Sunday, February 27, 2011

Betting on it

There has been some interesting chatter recently about the betting market for the NSW election.  I always take very careful note of what the betting agencies are offering - after all, they more than anyone have no partisan interest, and the amount of money they have riding on the result means that the odds they offer are (presumably) untinged by emotion or sentimentality.

It is in the bookmaker's interest to make sure that the actual favourite is priced as the favourite - if not, it is likely they will loose money.

The one thing that must be borne in mind, however, is this.  Once a bookmaker takes a disproportionate amount of money on one "runner", they will shorten the odds to prevent a monetary loss.  This does not necessarily mean that the prospects of this runner are any better than they were a day ago - but because the bookmaker now wants to discourage betting on this runner, they will shorten the odds.

Whilst the betting company has no sentimentality, the betting public certainly does.  For example, I would expect that when Australia plays in a sporting event the Australian betting public bets more on Australia than, say, a bookmaker in the opponent's country.  Consequently, all things being equal, the odds on an Australian win should be shorter with the Australian bookmaker.

Having said that all that - I doubt it makes a huge difference for political betting, although divergent odds on different major betting company websites suggests that that view may be premature.

Anyway.  I've made a spreadsheet on google docs which you can see here:

It lists the NSW electorates, names the current member's affiliation, and then lists the winner as predicted by

Frustratingly, Sportsbet is only offering odds in 38 electorates, and they're listed in black in the "Sportbet tip" column.  It's not even only the "close" competitions that are in the market - of the 38 markets, 8 have one runner where the odds offered are $1.05 or less.

I've filled in the remaining 55 electorates using Anthony's Green's tips and some guesswork, and they are all marked in red. Surprisingly, there are some very tight competitions that are not on the Sportsbet market - there 7 seats presently held by the ALP with a margin of 10% to 15% that have no market.  

Of those 7, six are left in the ALP column.  One (Kiama) is left marked for the Coalition because Anthony Green said so, apparently because a redistribution makes it s bit more Liberal.

So, what did this spreadsheet reveal?  When the Sportsbet market is combined with my guesses, the ALP win 26 seats, the Coalition win 61, the Greens win 2 and 4 seats are won by Independents.

Of course no one expects a uniform swing - Kogarah has a margin of 17.7% and Sportsbet tips it to move to the Coalition, whilst Toongabbie with a margin of 14.5% is tipped to be retained by the ALP.

That said, if we get out Anthony Green's Election calculator out and plug in numbers, what swing spits out the ALP winning 26 seats?  Roughly, 12.2%.  That's about a 60/40 two party preferred split.

Even if I move all 6 of the 10% to 15% ALP seats into the LIB column and make it 67 to 20, the swing is still less than 15%

60/40 a shellacking, by any measure.  Probably too much for Labor to be back in power in 4 years time.  But the swing "predicted" is still far less than the numbers we're seeing in the polls, which which have tipped swings of as much as 18%.

Of course the only poll that matters is the one carried out in polling booths on 26 March.  But I think we learn far more looking at the Sportsbet market than we ever will looking at a Newspoll.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Federal Incursion

With all the drama and inevitable weeping and gnashing of teeth about the Carbon Tax in Canberra yesterday, it was perhaps inevitable that it would become an issue in the NSW election.

Of course, anyone who is influenced by what either leader said on the issue surely misunderstands the delineated roles of the Commonwealth and State governments, but let's put that aside for the moment.

Keneally came out in support of the tax, saying "Climate change is a real problem and we as a nation need real leadership to deal with it," (SMH Online) whilst O'Farrell said that he opposed the tax because it "is going to boost families' power bills by $500, boost the power bills of small businesses by $2,000, and threaten industries like the steel industry in the Illawarra." (ABC Online)

To what extent the Federal leaders have instructed these two to follow the party line is anyone's guess.  The way both fell in line seemingly without question highlights the clear ideological divide between Federal Labor and Coalition on this issue.

To see a stark ideological difference extend past meaningless rhetoric is a treat in Australian politics.  I often have the feeling that it is anyone's guess where the two major parties will land on any particular issue.  

WorkChoices was, until now, the most obvious example.  Labor (and the unions) in the 2007 Federal Election used WorkChoices to brilliant effect, galvanising their base and reminding people who they (ostensibly) stand for.

The Carbon Tax appears to be the next WorkChoices, which should be a guarantee of some first class niggle from both sides.  The NBN and the flood levy have also been interesting to watch, for the same reason.  Abbott's "Oppose or Die Trying" approach has certainly helped lift some pulses on both sides of the aisle.

In NSW, there are few issues on which there is a true ideological split.  Labor have been trying to paint O'Farrell as someone who will privatise everything, in typical Liberal style, but their efforts must seem a little disingenuous given they just crashed through the power privatisation.

There are differences in the plans for transport, but there is no major difference for ideological reasons.  Same goes for health and education.

In fact, it's a little hard to think of a state issue where we have the same ideological battle that we are now seeing in Canberra.  This may very well be a product of the fact that the Coalition knows that all they have to do is stay on their feet long enough to fall over the line - why risk alienating all the Labor voters who have drifted across to them by doing something that will annoy traditional Labor voters?

This all makes O'Farrell's willingness to "nail his colours to the mast" a little confusing.  Have a look at this Newspoll: 

Admittedly, the numbers are from December last year, and presumably we'll see an avalanche of polling on the issue soon.  Also, I'm not a huge fan of the question asked by the pollsters,  but this will have to do for now.

Labor voters are 57:39:4 (in favour:against:uncommitted) on a price on carbon.  Liberal voters are 31:65:4

As things stand in NSW, there are hundreds of thousands of people who would usually be Labor voters who are telling pollsters they will vote for the Coalition.  

These people voting Coalition on 26 March is surely the key to a crushing Coalition victory - and O'Farrell allowing climate change to become an issue and tying himself to the Federal Coalition position on going to push these people back towards Labor.  Further, it's hardly going win any voters from Labor - based on present polling, I think it fair to assume that the only people still planning to vote Labor would vote naked before they voted Coalition.

In my view, irrespective of whether he actually believes it or not, O'Farrell would do well to steer the conversation towards state issues rather than risk chipping away at the Coalition's monumental lead rather than importing an issue that is only going to lose him votes.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Cult of Personality

The question of the importance of the leader is always an interesting one. In some elections, it seems that all any one cares about is who the leader is and what he or she is like.

Barack Obama was a perfect example. People were sick of George W Bush, true - but much of Obama's victory was a result of the vision he offered, and the person that he appeared to be.

This is a phenomenon that, for better or worse, doesn't show itself as much in Australia. Of course the leader is important, and of course a bad leader will sink faster than you can say "a conga line of suck-holes" - but by and large the leader's effectiveness is really only a product of his or her ability to enunciate a message, or his or her ability to connect with the public.

This may be a product of our voting system, or perhaps the amount of power with which we invest the executive. Either way, it's important.

Some time ago, NSW Labor abandoned any pretence of trying to win or retain votes based upon the Labor brand. Since Keneally's ascension, it has been all about "Brand Keneally". We've even had stories about Labor candidates actively removing any reference to Labor from the campaign posters.

One of the important questions of this campaign was always going to be how well this worked. Much of the answer would always be dictated by Keneally's performance, and yesterday she showed that she certainly wasn't going to die wondering.

The Channel 10 televised debate was inexplicably scheduled for 12 noon, so I expect that about 16 people watched it. Of course what this means is that most people will rely upon news outlets to tell them who "won" the debate, which for reasons that have always puzzled me seems to be what sways voters the most.

Many commentators noted that Keneally performed far more like an opposition leader, and O'Farrell more like a incumbent. She attacked and probed, whilst he seemed to spend much of the debate trying to keep his head above water. She seemed energetic and likeable, quick on her feet and confident. O'Farrell seemed under attack - his only response to much of what Keneally said was to say that Labor cannot be trusted, which surely is practically beyond question and therefore hardly worth mentioning.

Having said that, the incredibly unscientific SMH Online Poll suggested that O'Farrell won the debate, although this may reflect more of the reader's preconceptions and predetermined voting intentions than being a fair assessment of the debate.

The SMH also surveyed the 75 audience members: 25 Labor voters, 25 Coalition voters and 25 undecideds. How any editor could put the results of such a survey on the front page is beyond me, especially with the headline "Voters like Keneally but dump on Labor". (

That's without even talking about how non-random a sample of 75 people who at a few days notice could attend a debate held at 12 noon on a weekday would be. Even more so, and ignoring for a minute the inherent problems, the "survey" result was 26 labor, 21 Liberal, 15 Undecided, 9 Green, and 0 National. For reasons passing understanding, the story was that Keneally had only swayed one voter, rather than the fact that O'Farrell had shed 4 or that the Greens appear to have picked up 9 of the 25 undecideds without even being a part of the debate. If you're going to write a story using a pointless survey, surely you owe it to your readers least draw the right conclusion from it?

The actually interesting part (as opposed to pointless surveys), was this. One of the audience members said that Keneally was "a better debater, and seemed more sure of herself," whilst another said "O'Farrell was visibly rattled at times." (SMH online)

Reading those remarks as they were reported yesterday reminded me of one category of people who would be switching to Labor to build on their awful poll number at the start of the campaign (as I wrote would inevitably happen here:

Some people would decide they liked Keneally better, and that will be all it takes for them to switch to Labor. It's fair enough to question why people would switch based on something as superficial as whether you like their tone, but for better or worse it's what people do.

I think this all vindicates the Labor policy of Brand Keneally. It may be that Labor (correctly) judged that Keneally would play better on TV and would be generally liked by the voters - this would explain why Labor (contrary to the generally accepted approach by incumbent governments) agreed to more debates than you can shake a stick at. They may be banking on Keneally winning people over.

Of course there is practically no chance that this will swing the balance close enough to even make the contest interesting - but if O'Farrell wants a win big enough to all but guarantee 8 years then he will need to make sure people start seeing a side of him that they like.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Thirst for Power

The sale of New South Wales' power assets by the Labor government is, to say the least puzzling. The way in which it has been handled is even stranger, especially in light of present circumstances.

I think it is safe to assume that Labor as a whole has given up on any sort of meaningful victory on 26 March and is firmly focussed on preventing an absolute annihilation. If they manage to avoid an awful result then there is a chance of winning government back in 4 years time.

Given that, it seems incredibly odd that the government is rushing through the sale of these power assets at this time. It's more than a little hard to work out what they are trying to achieve.

The sale was always going to be unpopular. We all remember the chaos in 2008 when Costa and Iemma tried to force the sale through.

So, what are Labor doing? We know they expected trouble - that's why Keneally prorogued parliament on 22 December 2010.

Now the Upper House's report into the sale has come down more than a month before the election, and suffice to say it delivers a massive slap to the Labor government.

According to Rev Fred Nile, who chaired the committee, NSW could expect to receive, instead of the $5.3 billion figure that has been bandied about, only $600 to $700 million. The value for money is so bad that the report recommends that parts of the contract be rescinded to "allow the incoming government to reassess the future of the electricity industry in NSW."

The deal is due to be finalised on 1 March, exactly 3 days before the caretaker provisions kick in.

There can be little doubt that this deal will be raked over incessantly by the Coalition, and the media will quite rightly continue to write story after story about it - hammering home the perception that Labor are too stupid or too corrupt to run a state properly.

So, I come back to my original point - what are Labor playing at?

One theory is that perhaps there is some vested interest they are seeking to fulfil - a donor to satisfy. I've heard no such suggestion, and i presume that if some of the major players were donors we would have heard all about it.

Another theory is that Roozendaal is seeking to improve his chances of a cushy private sector job after the election. He qualifies for the parliamentary pension on 24 June 2011 and many expect him to quit not long after. Perhaps he sees completing this sale as a audition of sorts for the private sector.

On the other hand, maybe it's legacy. Someone near the top of NSW Labor sees this sale as being good for NSW and wants to make this sale the good thing that this government is remembered for.

Finally, maybe the idea is to give Labor the opportunity to attack O'Farrell on his prevarication about further privatisation - making the sale starts the conversation, and any time O'Farrell attacks on this point it reminds people that a Coalition government will probably sell of further assets. That said, it is difficult to see why it why it was necessary to make this sale to start that conversation.

When it's looked at holistically, it is very difficult to see how pushing this sale through has in any way improved Labor's position with the electorate. The unions are upset because they foresee job losses. The public have seen Labor mess up yet another major project. And O'Farrell has yet another bat to whack Labor around the head with (as if he needed another).

And all for what gain exactly? When the sale could simply have been delayed and left to O'Farrell to sort out?

It's all awfully odd.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Men are from Mars...

By all accounts, O'Farrell was roundly defeated by Keneally in the first debate of this campaign last week, although whether anyone saw the debate is another question.

One of the theories that have been advanced for what has been described as a hesitant performance on his part is a fear of being seen as, in short, a bully.

O'Farrell is not a small man. Whilst no longer as rotund or bearded as he once was, there is no doubt that a visual image of him intimidating Keneally either by his words or his actions would be very damaging for the Coalition.

O'Farrell's concerns (if indeed he had them) are is of course on one level ridiculous - unless he threatened Keneally or used foul language, there is no justification for a suggestion that he has sought to intimidate her. That said, the gender issue in politics is often ridiculous, so I suppose we shouldn't be surprised.

When Gillard became PM, the contrast in the way the media reported on her appearance compared to her predecessor could not have been starker. Suddenly we had the All White Jacket conversation. There was speculation and reporting over her hair, her make-up and yes, even her earlobes. I can't imagine a drearier topic, but I suppose if it didn't sell it wouldn't be reported.

Is this just because reporting on men's appearance would be even duller? We never heard a thing about Rudd's appearance (although cartoonists did seem to enjoy his boyish face, Alan Moir especially). One imagines that a report that "Today Rudd wore a dark suit. And a tie. Oh, and look at his tie-clip!" would not excite any editor, even on the slowest of news days.

When Anna Bligh was North-East Queensland over this summer, I can't count the reports about what she was wearing, or the fact that she was not wearing make-up, looking tired and drawn.

This isn't aiming to be a critique of the political reporting style of our Fourth Estate - there are plenty other people who are interested in having that conversation. Rather, I've been thinking about what difference it makes that Keneally is a woman, and O'Farrell is a man.

On one hand, one would presume that a woman would have some inherent advantages over a male politician. These advantages rely to a horrible extent upon generalisations and enforced gender roles, but anyone who pretends they don't matter any way is kidding themselves. It shouldn't matter if Keneally has her hair done in an attractive way, but it does.

People instinctively see female politicians as being more mothering - kinder, more likely to understand how hard it is to raise a family, more capable of empathy. By the same token, some people see women as being more irrational, more emotionally driven, even tempestuous. One only need to look at some of the comments made about the emotion Gillard showed on the first day of parliament this year as the condolence motion was passed.

Male politicians, it seems, are far more likely to be seen as powerful, as strong and able to lead. Along with that though, comes an inference of aggression, and of a thirst for power. If O'Farrell was seen to be being a bully, that would no doubt provoke significant resentment, and not just from female voters.

This all means that the starkest difference between the two leaders will most likely not get a single mention from either side for fear of being seen as taking advantage of the situation. Gender in politics (and in life generally) is such a sensitive issue that if it ever arose the media would presumably talk about nothing else for a week, which it seem both parties see as being counter-productive.

One can barely imagine the vitriol that would be poured on O'Farrell if he even implied that people shouldn't vote for Keneally because she is female. For Labor, it is difficult to imagine how they could possibly take advantage of the situation and explicitly capitalise on the perceived positive aspects of Keneally's gender without beginning a discussion about the perceived negative characteristics.

There has been little discussion of the gender difference to date, and that is of course the way it should be. I've seen no polling on the issue either, which is interesting. Whether the reason is because no one thinks it matters, or because everyone is afraid to ask, is something I would certainly be interested to find out.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

The First Battle

As we all know, the Liberal Party goes into the 2011 NSW election overwhelming favourites. All the talk appears to be not whether, but rather how much.

The SMH published a poll earlier this week that predicted a truly extraordinary swing of 18% to the Coalition. That's not as much as the 25% swing at the Penrith by-election in June of last year, but it is still enormous, and far, far in excess of the swing the coalition will need to secure victory.

Such has been the size of the swing suggested by these polls that the media has, almost across the board, done what it usually does, which is the extrapolate the swing out to be uniform across the state, assumed that these polls are an accurate reflection of the way the votes will fall, and then published breathless stories about how Labor is going to be "wiped out" (ABC) and faces a defeat of "historic proportions" (SMH).

The Sydney Morning Herald even reported that Labor "could be reduced to as few as 13 seats".

The Coalition's polling has been stratospheric for a long time. It has been above 50% since the middle of 2008, just 1 year after the last election, and has been above 60% since the middle of last year. This Nielson poll had the two party preferred at an incredible 66:34, which is a staggering number by any measure. Labor's primary vote is down to 22%.

Some people on Twitter this week have been wondering out loud who these 34% of people are, and on what basis they can still think that Labor are the people to lead NSW, which is fair enough. The government has been on the nose for so long it is almost difficult to remember a time when they were popular.

But the thing is, anyone who has watched a few elections in their time knows that from here it's all downhill for the Coalition. There is no way whatsoever, barring something catastrophic, that Labor will go down 66-34 on 26 March, and there is certainly no way that they will only achieve a 22% primary.

At the moment, most likely the only people voting for Labor are people who have some sort of vested interest, people who will vote Labor until they're wheeled out in a box, and people who would sell their soul before they vote Coalition (which for them probably amounts to the same thing).

Labor have been shouting , screaming and rending their garments for months and months about how O'Farrell looks set to cruise into government with barely a policy announced. He has run the small target strategy to great effect, which is no surprise since a vast proportion seems prepared to vote for anyone who isn't Labor.

What Labor have clearly decided to do is that if O'Farrell won't tell the public what he stands for, they will. Which brings me to the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Council's Debate.

At present, the NSW government's policy is that approximately 70% of new homes are to be built in established areas and 30% on the city's fringe. At this debate, O'Farrell revealed that he favoured a ratio of about 50:50.

It's more than possible that this position is influenced by O'Farrell's electorate. Many communities have been horrified by what they see as over-development in their suburbs, and many have been vocal about, but the residents of the "leafy" North Shore have been perhaps the most vocal and best organised of the lot.

O'Farrell's electorate covers, more or less, the route followed by the North Short Train Line between Roseville and Hornsby. These suburbs have seen a large number of new developments in line with the policy of putting as many developments as possible near existing transport infrastructure.

O'Farrell will have won some friends, certainly in his own electorate and in others with similar issues (not that he needs the help, given he won with a 79/21 2PP last time round). He even has an opponent on issue - William Bourke, running for the Save our State party, a party whose prime purpose is to prevent overdevelopment.

Labor, on the other hand, have gone into overdrive selling the Coalition as the party for Western Sydney Sprawl. Every Labor politician near a microphone has been talking about this since almost the moment the ration 50:50 fell from O'Farrell's lips. Keneally and David Borger (Minister for Western Sydney) have bandied around the figure of 550 000 extra people being moved into Western Sydney, with the obvious implications for public transport, roads and other facilities.

A website has even been launched: It's worth a look, just to see the way that Labor are beginning to brand O'Farrell in the face of his refusal to do it himself. It's also worth a look to see the outstanding photo of O'Farrell they've chosen to emblazon the website with.

The really interesting thing though, is the way that the Coalition has been comprehensively hosed this week, almost exclusively on this issue. O'Farrell has had little to say about this, and anything else he has said has been drowned out by this issue. Combined with a debate win for Keneally (although given that the debate was held at 12 noon on a weekday, surely no one saw it or cared) it's been a pretty bloody good week for Labor.

I said earlier that the polls were always going improve for Labor before the election - this is how. Inevitably, O'Farrell and his team are going to piss some people off. Some people will decide that in fact they could tolerate Labor for 4 more years, and shift their allegiances back across.

It may be that the Coalition's strategy is that no one is listening to what Labor says anyway, so it's better to let them blow off some steam, build a few websites, get their base (who was always going to vote for them anyway) excited, and focus on the Coalition campaign launch (as we speak occurring out at Penrith, unsurprisingly enough).

That may well be a smart strategy, and time will tell whether it works. In the meantime, what remains to be seen is how far the Coalition deviates from the "Look, we're not Labor" approach. If the answer, is "Not much" we can look forward to a great deal of shouting , screaming and rending of garments from Labour between now and 26 March.


Friday, February 18, 2011

A New Beginning

So. I've decided I'm going to blog about NSW politics for a little while. Why?

A few reasons.

Reason number one is that I reckon that now is a really interesting time in NSW politics. Yes, it's true that the Coalition is $1.03 to form government (according to as of today) and yes Barry O'Farrell would probably be elected even if he stood on his head for every media conference between now and the election, and yes it's not a matter of whether but rather how much - but still, that's interesting.

How often do we get to see a government go into an election in no doubt whatsoever that they are going to get creamed?

This election will, rather than than a frantic competition to win those marginal seats, be about Labor trying to stem the haemorrhaging and try to win enough seats that they have a ghost's of a chance to win back government in 4 years time. No one thinks they can win - not even ex Labor Prime Ministers (

Number two is that no one else seems to be blogging about NSW politics. I'm not sure why that is, and I expect that I will shortly be told off by a dozen people who ARE in fact blogging about NSW politics, but it seems to me that most people only care about the Federal side.

That's fine, but I'm very interested in the NSW side of politics. Not because it is in any way superior, or because the politicians are of any higher quality (some might say quite the opposite) - i think it's mostly because the issues discussed seem (often) to be far more immediate, far more real the voter. Schools, hospitals, transport, infrastructure - these things are tangible, they affect everyone, and people get upset about them. So it's fun to watch.

Finally, it's a frustration of mine re blogs.

I find that here are two main sources of information and/or discussion about politics generally - the media, and then social media (blogs, twitter etc).

Both are excellent, in their own way, and I follow both closely.

The media gives (or, at least, the media is meant to give) an impartial report of what is going on. Who said what, what that means etc. Of course, I've been exposed far more over the last 12 months to what a particular news outlet has to say, and the way that they clearly push a particular point of view - but that's a blog post (or five) in and of itself. At least in theory, the media reports.

Blogs (and, to an extent, other forms of social media like Twitter etc) are, to my mind, meant to be the place where the news (as reported by the media) is digested, discussed, criticised, and generally assessed by the populace.

The frustration I feel about the way social media generally deals with this "role" is that it appears to be less about discussion and more about ranting about something that was said or done that day. People genuinely loose their rag on the internet about the "other side".

And, let's be frank, the "other side" is usually the conservative side of politics. Occasionally people rant about what Labor or the Greens did, but that's usually only because what they did was stupid, overly pragmatic or plain selling out.

Social media is massively biased towards the left. There are a few notable exceptions, who are often loud and vociferous enough that you forget they are a small minority, but that's what they are - a small minority.

That's not surpassing, given that the social media "crowd" is usually young and politically aware, which is in most cases a synonym for left-leaning. Nonetheless, it's gets pretty old. There are only so many times you can read about what a racist, sexist, homophobic, environmentalist hating pig Tony Abbott is before your eyes start to glaze.

Even Grog's Gamut ( whose blog I love and always read and enjoy, and who always brings a sensible, considered tone to almost every discussion, admits that he leans towards Labor.

At the end of the day, I have no firm political affiliations. If I could find a party whose platform aligned with my views even 75% of the time, I'd probably sign up, but I can't. I seem to agree with the Labor side about as often as I agree with the Coalition, and even the Greens get my vote on a number of issues.

So, I hope that this blog continues and if you keep reading, you will get a variety of opinions, not favouring any one side, but simply my commentary about what had gone on in NSW politics in the last few days.

I don't have a degree in politics. I'm not out to push an agenda or vent my anger. I'm not going to try and convince you of anything, and I'm not going to ridicule your views. I like writing and I like NSW politics, so at least for now those two interests are going intersect here.

I'm going to blog when I have time about things in NSW politics that I think are interesting. I hope you'll keep reading what I have to say and let me know what you think.