The “sugar hit” polls are in. It’s 52-48, perhaps 51-49. We have a contest.
Labor starts with 72 seats, including the notionally independent Dobell. It needs 76 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives. It needs to hold everything it has and pick up 4 more seats to govern with an outright majority of one.
Let’s assume for the moment that the ALP can hold all its 72 seats. Yes, it’s a mighty big assumption.
Where might four more seats come from?
Labor holds 4 of the 5 seats in the Apple Isle. The only seat it doesn’t hold is Denison. Unlike the other independents who backed Julia Gillard, Andrew Wilkie is trying for another term.
Denison is based on Hobart. It has very strong Labor areas and strong Greens areas. Recent polls suggest Wilkie is polling strongly and has lifted his primary vote from 21.26% in 2010 to the mid-30s now. He could be hard to beat.
Other reports and polls have Labor on the nose in Tasmania. But Labor has won all 5 seats in Tasmania in 3 of the past 5 elections (1998, 2001 and 2007). Beyond that, you have to go back to 1974 to find a fourth occasion.
Labor is at a historically high point in Victoria. It polled 55.31% of the two-party-preferred vote in 2010. Despite losing Melbourne to the Greens, the ALP picked up La Trobe and McEwen, giving it 22 of the 37 seats, or 59.4%.
Assuming it holds those 22, it can look to Melbourne as a possibility. The Liberals are likely to direct preferences to the ALP. Unless Adam Bandt can lift his primary vote by several points above the 36.17% he secured in 2010, he is unlikely to win.
However, it has been suggested that there could be sufficient leakage of Liberal preferences to Bandt from committed Liberals unwilling to give a significant preference to the ALP. That could get him over the line.
Is Rudd’s leadership enough to entice former Labor voters home from their affair with the Greens? Like Denison, the result in Melbourne is too hard to predict.
The ALP’s high point makes it difficult to find Coalition seats it can win in Victoria. The two National Party seats (Mallee and Gippsland) are out of the question. Eight of the twelve Coalition-held seats are rock solid: Kooyong, Higgins, Goldstein, Menzies, Flinders, Murray, Indi and Wannon.
Aston (0.7%), Dunkley (1.1%), Casey (1.9%) and McMillan (4.2%) are the only realistic possibilities for the ALP.
The ALP has not held Aston since 1990. However, boundary changes make it highly marginal.
Dunkley has evaded the ALP since 1996. It sits in the bayside area that swung heavily to the Liberals in the 2010 state election.
Casey hasn’t been held by the ALP since Pete Steedman won it in 1983. However, boundary changes have trimmed its margin.
McMillan has been won by the ALP at 5 of the past 10 elections. The Liberal moderate Russell Broadbent won it in 1996, lost it in 1998 and finally got it back in 2004. Most people would regard him as having a good hold on it now.
On the figures, Aston, Dunkley and Casey have to be seen as possible for the ALP. People who know these seats aren’t so convinced.
From a low point of one seat in 1996, the ALP has steadily built its position to 6 of the 11 seats in this state. No seats changed hands in 2010. There was a 0.78% swing to the ALP in 2010, giving it 53.18% of the two-party vote.
Of the 5 Liberal seats, Sturt (3.6%), Mayo (7.3%), Grey (11.2%) and Barker (13.0%) are out of reach. Sturt looks within reach but no-one seriously thinks Christopher Pyne is at risk.
Boothby is the only seat within range for the ALP. It is the Liberal Party’s most marginal seat in the whole country, on 0.6%. But it hasn’t been held by the ALP since the 1940s, boundary changes notwithstanding. Andrew Southcott has been pushed hard by the ALP in recent elections but he always comes through in the end.
The west has been deteriorating for Labor for most of the past decade. The high point of 8 seats out of 12 was reached in 1984 and 1987 under Hawke. It was 7-all in 2001 but this dwindled to 3 out of 15 in 2010. The ALP polled 43.59% of the two-party vote.
The Liberals have slim margins in just three seats: Hasluck (0.6%) is the Coalition’s second most marginal seat in the country. Canning is on 2.2%, and Swan 2.5%.
The other Liberal seats all seem out of reach: Stirling (5.6%), Cowan (6.3%), Forrest (8.7%), Pearce (8.9%), Moore (11.2%), Tangney (12.3%), Durack (13.7%) and Curtin (16.2%). The Nationals seat of O’Connor might turn Liberal but not Labor.
This is the state where Labor has most to gain. In 2007 it won its highest two-party vote in years, 49.56%, and picked up 9 seats to hold 15/29.
A 5.58% swing against the ALP in 2010 brought it back to 44.85% and cost it 7 seats. The Liberal-National Party holds 21 of the 30 seats in Queensland, the ALP just 8.
Until the dumping of Julia Gillard, it looked like 5 or 6 of these would be lost this year, with Rudd possibly the only man left standing.
Given what happened in 2007, it has to be said that a Rudd prime ministership might be able to make ground in Queensland.
Of the LNP’s 21 seats, it holds 12 with margins over 5%. Let’s exclude these and Bob Katter’s seat of Kennedy as out of reach.
There are 9 seats Labor could conceivably have a chance in. All are held by the LNP by less than 5%.
I’m going to arbitarily exclude two of these from consideration: Herbert (2.2%) and Fisher (4.1%). It has been 20 years since either of these were held by the ALP.
The other seven seats were all won by Labor in 2007 and lost in 2010: Brisbane (1.1%), Forde (1.6%), Longman (1.9%), Dawson (2.4%), Bonner (2.8%), Flynn (3.6%) and Leichhardt (4.6%).
It’s a hard ask. A variety of local factors and issues makes it harder. The quality of candidates matters. For example, Warren Entsch is next to impossible to shift in Leichhardt.
Brisbane is one seat Labor could be hopeful about. It’s traditional Labor territory. But the Liberal member, Teresa Gambaro, won it in 2010 after 11 years as the member for Petrie. She’s no novice.
NEW SOUTH WALES
There was a 4.84% swing against the ALP in NSW in 2010. It won 48.84% of the two-party vote but still gained a majority of seats, 26/48.
Macquarie (1.3%), Macarthur (3.0%) and Bennelong (3.1%) are the only seats the Liberals hold on margins under 5%. Hughes (5.2%), Gilmore (5.3%) and Paterson (5.3%) are next on the list and then there’s a big jump to Hume (8.7%).
Let me hazard a guess that Maxine McKew was the only person capable of winning Bennelong in 2007. It has returned to its Liberal roots now.
So there’s 2 seats I can find that the ALP might be able to win in NSW. In the light of ICAC and the ALP’s general disfavour in NSW, who really thinks any more Liberal seats could be in play?
Labor holds one seat, Lingiari, in the Top End. The CLP holds the other, Solomon (1.8%). In the 4 elections since 2001 when the two seats were created for the first time, the ALP has only won Solomon once, in the Rudd victory of 2007.
If you’re looking for seats Labor could theoretically win, Solomon would have to be on the list but the chances are not strong. Natasha Griggs appears to have been a diligent and high profile local member. The ALP lost the Territory government on the back of swings against it in Aboriginal communities.
AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY
There are two seats in the ACT and Labor has held them both for decades. No-one thinks this will change. An ALP by-election defeat in Canberra in 1995 proved very temporary. It won’t lose these seats but it can’t win any more either. Nothing to see here.
SUMMARY OF SEATS LABOR COULD WIN
There are 20 seats the ALP has a chance of winning if there’s a pro-Labor swing of up to 5%.
NSW: Macquarie, Macarthur & Bennelong
VIC: Aston, Dunkley, Casey & McMillan
QLD: Brisbane, Forde, Longman, Dawson, Bonner, Flynn & Leichhardt
WA: Hasluck, Canning & Swan
But look at them more closely, study their history and consider who the incumbent members are. It’s a lot harder than the figures indicate.
Optimistically, though, all the ALP has to do is hold its 72 seats and win any 4 of the 20 and it’s back in government. A pro-Labor swing of 2% would deliver it 10 seats.
But this is a government mired in controversy on many fronts and divided over its leadership. Ten weeks out from a scheduled election, it replaced its prime minister with her predecessor. The vanquished have gone quietly – for now – but the ALP is drenched in political blood. Is it realistic to think it can secure a swing towards it?
And there’s the rub. Even with Rudd, who seriously believes the ALP isn’t going to lose seats? Until last week, we were talking about a dozen in NSW, 5 or 6 in Queensland, at least 3 in Victoria, perhaps 3 in South Australia, 2 in Tasmania and another 2 in Western Australia.
There is a bounce in the ALP’s step this week, especially amongst those who knew that Gillard had to go and couldn’t understand why it took until the death knock for the Caucus to act.
But these people must know that it’s all too late. Gillard should have been disposed of last year. The selfishness of Gillard and her supporters threatened an election result which would have reduced the ALP to a smoking ruin. At the last moment, the party regained its professionalism, held its nose and opted for hope over certain death.
Rudd could win but I can’t see it. His role is to do what we were all talking about a week ago: to save the party from annihilation.
Rudd’s job is to ensure that the next generation of leaders survives this election. It’s about saving Burke, Clare, Bowen, Husic, Parke, Marles, Champion and others. It’s about keeping an ALP presence in Western Australia and Tasmania. It’s about maintaining the edge in Victoria and holding some ground in Queensland.
There seems little doubt that the sight of Gillard’s political carcass brought waves of cheers from Australian voters. Equally, however, it’s hard to imagine that the electorate doesn’t also think that this mob now has to be retired.
As he has done for nearly four years, Tony Abbott remains in everyone’s heads. Labor thinks he’s the weak link but he’s still messing with their minds. The obsession with Abbott is as strong under Rudd as it was under Gillard. He’s the last card in Labor’s deck.
But who really knows about the restored Rudd? The psychology of last week’s bizarre turn of events isn’t clear yet. We don’t know how much of the disdain for Gillard was matched by contempt for the government. How much of the slate has been wiped clean?
The next few weeks should tell us.
UPDATE: July 4, 2013
Nick Champion, Labor MP for Wakefield (South Australia, margin 10.5%), messaged me on Twitter yesterday to say that I was “too pessimistic about Solomon”. He also said: “Gilmore and Hinkler are possibilities given retirement of incumbents.”
Gilmore (NSW, 5.3%) has been held by Joanna Gash since 1996. She is regarded as having a solid personal vote. Hinkler (QLD, 10.4%) has been held by Paul Neville since 1993. Their absence could well affect the swing in those seats.
But the incumbency factor cuts both ways. In Queensland, sitting ALP members are retiring in Capricornia (Kirsten Livermore, 3.7%) and Rankin (Craig Emerson, 5.4%). In Western Australia, Stephen Smith is retiring from Perth (5.9%). In NSW, Peter Garett is retiring from Kingsford Smith (5.2%) and Robert McClelland is leaving Barton (6.9%). All of these seats are at risk. Fortunately for the ALP, the other departures in Newcastle, Charlton, Lalor, Gellibrand, Hotham, Scullin and Batman are from very safe seats.