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From Crikey 18 December 2007

13. Maxine may be special, but her victory wasn't

Charles Richardson writes:

The ABC is understandably proud that one of its own knocked off a sitting prime minister. Nonetheless, last night's 7.30 Report was misleading in suggesting that Maxine McKew's achievement was something out of the ordinary. In fact, the swing to Labor in Bennelong was 5.53%, almost identical with the state average of 5.6%.

John Howard lost because he was holding a marginal seat in an election that swung strongly to the opposition. Yes, he was prime minister and a long-term sitting member, but he was those things in 2004 as well: they were already factored in to his margin.

But the ABC and other media are trying to cover up for their negligence prior to the election. Despite every poll showing the contrary, they kept assuring us that Howard would get back. Dennis Shanahan was only the most egregious example when he said, just three weeks before polling day, that "The Prime Minister's seat of Bennelong in Sydney would appear to be safe, at least according to party sources on both sides".

The betting markets followed the commentariat. Throughout the campaign it was possible to get 6-4 or better against McKew; I won $245. Mug punters made the mistake of believing the media instead of the evidence.

That's why the 7.30 Report now has to play up the specialness of McKew's campaign, with its talk of "secret polling" (as if the published polls weren't enough!) and Shane Easson's analysis "doing the rounds within Labor Party circles". Easson's paper was no great secret: Peter Brent put it on his website last year, and I reported it in Crikey at the time.

In any case, it turns out Easson was wrong about the increased vulnerability of Bennelong; he suggested that the changing ethnic mix would be worth an extra 1.2% for Labor, but McKew failed to improve on the statewide swing.

Media irresponsibility continued after the election, when they refused to admit what had happened. It was obvious on the night that Howard had lost, given the margin of more than 2,000 votes, but McKew was deprived of credit (and the associated publicity) for more than a fortnight, until the silly season was well advanced.

Now they're trying to make amends - without, of course, admitting that they were wrong in the first place.

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