Upper Hunter byelection reveals the dangers that lurk for Albanese and federal Labor


Lukas Coch/AAP

Mark Kenny, Australian National UniversityHistory shows that Labor took too much heart when Labor leader Kim Beazley unexpectedly pushed John Howard to the edge of extinction in 1998.

Howard, a first-term prime minister, suffered a 4.6% swing, surrendering the popular vote but somehow retaining a parliamentary majority.

Labor strategists figured the next election would be that much easier for having come so close.

This was wrong.

Consistently underestimated as a reader of the middle-Australian voter, Howard served four terms leaving Beazley with the cold comfort of being regularly tagged as “the best prime minister Australia never had”.

Could this be Anthony Albanese’s trajectory also?

The Upper Hunter case study

Behind Labor’s initial grief of its federal election loss, there were hopes within the ALP that next time might be different, given Prime Minister Scott Morrison only scraped through with the barest of parliamentary majorities in 2019.

But if the pandemic incumbency factor had not since dented federal Labor’s confidence, the weekend’s state byelection in the seat of Upper Hunter must surely have done so.

Labor’s primary vote tanked.

As well as showing that blue-collar regional voters are happy with their state Coalition government — despite its sordid scandals — the result apparently vindicated the outspoken anti-green pro-coal stance taken by Labor’s federal MP Joel Fitzgibbon.




Read more:
Albanese throws a bone to Labor’s Right, but Joel Fitzgibbon remains off the leash


The Upper Hunter result also buoyed Morrison’s hopes of a strong Coalition victory at the next federal election, built on converting blue-collar Labor voters into hi-viz Coalition backers.

The Fitzgibbon factor

Fitzgibbon famously quit the Labor frontbench last November, while insisting the party’s climate spokesperson, the Left’s Mark Butler, be replaced for being too committed to his task.

Under Butler’s guidance, Labor had taken a target of a 45% cut to emissions by 2030 to the last election — a policy that has since come to look mild in the global context.

Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon in the press gallery.
Rebel Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon fronted cameras on Monday, to criticise his party’s approach to climate and coal.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

But Fitzgibbon and others in the Right blamed the pledge for Labor’s poor performance in regional Australia.

By January, Fitzgibbon had his wish with the NSW Right’s Chris Bowen installed in the climate portfolio in Butler’s place.

Now, in the wake of the politically disastrous result for Labor in the Upper Hunter, an emboldened Fitzgibbon has again hit the airwaves calling for federal Labor to heed the message from its heartland. He is urging Albanese to stop pandering to inner-city progressives on climate and get back to protecting regional jobs. Coal jobs.

It is a message that carries big risks for Labor, which holds more urban seats than regional ones and which is challenged by the Greens on its left flank.

Albanese’s three problems

For Albanese, there are no easy answers.

Some within Labor fear Fitzgibbon could yet run as an independent, although he scotched this idea in interviews on Monday. He has however hinted that he might not run at all, unless he sees a material change in Labor’s emphasis.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese
Albanese must deal with opponents both within and beyond the Labor Party.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Either way, it seems Fitzgibbon and Morrison are on a unity ticket over coal jobs and regional sensibilities generally, and that is very bad news for Albanese.

In an interview with The Australian conducted before the by-election result but published on Monday, Morrison criticised Labor for treating workers as “victims” and for suggesting the answer to their woes must always be government assistance.

He said workers no longer thought like that.

So much of what we are doing in our economic plan comes together in regions like the Hunter.

This was a reference presumably to his government’s commitment to build a gas-fired generator in the Hunter. The $600 million announcement had angered progressives, and mystified energy economists, but seems to have been viewed by Upper Hunter constituents as a vote of confidence in their future.

Albanese now finds himself battling against three countervailing forces: Morrison, Fitzgibbon, and pandemic incumbency.

Like Berejiklian, Morrison’s government has delivered its share of scandals. But in both cases, voters appear largely unfazed.

Instead, they seem inclined to credit their governments with addressing more material concerns such as keeping the pandemic at bay, and protecting their livelihoods.

The 2001 case study

In mid-2001, Howard was again trailing in the lead-up to a general election and faced a crucial byelection in the federal Victorian seat of Aston.

Governments tend to do badly in byelections and the electoral test loomed as the harbinger of a wider defeat.

Instead, it marked the government’s revival, with a triumphant Howard telling the first ever ABC Insiders program that his government was “well and truly back in the game”.

If there were an unstoppable momentum for Labor to win the federal election, they’d have rolled us over in Aston.

Just months later in the general election of November 2001 — the Tampa/ September 11 election — a sense of external threat merely reinforced voters’ tendencies to hold to the status quo.

Two decades on, the danger for Labor is people’s insecurity over health and wealth will again see voters preference the safety of a known quantity.

Meanwhile, Albanese has some way to go to emulate Beazley, let alone win the election. Before that he also has to get past Simon Crean’s unhappy distinction of being Labor’s only federal leader never to face an election.The Conversation

Mark Kenny, Professor, Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Little change in post-budget Newspoll; Liberals win Tasmanian majority


AAP/Mick Tsikas

Adrian Beaumont, The University of MelbourneThis week’s Newspoll, conducted May 13-16 from a sample of 1,506, gave Labor a 51-49 lead, unchanged from the last Newspoll published three weeks ago. Primary votes were 41% Coalition (steady), 36% Labor (down two), 12% Greens (up two) and 2% One Nation (down one). Figures are from The Poll Bludger.

58% were satisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance (down one), and 38% were dissatisfied (up one), for a net approval of +20. Anthony Albanese’s net approval was down four points to -7, his worst ever net approval. Morrison led Albanese as better PM by 55-30 (56-30 three weeks ago).

Newspoll has asked three questions after every budget: whether the budget was good for the economy, good for you personally, and whether the opposition would have delivered a better budget. Results for this last question are yet to appear, and it would be disappointing if that question has been cancelled.

44% thought last Tuesday’s budget was good for the economy and 15% bad, for a net rating of +29. On personal finances, 19% thought it would be good and 19% bad, for a net zero rating. Voters have consistently been better disposed to budgets on the economy than the personal.

The Poll Bludger says this budget is the eighth best on personal finance and the sixth best on the economy since Newspoll started asking these questions, which I believe was in 1988. Analyst Kevin Bonham says this budget has the best net score on the economy since 2007’s +48. However, the Coalition under John Howard lost the 2007 election after that budget.

Most budgets have little impact on voting intentions, and this is confirmed by voting intentions remaining unchanged on two party preferred in this Newspoll. Exceptions were the very unpopular 1993 and 2014 budgets. After both those budgets, the government lost much support.

The drop in Labor’s support, and the rise for the Greens, is probably due to left-wing voters who are unhappy with Albanese. Morrison’s consistently big lead over Albanese as better PM likely encourages some voters to perceive Labor would do better if led by someone more left-wing than Albanese. I posted about the flaws in this logic in my last Newspoll report.

In an additional Newspoll question, 73% thought Australia’s borders should remain closed until at least mid-2022, or the pandemic is under control globally. Just 21% thought borders should open as soon as all Australians who want to be are vaccinated.

In last week’s Essential poll, taken before the budget, Morrison’s net approval surged to +26 from +17 in mid-April. With women, his net approval rose 17 points to +21; with men, it was up two points to +31. While there is still a gender gap, many women appear to have forgotten or forgiven the sexual misbehaviour in March.

Liberals win Tasmanian majority as sex-compromised Liberal wins, then resigns

At the May 1 Tasmanian election, the Liberals won 13 of the 25 lower house seats (steady since the 2018 election), Labor nine (down one), the Greens two (steady) and Independent Kristie Johnston won the last seat. Vote shares were 48.7% Liberal (down 1.5%), 28.2% Labor (down 4.5%), 12.4% Greens (up 2.1%) and 6.2% for independents.

In party terms, there were two electorates where the result appeared uncertain in my post-election article: Clark and Bass. With five seats per electorate, a quota is one-sixth of the vote, or 16.7%. In the Hare-Clark system, candidates compete against other candidates in the same party, as well as other parties’ candidates.

In Clark, there was some doubt on election night as to whether the Liberals would win a second seat. But former Labor MP Madeleine Ogilvie, who had sat as an independent in the last parliament, and joined the Liberals at this election, won the second Liberal seat in Clark.

Ogilvie was 342 votes or 0.03 quotas ahead of fellow Liberal Simon Behrakis at the second last count. At Behrakis’ exclusion, final standings were Ogilvie 0.95 quotas, Johnston 0.93 and Independent Sue Hickey 0.82. Ogilvie and Johnston were elected to the final two seats.

In Bass, Labor benefited from leakage of Premier Peter Gutwein’s surplus and preferences from other sources. Labor easily defeated the Greens and Liberals for the final seat for a three Liberal, two Labor result.

The day before the election, Liberal Braddon candidate Adam Brooks was accused of impersonating to enter a sexual relationship using a fake driver’s license. Tasmania still requires early voters to complete a declaration that they cannot vote on election day, so most votes were cast on election day.

Brooks was still elected after a close race with two other Liberals in Braddon. With the final two seats to be filled, Jaensch finished on 0.934 quotas, Brooks 0.931 and Ellis 0.904, with Ellis missing out. Brooks had been 0.046 quotas ahead of Ellis after Liberal exclusions and surpluses, with his lead reduced by sources outside the Liberals.




Read more:
Has a backlash against political correctness made sexual misbehaviour more acceptable?


The Braddon result was finalised Thursday. On Friday, Brooks resigned his seat after Queensland police charged him with firearms offences. Brooks’ seat will definitely go to a Liberal on a countback (not a byelection), likely Ellis. The Liberals will be relieved at not requiring Brooks’ vote to maintain a majority.

In the upper house, the Liberals gained Windermere from a retiring conservative independent, while Labor held Derwent. In Windermere, the Liberals defeated Labor by 54.1-45.9, from primary votes of 37.8% Liberal, 27.0% Labor and 21.3% for an independent. In Derwent, Labor defeated the Liberals by 55.7-44.3, from primary votes of 49.1% Labor, 40.9% Liberal and 10.0% Animal Justice.

The Tasmanian upper house has 15 single-member electorates with two or three up for election every May for six-year terms. Current standings are five Labor, four Liberals, four left independents and two centre-right independents.

Poll gives Nationals 51-49 lead for Saturday’s Upper Hunter (NSW) byelection

A byelection will occur in the NSW Nationals-held state seat of Upper Hunter this Saturday. This seat has been Nationals-held since 1932, but at the 2019 NSW election, the Nationals had their lowest primary vote of 34.0%. Labor had 28.7%, the Shooters 22.0% and the Greens 4.8%.

Excluding exhausting preferences, the Nationals defeated Labor by 52.6-47.4, with 24.2% of total votes exhausting under NSW’s optional preferential system.

A YouGov poll for The Daily Telegraph gave the Nationals a 51-49 lead over Labor in Upper Hunter based on respondent preferences. Primary votes were 25% Nationals, 23% Labor, 16% Shooters, 11% One Nation, 6% Greens and 10% combined for two independents. The poll was conducted May 11-13 from a sample of just 400.The Conversation

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

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

No ‘bounce’ for government from big-spend budget: Newspoll


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraThe government has failed to get any electoral “bounce” from last week’s budget, despite it being widely seen as good for the economy, according to Newspoll.

Labor retains a two-party lead of 51-49%, although there was a 2 point fall in its primary vote, to 36%. The fall was matched by a 2 point rise in support for the Greens, to 12%.

The Coalition was stable on 41% primary vote.

Publishing the results, The Australian reported it was the most well-received budget since the Howard-Costello days, with 44% saying it would be good for the economy, and only 15% believing it would be bad. This was the largest margin since 2007.

But voters found it harder to get a clear fix on what it would mean for them personally. They were evenly divided, with 19% each side, on whether they would be personally better or worse off financially from the budget.

A record 62% could not say whether they would be better or worse off.

While the budget contained tax cuts for low and middle income earners and a child care package, much of the big spending was directed to particular areas, such as aged care and mental health, rather than affecting the financial position of people more widely.

Both leaders’ personal approval ratings worsened somewhat in the poll, although Anthony Albanese took more of a hit than Scott Morrison.

Dissatisfaction with Albanese increased 3 points to 46%, while his satisfaction rating decreased a point to 39%. His net rating is minus 7.

Satisfaction with Morrison fell a point to 58%, and dissatisfaction increased a point to 38% His net approval is plus 20.

Morrison led Albanese as better prime minister 55% (down a point) to 30% (stable).

In Queensland selling the budget, Morrison said on Sunday: “The recovery cannot be taken for granted. The recovery can be lost. The hard won gains of Australians, particularly over these last 18 months, can be lost unless we keep doing what’s working. And this is working.”

Also in Queensland, Albanese said: “Quite clearly, Scott Morrison has a plan to just get through the next election and then we’ll see cuts, because we know from this government, just like we saw in 2014 when it first came to office, that they will make cuts, they will return to type.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Albanese’s $10bn pledge pushes housing needs back into the limelight


Hal Pawson, UNSWOpposition Leader Anthony Albanese’s budget reply speech last night highlighted Australia’s huge unnmet need for social and affordable housing. It’s once again shaping up as a major election issue. Labor is proposing a A$10 billion program to build 30,000 social and affordable homes over five years.

The immediate backdrop for the pledge is a post-COVID house price boom, and a continuing dearth of Commonwealth investment in new non-market housing. That is, rentals affordable to low-income Australians and provided by government agencies or non-profit community housing organisations.

Amid the many new spending plans revealed in Tuesday’s budget, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg maintained the government’s resistance to an ever-wider coalition of voices calling for social housing stimulus.




Read more:
Why more housing stimulus will be needed to sustain recovery



Conversation Economic Society of Australia survey, September 2020

Just how big is the problem?

With borders largely closed since March last year, it’s true that sharply reduced migration has temporarily dampened rental housing demand over the past 15 months. That in turn has generally subdued increases in rents. However, that national norm masks the rapidly rising rents seen in many regional markets during 2020-21.

And despite some local price reductions, Anglicare’s recent survey of 74,000 “lease ready” property listings identified only three (0.004%) affordable to a single person on the JobSeeker payment. More strikingly, for every household income type included in the survey, Anglicare found the availability of affordable lets even lower in early 2021 than a year earlier.

The broader and longer-term picture in the private rental market has been one of shrinking numbers of tenancies that low-income Australians can afford to rent. Specifically, we saw a 50% increase in the national deficit in private lets affordable to low-income renters (in the bottom 20% of incomes) in the decade to 2016.

A decade of negligible investment in social housing construction has only made this situation worse. The result has been a continued decline in availability as public and community housing has dwindled from 6% to only 4% of all housing since the 1990s. In fact, proportionate to population, social rental lettings have halved over this period.

A clear point of difference, but not a game-changer

Tuesday’s budget marked a continuation of the Morrison government’s near-exclusive housing focus on efforts to assist aspirational first-home buyers. Most significantly, this policy stance inspired the $2.1 billion HomeBuilder program as an economic recovery measure during 2020-21.




Read more:
Why the focus of stimulus plans has to be construction that puts social housing first


The ALP has pointedly backed both HomeBuilder and the smaller measures to assist first-home buyers announced on Tuesday. But Albanese’s new announcement seemingly extends Labor’s housing pitch beyond the Coalition’s comfort zone.

Anthony Albanese pledges $10 billion to build social housing in budget reply speech.

So is this the “major initiative” hailed by some headline writers? A “fix for house prices” it certainly is not. If unwisely attempted purely through public spending, the funding required to get into that territory would need to be many times as great.

Opposition housing spokesperson Jason Clare more defensibly describes the ALP pitch as “a significant start” in tackling Australia’s “housing crisis”.

The current national stock of social and affordable rental housing totals just over 400,000. In recent years annual additions have amounted to only 2,000-3,000. That’s barely enough even to offset continuing sales and demolitions. In these terms, Albanese’s pledge to expand the supply by 6,000 a year would indeed be significant.

At the same time, as our previous research has shown, a net increase of 15,000 units a year is needed just to keep pace with “normal” population growth – that is, to halt the decline in social rental as a share of all housing. Even under a post-pandemic scenario where migration rules are tightened as far as imaginable, that figure would not be substantially smaller.

So, like the Victorian government’s recently launched social housing stimulus, the ALP’s proposed national program would mark a promising break with the recent past, and a platform for further measures. But it would be hard to describe it as a game-changer.




Read more:
Victoria’s $5.4bn Big Housing Build: it is big, but the social housing challenge is even bigger


While greatly expanded social housing provision would be an essential part of any credible package to seriously address Australia’s housing affordability challenge, a far wider program of action is needed. Most importantly, such a program must also tackle our grossly unbalanced housing tax settings, boost renters’ rights and diversify the available choice of housing.

What the country needs above all is a Commonwealth commitment to assembling the national housing strategy that is so long overdue.




Read more:
Australia’s housing system needs a big shake-up: here’s how we can crack this


The Conversation


Hal Pawson, Professor of Housing Research and Policy, and Associate Director, City Futures Research Centre, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia: Budget 2021


Coalition and Morrison gain in Newspoll, and the new Resolve poll


AAP/Mick Tsikas

Adrian Beaumont, The University of MelbourneThis week’s Newspoll, conducted April 21-24 from a sample of 1,510, gave Labor a 51-49 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since the previous Newspoll, four weeks ago. Primary votes were 41% Coalition (up one), 38% Labor (steady), 10% Greens (down one) and 3% One Nation (up one). Figures are from The Poll Bludger.

59% (up four) were satisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance, and 37% (down three) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of +22, up seven points. Anthony Albanese’s net approval fell five points to -3. Morrison led as better PM by 56-30 (52-32 four weeks ago).

In my article last fortnight, I suggested a backlash against political correctness was making sexual misbehaviour more acceptable. The Coalition and Morrison’s recovery in this poll appears to validate that argument.




Read more:
Has a backlash against political correctness made sexual misbehaviour more acceptable?


The adverse publicity regarding vaccination problems may have been expected to damage the government. But as long as there are very few local COVID cases, it appears the general public will forgive the rollout issues.

There is likely to be a strong economic recovery from COVID, and this is a problem for Labor. The new Resolve poll had the Coalition and Morrison ahead of Labor and Albanese by over 20 points on both the economy and COVID. In March, the unemployment rate was 5.6%, well down from the peak of 7.5% last July.

Many on the left want Albanese to resign in favour of a more left-wing candidate like Tanya Plibersek. But the polling indicates Labor’s leadership is not the problem, Morrison’s popularity is. In fact, given Morrison’s ratings, the Coalition would normally be expected to lead by a substantial margin.

Outside election campaigns, most voters pay little attention to the opposition. So it’s what the government does that drives voting intentions and the PM’s popularity.

New pollster for Nine newspapers

The Resolve Strategic poll will be conducted monthly for Nine newspapers from a normal sample of 1,600 interviewed by online methods. The first sample included an additional 400 live phone interviews. Fieldwork will be conducted during the month.

Every two months, state polls of Victoria and NSW will be released. Since Newspoll stopped doing regular state polling in 2015, there have been virtually no polls of either state outside election periods.

No two party vote is given, but primary votes in the first Resolve poll, with fieldwork up to April 16, were 38% Coalition, 33% Labor, 12% Greens and 6% One Nation.

One Nation’s vote is far higher than in Newspoll, but analyst Kevin Bonham says Newspoll is only asking for One Nation in seats they contested at the last election. Bonham estimates the two party vote from these primaries as a 50-50 tie.

Respondents were asked to rate the party leaders’ performance in recent weeks. Morrison had a 50% good, 38% poor rating (net +12), while Albanese was at 35% good, 41% poor (net -6). Morrison led Albanese as preferred PM by 47-25.

Voters were asked which party and leader would be better at various issues. However, offering “someone else” as an option disadvantages Labor, particularly on environmental issues where the Greens do best. The Coalition and Morrison led Labor and Albanese by 43-21 on economic management and by 42-20 on handling COVID.

Essential and Morgan polls

In last fortnight’s Essential poll, Morrison had a 54-37 approval rating; his +17 net approval dropped five points from the late March poll.

The large gender gap in Morrison’s ratings that I discussed last fortnight remained: his approval with men was 61%, but 46% with women. This gap was 16 points in late March.

Albanese’s net approval was down four points from mid-March to +5, and Morrison led as better PM by 47-28 (52-26 in mid-March).

The federal government had a 62-17 good rating on its response to COVID (70-12 in mid-March). This reverts to about where its COVID response was before a spike in November. State governments also saw falls in their COVID ratings. If Labor had been in power federally, by 44-37 voters were confident that they would have dealt well with COVID.

While Essential continues to give the federal government strong COVID ratings, a Morgan SMS poll, conducted April 9-10 – after Morrison announced the AstraZeneca vaccine would not be recommended for those under 50 – had voters disapproving of Morrison’s handling of COVID by 51-49.

Less than a week before Tasmanian election, poll has Liberals at just 41%

The Tasmanian election will be held on Saturday. A uComms poll for the left-wing Australia Institute, conducted April 21 from a sample of 1,023, gave the Liberals 41.4%, Labor 32.1%, the Greens 12.4%, Independents 11.0% and Others 3.1%.

This poll is in marked contrast to the last publicly available Tasmanian poll: an EMRS poll in February that gave the Liberals 52%, Labor 27%, Greens 14% and 7% for all Others. I will have more details of the Tasmanian election in a post on Wednesday.

WA election upper house final results

At the March 13 Western Australian election, Labor won 22 of the 36 upper house seats (up eight since 2017), the Liberals seven (down two), the Nationals three (down one), Legalise Cannabis two (up two), the Greens one (down three) and Daylight Saving one (up one). One Nation (three seats in 2017), the Shooters (one) and the Liberal Democrats (one) all failed to return to parliament.

This is the first time Labor has won a majority of seats in the WA upper house. They won 60.3% of the vote in the upper house, slightly higher than their 59.9% in the lower house. Labor won 21 of their 22 seats on raw quotas, and needed very slight help for their fourth seat in Mining and Pastoral region.




Read more:
Labor obliterates Liberals in historic WA election; will win control of upper house for first time


Labor lost two seats they should have won to Legalise Cannabis under the Group Ticket Voting (GTV) system. That gave Legalise Cannabis double the seats of the Greens despite less than one-third of the Greens’ statewide vote (2.0% vs 6.4%).

The most ridiculous result occurred in the Mining and Pastoral region, where Daylight Saving were able to win a seat on just 98 first preference votes and 0.2% of the statewide vote. This occurred owing to both GTV and malapportionment. Every one of WA’s six regions elects six members, even though the Agricultural region has just 6% of enrolled voters and the Mining and Pastoral region 4%.

ABC election analyst Antony Green’s final lower house two party estimate is that Labor won by an Australian record for any state or territory of 69.7% to 30.3%, a 14.1% swing to Labor from what was already a thumping 2017 victory.The Conversation

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

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

With the government on the ropes, Anthony Albanese has a fighting chance


Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Frank Bongiorno, Australian National UniversitySome promising polling for Labor in recent weeks has inevitably raised that perennial question for a party whose national triumphs since Federation 120 years ago have been rare: can it win the next election? And in the manner of modern elections, the question soon becomes a more personal one: can it win under its present leader, Anthony Albanese?

My punditry in such matters is likely to be no better or worse than anyone else’s. Apart from polling, the limitations of which have become all too well known, there’s little for most of us to go on.

One place we might look is the quality of an opposition leader’s performance. They really have two jobs, which is one of the reasons no one much likes being opposition leader.

First, they need to keep government accountable, scrutinising its behaviour using parliament, committees such as Senate Estimates, and the media to draw attention to government failings or worse.

Their other job is to make themselves look like an alternative government. They do so by preparing policies, crafting an attractive image, and attending to problems such as weaknesses in the party organisation.

Taking these two roles into account, how well has Labor been doing this under Albanese?




Read more:
From ‘snapback’ to ‘comeback’: policy gridlock as Morrison government puts slogans over substance


In the aftermath of the 2019 election, as is usually the case after an election defeat, it’s hard for an opposition to get a hearing. The government will usually have an agenda that it pursues aggressively in the flush of an election victory. Few wish to listen to the leader of a party only recently repudiated at the polls.

The months that followed the 2019 election had some of these features. The government pursued massive tax cuts, which Labor supported. But given Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s lack of an agenda – his policy at the 2019 election was to win the 2019 election – there was little for Albanese and Labor to get their teeth into.

That soon changed. Summer is usually a quiet time for both government and opposition. It was on this basis, that Morrison, “Jen and the girls” headed for Hawaii. But the Black Summer bushfires provided Albanese and the Labor opposition with their first chance to lay a glove on Morrison.

While Morrison’s performance was so poor that Albanese needed to do little to look good by comparison, the crisis did damage the government sufficiently to raise Labor’s hopes that the shine gained from “Morrison’s miracle” was wearing off.

Morrison’s absence for a Hawaiian holiday during the Black Summer of 2019-20 provoked community outrage, and an opportunity for Albanese.
AAP/Instagram/Scott Marsh

Then came sports rorts. This scandal provided Labor with opportunities to build an argument that this was a mean and tricky government that put winning elections ahead of integrity or fairness. It claimed a ministerial scalp.

Sports rorts was soon overwhelmed by the pandemic. This was very bad news for Labor. Parliamentary sittings were reduced. Worried citizens attended to their private affairs. National cabinet provided a sense of Labor state governments being drawn into the tent with Morrison, while the federal Labor opposition was rendered irrelevant. Morrison even courted the unions with some success.

Governments almost invariably benefit from major crises because they are seen as doers. There are strong pressures to place an increasing range of issues “beyond politics”, a boon for those intent on looting the treasury and bad for public accountability.

The government’s massive spending stimulus made Labor seem particularly irrelevant. There can be no doubt that if a Labor government had tried anything similar, it would have been subjected to the mother of all campaigns by right-wing media.

So, if Albanese and much of his front bench seemed invisible during this period, this is not a matter for which they can be much criticised. And to be fair, several Labor shadow ministers used this period productively to explore what a post-pandemic order might look like.

We complain about our politicians spending too little time reading and thinking. We should notice when they do. This was Labor performing the second of those functions of opposition: crafting an alternative government.

With the pandemic largely under control, Albanese has a better chance to present himself as an alternative prime minister.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

The gods have been kinder to Labor during 2021. The government has been mired in crisis, scandal and sleaze. Labor, meanwhile, has benefited from its slow and steady achievement of greater gender equity during decades in which the Coalition’s performance in this area has deteriorated.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: The worst is not over in the crisis tearing at Scott Morrison’s government


Labor has admittedly had to do little to keep the government accountable in these matters – Morrison’s ineptness and an enterprising group of mainly female journalists have done its job for it – but the party has benefited enormously from having capable women in leadership positions. Albanese has been able to avoid looking like another well-meaning mansplainer when the issues of sexual assault and harassment are in the spotlight.

The blatant failures of the vaccination program have provided new opportunities for the Labor Party to criticise a government that likes to present itself as the saviour of the Australian people in its hour of need – as Psalm 46 would have it, “a very present help in trouble”.

Electors seem less certain. They have returned two state Labor governments in Queensland and Western Australia widely perceived to have kept their populations safe. Other state governments remain popular, even that of Daniel Andrews, despite Victoria’s ordeal of a second wave of infections.

It is not clear how much credit the Morrison government will be able to claim. Dealing competently with the Global Financial Crisis in 2008-9 appeared to win the Rudd government limited credit among voters in the medium term. It was persecuted for a few failures instead.

Albanese’s place in these considerations remains an ambiguous one. Tanya Plibersek seems to have emerged as the most likely alternative and, if Albanese were to falter at the next election, his successor.

The rules adopted by the Labor Party during the second Rudd prime ministership in 2013 make it difficult to remove a leader between elections unless he or she agrees to go. In any case, and leaving aside the party’s split under Billy Hughes in 1916 and the interim leadership of Frank Forde in 1945, Labor has still only once removed a leader without giving him the opportunity to fight an election: Simon Crean in 2003.

Tanya Plibersek is the most logical alternative Labor leader.
AAP/Dean Lewins

As the son of a single mother raised in public housing, Albanese has a backstory that might be attractive to may voters, if they only knew it. He is a consummate political professional in an age of political professionals, admired for his management of parliamentary business during the challenging minority government of Julia Gillard.

Albanese would not have been among the front rank of ministers in the best Labor governments of the modern era — those of Bob Hawke in the 1980s. But that probably isn’t a large mark against him. After all, the general quality of our political leaders has deteriorated since then, too.

At the very least, the turn of the political dial seems to give Labor, and Albanese, a fighting chance.The Conversation

Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison’s ratings take a hit in Newspoll as Coalition notionally loses a seat in redistribution


AAP/James Gourley

Adrian Beaumont, The University of MelbourneThis week’s Newspoll, conducted March 24-27 from a sample of 1,517, gave Labor a 52-48 two party lead, unchanged from last fortnight’s Newspoll. Primary votes were 40% Coalition (up one), 38% Labor (down one), 11% Greens (up one) and 2% One Nation (down one).

While voting intentions moved slightly towards the Coalition, Scott Morrison’s ratings fell to their lowest point since the COVID crisis began. 55% were satisfied with his performance (down seven) and 40% were dissatisfied (up six), for a net approval of +15, down 13 points.

Anthony Albanese’s net approval was up one point to +2, and Morrison led as better PM by 52-32 (56-30 last fortnight). Figures are from The Poll Bludger.

The last Newspoll was taken during the final few days of the WA election campaign. It’s plausible, given Morrison’s ratings slump without any impact on voting intentions, that Labor’s federal WA vote in the last Newspoll was inflated by the state election.

While Morrison’s ratings are his worst since the pandemic began, they are still strong by historical standards. So far, Morrison has only lost people who were likely to switch to disapproving at the first major scandal. Voting intentions imply that many who approved of Morrison were not voting Coalition anyway.

This poll would not have reflected the latest scandals about LNP Bowman MP Andrew Laming, who was revealed on Saturday night to have taken an upskirting picture in 2019. But are sexual misbehaviour scandals getting as much voter opprobrium as they used to?

In last fortnight’s article I cited two recent US examples of alleged sexual misconduct. Donald Trump was elected president in November 2016 despite the release of the Access Hollywood tape a month earlier. And New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, is still in office despite multiple sexual harassment allegations against his female employees.

According to Morning Consult polling of New York state, Cuomo’s ratings have stabilised recently after a large drop, and he still has a +10 net approval. That’s because he has a 75% approval rating from Democratic voters.

In the FiveThirtyEight aggregate of 2016 US national polls, Hillary Clinton gained only about a point in the week after the October 7 Access Hollywood tape was released, to have a six-point lead, up from five. Trump won that election in the Electoral College despite losing the national popular vote by 2.1%.

Draft federal redistributions for Victoria and WA

As a result of population growth trends, Victoria will gain an additional House of Representatives seat before the next election, while WA loses one. On March 19, the Electoral Commission published draft boundaries for both states.

In WA, the Liberal seat of Stirling was axed, while in Victoria the seat of Hawke was created in Melbourne’s northwestern growth area. The Poll Bludger estimated Hawke will have a Labor margin of 9.8%.

There are no major knock-on effects that would shift any other seat into another party’s column based on 2019 election results. So the impact is Labor gaining a Victorian seat as the Coalition loses a WA seat. Christian Porter’s margin in Pearce has been reduced slightly from 6.7% to 5.5%.

Ignoring the defection of Craig Kelly from the Liberals, the Coalition will start the next federal election with a notional 76 of the 151 seats, down one from the 2019 results. Labor will notionally have 69 seats, up one.

Early Tasmanian election announced for May 1

On March 26, Tasmanian Liberal Premier Peter Gutwein announced the Tasmanian election would be held on May 1, about ten months before the four-year anniversary of the March 2018 election.

The Liberals expect to capitalise on a COVID boost that could fade if the election were held as expected in early 2022. The last Tasmanian poll, conducted by EMRS in February, gave the Liberals 52%, Labor 27% and the Greens 14%. Tasmania uses the Hare-Clark method of proportional representation with five electorates that each return five members.

WA election final lower house results

At the March 13 Western Australian election, Labor won 53 of the 59 lower house seats, gaining 12 seats from what was already a thumping victory in 2017. The Liberals won just two seats (down 11) and the Nationals four (down one). Labor will have almost 90% of lower house seats.

Primary votes were 59.9% Labor (up 17.7% since 2017), 21.3% Liberals (down 9.9%), 4.0% Nationals (down 1.4%), 6.9% Greens (down 2.0%) and just 1.3% One Nation (down 3.7%).

Labor’s primary vote was higher than the 59.0% the combined Nationals and Liberals won at the 1974 Queensland election. The 1941 Tasmanian election, when Labor won 62.6%, is likely the only prior occasion in Australia of a single party winning a higher vote share than WA Labor.

The Poll Bludger estimates the two party vote as 69.2-30.8 to Labor, a 13.7% swing since 2017. The upper house has yet to be finalised, but Labor will win at least 22 of the 36 seats.

Israeli, UK local, German and Dutch elections

I wrote for The Poll Bludger on March 21 about the March 23 Israeli election and the May 6 UK local elections that also include Scottish and Welsh parliamentary elections. Israel’s right-wing PM Benjamin Netanyahu failed to win a majority for a right coalition, with that coalition winning 59 of the 120 Knesset seats. UK Labour is struggling in the polls.

I wrote for my personal website on March 19 about two German state elections that the combined left parties nearly won outright. The German federal election is expected on September 26, and the incumbent conservative CDU has slumped from its COVID heights, so the combined left could win the next German election. However, the left performed dismally at the March 17 Dutch election.The Conversation

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

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Morrison takes big personal hit in Newspoll after missteps on women’s issue


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraScott Morrison’s approval has taken a sizeable hit in a Newspoll showing Labor maintaining its 52-48% two-party lead.

As Morrison prepares to unveil his cabinet reshuffle the poll, published in Monday’s Australian, found his satisfaction rating fell from 62% to 55% in two weeks.

The fortnight was dominated by shocking revelations of lewd behaviour among staffers on the Coalition side, a botched attempted “reset” on gender issues when Morrison lashed out at a news conference, and a scandal around a Liberal backbencher.

In the poll, taken March 24-27, Morrison’s dissatisfaction rating jumped from 34% to 40%.

The “better PM” gap also narrowed – Morrison now leads Anthony Albanese 52% (down 4 points) to 32% (up 2 points). This the narrowest margin since March last year. In February Morrison had a 35-point margin.

The Coalition’s primary vote rose a point to 40% while Labor’s fell a point to 38%.

The Australian reports that it is the first time in more than a year that Morrison’s approval ratings haven’t been in the 60s. His net satisfaction is plus 15.

Albanese’s satisfaction increased one point. He has a net satisfaction of plus 2.

The reshuffle is set to move Christian Porter out of the attorney-general’s portfolio and Linda Reynolds out of defence, but keep both in cabinet.

The government is now confronting a major row over Queensland Liberal MP Andrew Laming who trolled two local women on Facebook and took an inappropriate photo of another woman.

Laming announced at the weekend he would not seek to run at the next election but he remains in the Liberal National Party. He is now on leave but has indicated he aims to be back for the budget session, after he has had counselling on “empathy and appropriate communications”.

Albanese said Laming was not a fit and proper person to be in parliament and should go. He said there were various measures available to the Labor Party to take against him when parliament resumed.

Morrison will be anxious to see a woman preselected for Laming’s seat of Bowman.

As the government’s crisis continues Liberal women are increasingly speaking out, with Victorian federal backbenchers Sarah Henderson and Katie Allen suggesting on the ABC’s Insiders that parliamentarians should be subject to drug and alcohol testing.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison still enjoys strong ratings in separate polls, indicating Labor’s gains may be short-lived


Adrian Beaumont, The University of MelbourneThis week’s federal Newspoll, conducted March 10-13 from a sample of 1,521 people, gave Labor a 52-48% lead on a two-party preferred basis, a two-point gain for Labor since the previous Newspoll three weeks ago.

Primary votes were 39% Coalition (down three), 39% Labor (up two), 10% Greens (steady) and 3% One Nation (steady).

In addition, 62% were satisfied with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s performance (down two) and 34% were dissatisfied, for a net approval of +28. Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s net approval jumped eight points to +1.

Morrison, meanwhile, led as better PM by 56-30%, well down from his 61-26% lead three weeks ago.

On voting intentions, this is Labor’s best showing in the poll since last February, immediately after the bushfire crisis but before the COVID-19 pandemic spread to Australia. It is Morrison’s narrowest better PM margin since April.

Before COVID, we would have expected the party of a prime minister with a +28 net approval to have a large lead on voting intentions. The relationship between voting intentions and Morrison’s net approval has clearly broken down in the past year since the pandemic began.

The Morrison government’s response to two separate rape allegations against a minister in the cabinet and a staffer in another minister’s office has also likely played a role in Labor’s improvement in the poll.




Read more:
‘What are you afraid of ScoMo?’: Australian women are angry — and the Morrison government needs to listen


The Poll Bludger reports that Newspoll aggregated its last two polls to determine if the Coalition’s slump was driven mostly by women respondents.

However, this does not appear to be the case. As compared with the Newspoll aggregate data from October to December, the Coalition’s primary vote is down two points among both men and women, while Labor’s primary vote is up three points with men and up two with women.

The Essential poll out today corroborates Newspoll in still giving Morrison strong ratings — his net approval is +33, down only slightly from +37 in February.

While Newspoll had Albanese gaining much ground on the better prime minister question, Essential has Morrison ahead by 52-26% on this measure, down only slightly from 52-24% in February.

Essential gave the federal government a 70% good to 12% poor rating on handling of COVID, up from 62-14% last fortnight. This was behind the state governments’ handling of the pandemic, with the exception of Victoria, which only garnered a 62% good rating.




Read more:
Could the Morrison government’s response to sexual assault claims cost it the next election?


It appears, then, the slow roll-out of Australia’s vaccination program is not yet hurting the government’s approval ratings.

I am sceptical that the rape allegations can be a lasting driver of gains for Labor in the polls. The infamous Access Hollywood tape, in which Donald Trump spoke in vulgar terms about women, emerged about a month before the 2016 US election, yet it didn’t prevent Trump from defeating Hillary Clinton to win the presidency.

Recently, Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York state, has been accused of sexual harassment of his female employees. But a New York Siena poll had 50% of respondents saying Cuomo should not resign immediately, while 35% said he should. Women were more favourable to Cuomo than men on this question, too.

WA election late counting

With 63% of enrolled voters counted in Saturday’s Western Australia election, the ABC is now calling 50 Labor seats, two Liberals and four Nationals, with three still in doubt. In the doubtful seats, Labor currently leads in Nedlands and Warren-Blackwood, but trails in Churchlands.

We would normally expect a decline in Labor’s primary vote as postal votes are added, as these tend to be Labor’s worst vote category. But Labor’s statewide primary vote has instead increased to 59.9% from 59.1% on election night.

Labor’s massive primary vote explains why they will win control of the upper house for the first time. Labor’s upper house vote share (60.1%) is currently slightly better than in the lower house.

On the ABC’s upper house calculators, Labor is winning 22 of its 23 seats on raw quotas, without requiring preferences.

Labor could win five of the six seats in the Eastern Metropolitan region on a massive primary vote of 67.4%, or 4.72 quotas. The most ridiculous result is in the Mining and Pastoral region, where the Daylight Saving party is winning a seat off just 0.2% of the vote (0.01 quotas).

This result shows that group voting tickets should be abolished and replaced by the Senate’s voter-directed preference system. With its big majority in both chambers of the state parliament, the re-elected Labor government should pursue both this reform and an end to the heavy rural malapportionment in the upper house.The Conversation

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

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.