Fourth thoughts, roughies, more polls

The Courier Mail today provides the final TNS Global poll for the campaign (Newspoll presumably to follow tomorrow) and it has fortified the Poll Bludger in most of his earlier convictions. Once again the results are frustratingly incomplete – we are given a statewide two-party preferred split of 58-42 and told that on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, Labor’s vote has risen during the campaign by 8 per cent to 45 while the Liberals have fallen 7 per cent to 14. Thus have Labor’s odds firmed in Noosa, Burleigh, Broadwater and Kawana. Liberal factional warlords apparently agree with this assessment as they are reportedly preparing to heap all the blame for the outcome on poor old Bob Quinn. In fact the results are bad enough to bring into contention the Gold Coast hinterland seat of Beaudesert, held by National Party stalwart Kev Lingard with a margin of 2 per cent.

There are a couple of other seats being mentioned which didn’t enter the Poll Bludger’s earlier calculations. The Courier Mail yesterday reported that Labor is "creating a scare" in the outback seat of Warrego, but given that their 16.3 per cent vote last time was presumably a career-best performance it’s hard to see how this is possible. Also out of left field, there is some talk that the gap in quality between the candidates on offer in Ipswich West may make this a freak Liberal gain from Labor.

On firmer ground, Peter Krumins (see the post below) has made the Poll Bludger see reason with regard to a third seat, the conclusion being that One Nation’s Rosa Lee Long will indeed be re-elected in Tablelands. Here the combined 2001 vote for One Nation and their former MP-turned-independent Shaun Nelson was 51 per cent compared with 25 per cent for Labor and only 16 per cent for the Nationals. With only three candidates in the field this time, it’s very difficult to distribute the available votes in a way that has a major party candidate winning. So with one day to go, the Poll Bludger’s projected outcome is as follows: Labor 66, Nationals 14, Liberal 4, independents 4, One Nation 1.

Second and third thoughts

The Poll Bludger has received outstanding intelligence from Queensland observer Peter Krumins which has prompted what will no doubt be the first of many second thoughts about my predictions for the Queensland election outcome. Krumins has also submitted his observations to Peter Brent at Mumble, where they may be read in full.

Firstly, I recognise now that I was unduly influenced by the Mackerras pendulum in choosing Charters Towers as one to fall to the Nationals. Krumins notes that this was always a tough seat for the Nationals to hold during the 1990s – a 3.7 per cent margin in 1998, and just 0.4 per cent in 1992. Furthermore, Labor’s result relative to other seats in the neighbourhood was dampened by a smaller field of candidates. So scratch that one and bump Labor back up to 66 seats.

Secondly, I have dropped my prediction that the National Party’s Christian Rowan will win Gympie from independent Elisa Roberts. With a field of seven candidates, five of what-may-be-called-the-right and only two of what-may-be-called-the-left (Labor and the Greens), Labor’s Rae Gate can expect to easily rise above the pack in terms of the primary vote. Whether she gets overhauled on preferences most likely depends on who ends up in second place. Roberts would probably gather enough preferences from supporters of other candidates to overhaul Gate; Rowan would probably not, in which case Labor would secure a once-unthinkable victory.

A guide to helping us towards a conclusion here, although not a very reliable one, comes from the good people at the Gympie Times, who have evidently not been reading the Poll Bludger too carefully. Today they published a self-conducted poll of 100 respondents and it mirrored the efforts of the AEC Group/Townsville Bulletin in recording a 41 per cent undecided rating, though it should be noted here that the Gympie Times doesn’t do this for a living. This was announced with the front page headline, "Poll shock: 40% voters undecided". Those of you who committed yesterday’s blog entry to memory (see paragraph four) will no doubt find this terribly amusing. Out of the remainder, support was at 22 per cent (which out of a sample of 100 is … let me grab my calculator here … 22!) for Labor, 17 per cent for Roberts, 13 per cent for the Nationals, 3 per cent for the Greens, and 2 per cent each for One Nation and independent candidate Wayne Sachs. Not much to go on, but some help at least in edging me towards a conclusion that this is a finely-poised race between Roberts and Gate, with Rowan unlikely to be in the hunt.

While the Poll Bludger leans towards a Roberts victory for the time being, there is at least the possibility of Sunday morning newspaper headlines along the lines of "Poll shock: Beattie’s increased majority".

Polls and prophecies

The last few days have produced a flurry of localised opinion polling, much of it dubious but all of it pointing so firmly in the same direction that only one conclusion is possible – the Coalition faces another catastrophe of biblical proportions this Saturday. By failing to put themselves within reach of victory next time, they will face a Labor Party entrenched in power until at least 2010. Labor will then have ruled in Queensland for 19 out of the previous 21 years, and it will be reasonable to speak of a third era of Queensland politics distinct from Labor’s dominance pre-1957 and the subsequent 32 years of National/Country Party rule. Just as the Labor Split initiated the first changeover, so did the Pauline Hanson phenomenon cement the second.

TNS Global’s 700-sample polls for the Courier Mail have earned derision in some quarters, but this time they have upped the ante to 1200 and focused on four well-chosen electorates. Unfortunately they have rather muffed it by producing only two-party preferred results. These have Labor winning Keppel from the Nationals with 55 per cent, holding Noosa with an astounding 17 per cent swing and achieving a more believeable but still remarkable 5 per cent swing to hold the formerly blue-ribbon Brisbane seat of Indooroopilly. The fly in the ointment here is the result showing the Liberals’ hold on Moggill will firm to the tune of 10 per cent. The first thing you can do with these figures is knock 10 per cent off Labor’s score in Noosa and Indooroopilly to make way for the Greens, without giving any of it back in preferences (Beattie will win anyway, Greens voters will shrug, so why waste the earth mother’s precious pencil lead?). Then send a 6 per cent margin for error Labor’s way in Indooroopilly and Liberal’s in Noosa and you’ll get a 1 per cent win in Labor in each, which is about where I would have it.

The Gold Coast Bulletin has apparently been conducting polling in each of the electorates on its turf but the Poll Bludger only has hard results from Gaven (noted here) and Broadwater, held by Labor on a margin of 2.4 per cent. There sitting member Peta-Kaye Croft led National Party candidate Margaret Grummitt by 52 to 31 per cent. Apparently results in neighbouring electorates have been similar, the one ray of Coalition sunshine being Surfers Paradise, where Liberal candidate John Paul Langbroek (brother of Kate from The Panel) was tipped to unseat independent Lex Bell.

The Townsville Bulletin, through something called the AEC Group, ran an exasperating poll for Thuringowa and Burdekin producing respective "undecided" ratings of 46.5 and 31.5 per cent, a fact which the paper thought worth a front-page banner headline. It should have read, "poll shock – clueless research company neglects to ask respondents who they lean towards if undecided&quot. Out of the few voters they managed to squeeze an answer from, only a small margin favoured Labor’s Craig Wallace in Thuringowa, with the Nationals’ Sandra Chesney and independent David Moyle both in the hunt. In Burdekin, widely tipped as a focal point of the mooted sugar backlash, Labor’s Steve Rodgers led his National Party opponent 40 votes to 12, with Knuth and Poletto ruling each other out by splitting 22 votes between them.

What to make of all that then? To the Poll Bludger one thing at least is clear – never again will the National Party win a seat on the Gold Coast. Accordingly Labor will hold its two most marginal seats in the area, Burleigh and Broadwater. They are more likely to lose Gaven and Mudgeeraba, both contested by the Liberals, but here Labor have more fat on their existing margins. Labor will have a harder time against Liberal opponents in the two marginal Sunshine Coast seats of Noosa and Kawana, but such is the strength of Labor polling that my current judgement is that these too will be held.

In each of the seats just mentioned Labor confronts a difficulty that did not face them at the last election, a challenge from the Greens. Such is not the case in the main Brisbane marginals Clayfield and Indooroopilly, which the Greens did contest last time. While it may be inferred from the polling that the Coalition will not do quite so badly in the Brisbane suburbs as in the Gold and Sunshine coasts, I still expect Labor to hold on here.

Away from the south-east corner the situation, as always, is more volatile and less predictable. Here the National Party can win seats purely as a result of the inevitable decline in support for One Nation, which will yield more primary votes and fewer exhausted minor party preferences than was the case in 2001. For this reason I expect them to pick up Toowoomba North and Charters Towers. I had spent the campaign imagining the same would be true of Burdekin but my current judgement is that vote-splitting between the Nationals, One Nation and Bob Katter-endorsed former One Nation MP Jeff Knuth will again win the seat for Labor.

Such is the parlous state of the Coalition that we mustn’t rule out the possibility of yet more seats falling to Labor, and the Poll Bludger has summoned enough courage to predict that the loss of Vince Lester’s personal vote will indeed cost them the seat of Keppel. If things really are going as badly on the Sunshine Coast as previously asserted then Fiona Simpson could well struggle to hold Maroochydore, but my gut instinct is that her high profile will see her through.

Time’s up for One Nation – I predict the National Party will recover Lockyer from Bill Flynn and Tablelands from Rosa Lee Long, but a Labor win in either is not out of the question. I also predict One Nation-turned-independent MP Elisa Roberts will lose Gympie to the National Party’s Christian Rowan. However, the other One Nationer-turned-independent, Dorothy Pratt, will hold on in Nanango. Independent Peter Wellington will win easily in Nicklin, as will Chris Foley in Maryborough; Liz Cunningham’s hold on Gladstone is less secure but I am inclined to think she will again get over the line. My money is on the Liberal Party winning Surfers Paradise off Lex Bell. Darling Downs is a potentially interesting case as Ray Hopper was elected as an independent but has since joined the National Party, but he lacks strong opposition and should face no trouble.

Potential independent newcomers include two of the five Katter-endorsed candidates, David Moyle in Thuringowa (held by retiring Labor member Anita Phillips) and Andrew Lancini in Hinchinbrook (held by Marc Rowell for the National Party). I am not tipping them to win but these are the sorts of surprises that can and do occur in state elections. However I do not expect the Greens to achieve hoped-for victories in the safe Labor seats of Mount Coot-tha and South Brisbane.

To summarise then – a status quo result may be expected in Brisbane, where Labor currently holds 49 out of 50 seats. Labor will if anything pick up swings, though perhaps not seats, on the Gold and Sunshine coasts. In the regions, the National Party will win two seats from Labor and lose one, and should pick up two seats from One Nation and one from an independent. Final score: Labor 65 (down one), Nationals 16 (up four on the election and three on the current parliament), Liberal 4 (up one), independents four (there are four independents in the current parliament plus two One Nation).

All of these predictions and a new round of campaign updates are now available at the Poll Bludger’s new-look Queensland election guide.

Crystal ball time

Dan Van Blarcom may consider himself the inaugural recipient of the Poll Bludger Kiss of Death. Apparently if this site describes you as "promising" (see somewhere in the middle of this lengthy posting) that means you can expect the entire nation to be shown a photo of you wearing a swastika armband before the week is through. For such has been the fate of the now-disendorsed National Party candidate for Whitsunday, who in my defence certainly boasted a promising CV – respected commodore of the local yacht club, trusted announcer of boating reports on local radio. Unfortunately it has now emerged that self-appointed fuhrer of the Queensland Nazi Party (admittedly at the age of 16) and member of the Freedom Vigilantes and the League of Rights had been tactfully omitted. Van Blarcom maintains he was working as an undercover agent, but details of this claim are sketchy enough that the National Party has been unable to accept it.

Having established that unpromising precedent, the Poll Bludger will devote the final weekend of the campaign to putting his crystal balls on the line and calling the result seat-by-seat. This will require a lengthy process involving cutting-edge techniques of data collation and analysis, computerised statistical modelling based on breakthrough artificial intelligence technology, and the tossing of a few coins. This and a new round of campaign updates will be added to the Queensland election guide either tomorrow or Monday, depending on how I go.

A bunch of dickheads

The idea for a post on Graham Elmes, the colourful National Party candidate for the Cape York electorate of Cook, had been brewing for a while, but the last day’s events have prompted an article by Michael Madigan in the Courier Mail which said a large amount of what needed to be said. For those who have just joined us, Elmes is the former Cooktown mayor who sent chills down the spine of his party by loudly countenancing the possibility of a One Nation preference deal after Springborg had unequivocally declared that no such deals would occur. Elmes hit the news again today when he described his own party’s hierarchy as "a bunch of dickheads" for reasons which from this distance are difficult to discern.

All of which should be of purely academic interest, because the Mackerras pendulum has Cook as Labor’s ninth safest seat. The results in a three-horse race in 2001 were Labor 63.8 per cent, One Nation 20.6 per cent and National Party 15.5 per cent. The story behind this outcome is most intriguing for those of us who enjoy spending our spare time poring through election results. Madigan notes that "about 8000 of the 21,000 votes in Cook are rock-solid Labor, coming straight out of indigenous communities". Furthermore, Elmes today was heard to complain about the remarkably low number of informal votes recorded in these areas. The Poll Bludger went through the ECQ results for Cook from 2001 and looked at the kind of booth results to which they seemed to be referring. After paring it back in a maliciously selective fashion, 14 booths were isolated that accounted for a total of 1616 votes. Of these 1477 (91.4 per cent) were cast for Labor and not a single one was informal.

The Poll Bludger wouldn’t care to speculate why this might be, but the phenomenon would appear to knock Elmes out of contention from the beginning. There are a few reasons to think again on this count. Within the indigenous communities, Labor’s monopoly may be dented, however marginally, by respected indigenous independent candidate Bruce Gibson, who had seemed to many deserving of National Party preselection. Beyond them (and we’re talking about 60 per cent of the electorate here) there are Elmes’ fellow graziers in the north, certain to fall in behind him, and the much-vaunted nervous sugar growers in the south. Although One Nation are running again, most of their vote from last time will come home to Elmes. A Greens candidate is unlikely to have too much joy, but such effect as he has will be to Labor’s detriment.

Most important of all is the departure of Labor member Steve Bredhauer, a popular and energetic cabinet minister whose decision to retire while still in his forties has come as a great surprise. The personal following of an incumbent member is an enormous electoral asset in a regional electorate like Cook, and its disappearance is always keenly felt. This seems likely to be pronounced in view of his replacement, James O’Brien, a young staffer to Bredhauer with a political science degree, no dirt under his fingernails and no public profile of any kind. While Elmes scores headlines with his tough talking and independent outlook, O’Brien has barely been mentioned in the regional media, never mind nationally.

At the very least, a dramatic correction may be expected on election night. At the most, the seat may even provide the Nationals with a welcome surprise – providing they wouldn’t prefer it remain with Labor rather than have a cannon as loose as Elmes among their fragile ranks.

Accentuate the positive

Liberal candidate Ray Stevens scored a free kick in his campaign for the Gold Coast seat of Gaven yesterday after a sloppy tackle from Labor incumbent Robert Poole. Poole’s campaigners had been distributing brochures calling attention to Stevens’ alleged extravagance as a member of Gold Coast City Council, illustrating the point with a depiction of Stevens as a pig with his snout in the trough. Graham Young helpfully provides a reproduction of the offending item at On Line Opinion.

Certainly the pamphlet errs on the robust side, but not on a scale that would rate a mention by normal Australian campaigning standards. The reason this campaign is different is that Peter Beattie has comprehensively succeeded in persuading everyone that muck-raking has no place in this election and only positive campaigning is good enough for the people of Queensland. This is fine for him – his party is the one that’s carrying the accumulated baggage of 10 out of the last 12 years in office. To the extent that Beattie even faces an opposition, its members are too little-known within the electorate for a smear campaign to gain any traction. By contrast, the only logical campaign for the Coalition is one calling attention to the government’s failings and calling on voters to "restore the balance" with a protest vote. This is exactly what they are doing with television advertisements lampooning Beattie’s propensity for apologising, although it presumably hasn’t been lost on the Coalition that this is exactly what the electorate likes about him. It’s also something the Gaven pamphlet has given Beattie yet another chance to do. Sure enough he has responded by criticising his own side and calling for higher standards all round in time-honoured Shepherdson inquiry fashion. Indeed, so convenient has this opportunity been that Graham Young asks, "will anyone believe that Beattie had nothing to do with it?".

As for the state of play in Gaven, a poll in the Gold Coast Bulletin gives us some idea how it, and by extension the rest of the Gold Coast campaign, is travelling. Despite having kept his thoughts largely to himself in the past three years, Poole’s vote is recorded at 47 per cent against Stevens’ 32 per cent, figures almost identical to the last election which Poole won on a margin of 7.6 per cent. Equally interestingly, and in contrast to earlier polls conducted before people had given the matter any thought, 71 per cent of respondents said they would not direct preferences.