SO IT BEGINS…Australia will have a federal election on 7 September, ending three tumultuous years of minority government, and — in all likelihood — six tumultuous and inept years of Labor in office. Today we look at the election backdrop, the battle to be fought, and polls pointing to a win by the Coalition.
I’m including one of my YouTube picks today; it’s a little obscure in a sense, and certainly not an obvious selection. But it’s Australian, and its message is entirely applicable to the combatants about to face off before voters. Enjoy this while you read on…
The 44th federal general election since Federation will occur on 7 September, in five weeks’ time; it will be for all seats in the House of Representatives and for half the Senate (plus the four Senate vacancies from the Territories) as required by the Constitution.
It will either see Kevin Rudd re-elected as the country’s 26th Prime Minister, or Liberal leader Tony Abbott become Australia’s 28th Prime Minister on his second attempt.*
At the 2010 election — which ultimately (and spectacularly) ended in stalemate and minority Labor government — the Coalition won 73 seats to Labor’s 72; there was one Green (Adam Bandt in Denison) and four Independents (Messrs Windsor, Oakeshott, Katter Jr, and Wilkie).
The walkouts of Peter Slipper and Craig Thomson from the Coalition and ALP respectively bring those tallies to 72 Coalition, 71 Labor, one Green and six Independents.
Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott are retiring, however, and disgraced former Speaker Peter Slipper has been disendorsed by the LNP in Queensland; commentators on all sides are virtually unanimous in the assessment that all three seats will return to the Coalition.
Conversely, Adam Bandt in Melbourne and Andrew Wilkie in Denison seem likely, but by no means certain, to be re-elected; Thomson — standing in Dobell as an Independent — is certain to be beaten, and probably by the Liberal Party, but this too is less certain than the other seats being scored off to the Liberals and Nationals ahead of polling day.
Accounting for all of this, then, the notional starting state of the parties is Coalition 75 (Liberals 61, Nationals 14), ALP 71, Independents 3, and the Greens 1.
Clearly, the Coalition needs a net gain of just a single seat to form a government with the narrowest possible majority; the first seat on the electoral pendulum is Corangamite in Victoria, which will fall to the Liberals’ Sarah Henderson on a swing of 0.3%.
Labor, on the other hand, must make five net gains to reach the 76 required; there is a range of plausible paths to assemble 76 ALP seats, but if we assume Wilkie and Bandt are re-elected — and Labor holds its existing seats, including Dobell — we look for the first five Coalition seats on the pendulum (Hasluck, WA; Boothby, SA; Dunkley, Vic; Brisbane, Qld; Macquarie, NSW) which are all held by Liberals, and would all fall on a swing of 1.3%.
And this brings us neatly to the problem faced by the ALP: it is almost impossible for it to win Boothby, Dunkley and Macquarie, and highly unlikely it will win Hasluck or Brisbane, and so if Labor is to win, it must find the seats somewhere else — all the while hanging onto what it already holds.
The resurrection of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister five weeks ago has, as I expected, produced a rapid and sharp spike in the ALP’s polling numbers across the reputable polls, and whilst I’ll come back to polling a little later, that effect is already beginning to wear off.
It means that whilst Labor may not be on course for the mother of all beltings it would almost certainly have received under Julia Gillard, its fortunes are again beginning to slide — and it means some of the state-based trends recent polls have masked will re-emerge.
NSW — when it comes to the crunch, and voters are in the polling booths — is likely to swing heavily to the Coalition.
This was Labor’s best-performed state in 2010 in terms of the efficiency of its vote, winning 26 of the 48 seats with a minority of the two-party vote.
Since then it has seen a Labor state government obliterated in 2011, and its Coalition successor continuing to poll near the record support it achieved at that election; it has also seen a procession of ALP figures through an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) inquiry into misconduct that occurred during the former state government, with a torrent of sordid revelations culminating a week ago in recommendations that criminal charges be laid against two former Labor state ministers.
Despite the rhetoric about cleaning the party up from Rudd, I can’t see voters being impressed by this; anger against the ALP in NSW continues, and it is hard to see the party holing on to what it has there — let alone winning in places like Macquarie.
Queensland is trickier, being Rudd’s home state; it swung strongly to the ALP in 2007 and strongly against it three years later. How much of this was attributable to the presence and absence, respectively, of Kevin Rudd? Time will tell. Queenslanders are a notoriously parochial (and anti-southerner) bunch: I should know, I was one of them for 25 years.
Complicating any evaluation of Queensland’s likely behaviour is the performance of the conservative state government that was elected there 18 months ago.
Like its NSW counterpart it too smashed the Labor Party to pieces, winning 78 of the 89 seats in Queensland’s unicameral Parliament.
But Premier Campbell Newman has lost ministers and backbench MPs to scandal and to minor party raiders, and — unlike NSW — faces a concerted and vocal campaign against it not from the parliamentary ALP, but from Labor activists and allied forces outside Parliament through the mainstream press, social media and on the streets that has been nothing if not noticeable at the very least.
Even so, talk of up to four and perhaps as many as eight additional seats in Queensland for Labor would seem fanciful; take away the noise over Newman’s government, and its polling figures remain solid.
Further, Queensland has shown for decades that it separates state and federal politics, and then votes accordingly: the one exception in living memory was in 1974, when Joh Bjelke-Petersen won a thumping re-election by campaigning exclusively on the issue of the Whitlam federal government.
And the insecurely seated Wayne Swan, in the Brisbane electorate of Lilley, would have to be regarded as a likely casualty of this election: nobody, apart perhaps from Swan himself, has been remotely impressed by his performance as a government minister.
Victoria is troublesome for Labor; the best-performed state in 2010 in terms of its vote and proportion of seats, it contains at least three seats (Deakin, Corangamite and La Trobe) that have all but been written off by the ALP as losses.
Like Queensland and NSW, it has a first-term Liberal government that has not been free of problems.
Yet these appear to have been resolved, and the state Coalition seems increasingly likely to be re-elected next year; coupled with the dumping of Melbourne-based Gillard as Prime Minister, it’s still feasible the state will yield additional seats beyond the three already pencilled in.
Tasmania is home to a 15-year-old Labor state government, the past three and a half of which have — like Labor federally — been served in minority and in coalition with the Greens, despite a promise at the 2010 state election not to serve with the Greens.
It contains two usually marginal seats — Bass and Braddon — that are considered likely to fall to the Liberal Party this year, and a huge anti-Labor vote that has been building for some time in Tasmania may deliver an extra seat or two to the Coalition as well.
The rest of the country and its 28 seats — already split 18-10 in favour of the Coalition — seem harder for either side to make significant inroads into.
However, slight movement to Labor in WA could yield a seat; moderate movement to the Coalition across WA, SA and the NT could yield three or four.
I would say, however, that on balance it is unlikely that we’ll be waiting for results from Perth on election night: I expect the eastern states to deliver about 20 seats to the Coalition in total, with possibly half a dozen offsetting gains for the ALP, and a majority for the Coalition of somewhere between 20 and 30 seats as a result.
It is important to note that John Howard’s thumping election win in 2004 — whilst less emphatic than the one that swept the Coalition into office in 1996 — was achieved on a two-party preferred vote of 52.7%.
The 2004 election also delivered the Coalition control of the Senate, although in 2013 this would be exponentially more difficult for Abbott to achieve on account of the composition of the Senators elected in 2010 who do not face the voters this time around.
I raise the example of 2004, though, simply to illustrate the fact that even a much more modest outcome in terms of votes cast than polls have shown this term can nonetheless translate into a resounding election victory.
And whilst election swings are never uniform, the premise of the pendulum is that if the overall swing is, say, 2.8% (the swing needed by Abbott for a 52.7% result) the movements in individual seats will cancel each other out, and the pendulum should still predict the actual number of seats with reasonable certainty.
A 2.8% swing to the Coalition at this election (based on the pendulum) would see the Coalition make a net gain of 10 seats for a total of 85 and a majority of 20 seats — and a Coalition result just two seats short of what Howard won in 2004.
The other reason I am talking about 2004 is because of the polls since Rudd returned to the Prime Ministership.
The average of these has been roughly a 52-48 split in the Coalition’s favour; that average has arrived at that point by peaking for Labor and then beginning to fall back.
There are two polls out today that confirm the trend; a ReachTel poll showing a 52-48 split to the Coalition (up a point for the Coalition since the previous survey) and a Newspoll for The Australian that shows an unchanged 52-48 result for the Coalition from its previous findings a fortnight ago.
Both polls show Kevin Rudd’s personal numbers slipping; indeed, Newspoll has his personal approval down four points to 38% and his disapproval up six to 47%: not the numbers of someone you would call “popular.”
Abbott’s personal numbers are terrible, but then they have been for years; and they were no bar to his efforts to get rid of Rudd the first time, or running Gillard almost out of office in 2010, or to destroying her Prime Ministership in the years since.
On the “preferred Prime Minister” question, ReachTel favours Abbott; Newspoll favours Rudd.
But the only number in any of these polls that really matters a squirt of shit is the two-party preferred voting number; all the other factors might feed into it, and boost or reduce it, but ultimately popularity on its own does not win elections: votes do.
And right now, Tony Abbott and the Coalition would appear to have them.
I think this election campaign is likely to be pretty grimy; voters already weary of politics are likely to be fed up to the core with it in the end, and this can only help Tony Abbott.
The Coalition’s arguments about stability and competence are likely to resonate.
And a big problem Labor faces — irrespective of whatever it says otherwise, and no matter how sincere its assurances — is the lingering question of whether Kevin Rudd will remain Prime Minister longer than the metaphorical five minutes after the election if he manages to win.
Nobody should delude themselves: the Labor Party viscerally despises Rudd; it made him leader because it was backed into a corner by circumstance and permitted no other viable choice.
It will not thank him, should the party win on 7 September; and far from honouring the man or his word to voters is likely to jettison him as Prime Minister as suddenly as it resurrected him.
In the end, spin, empty denials, and verballing and blocking tactics aimed at conservative rivals will get Rudd and Labor so far — indeed, they will get them nearer to a win than Gillard ever could this time around.
But on their own, these methods are not enough.
Rudd is standing on a shocking record of Labor governance that he seeks to hide; the Liberals will remind him — and the country — of this record at every opportunity.
With the economy deteriorating, the budget in disrepair, and fundamental questions on basic competence as administrators and managers likely to bedevil Labor, it is probably going to be fortunate to record the defeat I think it will.
Abbott and the Coalition by 20 seats for me, give or take a couple.
And thus begins — as everyone will know too well at the end — the five weeks that will determine who will lead Australia for another three years.
But then again, in politics, nothing is ever so cut and dried.
See you all tonight.
*The 27th Prime Minister was Julia Gillard, who is retiring from Parliament.