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Howard Under Pressure As Polls Show Slipping Support

Prime Minister John Howard has conceded that his government has experienced the worst weeks of its 5 years in office.

Sunday TelegraphSunday MailIn the wake of the massive coalition defeats in the Western Australian and Queensland elections over the past two weeks, the media is today full of a spate of new opinion polls which show that Howard and his deputy, John Anderson, are both in danger of losing their seats.

A poll published in the Sunday Telegraph shows support for Anderson in his NSW rural seat of Gwydir at 29%, down from the 46.1% the National Party leader polled in 1998.

The poll has the ALP on 33% (up 7%) and One Nation on 27% (up 6%). The poll suggests that the ALP would win the seat on preferences. Anderson won the seat on preferences in 1998, securing 63.58% of the two-party-preferred vote. The ALP last held Gwydir between 1937-49.

Anderson faces a strong threat from One Nation, but may also be opposed by the independent State MP, Tony Windsor. Anderson has committed himself to placing One Nation last on his how-to-vote cards, a move that is certain to invite retaliation from the Hanson forces.

There is no doubt that Anderson is in grave danger, as are other National Party members, including Arts Minister, Peter McGauran, in the Victorian electorate of Gippsland, and Larry Anthony, the Minister for Family Services, in the NSW electorate of Richmond.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports today that another poll shows John Howard struggling in his Sydney electorate of Bennelong. The poll has Howard on 36%, down from the 49.24% he polled in 1998. He won the seat on preferences, gaining 56.03% of the two-party-preferred vote.

The poll shows 19% of Liberal voters undecided. Minor parties are polling 12%. Whilst these figures reflect the low standing of the government at present, it would be surprising if Howard lost this traditional Liberal seat.

The last Prime Minister to lose his seat in an election was Stanley Melbourne Bruce in 1929. Bruce lost the Melbourne electorate of Flinders, the seat now held by Defence Minister, Peter Reith. Reith’s margin is 3.7%, putting him in danger in the event of a swing. Recent internal ALP and Liberal polling has indicated a big swing to the ALP in Victoria. Reith has recently been reported to be buying a new house in the electorate. In recent years, he has lived in Melbourne.

Pre-Selection Contests Gathering Pace As Election Nears

As the federal election due by the end of the year draws closer, pre-selections are being decided by the various parties. Yesterday, the NSW Liberal Party chose Senator Helen Coonan to head its Senate ticket, relegating Senator Marise Payne to third position. Given the Liberals’ recent electoral history in NSW, interstate and in polls, Payne is highly unlikely to win.

In Tasmania, Liberal State MP, Peter Hodgman, has won pre-selection for Franklin, pitting him against Labor’s Harry Quick, who has held the seat since 1993. In Braddon, Alan Pattison has been chosen to contest the seat against Labor’s Sid Sidebottom.

Apparently, Hodgman and Pattison were the only nominations for the 5 Tasmanian seats, reflecting the parlous condition of the Tasmanian Liberal Party. The state party was reduced to 10 seats in the 25-seat House of Assembly in the 1998 election. Liberal leader, Sue Napier, survived a leadership challenge late last year by 6 votes to 4.

An interesting seat to watch is Casey, held by Health Minister, Dr. Michael Wooldridge. Centred on Mooroolbark, Lilydale and Croydon, Casey has a margin of 4.87%. The ALP candidate is David McKenzie, the former member for Diamond Valley during the Whitlam years from 1972-75. McKenzie received special dispensation from the ALP, allowing him to contest the seat, even though he is over 65 years of age.

In NSW, the coming weeks will see a resolution of the pre-selection contest between Finance Minister, John Fahey, and Liberal backbencher, Alby Schultz, for the electorate of Hume. Fahey’s seat of Macarthur has been affected by a redistribution and is now notionally Labor. Fahey is seeking to displace Schultz in Hume, claiming that much of the old Macarthur now lies in Hume.

Schultz is refusing to give way and has indicated he may run as an independent if he is defeated by Fahey. The situation is complicated by Fahey’s recent cancer surgery. There has been no public sign from the former NSW Premier that he is considering retirement.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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