Kororoit by-election preview

The campaign for Saturday’s state by-election in the Melbourne seat of Kororoit, initiated by the retirement of one-time Police Minister Andre Haermeyer, did not at first seem a matter of great interest. Located in the rock-solid Labor outer western suburbs, from northern St Albans out to Caroline Springs, the seat was won by Haermeyer at the two elections following its creation in 2002 by margins of 27.1 per cent and 25.6 per cent. It was thus easy to dismiss the election as a rubber stamp following the real contest: Labor preselection. This well and truly lived up to the high stakes of a safe seat, producing what Rick Wallace of The Australian described as a “a proxy war for who controls the ALP’s dominant Right faction in Victoria”. In one corner were the Australian Workers Union and the Transport Workers Union, respectively associated with Bill Shorten and Stephen Conroy, who found themselves opposed by an alliance of the Health Services Union and Shop Assistants Union. The two camps’ respective candidates were Natalie Suleyman, former mayor of Brimbank, and Marlene Kairouz, former mayor of Darebin.

The latter group initially succeeded in having the Right’s executive vote eight votes to seven to have Kairouz (right) installed as candidate by the party’s national executive, bypassing local party structures said to have been compromised by branch stacking and fractious relations on Brimbank Council. According to a source quoted by The Age, this decision was made at a meeting at which faction members “screamed abuse” at each other. Shorten and Conroy won round two by having the national executive overturn the decision, resulting in a normal preselection process in which votes were split between local branches and the state party’s Public Office Selection Committee. However, Kairouz was unexpectedly able to defeat Suleyman in the local ballot 125 votes to 123 (after distribution of the 27 votes for Left faction contestant Justin Mammarella), which was credited to the influence of Keilor MP and local numbers man George Seitz. Her win was confirmed by a 38-29 vote in her favour on the POSC.

For all the sound and fury behind the preselection, the spoils for the victor were less secure than the 2006 margin suggested. It is a little realised fact that major parties are most vulnerable to independents in safe seats, where challengers face a lower hurdle to reach second place and potentially win on preferences. The possibility of such a scenario unfolding was dramatically increased by the entry into the field of Les Twentyman (left), who has achieved a level of celebrity throughout Melbourne through his efforts as a social worker, being named Victorian of the Year in 2006. Twentyman’s campaign has been supported by the Electrical Trades Union and, significantly, by Phil Cleary, who won the 1992 federal by-election for Wills in very similar circumstances after Bob Hawke retired. Furthermore, the Liberals have made the surprising but evidently astute decision to field a candidate, public servant Jenny Matic, who is likely to marshall preferences for Twentyman without doing well enough to outpoll him.

According to The Australian, Labor internal polling shows their support down to 45 per cent from 61 per cent at the 2006 election, with Twentyman having picked up “the bulk of Labor’s vote”. However, the report adds the following qualification:

Although the result has alarmed some within the ALP, sources said the polling understates Labor’s position. Almost 50per cent of the electorate was born overseas and about 14per cent of its voters do not speak English well and would be unlikely to participate in a phone poll. The ALP sources argued the ethnic voters excluded from the survey were more likely to vote for it than Mr Twentyman or the Liberals.

It also says the poll had Kairouz leading Twentyman 62-38 on two-candidate preferred, which credits Labor with a remarkably strong flow of preferences from Matic and the other candidates: Marcus Power (Greens), Andre Kozlowski (Citizens Electoral Council) and Tania Walters (Independent). Read all about them at Antony Green’s summary.

UPDATE: AKP in comments notes that Walters did remarkably well to score 14 per cent as Family First candidate in 2006 and is now directing preferences to Kairouz in her run as an independent, which presumably has something do to with her links to the pro-life SDA.

Albert Park and Williamstown by-elections live

ALBERT PARK RAW ADJUSTED
Vote Swing Vote 2PP
Martin Foley (Labor) 47.3 5.1 46.1 59.0
John Middleton (Greens) 27.8 9.1 28.2 41.0
Cameron Eastman (Family First) 4.8 3.8
Adrian Jackson (Independent) 1.0 -0.2
Shane McCarthy (DLP) 1.8
Paul Kavanagh (Democrats) 4.7
Prodos Marinakis (Independent) 5.4
John Dobinson (Independent) 0.8
Nigel Strauss (Independent) 6.5 COUNT 78 %

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9.55pm. Long-delayed final two-party booth for Albert Park now in, Labor’s 2PP on 57.7 per cent.

9.12pm. Postal votes now added.

8.49pm. Turnout in Albert Park not too bad: 25,669 polling booth votes cast (including informal) compared with 26,804 last year.

8.44pm. Two-party count for all booths in Williamstown has Labor on 64.6 per cent.

8.42pm. Informal vote a rather high 7 per cent in each electorate.

8.39pm. We’ve also got a two-party count from five booths in Albert Park, with Labor on 59.05 per cent, suggesting my preference calculations did their job.

8.38pm. Labor’s vote has also continued to edge upwards in Williamstown.

8.37pm. All booths now in for Albert Park, producing a slight narrowing the margin, but still a clear win for Labor.

8.25pm. Bridport and St Kilda Park booths now in, producing little change.

8.20pm. Now we’re talking. Confusing the two St Kilda booths actually flattered the Greens slightly, not Labor.

8.19pm. Actually, scratch that – there’s something screwy with my new calculations. Working on it. Labor should be doing better than they are.

8.16pm. I was actually comparing the wrong St Kilda booths just now. The correction has made the result a little closer.

8.10pm. A big burst of figures in from Williamstown, lifting the count from 37 per cent to 60 per cent. This has pushed Labor’s vote up to a handsome 56.5 per cent. It’s starting to look like a pretty good night for John Brumby.

8.07pm. St Kilda South now in, but it doesn’t quite bear out what I said in the previous comment. Greens up a fairly typical 8.8 per cent, producing only a slight narrowing of the two-party vote.

8.01pm. The Greens picked up a handy 13.4 per cent in Middle Park, which is nearest the St Kilda booths that are still yet to come. If that’s indicative of a trend in the south of the electorate, the Greens could at least be confident of closing the gap a little.

7.55pm. The new booth results are from Middle Park Bowling Club (weak for Labor), Elwood Park and Sol Green Community Centre (about average for Labor). There’s also a new booth in from Williamstown which has produced little change.

7.50pm. Three more booths in at Albert Park, and Labor looking good.

7.44pm. Actually, the 40 per cent mark is probably not that dangerous in the context of this election. Their vote in 2006 was 41.0 per cent. I’m reasonably confident about my 2PP figure in the above table (unless the result in this booth is aberrant).

7.41pm. More than 30 per cent counted in Williamstown and Labor comfortably over 50 per cent.

7.36pm. The first booth in for Albert is the Sandridge/Fishermens Bend booth, which is Labor’s strongest and the Greens’ weakest. Labor’s primary vote is dangerously close to the 40 per cent mark.

7.33pm. More results in from both seats …

7.33pm. Slowest count ever.

7.12pm. Two booths in from Williamstown, Labor on just over 50 per cent of the primary vote (compared with 62 per cent in 2006).

6.56pm. Looks like my “half an hour” ETA on first results was a little optimstic.

6.15pm. Polls closed for the Albert Park and Williamstown by-elections 15 minutes ago, and we should be getting results in about half an hour. I will keep a lazy eye on Williamstown, but the focus here is Albert Park where the Greens have at least a theoretical chance of recording an upset. The table above will compare available booth results with those from last year’s state election to produce an estimated final result on the primary vote, which will then be converted to two-party preferred on the following basis: 70 per cent to the Greens from the Democrats, Nigel Strauss and Adrian Jackson, 50 per cent from John Dobinson and 30 per cent from the DLP, Family First and Prodos Marinakis (all of whom are recommending the Greens be put last). Anyone who doubts any of these assessments is invited to raise their voice in comments, and I will consider changing them.

Victoria and Albert (Park): form guide

The last thing a dedicated election-watcher needs right now is state by-elections, but that is what fate has delivered us following the retirement in late July of Victorian Premier Steve Bracks and his deputy John Thwaites. Voters in their respective electorates of Williamstown and Albert Park will go to the polls on Saturday in contests that lost much of their sting when the Liberal Party decided not to field candidates. This decision was made by the party’s administrative committee to save resources for the federal election, much to the displeasure of state Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu. There was no controversy in regards to Williamstown, which Bracks won last year by a margin of 24.3 per cent, but the 9.7 per cent margin facing the Liberals in Albert Park should not have been off the dial for a by-election involving a third-term government. However, there remains the prospect of a Greens boilover, with the party’s candidate (who is running again this time) having recorded 19.1 per cent last year. The wild card here is the behaviour of the 34.6 per cent who voted Liberal. The Greens vote in Williamstown was 12.4 per cent, which is unlikely to be enough of a springboard to trouble the Labor candidate. This site will follow the count as it occurs on Saturday evening.

Albert Park candidates in ballot paper order:

John Middleton (Greens). A consulting engineer, Middleton also contested Albert Park at the 2006 election, when the Greens vote rose 1.8 per cent to 19.1 per cent.

Prodos Marinakis. A former communist and dogmatic convert to the right, the highly unconventional Marinakis is involved in both community radio and the Celebrate CapitalismTM campaign. He was initially preselected as the Liberal candidate for Richmond at the 2006 election after being the only person to nominate, but the party hierarchy feared he might prove a loose cannon and replaced him with someone guaranteed to stay out of the papers.

John Dobinson. A resident of Balwyn North, Dobinson ran at state and federal elections in the early 1990s, at which time he identified himself as a conservative (UPDATE: See comments for a more up-to-date assessment of Dobinson’s political philosophy from the man himself).

Nigel Strauss. Strauss ran as a Liberals for Forests candidate in the federal seat of Corangamite in 2001. The Age reports he is running on the issue of logging in the Thomson Dam catchment.

Paul Kavanagh (Democrats). An occasional Poll Bludger comments contributor, Kavanagh was the Democrats’ upper house candidate for Southern Metropolitan in 2006. The Democrats site describes him as an “economic and social policy adviser specialising in job creation, older persons’ policy, migrant skills and regional development”.

Shane McCarthy (DLP). McCarthy is a primary school teacher.

Adrian Jackson. Also a candidate in 2006, Jackson was once active in the Liberal Party, which suspended him in 2003 after he banned Americans and Israelis from his Middle Park bed-and-breakfast. He was also a columnist for Jack Pacholli’s quirky Toorak Metropolitan News.

Cameron Eastman (Family First). As Family First’s upper house candidate for Eastern Victoria, Eastman was described in The Age as the “public face” of the party’s state campaign. He is a retired naval officer who “works in a civilian capacity for the Victoria Police”.

Martin Foley (Labor). Foley is chief-of-staff to Police Minister Bob Cameron and a former official with the Left faction Australian Services Union. Andrew Landeryou reports Foley comfortably won the local party vote ahead of 2006 Brighton candidate Jane Shelton and former Port Phillip mayor Liana Thompson (who although factionally non-aligned was said to have backing from Thwaites’ Independents faction), prompting the latter two to withdraw ahead of a second round of voting by the party’s Public Office Selection Committee. Brendan Donohue reported in the Herald Sun that Labor had “spread the rumour” that basketball star Andrew Gaze might be its candidate, without indicating a motive.

The candidates in Williamstown:

Catherine Cumming. The local Star News paper tells us the 34-year-old Maribyrnong councillor is “a doctor of Chinese medicine and a midwife-in-training”.

Janis Rossiter. Another Maribyrnong councillor, the Star News paper says Rossiter (who “refuses to reveal her age”) is “part of the Municipal Association of Victoria’s reference group for Melbourne 2030”.

Janet Rice (Greens). Yet another Maribyrnong councillor. Rice served as mayor last year, and is also chair of the Metropolitan Transport Forum and vice president of the Victorian Local Governance Association.

Wade Noonan (Labor). An official with the Right faction Transport Workers Union, Noonan won preselection ahead of Rhonda Reitveldt, former campaign adviser to Julia Gillard, and Maribyrnong mayor Michael Clarke. This followed a botched attempt to recruit ABC television sports presenter Angela Pippos, which provided an early embarrassment for the new Premier. Pippos was initially receptive, but pulled the pin when the story was leaked shortly before she was due to reach her final decision. Andrew Landeryou reports that Pippos had been approached by Right faction powerbroker Theo Theophanous, reacting to concerns that both nominations would go to male union officials. Brumby got into further trouble by wrongly stating it was Pippos who had approached the party. Late withdrawals from the race included the Premier’s economic adviser Nick Reece, whose initially promising bid reportedly expired after failing to win support from branch members, and Darebin councillor Diana Asmar, who withdrew to give factional colleague Noonan a clear run.

Vern Hughes (DLP). A newcomer to the resurgent DLP, Hughes co-founded the People Power party with Crikey’s Stephen Mayne, which contested last year’s state election. He withdrew from the party six days out from polling day, accusing Mayne of “trivialising” the campaign. Hughes is director of the Centre for Civil Society, and is described on Wikipedia as “an Anglican writer and social commentator”.

Wajde Assaf. Assaf was also a candidate at last year’s election. The Star News reports he is a former Australian Defence Force member who has been on a disability pension since being assaulted five years ago, and was inspired to run by his experience with health system waiting lists.

Veronica Hayes (Family First). A 24-year-old nurse from Camberwell.

Nathan Tavendale. A 29-year-old “information technology specialist” from Altona North.

Vivienne Millington. No substantial information on Millington could be located.

Victoria and Albert (Park)

A black swan day in Victorian politics, with the wholly unheralded news that Premier Steve Bracks and Deputy Premier John Thwaites are calling it a day. Whither the Victorian government? Not my concern (not until 2010, anyway). What matters here is that two by-elections will soon be upon us. The Liberals could be forgiven for taking a pass in Bracks’s seat of Williamstown, as they did in the happier times of 1994 when Bracks replaced Joan Kirner. Thwaites’s seat of Albert Park is quite a different matter. Labor recorded some fairly modest margins in the seat last decade – 5.8 per cent in 1992, 6.4 per cent in 1999. The margin was back inside 10 per cent at last November’s election, which surely counts as striking distance for a by-election involving a third-term government. With the government continuing to travel reasonably well, the reality is that the Liberals will not be at all confident, but shirking this contest is simply not an option.