Tomorrow's election - reading the runes and getting my democracy sausage
Political tragic that I am, I will be glued to the television tomorrow night, trying to read the runes of Australian politics as the results come in. I thought other political tragics out there might benefit from some insights on which seats to watch as you try to determine who might win during the course of the night.
What I won’t be doing in this blog article is trying to predict the outcome. Those of you who know me would know that I have long been an adherent of Niels Bohr’s adage that one should never make predictions – especially about the future. I’ll happily share my predictions of the election outcome after the results are in. I’d never place a bet before the outcome of the race is known.
Nor will I be discussing the policies, politics or personalities of the candidates in this election. Suffice it to say this campaign has been short on the first while long on politics and personalities. That the commentariat has failed to take the candidates fully to task on this is telling. Though it is perhaps reflective of a cynical and apathetic electorate.
Democracy truly gives voters the governments they deserve. If you doubt that take a look at the dis-United States of America’s recent elections.
Enough philosophising. Let’s get down to which seats should be watched, and why.
Although much of the election campaign has been focused on the leaders of the two main parties, as though they have been running for national president, the fact remains that Australian elections are determined at the local electorate level. Few people will enter a polling booth tomorrow looking for Scott Morrison or Anthony Albanese’s name on the ballot paper. Most will collect a how to vote for their preferred party and vote the local candidates accordingly.
In tomorrow’s election everything is going to hinge on a handful of seats. Below are a list of the seats to watch, by state, with the rationale of why I think they might change hands at this election.
The seat has generally been held by the Liberal Party since its creation in 1949. Indeed, it was held by John Howard from 1974 to 2007, when his Coalition Government was defeated by Kevin Rudd. At that defeat the seat was won for Labor by media personality Maxine McKew. But McKew only held the seat for one term, with former tennis champion John Alexander taking it back into the Liberal fold at the 2010 election.
Alexander has retired and the Liberal candidate in this election is management consultant Simon Kennedy. But Kennedy is up against a few factors, including that Alexander experienced a 2.81 swing against him at the last election, probably a result of the seat’s demographic changes, and a westward move due to a recent redistribution. The seat now includes significant numbers of Chinese, Korean and Indian minorities that don’t readily identify with the Liberal Party. Add that the Liberal candidate, management consultant Simon Kennedy, is less well known than Labor’s Jerome Laxalle who is a former Mayor of Ryde, a large local government area within the electorate, and it is possible the seat could change hands tomorrow. All that’s required is a 6.9 percent swing.
Lindsay is very much a swing seat. Centred on Penrith and the Blue Mountains in outer-western Sydney, it is held by Liberal Melissa McIntosh on a margin of five percent. My contacts in the Labor Party believe the seat was only lost at the last election due to Bill Shorten's focus on policies such as ending negative gearing and increasing capital gains taxes on investment properties, as well as allegations of bullying against the then Labor member for Lindsay, Emma Husar.
There’s a strong belief the seat can be taken back at this election. The Labor candidate in this election, Trevor Ross, is a professional firefighter and Senior Vice President of the Fire Brigade Employees Union. Labor has made much of the fact that “unlike [Prime] Minister Scott Morrison, Trevor Ross does hold a hose.”
Since its creation in 1922, Reid has been a safe Labor seat and only went blue at the 2013 election that brought the Abbott Coalition Government to power. Incumbent Fiona Martin only won the seat at the 2019 election after fellow Liberal Craig Laundy retired from politics. Martin sits on a 3.2 percent margin in a contest that my contacts in both parties have described as “hand-to-hand combat” between them that has seen numerous appearances by high profile members of each party appear in the electorate. Labor fully expects to regain the seat. The Libs are hopeful of holding on.
Wentworth was one of the first seats established on Federation in 1901 and has traditionally been held by conservative parties. It was Malcolm Turnbull’s seat until his retirement in 2018, following the Party coup that brought Scott Morrison to the prime-ministership. While independent Kerryn Phelps won the byelection following Turnbull’s retirement, she lost the seat to Liberal Dave Sharma at the 2019 election. However, according to my sources in the Liberal Party, Sharma is under threat from “teal” independent Allegra Spender (daughter of former Liberal politician John Spender and grand-daughter of Sir Percy Spender, a Cabinet Minister in the Menzies Government).
Sharma holds the seat on a thin 1.3 percent margin. Spender is part of the teal movement funded by billionaire Simon Holmes a Court and is widely expected to take the seat. The irony of Holmes a Court’s Climate 200 “teal” movement, of course, is that it is targeting moderate Liberals like Sharma in a bid to get the Liberal Party to place greater focus on climate change; but if successful, the loss of seats by moderate Liberals could push the Party further to the right. Or, perhaps, that is the teal plan to pull more moderate votes from the Libs. Nonetheless, it looks like a third generation Spender could soon sit in the Australian Parliament, but not for the Liberals.
The seat of North Sydney has been held by the conservative parties since its creation in 1906 and by the Liberal Party since 1949, but for two parliamentary terms when it was held by independent Ted Mack (1990-1996). It was held by Joe Hockey from 1996 until his retirement from politics in 2015, at which time it was won by incumbent Trent Zimmerman. With a 9.3 percent margin, Zimmerman, another moderate Liberal, should be safe. However, word from within the Liberal Party is that teal independent Kylea Tink could unseat Zimmerman with preferences from Labor and the Greens flowing to her. North Sydney may, for the second time in its history, see an independent sitting in the Federal Parliament.
Centred on Cairns, the electorate of Leichhardt covers the far north of Queensland. In recent years it has become a bellwether seat. The incumbent, the Liberal National Party (LNP)’s Warren Entsch, held the seat from 1996 to 2007 during the Howard Government period, but lost it in the “Kevin ‘07” election that brought Labor to office. Entsch surprisingly won it back at the 2010 election seemingly ending its status as a bellwether seat as Labor managed to retain government. Nonetheless, Leichhardt is still widely seen as a bellwether electorate and is expected to pass to Labor. It requires a swing of just 4.2 percent to change hands, but Entsch has enjoyed strong support across the seat, sometimes defying national and state trends. Despite that, Labor could win it on preferences, especially with preferences flowing from the Greens. If an anti-Coalition swing is in the offing, it would be one of the first seats to fall. It’ll be worth keeping a close eye on Leichhardt.
Dickson is Defence Minister Peter Dutton’s seat. It has been variously held by Labor and the Libs/LNP since its creation in 1993. And it was once the seat of Cheryl Kernot who had famously defected to Labor and took the lower house seat after serving seven years as an Australian Democrats senator for Queensland, including three years as that Democrats leader. Kernot won Dickson at the 1998 election as part of the nationwide backlash against the first Howard Government, but then lost the seat to Dutton at the 2001 election. Dutton has held the seat since then, even managing to keep it – if only just – at the Labor 2007 landslide. With just a 4.6 percent margin, Labor expects to take the seat from Dutton at this election. Like Leichhardt, they will rely on preferences from other parties for that. If Dutton can hold on, many Liberals believe he would become Opposition leader if the Coalition loses the election, and especially if Josh Frydenberg also loses his seat (see Kooyong below).
Any which way but loose – Ryan, Brisbane, and Griffith
There are three Queensland seats that look like they could go to Labor or to the Greens, and certainly with each other’s preference flows.
Brisbane is held by the LNP’s Trevor Evans on a 4.9 percent margin and he is facing stiff competition from Labor and the Greens, and it is looking like the Greens may come second on the primary vote. That could mean, after preference flows from Labor, the Queensland Greens candidate Stephen Bates could take up the seat in the next parliament.
Similarly Julian Simmonds in the western suburbs of Brisbane seat of Ryan could be unseated by either Labor or the Greens. Although a nominally safe Liberal/LNP seat, the demographics of the seat have been changing with an increasing number of voters giving their first preference votes to the Greens in recent elections. If that trend continues into this election the current six percent margin may not be sufficient for Simmonds to hold the seat. Depending on preference flows the seat could go to either Labor (Peter Cossar) or the Greens (Elizabeth Watson-Brown).
A swing against the Coalition Government may not be enough to save Labor’s Terri Butler in Griffith. Despite being held by the ALP for most of its history, including by Kevin Rudd, its margin of 2.9 percent means it could easily go to the Greens, which have been closing on Labor in first preferences in recent elections, including by 10 percent in the last election. If the Greens manage to finish second on the primary vote at this election, the Greens’ candidate Max Chandler-Mather could win the seat on preferences.
Created in 1903, Boothby was variously held by Labor and the conservative side of politics, until 1949 after which it has remained in Liberal hands. But since 2016, the Libs have seen a gradual but consistent deterioration in their primary vote. With just a 1.4 percent margin, the seat may well be lost this time, particularly as the incumbent member, Nicole Flint, is retiring.
Two seats in Tasmania could change hands at this election – Bass and Braddon - just because that's the way the Tasmanians roll.
On a 0.4 percent margin, Bass sits on the country’s narrowest of margins. Bass is not only a marginal seat, it has become well known for dismissing incumbents at each election over the past decade. Just ask Geoff Lyons (Labor), Andrew Nikolic (Liberal), and Ross Hart (Labor) – who have won and lost the seat at successive elections since 2010. Liberal Budget Archer, who has been keeping the seat warm since Morrison’s 2019 “miracle election,” is probably revising her CV tonight in anticipation of voters hitting the “eject” button tomorrow.
Continuing this Tasmanian tradition is the seat of Braddon, which has ejected every sitting member since the 2004 election. The alternating members have been Sid Sidebottom (Labor), Mark Baker (Liberal), Sid Sidebottom (Labor), Brett Whiteley (Liberal), and Justine Keay (Labor). The seat was won by Gavin Pearce at the 2019 election. He’s probably also slaving over his CV tonight.
On a margin of just 0.5 percent the Liberal’s Gladys Liu must be very concerned as she is under serious threat from Labor’s Carina Garland. Apart from being on a wafer-thin margin, Liu has fallen victim to the Government’s own khaki campaign which has tried to paint Labor as soft on the People’s Republic of China. In Liu’s case it has been something of an own-goal for the Liberals, with Liberal supporters within the Chinese ethnic community in Chisholm attacking her as being something of a Manchurian candidate because of her past association with the China Communist Party’s United Front Works Department. The Party’s apparatchiks obviously hadn’t received the memo that Gladys Liu was one of their own. In any case, it is looking like the seat will turn red despite an intention to keep the reds out of it.
Kooyong is considered one of the jewels in the Liberal Party crown having been held by former Liberal Party leaders Sir Robert Menzies and Andrew Peacock, and now by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg (since 2010). But it has experienced a demographic shift that has left Frydenberg on a margin of just 6.4 percent for this election. While there has been a bleeding of first preference votes to the Greens in past elections, Frydenberg’s biggest threat in this election is the teal independent candidate Dr Monique Ryan. My Liberal contacts tell me there is a real concern that the seat could be lost. Like North Sydney and Wentworth this seat will be worth watching closely as the election results roll in.
Also under threat from a teal independent is Tim Wilson in the seat of Goldstein. But with a 7.8 percent margin, my friends in the Liberal Party tell me they are less concerned with Goldstein than they are with Kooyong. They believe Wilson may just hold on.
If you were wondering why Scott Morrison spent today - the last day of the election campaign - in Western Australia, it’s because three Liberal seats are in play – Curtin, Swan and Pearce.
Although a safe Liberal seat with a margin of 13.9 percent, the incumbent Celia Hammond, who has held the seat since the retirement of former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at the 2019 election, must be worried. She is being challenged by teal independent Kate Chaney, a niece of former Fraser (Liberal) Government Minister Fred Chaney. Happily for Kate Chaney, she has her uncle’s full support. His profile could help her take the seat from blue to teal.
Swan sits on a margin of 3.2 percent and has variously been held by Liberal and Labor, including former Labor leader Kim Beazley. Sensing a general swing against the Coalition in Western Australia, Labor is confident its candidate, Zaneta Mascarenhas, could take it given Steve Irons, the Liberal who has held it since 2007, has retired. The Liberal candidate is former journalist and Liberal Party media adviser Kristy McSweeney. It’ll be worth seeing the results come in from Swan after polls close at 8pm Eastern Standard Time.
Pearce has been considered a safe Liberal seat since it was established in 1990, and has been held in turn by former Fraser Government Minister Fred Chaney (1990-93), Howard Government Minister Judi Moylan (1993-2013), and former Attorney General Christian Porter, who has retired. But the redistribution of Pearce’s boundaries has reduced the Liberal margin to 5.2 percent. Labor is confident of taking the seat with City of Wanneroo Council Mayor Tracey Roberts as its candidate. The Liberal candidate is Linda Aitken who is also a Wanneroo Council member. Pearce will certainly be in play.
My Labor sources tell me they are moderately confident of winning government in their own right. They believe they can win 76 of the 151 seats that would enable them to do that. My Liberal sources say their best-case scenario is establishing minority government with support from independents, including the teals that unseat many of their members. But keep in mind that going into the last election many in the Coalition, including, I am told, the PM’s office, expected a complete rout and were as surprised as everyone else by Morrison’s miracle victory.
I’m not picking winners and losers in this article, or taking sides; I’m just trying to provide a general guide for those interested in following the election results tomorrow night on which seats to watch as the results come in.
The two things I am most interested in tomorrow are getting my democracy sausage (or two) when I go to vote, and watching the TV as the results come in.