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Memory lane ... 

 

August 25, 1999, Wednesday, The Australian

BYLINE: RODNEY DALTON


THE Coalition received a morale boost yesterday with the latest Newspoll showing it remains on course for a strong win over Labor at Victoria's September 18 election.

The Coalition enters the 25-day campaign with a 10 percentage point lead over Labor, indicating the party's decision in March to dump former Opposition leader John Brumby for Steve Bracks may have been in vain.

The Newspoll, conducted exclusively for The Australian during July and August, shows the Coalition's primary vote down two points to 50 per cent. While Jeff Kennett's personal approval rating has slipped to 55 per cent from a peak in March-April 1999 of 60 per cent, voters still rate him 20 points higher than Mr Bracks, whose approval rating stands at 35 per cent.

The Newspoll shows fewer voters -- 10 per cent -- are uncommitted about Mr Bracks, but the five-point rise in his approval rating has been matched by an increase in the level of dissatisfaction with his performance.

Most voters have an opinion on Mr Kennett's performance as premier, with only 12 per cent remaining uncommitted. A third of voters are unhappy with Mr Kennett's performance as premier, up marginally from the previous Newspoll.

The Coalition's lead over Labor is three points lower than the previous Newspoll but is stronger than the 51-43 result at the 1996 election that the Coalition won in a landslide.

Labor's standing peaked at 44 points late in 1998 but the Coalition has rebounded, achieving a 13-point lead in the May-June Newspoll.

Since assuming the Labor leadership, Mr Bracks has struggled to make a dent in Mr Kennett's popularity, which has been well above 50 per cent since late 1998.

Mr Kennett holds a 32-point lead over Mr Bracks on who would make the make the better premier.

Only 23 per cent of voters prefer Mr Bracks as premier but that is five points better than the 18 per cent Mr Brumby achieved -- 46 points behind Mr Kennett -- before his demise.

September 18

 

HEADLINE: Despite the fury, Jeff will survive

BYLINE: MIKE  STEKETEE  * National affairs editor

BODY:
JUDGING by today's Newspoll, the fury of voters against whomever happens to be in government has yet to run its course.

No politician in Australia has been riding taller than Jeff Kennett. None has presided over a more dramatic turnaround in a State's fortunes. None has a bigger parliamentary majority. But the instinct of many Victorians is not to reward good deeds but rather to bring Kennett down a peg or three.

The most telling story in the Newspoll results is the contrast between the 80 per cent of Victorians who believe the Coalition will win today's election and the 46 per cent who actually say they will give the Government their primary vote.

It is the lopsided perception about a Kennett win that creates such fertile ground for a protest vote. It is why the pitch in Labor's advertising has been that "your vote can make Mr Kennett listen", and it is why the Premier's warnings that Labor could win have become increasingly more voluble as the campaign has progressed.

There are few signs that Victorians actually want a Labor government. They like Steve Bracks, Labor's new leader, who started the campaign with more people expressing no opinion about him than those saying he was doing a good job, and ended it with a satisfaction rating equal to that of the Premier's.

He has run a disciplined, focused campaign. Labor has even looked united under his leadership. But many people suspect this is a veneer, beneath which lurks a nasty factional brew. Voters remain to be convinced that Labor could run a competent government.

For that reason, today's Newspoll results could help scare Victorians back to the Coalition. That, and the strength of the Liberal vote in Melbourne, should be the Government's salvation today.

Newspoll shows a much bigger swing against the Government in the country, suggesting that Labor has run the right strategy in focusing so much attention on regional seats.

One Nation is mounting only a token effort in this election but the same underlying factors that made it a force, particularly in Queensland, are present in Victoria -- resentment that the good times enjoyed in the city have passed them by and that the only recognition they get from governments is when they look for ways to close down services.

But Labor's focus on the bush also betrays its true expectations. At best, the country can deliver about half the 15 seats Labor needs to win office.

The fact that Labor, after seven years in Opposition, would be delighted with a result that would see it facing a comfortable Coalition majority speaks volumes about the dominance Kennett has achieved.

 

Editorial, Australian, September 18 1999

AND ANOTHER THING: Our Newspoll today shows shows the Coalition and Labor motoring towards the line together in the Victorian election race. The idea of Jeff Kennett as the underdog is hard to contemplate but the poll does indicate the Premier may have been right when he said the election would be close. And that would mean the Jeff-centred campaign has had the decidedly unintended result of giving a huge boost to the standing of Opposition Leader Steve Bracks.

 

HEADLINE: Opposition sun sinks in the east

BYLINE: Michael Magazanik

BODY:
Parts of Victoria have become a wasteland for Labor, Michael Magazanik reports

*

NOBODY expects Labor to win today for one simple reason: the eastern suburbs.

The Opposition would need to win up to eight marginal seats in the east and south-east: barren ground for Labor for more than 10 years.

At the 1992 State election, Jeff Kennett won 61 seats in the 88-seat parliament, as Labor lost all its eastern suburbs seats and all but one in rural Victoria. Four years later, Mr Kennett had another landslide victory, winning 58 seats. Labor failed to win a single seat in the east and even lost Carrum, in the south-east, to the Government.

The first and only sign of hope for Labor in the east came in December 1997 when the John Brumby-led Labor Party romped to victory in the Mitcham by-election, after a 16 per cent anti-Government swing.

But a year after the by-election, federal voting figures would have given Mitcham back to the Government.

Even on the pendulum, the Opposition's task is gargantuan; a uniform 5.5 per cent swing would give it 16 seats -- 15 are required for victory.

But Victoria is Kennett country and the Premier's political skills make uniform swings unlikely. At the 1996 election, Mr Kennett's larrikin blue-collar appeal meant the Government comfortably retained almost all of its seats in less affluent areas.

Meanwhile, the Government's true-blue Liberal seats registered big anti-Government swings, a protest against Mr Kennett's personal style and cuts to education and health.

As in 1996, Mr Kennett's style is likely to account for a huge fluctuation in the swings from seat to seat today.

In rural areas, Mr Kennett is seen as Melbourne-centric and a strong backlash against the Government is expected. Seats most at risk are Ballarat East (0.1), Ballarat West (1.4), Narracan (1.7) and Bendigo East (5.1). Strong anti-Liberal swings are also likely in Seymour (4.2), Ripon (4.6) and Gisborne (7.9).

In the inner-suburbs, big swings are unlikely. Which means Labor is not going to pick up marginal Liberal seats such as Bentleigh (4.8), Mordialloc (4.7) and Prahran (4.7). Labor will also struggle in Tullamarine (3.1), but may pick up the ultra-marginal Liberal seats Carrum (0.8) and Oakleigh (0.9).

But the Government's big strength is the growth corridors and outer-east, where Mr Kennett is hugely popular. The Kennett phenomenon gives the Liberals a chance of picking up Labor-held Dandenong (3.4) and Dandenong North (2.3). Independent-held Frankston East is too close to call.

The Liberal Party is also a strong chance to pick up Gippsland West, which fell to an Independent in 1997. Most insiders tip that Independent Russell Savage will hold Mildura and the National Party faces a strong Independent challenge in Shepparton.

But if National Party candidate and former football star Paul Couch can grab Polwarth from the Liberal Party, the National Party has a strong chance of holding the balance of power in the next parliament if the Liberal Party loses seats to Labor.

Strangely, some Government MPs claim their boss would be quite happy if he lost three, four or five seats.

"It would help him instill a bit of discipline into the troops," one MP says. "The back bench wouldn't be quite so big, complacency would be less likely to set in."

This analysis is suspect. Mr Kennett is a warhorse and headkicker. He'd crawl over broken glass to win an extra seat.

August 25, 1999, Wednesday

SECTION: LOCAL; Pg. 4

LENGTH: 1127 words

HEADLINE: Bracks to make up on the swing

BYLINE: MALCOLM  MACKERRAS

BODY:
THE second Kennett victory on March 30, 1996, gave the Coalition 53.5 per cent of the Legislative Assembly two-party preferred vote and 58 seats (49 Liberal and nine National). Labor won 46.5 per cent and 29 seats. An Independent was elected for Mildura.

Three subsequent events have changed the numbers. First, on February 1, 1997, Susan Davies (Independent) took Gippsland West from the Liberal Party at a by-election.

Second, on December 13, 1997, Tony Robinson (Labor) took Mitcham from the Liberal Party at a by-election.

Third, during 1998 Peter McLellan (Frankston East) resigned from the Liberals and became an Independent.

The pendulum is based on the March 1996 general election figures except for Mitcham and Gippsland West.

For Mitcham, the swing shown is that needed by the Liberal candidate to regain the seat his party won at the 1996 general election. Consequently, it is not nearly as safe for Labor as its placement on the pendulum makes it appear. But it is my view that Robinson will retain the seat.

In the two seats shown as Independent, the swings are those needed by Labor in Mildura (based on the general election vote) and by the Liberals in Gippsland West (based on the by-election vote).

Since Frankston East was won by McLellan as a Liberal it is shown on the pendulum as Liberal.

Counting him as an Independent gives the Liberals 46 seats, Labor 30, Nationals nine and Independents three.

I seem to find myself more optimistic for Labor than most other observers. My guess is that Labor will gain seven seats, Frankston East plus six from the Liberal Party. That would bring Labor's numbers up to 37. The Coalition would thus be left with 49, of whom nine would be Nationals.

It would still be a handy win for the Coalition. The big winner, however, would be the National Party, which would then legitimise its position in the Coalition by holding the balance of power in the assembly.

My reasoning for being relatively optimistic for Labor takes three lines of argument.

First, expectations tend to have perverse effects. In 1996, there was an expectation of a reasonable result for Labor. The consequence was that Kennett enjoyed a win much better than generally predicted. This time the reverse is likely. Excessive expectations for Kennett will diminish the size of his actual win.

Second, last time Labor still suffered from the Cain-Kirner tag of "guilty party". Now, seven years on from the first Kennett victory, Labor has lost that tag. Since no one expects Labor to be in government, the tag cannot be applied.

Third, I have noticed in the past a link between retirements of government members and overall results. A large number of retirements is a bad omen for a government.

The Legislative Council election is easy to predict. Labor cannot possibly win.

There are 22 provinces for the upper house. Council members (two for each province) are elected on a rotating basis. Terms of half the members expire at each general election. Thus members are elected for two terms of the lower house.

The council has 44 members -- exactly half the assembly's 88. Each province consists of four complete and contiguous lower house electorates. For example, the Koonung province is made up of Forest Hill, Knox, Mitcham and Wantirna, while Eumemmerring consists of Berwick, Dandenong, Dandenong North and Pakenham.

It just so happens that each of the 1992 and 1996 council elections gave exactly the same distribution of seats between Coalition and Labor. Each time the Coalition won 17 seats (14 Liberal and three National) and Labor won five. Consequently, there are now 28 Liberals in the council, 10 Labor and six Nationals.

Labor performed so disastrously, both in 1992 and in 1996, that it was only able to win its five safe provinces, Doutta Galla, Jika Jika, Melbourne, Melbourne North and Melbourne West. In other words, its 10 current members consist of two each for these five ultra safe provinces.

There are a couple of complications to the council.

Although there are at present no provinces divided between Labor and Coalition, two are divided between Liberal and National.

The second complication relates to the Ballarat province. Since Rob Knowles (Liberal) was elected for Ballarat in 1996, electors in any of the Ballarat East, Ballarat West, Gisborne or Ripon lower house electorates will need to fill in three ballot papers, one for the assembly and two for the council.

One of the two council papers is the "normal" term to replace the Liberal member elected in 1992. The other is for a by-election to replace Knowles, who will resign his place to stand for Gisborne in the lower house.

Consequently, suppose there were a swing to Labor of, say, 6 per cent. Then each of Eumemmerring, Chelsea, Geelong, Monash and Waverley would be "divided", one each Liberal and Labor. By contrast, both Ballarat Council seats would be Labor.

Associate Professor Malcolm Mackerras teaches in the school of politics at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra.

* MACKERRAS PENDULUM

The swingers

   Mitcham (ALP)

Swing required: 10.5% Mitcham fell to Labor at a by-election in December 1997 after a record 16 per cent anti-Government swing. The by-election had been sparked by the resignation of MP Roger Pescott. The candidates are Labor's MP Tony Robinson and Liberal Andrew Munroe.

Ballarat East (Lib)

Swing required: 0.06%

The most marginal seat in the State. If 14 votes change hands, Ballarat East will fall to Labor. Barry Traynor has held the seat since 1992. Labor leader Steve Bracks will use his local appeal to try to help candidate Geoff Howard over the line.

Gippsland West (Ind)

Swing required: 0.30% Gippsland West fell to Independent Susan Davies at a February 1997 by-election caused by the resignation of former Liberal leader Alan Brown. A collection of Independents traded preferences (Labor did not run) and Ms Davies's strong 32 per cent share of the primary vote allowed her to vault past the Liberal candidate on preferences.

The Liberal Party is certain its candidate, Gerard McRae, can win the seat back.

Frankston East (Ind)

Swing required: 3.1%

Peter McLellan won the seat for the Liberals in 1992 and held it at the 1996 election. Mr McLellan quit the Liberal Party in 1998 but is unlikely to retain the working-class seat. Labor's Matt Viney is favoured over Liberal candidate Cherie McLean.

Carrum (Lib)

Swing required: 0.8%

Labor held Carrum from 1976 to 1996. In 1996, Carrum voters elected Liberal David Lean. Labor's candidate, Jenny Lindell, is considered  to have a strong chance of winning the seat. However Liberal insiders believe Mr Kennett's blue-collar appeal will allow them to retain Carrum.

Antony Green

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