Queensland, as we reported yesterday, is having two by-elections, but
NSW is going one better with three. Vacancies had already
been foreshadowed by the departure of Bob Carr and his deputy Andrew
Refshauge, and they were joined this morning by planning and
infrastructure minister Craig Knowles, as The Australian reports.

Of the three seats, two are unshakable. In 2003,
Carr held Maroubra with 64.1% of the primary vote and 73.5% after
preferences; Knowles held Macquarie Fields with 62.6% primary and 72.5%
two-party-preferred. There will be big anti-Labor swings for sure, but
not that big. The interesting one will be Refshauge’s inner-city seat
of Marrickville.

On paper, Marrickville looks pretty secure – Labor
finished with 60.7% last time after preferences. But on the previous
count, after eliminating the five minor candidates, the numbers were as

ALP 52.6%

Greens 33.3%

Liberal 14.2%

If the Greens had got, say, 80% of the Liberal preferences, as you
might expect (compare with Richmond in Victoria, a similar sort of seat,
where they got 77%), that would have left Refshauge on about 55.4% –
well within the danger zone.

The reason this didn’t happen is that the Liberals
refused to direct preferences to the Greens, in a fit of right-wing
populism over the Greens’ drugs policy, subject of a massive beat-up by The Daily Telegraph. With optional preferential voting (not available
in Victoria), they were able to tell their voters to not distribute
preferences at all, and that’s what 75% of them did.

So this by-election will be a real test for Liberal leader John
Brogden: will he brave the wrath of the tabloids this time by
preferencing the Greens, or will he again give Labor a free kick? And
if they do get Liberal preferences, it will be a big test for the
Greens as well. Can they hold their 2003 levels of support, or does the
2004 federal result show that they are on the way down?

Speaking of NSW, Antony Green now has a
very comprehensive discussion of the post-Carr prospects for the next
state election on the ABC website.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey