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Sweetest of them all: how Julia Gillard won the 2013 election

From the time the carbon tax policy was unveiled in February 2011 until its implementation on July 1, the unchallenged consensus of the Canberra press gallery was that a Tony Abbott prime ministership…

Julia Gillard meets the govenor general after winning the 2010 election. Can she repeat the trick next year? AAP/David Foote

From the time the carbon tax policy was unveiled in February 2011 until its implementation on July 1, the unchallenged consensus of the Canberra press gallery was that a Tony Abbott prime ministership was simply a matter of time.

Polling certainly provided a temptation to succumb to such a view, with Labor recording such lows with such consistency as no past government had ever recovered from – at least within the limited frame provided by the modern era of opinion polling, which has seen only five changes of government. State election disasters in New South Wales and Queensland likewise suggested that Labor was unmooring from its support base as never before.

Not for the first time though, the self-confidence of political commentators, together with the utility of mid-term polling as a pointer to outcomes at long range, has been shown to have been greatly exaggerated.

As the Prime Minister and her defenders had long forecast, the introduction of the carbon tax has heralded a shift in the political breeze, such that current polling offers no basis for predicting the result with any confidence one way or the other.

The press gallery has generally been reluctant to relax its assumptions so far, although suggestions that the Coalition might achieve something close to a senate majority have quietly disappeared. Labor, however, will be allowing itself to view the future through a hopeful eye, and planning its election strategy on a basis of playing to win. To do so it must achieve something which remains off the radar for observers still wedded to the old assumptions: gaining seats from the Coalition.

The carbon tax has not seen the sky fall in and the misogynist tone of much of the debate has harmed Julia Gillard’s opponents. AAP/Dean Lewins

To the extent that anything in politics can be safely assumed, there seems little prospect that Labor will again enjoy support in the next parliament from representatives for New England and Lyne, presently held by its independent backers Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott.

On the other hand, Labor looks well placed to win Melbourne from Adam Bandt of the Greens, and might also hope to recover the Hobart-based seat of Denison from the surprise victor of 2010, Andrew Wilkie. However, since both seem unlikely to ever vote down a Labor government on confidence or supply, that does not alter the basic calculus for retaining government.

Labor will thus need a bare minimum net gain of two seats to again govern in minority, and another two again if it is to go one better. The question thus arises as to which areas it might most profitably target.

Having warned the reader off investing too much in predictions, it behoves me to grant that my own capacity to project the electoral terrain a year hence is no greater than anybody else’s. Nonetheless, there are certain regional variations in the national picture which seem well established.

Clearly Labor will hope to gain from the severity of the Newman government’s cutbacks in Queensland, where the recent polling shift to Labor has been most pronounced. Whereas the expectation had been that only Kevin Rudd in Griffith would survive the looming backlash, more recent figures point to the loss of at most one or two out of eight seats.

If Labor can clear the low bar of having a better campaign than in 2010, it can entertain hopes of recovering some of the seats it lost – the most surprising of which was Brisbane, now held by the LNP on a margin of 1.1%. Two further metropolitan marginals, Forde (1.6%) and Bonner (2.8%), can also expect to be heavily targeted.

Graffiti on Campbell Newman’s electorate office in Brisbane. AAP/Stephen Johnson

The Newman government might also prove an asset beyond the state border. A pointer to this was provided by the recent Northern Territory election, which reversed the traditional pattern in that Labor retained all its seats in Darwin while suffering a decisive backlash in remote areas.

Significantly, Darwin has the largest concentration of public servants of any city other than Canberra – and is accommodated federally by the seat of Solomon, which the Country Liberal Party gained from Labor in 2010 by a margin of 1.8%.

Polling throughout the current term has indicated relatively small swings against Labor in Western Australia, where net losses at three consecutive elections meant there was little further ground left to lose. That suggests opportunities in the demographically Labor-leaning eastern suburbs seats of Hasluck (0.6%) and Swan (2.5%).

In Victoria, the mounting unpopularity of the Coalition state government will inspire hopes of shaking loose two seats in Melbourne east and south-east which narrowly held out against swings to Labor in 2010: Aston, where redistribution has further garnished the Liberal margin from 1.8% to 0.7%, and Dunkley, where the margin is 1.1%.

Amid a more optimistic picture nationally, New South Wales remains Labor’s Achilles' heel. It is in suburban Sydney that the ongoing political headache of asylum seekers is most problematic, and also where the media environment facing the government is most hostile.

Most troubling for Labor, it is home to a brace of seats where its margins were cut fine in 2010: Greenway (0.9%), Banks (1.4%), Reid (2.7%), Parramatta (4.4%) and the fabled crucible of its 2010 election strategy, Lindsay (1.1%).

It would be supremely wrong headed to claim Labor is poised to win re-election in 2013, but it would be equally short-sighted to deny the possibility altogether.

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19 Comments sorted by

  1. Marilyn Shepherd


    No more polls, ever.

  2. John Phillip
    John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Grumpy Old Man

    William, why head up such a well-balanced and well-written piece with such a biased headline?

  3. Jack Arnold


    Hi William. I think you are too pessimistic about Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott who have both been star performers in a Federal parliament lacking an Opposition without policies or effective leadership.

    Both Tony & Rob support effective government for the people, something that cannot be said for any of the political parties & their unelected party hacks who control pre-selection for the benefit of party financial sponsors.

    Tony Abbott (AKA Toxic Rabbott) is the (mis)Leader of the Opposition…

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    1. Michael Brown

      Professional, academic, company director

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      The Grattan Insitiute looked at government spending on regional development ( and found most of it is ineffective and a complete waste of money. "Some regions are growing fast – and often missing out on services – while some are growing slowly or even shrinking. When these latter regions lack sustainable economic foundations, no amount of government money can provide it. Instead, governments should put development funds where people and jobs want to go".
      Windsor, Katter and thier ilk are old-fashioned pork-barrel politicians exploiting the fundamental flaw in democracy by using tax money to buy local votes. Pouring money into their electorates cannot be defended on any rational analysis. The sooner they're thrown out of parliament the better.

    2. Ben Neill

      Mobile/Web Applications Developer

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      While I agree with your sentiments, the clever names are probably a little over the top.

    3. Jack Arnold


      In reply to Michael Brown

      Thank you for your thoughful contribution, Michael.

      Your sentiments remind me that Tony Abbott has no policies for anything anywhere and so is likely unfit to be either Prime Minister or even a parliamentarian.

      One of the principal drivers of economic development is government jobs. Every government job de-centralised to an urban regional centre generates a further 3.5 private sector jobs providing the trades, goods & services to establish & maintain the community.

      In my opiniojn, the Gratton…

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  4. Christopher Lamb

    Humanitarian Adviser at University of Melbourne

    Interesting article, and interesting to read that the Canberra Press Gallery is supposed to have had, since February 2011, an "unchallenged consensus" that it was only a matter of time before Tony Abbott became Prime Minister.
    I am not a fan of Andrew Bolt, but he issued a salutary caution to the LN coalition on 28 May 2011 which is well worth re-reading. Today's news about legislation to excise all Australia from the migration zone is the kind of thing Bolt warned the coalition about back then, as well as the impact of the carbon price.
    It seems that Labour read Bolt well, but not the other side.
    Here it is:

  5. Simon Mann

    Armchair Observer

    Good article William,

    If the Press Gallery had bothered with the qualitative research done on the Carbon Price the resurrection of the ALP might not be such a surprise.

    Essential Research made a basic attempt at this some time back, asking “Do you agree with the Carbon Tax”, and then asking a verbose question that more accurately described how Carbon Pricing would work. These questions produced mirror opposite results, and predicted the “lived in” experience we are seeing now.

    Recent polls…

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  6. Harvey Westbury

    Not being a dinosaur

    Can anybody tell me about the statistical validity of these tiresomes polls? The polls are meaningless to me unless there is a worthwhile assessment of the methodology used. Focus groups, telephone polls, stopping people in the street for a comment, asking people to respond to questions posted on web-sites, etc all sound like dubious sampling techniques to me, yet we are fed the results of such effort almost daily. So, If we can dismiss that type of sampling as meaningless, then what is the statistical validity of Newspoll and that ilk of sampling? Is it also just nonsense?

    1. Timothy Wong

      logged in via email

      In reply to Harvey Westbury


      that's a question which I have always asked as well. No idea if he would tell you exactly, but possibly the best person to ask would be the ABC's Antony Green?

      More generally, a great recent book on the question of prediction in general and political polling in America in particular is:

      Nate Silver. "The Signal and the Noise: the Art and Science of Prediction"

      Silver's column for the New York Times can be found here:

    2. Timothy Wong

      logged in via email

      In reply to Mike Chapman

      Well, obviously "1 star reviews" by definition will be unkind.

      And yes, Silver's book does have a fair bit of "filler" which some of those reviewers objected to.

      I was particularly interested in his methodology of collating data from a number of polls and then of attempting to filter the "signal" from the "noise".

      One thing which is very obvious is the way in which many pundits and commentators base their predictions on thinly disguised ideological wish-fulfillment and personal projection…

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    3. Simon Mann

      Armchair Observer

      In reply to Harvey Westbury

      Harvey, I understand your point if you are complaining about poll results dominating policy discussion, as they have more and more in recent years, but why question their validity? Almost all the Australian polls had the last election at 50-50 or there about, and all were accurate within their margin of error.

      It will be interesting to see how accurate the polls in the US are, it’s a bit harder there because voting is optional, which adds another layer of bell curves. They seem to think Obama will hold Ohio (just), which should be just enough for him, but they still have a week to adjust before we can judge them.

      Personally I can’t see how anyone could vote for Abbott in the privacy of a voting booth. Given that bias perhaps polls are more reliable?

  7. George Naumovski

    Online Political Activist

    Tony Abbott and gang were and still are going around predicting the “end of days” due to the carbon tax!

    Abbott and gang have nothing else to say, nothing else to add, no real/realistic polices, no plan to get to surplus apart from cutting everything in their way, repealing the great policies and reforms of the ALP.

    Under an Abbott government, Australia will be finished!

    1. David Elson

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to George Naumovski

      "repealing the great policies and reforms of the ALP."

      That should take all of 5 mins.

  8. Peter Gerard

    Retired medical practitioner

    I've been, for most of my adult life, a supporter of the Coalition but although blue on the outside I'm green on the inside. There must be many like me. For this reason the abysmal attitude of the Coalition to environmental and animal welfare issues is of great concern to me. Much of the stance taken by the Coalition, for example, on the Murray-Darling Basin stand-off and the live-export trade, is due to the need to placate the National Party. The Nationals represent hard working, honest folk but…

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    1. Ben Neill

      Mobile/Web Applications Developer

      In reply to Peter Gerard

      I don't doubt there are many like yourself - there were seats swinging between blue and green in the recent ACT elections, although it is rare as labor tends to be the more progressive of the two.

      Maybe it is time for an end of the coalition as we know it, I am sick of these everyman parties - something labor is just as guilty of compromising one set of values for another faction within the party; The furore over Penny Wong being a good example.

      Smaller parties, negotiated coalitions forming government. Will mean longer to declare a government but it feels like interests would be represented better rather than minority factions being told to shut their mouths.

  9. wilma western

    logged in via email

    The Oz press gallery is far too influenced by monthly polling and allows it to influence their opinion pieces with rather ridiculous results . The pack was out in force during the lead-up to Rudd's 2012 challenge and then when he convincingly lost the vote,you had chorus of pious criticism of the Labor ministers who described what Rudd PM's office was like . Yet many had previously commented Labor suffered in the polls because of their refusal to discuss the reasons for Rudd's removal . One journalist…

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  10. Kat Wells

    logged in via Facebook

    Both Parties are as CROOKED and as EVIL as one another they do NOT care about any of us little people as long as they can screw all of us.

    Pay increases:
    Backbencher $190,550 up $5550
    Prime Minister Julia Gillard $495,430 up $14,430
    Deputy PM Wayne Swan $390,627 up $11,377
    Opposition Leader Tony Abbott $352,517 up $10,267
    Speaker Peter Slipper $333,462 up $9712
    Cabinet Minister $328,698…

    Read more