The wood from the trees

Appearances in the media suggest that Labor’s qualified plan to end old growth logging in Tasmania has misfired, having created uncertainty among those employed by the timber industry without offering assurances solid enough to convince environmental groups. I’ll take these on one at a time, so look forward to a sequel to this posting later today or tomorrow.
For now it’s time for a late-campaign visit to Tasmania, home to five seats that have all been held by Labor since 1998. Two of these, Denison and Franklin, are too urban, green and pro-Labor to enter our calculations. Patricia Karvelas and Brad Norington of The Australian reported yesterday that "most of the timber workers are in the northern and north-western seats of Lyons and Braddon ("central" would be nearer the mark than "northern" in Lyons’ case – PB). The most marginal of Tasmania’s seats is Bass, held by 2.1 per cent, where most timber workers are employed in softwood plantations and two softwood mills, unaffected by any stop to old-growth logging".

There is an obvious precedent for Tasmanian voters punishing Labor for perceived pandering to mainland environmentalists, that being the 1983 election that brought the Hawke Government to power. On that occasion Hawke Labor’s opposition to the Franklin Dam helped the Liberals retain all five seats with increased majorities even as their mainland colleagues were dropping like flies. But a lot has changed in Tasmania since then, and there is now a burgeoning environmental constituency that hardly appeared to exist in 1983. The Greens now threaten to poll over 20 per cent in Denison where the Liberals these days are nowhere in sight (notwithstanding the bizarre delusions of Tasmanian Opposition Leader Rene Hidding). They are also a factor in Bass, where they managed well over 10 per cent in the main booths of Launceston at the 2001 election. The backlash will hit much harder in Braddon and Lyons, and the question is whether Labor’s margins of 6.0 and 8.2 per cent are enough to absorb the shock. Normally it would be unthinkable for an opposition to lose seats held by margins of this order, but there are historical reasons to think these two are different. Labor built its strength here on the back of big swings in the GST elections of 1998 (10 per cent in Braddon and 9.3 per cent in Lyons) and 1993 (5.4 per cent in Braddon and 5.6 per cent in Lyons), which largely stuck the next time round. This suggests that Labor has had a lot of soft support in these seats from voters with very sensitive hip-pocket nerves.

Despite everything he has just said, the Poll Bludger has withdrawn only Bass as a Labor retain in the election guide, since it was teetering on the brink already. With the Liberals yet to launch their own Tasmanian forests policy, Braddon is still on notice. Taking a step back, it appears the response to Medicare Gold has not justified any wholesale shift in Labor’s favour, but there are still a number of seats on both sides of the ledger that warrant careful monitoring in the coming days.

South Australian Senate overview

Today the Poll Bludger will wrap up his Senate coverage and devote the remaining precious few days to the real action. What follows is South Australia, with Tasmania and the territories to come this evening. First, the grouped ticket preferences:

Labor: Liberals for Forests; Greens; Democrats; Family First; Liberal; One Nation.

Liberal: Family First; Liberal for Forests; Democrats; Greens; Labor; One Nation.

Nationals: Liberal; Family First; Greens; Democrats; Liberals for Forests; Labor; One Nation.

Greens: Liberals for Forests; Democrats; Labor; Liberal; Family First; One Nation.

Democrats: Liberals for Forests; Family First; Greens; half-Labor, half-Liberal; One Nation.

One Nation: Liberals for Forests; Labor; Liberal; Family First; Democrats; Greens.

Family First: Democrats; Liberals for Forests; Liberal; One Nation; Labor; Greens.

Australian Progressive Alliance: Democrats; Liberals for Forests; Family First; One Nation; Greens; half-Liberal, half-Labor.

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

Ex-Service, Service and Veterans Party: Liberals for Forests; Democrats; Liberal; Labor; Greens; Family First; One Nation.

Liberals for Forests (ticket one): Labor; Democrats; One Nation; Greens; Family First; Liberal.

Liberals for Forests (ticket two): Greens; One Nation; Democrats; Family First; Liberal; Labor.

The Liberals scored an easy three quotas in 2001 and only if they lose a substantial proportion of the vote to Family First will they be in danger of failing to do so this time. Labor didn’t come close and it will take a very fortuitous arrangement of preferences to put them in contention for a third seat. An interesting contest looms between Family First and the Democrats to see who picks up the preferences of the other, this being the strongest state for both parties. If it’s the Democrats they will then need to overtake the Greens and make it home on their preferences. The Greens will get a boost in that they are very likely to do better than Labor’s surplus over their second quota, in which case they will receive these preferences and then also those of the Democrats if they can outperform the Democrats/Family First. It’s not altogether out of the question that Democrats or Family First can deprive the Liberals of a third quota while the Greens do the same for Labor, but a more likely result is three Liberal and two Labor. In this case the other place would go to either the Greens or the winner out of Family First and the Democrats – bearing in mind that the latter two would get an extra boost from the Liberals surplus to their third quota in this scenario. If Labor’s vote can lift enough that they are still in the hunt at this point, they could hold a vague hope that Family First preferences might put them over the Greens. Pressed for a decision, the Poll Bludger’s money is on the Democrats.

Here’s what others think. Malcolm Mackerras: "My prediction is that the Liberal Party will win three seats, Labor two and Family First one". Charles Richardson at Crikey says "ironically, the backlash against the Democrats from their preference deal with the fundamentalists (i.e. Family First) may be the very thing that drags down their vote and allows their preferences to put Family First within reach of a seat", and he countenances a range of possibilities including Family First winning a seat at the Liberals’ expense, and even an unprecedented outcome where both the Democrats and the Greens win seats. But he ultimately favours a more "boring" outcome of three Liberal, two Labor and one Green. Antony Green alone considers Meg Lees worth a mention, but sees a contest of two halves in which the Liberals and Family First compete for a third seat, while on "the other side of the ledger" are Labor, Greens, Democats and also Family First if the Liberals win their third seat. He notes that "the lower the Labor vote, the more likely that Labor preferences will elect the Greens. The higher the Labor vote, the more likely the Democrats can stay ahead of the Greens".

Newspoll, Morgan and Galaxy

Tomorrow’s Newspoll has the Coalition leading on two-party preferred for the first time year, not counting the ridiculously quirky result of May 28-30. That lead however is as narrow as they come, being 50.5-49.5. The 2.5 per cent shift to the Coalition from last week is in contrast to the other weekly polls which showed a boost to Labor from their campaign launch, but in ACNielsen’s case this was coming off what was clearly a rogue result. Morgan today released its weekly face-to-face poll which returned Labor to its customary position lead, although 51.5-48.5 is still less than what they’re used to from this organisation. Also today the News Limited tabloids carried the third fortnightly poll of the campaign from Galaxy Research, who have turned in remarkably consistent results. This poll has the Coalition ahead 52-48, an identical result to ACNielsen, but they seem to have done inordinately well out of minor preferences – at 45 per cent, their primary vote is at the lower end of what would be considered a winnable position for them.

Back to earth with ACNielsen

ACNielsen today offers the first comprehensive poll taken entirely after both parties’ launches. It finds the Coalition ahead 52-48 on two-party preferred and, in keeping with the organisation’s other recent results, with a striking 48 per cent on the primary vote. The poll apparently includes a question on Senate voting intention that shows the Greens on 12 per cent and the Democrats on 5 per cent, but until the full report is available little can be added to what the Sydney Morning Herald has to say.

The top right-hand corner and the bit on the left

Having dragged his heels in running through the various Senate contests, the Poll Bludger today offers two for the price of one – first Queensland, then Western Australia. As usual, we begin with a look at where your preferences will go if you, like most people with normal lives to lead, vote above the line. Attempts by various parties to obscure what they are up to by submitting needlessly complicated tickets don’t cut it here – this is based entirely on the order of the candidates that matter.

Labor: Greens; Hetty Johnston; Democrats; Family First; Liberals for Forests; Liberal; Nationals; One Nation; Pauline Hanson.

Liberal: Nationals; Family First; Hetty Johnston; Liberals for Forests; Democrats; Greens; Labor; Pauline Hanson; One Nation.

Nationals: Liberal; Family First; Hetty Johnston; Liberals for Forests; Democrats; Greens; Labor; One Nation.

Greens: Liberals for Forests; Democrats; Labor; Hetty Johnston; Liberal; Nationals; Pauline Hanson; Family First; One Nation.

Democrats: Hetty Johnston; Family First; Liberals for Forests; Greens; half-Liberal, half-Labor; Nationals; One Nation; Pauline Hanson.

Pauline Hanson: One Nation; Hetty Johnston; Family First; Liberals for Forests; Liberal; Nationals; Democrats; Labor; Greens.

One Nation: Pauline Hanson; Hetty Johnston; Liberals for Forests; Family First; Nationals; Democrats; Greens; Liberal; Labor.

Hetty Johnston: Democrats; Family First; Liberals for Forests; Pauline Hanson; One Nation; Greens; Labor; Liberal; Nationals.

Family First: Hetty Johnston; Democrats; Nationals; Liberal; Pauline Hanson; One Nation; Labor; Liberals for Forests; Greens.

Socialist Alliance: Greens; Labor; Democrats; Hetty Johnston; Liberals for Forests; Family First; Liberal; Nationals; One Nation; Pauline Hanson.

Liberals for Forests: Labor; Hetty Johnston; Democrats; Liberal; Family First; Nationals; Greens; Pauline Hanson; One Nation.

Fishing Party: One Nation; Nationals; Pauline Hanson; Hetty Johnston; Family First; Liberal; Labor; Liberals for Forests; Democrats; Greens.

H.E.M.P.: Greens; Labor; Democrats; Liberal; Liberals for Forests; Nationals; Family First; Hetty Johnston; One Nation; Pauline Hanson.

Non-Custodial Parents Party: Hetty Johnston; Pauline Hanson; One Nation; Family First; Liberals for Forests; Nationals; Liberal; Labor; Greens; Democrats.

As always, Labor and Liberal are each assured of two places. The third place-holders on the Liberal and Nationals tickets, Russell Trood and Barnaby Joyce, face their own battle to be the Coalition’s third contender. In 2001, 2.9 per cent of the vote separated the Nationals’ Ron Boswell from the Liberal candidate (Russell Trood once again) which was given another 1.1 per cent of padding when preferences from Call to Australia, who aren’t running this time, went to Boswell. This time the Nationals will have to settle for the Fishing Party. Morgan’s Senate poll had them on just 3 per cent, while a survey of 929 voters on the Gold Coast (once a strong area for the National Party) published by the Gold Coast Weekend Bulletin on September 25 had them on 5 per cent. While it is true that the Nationals traditionally do better than the polls suggest, the Liberals seem well in the hunt to displace them.

Hetty Johnston, Family First and the sentimental favourite of every psephologist, Senator John Cherry of the Australian Democrats, have emerged as a mutually-preferencing voting bloc that will put whoever emerges first out of the three into serious contention. Johnston has a head start here because each of the other two has her ahead of the other, while the opposite is true of Family First. There’s a good chance that whoever makes it through could edge the Coalition out of a third place and make it home on their surplus. Pauline Hanson’s only chance of winning serious preferences is if she can outperform this three-party bloc, in which case she will pick up Hetty Johnston’s vote. Hanson would also get preferences from the Non-Custodial Parents Party and also the Fishing Party if the Nationals were knocked out, but would need to at least match her 10 per cent vote from 2001 to stand much of a chance. The Greens should be able to knock Labor’s third candidate out of contention, but since Labor’s surplus to their second quota was just 3.2 per cent in 2001, it may not deliver them enough preferences to put them over the line. The combined vote for the Greens and their preference-feeders, Socialist Alliance and Help End Marijuana Prohibition, will need to be about 11 per cent. For what it’s worth the aforementioned Morgan and Gold Coast polls had the Greens on 8.5 and 11 per cent respectively.

Here’s what others think. Malcolm Mackerras: "In Queensland, my belief is that the Democrats will retain their existing seat (John Cherry) while the Nationals will take the seat of the Hansonite, Len Harris. My predicted distribution for the Coalition is two Liberal and one National. But it is possible there could be three Liberals, with the National Party missing out. I hold out virtually no hope for the either of the famous Queensland female Senate candidates, Pauline Hanson (Group K) or Hetty Johnston (Group O). While each has her own box above the line, the lack of description for that box is a major disadvantage". Charles Richardson at Crikey thinks it "a real lottery. My best guess is 2 Liberal, 2 ALP, 1 National and 1 Green, but the Democrats and Hetty Johnston are both in with a chance, and a rough shot for the famous red-headed one". Antony Green declares it "very difficult to work out" but eventually agrees with Richardson. The Poll Bludger will go out on a limb and predict three Liberal, two Labor and one Greens. My basis for tipping a National Party failure is that the Boswell-versus-Hanson contest attracted a great deal of attention to the National Party and their popular incumbent in 2001, whereas the Nationals are fielding an unknown this time and Hanson is not being taken as seriously.

Over in the west:

Labor: Greens; Democrats; Family First; Liberals for Forests; Liberal; One Nation.

Liberal: Family First; Liberals for Forests; Democrats; Greens; Labor; One Nation.

Nationals: Liberal; Greens; Democrats; Family First; Labor; One Nation.

Greens: Democrats; Labor; Liberals for Forests; Liberal; Family First; One Nation.

Democrats: Liberals for Forests; Family First; Greens; half Liberal, half Labor; One Nation.

Liberals for Forests: Democrats; Greens; Liberal; One Nation; Family First; Labor.

Family First: Democrats; Liberal; Liberals for Forests; Labor; Greens.

One Nation: Family First; Liberals for Forests; Democrats; Liberal; Labor; Greens.

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

Peculiarities include the Nationals favouring the Greens over the Democrats and Family First, and a complicated effort from the Christian Democrats that appears to betray embarrassment that half of their preferences will go to the Greens’ Rachel Siewert ahead of Labor’s Emi Barzotto. The Poll Bludger doesn’t care to waste too much time on this one because he’s very confident the result will be three Liberal, two Labor and one Greens. However, Charles Richardson thinks that "Democrats, One Nation and Family First, together with some preferences from micro-parties and surplus from a major party, might put together a quota between them", potentially electing either Family First or the Democrats.

Examiner examined

For the second time in the campaign the Launceston Examiner has run results from a poll conducted by EMRS covering about 200 voters in each of Tasmania’s five electorates and again the results are bad for Labor, perhaps implausibly so. The following table details the latest figures (which come from the days before Labor’s campaign launch on Wednesday) with results from the survey of three weeks earlier in brackets.

Bass (ALP 2.1%) 48 (46) 52 (54) 40 (37) 46 (51) 11 (11)
Braddon (ALP 6.0%) 52 (46) 48 (54) 43 (37) 45 (50) 9 (8)
Denison (ALP 14.3%) 64 (64) 36 (36) 48 (44) 31 (30) 17 (22)
Franklin (ALP 8.1%) 64 (53) 36 (47) 49 (39) 31 (41) 15 (15)
Lyons (ALP 8.2%) 48 (59) 52 (41) 37 (51) 45 (39) 13 (10)

The Lyons result can be safely written off but it could be that Labor will indeed have their margins garnished here and in Braddon, although it’s unlikely to be enough to cost them the seats. Bass on the other hand is looking as interesting as ever and will be the subject of intense scrutiny when the first results come in on Saturday, which will happen earlier than for mainland electorates since Tasmania is the only state to have already begun daylight savings.

Also today, The Sunday Age carries an ACNielsen poll of two Victorian seats from a sample of 1013. La Trobe is a Liberal-held seat with a retiring member and a margin of 3.7 per cent, while McMillan is held by Labor’s Christian Zahra but was made notionally Liberal with a margin of 2.9 per cent following the redistribution. In keeping with the Poll Bludger’s current assessments for these seats, Labor is narrowly ahead in McMillan (52-48 – Coalition 45 per cent, Labor 42, Greens 7) and slightly behind in La Trobe (49-51 – Coalition 47 per cent, Labor 35, Greens 13). The latter result suggests a slightly excessive flow of minor party preferences to Labor.