The latest Morgan face-to-face poll, conducted last week from a sample of 893, shows a slight improvement for Labor, up 1.5% to 32% on the primary vote with the Coalition down half a point to 45.5% and the Greens down 1.5% to 10.5%. This translates into a one point improvement on the respondent-allocated two-party preferred measure, from 59-48 to 58-42, and a half-point improvement on the previous election method, down from 55.5-44.5 to 55-45.

UPDATE (28/5/12): Essential Research has Labor losing one of the points on two-party preferred it clawed back over previous weeks, the result now at 57-43. Primary votes are 50% for the Coalition (up one), 33% for Labor (steady) and 10% for the Greens (steady). Other questions gauged views on the parties’ respective “attributes”, with all negative responses for Labor (chiefly “divided” and “will promise anything to win votes”) rating higher than all positives, and the Liberal Party doing rather better, rating well for “moderate” and “understands the problems facing Australia”. Bewilderingly, only slightly more respondents (35%) were willing to rate the state of the economy as “good” than “bad” (29%), with 33% opting for neither, although 43% rated the position of their household satisfactory against 28% unsatisfactory.

In today’s installment of Seat of the Week, it’s everybody’s favourite:

Seat of the week: Eden-Monaro

Taking in the south-eastern corner of New South Wales, including Queanbeyan, Cooma, Tumut and the coast from Batemans Bay south to Eden and the Victorian border, Eden-Monaro is renowned throughout the land as the seat that goes with the party who wins the election. Until 2007 its record as a bellwether was in fact surpassed by Macarthur, which had gone with the winning party at every election since its creation in 1949, but while Eden-Monaro stayed true to form by being among the seven New South Wales seats to switch to Labor with the election of the Rudd government, Liberal member Pat Farmer held on in Macarthur. The seat bucked the statewide trend in 2010 by recording a 2.0% swing to Labor, in what was very likely a vote of confidence in the popular local member, Mike Kelly.

Perhaps explaining its bellwether status, Eden-Monaro offers something of a microcosm of the state at large, if not the entire country. It incorporates suburban Queanbeyan, rural centres Cooma and Bega, coastal towns Eden and Narooma, and agricultural areas sprinkled with small towns. Labor’s strongest area is the electorate is the Canberra satellite town of Queanbeyan, excluding its Liberal-leaning outer suburb of Jerrabomberra. The coastal areas, which swung particularly heavily to Labor in 2007, can be divided between a finely balanced centre and areas of Liberal strength at the northern and southern extremities, respectively around Batemans Bay and Merimbula. The smaller inland towns are solidly conservative, but Cooma is highly marginal. The area covered by the electorate has been remarkably little changed over the years: it has been locked into the state’s south-eastern corner since federation, and its geographic size has remained fairly consistent as increases in the size of parliament cancelled out the effects of relative population decline. Outside of the interruption from 2007 and 2010, when it expanded westwards to Tumut and Tumbarumba, its boundaries since 1998 have been almost identical to those it had before 1913.

Eden-Monaro was held by conservatives of various stripes for all but one term until 1943, the exception being Labor’s 40-vote win when Jim Scullin’s government came to power in 1929. Allan Fraser won the seat for Labor with the 1943 landslide and held it against the tide in 1949 and 1951. He was defeated in 1966 but was back in 1969, finally retiring in 1972. The loss of his personal vote almost saw the seat go against the trend of the 1972 election, with the Country Party overtaking their conservative rivals for the first time to come within 503 votes of victory. The Country Party again finished second in 1974, this time coming within 146 votes of defeating Labor member Bob Whan (whose son Steve unsuccessfully contested the seat in 1998 and 2001, and was later the state member for Monaro). However, 1975 saw the Liberals gain strongly at the expense of the Country Party as well as Labor, and their candidate Murray Sainsbury won the seat with a two-party margin of 5.6%. Sainsbury held the seat until the defeat of the Fraser government in 1983; the same fate befell his Labor successor, Jim Snow, who was swept out by a 9.2% swing when Labor lost office in 1996, and then Gary Nairn, who served as Special Minister of State from January 2006 until the November 2007 election defeat.

Labor’s successful candidate was Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Kelly, a military lawyer who had been credited with efforts to warn the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade about the AWB kickbacks scandal, and the Australian military about possible abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. Kelly was installed as candidate a week after the party’s national conference empowered the state executive to appoint candidates in 25 key seats over the heads of the local party branches. A member of the Right faction, he won immediate promotion to parliamentary secretary for defence support, shifting to the water portfolio in February 2009. After the 2010 election he was shifted to the agriculture, fisheries and forestry portfolio, which was criticised owing to Kelly’s status as the federal parliament’s only war veteran. He was restored to his earlier role in the December 2011 reshuffle.

The Liberal candidate at the next election will be Peter Hendy, a former Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive and previously a staffer to Brendan Nelson and Peter Reith. Hendy reportedly had a comfortable victory over three other candidates, including Sustainable Agricultural Communities director Robert Belcher. The Nationals have reportedly approached Cooma mayor Dean Lynch to run, having determined that the Liberals’ endorsement of Hendy offers them a “point of difference” owing to his stance on foreign investment and the currency of foreign farm ownership as an issue locally.

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