Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

State of the states: will Whelan disendorsement make a difference in Tasmania?

Our “state of the states” series takes stock of the key issues, seats and policies affecting the vote in each of Australia’s states.

We’ll check in with our expert political analysts around the country every week of the campaign for updates on how it is playing out.


New South Wales

Chris Aulich, Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra

The Senate election in NSW has drawn 105 candidates for the six seats on offer. Senate representation in NSW has traditionally been stable, with the Coalition and Labor winning a similar number of seats and the final one or two seats a contest between minor parties. 2019 is likely to follow that pattern.

In the 2016 double dissolution election, a lower quota of just 7.7% was required, enabling the election of three candidates from minor parties: the Greens, the Liberal Democrats and United Australia Party (originally Pauline Hanson’s One Nation). These three positions are now up for reelection, together with two Coalition and one Labor vacancy.

Given that a quota this time will be more than 14%, it is likely that the two major parties will each secure two representatives with the final two positions contested between Labor, the Coalition and a number of minor parties, such as the Greens, the Liberal Democrats, United Australia Party (UAP) and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (PHON).

This will be the first half-Senate poll based on optional preferential voting. Voters need only mark six parties if they choose to vote above-the-line, or they can vote below-the-line for a minimum of 12 candidates.

Most people vote above the line (94% nationally in 2016) needing only to select six parties to cast a formal vote. For this Senate election in NSW, it means that voters are likely to ignore 29 of the 35 parties standing. But it also means that, for many, their votes will be “exhausted” before all vacancies are filled. This represents a significant number of votes that will not count towards the election of the final one or two members, making it very difficult to predict the final result.

Voting below the line is not likely to influence the outcome, unless there is a candidate with a huge personal following. NSW conservative, Jim Molan, is counting on that. A replacement for the Nationals’ Fiona Nash, who was excluded under a section 44 breach, Molan has been relegated to what is usually an unwinnable fourth position on the Coalition ticket. Backed by colleagues from the conservative right of the party, including Tony Abbott, Molan is trying to pull off the rare feat of winning at least 150,000 below-the-line votes.

A how-to-vote card from the 2019 federal election campaign of Liberal senator Jim Molan in Sydney. PR Handout/AAP

He has broken with tradition by appealing directly to voters, hoping to emulate the success of Tasmania’s Lisa Singh, who won from an extremely difficult ballot position in 2016. Singh successfully conducted a campaign separate from that of her party. Molan’s campaign focuses on his leadership credentials and expertise in national security strategy, but it will be an extraordinary achievement for him to win in NSW. The parallel with Singh is best understood as a result of factional arrangements, rather than any particular strength or weakness of the two candidates.


Read more: Explainer: how does preferential voting work in the Senate?


Victoria

Nick Economou, Senior Lecturer in the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash University

There have been few new developments in the Victorian campaign. The two major party leaders have been in Melbourne, with Bill Shorten returning to Monash University (where he was once a student) to participate in the ABC’s Q&A program, beamed to Australia from the Robert Blackwood Hall. Scott Morrison, meanwhile, was out and about “sandbagging” electorates like Deakin, La Trobe and Corangamite that the government simply must hold on to if it is to have any hope of being returned on May 18.

There have been more ugly developments in the conduct of the campaign. Campaign posters for sitting Liberal member Josh Frydenberg were vandalised with anti-Semitic graffiti during the week. Albury is in New South Wales, of course, but the goings on in this major regional centre – and this includes throwing an egg at the prime minister in protest at his government’s asylum seeker policy – can have an influence on the perspectives of voters in the Victorian north-east, including the seat of Indi. The Liberal cause to retake the seat formerly held by independent Cathy McGowan might have received a boost as a result of this incident.

Labor, meanwhile, thinks it has flushed out another Liberal candidate with a record of having made discriminatory anti-marriage equality statements and has called on the Liberal candidate for Scullin, Gurpal Singh, to withdraw from the contest.

These rather puerile manifestations of the campaign actually reflect the reemergence of a recurring theme in national elections, where a comparative lack of truly marginal seats renders Victoria of tertiary importance to New South Wales and Queensland in the ranking of states that are important to the federal contest.

Queensland

Maxine Newlands, Senior Lecturer in Political Science at James Cook University

With eight days to go until the country goes to the polls, nearly a quarter of a million people have already voted in Queensland. The hubris and big ticket items early in the campaign have seen many already make up their minds.

More than 10,000 voters in the country’s tightest seat, Herbert, have already decided. The LNP is claiming victory in the pre-polling, with a constant repetition of their mantra of jobs for locals. Neighbouring Dawson is close behind, with 10,065 by Tuesday.

Traditionally, the larger parties spend big in the last few days of a campaign. In a push to capture the dwindling undecided voters, the minor parties – Katter’s Australia Party (KAP), PHON, the Animal Justice Party, and Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party – will need something special to be heard in the final week.

To date, minor parties remain relatively under the radar, with the silence from candidates almost deafening. The usual bold statements from Bob Katter are gone; Clive Palmer has been lying low in Brisbane, focusing on the national, not local, messaging. Neither Pauline Hanson nor Fraser Anning have been seen with their candidates, and the Greens and the Animal Justice Party are quiet.

Cash was splashed early in the election period. The LNP promised over A$200 million for infrastructure projects in Townsville, and Labor has promised at least A$300 million if elected. These big dollar tickets may be why pre-polling has been so high.

Dickson also began strongly on pre-polling, and it’s gathering momentum with 3,093 people pre-polling in the first two days of this week. Incumbent Peter Dutton was back in the spotlight with former Prime Minister John Howard shoring up support in this marginal seat of 1.6%. GetUp! will ramp up their Ditch Dutton campaign this week, with the first in a series of events starting Saturday.

Queensland is a key target for both the Coalition and Labor, so we can expect more focus on jobs and climate change policy in the final few days.


Read more: Labor and Greens unlikely to win a Senate majority on current polling; Greens jump in Essential poll


Western Australia

Ian Cook, Senior Lecturer of Australian Politics at Murdoch University

It wasn’t exactly bad news for the Coalition government out of the West this week. But it wasn’t exactly good news either.

This week, The West Australian published results from a YouGov Galaxy poll showing that the Liberal Party is staying just ahead of Labor in two of its marginal seats in WA: Pearce and Swan. And it’s making no progress in winning Labor’s most marginal seat: Cowan.

Perhaps the worst news for the Coalition was that they didn’t bother polling voters in Hasluck, which the Liberals hold by 2.1%. According to this poll, support for the Liberals has fallen by around 5.5%, so it’s no surprise that they saved their money by not polling the seat.

Both Pearce and Swan are sitting on a two-party preferred of 51 to the Liberals and 49 to Labor. But the two-party preferred distribution assumes that UAP and PHON voters give their second preference to the Liberals. Whether they will do so is not that clear.

UAP and PHON are different sorts of parties – as revealed by a story about a WA PHON candidate owning his semi-naked Instagram posts from 2018 – so predicting how UAP and PHON voters will direct second preferences is never easy.

The report in The West also said that the polling indicated that the Greens primary support has taken “a pummelling”:

primary support for the Greens has fallen from 15% in 2016 to 11% in Swan, 7.6% in 2016 to 6% in Cowan, and remained steady in Pearce at 11%.

The Greens in WA are sorely missing Scott Ludlam.

It was also a mixed week for election night tragics in WA after Clive Palmer’s High Court bid to make Eastern staters wait until 7.30 WST failed. This means that we won’t make everyone else wait for us to finish voting before they start to see results. But it also means that the High Court doesn’t accept that Western Australian voters have been jumping on the bandwagon of whichever party is leading after the vote counting over east.

South Australia

Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer in Politics and Public Policy at Flinders University

In common with the rest of the country, the overall amount of early voting in South Australia is at records levels. In two critical seats in SA, voters seem to have made up their minds.

In the critical non-Labor seat of Mayo, over 6,000 people voted in the first week. The other striking number of early voters is in the marginal seat of Boothby, where Liberal incumbent Nicolle Flint is facing a strong challenge from Labor’s Nadia Clancy.

Will this matter? As The Tally Room blogger Ben Raue rightly notes, the timing of vote decision might in and of itself prove decisive. Yet, this leaves open to question how the parties will shape their campaigns, given that the Liberals have not yet even had their official campaign launch.

Rebekha Sharkie, the Centre Alliance MP in the seat of Mayo, did receive a strong boost this week, with a positive poll commissioned by The Advertiser. With 557 people polled, the indicative results suggest that Sharkie is now firmly entrenched in the seat and has a primary support of 43% compared to Liberal Georgina Downer’s 38%. If this result plays out, then Sharkie should win with 57% of the vote.

The same poll also contained a really interesting result: showing that Clive Palmer’s UAP was only polling at 3% in the seat. This could prove intriguing, as on one level it would suggest that despite the extraordinary media blitz, the UAP vote may not be particularly high in SA. This makes the Senate race in South Australia all the more complex to read.

We might expect the majors to win at least two seats apiece, and Labor remain optimistic of a potential third. There have been doubts cast that the Greens Sarah Hanson-Young might lose out, but it remains far from clear how preferences will play out. There will be a strong tussle between the Greens, The Centre Alliance, the Australian Conservatives and of course the UAP picking up Senate seats.

A strong Centre Alliance showing could well prove difficult for a fresh Shorten Labor government, with clear opposition to a number of key policies.


Read more: Shorten and Morrison make their final cases in third leaders' debate: our experts respond


Tasmania

Richard Eccleston, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institute for the Study of Social Change at the University of Tasmania

Dain Bolwell, Research Associate with the Institute for the Study of Social Change at the University of Tasmania

The rural Tasmanian seat of Lyons has been in the national spotlight in recent days following revelations that Liberal candidate Jessica Whelan had made a series of Islamophobic comments on social media.

The Liberal party responded by disendorsing Whelan, who, in turn, resigned from the party. There are some parallels with Pauline Hanson’s original campaign in Oxley in 1996, although there are important differences too.

Like Hanson, Whelan has decided – after some indecision – to contest Lyons as an independent. She will still appear as a Liberal candidate as it’s too late to change ballot papers. Unlike Hanson, Whelan, an elected councillor in Brighton, north of Hobart, insists she isn’t anti-Muslim and that her posts have been taken out of context.

Is the “Whelan affair” likely to influence the final election outcome in Tasmania?

Even before the events of last week, most pundits expected Labor’s Brian Mitchell to hold Lyons because, with the exception of 2013, the seat has been safe Labor territory since 1993. Also, as in most rural seats, incumbency matters, and Mitchell has had three years to build his profile in country towns and communities across the length and breadth of the state.

An embarrassed Liberal party will urge supporters in Lyons to vote for National Party candidate Deanna Hutchinson. But the Nationals did not have a serious presence in Tasmania until Jacqui Lambie’s successor, Steve Martin, joined the party in May 2018, so the prospects of unseating Mitchell seem slim.

The unanswered question is whether the Liberals’ campaign woes in Lyons will have any impact on the neighbouring battleground seats of Bass or Braddon, which recent polls suggest the Liberals could regain.

If there is a late swing back to Labor in northern Tasmania, then indiscretions on social media may not only have ended a candidate’s political career, but may have cruelled the Coalition’s chances in two key marginal electorates.


Correction: This article originally misstated the amount Labor has pledged for projects in and around Townsville.