VCEpolitics.com: 1998 Federal Election – Week 5

Day 29

1998 Election Campaign Moves Into Final Week

John Howard and Kim Beazley both attended the AFL Grand Final in Melbourne yesterday and will be together again today at some other minor football match in New South Wales….. The election campaign is continuing unabated on television and in the individual electorates, but the main media battle is suspended until early tomorrow.

What, then, is the state of play? The simple answer is that without access to the private polling of the main parties it is difficult to know. The published opinion polls suggest a neck-and-neck race, particularly in the marginal seats. Everyone seems to agree that preferences will be crucial.

It is instructive to look at the seats in the 1996 election where the winning candidates failed to secure an absolute majority of the primary vote. This occurred in 45%, or 65 seats. Put the other way, 83 members (55%) of the previous parliament won their seats by securing more than 50% of the primary, or first preference, vote.

Of the 65 seats where preferences were needed to ascertain a winner, the candidate who had the highest percentage of the primary vote went on to win in 58 seats. Put the other way, preference distribution changed the primary vote lead in only 7 seats. Of those 7 seats, the ALP lead was overturned in 4 and the Liberal lead overturned in 3, one of those by an independent.

A complete breakdown is provided in this table:

Seats Requiring Preference Allocation in 1996
State Total No. Seats No. Requiring Preferences No. Seats Where Primary Lead Over-Turned
NSW
50
18 (36%)
1
Page – ALP lead overturned
VIC
37
14 (38%)
1
McMillan – ALP lead overturned
QLD
26
14 (54%)
3
Brisbane – Lib. lead overturned
Capricornia – ALP lead overturned
Leichhardt – ALP lead overturned
WA
14
9 (64%)
1
Curtin – Lib. lead overturned
SA
12
5 (42%)
0
TAS
5
2 (40%)
0
ACT & NT
4
2 (50%)
1
Namadgi – Lib. lead overturned
Total
148
65 (45%)
7
ALP lead overturned in 4
Lib. lead overturned in 3

In 3 of the seats (Page, Capricornia and Leichhardt) where the primary lead was overturned on preferences, the result went against the ALP because of a 3-cornered contest where the Liberal and National candidates swapped preferences.

In the seats of McMillan and Namadgi, the difference between the two main parties on primary votes was less than 1%.

In the seat of Curtin, ALP preferences elected the independent candidate, Allan Rocher, who was previously the sitting Liberal member.

The electorate of Brisbane was the only seat where a significant deficit of 6% was overcome by the distribution of Democrat preferences. Brisbane is normally a safe Labor seat.

What conclusions can be drawn from these figures? it is fairly clear that any candidate who is ahead on the primary vote count, no matter how slim, stands an excellent chance of ultimately winning. Kim Beazley is the typical example in 1996. He was 1.3% ahead of the Liberal candidate and even though his lead was cut significantly he managed to hold on and win narrowly. Thus it can probably be said that the election next Saturday will be won by the party that garners a stronger primary vote.

BrownThe proviso on this, of course, is that the ALP needs to improve its primary vote across the board, not just in seats it already holds. The ALP’s fear in these last few days will be that its primary vote increases but not in the right places. For example, the Sydney electorate of Charlton was won by Bob Brown in 1996 with exactly 50% of the primary vote. His two-party-preferred vote was 59.32%. This compared to a primary vote in 1993 of 60.90% and a two-party vote of 67.10%. Labor’s new candidate, Kelly Hoare, could easily regain the 11% of the primary vote Brown lost in 1996, yet this would not assist the ALP overall. In safe ALP seats throughout NSW and Victoria, the ALP could make significant primary vote gains without this translating into extra seats. The working class voters may return to the fold in significant numbers after their experiment with John Howard, but it is the middle-class marginal seats where the ALP needs to win seats.

The good news for the ALP is that provided it picks up votes in NSW, Queensland, Western Australian and South Australia, it is bound to win seats. Labor currently holds only 2 seats out of 26 in Queensland, 2 out of 12 in South Australia and 3 out of 14 in Western Australia.

In Tasmania, proportionately the best state for Labor, aside from the ACT, it holds 3 of the 5 seats. Current polling suggests it can win the other two seats, one of them held by a minister, Warwick Smith.

Local Campaigns Will Be Crucial

A good local campaign is often the key to winning a marginal seat. Away from the often trivial spotlight of the commercial media, marginal seats around Australia are the scene of frenetic activity. The major parties each have a target list of seats in each state where additional money and resources are allocated to candidates. This often involves significant sums of money – over $100,000 in many electorates – that is used to produce high quality literature for weekly distribution. Many marginal seat candidates have either letterboxed or posted one leaflet per week since the election was announced at the end of August.

Direct mail targeted to specific groups such as pensioners features prominently in these electorates. In many cases, the direct mail campaign has been waged for many months prior to the official campaign. This is supplemented by the work done by candidates in servicing their existing or potential constituents. These constituents may simply require policy information or they may have a significant problem they want the candidate to deal with.

In addition, good candidates have been door-knocking their electorates, visiting shopping centres, and generally getting out and about to see and be seen. Stunts to attract the interest of local media abound. In some electorates there may be 20 or more local newspapers that candidates will aim to be seen in at least once a week. Organising functions and occasions with ministers or shadow ministers is a means of achieving this.

Or particular interest this year will be the results of postal and pre-poll votes. There are reliable reports that all parties have experienced significant increases in the number of such votes this time round. I have been told by one Australian Electoral Commission Divisional Returning Officer that pre-poll voting is running at nearly double the rate of previous elections. In close contests, the result may not be known for a fortnight until all these votes are returned and counted. Good marginal seat campaigns have the Electoral Commission offices manned by volunteers handing out how-to-vote cards. The minor parties tend to suffer at this point since they lack the people to perform these mundane duties.

Day 30

Gas Crisis May Fuel Voter Anger

The Victorian gas crisis may have an impact on this week’s election campaigning. An explosion and fire in which two men lost their lives last Friday at Esso’s gas installation at Longford in Gippsland has resulted in the complete cessation of commercial and domestic gas supplies throughout Victoria. Tens of thousands of employees have been laid off in industries throughout the state, particularly in Melbourne. Cold showers and make-shift cooking arrangements are the order of the day.

Talk back radio this morning, aside from focusing on the mechanics of shutting down the gas supply system, has also seen some discussion about the policy of corporatisation and privatisation of major public utilities such as gas, electricity and water. There is undoubtedly a feeling in the community that maintenance and servicing have been sacrificed in the drive to privatise. Following the problems in Sydney with its water supply in recent weeks, there has to be some consideration of the effect of these crises on an obviously disenchanted electorate.

Frenetic Campaigning Begins in Final Week

The major political figures in this election campaign will embark today on a frantic round of media interviews in all states of the Commonwealth. The paid advertising blitz is in full force prior to the black-out that commences on Thursday. This black-out applies only to electronic advertising.

Opposition Leader Kim Beazley has begun accentuating his anti-GST pitch and the government is concentrating more on promoting fears of a return to a Labor government. Prime Minister Howard yesterday emphasised his argument about the nation’s need for tax reform. In an unusually contrite and defensive interview with Laurie Oakes on Channel 9’s Sunday program, Howard conceded he had made a “mistake” at the Reconciliation Conference in 1997. He claimed a win of any kind would give him a mandate to implement his tax package and again lashed out at the Senate’s obstruction of his program. He committed himself to further privatisation of Telstra, but was at pains to talk of this being done in phases.

Polls Show Conflicting Results

Interpretation of opinion polls is concentrating the minds of political commentators as the campaign draws to a close. The self-proclaimed “hard-nosed” pundits are claiming that the ALP cannot win the 27 seats required to form government. Former Victorian Liberal Party president, Michael Kroger, writing in today’s Age, says that the election may be decided on One Nation preferences, even though the fledgling party is unlikely to itself win lower house seats. Kroger refers to the 2 out of 26 seats held by the ALP in Queensland and expresses the hope that Queenslander have sheathed their baseball bats and will stick with the coalition. This is a reference to the famous remark by former Labor Premier, Wayne Goss, that Queenslanders were waiting on their front porches with baseball bats for an opportunity to bash the Keating government. Kroger also claims that the ALP is making minimal gains in NSW and that this will militate against its chances of winning.

Writing in The Australian today, Glenn Milne claims that the ALP doesn’t believe it will get the 27 seats it needs to win. He claims that the ALP’s primary vote is not high enough for it to win. Yet he also reports some quirky polling results in individual seats. Milne claims Labor is pessimistic about winning back the long-time Labor electorates of Lindsay and Eden-Monaro, yet is polling well in the National Party electorates of Page, Parkes and Richmond.

Greens To Announce Preferences Today

BrownThe Australian Greens today will announce their preference decisions for next Saturday’s elections. Reports indicate that they will opt to direct preferences to the Labor Party in most seats, however, they are expected not to support Labor in the Queensland seat of Dickson being contested by Cheryl Kernot, or in the Tasmanian seat of Bass. The Greens are also expected to give preferences to the Australian Democrats ahead of Senator Brian Harradine, a decision that may be crucial in determining the final Senate position in Tasmania.

With polls continuing to show a tight race that will be decided by preferences, the Greens decision could be crucial in a number of seats. The Tasmanian Greens polled 26,830 votes in the Senate in 1996, representing 0.61% of a quota. Bob Brown ended up taking the final seat on Democrat and Labor preferences, denying a third seat to Labor. By contrast, Senator Harradine polled 32,202 votes in 1993, representing 0.73% of a quota. Harradine’s eventual win denied the Liberal Party a third seat. Yesterday, Harradine announced that he would now oppose any further privatisation of Telstra, despite having supported the sale of the remaining two-thirds in July.

The Greens decision in Bass could also be vital. The Minister for Family Services, Warwick Smith, won the seat with 51.23% of the primary vote and 54.57% of the two-party vote in 1996. He had lost the seat by exactly 40 votes in 1993. With the aid of Green preferences this time around, his chances of retaining the seat have been greatly enhanced. The Greens captured 4.97% of the primary vote last time. This time there are candidates from One Nation and Tasmania First and their preferences can be expected to favour the Liberals.

The situation is similar in Dickson where there are 9 candidates contesting the seat that was formerly held by Michael Lavarch, the Attorney-General in the Keating government. Lavarch lost the seat to the Liberals’ Tony Smith in 1996. Smith is running as an indpendent this year, having resigned from the Liberal Party just prior to being disendorsed. Smith was battling allegations of wife beating and using prostitutes. He is expected to poll a modest number of votes. Kernot faces a range of minor candidates, including One Nation, so the decision of the Greens to allocate preferences against her will not be welcome news.

Newspoll Has Labor Ahead, But Slipping

The latest Newspoll, published today, shows that the coalition has reversed the primary lead held by Labor last week. The poll shows the coalition on 43% of the primary vote, Labor on 42%, One Nation on 7% and others on 8%. On a two-party-preferred basis, Labor leads by 51% to 49%, a drop of one per cent from last week. The poll shows that the coalition has increased its primary vote by 3% from 40% on the weekend the election was announced, whereas the ALP peaked at 44% at the end of the second week and has now dropped.

However, the poll still shows the total number of preferences breaking in favour of the ALP. In the poll of most preferred Prime Minister, Beazley has risen two points to 39% and Howard has fallen one point to 41%.

The remaining days of the campaign will see more specific polls in marginal seats and it is these that are likely to give a more accurate indication of the result. On morning radio today, Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith said that it was possible the government could lose. It is now abundantly clear from statements from Howard and other senior ministers that the strategy in this final week is to talk up the possibility of the government losing in an attempt to scare wavering coalition voters back to the fold. Liberal Party television advertisements have been rejigged to implore voters not to let Labor back in on preference votes.

Hanson Wins Pantsdown Case in Court

The Queensland Court of Appeal yesterday upheld an injunction banning the ABC’s Triple J radio station from playing “I’m a Backdoor Man”. The President of the Court, Paul de Jersey, said the song was clearly defamatory and a “mindless attempt at cheap denigration”.

Fischer Attacks “Bloodsuckers”

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fischer, has attacked the Northern Land Council in Darwin and the Central Land Council in Alice Springs as “giant bureaucratic blood-sucking land councils”. Fischer was speaking at a Young National Party breakfast in Cairns. He claimed that the councils should be broken up into smaller units to improve allocation of resources.

Kim Beazley expressed regret that Fischer had resorted to this kind of language in the finals days of the campaign, pointing out that it went against the view expressed by Howard over the weekend that there might be some place for a statement of recognition for indigenous Australians.

Pat Dodson, a former Chairman of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, said that it seems “that the coalition is about not only extinguishing native titel, but extinguishing the Aboriginal people out of the whole landscape of Australian society.

Democrat Preferences Aim To Defeat One Nation

LeesThe Australian Democrats will issue their usual split voting ticket for Saturday’s elections, but the party has decided to allocate preferences in 8 lower house seats in an attempt to defeat One Nation.

In Western Australia, the Democrats will direct preferences to Kim Beazley in Brand and to Ricky Johnston in Canning. Beazley faces 11 opponents in Brand, the seat he won in 1996 by just 387 votes. Johnston faces 8 opponents in the seat he won by 968 votes.

In Queensland, the Democrats will direct preferences to the ALP in Capricornia, Oxley and Rankin. The main aim of this is to prevent One Nation from winning these seats. Capricornia is held by the National Party’s Paul Marek by a margin of 3.5%. Rankin was won by Labor’s David Beddall in 1996, with a margin of 1.3%. Beddall has retired at this election and is being replaced by Craig Emerson. Following the redistribution of electoral boundaries, Rankin is now a notional Liberal seat with a margin of 0.4%. Oxley was won by Pauline Hanson in 1996, but is a notional Labor seat with a margin of 0.4%. Hanson is contesting the new neighbouring seat of Blair. The Democrats are directing preferences to the Liberal Party in Blair which is notionally a Liberal seat with a margin of 18.7%.

In Maranoa and Wide Bay, the Democrats are directing preferences to the National Party. Maranoa is held by Bruce Scott with a margin of 21.5% and Wide Bay is held by Warren Truss by 18.2%. Both electorates cover areas where One Nation polled well in the state election on June 13.

One Nation’s relations with the media reached their nadir yesterday at a policy launch where David Oldfield called the police to evict journalists. Media reports show that Hanson’s daily performance in the past couple of weeks has been most erratic. Her itinerary changes at a moment’s notice and she goes through phases where she refuses to have contact with the media. Watching yesterday’s charade, it was difficult to avoid the impression that the confrontation was staged to reinforce One Nation’s message that it is misunderstood and persecuted. Oldfield talked of the “Sydney media” being at the heart of unfair treatment of Hanson.

Beazley Offers 100-Day Plan

BeazleyOpposition Leader, Kim Beazley, yesterday offered a 100 day plan for a Labor government that would “hit the ground running”. Beazley has proposed summoning Parliament to meet before Christmas to abolish nursing home fees and income tests, to abolish the parental means test for young unemployed, to provide $40 million for dental care, abolish up-front university fees and to provide $110 million on schools in disadvantaged areas. The plan also provides for limits on pig meat imports, an $80 million jobs program, new apprenticeships, reintroduction of the book bounty and $75 million to assist industry. Beazley also promises an investigation of Job Network and the replacement of the Productivity Commission with a National Development Authority. The plan also provides for a new Labor government to write off $150 million of Tasmanian debt.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Howard was fending off allegations from Mr. Colin Hargeaves of the Economic Modelling Bureau of Australia (EMBA) that a Goods and Services Tax would result in the loss of 150,000 full-time jobs and 50,000 part-times jobs in its first year. The claim was attacked by other economists such as Saul Eslake from the ANZ Bank and Chris Murphy from Econtech. Murphy claimed that EMBA had not fully analysed the coalition’s tax package.

Howard continued to argue his case for the return of the government on its record of good economic management. He attacked the ALP’s proposal to impose capital gains tax on assets bought before 1985, claiming that the ALP was trying to drive a wedge between those who received income from investments and those whose income came from wages and salaries. Howard claimed that the ALP’s policy was based on envy and a belief that people who live off investments are elite and privileged.

In response, Kim Beazley said that Labor was simply planning to equalise the capital gains tax system by treating all assets the same. He reiterated that family farms would not be hit with capital gains tax.

Howard continued to assert that any kind of majority would represent a mandate to introduce the GST, whilst Beazley claimed that only the Labor Party could offer stable government with a narrow majority.

Research Shows Narrowing of Gender Gap

A Parliamentary Research Paper released yesterday indicates that the “gender gap” which has traditionally favoured the coalition parties is close to being non-existent. The author of the paper, Ms. Jennifer Curtin, says women have always voted more conservatively than women, especially in the 1940s and 1960s. She says that since 1910, the ALP’s gender gap has been an average of 4.3%. The gap started to narrow and nearly disappeared in the 1990 election, however only 46% of women voted Labor in 1993 and 34% in 1996.

These statistics were endorsed by research prepared by Labor’s Carmen Lawrence for Emily’s List, an organisation that promotes and financially supports ALP women candidates. The acronym EMILY stands for “early money is like yeast”. Lawrence says the that rather than male “battlers” abandoning Labor at the last election, more women went to the coalition than did men. The ALP is now claiming that young and older women are shifting away from the coalition because of cuts to education and aged care, and because of the GST.

The media monitoring company, Rehame, is reported today as having described Kim Beazley as a “chick magnet” because of the positive response he has been receiving on talkback radio!

Beazley Stakes Final Claim For Government

In an address to the National Press Club yesterday, Opposition Leader Kim Beazley asserted the readiness of the ALP to take office from the coalition government. In a wide-ranging speech, Beazley said that a Labor government was the only way to ensure that a GST would “never, ever” be introduced and that Telstra would not be sold. He gave a “rolled gold” guarantee that a Labor government would not introduce the controversial tax. In response to questioners, Beazley also indicated that it would be very difficult for any future government to remove a GST.

Beazley’s wide-ranging speech claimed that this election was one last chance for politicians to rehabilitate themselves with the public. He said that Labor’s spending proposals were modest and deliberately did not aim to reverse all of the spending cuts of the last two and a half years. Politicians will have failed their last test, Beazley said, if there were any repetition of a new government trying the “old charade” of claiming that economic conditions are worse than they feared.

Beazley claimed that Howard was so “ashamed” of his own record in government that his party had not run one single positive advertisement during the campaign. His voice started to break when he spoke about the effect Pauline Hanson has had on Australia’s international reputation. He said he was far more worried about what has happened to Australians and described how his Chinese and Aboriginal friends reported regular abuse in supermarkets since the advent of Hanson. Beazley said: “I want an Australia where no-one turns on their fellow Australians, but recognises that in out great multicultural, multiracial society, we have the inner strength to survive and prosper in a difficult world.”

Beazley also proposed reforms to Parliament, saying he had not announced these out of concern that they would not be taken seriously. He said he would establish a Petitions committee that would have the power to initiate investigations into issues provided sufficient signatures had been received. The use of petitions in Parliament at present is widely regarded as completely worthless. Beazley appeared to back away from a commitment to 4-year terms for the House of Representatives, although this was again in the context of first re-establishing trust in political institutions.

HeffernanThe Opposition Leader faced questioning about Labor’s policy on capital gains tax and he promised that owners of family farms would not be disadvantaged, claiming that the proposal simply aimed to equalise the existing system. The question followed a confrontation with Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan in the streets of Queanbeyan earlier in the day. The capital gains tax issue is now causing anxiety in the ALP amid reports of mass mailouts from the coalition to voters in marginal seats claiming that tax inspectors would be visiting their homes to value personal assets. Liberal advertising in the last few days has also developed this theme.

Opinion Polls Show Coalition Gaining

An AC Nielsen poll published today in The Age shows that the coalition has continued to make up ground in the last week. The poll has the coalition on 42% of the primary vote to Labor’s 40%. The Democrats are polling 5%, Greens 2% and One Nation 8%. On a two-party-preferred basis, the parties are each on 50%. The poll says Labor will do very well in Victoria (47% to 43%) and Queensland (39% to 38%), but is still struggling in New South Wales.

The poll shows continuing improvement in the approval ratings of the leaders, Howard scoring 52% and Beazley 54%. Howard leads Beazley in the preferred Prime Minister category by 47% (up 4 points) to 42% (down 1 point). The poll shows a one point drop to 52% in opposition to the GST and a two point rise in approval to 39%.

Other polls published today indicate that the two Liberal members in Tasmania are facing defeat. If Chris Miles in Braddon and Warwick Smith in Bass were defeated, Labor would hold all 5 seats in Tasmania. In Western Australia, a newspaper poll shows Labor doing well in Swan and Canning.

The Neilsen poll follows publication in yesterday’s Bulletin magazine of the latest poll from Mark Textor’s Australasian Research Strategies which shows that ALP ahead on the two-party vote by 50.5% to 49.5%. Textor has the coalition on 40% of the primary vote and Labor on 39%, Democrats 8%, Greens 3% and One Nation 7%.

The Bulletin poll also shows mixed results in marginal seats around the country. The coalition has 40% to Labor’s 39%. On all these figures, the result is all but impossible to predict, although it is clear that the coalition has the momentum moving into the final week of the campaign.

The Morgan Poll has had Labor ahead throughout the election campaign. As in previous elections, Gary Morgan is in dispute with other pollsters over the best method of polling voters. Morgan argues that face-to-face polling is better than telephone canvassing. He asserts that telephone polling doesn’t allow for an accurate gauging of opinion, particularly in relation to One Nation.

Electronic Advertising Blackout In Force As Polling Day Approaches

The electronic advertising blackout came into force at midnight last night. From now until election day, all radio and television advertising is banned. Newspaper advertising is not affected. The blackout is a hangover from the days when the ban also covered any discussion of the election on radio or television. In 1980, the 3AW broadcaster, Derryn Hinch, challenged the ban by undertaking to discuss the election on his radio program. When he did so on October 16, his program was taken off air until after the election.

What Happens When You Go To Vote

The Commonwealth Electoral Act prescribes the procedure to be followed when a citizen attends a polling booth to vote. After navigating the people handing out how-to-vote cards at the gates and entering the polling place, every voter will be asked three questions as prescribed by Section 229 of the CEA:

1. What is your full name?
2. Where do you live?
3. Have you voted before in these elections?

The third question is relevant because some people may already have cast pre-poll, postal or absent ballots.

Section 233 stipulates that upon being given a ballot paper, the voter “shall retire alone to some unoccupied compartment of the booth, and there, in private, mark his or her vote on the ballot paper. The voter is then required to fold the ballot paper so as to conceal the vote, deposit it in the appropriate ballot-box and “quit the booth”.

Assistance may be provided to voters with sight impairment or other disabilities. Anyone who spoils a ballot paper may have it replaced, provided the original ballot paper is handed back.

The most important thing to remember when voting is that a number “1” must be placed against the candidate of first choice and then writing the numbers 2, 3, 4 (and so on, as the case requires) in the squares opposite the names of all the remaining candidates so as to indicate the order of the person’s preference for them. Section 240 of the Act now requires these numbers to be consecutive and without repetition, thus eliminating the “Langer” method of voting as an option.

Do It For Australia, Says Howard

HowardIn his address to the National Press Club yesterday, Prime Minister Howard urged Australians to “have a go” and to use the election to “call it for Australia”. As he has done throughout the election campaign, Howard asserted the strength of his government’s economic management as the key reason he should be re-elected.

Howard claimed that a return to the same Labor government, “minus one person”, would put at risk the gains made by his government. He claimed that the coalition government had brought benefits to families through lower interest rates and to small business through industrial relations changes. He claimed a record of health care, strong economic growth, an attack on unemployment and a government for the mainstream not beholden to noisy interest groups.

Professing to be at “peace” with himself, Howard said that the coalition offered a positive view of the future, compared to a negative inward-looking attitude from the ALP. Reiterating his argument that his tax package would be good for the country, he claimed three main reasons why it should be supported.

Firstly, economic infrastructure would be strengthened through the reduction of business costs by $10 billion a year, the reduction in fuel costs and the benefits that would go to export industries. Secondly, he claimed the plan would provide massive incentive with 81% of all wage and salary earners on $50,000 or less to be on a top marginal tax rate of 30%. Thirdly, he said the annual Federal-State “barney” over funding would be eliminated since the GST would go directly to the States. Howard said “GST” stood for Government Services Tax, since the States would be able to better provide services such as hospitals, police and education.

Howard made no mention of other issues in his address, although he did refer to treatment of Aboriginal people as one of the “blemishes” on the nation’s history, but he expressed confidence in the fundamental strength and decency of Australians. He said the Pauline Hanson phenomenon actually demonstrated the robustness of Australian democracy and he took exception to the description of One Nation supporters as racist.

Newspapers All Back Howard

AgeAll daily newspapers around Australia have published editorials expressing support for the return of the Howard government. The Age says that despite a number of achievements, “this has been a very disappointing government”, going on to argue that the ALP “has done only some of the hard work it must do.” The paper says the choice is an uninspiring one “between a flawed Government and an Opposition that too regularly mistakes aspirations for policy.” The Fairfax-owned paper says its opts for the coalition and that if it is re-elected “it must do much better than it has done.”

The Australian offers a similar argument and says that “this is not a choice Australia deserves in the approach to a new millennium.” The Murdoch-owned paper says that both Howard and Beazley are leaders “steeped in the Australian political tradition, both are decent men committed to managing the wealth of the country to the benefit of future generations.” The paper says both men “carry baggage the electorate cannot ignore”. The paper says a vote for Howard “carries with it the hope that in the next term he will perform more as he has in the campaign and less as he has in government. He deserves a second term and the chance to show he can put belief first.”

The Australian Financial Review opts for the coalition but says that the choice is much clearer this time than it was in 1996 when the paper chose the coalition “without enthusiasm”.

Aside from the 1996 election, the last time all major daily newspapers recommended a vote for the coalition was in 1984 when they urged the re-election of the first-term Hawke government. The ALP won that election with a reduced majority.

Victorian Gas Crisis May Be A Sleeper Issue

The crisis in Victoria where the state has been without gas since last weekend developed a political edge yesterday. Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett, came under attack yesterday for his decision to campaign for Liberal candidates in Western Australia the day before. Kennett had also described Victorians as “soft” and said that it was good to be reminded occasionally of how we take for granted many facilities and services. He was also under attack for holding an expensive dinner last night to celebrate the election of his government on October 3, 1992.

State Opposition Leader, John Brumby, said the Premier had abdicated leadership and did not appreciate the dimensions of the crisis that he described as the worst since the 1930s Depression. Kim Beazley said that if elected tomorrow he would immediately turn his attention to the crisis that has seen hundreds of thousands of employees laid off and many businesses shut down.

The Victorian crisis has spread interstate with many firms that supply components to Victoria’s manufacutring industries being forced to lay off workers.

John Howard today announced a $100 million fund to deal with the crisis and said that Centrelink had been instructed to deal favourably with people who have been laid off due to the cut in gas supplies.

New Polls Show Election Is Neck-And-Neck

A new Morgan poll published yesterday shows the coalition and Labor even on 44.5% of the primary vote. The published opinion polls now all show the parties hovering around the 40-44% range in primary votes and evenly matched in two-party-preferred terms. There is no disagreement that the election will be decided on preferences.

The campaign yesterday saw a dispute between the government and the opposition over Labor allegations that the government has colluded with the Treasury to suppress a report that proves the GST has a substantially worse impact on low-income earners than the coalition has admitted. The ALP’s newspaper advertisements this morning highlight this issue and maintain the party’s anti-GST stance which is believed to have boosted its electoral support.

A report in the Financial Review quotes internal party polling as indicating that the coalition is on track to win a second term. It says the private polling by the Liberal Party has detected no desire to “chuck the Government out” and says the ALP has lifted its primary vote from 39% to 41%, but that this is not enough to win government. It quotes “senior Labor sources” predicting the party could win between 10 and 20 seats in the election, short of the 27 required to achieve government.

READ TOMORROW’S NEWS!

New Poll Shows Late Swing To Labor

The latest Newspoll, published in this morning’s Australian newspaper, shows that there has been a swing to the ALP in the past week. Newspoll has the ALP’s primary vote up to 44% and the coalition down to 40%. On a two-party-preferred basis, the ALP has a an election-winning lead over the government, 53% to 47%. The poll is the first this week to show movement in the Opposition’s direction. If the poll is accurate, the likelihood of a Labor victory is now quite high. At the very least, the election will be decided on preferences.

More than 12 million voters go the polls today in the 39th election since Federation in 1901. The Howard-led Liberal and National Party government was first elected in March 1996 defeating the 13-year-old Labor government. The ALP enters the election with 48 seats in the House of Representatives and requiring 27 more seats to form a majority government. The coalition had 94 seats following the 1996 election, but this has fallen to 91 since then. John Bradford (McPherson) quit the Liberal Party to join the Australian Christian Democratic Party, Tony Smith (Dickson) resigned from the Liberal Party earlier this year, and Paul Zammit (Lowe) resigned over the issue of aircraft noise and is running as an independent and directing his preferences to Labor.

The election also sees 40 seats at stake in the Senate, 6 in each State and 2 each in the Territories. The State Senators will not assume their seats until July 1 next year, whereas the Territory Senators serve the same term as the House of Representatives. It is for this reason that attention will be focused on the ACT where the Australian Democrats candidate, Rick Farley, is favoured to take a seat from the Liberal Party, thus immediately giving the balance of power to the Democrats.

Democrats Candidate Dies; New Election Required

The Australian Democrats candidate for the New South Wales electorate of Newcastle, Kaye Westbury, has died. Ms. Westbury died on Thursday night after a long illness.

Under Section 180 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, the election in Newcastle is now deemed to have “wholly failed”. A by-election will be held, probably in November. Newcastle is a safe Labor seat that was won by Allan Morris in 1996 with 50.14% of the primary vote and 61.19% of the two-party vote.

The last time a candidate died after the close of nominations but before polling day was in the Queensland electorate of Dickson in 1993. The ensuing by-election delayed the appointment by Prime Minister Paul Keating of Michael Lavarch as Attorney-General. Mr. Lavarch is acting as Campaign Director this time for Cheryl Kernot.

Parties Fight Over Gas Crisis Advertisements

The Federal Government is running advertisements in newspapers today containing details of the $100 million assistance package announced by John Howard yesterday. The ALP’s Bob McMullan has called for the advertisements to not be published until tomorrow on the grounds that they are in breach of the Electoral Act and the conventions of caretaker government.

The ALP has accused the government of cynically misusing public funds to promote its electoral interests. John Howard says that it is merely coincidence. Earlier in the week, Howard maintained that the crisis was essentially a matter that fell within the responsibilities of the State government. Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett, asserted that there was no crisis and that Victoria was coping. The sudden announcement yesterday of federal financial assistance thus raises the question of whether the package of measures is politically motivated. Howard’s response yesterday was to say that “you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

A Guide to the Counting

The nation-wide swing will not be quite so important tonight as the swings in individual states. This table shows how many seats each party currently holds:

House of Representatives Elections 1996
ALP LIB NPA IND Total
NSW
20
19
10
1
50
VIC
16
19
2
37
QLD
2
17
6
1
26
WA
3
8
3
14
SA
2
10
12
TAS
3
2
5
ACT
3
3
NT
1
1
Total
49
75
19
5
148



TASMANIA: The ALP stands a good chance of picking up BASS and could win BRADDON, to give it a clean sweep of the Apple Isle.

SOUTH AUSTRALIA: The ALP can only improve here. It hopes to win MAKIN and KINGSTON, with ADELAIDE an outside chance. An outside chance could be Alexander Downer’s seat of MAYO, where One Nation is giving preferences to the ALP.

WESTERN AUSTRALIA: It is difficult to see Kim Beazley losing in Brand and newspaper polls this week suggest the ALP could pick up CANNING, COWAN, SWAN and possibly STIRLING. Independents are most likely to retain MOORE and CURTIN, but Graeme Campbell has a fight on his hands in KALGOORLIE.

VICTORIA: There appears to be general agreement that the ALP could make substantial gains here, possibly up to 8 seats. BENDIGO, CHISHOLM, DEAKIN, LA TROBE, McEWEN and DUNKLEY would be the first to go if the swing is on, with BALLARAT, McMILLAN and ASTON as possibilities.

NEW SOUTH WALES: Widely believed to be the ALP’s Achilles Heel, the ALP could win as few as two seats here. LOWE and PATERSON are seen as likely Labor gains. For Kim Beazley to become Prime Minister, watch for movement in LINDSAY, ROBERTSON, HUGHES and EDEN-MONARO. The latter is seen as the classic litmus seat, having gone with the government at every election since 1972. The ALP could be vulnerable in DOBELL and HUNTER, where One Nation candidates are reported to be doing well. National Party seats like HUME (possible Liberal gain) and PARKES (possible Labor gain) could be interesting.

QUEENSLAND: A redistribution has given Queensland one additional seat from this election, namely the electorate of BLAIR, being contested by Pauline Hanson. Polls suggest she is not achieving a sufficient primary vote to win. Expect the ALP to regain BOWMAN, LILLEY, DICKSON and GRIFFITH from the Liberals and OXLEY from One Nation. If Labor can win MORETON, they will be well on their way to government. Some polls suggest Labor could pick up CAPRICORNIA and/or LEICHHARDT. One Nation will cause headaches for the coalition in those seats as well as in DAWSON, WIDE BAY and KENNEDY.

AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY: A redistribution in the ACT has deprived the ALP of one seat, but expect it to comfortably win both seats tonight. Public Service cuts over the past 30 months will ensure the Liberals take a beating here.

NORTHERN TERRITORY: Always a difficult one to call, but the Territory generally goes with the government of the day. Interest is also centred on the referendum on statehood.

A Brave/Foolish Prediction

The ALP to win 20 seats and fall short of winning government. Coalition 77, ALP 68, Ind 3. Check this week’s editorial for an alternative perspective.

The Australian Electoral Commission is reporting record numbers of postal and absentee votes, as high as 20% in some electorates. In close contests, this will mean a delay in the result for up to 13 days. The busiest polling booth in this election is the Australian High Commission in London where 120,000 votes have already been cast.

If the published polls are correct, the election is very tight. The late deciders could push the result either way. A Labor victory with a gain of up to 30 seats is not out of the question, but a small shift of votes could allow the government to minimise its losses to around a dozen.

It is worth remembering that no government has been defeated at its first election outing since 1932. No Opposition has ever won 27 seats against a first term government. Governments have only been defeated at a general election 10 times out of the last 35 general elections since 1910.

This page will be updated this afternoon AEST with a guide to Internet coverage of tonight’s count. It will then be updated around 1.00am AEST.

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