The latest weekly Essential Research survey has Labor’s two-party lead narrowing from 62-38 to 59-41. There are also interesting breakdowns on attitudes to the budget and the retirement age by employment and self-identified social class: office workers think the higher retirement age fair, tradesmen and manual labourers very much the opposite, while class reaction to the budget is how you would traditionally expect with Labor in power. The survey also finds the public slightly more receptive to a senior role for Peter Costello than they were three months ago.

Other news:

• Two challengers have emerged against incumbent Dennis Jensen in the Liberal preselection for Tangney – neither of whom is Matt Brown, who defeated Jensen in the local vote ahead of the 2007 election only to have the result overturned on the intervention of John Howard. Andrew Probyn of The West Australian reports the conteders are Alcoa government relations and public policy manager Libby Lyons, last seen angling for the state seat of Nedlands (and apparently the granddaughter of Joseph Lyons), and Toyota Finance executive Glenn Piggott.

• The ABC reports that Tasmanian David Bartlett has “reconsidered” his original proposal for fixed elections on March 20 after “consultation with key stakeholders”, which hopefully includes Antony Green (the move would have set up a permanent clash with elections in South Australia). He instead proposes to allow a future Premier “flexibility” within a three-month period, similar to what Colin Barnett is advocating in Western Australia. An draft that was being circulated for consultation early in the year allowed for early Legislative Assembly elections if the Legislative Council so much as blocked a bill the Assembly deemed to be “significant”, and provided for an Assembly election in the event of a no-confidence motion or if the Council blocked supply.

• Staying in Tasmania, David Bartlett helpfully puts out a press release each time a Labor candidate is nominated for next year’s state election – the latest being Franklin candidate Kate Churchill, whose role as operations manager of Colony 47 would appear to make her a community organiser in the Barack Obama mould.

Andrew Landeryou at Vex News runs a scan of an Australian Financial Review report that the Labor national executive “may be asked to run preselections for state seats in the western suburbs of Melbourne to try to defuse factional tensions before the election next year”. As Landeryou puts it, “Some say this is code for a cross-factional and multi-sub-factional agreement that the member for Keilor George Seitz be encouraged to retire”, following the state Ombudsman’s recent probings into Brimbank City Council and their bearing on the state preselection for the 2008 Kororoit by-election. Landeryou raises his eyebrows at the assertion that the arrangement’s backers, said to include Kim Carr of the Left and Bill Shorten of the Right, want preselection for Brendan O’Connor’s federal seat of Gorton taken out of local hands, as there as been no suggestion he might be troubled.

• Writing in The Australian’s weekly State of the Nation wrap-up of state politics, Imre Salusinszky returns to a favourite theme: the unlikelihood of an early federal election given the need for “mini-redistributions” if the redistributions for New South Wales and Queensland are yet to be finalised. In particular, he notes that a mini-redistribution would have to create three Coalition seats from two (Fadden and Moncrieff) in Queensland, while merging two Labor seats (Sydney and Lowe) in New South Wales – as well as giving the Coalition a stick with which to beat Labor for calling an election under such inopportune circumstances.

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