The Advertiser

heads up this morning’s story on Family First’s preferences with the
headline “Family First gives Kerin leg up in 8 key seats”. Nice spin by
Family First, which the paper appears to have fallen for, but to all
intents and purposes, a load of nonsense.

Should I be surprised? Probably not, given I remember the ‘Tiser‘s
famous 1993 election day front page screamer “It’s still close say
leaders”. There were probably better chances of finding the Beaumont
children than of the Arnold Labor government being re-elected, but why
let facts and analysis get in the way of a good headline.

Yes, Family First has given preferences to the Liberals in eight seats,
including four of the most marginal in the state. However, given there
hasn’t been a poll in nearly six months showing anything less than a 5%
swing to Labor, does it matter what happens in these seats?

No, the real story was in the fifth par and went without comment. “In
four other key seats, the party will offer split tickets, leaving it up
to the voters to decide whether the preferences go to Labor or Liberal.
They are all Liberal seats – Morialta, Light, Mawson and
Newland.”

Now the Advertiser has published more polls in this election
campaign than any paper I can remember. Those polls have consistently
shown a big swing to Labor, putting in doubt a string of Liberal seats
including, wait for it, Light (2.3%), Morialta (3.3%), Mawson (3.6%)
and Newland (5.5%). Also relevant is that all four seats saw above
average Family First primary votes in 2002, 6.9% in Newland and 4.5% in
Light, in both seats delivering three-quarters of preferences to the
Liberals.

So the fact that Family First are splitting their preference in these
seats could be disastrous for the Liberal Party and a much bigger story
than what Family First is doing in more marginal seats.

Of the 8 seats with preferences to the Liberal, four are Labor held.
Norwood (0.5%) and Adelaide (0.6%) may be Labor’s most marginal seats
and make up the 606 votes that Mike Rann keeps repeating are all that
lie between him and defeat. But these two seats also saw Family First’s
lowest votes in 2002 and there is little doubt, given the polls, that
Labor will win both seats easily. Preferences are also against Labor in
Florey (3.6%), but in 2002 Family First polled an above average 6.6%
and delivered 65% of preferences to the Liberals. How much better can
Family First do than that?

Family First is directing preferences to the Liberal Party in its two
most marginal seats, Hartley (2.1%) and Stuart (2.1%). Family First did
not contest Stuart in 2002, and it is hard to see how the party can do
well in such an enormous outback electorate. But Family First polled
4.6% in Hartley last time with 70% of preferences to the Liberals, so
against a swing to Labor this time, the question again has to be asked,
what help will Family First’s preferences be anyway?

Minor parties have to work enormously hard to deliver more than 70% of
preferences one way or the other. It takes lots of troops on the ground
delivering how-to-vote cards. Given the polls, the Liberals need lots
of Family First preferences to hang on to a string of its own seats.
That Family First says it is issuing open tickets in Light, Morialta,
Mawson and Newland is a further blow to the Liberal campaign, a very
different story to the headline delivered by the Advertiser.

Personally, I expect these preferences to still flow 60% to the Liberal
Party. At the 2004 Federal election, directing preferences against an
open lesbian Liberal candidate in Brisbane, Family First only delivered
54% of preferences to Labor. Attempts to direct preferences against
pro-choice Liberals Don Day and Kym Hames at the 2005 WA election also
produced only even splits.

But still, the fact Family First aren’t out there helping the Liberals
is the bigger story. Some in the Labor Party view Family First as
little more than the Liberal Party at prayer. The decision it has made
in these seats suggests that Family First is slightly more pragmatic
than some give it credit.

Christian Kerr adds:

Spreading speculation from the marginal of Morialta – what was sitting
MP Joan Hall doing at the humble Howard hoe-down to celebrate his 10
years last week. Has she given up?

And could Labor’s campaign director, David Feeney, on loan from
Victoria, be distracted in the last 10 days of the campaign by events
on the ground in his home state? Feeney had staked a claim to the
number three Senate spot in Victoria. It may now go back to the
National Union of Workers with their boy Pakula pipped at the post in
Hotham.

Peter Fray

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