Before he steps on to the set on election night, the ABC’s analyst Antony Green has endured a long excruciatingly detailed process of getting the data right.
“People just think you turn up on camera and talk,” Green tells Guardian Australia ahead of the election broadcast.
“Or that when I am making a prediction it is just something off the top of my head. There’s a vast amount of work to be done just to make the presentation clear.”
For 30 years Green has not just been a crucial part of the ABC’s coverage at state, territory and federal elections, but he has literally written the program for the ABC’s election computer that analyses data as it comes in from the Australian Election Commission.
With a degree in pure mathematics and computer science, Green was a data journalist before the term existed, joining the ABC in 1991 as a researcher and quickly becoming on-air talent alongside ABC legends including the late Andrew Olle, Paul Lyneham and Ian Carroll, and of course the now-retired Kerry O’Brien.
By the time Green joins O’Brien’s successor Leigh Sales, who is hosting her third election, on the set of Australia Votes on Saturday, he would have already been writing code, setting up the database with candidates, polling places and past results, loading preference formulas and checking the television graphics and, in more recent years, the ABC’s election website.
Sales will be joined by journalists David Speers, Annabel Crabb, Andrew Probyn and Laura Tingle from 6pm and will cross to reporters around the country for the latest news.
“I’ve spent most of the last few days getting bloody test data,” Green says, explaining that the system needs testing even though he doesn’t have real data from AEC yet.
The number of independents makes the task of calling the election “technically more difficult”, Green says, because “we don’t have historical preference counts as a comparison”.
As to what time he will call the election this year, Green says it depends on how close it is.
“I always say that by 7.30 you will know the result or you’ll know you have to wait,” Green says.
His biggest fear is “the data not arriving” or “something going wrong with our computer”, and amazingly he has never made a wrong call on who won.
Green says what makes the ABC’s broadcast stand out is “less political argy bargy” and more calm analysis.
“The campaign’s over; you’re just trying to find out who won,” he says.
“The cheapest way to do an election coverage is just to set up something that looks like the Footy Show and get everyone to disagree.
“It’s very entertaining if you want to have people shouting at each other. But sometimes people just want to know the result.
“We’ve got political guests who analyse what the implications are and are aware of when we’re wrong. But the one thing we don’t want is them disagreeing over the seat results.”
Labor’s Tanya Plibersek and Liberal senator Simon Birmingham will join the ABC’s panel this year.
But if Green’s nerdy approach to the election is not to your taste, there are plenty of alternatives: Seven, Nine, 10 and Sky News are all offering live panels and analysis, with Sky starting its coverage early as usual – at 6am.
Kieran Gilbert will anchor Sky’s prime time coverage from 5pm, along with Andrew Clennell, Sky’s chief election analyst Tom Connell and Tony Abbott’s former chief of staff, Sky After Dark host Peta Credlin.
Political figures will include Coalition senators Bridget McKenzie, James McGrath and Murray Watt, former Labor numbers man Graham Richardson and retiring Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon.
Fresh from hosting the third and much-lauded election debate on Seven, political editor Mark Riley will lead Seven’s coverage along with Natalie Barr and Michael Usher. Politicians joining the panel, which starts at 5pm, will be Labor’s Jason Clare, Katy Gallagher and Chris Bowen, and the Coalition’s Christopher Pyne, Michaelia Cash and David Littleproud.
While it doesn’t have its own Antony Green, Seven does have something called the “revolutionary” Screen of Dreams and The Panic Station to crunch the numbers.
Nine’s coverage also begins at 5pm with a panel hosted by Peter Overton and Alicia Loxley and analysis from political editor Chris Uhlmann. Political figures will include Julie Bishop, Bill Shorten, senators Jane Hume and Matt Canavan, and Kate Ellis.
Ten’s coverage starts at 6pm and is hosted by Sandra Sully, Peter van Onselen, Waleed Aly, Hugh Riminton, Jan Fran and Narelda Jacobs. Political guests will include Anne Ruston, Ed Husic, Hollie Hughes and Stephen Jones.
ABC Radio is offering live coverage too, hosted by Raf Epstein and Sabra Lane, with Thomas Oriti covering all the latest news on the night. Listen live via your ABC local radio station, ABC NewsRadio, RN or on the ABC Listen app.