28/02/2014 - 05:51

Nerves ahead of fresh Senate vote

28/02/2014 - 05:51


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There’s plenty on the line for all contenders at the upcoming half-Senate election in WA, following the loss of 1,370 ballot papers at last year’s poll.

Nerves ahead of fresh Senate vote

All political parties are extraordinarily nervous over the rerun of Western Australia’s half-Senate election. There is much is to be gained – and lost.

The stakes are also high for the leaders. Prime Minister Tony Abbott lost ground in voter support in the lead up to Christmas, but has started 2014 with a firm stand on several issues, including assistance to ailing manufacturing industries in south-east Australia, and asylum seekers.

Such decisions often produce a backlash, and lead to a drop-off in approval ratings. The signs are that the opposite has occurred. Voters acknowledge all is not well, but realise that band-aid solutions are not the answer.

Labor’s Bill Shorten, on the other hand, is acting as if all the problems that have surfaced in the past six months are solely the new government’s fault. Some are, of course, but the challenge for Mr Shorten is to develop and promote a Labor plan to deal with the harsh new realities 

The conventional wisdom is that mid-term elections produce a swing against the government of the day. They give voters a chance to give the government a kick in the pants. Normally, that would give Mr Shorten some comfort.

But that didn’t apply in the recent by-election in the federal seat of Griffith, vacated by former prime minister Kevin Rudd. Although Labor retained the seat, LNP candidate Bill Glasson achieved a further 1 per cent swing on top of the 5 per cent he got last September.

Support for the micro parties will also be tested. Given all the publicity about their cleverly orchestrated preference deals last time, it will be interesting to see whether the micros again attract significant backing

It’s one thing to berate voters who swung to the groups masquerading as parties, as being naïve, but it’s another to find out why they deserted the two major parties – especially Labor – which used to have elections all to themselves, save some candidates from the Democratic Labor Party on the right, and the Communist Party on the left.

The challenge for both Liberal and Labor this time is to convince voters who strayed to return to the fold. It means promoting policies on mainstream issues that have a chance of being implemented, against populist single-issue programs.

To gain one of the six Senate vacancies, a party must poll just over 14 per cent of the vote. As shown on the table, the Liberals gained more than 500,000 primary votes, or 39.3 per cent of the total. Helped by some preferences, that earned three seats.

Labor polled almost 350,000 votes, or 26.6 per cent. Union official Joe Bullock, and Senator Louise Pratt were elected on the first count, thanks to some preferences, but Senator Pratt – who was second on Labor’s ticket – lost out in the recount.

Helped by the complex preference swaps of the smaller parties, the flamboyant Clive Palmer’s party won a seat as well, with just 5 per cent, or 65,595 votes.

But the recount, requested by the Green’s Senator Scott Ludlam, who lost out initially, produced a more bizarre result. Noting that 1,370 votes had gone missing, the Electoral Commission confirmed the three Liberal spots, but only one for Labor. The Palmer Party lost its seat as well.

Senator Ludlam was back in, with 9.49 per cent per cent (124,354 votes), as was the Australian Sports Party’s Wayne Dropulich, with just 0.23 per cent (2,997 votes).

So the Sports Party wins the same representation as the Labor Party, with a tiny fraction of the Labor vote. It’s a bizarre situation but totally within the rules under which senators have been elected since 1984.

Labor is inviting voters to score the government on looming likely budget cuts in education and health, and recent decisions such as its refusal to assist the car and other manufacturing industries, which will result in the loss of thousands of jobs in south-east Australia.

The Liberals will be stressing Labor’s obstruction to the abolition of the carbon and mining taxes, and questioning why Labor opposes a royal commission into unions, which will also probe union-business links.

Then there is the unknown of how much state issues will intrude. Colin Barnett’s government has lost support, but will that be reflected in the vote? And will Labor be the beneficiary? Will unpopular state decisions be put on hold?

Presumably the Senate candidates, who normally slip below the radar in a general election, will be given a higher profile this time, although many will be thankful that the Forrest Place lunch time rallies are a thing of the past.

But they, and their parties, will still have the jitters.


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