Labor has won the 2017 Western Australian election in a landslide, sweeping aside the long-running Barnett government and installing Labor’s Mark McGowan as the state’s 30th premier.
The ABC is predicting Labor will win 40 seats, doubling its current number of seats held and providing it with a clear majority.
The Liberals look to have held only 14 of their 30 seats, while the Nationals appear to have held five of their seven lower house seats. Several seats technically remain in doubt.
Labor’s victory is Perth-based. Thirty-five of the 40 predicted seats it won are based in the metropolitan area. Within the three non-metropolitan regions, Labor has held Kimberley and Albany, and likely picked up only three seats – Bunbury, Collie-Preston, Murray-Wellington. All, except Kimberley, are in the state’s south-west.
State-wide, the One Nation vote in the Legislative Assembly is only 4.7%. It looks like One Nation could win two seats in the Legislative Council, one in Mining and Pastoral and the other in the south-west. This is below the results expected prior to Pauline Hanson’s disastrous trip to WA.
This was an election where the vote was driven by dislike of the sitting government, rather than attraction to the opposition.
It’s rare for a party to gain a third term in WA, and the Barnett government has been trailing in the polls for some time. In particular, as the face of his government, Premier Colin Barnett is deeply unpopular across the state.
The election day ReachTEL poll of 2,573 voters, published in The West Australian, had Labor on a two-party-preferred vote of 54% to 46%. Of those planning to vote Labor, 27.2% said their main reason was that “It’s time for a change of government”, and 16.3% said “I don’t like Colin Barnett”.
McGowan will become premier after surviving a somewhat bizarre challenge on his leadership last March by former federal Labor minster Stephen Smith.
McGowan, who has been opposition leader since 2012, has patiently plugged away at the government.
In the strained economic circumstances in which WA finds itself, it is difficult to run a campaign full of expensive promises. The most high-profile of Labor’s policies was its declaration that it would not sell Western Power, which the government hoped to use to reduce state debt by around A$8 billion.
Labor also campaigned heavily on public transport, which the government had failed to deliver on over its last two terms.
The Metronet rail network plan gained a place in the public imagination during the 2013 campaign. The basics of the plan survived Labor’s defeat at the last state election as it remained popular within the electorate, providing a clear alternative plan to the changing positions of the Barnett government.
Labor cleverly claimed it would fund Metronet by cancelling the Perth Freight Link, which includes the deeply unpopular Roe 8 extension, and diverting the federal funding from that project to Metronet.
The key issues in this election have tended to be economic in nature. WA’s unemployment rates, high state debt, high cost of living, and predicted budget deficits, have not instilled confidence in voters.
The outgoing premier’s last appeal to voters was “please don’t vote for a return to Dullsville” that ended with the old argument that the unions would be in control under Labor.
Given the economic uncertainty, it was a strange plea. Many voters are more concerned with being able to pay their mortgage than take advantage of the improvements to city.
Barnett’s fundamental problem is that while his government has transformed Perth over the last eight years, voters are more concerned with their own economic circumstances, and the benefits of large infrastructure projects have not resonated.
It’s a hard sell to convince people that while the significant economic downturn over the last four years is due to circumstances the government can’t control, the government can nonetheless be trusted to turn the state’s fortunes around.
Outside of Perth, Brendan Grylls appears to have saved the Nationals from oblivion.
Grylls is responsible, through the Royalties for Regions program, for differentiating the Nationals from the Liberals. While the swing against the Liberals is projected to be around 16%, the swing against the Nationals is projected to be less than 1%.
The fact the Nationals have held their ground is impressive on two fronts. The first was the threat One Nation posed outside the metro area.
The other is that the WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy spent around $2 million campaigning against Grylls’ proposal of raising the 25 cent per tonne production rental fee on iron ore to $5, which would deliver an estimated $7.2 billion over the next four years.
Grylls is the member for Pilbara, having moved from the seat of Central Wheatbelt in the 2013 election. The tax policy was high risk, particularly for Grylls himself given that much of WA’s mining happens in his seat.
While the plan seems to have worked in the agricultural parts of the state, the count will continue in the mining seats of Pilbara and Kalgoorlie, which are too close to call.
In terms of the WA election having federal implications for the Turnbull government, this really was an election determined by local issues.
During the campaign Bill Shorten visited three times, while Malcolm Turnbull made only one fleeting visit, where he failed to deliver a plan to get WA a “fair” share of the GST.
While it is generally not opportune for a national governing party to lose at state level, only internal mischief-makers would try to blame the loss on Turnbull’s leadership.
The most significant issues that will resonate across the country will be the outcome of the preference deal with One Nation, and the ability of the Nationals to differentiate themselves so convincingly from the Liberals.
With 67% of enrolled voters counted in yesterday’s Western Australian election, the ABC’s election computer was giving Labor 36 of the 59 lower house seats, to 11 Liberals and 5 Nationals. Of the seven doubtful seats, I expect the Liberals to overtake narrow current Labor leads in two seats on late counting. If that happens, Labor will win 38 seats to 21 for the Liberals and Nationals, a reversal of the 2013 result (38 Liberal/Nationals, 21 Labor).
Primary vote shares were 42.8% for Labor (up 9.7 points since the 2013 election), 31.4% for the Liberals (down a massive 15.7 points), 5.4% for the Nationals (down 0.7), 8.5% for the Greens (up 0.1), a disappointing 4.7% for One Nation and 7.2% for all Others (up 1.9). As post-election day votes are processed, I expect Labor’s share to drop slightly, and the Liberals and Greens to slightly improve.
No statewide two party result has been provided by the Electoral Commission, and this will not be known until after all other results are finalised.
At the time of One Nation’s last peak from 1998-2001, they won 9.6% at the 2001 WA election. After polling in the 12-13% range early in the campaign, One Nation’s vote slumped to 7-9% in the final polls. Polls may have overestimated One Nation as they were only standing in 35 of 59 lower house seats.
There were two reasons for One Nation’s loss of support late in the campaign. First, the preference deal with the Liberals damaged their brand: it is hard to be an anti-establishment party if you deal with an established major party. Second, One Nation’s policies received more exposure in the closing days, causing some One Nation supporters who disagreed with the party’s far right agenda to desert.
The preference deal with One Nation also had dire consequences for the Liberals. While the Liberals were behind prior to the deal, it did not appear that Labor would win a landslide before the deal was announced. The fallout from this deal will mean that the Coalition parties and One Nation, in other states and federally, will be more reluctant to trade preferences.
Barnett was deeply unpopular, WA’s economy was weak, and the unpopular Federal government was a drag. These factors made a Labor win probable, but the deal with One Nation probably exacerbated the Liberals’ losses.
This will be Labor’s first true landslide in any state or federally since 2006, when Labor had landslide wins in Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania. By “landslide”, I mean not just defeating the opposition, but thrashing them in both seat and vote terms. That Labor won a big victory in the most conservative state at Federal level will make it even sweeter for them.
Polling appears to have underestimated the Greens and Labor’s primary votes a little, and overestimated One Nation. Galaxy and Newspoll had the Liberals and Nationals about right, but ReachTEL overestimated their vote.
While 67% of enrolled voters for the lower house have been tallied, only 47% has been counted in the upper house. The WA upper house is severely malapportioned, and still uses the group voting ticket system that was abolished in the Senate.
Using the group voting tickets, the ABC is currently predicting Labor to win 15 of 36 upper house seats (up 4 since 2013), the Liberals 9 (down 8), the Nationals 4 (down 1), the Greens 3 (up 1), Shooters 2 (up 1) and One Nation, Liberal Democrats and Fluoride Free are currently predicted to win one seat each.
The ABC currently gives one seat to Daylight Saving, but Kevin Bonham spotted an error. The Daylight Saving candidate in Mining and Pastoral region is actually the Shooters candidate.
With the upper house count well behind the lower house count, these results may change. However, currently Fluoride Free is winning a seat in East Metro region on just 0.35%. A quota is 1/7 of the vote, or 14.3%.
The West Australian election will be held today. Polls close at 6pm local time (9pm Melbourne time). All three polls taken in the last week give Labor a 54-46 lead, which would represent an 11 point swing to Labor since the 2013 election. If this polling is accurate, Labor leads the combined Liberal/National total on primary votes. Here is the WA final poll table.
The last Newspoll was taken in late January. Primary votes in this Newspoll were Labor 41% (up 3), Liberals 32% (up 2), Nationals 5% (steady) One Nation 8% (down 5) and Greens 7% (down 2). 34% (up 2) were satisfied with Premier Colin Barnett’s performance, and 57% (steady) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of -23. Opposition leader Mark McGowan had a net approval of +5, down 7 points. 54% thought Labor would win, with 27% backing the Liberals.
The last ReachTEL was taken for Fairfax on 27 February. After excluding 3.5% undecided, this ReachTEL has primary votes of Labor 41.8% (up 6.6), Liberals 33.9% (down 0.7), Nationals 6.0% (down 0.8), One Nation 6.8% (down 1.7) and Greens 6.5% (down 4.2). 61% thought the Liberals should not have entered a preference deal with One Nation, with only 22% in favour.
The only Galaxy poll since the last election was published last Sunday. It had primary votes of Labor 40%, Liberals 31%, Nationals 5%, One Nation 9% and Greens 8%.
On better Premier, McGowan led Barnett 45-37 in Newspoll, 56.5-43.5 in ReachTEL and 46-33 in Galaxy.
Much of Labor’s strong primary vote is coming at the expense of the Greens. Greens preferences help Labor in two party terms, so Labor will not do as well from preferences with a low Green primary.
It appears that the preference deal between the Liberals and One Nation has damaged both parties. From a peak of 12-13%, One Nation’s vote has slumped to 7-9%. The Liberals started the campaign behind, and this deal was an attempt to win One Nation lower house preferences. It is now likely that the Liberals will lose by a greater margin than if they had avoided this deal.
There may be shy One Nation voters, but neither ReachTEL nor Newspoll use live phone interviews. ReachTEL is a robopollster, while Newspoll uses robopolling and online panel methods.
A Tasmanian EMRS poll, conducted 1-4 March from a sample of 1000, has the Liberals on 35% (down 5 since November), Labor on 29% (up 1), the Greens on 19% (up 1), Independents on 10% (down 1) and One Nation on 6%.
Kevin Bonham says that EMRS skews to the Greens and Independents and against Labor. He interprets this poll as having primaries of 37% Liberal, 33% Labor, 16% Greens and 6% One Nation. Under Tasmania’s Hare Clark system, this poll would result in a hung Parliament with the Greens holding the balance of power; Bonham thinks 11 Liberals, 10 Labor, 4 Greens the most likely result.
No approval ratings are provided, but Premier Will Hodgman has a massive 52-20 lead over Labor’s Bryan Green as better Premier. Although better Premier is skewed in favour of the incumbent, the lead should not be this huge on a poll that would result in a Labor/Greens parliamentary majority. It is likely that Green’s lack of popularity is driving this disparity.
The past four years have not been kind to Western Australia. Coming off a once-in-a-lifetime boom, the bust, which for some reason the state always forgets to anticipate, is cutting deep, and it’s proving a problem for the Barnett-led Coalition government.
Treasury’s pre-election financial projections statement has growth for the financial year dropping from 1% to 0.5%.
While the current and next financial year budgets are expected to have smaller deficits than projected, primarily due to a three-year high in iron ore prices, state debt is expected to reach A$41.1 billion in 2020. Treasury does not foresee an operating surplus in the forward estimates period.
Population growth, driven by interstate and international migration, has fallen from 4% a year in 2012 to just over 1%.
Many Western Australians are now fearful of losing their jobs while having to maintain large mortgages. This is in a climate in which the median value of a house in Perth has fallen back to 2013 levels, down 2.3% in 2016.
It’s worse in some remote parts of the state, where property prices have dropped by up to 75% over the last three years.
For those who have maintained their jobs, many are still in a worse financial position as bonuses and other financial incentives from the boom dry up. Others managing to find employment now have reduced salaries.
The public education system has increased its share of the students in each of the last five years. Part of this rise has been attributed to the downturn in the economy, as people divert money from school fees to the mortgage and other essentials. This in turn adds costs to the state budget.
During his two terms, Premier Colin Barnett has projected the image of a leader in control. Treasurers have come and gone, and most ministers have minimal presence in the media. Barnett is the face of the government, and he bares the brunt of a scared and angry population, wondering what happened to his 2009 promise of a 20-year boom with growth of 5-7% a year.
At the time of the 2013 leaders’ debate, state debt was around A$18 billion, but Barnett insisted the rate of increase would not be maintained. Instead, over the last four years, the debt has risen by around A$15 billion.
During the recent leaders’ debate on February 22, Barnett pointed to his government’s investment in schools and health, with construction of the Fiona Stanley and new Perth Children’s hospitals. The latter has yet to open and is now more than a year behind schedule.
Part of the reason for the government’s high debt levels are investments in Perth infrastructure, such as a new stadium, which will open in 2018, Elizabeth Quay and the sinking of the railway line and bus station in Northbridge.
Without funds to play with, promises are limited. Barnett is arguing that his government is a strong pair of hands for these hard times.
There are two significant issues separating the Labor and Liberal parties at this election.
The first is the privatisation of Western Power, which the government will use to pay off part of the state’s debt.
Labor leader Mark McGowan is running an old-fashioned scare campaign claiming prices will rise if the monopoly is sold. Energy prices have long been contentious in Western Australia, with the Barnett government overseeing a 67% price increase for households since 2009, admittedly off an artificially low base. McGowan is arguing the state should not sell off a revenue-generating monopoly to deal with the debt.
The second issue is public transport. The Barnett government has broken promises to deliver improved services to the outer suburbs of Perth, in places such as Ellenbrook.
The government’s key 2013 election transport promise of Max light-rail was abandoned as the state’s economic situation deteriorated.
Labor has resurrected its highly popular Metronet rail plan from the last election. Federal leader Bill Shorten is promising to help fund the plan should Labor return to government at the national level.
The costs of Metronet appear rubbery at the moment, but WA Labor is also planning to divert federal funding from the controversial Roe 8 highway.
While Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has stated the Commonwealth will not allow the diversion of funds, McGowan is pointing to the success of the Victorian Labor government in cancelling the East-West Link and using the funding for other projects.
WA is also seeing an increase in crime, some of which is linked to the so-called ice epidemic. Both parties are promising to be tough on crime. The Liberals are promising mandatory sentencing and Labor is advocating a maximum sentence of life for meth dealers.
During his blink-and-you-miss-it trip west, Turnbull disappointed Liberals with his lack of a plan to provide WA with its fair share of GST. Barnett has been campaigning on this issue for years, and the claimed A$4.7 billion annual shortfall in funds would help with the budget deficit.
There are 59 seats in the Legislative Assembly. The Liberals go into the election holding 30 seats and the Nationals seven, for a total of 37. Labor holds 21 seats. There’s one independent, former Liberal minister Rob Johnson.
In the 2015 electoral boundary redistribution, the Liberals notionally gained a seat from Labor.
To win government, Labor needs to win ten seats, with a uniform swing of around 10%.
On February 23, The West published a private poll of marginal seats funded by advocacy group, The Parenthood, again conducted by ReachTEL. The West noted a surge to Labor, with all six seats polled (Southern River, Perth, Mt Lawley, Wanneroo, Joondalup and Bicton) predicted to fall with an average TPP swing of 15%.
A swing of this magnitude would deliver a decisive Labor victory, with the party winning 41 seats.
Fairfax commissioned a ReachTEL poll published on March 3, in which Labor had a 52-48 lead on the TPP vote. The swing of 9% suggests Labor could fall one seat short in its bid to gain government.
From a purely pragmatic viewpoint, Barnett’s preference deal with One Nation is a legitimate gamble. His unpopular government is facing electoral defeat and with One Nation’s fortunes on the rise again in WA, shoring up the two party preferred vote is essential.
There are risks in the deal. The first question put to the premier by the panel at the leaders’ debate focused on how a man with integrity could engage in a “dirty preference deal”. While One Nation may have become more politically savvy, the party’s distasteful views remain and trying to suggest the party reflects mainstream opinion is disingenuous.
Barnett risks losing preferences from Nationals who are outraged at being placed behind One Nation in the Legislative Council, Greens who won’t direct their preferences on principle, and moderate Liberals protesting the deal.
The flow of preferences from One Nation supporters isn’t guaranteed either. Despite Pauline Hanson’s “it’s my party, I am the leader and I make the deals” position, a number of WA One Nation candidates are unhappy. Two were disendorsed — although it is unclear how large a role their position on the preference deal played.
A week out, the bookmakers have Labor at A$1.30 and the Coalition at A$3.40. The betting would suggest that WA is about to have a change of government.
The West Australian election will be held in eight days, on 11 March. A Fairfax ReachTEL poll, conducted Monday night from a sample of 1660, has Labor leading 52-48, a 2 point gain for Labor since a ReachTEL poll for The West Australian, two weeks ago.
ReachTEL asked a main voting intentions question with an undecided option, then further queried the 5.1% undecided as to which way they were leaning. Combining responses for these questions gives primary votes of Liberals 34.6% (down 0.8), Nationals 6.8% (down 1.6), Labor 35.2% (up 0.2), Greens 10.7% (up 4.7) and One Nation 8.5% (down 3.2).
The surge for the Greens is likely a correction from previous low Green votes in ReachTEL’s polls. At the 2016 Federal election, the Greens won 12.1% in WA, above their national vote share of 10.2%. In WA, the Greens tend to do relatively well and Labor relatively badly compared to the national vote at Federal elections.
The drop for One Nation may be due to discontent at One Nation doing a preference deal with one of the big parties that its voters despise. Research reported by Possum (Scott Steel) also indicates that many people voting for One Nation are doing so as a protest against the major parties, but they do not agree with One Nation’s policies, and dislike Donald Trump.
If this is the case, some people who currently say they will vote One Nation may desert as the election approaches and they become more aware of One Nation’s policies. This is also happening in the Netherlands; December polls had Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom easily winning more seats than any other party, but a dramatic slump in their support now has them second. The Dutch election will be held on 15 March.
At the 2013 WA election, the Liberals thrashed Labor 57.3-42.7 after preferences, and the Liberal/National alliance won 38 of 59 lower house seats, to 21 for Labor. Labor notionally lost a seat following a redistribution, so they need to gain 10 seats to win majority government.
On paper, Labor requires a uniform swing of 10.0 points to gain their 10th seat (Bicton). Labor would thus need 52.7% of the vote after preferences to win the election. However, marginal seat polling suggests that Labor is winning the required swing where it counts, though seat polls have not been accurate in the past.
A Galaxy poll, conducted Wednesday to Friday from a sample of 1115, has Labor leading by 54-46, from primary votes of Labor 40%, Liberals 31%, Nationals 5%, One Nation 9% and Greens 8%.
A Newspoll in late January and this Galaxy poll have both bad Labor well ahead of the combined Liberal/National vote on primaries, while ReachTEL’s polling has been more favourable for the Liberals. It will be interesting to see which pollster is correct next Saturday.
A disastrous Newspoll showing the Coalition trailing Labor 45-55%, One Nation gaining ground and Malcolm Turnbull’s ratings falling will fuel the alarm and anger in the Coalition as it returns to parliament in the wake of Tony Abbott’s outburst.
Abbott will cop much blame for the result. But the worsening in Turnbull’s personal numbers also suggests his recent more aggressive performance hasn’t impressed the public as much as it did his colleagues.
The poll, in Monday’s Australian, showed a further deterioration from the 46-54% two-party vote of three weeks ago, which had been the worst result of Turnbull’s prime ministership. One Nation has increased its support from 8% to 10% over the three weeks.
The poll was taken Thursday to Sunday, so Abbott’s provocative Thursday evening speech and TV interview – warning of the risk of a “drift to defeat” and setting out his alternative agenda including a call for lower immigration – would have fed straight into it.
Turnbull’s net satisfaction has plummeted by nine points, from minus 21 to minus 30; Shorten’s net satisfaction has dipped by four points, from minus 22 to minus 26. Turnbull has also lost ground in his lead over Shorten as better prime minister – 40% (down two points) to 33% (up three points).
The Coalition’s primary vote has fallen one point to 34%, with Labor increasing one point to 37%. The Greens are on 10% and “others” are on 9%.
Parliament resumes not only with the government’s division on display but with Labor having ammunition after last week’s decision by the Fair Work Commission cutting Sunday penalty rates for the hospitality, retail, fast-food and pharmacy sectors.
Abbott’s intervention has been condemned by colleagues, but his former chief-of-staff Peta Credlin defended him at the weekend.
She said that as a former prime minister he had every right to make a speech “outlining what he thinks the Coalition needs to do to win back its supporters and govern in Australia’s national interest”, although she was critical of his also doing a media interview.
“Of course, it would have been easier for everyone if he’d given his counsel in private, but the PM has made it clear he doesn’t want Abbott’s advice so it is hard to criticise him for speaking publicly,” she wrote in the Sunday Telegraph.
She said Abbott had come back from a large number of marginal seat visits “so he has no illusions about the anger among Coalition supporters and party members”.
Credlin wrote that despite what Turnbull said, Coalition supporters didn’t believe he “has a conservative bone in his body”.
“Regardless of his promises, Turnbull’s problem has always been a lack of authenticity,” she wrote.
“It comes down to this: Malcolm Turnbull is desperate to hold on to power and Tony Abbott is desperate to hold the Liberal Party together. It’s not necessarily the same thing.”
On Sky Credlin said “there is absolutely no relationship” between Abbott and Turnbull: “it was manufactured to get everybody through the campaign so no one could accuse Abbott of being a wrecker”.
Credlin also said she did not believe Abbott wanted the prime ministerial job again: “I think he would have a hard time reconciling around that cabinet table with people like Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop and others who would very likely stay in the senior ranks.”
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, an Abbott loyalist to the end of his prime ministership, who on Friday strongly criticised Thursday’s intervention, told Sky he had “thought it was important to send a very clear message … to essentially signal that enough is enough”. He said that “obviously private messages hadn’t been heeded”.
His Friday criticism of Abbott was not co-ordinated with Turnbull’s office, Cormann said. “It was off my own bat … I made the judgement it was necessary and appropriate to say what I said.”
Shorten on Monday will give notice of a private member’s bill to protect penalty rates. The bill would prevent the decision of the Fair Work Commission from taking effect. It would also ensure that penalty rates could not be cut in future if that resulted in a cut in take-home pay.
In a letter to Turnbull on Sunday, Shorten said at least 600,000 people would be hurt by this pay cut and the brunt of the decision would be borne by low income earners.
Calling for the government to intervene to head off the cuts, Shorten wrote that “a decision not to intervene is a decision to endorse the proposed cuts to pay. There is no doubt that this decision will cause genuine financial hardship. It is simply unacceptable to reduce penalty rates without compensation.
“You have a window to act before the commission issues its determination and the opposition would work with you to ensure this devastating cut to low paid workers’ income never occurs,” Shorten wrote.
The government, aware the pay cut is likely to rebound on it, is stressing it is the decision of the “independent umpire” rather than a government decision.
It also points out that when workplace relations minister, Shorten brought in an amendment that referred to penalty rates being included in the review of awards.
But Shorten said in his letter that his 2013 amendments were intended to ensure the commission took into account “the need to provide additional remuneration for employees working outside normal hours”.
“It was clearly the parliament’s intent that the award review process would not ever result in a cut to worker’s pay.”
On Friday the Greens flagged a private member’s bill to prevent the commission’s decision from coming into effect.
This week’s Newspoll, conducted Thursday to Sunday from a sample of 1680, gave Labor a 55-45 lead, a 1 point gain for Labor since the previous Newspoll, three weeks ago. Primary votes were 37% for Labor (up 1), 34% for the Coalition (down 1), 10% for the Greens (steady) and 10% for One Nation (up 2). It appears that One Nation is now in Newspoll’s party readout, so their support should not be underestimated.
29% were satisfied with Turnbull’s performance (down 5), and 59% were dissatisfied (up 4), for a net approval of -30, down 9 points. This is a record low net approval for Turnbull; his previous low was -28. Shorten’s net approval also slumped four points to -26.
According to Kevin Bonham, Turnbull and Shorten are now at a combined low net approval of -56, though they are still five points above Abbott and Shorten’s record low of -61. Paul Keating and John Hewson hold the record low net approval with a combined score of -76.
While Turnbull’s parliamentary performance in the first two weeks of sittings won plaudits from the political press, Newspoll suggests it did not impress the general public. Essential’s findings below show that the public is strongly in favour of renewable energy, undermining the pro-coal and anti-renewables rhetoric of the Coalition and their right wing media cheerleaders.
Three weeks ago, I wrote that there was no evidence from the polling under Abbott or Turnbull that Australians want a hard right government. When Turnbull adopts Abbott-type policies and rhetoric, his ratings and the Coalition’s come to resemble those under Abbott. To some extent, Abbott was protected by reluctance to return to Labor after one term, but the Coalition is now into its second term.
An additional Newspoll question finds that 17% would be willing to pay an extra $300 or more per year for renewable energy, 26% would pay an extra $100 and 45% nothing more. These figures are little changed from October 2016.
Primary votes in this week’s Essential are 37% Coalition, 37% Labor, 9% Greens, 9% One Nation and 3% Nick Xenophon Team. Voting intentions are based on a two-week sample of 1800, with other questions using one week’s sample.
Since September last year, positive attributes of Turnbull fell slightly and negative attributes rose slightly; the biggest change is for visionary (down 5). Shorten’s attributes moved in the same direction as Turnbull’s, though to a lesser extent. The three biggest attribute differences between the two leaders are on out of touch (Turnbull by 18), intelligent (Turnbull by 12) and arrogant (Turnbull by 12).
44% approved of negative gearing (up 1 since May 2016), and 35% disapproved (down 1). 41% disapproved of investors receiving a capital gains tax deduction on profits made selling properties, and 37% approved. Asked what would be the effect of limiting negative gearing and reducing the capital gains tax concession, 32% said house prices would rise at a slower rate, 19% said house prices would fall and 17% said house prices would rise at the same rate.
46% thought housing affordability was more important for the government to address, while 44% selected rising energy prices. 64% would support a royal commission into banking, with just 16% opposed.
In last week’s Essential, 60% (up 6 since December) thought climate change is happening, and is caused by human activity, while 25% (down 2) thought we are witnessing a normal fluctuation. This is a record high for human caused climate change in Essential’s polling, and probably reflects the effects of the recent heatwave across eastern Australia.
65% supported Labor’s 50% renewable energy target by 2030, with only 18% opposed. 45% blamed the recent SA power blackouts on failures of the energy market, 19% blamed it on privatisation of the energy market, and only 16% blamed renewables. 64% thought renewable energy was the solution to our future energy needs, and only 14% thought it a threat to our energy supply. 45% opposed building new coal-fired power stations, with 31% in favour.
29% approved of the Liberals directing preferences to One Nation in the WA election, and 38% disapproved. 82% thought people required to work outside normal hours should receive a higher hourly pay rate, and only 12% disagreed.
A Victorian Galaxy poll had Labor holding a 51-49 lead, a one point gain for the Coalition since a November Galaxy. Primary votes were 41% for the Coalition (down 1), 37% for Labor (steady), 10% for the Greens (down 2) and 8% for One Nation. 35% approved of Premier Daniel Andrews, and 52% disapproved, for a net rating of -17; this question was not asked in November. 52% thought Victoria had become less safe under Labor, with just 15% for more safe. This poll was conducted 16-17 February from a sample of 1090.
A separate Galaxy poll of the Labor-held seat of Werribee, conducted 16 February with a sample of 550, had Labor crashing, probably due to concerns about a proposed youth prison in Werribee. The Liberals held a 51-49 lead, a massive swing of 17 points since the 2014 election. Primary votes were Liberals 35% (up 6), Labor 29% (down 28!), One Nation 21% and Greens 7% (down 2). 85% disapproved of the youth prison, with only 12% in favour.
These two Galaxy polls were taken before the Speaker and deputy Speaker of Victoria’s lower house resigned owing to abuse of parliamentary entitlements.
Last year, the Liberal National Party (LNP) combined with crossbenchers to expand the unicameral Queensland Parliament from 89 to 93 seats, despite the objections of the Labor government. The LNP thought they would lose seats under a redistribution had the old 89 seats been retained.
On Friday, the Queensland Electoral Commission published draft boundaries for the redistribution. Antony Green has calculated the new margins in all seats. He finds that Labor would win 47 of the 93 seats based on votes at the 2015 election. The LNP would win 44, the Katter Party one, and one Independent. The 2015 election result was 44 Labor, 42 LNP, 2 Katter and 1 Independent.
These calculations ignore two defections from Labor and one from the LNP since the last election. They assume standard two party contests, so the surge in support for One Nation could throw them out.
On Thursday, UK by-elections occurred in the Labour-held seats of Stoke Central and Copeland. Labour retained Stoke Central with a small swing against them, but in Copeland the Conservatives won by 44.3% (up 8.5 points since the 2015 election), to 37.3% for Labour (down 4.9). At the 2015 election, Labour won Copeland by 6.5 points.
This is the first time a government has gained a seat at a UK by-election since 1982. In that case, and in several other cases, the opposition’s vote was split at the by-election by sitting members contesting for another party. The last time a UK government won an opposition-held seat at a by-election without vote splitting was 1960, but that seat had only been won by 47 votes at the previous general election. According to Number Cruncher Politics, 1878 was the last time a truly comparable event occurred.
Current polls have the Conservatives in the low 40’s and Labour in the mid 20’s. The Copeland by-election adds to the evidence that Labour faces an utter shellacking at the next general election with Jeremy Corbyn as its leader.
The latest reflection on just how appalling things are in federal politics came this week from former Treasury head Ken Henry, who’s now chairman of NAB.
“Our politicians have dug themselves into deep trenches from which they fire insults designed merely to cause political embarrassment. Populism supplies the munitions,” Henry told a conference in Canberra. “The country that Australians want cannot even be imagined from these trenches,” he said.
A senior player in reforms under Hawke-Keating Labor and the Howard government, Henry contrasted the current dysfunction “to earlier periods of policy success – where politics was adversarial, every bit as partisan – but when the tribal tensions within parties were generally well-managed and the political contest appeared to energise policy, not kill it”.
Henry may be slightly romanticising the past, as often happens when people look back to that period of policy-rich achievement. There were more than a few unedifying times in the fights of those years. But his general point is right.
He and his fellow heavyweights in the banking industry have just had a close-up view of the Coalition’s ugly tribalism with Treasurer Scott Morrison’s tantrum over former Labor premier Anna Bligh’s appointment to the Australian Bankers Association. It was short-sighted, counter-productive behaviour.
The fact that some in the Coalition saw Bligh’s appointment as the banks writing off the government was revealing. Given the volatility of politics, the bankers would hardly be predicting the next election’s outcome now – the interpretation suggests more about the mindset of alarm in Liberal circles.
When governments are flagging there is always talk of a “reset”. We’ve been hearing it this year, just as we did in the Gillard days.
But looking to a “reset” is more often than not to be staring at a mirage. It’s true that in 2001 the Howard government had a spectacular “reset”. It changed some decisions and crafted a canny budget, but the biggest factors in cementing its turnaround were Tampa’s arrival and September 11.
Some Coalition MPs believe Malcolm Turnbull’s burst of aggression – over Bill-and-the-billionaires and Labor and renewables – will give the government its “reset”. It’s doubtful. People don’t like abuse. And in the energy debate, this week’s Essential poll suggested the government is struggling.
So, looking ahead, there are no quick fixes, or answers based in a superficial change of style. The government faces the toughest slog, as it contemplates a budget that’s difficult to put together and the challenge of delivering an energy policy.
There will be pressure to spend in the budget to gain credibility on health, which cost the Coalition votes last July. Stories are already appearing about ending the freeze on the Medicare rebate. But where will offsetting cuts be found?
And, given the Senate gridlock on savings, can the government produce a budget that doesn’t alienate voters but keeps the ratings agencies at bay and Australia’s AAA rating intact?
As for energy security, the government’s “clean coal” frolic is genuinely hard to understand – beyond fears about regional seats and pressure from the Nationals – given that the word from the sector is that investors won’t go there. Eventually hyper rhetoric will have to give way to concrete measures that can fly.
High electricity prices are a politically sensitive cost-of-living issue and the government is trying to pin the blame for them, and for blackouts, on Labor’s commitment to renewables.
But suddenly there is a new cost-of-living issue, with the Fair Work Commission decision on Thursday to cut Sunday and public holiday penalty rates for those working under the hospitality, fast-food, retail and pharmacy awards.
This is not the government’s decision – the commission is independent and the government didn’t even put a submission to its inquiry.
And, in an ironic twist, Bill Shorten when workplace relations minister paved the way for this decision, with amendments requiring the review of industrial awards to cover the area of “additional remuneration” for employees working on weekends, public holidays, shifts and the like.
The Gillard government thought it was writing protection of penalty rates into the award system. Julia Gillard, addressing an Australian Council of Trade Unions summit, said: “We will make it clear in law that there needs to be additional renumeration for employees who work shift work, unsocial, irregular, unpredictable hours or on weekends and public holidays.”
Labor says it never envisaged the commission would reduce rates. Let alone when the bench members are overwhelmingly ALP appointees.
Although it did not make it, the decision is in line with general government thinking for industrial relations reform. But the government finds itself caught between its base, that will applaud the cut, and many voters whose hip pockets will be hit.
It argues the decision will boost employment, as the commission says. However, the job increases – which neither the commission nor employers can quantify – are likely to be longer in coming and less visible than the pay losses.
Shorten has potential to make hay with the decision, helped by the unions. Those facing smaller pay packets are unlikely to be diverted by the government highlighting his role in getting the review of penalties rolling.
Labor says it will intervene when the commission on March 24 considers transition arrangements; it also is looking to some parliamentary initiative. If (as seems likely) these paths come to dead ends, it is promising legislation if it wins the next election to clip the wings of the commission.
The government faces a dilemma as to whether it intervenes to put a view on how long the transition should be.
There is a parallel here with the problem the government is facing with its omnibus bill which reforms child care while shaving family tax benefits. In each case, people stand to lose something.
The big difference is that with the penalty rates the government isn’t the body making the decision and can say the judgement of the independent umpire should prevail. But if Labor can make the Coalition wear some of the odium for low-paid workers losing dollars, this will be another burden for Turnbull.
A Queensland Galaxy poll has One Nation surging to 23%, up 7 points since early November. One Nation’s gains have come at the expense of both major parties, with the Liberal National Party (LNP) on 33% (down 4), Labor on 31% (down 4), and the Greens steady on 8%.
While Labor maintains a steady 51-49 two party lead, the high non-major party vote makes this result a guesstimate. No fieldwork dates or sample size are given, but this poll was presumably taken between Tuesday and Thursday with a sample of 800-1000.
Of the three established parties, the Greens have been least affected by One Nation’s rise, indicating that demographics that vote Green are the least likely to swing to One Nation.
At the 1998 Queensland state election, One Nation won 11 of the 89 seats on 22.7% of the vote. If their vote in this poll were replicated at the next election, due by early 2018, One Nation would probably win a similar number of seats, and be likely to hold the balance of power.
Despite One Nation’s surge, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s ratings are still positive, with 41% approval (down 3) and 37% disapproval (down 2), for a net rating of +4. However, Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls’ ratings have slumped a net 8 points to -12.
Federally and in other states, One Nation’s polling has met or exceeded their previous peaks from 1998-2001. It is no surprise that Queensland, which had the highest One Nation vote in 1998, is better for them than other states.
Whether One Nation and similar international parties continue to surge probably depends on President Trump. As I wrote here, if Trump succeeds in revitalising the industrial midwest, far right parties are likely to thrive. On the other hand, if working class people eventually decide that Trump is opposed to their economic interests, far right parties will probably decline.