By Malcolm Mackerras

On the night of Thursday 19 May I was on Switzer talking to Peter about election prospects. I told him I had read his article on this website two days before titled “Which Aussie PM will dine with the next US president? Here’s my guess”. It was published on Tuesday May 17 and it predicted Hillary Clinton would defeat Donald Trump at their elections on Tuesday November 8, this year being one week after our Melbourne Cup. I agree with Peter. I have no doubt Hillary will be inaugurated on Friday January 20 next year as the 45th American President, Barack Obama being the 44th. I prefer, however, to make a probability statement. There is a 90% chance of Hillary being the person inaugurated.

The Australian Prime Minister will be among the first of foreign heads of government to be asked to a one-on-one presidential dinner. I think Peter has hedged his bets too much on that one. I give Malcolm Turnbull a 75% chance of being that man. But will Turnbull be a “majority” Prime Minister? Or will he be like Julia Gillard, denied by his enemies the title of “winner” of the July 2 election? My answer is this: Turnbull’s position is stronger than was Gillard’s going into the election when she/he sought the title of “elected”: Prime Minister. The difference is that Gillard’s replacement of Kevin Rudd came as a shock to the Australian people. By contrast Turnbull’s replacement of Tony Abbott was fully expected by Australians. So, Turnbull was welcomed into the job where Gillard was not. That is important to note because I think a major factor going for Turnbull is the desire of many Australians not to be seen to change our top leaders too often. I say that on Hillary’s inauguration day there is a 60% chance Turnbull will head a Coalition government with a reliable majority in our House of Representatives.

I now give my summary for the House of Representatives. The actual result in September 2013 was Coalition 90, combined rest 60, so a majority for Abbott of 30 seats. The Coalition’s 90 comprised 75 Liberals and 15 Nationals. Those not supporting the Coalition comprised 55 Labor, four independents and one for The Greens. My prediction for July 2 is Coalition 78 and those not supporting the Coalition 72, a six-seat majority. I predict there will be 65 Labor, 62 Liberals, 16 Nationals, four independents and three for The Greens.

Now to details, beginning with the smaller parties and independents. I believe the Liberal Party will lose Murray in Victoria to the National Party, the new member being Damian Drum who has been a member of the Victorian Legislative Council since November 2002. The Nationals will hold all their existing seats. The Greens will win three inner metropolitan Melbourne seats, their present seat of Melbourne plus Batman and Wills, both gained from Labor. Three independents will be re-elected, Bob Katter in Kennedy, Cathy McGowan  in Indi and Andrew Wilkie in Denison. Clive Palmer has already kicked himself out of Fairfax which will be won by the Liberal National Party. On the other hand Jamie Briggs will be defeated in Mayo in South Australia and the seat will be won by Rebekha Sharkie, a former Briggs staffer but now a Xenophon candidate.

Having lost the two seats of Batman and Wills and also lost the single seat of Charlton (NSW) in the redistribution of electoral boundaries Labor will, I predict, gain these 12 seats from the Liberal Party. I list them in order of their two-party preferred support for Labor on 2013 statistics on the new boundaries: Barton (NSW), Paterson (NSW), Dobell (NSW), Petrie (Qld), Lyons (Tas), Solomon (NT), Hindmarsh (SA), Braddon (Tas), Deakin (Vic), Bonner (Qld), Brisbane (Qld) and Cowan (WA). Labor will also take the new seat of Burt in Western Australia which is notionally Liberal. It needs a swing of 6.1% to fall to Labor.

Of course Labor may do better than the above. Were that to be the case Turnbull might find himself in the Gillard situation. The advantage he has is that the seats of Indi, Kennedy and Mayo are natural conservative seats so he could effectively add them to his numbers to be a minority PM. I see no reason why he would alienate their members in the way Abbott did with Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott. I would not even be surprised if Wilkie came on board also – notwithstanding that his Hobart-based seat is thoroughly Labor in its underlying character. Furthermore, Labor has effectively ruled out minority government. The last thing Bill Shorten wants is to be hostage to The Greens, particularly after the filthy deals they have been doing with the Liberal Party. It really is pretty unlikely Labor would actually get the 76 seats needed for majority government so that is why I give Turnbull my 75% chance of success.

Back in August 2010 Julia Gillard won an election for Labor. The aggregate two-party preferred vote was 6,216,445 for Labor (50.1%) and 6,185,918 for the Coalition (49.9%). Yet a majority of seats voted for conservative members. Back in October 1998 Labor won the two-party preferred vote 51-49 yet John Howard won the election easily in seats. Those statistics strongly suggest a bias towards the Coalition in the way our electoral boundaries are drawn. That Labor won at all in 2010 was due to “sophomore surge”. That Howard won so easily in 1998 is also explained in the same way. Readers wanting to know about this “sophomore surge” concept are advised to read my next (and last) paragraph where I return to Turnbull’s prospects at this election.

So, finally, an important point of detail. I am predicting Coalition retentions in Capricornia (Qld), Banks (NSW), Eden-Monaro (NSW), Lindsay (NSW), Robertson (NSW), Page (NSW), Reid (NSW), Gilmore (NSW) and Corangamite (Vic). All these seats would fall to Labor on a swing of 4% on the Mackerras Pendulum. What they have in common is that a first-term member is seeking election to a second term. Her/his first term in almost every case has given each incumbent a personal vote of some sort. American political scientists call this phenomenon “sophomore surge”. It works wonders in US House of Representatives elections when a first-term incumbent seeks a second term. I believe it is also a factor in our situation, albeit at a reduced rate of personal vote. That is why I would be surprised if Labor won more than a single seat in that list – hence my 75% chance for Turnbull.

(Malcolm Mackerras is a visiting fellow at the Australian Catholic University’s Canberra campus. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au)