Latham's Law - The Independent Factor

Mark Latham explains what to look out for when predicting the big upsets that can occur in individual electorates.

Mark Latham
Mon, 20 Jun, 12:00 AM

In an election where both Labor and the Coalition have relatively low primary votes, there’s media speculation about a higher-than-usual number of minor party candidates and independents winning seats in the House of Representatives.

This represents an opportunity for punters looking for value beyond the standard "two horse race" in marginal electorates.

What are the things to look for, seat by seat, in identifying possible third candidate upset results?

As with any political event, immediate past history offers a useful guide.

How have candidates from outside the two major parties managed to win seats at the last two Federal elections?

In 2010, Adam Bandt won Melbourne for the Greens (following the retirement of the sitting ALP member, Lindsay Tanner); Andrew Wilkie (a former Greens candidate) won Denison in Tasmania as an independent (following the retirement of Labor’s Duncan Kerr); while three former National Party members turned independents – Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Bob Katter – won seats that had traditionally been held by the Nationals.

In 2013, Katter, Wilkie and Bandt retained their seats, and were joined on the crossbenches by Clive Palmer (a former Liberal Party fundraiser) in Fairfax and Cathy McGowan (a former electorate assistant for a Liberal MP) in Indi.

Previously, both Fairfax and Indi had been safe for the Liberals.

What are the common characteristics in these seven examples?

First, each of the seats had been regarded as safe for one of the major parties. It’s very hard for independents/minor parties to gain traction in marginal seats, where Labor and the Coalition dedicate huge resources.

They are more likely to succeed in safer seats, feeding off perceptions that the major parties have arrogantly neglected the local area.

Second, in every case, the winning candidate came from the same side of politics as the party that had traditionally held the seat.

Electorates are highly unlikely to flip over ideologically (for instance, a Liberal-voting seat turning Green). But they will support a well-regarded, community-based local independent associated with their side of politics.

Third: Bandt, Wilkie, Oakeshott and Palmer first won their seats following the retirement of sitting members – the major parties losing the advantage of incumbency.

At this election, Labor’s Tanya Plibersek (Sydney) ($1.05 Sportsbet) and Anthony Albanese (Grayndler)($1.15 Sportsbet) should easily hold their seats against the Greens, but after they retire, it will be a totally different contest.

In Warringah (NSW), I expect the media personality James Mathison to fail badly in his attempt to unseat Tony Abbott. Mathison is a Leftie who will draw votes from Labor and the Greens, but barely dent Abbott’s conservative base in this safe Liberal seat.

Elsewhere, punters should look for independents and third parties that fit the criteria above.

As for the Nick Xenophon threat in South Australia, look carefully at the quality and reputation of his candidates, seat by seat.

Xenophon himself is running for the Senate – and while undoubtedly popular in SA, his personal vote will not transfer in full when someone else’s name is on the ballot paper.

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