Thursday, August 12, 2010

Election campaign ignores New England

I don't think that I am alone in saying that I find the current marginal seat focus annoying. I find it especially annoying because there is no focus on New England. But, then, New England does not exist!

The following table lists New England Federal seats by the swing required to change party. Of the eleven seats, six are Labor, two each independent and National, one Liberal. Three of the eleven seats are marginal.

Seat Party Swing Required
New England Independent 24.4%
Lynne Independent 23.9%
Newcastle ALP 15.9%
Hunter ALP 15.7%
Shortland ALP 14.7%
Parkes (part) National 13.5%
Charlton ALP 12.9%
Richmond ALP 8.9%
Page ALP 2.4%
Cowper National 1.2%
Paterson Liberal 0.6%

Looking at the list, its hard to believe that New England outside the Lower Hunter and Lake Macquarie was once National Party heartland. Indeed, one of the strongest ALP arguments against self-government at the 1967 plebiscite was that it would leave the ALP as a permanent minority party within New England!

The problem with the marginal seats approach is that it means that those who stay loyal are in fact penalised. The problem with the lack of formal structure for New England means that there is no mechanism for looking at or forcing consideration of broader issues. Tasmania's five seats, South Australia's eleven seats, get far more attention than New England's eleven seats. Further, New England has no senators, so instead of attracting attention here, the New England vote just gets subsumed in NSW.

You can see these things work themselves out all the the time. New England is resource rich, but this is largely ignored. Key issues such as decentralisation are largely ignored.

The one sleeper this election is the possibility that the three amigos, the three independents in the House of Representatives, may end up with the balance of power either alone or in conjunction with the Greens. Two of the three independents are from New England, while the third (Bob Katter) is a strong New States supporter   


Peter Firminger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Firminger said...

Hi Jim,

I too am absolutely disgusted that here in the seat of Hunter, it's hard to believe the incumbent is actually running. I heard him on the radio for the first time in this campaign this morning talking about the F3 extension. I think the Sussex St campaign orders for Joel were "Keep your head down and don't say anything or you'll screw it up... Just let the 16.5% margin carry you through"

So much is being said just across the road in Patterson though...

I know how you love to tie history to comtemporary issues... Let's remember that the first Australian Prime Minister - Edmund Barton (Protectionist Party) - was elected Member for Hunter (1901-1903 although he never lived in the electorate).

The Barton government's first piece of legislation was the Immigration Restriction Act.

I don't know why I find that ironic...


Greg said...

Here in Shortland you would be forgiven for thinking that Jill Hall (ALP) is the only candidate. I have not heard one peep out of any of the other candidates. Presumably they are standing only for show and don't think that they have any genuine chance.

Newcastle and Lake Macquarie have always suffered a heavy penalty for their unfaltering ALP allegiance. At election time it is all about the marginals. The other parties don't even bother to run genuine campaigns.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi both. Democracy depends upon people being willing to have a go. Both Hunter and Shortland seem to be failing that test! In one case, the incumbent is simply not worrying, in the other the challengers have given up.

Peter, what is the story in Patterson?

Greg, I suspect that Labor will suffer at State level. More broadly, and without being party political, one of the reasons why we must have renewed new state agitation is just to break the current loyalty/neglect cycle.

Peter, irony noted!

Peter Firminger said...

I haven't been following it too closely, but Warren Truss has promised $71 million in roads funding for the marginal Paterson electorate.

Julia Gillard visited Newcastle briefly and said nothing noteworthy. But the new coal loader is something they are very proud of. Newcastle being the "World's biggest Coal Port" (great, thanks for that - that makes Newcastle the World's biggest single source of coal-related pollution).

When I occasionally tune to Newcastle commercial television, I see campaign ads for Patterson but nothing from other Hunter region candidates.

The F3 extension doesn't actually touch Patterson as I see it, it's pretty much in Hunter and was not really an election issue.

Obviously, campaign money is an issue for other parties in Hunter against a big Labor margin.

Michael Johnsen (Nationals) is advertising in all the regional newspapers (at least the online versions - I don't see the hard copy) and Chris Parker (Greens) is getting around as much as he can on a very limited budget.

I don't think anyone can beat Joel Fitzgibbon (Labor) here, but there is a real opportunity to get the margin down for future elections and it frustrates me that he isn't being forced out from under his doona to face questions on health studies surrounding the mines and the dust issues and the cumulative effects of mining, coal seam gas and military areas like the one near Singleton.

Having said that, I am limited in the Cessnock area by a local newspaper, The Cessnock Advertiser, that does not like publishing anything of any substance on it's website. They "select" a few "example" stories to put up each Wednesday.

The Singleton Argus has done some questioning of the candidates on specific issues, but again the stories are not available online and I can't get a copy without driving up there.

So I guess roads are the visible issue, but coal mining and the related health issues should be the main issue.


Mark said...

Heavy campaigning in Paterson. Haven't heard anything from the ALP dominated seats. Must be what Peter said with Sussex St orders.

Greg said...

A bit of a fuss was made in Newcastle about the start of construction of the $1.7bn Hunter Expressway. Not that it benefits Newcastle at all - it will benefit traffic heading north from Sydney and help to reduce some congestion around Maitland.

It is not unwelcome, but it was money that has already been allocated. Construction just happened to commence during the election. Also with little actual benefit to Newcastle it is hard to see how Gillard could use that as an election "sweetener" on her flying visit to town.

My point - that was the best that either party has done in the Lower Hunter during this campaign. Not much at all really. The real game is all centred on the marginals.

Jim Belshaw said...

Peter, this business of papers putting limited stuff on-line is something that have chided Christian Knight (editor of the Armidale Express) about. His argument is that they don't want to canabilse paper sales. My argument is that there are two different markets; it is a tactical, not strategic issue. Most Hunter papers are now owned by Rural Press, so I guess that we are dealing with an overall paper policy. It is annoying for those of us who have regional interests!

Comments on Patterson campaigning interesting. Patterson is a black hole down here (Sydney).