What it all means

The intention had been to cap off yesterday’s posting on the upper house by adding together the various likely outcomes and estimating the final party make-up, but time did not permit. So here goes now. Ignoring outcomes that are listed as possible but unlikely, we can expect a return to traditional results in Agricultural (four Coalition and two Labor), East Metropolitan and Mining and Pastoral (three Labor and two Liberal) and North Metropolitan (three each and one for the Greens). The Poll Bludger might have been hasty in ruling out a result of three Coalition and two Labor in Agricultural, but it’s never happened before. The tough calls are South Metropolitan, which will either go two each and one Greens or three Labor and two Coalition, and South West, where there will be three Coalition and two Labor plus either a third seat for Labor or one for the Greens, and either a fourth seat for the Coalition or one for Family First. That puts the best case scenario for the Coalition at 17 seats, one seat short of the majority that they enjoyed prior to 1997. The worst case for them is a mere one seat fewer, with that seat going to Family First. Labor will win between 14 and 16 seats, and the Greens will be down from five to between one and three. The current numbers are 13 each for Labor and the Coalition, five Greens and three independents who were elected as One Nation members.

Just the ticket

In the wake of last year’s Senate election result, you might have thought that Monday’s deadline for the lodgement of Legislative Council preference tickets would have generated more excitement, at least in psephological pcircles (psorry, I must pstop doing that). The Legislative Council election psystem is very much the psame as that for the Psenate (okay, I really will stop now), right down to the various parties deciding the exact order in which preferences will be allocated for the overwhelming majority of voters who prefer the above-the-line voting option to laboriously numbering as many as 50 separate boxes. The picture is doubly fascinating on this occasion owing to the remarkable quirkiness of the 2001 result, when the Coalition dropped from its customary 17 or 18 seats to an unheard-of 13. Both One Nation and the Greens won seats in each of the three non-metropolitan regions; anyone who is expecting a similar result this time needs to be careful that they don’t wind up in Baxter detention centre. The tickets are now available for all to behold courtesy of the Western Australian Electoral Commission, and if the Poll Bludger is reading them properly, the situation in the six regions is as follows.

Agricultural: The most likely outcome is one seat for Labor and three assured seats for the Coalition with a lottery for fifth place in which either a third Liberal or second Nationals candidate will compete with various minor parties. Interestingly, the Nationals have put the Greens ahead of all the main players except for the Liberals. If the Nationals fall short of a second seat their surplus will be a handy dividend for the Greens, as they will also get the preferences of Liberals for Forests and any surplus left over after Labor wins its usual one seat. Family First will get preferences from One Nation and New Country, the party that Frank Hough (as well as colleague Paddy Embry in South West) joined after leaving One Nation, unless the Christian Democrats do particularly well in which case they are an outside chance of snowballing into contention. Hough?s hopes of re-election have been destroyed by One Nation’s decision to put New Country last, while One Nation themselves would have needed major party preferences to be a chance and they are predictably not getting them. Given the high quota required in five-seat regions, the smart money is on a Coalition candidate winning the final seat.

East Metropolitan: This region emerges as a straightforward contest between Labor member Louise Pratt and Greens ticket leader Lee Bell (also their candidate in 2001) for the final place. The Greens will get preferences over Labor from the Democrats, Liberals for Forests, the Public Hospital Support Group and independents John Tucak and Annolies Truman; Labor will get them from One Nation, Family First, the Christian Democrats, the Citizens Electoral Council and the New Country Party, perhaps ironically given Pratt?s leftist proclivities and gay rights advocacy. Last time around, Bell very nearly closed a substantial deficit against Pratt with help from preferences from the Democrats who scored a relatively strong 4.1 per cent (One Nation preferences were not decisive since their candidate made it through to the final round). Recent evidence suggests that we can expect a further decline in the Democrats? vote that will not directly benefit the Greens, and that Bell accordingly has his work cut out for him. He will be depending on a strong improvement in the Liberals’ performance, so that their candidate wins fourth rather than fifth place with a reasonable surplus to spare which will then flow to the Greens as preferences.

Mining & Pastoral: One Nation and the Greens both won seats here in 2001 but stand little or no chance of doing so again this time. One Nation’s John Fischer, now running as an independent, was elected with preferences from popular ex-Labor independent Mark Nevill, who polled 9.3 per cent. The Greens’ Robin Chapple first overtook Labor’s third candidate with preferences from the Democrats (1.6 per cent) and another ex-Labor independent, Tom Helm (1.3 per cent), and then the Liberal candidate after receiving the One Nation and Labor surpluses. This time there is no Tom Helm equivalent giving them preferences and they have not been put ahead of the major parties by One Nation, so Robin Chapple will have a hard time holding off Labor’s Vince Catania. The Liberals? hopes of recovering a second seat have been boosted by One Nation’s decision to put them near the top of the pile, while the slow-learning Democrats have again chosen to alienate their leftist support base by putting the Liberals ahead of Labor. A potential wild card is John Fischer, the One Nation victor from 2001, who is running as an independent and could potentially deprive the Liberals of a second seat with help from Labor’s surplus. Former federal member for Kalgoorlie Graeme Campbell – yet another ex-Labor independent – has given him a publicity boost by agreeing to be listed second on his ticket. However, a punitive decision by One Nation to put all three of their former members last has most likely sealed his fate. While the most likely outcome is a return to a traditional result of three Labor and two Liberal, there is a long-shot possibility that either might drop a seat to the Greens or Fischer.

North Metropolitan: One of two regions that have seven rather than five members, and thus a quota for election of 12.5 per cent rather than 16.7 per cent. Greens member Giz Watson should be able to manage this, as she polled 9.7 per cent in 2001 and will get preferences from the Democrats, Liberals for Forests and the Public Hospital Support Group, plus any Labor surplus. Beyond that it seems very likely that Labor and the Liberals will share the remaining six seats equally, unless Labor performs exceptionally badly in this Liberal-leaning region in which case the Liberals might emerge with four seats to Labor’s two.

South Metropolitan: This region has returned two Labor, two Liberal and one Greens member at the last three elections. The alternative scenario is for Labor to win a third seat at the expense of the Greens, which last happened in 1989. Labor will get preferences ahead of the Greens from Family First, the Christian Democrats and One Nation; the Greens will get them from the Democrats, Liberals for Forests, the Fremantle Hospital Support Group and Public Hospital Support Group (whose preference tickets are as similar as their names) and all four grouped independent candidates, as well as what is likely to be a considerable surplus over the Liberals? second quota. In 2001 Greens member Jim Scott, who will take his personal vote with him to his tilt for the lower house seat of Fremantle, trailed Labor’s third candidate before the distribution of Democrats and One Nation preferences; this time the former are likely to be fewer, while the latter are going the other way. What might save Greens candidate Lynn MacLaren is an improvement in the Liberal vote, as she will ultimately receive the surplus over their second quota.

South West: History suggests that this seven-member region will deliver three certain seats for the Coalition and two for Labor, with the other two up for grabs. By the Poll Bludger’s reckoning, these seats represent the best chance Family First has to win a third parliamentary seat to add to those it holds in the Senate and the South Australian Legislative Council. The 2001 election was the first under the current system at which the Nationals did not win a seat in addition to the three invariably won by the Liberals, while the Greens first won a seat at Labor’s expense in 1996 and held it in 2001. Most likely the last two seats will go one left (Labor or the Greens) and one right (the Coalition – most likely the Nationals, but possibly the Liberals – or Family First), although the two contests cannot be neatly separated. The Nationals have placed the Greens ahead of Family First, so if Family First edges them out and their preferences are distributed, this will give the Greens a decisive boost in their contest against Labor. Paddy Embry, former One Nation member who is attempting to hold his seat with the New Country party, appears to have been doomed by the preference tickets. The Democrats, Christian Democrats, Liberals for Forests and Public Hospital Support Group all have Family First ahead of him, and One Nation are putting all former party colleagues last. Family First will thus gather the collective vote for all of the aforementioned parties, and will be well in the hunt if this adds up to more than what the Coalition can manage over and above the 35.0 per cent they need to win three seats.

Galloping ahead

Doubts that Labor has returned to a highly competitive position in Western Australia have been further laid to rest by today’s Westpoll in The West Australian, which has Labor on an election-winning 48 per cent against 44 per cent for the Coalition. Hopefully Roy Morgan will join in the fun tomorrow; until then, the following table of recent poll results indicates the reversal in Labor’s long-term slide that appeared to begin when the election was called.

Westpoll Morgan Newspoll
January 48 44 ? 42 44 6
December 40 51 5 39.5 43.5 8 34 49 7
Oct/Nov 41 50 6 42.5 41.5 9
Aug/Sept 46 47 5 47.5 38 7 38 41 9
Election 10/2/01 37.2 34.4 7.3 37.2 34.4 7.3 37.2 34.4 7.3

The West Australian report plays heavily on a supplementary question regarding the canal proposal, which remarkably found that "slightly more than half" were in favour against "a quarter" opposed, despite the finding on voting intention. To the Poll Bludger’s mind the question rather misses the point, namely that the Coalition proposes to dispense with a prudent feasibility study before diving head-long into a massive expenditure of public funds. Voters who are broadly favourable to the concept could still have grave concerns about what such an approach might say about the overall standard of policy under an incoming Coalition government.

Balance of possibilities

Opinion polling for the Western Australian election has been disappointingly thin on the ground in the past week or two, with only anecdotal evidence available to measure the impact of the Coalition’s circuit-breaking canal proposal. From what little there is to go on, you can’t go past the betting markets; Crikey reports that Centrebet has been deluged with punters backing Labor’s return following Barnett’s shock announcement, such that Labor are now 7-10 favourites with the Coalition at even money. Peter Brent at Mumble is bravely predicting an 11-seat Labor majority, although he’s certainly been right before. The Poll Bludger is rather less sensible and still proposes to provide seat-by-seat predictions once he has gathered more evidence, hopefully by the weekend. For the time being he will content himself to canvass the possibility that Brent is six seats out and that independents will hold the balance of power after the election.

Brent is rightly critical of the regular federal election campaign ritual where observers suckered in by talk of a close result confidently predict a hung parliament, which at federal level is always highly unlikely at best. State elections are a different matter, since state lower houses have far fewer members (57 in the Western Australian Legislative Assembly compared with 150 in the House of Representatives) and independents have an easier time getting elected due to the smaller sizes of electorates. While one must go back to 1940 in search of a federal election result that did not provide a clear outcome in favour of one side of politics or the other, examples at state level are much closer to hand. In 1991, Nick Greiner’s Coalition government in New South Wales was shocked to find itself reduced to minority government status one term after taking office; in 1999, Jeff Kennett’s Coalition government in Victoria was shocked to find itself relying for survival on the support of independents whom Kennett had remorselessly bullied and abused throughout the previous term, which was accordingly not forthcoming; in 2002, Rob Kerin’s Liberal government in South Australia was not shocked to find itself falling one seat short of a majority, but became so when Liberal-turned-independent member Peter Lewis used his balance of power status to put Labor into power; and in 1998, everybody was shocked when One Nation won 11 seats in the Queensland parliament, leaving two independents with little choice but to endorse a Peter Beattie minority Labor government to marginalise the motley rabble of newcomers. Tasmania’s system of proportional representation makes it more prone to minority government, but it has become less so since Labor and Liberal conspired to reduce the size of the House of Assembly. In Western Australia, an election has not produced an indecisive result since 1950 – the last minority government was that of Carmen Lawrence, whose Labor government lost its majority mid-term following party defections and a by-election defeat.

There were four independent members elected to the Legislative Assembly in 2001, two of whom are standing for re-election and two of whom are not. Both of the re-contestants, Liz Constable in Churchlands and Janet Woollard in Alfred Cove, are likely to be returned, at least by the Poll Bludger’s estimation. Both represent what would normally be safe Liberal electorates; Constable won her seat as an independent after failing to win Liberal preselection and Woollard has variously branded herself a Liberal for Forests and an "independent Liberal". There is no doubt they would support a Coalition government if that’s what it came to. As those who have been following this site lately will be aware, one of the retirees is former Labor man Larry Graham, member for the abolished electorate of Pilbara. The other is one-time Liberal Phillip Pendal, who has held the normally safe Liberal seat of South Perth as an independent since 1994. With full candidate lists now available, it is worth taking a look at the contestants in other electorates who appear best placed to join the cross-benches after the election.

Girrawheen (Labor 21.0%): The electorate which gave Labor its second-biggest two-party majority at the 2001 election could potentially be lost due to a long-running spat between the "Old Right" (commonly identified with Brian Burke) and "New Right" factions. The former grouping had hoped to dump incumbent Margaret Quirk, whose original endorsement in 2001 it had vehemently opposed, and install Wanneroo mayor Jon Kelly. Kelly was thwarted here when the national executive intervened at the Premier’s request to endorse all sitting members, and was also denied an upper house seat for East Metropolitan due to the refusal of embattled Housing and Works Minister Nick Griffiths to stand aside. Kelly is now taking the bold step of challenging Quirk as an independent. Remarkably, Labor is putting Liberal candidate John Halligan ahead of Kelly on its preference recommendation, prompting Kelly to make the unusual claim that (to paraphrase his argument) "a vote for Labor is a vote for Liberal". In reality, there is no chance that Quirk will be eliminated ahead of both Kelly and Halligan and the matter of her preferences is purely academic. On Antony Green’s post-redistribution figures, Labor polled 57.9 per cent of the vote in 2001, from which Kelly will need to take a substantial bite in order to force the issue to preferences. If he can do this, and also outperform the Liberals who scored 21.5 per cent last time, he could well take the seat. If he does so, there seems little doubt that he would back Labor to remain in power if it fell short of a majority.

Vasse (Liberal 4.1%): The Liberal member for this seat, Bernie Masters, quit the party in early 2004 after losing preselection to Busselton shire president Troy Buswell. Masters will now attempt to retain the seat as an independent in what looms as an interesting three-way contest with Nationals candidate Beryle Morgan, who very nearly defeated Masters in 2001. Masters was close to Colin Barnett and blamed his preselection defeat on Barnett antagonist Dan Sullivan; he would no doubt be happy to see Barnett in the premier’s chair if he ends up holding the balance of power.

Central Kimberley-Pilbara (Labor 16.2% vs IND): It is at least possible that this seat, which has superseded Larry Graham’s abolished electorate of Pilbara, will remain in independent hands thanks to the nomination of former ATSIC WA chairman Barry Taylor. Such an outcome would require a strong flow of preferences to Taylor from various minor party independents to put him clear of the Liberal candidate, as well as a Labor vote substantially below 50 per cent. It is difficult to infer much from previous election results here, as the 2001 result for Pilbara was distorted by the contest between Graham and Jackie Ormsby, the Labor candidate he was dumped in preselection to make way for. Only major party candidates ran in 1996, when Graham polled 63.8 per cent, but as the subsequent election demonstrated this was boosted by his considerable personal vote. Graham, who suggested to the Labor Party that it should nominate Taylor, wrote in the North West Telegraph last week that he "started badly but has picked up the pace recently". The most likely outcome is that Tom Stephens will win the seat for Labor; if Taylor were to get up he would very likely back a Labor government.

Stirling (Nationals 12.0%): Independent candidate Vicki Brown might be reckoned a long shot to win this National Party stronghold, but stranger things have happened. Brown is a former vice-president of the state National Party and was the only nominee for the party’s preselection at the close of nominations, and had been widely spoken of as the likely candidate. However, a week later the local National Party district branch decided to reopen nominations to allow Terry Redman to contest a preselection vote, ultimately successfully, a move that appeared to put a few noses out of joint in local party circles.

Campaign milestones

Nominations for the Western Australian election closed on Friday; final and definitive candidate lists will be added to the Poll Bludger’s election guide when time permits, and for the time being can be viewed at Antony Green’s ABC election guide. Yesterday was the deadline for the lodgement of above-the-line preference tickets for the Legislative Council, prior to which serious analysis was all but impossible. A lot more on this in the coming days.

Northern exposure

Retiring Pilbara ex-Labor independent Larry Graham has more, this time an article in last Thursday’s Broome Advertiser on the state’s northernmost electorate of Kimberley. Graham, who respectively describes Labor member Carol Martin (Australia’s first female indigenous MP) and her Liberal challenger Ron "Sos" Johnston as "lovely … a warm, friendly and caring person" and "one of those northwesters who keep the place humming …. a likeable and competent candidate … the type that when you are a pollie you hope never runs against you", sees the situation in the following terms:

Carol holds the seat with a major margin of around 8.5 per cent and seats with margins that size do not often change hands, but I can tell you the ALP heavies are nervous. The ALP were hoping in the redistribution that Halls Creek would come back into the Kimberley and secure this seat for them forever. However, fate dealt them an evil blow because not only did they not get it, they lost Fitzroy Crossing from the seat and this reduced the margin by around 2.5 per cent … if both the National Party and the One Nation vote reverts to the Libs, the ALP and Lib votes get very close. What then? Back to preferences, and that is where you come in, remember it is your preference, not theirs … the most common feeling expressed to me is one of uncertainty over the Government, basically the Kimberley feels unloved, unsure and unwanted. The Derby hospital, one vote one value, tidal power, the electoral office, the living arrangements, local government issues all have bitten her and they hurt. Still it hard to see how the seat could change hands.

This was written before Colin Barnett’s announcement that the electorate would become the source for the south’s future water needs via the contentious 3700 kilometre canal project. The likely local electoral impact was indicated when Martin savaged the idea with great alacrity; it has long been known that local federal Liberal member Barry Haase is vehemently opposed to the concept, and the apparently nervous response from a "gobsmacked" Johnston might have had something to do with the Liberal state office sending a text message to all candidates advising that they were not to discuss the project.

The seat is normally safe Labor territory in any case, only ever having been held by the Liberals from 1967 to 1980. It is presumably no coincidence that 1967 was the year that the federal government pitched in to get the Ord River dam off the ground, a colossally expensive project that is now synonymous with the term "white elephant". Writing in The Australian today, new right wonk and former federal Liberal MP John Hyde (no relation to the Labor member for Perth) draws the obvious parallel between this project and Colin Barnett’s canal-dream, the key electoral difference being that the Ord River project was initiated with local development in mind whereas the canal is expressly for the benefit of those further south.