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Australian Capital Territory: analyst speculates on the ACT by-election and the New South Wales election

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Saturday's by-election for the Federal seat of Canberra could see it go to preferences for the first time in 18 years, according to a report today in the Canberra Times; and in other big election coverage this weekend, the New South Wales State election, the Fahey Coalition is sitting on an 8 per cent margin. It's an interesting time for a small and enthusiastic group of analysts, not least of all Antony Green, ABC television's expert and a member of our own panel a month ago when we called the results of the ACT election.

Antony Green has been closely watching developments in the Canberra by-election and in the New South Wales campaign. Antony, welcome again. Now, I thought we'd have time for a quick spin around the New South Wales electorates within our broadcast reach, but before we go to that, can we just look at the seat of Canberra. Do you believe the Liberals can win?

ANTONY GREEN: Oh, 10 per cent is a big swing to achieve but it's possible. I mean, if they repeated the vote from the ACT Legislative Assembly election, then I think they could win clearly. But whether that will transfer to a Federal electorate, it's a bit hard to tell.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Now, I talked just a few moments ago to Bob McMullan, and the party is certainly willing out all the heavies it can to support Sue Robinson, the Labor candidate. It seems to indicate that the ALP is perhaps a little worried.

ANTONY GREEN: Oh, I'm sure they're worried, but I think the Labor Party could probably survive the loss of a Canberra by-election. It wouldn't be good for them and would give new Opposition Leader, John Howard, a big fillip, but I think they could survive it. I think they partly sort of damaged their own chances by wheeling out the push polling story. I think they actually made their own candidate more of an issue. But then, in raising that issue they weren't particularly concerned about the by-election, they were more concerned about damaging the new Opposition Leader. That's what they wheeled that story out for.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: So what impact do you believe ultimately the push polling business had?

ANTONY GREEN: Oh, I just think, whenever you raise allegations about a candidate some of the mud sticks. People don't remember the detail, they just remember that there was some sort of scandal to do with the candidate. And there'll be a degree with which the fact that the Labor Party brought that out into the public arena will make people think of who Sue Robinson is more. But, as I said, I don't think the Labor Party was particularly concerned, or the Prime Minister's staff didn't seem to be very concerned about what happened in the Canberra by-election. They were more concerned about sort of scoring a few points off the Opposition.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: So they've in a sense sacrificed, or been prepared anyway to sacrifice Sue Robinson to have a go at John Howard?

ANTONY GREEN: I think there was a touch of that when they first wheeled that story out, yes.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Why do you say that, Antony? Do you think that despite the protestations of Sue Robinson that she was not a witch advocating abortions at nine months, that some people will inevitably associate that with her?

ANTONY GREEN: Oh look, there's no doubt that a lot of the stuff that is in that poll is a load of rubbish. I mean, certainly one question was utterly wrong and the rest of it was at least a distortion. But the fact that those issues were raised in the public would make some people think 'Oh, yes, she's got something to do with this or she's got something to do with that'. That's just the way those sorts of issues, people have very short attention spans with politics, and all they know that there was something to do with Sue Robinson the candidate. But, as I said, I think the Labor Party were prepared to wear that to score a few points off the Opposition.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Did they score a few points? Were they successful in that?

ANTONY GREEN: I think they sort of gave the Opposition a rough time in Parliament for a few days.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Did John Howard come out looking pretty clean, though?

ANTONY GREEN: Well, it was all a little obscure. I mean, it's all a sort of a Canberra story and didn't really have a big impact for the rest of the country. I mean, it's all part of the argy-bargy of Parliament House and getting domination in the Chamber, but it's very important for sort of morale on the floor of the House. It doesn't necessarily sort of translate to the rest of the country.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Antony, can we just wander quickly around the State seats in the 2CN area now, looking at the New South Wales poll. On the Newspoll numbers today it would seem to suggest that the sitting Members look pretty secure.

ANTONY GREEN: Well, that Newspoll seems to suggest that the results of this election will be the same as the last election, or perhaps a little swing to the Government. But all the seats in the area around the ACT are pretty safe for the conservative parties.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Let's have a look at some of them in particular. We've got Peter Cochran in Monaro.

ANTONY GREEN: Well, Monaro has been held by the party in power in New South Wales since 1932. It's been a government-held seat every election since 1932. If the Labor Party wins this weekend that sort of sequence is broken. Cochran won it in '88 very much on the 'It's time' issue against the Unsworth Government, on the guns issue and on the south-east forest issue, but he's proved to be a very popular Member and even attracts more than half the vote in most of Queanbeyan, which would be one of the stronger parts of the electorate for Labor. So, I mean, he'll be very comfortably returned.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Now, how do you think Chicka Ferguson will perform there?

ANTONY GREEN: Oh, the Call to Australia usually pick up a couple of per cent. Maybe he'll get a bit more because of personal following, but I'd be surprised if he did very well.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: What about Albie Schultz in Burrinjuck?

ANTONY GREEN: Well again, that was another seat the Labor Party lost in 1988 in the landslide. Burrinjuck had been held by the Sheahan family for over 40 years. I mean, he'll win quite comfortably again, I suspect.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Of course the Premier, John Fahey, in the Southern Highlands.

ANTONY GREEN: Well, the Labor Party keep talking up their chances in that. The seat of Southern Highlands had this city of Goulburn added at the 1991 redistribution and resulted in Robert Webster having to shift to the Upper House. There was a big swing against the Liberal Party in Goulburn itself, partly because Goulburn had always either been held by the Labor Party or the National Party, no Liberal had ever held the city of Goulburn. The Labor Party said, you know, if the margin is 6.5 per cent we could win it, but I think the Labor Party got an unusually large vote in Goulburn itself last time. So I think the Premier will be returned comfortably as well.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Now, the Southern Highlands seat. Did that go to preferences last time?

ANTONY GREEN: Oh, just. I think the Liberal Party got just less than 50 per cent, yes.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: And finally, Joe Schipp in Wagga.

ANTONY GREEN: Look, he's got no problems at all. I mean, he's held that since Wal Fife moved to Federal Parliament in '74 I think it was. The Liberals have held that seat since '57 and it's a very comfortable Liberal seat. When he retires, if the Labor Party can come up with a good candidate, like in all rural seats you can always, any party can pick up a seat with the right candidate, usually.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Wasn't there, though Antony, a bit of an early grubby Liberal preselection stoush in Wagga?

ANTONY GREEN: Oh there was. There was a very grubby preselection stoush, as you said, but I mean, Schipp eventually won that. He states this will be his last term. I think he's up for 20 years in Parliament later this year. So I don't think ... there's certainly an Independent nominated but it's got nothing to do with the Liberal Party preselection problems and I think they'll win quite comfortably.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Now Antony, on the south coast, will John Hatton's son take his dad's old seat?

ANTONY GREEN: That's very hard to tell. The thing that John Hatton did correctly for trying to get his son up was resigning very late. The Liberal Party didn't get a candidate in the field till quite late and they've had a lot of internal preselection problems over the dumping of the Federal Liberal candidate for Gilmore. And there's been dissension in the Liberal ranks there, so that will hurt their chances, and John Hatton Junior has a good chance of winning.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Antony, do you believe that, staying in New South Wales, that the Greiner assault on the Independents will hurt to help John Fahey?

ANTONY GREEN: Oh, it's entirely localised, the two electorates, Manly and Bligh. It might help them pick up Manly, but that's always going to be a tight seat; it won't help them in Bligh.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: And I guess lastly but not leastly, Barry Jones' inadvertent entry into the final week of this campaign. Has it damaged Bob Carr's chances?

ANTONY GREEN: I'm sure the Labor Party could have done without it.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Very tactful answer there, Antony. Now, finally, you'll be calling the shots on ABC TV on Saturday night.

ANTONY GREEN: I should say for Canberra listeners, we're also going to be including the results of the Canberra by-election in the call of the result on the night. So we're getting the results faxed through from the Electoral Office to the tally room in Sydney so we can include them in the call of the board.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Terrific. Antony, we'll be tuned in. Thanks for your time this morning. Antony Green, ABC TV's expert election analyst there, speculating on the by-election in Canberra and on the New South Wales election, all happening this Saturday. And, as he just said, you can stay tuned to ABC TV, and the radio too I guess, and we will bring you the latest results in the by-election as they come through.