Australia Decides: The Battleground in 2007

Australia Decides: The Battleground in 2007


A guest article by Alexander Drake

Regardless of whether John Howard continues to lead the Liberal-National Coalition, it’s worthwhile to have a look at the main battleground seats for the 2007 Australian federal election.

Australia’s electoral topography is fairly standard across each of the five mainland states, with each one having seats that broadly fall into the same categories. To illustrate these different types, I’ve created a rough diagram above. It’s not exactly to scale, and there are some seats that overlap more than one of the categories below, but they are a useful starting point to explain the field. The shade of red or blue indicates roughly whether these types of seats are held by either the Coalition (blue) or Labor (red), and the shade indicates how convincingly that side holds that type of seats.

In this diagram we have represented:

1 = Inner metropolitan seats, covering or close to, the CBD (or downtown area) of each capital city. Previously working-class, now gentrifying. Strongly Labor, with a visible Green vote. The only example listed on Betfair of this type is Adelaide, which is marginal Labor.

2 = Middle suburban seats, some are public sector dormitory seats, higher than average non-anglophone population. Most common in Sydney and Melbourne. Favour Labor. One example on Betfair is the marginal Labor seat of Lowe, in Sydney.

3= “Old Money” seats – usually close to water, leafy, close to CBD. Strongly Liberal on a class basis, but Howard’s social conservatism can sometimes play badly here. John Howard’s seat of Bennelong was once like this, but with social change and boundary redistributions, his seat now belongs in category 2 above.

4= Outer metropolitan seats, popular with young first home buyers in newer residential developments. “Howard Battlers” so currently favour Liberal. Large numbers in Queensland and western Sydney.

5= Regional and rural seats. Strongly Liberal or National. Highly Anglo, low public sector employment. Corangamite, a Liberal marginal seat in Victoria is one example listed on Betfair.

6= Regional Labor seats. Either a strong Aboriginal vote, mining or manufacturing (or a combination of the above). Bendigo and Ballarat are Labor marginals in Victoria that fall into this category on Betfair.

The type of seats that have been the key to John Howard successfully winning his majorities since 1996, are those in area 4 – the land of his “Howard Battlers”. Many of the marginal seats you can see listed on Betfair – Lindsay, Longman, Makin, Petrie, Stirling – fall into this category. Most of these seats have MPs that came in with the Howard Government in 1996.

Because the land in these seats has been more recently released by governments for development than other areas, it is usually cheaper. This means that the seats in area 4 of the diagram are seats with lots of young voters tired of interest rate rises and are bored with a “stale” Government, while finding Rudd’s “fresh face” appealing. This is why the polling has been so damming for Howard – the voters in the marginal seats are the ones most likely to find Rudd attractive enough to switch to, and the ones Howard can least afford to lose.

If you are interested in betting on a seat-by-seat basis, my advice would be to look for seats which have at least two of the following three characteristics:

• are marginal Liberal;
• have an incumbent MP stepping down; and
• are in outer metropolitan areas.

Predictions such as these should already be subject to several health risks! Because the days of the uniform swing have largely left us, not all marginal Liberal seats will go to Labor, and not all safe Liberal seats will stay with the Government – but this electoral guide will give you some flavour of what will happen during this campaign.

For further research on what the lie of the land is, and what will happen next, I recommend the ABC’s excellent psephologist Antony Green during the campaign, and:

A look at the Mackerras electoral pendulum by psephologist Malcolm Mackerras;

A look at how the Australian Electoral Commission classifies all seats:

and finally, keep an eye on Newspoll, the pollster of choice for Australian politicos and the polling standard for tracking how the parties are performing.

Let the games begin!

Alexander Drake is a former adviser to a cabinet minister in the Howard government and was nominated for the 2006-7 poster of the year

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