The by-elections on Saturday have seen some extraordinary commentary both before and after the poll. Gerard Henderson has nicely described the "doomsday prophecies" as fantasies of the left in his SMH column. However, Gerard continues to belittle himself by the way he criticises the work of these various academics for being both "left-wing" and taxpayer funded. The critique of academics being left-wing he pursues would be fine if it were based on evidence that right-wing academics don't get jobs. I think there are two alternative realities. The first is that right-wing "academics" reject the University model and prefer the private think tank, and the other is that right-wing "intelligensia" think they should go off and make money, not think.
It is also worth noting that not all the income of Universities comes from taxpayers, a lot comes from fees, and a lot comes from earnings on endowments. It is generaly not possible to ascertain what proportion of any individual academic's income comes from each of these sources. We also don't know anything about how the Sydney Institute is funded other than it is a privately funded not-for-profit current affairs forum. While it is possible that a large amount could come from fairly average individuals, the perception has always been that it is funded from "the big end of town". (That is the description given by Brett to the Liberals may be more apprpriate for Henderson and his Institute).
The fact that the reported academics got it so wrong also reflects the selection process of news stories. A journalist won't get a story run that says "in the by-election nothing of significance will happen". The stories that are run are the ones that make the biggest prediction - and most likely to be wrong.
Ultimately though Gerard makes the same mistake as the academic commentators he critiques - this is the "one swallow does not make a summer" fallacy. By-elections never really reflect the mood at large. They have consistently lower turn-out and a higher than average pre-poll and postal vote (because you can't vote absentee). They are further "distorted" when one major party makes the rational choice not to run - unfortunately this just seems to encourage the crazies rather than just leave the other party to win unopposed.
Bradfield in particular was odd with the Christian Democratic Party (Fred Nile Group) running 9 candidates. At the close of counting on Monday (lots of per-poll and postal still to be counted) the first preference (percentage) results were as follows;
CDP (9) 3.58
Ind (5) 6.00
One N 0.65
This means that in leafy Bradfield in the crusty Upper North Shore the sex party nearly out-polled the combined weight of nine christians! They in turn were trounced by five largely annonymous independents.
As for the tipsters, the idea attributed to the ABC national breakfast show that the sex party could win a Senate seat is not actually out of the question. As long as voters seem prepared to spray votes around like confetti these fringe parties can "get lucky" just as Family First did in Victoria.