsen has produced an eyebrow-raising primary vote for the Coalition. Speaking on Sky News this evening, Margo Kingston revealed that the poll to appear in tomorrow’s Fairfax broadsheets will have the Coalition on 50 per cent, solidly higher than for any of Howard’s three previous victories and indeed for any major party since 1975. Also today, Roy Morgan produced its first poll in living memory (phone rather than face-to-face) showing the Coalition with a two-party preferred lead, of 51.5-48.5. This nugget of information was buried inside Morgan’s report on the findings for its very interesting poll rating the various opposite numbers in major portfolios. The polls might reflect what were seen to be intemperate displays by Mark Latham in his dealings with reporters on Sunday.