The news that isn’t news in Ryde

Given the dearth of healthy political debate in New South Wales at the moment, I don’t think it is really fair to describe next Saturday as “Super Saturday” as Lisa Carty does in the Sydney Morning Herald today. Sure, we have four by-elections happening in the state next weekend (triggered by the migration of Rob Oakeshott to federal politics and the resignations of Morris Iemma, Reba Meagher and John Watkins), but they are happening in a distorted political environment in which the media is gorging itself on whimsy rather than reality. Nathan Rees has received scarcely anything but a headkicking from the media since becoming Premier, and in such an environment it is patently obvious how by-elections are going to trend for the government.

Labor is tipped to cling grimly to both Cabramatta and Lakemba and indeed it should do so, although such is the environment that just about anything might well prove possible. In Port Macquarie Labor are not fielding a candidate, and the NSW Nationals have a fight on their hands to win the seat from a slew of independents.

In some ways I think Ryde is the most predictable seat of the lot. Lisa Carty reports the following breathlessly in the SMH:

In a stunning result for the Liberals and their candidate, Victor Dominello, The Sun-Herald/Taverner poll of 500 voters in the state seat of Ryde tips a swing of more than 20 per cent against Labor.

Pollster Philip Mitchell-Taverner said the shift in sentiment away from Labor and towards the Liberals was “extraordinary”.

For mine this is far from an “extraordinary” polling result. Let’s consider the following factors for a moment:

1) The toxic media environment that Nathan Rees finds himself in as head of a deeply unpopular and self-destructive government that has just vomited out its previous Premier and Treasurer.

2) The retirement of popular (and credible!) local member John Watkins.

3) The downward trend in two-party preferred vote that Labor received at the last election. Since the 2003 poll Labor’s 2PP vote has dropped by 5.4%, even without consideration of the factors mentioned above.

4) The demographics in Ryde, an electorate which borders Epping, Ku-ring-gai, and Lane Cove, some of the most blue ribbon Liberal seats in the state.

5) The fact that this is a by-election and voters have the luxury of being able to “send the government a message” by either lodging a protest vote or opting not to optionally preference Labor. It does not have to worry about the potential consequences of the NSW Coalition gaining control of the government in this poll.

In short, this is not an extraordinary polling result, and indeed I doubt whether there are too many people in even the NSW Labor Party let alone outside it who think a government victory is likely in Ryde this coming Saturday. It is virtually a dead rubber thanks to the prevailing conditions. The poor Labor candidate Nicole Campbell has nothing short of a mammoth task on her hands… I hope she wears some protective mental gear when the voters trot outside with their baseball bats on Saturday morning!