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10 ministers face oblivion - polls

Phillip Coorey Chief Political Correspondent
October 6, 2007

JOHN HOWARD and nine of his ministers would be among the 44 Coalition MPs to lose their seats at this year's election under a worst-case scenario based on the latest six-month average of the Herald/Nielsen Poll.

In NSW alone, the Coalition would lose 12 seats while in Queensland it could lose 16, the exact number of seats Labor needs to win to govern in its own right.

The assessment, which boldly assumes the national and state-based swings would be uniform, will be further grist for the Prime Minister as he spends the weekend contemplating when to call the election.

Next weekend has firmed as the favourite among Liberals for when Mr Howard would fire the gun for a November 24 poll.

Ministers are already clearing the decks, yesterday releasing six announcements regarding routine appointments and reappointments to statutory authorities and government bodies.

The Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd, promised to end the uncertainty that surrounds each federal election by advocating four-year fixed terms for federal government if elected.

The change would require approval by referendum. Mr Howard supports four-year terms but opposes fixed election dates.

The attitudes of the 8115 voters surveyed between April and September have barely shifted and the Government's survival hinges on a strong election campaign.

Further underscoring the defensive mindset of the Government, the Liberal Party is yet to name a candidate for the marginal Labor seat of Banks, in south-western Sydney. In 2004 the party spent considerable resources in Banks and almost won the seat. This year the Coalition is more concerned with defending the seats it holds.

Nielsen's polling director, John Stirton, cautioned that the polling averages were not predictive, nor should it be assumed swings were ever uniform. Results vary from seat to seat.

Nationally, Labor has led the Coalition by 57 per cent to 43 per cent since April, representing a swing of 9.8 per cent since the 2004 federal election.

If this swing were to be replicated uniformly on election day, the Coalition would lose 44 seats, leaving it with 43 in the House of Representatives while delivering 105 seats to Labor and two to independents.

In NSW, where polling of 2672 voters has found an average swing of 9.9 per cent towards Labor, Mr Howard's seat of Bennelong and Malcolm Turnbull's seat of Wentworth would be among the 12 to fall. Joe Hockey's seat of North Sydney, which he holds by a safe 10 per cent, would become the most marginal Coalition seat in NSW.

The strongest swing against the Government, 14.9 per cent, has been recorded in South Australia and the Northern Territory. If translated to the polling booth, the Coalition would lose eight seats, including Mayo, held by the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer.

The average 7.9 per cent swing in Victoria would cost the Coalition six seats there, while in Western Australia, which has recorded the lowest swing, 5 per cent, it would lose two seats.

The sample sizes were not large enough to provide an accurate figure for Tasmania, which has five seats, two of which, Braddon and Bass, are marginal Liberal electorates.

Within the margins of error, the average swings are the same as those recorded by the other major national poll, Newspoll. Mr Howard has predicted the poll margin will narrow once the election is called, a theory Mr Rudd supports.

The betting agency Sportingbet Australia will this weekend release analysis predicting Labor to fall over the line with a net gain of 16-to-18 seats nationally. The prediction is based on the seats in which Labor is ranked as the favourite. Sportingbet predicts four seats in NSW - Eden-Monaro, Macquarie, Lindsay and Dobell - will fall.

The agency's chief executive, Michael Sullivan, said it was holding more than $1 million in bets on the election outcome.

"We've got quite a lot of data to base our opinion on," he said. "It's like most things when you think about it: if you follow the money trail, you'll get to the gold."

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