These foolish things

Just one more sleep until the April Fools’ Day by-election for the Queensland state seat of Gaven, which as usual will be covered live on this site shortly after polls close at 6pm local time. The campaign period has been well-served for opinion polls, with today’s effort in the Gold Coast Bulletin adding to an overall picture of a likely Labor defeat, though with a less bruising swing than at last year’s Chatsworth and Redcliffe by-elections. No minor party figures are available in the online article, although the paper’s editorial refers to "the apparent collapse of the Greens vote" – though there is little doubt they are reading too much into results from a small sample (UPDATE: Gaps now filled thanks to Greens candidate Glen Ryman’s contribution in comments). The overall sample was 420, with 18 per cent of those surveyed failing to indicate a preference.

Labor 34 34 39 37
Nationals 11 41 43 43
Liberal 33
Greens 9 11 7 6
Others 13 14 11 14
Sample 230 300 265 345

Some recent developments on the campaign trail:

• Andrew Fraser reports in today’s Australian that Peter Beattie has indulged in a last-minute $50 million spending spree, designed to saturate the media with good news in the brief period after the end of the Commonwealth Games. The shopping list includes a new police precinct for the local area complete with 22 new officers; a new school; an upgrade of nearby Robina Hospital; and an announcement that $100 million will be spent on "power-related projects on the Gold Coast".

• Cyclone Larry, which has only dropped off Queensland’s front pages in the past few days, also fit in nicely with Beattie’s campaign media cycle. Furthermore, Mark Ludlow of the Financial Review reports that media monitoring data shows Beattie was mentioned 4165 times in the media in the past week, compared with just 86 mentions of Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg. Ludlow also reports that "predicted swings of 15 per cent against the government have now been scaled down to about 10 per cent, courtesy of Mr Beattie’s performance after Cyclone Larry".

• A Labor radio advertisement that uses barnyard animal noises to mock the Nationals has provoked an angry response from the party, no doubt because they are sensitive to its likely impact in the wholly urbanised electorate.

• After earlier hedging their bets, the Greens have decided to direct preferences to Labor after receiving an undertaking that the government will "do all they can" to purchase 70 hectares of environmentally sensitive land from building company CSR Hynix.

• Independent candidate Phil Connolly will face court next month after police allegedly found an unlicensed semi-automatic rifle on his property.

Gaven by-election preview

Voters in the Queensland seat of Gaven will head to the polls next Saturday to replace Labor member Robert Poole, who embarrassed his party when he indulged in a non-business trip to Thailand and informed Premier Peter Beattie he would not be back until June. When Beattie demanded he return immediately, Poole instead chose to resign. Beattie has opted to get the by-election over with as quickly as possible, ostensibly because any later date would have to be after Easter, and is apparently unfazed by the symbolism of a poll held on April Fools’ Day.

Given the circumstances, a Labor defeat would seem to be inevitable. The seat covers normally conservative territory (the corresponding federal electorates of Fadden, Forde and Moncrieff are respectively held for the Liberals by margins of 15.3 per cent, 13.0 per cent and 20.1 per cent), and Labor’s victories were a measure of their success on the Gold Coast at the 2001 and 2004 state elections. The 5.0 per cent margin is well below the swing Labor suffered at last year’s Chatsworth (13.9 per cent) and Redcliffe (8.3 per cent) by-elections, and the government is still seriously wounded as a result of the "Doctor Death" scandal and related troubles with the health system.

Yet for all that, three polls conducted in the past few weeks show Labor holding up surprisingly well. The following table provides results from two polls conducted by TNS and published in the Sunday Mail and Courier-Mail, and one conducted by and for the Gold Coast Bulletin, with the undecided distributed in each case and removed from the figures identifying the total samples. The first of these polls provides ample support for the view that Labor is only in the hunt because the Liberals meekly surrendered the right to contest the seat to the National Party, which no longer has a constituency on the Gold Coast.

. TNS 1-2/3 GCB 9/3 TNS 15-16/3
Labor 34 34 39
Nationals 11 41 43
Liberal 33
Greens 9 11 7
Others 13 14 11
Sample 230 300 265

The by-election has attracted an agreeably modest field of six candidates (all male), who are listed here in ballot paper order:

Glen Ryman (Greens). Ryman is identified in party literature as a "39 year old business analyst and father of three".

Daren Riley (Independent). Not much is known about Riley, except that he is a building industry worker and is (according to Emma Chalmers of the Courier-Mail) "locked in talks with One Nation candidate Steve Moir after deciding not to allocate preferences to the major parties".

Alex Douglas (Nationals). A GP who has worked in the local area for 18 years, Douglas is married to Gold Coast City Councillor and Nationals senior vice-president Susie Douglas. His wife has not figured in the recent controversies surrounding the council (see below).

Phil Connolly (Independent). Connolly is a funeral director who also ran as an independent at the 2001 and 2004 elections, and as the One Nation candidate for Surfers Paradise in 1998.

Steve Moir (One Nation). Moir also ran for One Nation in the seat of Mudgeeraba at the 2004 election.

Phil Gray (Labor). Gray is a former president of the Left faction Queensland Public Sector Union and was Robert Poole’s campaign manager in 2001 and 2004. The latter campaign is best remembered for a pamphlet that portrayed Liberal candidate and Gold Coast councillor Ray Stevens as a pig with his snout in a trough, which copped a rebuke from Peter Beattie.

Highlights of the campaign thus far have been as follows:

  • The government is facing local hostility over its plans to construct a cruise ship terminal at the Southport Spit. The Nationals are making mileage out of the controversy by accusing the government of "decreeing from Brisbane what will happen on the Gold Coast", and have promised to establish a Gold Coast Port Authority which Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg says will involve "local people making local decisions for the best local outcomes". Suzanne Lappeman and Tanya Kirkbride of the Gold Coast Bulletin describe the Nationals’ position as a risky move that could alienate Liberal supporters of the development.
  • There have been widespread calls for Gold Coast City Council to be sacked following a Crime and Misconduct Commission inquiry into allegations of bribery and failures to disclose election gifts and material personal interests. The claims involve local developers including Brian Ray, who was killed in a plane crash in Victoria last year, and their alleged efforts to establish a pro-development bloc on council. A TNS survey of 300 respondents published in the Courier-Mail on Monday found that 60 per cent of locals believed the council should be dismissed, which Local Government Minister Desley Boyle has vowed to do if even one councillor is "found to have acted inappropriately" by the CMC.
  • The Greens were initially refusing to rule out the possibility of directing preferences to the Nationals, although history suggests the threat was being played as a bargaining chip. Perhaps realising this, the Nationals began pushing the line that they would not cut deals with anyone, and that a vote for anyone but their own candidate would be a vote for Labor. Yesterday Greens candidate Glen Ryman said he was "very wary of the National Party’s credentials in terms of the environment", and rejected the possibility of a deal. All other candidates have ruled out directing preferences to either major party.
  • Suzanne Lappeman of the Gold Coast Bulletin reports that "the Labor Party is running a cut-price campaign in Gaven with party management refusing to invest money in a lost cause". The report says Labor plans to spend less than $100,000 on the campaign, compared with $200,000 to $300,000 by the Nationals.
  • The Nationals have felt compelled to humiliate themselves by branding Alex Douglas as a "Coalition candidate" in their election advertising, tacitly acknowledging that it is the Liberals who should really be contesting the seat.
  • Cyclone Larry has meant that locals have been spared visits from party leaders this week.
  • Gaven by-election

    The Poll Bludger has been a bit preoccupied lately, and failed to notice that a Queensland state by-election now looms in the Gold Coast seat of Gaven after Labor MP Robert Poole "chose to resign rather than do as Premier Peter Beattie demanded and return early from a trip to Thailand". The seat would naturally lean slightly towards the Coalition, but was won comfortably by Labor at the 2001 and 2004 landslides.

    Labor’s preselection will be held on March 18 (the day of the South Australian and Tasmanian elections) and it looms as a contest between the Left’s Phil Gray, Poole’s former campaign manager, and Labor Unity’s Liz Pommer, described by the Courier-Mail as "a 43-year-old career bureaucrat who has headed the Government’s efforts to control Schoolies week". The prize is none too tempting – Antony Green gives Labor no chance of retaining the seat, which seems a sensible assessment in view of the circumstances of Poole’s departure and Labor’s defeats last year in Chatsworth and Redcliffe. However, the victor will presumably get the opportunity to build their profile for another crack at next year’s state election.

    Absurdly, the National Party maintains its claim on Gaven within the context of the Queensland Coalition, despite uniformly humiliating performances in the rapidly-changing Gold Coast area throughout the current decade. A reader informs the Poll Bludger that the Liberals "had a candidate who was already campaigning until it was ruled that only the Nats would contest the seat, prompting the angry resignation of state Liberal Vice President Jim MacAnally". While this could potentially create the conditions for a successful independent challenger, the Nationals appear to have done well in preselecting Alex Douglas, a GP who has worked in the local area for 18 years and is married to Gold Coast City Councillor and Nationals senior vice-president Susie Douglas.

    UPDATE: Graham Young at Ambit Gambit brings us results from a TNS poll of Gaven voters published in today’s Sunday Mail showing Labor might not be as doomed as you would think. The reason – what Young describes as "the most cack-handed negotiations you have ever seen in your life" in which the Liberals conceded the seat to the Nationals. As Young puts it, and as the Poll Bludger has been arguing for some time, urban areas of south-east Queensland contain large numbers of "Liberals who will never vote National, and enough of these might vote third party and exhaust their preferences to give Labor a win". The poll has Labor on 26 per cent, the Liberals on 25 per cent and the Nationals on a derisory 8 per cent, the catch being that the Liberals are not allowed to field a candidate. However, a note of caution is in order given that TNS only managed to extract a response from about 230 voters in the rather small sample of 300, with 24 per cent registered as don’t know, informal or refused.

    Queensland by-elections live

    In conclusion then, the Poll Bludger’s reputation as a person who gets things right sometimes has taken a hit with what would appear to be dual victories for the Liberals in today’s Queensland by-elections. My defence is that the margin in each case looks to be below 2 per cent, which I have always used as my rough margin for permissible error. Normally I like to avoid making partisan judgements, but I must confess to being pleased with the result. Firstly, Peter Beattie needed another two backbenchers like he needed a hole in his head; secondly, I consider a Liberal ascendancy in Queensland conservative politics to be an essential precondition to a return to normal two-party system, difficult though it may be to imagine how this might come about. With two more seats in parliament they can now bring seven seats to bear against the Nationals’ 15 and will have more clout in the crucial negotiations over which party contests which seat at the next state election.

    Tonight’s results in summary, bearing in mind that postals, pre-polls and absentees remain to be counted:

    . Chatsworth Redcliffe
    . 2005 2004 Swing 2005 2004 Swing
    LABOR 2PP 48.2 61.4 -13.2 48.9 57.1 -8.2
    LIBERAL 2PP 51.8 38.6 13.2 51.1 42.9 8.2
    Labor 43.0 56.3 -13.3 39.6 50.1 -10.5
    Liberal 47.5 35.0 12.5 40.9 35.6 5.3
    Greens 7.5 8.7 -1.2 6.7 6.7
    One Nation 2.0 2.0 3.4 3.4
    Rob McJannett 3.9 14.3 -10.4
    Others 5.5 5.5

    8.16pm. With preferences in from the last booth, it’s a 1.1 per cent ball game in Redcliffe.

    8.11pm. Results from Clontarf have eased the Liberal lead in Redcliffe to 1.5 per cent. The Redcliffe booth should clip it further, though probably not enough.

    8.09pm. My first look at the ECQ’s notional prerefence distribution has a 1.7 per cent lead to the Liberals in Redcliffe, although this is without results from the Clontarf and Redcliffe booths where the primary vote figures lean slightly towards Labor. Figures from all booths are shown in Chatsworth where Caltabiano has an almost identical lead of 1.8 per cent.

    7.55pm. The final booths for Chatsworth may well have delivered Labor a knockout blow. Belmont, easily the biggest booth in the electorate with 5,600 voters, has delivered the Liberals a huge 19.5 per cent swing; Carina Heights, with 2413 voters, has swung 14.1 per cent; Tingalpa South, with 2629 voters, has swung 9.5 per cent. With all booths in, the Liberal primary vote is up 12.2 per cent and Labor is down 13.1 per cent. The margin going in was 11.4 per cent, so Labor will have to do extremely well on pre-polls and postals and preferences from the Greens (who have eased from 8.6 per cent to 7.5 per cent) to stay in contention.

    7.47pm. The last booth for Redcliffe, Clontarf (1787 votes), shows a swing of 7.5 per cent on my reckoning – that’s based on half the minor party/independent vote exhausting and the rest splitting evenly as preferences. This has barely impacted on the total scores noted below. Time will tell how accurate that is – it will need to be biased in the Liberals’ favour if Labor are in the hunt here.

    7.44pm. Stepping back and looking at aggregate figures, I gather I might be writing Labor off too soon in Redcliffe. With one booth still to come they trail 39.5 per cent to 41.0 per cent, with a substantial 19.6 per cent vote for minor parties.

    7.36pm. Some overdue good news for Labor in Redcliffe. Woody Point, with 1341 voters, only swings 4.0 per cent. Probably too late though.

    7.34pm. Another nail in the Redcliffe coffin: the Redcliffe booth, with 2642 voters, swings 10.1 per cent.

    7.33pm. If Labor still had hope in Redcliffe, the large Scarborough booth has probably ended it – 2390 votes and a swing of 10.0 per cent.

    7.29pm. Carina Central in Chatsworth, with 887 voters, swings to the Liberals 11.5 per cent.

    7.25pm. Results from Redcliffe continue to be show swings of between 7 and 10 per cent, enough for a narrow Liberal victory. Just in: Clontarf Beach (1882 voters, 8.8 per cent); Humpybong (2248 voters, 7.0 per cent); Kippa-Ring (1957 voters, 9.4 per cent).

    7.21pm. Continuing mixed news for Caltabiano. The biggest Chatsworth booth so far, Gumdale (3016 votes), gives him a handsome 14.0 per cent swing. But Tingala, with 1721 votes, is a big disappointment – 4.5 per cent.

    7.19pm. The Bayside booth in Chatsworth, good for 1447 votes, shows a below par 7.2 per cent swing to Caltabiano.

    7.14pm. The biggest booth yet in Redcliffe, Woody Point South, shows a swing of 8.7 per cent – at the lower end of the current range but still on the Liberal side of the seat’s 7.1 per cent margin.

    7.12pm. The drought breaks in Redcliffe with four medium sized booths. Swings range from 8.3 per cent to 11.2 per cent, suggesting the Liberals should get over the line.

    7.05pm. Another good booth for Caltabiano, although a smaller one this time: Whites Hill with 609 votes has recorded a 15.7 per cent swing.

    7.01pm. Much better news for Michael Caltabiano from Carina, the biggest booth yet with 2260 votes. By my reckoning he’s got a 13.4 per cent swing. My ignorance of local geography could be a factor here – it could be that Carina is in Chandler ward and the other two are not. On these indications it looks like it’s going to be close. Only one tiny booth in so far in Redcliffe.

    6.57pm. The Camp Hill booth in Chatsworth, with 1079 votes, also shows a slightly disappointing swing to the Liberals – 8.9 per cent. These results will probably lean slightly in Labor’s favour because they are based on the 2004 preference distribution when there was a Greens candidate but not one for One Nation, who are polling at about 2 per cent.

    6.43pm. The first substantial booth is in from Chatsworth, with 1199 voters. By my somewhat clumsy reckoning, the swing against Labor is only 6.3 per cent.

    Numbers crunched

    Ignore me. Former Labor Senator John Black’s number crunching in yesterday’s (print only) Courier Mail is far beyond my powers of sophistication, being based on modelling from marketing company Australian Development Strategies. Apologies to Black for the following acts of larceny, and also for the removal of his Monty Python references. Let’s start with his view of the big picture:

    We start in 1998, when the good old boys from One Nation came along. Peter Beattie lucked out, and won office with just 39 per cent, losing about 4 per cent of his unskilled blue-collar vote to One Nation. That election saw One Nation poll 22.7 per cent and split the conservative base as it stole rusted-on National Party farmers (about 11 per cent) and Liberal Party small business types (about 7 per cent). De facto first-past-the-post voting created carnage in Opposition ranks.
    In 2001, the One Nation vote collapsed, with the combined One Nation/City Country Alliance vote falling by 11.6 per cent, while Labor’s vote rose by about 10 per cent, and the Liberals also fell again – by about 2 per cent. Most observers reasonably concluded that Labor picked up some Liberal voters and the vast majority of disaffected One Nation voters. However, the ADS demographic profiling, which compared Labor’s 2004 state and federal votes, shows Labor’s inflated state majority in 2001 and 2004 coming from former Liberal voters, not One Nation. These Liberals – in outer urban marginals – flooded across to state Labor in 2001 and stayed in 2004, with One Nation voters taking their place in the Liberal pile.

    The profiling also shows that Queensland One Nation voters taken from state Labor in 1998 – older, poorer, unskilled, blue-collar workers – have returned to federal Labor candidates in Queensland, but not to state Labor, preferring the state Liberals. Presumably state Labor’s market research confirms this analysis, which explains the recent parliamentary stunts from Beattie about the Howard Government’s new industrial relations

    ADS research shows the new Smart State Labor voters are indeed smarter, which contains a large element of risk for Beattie. When compared with Queensland’s federal Labor voters, they are more likely to be female, younger, better educated, well paid, white-collar workers, typically para-professionals, personal assistants and receptionists. If and when these Liberals decide the state Liberals are worth voting for, as they did with Campbell Newman at the Brisbane mayoral ballot, the electoral tide will leave Team Beattie well and truly stranded.

    The only part of this that sounded jarring to these ears was the notion that an identifiable demographic group moved from Labor to One Nation to Liberal at the four state elections between 1995 and 2004, given that the Liberals went from 14 seats to five in that time. But the primary vote figures do show that the Liberal vote was not spectacularly lower in 2004 (18.5 per cent) than 1995 (22.7 per cent), and that the real disaster over that time has been the Nationals’ progress from 26.2 per cent to 17.0 per cent. Closer examination reveals Labor’s safest seats, home to the blue-collar One Nation demographic referred to by Black, were not caught up in the tidal shift towards Labor from 1995 to 2004.

    The following scatter plot shows the change in Labor’s vote between 1995 and 2004 in seats contested by the Liberals in 2004, with the Y axis marking Labor’s primary vote from 1995. Seats where independents accounted for more than 10 per cent in either election are excluded, and no allowance is made for redistributions. The Pearson correlation is -0.43, which I understand to be pretty significant as these things go.

    No similar pattern can be discerned if we view seats contested by the Nationals, until we introduce a bit of colour coding to mark the region of each electorate. If you draw a nice fine line between 5.7 and 6.1 on the X axis, you get a zone of Labor underachievement to the left which includes all 10 rural and remote electorates and only six from elsewhere. The 11 city, town and coastal seats to the right stand as testimony to the decline of the Nationals’ saleability in urban Queensland, and all should be left to the Liberals in future. Note that the urban outlier that swung away from Labor, the seat of Logan, is the safest Labor seat in the sample, which may be regarded as consistent with the trend identified in the first chart.

    Having drawn the big picture, John Black moves on to the business at hand:

    Which leads us to the real state Labor votes in Chatsworth and Redcliffe. One of the benefits of demographic profiling in the Smart State is that researchers can benchmark the party votes in each state seat, thereby measuring each candidate’s personal vote … In Chatsworth, the personal vote for former treasurer Terry Mackenroth was a respectable 5.7 per cent, while the personal vote for Ray Hollis in Redcliffe was 3.9 per cent. This means that the Chatsworth primary starting vote for Labor’s Chris Forrester, will be about 50.6 per cent, which will have to be adjusted up for a likely decline in the Green vote, but down for a new One Nation candidate. Preferences will take this starting ALP preferred vote up to about 55 per cent, so that, if Caltabiano is able to transfer his notional 6 per cent plus personal council vote in corresponding booths in Chatsworth over to his new seat, he should need an additional party-based swing of about 2 per cent to win easily. If he can’t get this party swing on election night, obviously the voters will have concluded that despite the Team Beattie track record on hospitals, roads and schools, the state Liberal Party, with Caltabiano as president, is even more lamentable.

    In Redcliffe, Labor’s Lillian van Litsenburg should start with a primary vote well below 50 per cent, with an additional four candidates in the field, leaving her with a notional preferred vote starting point, of about 53 per cent. The additional minor party candidates, varying rates of vote exhaustion and a poor by-election turnout of Government voters, mean that van Litsenburg would lose to Liberal Terry Rogers, on these factors alone. This could make for a long count and not necessarily mean Redcliffe is a good pointer to the future of Team Beattie’s large majority, as the seat is also "old Labor" and politically stable. Chatsworth, on the other hand, is chock-a-block with the sort of Liberal yuppies who have been voting for Liberals John Howard and Campbell Newman – but against the Queensland state Liberals – in that ring of state seats outside Brisbane, but within the great

    If the Labor primary vote in Chatsworth (after you have taken off Mackenroth’s 5.7 per cent) stays above 42 per cent tomorrow night, then Team Beattie will probably be back in George Street in 2007, whatever the spin from a Liberal machine that has elevated self-harm to an art form … However, if feedback from Chatsworth ALP doorknockers and Newspoll is any guide, Sideshow Pete is in big trouble, as voters in the Smart State seem smart enough to realise the truth isn’t all it seems in Sideshow Alley.

    The Poll Bludger cannot fault Black’s analysis except to point out that he provided similar commentary before the federal election and did not do particularly well, tipping only the narrowest of Coalition majorities. I too underestimated the outcome, and my defence could be used by Black as well – we got the relativities right, but underestimated an underlying across-the-board shift to the Coalition (I like to think that the Latham-Howard election eve handshake accounted for a proportion of this). This time around, with no confusion between national and local factors, Black’s number crunching carries more weight. He has succeeded in further weakening the Poll Bludger’s confidence in his prediction of Labor victories, but nevertheless they still stand.

    Late news: The Courier Mail reports Labor sources expect to lose Chatsworth but are "hopeful of holding Redcliffe in a tight contest".

    The by-election gazette #4

    Queensland Labor’s deadline for state election preselection nominations closed this week, requiring MPs to lay their cards on the table with respect to their plans for next term. The harvest of retirees (Nita Cunningham in Bundaberg, Terry Sullivan in Stafford, Jim Fouras in Ashgrove and Lesley Clark in Barron River) would not normally have been regarded as remarkable, but in the environment of dual by-election campaigns there were numerous reports referring to an "exodus" of Labor MPs. However, the perception could become reality if we are to believe reports from Christian Kerr in Crikey, who tells us two prospective retirees do not propose to wait until the election.

    The party would presumably go to some length to prevent such an outcome, given that the conventional wisdom now holds that Labor will go down in both this weekend’s Queensland by-elections. This is largely on account of quarterly opinion poll results thoughtfully brought forward a month ahead of schedule by Newspoll, which show Labor slumping to 40 per cent (down 7 per cent from both the last poll and the February 2004 election) and the conservative parties on 42 per cent combined. Reports in today’s Courier Mail variously say that "Labor polling shows the party is unlikely to hold Redcliffe and Chatsworth", and that "conservative forces grow more confident of victory".

    Also in Crikey, Charles Richardson reports that the Poll Bludger has not "yet" made a prediction on the outcome. Thus pressured, I am compelled to take a punt on a contest I would have preferred to have sat out. Deep breath: Labor to hold narrowly in both.