Some surprises in Baird’s unsurprising triumph

31 May 2015

The recent state election in New South Wales turned out pretty much as predicted.  Premier Mike Baird and the Coalition parties survived a large swing against them to win the election with a comfortable majority.  They were always going to suffer a large swing, since the previous election in 2011 had seen a massive swing to the Liberal-National Coalition as voters comprehensively tossed the Labor Party out of office amid a stench of incompetence and scandal, but the swing to Labor now wasn’t thought likely to defeat the Coalition.

It’s not uncommon for a large swing in one direction at one election to be followed by a large swing the opposite way at the next.  I saw such swings and reversals in the Federal elections of 1996 and 1998, and more recently in the Queensland elections of 2012 and this year, so I expected this to happen in NSW.  Mind you, the Queensland scenario was different because both elections saw the governing party lose office, both the Labor Party in 2012 and the Liberal National Party this year – it’s probably rare to see two consecutive elections resulting in big swings and changing of governments.

Nonetheless, the NSW election had the Coalition fighting for privatisation of electricity assets to fund upgrades to roads and schools and other things.  Voters weren’t keen on electricity privatisation, which they might’ve perceived as resulting in higher electricity charges under private operators who cared more about profits than providing a reliable electricity supply, but an anti-privatisation campaign by Labor didn’t really scare voters away from the Coalition.  There was talk about other issues possibly biting, like the unpopularity of some planned road tunnels in inner Sydney and concerns about alleged corruption by MPs, but they turned out to be local issues in just a few seats.

The unpopularity of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the Federal Coalition was also tipped to hurt Baird.  Indeed both Baird and Abbott represent the same region in different parliaments – Baird holds the State seat of Manly and Abbott holds the overlapping Federal seat of Warringah.  And after Queensland’s election had earlier seen the defeat of the Newman LNP Government, whose leader was an attacker like Abbott, many tipped an “Abbott factor” to hurt Baird.  But this didn’t occur.

Helping the Coalition was a whopping parliamentary majority – it won the previous election 69-20 over Labor in terms of seats, and the loss of a few seats in by-elections, as well as several MPs over corruption allegations, didn’t reduce the Coalition’s majority by much.  The Coalition also had a popular leader in Baird, who seems more energetic and likeable than many other leaders.  Having a popular leader and a strong parliamentary majority shielded the Coalition from any major backlash, over electricity privatisation or corruption or whatever.

In the end, unsurprisingly, the Coalition won comfortably, albeit just in the Lower House of Parliament, namely the Legislative Assembly.  It didn’t win enough seats to control the Upper House of Parliament, the Legislative Council – here it won nine out of twenty-one available seats, and its legislation won’t get through here without enough minor parties’ support.

Out of ninety-three Assembly seats, the Coalition won fifty-four and Labor won thirty-four, while the Greens won three and Independents won two.  In terms of my predictions, the Coalition won three more seats than I’d tipped and Labor won three less, while my prediction of two seats for the Greens and three for Independents turned out to be the reverse.

I correctly tipped Labor to win Blue Mountains, Campbelltown, Granville, Londonderry, Macquarie Fields, Maitland, Prospect, Rockdale, Strathfield, Swansea, and Wyong from the Coalition.  My tips for the Coalition to win back Miranda from Labor after losing it in a by-election, and for the Greens to hold Balmain and win Newtown, were also correct.  And I got right three seats which had changed hands at by-elections in the previous two years – as per my tips, the Coalition by-election winner in Northern Tablelands was returned, as were the Labor by-election winners in Newcastle and Charlestown.

But I also made many incorrect tips, and some results were surprises.  I didn’t tip the Coalition to hold off Labor in Coogee, East Hills, Holsworthy, Kiama, Monaro, and Oatley – some of these seats should’ve gone to Labor quite easily.  Nor did I tip the Coalition to hold off a well-known Independent in Tamworth.  I also didn’t tip Labor wins in Gosford and Port Stephens and The Entrance, where Labor had swings above the predicted statewide swing of 9-10 per cent from the Coalition.  And I never expected the Greens to win the rural seat of Ballina, because the Greens seldom poll well outside inner suburbs of capital cities and I doubted that they’d win in the bush, notwithstanding their strong opposition to coal seam gas, a major issue in some regions.

The result of the NSW election shouldn’t have surprised anybody.  Baird now has a fifteen-seat majority in the Lower House, though he needs crossbench support in the Upper House to pass legislation there.  But in Baird’s unsurprising triumph there were definitely some surprises, so Baird may have to address issues that he might’ve preferred to avoid.  His popularity remains strong, though how he handles some issues will direct where that popularity goes.

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Voter volatility empowers the Zoo-lady

18 May 2015

Not many predictions had been made before the Queensland election, earlier this year, of the Labor Party retaking office after losing to the Liberal National Party in a big way at the previous election, back in 2012.  Indeed, it was argued that, amid much voter hostility towards Premier Campbell Newman, relatively little notice was taken of the Opposition Leader, a lady left leading a “netball team” of seven Labor MPs – to the point where many voters couldn’t name her.

More significantly for the lady who was Labor leader, many voters couldn’t say, let alone spell, her name.  Yet on election night, with neither the LNP nor Labor looking like winning a majority of parliamentary seats, she suddenly had a chance to become Premier, and people had to take notice of her.  So it would’ve been amusing to hear, as I heard Brisbane-based political commentator Dennis Atkins mention on television on the morning after the election, how to spell the Labor leader’s name – “P-A-L-A-Sydney-Zoo-Canberra-Zoo-U-K”.

History shows that lady, Annastacia Palaszcuk, whose name is pronounced “Pala-shay”, becoming Premier in the wake of the election, albeit with crossbench support.  Palaszcuk’s triumph in leading Labor from seven seats out of eighty-nine in Parliament to forty-four, although one seat short of a majority, was a stunning turnaround.  It was also an unbelievable display of voter volatility.

Having checked the results of this year’s election against the previous election in 2012, I can illustrate an incredible turnaround for Labor.  In 2012, if not before, Queensland voters had been desperate to throw Labor out, but they’d never really warmed to the LNP.  It wasn’t until Newman, formerly Lord Mayor of Brisbane, was recruited to lead the LNP, albeit from outside Parliament, that voters saw a viable alternative to Labor.  But his abrasive style as Premier ended up turning voters off almost as greatly as they’d been initially turned on.

Labor was left with only seven seats in 2012 – three of them in southern Brisbane, one of them near Ipswich, one of them near Cairns, one of them in Mackay, and one of them in Rockhampton.  Right across Queensland, Labor was obliterated, but this year, most of those lost seats were won back.

South of the Brisbane River Labor won back eleven seats – Algester, Bulimba, Capalaba, Greenslopes, Logan, Lytton, Springwood, Stretton, Sunnybank, Waterford, and Yeerongpilly.  North of the Brisbane River Labor won back eleven more seats – Ashgrove, Brisbane Central, Ferny Grove, Kallangur, Morayfield, Mount Coot-tha, Murrumba, Nudgee, Pine Rivers, Pumicestone, and Sandgate.  Labor thus won twenty-two seats in this area alone.  Two other northern Brisbane seats, Redcliffe and Stafford, had fallen to the LNP in 2012 but returned to Labor at later by-elections after the sitting LNP members in both seats resigned from Parliament prematurely.

Just outside Brisbane, Labor regained Ipswich and Ipswich West, both lost in 2012.  Further north, Labor regained Keppel in the Rockhampton area.  Further north still, Labor also regained Townsville and Thuringowa and Mundingburra.  In the far north, Labor regained Cairns and Barron River and Cook.  I should point out that I include Cook for the purpose of my illustration, even though the newly-elected Labor MP in that seat, Billy Gordon, has since become an Independent after having a criminal record exposed – Cook was easily winnable for Labor, even if Gordon hadn’t been the candidate.

Labor therefore regained thirty-one seats lost in 2012 – the total rises to thirty-three if you include the by-election gains.  Four other Labor gains were already in other hands by 2012 – Bundaberg and Gladstone and Maryborough, plus Mirani on the Rockhampton-Mackay stretch.

This shows quite a level of voter volatility in Queensland, to the point where a “Zoo-lady” whom many people couldn’t name has become Premier.  Harsh though it might be to call her the Zoo-lady, the “Sydney-Zoo-Canberra-Zoo” reference in relation to spelling her name really sticks!  It’s unlikely that Palaszczuk will have that level of voter volatility empowering her again, and few other leaders will have moments in which such volatility empowers them.  But her name will become more familar to all and sundry, and we’ll see what kind of Premier she ends up becoming.