Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Coalition wipe-out in the North?

Last week I complained about neglect of the North in Election campaign ignores New England. In this post, I want to look at what the straws in the wind say about the likely outcomes across New England. At present, of the eleven seats, six are Labor, two each independent and National, one Liberal. Three of the eleven seats are classified as marginal.

The first somewhat surprising result comes from a Tweed Daily News/Northern Star poll of 400 respondents in the Northern Rivers' seat of Richmond, presently held by ALP's Justine Elliot with a margin of 8.9%. The results suggest that Justine Elliot is in trouble: excluding the undecideds, they show 30 per cent for Labor, 26 per cent for Liberal challenger Joan van Lieshout, 9 per cent for Nationals and 10 per cent for the Greens.

As Poll Bludger's William Bowie notes, the poll appears to have been conducted in-house and should thus be treated with caution. In his view, it suffers a problem common to such polls: an undecided rate of 24 per cent, presumably resulting from a failure to twist respondents’ arms with a follow-up “leaning towards” question.

Another reason for caution lies in the release of a substantial marginal seats poll this morning by the Sydney Morning Herald. This suggests that the ALP may gain the National Party held Mid North Coast/Northern Rivers' seat of Cowper plus the Liberal Party held Hunter Valley seat of Patterson. The divergence in poll results between Cowper and Richmond is quite marked. Sadly, we don't have figures for Labor held Page, even though it is technically a marginal seat.    

In addition to these seats, independent Tony Windsor who holds the Northern Tablelands/Western Slopes seat of New England is talking up the chances of independent John Clements taking the Western Slopes/Plains seat of Parkes from the Nationals.

Given the National's margin (13.5%), this would seem unlikely. However, Tony is an experienced politician, while the New England independents (the party you have when you are not having a party) have considerable machine resources. For that reason, and accepting that Tony wants to promote John's chances (I think that he is a former staffer of Tony's), Parkes has to be watched.       

What can we say about all this?  Well, accepting the imperfections involved, I think that a couple of points can be made:

  1. On the surface, there would appear to be a chance of the ALP gaining between one and two New England seats. On the worst case scenario for the Coalition, the results might give the ALP eight seats, independents three, wiping out the Coalition at Federal level in Northern NSW. On the best case scenario for the Coalition, they are just likely to hold present numbers.
  2. State Labor is is on the nose across New England. I don't think that there is any doubt of this. However, the likely results suggest that voters are differentiating. Here the problem for Messrs Abbott and Truss lies in the differential on-ground impact of their policy proposals, something not helped by the mental lock-in created by the marginal seats approach, nor by their failure to focus on broader New England needs. Take broadband as an example. It doesn't take loss of many votes in Coffs Harbour (an area to benefit from ABN, lose from Coalition policies) for the Nationals to lose Cowper.
  3. If the Nationals do lose their last coastal seat, more so if they also lose Parkes, it would mark the last stage in a historic shift in the area that once formed Country Part heartland.

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