The latest Roy Morgan face-to-face poll shows little change on the previous result from a fortnight ago. It again presents the poll blog headline writer with a difficulty in showing a huge disparity between the two-party results according to respondent allocation (54-46 in the Coalition’s favour) and by the generally favoured method of allocation according to the previous election result (51.5-48.5). On the primary vote, Labor is steady on 36 per cent, the Coalition is up a point to 45.5 per cent and the Greens are down one to 12 per cent. The poll combines results from the previous two weekends of polling, covering a sample of 1746.

The first rumblings of preselection action for the current federal electoral cycle:

• Michael McKenna of The Australian noted last month that Mal Brough has been “working the party hierarchy and branches” with an eye to succeeding Peter Slipper as member for Fisher. Slipper’s chances of hanging on to LNP preselection, which were presumably already slim after his acceptance of the government’s offer of the Deputy Speaker position after the election, are said to have vanished altogether after he conducted a six-week tour of Europe and Morocco in the lead-up to the budget. This is said to have given powerful impetus to a party recruitment drive by Mal Brough, “who hopes to triple membership numbers and overwhelm Slipper’s local supporters”.

• The other development in Queensland LNP preselection jockeying is a push for Nationals veteran Bruce Scott, who has held the seat of Maranoa since 1990, to make way for Barnaby Joyce. Weighing in to support the idea was Niki Savva of The Australian, who said the existing plan for Joyce to cross the border and take on Tony Windsor in New England was looking an “increasingly bad idea”. By way of explanation, Savva offered that Windsor has been “sandbagging his seat” with “large dollops of lard from the Labor government”, a mixed metaphor crying out for a response from Bernard Woolley. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Richard Torbay, popular state independent member for Northern Tablelands and former Legislative Assembly Speaker, was “likely to contest the federal seat as an independent should Mr Windsor not stand”.

Christian Kerr of The Australian reports a flood of membership applications has been received in Phillip Ruddock’s electorate of Berowra, as part of a move by “factional forces linked to the conservative Catholic group Opus Dei” who hope to control the preselection upon Ruddock’s retirement. Liberal sources speak of 88 applications in three weeks, of which “many have direct links with Opus Dei through the Tangara School for Girls and Redfield College and their parent organisation, PARED, or Parents for Education”. Ruddock himself however reportedly hopes to be succeeded by the factionally unaligned Julian Lesser, Menzies Research Centre director and 2008 preselection candidate for Bradfield. To this end he is resisting the recent membership encroachment, seeking to block the applications of brother and sister Christian and Sam Ellis, who respectively ran against Ruddock as Family First candidates in 2010 and 2007. The first hints of rising Right power in the electorate came in 2009, when there was talk of either Hunters Hill councillor Richard Quinn or former Young Liberals president Noel McCoy assuming the seat with backing from Right potentate David Clarke.

John Ferguson of The Australian reports a preselection battle looms between Victorian Liberal Senators Helen Kroger and Scott Ryan for the second position on the ticket at the next election. In 2007, Kroger was elected from the second position and Ryan from the third, but Ryan has since risen above Kroger on the pecking order by virtue of attaining a shadow parliamentary secretary position. Both have traditionally been associated with the Kroger-Costello faction (Helen Kroger being the ex-wife of powerbroker Michael Kroger), but both of its principals are now said to exist above the fray of factional politics.

Jessica Wright of the Sunday Age reported last week that Attorney-General and Barton MP Robert McClelland had been told by “factional organisers” he should step aside to avoid a “messy preselection brawl”. An improbable sounding line-up of possible successors has been mentioned around the place, including Paul Howes, Morris Iemma and Mark Arbib (the latter two named by the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader). Howes at least has since taken a step back, which sources say resulted from a “widely held view in the national executive that he had been tainted in the eyes of voters over the Rudd coup”.

• The Sunshine Coast Daily reports on a “conga line” of 11 candidates hoping for Liberal National Party preselection in Fairfax, current member Alex Somlyay having long ago made it clear the present term would be his last. The only one covered in the article was Peter Yeo, a former AFL and SANFL who became a quadriplegic after a fall in 2002.

Post-NSW election detritus:

• Labor vacancies in the NSW Legislative Council, created by the retirements of Eddie Obeid and John Hatzistergos, have been filled by Walt Secord, a former staffer to Kevin Rudd and Bob Carr, and Adam Searle, former mayor of Blue Mountains. Searle in particular has had a complicated journey to parliament: originally associated with the “soft Left”, he won the backing of the Right for the Blue Mountains preselection before the 2007 state election against “hard Left” rival Naomi Perry, but the situation was defused after the party drafted Rural Fire Service chief Phil Koperberg. He subsequently joined the Right during his bid to succeed Bob Debus as member for Macquarie, but he withdrew from the contest as it became clear the Left’s Susan Templeman would prevail (though in the event she was defeated by Liberal member Louise Markus). The anointment of Secord and Searle by the Right has caused outgoing Senator Steve Hutchins to quit the faction, apparently complaining it had become “little more than a job agency for party hacks” – though it may not be immediately clear why this appellation applies to them more than him.

• Pauline Hanson continues to pursue an appeal against her narrow defeat in the Legislative Council election. Her case rests on an allegation that “dodgy staff” deliberately misplaced 1200 votes, which was allegedly the subject of an email exchange between two officials at the NSW Electoral Commission. As AAP reports, these emails have been made available to Hanson via a Queensland construction worker who says they were forwarded to him by a girlfriend who works at the NSWEC, whom the mysterious construction worker is unwilling to identify. According to the ABC, Electoral Commissioner Colin Barry says “nothing has been shown to him suggesting the allegation has any substance”.


• The Australian Electoral Commission has released a report into informal voting at last year’s federal election, at which the rate shot up to 5.5 per cent – 1.6 per cent higher than in 2007, and the worst result since voters were befuddled by the introduction of above-the-line voting in the Senate in 1984. Exactly half of the increase was accounted for by a doubling of ballot papers left entirely blank, from 0.8 per cent to 1.6 per cent. Many have blamed/thanked Mark Latham, who in his late-campaign report on 60 Minutes recommended voters do just that.

• Antony Green has published estimated margins for the Victorian federal redistribution, which he was unable to attend to at the time the boundaries were first published as they appeared in the middle of the election campaign.

• Draft boundaries for a Western Australian state redistribution will be announced next week. I’ll be having quite a lot to say about this soon, and hope to have estimated margins of my own published in fairly short order after the announcement.

• Former ACT Chief Minister Jon Stahope’s parliamentary vacancy in his seat of Ginninderra has been filled by Chris Bourke following a recount of the votes which got Stanhope elected in 2008. Bourke scored 323 votes to 247 for Labor colleague Adina Cirson. The other Labor candidate from the election, David Peebles, did not nominate as he has taken up a job as Deputy High Commissioner to the Solomon Islands.

• Canada’s Conservative government, which moved from minority to majority at last month’s election, is moving to reform the country’s Senate, a weakly empowered chamber which has hitherto been chosen by appointment. The plan is to choose by popular election members serving very long terms, of perhaps as much as 12 years, by a method to be determined at provincial level. Among the hurdles it faces are opposition from the government of Quebec, which is “concerned that elected senators would usurp provincial governments as the foremost representatives of their citizens”; opposition from those who believe the chamber should be abolished, which is apparently a constitutional impossibility; and legal issues resulting from variability in provincial rules for election.

Malcolm Mackerras wrote last week that he was “quite confident in predicting there will be no by-elections during the current term”, since “Members of Parliament do not die these days”. I thought this rather a big call. The Sydney Morning Herald had this last year:

But what can be run through the abacus is the likelihood of one of the 150 MPs elected last month to the House of Representatives keeling over. And without sticking pins in any particular voodoo doll, the risk is high.

Story continues below According to Michael Sherris, professor of actuarial studies at the University of NSW, there is every chance Ms Gillard’s wafer-thin majority will be threatened with a byelection that would become an unwanted referendum on her government.

”I would be pretty confident there’s likely to be someone die in the next three years – what we don’t know is who it will be,” he said.

The average age of our new crop of MPs – both men and women – is a smidgin under 50, suggesting, said Professor Sherris, a 75 per cent chance one of the 150 will die in office, with cancer and heart disease the most likely killers. Body surfers among them will doubtless be directed to swim between the flags.

History tips the balance even more in favour of a state funeral. Professor Sherris points out that in Australia’s federal history there have been on average 1.5 deaths causing byelections in each Parliament.

Highlights from the latest Democratic Audit Update:

• Melbourne University Press will this month publish a book entitled Electoral Democracy: Australian Prospects, edited by Joo-Cheong Tham, Brian Costar and Graeme Orr, which will examine “pressing debates about the regulation of political finance, parties and representation in Australia”.

• Submissions are invited for the Victorian parliamentary Electoral Matters Committee’s inquiry into the November state election.

• The Queensland Parliament last month passed legislation imposing caps on political donations and electoral expenditure, and raising public funding of parties and candidates.

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