John Alexander easily retains Bennelong, and how the LNP saved Labor’s Jackie Trad in Queensland



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The Bennelong byelection result will boost Malcolm Turnbull’s standing in the Coalition.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

Liberal John Alexander defeated Labor’s Kristina Keneally in the Bennelong byelection by a 54.2-45.8 margin, a swing to Labor of 5.6 points since the 2016 election. Primary votes were 44.1% Alexander (down 6.3), 36.3% Keneally (up 7.8), 6.9% Greens (down 2.2), 4.5% for the Australian Conservatives, and 3.2% Christian Democrats (down 3.2).

Up to 16,000 postals are still to be counted, and these will further increase Alexander’s vote, probably pushing his lead out to 55-45.

The easy win for Alexander restores the Coalition’s 76 seats in the lower house, returning it to a two-seat majority (76 Coalition vs 74 for all others).

In Bennelong, Newspoll and Galaxy had Alexander respectively at 50% and 51% two-party-preferred in polls conducted in the final week, while ReachTEL gave Alexander a 53-47 lead. In this case, ReachTEL was better than Newspoll and Galaxy.

Before the byelection, I said that, given the inaccuracy of seat polls, Labor could win, or there could be a thumping Liberal victory. Unlike the Alabama Senate byelection, this time the vote of the right-wing candidate was understated.

In New England, there was a large swing to Barnaby Joyce following a Section 44 disqualification, so Labor’s consolation in Bennelong is that it received a swing that would have easily won it a general election. Nevertheless, given the polling that suggested a close contest, this is a disappointing result for Labor, and will boost Malcolm Turnbull’s standing within the Coalition.

At the 2016 election, the Christian Democrats won 6.4%, so the overall vote for the Christian right (Australian Conservatives and Christian Democrats) was 7.7%, up 1.3 points.

Bennelong voted marginally against same-sex marriage (50.2-49.8), but this result does not suggest a massive number of same-sex marriage opponents are turning to the Christian right. Alexander had supported same-sex marriage.

Queensland poll critique, preference flows, and how the LNP saved Jackie Trad

The table below shows the final three Queensland election polls, and how they compare with the election results.

Kevin Bonham estimated Labor won 51.2% of the two-party vote, virtually unchanged on 2015. A poll result within one point of the actual outcome is in bold.

Queensland election polls vs results.

ReachTEL asked for statewide One Nation support, while Newspoll and Galaxy only asked in the 61 (out of 93) seats One Nation contested. ReachTEL may have been close had One Nation contested all seats. Newspoll was very close on all primary votes, while Galaxy was a little high on the major parties, and a little low on the Greens and One Nation.

Tim Colebatch wrote in Inside Story that One Nation preferences flowed to the LNP at a 65% rate, while Greens preferences went to Labor at a 76% rate.

This data is based on the distribution of preferences, which includes preferences from other candidates in the One Nation and Greens totals. It is likely the flow from One Nation primary votes to the LNP was higher than 65%, and the flow from Greens primary votes to Labor was higher than 76%.

I believe Newspoll and Galaxy expected a One Nation flow to the LNP of about 60%, while ReachTEL used respondent-allocated preferences. The final ReachTEL poll was thus better than Newspoll or Galaxy on two-party-preferred terms. However, earlier ReachTEL polls consistently had the LNP ahead by 52-48, before the final poll became more in line with Newspoll and Galaxy.

31% of overall votes were won by parties other than the big two, but Colebatch says One Nation and Greens preferences effectively cancelled each other out.

84 of the 93 seats went to the primary vote leader. Of the other nine, Labor lost three it led on primary votes, but won four it trailed on. The LNP lost two seats to the Greens and Katter’s Australian Party that it led on primary votes.

Labor’s left-wing deputy premier, Jackie Trad, became treasurer after the election. She would almost certainly have lost her South Brisbane seat had the LNP recommended preferences to the Greens ahead of Trad.

Primary votes in South Brisbane were 36% Trad, 34% Greens, 24% LNP. Trad won 62% of LNP preferences, giving her a 53.6-46.4 win over the Greens. Had the LNP put the Greens ahead of Trad on its how-to-vote cards, rather than the reverse, the Greens would have very probably defeated Trad.

Belated Western Australian election poll critique

I was expecting a statewide two-party count in all Western Australian seats for the March 11 election, but this has not occurred.

Antony Green estimated Labor won 55.5% of the two-party vote, a swing to Labor of almost 13 points since the 2013 election. I have used this estimate in the table below.

Western Australian election polls vs results.

All polls asked for One Nation support statewide, when One Nation did not contest many seats. This error led to the change in Queensland for Galaxy and Newspoll.

In WA, all polls underestimated Labor and the Greens, overstated One Nation, and had the combined Liberal and National vote about right. Labor performed better after preferences than expected.

The ConversationAs in Queensland, ReachTEL’s earlier polls in WA were worse for Labor, before its final poll fell into line with Newspoll and Galaxy.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Alexander holds Bennelong, Turnbull holds majority



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Malcolm Turnbull and John Alexander celebrate victory in the Bennelong byelection.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Liberals’ John Alexander has comfortably won the crucial Bennelong byelection, preserving the Coalition’s parliamentary majority and giving Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull a significant boost going into 2018.

Alexander, who faced the high-profile Labor candidate Kristina Keneally, a former New South Wales premier, has a two-party swing against him of about 5.6% on counting so far. This gives Alexander a 54-46% two-party vote.

Addressing the party faithful, Alexander told Turnbull: “This is a renaissance of your leadership”. The Bennelong win follows the strong government victory in the recent New England byelection.

An exuberant Turnbull said: “Thankyou Bennelong”. He declared that Alexander, a former tennis champion, was “winning yet another great title”.

Turnbull told Liberal supporters Alexander had said to Bennelong voters, “I have been your champion, now let me be your champion again”, and they had said: “Yes, John Alexander, you are Bennelong’s champion just as you have been Australia’s champion”.

The Liberals have had a swing against them of about 6.3% on primary votes; the swing to Labor on primaries has been around 7.6%.

The result – with a swing around the average for byelections – is a major relief for Turnbull, who would have faced deep trouble if the seat had been lost.

Alexander said: “This is an extraordinary moment for us. … It’s been a real battle”.

In the last days of the campaign, Labor said it did not expect to win the seat, which had a 9.7% margin, but it hoped to run the government closer than it has.

On Saturday night, Labor was making the most of the swing by translating it to a national election result.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told Labor supporters the voters of Bennelong had given Labor “an election-winning swing at the next election”.

“This was not an ordinary byelection,” he said. “Normally in a byelection the former member does not run again.” Given Alexander’s personal vote, the entire swing was “attributable to Malcolm Turnbull and his rotten policies for this country”.

If Labor could replicate this swing at the election, “24-28 government seats will fall”, Shorten said. “Labor finishes 2017 with the most remarkable wind in its sails.”

He said in 2018, Labor “will be courageous and we will stand up and put people first”.

Keneally told the Labor campaign workers this had been “an extraordinary result”.

She said unfortunately she was not there to claim victory but “I am here tonight to claim success for the Labor movement”.

Turnbull “owns this result”, Keneally said. “The verdict is in, the message is clear, we have had enough of your lousy leadership.” Thousands of people who had previously voted for the Liberals had rejected the government, and Labor had been “energised” by the result, she said.

Labor was texting journalists saying such a swing would take out cabinet ministers Peter Dutton and Christian Porter.

Leader of the House Christopher Pyne said of the Shorten and Keneally speeches: “The level of delusion was epic”. He said the result would improve when the prepolls and postals were counted.

The byelection was sparked by Alexander resigning in the citizenship crisis.

Both Turnbull and Shorten had campaigned hard in the electorate.

In a seat with a very high proportion of Chinese voters, the byelection campaign was particularly bitter.

Labor accused Turnbull of “Chinaphobia” in the wake of the government’s attacks on Labor’s Sam Dastyari and its move to crack down on foreign interference in Australian politics.

Dastyari, under pressure for his closeness to a Chinese benefactor and for promoting Chinese interests, announced earlier this week that he would resign from parliament. Keneally has not ruled out seeking to fill the Dastyari vacancy in the Senate.

The government resurrected Keneally’s history as NSW premier, seeking to link her to disgraced Labor figures Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald, both of whom are in jail.

Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives, in its first electoral outing, had a vote of about 4.5%, with preferences flowing strongly to Alexander.

The government will now have the numbers to refer the citizenship of several Labor MPs to the High Court, while successfully resisting having any of its own MPs referred.

Pyne said Shorten faced a potential four byelections next year.

The ConversationThe minister for international development and the Pacific, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, said this was a good win for Turnbull and urged an end to the backgrounding against him.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Instead of congratulating ICAN on its Nobel Peace Prize, Australia is resisting efforts to ban the bomb


Ramesh Thakur, Australian National University

Earlier this week in Oslo, the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize was officially given to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a global campaign that was launched in Melbourne in 2007.

ICAN lobbied to establish a special UN working group on nuclear disarmament, campaigned for the UN General Assembly’s December 2016 resolution to launch negotiations on a prohibition treaty, and was an active presence at the UN conference that negotiated the treaty.


Read more: How Melbourne activists launched a campaign for nuclear disarmament and won a Nobel prize


Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull failed to congratulate the Australian faces of ICAN, adding to the growing body of evidence of his flawed political judgement.

There were no political downsides to phoning ICAN, noting the difference of opinion on the timing and means to effective nuclear disarmament, but warmly congratulating ICAN for the global recognition of its noble efforts to promote nuclear peace.

Out of step with the global nuclear order

The global nuclear order has been regulated and nuclear policy directions set by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) since 1968.

The 2015 Iran nuclear deal and North Korea’s unchecked nuclear and missile delivery advances show the benefits and limitations of the NPT respectively.

The transparency, verification and consequences regime mothballed Iran’s bomb-making program by enforcing its NPT non-proliferation obligations. These will remain legally binding even after the deal expires in 2030.

By contrast, the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear program has intensified within the NPT framework. Heightened geopolitical tensions in Europe, the Middle East and south and east Asia have further stoked nuclear fears. Meanwhile the NPT-recognised five nuclear weapon states have no plan to abolish their nuclear arsenals.

Frustrated by the stubborn resistance of the nuclear weapon states to honour their NPT commitment to nuclear disarmament and alarmed by rising nuclear threats, on July 7 this year, 122 countries adopted a UN treaty to stigmatise and ban the bomb.

The nine nuclear powers and all the NATO and Pacific allies who shelter under US extended nuclear deterrence dismissed the treaty as impractical, ineffective and dangerous.

Critics allege the treaty is a distraction that ignores international security realities, will damage the NPT, and could generate fresh pressures to weaponisation in some umbrella nations. Nuclear deterrence has kept the peace in Europe and the Pacific for seven decades.

They will argue that the ban treaty undermines strategic stability, jeopardises nuclear peace, and makes the world more unpredictable. It ignores the critical limitations of international institutions for overseeing and guaranteeing abolition and has polarised the international community.

Australia still under the US nuclear umbrella

The ban treaty is not compatible with nuclear sharing by NATO allies whereby nuclear weapons are stationed on their territory, nor with Australia’s policy of relying on US nuclear weapons for national security and nuclear-related co-operation with the US through the shared Pine Gap asset.

In a period of power transition in which China’s geopolitical footprint is growing while the US strategic footprint recedes, reliance on the security and political roles of US nuclear weapons by Australia, Japan and South Korea has increased, not diminished.

The most strident criticisms of the diplomatic insurgency have come from France, UK and US, while Australia has been among “the most outspoken of the non-nuclear states”.


Read more: Australia’s stance on nuclear deterrence leaves it on the wrong side of history


Australia’s preferred approach does not challenge the social purposes and value of nuclear weapons nor question the legality and legitimacy of these weapons and the logic and practice of nuclear deterrence. It leaves nuclear agency entirely in the hands of the possessor states, accepting that they can safely manage nuclear risks by appropriate adjustments to warhead numbers, nuclear doctrines and force postures.

To critics, the nuclear powers are not so much possessor as possessed countries. Within the security paradigm, nuclear weapons are national assets for the possessor countries individually. In the ban treaty’s humanitarian reframing, they are a collective international hazard.

The known humanitarian consequences of any future use makes the very possibility of nuclear war unacceptable. Dispossession of nuclear weapons removes that future possibility. Stigmatisation and prohibition are normative steps on the path to nuclear disarmament.

The nuclear weapons states have instrumentalised the NPT to legitimise their own indefinite possession of nuclear weapons while enforcing non-proliferation on anyone else pushing to join their exclusive club. For them, the problem is who has the bomb.

But increasingly, the bomb itself is the problem.

A curcuit breaker

The ban treaty is a circuit-breaker in the search for a dependable, rules-based security order outside the limits of what the nuclear-armed countries are prepared to accept.

The step-by-step approach adopts a transactional strategy to move incrementally without disturbing the existing security order. The ban treaty’s transformative approach transcends the limitations imposed by national and international security arguments.

For Australia, nuclear disarmament is of lower priority than bolstering and indefinitely sustaining the legitimacy and credibility of nuclear deterrence. In its view, the ban treaty will neither promote nuclear disarmament nor strengthen national security.


Read more: Three good reasons to worry about Trump having the nuclear codes


Australia’s instinct is to support incremental, verifiable and enforceable agreements and commitments. There is no detailed framework for actual elimination, verification and enforcement.

The Foreign Policy White Paper repeats the familiar mantra that a complex security environment requires a patient and pragmatic approach. It simply ignores the adoption of the ban treaty, pretending it does not exist.

Australia should join global efforts to ban the bomb

The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a good faith effort by 122 countries to act on their NPT responsibility to take effective measures on nuclear disarmament.

A constructive approach would be for Australia to lead a collaborative effort with like-minded countries like Canada, Japan and Norway to explore strategic stability at low numbers of nuclear weapons and the conditions for serious and practical steps towards nuclear disarmament.

The ConversationInstead, Australia has chosen to join the nattering nabobs of negativism.

Ramesh Thakur, Professor of International Relations, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Vital Signs: Australia heads into 2018 with mixed economic signals



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It’s hard to get a fix on where Australia’s economy is headed.
Garry Knight/Flickr, CC BY

Richard Holden, UNSW

Vital Signs is a weekly economic wrap from UNSW economics professor and Harvard PhD Richard Holden (@profholden). Vital Signs aims to contextualise weekly economic events and cut through the noise of the data affecting global economies.

This week: the housing market is still cooling, but not disastrously so, consumers remain optimistic, but business is cautious, and all eyes will soon turn to Christmas retail sales.


Since housing is the main thing that Australians seem to talk about (even when the Ashes is on), let’s start with that.

The ABS residential house price index for the September quarter showed a small decline Australia wide, with prices falling 0.2%. Sydney prices were down 1.4%, while Melbourne was still up 1.1%.

This was, as we are now used to, met with press commentary about how the housing boom is well-and-truly over, and with various other shrieks of angst. Really? Melbourne just didn’t grow as fast is it did before. And Sydney, though down 1.4% on the quarter, is still up a whopping 9.4% over the past 12 months.


Read more: Four ways an Australian housing bubble could burst


On one level, the reaction makes no sense at all. On another, as I wrote in a previous column, the implications of even modest falls could be large, given how residential lending is structured. If Australia’s banks are lending people a massive chunk of their disposable income, marking-to-market on a regular basis and issuing a lot of interest-only loans, then even small falls can have big effects on household spending and even defaults. And. They. Are.

The Westpac consumer sentiment index came in stronger than expected, rising 3.6% in December to 103.3 points (recall 100 in these indices is the breakeven between optimists and pessimists). Westpac’s chief economist Bill Evans said:

This is a surprisingly strong result and confirms the lift we have seen in the index over the last three months.

This contrasted with the news on business confidence. The NAB Monthly Business Survey business conditions index dropped 9 points. This still left it at +12, however, which is above the long-run average of +5 index points. Moreover, it appeared that some of the business concern was about wages edging higher, which would be a good thing for workers and the economy more generally.

As I have said in Vital Signs many times, sluggish wage growth has been a persistent problem among advanced economies, and Australia is no exception. Even early signs of an increase bode well for the economy more broadly – and business will ultimately benefit from that. But these are very early signs.

Unemployment in Australia remained stubbornly high at 5.4% in November. A large 61,600 jobs were created, but the labour force participation rate rose to 65.5%, leaving the overall unemployment rate unchanged. It will be important to see in coming months if that pace of job creation can be maintained – for that is a prerequisite for a genuine drop in unemployment.


Read more: Vital Signs: economics can’t explain why unemployment and inflation are both low


Thursday morning Australian time, the US Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the third time this year, bringing the target Fed Funds Rate to the 1.25-1.50% band.

The Fed also suggested in its statement that we can expect further, gradual rises, in 2018, saying:

The Committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant gradual increases in the federal funds rate; the federal funds rate is likely to remain, for some time, below levels that are expected to prevail in the longer run.

Most market participants interpret this as meaning we can expected three 25 basis point hikes next year.

As has been the case for some time now, the recovery in the US looks to be self-sustaining and robust. In Australia, we continue to see very mixed signals across different aspects of the economic map.

The housing market looms as a huge potential problem, with regulators only taking action relatively recently to begin to rein in the extravagant lending of a decade or more. And pretty modest action at that.

The ConversationThe next major thing to watch for in Australia is the all-important holiday season retail sales figures. And, as ever, the housing market.

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics and PLuS Alliance Fellow, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: The ‘China factor’ is an unknown in Bennelong but a big issue for Australia


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The stakes in Saturday’s Bennelong byelection could hardly be higher. While both Liberal and Labor camps predict John Alexander will hold on against the ALP’s Kristina Keneally, a government defeat would be calamitous for Malcolm Turnbull, leaving the Coalition with a minority on the floor of the House of Representatives.

In the event of a very narrow win by Alexander – who has a handy 9.7% margin – how the result was interpreted would become important in whether Turnbull lost serious skin.

The byelection is certainly not risk-free for Bill Shorten – after several bad weeks, he needs a strong Labor performance if he’s to end the year with some momentum.

A Fairfax Media-ReachTEL poll done on Tuesday in Bennelong had the Liberals leading 53-47% on a two-party basis; a weekend Newspoll had a 50-50% result. Turnbull describes it as “a very tight contest”.

The likely impact of the “China factor” has been been much talked about in the byelection lead-up because the seat has a high proportion of voters with a Chinese background. About 21% of the Bennelong population have Chinese heritage (compared with 5.2% in New South Wales generally), and around 16% of the voters. Bennelong is the top electoral division for percentage of Chinese-Australian voters, based on the 2016 Census.

The “China factor” is a potent cocktail of issues: the behaviour of Labor’s Sam Dastyari, who has now announced he is quitting parliament; the government’s legislation cracking down on foreign (notably Chinese) interference in Australian politics; and the ALP’s shrill byelection rhetoric about “Chinaphobia”.

It is not clear how these issues will have gone down with the Bennelong Chinese, diverse in themselves, or how they’ll rate compared with other drivers of their votes, including Alexander’s earlier efforts at sandbagging his support among members of the Chinese community.

And then there is the question of what impact these debates have on the rest of the seat’s voters.

The Fairfax poll found two-thirds of the electors supported the move against foreign interference.

Given the timing and the government’s ruthless exploitation of the Dastyari affair, it is easy to cast what is happening to counter foreign interference just in a short-term political context.

In fact, it represents a much bigger, more fundamental change in concerns about and policy towards Chinese influence in Australia.

As strategic expert Hugh White, from ANU, writes in his Quarterly Essay, published in late November, “Without America: Australia in the New Asia”: “Suddenly the Chinese seem to be everywhere [in Australia]. Areas of concern include espionage and cyber-infiltration, the vulnerability of major infrastructure, influence over Australia’s Chinese-language press, and surveillance and intimidation of Chinese nationals in Australia, including students.”

As well, of course, as the allegations “of attempts to buy influence over Australian politicians”.

White, it should be noted, draws a distinction between China’s capability and what it has actually done. Speaking to The Conversation this week, he said: “While it is wise to take precautions against China or other countries seeking to influence our politics in illegitimate ways, the government has so far not provided any clear evidence that Beijing is actively seeking to do so at the moment”.

The rise in government concern has manifested itself quite recently.
It was only in 2015 that the Port of Darwin was leased for 99 years to the Chinese company Landbridge. It was a decision by the Northern Territory government, but it was okayed and later strongly defended by the defence department’s officialdom.

It seemed then, and still seems, an extraordinary decision – and one that probably wouldn’t be made today.

The controversy around that decision served as something of a wake-up call, leading to moves to ensure more scrutiny of Chinese investment in infrastructure.

The government’s legislation, introduced last week, to counter covert foreign interference in Australian politics, ban foreign political donations, and set up a register of those lobbying for foreign interests has been driven to a substantial degree by rising concern from the security agencies.

China predictably has responded angrily, with harsh words and by calling in Australia’s ambassador in Beijing.

As White reminds, China will impose “costs” when there is pushback to its interests and behaviour. Currently, its reactions have been through diplomatic and media channels.

More tangible retribution, in the form of various irritants in the relationship, may be on the cards as the foreign interference legislation is considered – the only constraint being China not wishing to harm its own interests.

Obviously Australia doesn’t want to incur whatever costs China might eventually impose. But the price of avoiding costs, by not giving offence, has become too high to tolerate.

The effort to combat Chinese covert interference is not “Chinaphobia” despite Keneally likening it to the old “reds under the bed” scare. Nor is it an attack on our local Chinese community – some of whom are subjected to attempted Beijing influence – though in the heat of political combat it is being portrayed as that.

Turnbull has faced criticism even from his own side of politics, with former trade minister Andrew Robb lashing out after the government flagged he’d need to be on the proposed register of those working for foreign governments or companies.

Robb’s situation is contentious in itself. He went to work for Landbridge, lessee of the Darwin port, immediately after retiring from parliament at the 2016 election.

Robb says he does nothing for Landbridge within Australia, but is “employed to influence and to work with and to advise about doing deals in other countries”. He has bitterly condemned what he sees as “an attempt to use me as a convenient means of running a scare campaign against China”.

Despite Robb’s fury and his defence of his position, there was shock and unease among some former colleagues at such a rapid move to Landbridge, which would value highly his recent ministerial role and his networks.

His example points to the difficulty of identifying precisely what is appropriate or not appropriate for former politicians and bureaucrats in taking such jobs. Transparency is vital but beyond that there will be different views on where the line should be drawn.

The move to curb foreign interference and provide more scrutiny of activities on behalf of foreign interests is likely to stand as one of the most significant and indeed bold initiatives of the Turnbull government.

The legislation, which follows work Turnbull commissioned in August last year into foreign influence, interference and coercion, will be examined by the parliament’s Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security before being debated next year.

The ConversationIn June, Shorten urged Turnbull to act on foreign donations and foreign interference and advocated a foreign agents register. Labor will object to some of the detail of the government package but – after the noise of Bennelong has passed – it would seem likely the broad initiative will receive bipartisan support.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/xac9s-7e77c6?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Democrat Doug Jones wins Alabama Senate byelection in stunning upset; Bennelong is tied 50-50



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Democrat candidate Doug Jones has had an unlikely win in the hard-fought Alabama Senate ballot.
Reuters/ Marvin Gentry

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

With all election-day votes counted, Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore by a 49.9-48.4 margin to win the Alabama Senate byelection today. Once Jones is seated, Republicans will hold only a 51-49 Senate majority, down from their current 52-48.

Donald Trump crushed Hillary Clinton by a 62-34 margin in Alabama at the 2016 Presidential election, so in Australian terms, this result is a swing to the Democrats of 14.6%.

The massive swing was partly due to Moore’s faults. His extreme right-wing views probably made him a liability even in a state as conservative as Alabama. In November, I wrote that Moore’s alleged sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl, when he was 32, could damage him. Similar allegations against Moore were made by other women.

While Moore was a bad candidate, Trump and national Republicans can also be blamed for this result. According to exit polls, Trump’s approval with the Alabama electorate was split 48% approve, 48% disapprove, a large drop from his 2016 margin.

According to FiveThirtyEight’s poll aggregate, Trump’s national ratings are 37% approve, 57% disapprove, for a net of -20. Trump’s ratings have recently slipped back to near-record lows, probably as a result of the unpopular Republican tax plan.

This tax plan is unlikely to be derailed by Jones’ win. Different versions have already passed the House and Senate, and Republicans still have some time before Jones is seated to pass the same version through both chambers of Congress. The current Senate version was passed 51-49. Even if Jones is seated, there would be a 50-50 tie, which would be broken by Vice-President Mike Pence.

The last Democrat to win an Alabama Senate contest was Richard Shelby in 1992, and he became a Republican in 1994. Southern Democrats used to easily win Alabama and other conservative southern states, but these Democrats were nicknamed “Dixiecrats”, and were definitely not left-wing. Doug Jones may be the first genuinely left-wing Senator from Alabama.

The Alabama result will be a massive morale boost for Democrats, as many will think that if Democrats can win Alabama, they can win anywhere. This should allow Democrats to recruit strong candidates for the 2018 midterm elections.

According to the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Democrats lead in the race for Congress by 47.2-37.5. If Democrats win the national popular vote by this margin next November, they should easily gain control of the House.

The Alabama result will make it more difficult for Republicans to pass legislation and get conservative judges approved. It also puts the Senate in play in November 2018, as Jones will not be up for election until 2020. Democrats now need to gain two seats in 2018 to take control, rather than three.

One-third of the Senate is up for election every two years, and Democrats won the 33 Senate seats up next year by a 25-8 margin in 2012. Republicans will only be defending eight seats, while Democrats defend 25. In these circumstances, two Senate seats are far easier to gain than three.

Most Alabama polls gave Moore a three-to-seven-point lead over Jones, with one at a nine-point Moore lead. The Monmouth and Washington Post polls (respectively tied and Jones by three) were the most accurate. Ironically, the Fox News poll was the most pro-Jones, giving him a ten-point lead.

Bennelong Newspoll 50-50

The Bennelong byelection will be held on Saturday, December 16. A Bennelong Newspoll, conducted December 9-10 from a sample of 529, had a 50-50 tie, a ten-point swing to Labor from the 2016 election. Primary votes were 39% Liberal, 39% Labor, 9% Greens, 7% for Cory Bernardi’s Conservatives and 2% Christian Democrats.

Newspoll is assuming that Conservative and Christian Democrat preferences are as favourable to the Liberals as Greens preferences are for Labor.

At the start of the campaign, more than three weeks ago, Galaxy had a 50-50 tie, while ReachTEL gave the Liberals a 53-47 lead. This Newspoll is the first publicly released Bennelong poll since then, though The Australian reported last week that internal Liberal polling had them leading 54-46.

In past elections, individual seat polls have been inaccurate. There is some chance of a Labor win in Bennelong, but there is also some chance of a thumping Liberal win.

Newspoll asked about Labor candidate Kristina Keneally’s performance when she was NSW premier. 19% thought she was one of the worst premiers, 15% below average, 26% average, 23% better than average, and 10% one of the best. The Liberals have attacked Keneally on her record as premier, but this does not appear to have worked.

The national polls below indicate the media frenzy over Sam Dastyari has had little impact on voting intentions. Often issues that excite partisan voters have little resonance with the general public.

Essential 54-46 to federal Labor

The Coalition gained a point in this week’s Essential, but this was due to rounding. Labor led 54-46, from primary votes of 38% Labor, 35% Coalition, 10% Greens, 7% One Nation and 2% Nick Xenophon Team. Essential uses a two-week sample of about 1,800 for voting intentions. Additional questions use one week’s sample.

Despite Labor’s strong lead in voting intentions, Turnbull’s net approval improved from -12 in November to -3. Shorten’s net approval also improved from -13 to -9.

71% thought it is important that sexual harassment claims in the film and TV industry are exposed, while just 17% thought exposing these claims could unfairly harm reputations. 55% thought the current media attention on sexual harassment would bring about lasting change in the Australian workplace, while 30% thought it would soon be forgotten.

Considering energy policy, 37% said costs should be prioritised (up nine since June), 18% thought reliability should be prioritised (down three) and 15% carbon emissions (down four).

YouGov primary votes: 35% Labor, 34% Coalition, 11% Greens, 8% One Nation

This week’s YouGov, conducted December 7-10 from a sample of 1,032, had primary votes of 35% Labor (up 3 since last fortnight), 34% Coalition (up 2), 11% Greens (up 1) and 8% One Nation (down 3).

Although this poll would be about 54-46 to Labor by 2016 election preferences, YouGov’s respondent allocated preferences are tied 50-50, a three-point gain for the Coalition.

By 40-39, voters thought Turnbull should stand down as prime minister and let someone else take over, rather than remain prime minister. 28% said Turnbull’s decision to go ahead with the banking royal commission gave them a more positive view of him, 15% more negative and 52% said it made no difference.

The Conversation39% expected Labor to win the next federal election, 24% the Coalition, and 14% expected a hung parliament.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Older people now less likely to fall into poverty



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The incidence of poverty among people over 65 is decreasing in part because of increased labour force participation.
Col Ford and Natasha de Vere/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Guyonne Kalb, University of Melbourne

The risk of people past retirement age falling into poverty is now decreasing. There has been a substantial improvement compared to 15 years ago, when the incidence of poverty among the elderly was 32.4%.

People past retirement age are much more at risk of poverty compared to people of other ages. In 2014, 23% of people over 65 were identified as experiencing poverty, while among the general population this was 10.1%.

If we look at poverty in older age using three alternative, well-established, definitions: the Henderson Poverty Line, the OECD 50% poverty line and the OECD 60% poverty line, they all lead to very similar conclusions.


Read more: How we could make the retirement system more sustainable


The OECD 50% poverty line is defined as 50% of median household equivalent disposable income. Equivalised household income allows for differences in household composition, like the number of adults and children who live in the household. It therefore makes income comparable between households of different sizes. Someone is counted as poor if their equivalised disposable household income falls below this poverty line.

Applying this to data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics Australia (HILDA) survey shows clear differences between ages. There’s a much larger incidence of poverty among people over 65, as well as a larger decrease in the poverty rate among those over 65.

Between 2000 and 2014, the prevalence of income poverty among older people declined by more than 9 percentage points, well above the decline of other age groups.

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There are a number of reasons for this decrease in the poverty rate. One is the increase in labour force participation from 6.9% to 12.5% for this older group, whereas for other age groups labour force participation has remained quite stable.

Another reason is the larger increase in pension rates (which is the typical social security payment for people over 65) compared to allowance rates (which is the typical social security payment for working-age people). From an already high base, the payment rates for the oldest age group clearly increased by the most.

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These two reasons combined account for over 75% of the decrease in poverty incidence. Increased private pensions account for a further large part of the decrease (nearly 41%), while changes in investment income would have increased the poverty rate.

Why pensions are so important

This shows just how important public and private pensions are for the standard of living of older people. Given that more and more people will be covered by superannuation, we expect that poverty rates will further decline in the future. However, maintaining the value of public pensions is equally important as a substantial proportion of people over 65 will remain dependent on these payments.


Read more: How can we prevent financial abuse of the elderly?


Those dependent on the age pension include people with a disability during their working life, and many women, as they remain the ones who are more frequently out of the labour force and working part time to raise children. As a result, these groups have less opportunity to build up sufficient superannuation. However, the age pension may perhaps be better targeted.

Although the largest increases in income support are for those classified as poor (with the largest average increase observed for those over 65), the non-poor population over 65 also receives a substantial increase in income support.

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The increase in payments for people who aren’t poor and over 65 is nearly as large as the increase for those classified as poor who are aged 15 to 64. Payments for working-age people have only been increased with inflation, while pensions increased at the same rate as average earnings which has generally been higher than inflation.

The ConversationTo better alleviate poverty for our whole population, government payments for working-age people need to keep up with average earnings like the pensions do. If the government is not prepared to direct more resources to income support payments, they need to treat different age groups more equally. This means better targeting payments among our older population and using any savings to increase payments for the working-age population at a similar rate as pensions.

Guyonne Kalb, Professorial Research Fellow and Director of the Labour Economics and Social Policy Program, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

As costs mount, the government should abandon the Cashless Debit Card


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The Cashless Debit Card trial disproportionately targets Indigenous people, despite what the government says.
AAP/Richard Milnes

Elise Klein, University of Melbourne

A Senate inquiry has recommended that trials of the Cashless Debit Card be continued and expanded to new sites in other states next year. This is despite Labor and Greens senators providing separate dissenting reports that rejected the recommendation that legislation for the bill should pass.

The majority report’s proposal dramatically contrasts with most of the submissions accepted by the inquiry raising significant concerns and arguing against the trials. These submissions outline a variety of serious issues that have been largely overlooked.

What is the card?

The trials for the Cashless Debit Card began in early 2016 in Ceduna, South Australia, and the East Kimberley in Western Australia.

The card quarantines 80% of social security payments received by all working-age people (between the ages of 15 and 64) in the trial sites. It attempts to restrict cash and purchases of alcohol, illegal drugs and gambling products.

The card compulsorily includes people receiving disability, parenting, carers, unemployed and youth allowance payments. People on the aged pension, on a veteran’s payment or earning a wage are not compulsorily included in the trial, but can volunteer to take part.

The issues left unanswered

The trial disproportionately targets Indigenous people, despite the government claiming the card is for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous welfare recipients. This is disingenuous, given the card was first proposed as a key recommendation in mining magnate Andrew Forrest’s Review of Indigenous Training and Employment.

This recommendation followed various other forms of income management, including a program that was part of the Northern Territory Intervention in 2007.

The Intervention required the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act to explicitly target all Indigenous people on welfare. Concerns about human rights breaches continue, and most were overlooked by the Human Rights Joint Committee’s commentary on the Cashless Debit Card bill.

The trial of the card has increased hardship in people’s lives. This is not only because of the experiment’s disorganised and ill-conceived implementation, but also due to the trial’s design.

People are being compulsory included because there is an assumption that they engage in problematic behaviours, such as the over-consumption of alcohol, gambling, or the use of illegal drugs. But this is not the reality for most people.

Being put on the card has made people’s lives harder because limiting cash restricts people’s ability to undertake day-to-day activities to help their family’s wellbeing. This includes getting second-hand goods, paying for transport, and buying gifts.

This hardship is reflected in the final evaluation of the trial, in which 32% said their lives were worse since being on the card (only 23% said their lives were better).

Further, 48% of participants reported that the card does not help them look after their children better. This is concerning, as recently completed research into income management programs indicates a correlation with negative impacts on children – including a reduction in birth weight and school attendance.

Getting the assumptions wrong has pushed already vulnerable people into even more vulnerable situations. Medical specialists have raised concerns with the card being used to treat addiction.

Both crime and domestic assaults increased under the card in the East Kimberley. Superintendent Adams of the Kimberley Police District told the Senate inquiry that in the 12 months to June 30, 2016, there were 319 domestic assaults in Kununurra, but in the 12 months to June 30, 2017 (and the time of the trial), this figure had increased to 508.

Flawed evidence

The government used both the interim and final evaluations as key evidence to justify extending the trials.

Both evaluations have been severely criticised as being methodologically and analytically flawed: from the way interviews were conducted, to having no baseline to test government claims of success, through to an over-emphasis on anecdotal improvements and discarding important issues such as the increase in crime and domestic violence.

The decision to implement the card was not a community decision that represents the regions’ diverse interests or population. And some have had more say than others.

For example, the Miriuwung Gajerrong Corporation noted that, although the:

… Department of Social Services states that the Cashless Debit Card program was co-designed with local leaders in Kununurra … in reality, only four local leaders were consulted in relation to the introduction of the [card] in Kununurra.

Consultations themselves have not been about co-design, but have been tokenistic to convince people to support the card.

In a perverse twist, the only way people can get themselves off the trial is to get a job. Yet in both Ceduna and the East Kimberley, the biggest cause of unemployment is the lack of formal, dignified and secure jobs. Linking to unemployment, some people included in the trial are also subjected to the punitive Community Development Program. This compounds poverty, as the program’s nature induces high breaching rates.

Even if a few support the card, many more have suffered material and emotional hardship. The community has been fractured through such heavy-handed intervention. And the A$25 million spent on it has demonstrated no credible evidence of sufficient benefit to justify an ongoing rollout.

That the card continues to be pursued by government exposes its dogged obsession with implementing neocolonial and punitive policy for some imagined political gain at the expense of vulnerable people.


The ConversationThe author would like to thank professor Jon Altman and Sarouche Razi for comments on earlier drafts.

Elise Klein, Lecturer in Development Studies, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Instead of rebuilding stadiums, the NSW government should focus on local sport and events


Chris Gibson, University of Wollongong

The New South Wales government’s argument for spending A$2 billion rebuilding stadiums is that Sydney is losing flagship events to other state capitals, leading to fewer tourists and less media exposure. But large investments in transportation and venues are a significant drain on the public purse, often for economic returns that rarely break even.

Our research suggests that the NSW government should invest in smaller community events and sporting organisations that make use of existing facilities. We tracked 480 community events across Australia and found that they generated A$550 million in revenue.

These events also contribute more than A$10 billion a year to their local communities, support 100,000 jobs, and help build local business networks and skills.

Parkes Elvis Festival.
John Connell and Chris Gibson (2017) Outback Elvis: The story of a festival, its fans & a town called Parkes. Sydney: NewSouth Publishing

The benefits of grassroots events

In contrast to major, one-off events that require large infrastructure and marketing budgets, there are thousands of small community events across Australia every month. Each might only attract a few hundred people, but the revenue adds up.

Places that have consciously fostered grassroots community events, such as Ballarat and Hobart, enjoy healthy visitor numbers year-round, without overwhelming the local infrastructure.

Smaller community events make good use of existing facilities such as RSL clubs, showgrounds and parks. They tend to hire labour, PA systems, portaloos and catering from the local community, keeping dollars in circulation locally.

In contrast to mega-events that subcontract management to large firms, community events integrate more participation from their local communities. This not only improves local business networks, but also enhances local skills and leadership.

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The economics of large events doesn’t stack up

The evidence also overwhelmingly shows that public investment in major events isn’t worth it. Promised benefits are often exaggerated, and in the words of a recent review of the international research:

…any increased economic activity resulting from the event is routinely dwarfed by additional public budgetary commitments.


Read more: Suspended reality: the ins and outs of Rio’s Olympic bubble


Sydneysiders may have enjoyed the experience of hosting the 2000 Olympic Games, but increases in tourism and business investment failed to materialise. Rio de Janeiro is struggling with recession in the wake of its 2016 Summer Olympics. The money spent on the Olympics would probably have been better spent upgrading hospitals and other infrastructure.

This is partly why cities are backing away from hosting major sporting events. When the International Olympic Committee opened the bidding for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games, all but two cities – Paris and Los Angeles – withdrew their bids.

The fact that no other city was prepared to bid shows that the justifications for lucrative mega-events are wearing thin, both financially and politically.

Misleading numbers

The NSW government recently defended its plan to rebuild stadiums by arguing that the revenue generated by major sporting events will easily pay for itself within a few short years. Economists beg to differ.

Such estimates are typically based on conducting visitor surveys at events and asking punters to estimate their total spending. This is not good research methodology.

For one, people are consistently inaccurate at estimating their spending on the spot, only discovering the actual amount when they open their credit card statements.

It can also be hard for visitors to differentiate between money spent while at a specific event, and their spending elsewhere on their holiday.

Visitors complete surveys at the Daylesford ChillOut Festival.
Chris Gibson

We also need to subtract all of the money that would have been spent whether or not a major event takes place. This includes spending by people who live in the area, those who rescheduled travel plans to coincide with the event, and those who would have done some other activity (also known as “time-switching”) instead of going to the event.


Read more: Sydney’s stadiums debate shows sport might not be the political winner it once was


In other words, take all the Sydneysiders, casual visitors and time-switchers out of calculations of, say, weekly NRL game revenue at the Olympic or Sydney football stadia. The actual amount of “new” revenue for Sydney is much less impressive.

This is why a sober analysis of the true costs and benefits, and actual revenue numbers, are needed before governments rush to invest in major sports and event infrastructure.

The ConversationIf NSW truly wants to foster the events economy, the evidence suggests that money would be better spent on local community events and sporting organisations.

Chris Gibson, Director, UOW Global Challenges Program & Professor of Human Geography, University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Dastyari quits the Senate after pressure over his China links


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Sam Dastyari leaves parliament but insists he is a patriotic Australian.
AAP/Ben Rushton

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Labor senator Sam Dastyari has succumbed to intense pressure to quit the Senate in the face of continued revelations that he had promoted Chinese interests.

Dastyari told a brief news conference, at which he took no questions, he had decided “the best service I can render to the federal parliamentary Labor Party is to not return to the Senate in 2018”.

He said his ongoing presence would detract from “the pursuit of Labor’s mission” and he wanted to spare the party “any further distraction”.

Earlier this week, it was revealed that in 2015 Dastyari tried to dissuade Labor’s then shadow foreign minister Tanya Plibersek from meeting a pro-democracy advocate during her trip to Hong Kong.

This followed an earlier revelation that Dastyari had tipped off his Chinese businessman benefactor, Huang Xiangmo – who is of interest to Australian security authorities – that his phone was likely tapped.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said that following their discussions, Dastyari had informed him he was resigning from the Senate. “I told him I thought this was the right decision.”

It is understood that Shorten had been in intensive talks with factional allies to resolve the Dastyari crisis. Labor had no power to force Dastyari out of parliament – and sources said he was reluctant to go.

In his statement, Dastyari strongly defended himself, saying he left parliament “knowing that I’ve always honoured my parliamentary oath”.

He said he had always acted with integrity “and I remain a loyal, patriotic Australian”.

Dastyari has been under sustained pressure to quit the Senate, with this week’s leak of his representations to Plibersek seen as part of the effort from within the ALP to get him out. On Monday two frontbenchers, Linda Burney and Catherine King, made it clear he should consider his position.

Sources said some people in Labor’s right had been concerned about the precedent set by Dastyari having to resign – given that he had not done anything illegal.

The government had maintained a constant attack on Shorten for not forcing Dastyari to leave, casting the issue as a test of Shorten’s leadership.

Dastyari’s resignation comes in the dying days of the Bennelong byelection, which a Newspoll in Tuesday’s Australian shows as being extremely close. The Newspoll has the Labor and Liberal parties on a 50-50 two-party-preferred vote, and each on a 39% primary vote.

The byelection follows the resignation of the Liberals’ John Alexander in the citizenship crisis; he is being challenged by former New South Wales premier Kristina Keneally.

Keneally’s name has recently been mentioned as a possible replacement senator for Dastyari if she failed in her bid to win Bennelong.

Bennelong has a significant Chinese community, and the row about Dastyari and also more generally the concern about foreign interference in Australian politics, could have some influence in the byelection, although how those factors will play out there is unclear.

Dastyari entered the Senate in 2013. A former secretary of the NSW Labor Party, he has been a significant figure and numbers man in the NSW right faction. In parliament, he has been active on issues of banking and misconduct in that industry.

He said he would continue to be an active grassroots member of the Labor Party.

Shorten said that Dastyari could be proud of what he had achieved as a senator. “He has sought justice for the victims of banking misconduct, exposed the tax minimisations processes of international giants, pushed for a better deal for younger Australians and promoted an inclusive multicultural nation.”

Joseph Cheng Yu-Shek, the pro-democracy activist that Dastyari unsuccessfully tried to persuade Plibersek not to meet, told the ABC that Chinese authorities “operated a very powerful, very resourceful machinery trying to influence the policies of various foreign countries”.

“This machinery tries to cultivate ties with influential politicians, tries to persuade them to be friends of China, and as friends of China, they should avoid meeting enemies of China,” he said.

The Conversation“If these situations become effective, the politicians concerned will be rewarded and then they will be pressured to do something even more compromising later,” he said.

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Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.