VCEpolitics.com: 1998 Federal Election – Week 2

Day 8

Campaign activity is centred on the marginal Liberal electorate of Paterson this weekend. Opposition Leader Beazley was there yesterday and Prime Minister Howard is there today. Paterson, which includes Maitland, was won by Bob Baldwin in 1996 by a margin of 634 votes. The ALP polled 43.35% of the primary vote and the Liberals 45.67%. The seat was decided on the preferences of the Democrats (4.99%), the Greens (3.54%) and Call to Australia (2.45%). The two-party-preferred result was Liberal 50.43% and ALP 49.57%. It is the most marginal Liberal-held electorate in the country. One Nation preferences will probably be vital on October 3.

KeatingQuote of the Week – Alan Ramsey in the Sydney Morning Herald reports that when asked whether he thought Kim Beazley was up to it, former Prime Minister Paul Keating said: “Mr. Howard’s up to it – he’s up to a bit of racism, he’s up to high unemployment, he’s up to putting a consumption tax on people’s backs. He’s up to it, all right; he’s up to no good.”

Enrolments for the Federal election close at 8.00pm tomorrow night. It is compulsory for all citizens over the age of 18 to both enrol and vote. At the close of enrolments in 1996 a total of 11,655,190 people were enrolled, including provisionally enrolled electors whose 18th birthday occurred after the close of rolls but on or before polling day. After adjustments such as removing deceased electors and the reinstatement of eligible electors who had been removed from the roll, a total of 11,740,568 people were entitled to vote at the 1996. Click here to look at enrolment figures in previous elections.

The only non-Australian citizens eligible to vote are British subjects who were on a Commonwealth Electoral Roll before 26 January 1984. People who are ineligible to vote are listed here. Voting has been compulsory in Australia since 1924.

Some people are eligible for special enrolment. Those living more than 20km from a polling booth, for example, are eligible to be classed as General Postal voters. Similarly, anyone who is in hospital, seriously ill or infirm, caring for another person, physically handicapped, serving a prison sentence, have silent enrolment, or are unable to attend a polling booth because of religious beliefs, can apply to be registered as General Postal Voters. They will be automatically sent postal ballot papers.

At the last election in 1996 a total of 44,231 people had special enrolment. These included 24,436 provisional enrolments (people over 17, but not yet 18), 1,952 Itinerant enrolments (people with no fixed place of address), 4087 Overseas enrolments (people living overseas for 3 years or less), 296 Antarctic enrolments (people working in Antarctica) and 13,460 Silent enrolments (people who believe that the publication of their address would put their own, or their family’s safety at risk). Interestingly, the Antarctic enrolments are exempted from the compulsory voting requirement on the grounds that the secrecy of their ballot cannot be guaranteed.

Day 9

KellyThe second week of the election campaign starts with the ALP concerned about its electoral prospects in Sydney. In 1996, the ALP lost 13 seats in New South Wales, its tally dropping from 33 to 20. One of the lost seats was Lindsay, won from former Minister Ross Free by the Liberals’ Jackie Kelly. Kelly was forced out of the seat in late 1996 after the Court of Disputed Returns found that she was in breach of Section 44 of the Constitution. Kelly remained an employee of the Air Force and was considered to hold “an office of profit under the crown”. She was returned to the seat at the by-election held on October 19, 1996. A Nielsen poll out today indicates that Labor has slumped to 31% in Lindsay, with Kelly polling 45%.

HansonThe polling in Lindsay coincides with a poll in the new Queensland electorate of Blair, the seat being contested by Pauline Hanson. A poll in the Brisbane Sunday Mail has Hanson polling 31%, the ALP 21%, the Liberals 19% and the National Party 14%. Reports have it that the ALP and the Liberals are collaborating to ensure than Hanson cannot win the seat. On these polling figures she would need to secure about 45% of the primary vote to win the seat, assuming that she will receive preferences from the National Party and assuming some leakage of preferences from the ALP and Liberals, both of which have decided to put Hanson last on their tickets.

It appears that preferences will be more important than ever in this election. Preferential voting was introduced into Australian Federal elections in 1918 and first used in the general election of 1919. It requires a candidate to secure an absolute majority, or 50% plus one, of the first preference (primary) votes to win the seat. If no candidate secures an absolute majority of primary votes, the candidate with the least number of votes is excluded from the count and his/her second preference votes distributed amongst the remaining candidates. This process continues until one candidate secures an absolute majority. In a tight race with candidates from all the major parties, including the Australian Democrats, One Nation and the Greens, the third, fourth and subsequent preferences of voters can be crucial to the final result. Further information on preferential voting is available by clicking here.

A new election web site was launched today by the Fairfax organisation. A joint effort primarily of The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and Channel 7, the site is called Ballot98. The site offers video footage and access to newspaper articles, as well as special online material.

The ABC also has an election web site that contains maps, election results and news from the campaign.

Election sites are also being maintained by The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian.

Day 10

Food and Water Dominate Campaign

Howard
BeazleyIn an otherwise inconsequential day of election campaigning, the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader were in Canberra yesterday attending a lunch for the Irish President, Mary McAleese. Beazley spent part of the day visiting a take-away food outlet, prompting many bad puns about who was getting their teeth into the chiko roll before the consumer had a chance to enjoy it. Beazley claimed the teeth of the GST tax collector would be there first, whilst Howard said Beazley had taken a bite out of all of us back in 1993 when the Labor government increased indirect taxes.

An interesting feature of this campaign is the shadow cast by Paul Keating. As Michelle Grattan wrote in the Financial Review yesterday, everyone is keen to distance themselves from the aggressive style of the former Prime Minister, although this hasn’t stopped the Government from attempting to portray Beazley as weak. In Beazley’s defence, Shadow Industrial Relations Minister, Bob McMullan, said on the weekend that Beazley was the one who stood up to Keating in the early 1990s over deregulation of telecommunications and inflicted a rare policy defeat on him.

If Keating has cast a “paul” over the campaign, a similar “paul” has been cast by One Nation leader, Pauline Hanson. On Sunday, Hanson was jeered by people as she went for an election walkabout in Noosa. Yesterday, she confronted Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett, in a Toowoomba shopping centre and the two exchanged banal conversation. Later, Hanson claimed that Kennett didn’t understand her because he is a politician and she isn’t…. Hanson later released the One Nation Primary Industry policy.

Meanwhile, the election battle turned to the airwaves with the launch of the first commercials by the ALP and the Liberals. Both have adopted the approach of warning against electing the other side, both arguing that Australia deserves better.

Sydney continues to suffer water problems, adding to the belief that the continuing contamination of the Olympic city’s water supply will hurt the ALP in key suburban electorates where polls indicate the government is leading.

Biggest mystery of the campaign: What has happened to the National Party’s web site? For the past several days, the site has simply been displaying an “under construction” message.

Electoral enrolment closed at 8pm last night. The next important stage in the election is the close of nominations for the 148 House of Representatives and 40 Senate seats that are up for election on October 3rd. In the 1996 election there were 908 candidates for the 148 seats in the House, and 255 candidates for the 40 Senate seats. This was a total of 1163 candidates, compared to 1209 in the 1993 election.

Nomination requirements for the election are the same as for electoral enrolment. A candidate must be at least 18 years old, an Australian citizen, and an elector entitled to vote or a person qualified to become an elector.

Nominations are made by candidates with the Divisional Returning Officer at their local Divisional Office. However, a registered political party may make a “bulk nomination” of all endorsed House of Representatives candidates within a particular State or Territory. This must be lodged with the Australian Electoral Office at least 48 hours before the close of nominations.

Senate candidates are required to pay a $700 deposit on nomination and House candidates pay $350. Deposits are returned if a candidate gains more than 4% of the formal first preference vote, if he or she is in a group of Senate candidates which polls more than 4%, or if elected.

Day 11

Telstra back as election issue

BrownIn a day of demonstrations and radio shock-jock stunts, the Telstra issue re-emerged into the election campaign yesterday. In Hobart, the Prime Minister was jostled by demonstrators and Green Senator Bob Brown persistently threw himself in front of Howard’s car. But the telling moment of the day was undoubtedly Howard’s embarrassed reaction to a unionist who gate-crashed his press conference and delivered a homily against unemployment and the plight of unemployed Tasmanian youth, believed to number around 38%.

Across the continent, Kim Beazley was campaigning in his own very marginal electorate of Brand, accompanied by his father, the former Education Minister in the Whitlam Government. Beazley succumbed to pressure from commercial radio host Howard Sattler and signed a pledge to give up the Prime Ministership if he ever dishonoured any part of Labor’s taxation policy. It’s only the second week and the gimmicks have started.

TelstraOf more importance, Beazley confirmed leaked reports of Labor’s intention to use $500 million a year of Telstra profits for employment creating projects. Communications Minister, Senator Richard Alston, ridiculed the proposal, suggesting that the money was already allocated. In response to Beazley’s comment that privatising the rest of Telstra was akin to selling off Kalgoorlie before the gold rush, Alston made the extraordinary claim that Telstra’s best days may well be behind it. Click here to go to the ALP’s “Say No To Telstra Sale”.

What is not clear at this stage of the campaign is whether Telstra is biting as an issue. It is being pushed quite hard by the ALP and there is general agreement that the sell-off is unpopular with voters sympathetic to One Nation, but it remains to be seen whether the issue has any more mileage.

Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett, came under attack from the State Opposition for using government funds to visit Queensland to campaign for the Liberal candidate for Dickson. Kennett was cleverly accosted by Pauline Hanson on Monday and the encounter was the front page item in many newspapers yesterday. Whether this is part of the previously announced Kennett strategy to chase Hanson down “every burrow” or whether it amounted to a free kick to the egregious Member for Oxley is difficult to say.

A Newspoll published in The Australian yesterday showed the ALP and coalition equal on 41.5% each and One Nation down to 7.5%, with Others polling 9.5%. Distributed equally across the nation, these figures would produce a very close election result. The poll put the two-party-preferred vote for Labor at 51.5% and the coalition 48.5%. In the “better Prime Minister” question, Howard polled 39% to Beazley’s 36%.

ReidThe former director of the National Farmers Federation, Rick Farley, has been recruited by the Australian Democrats and will contest a Senate seat in the Australian Capital Territory. Newspaper reports yesterday indicated that the Liberal Party is polling poorly in the ACT and may be unable to reach the 33% quota needed to win one of the two seats. There is an outside chance that preferences may see Farley take the second seat off Senate President, Margaret Reid. Given that territory senators take their places immediately, this would mean that a re-elected Howard government would be one more vote down in the Senate and would be unable to pass legislation without the help of the Democrats, even if Senators Harradine and Colston supported them. This is clearly a contest to watch in the coming weeks, if only to observe Farley’s slide from the right side of Australian politics to the left.

Continuing Mystery: The National Party’sweb-site remains “under construction”…..

VCEpolitics.com Makes It To the Semi-Finals!

This web site has been listed as semi-finalist in the Telstra/Australian Financial Review Australian Internet Awards. The site is one of 21 semi-finalists in the Educational category. Click here to see a full list of the semi-finalists. My thanks to whoever is responsible for the nomination of the site. Now, back to the election…..!!

CreanThe cost of petrol featured as the major campaign issue yesterday with Simon Crean disputing Tim Fischer’s claim that petrol prices will fall after the introduction of a GST. In Canberra, Treasurer Peter Costello released a document purporting to be an independent costing of ALP campaign promises, claiming that the ALP was currently committed to around $18 billion of new expenditure. A leaked Cabinet document indicated that this figure was based on the assumption that the ALP would reverse all the spending cuts undertaken by the Howard government over the past 30 months. In some classic examples of Public Service-speak, the documents continually points out that the assumptions it is based on were made at the request of the Minister’s office. Costello’s press conference degenerated into a slanging match with journalists.

The election campaign finally started to come alive yesterday as the Prime Minister was met with more demonstrations and Industrial Relations Minister, Peter Reith, doggedly crossed swords with wharfies. John Howard was at Melbourne University, protected by a large contingent of police. Reith was speaking to a group of old-age pensioners in his Flinders electorate when the members of the Maritime Union of Australia turned up. Can it be that suppressed emotion is now starting to come to the fore?

The Flinders electorate held by Peter Reith has an interesting political history. It was the seat held by Nationalist Prime Minister, Stanley Melbourne Bruce, in the 1920s. Bruce was responsible for some controversial reforms to the Arbitration system that led to his government being defeated on the floor of the House of Representatives in 1929. At the ensuing election the ALP, led by James Scullin, took office. Bruce not only lost the election, but lost his seat as well, the only Prime Minister ever to suffer such a humiliating rebuff from the voters.

ReithIn 1982, following the retirement of Phillip Lynch, a by-election was held in Flinders. It was won by Peter Reith. The surprise retention of the seat by the Liberal Party led in part to renewed attempts in the ALP to replace Bill Hayden as leader with Bob Hawke. The Liberal Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, in a major mis-reading of the electoral mood, decided to call an early election. On the day the election was announced, the ALP replaced Hayden with Hawke, and the rest is history. Fraser’s government suffered a severe defeat and Peter Reith was defeated in Flinders. He eventually won the seat in 1984 and has held it ever since. The electorate has been strengthened for the Liberals through redistribution, but it may just be one seat to watch on October 3rd.

Still no progress: The National Party’s web-site remains “under construction”. Must be those unreliable unionists again….

The Fairfax election website, Ballot98, was not updated until late yesterday. Opened on Monday, the site showed much promise. This webmaster is available, but only for a huge fee!

Day 13

National Party Deals With One Nation

Kelly
Marek
KatterWay back in 1981, the then member for Warrnambool in the Victorian Legislative Assembly, Ian Smith, said that the Liberal Party was “numb with fright” at the prospect of fighting the next election under the leadership of Rupert Hamer. Shortly afterwards, Hamer was gone and the leadership passed to Lindsay Thompson, who went on to be defeated by John Cain’s ALP in 1982. Now, 17 years later, the National Party of Australia is numb with fright at the prospect of what is about to happen to them in a swag of seats across Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. Yesterday, several sitting members indicated they would direct preferences to One Nation on October 3. Foremost among these were De-Anne Kelly (Dawson), Paul Marek (Capricornia), Bob Katter (Kennedy) and the candidate for Hunter, Rob Macauley.

The preference decision by these candidates is the clearest indication we have of the likely influence of Pauline Hanson on House of Representatives seats. In the Queensland election of June 13th, One Nation snatched 11 seats, 6 of them from the ALP and 5 from the National Party. Had the National Party not directed preferences to One Nation, the Hansonites would only have won 3 seats, but the ALP would have secured a comfortable majority. As it turned out, the ALP took 6 seats off the Liberal Party, mainly in Brisbane, which balanced their losses to One Nation. It is widely believed that the cause of this was the disgust felt by Liberal voters in the cities with the decision to direct preferences to One Nation. Could this distaste manifest itself again in this election?

Former Nationals leader, Ian Sinclair, yesterday called for One Nation to be put last in all electorates. Prime Minister Howard said he didn’t run the National Party and told journalists to ask Tim Fischer. Fischer said that preferences were a seat-by-seat matter and attacked the “media elites” for wanting a “regimented” approach to the issue. Since Fischer is under threat from One Nation candidate, Don McKinnon, in his own seat of Farrer, the bind he is in is obvious. Does he preference One Nation and risk the odium that will attach to that decision, or does he put McKinnon last and run the risk of losing the seat? Fischer and his deputy, John Anderson, have both said they will put One Nation last, and it is difficult to see what else they can do, given their senior positions in the coalition. The problem for Howard is what damage will be done to the Liberal Party’s prospects in the cities because of the actions of their country cousins?

And then there’s the big question of whether the Western Australian Liberal Party will direct preferences to One Nation ahead of Kim Beazley in Brand. Decisions on all these matter have to be made within the next few days, now that nominations for the election have closed.

HansonMeanwhile, Pauline Hanson was ridiculed yesterday for an extraordinarily narcissistic comment that she felt like a “mother” and the people of Australia “her children”. Treasurer Costello said she wasn’t his mother and Howard said that he was a “servant of the nation”. What should be remember about this, however, is that Hanson went from strength to strength after a similar episode last year when she taped an address to her supporters that was to be played in the event of her assassination.

Still no progress: The National Party’s web-site remains “under construction”. Only three weeks to go….

This web site has been listed as semi-finalist in the Telstra/Australian Financial Review Australian Internet Awards. The site is one of 21 semi-finalists in the Educational category. Click here to see a full list of the semi-finalists. My thanks to whoever is responsible for the nomination of the site. You can also cast a vote for VCEpolitics.com as the most popular Australian web site (well, it is election time and we might be able to outpoll last year’s winner, the Melbourne Football Club…!)

Day 14

Starr Report Dominates News

ClintonThe release of Kenneth Starr’s Independent Counsel report on American President Bill Clinton dominates the news today. Starr has alleged 11 separate grounds for impeachment of the President in the report released early this morning, Australian time. The report came just hours after an extraordinary speech Clinton delivered to a White House Prayer Meeting in which he apologised to just about everyone, including Monica Lewinsky and talked at length about forgiveness, repentance and prayer.

The Clinton matter will share media space with the opening of the Commonwealth Games in Malaysia and the seond round of the Australian Rules football finals. The main election news this weekend will be the leaders debate tomorrow night at 7.30pm. Howard and Beazley will appear for one hour with Ray Martin in what appears to be the only head-to-head debate for this election.

The election campaign was notable yesterday for the outburst by the egregious Pauline Hanson. Speaking in Longreach, Queensland, where she reiterated her views on Aboriginal Affairs policy, she screamed at the media when questioned about whether she was playing the “race card”. At around the same time, the Queensland National Party announced that Hanson would be placed last on their how-to-vote ticket in Blair. It is generally accepted that this will make it extremely difficult for Hanson to win the seat. Moreover, polls published today indicate that her support in Blair hovering around the 35% mark, with the Liberals on 19%, Nationals 11% and the ALP 28%. Her primary vote is too low on these figures for her to be able to win the seat on preferences.

Nominations for the election have now closed for the October 3 election. Australia-wide, 1435 people have nominated, 272 more than in 1996. There are 1106 candidates for the 148 House of Representatives seats and 329 candidates for the 40 Senate positions. 400 candidates are women. The AEC has also released the updated enrolment figures, showing that 12,056,625 people are now enrolled to vote. This is up from 11,655,190 in 1996.

In the marginal Victorian electorates that the ALP has to do well in to have any hope of winning the election, there are relatively large numbers of nominations. There are 10 candidates in Ballarat, 12 in Bendigo, 8 in Chisholm, 8 in Deakin, 10 in La Trobe and 9 in McEwen. Such large numbers will make predictions of preference distributions more difficult and could delay the result in close contests. 289 candidates have nominated for the 37 seats in Victoria. There are 63 Senate nominations.

In Prime Minister Howard’s electorate of Bennelong in Sydney, a candidate by the name of Mr Prime Minister John Piss the Family Court has nominated!

It appeared yesterday that the GST may be starting to cause problems for the government. Howard was questioned about whether local and long-distance telephone calls would rise and badly mishandled his response.

Commentators generally agree this weekend that the ALP had a better second week than the first, but the opinion polls are inconclusive about the state of the campaign. Some argue that the election is going to come down to a frantic burst of activity in the final week to ten days and that the electorate is only now beginning to focus on the campaign. This focus will be interrupted by the array of sporting events over the next two weeks. Opinions differ as to whether this advantages the government or the opposition.

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