17 May 2016
by Denis Bright

Bill Shorten in the Regions and the Leaders’ Forum

Momentum in Capricornia: Bill Shorten and Chloe

From the Regions to Sydney, Bill Shorten’s campaign seems to be bringing back support from Labor voters who sought refuge with minor parties in 2010 and 2013.

Fresh from strategic visits to Tasmania, North and Central Queensland, Bill Shorten has been acclaimed by the audience of the People’s Forum in Windsor NSW as the preferred winner by a 49 to 29 vote margin with 29 undecided voters.

However, neither leader made major communication errors.

Only Peta Credlin in her capacity as Sky News commentator had words of caution for the Prime Minister. Her perceptions of him as Mr Harbourside Mansion would inevitably become a liability across Western Sydney in juxtaposition with Bill Shorten’s social market commitments.

Bill Shorten’s more authentic campaign magic was evident on the day Prime Minister Turnbull called the double dissolution election.

The Opposition Leader’s background as an effective union representative was reconstructed by a slick visit to the Beaconsfield gold-mine. This was strategically near the tenth anniversary of the rescue of Brant Webb and Todd Russelll after fourteen nights underground and the tragic death of Larry Knight in the original rockfall.

The ABC’s archives from 2006 record Bill Shorten’s restatement of the traditional roles for trade unions in hazardous workplaces:

Well there were a number of AWU officials there, it wasn’t just me. We had a couple of roles, one was the welfare of the families, to help complement their family networks, another role was to talk to our remaining members. They were the rescue teams, they’re trying to make sense of this, they’re working very hard. There is certain things which unions do automatically, you know you make sure the workers’ compeers are lined up, you make sure the superannuation’s sorted out, there are sort of some well worn paths that unions tread in these matters. (ABC Sunday Profile 14 May 2006).

This emotional commitment to the Labor Movement sustained the ALP vote through thick and thin in mining towns and industrial areas across Australia until the rise of minor populist parties fragmented traditional voting patterns. Few votes went straight to the LNP.

Beaconsfield is in the Labor electorate of Lyons where enough heartland towns and small mining centres stayed with Labor in 2013. It was still a tight result across Lyons with a 13.5 per cent swing against Labor after preferences and 10.2 per cent in Beaconsfield itself.

The Reach Tel poll has Labor slightly ahead in Lyons and the adjacent electorate of Bass.

Labor’s fightback in 2016 comes from a leader who is well aware of Labor’s challenge from both the LNP and a series of minor parties including Jacqui Lambie’s Putting Tasmania First Party at the forthcoming election.

Public polling is not available from Bill Shorten’s recent visit to the electorates of Leichhardt, Herbert and Dawson.

In Capricornia, the welcome mat was put out for Bill Shorten and Chloe. The seat is held by the LNP with a margin of less than 0.8 per cent after preferences.

1 Campaigning in Capricornia
All successful local campaigns are of course well choreographed events much the same as Malcolm Turnbull’s train and bus trips to public engagements.

In Rockhampton, the local media was enthusiastic about Bill Shorten’s visit and the campaign team assisted with details of the potential local impact of Labor’s hundred national policies.

A key focus of Labor’s outreach was on job creation through social market commitments to essential training programmes to address high levels of youth unemployment.

The LNP won Capricornia in 2013 largely through leakage of preferences from minor parties. Minor parties accounted for 23.4 per cent of the vote in 2013.

The primary vote for the LNP’s Michelle Landry was actually down by 0.84 per cent to 39.58 per cent.

Surprisingly, the distribution of Palmer United Party preferences was evenly balanced. Overall the LNP gained almost half the preferences from the minor parties.

This time Labor candidate Leisa Neaton has been successful in localizating the positive impacts of policy initiatives from upgrades to the Bruce Highway to support for key education and training priorities. Her coverage has been taken up by The Morning Bulletin to the extent that the sitting LNP member has been forced to take a reactive approach to Labor’s initiatives.

2 The Sky News Forum
This reactive approach from the federal LNP was also evident at the Sky News Forum as Bill Shorten pushed the line of health and training policies first over the trickle-down effects of long-term tax cuts to big business, the retention of negative gearing policies and the appeal of a more market-oriented banking system.

Ironically both leaders were committed to a fairer Australia which the Prime Minister claimed could be achieved through retention of market-based development strategies.

Taming this subjective assessment is a sobering result from automated phone polling in Queensland and Sydney commissioned by the Murdoch Press.

Any uniform swing of 3 per cent against the LNP in Queensland is still well short of a landslide to Labor.

In Western Sydney, the initial polling would take only some of the marginal LNP.

Preliminary results from the ABC’s Compass survey offers justification to Bill Shorten’s steadfast commitment to social market issues of jobs, education and training and defence of Medicare. There is little interest in the issue of industrial relations and restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission which was in-fact the justification for an early double dissolution election.

3 Current Perspectives
At the commencement of Week 2 of the long campaign, the LNP has attempted to divert the attention away from Bill Shorten’s social market agendas.

The LNP would prefer more focus on the old chestnut issues of asylum seekers and terrorist threats. It can expect a flat response to its small business agendas as that sector of the electorate is largely locked into the support base of the LNP.

Electoral volatility is clearly in the unstable support base of the minor parties. The Palmer United Party (PUP) achieved double digit support levels in fifteen Queensland electorates. Several other electorates are on the threshold of that range.

The PUP vote was largely a protest vote against the major parties rather than ideological affirmation in 2013 as shown by the distribution of preferences in electorates like Capricornia.

Campaigning by Bill Shorten against the futility of a vote for minor parties might well be Labor’s stabilizing message in the long campaign ahead. Indications are that Labor is successfully re-engaging with social market agendas in the long traditions of Andrew Fisher, John Curtin and Arthur Calwell in his epic 1961 campaign mode which brought all federal electorates from Wide Bay to the current Durack (WA) back to Labor.