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By the seat of their pants: can Labor squeak it?

If the polls are accurate and Labor is almost at level pegging with the Coalition, it would seem we are in for a repeat of the very close election of 2010. But for various reasons this is not necessarily…

The ALP’s re-election chances hinge on the results in a number of marginal seats across Australia. AAP/Dave Hunt

If the polls are accurate and Labor is almost at level pegging with the Coalition, it would seem we are in for a repeat of the very close election of 2010. But for various reasons this is not necessarily the case.

Effectively Labor starts two seats down, as the two retiring independents from country NSW (Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor) will almost certainly be replaced by National Party members. Peter Slipper’s seat of Fisher will also revert to the Liberal-National Party, but he only became an independent when offered the poisoned chalice of the speakership.

But because we vote for 150 individual seats rather than holding a national ballot on proportional lines - as do some European countries - it is possible for one party to actually poll more votes and not win government, which was Labor’s fate under Kim Beazley in 1998. For Labor to win office they will need to either lose no seats they currently hold and add two, with the complication that Bob Katter - who will most likely be returned as the member for Kennedy - might back a Rudd government.

I assume, by the way, that if Greens MP Adam Bandt holds Melbourne - which might just be possible because of disgust at the PNG asylum seeker solution in the inner city seat - and Andrew Wilkie holds Denison in Tasmania (which seems likely) they would again back a Labor government, though Wilkie is more problematic.

Based on the last election, there are currently 56 marginal seats (under a margin of 6%), roughly evenly divided between the two major parties. This includes Craig Thompson’s seat of Dobell, even though the Labor Party have replaced him as a candidate.

Of these seats the majority are in Queensland and NSW, which makes the decision of both parties to run their campaigns out of Melbourne rather odd.

But one can make several predictions that will almost certainly be accurate. Some seats which seem far less marginal will change hands, and swings will not be even across states. Labor is banking on the Rudd factor to balance losses in NSW by winning back a swag of seats in Queensland, and therefore making victory possible.

On the face of it this is not unreasonable: Labor lost seven seats in Queensland in 2010. But this time they also could lose the slightly safer seat of Capricornia, based on Rockhampton, where the local member (Kirsten Livermore) is retiring. The tsunami of Labor seats in western Sydney that was feared will probably be averted, but there are two or three seats where they are unlikely to hang on.

But let’s assume Rudd can balance losses and gains in these two states, and the status quo remains in Western Australia, where Labor only holds three seats and South Australia, where they might even pick up one. Ironically, Rudd’s greatest problem may lie in the two states where Gillard did best: Victoria and Tasmania.

Current polls suggest that Labor could lose three of its four Tasmanian seats, even though they are held by reasonably comfortable margins. There are a further three seats in Victoria at risk, with no realistic hope of winning the seemingly marginal Liberal seats in that state.

The most marginal seat in Australia is the Victorian electorate of Corangamite, but it is also a model of why one has to be very careful in extrapolating from results from three years ago. Once a safe conservative seat, Corangamite stretches inland and down the coast from Geelong, and is where the television series SeaChange was set. Increasingly, it is home for retirees from Melbourne - not surprisingly, the Green vote there is higher than the state average.

Over three years its population will have changed considerably, with growth both in seaside resorts and outer suburban Geelong. The point is, it is a very different seat to marginal Deakin, in the outer (but not outermost) suburban ring of Melbourne, 100 kilometres away. The demographic particularities of each seat helps explain why every close election produces very different swings, even within the same state.

When Rudd campaigned in 2007 he surprised political journalists by making forays into what seemed safe Liberal territory - and won several Queensland seats that were listed as safe on most lists.

In the end, Labor lost one seat in Western Australia, but picked up almost everywhere else. Even Rudd himself cannot expect to repeat that feat this time around.

Join the conversation

26 Comments sorted by

  1. Barbara Flowers
    Barbara Flowers is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Legal Research Librarian

    Rudd is detestable. But a federal version of the Newman government? No thanks. My hope is for another alp/greens hung parliament. This should deliver us schools/ disability reform/after school care etc (alp) and environmental action/human rights/ asylum seeker (greens). A couple of Tony and Rob susbtitutes would be good too. And nlp followers - don't bother attacking me and explaining all the weaknesses of my thinking. I can read and assess, just as much as you can and you won't change my mind by berating me.

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    1. Gerard Dean

      Managing Director

      In reply to Barbara Flowers

      I agree that no matter what I say, you won't change your closed mind.

      In fact, I admit my mind is closed as well on this issue.

      It is interesting that only 4 or 5 voters out of the hundred voters you see at the MCG will decide who our next prime minister will be.

      Hope they make the right one.

      Gerard Dean

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    2. Ben Neill

      Mobile/Web Applications Developer

      In reply to Barbara Flowers

      While I agree for the most part, the greens aren't perfect. Their opposition to new Nuclear tech such as LFTR is verging on Luddite-ism. That said, they will still get my #1 at this point as they are the most ethical and socially responsible.

      Personally I am happy to debate with LNP supporters, but their debates rarely intersect with logic, science or the common good.

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    1. Rod Govers

      Retired IT administrator

      In reply to John Newton

      Many of my friends and relatives were very surprised after doing the ABC's election compass to find that they were in the Greens' camp too. I think it may prove that most people just vote the way they always have and never really think about parties and consider changing. Elections are won or lost by a handful of lucky voters in swinging electorates.

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  2. Peter Dawson

    Gap Decade

    Judging by the content of the Daily Telegraph the last two days, Rupert Murdoch certainly doesn't want another close election. Yesterday's front page editorial headline was "VOTE THIS MOB OUT"!

    Isn't democracy a marvelous thing?

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  3. Gordon Comisari

    Resort Manager

    In an ideal world just for a moment I try to imagine the media doing their job by providing unbiased genuine factual information to the general public.

    What do you think poll results would be like?

    Something like this?

    Independents 25%
    Greens 19%
    Labor 35 %
    Liberals 12%
    Nationals 2%
    Others 9%

    Unfortunately we are stuck with the Murdoch/Rinehart dominated
    mainstream media and the failure of impartiality, failure of contextual accuracy, and the willingness to exploit rather than challenge debased public discourse.

    That leaves us with a brainwashed, befuddled, insular, somnambulist electorate. A sad state of affairs indeed.

    Have Murdoch and his IPA/LNP/MSM co-conspirators made up your mind how to vote?

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  4. Peter Ormonde
    Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Farmer

    Nah if Kevin pulls off the miracle suggested by some I'll be out there with my palm fronds welcoming in the new messiah along with Joel Fitzgibbon and the rest of KRudd's true believers...

    True he will have saved the sprawling wasteland suburbs of Sydney for Labor. Pity really. History might be better served if we lost the lot.

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    1. Barbara Flowers
      Barbara Flowers is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Legal Research Librarian

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Yeah. I kind of agree with you Peter. Rudd is probably the least deserving of the job of any candidate since McMahon. But other things are at stake, so I fear it's a matter of realpolitik. And if he lands the job where will his narcissism take him (and us). One can only hope Turnbull gets his chance then.

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    2. Rod Govers

      Retired IT administrator

      In reply to Barbara Flowers

      We're not voting for a president, Barbara. You either want an ALP or a LNP government which means you get Rudd or Abbott. People who vote simply because of the personality of the leader are doing their fellow citizens a disservice.

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    3. Dianna Arthur

      Environmentalist

      In reply to Barbara Flowers

      Barbara

      Should Rudd win, his narcissism unleashed....aaaagh!

      Should Abbott win, his narcissism unleashed....aaaaaagh!

      At least I will retain some form of moral superiority by voting Green.

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    4. Peter Campbell

      Scientist (researcherid B-7232-2008)

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      Voting green is fine (I'll be doing that too) but then where to direct one's preferences to flow if the greens candidate does not get in? I could cope much better with Rudd than 'climate change is crap' Abbott. Regardless of the details of their policies, can you imagine Barnaby Joyce or Abbott pursuing important environmental policies with any enthusiasm or doing any more than the minimum they can get away with?
      As for narcissism generally, I suppose one has to have an unusually high degree of drive and self-belief to get to the positions that Abbott and Rudd are in.

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    5. Barbara Flowers
      Barbara Flowers is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Legal Research Librarian

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      I know, Corinne Grant's article Tweedledum/Tweedledee nails it in terms of the ALP/LNP choice. For me they're both as abhorrent as the policies they represent. PNG has been my deal breaker - I can't endorse any party with such views on asylum seekers (and please, everyone, don't start banging on about stopping the drownings, it's not really about that and we all know it). The one plus Labour still has is that they're unlikely to go for the austerity measures Hockey/Abbott are itching to introduce. That's working so well in Qld that Treasury hasn't issued a 'quarterly' review since January this year - http://www.oesr.qld.gov.au/products/publications/qld-econ-review/index.php.

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  5. Eric Thacker

    Viticultural Contractor

    At least we won't have to put up with both Rudd AND Abbott on our airwaves after the election, as their respective parties will replace the loser as leader. If Rudd loses, the ALP will have to expel him from the party to prevent further treachery. Abbott may have to be excommunicated..

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    1. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      No no no Tony Abbott ... the undead ... returning year after year, election after election, until we succumb... He'll huff and puff and blow his way in.

      Wooden stakes or silver bullets at the very least Ms A - you can put your childish faith in new-fangled fixalls like exorcisms and excommunication and the like - but I'm a man of science and I reckon you can't go past the old time religions when it comes to matters of the walking dead.

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    2. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      Drawn from the same green sciency pond Ms A - I've always had a sciency sort of hunch/hope that Tony Abbott will collapse in a lock-jawed heap in the final straight. I reckon Australians are sensible and they just won't buy him. And I think he might prove to be Labor's best asset.... he'll bugger it up, just when it's in his grasp - again. Brings out my passion for Greek tragedy. That's science for ya.

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    3. Eric Thacker

      Viticultural Contractor

      In reply to Dianna Arthur

      But thanks to the Howard years, the nation also has a shortage of trained exorcists. I suppose Pell could always get one on a 457/666 visa.

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    4. Eric Thacker

      Viticultural Contractor

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      hmmm I didn't realise there were so many of them out there. I was amazed that news.com actually reported the medical profession's reaction to their dangerous activities. That quote from an exorcist on one of the 'possessed' who "was in a normal play situation and suddenly he was unable to move, speak do anything... he started growling and snarling" may well fit Abbott as he approaches the final furlong...

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  6. James Hill

    Industrial Designer

    Rudd will only be there for three years to nail down important legislation, and in the meantime the conservatives will have learned to show more respect for the voters, a lesson they need to learn.
    A sacked Abbott will be back home in London, and those who sacked him will have saved their own jobs.
    It is all good!

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