The resignation of Luke Foley as Labor opposition leader in New South Wales is a disaster for the party as it faces a March 23 general election – but it isn’t necessarily great news for the ailing Berejiklian government either.
To form a judgement about the impact of Foley’s resignation on Labor’s electoral chances, just take a look at the state of play about a month ago.
First, we need to look at how the government and opposition were travelling before Corrections Minister David Elliott accused Foley of sexual misconduct under parliamentary privilege on October 18, effectively setting off Labor’s leadership crisis.
Virtually all media attention was on the performance of the Berejiklian government and on the premier herself. Foley was little known and little regarded. However, he was steering the ship with some skill, albeit with occasional problems.
It says a great deal about the low political esteem in which the government was held that, even without a popular opposition leader, the Coalition was seen to be in electoral difficulty. Not that a wager on a Labor victory would have been a safe bet back then, either. Still, the Coalition was likely to lose seats and quite likely to lose majority status in parliament at the upcoming elections.
Nothing has changed on that side of politics. Berejiklian still faces discontent about her hasty policy decisions and frequent backtracking; uncompleted grand projects like the new tram network and WestConnex remain problems rather than achievements.
Add to that the difficulties over electoral support for the Coalition – especially for the National Party in regional New South Wales, and there is a flow-on from the disastrous performance of both Coalition parties at the federal level.
The unhappy picture only gets worse with the prospect of factional warfare in the Liberal Party as conservatives, led by Tony Abbott, attempt to take control of pre-selections and the state party machinery in the next few months.
Maybe the present crisis in the Labor Party will also have a negative effect on the Coalition, since David Elliott’s intervention smacks of the worst kind of “bear pit” politics that brings party politics into disrepute.
A mea culpa from Foley might have helped
Still, the Foley resignation is a disaster for the prospects of the Labor Party. Perhaps a quick transfer of power to a new leader, and apologies all round, might have left the party with a chance of winning the election. But Foley’s stated determination to fight the accusation with defamation proceedings makes the situation worse.
Foley can hope to remedy his plight only if he can prove that the allegations against him are false. As the likely new leader of the party, deputy leader Michael Daley, has pointed out, it is not politically (or ethically) acceptable for a political leader to blame his alleged victim.
Daley is also the shadow planning minister, and served as a former roads and police minister before Labor lost government. After Foley stood down, Daley quickly emerged as the most likely successor.
He was Foley’s main rival in the wake of the resignation of former Labor leader John Robertson in 2014.
Foley’s likely successor urges Foley to leave parliament
Presuming that Daley is the new leader, he will have little time to assert his authority and impress the electorate. He has ministerial experience, but that was in the disastrous last Labor administration, which was thrown out of office for the corruption that resulted in two of his ministerial colleagues going to prison.
His reputation in the party is of experience and competence, but he can expect to be reminded of his friends and colleagues, Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald. That is a lot of baggage to carry.
This week’s Newspoll, conducted September 20-23 from a sample of 1,680, gave Labor a 54-46 lead, a two-point gain for the Coalition since last fortnight. Primary votes were 39% Labor (down three), 36% Coalition (up two), 10% Greens (steady) and 6% One Nation (steady).
This is the Coalition’s 41st successive Newspoll loss. In Malcolm Turnbull’s last four Newspolls as PM, the Coalition trailed Labor by just 51-49. In Scott Morrison’s first three as PM, Labor has had two 56-44 leads followed by a 54-46 lead. This Newspoll contrasts with last week’s Ipsos, which gave Labor just 31% of the primary vote and the Greens 15%.
44% were satisfied with Morrison (up three) and 39% were dissatisfied (steady), for a net approval of +5. After rising ten points last fortnight, Bill Shorten’s net approval slumped eight points this week to -22. Morrison led Shorten as better PM by 45-32 (43-37 last fortnight). Morrison also led Shorten by 46-31 on who is the more “authentic” leader.
Morrison is currently benefiting from a personal ratings “honeymoon” effect, while Shorten’s honeymoon is long over. However, Morrison’s ratings are far worse than for Turnbull’s first two Newspolls as PM, with Turnbull’s net approval at +18 then +25, compared with Morrison’s +2 and +5. Honeymoon polling is not predictive of the PM’s long-term ratings.
On September 5, the ABS reported that the Australian economy grew by 0.9% in the June quarter for a 3.4% annual growth rate in the year to June. On September 13, the ABS reported that 44,000 jobs were created in August in seasonally-adjusted terms, with the unemployment rate remaining at 5.3%.
Greg Jericho wrote in The Guardian that these figures are very good for the government. The narrowing of Labor’s lead to 51-49 in Turnbull’s last four Newspolls as PM probably reflected good economic news as well as a period where the Coalition was relatively unified.
Given Morrison’s relatively good personal ratings and the economy, the Coalition is performing far worse than would be expected on voting intentions. In the US, Donald Trump’s ratings are far worse than they should be given the strength of the US economy. Perhaps being very right-wing is not a vote winner.
This week’s Essential poll, conducted September 20-23 from a sample of 1,030, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since last fortnight. Primary votes were 37% Coalition (up one), 36% Labor (down one) 12% Greens (up two) and 5% One Nation (down three).
Essential is using 2016 election preferences for its two party estimates, while Newspoll assigns One Nation preferences about 60-40 to the Coalition. Essential has probably been rounded down to 53% to Labor this week, while Newspoll has been rounded up to 54%.
70% in Essential had at least some trust in the federal police, 67% in the state police, 61% in the High Court and 54% in the ABC. At the bottom, 28% had at least some trust in federal parliament and in religious organisations, 25% in trade unions and just 15% in political parties. Since October 2017, trust in local councils is up four points, but trust in political parties is down three.
By 61-21, voters would support the Liberals adopting quotas to increase the number of Liberal women in parliament. By 37-26, voters would support a new law enshrining religious freedoms, but most people would currently have no idea what this debate is about.
45% thought corruption was widespread in politics, with 36% saying the same about the banking and finance sector, 29% about unions and 25% about large corporations. The establishment of an independent federal corruption body was supported by an overwhelming 82-5.
By 78-14, voters agreed that there should be laws requiring equal pay for men and women in the same position. However, voters also agreed 47-44 that gender equality has come far enough already.
53% approve of constitutional amendment to separate government and religion
The NSW Rationalists commissioned YouGov Galaxy, which also does Newspoll, for a poll question about separation of government and religion. The survey was conducted from August 30 to September 3 from a national sample of 1,027.
The question asked was, “Australia has no formal recognition of separation of government and religion. Would you approve or disapprove of a constitutional amendment to formally separate government and religion?”
53% approved of such an amendment, just 14% disapproved and 32% were unsure. Morrison advocates new laws to protect religious freedom, but this poll question does not suggest there is any yearning within Australia for more religion. The same-sex marriage plebiscite, in which Yes to SSM won by 61.6% to 38.4%, was a huge defeat for social conservatism.
The Wentworth byelection will be held on October 20. On September 21, high-profile independent candidate Kerryn Phelps announced that she would recommend preferences to the Liberals. Just five days earlier, Phelps had said voters should put the Liberals last.
Until her preference decision, Phelps had appeared to be a left-wing independent candidate, but Wentworth is unlikely to be won from the left. This decision will cost Phelps left-wing support; the question is whether she wins over enough right-wing voters who dislike the Liberals or the Liberal candidate, Dave Sharma, to compensate for the loss of left-wing voters.
By backflipping on the “put the Liberals last” message, Phelps has made an issue of her preferences that may dog her for the rest of the campaign.
Phelps’ preferences will not be distributed if she finishes first or second, and Labor preferences will still assist her against the Liberals. If primary votes have Sharma well ahead, and Labor and Phelps in a close race for second, Phelps is now more likely to be excluded owing to Greens preferences. If the final two are the Liberals and Labor, Phelps’ preferences will help the Liberals, relative to her previous position of putting them last.
NSW ReachTEL poll: 50-50 tie
The New South Wales election will be held in March 2019. The first state poll in six months is a ReachTEL poll for The Sun-Herald, conducted September 20 from a sample of 1,630. The Coalition and Labor were tied at 50-50 by 2015 election preference flows, a two-point gain for Labor since a March ReachTEL.
Primary votes were 35.1% Coalition (down 6.8%), 31.5% Labor (down 1.0%), 10.2% Greens (up 0.8%), 6.1% Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, 4.2% One Nation (down 0.9%), 7.0% for all Others and 5.9% undecided. If undecided voters are excluded, primary votes become 37.3% Coalition, 33.5% Labor, 10.8% Greens, 6.5% Shooters and 4.5% One Nation.
Opposition Leader Luke Foley had a very narrow 50.2-49.8 lead over incumbent Gladys Berejiklian as better premier, a 2.5% gain for Foley since March. ReachTEL’s forced choice better PM/Premier questions usually give opposition leaders better results than polls that do not use a forced choice.
It is likely that the federal leadership crisis had some impact on NSW state polling, but we do not know how much, as the last NSW state poll was in March.
As I wrote last week, independent Joe McGirr defeated the Liberals in the September 8 Wagga Wagga byelection by a 59.6-40.4 margin. The Labor vs Liberal two party vote gave Labor a narrow 50.1-49.9 win, a 13.0% swing to Labor since the 2015 election.
A NSW ReachTEL poll for Fairfax media, conducted 5 October from a sample of 1650, gave the Coalition a 52-48 lead by preference flows at the 2015 election, a 3 point gain for Labor since a Channel 7 ReachTEL poll, conducted just after Mike Baird’s resignation as Premier in January. With 8.1% undecided excluded, primary votes in this ReachTEL were 40.9% Coalition (down 1.8), 33.7% Labor (up 5.7), 9.9% Greens (up 1.5), 8.9% One Nation (down 7.4) and 2.4% Shooters, Fishers and Farmers. NSW uses optional preferential voting.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian held a 52.1-47.9 lead over opposition leader Luke Foley in ReachTEL’s forced choice better Premier question, which tends to favour opposition leaders over polls that have an undecided option.
The January poll was taken when One Nation was at its peak, both nationally and in state polls, and that poll had One Nation at a record for any NSW poll. As One Nation’s right-wing economic views have become better known, it appears that much of their working-class support has returned to Labor.
In Queensland, One Nation’s support in a recent ReachTEL was 18.1% including undecided voters. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s support for the Adani coal mine does not distinguish Labor from the LNP. If the two major parties are seen as similar, anti-establishment parties can thrive.
At the recent NZ and UK elections, the total major party vote increased substantially. I believe this increase occurred at least partly because the major NZ and UK parties had very different policies, and anti-establishment parties were denied the “this mob is the same as the other mob” line. In contrast, the major parties were in coalition before the German election, and both slumped badly, with the far-right AfD winning 12.6%.
NSW state by-elections: Nats hold seats despite big swings against
Yesterday, by-elections occurred in the NSW National-held seats of Murray and Cootamundra, and in Labor-held Blacktown; all three seats were easily won by the incumbent party at the 2015 election. The Liberals did not contest Blacktown.
In Murray, Shooters candidate Helen Dalton stood as an Independent at the 2015 state election. The Nationals won by 53.5-46.5, a 19.2 point swing to Dalton since 2015. Primary votes were 40.5% Nationals (down 15.0), 31.4% Dalton (up 13.2) and 21.0% Labor (up 4.8).
In Cootamundra, the Nationals won by 60.1-39.9 vs Labor, a 10.3 point swing to Labor. Primary votes were 46.0% Nationals (down 19.9), 24.2% Labor (down 1.8) and 23.5% Shooters, who did not stand in 2015.
With no Liberal in Blacktown, Labor romped to 68.9% of the primary vote (up 15.0). The Christian Democrats were a distant second with 17.7% and the Greens won 8.8%.
These results do not yet include postal votes, which are likely to favour the Nationals. Further pre-poll votes in Murray and Cootamundra also remain to be counted.
Galaxy poll in SA seat of Hartley: Xenophon leads Liberals 53-47, but ReachTEL has a 50-50 tie
Nick Xenophon has announced he will leave the Senate after the High Court’s ruling on whether current members are eligible has been delivered. Xenophon will contest the SA state Liberal-held seat of Hartley at the March 2018 election. A Galaxy robopoll in Hartley, from a sample of 516, had Xenophon leading the Liberals by 53-47, from primary votes of 38% Liberal, 35% Xenophon, 17% Labor, 6% Greens and 3% Conservatives.
However, a ReachTEL poll for Channel 7 had a 50-50 tie, from primary votes of 36.7% Liberal, 21.7% Xenophon and 19.7% Labor. The primary votes probably include an undecided component of a little under 10%; these people can be pushed to say who they lean to. It is likely leaners strongly favoured Xenophon, as the Liberals would lead on the primary votes provided.
The Galaxy poll is encouraging for Xenophon, but the ReachTEL poll is more sobering. Labor will target Xenophon during the campaign over votes he has taken in the Senate that have helped the Coalition pass its legislation. Currently, only those who follow politics closely are aware of these votes, but Labor’s campaign is likely to increase this awareness. Such a campaign could undermine Xenophon’s support among centre-left voters.
Essential state polling: July to September
Essential has released July to September quarterly polling for all mainland states, by month for the eastern seaboard states. In September, the Coalition led by 51-49 in NSW, unchanged on August. In Victoria, Labor led by 54-46, a 2 point gain for Labor since August. In WA, Labor led by 54-46 for July to September, a 1 point gain for the Coalition.
In Queensland, Labor led by 53-47 in September, a 2 point gain for the LNP since August. Primary votes were 35% Labor, 35% LNP, 13% One Nation and 10% Greens. By splitting One Nation and Others preferences evenly, Essential is likely to be overestimating Labor’s two party vote.
In SA, Labor led by an unchanged 52-48 in July to September. Primary votes were 37% Labor, 30% Liberal, 18% Nick Xenophon Team and 6% Greens. If these hard-to-believe primary votes are correct, Labor is far further ahead than 52-48. The NXT won 21.3% in SA at the 2016 Federal election.
Essential’s state polling was not good at any of the Victorian 2014, Queensland 2015 or NSW 2015 state elections.