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Victorian Politics

Jul 18, 2012

Melbourne (state) by-election: July 21

NOTE: With less than a week to go until polling day, I have changed the time stamp on this post to return it to the top of the page. Wednesday, July 18

NOTE: With less than a week to go until polling day, I have changed the time stamp on this post to return it to the top of the page.

Wednesday, July 18

John Ferguson of The Australian reports the ReachTEL poll mentioned in the previous entry produced the following results on the primary vote, with minor candidate preferences said to be evenly divided between Labor and the Greens:

Cathy Oke (Greens): 38.1%
Jennifer Kanis (Labor): 36.5%
Fiona Patten (Australian Sex Party): 6.1%
Stephen Mayne (Independent): 4.3%
Ashley Fenn (Family First): 3.8%
Others: 11.2%

The sample on the poll was 400, resulting in a margin of error approaching 5%. However, we are also told that 25% of those who voted Liberal in 2010 were backing Stephen Mayne and 17% were backing Family First, which raises a difficulty: given the Liberals polled 28% at the election, it should lead us to expect at least 7% for Mayne and 5% for Family First. (UPDATE: Nick Adams from ReachTEL responds in comments. In fairness to them, recollections of past voting behaviour are notoriously unreliable.) The poll also reported that 70% would be influenced one way or the other by the performance of the federal government, and that 50% expressed opposition to the Baillieu government’s East West Road Tunnel project against 28.3% who supported it.

Tuesday, July 17

George Hasanakos at Poliquant offers a very handy analysis of the by-election, including a table laying out the various candidates’ preference recommendations, present or former party affiliations, and, where applicable, shares of the lower and upper house vote at the 2010 election. The post further evaluates past by-elections where the Liberals did not field a candidate, federally and across all mainland states, going back as far as 2005. It finds that on average the Labor primary vote fell slightly while the Greens went up 7.4%, with other candidates taking up the 20.9% balance. Projecting that on to the 2010 results for Melbourne points to a lineball result: assuming minor candidates’ preferences will flow 70-30 in favour of the preferred party on their how-to-vote card, results range from 52-48 in favour of the Greens to 53-47 in favour of Labor, depending on how votes spread among minor candidates of the left and right.

However, this strikes me as being at the high end for Labor, as it assumes the Greens’ yield from a Liberal absence to be unrelated to its base level of support in the relevant electorate. In fact, experience indicates the Greens tend to stay becalmed in by-elections held in Labor’s low-income heartland, whereas they mount strong challenges in seats behind the proverbial latte curtain. This is borne out if the results from the 11 relevant by-elections are charted to show the relationship between the Greens vote at the previous election (the x-axis) and the swing to them at the by-election (the y-axis).

This shows a statistically significant relationship (though statisticians would no doubt quibble that there are too few observations) in which every percentage point of existing support for the Greens is worth about half a point of swing to them at a Liberal-free by-election. On that basis, a “par for the course” primary vote result for the Greens would be in the mid-forties (as it was in the by-election for Fremantle which I keep going on about, which is represented as the top right data point on the scatterplot), rather than the 38% calculated by Poliquant. Like Poliquant, I should stress that this is intended to illustrate what result might be considered “par for the course”, rather than an actual prediction.

For that, we are better served by opinion polls. On that note, Andrew Crook of Crikey reports ReachTel conducted an automated phone poll of the electorate last night, to be published in an undisclosed newspaper over the next few days – remembering that ReachTel’s last by-election poll, for South Brisbane, had a small sample and overstated the Labor vote. Josh Gordon of The Age further reports that a poll conducted, for some reason, by the Liberal Party in late May suggested a very close race: the Greens had 40% of the primary vote compared with 39% for Labor, with 21% for others or undecided. It is interesting to note that whereas supposed Labor polling suggested Julia Gillard was an encumbrance for them, supposed Liberal polling found her to be very popular in the electorate. Daniel Andrews on the other hand was said to be recognised as Labor leader by only two-thirds of respondents.

Sunday, July 15

The by-election campaign having been sucked into the vortex of national politics, Canberra press gallery journalists have been having their overheated way with its federal implications. Geoff Kitney of the Australian Financial Review writes: “The idea that the toxic unpopularity of the Gillard government has seeped so deeply into the Labor brand that it could lead to the loss of an iconic state seat to the Greens will add urgency to debate about Gillard’s leadership and about the challenge Labor faces from the Greens.” Similar themes were pursued by Michelle Grattan in The Age under a piece headlined, “A byelection defeat will cause shock waves in Canberra”.

Certainly the loss of a seat which has been in Labor hands since 1908 (outside of an interruption during the 1955 split) would be a significant electoral milestone. However, as the Greens came within 2.0% in both 2002 and 2006 before being poleaxed by Liberal preferences in 2010, the suggestion that a win this time should in and of itself cause “shock waves” is pure hyperbole. As I noted at the start of proceedings, this by-election has a lot in common with that in Fremantle in May 2009, in that it confronts a state ALP still recovering from an unexpected election defeat with a struggle to retain a once-safe seat where the rise of the Greens has changed the game. The results at the preceding general elections were very similar in both cases: in Fremantle, 38.7% for Labor, 30.2% for Liberal and 27.6% for the Greens; in Melbourne, 35.7%, 28.0% and 31.9%. Then as now, the decisive factor was how homeless Liberal voters would divide between Greens and Labor. In the case of Fremantle, the split was sufficiently in the Greens’ favour to deliver them a 4.0% win after preferences – with nary a word from anyone about implications for a federal Labor government which enjoyed towering opinion poll leads at the time.

Weeks before elements of the ALP launched their rhetorical offensive against the Greens at federal level, a small-sample Morgan poll of Melbourne voters found the Greens headed for a very similar result to the one they enjoyed in Fremantle, which has been consistently reflected in the betting markets. It therefore seems a bit rich for Michelle Grattan to crash the party at this late stage with claims a Greens win would amount to “an existential moment for the deeply depressed federal Labor Party” – something which is being served up on a weekly basis by the polls in any case.

Thursday, July 12

The offensive launched by elements of the ALP against the Greens has cross-pollinated with the by-election, with Daniel Andrews joining the assault. This raises questions about how many votes Labor stands to gain from Liberal supporters and lose on the soft left. The Australian has reported Labor internal polling is “understood” to have Labor’s primary vote in the low 30s and the Greens “well ahead on the primary vote”. Labor has publicly accused four candidates of being “stooges” of the Greens: Berhan Ahmed, African refugee, former Victorian of the Year and a former Greens candidate at both state and federal elections; climate activist Adrian Whitehead; public housing advocate Kate Borland; and Stephen Mayne. However, Ahmed has in fact lodged a how-to-vote card recommending Labor be put ahead of the Greens. The deadline for registering how-to-vote cards is tomorrow. Sportingbet has the Greens at $1.25 and Labor at $2.50.

Thursday, July 5

Stephen Mayne has lodged a complaint over a “smear sheet” which targets his activities as a Manningham Councillor (which can be viewed on Mayne’s website). Speaking on Jon Faine’s ABC Radio program yesterday, Mayne said the material was being circulated in Docklands and East Melbourne “anonymously and in breach of electoral laws”, and pointed to its accusation of a “grubby deal” between himself and the Greens as evidence it came from Labor. Labor state secretary Noah Carroll rang Faine’s show and condemned the dissemination of material without authorisation notices, but appeared to intimate that Mayne might have been responsible for it himself. The full audio from Faine’s program can be heard here.

Wednesday, July 4

Review of the by-election campaign from Adam Brereton in New Matilda.

Wednesday, June 27

Chris Hingston of the Melbourne Times Weekly reports Stephen Mayne has announced he will direct preferences to the Greens ahead of Labor, not unexpectedly given the centrality of the poker machines issue to his campaign. Labor has been distributing how-to-vote material which puts Stephen Mayne at number 12 and the Greens at number 15, with Family First (number seven) well ahead of both.

Friday, June 22

Nominations closed yesterday, with a huge field of 16 candidates emerging which, unsurprisingly, does not include a Liberal. The candidates in ballot paper order are independent Berhan Ahmed; Michael Murphy of the DLP; independents Gerrit Hendrik Schorel-Hlavka, David Nolte and John Perkins; Jennifer Kanis (Labor); independents David Collyer and Patrick O’Connor; Michael Murphy of the DLP; independents Joseph Toscano, Stephen Mayne, Kate Borland and Adrian Whitehead; Fiona Patten of the Australian Sex Party; Cathy Oke (Greens) and Maria Bengtsson of “Australian Christians”, who are news to me.

Tuesday, June 12

Roy Morgan has published results of a phone poll of 365 respondents (for a margin of error of about 5%) conducted from Thursday to Sunday which gives the Greens a fairly solid 54-46 lead on two-party preferred, from primary votes of 48.5% for the Greens, 37.5% for Labor and 7% for Stephen Mayne. Somewhat ballsily, respondents were offered the option of “Independents or Others including Gary Morgan and Kevin Chamberlain”, the former being the principal of the firm conducting the poll, who was a candidate for the last lord mayoral election and evidently plans to nominate for the by-election. This option received the support of 7% of respondents. Meanwhile, NineMSN reports that Family First’s state director, Ashley Fenn, will be a starter.ber

Wednesday, June 6

Crikey founder, shareholder activist, anti-pokies campaigner and serial candidate Stephen Mayne announced earlier this week he will run as an independent.

Tuesday, May 29

The election timetable has been published. The closure of nominations, followed by the ballot paper draw, will be at noon on June 22.

Sunday, May 27

July 21 has been set as the date for the by-election. I’ve promoted this to the top of the page and added a link to the sidebar in the hope of reactivating the comments thread.

Wednesday, May 16

The Greens have preselected Cathy Oke, and her council colleague Jennifer Kanis has been confirmed as Labor’s candidate. Kanis was elected to the City of Melbourne council in 2008. NineMSN says Oke “was elected to the City of Melbourne council in 2008 and is senior project manager at education organisation Kids Teaching Kids”. She was chosen ahead of Rose Iser, a former Moonee Valley councillor and staffer to Adam Bandt, and Sonny Neale, said to be involved with “environmental and arts businesses”.

Tuesday, May 8

A diverting by-election looms in the Victorian state seat of Melbourne, former minister Bronwyn Pike evidently having made the not unusual decision that opposition is not for her. This electorate is of course a dead zone for the Liberals, such that the parliamentary balance of 45 pro-government and 43 anti-government members is certain to go undisturbed. However, it offers a golden opportunity for the Victorian Greens to achieve what they have never quite been able to manage: victory in a state lower house seat.

Bounded to the south by the Yarra River, the electorate of Melbourne extends north through the city centre to the suburbs immediately to the north and north-west. The more easterly part of what is generally considered the inner-city constitutes the equally Greens-friendly seat of Richmond, and the two together constitute most of federal Melbourne. The map below shows two-party Labor-versus-Greens polling booth results from the 2010 election, with the font size varying according to the number of votes cast. As you can see, only in one booth did the Greens score a two-party majority, that being the Carlton booth nearest to the University of Melbourne campus.

Electorally speaking, three tendencies can be observed within the electorate. About 60% of the voters are in the inner northern suburbs (together with the booths in the CBD itself, which are presumably used by many voters who don’t live there), where Labor and the Greens were each worth about a third of the vote and the Liberals roughly a quarter. In Docklands and East Melbourne, high-powered city centre types drive the Liberal vote well into the 40s, although these booths only count for 12% of the total vote. The remaining quarter of the voters are in Flemington and Kensington which, being on the far side of the CityLink motorway, mark the beginning of Labor’s western suburbs heartland – albeit that the gentrification of Kensington has complicated this picture in recent years. Flemington however remains high in public housing and low in median income, and the area collectively shares a voting pattern of weakness for the Liberals (barely 20%) and strength for the Labor (over 40%, and approaching 50% in Flemington).

Emphasising the point that the Greens are a very recent phenomenon in Victorian state politics, the party did not bother to field a candidate in Melbourne as recently as 1999, when Labor was worth 59.3% of the primary vote. In the wake of a breakthrough result at the 2001 federal election, the Greens well and truly had their act together by the 2002 state election, when the strength of their performance in the inner-city was the only complication in a picture of electoral triumph for Labor across the state. In Richmond, Northcote and Brunswick as well as Melbourne, the Greens gouged double-digit shares of the primary vote from both major parties, overtaking the Liberals and landing short of victory by respective margins of 3.1%, 7.9%, 9.3% and, in the case of Melbourne, 1.9%.

This inevitably engendered high hopes for the party at the next two elections, but they were met both times with disappointment. A late-campaign publicity blitz by Labor in 2006 was credited with keeping Bronwyn Pike’s slender margin intact, and Labor also held its ground in Richmond. Then in 2010 came a disturbing development for the Greens, with the Liberals jettisoning their practice of directing them preferences ahead of last-placed Labor. This resulted in a comfortable 6.2% win for Pike, despite the primary vote gap between Labor and the Greens shrinking from 17.2% to 3.8%.

With the Greens achieving near equality with Labor on the primary vote, the behaviour of Liberal voters is now the decisive factor in all circumstances. The maths behind the 2010 result are demonstrated by ballot paper studies conducted in the electorate by the Victorian Election Commission after the last two elections, which both found about 40% of Liberal voters adhering to the how-to-vote card (those who went their own way split about 60-40 in the Greens’ favour in 2006, and 55-45 in 2010). As a result, the Greens’ 78% share of Liberal and other preferences in 2006 shrunk disastrously to 44% in 2010.

What remains unknown is how those voters would behave if the absence of a Liberal candidate denied them the cue of their favoured party’s how-to-vote card. Notwithstanding state party director Damien Mantach’s assertion to The Age that the party was “considering its options”, it seems intuitively unlikely that a party that wasn’t game to take on the Niddrie by-election in March (margin 6.9%) would chance its hand in Melbourne. That being so, the best pointer which exists is Western Australia’s Fremantle by-election of 2009, which also involved a senior minister in a defeated government pulling the plug in a seat where the Greens had been emerging over time into a serious threat to Labor. On the primary vote, Fremantle produced a similar result at the 2008 state election to the one in Melbourne in 2010: 38.7% for Labor, 30.2% for Liberal and 27.6% for the Greens, compared with 35.7%, 28.0% and 31.9%. The one important difference was the slightly weaker position of the Greens, which caused them to fall short of a Liberal Party which might otherwise have delivered them the seat through their preferences.

It’s presumably an ominous sign for Labor in Melbourne that the Greens were able to prevail at the Fremantle by-election in the absence of a Liberal candidate, and by a reasonably solid margin of 4.0%. There may have been factors peculiar to the election which will not apply in Melbourne, such as Greens’ choice of a candidate with considerable appeal to Liberal voters (however much they may have come to rue that choice since). Nonetheless, the precedent strongly suggests that many voters deprived of a Liberal candidate will instead take whatever opportunity to kick Labor happens to be available.

Andrew Crook of Crikey reported yesterday that Jennifer Kanis, a Melbourne councillor and Holding Redlich lawyer, was considered the front-runner for Labor preselection. Moonee Valley councillor Rose Iser was mentioned as a possible candidate for the Greens (UPDATE: Bird of Paradox points out in comments she ceased to be a councillor in 2010, and is now a staffer for Adam Bandt), though it evidently remains to be established if the candidate from 2010, barrister and former Liberty Victoria president Brian Walters, is interested in another run. Walters defeated Iser in a preselection vote before the 2010 election.

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174 comments

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This little black duck
Guest
This little black duck

Melbourne poll closing shortly. What do the exits say?

Jackol
Guest
zoomster – Thanks for that. We reckon the difference between covering a booth and not is about 10%. This is a slightly different thing I think – as I said the HTVs are part of the ritual of elections and the interaction between people showing up to vote and the parties. I can well understand that, from a purely PR sense, having people at the booth and being there interacting with the punters physically – offering HTVs requires the party ‘staffers’ to be physically close to the voters with the offer of the HTV, all those social cues about eye contact and one-on-one engagement, even if ever so briefly – has a significant effect on that party’s vote at that booth. So yes, the effect of staffing a booth and getting pieces of paper with “ALP” into people’s hands will boost the ALP’s PV – that’s just PR. The question about preferences is a different one – how much does the listed preference order affect the way that voters fill in their ballots after they’ve made the decision to support a particular party? In this particular case, how much does the order that the ALP places preferences on their HTVs carry over to actual ballots (which won’t matter in this case), or the Sex Party (which might)? Obviously for the candidates who will be knocked out in early rounds of preference distribution, whom most of the voters don’t know, the order of preferences is arbitrary for the most part because it doesn’t matter. Ok, it seems to matter to the Greens, but no one else. ie it wouldn’t surprise me if preferences for non-viable candidates was a donkey vote naturally, or if voters followed a HTV with respect to them having no other information to go on. This doesn’t seem significant to me, and evidence that people follow HTVs with respect to non-viable candidates wouldn’t mean much in my opinion. So really, the question comes down to if the ALP HTVs list the Greens ahead of the Libs (where they are running of course) or vice versa, how much does this sway actual preferencing of those candidates. Similarly how much does the Sex Party putting the ALP over the Greens on their HTVs change what the voters would otherwise have done. I think this is probably quite difficult to assess, keeping in mind that the ordering of non-viable candidates is… Read more »
mexicanbeemer
Guest

Dave

I am the first to admit that Melbourne Public Transport system is pretty poor and you wont see me try and deflect from that, but I like to ask questions and when I get smart responses that are clearly designed to change the subject then I will dish back.

Its a pity that Michael seems to take questions and general discussion about policies or ideas as an attack.

Dave
Guest

Mexican. Just because they spent a lot of money on PT doesn’t mean it was good.

I am yet to see any improvements. And dont bother blaming Kennett or Bails. Kennett was too long ago and you were in long enough that Bails hasn’t had time to ruin it yet.

mexicanbeemer
Guest

in the 2007 and 2010 elections in Kooyong saw the Liberals run two difference candidates yet the Green preference flows were basically the same.

both in the low 80s toward the ALP.

Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)
Guest
Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

zoomster – When I was candidate I fought hard to retain an open ticket.

Not because I thought that Liberal were better than Labor. Not because I thought that most Green voters would preference Liberal, but because I thought that the Green voters should make up their own mind.

I also feared that by preferencing Labor for the first time in that seat that those who were going to vote 1 Green, 2 Liberal might change their mind and vote 1 Liberal.

It was head office worried about Labor scare campaigns that made me relent and have HTV card which preferenced Labor.

Analysing the figures after the election showed that preferencing Labor didn’t make any difference to either the number of Liberals who voted Green nor to the preference flow.

mexicanbeemer
Guest

The $38Billion dollar Victorian Transport Plan

mexicanbeemer
Guest

Of course the Greens have not had an issue that has split its core, it has been said here many times, the Greens are not willing to do anything that risk leading to a potential split.

The Greens are a risk-reverse party.

Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)
Guest
Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

mexicanbeemer – How can anyone be expected to support Labor given their proven failures during their 11 years in government?

Perhaps the biggest issue for today – public transport. Evidence that Labor failed is not only well know to anyone who uses the system, but reported by the Victorian Auditor General.

zoomster
Guest

MWH

Oh, I’d mind. But that doesn’t mean that it was in any way ‘wrong’ or ‘undemocratic’.

I minded when the Greens refused to distribute preferences in Indi, effectively saying there was no difference between voting for Sophie Mirabella or myself….more than a little insulting, I thought!

But I didn’t argue that they should be interrogated about this at the polling booth. That was a choice they made, and under our system, they had a right to make it.

mexicanbeemer
Guest

As much as it would be good to see some individual thought amongst MPs but just as in any business, you are required to work within a range of policies and procedures and live up to a certain culture and if you are unable or unwilling then you the employee move on or the employer will rightly move you on.

mexicanbeemer
Guest

Michal how could I be expected to support the Greens when they seem unable or unwilling to explain their position apart from nice sounding slogans.

Dave
Guest

If she had permission to cross the floor then is it the same thing?

To me, crossing the floor means opposing your party. But if your party says it is ok, are you are still doing what the party says.

Adele Carles resigned from the Greens, she was not expelled.

It is not uncommon for the Greens to vote differently in the ACT.

Diogenes
Guest

[I can’t recall a Labor parliamentarian crossing the floor. It was how they vote I was talking about, not what they say.
]

Jane Lomax Smith crossed the floor in SA. It was a vote on development in her electorate. She was given permission by Rann to do it.

Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)
Guest
Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

zoomster

What annoys me with PB is that so many people are locked into support their party that all values, logic and reason disappears.

Are you telling me that you and the other Labor supporters would not mind if, for example, a mining company started a political party and provided most of its funding. That this party campaigned on policies that aligned with Labor and didn’t align with Liberals, and this party paid for people to hand out HTV cards, and these cards preferenced Liberal before Labor.

This scenario is really ok with you?

Rather than taking a principled look at this issue I think you are just seeing that the Sex Party is preferencing Labor – so this is good for Labor. So I’ll support this.

zoomster
Guest

MWH

[You paint a picture of Labor party democracy which I suspect is very foreign to most back-benchers, both state and federal.]

Since I know a multitude of Labor Ministers and backbenchers, in government and in Opposition, I think I’d be far more aware of how it all works than you do.

[I can’t recall a time which split the Greens vote]

No, because apparently they think as one mind on every issue before them.

Which, if it’s true, is actually a bit of a worry.

[but in the back of my mind I think that this has happened. But as mentioned above, when there are know issues of conscious Greens can vote as they see fit.]

One actual example would be good.

[I can’t recall a Labor parliamentarian crossing the floor.]

No and you can’t recall a Greens parliamentarian doing so either.

The difference is Labor MPs sign up, knowing what the rules are and accepting these.

Apparently Greens MPs sign up believing they can cross the floor, but the only example I know of – Carles – didn’t last very long once she did.

[It was how they vote I was talking about, not what they say.]

No, you were talking about what they say.

[“Not at all uncommon for parties to pay people to hand out HTVs” – Apart from the Sex Party I have not seen it done in any of the state or federal elections I’ve been involved in.]

I certainly know of cases where the Liberals and Nationals have here. No one really cares.

The average voter has no idea whether people handing out HTVs are paid or not.

Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)
Guest
Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

zoomster –

You paint a picture of Labor party democracy which I suspect is very foreign to most back-benchers, both state and federal.

I can’t recall a time which split the Greens vote, but in the back of my mind I think that this has happened. But as mentioned above, when there are know issues of conscious Greens can vote as they see fit.

I can’t recall a Labor parliamentarian crossing the floor. It was how they vote I was talking about, not what they say.

“Not at all uncommon for parties to pay people to hand out HTVs” – Apart from the Sex Party I have not seen it done in any of the state or federal elections I’ve been involved in.

If you don’t find it worrying that industry pays for people to hand out HTV cards, and you don’t find it worrying that this ‘industry’ party supports policies of one party, but preferences the other, then I’m lost for words.

zoomster
Guest

MWH

[Ask Jennifer Kanis how she will vote in parliament on any issue and if she answers honestly then she will say “The way I’m told to”.]

You’ve missed a step or two along the way.

“The way I’m told to….after I’ve had my say in the party room, my colleagues have had theirs, and a majority vote is taken.”

Which is (to my knowledge) much the same way Greens MPs decide their vote on individual issues before Parliament – for example, SHY went back to the party room with a deal from the Libs on asylum seekers, the party room voted against it, and the Greens MPs voted as a bloc.

[One of the reason the Greens have integrity is that they are not forced to toe the party line. ]

Please give me a practical demonstration of this. The only Greens MP I’m aware of who didn’t toe the party line was Adele Carles. She was expelled soon after.

Is there a single example of a Greens member crossing the floor?

[This causes problems when a candidate has a view different from party policy]

Actually, the pledge ALP candidates sign only binds them to support decisions where they’ve been involved in caucus discussions. So it is quite possible for ALP candidates to express views which differ from party policy.

[…whether or not they are paid?]

Because that matters why?

It’s not at all uncommon for parties of any stripe to pay people to hand out HTVs.

Of course, they’re less enthusiastic and effective than loyal volunteers, but there’s nothing really wrong with it, other than the expense!!

Toorak Toff
Guest

Where does Bronwyn Pike sit in the Labor pantheon these days? In a lowly position, one would think.

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