As always, this election will be decided in marginal seats, with the caveat that there are also a number of safe government seats that are entering into the electoral equation due to high-profile independent candidates.
As was shown by Queensland swinging in the opposite direction to South Australia and Victoria in 2019, the variation in state swing is an important variable in how a federal election will unfold.
Those differences may be even more important in 2022, with each state having had its own COVID experience over the past two years.
At the last two elections, the Coalition’s super majorities in Queensland and Western Australia overcame less impressive performances in NSW and Victoria.
The Coalition holds 33 of the 45 seats in those two states. Perhaps 2022 will be a repeat of 2019 and the Coalition won’t go backwards there. But if it does, then every seat lost must be compensated for in another state.
So with that in mind, let’s take a look around the country, or skip straight to your state.
Western Australia appears the bigger problem for the Coalition given the McGowan government’s massive victory in March 2021.
The state branch of the Liberal Party was decimated and is short of staff, resources and morale. It is only since March this year that the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader have been permitted to enter the state to campaign.
The Liberal margins in WA seats look large, but few Liberal seats are safe if the support for Premier Mark McGowan and the Labor Party flows through to the federal election.
The first seat to watch is Cowan (ALP 0.9 per cent) where Labor MP Anne Aly will be opposed by a Liberal MP in Vince Connolly, moving into Cowan along with many of his former constituents from the abolished seat of Stirling.
The Liberal Party is defending Swan (LIB 3.2 per cent) where MP Steve Irons is retiring, a radically re-drawn Pearce (LIB 5.2 per cent) where Christian Porter is retiring, Ken Wyatt’s seat of Hasluck (LIB 5.9 per cent), and even Ben Morton’s seat of Tangney (LIB 9.5 per cent).
In the case of Queensland, the federal government voiced more criticism of the Palaszczuk government’s border closure policies than it ever did of Western Australia, South Australia or Tasmania.
How the politics of COVID play out in Queensland could be critical. Several LNP backbenchers have joined with One Nation and the United Australia Party in criticising vaccine mandates.
Queensland’s anti-Labor swing in 2019 was built on Labor losing support to One Nation and United Australia and then higher than previously seen flows of preferences to the Coalition. The politics of COVID and vaccination may yet play out in the changing base of support for third parties, and how this flows through to the major parties as preferences.
Some of the key Queensland seats to watch include Lilley (ALP 0.6 per cent), Blair (ALP 1.2 per cent), Longman (LNP 3.3 per cent), Peter Dutton’s seat of Dickson (LNP 4.6 per cent), Warren Entsch’s far northern seat of Leichhardt (LNP 4.2 per cent) where the tourism industry has been badly hit, and Flynn (LNP 8.7 per cent) where the retirement of Ken O’Dowd and an inflated margin from 2019 give Labor hope.
Two other marginal seats are potential three-cornered contests with the Greens in the race for Griffith (ALP 2.9 per cent) and Brisbane (LNP 4.9 per cent).
While Tasmania tends to lean towards Labor at federal elections, the two northern seats of Bass and Braddon are less Labor-leaning, which puts them close to the national two-party trend line. Small shifts in the national mood are often reflected in Bass (LIB 0.4 per cent) and Braddon (LIB 3.1 per cent).
Bass has been described as the nation’s ejector seat. There have been 10 federal elections since 1993, a period in which only one Bass member has been re-elected. Bass has changed party status at eight of the last 10 elections, and Braddon has been almost as volatile. Since 1998 Bass and Braddon have moved in lock step, being won by the same party at each of the last eight elections, including switching party at six of the eight.
Tasmania may only have five seats, but when two of them march in step with the national political drumbeat, you understand why Tasmania’s northern seats attract so much attention.
And an eye should be kept on neighbouring Lyons (ALP 5.2 per cent), the great central Tasmanian seat where the Liberal Party had to disendorse its candidate late in the 2019 campaign.
At 13 of the 15 federal elections since 1980, Labor has recorded a majority of the two-party preferred vote in Victoria, even recording majority Labor votes at Coalition landslide victories in 1996 and 2013. Labor has won eight of the last 11 state elections and governed the state for 29 of the last 40 years.
On the Labor side of the pendulum, worth watching are the two seats that redistributions helped Labor gain, Corangamite (ALP 1.1 per cent) and Dunkley (ALP 2.7 per cent).
Inner-city Macnamara (ALP 4.9 per cent) surprised with a big swing to Labor in 2019, which makes it safer for Labor’s Josh Burns in a two-party contest. But Macnamara is developing into a three-party contest, and in 2022 the bigger challenge will come from the Greens. North of the Yarra in Labor’s former heartland, the party will again be under challenge from the Greens in Wills (ALP 8.5 per cent v GRN) and Cooper (ALP 14.8 per cent v GRN).
Unless there is a significant swing, only a few Liberal seats will be in play. Chisholm (LIB 0.5 per cent) is the one on the tightest margin. Higgins (LIB 2.6 per cent), like neighbouring Macnamara, is becoming a three-way marginal seat with Labor and the Greens battling for second place in the hope of defeating Allen on preferences.
Then there are the independent contests. Indi (IND 1.4 per cent v LIB) left the Liberal fold in 2013, with current MP Helen Haines succeeding Cathy McGowan in 2019. Neighbouring Nicholls (NAT 20.0 per cent) is a very safe conservative seat where National MP Damian Drum is retiring, which has caused the Liberal Party to run against their Coalition partner in a contest that will see at least one independent nominate.
Josh Frydenberg in Kooyong (LIB 6.4 per cent) and Tim Wilson in Goldstein (LIB 7.8 per cent) also face independent challengers.
Just under a third of the House of Representatives is elected from NSW, a weight of numbers that ensures the state is always a crucial battleground at federal elections.
A good result in NSW can turn a narrow win into a comfortable victory, while a bad result can make victory impossible.
Labor has never won a federal election without also winning a majority of seats in NSW. And in the last 60 years, only twice has the Coalition won office without also winning a majority of seats in the state – the last two elections, where they won a two-seat majority in 2016 and a three-seat majority in 2019.
Facing a tough task to hold all its seats in Queensland and Western Australia, the Coalition hopes to compensate for any losses by gaining seats from Labor in NSW.
Labor may have won a narrow majority of NSW seats in 2019, but in votes its result was poor and the party is left defending nine seats on margins under 5 per cent.
Labor faces two key tests in the state’s south, an area where the lives of so many have been disrupted in recent years by bushfires and COVID enforced restrictions on tourism.
Once the nation’s bellwether electorate, Eden-Monaro (ALP 0.8 per cent) was won narrowly by Labor’s Kristy McBain at a July 2020 by-election. Immediately to the north, Gilmore (ALP 2.6 per cent) was lost by the Liberal Party in 2019 due to picking the wrong candidate. Of concern for the Liberal Party will be the big swing against the Coalition at the Monaro and Bega state by-elections in February. Labor won Bega for the first time and the results suggest Labor will hold Eden-Monaro, and the big swings around Batemans Bay suggest that Gilmore will be a tough fight for the Coalition to win.
In what has traditionally been Labor heartland in the Hunter Valley, the party is defending three seats on margins under 5 per cent. Hunter (ALP 3.0 per cent) covers the main coalfields of the lower Hunter and Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon is retiring after 26 years as MP. The neighbouring seats of Shortland (ALP 4.4 per cent) held by Pat Conroy, and Meryl Swanson Paterson (ALP 5.0 per cent) will also face a challenge.
The 2019 result boosted the Liberal Party in its marginal Sydney seats. The key contests for 2022 are Reid (LIB 3.2 per cent) and Banks (LIB 6.3 per cent). Both seats cover areas of Sydney that were locked down by the Berejiklian government’s council by council reaction to the Delta strain.
Two other marginal seats are traditional bellwethers. Robertson (LIB 4.2 per cent), based on Gosford and the Central Coast, has gone with government at the last 14 elections. Penrith in western Sydney based Lindsay (LIB 5.0 per cent) has gone with government at 12 of the last 13.
As in Melbourne, Sydney will see a number of traditionally safe Liberal seats where the main challenger is an independent. After defeating Tony Abbott at the 2019 election, Independent Zali Steggall should retain Warringah (IND 7.2 per cent v LIB). Wentworth (LIB 1.3 per cent v IND) and North Sydney (LIB 9.3 per cent) are also in play.
The Liberal Party should win back Hughes (LIB 9.8 per cent) from UAP defector Craig Kelly.
Several other seats will also be under independent challenge.
The South Australian state election proved an easy victory for Labor under leader and new Premier Peter Malinauskas.
There are only two main seats of interest in South Australia.
The state results proved that the Liberal seat of Boothby is at risk, with Labor for the first time winning two safe Liberal state seats that overlap the boundaries of Boothby.
The traditional marginal is Boothby (LIB 1.4 per cent) where the Liberal Party will be disadvantaged by the retirement of two term sitting MP Nicholle Flint.
In the Adelaide Hills, Mayo (Centre Alliance 5.1 per cent v LIB) was a traditional Liberal seat before it fell to Rebekha Sharkie as a Nick Xenophon Team candidate. She was re-elected for the Xenophon-less Centre Alliance at a 2018 by-election and again in 2019. Sharkie should be safe unless the intensity of the national campaign swamps the local contest.
In the state campaign there were also big swings to Labor within the notionally safe Liberal seat of Sturt (LIB 6.9 per cent).
Independent Liz Habermann has nominated for the vast outback seat of Grey (LIB 13.3 per cent). At the March state election, Habermann contested the traditionally ultra-safe Liberal seat of Flinders and ran the Liberal Party a much closer race than expected. Two other state seats in Grey were won by Independents Stuart and Narungga. Grey has been held by Liberal Rowan Ramsey since 2007 and he previously faced a surprise at the 2016 election when the Nick Xenophon Team’s candidate came close to an upset.
The disadvantage for any independent contesting Grey is its vast size, covering 92.3 per cent of the state. It takes enormous organisation to campaign in such a seat, something that better suits a political party with an established branch structure.
Australian Capital Territory
Canberra may be the national capital, but when it comes to national elections, the ACT rarely gets national attention. The presence of the Canberra press gallery in Parliament House means party leaders regularly visit during the campaign, but rarely to campaign in ACT seats.
When leaders do campaign, it usually involves a drive down Canberra Avenue to neighbouring Queanbeyan in the marginal NSW seat of Eden-Monaro. Modern campaigning requires Leaders to give their message of the day in a marginal seat, which is why Queanbeyan sees more of party leaders campaigning than Canberra. And since the demise of the National Tally Room in 2013, even the focus of election night has shifted away from Canberra.
Canberra (ALP 17.5 per cent) will be of some interest because the Greens may pass the Liberals on first preferences to finish second to Labor.
The only other contest likely to draw interest is the Senate race where the one-third quota required for election would normally ensure Labor’s Katy Gallagher and Liberal Zed Seselja are re-elected. But the contest has attracted some prominent independent candidates in academic Professor Kim Rubenstein and former rugby union international and social activist David Pocock.
The Territory’s two seats are very different from each other. Solomon (ALP 3.1 per cent) is a small urban electorate that covers the greater Darwin metropolitan area. After being won by the Country Liberals at four of its first five elections, Solomon has been won by Labor’s Luke Gosling at the last two elections.
Greater interest will lie in the vast electorate of Lingiari (ALP 5.5 per cent), in area the nation’s second largest electorate that sprawls across 99.9 per cent of the Northern Territory. The retiring Labor member is veteran Warren Snowdon, who has represented the distant regions of the Northern Territory for 33 of the past 35 years. Critical to the outcome is Labor maintaining Snowdon’s personal vote in predominantly white urban parts of the electorate, while ensuring a high turnout of Aboriginal voters as remote mobile polling teams move around the electorate.