A hideous beast awaits Abbott's return

Tony Abbott could find his weak grasp on the upper house slip through his fingers if the steep, post-election drop in Coalition support out West is carried into a Senate re-run.

The sun rises on 2014 with an unfortunate guest waiting patiently in the corner of the Liberal Party Room in parliament house, Canberra – a giant creature wearing a 'G'day from WA!' t-shirt, guzzling cans of Emu Export beer and belching with abandon.

Nobody wants to sit next to the elephant in the room, but it is there. It's the half-Senate election re-run in Western Australia, and on it a great deal of Australian history will pivot.

To re-cap, the first recount of the September election took weeks to complete. It was asked for by the Greens, who'd worked out that the direction of preference flows came down to a crucial moment in the first count that relied on other parties having a lead of just 14 ballot papers.

Having found 'handfuls' of miscounted votes, the Greens thought they stood at least a 50/50 chance of returning Senator Scott Ludlam if a recount was approved. It was, and they did.

Yet in that process, 1370 votes went missing, leading the sheepish Australian Electoral Commission to itself petition the High Court to declare the election result void (Abbott's nightmare is unfolding in WA, December 10).

All things being equal, that would not present the returning Liberal Party members, and their Nationals colleagues down the hall, with that noisy, smelly pachyderm waiting to disrupt their first joint-party-room meeting.

But there it is. Things are not equal.

One story that received little attention while the nation reverently tucked in to its pavlova and pinot over the past two weeks, was a shocking turnaround in the popularity of the Abbott government among sandgropers.

While every poll contains a specific, statistically calculated, margin of error (usually around /- 2 per cent) there is no good way for the Coalition to spin the last Newspoll which found a 10 percentage point drop in support for the Abbott government out west.

Its primary vote fell from 51 to 41 per cent, while Labor's jumped from 29 to 36 per cent. The 'others' went from 10 to 13 per cent.

That means that if the expensive, annoying Senate re-run takes place – and before Christmas, psephologist Charles Richardson agreed it looked 95 per cent certain – the voting patterns will be very, very different.

Why is that important? Because the weak grasp Abbott has on an upper-house majority at present – in which he relies on the votes of the belligerent Clive Palmer and a motley crew of minor party right-leaning senators – could be lost if he 'unexpectedly' loses another friendly senator in WA.

But how unexpected would that be? In the primary vote patterns described above, it is the 'others' that are most interesting.

The first WA half-Senate election gave the Palmer United Party a third of a quota, but it is not unlikely that PUP would lose substantial ground next time around.

Palmer has already been vilified by certain sections of the press. He would be heavily targeted by Labor strategists in a new campaign, and probably should have come up with a better name than 'China First' for his newly approved coal mine. 'Australia first' could be Labor's mocking retort.

For a full breakdown of what could happen in WA, see my previous article on this topic. However, the only new development to date is the disappearance of one-in-five Coalition votes in the Newspoll.

Where those votes would flow is uncertain, but is must be said that voters across the country have been told for several months now that they were 'gamed' during the elaborate preference swapping that got parties with tiny primary votes into the Senate – such as WA's Sports Party.

Votes are likely to polarise away from minor parties, and back to a safe Coalition or Labor supporting options.

On the other hand, they could easily flow to the two minor parties who came closest to the PUP primary vote – the Australian Christians and the Sex Party. (What an election-night party they could throw together!)

There is a major fork in the road ahead in 2014. Repeal of the carbon and mining taxes, the unpicking of the NBN legislation, and a host of other major agenda items for the Abbott government hangs in the balance.

Could be time for Tony to get out in a 'G'day WA!' t-shirt and shout a few rounds of Emu Export out west.

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