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Victoria: ALP National Secretary discusses Saulwick poll results in seat of Aston.

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VIVIAN SCHENKER: Well, the end is finally in sight for the voters of Aston with just one day to go in the frenzied by-election campaign. Over the past six weeks the Melbourne electorate has been thrust into the national spotlight as a steady steam of politicians, media and protesters invaded the normally quiet suburbs. Like usual, both major parties are claiming underdog status and are disputing any polls which suggest otherwise.


On the eve of the by-election, the latest survey shows Labor a whisker in front although one in four voters remain undecided. With the Aston vote being touted as a crucial litmus test for the next general election, the result will be analysed over and over again.


Cathy Van Extel joins us again, and she is speaking to Geoff Walsh, Federal Secretary of the ALP.


CATHY VAN EXTEL:   Geoff Walsh, good morning.


GEOFF WALSH:  Good morning.


CATHY VAN EXTEL: The Saulwick poll out today shows Labor in the lead with 52.6 per cent of the vote. Are you buoyed by these figures?


GEOFF WALSH: Well, I have got to say that all the way through in this by-election our own polling has had us behind; we have never been in front. We are in it with a chance but we are not getting figures that replicate that. You might recall also, on the eve of the Ryan by-election there was a pretty sort of wild poll that showed a very big swing to Labor and in the end that was a very tightly contested election that went down to postal and pre-polls, and which we won by a handful of votes in the end.


CATHY VAN EXTEL: Although there have been a couple of opinion polls now showing Labor in the lead.


GEOFF WALSH: Yes, and I am just saying to you that our own soundings have not reflected that.


CATHY VAN EXTEL: Have your own soundings then shown any change during the campaign? Has there been any improvement?


GEOFF WALSH: A bit of fluctuation. We are certainly competitive and we are running a very strong and, I think, a very effective campaign. But look, the point is that in the last 30 years no by-election, which has been caused by the death of a sitting member, has been lost by the party that held the seat. And in fact the average swing in those circumstances has been around 2½ per cent. And as you know, in Aston, we are looking at a swing of more than four per cent so the task is certainly there in front of us.


CATHY VAN EXTEL: Looking at the latest poll, it suggests that one in four voters is undecided. Do you accept that suggests that there is widespread dissatisfaction with both the major parties?


GEOFF WALSH: No, that is not unusual. I am not going to sort of comment on the veracity of that but there is always a group of people who make their decisions late in any election and something of that order is quite possible.


CATHY VAN EXTEL: So with 25 per cent of voters polled, showing that they have not made up their minds, there is no message for the parties?


GEOFF WALSH: Well, again, it is a question of what veracity there is in that. I think people do like to sort of balance all the arguments, consider what the impact of their decision will be and vote accordingly.


CATHY VAN EXTEL: Will voters in Aston be mindful of the national spotlight and the significance that is being placed on the by-election?


GEOFF WALSH: To some extent, yes, they couldn’t not be. It has been a pretty busy week in Aston with the political leaders there and a lot of media attention on the electorate.


CATHY VAN EXTEL: Will that be reflected in the way they vote?


GEOFF WALSH: I am sure that that will play a factor in it. The issues that are in people’s mind in Aston, that our candidate Kieran Boland has found, obviously concern about the impact of the GST: the impact of the GST on family budgets, the impact of the GST on small business; also concerns about the quality of our health and education systems are big issues in Aston and that is a real concern out there.


CATHY VAN EXTEL: In federal terms, what is the significance of the by-election result?


GEOFF WALSH: It is always important when people vote. It is an opportunity to see what they actually do with their votes rather than what they might say to opinion pollsters or politicians or the media, for that matter, and we will look closely at what that result is.


CATHY VAN EXTEL: Labor is certainly urging voters to send a message to Canberra. If the Liberals hold the seat, what is the message?


GEOFF WALSH: It is after all a seat that the government holds. It has got a margin there of four and a bit per cent. As I said, the average swing in these sorts of circumstances is around 2½ per cent. You have got to remember that if we picked up, say, a swing of three per cent and that was replicated at a federal level, that would deliver 22 seats to Kim Beazley.


CATHY VAN EXTEL: So are you suggesting then that the significance of the by-election is being exaggerated?


GEOFF WALSH: It is impossible to avoid this sort of focus but in the end it is one seat. It is not a litmus test or a typical feat in any sense—I am not sure that there is any typical feat that you can draw conclusive nationwide sort of judgments from but, yes, it will be important; we will look at it carefully.


CATHY VAN EXTEL: It is a campaign that is focused on issues both local and federal rather than personalities. Is this a reflection on the candidates?


GEOFF WALSH: No, I do not think so. I mean, our candidate, Kieran Boland, is a young man, energetic and an intelligent man. He has been working now for about 12 months as the candidate for the Labor Party in Aston. I think he has seen something like 6,000 voters in the last six weeks. He has been involved in countless rounds of door knocking and telephone canvassing. I think he has acquitted himself pretty well.


CATHY VAN EXTEL: Geoff Walsh, thank you.


GEOFF WALSH: Thank you, Cathy.


VIVIAN SCHENKER: Cathy Van Extel talking to Geoff Walsh, Federal Secretary of the Labor Party.