The latest weekly Essential Research survey has Labor’s two-party lead down from 57-43 to 56-44. Also featured are questions on carbon emission targets (evenly divided between 80 per cent by 2050 and 60 per cent), the state of the economy in face of the global slowdown (worst believed to be over), whether Australian companies “should accept the laws and justice systems of those countries even if they are very different from our own” (yes), the government’s handling of the Stern Hu issue (somewhat favourable), whether the Prime Minister’s experience with China will help govenrment in dealing with the issue (no), and the ban on climbing Uluru (opposed). Elsewhere:

• Put a mark around Friday in your diaries as the day the Australian Electoral Commission is due to publish proposed boundaries for the federal redistribution in Queensland, which is gaining a thirtieth seat.

• Dennis Jensen, the Liberal member for Tangney, has been defeated in the local preselection vote by Glenn Piggott, from a field that also included Alcoa government relations manager Libby Lyons. The West Australian reports that Piggott won on the first round with the support of 20 branch delegates against 10 for Jensen and eight for “spoiler candidate” Libby Lyons (who unlike Piggott lives not locally but in the western suburbs, having earlier tried her hand at the state preselection for Nedlands). There is still the possibility that the result will be overturned by the party’s State Council on Saturday, as it was before the 2007 election when Jensen was initially defeated by Matt Brown. However, The West Australian report baldly states that Jensen “appears certain to lose his seat”. The only facts that gan be gleaned about Piggott from this remove is that he is a 52-year-old finance manager with Toyota.

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• Another weekend preselection challenge proved to be a non-event when AMWU official and Geelong councillor Andy Richards withdrew from his tilt against Maria Vamvakinou in the safe Labor Melbourne seat of Calwell. Richards has attracted his fair share of critics: AMWU colleague Ian Jones launched a colourful spray quoted at length in The Australian, describing him as “dead wood” and “unsuitable for public office”, while federal MP Darren Cheeseman (whose electorate of Corangamite partly coincides with his council turf) made no effort to spare Richards’ feelings in a letter to Calwell preselectors. Beyond that, one can surmise that Richards’ withdrawal was influenced by peace deals between rival sub-factions of the Right, one of which was threatening to back Richards in defiance of a “stability pact” protecting the candidates of Left powerbroker Senator Kim Carr, among them Vamvakinou. Andrew Landeryou at vexNews reported last week that two state preselection challenges had been shelved under similar circumstances: Darebin councillor Tim Laurence dropped his bid to topple incumbent Steve Herbert in Eltham, and Fiona Richardson was spared a seemingly derisory challenge in Northcote from Kathleen Matthews-Ward, a Moreland councillor reportedly associated with the Right faction Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association.

Andrew Landeryou also reports that the state Liberal member for Sandringham, Murray Thompson, faces a preselection challenge from Margaret Fitzherbert. They are respectively said to be associated with the Peter Costello and Ted Baillieu factions.

• The Maribyrnong Leader reports youth worker Les Twentyman, who contested last year’s contentious Kororoit by-election, denies reports he will run against Labor member Marsha Thomson in Footscray, but says he will “look at” the possibility of running in an unspecified electorate if his health improves (he is “still recovering from surgery complications which threatened his life”).

• In case you missed it, George Megalogenis of The Australian provided the authoritative word last week on what an increased Labor majority at the next election might look like. Money quote:

Of the top 50 seats for tradesmen, 23 are marginal: 14 Liberal and nine Labor. A number of blue-collar Liberal seats proved hard to shift at the 2007 election, including Bowman and Herbert in Queensland, McEwen and La Trobe in Victoria and Macarthur and Paterson in NSW. All but Paterson had been solid Labor seats in the 1980s, swung to the Coalition in the 1990s because of the fallout from the last recession, and remained rusted on to the Howard government throughout the nation’s longest boom.

• I’ve added a thorough update to my ongoing post on Tasmania’s Pembroke upper house by-election.

• Another entry to the to-do list: a South Australian government proposal to reform the upper house through an end to staggered eight-year terms and a populist cut in numbers to below the point of effectiveness. This could be put to the voters at a referendum coinciding with the state election next March. However, legislation initiating the referendum will first have to pass the upper house itself.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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