South Australia: Frome by-election 2009

A by-election was held in the South Australian seat of Frome (for the state legislature) on January 17. We have just gotten the final results, which have been disputed and have an outside chance of still being disputed or even overturned.

Frome is a primarily rural constituency but is quite diverse in its make up. It goes from the industrial harbour city of Port Pirie in the northwest of the constituency to conservative rural areas in the southeast. Here is a map. It also includes the wealthy Port Broughton.

A very different Frome existed as a Labor seat in the far north of the state from 1938 to its total redistricting in the ’70’s. The name Frome was revived in 1993, but covering a very different part. Through the 1980s, Port Pirie and Port Augusta were joined together in the safe Labor seat of Stuart. The two centres were split by the new redistribution procedures and Port Pirie and nearby rural areas became the revived electorate of Frome. Despite it being a marginal Liberal seat on paper, Labor has never won it. Liberal Rob Kerin won the seat in 1997, and won re-election in 2002 (after becoming Premier of South Australia in 2001) on a very large swing to the Liberals (while the general mood was a shift against the Liberals, who lost powers to Labor). In 2006, the Liberal vote fell, and he won with 53.4% after preferences against the Labor candidate. Kerin resigned his seat in November 2008.

Since voting is compulsory in Australia, it eliminates the risk of having weird by-election results caused by pathetic turnouts. On another note, Australia uses Instant-runoff voting (IRV), also called preferential voting.

Here are the results. Geoff Brock is the Mayor of Port Pirie, and received support from, among others, anti-gambling Independent federal Senator Nick Xenophon.

Terry Boylan (Liberal) 39.2% (-8.9%)
John Rohde (Labor) 26.1% (-14.9%)
Geoff Brock (Independent) 23.6% (+23.6%)
Neville Wilson (National) 6.6% (+6.6%)
Joy O’Brien (Greenies) 3.8% (+0.1%)
Peter Fitzpatrik (One Nation) 0.7% (+0.7%)

After distribution of preferences (called 2PP in Australia, or Two-Party Preferred).

Geoff Brock (Ind) 51.7%
Terry Boylan (Liberal) 48.3% (-5.1%)

Be careful with these results. ABC still has a Liberal victory in a 2PP “runoff” against Rohde, as does the State Electoral Office. However, Brock claimed victory a few hours ago, even though Boylan and the Liberals did likewise a few days ago. Brock won the seat on the back of Labor preferences, especially in Port Pirie. His FPV support was very localized around Port Pirie and its suburbs, where he did well. He took off a lot of FPVs from Labor. Polling booth results are especially interesting in this case.

If there was to be a Lib/ALP 2PP matchup, Boylan would win 51.7-48.3. That would represent a swing in favour of Labor.

In any case, this is the first time in South Australian political history that the opposition loses a seat in a by-election, and this by-election certainly isn’t good news for the Liberals, who will face a general election in 14 months. Another bad sign is the swing to Labor in the 2PP matchup if Labor had made it. Australian by-elections often see a swing in 2PP against the sitting government.

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Posted on January 25, 2009, in Australia, By-elections, South Australia. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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