The f*ckin’ legend of Jeff Kennett

The Jeff Kennett will-o’-the-wisp came and went before I had the opportunity to comment on it. Long-time Kennett antagonist Stephen Mayne surveyed the damage in today’s Crikey email:

Late this morning, after less than a day of frenzied speculation, Jeff Kennett formally withdrew from the Victorian Liberal Party leadership race. Which is the worst possible outcome for the state opposition and leaves them almost certain to go further backwards at the 25 November election. Rather than someone like Ted Baillieu emerging as the consensus great white hope after Robert Doyle’s resignation yesterday, the electorate now knows that most Liberal powerbrokers believe he was a worse alternative than recycling a controversial premier. For the Labor Party of course, he’s a much better alternative – to fend off Jeff, they might have needed to dig into their cash pit with a well-resourced scare campaign. With Baillieu, the Bracks spin machine will hardly need to get out of second gear, let along go into overdraft, to retain office. Imagine the scenario if Jeff had come out yesterday and immediately ruled out a comeback on the basis that Ted Baillieu would make an outstanding Premier. Instead, we had all this frenzied expectation – and now nothing more than deflation.

Crikey also underlined the overwhelming consensus that Kennett’s return would have done little if anything to avert another Coalition disaster at the coming election (to say nothing of the absurdity of the proposal that he lead the party in the meantime from outside parliament). Allow me to add my voice to the throng. The common Liberal complaint that the 1999 election result was a "protest vote that went too far" is revealing more for its arrogance than its insight. The theory should have been laid to rest four weeks later by the Frankston East supplementary election, held because the sitting Liberal member died on the eve of polling day. Voters on the day knew perfectly well that a "protest vote" would sign the death warrant of the Kennett government, but they nevertheless delivered the seat to Labor with a swing of more than 7 per cent.

Kennett’s approach to the election campaign suggested that he saw it as an opportunity to build his Melbourne-centric personality cult, and to rub his enemies’ noses in what he saw as a looming triumph. This manifested itself in a number of ways – in the "Jeff’s a fuckin’ legend" pitch at the demographic of Formula One and Triple M, the latter of which was given regular access to the Premier while the ABC was snubbed; in the energy directed at winning the normally safe Labor seats in Dandenong that had been made temporarily marginal by the 1992 and 1996 elections, while the Coalition’s own marginals were neglected; and worst of all, in Kennett’s petulant performance on Jon Faine’s ABC Radio program three days before the election. Kennett presumably imagined that this would only be heard by un-Victorian basket-weaving leftists, but the footage that appeared on that night’s television news bulletins did incalculable damage to his image, particularly in the country. All the while Labor was making hay with its devastating advertisements on country television depicting two taps, one dripping slowly and marked "country Victoria", the other gushing freely and marked "Melbourne". It is unlikely that country Victoria has forgotten what it perceived to be its neglect at the hands of a Kennett government fixated on bread and circuses in the capital. In failing to recognise this, Kennett’s boosters are showing the same short-sightedness that proved so costly in 1999.

There is no objective reason why the result of the 1999 election should have come as such a shock. The late opinion polls were mostly on the money, with Newspoll and Morgan correctly indicating a dead-heat and only ACNielsen erring in favour of the Coalition. The sense of surprise can be put down to the Melbourne media’s assumption that the election would be won and lost in the traditional battlefield of Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. Instead, swings in the country of up to 10 per cent delivered wins to Labor that few had seen coming, including Gisborne, Ripon, Seymour, Narracan and Ballarat East. The following table indicates geographic variations in the swing to Labor at the 1999 and 2002 elections using the newly created regions for the upper house. The methodology for the calculations was a bit slapdash, but the results are useful for illustrative purposes.

. 2002 1999
Northern Metropolitan 8.7 1.9
Eastern Metropolitan 9.5 3.3
South-Eastern Metropolitan 11.5 3.6
Southern Metropolitan 8.1 1.4
Western Metropolitan 8.7 3.8
Northern Victoria 5.2 8.0
Western Victoria 7.2 4.3
Eastern Victoria 6.1 4.9

It can clearly be seen that the country gave the Coalition its worst results in 1999 and its best results (relatively speaking) in 2002. This has left a fair bit of low-hanging fruit for them in the country, specifically Evelyn, Hastings and Gembrook (all held by margins of less than 2 per cent) (UPDATE: and all arguably outer urban, as noted by commenter Geoff R) along with Morwell (4.9 per cent) and South Barwon (5.0 per cent). The recovery of these seats is essential to any kind of respectable performance, and would most likely be jeopardised in the event of a Kennett comeback. If the Coalition is to go further and actually put the Bracks government in jeopardy, there are a further eight country seats it must win that are held by margins of between 6.8 per cent and 9.5 per cent, and these would surely be beyond Kennett’s powers.

On the other hand, Kennett might have strengthened the Liberals’ position in 11 Melbourne seats with margins of between 2.1 per cent and 5.8 per cent, all of which are located east or south-east of the city. If Kennett had inspired a swing of 5 per cent to 6 per cent in these areas that was not reciprocated elsewhere, he could have added a respectability to the scoreboard out of proportion with the overall statewide swing. Such a result would have reflected the outcome of the 1996 election, when Labor failed to yield dividends from a 2.8 per cent swing due to another poor performance in the eastern suburbs. This concealed the Coalition’s weakened position and contributed to an exaggerated perception of Kennett’s electoral record.

An unrelated point on the Liberal leadership: earlier this week I received an email from an ABC reporter in Melbourne looking to pick my brain regarding Tuesday’s Newspoll, which showed Steve Bracks leading Robert Doyle 60 per cent to 15 per cent as preferred Premier. In particular, he wanted to know what became of other leaders who had polled this badly. One encouraging precedent for Doyle came to mind, namely Queensland Nationals Leader Rob Borbidge. Going into the 1995 election, Morgan had Labor Premier Wayne Goss leading Borbidge 70 per cent to 17 per cent (in February), 72 per cent to 15 per cent (April) and 74 per cent to 16 per cent (June). Then came the election on July 15, at which the Coalition outpolled Labor 53.3 per cent to 46.7 per cent on two-party preferred. Six months and one by-election later, Borbidge was Premier. The most widely credited factor in this surprise outcome? The Goss government’s insistence on proceeding with a hugely unpopular toll road. Perhaps Doyle should have hung in there after all.

In other news, the elections for the Tasmanian Legislative Council districts of Rowallan and Wellington will be held tomorrow, though neither is likely to be of much interest unless the Greens or Hobart alderman Marti Zucco can pull a rabbit out of the hat in Wellington. This site will provide some sort of live coverage, although it remains to be seen whether my trade-mark results tables and swing calculations will prove feasible.

Rowallan and Wellington

In the past two years, the Poll Bludger cornered the market in online commentary of the annual Tasmanian Legislative Council periodic elections. This time, I have been beaten to the punch by this excellent summary from Kevin Bonham of the Tasmanian Times, to which there is regrettably little to add. However, a broad overview is in order for those of you who have never given the chamber much thought.

The Tasmanian parliament inverts the usual practice by having multi-member electorates with proportional representation for the lower house and single-member districts for the upper house. There are 15 of the latter, for which elections are held over a six-year cycle with either two or three electorates going to the polls on the first Saturday of each May. Since the elections are detached from the hoopla of a state election campaign, they are dominated by local issues and personalities and resistant to the influence of the major parties. In particular, the Liberal Party has not formally endorsed a candidate for an upper house election since 2000. This is essentially because its practice of staying above the fray is popular and well-established, and it fails to win support whenever it goes against it. Furthermore, the dominance of the chamber by independents is in the party’s long-term interest given Labor’s overwhelming historical dominance in the lower house. Labor has never had such qualms about directly involving itself, and currently holds five of the 15 seats from electorates in and around Hobart. This is a historically strong position for them, as they usually had only one or two members before the chamber was garnished from 19 members to 15 in 1997 (as part of the package of reforms which cut lower house representation from seven members per electorate to five).

The elections to be held on Saturday week will be for the electorates of Rowallan and Wellington, which are respectively held by independent Greg Hall and Labor’s Doug Parkinson. Greg Hall’s almost certain re-election removes some of the interest from the Poll Bludger’s annual audit of independent MLCs’ voting behaviour in parliament, combined with the fact that the division bell hasn’t had much of a workout in the past year. Given the small sample of just eight divisions, the only point of interest is that newcomer Ruth Forrest has lined up with Labor on five of eight occasions, suggesting she will prove more agreeable to Labor over time than Tony Fletcher, her predecessor as the member for Murchison. The following table shows the frequency with which each independent sided with Labor in divisions going back to 2002. Former members are indicated by italics, and no votes are recorded for Don Wing since he became Council President in 2002.

. 2005-06 2002-05 expiry
Don Wing 0/0 (-) 2/14 (14%) 2011
Ruth Forrest 5/8 (62%) 2011
Tanya Rattray-Wagner 1/7 (14%) 7/12 (58%) 2010
Norma Jamieson 2/5 (40%) 5/23 (22%) 2009
Ivan Dean 4/8 (50%) 6/23 (26%) 2009
Kerry Finch 1/8 (12%) 17/29 (59%) 2008
Paul Harriss 3/8 (38%) 4/48 (8%) 2008
Sue Smith 2/6 (33%) 16/44 (36%) 2007
Jim Wilkinson 3/6 (50%) 20/45 (44%) 2007
Greg Hall 1/8 (12%) 21/48 (44%) 2006
Tony Fletcher 6/48 (12%) 2005
Colin Rattray 19/36 (53%) 2004

These figures suggest that Greg Hall (left) has been one of the less hostile independents from the government’s perspective, with one-time Liberal Party candidate Paul Harriss remaining as the outstanding anti-Labor member after Tony Fletcher’s retirement. Labor would not be too displeased that Hall’s only rival nominee for Rowallan is Greens state convenor Karen Cassidy (right), who polled 1.5 per cent from a party total of 15.8 per cent in Lyons at the March 18 state election. Perhaps the Greens did not realise that they would be out on a limb when they decided to contest the seat, but surely they would have done better to have sat it out so Hall could be elected unopposed, as was the case with Don Wing in neighbouring Paterson last year. Rowallan is not fertile territory for the Greens, covering small towns west of Launceston and south of Davenport including a short stretch of northern coastline at Port Sorell. This area is covered by the divisions of Lyons and Braddon at lower house and federal level, the latter being the only one of the five that failed to return a Greens member at the past two elections. Their vote in local booths was around 11 per cent at the state election, which was fairly typical for Braddon and below par for Lyons (where their total was 15.8 per cent). As such, the likely sentiment among voters will be irritation at having been dragged to the polls by a candidate with no serious prospect of victory.

Wellington, which covers central Hobart and inner suburbs as far north as Moonah, is a very different matter. By Kevin Bonham’s reckoning, the Greens polled 30.6 per cent in the electorate’s booths at the state election compared with a total of 22.9 per cent across Denison, while Labor’s 42.8 per cent and the Liberals’ 23.7 per cent compared with electorate-wide results of 46.9 per cent and 26.6 per cent. Bonham notes that the Greens vote was exceptionally high in the inner city booths of West Hobart, Lansdowne Crescent and Hobart (53 per cent, 46 per cent and 44 per cent respectively), but this was cancelled out by much stronger Labor results in the more traditionally working class suburbs of Moonah and Lutana in the north. The Greens polled 28.0 per cent at the last upper house election for Wellington, which was in 2000. Doug Parkinson (left) won on that occasion from 46.3 per cent of the primary vote, having previously been member for the abolished division of Hobart from 1994.

The Greens candidate for Wellington is social worker Marrette Corby (left), who according to the Mercury is "almost blind". Corby also ran for Denison at the state election but managed only 0.6 per cent of the primary vote, having been squeezed out by high-profile party colleagues Peg Putt and Cassy O’Connor. Joining her on the ballot paper are Michael Fracalossi of the Christian Democratic Party and independents Marti Zucco, Paul Hiscutt and Stephen Roomes. Zucco (right) has by far the highest profile, being a Hobart City Councillor who is commonly described in the local press as "colourful" and "outspoken". Zucco has recently attracted considerable attention through his involvement in what has become known as the "Battery Point coffee wars", a matter of sufficient interest to have warranted an item in Crikey shortly before the state election. Zucco’s use of the word "mafia" to characterise local opponents of coffee roasting at the Oomph! Tasmanian Gourmet Coffee café prompted an overheated complaint to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission by former Labor MP John White (who despite his name is a figure in the local Italian community) and another local activist, Sandra Champion. Zucco says he has been inspired to run because Parkinson is "the most under-achieved politician I’ve seen in 12 years", and because he was angered by Parkinson’s complaint that the council had neglected Cornelian Bay (located in the north of the electorate) in favour of Sandy Bay (immediately to the south). Bonham has a fair bit to say about Zucco’s electoral record:

Marti Zucco, longstanding Hobart City Council alderman, had a rather strong tilt at the old (upper house) seat of Newdegate in 1993, where he polled 25% to run third out of four behind incumbent Ross Ginn and Labor’s Mel Cooper on around 33% each. (Cooper actually just outpolled Ginn but lost on preferences). However, HCC results over the years suggest that Zucco’s best vote-gathering days are behind him. In 1996 he polled 11% of the HCC aldermanic vote; by 2006 this was down to 7.1%. Also, Zucco (probably because of the way he polarises the electorate) always attracts fewer preferences than his primary vote levels indicate. I’ll be surprised if Zucco’s vote is anything much over 15% this time, but at least he might provide some entertainment for the spectators if his opening attacks on Parkinson are anything to go by.

Of the other candidates, Fracalossi will no doubt gather enough Liberal votes to do considerably better than the 0.7 per cent the CDP scored at the state election, but he cannot be rated a serious chance. If media profile is anything to go by, Paul Hiscutt and Stephen Roomes will have to work the electorate very hard to make any impression at all. All I have been able to ascertain about Hiscutt is that he is a nurse, and that he had a letter published in the Mercury recently defending the worth of the upper house. Roomes is described as a "New Town tourist operator", but beyond that both Google and Factiva have drawn a blank.

South Australian election wrap-up

The South Australian election guide has now been put to bed with each electorate entry appended with a detailed post-match summary. For the first time, I have taken the effort to carefully scrutinise booth results in each seat. Heavy-duty hair-splitters might care to note that I was compelled to base these comparisons on incomplete election night figures from 2002 as the State Electorate Office did not update the two-party preferred booth results on its website beyond that point. They could only be obtained from the Statistical Returns document which, being a PDF file, could not readily be pasted into Excel. As a result, booth comparisons might be out by 1 per cent or so. As you’re all no doubt aware, the last two seats that were in doubt resulted in the re-election of the Liberals’ Graham Gunn in Stuart and Labor-turned-Greens-turned-independent MP Kris Hanna in Mitchell. To the best of my knowledge, the only observer who publicly predicted the latter outcome was Poll Bludger commenter Dave S.

The upper house has passed without comment on this site since the days immediately after the election, but the final result was as predicted then – four Labor, three Liberal, two No Pokies, one Family First and one Greens. The SEO doesn’t have a breakdown of the preference distribution, but we can always plug the results into the election calculator at Upperhouse.Info, bearing in mind that it irons out the complication of below-the-line votes. All but the Family First and Greens candidates were elected off the primary vote, after which Family First had 0.60 of a quota, the Greens 0.51, the third No Pokies candidate (who reportedly promised his wife he had no chance of winning) 0.46, the fifth Labor candidate 0.31 and the Australian Democrats 0.21. Family First were boosted to a quota after distribution of preferences from minor candidates and the fourth Liberal. That left the Greens on 0.56, the Democrats and No Pokies on 0.48 and Labor on 0.41. If the Democrats had been able to persuade Labor to put them ahead of No Pokies, Labor’s subsequent elimination would have put Kate Reynolds ahead of the Greens and subsequently back into parliament with No Pokies preferences. Instead, Labor’s elimination left the Democrats well to the rear of No Pokies and their own preferences delivered victory to Mark Parnell, the first South Australian Greens candidate ever to win a seat at an election.

One day, I will get around to producing retrospective guides to the South Australian upper house and the Tasmanian election. Speaking of Tasmania, the next item of business is the periodical Legislative Council elections for the seats of Rowallan (a lay-down misere for independent incumbent Greg Hall) and Wellington (a taller order for Labor member Doug Parkinson), which will be held on May 6.

UPDATE: If you’re looking for more of a big-picture view of the South Australian election, you could do a lot worse than this paper by Geoff Anderson and Haydon Manning of Flinders University for the Australian National University’s Democratic Audit. Of particular interest is the graph on page three indicating a clear long-term trend of increasing minor party voting in the upper house. Upperhouse.Info sheds more light on this with a table outlining the "desertion rates" of parties’ supporters switching their vote in the upper house. In view of all this, it is clear why Mike Rann would like to abolish the chamber through a referendum he plans to hold in conjunction with the next election. It is equally clear that while The Advertiser might be dopey enough to support abolition, the public will not be.

Gaven by-election live

. Primary Swing 2PP Swing
LABOR 36.8 -10.8 46.6 -8.4
NATIONALS* 42.5 3.7 53.4 8.4
Greens 7.8 -0.1
Others 12.9 7.1 95% COUNTED
* Nationals swings compared with Liberal in 2004

Monday 4.00am. A slightly puzzling article from Jamie Walker and Emma Chalmers in the Courier-Mail (join in the fun and suggest your own alternative title for the paper in comments), which tells us that the swing "is expected to blow out from 7.5 per cent", and that Labor is "bracing" for it to pass 8 per cent. But the ECQ’s two-party figures, which are correctly quoted in the article, already have it at 8.3 per cent. Another eyebrow-raiser is the assertion that there are "3500 postal and pre-polling votes still to be counted", which if literally correct will mean more than 6000 non-polling booth votes have been lodged, compared with 3198 at the Chatsworth by-election and 3455 at Redcliffe. It may be that they know something I don’t, but for the time being I will conclude that the 3500 figure includes the 2692 that have already been counted. The figure of 95 per cent in the table above is based on this assumption.

Sunday 1.30pm. Might as well keep going. Postals and pre-polls are in, leaving only about 200 absent and declared institution votes remaining. Postals accounted for more than 8 per cent of the total and have run badly against Labor, the 13.6 per cent two-party swing being worse than any booth. Pre-polls have gone the other way, swinging only 1.5 per cent, but there were less than a quarter as many. My calculations have done their job, because the 8.3 per cent swing now indicated by the ECQ compares with the 8.1 per cent projected on this site last night and the 7.3 per cent you would have heard about in the media.

8.42m. You don’t get rid of me that easily. Two points worth making: first, a uniform swing of 8 per cent at a general election would cost Labor 20 seats and reduce it to 43 seats out of 89, two short of a majority. Since by-elections are always a free kick for the opposition, it does not seem that the Beattie government’s plight is severe enough to cost it power at the election due early next year. Secondly, the turnout for this by-election has been quite remarkable: 23,217 votes lodged at polling booths compared with 22,418 at the 2004 election. How often does a by-election produce a turnout higher than at the previous general election? By way of comparison, 16,381 votes were lodged at the recent Victoria Park by-election in WA, compared with 22,911 at the state election of barely more than a year ago. No doubt this is testament in large part to the continuing population explosion on the Gold Coast. Beyond that, I wouldn’t care to speculate.

8.11pm. One more thing: great job by the ECQ. Granted that they had fewer booths to keep on top of than at any by-election I have seen, but this is the first time I have seen each booth come in one at a time, and not in unmanageable and suspense-destroying spurts.

8.09pm. The ECQ has “final for election night” in big red writing at the top of the page, so I guess that’s it for the evening. You have as always been a wonderful audience, and I will continue to keep an eye out for comments thread activity for another hour or so.

8.01pm. Not sure if we’ll be seeing any pre-polls or postals this evening (we did for the Victoria Park by-election in WA a few weeks ago). I’ll hang around a bit longer to find out.

7.59pm. Notional preferences now in from Pacific Pines as well, and this time I could be bothered. A further drift of preferences away from Labor has added 0.1 per cent to the swing.

7.55pm. Notional preferences at Nerang PYC have favoured Labor less than average, but not by enough that I can be bothered altering the table at this point.

7.51pm. Still waiting on notional 2PP in Nerang PYC and Pacific Pines, but you get the picture. The Nationals have won the seat with a swing of about 8.0 per cent, similar to that achieved by the Liberals in last year’s Redcliffe by-election (8.3 per cent) but substantially less than that from the Chatsworth by-election (13.9 per cent) held on the same day.

7.49pm. The ECQ seem to have docked the Greens a vote in favour of the Nationals in the Nerang booth. Wonder what happened there.

7.46pm. With notional figures in from all but two booths, preferences have swung back a little in Labor’s favour. They now favour Labor 15.5 per cent to 14.5 per cent, with 70 per cent exhausting (compared with 60 per cent in 2004).

7.41pm. Pacific Pines is now in and has registered a fairly typical 8.6 per cent swing against Labor.

7.4opm. Unless I’m doing something wrong here, further notional 2PP results suggests that preferences are actually favouring the Nationals. The table has been adjusted again and the swing has increased further.

7.33pm. First notional 2PP results are in, and they suggest 17 per cent of preferences are going to Labor, 16 per cent to the Nationals and 66 per cent exhausting. So Labor are doing less well than suggested by my initial figures, which have now been adjusted.

7.28pm. Nerang PYC, worth 8 per cent of the total, has swung 6.6 per cent on 2PP, lower than average but still enough to cost Labor the seat if uniform.

7.26pm. In answer to an earlier question to myself, Greens candidate Glen Ryman has chipped in in comments to say Daren Riley is broadly of the right, so it’s unlikely his preferences would rescue Labor. Both his and the Greens’ vote have faded a little from the 10 per cent ballpark mentioned early, and they’re now on more like 8 per cent.

7.24pm. The only outstanding booths are Nerang PYC (8 per cent) and Pacific Pines (11 per cent).

7.2opm. The biggest booth, Helensvale North, is now in, and if there was any hope left for Labor it’s probably gone now. The swing was 8.5 per cent. The one possible wild card is that preferences will fall very differently this time, although I don’t see why they would.

7.18pm. Bit of a delay in my table update there. Booths just mentioned are now up.

7.15pm. Gaven and Helensvale have also swung against Labor by enough to cost them the seat – 8.1 per cent and 7.4 per cent.

7.12pm. Two fairly large booths may have put it beyond Labor’s reach. Nerang West and Oxenford are both worth about 10 per cent and have swung against Labor by 7.3 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively.

7.10pm. Glen Ryman of the Greens and independent Daren Riley, of whom I know nothing, are both on about 10 per cent. Preferences of the latter could prove very important. One Nation and independent Phil Connolly (who was once a One Nation candidate) are doing less well, both on 2-3 per cent.

7.07pm. Not so good for Labor in Nerang, although it’s a small booth worth 5 per cent of the vote. Labor down 10.9 per cent and the Coalition up 7.0 per cent for a 10.1 per cent two-party swing, enough to put the Nationals back in the lead.

7.05pm. Bicentennial Hall was in fact the worst booth for Labor in 2004, with a margin of just 0.9 per cent.

7.02pm. Something to chew on: when will the notional 2PP from the Brisbane booth be in? How long can it take to count 29 votes?

6.58pm. The first substantial booth is in and unless my calculations are askew, it’s a very encouraging result for Labor. Bicentennial Hall was worth 7 per cent of the total in 2004 and while Labor are down 9.6 per cent on the primary vote, the Coalition are down 2.5 per cent as well. My two-party calculation is a swing of less than 3.9 per cent, less than the Nationals will need to win the seat.

6.55pm. Another clarification while we wait: until notional two-candidate details are in from the ECQ, calculations in the above table will assume the same preference distribution as 2004 – 22 per cent to Labor, 18 per cent to the Coalition and 60 per cent exhausting.

6.48pm. Teething problem number one now sorted.

6.45pm. The first figures in are actually those lodged in Brisbane, of which there are a mere 29. So it wouldn’t do to read much into the results above just yet.

6.42pm. A caveat to the bit about early results flattering Labor: I am referring to the raw figures you will get at the ECQ. The results in the table above will be adjusted to take booth variations into account.

6.40pm. A quick preview while we wait. There are nine booths in the electorate, the smallest number I have ever encountered. Labor recorded majorities in all of them in 2004, but its majorities were noticeably smaller at the far north end (Helensvale North and Oxenford) and the far south (Bicentennial Hall and the three Nerang booths). The three best booths for Labor were the three in between, at Gaven (15.8 per cent Labor majority), Helensvale (8.3 per cent) and Pacific Pines (10.8 per cent). The two largest booths, Helensvale North (15 per cent of voters) and Nerang West (12 per cent), were also two of the best for the Coalition, with Labor majorities of 2.1 per cent and 2.6 per cent respectively. So it can be presumed that the early results will tend to flatter Labor.

6.10pm. Welcome to the Poll Bludger’s live coverage of the Gaven by-election. First results should be in at around 6.45pm.

These foolish things

Just one more sleep until the April Fools’ Day by-election for the Queensland state seat of Gaven, which as usual will be covered live on this site shortly after polls close at 6pm local time. The campaign period has been well-served for opinion polls, with today’s effort in the Gold Coast Bulletin adding to an overall picture of a likely Labor defeat, though with a less bruising swing than at last year’s Chatsworth and Redcliffe by-elections. No minor party figures are available in the online article, although the paper’s editorial refers to "the apparent collapse of the Greens vote" – though there is little doubt they are reading too much into results from a small sample (UPDATE: Gaps now filled thanks to Greens candidate Glen Ryman’s contribution in comments). The overall sample was 420, with 18 per cent of those surveyed failing to indicate a preference.

Labor 34 34 39 37
Nationals 11 41 43 43
Liberal 33
Greens 9 11 7 6
Others 13 14 11 14
Sample 230 300 265 345

Some recent developments on the campaign trail:

• Andrew Fraser reports in today’s Australian that Peter Beattie has indulged in a last-minute $50 million spending spree, designed to saturate the media with good news in the brief period after the end of the Commonwealth Games. The shopping list includes a new police precinct for the local area complete with 22 new officers; a new school; an upgrade of nearby Robina Hospital; and an announcement that $100 million will be spent on "power-related projects on the Gold Coast".

• Cyclone Larry, which has only dropped off Queensland’s front pages in the past few days, also fit in nicely with Beattie’s campaign media cycle. Furthermore, Mark Ludlow of the Financial Review reports that media monitoring data shows Beattie was mentioned 4165 times in the media in the past week, compared with just 86 mentions of Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg. Ludlow also reports that "predicted swings of 15 per cent against the government have now been scaled down to about 10 per cent, courtesy of Mr Beattie’s performance after Cyclone Larry".

• A Labor radio advertisement that uses barnyard animal noises to mock the Nationals has provoked an angry response from the party, no doubt because they are sensitive to its likely impact in the wholly urbanised electorate.

• After earlier hedging their bets, the Greens have decided to direct preferences to Labor after receiving an undertaking that the government will "do all they can" to purchase 70 hectares of environmentally sensitive land from building company CSR Hynix.

• Independent candidate Phil Connolly will face court next month after police allegedly found an unlicensed semi-automatic rifle on his property.

How green was my tally

Well, there you have it – a day of joy for the Tasmanian Greens as their most endangered sitting member, Kim Booth, just scrapes over the line in Bass by 136 votes. I might modestly note that it was my own gut feeling that this would be the case, as expressed in this post from early last week, despite news reports to the contrary as recently as this morning (in the Mercury and apparently also on the ABC). However, the real prize must go to Kevin Bonham, whose correctness was based not on lucky guesswork, but on psephological modelling that outperformed some formidable competition. Note his running commentary in the Tasmanian Times and contributions to the comments thread from this site’s previous post, in which he boldly predicts an imminent victory for Booth in the face of ongoing scepticism.

The key to Booth’s win was not just the rate of Labor leakage, as was stressed in my earlier commentary, but also the high rate of Labor exhaustion (thanks to Geoff Lambert for making this clear to me). Following the 2002 election, it was widely argued that Labor’s surprise late-count defeat was caused by the fact that they had fielded six candidates, when voters are only required to number five boxes. However, Antony Green argued that the real cause was leakage of Labor votes to Liberal candidates, particularly Sue Napier, and Labor was not discouraged from fielding six candidates again at this election. But this time, it does appear that Labor voters who numbered five of the six Labor boxes and left the remaining candidate hanging really did cost their party an extra seat. This compounded a repeat of Labor’s problem from 2002 when the number of Liberal votes leaking to their own candidates was subdued because only two of them had a sufficiently high profile.

Elsewhere, Paula Wriedt’s victory has been sealed in Franklin, which the Mercury did get right this morning, while all bets seem to be off regarding the final seat in Lyons. The final result is a remarkable status quo outcome in each of the five electorates – 3-1-1 in Denison, Franklin and Lyons, 3-2 in Braddon and 2-2-1 in Bass.