Act local

Roy Morgan has been keeping its profile up recently with a series of low-sample phone polls addressing questions of marginal interest at best. Today’s installment at least provides a two-party preferred voting intention, with Labor on 54.5 per cent, but phone polls with samples of 578 are to be taken with a pinch of salt. Of more interest is an article by John Warhurst of the Australian National University in today’s Canberra Times, which may be read as a rebuke to those of us obsessing over local electorate contests. The counsel for the defence presents as evidence Parramatta and Swan, where Liberal Party candidates are going to extraordinary lengths to make an impact on the national outcome.

High fidelity

If anyone was wondering how Ross Cameron’s remarkable decision to give his dirty laundry a public airing was going to play in his very marginal electorate of Parramatta, a report by Emma-Kate Symons in today’s Australian appears to have the answer. The pertinent section reads:

Liberal sources have told The Australian that internal polling shows support for the 39-year-old MP, who holds his crucial seat of Parramatta in Sydney’s western suburbs by a margin of just 1.15 per cent, has dropped by 10 per cent in the week since he went public with his infidelity. But The Australian understands the MP has further angered his Liberal Party colleagues by flagging the possibility of quitting. The female vote is considered especially vulnerable following newspaper reports of multiple infidelities. However, Mr Cameron told The Australian last night: "I intend to represent my party as its candidate at the next election.

Elsewhere in the same publication, women are also credited with "driving a swing" in public sentiment on asylum seekers. Newspoll had found that 43 per cent now disagreed with the Government’s actions during the Tampa episode compared with 35 per cent in support. Among women, the latter figure was just 26 per cent.

A Canning plan

Labor has moved quickly to fill the vacancy created by Cimlie Bowden’s withdrawal as candidate for Canning on Monday, with former state minister Kay Hallahan installed yesterday by a unanimous vote of the party’s administration committee. Since Monday’s posting it has emerged that senior figures in the WA branch including Premier Geoff Gallop had resolved on Monday to persevere with Bowden, if only because no mechanism existed to remove her, and that this and Bowden’s angrily worded announcement of her decision to withdraw became public at about the same time. Roger Martin looks into the troubles surrounding Bowden’s campaign in today’s WA edition of The Australian, reporting that "Labor campaigners say Ms Bowden became upset at trivial matters, would not put enough effort into doorknocking and refused to take advice". At one point Bowden became consumed in a row with campaign staff over sausages, and she is no longer on speaking terms with her former friend and campaign manager Shelley Archer, wife of enormously influential CFMEU boss Kevin Reynolds.

For her part, Hallahan is being perhaps more modest than is prudent, telling The Australian: "I don’t blame people for thinking I’m a retired state MP because that is an accurate picture. The question is can I make a contribution in representing the people in Canning. I have come to a view I can, and I shall do my best to do that". Hallahan was elected to state parliament in the February 1983 election that brought Brian Burke to power and was appointed to the ministry in the government’s second term, above a year before Burke handed the reins to Peter Dowding. As the government slowly collapsed under the weight of the WA Inc fiasco, with Carmen Lawrence ushered into the premiership after Dowding was offered up as a scapegoat, Hallahan prospered in a series of portfolios largely quarantined from the government’s shady deal-making, specifically Arts, Education and Community Services. Following the government’s defeat at the February 1993 election (at which Labor’s less-disastrous-than-expected performance encouraged Paul Keating to call a federal election the very next day) Hallahan rose to the deputy party leadership, but with a view to her forthcoming retirement she agreed to step aside in favour of a Jim McGinty-Geoff Gallop ticket (McGinty subsequently making way for Gallop) in October 1994 and left parliament at the December 1996 election.

The Poll Bludger was a young Western Australian throughout this period and if any mud attached to Hallahan at the time, he doesn’t remember it. Nevertheless, "former Burke Government minister" is an unenviable entry on the resume for any WA politician and her opponents are unlikely to let her forget it.

Rough trade

Doubts that the Poll Bludger had harboured over the opinion poll dividend awaiting Mark Latham’s Free Trade Agreement manouevre have been laid to rest with today’s Newspoll and ACNielsen results. Newspoll has Labor resuming a commanding 54-46 lead on two-party preferred thanks largely to a 6 per cent slump in support for the Coalition. Labor has absorbed only 2 per cent of this, up from 40 to 42 per cent, with the "others" vote up from 8 to 11 per cent (no hard copy to hand, but I’m guessing the remainder knocked the Greens from 6 to 7 per cent). ACNielsen has produced an impressively similar set of results, with the Coalition on 42 per cent and Labor on 39 per cent, respectively down 2 and 1 per cent. The Greens are steady on 9 per cent and the Democrats are stuck on 2 per cent, with Labor ahead 53-47 on two-party preferred. The consensus between Newspoll, ACNielsen and Roy Morgan leaves the odd-man-out newcomer OmniTalk looking on very shaky ground with its rosy picture for the Coalition. Taverner is perhaps admissible as further evidence of an intriguing drift to the minor party and independent sector which is not substantially benefiting the Greens or Democrats, instead vanishing into the mysterious "others" column. Last week’s national launch of Family First could well have something to do with it.

Margin for error

The phony election campaign has been marked by a series of unforced errors from candidates on both sides of the fence in crucial marginal seats. First came revelations surrounding Trish Draper’s taxpayer-funded trip to Europe with her boyfriend, putting in jeopardy the Liberal Party’s hold on the Adelaide seat of Makin which she holds with a margin of 3.8 per cent. Since then Andrew Murfin, Liberal candidate for the Perth seat of Swan which Labor holds by 2.1 per cent in a state expected to the swing to the Coalition, was twice admonished by the local Salvation Army for using his past association with them for political ends. One of these incidents involved a letter that made false claims against Murfin’s Labor opponent, Kim Wilkie, which appeared in a local newspaper under the name of an elderly Salvos member who denied having written it. Far above the Tropic of Capricorn in the Townsville-based seat of Herbert, held with a margin of 1.5 per cent by Liberal Peter Lindsay, Anita Phillips (who had abandoned a seat in state parliament to contest preselection with no assurance of success) exasperated her leader Mark Latham by arguing that he had not nominated exactly which Christmas the troops would be home by. Then there was Saturday’s article on Liberal member for Parramatta Ross Cameron in Good Weekend, the magazine that appears in Saturday editions of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Cameron, who had always been strongly identifed with the conservative Christian strand of the federal Liberal Party, decided that two months from an election would be a good time to make an emotional public confession that he had been unfaithful to his wife. His margin is 1.2 per cent.

By comparison the indiscretions of Cimlie Bowden, who was today forced by her party to withdraw as Labor challenger for the knife-edge outer Perth seat of Canning, are somewhat obscure. Bowden, who had previously been best known for an unsuccessful bid to unseat Mark Olson as state secretary of the Australian Nurses Federation in 2001, won the nomination as the favoured candidate of the Centre faction to replace Jane Gerick, who died on Christmas Day in 2003 after again being preselected for the seat she had held from 1998 to 2001. The first indication that Bowden’s campaign was in trouble came on August 4 when Karen Middleton and Robert Taylor of The West Australian reported that factional colleague and Senate candidate Glenn Sterle had been drafted to replace a campaign manager with whom Bowden had not been getting along. Mutterings were raised about her failure to attend a scheduled campaign appearance, The West Australian reporting on Friday that party secretary Bill Johnston "felt it necessary to ask Ms Bowden if she was fully committed to the task".

By this time a candidate was being named for her replacement – Kay Hallahan, former minister in the state Burke/Dowding/Lawrence Government from the late 1980s to 1993. Leading the charge was another veteran of that government, Graham Edwards, the popular member for Cowan who lost his legs to a landmine in Vietnam. Edwards told The West Australian that Hallahan "would be a strong and formidable candidate and I hope she accepts the challenge. If we’ve got problems there then they need to be addresseed and if they’re addressed by way of a new candidate, I would encourage Kay Hallahan". Bowden said she had been "assured by Mr Johnston that she had the full support of the WA Labor Party", but the report would only quote Johnston as saying there was "no mechanism to remove her". Today that non-existent mechanism was exercised with the ABC reporting that Bowden had been "dumped" because, in Johnston’s words, "she cannot win the seat and the campaigning has taken a heavy toll on her".

Certainly it had been reported that party polling had Labor behind in Canning, and this was cited by "party sources" as a reason for the move against her. Quite why the blame for this should have been sheeted home to the candidate is unclear; whether an MP from the WA Inc era who retired from state politics in 1996 can do anything to reverse it remains to be seen.

Top Sunday reading

The Sunday Age has again seen fit to commission Taverner to conduct a poll of New South Wales and Victorian voters only, having last conducted such an exercise immediately after the May budget. This time the sample is even lower – 605 rather than 911 – and the results are very strange indeed, with both major parties taking a big hit on the primary vote. Labor are down 5 per cent from May to 39 per cent, while the Coalition are down 2 per cent to 38. The Greens have soaked up 4 per cent of the remainder to reach 11, but the destination of the remaining 3 per cent is unclear (it did not go to the Democrats, who are stuck on 2 per cent). There may be an element of truth in Labor having lost at least some ground to the Greens but the rest is hard to credit. Meanwhile, Glenn Milne in Sunday Telegraph rates Malcolm Turnbull’s candid comments on Iraq as the clincher for the Prime Minister holding back on a September 18 election (which can be announced no later than tomorrow).