What’s on in Queensland and Victoria (mostly)

No intentional theme here, Queensland and Victoria just happened to be where the action was in the second half of the opening week. With one notable exception:

Wentworth (NSW, Liberal 7.9%): Peter King revealed yesterday that he would indeed be standing against Malcolm Turnbull as an independent in the seat he has held for one term as a Liberal. King did well to make a big media event out of his announcement at Bondi Beach and spent the rest of the day hosing down talk that his decision could make the seat for winnable for Labor. At one point he said "the Labor Party knows it cannot win Wentworth and my independent polling shows it can’t win Wentworth – it’s simply scaremongering to suggest otherwise"; later, he said Labor would win Wentworth if he didn’t intervene and save it from them. King claimed on both occasions that his own polling backed him up, but did not provide details. If he was right the first time, expect Labor to run dead in the hope that King can overtake their candidate David Patch and ride over Turnbull on his preferences. However it’s more likely that Labor, and their candidate in particular, are rubbing their hands at the prospect of preference leakage from King combining with burgeoning support for the Greens and widespread anti-war sentiment in the fashionable beachside suburbs to wear down the Liberals’ substantial but by no means insurmountable margin.

Deakin (Vic, Liberal 1.6%) and La Trobe (Vic, Liberal 3.7%): The Bracks Government’s broken promise on tolls for the Mitcham-Frankston Freeway has been an unwelcome complication for Labor in an area described by the Australian Financial Review as "home to about a million people and a fair slab of Melbourne’s industry", not to mention a string of marginal seats. On Thursday, Mark Latham announced that the $420 million the Federal Government was withholding from the Mitcham-Frankston Freeway project due to the Victorian Government’s plan for tolls would instead be allocated to other road projects around Victoria. Michael Harvey of the Herald Sun argued that with federal Labor’s acceptance that the Bracks Government had made tolls inevitable, "any chance Labor had of winning the Ringwood-based seat of Deakin has all but gone", and "La Trobe, stretching from Lilydale to Berwick, moved that much further out of the frame". But it does allow Labor to argue that a Latham government would at least spend the federal money on Victorian roads. Expect eastern Victoria, home to the state’s only other concentration of marginal seats, to do well out of the allocation.

Ryan (Qld, Liberal 9.4%): Liberal member Michael Johnson maintained his habit of causing the Prime Minister trouble, vouching for the "character and integrity" of the man who claimed Senator George Brandis had called him a "lying rodent" whose "arse" needed "covering" over the children overboard affair. That man was Russell Galt, Johnson’s campaign treasurer for the 2001 election who had contentiously authorised repayment to Johnson of $10,000 for a campaign "loan" which others in the branch had understood to be a donation. Galt had received Johnson’s backing for preselection in the unloseable state Liberal seat of Moggill (all loseable state Liberal seats having been lost) and for his subsequent efforts to have his defeat overturned, first internally and then in the courts. It appears Johnson was subsequently persuaded that Galt wasn’t such a good chap after all, as he later said "I completely reject Mr Galt’s actions" and "I am very concerned about his motivation in making these allegations". Galt now faces explusion from the Liberal Party.

Dickson (Qld, Liberal 6.0%): This Brisbane seat looms higher on Labor’s hit list than the margin suggests, the 6 per cent swing from 2001 having been boosted by the unpopularity of defeated Labor member Cheryl Kernot. However, Scott Emerson of The Australian reported on Wednesday that "Liberal Party polling is understood to show Mr Dutton in a good position to hold the seat".

McMillan (Vic, notional Liberal 2.9%): Two days into the campaign the Government "raised the prospect" of using federal environment laws to block the controversial Bald Hills wind farm development on the Gippsland coast, approved by the Bracks Government against the wishes of the local council.

The place to be

Better news for Labor in Victoria with a McNair Ingenuity poll carried in today’s Herald Sun, although it’s from a low sample of 406 voters. It has Labor leading 46 to 40 per cent on the primary vote and 55 to 45 on two-party preferred, marking a 2.9 per cent swing to Labor from the 2001 election. Herald Sun reporter Michael Harvey reports that such a swing "would see the Coalition lose the seats of Deakin (1.6 per cent), McEwen (2.2), Gippsland (2.6) and La Trobe (3.7)". Mathematics experts will no doubt be puzzled by the latter of these judgements – Harvey is presumably factoring in the personal vote of retiring Liberal member Bob Charles, which is fair enough. By contrast Thursday’s Newspoll geographic analysis survey showed an improvement in the Coalition’s performance in Victoria during July and August, with the Coalition gaining four points directly at Labor’s expense to lead 44 to 41 per cent on the primary vote while still trailing 47-53 on two-party preferred. The results from their earlier survey, covering April to June, were almost identical to those from today’s McNair poll.

Laboring in Queensland

The Poll Bludger is feeling rather pleased with his prediction of two days ago in which readers were told to expect "a series of (opinion poll) results that confound pundits by showing a shift to the Coalition". Even so, the scale of the bad news confronting Labor in today’s Newspoll survey of Queensland marginals comes as a surprise. The poll covered 1008 respondents from Herbert, Hinkler, Moreton, Longman, Bowman, Petrie and Dickson – the exact same seven seats nominated as Labor’s Queensland gains in the federal election guide. Support for the Coalition across the seven seats was recorded at 46 per cent against 38 for Labor, the Coalition leading 52-48 on two-party preferred. That represents a 1 per cent swing from 2001, which would not be enough to win Labor any of the aforementioned seats.

Newspoll also issued a geographic and demographic analysis survey yesterday covering its polls in July and August, departing from the usual procedure of releasing such results at the end of each quarter. The survey showed that the Coalition’s performance had improved in the past two months in Victoria and Western Australia, but slipped in New South Wales and Queensland (until recently, it appears). Collectively the results require the questioning of some existing wisdom, while fortifying the Poll Bludger in his long-held conviction that the Coalition will most likely get over the line. With a review of electorate assessments pending, Mark Latham should enjoy his Election Projection lead while it lasts.

The madness of King Peter

Member for Wentworth Peter King will today announce if he intends to run for re-election as an independent against the man who defeated him for Liberal preselection, Malcolm Turnbull. The word is that he will indeed take the plunge, with Channel Seven News sounding particularly confident. King yesterday provided the Wentworth Courier (click here and jump through the hoops to page eight) with results from a survey of 350 voters commissioned from "a well-regarded pollster whom he would not reveal". Unfortunately, all the report would say was that "Peter King would take 56.5 per cent of the vote, with the ALP’s David Patch behind him at 43.5 per cent". It’s very hard to say exactly what this is supposed to mean. A two-candidate preferred result comparing King with Patch can only be based on the unlikely assumption that Turnbull will only manage third place, when the real issue is whether King can surpass Patch to take second and then ride over Turnbull on Patch’s preferences. If King had real reason to believe this would happen, he would have given primary vote figures showing himself ahead of Patch. For a more plausible guide to the state of play, Taverner conducted a poll for the Sun Herald in May that had Turnbull on 35 per cent, Patch on 29 per cent and King on 18 per cent. It could be that this is roughly what King’s own figures show and that he is essentially combining his own vote with Turnbull’s to generate a spurious two-candidate preferred figure to rebut "scaremongering" that his candidacy might deliver the seat to Labor. In reality, this is all King can seriously hope to achieve if the best he can manage is third place. With a 7.9 per cent margin, Wentworth is less safe for the Liberals than is commonly supposed and if a substantial proportion of the existing Liberal primary votes were drained away by an independent, leakage of preferences to Labor could well cost them the seat.

As the crow flies

The Advertiser today carries a poll of 558 South Australian voters showing the Coalition leading Labor 45 to 35 per cent on the primary vote and 53 to 47 per cent on two-party preferred. A similar poll a month ago had Labor ahead 51 to 49. Assuming it’s accurate it still marks a 1 per cent swing to Labor on the 2001 election and leaves them at least in the hunt to win Adelaide, Hindmarsh and Makin, though they would be trailing slightly in each case if the swing were uniform. The Poll Bludger will not be surprised if this survey, along with yesterday’s Newspoll, marks the start of a series of results that confound pundits by showing a shift to the Coalition as the public reacts against the media frenzy regarding an incident that means little to anyone who hadn’t made their mind up three years ago. Mark Latham would do well to cease feeding into this by accommodating reporters seeking soundbites to accompany their children overboard stories, thereby associating himself with what an important section of the electorate perceives to be the journalists’ agenda rather than its own. The next time he is served up one of these easy volleys, he would be best served with a statesmanlike pronouncement that the election campaign is of finite duration and it is time to move on.

The godfather of poll

Malcolm Mackerras emerged on Monday, as he always does at times like these, to deliver his curmudgeonly assessments of the state of play in The Australian and the Financial Review (subscriber only, but there’s no telling what might happen if you click here). Typically he has no more than this to say on the House of Representatives: "I have no idea how the Australian people will divide their votes and nor does anyone else. However, this ignorance does not lead me to predict a close result. In truth, a close result is merely one of the possibilities. It is just as likely to be a landslide one way or the other". On the subject of the Senate he is rather more forthcoming, predicting that only a bad turn for the Coalition will prevent them achieving their "magic 38" blocking majority in the Senate.

This seems a reasonable assessment. Usually the six seats up for grabs in each state will split evenly between the right and left, and while one of the left seats will usually go to the Greens or Democrats, the Coalition have few natural predators on their side. Therefore, the Coalition need only turn in two reasonably good performances in succession, which they have not achieved during the current government due to a very modest performance in 1998 when they were lucky to win their House majority. In the Senate they won only two seats in New South Wales, where the result was Labor three, Democrats one and Liberal two; in Tasmania, where one went to independent Brian Harradine; and in Queensland, where One Nation edged out National Party Senator Bill O’Chee.

Fred Nile, Hetty Johnston and Family First arguably represent threats to third place-holders on Coalition tickets in New South Wales, Queensland and elsewhere, but by and large Harradines and Hansons are thinner on the ground this time. If the Coalition is to be denied its 38 seats, it will more likely be the 1998 New South Wales scenario where it is they rather than Labor that drops a seat to the Greens or Democrats. For that to occur the Coalition vote in the relevant state would need to fall substantially below 40 per cent, in which case the Government will be in trouble.