The Daily Telegraph today has published a NSW state election poll from Galaxy Research, which has the Coalition leading Labor by 50% to 23% on the primary vote, and by 64% to 36% on two-party preferred. Which is par the course really: the two-party result sits roughly in the middle of Newspoll (62-38), Essential Research (62-38 by Antony Green’s reckoning), Nielsen (66-34) and the previous Galaxy poll (66-34).

You might well think Labor’s 23% represents a bedrock beneath which they cannot sink, but the Galaxy poll won’t even offer them that comfort. Fully 41% of Labor supporters say that they might change their mind, against only 24% for the Coalition. It would appear the number of voters who profess themselves ready to stay with Labor come what may has fallen below 13%.

Meanwhile, bookies are offering $1.03 on a Coalition win. If you have a lazy ten grand lying around, think of it as $300 of free money.

However, the election does offer one conclusion that isn’t foregone: the Legislative Council, where a single party majority is effectively impossible and much depends on who occupies the cross-benches.

The electoral system is cut from the same cloth as most of Australia’s other upper houses, and like the Senate it has staggered terms with half the members facing the polls at each election.

The results in 2007 were nine seats for Labor, eight for the Coalition, two for the Greens and one each for the Christian Democratic Party and the Shooters Party, which boils down to an 11-10 left-right split as far as the ongoing members are concerned. That means the right can tie things up by going one better this time, and score a majority by going two better.

With so much at stake, things have been getting even testier than usual between Labor and the Greens, with the latter proving disinclined to throw preference lifelines that might tar them by association.

Labor could well argue that the Greens will come to regret their reluctance to forge a popular front against an ascendant right, but the consequences of their decision should not be over-estimated.

One very significant difference between the Legislative Council and the Senate is that the former has optional above-the-line preferential voting. Those who simply number a single box above the line — the default option for most voters in both kinds of election — are committing to no more than a vote for the candidates of that party, with their preferences exhausting thereafter.

Micro parties such as the Shooters and Fred Nile group get elected not through Senate-style mass transfers of above-the-line preferences, but for the quite different reason of a low quota for election: with the entire state voting as one for 21 members, all it takes is 4.5% to win a seat.

Greens voters are somewhat more ready than most to number more than one box, but the 2007 election result suggests only a fraction of them do so along the lines recommended by the how-to-vote card.

It’s always possible that such a fraction could mean the difference between a seat taking a step to the left or a jump to the right. However, if the numbers in today’s Galaxy poll are anywhere near the mark, the only point of issue would be the size of the left’s overall defeat.

With a primary vote approaching 50%, the Coalition are a strong chance for 11 seats, and there seems no reason to think right-wing micro-parties won’t match their 2003 and 2007 performance in winning two seats between them.

That would leave Labor and the Greens looking at a collective 20 seats at best, and the incoming government requiring three out of four micro-party votes to pass legislation opposed by them.

Peter Fray

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