Nick Economou, Monash University; Chris Aulich, University of Canberra; Ian Cook, Murdoch University; Maxine Newlands, James Cook University; Michael Lester, University of Tasmania; Richard Eccleston, University of Tasmania, and Rob Manwaring, Flinders University
We now know that the next federal election will take place on May 18. To guide you through the campaign, our “state of the states” series takes stock of the key issues, seats and policies affecting the vote in each of Australia’s states.
We’ll check in with our expert political analysts around the country every week of the campaign for updates on how it is playing out.
Nick Economou, Senior Lecturer in the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash University
For the first time in many contests, Victoria is shaping up as a crucial battleground in the 2019 federal election.
Normally there are few marginal seats in Victoria that involve a contest between Labor and the Liberal Party. In recent times, there’s been more interest in Labor’s battle with the Greens in the inner-city seat of Melbourne, and the election of the independent Cathy McGowan in the rural seat of Indi (McGowan will not be re-contesting this seat in 2019).
If the Victorian state election held in November 2018 is any guide, the historical pattern where few marginal seats change hands will be broken. Labor could be on the verge of a landslide in Victoria.
Even before a vote has been cast, the 2018 federal redistribution has already created a new Labor seat in Melbourne’s suburban north-west – to be called “Fraser” – and the previously Liberal seat of Dunkley is now notionally Labor.
If the anti-Liberal swing that occurred in the state election was replicated in the federal contest, other Liberal seats would also fall. In the 2016 federal election, Labor won a two party vote of 51.8%. In the 2018 state election, Labor’s statewide two party vote was 57.3% – a difference of 5.5 percentage points.
If we see a similar swing in the federal election, Labor would gain Chisholm, LaTrobe, Casey and McEwen, with Deakin and possibly Flinders also being won.
There was more bad news for the Coalition out of the 2018 state election. The state district of Mildura in Victoria’s rural far north-west, previously held by the National Party, was won by independent Ali Cupper. Mildura comprises about half of the federal seat of Mallee, whose sitting member, Andrew Broad, has since resigned over an internet sex scandal. This formerly safe National seat is now clearly vulnerable – particularly to a high profile local independent.
In the half-senate election, meanwhile, arguably the most significant contest will involve the Derryn Hinch Justice Party. In all likelihood, Labor will win two seats, the Greens will secure one seat, and the joint Liberal-National ticket ought to secure two seats. The final seat will be battled over by the Coalition and a host of minor parties, of which the Hinch party will be the most prominent. Indeed, Derryn Hinch himself is up for re-election and this may well be reason enough for the Hinch Justice Party to prevail.
New South Wales
Chris Aulich, Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra
Most political analysts argue that the forthcoming federal election will be won or lost in Queensland. While there may be more marginal seats in contention in that state, there are a number of ongoing issues which play out both nationally and in NSW which might influence the election result.
The first is the tension between conservative and moderate Liberals. This tension underpins the challenge by independent Liberal Zali Steggall to former PM Tony Abbott in the Sydney seat of Warringah. The contest also highlights election funding. Steggall is receiving support from Get Up!, which has targeted “hard right” Liberals Abbott and Dutton. Abbott holds his seat by 11%, but in 2016 this result was achieved against challenges from Labor and the Greens and not such a strong, local candidate from the right.
A second issue relates to the poor performance of the Nationals in the recent NSW elections, when many traditional National voters switched their votes to independents or to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party. This suggests that the regional seat of Cowper might now become more marginal, especially since the Nationals’ Luke Hartsuyker is not recontesting. Independent Rob Oakeshott is trying for a second time to win, although he will need a swing of more than 4.6%.
Third, many voters have been angered by the overthrow of sitting prime ministers and in Malcolm Turnbull’s seat of Wentworth showed this anger by preferring independent Liberal Kerryn Phelps over the endorsed Liberal candidate, Dave Sharma. Much interest now focuses on whether Phelps’ vote will evaporate as anger wanes. Sharma is a strong candidate but Phelps has made a significant contribution to parliament, especially in sponsoring the “medevac” legislation.
There are few marginal seats in NSW that might be exposed by a swing away from the government, but in Gilmore, retiring Liberal Ann Sudmalis won in 2016 by just 1,503 votes. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has intervened by making a “captain’s call” in nominating former Labor President Warren Mundine, so this seat is likely to be close. Other marginal seats in NSW include Robertson and Banks held by the government by less than 2%, and the Labor-held seat of Paterson.
Maxine Newlands, Senior Lecturer in Political Science at James Cook University
Queensland is a Liberal National stronghold. At the last federal election, the Coalition picked up 21 of 30 Queensland seats. The Australian Labor Party picked up eight seats, and Katter’s Australian Party was re-elected in the seat of Kennedy. Labor’s win over the Coalition in Herbert in North Queensland gave them their only Queensland seat outside of the state’s metropolitan area.
Queensland’s population is concentrated along the southeast corridor that stretches from Brisbane to Ipswich and Toowoomba, so funding allocations are a divisive issue in regional and rural Queensland. The concentration of much of the state’s infrastructure into one corner has seen the minor parties – Katter’s Australian Party and Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party – set up offices in Townsville CBD in recent years. The message is clear, vote for them and they will look after the North’s interest.
With Labor hanging onto Herbert by a mere 37 votes, the candidate with local interests will be key. The first woman to hold Herbert, incumbent Cathy O’Toole, is a born and bred Townsvillian. She will face the Coalition’s Philip Thompson – last year’s Queensland Young Australian of the year. While the two locals battle it out, the minor parties will be the ones to watch.
Katter’s Australian Party, Palmer’s United Australia Party, and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation will be in a three-way battle for preference votes. One Nation benefited from Clive Palmer’s absence from the 2016 election, picking up a 13% swing in the northern suburb of Bluewater (in the seat of Herbert). This year the spoils will need to be split.
For the Greens, the Adani coalmine and Great Barrier Reef will be key issues. National and local support from Stop Adani and GetUp! Australia’s campaign will take a local concerns to the national level. GetUp! also have their sight on another seat: the minister for home affairs Peter Dutton’s electorate of Dickson.
Dutton has a stronger majority than Herbert’s Cathy O’Toole, but he too is a high profile scalp. Unlike O’Toole, Dutton has held the seat for nearly two decades. Over the past 18 years, the Coalition under Dutton has seen their majority dwindle with a margin of just 1.7% in 2016. With a 5.1% swing away from the Coalition in favour of Labor at the last election, Labor candidate Ali France will be a strong contender.
Whatever happens on polling day, Queenslanders will probably stay with form, and vote with the Coalition. Whether the Coalition will secure more than 21 seats will depend on its local focus on jobs, the environment and who can close the divide between the metropolitan south and the rest of Queensland.
Ian Cook, Senior Lecturer of Australian Politics at Murdoch University
Until budget night, the GST issue in Western Australia looked as if it had gone away – finally. West Australian folk are as sick of it as everyone else.
Scott Morrison’s government committed to a GST top-up for Western Australia and introduced a floor into the system that will mean that Western Australians won’t be punished as much for not having poker machines outside casinos. Last night’s budget and a A$1 billion dollar shortfall for Western Australia means that the issue might come back.
The point about the ongoing resentment toward the GST split is that it was, and is, a manifestation of the perennial complaint of West Australians: that, apart from the income generated from resources, no one in Canberra cares about Western Australia.
While the GST short-fall affects all states, Labor will work hard to get WA voters to believe that the latest GST problem is another sign that the Liberals don’t care about us. That’s federal politicking in Western Australia.
And Canberra has really cared lately. Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, brought his shadow cabinet to Western Australia two weeks ago to reassure us that a Labor government would really care, and will spend billions on infrastructure and other projects in the state. Last week Scott Morrison came to announce that a Liberal-National government would spend another A$1.6 billion on roads and rail in addition the A$4.7 billion WA got for its GST top-up.
Western Australia Treasurer Ben Wyatt, like everyone else, sees the recent visits and promises and the budget as signs that the major parties are very interested in Western Australian seats. Well, some seats. For the Liberals it’s Cowan and Perth. For Labor it’s Hasluck, Pearce, Swan, Stirling and Canning.
Pearce is particularly interesting because it is Western Australia star Liberal, Christian Porter’s, seat. But there’s always the matter of Durack and O’Connor being held by the Liberals when they should be National Party seats. They’re huge regional seats that the Nationals hoped to win (Durack) or win back (O’Connor) in the last election but didn’t.
Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer in Politics and Public Policy at Flinders University
South Australia is rarely a game-changer in Australian federal elections, but there are some key clashes taking place in the state. While the issue of who forms government might not be decided in the driest state in the country, a few electoral contests will tell us a good deal about the state of the parties, and the mood of the electorate.
The most marginal seat in SA is Boothby, with conservative Liberal Nicolle Flint sitting on a nominal lead of 2.8%. If the voters are keen to punish the Liberals, then Flint may not be able to capitalise on first term incumbency. Critically, GetUp! have targeted Flint, and will be hopeful after their success in Tasmania last time round.
There are other key seats, far less marginal than Boothby, that could also tell us something about the extent of voter dissatisfaction with the Morrison government. In the seat of Sturt, currently held by the ubiquitous, but now retiring Christopher Pyne, the Liberals only have a nominal margin of 5.8%. Pyne has not left the preselected James Stevens much time to gain name recognition in the constituency. Stevens is SA Premier Steven Marshall’s former chief of staff.
In other circumstances, the Liberals might hope to claw back the seat of Mayo – currently held by the Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie. Sharkie was caught up in the citizenship crisis, and beat Georgina Downer in a byelection. Downer is back again, drawing on some significant support, and will hope that she can make better inroads than her byelection effort.
Economically, South Australians will be concerned that the state is treading water. Energy, climate breakdown, cost of living concerns, and also the dead fish of the Menindee are key issues preoccupying the SA electorate.
Given the Liberal leadership crisis, the voters may well be unforgiving.
Richard Eccleston, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institute for the Study of Social Change at the University of Tasmania
Michael Lester, researcher and PhD student at the Institute for the Study of Social Change.
Tasmania has emerged as an electoral battleground in the early “faux” election campaign. There have been multiple visits by Coalition and Labor frontbenchers with a long list of project funding announcements and promises.
And the reason for that is clear. Labor holds four of the state’s five House of Representative seats, but only one is classified as “safe” following an electoral redistribution in 2017. The other seat – the Hobart-based seat of Clark (formerly Denison) – is held by popular independent Andrew Wilkie.
For each seat to change hands after the redistribution, Bass nominally would require a swing of 5.4%, Braddon just 1.7% (although there has since been a byelection in that seat), and Lyons, 3.8%. Franklin, currently held by Shadow Minister for Ageing and Mental Health Julie Collins, would require a swing of 10.7% and is considered a safe Labor seat, even in these volatile times.
An opinion poll on federal voting intentions conducted by local pollster EMRS last December put Labor on 40% statewide, up from 37.9% at the 2016 election. The Liberals were down from 35.4% to 33%, and the Greens were on 11%.
This Tasmanian poll, combined with the fact that the Coalition continue to trail Labor nationally, suggests that the Liberals have little chance of regaining any of the three seats (Bass, Braddon and Lyons) they lost to Labor back in 2016. The lack of major new announcements for Tasmania in the budget also suggests that government strategists are more focused on holding ground on the mainland than winning back lost territory in Tasmania.
But, as we will explain in our seat-by seat coverage over the course of the campaign, the Liberals have endorsed new candidates in these three key seats. All Tasmanian politics is local, so personalities matter. Whether these fresh faces are enough to cause an upset or two come May remains to be seen.
Nick Economou, Senior Lecturer, School of Political and Social Inquiry, Monash University; Chris Aulich, Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra, University of Canberra; Ian Cook, Senior Lecturer of Australian Politics, Murdoch University; Maxine Newlands, Senior Lecturer in Political Science: Research Fellow at the Cairns Institute, James Cook University; Michael Lester, PhD candidate, University of Tasmania; Richard Eccleston, Professor of Political Science; Director, Institute for the Study of Social Change, University of Tasmania, and Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer, Politics and Public Policy, Flinders University