14/09/2011 - 10:39

Gillard needs opinion poll bounce

14/09/2011 - 10:39

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The government is hoping to advance its legislative agenda during this week’s sitting of parliament.

AFTER another tough week in federal parliament, Julia Gillard will be anxiously scouring the new opinion polls due out early next week to see if she has been able to achieve a much needed bounce for her government.

The prime minister will be hoping a new approach to the processing of asylum seekers, plus the introduction of the long-awaited legislation for a carbon tax, will help shrug off the tag of a ‘government of inaction’. She knows that neither decision will gain universal acceptance, but at least the government is making decisions.

Polling will take place over the weekend, and in the fortnightly Newspoll at least, there will be two crucial measures. The first is voting intentions, which earlier this month had the coalition on a healthy 50 per cent, and Labor on a record low of 27 per cent.

The second will be the performance of the prime minister. Last time only 23 per cent were satisfied and 68 per cent were dissatisfied. No wonder mutterings about her leadership are getting louder.

Past leaders caught in a similar position have tried to shrug off the results, but what is undeniable is that some polls have developed a high credibility, based on the strong correlation between election predictions and actual results, even if some editors have been nervous about predicted big swings.

For example, pollster Keith Patterson, from the Patterson Research Group, told a recent meeting of the Australasian Study of Parliaments Group he had predicted swings of close to 20 per cent in the 1988 state by-elections in Balga and Ascot to replace outgoing Labor leaders Brian Burke and Malcolm Bryce.

Mr Patterson received a phone call from a nervous editor on the eve of publication of the poll results, anxious to hear how confident he was about the predictions. The pollster stood by the results, which were borne out in the astonishing swings achieved in both safe – until then – Labor seats on polling day.

Mr Patterson said once a reliable sample base had been achieved, results could be recorded within a relatively small margin for error. But he warned that continuing to achieve accurate polling would become more challenging as people’s social media habits changed. Now, mobile phones are a big factor.

About 86 per cent of households have fixed-line phones. Most are listed in the phone book. However, a further 12 per cent only have mobile phones and are not listed. This group is likely to increase; and polling tertiary students only is not easy. About one quarter are contactable by mobile phone only – they don’t have fixed line access – and those numbers aren’t in the phone book.

Mr Patterson says the answer is developing a hybrid sampling system, combining random dialling of respondents by phone, with a representative online database.

Polling analyst William Bowe told the ASPG that the reliability of bookmakers’ odds in predicting election results had been challenged in the last federal and state polls. They had tended to solidly favour the incumbent government, when the actual voting produced minority administrations in both cases.

Two MPs who spoke both said it was still important for local members to develop a good first-hand knowledge of their electorates. 

The Liberal MP for Jandakot, Joe Francis, was especially scathing. “If you need to pay expensive focus groups to tell you what a party’s position should be on a particular issue you are not doing your job,” he said. “You need to go out and talk to people; failing to do that drives parties to be followers rather than leaders.”

Labor’s Bill Johnston agreed, saying: “Wearing out shoe leather remains a very important part of keeping in touch with voters.”  

But right now, Ms Gillard can’t afford to be fussy. She just wants the polls to bounce, and the sooner the better.

Politics and sport

THE separation of church and state has been well documented over the years, but politics, business and sport are more intimately intertwined than ever, it seems.

For instance, Sport and Recreation Minister Terry Waldron was the guest speaker on the $1 billion sports stadium and related issues at the Perth Football Club’s recent annual Centurions’ fundraising lunch.

Almost as interesting was the composition of his audience, which comprised a sprinkling of former, and current, senior MPs, and business types.

The political link included two former Labor deputy premiers – Mal Bryce, who played football at South Bunbury with Sydney Jackson in the early 1960s (Jackson later starred with East Perth and Carlton), and Ian Taylor, a life member of the WA Football League.

Opposition leader and Member for Belmont, Eric Ripper, was there, as was his education spokesman Ben Wyatt (Victoria Park).  

The unsuccessful Labor candidate for Swan at last year’s federal election, barrister Tim Hammond, was on hand, but the seat’s Liberal MP, Steve Irons – who has had a senior role at the Perth club – was an apology. His son, Jarrod, made his AFL debut earlier this season with Port Adelaide.

Parliamentary secretary John McGrath (Liberal MP for South Perth) was also an apology. He was required in Melbourne on issues linked with his responsibilities for the new stadium, but he did sponsor an item in the auction conducted by Grand Cinemas managing director, Allan Stiles. One guest bid $1,000 to dine at Parliament House with Mr McGrath, Mr Stiles and five others.

Political commentator and former Subiaco player Harry Phillips was also at the lunch.

Inviting politicians to corporate boxes at AFL matches is par for the course. They are wined and dined, usually after being carefully targeted, based on the interests of the host company, and their own areas of influence.

The WAFL competition is far more grassroots these days, but nevertheless it still provides useful exposure for MPs. In fact, Saturdays at WAFL games can be very busy for many politicians. Premier Colin Barnett is frequently seen at Claremont Oval, where he was a player, along with former minister Jim Clarko and former senator Sue Knowles.

Energy Minister Peter Collier, and Kingsley Liberal MP Andrea Mitchell were recently spotted at West Perth’s home ground, Arena Joondalup, as was the former water minister, the quietly spoken Esperance GP Graham Jacobs (Eyre), who was doubling as Perth’s team doctor for the day.

Dr Jacobs’ son, Julian, has been a regular Perth league player this season. But he missed the club’s last game following an altercation in the interchange area during the clash with East Perth the previous week. Jacobs junior’s vigorous reaction incurred the wrath of the tribunal, and he was handed a two-week suspension.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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