Can You Help?

This website is in imminent danger of being shut down. It has been online since 1995, but the personal circumstances of the owner, Malcolm Farnsworth, are such that economies have to be made. Server costs and suchlike have become prohibitive. At the urging of people online, I have agreed to see if Patreon provides a solution. More information is available at the Patreon website. If you are able to contribute even $1.00/month to keep the site running, please click the Patreon button below.

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Alternative Universes And The PNG Solution

Alternative universes abounded last night.

But sometimes the media worlds available via a remote control are more alike than they are willing to pretend.

There was the ABC. Within an hour of Kevin Rudd’s announcement of the PNG solution, its screen was filled with refugee advocates castigating the decision. They were joined by frothing right-wingers in an unholy unity ticket of condemnation.

Online, in the ever-so-slightly-nutty world of Twitter, there was talk of White Australia, racism and Labor’s shame. Dire warnings of malaria and rape coalesced with suddenly-expert analyses of the state of civil society in PNG.

Some lamented the shape-shifting Rudd and yearned for The Great Gillard.

There was Sky News, sadly these days a paradise for ever-more vacuous right-wing talk show hosts and those cable-friendly Laborites who make you worry that you might be on the same side.

As on the ABC, the resident Liberals and standalone right-wingers were especially lathered and frenzied. Last night they were born-again campaigners for the down-trodden. They accepted the solution but despaired of its implementation.

I felt somewhat alone. In my foolishness, I thought I might just have witnessed a political masterstroke. Commentators online suggested otherwise. I should be more ashamed, they seemed to say. [Read more…]

Where Are The Seats Rudd Needs To Win?

The “sugar hit” polls are in. It’s 52-48, perhaps 51-49. We have a contest.

Don’t we?

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. [Read more…]

Woof Woof!

I can’t resist it. Whenever I hear someone say “woof woof”, I always think of a famous exchange between Gough Whitlam and Billy Snedden in 1975.

Today’s email from Crikey alerted me to this tweet from Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Saturday:


At least Gillard was only expressing her delight at the 9-point victory by the Western Bulldogs over Port Adelaide.

In the House of Representatives on February 19, 1975, however, the same words were uttered by the Liberal Opposition Leader, Billy Snedden. They came during a discussion of one of the most contentious constitutional issues of the Whitlam years. Snedden was ridiculed by Whitlam and the incident contributed to Liberal unease over Snedden’s leadership. He was replaced by Malcolm Fraser a couple of weeks later. [Read more…]

2013 Federal Election: How Many Seats Will Labor Lose?

An election defeat of historic proportions seems to be looming for the Gillard Labor government.

As a rule, I’m more interested in trying to explain an election result after we know the outcome. However, let’s take a stab at predicting the result.

I don’t regard these predictions as particularly startling or original. They are based on the published opinion polls, assorted news items and anecdotal reports. In some cases, I have local knowledge. In others, I’m influenced by historical results. Often, I’m just guessing. Don’t take it too seriously.

Some assumptions and explanations:

  • I believe the Gillard government is going to lose and lose badly. I believe this outcome has been certain for the past two years.
  • All of the published opinion polls (Newspoll, Nielsen, Essential, Galaxy, Morgan) have been showing a 4-6% swing against the ALP for most of the past two years. Seats in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia are particularly at risk and the swing is expected to be much greater in Labor areas. Rural and regional areas have turned decisively against Labor. During this year, an emerging view has Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria joining the trend, after having swung toward the ALP in 2010. On this basis, I expect the ALP’s result to be worse than 1996, probably closer to 1975. It could be worse than 1975. I expect the ALP to lose a minimum of 25 seats. CLICK HERE for tables showing the ALP’s federal election record.
  • I don’t expect any members of the Coalition parties to lose their seats. My starting point for the Coalition is 73 seats, including Peter Slipper in Fisher and Tony Crook in O’Connor. Both of these men will be replaced by new members.
  • The ALP goes into the election with 72 seats, including Craig Thomson’s seat of Dobell. Thomson currently sits as an independent. The tables below deal only with those 72 seats.
  • In addition to the 145 seats held by the ALP and the Coalition, another 4 are held by independents and 1 by the Greens. There are 150 seats up for election.
  • The electorate of Melbourne is the only seat I think it is possible for the ALP to pick up. If the Greens member, Adam Bandt, can improve his primary vote, he may win, even if the Liberals preference Labor. This will be one to watch on the night.
  • CLICK HERE to see a colour-coded table of election outcomes in each seat for the past 10 elections.


These seats are the ALP’s most marginal. However, it includes some seats once regarded as safe Labor, particularly in NSW. It seems to be generally accepted that the ALP is doing especially badly in NSW, so I have given away all of its rural seats and made a call on others that don’t seem marginal on the swing.

Daryl Melham
Robert McClelland (retiring)
Craig Thomson (suspended)
Mike Kelly
Michelle Rowland
Peter Garrett
David Bradbury
Janelle Saffin
Julie Owens
John Murphy
Justine Elliot
Deb O’Neill
Anna Burke
Darren Cheeseman
Mike Symon
La Trobe
Laura Smyth
Shayne Neumann
Kirsten Livermore (retiring)
Wayne Swan
Graham Perrett
Yvette D’Ath
Gary Gray
Stephen Smith
Kate Ellis
Steve Georganas
Geoff Lyons
Sid Sidebottom
Warren Snowdon



Some of these seats have been marginal and switched parties at various times in recent years, especially when government has changed hands. Whether they are at serious risk or merely at risk is open to debate. Electoral boundaries have altered over time, so historical comparisons are fraught. [Read more…]

The Power And The Passion – A Personal View

The ABC has screened the first of a two-part documentary on Gough Whitlam, The Power and the Passion.

The Power and the Passion – A Personal View

by Malcolm Farnsworth

It’s flawed. The incorrect details and dates irritate. The interviews are marred by minor-celebrity bilge. The re-enactments are execrable. It’s hagiography, not documentary.

But last night’s first episode of The Power and the Passion is not that bad. Unreconstructed Whitlamites can rest easy. I lapped it up.

One line stands out: Whitlam had to beat his own side before he could win.

Party structures had to change. Individuals had to be surpassed and sidelined. New policies had to be born. The electorate had to be carried along. There was an inescapable logic to Whitlam’s famous sequence: the party, the program, the people.

For me, the program was a reminder of the inversion that’s taken place forty years since It’s Time. For people like me, the ALP has reverted to its pre-Whitlam shape.

It’s an ugly look the ALP has in 2013. It’s anachronistic and electorally poisonous. In New South Wales, it doesn’t even look like a party anymore, just a criminal enterprise. Nationally, it’s a party controlled by narrow cliques at odds with the electorate. [Read more…]

Would A Double Dissolution In Early 2014 Be Unconstitutional?

Tony Abbott has made it clear that the first legislative act of his government after September 14 will be to introduce legislation to repeal the carbon tax.  The mining tax is also up for repeal.

The obstacle in Abbott’s path is the composition of the Senate.  Until July 1 next year, the balance of power in the Senate remains with the Australian Greens.  Without the support of their 9 senators, neither the ALP (31 senators) nor the coalition (34 senators) can command the 39 votes needed to win a vote.

Abbott and his shadow ministers have made it clear that they are prepared to call a double dissolution election if the Senate rejects their legislation.  This can take place if the requirements of Section 57 of the Constitution are met. [Read more…]

A Scenario For Tony Abbott And A Motion Of No-Confidence

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s intention to give notice of a no-confidence motion when Parliament returns this week has always been a potentially messy business.

A brief explanation: the government controls the Notice Paper in the House of Representatives. This is the document which outlines the order and timing of debate, including the order of legislation.

Whilst there are set times when the Opposition can bring on debate on particular issues (such as in regular Matters of Public Importance), if it wants to move a specific motion it needs to first move a motion for the Suspension of Standing Orders.


Abbott attempted to do this during Question Time on March 21, whilst the government was preoccupied with the leadership spill that wasn’t. He sought to suspend standing orders in order to move: “That this House declares no confidence in the Prime Minister.”

The motion was carried by 73 votes to 71 but was defeated because a suspension of standing orders requires an absolute majority of 76 votes.

Abbott then announced that he would give notice of a no-confidence motion when the House resumes tomorrow. He didn’t say whether it would be no-confidence in the government or the prime minister. The difference is technically significant but may not necessarily be crucial to the outcome of any vote. [Read more…]

Tony Abbott And Women Of Calibre: What Did He Actually Say?

In the increasingly bizarre world online, there was a minor flurry yesterday over comments by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott on paid parental leave.

I came to it late in the day, some hours after the comments were made. My initial impression was that Abbott must have said something highly offensive.

For example, the News Limited website,, told me Abbott defended his paid parental leave policy as a means of encouraging women of “calibre” to have children.


On Twitter, the article’s author, political writer Malcolm Farr, said the policy was all about getting women of calibre to “breed”:

Also on Twitter, the Finance Minister, Senator Penny Wong, was taking aim at Abbott:

Elsewhere, there was talk of Abbott’s new policy of eugenics.

Clearly, this was a major foot-in-mouth blunder by Abbott.

So I listened to what Abbott said. Here’s the full media conference and the specific question where Abbott made the “calibre” comment:


  • Tony Abbott’s media conference – May 7, 2013 (22m)
  • The ‘calibre’ question (3m)

I’m the first to admit that my command of English is pretty basic. But surely Abbott’s remark is innocuous?

There is a legitimate debate to be had over the merits of Abbott’s policy. Or do we prefer the warm inner glow of manufactured outrage?

Why Has Gillard Picked September 14?

Four weeks ago, I published a post speculating on when the election might be held.

You can read the post here. In it, I speculated on the possibility that Gillard could announce the election date sometime around Australia Day.

In essence, I felt that the election date options were fairly limited. I never thought there was any possibility of an early election in the first half of the year. November was a bridge too far. Assuming an election in August, September or October, it seemed to me there were only a couple of real possibilities. [Read more…]

Who Will Win The 2013 Federal Election?

Is it even possible to predict an election result?

Well… in my opinion most elections are quite predictable. I’ve voted in 15 federal elections and I’d say 11 of them were easy to predict. I’ve voted in 11 state elections and only 2 of them could be said to have produced surprise results.

The trouble is, some elections are not easy to predict but it’s only after the event that we know which ones. That’s why politics is such good fun.

So what should I look for?

Let’s look at the historical situation. To start with, governments usually get re-elected. Of the past 25 federal elections since 1949, the incumbent government has been returned in 19 of them.

Never let anyone tell you it’s easy to remove a government, even an ageing government. They all run out of puff eventually but it isn’t always predictable when this will be.

What about voting percentages? How do I interpret them?

You have to remember that winning political parties usually get around 50-54% of the two-party-preferred vote. The losing party may be in opposition but around half the country still voted for them.

For example, Kevin Rudd won 52.7% of the vote in 2007. John Howard got 52.74% in 2004 and 50.95% in 2001.

Even when Howard won a massive majority in 1996, the coalition was only on 53.63%. That was similiar to the 53.2% that Hawke got when he defeated Fraser in 1983. When Whitlam won office in 1972, the figure is estimated to have been 52.7%.

What this means is that Labor and the Coalition are fairly evenly divided. You’ll notice I’m using the two-party-preferred figures because that’s the only way you can compare election results. Remember it’s compulsory for voters to allocate preferences so in the end everyone has to choose between Labor and the Coalition.

What kind of swing can I expect to see this year?

Let’s look at recent elections. In 1996, the Coalition got a swing of 5.00% and demolished the Keating Labor government. In 1998, the Howard government had a swing against it of 4.1% and nearly lost.

In 2001, the Coalition got a swing of 2.01% towards it and increased Howard’s majority. In 2004, they got another 1.79% and increased their majority further.

When Rudd defeated Howard in 2007, the ALP got a swing of 5.44%. Under Gillard, the ALP fell 2.58% and barely survived with 50.12% of the two-party vote.

Electoral history tells us that the swing this year will be similar to one of these figures. If it’s 4 or 5 per cent to one side or the other, they will win easily.

So 4% or 5% is a big swing?

Yes. A swing of that size is more than enough to shift a lot of seats and defeat a government.
One of the biggest swings ever was 7.40% against the ALP in 1975. This reduced the ALP to 36 seats in a 127-seat House. Malcolm Fraser had the biggest majority any party has ever had in the House of Representatives. He got 55.70% of the two-party vote.

Back in 1943, John Curtin’s Labor government demolished the conservatives with a swing of 7.90%. The ALP’s two-party vote is estimated to have been 58.20%. I think this is the biggest ever.

The only swings bigger than this were the anti-Labor swings in state elections in New South Wales in 2011 and Queensland in 2012. In NSW the swing was 16.48% and in Queensland it was 13.7%. As we know, the ALP was slaughtered in both elections. Its primary vote (first preferences) dropped to around 25% in both states.

Is it possible that there could be a swing like that against the Gillard government this year?

It’s theoretically possible but highly unlikely. There are some geographical and demographic factors that help explain what happened in Queensland and NSW but both states use optional preferential voting in their elections and that accentuated the swing. [Read more…]