For some time now the conventional wisdom has been that Malcolm Turnbull had muffed his assault on the Liberal preselection in Wentworth, the wily incumbent Peter King having thwarted him by harnessing support from old biddies within the electorate still maintaining the rage over Turnbull’s campaign of treason against Queen and country. However an article in today’s Sydney Sun-Herald reports the Turnbull camp is confident of having the membership of many of King’s stackees declared invalid. The article also gets down to brass tacks in terms of where the numbers stand in the arcane process by which the Liberals decide such things – 112 electorate delegates reportedly split about 55-50 in King’s favour (with the Turnbull camp presumably hopeful of an improvement on this score), 12 evenly balanced state executive votes, and a wild card in the form of 30 preselectors to be "drawn by lot from the 600-member NSW state council". The report says the ballot is expected on the weekend of February 28 and 29.
If you haven’t yet taken a look at the Queensland election section at On Line Opinion then do so now, and not just because they’ve been kind enough to provide me with a link.
The site promises forthcoming commentary from contributors including persistent Labor power-broker Mike Kaiser and John Wanna of Griffith University, but so far the main point of interest is the Currumbin2Cook election blog conducted by site publisher Graham Young, a one-time Queensland Liberal Party vice-president who has recently run foul of the party’s dominant Santoro/Caltabiano faction. Young has been keeping a close eye on the media campaign and provides a detailed level of policy-picking-apart lacking from my own modest effort.
Poor old Gary Morgan. Every second Tuesday the political class holds its breath in anticipation of the latest Newspoll result, but when figures are released from the Roy Morgan organisation, with its many decades of history behind it, no-one cares a damn. Obviously it’s entirely his own fault – I don’t know a single person anywhere who thought Labor were going to win on polling day in 2001, but with his family company’s reputation for reliability and sound judgement squarely on the line, Morgan bellowed from the roof-tops that just such a result was a lay-down misere.
Anyway, Morgan’s first Queensland state poll for the campaign came out today, although it was conducted over a six week period ending last weekend. Labor’s primary vote is on 51.5 per cent, which by Morgan’s reckoning is actually at the lower end of their band for the current term which has ranged from 51 to a frankly unbelievable 57.5 per cent. The Liberals have improved 3.5 per cent to record one of their better showings with 24 per cent, while Morgan maintains an admirable consistency in his measure of National Party support which has never wavered more than 1 per cent above or below its current level of 8 per cent (Newspoll is currently 5 per cent more generous). The Greens have today been talking up their showing of 6 per cent in this morning’s TNS poll but Morgan only gives them 4 per cent, behind One Nation on five. Over the long term, Morgan shows that One Nation have perked up a few per cent since the imprisonment of Hanson while the Greens’ result continues their pattern of apparently random fluctuation between 3 and 6 per cent. So given that it’s already been established that Morgan consistently has Queensland Labor a few percentage points above what seems realistic, there are essentially no surprises here.
Simultaneously Morgan has released a federal poll showing Labor with a two-party preferred score of 55.5 per cent, which seems a bit rich. Nevertheless opinion polls are best viewed by looking at long-term trends and there seems to be one emerging on the basis of Morgan’s recent results – since the ascension of Mark Latham, Labor’s results have gone from 38 per cent to 41, 42.5 and now 45 per cent. Most of this has come off the Greens, who reached a high-water mark just prior to Crean’s demise, and the Democrats, now plumbing all-time depths after Andrew Bartlett’s recent performance with just 1.5 per cent in the latest survey.
I don’t know about you, but I think I’ll reserve my judgement until Tuesday’s Newspoll.
Friday began with some media outlets reporting as fact that Emergency Services Minister and member for Townsville Mike Reynolds was about to pull the plug on his political career and stand aside in favour of Townsville mayor and Shepherson inquiry survivor Tony Mooney. Beattie and Reynolds had nipped the story in the bud by daybreak, but as was no doubt the intention of whoever started the rumour, the incident added a touch of drama and attendant publicity to the allegations surrounding him. These relate to an alleged approach to Greens candidate Theresa Millard offering assistance in her bid for a place on council if she kept a low profile during her state election campaign. The Greens have lodged a formal complaint with the Crime and Misconduct Commission over the matter, a prosecutable offence if they know the allegations to be untrue. For his part Reynolds has been notably vehement in his denials, telling the Townsville Bulletin that Millard, his former media adviser, harboured personal malice towards him. However, barring sensational findings against Reynolds by the CMC during the campaign period (and Queensland Electoral Commissioner Bob Longland told the Courier Mail on Thursday there was no prima facie case of bribery) the Poll Bludger’s judgement is that his 9.3 per cent margin two-party preferred margin will be enough to buffer him against Liberal candidate Margaret Shaw, while his existing 52 per cent primary vote should make him safe from Millard.
Merri Rose enjoyed a further campaign highlight overnight when she swore at television reporters on camera, as reported today in The Australian. The Poll Bludger is a big fan of rude words and not having been privy to footage of the incident, would love to hear from anyone who was – emails here please. With both parties jockeying for underdog status it would stand to reason that Lawrence Springborg would describe the Rose resignation as "no more than a mosquito bite on an elephant", but nonetheless the judgement is almost certainly correct. Even Rose’s Gold Coast electorate of Currumbin may not prove as interesting as The Poll Bludger has been suggesting – speaking on Brisbane radio on Thursday, the Courier Mail’s Mark Oberhardt said a senior Labor official had informed him that internal polling had them confident she would easily retain the seat.
The Courier Mail reports that something called TNS has conducted a poll from a respectable sample of 700 taken "at the height of the Merri Rose resignation scandal". To the extent that sense can be made of them, the results seem in line with The Poll Bludger’s expectations, showing a 55-45 two-party preferred split in Labor’s favour. The article reports an alarming-sounding 38 per cent primary vote for Labor, which is apparently "5 per cent lower than at the same time in the 2001 campaign", so obviously undecided respondents are not being distributed here (Labor in fact polled 49 per cent at the 2001 election). Typically though, Beattie has ignored the latter point and constructed an opportunity to predict impending disaster by talking of a "10 per cent primary vote swing against Labor", which assumes that every single undecided voter will vote against them. The poll has the Greens on 6 per cent and One Nation on 4, but frustratingly no result is given for the Coalition. Even less comprehensible in the revelation that "Labor has only 10 per cent of second preferences, the Coalition 38 per cent, independents 15 per cent, the Greens 12 per cent and One Nation 9 per cent" – this is presumably limited to those not supporting the major parties, in which case it would be a remarkable outcome given the high proportion of Greens voters represented, and is easy to dismiss given the small sample size. Unfortunately I only have the online article to go on for now – it may well be that the newspaper features a table that makes sense of everything.
While Peter Beattie obviously could have hoped for a smoother start to his campaign, The Poll Bludger is not getting too excited about either the Merri Rose resignation or Mike Reynolds’ localised troubles in Townsville. Taking a step back for a moment, one need only look at the last two years’ Newspoll results to get an inkling as to why the Coalition can’t get a sniff no matter what disasters befall the government. Throughout that period the senior coalition partner, the National Party, were lucky to make it into double figures, and despite edging upwards in the past few surveys they are currently on a well-short-of-respectable 13 per cent. Even though the conventional wisdom says that the Liberals have been performing little better, they have left the Nationals in their wake in each survey, the current margin of 22 to 13 being the closest the Nationals have managed to get during the period in question. Put simply, the National Party has no business being the senior partner and the Queensland Coalition will not become competitive until this archaic anomaly is corrected.
In theory the Goss government’s introduction of one-vote one-value should have done the job by now, but the Nationals have carried on in their time-honoured habit of winning more seats than the Liberals from fewer votes. To an extent this can be explained in terms of the geographically concentrated nature of National Party support relative to the Liberals, an invaluable asset in single-member electorate systems, as well as the deep-rooted institutional dominance the Nationals attained throughout the long years of National/Country Party hegemony, notoriously secured by a system of malapportionment and gerrymandering that did more damage to the Liberals than Labor. This was in part perpetuated by National members lingering on in seats that could theoretically have been won by the Liberals, but weren’t due to the convention that challenges not be made against sitting members. However, attrition (and there was a great deal of that in 2001) should have rectified this over time.
The fundamental reason for the Liberals’ failure to assert themselves has been the devastating effect of the Pauline Hanson phenomenon upon their representation over the last two elections. The outcome of the last election left no room for argument about the necessity of avoiding three-cornered contests, but with only three MPs to show for themselves the Liberals entered negotiations from a pitifully weak position. The deal that was cut allowed the Liberals to contest 43 of the 66 Labor-held seats, which sounds good until you go through the Mackerras Pendulum* from The Australian on Wednesday and mark the electorates being contested by the Liberals (and if there are any eligible ladies out there, yes I’m still available). In the unusually well-stocked section of the pendulum featuring electorates held by Labor with margins of 20 per cent or more there are 16 seats to be contested by Liberal candidates against five allocated to the Nationals. Moving down to the other end of the Labor column, let’s say Malcolm Mackerras is right and there really is a uniform 7 per cent swing to the Coalition (yes I know he doesn’t really say that, but indulge me here). Assuming no changes to the One Nation and independents situation (and it would be to the Nationals’ benefit if there were) that will mean an extra eight seats to the Nationals and only six to the Liberals.
It could be that the significance of recent poll results is that those six electorates (Noosa, Clayfield, Kawana, Indooroopilly, Aspley and Mudgeeraba) are more likely to fall the Coalition’s way than the eight in the Nationals’ firing line (Burnett, Burleigh, Toowoomba North, Charters Towers, Broadwater, Thuringowa, Burdekin and Redlands). Certainly the Poll Bludger hopes this is so because a rejuvenated Liberal Party is the essential element for a revival of Queensland as a two-party state. At present though it appears it will take more than one election to effect this outcome.
* By the way, Mackerras has some different figures from the ones used in my list as he is using projections to calculate two-party Labor versus Coalition results in many cases where the ultimate two-candidate preferred outcome included independents, One Nation or both. I’m sticking with what I have because I’m interested in how close the seats came to changing hands last time, rather than the two-party contest.