Some reflections on Charles Richardson’s item of May 27 from another poll watcher
Good stuff. The indication subsequent to Charles’ article that the
Coalition will let Labor sweat through many Coalition announcements
over the next few months, will make most current predictions (of
anyone) pretty speculative. The Coalition will make the ALP twist
itself into knots trying to come up with an economic package that can
spend more while spending less, and tax less than before and have
bigger surpluses. I don’t expect an April 2005 election, and I don’t
expect a post US Presidential election either.

Whilst the 2001
election was predicated on a ALP victory and no one seriously
contemplated Coalition gains well in advance of the election, it would
be unwise to forget some marginal ALP seats this time. Bass due to
doubts over ALP policy on forestry in Tasmania, Wakefield in SA which
is very marginal and created out of seats hitherto little campaigned
in. WA is bad for the ALP, and marginal seats are more on the Labor
side, Stirling, Swan, and Hasluck.

The fact that all the States
and Territories Governments are Labor gives some baggage, the Carr
gloss for one is certainly not there anymore. Labor’s WA woes relate in
large part of the problems of the state administration. Also some issue
play more strongly in some parts of Australia, national security is
stronger in WA and Queensland for one.

I suggest that 2004 will
be more like 1998. In 1998 the Coalition Government looked beaten, it
trailed the ALP by 11% on first preferences, 6 months before the
election, and was 4% behind a week before polling day, yet still won.
Newspolls are used for consistency in this analysis.

Latham is
getting some bounce from Iraq, his novelty value, and government
tiredness and sloppiness over travel, David Flint etc. The Coalition
may make some hay from the fact that all the States and Territories
have Labor Governments with all of their baggage.

In 2001 the
Coalition was 13% behind the ALP, 8 months before the election. The
Tampa incident and border security have become election winning
(losing) mythology for the ALP, despite the Coalition been 6% ahead of
the ALP a week before the 11 September attacks.

In 2004 the
Coalition is 5% behind the ALP at its worst result. In terms of
analogies 2004 is shaping up as a re-run of 1998. The ALP is ahead as
they were for a lot of the 12 months before the 1998 election,
including 4% a week out from the poll.

Issues such as Trish
Draper will drop right off in weeks, and does anyone remember Labor MP
(Leaping!) Leo Macleay and his publicly funded damages award for
falling off a bike at Parliament House. Incidentally Leo still figures
in the background shots to Mark Latham if you do remember. The ALP has
gone quietly on the issue of travel for the good reason they have
skeletons in the cupboard as well! Politicians are like the people they
represent after all!

As for issues. Border protection won’t be
an issue in 2004 like 2001, as the Coalition’s policy is so successful
that the boats have stopped coming. Terrorism may be an issue, as Al
Qaeda knows it can change western governments and their policies with a
few well-placed bombs (as evidenced by Spain). Iraq may or may not be
an issue, as by the time of an election if Iraq is quiet it may be a
plus for the government. If its chaotic, it depends on the United
Nations collective view, if the UN is in Iraq, Australia would be too,
and Latham may need a policy shift (again) to adapt to the new reality.
In which case he will look very much like the Coalition. Paul Kelly in
the Australian months back pointed out the long-term lack of
Realpolitik of Latham’s original Iraq position.

Fuel prices
contrary to Latham’s opportunistic rhetoric are not affected by Iraq or
Australia’s involvement, the price is up all over the world. When the
family tax benefits start appearing, tax cuts flowing, some Coalition
matching and fixing, and the ALP may need to come up with a serious
(which means expensive) tax cut plan to match its rhetoric.

Opposition
is a funny calling, its hard work, and if you look like winning people
actually want to know what you will do, and will punish you if you
don’t come up with the goods. Latham has entered that twilight zone of
being in serious contention, but if he fails to meet expectations you
are history. The fluff about reading etc will have to drop off, and the
ALP needs to gets its lines and figures straight on tax. Remember they
got the lines on superannuation seriously wrong a few months back – it
looked bad.

Elections in Australia are generally closely fought.
Retiring members may be more important than swings one way or the other
in terms of holding government. Leaders experience honeymoon periods,
and traditionally party leaders have approval and satisfaction rates
buttressed by party loyalists. In recent times Simon Crean’s standing
had seriously distorted both the Coalitions and John Howard’s standing.
In the period since Mark Latham’s election as Labor Leader the vote for
the ALP primary vote has risen, but at the expense of left wing voters
who had supported the Greens, and Democrats. Coalition support has
remained much the same

Because elections are determined not by
votes but by seats, it is possible although unlikely that a party with
minority preferred support will win government, although it has
happened 7 times out of 40 elections federally since 1901. In the
mainland States Northern Territory all the most recent minority
preferred support governments have been Labor, including the current
Northern Territory one.

To illustrate the overall closeness of
elections, since 1951 of the 21 elections, 9 (43%) have produced
exchanges of seats in both directions (ignoring by-election changes).
The much talked of 1972 election of the Whitlam Labor Government, saw
it gain 12 seats but lose 4 seats also! Only 12 elections have produced
seat changes in the one direction only. Also since 1949, only one
election (1975) did all seats show swings in the same direction!

The
Coalition needs to lose 8 seats to lose its majority; a loss of 1.7%
will see it lose power, and 2.2% will give Labor a majority in its own
right (not needing Peter Andren). Only 1 of those seats is even in
Sydney. The most marginal Coalition seats are in every mainland state
and the Northern Territory.

Issues such as national security
play particularly strongly for the Coalition in States such as
Queensland and Western Australia, in the former Labor needs to make
gains in to have any chance of winning. In the later Labor did well
under Kim Beazley and polls suggest a drop of Labor support, a sign
that Labor will make no gains there, or possibly even lose seats.

For
Labor it should be mindful that it is Western Australia that seeing its
favourite son (Kim Beazley) rejected, that Labor might suffer too.
Western Australia has bucked the national trends more times than any
other State, 8 times out of 22 since 1949, including the 1972 election
when Gough Whitlam won. Western Australia has also been more hostile to
Labor than most other States over time, its State Labor Government
consistently the least popular, and Federal polls in early 2004
actually show swings against Labor, so in 2004 WA may help upset
Labor’s hopes again.

Antony Green (the ABC election analyst)
pointed out that the ALP may get the votes in an election, but not
enough seats. I think the ALP may have reached its zenith of support,
Latham has kept to the script so far, but need to actually start saying
things and actually putting figures on things. Then you start getting
flak. Howard and Costello are clever men; they have not had the last
throw of the dice yet. Remember Keating, Hawke, Fraser, Gorton and
Menzies all came back from seemingly hopeless positions too and won.

Specific seats

If a swing of up to 2 per cent occurs, the seats identified by Charles need a few more notes –

Solomon
(NT Darwin) (0.1%) could well fall, the member (Tollner) has let his
side down, but the NT is an odd place, he may hang on despite whatever
happens. His margin a little greater than 3 AFL teams, or about 5
scrums depending on your code. Tollner was elected when the NT ALP was
at its zenith, having just won power in Darwin.

Canning (WA-south of Perth), is marginal (0.4%), but unless the ALP’s WA position improves the Coalition’s Randall may hold it.

Adelaide,
is marginal (0.6%), but Advertiser (the local daily) polls have shown
the Liberals doing well there, and Trish Worth is a good campaigner,
her profile on the gay marriage issue may help her. Demographics are
helping the Coalition.

Hindmarsh (west
Adelaide) is marginal (1.0%), and made complicated by the retirement of
the well-regarded sitting MP Chris Gallus, her replacement Simon
Birmingham is showing up well on Advertiser polls. Close but
demographics are helping the Coalition.

Parramatta
is excruciatingly marginal (1.2%), I expect Ross Cameron to lose; he
was lucky last time with the election countering the redistribution
(which made his seat worse for him).

Herbert
(Townsville), is marginal, its fast growth saw it lose territory and
become 0.1% better for the ALP, 1.6 to 1.5 %, whilst demographics may
be helping Liberal Peter Lindsay, and defence issues play well for him
given the military profile of the city. If the tide goes out for the
Coalition Lindsay will loose, but if the mood is mixed, more grumbles
than substance he might celebrate 10 years as the member.

Eden-Monaro
(southeast NSW coast) is excruciatingly marginal (1.7%). I have my
doubts about litmus seats, Denison for example is now a safe Labor seat
in Tasmania was one once a ‘litmus’ seat. Mixed rural, public service
dormitory town in Queanbeyan with retirees on the coast. The former ALP
candidate Steve Whan (son of a former Labor MP for the seat) is now in
NSW politics, this could help Liberal Gary Nairn. If the tide goes out
for the Coalition Nairn will loose, but if the mood is mixed, more
grumbles than substance he might celebrate 10 years as the member.

Hinkler
(Bundaberg) (2.2%) is a tougher one for the ALP than Charles suggests.
Paul Neville the Nat MP has more than a 2% buffer from the
redistribution, Paul would consider this ‘luxury’, and he is an
assiduous campaigner. The ALP really has nothing to help the sugar
industry, and blocking the free trade deal with the US would do nothing
for any industry. Sugar is not the only industry in the electorate
either. If the tide goes out, it would be a different story.

McMillan
(west Gippsland and west La Trobe valley) is notionally Coalition on
2.9%. The much unhappy sitting ALP MP Christian Zahra, has a struggle
to hold on, despite his high profile. If the margin were closer I would
give him a chance, I suspect the margin is too big to overcome with
local campaigning and unless the tide is sweeping in for labor I would
expect him to lose.

Bowman (east Brisbane) is
notionally a Coalition seat on 3.1%. The sitting ALP PM Con Sciacca is
moving to the ALP seat of Bonner with a 1.9% ALP margin. In such an
open contest I would expect the Liberals candidate to retain the seat.
Unless the tide really comes in for Labor it will be marginal but more
likely Labor. Bowman’s margin is higher than nearby Moreton held by
Minister Gary Hardgrave.

La Trobe (outer
eastern suburbs of Melbourne) has a huge margin from the 2001 (3.7%).
Bob Charles the retiring Liberal MP has lived on adrenalin since 1990.
The retirement of Charles is probably the best thing going for Labor’s
Susan Davies. I understand that Susan is not on Jeff Kennett’s
Christmas card list – no surprise there! If there is a movement to
Labor expect La Trobe to go with it.

Makin
(north eastern Adelaide) (3.7%) originally Labor from its creation in
1984 and held by the now disgraced former Labor State Minister Peter
Duncan till 1996. Trish Draper is right in it at the moment. The local
daily paper the Advertiser polls taken at her worst moment, showed her
in deep doo-doo. Whilst support of men had swing away, women stayed
with her. These things blow over, and all MP’s get tarred anyway. Makin
is a middle class rapidly growing slab of outer suburbia. I was
surprised that Draper held on in 1998. I understand the demographics
are helping her, but given the last few weeks, I would put Makin more
likely to fall than Adelaide or Hindmarsh.

The second tranche of seats Charles identifies –

Dobell
(Central coast NSW) is excruciatingly marginal (0.4%). Ken Ticehurst
the Liberal who won it off Labor’s Michael Lee in 2001 will enjoy some
goodwill at the local MP who is working it hard. Reality is if there is
a movement to the ALP it is move likely to fall than not. That said the
demographics are helping the Coalition there.

If the swing is
under 2%, seats such as Deakin (eastern Melbourne), Richmond (far north
NSW coast), Longman (lower Sunshine Coast), Moreton (southern Brisbane)
Gippsland, Page (far north NSW), Lindsay (NSW Penrith), Dickson
(northern Brisbane) may stay with the Coalition. Lindsay is more
marginal than the figures suggest, as is Dickson. Macarthur (south west
Sydney – Latham’s neighbour) likewise.

If there is a swing to
Labor in the 2% to 3% range, Labor will win, but its majority at worst
would be tiny and possibly reliant on Peter Andren. More likely an
overall majority between 5 and 10.

If there is a general swing above 3% the Coalition will lose respectably. Labor will have a workable majority in the teens.

Charles third tranche –

If
there is a 6% swing, the Coalition will be defeated although Coalition
support is not likely to fall to such a degree as to lose Boothby
(southern Adelaide) despite Mitsubishi. Paterson (NSW lower Hunter),
McEwen (north east of Melbourne), Petrie (north Brisbane), Kalgoorlie
(most of WA), are more marginal than the raw figures suggest. Similarly
Leichardt (Cairns and Cape York), Robertson (NSW central coast).

If a swing of 6% of so occurs, a majority in the forties is more likely.

Peter Fray

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