Saturday’s Illawarra Mercury helpfully featured opinion polls conducted by local outfit IRIS of each of the five state electorates on the paper’s turf, each with sample sizes of 400 and margins of error approaching 5 per cent. The best way to read such a poll is to combine the results, which points to an Illawarra-wide swing against Labor of 21 per cent from a margin of error of about 2.2 per cent. Even by Labor’s recent standards this is a dismal result: the average swing in statewide polls has been about 16 per cent. Thanks to reader DaveM for passing this on.

I am using the occasion to offer the first look at my New South Wales election guide, which I will publish piece-by-piece as the campaign progresses. The electorates in turn, from north to south:

Heathcote (Labor 8.8%): Heathcote is being defended by Labor incumbent Paul McLeay, whose obligatory item of baggage is his resignation from the ministry in June 2010 after admitting he had used a parliamentary computer to visit pornography and gaming sites. The poll suggests McLeay might not even finish second: Liberal opponent Lee Evans has 49 per cent to 23 per cent for McLeay and 19 per cent for Greens candidate Phil Smith. The Liberal lead on two-party preferred is 62-38.

Keira (Labor 22.0%): Labor’s enormous margin might not be enough for their candidate, former Transport Department deputy chief Ryan Park, to succeed the outgoing David Campbell, the former Transport Minister who quit after Channel Seven screened footage of him leaving a gay sex club. Park trails Liberal candidate John Dorahy, who was the inaugural captain of NSWRL club the Illawarra Steelers in the 1980s, by 37 per cent to 44 per cent on the primary vote and 48 per cent to 52 per cent on two-party preferred.

Wollongong (Labor 25.3%): A margin of this size should surely be a bridge too far for the Liberals, but the poll suggests independent Gordon Bradbery, a local Wesley Uniting Church minister, is a shot at succeeding where Liberal candidate Michelle Blivacs is likely to fail. Defending Labor member Noreen Hay leads the primary vote with 34 per cent against 24 per cent for Blivacs and 23 per cent for Bradbery. With Bradbery likely to overhaul Blivacs after preferences on these figures, the final two-candidate preferred result has Hay holding on against Bradbery by 53 per cent to 47 per cent.

Shellharbour (Labor 26.8%): Here at least the poll suggests Labor is safe, despite the retirement after one term of sitting member Lylea McMahon. Their new candidate, United Services Union organiser Anna Watson, has 52 per cent of the primary vote to 34 per cent for Liberal candidate Larissa Mallinson, and a 61 per cent to 39 per cent lead on two-party preferred.

Kiama (Labor 12.0%): Labor member Matt Brown, who lost his job as Police Minister after the world learned of him dancing in his underpants at a late-night party in the office of Wollongong MP Noreen Hay, appears to be in all sorts of trouble with a primary vote of just 27 per cent. Liberal candidate and Shoalhaven deputy mayor Gareth Ward is on 42 per cent, and has a commanding 60 per cent to 40 per cent lead on two-party preferred.

In other news, I had this to say in Friday’s Crikey email:

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.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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