Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraThe Morrison and Berejiklian governments have unveiled a joint support package for businesses and workers, as the Sydney lockdown is set to extend to and probably well beyond a fourth week.
But the assistance has set off a row between the Andrews and Morrison governments, with Victoria resentful about its earlier treatment and the federal government accusing it of taking a politicised approach compared with NSW’s constructive one.
As the level of the outbreak continues high in NSW – 89 new cases in the community announced on Tuesday – a support payment will be available for businesses, which is set to cost about $500 million a week. This cost will be equally shared between the federal and NSW governments.
For individuals, from week four of a lockdown in a hot spot declared by the Commonwealth, the COVID disaster payment will rise from $500 to $600 if a person has lost 20 or more hours of work a week. The amount will go from $325 to $375 if the hours lost are between eight and 20.
The payment will also be available to people in NSW outside Commonwealth-declared hotspots where they meet the eligibility criteria – but in these cases the NSW government will fund the cost.
Businesses eligible for assistance will be those with an annual turnover between $75,000 and $50 million, which can demonstrate a 30% decline in turnover, compared with an equivalent two week period in 2019.
Businesses will receive payments ranging from $1,500 and $10,000 a week, based on their payroll, with non-employing businesses such as sole traders receiving $1000 a week.
Up to 500,000 entities are expected to be eligible, which employ more than three million people. The assistance will be available to not-for-profit entities. Those receiving the payment will have to maintain their workforces at current levels.
Scott Morrison, speaking at a news conference with NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian and state treasurer Dominic Perrottet, said the aid would go as long as the lockdown required.
The federal government – under earlier criticism for being more anxious to help NSW than it had been to assist Victoria, when it was slow with an announcement – emphasised that the new payments would apply to other states if they were to be in similar circumstances.
But the Victorian government reacted sharply.
“Victorians are rightly sick and tired of having to beg for every scrap of support from the federal government,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
“It shouldn’t take a crisis in Sydney for the Prime Minister to take action but we are seeing the same double standard time and time again. His job is not to be the Prime Minister for NSW.
“We had to shame the federal government into doing their job and providing income support for Victorian workers when we battled the Delta strain earlier this year. Their position at the time was a disgrace.
“If they had bothered to think about this at the time and work with Victoria, they’d already have had a practical framework in place when NSW went into lockdown and more people would have got the support they need earlier,” the statement said.
The Morrison government hit back, contrasting what it described as different attitudes by Victoria and NSW.
“The NSW government has worked constructively with the Commonwealth to support their households and businesses while the Victorian government’s politicised approach has unfortunately been to issue decrees by media instead of picking up the phone to find solutions as a partnership,” a federal spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said Victorian received the same support for its two week circuit breaker lockdown as had NSW for its first two weeks.
“As the pandemic has evolved and as the situation in NSW has gone beyond those two weeks, the Commonwealth’s support has also evolved. If Victoria were to go into another extended lockdown, it would receive the same support as is being offered to NSW.”
The spokesperson said that during the recent Victorian lockdown, the Commonwealth offered to share all costs with the state. “Victoria declined, and asked for the Commonwealth to handle income support while they would support businesses.”
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told the ABC on Tuesday night, people were sick of Victorian Premier Dan Andrews’ “whingeing”.
Under the package for NSW, the Commonwealth is providing some business tax relief and the NSW government is giving some payroll relief and protection against evictions.
The package also contains $17.35 million for mental health support. Among organisations to receive funding will be headspace and Kids Helpline.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) on Tuesday released new advice on AstraZeneca in light of the Sydney outbreak.
It said in the context of an outbreak where the supply of Pfizer was constrained, people under 60 who don’t have immediate access to Pfizer should “reassess the benefits to them and their contacts from being vaccinated with COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca, versus the rare risk of a serious side effect”.
It also said in outbreak situations those who had received a first AZ shot more than four weeks ago should get their second dose as soon as possible, rather than waiting the preferred 12 weeks.
Victoria’s shadow treasurer, Louise Staley, is putting about suggestive questions hinting darkly at a cover-up of how Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews injured his back three months ago.
She has not produced a shred of evidence to support this suggestion, yet the exercise has gained substantial traction in the media. All the main news outlets have had to pay attention to it.
It is the kind of political chicanery that confronts responsible media with a dilemma: how to hold a public official to account without oxygenating the conspiracy theory in which she is trading.
In this case, the fake-news manufacturing process has worked like this.
A public official puts on the public record some questions that look innocuous but will be associated in some minds with a scurrilous conspiracy theory circulating on social media.
Because it is a public official putting this on the public record, it is then picked up by a journalist.
The journalist in turn asks a question about it at a press conference. In this case, the question was put to Acting Premier James Merlino on June 8.
It necessarily generates a response from Merlino and that adds a further ingredient of apparent legitimacy to the mix.
Ambulance Victoria feels it necessary to issue a statement reiterating the exact circumstances in which an ambulance was called to take Andrews to hospital.
Then the Chief Commissioner of Police, Shane Patton, feels obliged to put out a statement confirming police did not attend the scene.
All this adds to the false impression there is some real news here.
But it doesn’t make the originating material true.
The originating material remains fake, but now the conspiracy theory has accumulated many of the attributes of a real story.
However, responsible media recognise what the real story is.
The real story is the attempt by a senior state Liberal MP to manufacture fake news – so they tell this story without oxygenating the content of the fake news itself.
Australia’s professional mass media – television, radio, newspapers – have followed this course.
They have reported Staley’s raising of the conspiracy theory and her formulation of a series of questions to the government, while at the same time quoting condemnation of her antics by Merlino and others in the state government.
Even Sky News, notorious for its anti-Labor politics, has been circumspect. It has contented itself with references to a “torrent” of “amazing rumours” before retreating to safer and more familiar ground by describing Andrews as a Soviet-style paramount leader.
It reflects well on the Australian media – perhaps reinforced in their caution by the oppressiveness of Australia’s defamation laws – that they have handled this nasty outbreak of fakery with decency, accuracy and fairness.
The result is that, in this case, the manufacturing process has been cut off at the point of distribution.
For the record, Andrews slipped on wet stairs at a holiday house in Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula on March 9, sustaining several broken ribs and a fractured vertebra. He is expected to return to work some time this month.
The Victorian government’s handling of the state’s second coronavirus wave attracted massive Twitter attention, both in support of and against the state’s premier Daniel Andrews.
Our research, published in the journal Media International Australia reveals much of this attention was driven by a small, hyper-partisan core of highly active participants.
We found a high proportion of active campaigners were anonymous “sockpuppet” accounts — created by people using fake profiles for the sole purpose of magnifying their view.
What’s more, very little activity came from computer-controlled “bot” accounts. But where it did, it was more common from the side campaigning against Andrews.
A larger concern which emerged was the feedback cycle between anti-Andrews campaigners (both genuine and inauthentic), political stakeholders and partisan mainstream media which flung dangerous, fringe ideas into the spotlight.
A few highly-charged accounts driving debate
In mid-to-late 2020, thousands of Australian Twitter users split themselves into two camps: those who supported Andrews’ handling of the second wave and those who didn’t.
We looked at 397,000 tweets from 40,000 Twitter accounts engaging in content with three hashtags: #IStandWithDan, #DictatorDan and #DanLiedPeopleDied.
Our comprehensive analysis revealed pro-Dan activity greatly outnumbered the dissent. #IStandWithDan featured in 275,000 tweets. This was about 2.5 times more than #DictatorDan and 13 times more than #DanLiedPeopleDied.
Activity on both sides was mostly driven by a small but highly-active subset of participants.
The top 10% of accounts posting #IStandWithDan were behind 74% of the total number of these tweets. This figure was similar for the top 10% of accounts posting anti-Andrews hashtags — and the same pattern applied to retweet behaviour.
Our findings challenge the idea of Twitter as the true voice of the public. Rather, what we saw was a small number of pro- and anti-government campaigners that could mobilise particular Twitter communities on an ad hoc basis.
This suggests it only takes a small (but concentrated) effort to get a political hashtag trending in Australia.
Our analysis showed Liberal state MP Tim Smith was instrumental in making the #DictatorDan hashtag go viral.
It was in low circulation until May 17, when Smith created a Twitter poll asking whether Andrews should be labelled “Dictator Dan” or “Chairman Dan”.
Subsequent growth of #DictatorDan activity was driven largely by far-right commentator Avi Yemini and his followers, along with a key group for fringe right-wing politics in Australian Twitter.
Meanwhile, #DanLiedPeopleDied went viral later on August 12, sparked by another right-wing group led by a handful of outspoken members. This group managed to get the hashtag trending nationally.
This attracted Yemini’s attention. The same day the hashtag started trending, he posted seven tweets and seven retweets with it to his then 128,000 followers. A considerable increase in activity ensued.
The hashtag #IStandWithDan had little activity until July 8, when it suddenly went viral with nearly 1,600 tweets. This spike coincided with the announcement of stage 3’s “stay at home” restrictions for metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire.
Activity surrounding #IStandWithDan was driven by factors including the various stages of lockdown, attacks on Andrews from conservative media and the emergence of anti-Andrews Twitter campaigners.
Tweeting (loudly) from the shadows
We analysed the top 50 most active accounts tweeting each hashtag, to figure out how many of them didn’t belong to who they claimed and were in fact anonymous sockpuppet accounts.
We found 54% of the top 50 accounts posting anti-Andrews hashtags qualified as sockpuppets. This figure was 34% for accounts posting #IStandWithDan.
The onslaught from anonymously-run accounts on both sides had a massive impact. Just 27 sockpuppet accounts were behind 9% of all #DictatorDan tweets and 14% of all #DanLiedPeopleDied tweets.
Similarly, 17 accounts were responsible for 6% of all #IStandWithDan tweets.
Many of the anti-Andrews accounts were created more recently than those posting pro-Andrews hashtags. The imbalance between new accounts posting pro- and anti-Andrews hashtags probably isn’t by chance.
It’s more likely anti-Andrews activists deliberately created sockpuppets accounts to give the impression of greater support for their agenda than actually exists among the public.
The aim would be to use these fake accounts to fool Twitter’s algorithms into giving certain hashtags greater visibility.
Interestingly, despite accusations of bot activity from both sides, our work revealed bots actually accounted for a negligible amount of overall hashtag activity.
Of the top 1,000 accounts most frequently tweeting each hashtag, there were just 50 anti-Andrews bot accounts (which sent 264 tweets) and 11 pro-Dan accounts that posted #IStandWithDan (which sent 44 tweets).
Polarisation creates a feedback loop with media
Some of the ways news media engaged with (and amplified) the debate around Victoria’s lockdown helped stoke further division. On September 17, Sky News published the headline:
‘Dictator Dan’ is trying to build a ‘COVID Gulag’.
Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt repeated the “Dictator Dan” label in both his blogs and widely read opinion columns, which were part of a much-criticised series attacking the premier.
Here, we witnessed the continuing problem of the “oxygen of amplification”, whereby news commentators amplify false, misleading and/or problematic content (intentionally or unintentionally) and thereby aid its creators.
The “debate” surrounding the premier’s lockdown measures even gained international attention in a Washington Post article, which Sky News used in a bid to legitimatise its “Dictator Dan” narrative. Yet, at the end Victoria emerged as the gold standard for second-wave coronavirus responses.
A polarised Twittersphere might be entertaining at times, but it sustains a vicious feedback loop between users and partisan media. Irresponsible news commentary provides fuel for Twitter users. This leads to more polarity, which leads to more media attention.
Those with a voice in the public sphere should ask critical moral questions about when (and whether) they engage with hyper-partisan content. In the case of COVID-19, it can carry life and death consequences.
The final report of the COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry, issued by former judge Jennifer Coate, outlines monumental errors made by the Victorian government and its public servants.
Despite this, the governmental failings that led to a second wave of the pandemic, resulting in 800 deaths, are likely to be politically irrelevant.
The clever strategy by Premier Daniel Andrews to defer analysis of these missteps until the virus had been suppressed makes the findings largely academic and historical.
Program based on ‘assumptions’, not clear decision-making
The report also contains no real surprises — it’s just a confirmation of the muddled and incomprehensible decision-making approach we already knew about.
Victoria’s hotel quarantine program was established over the weekend of March 28–29. At this point, it was known COVID-19 was highly contagious and presented the gravest public health risk to Australians in a century.
Instead of using professional and trained staff to manage the risk, the Victorian government used contract security staff, many of whom were largely oblivious to appropriate protocols for dealing with the 21,821 returned travellers who went through the program, according to the report.
Just 236 people tested positive for COVID in quarantine, but despite this low number, containment breaches caused the virus to spread to the wider community in May and June.
Much of the focus of the inquiry was on who was responsible for appointing untrained workers to deal with the most serious public health threat confronting Victorians in living memory.
The most compelling theme of the final report is the ruthless incompetence of the Andrews government and its agencies to put in place coherent systems and protocols to deal with such an enormous risk.
Perhaps most significantly, the report says decisions relating to the program were made at the wrong level — absent scrutiny by ministers or senior public servants. Instead, decisions were made by people
without any clear understanding of the role of security in the broader hotel quarantine program [who] had no expertise in security issues or infection prevention and control. They had no access to advice from those who had been party to the decision to use security and had limited visibility over the services being performed.
Competent institutions deal with complex problems by following several key principles. Within governments, the scope of each person’s responsibility is carefully defined and there should be meticulous attention to detail when it comes to implementing crucial decisions such as this.
The Victorian government failed abysmally on both of these measures.
It beggars belief, for example, for highly-paid public servants to tell the inquiry that decisions in the hotel quarantine program were actually not made, but instead were creeping “assumptions”.
Even more disturbing is that it might actually be true, in which case the Victorian government system is fundamentally broken. Certainly, there is nothing in the report to contradict this position. The report noted the decision to appoint private security guards was
made without proper analysis or even a clear articulation that it was being made at all. On its face, this was at odds with any normal application of the principles of the Westminster system of responsible government.
That a decision of such significance for a government program, which ultimately involved the expenditure of tens of millions of dollars and the employment of thousands of people, had neither a responsible minister nor a transparent rationale for why that course was adopted, plainly does not seem to accord with those principles.
Why was the program allowed to continue?
If such errors or negligence happened in other government programs, the problem might be fixed by throwing more taxpayer money at it.
COVID was different. It was not a rail overpass or cultural event. It was a public health issue, which could only be managed through intelligent design and thorough implementation.
Of course, Victoria is now COVID-free, and the Andrews government will point to this as evidence of the success of its response.
The realty is different. Effectively barricading millions of residents at home for three months was a sure-fire way to suppress the virus. But the fact Victoria alone was the only jurisdiction in Australia that had to resort to this extreme measure is the reference point against which the actions of the Victorian government should be evaluated.
This decision to continue with a failed system is arguably far more ethically and legally problematic than how the program was set up in the first place, especially since this was an unprecedented health threat.
The Victorian government’s failure to speedily unwind the security guard quarantine program is the legal equivalent of not repairing a crater-sized hole on a busy road for many weeks: utterly reprehensible.
A shrewd move to minimise political fallout
Perhaps that most important message to emerge from the inquiry is that Andrews is the shrewdest politician in Australia.
In the midst of one of longest and harshest lockdowns on the planet, his decision to launch the inquiry allowed him to deflect any questions regarding his responsibility for the second wave.
The timing of the report — well after the second wave has passed — has also lessened any political damage his government is likely to experience from the failures of the program.
The disappointment and anger that many Victorians were experiencing at the height of the lockdown is now a distant memory as people are focusing on their Christmas plans in a COVID-free environment.
Against this context, the criticisms in the report are unlikely to get much traction. Rather, they will likely just become background noise as attention focuses on the new outbreak in NSW — and who is to blame for this latest quarantine failure.
The Victorian government plans a pilot scheme for up to five days sick and carer’s pay, at the national minimum wage, for casuals or insecure workers in priority industries.
Even though the initiative is at a very early stage, with $5 million in Tuesday’s state budget for consultation on the pilot’s design, the federal government immediately attacked the move.
Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter said it “raises a number of major issues”.
Once underway, the pilot would run two years in selected sectors with high casualisation. It could include cleaners, hospitality staff, security guards, supermarket workers and aged care workers.
“The pilot will roll out in two phases over two years with the occupations eligible for each phase to be finalised after a consultation process that will include workers, industry and unions,” a statement from Premier Daniel Andrews’ office said.
Casual and insecure workers in eligible sectors would be invited to pre-register for the scheme.
While the pilot would be government-funded, any future full scheme would involve a levy on business.
Andrews said: “When people have nothing to fall back on, they make a choice between the safety of their workmates and feeding their family.
“This isn’t going to solve the problem of insecure work overnight but someone has to put their hand up and say we’re going to take this out of the too hard basket and do something about it.”
But Porter said a fully-running scheme would put “a massive tax on Victorian businesses”, which would be paying both the extra loading casuals receive and the levy.
“After Victorian businesses have been through their hardest year in the last century, why on earth would you be starting a policy that promises to finish with another big tax on business at precisely the time they can least afford any more economic hits?”
Porter said it would be better to strengthen the ability of workers to choose to move from casual to permanent full or part-time employment if they wished.
He said this was what had been discussed in the recent federally-run industrial relations working group process involving government and employee and employer representatives.
“It must surely be a better approach to let people have greater choice between casual and permanent employment than forcing businesses to pay a tax so that someone can be both a casual employee and get more wages as compensation for not getting sick leave – but then also tax the business to pay for getting sick leave as well.”
Porter claimed the Victorian approach would be “a business and employment-killing” one.
In the pandemic the federal government has made available a special payment for workers who test COVID-positive or are forced to isolate and don’t have access to paid leave. The Victorian government has provided a payment for those waiting for the result of a COVID test.
The Morrison government will introduce an omnibus industrial relations reform bill before the end of the parliamentary ar, following its consultation process.
A central objective will be to streamline enterprise bargaining. Scott Morrison told the Business Council of Australia last week: “Agreement making is becoming bogged down in detailed, overly prescriptive procedural requirements that make the process just too difficult to undertake”.
He said various issues needed addressing. “The test for approval of agreements should focus on substance rather than technicalities. Agreements should be assessed on actual foreseeable circumstances, not far fetched hypotheticals.” Assessments by the Fair Work Commission should happen within set time frames where there was agreement from the parties.
Morrison said key protections such as the better off overall test would continue but “our goal is to ensure it will be applied in a practical and sensible way so that the approval process does not discourage bargaining, which is what is happening now”.
With all states called by US media, Joe Biden won the Electoral College by 306 votes to 232 over Donald Trump, an exact reversal of Trump’s triumph in 2016, ignoring faithless electors. Biden gained the Trump 2016 states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia; he also gained Nebraska’s second district.
While Biden’s win appears decisive, he won three states – Wisconsin (ten Electoral Votes), Arizona (11) and Georgia (16) – by 0.6% or less. Had Trump won these three states, the Electoral College would have been tied at 269-269.
If nobody wins a majority (270) of the Electoral College, the presidency is decided by the House of Representatives, but with each state’s delegation casting one vote. Republicans hold a majority of state delegations, so Trump would have won a tied Electoral College vote.
Wisconsin (Biden by 0.6%) will be the “tipping-point” state. Had Trump won Wisconsin and states Biden won by less (Arizona and Georgia went to Biden by 0.3% margins), he would have won the Electoral College tiebreaker.
The national popular vote has Biden currently leading Trump by 50.9% to 47.3%, a 3.6% margin for Biden. This does not yet include mail ballots from New York that are expected to be very pro-Biden.
Biden is likely to win the popular vote by 4-5%, so the difference between Wisconsin and the overall popular vote will be 3.5% to 4.5%. That is greater than the 2.9% gap between the tipping-point state and the popular vote in 2016.
Prior to 2016, there had not been such a large gap, but in both 2016 and 2020 Trump exploited the relatively large population of non-University educated whites in presidential swing states compared to nationally.
This article, written after the US 2016 election, has had a massive surge in views recently.
Relative to expectations, Democrats performed badly in Congress. In the Senate, Republicans lead by 50-48 with two Georgian runoffs pending on January 5. In the House, Democrats hold a 218-203 lead with 14 races uncalled. Republicans have gained a net seven seats so far, and lead in ten of the uncalled races.
Before the election, Democrats were expected to win the Senate and extend their House majority. The House would be worse for Democrats if not for a judicial redistribution in North Carolina that gave Democrats two extra safe seats.
US polls understated Trump again
New York Times analyst Nate Cohn has an article on the polls. Biden was expected to greatly improve on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance with non-University educated whites and seniors, but the results indicate that Trump held up much better with these demographics than expected.
Trump also had large swings in his favour in heavily Latino counties such as Miami Dade, Florida; polls suggested a more modest improvement for Trump with Latinos.
After the 2016 election, most polls started weighting by educational attainment, but this did not fix the problem. Cohn has some theories of what went wrong. First, Republican turnout appears to have been stronger than expected. Second, Trump’s attacks on the mainstream media may have convinced some of his supporters to not respond to polls.
A third theory is that coronavirus biased the polls’ samples, because people who followed medical advice and stayed home were more likely to respond to pollsters and more likely to be Democrats. Polls had suggested Biden would win Wisconsin, a coronavirus hotspot, easily, but he only won by 0.6%.
While US polls understated Trump in both 2016 and 2020, it is not true that international polling tends to understate the right. At the October 17 New Zealand election, polls greatly understated Labour’s lead over National. Polls also understated UK Labour at the 2017 election.
Victorian Labor surges after end of lockdown
In a privately conducted Victorian YouGov poll reported by The Herald Sun, Labor led by 55-45 from primary votes of 44% Labor, 40% Coalition and 11% Greens. Premier Daniel Andrews had a strong 65-32 approval rating, while Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien had a terrible 53-26 disapproval rating. The poll was conducted from late October to early November from a sample of 1,240. Figures from The Poll Bludger.
A Victorian Morgan SMS poll, conducted November 9-10 from a sample of 818, gave Labor a 58.5-41.5 lead, a seven-point gain for Labor since the mid-October Morgan poll. Primary votes were 45% Labor (up five), 34.5% Coalition (down 5.5) and 11% Greens (up two). In a forced choice, Andrews had a 71-29 approval rating, up from 59-41 in mid-October. Morgan’s SMS polls have been unreliable in the past.
Labor wins Queensland election with 52 of 93 seats
At the October 31 Queensland election, Labor won 52 of the 93 seats (up four since 2017), the LNP 34 (down five), Katter’s Australian Party three (steady), the Greens two (up one), One Nation one (steady) and one independent (steady). Labor has an 11-seat majority.
Primary votes were 39.6% Labor (up 4.1%), 35.9% LNP (up 2.2%), 9.5% Greens (down 0.5%), 7.1% One Nation (down 6.6%) and 2.5% Katter’s Australian Party (up 0.2%). It is likely Labor won at least 53% of the two party preferred vote. The final Newspoll gave Labor a 51.5-48.5 lead – another example of understating the left.
Labor gained five seats from the LNP, but lost Jackie Trad’s seat of South Brisbane to the Greens. Two of Labor’s gains were very close and went to recounts, with Labor winning Bundaberg by nine votes and Nicklin by 85 votes.
Federal Newspoll: 51-49 to Coalition
In last week’s federal Newspoll, conducted November 4-7 from a sample of 1,510, the Coalition had a 51-49 lead, a one point gain for Labor since the mid-October Newspoll. Primary votes were 43% Coalition (down one), 35% Labor (up one), 11% Greens (steady) and 3% One Nation (steady). Figures from The Poll Bludger.
Scott Morrison is still very popular, with 64% satisfied with his performance (down one) and 32% dissatisfied (up one), for a net approval of +32. Anthony Albanese’s net approval jumped eight points to +4, but he continued to trail Morrison as better PM by 58-29 (57-28 previously).
A YouGov poll in former Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon’s seat of Hunter had a 50-50 tie; this would be a three-point swing to the Nationals from the 2019 election. Primary votes were 34% Labor, 26% National, 12% One Nation, 10% Shooters and 8% Greens.
In an election victory driven by her management of COVID, the dire second wave in Victoria likely helped Annastacia Pałaszczuk. Defending her tough border policy and her message about keeping Queenslanders safe, she had a real life example to illustrate what happens when the virus gets away.
Her win reinforced the accepted wisdom that this crisis favours incumbents – provided people think they are doing the right thing.
The Queensland outcome might at one level be galling for the federal government – which has been sniping at Pałaszczuk’s border policy for months – but at another it is also reassuring for Scott Morrison, who has so far managed the pandemic response well.
That said, Morrison has a rockier road to navigate to his election. The federal poll is a year and a half away, and (assuming the virus now stays under control) the challenge for him is economic, which will be complicated as he juggles withdrawing the current massive fiscal support without any disaster.
While some details of the Queensland result are yet to be finalised, Pałaszczuk is set for an increased majority, with Labor securing a swing towards it. For a government seeking a third term, and one which had been – pre-COVID – under criticism for its performance, this is a remarkable achievement.
Despite some pre-election speculation, and the plight of the tourist industry, Labor’s seats in the north of the state did not collapse.
The difficulties of the Queensland economy and its high unemployment did not translate into electoral damage for the government.
And nearly a week’s campaigning by the prime minister produced not the slightest sign of a Morrison “miracle” for the Liberal National Party. On the other side, the absence of Anthony Albanese could have been a bonus for Labor.
The Pałaszczuk government was helped by its opposition, with recent fighting between the LNP organisation and the parliamentary party. On the main issue of this COVID election, LNP leader Deb Frecklington could only say she too would follow the health advice. She may not have not been believed, given the attacks on the closed border coming from the conservative side.
Apart from the result, the big story of Saturday was the collapse of the One Nation vote. What was left of that vote favoured Labor via preferences, probably reflecting older voters’ COVID fears.
Pauline Hanson was low profile during the election; whether she can gear up her party when the federal contest comes remains to be seen. It’s clear how “all about Pauline” is Pauline Hanson’s One Nation – if she’s not going flat out, there’s nothing much there.
Just as the Victorian wave played into Pałaszczuk’s story line, so did the federal pressure on the premier. The smaller (in population) states are parochial: Palaszczuk benefitted by being seen pushing back against the “open up” brigade.
The benefit was in net terms – she lost skin when some hardline decisions hurt interstate families who needed health care or who wanted to visit sick relatives or to attend funerals.
Apart from the warm glow of a fraternal success, the Queensland result doesn’t bring a lot that’s positive for federal Labor.
For it, the message about incumbency is not encouraging.
The ALP also knows Queenslanders are quite comfortable with federal and state governments being of different stripes. The voters can judge who’s who, and just because they trust Pałaszczuk Labor doesn’t mean they are more likely to embrace Albanese Labor.
Morrison goes down well in Queensland when he’s campaigning for his own government.
Federal Labor must work out its detailed positions on key policies – climate, energy and resources – and more effectively sell its leader, before its fortunes can improve in that state.
Both will be difficult. Attempts to paper over the internal differences on climate and energy won’t cut it, but forging genuine agreement is a struggle.
Albanese is up against it when the times are suiting Morrison.
Post Saturday’s result, the premier has indicated Queensland’s border ban on people from greater Sydney and Victoria won’t be reviewed for another month. That would still leave time for Christmas reunions, but it could be a tight-run thing.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Sunday: “we’re now, I think, in a position where we would like to see New South Wales and Queensland be able as soon as possible to have free movement between the jurisdictions. And once everybody is comfortable that Victoria does have its contact tracing to gold standard levels, then I think we’ll see a single national bubble in due course.”
With Victoria on Sunday recording zero new cases and community transmission in Australia virtually stamped out, Australia is at this moment in an extraordinarily good place on the health front.
But with COVID rampaging again in Britain and many other countries, and the memory of the Victorian experience fresh, there can be no complacency.
Update: In an about-face, Frecklington says she won’t seek to stay leader
Deb Frecklington announced on Monday she will not seek to remain as LNP leader – after on Saturday night declaring firmly “I will continue as the leader”.
Her Saturday statement surprised observers, coming not only after a devastating loss but against the background of an automatic spill of leadership positions post-election, when she would have faced a challenge.
Asked what had changed her mind, she said probably her husband and daughters. While “my first instinct is always to fight on”, she’d had a great day with her family on Sunday and reflected on her future. “Family is really important to me,” she said.
This week’s Newspoll, conducted October 8–10 from a sample of 1,527 voters, gave the Coalition a 52–48% lead over Labor in the two-party preferred question, a one-point gain for the Coalition since the previous Newspoll three weeks ago.
Primary votes were 44% Coalition (up one), 34% Labor (steady), 11% Greens (down one) and 3% One Nation (steady).
Prime Minister Scott Morrison remained very popular: 65% were satisfied with his performance and 31% were dissatisfied, for a net approval of +34. These figures are unchanged from the last poll.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese’s net approval slid three percentage points to -4. His net approval is down six points since late August. Morrison led as better PM by 57-28% (compared to 59-27% three weeks ago).
Newspoll asks three questions after each budget: whether the budget was good or bad for the economy, whether it was good or bad for you personally, and whether the opposition would have delivered a better budget.
On the economy, 42% said the budget was good and 20% bad. When it came to people’s personal fortunes, 26% said they would be better off after the budget, compared to 23% who said worse off. By 49-33%, respondents said Labor would not have delivered a better budget.
Analyst Kevin Bonham tweeted a graph showing this budget performed well compared to historical budgets. The 16-point deficit for the question of whether Labor would have delivered a better budget is the worst for an opposition since 2009.
The one-point gain for the Coalition on people’s voting intentions is also consistent with a well-received budget.
Australian state polls: Victoria and WA
A Victorian Morgan SMS poll, conducted September 29-30 from a sample of 2,220 voters, gave Labor a 51.5-48.5% lead over the Coalition, unchanged from mid-September.
Primary votes were 39% Labor (up two), 39.5% Coalition (up one) and 10% Greens (down two). Morgan’s SMS polls have been unreliable in the past.
In a forced choice, Premier Daniel Andrews had a 61-39% approval rating, down from 70-30% in early September.
Three weeks ago, Newspoll gave Andrews a 62-35% approval rating (compared to 57-37% in late July).
An Utting Research poll of five Western Australian marginal seats showed an average swing to Labor of 16%. In Liberal leader Liza Harvey’s Scarborough seat, the result was 66-34% to Labor.
Labor had a big victory at the March 2017 state election, and this poll suggests a Liberal wipe-out at the next election, due in March 2021.
Biden’s national lead over Trump exceeds ten points
In the FiveThirtyEight national poll aggregate, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden now leads President Donald Trump by 10.4% (52.2–41.9%). It’s somewhat closer in the key swing states, with Biden leading by 8.0% in Michigan, 7.3% in Pennsylvania, 7.2% in Wisconsin, 4.5% in Florida and 3.9% in Arizona.
Since my article about Trump’s coronavirus infection and the first presidential debate, Biden’s national lead has increased by 1.4%.
With Pennsylvania and Wisconsin now polling very closely, both can be seen as “tipping point” states. Previously, Pennsylvania had been better for Trump than Wisconsin.
The gap in Trump’s favour between the national vote and the tipping-point states of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania has increased from 2.4% to 3.2%. If Trump were within five points nationally, this election would be highly competitive. But this difference isn’t going to matter with Biden up ten points nationally.
CNN analyst Harry Enten says Biden is polling better than any challenger against an incumbent president since 1936, when scientific polling started.
US polls include undecided voters, so it is hard for candidates to reach 50%. In 2016, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton never reached that mark in polls, and Trump was able to win far more of the late deciders.
The FiveThirtyEight forecast gives Trump a 14% chance to win, down from 17% last week. Trump has just a 6% chance to win the popular vote.
The Senate forecast gives Democrats a 72% chance to win the Senate, up from 70% last Wednesday. The most likely Senate outcome is still a narrow 51-49 Democratic majority.
We have long been accustomed in Australia to the Commonwealth’s pre-eminence over the states and prime ministers dwarfing premiers. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has given us a practical reminder of the extensive day-to-day powers that still sit with state governments in our federation. Premiers can have an influence and prominence that transcends their own jurisdictions.
In a situation he no doubt would prefer to have forgone, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has loomed large over the national landscape since a second wave of the pandemic gripped his state in July. One indicator of how many eyes have been glued on the premier: a database of Australian media outlets shows there have been almost as many mentions of him as of Prime Minister Scott Morrison over the past three months. Andrews has had nearly as many hits as all the other state leaders combined.
Elected in November 2014, Andrews is Australia’s longest-serving head of government. The next closest is Queensland’s Annastacia Palaszczuk, who has been premier since February 2015.
Two things stand out about Andrews’ pathway to office. First, it exhibits the hallmarks of a quintessential Labor apparatchik. Second is its rapidity.
Following graduation from Monash University where he majored in politics, Andrews became an electorate officer and factional enforcer for federal Labor MP Alan Griffin, before stints as an organiser and then assistant state secretary for the Victorian ALP. In November 2002, aged 30, he won a seat in the Legislative Assembly. He was immediately appointed as a parliamentary secretary in the second Steve Bracks-led Labor government.
Four years later, Andrews was promoted to the ministry and, after the ALP lost office in November 2010, he was elected opposition leader. By age 42, he was premier of Victoria.
One of the perversities of the modern party apparatchik scheming their way into parliamentary office from a tender age is that, once there, they commonly lack the wherewithal to meaningfully exercise power. They resemble a dog that chases and catches the truck. It is as if they have spent too much time obsessing about the object of their ambition at the expense of bothering to understand its purpose.
Andrews is different. Early this year, I attended the memorial service for the former Labor premier John Cain, who presided over a period of watershed reform in Victoria in the 1980s. A story Andrews chose to tell about Cain said as much about him as it did about the late premier. He recalled that Cain rang him on the eve of the November 2014 state election with Andrews poised to win government. An emotional Cain impressed on Andrews the opportunities of office and implored him not to waste a day of power.
If his own instincts to leave an imprint on the state and Cain’s urgings weren’t enough, Andrews had another reason to be an activist premier. The Liberal-National government Labor defeated in 2014 had mostly seemed becalmed during its single term in office, exacerbating the state’s infrastructure shortfall and squandering the goodwill of an impatient, fast-growing Victorian community.
It was a very different scenario from the last time Labor had won power from opposition in 1999, when Steve Bracks surprisingly triumphed over Jeff Kennett. Then, the imperative had been for a period of healing and consensus following Kennett’s steamroller leadership. The amiable and cautious Bracks was perfectly attuned to that need, but some problems were put in the too-hard basket. Eventually, time ran out for Bracks’ successor, John Brumby, not least because of discontent with Melbourne’s overstretched public transport system.
Andrews, by contrast, styled himself as an assertive premier from the moment he took office. This was exemplified by an ambitious infrastructure building agenda: signature policies were a major program of level-crossing removals and the Metro tunnel rail project.
Andrews the earnest reformer coexists with a powerful streak of the political hard man. He demonstrated a willingness to barge through controversies unapologetically (whether cancelling the contract for the East West Link project, the prolonged dispute over reforming the Country Fire Authority, or revelations about Labor’s deployment of taxpayer-funded electoral staff in its 2014 election campaign — the so-called “red shirts” affair).
Similarly, Andrews seemed to derive satisfaction and affirmation in provoking critics. He thumbed his nose at Melbourne’s top-rating commercial talkback radio host, Neil Mitchell, and appeared unfazed at earning the enmity of the state’s News Corp tabloid, the Herald Sun.
Enter the ‘Danslide’
The formula worked. Despite vociferous attacks by the Herald Sun but aided by a tin-ear law-and-order campaign by the Liberal opposition, which jarred in a community defined by complexity and diversity, the Andrews government was triumphantly returned in November 2018. The victory was so comprehensive that it was dubbed the “Danslide”.
Former Liberal prime minister John Howard sought to console devastated Victorian Liberals by christening the state the “Massachusetts of Australia”. Yet in a review of the election for the Victorian Liberal Party, Howard’s former principal adviser, Tony Nutt, acknowledged the effectiveness of Andrews’ leadership over the previous four years. In private circles, Liberals conceded he was one of the most formidable politicians of the generation.
When Andrews so emphatically won a second term, I wrote that a potential danger was that, emboldened, he might grow too domineering.
That, of course, was long before the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically impacted the political landscape. Early in the crisis, Andrews’ decisive style appeared ideally equipped for the challenge. As head of one of the senior states, he had an influential presence in Morrison’s specially formed national cabinet.
In common with his fellow leaders, Andrews’ management of the first wave of the virus won strong public endorsement. In late April, Newspoll recorded him enjoying an approval rating of 75%, with 85% of respondents believing he had handled the pandemic well.
Then came the botched hotel quarantine program, the unleashing of a second wave of the virus and the imposition of strict restrictions on Victorians in early July. For Andrews, who has prided himself on his control of his government and mastery of detail, it has no doubt been a humbling experience.
He has responded in perhaps the only way he knows how: by asserting still tighter hold over his government and upping an already onerous workload. Day in and day out for the past three months, he has fronted a media conference to announce the latest COVID numbers, exhausting the questions of a frequently hostile journalist pack.
Any semblance of bipartisanship over the management of the virus disintegrated. The state opposition and Morrison government ministers have roundly condemned Andrews.
Predictably, the News Corp press has been especially strident. They resent what they regard as Andrews’ ideological adventurism and also seem actuated by revenge for the 2018 election result.
The legitimate criticisms that can be made of his government for its defective co-ordination, lack of accountability and occasionally tactless overreach have been overshadowed in their pages by hyperbolic columns depicting Victoria as a kind of failed state in which “Dictator Dan” tramples civil liberties. One wonders how many of these columnists have actually walked the streets of Melbourne during the lockdown: the public hardly gives the impression of being cowered under the jackboot of a police state.
Last week, through gritted teeth, The Australian reported the results of a Newspoll that indicated support for Andrews was holding up in Victoria. His approval rating was 62%. Two-thirds of those surveyed believed his government was doing well in handling COVID-19.
What this suggests is that the shrillest voices of criticism are not representative of public opinion at large. The public stoically accepts the restrictions and also has a sense of proportion about what has happened in Victoria when compared to the severity of the crisis in many other countries.
Even as the second wave of the virus is contained, the challenges for Andrews are many. Like his counterparts federally and in the other states, the premier’s destiny will likely be determined by how dire the economic reckoning is and how effectively his government handles the task of recovery.
Andrews may also need to moderate his leadership approach. Crises have a habit of leaving a legacy of centralised authority in governments — think of Kevin Rudd’s federal Labor government and the GFC — but monopolising too much power is ultimately neither sustainable nor wise for any leader. Unless tempered, his ruthlessness, most recently displayed by publicly cutting adrift Health Minister Jenny Mikakos, risks eventually seeding an internal revolt.
There are some predictions a wounded Andrews, emulating what Bracks did in 2007, will resign the premiership before the next state election. I’m unpersuaded. There are amends to be made and to walk away now would be tantamount to conceding to his detractors.
Besides, relinquishing power would go against the grain.
Daniel Andrews’ Sunday announcement of some modest steps out of lockdown will bring both relief and reassurance to many Victorians, but frustration to those who think he should move faster.
Certainly the Morrison government wants the state to take bigger strides.
As the federal government finalises next week’s budget, with a deficit for this financial year of a magnitude none of us have seen before and large red numbers into the future, Morrison, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Health Minister Greg Hunt applied the blow torch to the premier.
“It will be important that more be done in the weeks ahead to safely ease more restrictions,” they said in a joint statement.
“We note that at similar case levels NSW was fundamentally open while remaining Covidsafe due to a world class contact tracing facility.
“As many epidemiologists have encouraged, we would support Victoria in reviewing the trigger of five and zero cases with regards to the third and last steps.
“As it stands this lockdown is already longer than that faced by residents in many cities around the world. We remain deeply concerned about the mental health impacts of a prolonged lock down on Melbourne residents,” they said.
Andrews has responded to a more rapid than expected fall in new cases, and says he will now be driven by numbers rather than dates.
But there is every indication he will continue to be risk averse, after the disaster of the second wave, and on the evidence of last week’s Newspoll, he has public support for that approach. Some 62% of Victorians thought he was handling COVID-19 well.
Andrews has become a highly polarising figure in the pandemic and that’s only likely to increase after his and other evidence to the inquiry into hotel quarantine, followed by Saturday’s resignation of Health Minister Jenny Mikakos.
In contrast to his demeanour at his news conferences, when appearing before the inquiry on Friday, Andrews seemed to be barely containing his anger.
He, like a conga line of witnesses, couldn’t say who had decided to use private security guards to supervise the quarantine.
But he made it clear he held Mikakos responsible for the program.
She, however, thought responsibility spread more widely and indicated her resignation was triggered by Andrews throwing her under the bus.
It continues to be unfathomable to most observers that no one – whether minister, bureaucrat or anyone else – can answer the fundamental but on the face of it simple question: who made the decision about the private security guards?
But Kristen Rundle, from Melbourne University’s Law School, is not so surprised, given the often opaque accountability situations created by contracting out, increasingly a default practice of governments around the country.
She writes in a policy brief titled Reassessing Contracting-Out published last week, that “we need to look beyond standard mechanisms of political accountability in order to address the structural problems posed by contracting-out high-stakes government functions.
“Specifically, we need to analyse more deeply the appropriateness of contracting-out in cases that carry serious consequences for public safety and security, and develop frameworks to achieve better decision-making on when, and whether, to contract out complex government functions.
“The failures in this case underscore that choices about who delivers such government functions, and how, matter to those directly affected by them.”
Clearly the Victorian disaster had three root causes: the bad quarantine arrangements, the failure of Victorian contact tracing and the vulnerability of aged care.
The first two can be completely sheeted home to the Victorian government; aged care is a federal government responsibility, although the state government is responsible for the public health aspects.
Andrews’ supporters aren’t too preoccupied with the state government’s mistakes. They believe he has put health first (despite the death toll, which has been overwhelmingly in aged care). They have been impressed by his willingness to front up day after day to those extended news conferences. They see that as a sign of accountability.
The premier’s critics look at the news conferences in a totally different way. Andrews’ physical presence is not a mark of accountability, they argue, because he pushes aside vital questions (often repeated again and again), saying they must wait for the inquiry’s findings.
Many of Andrews’ strongest critics are those who believe the economy and people’s livelihoods have not received sufficient consideration generally in the pandemic. They are outraged at the economic costs of Victoria’s second wave, and at the slowness of the reopening.
The divisions have an ideological element between the priorities of the left and the right during the crisis.
Mikakos’ quitting has renewed the calls from those who say it is the premier who should go.
There doesn’t seem a lot of common sense in this. Andrews has said he accepts ultimate responsibility for what’s happened. So he should – what’s occurred in Victoria has been appalling.
But would his going actually do any good? Would a replacement perform any better? Would a change of leader amount to anything more than a notch on the critics’ belts?
While Andrews remains the best person for the current job, the pandemic has revealed serious inadequacies in his government, and thus in his leadership, and in parts of the state’s administration.