Bill Shorten has moved to make the ABC an election issue, promising to reverse the Turnbull government’s $83.7 million budget cut and to guarantee funding certainty over the broadcaster’s next budget cycle.
Ahead of appearing on the ABC’s Q&A program, Shorten and frontbench colleagues declared the Coalition had “launched the biggest attack on the ABC in a generation”.
In recent months Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has sent a stream of complaints to the ABC about stories, both online and on air, contesting facts and interpretations. The Prime Minister’s Office has also complained. Government frontbenchers and backbenchers frequently make cracks at or about the ABC, echoing a theme of many conservative commentators.
The ABC is also under constant attack from News Corp, driven by both ideology and commercial interests. The government has an inquiry underway into the ABC’s competitive neutrality, which was part of a deal with Pauline Hanson but also important in the context of News Corp’s argument about the government-funded ABC encroaching on financially strapped commercial media.
When the government made the $84 million budget cut – which took the form of a freeze to indexation – Treasurer Scott Morrison said “everyone has to live within their means”. Managing director Michelle Guthrie said that “the decision will make it very difficult for the ABC to meet its charter requirements and audience expectations.”
In a statement Shorten, communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland and regional communications spokesman Stephen Jones said Labor’s commitment would ensure the ABC could meet its charter requirements, safeguard jobs, adapt to the digital environment “and maintain content and services that Australians trust and rely on”.
They said the Coalition since 2014 had “overseen $282 million in cuts to the ABC that has seen 800 jobs lost and a drop in Australian content and services”.
“Labor will stand up for the ABC and fight against the conservatives’ ideological war against our public broadcaster,” the statement said.
The promised investment “demonstrates Labor’s commitment to the ABC’s independence and to maintain the ABC as our comprehensive national broadcaster.
“Now, more than ever, Australians need the ABC – our strong, trusted and independent public broadcaster.
“At a time when too many Australians feel disengaged from their democracy and distrustful of their representatives, Labor wants to restore trust and faith in our institutions. Part of restoring trust is is supporting a healthy public interest media sector, and protecting that trusted institution – the ABC”.
Attorney-General Christian Porter has put forward compromise amendments to the government’s proposed register of foreign agents that will limit its reach.
The changes are designed to meet criticisms from charities, universities and others, and to get a quick agreement with Labor on the legislation.
The bill for the register is still being considered by the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security, which on Thursday released a bipartisan report agreeing on 60 amendments to the legislation to counter the threat of foreign interference.
Porter wants to get both bills passed by the end of this month. “Most critically this would allow for Australia’s new legal framework designed to address espionage, interference and foreign influence in Australia’s democratic processes to be passed before the conduct of five key Australian byelections and be fully operational before the next scheduled general election,” he said.
There have been widespread concerns that the scope of the transparency scheme is too wide, and notably the breadth of the definitions in it, including that of “foreign principal”.
Arguments have been put by lawyers, the media, the arts, charities, not-for-profit organisations and the academic sector that these definitions will adversely affect them.
Porter said that the government had now given the committee a range of amendments “that address the most substantive stakeholder issues”.
The bill currently provides that people be required to register if undertaking certain activities on behalf of a foreign government, public enterprise, political organisation, business or individual.
The change would limit the “foreign principals” to foreign governments, foreign government-related entities, foreign political organisations and foreign government-related individuals.
“This ensures that only organisations or individuals ultimately working at the direction of a foreign government or political party are required to register,” Porter said.
The amendment would thus exclude “the vast majority of private international companies”, except where “they are closely related to a foreign government or political organisation”.
To stop some companies or individuals with opaque links to a foreign government falling through the cracks, the secretary of the Attorney-General’s department would have a power to issue notices stating a person or organisation was considered a foreign government-related entity or individual.
“This would allow the government to investigate and declare where it considers companies or individuals are hiding their connections to foreign governments,” Porter said.
Another change would mean broadcasters, carriage service providers and publishers would not have to register “where they are undertaking their ordinary business”.
The definition of “activity for the purpose of political or government influence” would also be changed “so that a substantial purpose of the activity has to be political influence, rather than just ‘a’ purpose of it”.
Porter said that responding to the university sector and charities, the definition of “undertaking activity on behalf of a foreign principal” would be amended “so a person isn’t deemed to be undertaking an activity merely because they are supervised by, receive funding from or collaborate with a foreign principal”.
The government couldn’t have had a more appropriate week for the release of the report from the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security which has examined its legislation to counter foreign interference.
Bipartisan agreement in the report, tabled Thursday, on the 60 recommendations, covering minor and more substantive amendments, has paved the way for the bill – that has infuriated Chinese authorities – to clear parliament within weeks.
A couple of current instances have highlighted how China engages in unsubtle pressure.
Qantas confirmed it would bow to China over how the carrier refers to Taiwan in its advertising and on its website. This followed a demand to three dozen airlines that they make clear that Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau are part of China.
The government was understanding of Qantas’s position, accepting it had little choice.
On a very different front, former foreign minister Bob Carr, an outspoken friend of China, who heads the Australia China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney, was unable to get visas for journalists (including from Fairfax and News Corp) to go on one of the sponsored visits to China he hosts. Carr says “the assumption is that [this] is part of the freeze China is applying to bilateral visits” – a freeze that has hit ministers.
Then there is the much-publicised controversy about Facebook sharing user-data with, among many companies, several Chinese ones including Huawei, a telecommunications-equipment giant that the Australian government has not permitted to tender for National Broadband Network contracts.
We’re well past the optimistic days when we believed it could be all upside in our relationship with China, which has over the years delivered an economic bonanza for Australia.
Trade Minister Steve Ciobo tries to shrug off problems as minor irritants, but presumably that’s just his job. Others in the government have become more forthright.
It’s notable that of recent prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull, both very knowledgable about China, have been the most openly tough-minded towards it. Before becoming PM, each was regarded as China-friendly.
Of the various causes of current tensions in the relationship, the legislation against foreign interference is on the top shelf (together with Australia’s stand on the South China Sea).
The purpose of the legislation, unveiled late last year, is to “comprehensively reform key offences dealing with threats to national security, particularly those posed by foreign principals”.
Among its provisions, it “introduces new foreign interference offences targeting covert, deceptive or threatening actions by foreign actors who intend to influence Australia’s democratic or government processes or to harm Australia”.
At its core, what this legislation does is to criminalise foreign interference that is one step below espionage. ASIO has always been able to investigate such interference, but it hasn’t actually been a criminal offence.
While the government goes out of its way to say the legislation is not aimed at any individual country, everyone knows China is in its sights. As is Russia, after the experience in the United States and elsewhere.
Duncan Lewis, head of ASIO, emphasised the foreign threat in evidence to Senate estimates last month, describing the current scale of foreign intelligence activity against Australian interests as “unprecedented”.
“Foreign actors covertly attempt to influence and shape the views of members of the Australian public, the Australian media, officials in the Australian government and members of the diaspora communities here in Australia,” he told the hearing.
“Foreign states maintain an enduring interest in a range of strategically important commercial, political, economic, defence, security, foreign policy and diaspora issues,” he said.
Critics of the legislation seized on sloppy drafting as well raising substantive issues. The Law Council of Australia warned that “many of the offence provisions are broadly drafted to capture a range of benign conduct that may not necessarily amount to harm or prejudice Australia’s interests”.
Some with concerns were within officialdom. The Commonwealth Ombudsman pointed out that “the current drafting of the amendments appears to produce several unintended consequences for my office,” and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security had some worries.
The media feared being caught by too wide a net.
Where possible, Opposition leader Bill Shorten tries to stick like glue to the government on national security issues, for reasons of politics as well as substance. Given this, and the usual bipartisan functioning of the intelligence and security committee, it is not surprising that agreement has been reached on a refined version of the bill.
Many of the changes, as Attorney-General Christian Porter noted, are to definitions and drafting – which doesn’t make them unimportant.
These include clarifying that “prejudice to national security” has to involve an element of harm, not just embarrassment. There’ll be clarification of “espionage”, “sabotage”, “political violence” and “foreign interference”.
Changes will reduce the maximum penalties for the new secrecy offences, and require the attorney-general’s consent for a prosecution under them.
An amendment will ensure the staff of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security are properly protected.
The changes will give greater protection to the media, expanding the public interest defence for journalists, and making it clear that editors, legal advisers and administrative staff will all be covered by the journalism defence.
Before a journalist can be prosecuted over reporting classified documents, the head of the relevant agency will have to certify that they were properly classified, and the attorney-general must consent to the legal action.
The government, accepting some criticisms of the legislation, itself put forward certain amendments.
The committee – which is still examining an accompanying bill to set up a register of those working on behalf of foreign governments and other interests – said that after three years there should be a review of the operation of key parts of the foreign influence legislation.
The agreed changes haven’t satisfied critics such as the Law Council and Amnesty International. But the political deal is now in place.
Meanwhile Porter explicitly cast an eye to coming elections. “Activity which is designed to interfere or influence our democratic processes is at its most acute when democratic processes are taking place and that means five by-elections in late July and then the full general election”.
The government, saying it wants the legislation passed before the parliament rises at the end of June for the winter recess, is preparing for more angry reaction from Beijing.
The Greens have released year-by-year costings of the budget’s income tax cuts, which the government has previously declined to produce publicly.
The estimates have been prepared by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office, at the request of the Greens. The opposition has repeatedly sought annual figures, but the government resisted the demands.
Treasurer Scott Morrison said after the budget: “It is not the practice of any government to provide itemised year by year costs over the medium term, because they’re not reliable.”
Treasury secretary John Fraser told a Senate estimates hearing: “Our confidence in specific years is not such that we feel comfortable providing those figures.”
The government initially released only the cost over the forward estimates ($13.4 billion), and a total decade-long figure (2018-19 – 2028-29) of $140 billion.
Subsequent Treasury estimates were produced for the various stages of the plan: $16 billion for first stage, rising to $102 billion when the second stage is included, with the final figure for all three stages being $144 billion.
The PBO numbers will go to the Senate Economics Legislation Committee hearing on Wednesday. Labor also asked for PBO calculations.
The Greens said the PBO costings showed that stage 2 of the plan would lose $80 billion in revenue over the next ten years while stage 3 would lose $41.6 billion.
The party called on Bill Shorten and Labor to join the Greens “in ruling out support for Turnbull’s personal income tax cuts”.
Labor has said it supports stage one, is making up its mind about stage 2, and does not like stage 3. But it has not clarified what its position would be if the government sticks to its position that it won’t split the bill.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale: “It is beyond belief that the Labor Party is even considering supporting the second stage of Turnbull’s personal income tax cuts that will turbocharge economic inequality in Australia and lead to the loss of $80 billion in revenue for our schools, hospitals and essential services.
“Nearly $40 billion of this second stage will go to the wealthiest one-third of income earners.”
Di Natale said Labor was also floating the idea of passing the whole package through the Senate. “This would see Labor also support the third stage of the plan, which is worth $41.6 billion over five years, with the amount going to the wealthiest Australians compounding by an extra billion dollars each year.
“In the final year of the Turnbull’s tax cuts, almost 70% of the entire benefits flow to people earning over $90,000,” he said.
Sky News ReachTEL polls, conducted last week in the seats of Longman and Braddon from samples of over 800, gave the LNP a 52-48 lead in Longman and the Liberals a 54-46 lead in Braddon.
These polls represent a three-point swing against Labor in Longman, and a six-point swing in Braddon since the 2016 election. Longman and Braddon are two of the five seats that will be contested at byelections on July 28.
Primary votes in ReachTEL polls do not exclude undecided voters, and thus understate major party vote shares. In Braddon, primary votes provided were 47% Liberals, 33% Labor and 6% Greens. In Longman, primary votes were 38% LNP, 35% Labor, 2% Greens and 14% Others. Strangely, One Nation, which won 9.4% in 2016, does not appear to have been listed.
ReachTEL uses respondent allocated preferences, and this is helping the LNP in Longman. The major party primary votes appear to be about the same as in the 2016 election, but the LNP is benefiting from a stronger flow of preferences.
While the Longman poll is bad for Labor, it is a one-point gain for Labor since a ReachTEL poll for The Australia Institute conducted after the May budget. Individual seat polls have not been accurate in the past. With more than seven weeks left until the election, Labor can reasonably hope to hold Longman.
The March 3 Tasmanian election was a disaster for Labor, and this appears to have flowed into federal Tasmanian polling. Tasmania uses the same electorates for its state elections as the federal Tasmanian electorates. In Braddon, the Liberals won 56% at the state election, to just 27% for Labor and 4% for the Greens.
Analyst Kevin Bonham says that the Tasmanian federal election results have been closer to the state election if the federal election came soon after the state election. In this case, the scheduling of the byelections for July 28 has helped Labor by putting more distance between the state election and the federal byelection for Braddon.
Another problem for Labor in Braddon is that the Liberal candidate is the former MP Brett Whiteley. As Whiteley is well-known in that electorate, Labor’s Justine Keay will not benefit as much from a “sophomore surge” effect.
Sky News also released a national ReachTEL poll, conducted last week from a sample of over 2,000. Labor had a 52-48 lead in this poll, unchanged from early May. Primary votes were 35% Coalition (down one), 34% Labor (down one), 11% Greens (up one) and 9% One Nation (up three).
This poll was probably taken before Pauline Hanson and Brian Burston had a falling-out. Bonham estimated this poll was 53-47 to Labor by 2016 election preferences.
By 49-43, voters supported reducing the company tax rate to 25% for “all” businesses, a similar result to an Ipsos poll in early April (49-40 support). However, a late March ReachTEL that asked about tax cuts for “big” companies had voters opposed 56-29.
Voters were more favourable to the company tax cuts in Braddon (56-38 support) and Longman (58-33 support) than nationally.
By a narrow 47-45 margin, voters nationally opposed refugees on Nauru and Manus Island being allowed to settle in Australia. Opposition was far stronger in Braddon (60-31) and Longman (66-28). By 59-27, voters nationally agreed that there should be a 90-day limit on refugee detention.
National Essential: 54-46 to Labor
This week’s Essential poll, conducted May 31 to June 3 from a sample of 1,025, gave Labor a 54-46 lead, a three-point gain for Labor since last fortnight. Primary votes were 37% Labor (up one), 36% Coalition (down four), 10% Greens (steady) and 8% One Nation (steady).
Essential still uses the 2016 election preference flows, so this poll would be 53-47 by Newspoll’s new methods. Labor’s position in the national polls has improved since late May, when Parliament resumed its sitting.
Turnbull’s net approval was up two points since early May to a net zero. Shorten’s net approval was down nine points to -13. Turnbull led Shorten by 41-27 as better PM (40-26 in May).
37% both approved and disapproved of cutting the “tax rate for businesses from 30% to 25%, estimated to cost $65 billion over the next 10 years”.
50% thought the Newstart payment of $270 per week for a single person with no children was too low, 26% about right and 9% too high. At least 64% agreed with five statements about Newstart that implied it should be increased.
How the Senate has changed since the 2016 election
At the 2016 election, the Coalition won 30 of the 76 senators, Labor 26, the Greens nine, One Nation four, the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) three and Others four. The four Others were Bob Day, David Leyonhjelm, Derryn Hinch and Jacqui Lambie. 39 votes are required to pass legislation through the Senate.
On a right vs left count, the Coalition, One Nation, Day and Leyonhjelm were right-wing senators, and Labor and the Greens left. If all of the right-wing senators voted for Coalition legislation, they needed three of the five centrists on bills opposed by Labor and the Greens. As the NXT controlled three senators, the Coalition needed to work with them.
Since the election, there have been several changes to party composition.
In April 2017, the High Court disqualified Bob Day, and he was replaced by Lucy Gichuhi, the second candidate on Family First’s South Australian Senate ticket. Gichuhi joined the Liberals in February 2018.
In October 2017, the High Court disqualified One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts, and he was replaced by Fraser Anning, who promptly resigned from One Nation. On Monday, Anning joined Katter’s Australian Party.
In November 2017, Lambie resigned owing to the citizenship fiasco, and she was replaced by Steve Martin. Martin joined the Nationals in May 2018.
In November 2017, NXT Senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore resigned over the citizenship fiasco, and was replaced in February 2018 by Tim Storer, who had been expelled from the NXT.
Last week, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson and Brian Burston had a falling-out after Burston said he would vote for the company tax cuts, in opposition to current One Nation policy.
As a result of these changes, the Coalition has gained one net seat to have 31 senators, Labor and the Greens are unchanged, One Nation is down two to two, the Centre Alliance (formerly NXT) is down one to two, and Others are up two to six. Others now include Bernardi, Anning, Storer and Burston, but not Day or Lambie.
Bernardi, Anning and Burston are right-wing senators. Including One Nation and Leyonhjelm, there are now 37 right senators. If they all vote the same way, the Coalition requires either the two Centre Alliance senators, or Hinch and Storer, to pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens.
The changes to the Senate have improved the Coalition’s position, as they now have two options rather than one if Labor and the Greens oppose legislation.
In brief: Spanish conservative government falls, Italian populist government formed, Ontario election June 7
On June 1, the Spanish conservative government lost a confidence vote, and was replaced by a Socialist government. Three months after the March 4 Italian election, a government of two populist parties has been formed. You can read more at my personal website.
Canada’s most populous province of Ontario holds an election on June 7, with polls closing at 11am on Friday Melbourne time. Ontario uses First Past the Post. After 15 years of government by the centre-left Liberals, the Conservatives looked likely to win this election in a landslide.
However, the NDP, the most left-wing major party, surged, and is currently tied with the Conservatives in CBC analyst Éric Grenier’s Poll Tracker, but the Conservatives are shown as winning a majority of seats. The Conservative leader, Doug Ford, has been compared to Donald Trump.
In March, Shadow Minister for Education and Training Tanya Plibersek outlined Labor’s plan to review the architecture of the post-school education sector if elected next year. She said they would look at whether current qualification structures, the mix of institutions, and financing models are still fit for purpose.
The Mitchell Institute has highlighted incoherent policy across the higher education and VET sectors – a legacy of short-term fixes and poor state/federal co-ordination. The latest fix is last year’s freeze on teaching grants in the higher education sector. Meanwhile, the VET sector has seen falling TAFE enrolments and VET FEE-HELP loan rorts.
Any “2020” vision shaped by near-term budget or electoral considerations risks (at best) partial policy fixes. Earlier reform attempts have mixed subsidy cuts, fee hikes and Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) changes, many of them rejected as unfair.
A 2030+ vision is needed to reset post-secondary education as a platform for knowledge-era nation-building. In this future, most Australians will need to up-skill and re-skill across their working lives. And as now, the sector will serve many related aims: as a booster of innovation, an export industry and a channel for global engagement.
2. Work back from the future of work
Recent reports conclude that Australians aren’t facing an “end of work” future where robots take our jobs. Instead, we are seeing old job destruction, new job creation and (mostly) the transformation of existing jobs to focus more on non-routine tasks, both manual and cognitive.
Meanwhile, post-school credentials, especially bachelor degrees, are becoming mainstream pathways into the Australian workforce. The authors of this recent future of work report conclude that:
Education and skills remain essential, as partial insurance against technological unemployment, as a basis for innovation and competition, as a contributor to individual resilience and adaptability to change, and as a bulwark against further deepening of inequalities in opportunity.
3. Learn from other systems
But what kind of education and skills is less clear. In international comparisons, Australia looks strong in bachelor degrees. But some systems, such as Canada with its large community college sector, are stronger at the sub-bachelor level. A review should test whether we have the right mix for our future labour market, which types of qualifications should be demand-led and how these are to be financed.
Some systems focus more on upper secondary vocational credentials. Offering these on a demand-led basis implies a different profile of post-compulsory provision, perhaps with a more diverse mix of institutions.
Some systems have strong industry and government support for a broader vocational sector with clearer pathways into work. In Australia, post-school pathways should be clearer into initial credentials and jobs, and into flexible “lifelong” learning for mid-career up-skilling.
Since 2012, Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platforms have promised mass scale yet personalised degree level learning, at very low cost. At the same time we’ve seen wide experimentation with new types of micro-credentials. These represent the accomplishment of short study, training or project assignments, often focused on enterprise skills. Small and stackable units of learning may count for credit towards a degree. Or supplement one by certifying wider sets of capabilities valued by employers.
As portfolio careers become mainstream, a subset of the emerging streams of micro-credentials that specify what learners know and can do in more detail will gain wider acceptance.
A formalised system could offer more portable credit across education sectors and providers, and wider recognition across employers and industries. This may be a better fit for the idea proposed by the Mitchell Institute in 2015 for the government to provide younger cohorts of students a standard entitlement for upper vocational as well as degree level programs.
Or the idea proposed by the Business Council of Australia last year to provide every Australian a capped Lifelong Skills Account that could be used to pay for courses at approved providers across the tertiary spectrum over the person’s lifetime.
In each case a key aim is to ensure that young people in particular choose post-secondary courses and skillsets with clear aims in mind, without being diverted or disadvantaged by funding anomalies.
6. Settle structure, then governance and who funds what
RMIT’s Gavin Moodie has argued a joint review by state and national governments is needed to integrate VET and higher education policy. Industry engagement is needed also, to help define future needs and support more work-integrated learning.
This week’s Newspoll, conducted May 24-27 from a sample of 1,590, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain since last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (down one), 38% Labor (steady), 9% Greens (steady) and 8% One Nation (up two).
This is Malcolm Turnbull’s 33rd consecutive Newspoll loss as PM, three more than Tony Abbott. While Turnbull’s last two losses were both by a narrow 51-49 margin, Labor extended its lead in this poll.
The total vote for Labor and the Greens was steady at 47%, while the total vote for the Coalition and One Nation was up one to 46%. One Nation’s two-point gain is probably due to its reversal on the company tax cuts.
By 49-39, voters were dissatisfied with Turnbull’s performance (50-39 last fortnight). Turnbull’s net approval of -10 is a new high for this term. Bill Shorten’s net approval was -21, up one point. Turnbull led Shorten by 47-30 as better PM (46-32 last fortnight); this is Turnbull’s best better PM lead since September 2017.
26% (up three since early April) preferred Anthony Albanese as Labor leader, with 23% for both Shorten (down one) and Tanya Plibersek (steady). Albanese is benefiting from stronger support from Coalition and One Nation voters, who are unlikely to vote Labor. He is in third place with Labor and Greens voters.
By 39-37, voters thought Shorten and Labor would be better at maintaining energy supply and keeping power prices lower than Turnbull and the Coalition.
Last week there was a parliamentary sitting. The Coalition tends to do better when Parliament is not sitting. During parliamentary sittings, there is more focus on the Coalition’s policies, and these policies have been attacked by Labor.
In previous cases where Turnbull’s ratings have spiked, they have fallen back quickly. This time, Turnbull’s net approval increased by one point following a post-budget spike. If these ratings are sustained, they are likely to assist the Coalition.
On May 16, the ABS reported that wages grew at just a 0.5% pace in the March quarter, and 2.1% in the year to March. As I said in my first Newspoll article this year, wage growth is likely to be crucial at the next election.
Newspoll’s skewed company tax cuts question
The full wording of Newspoll’s company tax cut question can be seen here. Rather than asking a simple support/oppose type question, Newspoll asked whether voters wanted the company tax cuts as soon as possible, over the next ten years, or not at all. This is a skewed question, as two of the possible responses were favourable to the tax cuts, with only one unfavourable.
The question also suggested a “when”, not an “if”. That is, voters were asked when the tax cuts should be introduced, rather than if they are a good idea.
In addition, the current debate is not over whether “all” Australian businesses receive a tax cut. Companies with a turnover of up to $50 million received a tax cut in March 2017. The debate is whether larger companies should receive the tax cut. The only pollster that has asked explicitly about big companies, ReachTEL in late March, showed voters were opposed by an emphatic 56-29.
In last week’s Essential, not providing company tax cuts for large business was the most popular option when voters were asked to assess measures to cut government spending (60-22 support).
According to this Newspoll question, 36% wanted company tax cuts as soon as possible, 27% over the next ten years, and 29% not at all. The Australian’s Simon Benson claimed that the 63% who supported the company tax cuts is higher than for the same-sex marriage plebiscite (61.6%) – a very dubious claim.
Essential: 51-49 to Labor
Last week’s Essential poll, conducted May 17-20 from a sample of 1,025, gave Labor a 51-49 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since the post-budget Essential. Primary votes were 40% Coalition (up two), 36% Labor (steady), 10% Greens (steady) and 8% One Nation (up one).
With a Coalition primary vote at 40%, this poll would have been a 50-50 tie using Newspoll’s new methods. Essential continues to use the 2016 preference flows for its two party results. This poll was taken before Parliament resumed.
After a detailed question, 45% supported Labor’s tax plan proposal, while 33% supported the government’s. Most voters are not familiar with this much detail on policies. Similarly, voters supported Labor’s plan for the economy by 44-38 after much detail on Labor and Coalition proposals.
32% (up six since March) would trust Labor to manage a fair tax system, while 32% (up four) would trust the Coalition, and 22% (down nine) say there would be no difference between the major parties.
Just 34% correctly named the Queen of Great Britain as Australia’s Head of State, with 30% selecting the Governor-General and 24% the PM. By 48-30, voters would support Australia becoming a republic with its own Head of State (44-29 in January). 65% thought an Australian Head of State should be directly elected, 12% appointed by a two-thirds parliamentary majority, and 9% appointed by the PM.
Tasmanian Senator Steve Martin joins the Nationals
As a result of the citizenship fiasco, Jacqui Lambie resigned from the Senate, and her place was taken by the second candidate on her ticket, Steve Martin. Martin refused to resign, which would have allowed Lambie to retake her seat, and was expelled from the Lambie Network.
On Monday, Martin joined the Nationals. While Lambie was conservative on immigration issues, she was a reliable vote for the left on economic issues. Martin’s replacement of Lambie is a clear loss for the left. The Coalition will have a slightly easier path for its legislation, with 31 seats, up from 30. 39 votes are required for legislation to pass the Senate.
Super Saturday: July 28
Last week, the Speaker of the House announced that the byelections for the five lower house seats of Braddon, Longman, Mayo, Perth and Fremantle would not be held until July 28. Labor’s conference had been scheduled for that weekend, and has had to be postponed.
While Labor is very unhappy with the byelection timing, it may be a favour. The rights of asylum seekers are important to Labor’s left, but not to the general public. Public division within Labor over the treatment of asylum seekers could damage them. Policy on asylum seekers is an issue where the public backs the right.
In brief: Tasmanian polling, Ireland abortion repeal referendum
An early May Tasmanian EMRS poll gave the Liberals 47%, Labor 30% and the Greens 14%. The upper house seat of Prosser held an election on May 5, and the Liberals won it on May 15 after preferences were distributed. You can read more about this at my personal website.
On Friday, Ireland repealed the eighth constitutional amendment by an unexpectedly large 66.4-33.6 margin. The eighth amendment, passed in 1983, had greatly restricted abortion rights. The effect of repeal is that Parliament can legislate on abortion. You can read my preview for The Poll Bludger here, and my results report here.
It’s not much good Labor playing the blame game about the July 28 date of the five Super Saturday byelections. In fair part, it has been the architect of its own troubles.
If Bill Shorten had agreed last year to dealing with any Labor MPs who had questionable citizenship status when they nominated, this would be over. But he insisted the ALP members were all okay. They weren’t. It was a case of hubris and short-term tactics.
Now the ALP has been hit with a byelection date that means its July 26-28 national conference has to be postponed. More important, the campaigning will be strung out and so enormously expensive for Labor – which must spend whatever it takes. This will bleed its funds in the run up to a general election.
The new government regulations designed to avoid fresh dual citizenship issues have delayed things – whether excessively can be argued over.
Labor can cry partisanship and rage at Speaker Tony Smith, who sets byelection dates, the Australian Electoral Commission, which advised July 28 was the “optimal” day, and the government, which is consulted by the Speaker (as is the opposition).
But the date can’t be changed. The ALP just has to suck it up and throw itself into battle, because the stakes are very high. Four of the five seats belong to Labor. The results in two of them will be crucial for Bill Shorten’s standing and leadership.
Moving the national conference will bring inconvenience and financial costs. But there are upsides. Pre-conference wrangling over refugee policy was already underway – policy jostling would have been a negative if the byelection date had been early July.
To be frank, Shorten would be better off if the conference could be scrapped. Whenever it is held, it will inevitably highlight internal differences. Killing it altogether, however, isn’t feasible.
The July 28 date sparked speculation about whether Malcolm Turnbull could later morph the byelections into an early election. Prime Ministerial sources say “absolutely not”.
The polls are tightening – Newspoll and Essential both have Labor’s two- party lead at a modest 51-49% – and there is a better vibe around for the government. But Turnbull needs more time and besides, after repeatedly saying the election is next year he would be marked down for going back on his word.
While Super Saturday has implications for Turnbull, it is Shorten who has most at risk. If the status quo holds, Turnbull can say, that’s byelections for you.
Apart from the four Labor seats, the other contest is in the South Australian electorate of Mayo, which has been held by the Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie. The long campaign will be financially hard for her; she’s up against a well-known, well-resourced Liberal candidate in Georgina Downer. But some Liberal sources say Sharkie is popular on the ground and a crossbencher in a semi-rural seat can dig in.
It is Longman in Queensland and Braddon in Tasmania, both on close margins, that are the crunch seats for Shorten (the Liberals aren’t standing in the Western Australian seats of Perth and Fremantle). Essentially, voters in these two seats will determine whether Shorten’s leadership becomes an issue.
While his position has been safe, Shorten operates against background chatter about whether, when push comes to election shove, he will get Labor over the line. So far the opinion poll evidence has suggested he will, but in Labor there’s concern about voters’ negative response to him.
He’s sensitive to the speculation, with always an eye to Anthony Albanese, the man he beat for the leadership after Labor’s 2013 loss. Albanese, with an eye to expectations, predicts Labor will hold all of its four seats on Super Saturday.
Shorten’s position was impregnable following the ALP’s strong showing at the 2016 election. It is still robust, and in the normal course there would be no possibility of change.
But “Super Saturday” has injected the abnormal, a new test in real time.
Apart from Tim Hammond’s resignation from the seat of Perth for personal reasons, the contests in the other three Labor seats are because of the citizenship crisis. In the government electorates of New England and Bennelong last year, voters weren’t censorious about MPs’ constitutional carelessness; Labor hopes the tolerance has lasted.
If Shorten lost Braddon or Longman he would be flying against history – only once (in 1920, when the Labor member had been expelled from parliament) has a government won a seat from the opposition at a federal byelection.
A defeat in one of either Braddon or Longman would be destabilising for Shorten. He’d likely hold onto his leadership, but everything would become more difficult, including managing a delayed national conference.
If Shorten lost both seats, anything could happen. Labor would be shaken to its core.
At the worst, there could be a leadership move against him, although the ALP rules would work to protect him. Under changes sponsored by Kevin Rudd, who knew a thing or two about coups, 60% of caucus must petition to open the opposition leadership during a term – then a lengthy ballot involves the rank and file as well as the caucus.
But Caucus is master of its destiny and so can vote to wind back the clock from the Rudd rule. Overturning the rule, however, would be extremely controversial, although it could not be entirely ruled out if two seats were lost.
At the very least, losing both seats would fundamentally change the political dynamics for Shorten.
Both Shorten and Turnbull have been on the campaign road for the byelections. At this early stage, neither side seems to have a fix on Longman and Braddon. The Liberals point to history. Labor remains nervous.
The Liberals polled well in Braddon at the state election. Their candidate is the former Liberal federal member for the seat, Brett Whiteley.
Last time the ALP won Longman on One Nation preferences, which it won’t get again. A recent poll was positive for the Liberal National Party, which is running a former state MP.
In each of the campaigns, local factors will be critical. But the national argument about tax will also be in play, with two competing income tax packages on display, and also the government’s tax cut for big business, from which Pauline Hanson, with Longman in mind, withdrew her support this week.
We know from history that key byelections can have big political impacts. And that’s been when there was only one on the day.
Speaker Tony Smith has announced that the five byelections will be held on July 28, sparking Labor fury because this puts Super Saturday on the last day of the ALP national conference.
Labor now faces having to postpone the July 26-28 conference, set to be held in Adelaide. Urgent discussions were underway in the party late on Thursday.
Smith, who sets byelection dates after consultation with the parties and the Australian Electoral Commission, told parliament the date – which means a nine-week campaign – had been advised by the AEC.
He said it allowed time for the AEC to implement the government’s new regulations to make candidates aware of their citizenship before nominating, and for candidates to comply with them. It also took into account school holidays.
The byelections, which span four states, are especially crucial for opposition leader Bill Shorten, because four are in ALP seats and two of those are on wafer thin margins.
The government would expect an advantage from publicity around whatever arguments there might be at the Labor conference.
Labor’s deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said: “This is a disgraceful delay and a sneaky tactic from Malcolm Turnbull.
“It would appear this has been deliberately designed to disadvantage the Labor Party, given our national conference is scheduled for that weekend.
“This will obviously have implications for our national conference. Our activists will want to be out in the community campaigning for Labor, not sitting in a conference centre.”
The seats are Longman (Queensland), Braddon (Tasmania), Fremantle (WA), Perth (WA), and Mayo (SA). Mayo’s member has been Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie.
The contests in Longman, Braddon, Fremantle and Mayo have been caused by the citizenship crisis. All the previous incumbents are recontesting. Perth has become vacant because Labor’s Tim Hammond resigned for family reasons.
For the ALP the crucial contests are in Braddon which has a margin of 2.2%, and Longman which sits on 0.8%.
The row saw angry exchanges in a Senate estimates committee between the Electoral Commissioner, Tom Rogers, and Labor’s Senate leader Penny Wong.
Rogers reacted sharply to Wong’s suggestion that the timeline looked “partisan”, compared to that in government seats in the past. “Are you saying I’m partisan?” he shot back.
He said the AEC put to the Speaker factors that needed to be considered – the selection of the date was up to the Speaker.
A 23 May letter from Rogers to Smith, which Smith tabled, said July 28 “is optimal”.
It “provides sufficient time for the AEC to implement the changes; enables prospective candidates to comply with the new requirements; and ensures that voters are not disenfranchised [due to school holidays].”
Rogers stressed in the letter that the AEC was only providing “advice” on the date. “The AEC remains ready to respond to any date you select”.
The next legally possible date was June 30, the letter noted. The AEC “is ready and would be able to conduct the byelections on that date”, Rogers wrote but then added the Speaker might care to weigh in his decision the issues of the changes to the nomination process and school holidays.
Rogers wrote that “rushing the process may risk providing an advantage to the major parties and disenfranchising independent and minor party candidates”, given the need to digest the changes and prepare nomination material.
Labor pointed out that other polls that had been held during school holidays.
Labor’s Justine Keay in Braddon will face former federal MP Brett Whiteley who held the seat from 2013 to 2016. In Longman Labor’s Susan Lamb faces former state MP Trevor Ruthenberg. Labor won Longman on One Nation preferences, which it won’t get this time.
The Liberals are not contesting the two WA byelections, although Liberal backbench senator Dean Smith will argue to the party’s state council on Saturday that it should run in Perth.
The Greens are standing out against the bipartisan consensus that tax cuts are needed for middle and lower income earners.
They are ruling out supporting all the budget’s tax relief, and say they are also opposed to the package of larger cuts the opposition has proposed, which would be confined to people in the lower and middle income ranges.
Instead, the funds should be spent on services, the Greens say.
The Coalition tax package will be a focus of this parliamentary fortnight, which sees the House of Representatives sitting and the Senate holding estimates hearings.
The legislation will be passed in the House, while estimates will be used by the opposition to seek the annual cost in the latter years of the seven-year plan, which the government has so far declined to provide. Treasury is before the estimates hearings next week; the Prime Minister’s department is up this week.
The opposition has submitted ahead of time a list of detailed questions about the tax package to try to prevent the delay of answers by officials asking for questions to be put on notice.
Labor supports the first stage of the three-part plan, is vague about the second stage, but has expressed opposition to the third stage, which flattens the tax scale and favours high income earners.
The government says it will not split the bill. It is not clear whether the opposition would vote against the legislation if the government holds firm, or whether the government would be flexible if pushed.
The shadow cabinet meets on Monday night, when the legislation is set to be discussed.
Labor’s alternative tax cuts, announced in Bill Shorten’s budget reply, would be confined to those on incomes up to about $125,000.
While the immediate concentration is on the future of the government’s legislation, the uncertainty of a post-election Senate also raises the issue for Labor of whether an ALP government could get its legislation through.
The Greens said in a statement that the government’s proposed income tax cuts were just a bribe to get the massive company tax cuts passed. People on the minimum wage wouldn’t even see $4 a week, while the wealthiest would benefit the most.
“Both parties’ plans will worsen inequality, and see us lose vital revenue for the essential services people rely upon,” the Greens said.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale said with inequality rising, reinvestment in public services should be the priority.
“For years, politicians have been telling Australians that the budget doesn’t have money to properly fund our public schools, build a world-class NBN, or take action on climate change,” Di Natale said.
“Yet when an election is rolling around both old parties are giving away cheques like a breakfast TV show trying to increase their ratings.”
“This reckless tax auction is nothing more than a distraction from the millions of dollars stripped from our schools, hospitals and social safety net over the past decade.
“While Turnbull is busy squabbling with Labor over how much they want to rip out of Australia’s institutions, the Greens are proud to stand up for Medicare, our public schools and hospitals and the environment”.