Burwood - The Results

Stephen Mayne
July 30, 2010

12 December 1999 Stephen Mayne Published December 12, 1999 What an extraordinary turn of events. First, Jeff Kennett lost government and now the Liberals have suffered an extraordinary 10 per cent swing to lose his blueblood seat of Burwood. Labor has every reason to be happy but they were up against a controversial Liberal candidate in Lana McLean and threw huge resources at the by-election. The five minute video they distributed at a cost of $30,000 would have swung a few hundred voters Labor's way.

Major Parties Rejected

The message that the media won't push but is hard to dispute is that both parties were on the nose for their negative campaigns. The Green candidate Philip Crohn and I together polled an extraordinary 13 per cent of the vote. This was Liberal heartland and during the new Labor government's honeymoon period yet the major party share of the primary vote plunged from 97 per cent to about 85 per cent. The Labor primary vote only rose marginally from the 13,062 they achieved on September 18 to the 13,277 they got on December 11. So, how did they achieve a 10 per cent swing on a two-party preferred basis? To start with, only 86.41 per cent of those enrolled turned up as a further 4752 voters did not show. The no-shows were almost double the 2434 who failed to vote on September 18 when 93 per cent voted. Voter turn-ups are always lower in by-elections but there was also an element of election fatigue as this was the third vote in three months for the people of Burwood. The other reason for the high no-show was disaffection with the major parties and their gutter campaigns. It is hard to remember a time when big party politicians were more on the nose.

There are a few people eating humble pie today about my 6.67 per cent. Let's start by quoting The Age on Saturday morning. After a long discussion starting on page one about how the two parties were faring, the following appeared on the spill to the Burwood story on page 16:

"The seat will also be contested by an Australian Green candidate, Mr Philip Crohn, and Mr (sic, should be Dr) Peter Ferwerda for the Democratic Labor Party.''

So there you have it, as the readers of The Age in leafy Glen Iris and Camberwell mulled over their vote during breakfast, one of the candidates had suddenly become Mr Invisible. This was not unlike The Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun churlishly failing to mention they had won a Walkley for my "AGM Season 1998" series which they both carried last year. Clearly, media critics should not expect to get fair treatment in our newspapers.

As it turned out, the Invisible candidate got almost 2000 votes and the biggest booths were in The Age's strongest areas such as Glen Iris, Glen Iris South, Hartwell and Highfield Park. I'll ask The Age how this omission got through everybody for both Saturday editions and let you know what they say. It wasn't mentioned in the original copy filed from state rounds so it was probably an innocent backbench stuff up. Let's hope so.

The Alternative Liberal Candidate

The two Glen Iris booths both yielded more than 10 per cent, which was in stark contrast to the Labor stronghold of Jordanville South where we managed just four per cent. This reflected our leafletting which we focused on the more affluent areas of the seat, believing that these Liberal voters were most likely to read the detailed four page offering and support a "Liberal-leaning" independent.

No Help With Preferences

I ran a split ticket to ensure complete independence and this no doubt got me over the line in the battle to finish third ahead of the Green candidate Philip Crohn. Voters don't want independents who are stooges. The Green was a Labor stooge - as reflected by his preference deal with Labor before even talking to us. Many of their HTV card distributors were very apologetic that the Greens placed me last at number five on their ticket, even after the Liberals.

Everything went against me on the HTV cards after I was placed last on the five candidate ballot paper. Despite being philosophically aligned to the Liberals, they put me at number four on their ticket, even after the lefty Greens. And Labor had me at number four on their ticket, so there were no favors coming from anyone.

Labor Wins On Green Preferences

Just as with the general election, it was Green preferences which got Labor over the line. We'll know by midday on Monday whether Labor will even need my preferences, which flowed about 65 per cent to the Liberals - not the 50-50 split as reported in The Sunday Age this morning. And many of the Liberals did not follow my card, suggesting they consciously did not want to vote for Lana McLean but did put her second on the ballot paper.

The results are all available on the excellent Electoral Commission website address of www.vec.vic.gov.au. This was the first election I'm aware of that had no tally room and everyone simply watched it on the web.

However, it is instructive to break down the percentage votes of the four major candidates by booth. At the general election, Labor only won two of the thirteen booths: Jordanville South and Alamain. This time they won eight and also got close on the postals, where the Green and I both did dreadfully.

My 65-35 preference flow in favour of the Liberals is consistent with the strong polling we got in the pro-Liberal booths. However, the letterbox penetration of the leaflet around booths is also a big factor and we again concentrated on the Liberal areas. In the following table, we have calculated the letter drop penetration per booth as well as the amount of coverage we got in handing out our how to vote cards. We deliberately did not letter drop much of Labor stronghold booth at Jordanville South booth to see if this had much affect on the vote. However, a seasoned Labor man Paul Nowland aggressively gave out HTVs all day at Jordanville. Hence our 94 votes there and easy victory over the Green, who only managed 3 per cent against our 4 per cent. This was the only booth we know of where my preferences went Labor's way.

Booth Breakdowns From Best To Worst

Green SM SM Leaflet
Glen Iris South
Glen Iris
Highfield Park
Burwood Central
Elgar Park
Wattle Park
Chatham South
Jordanville Sth

* All figures are percentages

These figures are very instructive, showing how effective the leaflet was and how most of my support came from the pro-Liberal booths.

The two Glen Iris results reflect three key factors:

  1. We covered most of the area with our four-page leaflets on Thursday, giving people time to digest it.
  1. The penetration of The Age and 3LO would be much higher in this area and I got a reasonable run through both. 3AW and the Herald Sun largely banned me during the campaign and they are more popular in Labor areas. The Age also ran very hard on the Lana McLean basketball story in the final days, prompting many conservative voters to opt for me as the alternative Liberal candidate.
  1. My old politics teacher Ian Le Page did a tremendous job with HTV cards all day at Glen Iris and Hugo held the fort brilliantly for much of the day at Glen Iris South.
My presence for most of the day at Ashburton Primary School probably contributed about 30 of the 191 votes we got there. Voters like to meet the candidate themselves and I suspect a bit of humor can win a few extra votes. Some of my sympathy lines included : "I'm Stephen Mayne, the lonely independent" or, during the rain; ''Stephen Mayne, the wet independent''. Both got a few laughs. Similarly, as the candidate you can hopefully better explain your policies and attitudes than other people distributing your cards Debate And Leaflet Helps In Two Burwood Booths

The solid performance in the Labor booths of Burwood and Burwood Central reflect the fact that we leafletted most houses around these booths on Wednesday night to try and get the numbers up for the Thursday night debate at PLC. About 80 voters turned up for the debate which most observers said I won. Having lived and breathed the issues for seven years, you would be disappointed not to win such a debate against relative newcomers to the game. The debate was probably worth about 40 votes based on swingers present and word of mouth. However, it did not get much media at all, despite this being the first political debate in Victoria for four years. The final passing of the gag-era perhaps should have attracted more media comment, particularly as both candidates were in the one room for two hours during one of the most negative campaigns we've seen in a while.

Why Did Labor Win

I reckon Lana McLean was one of the reasons the Libs lost and Helen Kroger, Michael Kroger's former wife and the former girlfriend of Liberal State director Peter Poggioli, would have won the seat in a tight contest had Liberal headquarters had its way over the branch delegates. Lana's four negative media issues - the bank fight, planning tensions with a neighbour, the basketball issue and the Flemington vs Burwood girl CV (which, incidentally, were both correct) - were on their own relatively minor, but when combined created a potent mix. Denis Napthine is right to point to Jeff's personal vote but this is merely another way of saying voters liked the candidate. In this case they disliked the candidate and their primary vote tumbled from 17,455 on September 18 to 11,941 on December 11. So if Labor gained 215 votes, what happened to the 5,514 voters - 31.6 per cent - who abandoned the Libs. We've already accounted for the additional 2300 who did not turn up and the rest of it leaked to myself and the Green.

Huge Protest Vote

The Green candidate was possibly a vehicle for the Labor protest as about 85 per cent of his preferences went straight back to Labor. The reality is that hundreds of Liberals switched straight to Labor and hundreds of traditional Labor voters gave their first preference to the Greens. I was the vehicle for the Liberal protest as 65 per cent of my preferences went straight back to the Liberals. The protest vote against the major parties and for the minor players averaged 14.5 per cent across the seat. Compare that with just three per cent on September 18. Admittedly, the Greens did not stand at the general election. The fact that the protest was strongest in the Liberal booths reflects the negativism towards Lana McLean. One Liberal handing out HTVs even confessed to voting for me, such was his disapproval of their candidate. The Labor heartland stuck loyally to their team and the leakage to minor parties in Jordanville South was only 8 per cent, including the DLP vote. Compare that with 17 per cent in the two Glen Iris booths - a huge protest.

Helen Kroger Would Have Won

I would not have stood if Helen Kroger had been preselected, but the Greens probably would have polled about the same because the two sides would not have been in the gutter causing people like Neil Mitchell and Steve Price to say neither major party candidate deserved the vote of their listeners. The Greens typically got about 5 per cent of the primary vote in the 20 marginal seats they contested at the general election and with 80 per cent of their preferences flowing to Labor, this delivered government to Steve Bracks.

Cashed Up Green Machine Beaten By Shoestring Independent

The Greens must be very surprised and disappointed that an independent with no connection to the seat and no single issue to run hard on managed to beat them and their well-funded party machine. The Greens got to virtually every letter box in the electorate once and managed close to 100 per cent coverage of the booths with their HTVs. Not bothering to turn up to the debate would have cost them a few votes but given that we only reached about 60 per cent of letterboxes and had 70 per cent coverage with our HTVs, the Greens should have beaten us.

Hand Over The Cash Electoral Commissioner

I am one of the few city-based independents in Victoria to get his $350 deposit back by cracking 4 per cent of the primary vote which is not much compensation for a three month campaign that has cost about $10,000. However, the 1966 votes received just goes to show what can be achieved with some sensible policy positions, a detailed letter drop and a reasonable media profile. Independents in the bush are a much better prospect because many people out there just refuse to vote Labor. Afterall, Labor got just 9 per cent of the primary vote in Russell Savage's seat of Mildura. This combined with the extraordinary citycentricity of Jeff Kennett left the door open for several rural independents.

Now It's Over To Benalla

Steve Bracks has already had dinner with farmer Bill Hill who is thinking about standing as an independent in Pat McNamara's seat of Benalla when he retires early next year. However, given the Burwood flogging, Pat could be persuaded to hang on until the Coalition has a better chance of winning the seat. Farmer Bill got 16 per cent of the primary vote when he stood in 1996, but made the mistake of preferencing Labor and thus being perceived as a Labor stooge. Steve Bracks, who is very popular with the existing independents because of his unJeff-like personality, will be quietly egging Bill Hill on to help shore up his government.

Eaters Of Humble Pie

I mentioned earlier about people eating humble pie. 3AW's Steve "half" Price is one such person, having refused to talk to me during the campaign and describing me as a blow in from Sydney who was not worth worrying about when a listener called in. Liberal upper house leader Mark Birrell's prediction on the steps of Parliament that I'd struggle to get 3 per cent was also well off the mark. And Labor's affable State secretary David Feeney, the man who organised the grubby $1000 a head fundraiser, owes me $50 for betting that I would not beat the Green. That's just five per cent of the cost of dinner and access at a Labor fundraiser so David should not have too much trouble finding the dough.

Labor Win Is Good For Victoria And Liberals

In conclusion, the Burwood by-election was a very satisfying way to finish a rather tumultuous year. Jeff and all that he brought with him is gone and his seat is lost - a symbolic sign that his legacy and all it represents is being dismantled. Despite being a Liberal sympathiser, I am pleased the Libs lost his seat because they allowed him to dictatorially ride roughshod over them with his one-man-band leadership for far too long. It sends a final message that the Liberals need to acknowledge the many Jeff problems. This will be good for them. My beef was always against Jeff and not the Liberal Party so it will be interesting to see if there is some thawing of relations with the Libs over the coming months. A preference deal in this by-election would have been one such way of acknowledging Jeff's mistakes but this is unlikely whilst President Jan Howley and state director Peter Poggioli remain in charge. Most of the Libs I bumped into on the hustings were cheerful and friendly, which probably reflects the change in culture since the departure of Jeffrey who was a great hater and encouraged tribalism to a ridiculous degree.

What Next

Having thoroughly enjoyed the political process over the past three months, the question now is what happens next. Harboring a strong interest in politics, should I seek to build bridges with the Libs or soldier on solo? For the time being, the website will continue but under a changed name to reflect the fact that Jeff now really has gone. Stay tuned for more details. The big bank AGMs and Hudson Conway on December 17 will provide some sport before Christmas and The Eye gig may resume in mid-January.

Stephen Mayne