The government has picked up another Senate crossbencher to add to its numbers, with Tasmanian independent Steve Martin announcing he has joined the Nationals.
It is the first time the party has had representation in that state since the early 1920s, when William McWilliams was briefly leader of the Country Party.
Although it is to the Coalition’s advantage to have an additional senator locked in, and one less independent with whom to negotiate, in practice the change does not affect things significantly.
Martin’s move takes the Coalition to 31 in the Senate, out of a 76-member chamber. It means the government has to get eight of ten crossbenchers to pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens. Previously it was nine of 11. Martin has mostly voted with the Coalition and was already committed to supporting the government’s company tax cuts for big business.
He was elevated to Parliament on a countback, following the resignation of Jacqui Lambie in the citizenship crisis, but he never sat as a representative of the Jacqui Lambie Network, becoming an independent.
Earlier, Senator Lucy Gichuhi moved from the crossbench to the Liberals. She has come under threat for a winnable place on the South Australian Liberal ticket.
Martin said on Monday that what drew him to the Nationals was “their focus on key issues such as natural resources, teamwork and, of course, people”. He said the Nationals had a record of looking after rural and regional communities and Tasmania was rural and regional.
Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said Martin’s joining was “reinvigorating the National Party in Tasmania”.
Recalling the long period since the party had had representation there – before the Tasmanian tiger was last seen in the 1930s – McCormack said: “I liken Steve a bit to the Tasmanian tiger, inasmuch as he will be a tiger for regional development, an absolute tiger in there fighting for the interests of Tasmanians.”
Martin said he had no “deal” with the Nationals although “I hope I get the number one on their election paper”.
It is not clear how Martin, who is up for election at the next poll, would fit with the Liberals’ ticket. Although only Liberal Richard Colbeck is up for re-election next time, sources say Martin’s joining the Nationals does not mean there would necessarily be a joint Coalition ticket. There could be separate tickets.
Lambie, meanwhile, responded to the news with her own tweet on Monday: “I will be running to return the Senate seat to the people of Tasmania who want a truly independent voice in Canberra. Trust me, I am biting at the bit, looking forward to taking the Nats out!”
Malcolm Farnsworth on his blog, AustralianPolitics.com has corrected Michael McCormack, and The Conversation. McCormack (and we) said that before new recruit Steve Martin, the last federal representative of his party from Tasmania was William McWilliams. Farnsworth says it was Llewellyn Atkinson, who was the Country Party member for Wilmot from 1921 until 1928.
Put yourself in the shoes of Tim Storer. The accidental senator from South Australia has one hell of a decision to make shortly after the May budget, when the government plans to bring back its legislation to give tax cuts to big business.
A week ago the Coalition’s fairly confident hopes rested on Storer voting in favour of its A$35.6 billion package. A deal with Victorian crossbencher Derryn Hinch, whose vote also had to be secured, was seen as doable. Then Storer baulked, and the legislation’s future has again become anybody’s guess.
Think of the situation from Storer’s perspective. He has literally just arrived in the Senate, elected to replace a Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) victim of the citizenship crisis but sitting as an independent because of a stoush with his former party.
It’s amazing he’s there at all, and he’s not likely to be there long – one can’t see him re-elected next year. Now he has life-or-death sway over a key measure the government took to the 2016 poll. He has to ask himself whether he should use the extraordinary power that bizarre circumstances have given him to frustrate legislation on which the Coalition can argue it has a mandate.
On the other hand, as he said in his Wednesday Senate statement outlining his doubts about the bill, he is concerned about whether the budget can afford the cuts. And then, he noted, there’s the question of whether the money could be better spent on other things – infrastructure and the like.
When he was sworn in last week, Storer was escorted by the government and opposition Senate leaders, Mathias Cormann and Penny Wong. He chose his escorts. It was to signal his independence, and perhaps to flag that he saw himself as an active player.
He brings to the huge decision before him training in economics, and experience of business, especially in Asia. That presumably helps with evaluating the argument the government makes about the competitive importance of these cuts.
He also comes from a state with a history of federal politicians who focus locally when there are Commonwealth dollars to be had. Nick Xenophon once held up the Rudd government’s $42 billion economic stimulus package while he extracted water concessions that would benefit South Australia.
While Storer has been willing to engage with the government, and will continue to do so, if he eventually voted no, he’d be in line with his former party. The two NXT senators are opposed, despite the government trying to lure them.
Labor, fighting the tax cuts, also observes Storer’s past ALP membership as a sign of his general political orientation and thus perhaps a clue to his final decision.
But the government hopes more talking, more incentives, and perhaps the content of the budget might be enough to persuade him.
Parliament is off until the May 8 budget, when attention will turn from company tax to the government’s income tax plans – which are crucial as it tries to improve the community mood for the election due before mid-next year.
Politically, the budget will be preceded by a media feeding frenzy around the next Newspoll that – barring a miracle for Malcolm Turnbull – will be the 30th in which the Coalition trails Labor.
This will be a diversion, as attention harks back to Turnbull’s invoking 30 Newspolls against Tony Abbott. But with no challenger in sight, it won’t be a decisive moment – just another bout of bad publicity to be endured.
Abbott no doubt will make the most of it. But the more time that passes, the less relevance the former prime minister seems to have, despite a speculative story this week that he might he positioning for a tilt at the opposition leadership if Turnbull loses the election.
Abbott’s decision to launch Pauline Hanson’s book of speeches this week was eccentric and ill-judged.
Can anyone forget his toxic view of her two decades ago, when he established a fund to facilitate legal actions against One Nation and she ultimately ended up in jail? Now he is saying that “if over the last two decades we had been more ready to heed the message of people like Pauline Hanson and less quick to shoot the messenger, I think we would be a better country today”. The bitter enemies have turned into kissing cousins.
Hanson might have mellowed slightly second time around, and she is certainly helping the government in the Senate. But her politics should still be condemned by Liberals, certainly not given the sort of qualified endorsement Abbott extended.
Abbott said the only way the Coalition could win the election was if it could harvest One Nation’s preferences, and “if I can make that more likely, that is a very positive contribution that I can make to the prospects of the Turnbull government”.
His remarks at the book launch suggested a mix of conviction and expediency – regardless, they further fuel cynicism about our politicians.
Speaking of cynicism, one couldn’t miss how quickly some observers segued from the cricket scandal to political behaviour. But as they (rightly) criticise the errant Australian players, politicians would prefer to overlook awkward parallels with conduct in politics – for instance the endemic tampering with the ball of truth.
On Tuesday a fired-up Turnbull told a news conference: “I think there has to be the strongest action taken against this practice of sledging. It has got right out of control, it should have no place … on a cricket field.”
Absolutely. And also it has got out of control on the political field. But when a journalist interjected with “doesn’t it happen in parliament?”, Turnbull chose to let that pass without response.
The Tasmanian election will be held on Saturday. A ReachTEL poll, conducted for The Mercury on February 22 from a large sample of more than 3,100, gave the Liberals 46.4% of the vote, Labor 31.1%, the Greens 12.1%, the Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN) 5.2%, others 2.0%, and 3.3% were undecided.
When undecideds are excluded, the Liberals have 48.0%, Labor 32.2%, the Greens 12.5%, and JLN 5.4%.
Tasmania uses the Hare-Clark system, with five five-member electorates. A quota is one-sixth of the vote, or 16.7%. Sample sizes for each electorate in ReachTEL were 620-650. The Liberals had well over 50% in Bass and Braddon, and 49.6% in Lyons, implying they would win three of the five seats in each.
In Franklin, the Liberals had 42.6%, easily enough for two seats. In Denison, the Liberals had 33.8%, just enough for two seats.
On the stated figures, the most likely overall seat outcome is 13 or 14 Liberals out of 25, eight-to-ten Labor, and two or three Greens. So, the Liberals should win a majority.
Like other Tasmanian polls, ReachTEL has in the past skewed to the Greens and against Labor. At the last two federal elections, ReachTEL skewed to the Liberals in Tasmania, though it skewed against the Liberals at the 2014 state election.
Adjusting for ReachTEL’s skew, Tasmanian analyst Kevin Bonham thinks the most likely outcome is 13 Liberals, ten Labor, and two Greens. The next two most likely outcomes are 13 Liberals, 11 Labor, one Green; and 12 Liberals, 11 Labor, two Greens.
I do not think opposition to Labor’s anti-pokies policy caused the swing to the Liberals during the campaign. The most important factor was probably that many Tasmanians detest the Greens, and will vote for the major party most likely to win a majority. In 2006, Labor easily won an election that had appeared likely to result in a hung parliament.
The Greens’ vote of 12.5% in this poll is below the 13.7% they won at the 2014 election, and it could be lower given ReachTEL’s pro-Greens skew. It is likely the Greens are doing badly because Labor, under Rebecca White’s leadership, has become more left-wing, so the Greens are having trouble differentiating themselves from Labor.
Incumbent Will Hodgman led White by 51.8-48.2 on ReachTEL’s forced choice better premier question. Labor’s pokies policy was supported against the Liberals’ policy by a 57-43 margin.
ReachTEL 54-46 to federal Labor
A Sky News ReachTEL, conducted February 22 – the day before Barnaby Joyce resigned – had federal Labor leading by 54-46, a two-point gain for Labor since late January. Primary votes were 37% Labor (up one), 33% Coalition (down one), 11% Greens (up one), and 7% One Nation (down one). The remaining 12% probably included some undecided voters.
ReachTEL is using respondent-allocated preferences, which have been better for the Coalition than previous election preferences, as One Nation preferences are flowing to the Coalition at a greater rate than the 50-50 flow at the 2016 election. By last election preferences, Bonham calculates this poll was about 55.5-44.5 to Labor. This makes it one of the worst polls for the Coalition this term.
Despite the blowout in the Labor margin, Malcolm Turnbull continued to lead Bill Shorten by 53-47 in ReachTEL’s forced choice better prime minister question (54-46 in January). Although the Joyce affair appears to have damaged the Coalition, Turnbull is not being blamed.
Last week’s Newspoll, conducted February 15-18 from a sample of 1,630, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a one-point gain for Labor. Primary votes were 37% Labor (steady), 36% Coalition (down two), 10% Greens (steady), and 8% One Nation (up three). This was Turnbull’s 27th successive Newspoll loss, three short of Tony Abbott.
The overall Labor/Green vote in this Newspoll was 47%; the left vote has been stuck at 47% in Newspoll since August. Despite the Joyce affair, the overall Coalition/One Nation vote was up one point to 44%.
Turnbull’s ratings were 34% satisfied, 54% dissatisfied (37-50 previously). Shorten’s ratings were the same as Turnbull’s, and Turnbull led Shorten 40-33 as better prime minister (45-31 previously).
A total of 65% thought Joyce should resign as deputy prime minister, while only 23% thought he should stay. By 64-25, voters supported a ban on politicians having sexual relations with their staff. By 57-32, voters supported Shorten’s policy to give Indigenous people a voice to federal parliament.
As long as Republicans hold Congress, no chance of real US gun control
After the recent Florida high school gun massacre, there has been a renewed push for US gun control. However, as I wrote following the Las Vegas massacre in October, meaningful gun control will not happen under Donald Trump and the current Republican-controlled Congress.
The Florida state legislature, which Republicans control 76-40, defeated a motion to debate a ban on assault weapons by 71-36, even as students from the affected school looked on. Instead, it passed a motion declaring pornography a public health risk.
Trump’s ratings are currently 39.1% approve, 55.6% disapprove, in the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate. Before the gun massacre, Trump’s approval had risen to 41.5% owing to perceptions of an improving US economy; for several weeks, Trump’s approval was at least 40%.
Democrats lead by 47.0-38.8 in the race for Congress. Before the massacre, the Democrats’ lead had fallen to 6.4 points. All 435 US House of Representatives seats will be up for election in November, and also one-third of the 100 senators. Democrats probably need a mid-to-high single-digit popular vote margin to win control of the House of Representatives.
The Italian election will be held on March 4. 37% of both chambers of the Italian parliament will be elected by first past the post, and the remainder by proportional representation.
Italy imposes a blackout on polling during the final two weeks of election campaigns. The last polls were published on or before February 16.
In the final pre-blackout polls, the centre-right coalition was in the high 30s, with the centre-left coalition and the populist left Five Star Movement trailing with about 27% each. A left-wing breakaway from the centre-left had about 6%.
Even though the overall left vote is about 60%, the right could win a majority owing to the first-past-the-post seats.
The centre-right coalition includes former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s old party (Forza Italia). Although Berlusconi is banned from contesting elections, he could be the power behind the throne if his coalition wins a majority in both chambers.
The High Court has ruled that Steve Martin, from the Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN), is eligible to enter the Senate, dismissing the argument that his mayoral position disqualified him under the Constitution’s Section 44.
After the decision Martin quickly rejected any suggestion he might stand aside to allow Lambie to return to the Senate, despite her clear wish that he do so.
Lambie resigned from parliament last year because she had dual citizenship, inherited via a Scottish father.
Martin said he was excited at the case’s outcome and the prospect of taking up the opportunity to work for Tasmania in the Senate.
Asked whether he might defect to become an independent, as did a One Nation replacement senator, Fraser Anning, Martin said he was entering the Senate as a JLN candidate and there were still a few steps to be gone through. He would not be drawn on anything “hypothetical”.
The issue in the case of Martin, who was number two on the JLN ticket at the election, was whether, as mayor of Devonport, he held an office of profit under the crown.
Former One Nation candidate Kate McCulloch maintained that he did. The full bench decision, which was unanimous, has now clarified the constitutional position in relation to local councillors generally.
Lambie said at the weekend: “My heart is set on coming back to the Senate”.
Martin was “entitled to that second seat. If he wants to run through with it, well he’s entitled to do that. Unfortunately I broke the rules, whether it was intentional or not, and I have to sit on the sidelines and pay the price for that,” she told Sky.
“I’ll be brutally honest, if it was me in his position I would be extremely loyal and I would step down. That’s what I would do, but that is not up to me – that is up to him.”
Next week the court will hear the case concerning the successor to former Nick Xenophon Team senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore, who also resigned in the dual citizenship crisis.
Kakoschke-Moore is arguing the vacancy should not go to the next candidate on the ticket, Tim Storer, who, after a falling out with the party, is no longer a member of it. She maintains the seat should go back to her; she has now freed herself of her British citizenship.
The court also has before it the status of ACT Labor senator Katy Gallagher, who did not receive confirmation of her renunciation of British citizenship until after her nomination.
Meanwhile, the Coalition is awaiting the court’s judgment in the case of David Gillespie, an assistant minister.
At issue there is another part of Section 44, which prohibits anyone being chosen for, or sitting in, parliament if they hold a pecuniary interest in an agreement with the Commonwealth.
A tenant in a Port Macquarie shopping centre owned by Gillespie’s family company has an Australia Post franchise. Australia Post is a government business.
After going to the polls on November 25, Queenslanders finally have a state election result as Liberal National Party leader Tim Nicholls conceded defeat on Friday.
Following a four-week campaign, votes were counted for almost a fortnight until Annastacia Palaszczuk’s Labor Party was confirmed the victor. Palaszczuk is the first female premier to win back-to-back elections. In 2015, she’d become the first woman at state or federal level to lead her party to government from opposition.
But it’s not the clear-cut result Palaszczuk desired. Labor appears to have won 48 seats in the 93-member parliament to the LNP’s 39. This leaves Palaszczuk’s returned government with a slim majority and a diverse crossbench.
A complex contest
With a record field of candidates in an expanded number of electorates – many with redrawn boundaries – this shaped as a complicated election. Adding to its unpredictability was the reintroduction after 25 years of compulsory preferential voting.
While two-party-preferred swings were generally not as large as at the last two state elections, overall figures showed a fragmented statewide vote. More than 30% gave their first preferences to minor parties and independents. This exceeded the One Nation-driven protest vote in 1998.
This continues the trend of a declining primary vote for the major parties. Combined with compulsory preferencing, several electorate contests duly developed into three- or even four-horse races, extending the time needed to correctly distribute preferences and declare results. Some seats were decided only after the arrival of postal votes, up to ten days after the polling date.
Like the previous Queensland and federal elections, a close and protracted count left the government in extended caretaker mode. Voters in Queensland and the rest of Australia may need to accustom themselves to a new norm of tight, drawn-out contests, where party leaders’ election night speeches might be obsolete.
Winners and losers
Labor went into the election with a notional seat count of 48 following the redistribution. Despite a 2% decline in its statewide vote, it emerges with little change in its electoral stocks.
Gains in the state’s southeast corner at the LNP’s expense offset a few seat losses in central and north Queensland, where persistent unemployment has been a worry.
To the government’s relief, every cabinet member held their seat. Deputy Premier Jackie Trad survived one of the stronger challenges, a 10% two-party-preferred swing to the Greens in South Brisbane. Brisbane’s inner suburbs, as in other state capitals, are now highly vulnerable to a rising green tide.
The LNP suffered a negative swing of almost 8% – and even higher in parts of the southeast. High-profile casualties included shadow frontbenchers Scott Emerson, Ian Walker, Tracey Davis and Andrew Cripps in the north falling victim to erratic preference flows.
Emerson has the distinction of losing the newly created seat of Maiwar in inner Brisbane to Queensland’s first elected Greens MP, Michael Berkman.
In other firsts, Labor’s new member for Cook in far-north Queensland, Cynthia Liu, is the first Torres Strait Islander elected to any Australian parliament. Innovation Minister Leanne Enoch becomes the state’s first Indigenous MP to be returned at an election.
One Nation’s Stephen Andrew, who defeated veteran Labor MP Jim Pearce in Mirani in central Queensland, becomes the first descendent of South Sea Islander labourers to enter state parliament.
Besides bread-and-butter issues of job creation, power prices and transport infrastructure, neither Palaszczuk nor Nicholls could escape the dominant themes of this election. The proposed Adani coal mine project animated voters in different parts of the state for different reasons, as did the spoiler role that Pauline Hanson’s One Nation was presumed to play.
Together, these factors reinforced an impression of “two Queenslands” in contention during the campaign.
Protests against the Adani mine’s environmental impact – and questions over its long-term economic benefit to regional communities – featured regularly once the election was called. Palaszczuk succeeded in defusing the issue to some extent early in the campaign with an abrupt declaration that she would veto federal infrastructure funding for the mine’s construction.
A feared backlash in places of regional discontent and high youth unemployment, like Townsville, didn’t entirely materialise, with Labor incumbents holding seats against expectations. But these concerns, in tandem with uncertainty over the Adani project, saw Labor lose Bundaberg and nearly lose the traditionally Labor-voting Rockhampton to independent candidate and former mayor Margaret Strelow.
The LNP’s position on supporting the Adani mine with public funds, and Nicholls’ prevarication over dealing with One Nation, appear to have hurt the party in Brisbane especially. But so too did Labor reminding voters of Nicholls’ role as treasurer in the Newman government.
As the election neared, Nicholls was swamped by constant questioning about cosying up to One Nation.
While always difficult to quantify, the federal Coalition government’s woes amid the same-sex marriage debate and citizenship fiasco likely did the LNP few favours.
Role of the minor parties
The Greens and One Nation capitalised on the dip in major party support, gaining significant vote shares of 10% and almost 14% respectively. However, each party won only a single seat.
Critically, both parties stripped valuable primary votes from Labor and the LNP, especially the latter’s vote in the regions. This will furrow the brows of federal Coalition MPs through this term of government. For good measure, One Nation preferences likely helped unseat some LNP MPs in the southeast.
The party’s state leader, Steve Dickson, lost out to the LNP in Buderim, while Senate outcast Malcolm Roberts didn’t present a serious threat to Labor in Ipswich.
Despite its failings, One Nation attracted more than 20% in the seats it contested and finished runner-up in two dozen of them, perhaps largely down to Hanson’s constant presence throughout the campaign.
Katter’s Australian Party (KAP), though standing candidates in only ten seats and not making much impact on the campaign, might have done best of all the minor parties. Its primary vote improved to more than 2%, gaining it another seat in Hinchinbrook on Labor and One Nation preferences.
KAP’s targeted approach might prove unwelcome news for the federal Coalition, which can expect similar levels of focused disaffection from conservative regional voters elsewhere. But a fragmenting primary vote spells trouble for all the major parties.
What next for Queensland?
Queensland now enters its first fixed-term period of government. The next election is due on October 31, 2020, with four-year terms following that.
Labor holds only 13 of 51 seats outside the Greater Brisbane area. With all seats decided, factional negotiations will now unfold to determine the make-up of Palaszczuk’s new cabinet. It’s fair to assume it will be Brisbane-centric.
With such a concentration of government MPs in the capital, Palaszczuk’s team will presumably clock up many kilometres – and spend some political capital – reassuring the regions they’re not forgotten.
In the wake of an underwhelming result for the LNP, Nicholls announced he is stepping down as party leader and won’t contest a leadership ballot early next week. The likes of David Crisafulli or Tim Mander, or potentially Deb Frecklington, loom as Nicholls’ likely successors.
Party insiders have complained that the election result proves the marriage between the formerly separate Liberal and National parties in Queensland has failed and should be broken up.
After five days of counting since the Queensland election on November 25, it is likely that Labor will win 47 of the 93 seats, a bare majority. The ABC is currently calling 47 of 93 seats for Labor, 38 for the LNP, two for Katter’s Australian Party (KAP, one One Nation and one independent).
Two of the four uncalled seats are straightforward two-party contests. The LNP is very likely to win Burdekin, and Townsville is still lineball. Unless Labor loses a seat already called for it, they will have 47 of the 93 seats, a bare majority. The most likely such seat to be lost is Macallister.
A major break for Labor occurred in Rockhampton. On primary votes, Labor had 32%, independent Margaret Strelow 24%, One Nation 21% and the LNP 18%. Strelow had been expected to win on LNP and One Nation preferences, but LNP preferences flowed strongly to One Nation, putting it ahead of Strelow at the point where one was excluded. Labor has won on Strelow’s preferences by about 3,000 votes, according to the ABC’s Emilia Terzon.
In Macallister, Labor had 37% of the primary vote, the LNP 26.7%, and an independent, Hetty Johnston, 23.2%. Labor trounces the LNP after preferences, but Johnston could move ahead of the LNP on Greens and minor candidates’ preferences, especially as the Greens put her above Labor on their how-to-vote card.
However, according to the Courier-Mail as quoted by the Poll Bludger, Labor is “very confident” this scenario will not happen.
The Electoral Commission of Queensland frustratingly removed all its two-candidate results on Tuesday. The ABC’s two-candidate results are projections, not real votes. The Electoral Commission of Queensland conducted two-candidate counts on Monday in contested seats where the wrong candidates were selected on election night.
In Noosa, independent Sandy Bolton thrashed the LNP. In Cook, Labor convincingly defeated One Nation, but in Mirani One Nation defeated Labor. In Maiwar, Labor defeats the LNP on Greens preferences if it stays ahead of the Greens. In Burdekin, the LNP is slightly ahead of Labor after preferences.
The Greens are currently just 12 votes ahead of Labor in Maiwar on primary votes. Scrutineering information reported by Kevin Bonham suggests the Greens will gain on the preferences of a minor candidate. If they win the battle for second against Labor, they will easily defeat Shadow Treasurer Scott Emerson.
KAP is likely to gain Hinchinbrook from the LNP from third place, on first Labor then One Nation preferences.
Assigning the four uncalled seats to the likely winners, the final seat outcome is likely to be 47 Labor, 39 LNP, three KAP, one One Nation, one Green and one independent, with Townsville still in significant doubt.
Same-sex marriage plebiscite aftermath polling
The same-sex marriage legislation passed the Senate on November 29, 43 votes to 12. Additional protections for religious freedom were not included in the final bill. This legislation will go to the lower house next week.
While many commentators have focused on western Sydney’s large “no” vote in the plebiscite, I think the strong support for “yes” in rural and regional Australia is important.
Only two rural electorates – Maranoa and Kennedy in Queensland – voted “no”. In electorates based on the regional cities of Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Newcastle and Townsville, “yes” won at least 62%. In Oxley, where Pauline Hanson was first elected in 1996, “yes” won 60%.
In last week’s Essential poll, 42% thought current laws already provided enough protection for religious freedoms, while 37% thought any same-sex marriage legislation passed should include more protection for religious freedoms.
By 63-27, voters supported allowing ministers of religion and celebrants to refuse to officiate at same-sex weddings. However, by 48-43, voters opposed allowing service providers to refuse service for same-sex weddings, and by 44-42, they opposed allowing parents to withdraw their children from classes which do not reflect the parents’ views on marriage.
In this week’s Essential poll, 47% thought religious protections should be addressed separately from the same-sex marriage legislation, while 32% thought the legislation should include these protections.
In YouGov, by 46-36, voters thought the same-sex marriage legislation should incorporate new religious protection laws.
Essential 54-46 to federal Labor
This week’s Essential poll gave Labor the same two-party lead as last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Labor, 36% Coalition, 9% Greens, 8% One Nation and 2% Nick Xenophon Team. Essential uses a two-week sample of about 1,800 for its voting intentions, with additional questions based on one week’s sample.
88% were concerned about energy prices, 83% about food prices, and 80% about housing affordability. At the bottom, only 57% were concerned about cuts in penalty rates.
49% thought the government should provide subsidies to speed up the transition to renewable energy, 16% thought it should let the market decide, and 12% slow the transition down.
By 64-12, voters supported a royal commission into the banking industry. 33% thought the economy was good, and 24% poor (30-29 good in May). However, by 39-31, voters thought the economy was heading in the wrong direction (41-29 in May).
In last week’s Essential poll, voters thought the government should run full term by 47-32, rather than call an early election. 36% expected Labor to win the next election, 20% the Coalition and 18% thought there would be a hung parliament.
44% (steady since January 2017) thought the economic and political system is fundamentally sound but needs to be refined. 32% (down eight) thought the system needs fundamental change, and 10% (up four) thought it is working well as it is. By 35-32, voters were satisfied with the way democracy is working in Australia.
This week’s YouGov, conducted November 23-27 from a sample of 1,034, had primary votes of 32% Coalition (up one since last fortnight), 32% Labor (down two), 11% One Nation (steady) and 10% Greens (down one). Despite the primary vote shift to the Coalition, Labor’s two-party lead increased a point to 53-47 on more favourable respondent preferences.
This is the first time in YouGov’s polling that Labor’s respondent-allocated two-party vote has matched what Labor would have got using the previous election method. In previous YouGov polls, the respondent allocation has always skewed to the Coalition, sometimes by as much as four points.
41% thought Malcolm Turnbull a weak leader and just 21% thought he is a strong leader. By 43-30, voters disapproved of the cancellation of this lower house sitting week. By 55-36, voters thought the government has a responsibility for the safety of the Manus Island asylum seekers.
By 46-40, voters favoured changing the Constitution to allow dual citizens to run for office (45-37 opposed in October). However, voters were opposed by 47-31 to allowing those who work for the state to run for office.
The two major Bennelong byelection candidates were both favourably perceived nationally. The Liberals’ John Alexander had a 40-29 favourable rating, and Labor’s Kristina Keneally a 39-29 favourable rating.
New England byelection: December 2
While the Bennelong byelection on December 16 is receiving much attention, the New England byelection will be held tomorrow, with polls closing at 6pm Melbourne time.
As far as I know, there has been no polling for New England publicly released since the byelection campaign began. Any result other than a clear win for Barnaby Joyce would be a major surprise.
But just before he walked into the chamber to be sworn in, Anning flagged he would sit as an independent.
Anning later declared he had not left One Nation – it was Hanson who had kicked him out.
The setback for Hanson comes as One Nation’s vote is apparently surging in the Queensland election. Polling published in The Courier-Mail at the weekend showed strong support for One Nation in various regional and urban fringe seats with a vote of more than 20% in some, although it would not have won any of the seats on the figures.
The Anning defection follows weeks of tension with Hanson and her adviser James Ashby, and a bitter clash at the One Nation party meeting on Monday morning.
Hanson said in a statement that before the High Court decision she had tried to speak with Anning while he was overseas, but her efforts “fell on deaf ears”. She’d had to communicate through his brother Harry instead.
She had indicated to Harry Anning “that given the work Malcolm Roberts had achieved as chair of the banking inquiry and his role in challenging climate change, it would be in the federal party’s and Australia’s best interests” for him to be returned to the Senate.
Anning had made no attempt to contact her or any One Nation executive members after multiple requests to discuss his plans, she claimed – something Anning disputes. “Instead he chose to release scathing media releases demanding I pledge my support to him without even meeting or speaking to him,” she said.
The statement said Anning only spoke with Hanson on Monday morning “but those talks quickly failed when she refused to allow several Anning staff into the party meeting. The staffers had formerly worked for Roberts and she would not have them at the meeting “because of their disloyalty to their former employer and myself.”
Anning then walked out of the meeting.
One Nation senators Brian Burston and Peter Georgiou sought to mediate, but they were told “only minutes before he was sworn into the Senate” that Anning would sit as an independent, Hanson’s statement said.
Anning had a different version. He said he had been verbally attacked in the partyroom. “This was profoundly shocking to me as I had been a friend and supporter of Pauline for over 20 years … the attack was so vitriolic that I was obliged to simply walk out.”
He said Burston and Georgiou had told him Hanson demanded he not employ the staffers – he had said this was unacceptable. He believed these demands were actually coming from Ashby, “who had previously conducted a witch-hunt against anyone he thought supported me, and it was he who had turned Pauline against me”.
At the last minute, Anning’s office asked Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm and the Australian Conservatives’ Cory Bernardi to escort him for the swearing in, which his One Nation colleagues had been due to do. Anning said Hanson had told the One Nation senators not to do so.
“The next thing I knew, I saw on the TV that I had supposedly become an independent. This was news to me!
“It seems that without even contacting me, Pauline has unilaterally kicked me out of her party,” he said. “I have to say I’m stunned.” He said it was “simply false” to say he’d left One Nation. “If I’m no longer a One Nation senator, it is because Pauline has expelled me by press release.”
Hanson’s statement said she believed former employees of Roberts contacted Anning several months ago, encouraging him to move to Bernardi’s party if Roberts lost his seat.
She said before Roberts came under the citizenship cloud she had asked Anning to contest the state seat of Gladstone, but he dismissed the request on the grounds he and his wife were moving permanently to the US.
Leyonhjelm said Anning told him on their way into the chamber that he wouldn’t be sitting as a One Nation senator.
He had been aware of the tensions earlier but had been told by a One Nation senator at the weekend that all was well with Anning.
Asked if Anning might join the Liberal Democrats Leyonhjelm said he had not spoken to him about that. Anning would have to be comfortable with the party, he said.
Roberts is running for a seat in the Queensland election.
The ongoing legal controversies surrounding Western Australian senator Rod Culleton – described by a Federal Court judge as “something approaching a carnival, if not a circus” – took a new turn on Wednesday. Senate President Stephen Parry made the constitutional step of notifying the WA government of a Senate vacancy due to Culleton’s disqualification following a long saga over his eligibility to sit in the upper house.
Even before the 2016 election results were formally declared, questions were being asked over whether Culleton was actually eligible to be a senator. Since that time, two key constitutional issues have emerged.
The Court of Disputed Returns
The first issue relates to a larceny charge in New South Wales concerning a A$7.50 tow truck key. Culleton was convicted in March 2016. However, the conviction was annulled in August, meaning it “ceases to have effect”.
While Culleton later pleaded guilty at a rehearing in October, no conviction was ultimately recorded.
In November, the Senate referred this conviction’s constitutional impact to the High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns. The issue is whether Culleton’s election was valid under Section 44(ii) of the Constitution, which provides a person is incapable of being a senator if they have:
… been convicted and is under sentence, or subject to be sentenced, for any offence punishable under the law of the Commonwealth or of a state by imprisonment for one year or longer.
The larceny conviction falls squarely within this section’s scope. The critical question is whether Culleton had actually been convicted at the time of his election (and was therefore ineligible), given this was subsequently annulled.
The central issue concerns the word “annulment”. If the Court of Disputed Returns holds that the conviction never existed then this issue falls away. If, however, the effect of an annulment is not retrospective then Culleton was never eligible to be elected.
At the conclusion of hearings on December 7 the court reserved its decision. It is not scheduled to sit again until January 30.
There is no guarantee that a decision will be handed down at the next sittings, or before the Senate next meets on February 7. However, the court has previously recognised the public interest in this matter being resolved expeditiously.
Culleton’s bankruptcy proceedings
The second issue concerns bankruptcy proceedings filed against Culleton.
On December 23, 2016, a Federal Court judge ordered that Culleton’s estate be sequestrated (or seized to pay his debts). All proceedings under the order were stayed for 21 days; this stay was due to be lifted on January 13.
Culleton continues to assert he is not bankrupt, and is able to pay his debts. However, the Federal Court judge dismissed this. He noted that, despite assertions made before the court, there was “no material evidence” produced to support these claims. An appeal against the sequestration order was filed on January 11, but no date has yet been set for the appeal hearing.
The effect of a sequestration order is that the debtor becomes a bankrupt. In Culleton’s case, this then enlivens sections 44 and 45 of the Constitution. These provide that an undischarged bankrupt is incapable of sitting as a senator, and their Senate position becomes vacant.
Parry’s statement indicated he has received from the inspector-general in bankruptcy and the Federal Court registry documents recording Culleton’s status as an undischarged bankrupt. The necessary constitutional implication is that Culleton’s Senate position is vacant.
What happens next?
This saga still has some way to go before its conclusion. But it is almost certain that Culleton will not be able to continue as a senator.
Even if he successfully appeals the sequestration order and the Court of Disputed Returns rules in his favour, Culleton still faces further constitutional hurdles. Another creditor’s petition is yet to be heard by the Federal Court, and a stealing charge is listed for trial in Perth in September 2017. These could each result in Culleton being constitutionally precluded from sitting as a senator.
From a constitutional perspective, however, it is critical that the correct grounds for disqualification are established. This will affect how a replacement senator is chosen.
If the Court of Disputed Returns rules that Culleton was never eligible to be elected, then – based on precedent – the most-likely outcome is that the second-listed One Nation candidate from the 2016 election will be declared elected. This happens to be Culleton’s brother-in-law, Peter Georgiou.
If, however, Culleton was initially eligible but is subsequently disqualified as an undischarged bankrupt, then a casual vacancy would arise to be dealt with under Section 15 of the Constitution. In this case, One Nation would recommend a party member to fill the vacancy, and the WA parliament would formally appoint this replacement.
If the WA parliament is not in session – which is a distinct possibility given a state election will be held on March 11 – then the WA governor will make the appointment, which must then be confirmed at the next state parliamentary sittings. One Nation leader Pauline Hanson has already tweeted that she has selected a “great person” as a replacement if a casual vacancy is declared.
Given these possibilities, it would be prudent to wait until both the existing bankruptcy appeal and the Court of Disputed Returns’ decision are finalised before taking any steps to fill the vacancy. This is far from ideal given both the close numbers in the Senate and that WA will be under-represented in the “states’ house” for as long as the position remains unfilled.
However, the removal of a senator who was duly elected by the people only six months ago is not something to be done lightly. And it is certainly not something to be done on anything other than conclusively determined constitutional grounds.
The federal election result is on a knife-edge, with the outcome between a majority Turnbull government and a hung parliament.
Malcolm Turnbull has been delivered a major rebuff and left potentially embattled, with bitter recriminations breaking out in conservative ranks. Even if the Coalition ends up with a majority, Turnbull will have an uphill struggle to manage a party that includes many who are his enemies.
There were immediate calls for a review of the superannuation policy that the government took to the election, which cut back concessions for high-income earners and deeply angered the Liberals’ base.
Liberal ministers blamed Labor’s Medicare scare campaign for turning voters against the Coalition.
Late in the night the swing against the government was 3.6%. The election has seen a high vote for small parties.
Turnbull waited until after midnight to address his supporters, declaring: “I can report that based on the advice I have from the party officials, we can have every confidence that we will form a Coalition majority government in the next parliament”. In his speech, he did not accept any blame for the bad result or suggest he would make any changes as a result.
Treasurer Scott Morrison said the Coalition was “on the cusp” of being able to claim the 76 seats needed to form majority government.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who spoke to supporters around 11:30PM, said the outcome might not be known for days but whatever happened one thing was sure: “the Labor Party is back”. He said the Liberals had “lost their mandate”.
Labor’s Senate leader, Penny Wong, said there was “too much on the table to call it tonight”.
The ABC said that with more than 70% of votes counted, the Coalition was on track to win 72 seats, and Labor set to claim 66, with five crossbenchers including one Green, and seven seats in doubt.
An unanticipated big swing in Tasmania has cost the Liberals Bass, Braddon and Lyons. Labor has won Eden-Monaro (NSW), Macarthur (NSW), and the notional Liberal seat of Burt in Western Australia.
In Queensland, Assistant Innovation Minister Wyatt Roy appears to have lost Longman and the Liberals may lose Herbert. The Sydney seat of Lindsay is likely to fall, as is Macquarie. In the Northern Territory, Solomon is set to fall.
Nick Xenophon’s Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) candidate Rebekha Sharkie has taken Mayo from former minister Jamie Briggs, who had to quit the frontbench after an incident in a Hong Kong bar. Briggs tweeted “After a tough fight tonight hasn’t been our night”.
The Liberals could win the Victorian Labor seat of Chisholm. The Labor-Green contest in Batman is neck and neck.
Despite Turnbull calling the double dissolution to clear out small players in the Senate, the new Senate will contain a plethora of micro players. They will include three South Australian senators from NXT. Pauline Hanson has been elected to a Senate seat in Queensland. Broadcaster Derryn Hinch has claimed a Victorian Senate seat. Independent Jacqui Lambie has been returned in Tasmania.
In his speech Turnbull took on criticism, already being aired, that he should not have called a double dissolution, saying this had not been a political tactic but had been driven by the “need to restore the rule of law to the construction industry”.
Even if Turnbull wins majority government he may not have the numbers to get the industrial relations bills, which were the trigger for the double dissolution, through a joint sitting.
The backlash in conservative ranks erupted immediately.
Senator Cory Bernardi said in a tweet to Liberal pollster Mark Textor:
Broadcaster Alan Jones clashed with one of Turnbull’s numbers men, senator James McGrath, on the Network Seven panel. “There were a lot of bed-wetters in the Liberal Party and you seemed to be the captain of the bed-wetters,” Jones said. McGrath hit back, saying Jones was “not a friend” of the Coalition.
Tony Abbott’s former chief-of-staff Peta Credlin and Attorney-General George Brandis had a spat on the Sky panel over the government’s superannuation changes. Credlin said the changes would not go through the Coalition partyroom in their present form; Brandis retorted she was not in the partyroom.
Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz said there had been strident criticism in emails to his office of the superannuation changes. “I for one will be advocating we reconsider aspects of it.”
Victorian Liberal president Michael Kroger said the party’s base was “furious” with the superannuation policy. “I certainly hope the partyroom would look at this issue.”
Conservative commentator Andrew Bolt called for Turnbull to quit. “You have been a disaster. You betrayed Tony Abbott and then led the party to humiliation, stripped of both values and honour. Resign.”
Morrison, asked if Abbott could have won the election, replied “highly unlikely”.
Roy and Peter Hendy, member for Eden-Monaro, were both heavily involved in the Turnbull coup.
Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop said “undoubtedly” the Medicare scare campaign had been an important factor in the result. She said a number of people on election day had raised Medicare with her at polling booths.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said Labor’s Medicare’s scare was more effective than the government had thought during the campaign. “No doubt the absolute lie Labor was running on Medicare was effective.”
Turnbull lashed out over the Medicare scare, saying “the Labor Party ran some of the most systematic, well-funded lies ever peddled in Australia”.
He said that “no doubt” the police would investigate last minute text messages to voters that said they came from Medicare.
Abetz said the “three amigos” in Bass, Braddon and Lyons had been swamped by the Medicare campaign.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce held New England from independent challenger Tony Windsor. Independent Cathy McGowan retained Indi. The Nationals have taken Murray from the Liberals, and headed off a challenge in Cowper from independent Rob Oakeshott.
The poll has seen the first Indigenous woman elected to the House of Representatives – Linda Burney in the NSW seat of Barton.
The pre-poll count continued to 2AM. There will be no more counting until Tuesday.
Malcolm Turnbull’s speech to deflated supporters in the early hours of Sunday morning was extraordinarily lacking in self-awareness.
Turnbull had just brought his party a devastatingly bad election result. That’s true even if he manages to reach majority government, which remains far from clear despite his assertions. In the early hours of Sunday things got closer as more votes were counted. With 77.6% of the vote counted, the ABC tally had the Coalition and Labor on 67 seats each, five crossbenchers, and 11 seats in doubt.
Yet Turnbull showed not a scintilla of humility. He made no gesture of contrition, no promise that he had heard the message the people had delivered.
Instead he denounced Labor’s scare campaign – as if the Liberals themselves have not at times been masters of that dark art. And he made an unconvincing attempt to justify a double dissolution that has ended up producing a Senate as potentially difficult as the last one, with the added negative of including Pauline Hanson, so giving her a national platform.
There is now a bizarre parallel between Labor and the Liberals in turning triumph into disaster. Kevin Rudd won convincingly in 2007. He was then removed by his party and successor Julia Gillard came out of the subsequent election with a hung parliament. Tony Abbott had a strong win in 2013, was replaced – and now the Coalition will have a tiny majority or there will be another hung parliament, with the outcome depending on the crossbenchers.
Turnbull and his supporters can argue that if Abbott had still been leader the loss would have been greater, and that’s probably correct. But it is unlikely to be an argument that will do Turnbull much good in the days ahead when there won’t be a lot of Liberal love around.
Turnbull complains about Labor’s lies about Medicare’s future, but they were made more credible to the public because of the Coalition’s previous lies and actions. Did it think people would not remember Abbott’s 2013 promise of no cuts to health? Or the attempt in the 2014 budget to bring in a co-payment, unsuccessful though it was? Or the various subsequent moves for cuts and user pays measures?
Labor’s campaign might have been exaggerated and dishonest, but the Coalition itself had effectively given the ALP the building blocks for it.
Turnbull’s argument that he called a double dissolution not to change the nature of the Senate but because the lawlessness in the construction industry had to be confronted is facile. He did not even make the industrial relations legislation a central talking point in the campaign.
And in his speech he overlooked the point that even if he reaches majority government it is doubtful he would have the overall parliamentary numbers to get the bills through a joint sitting (although at this stage it is impossible to be definite about what the new senators might do).
In the wash-up, everything from the Coalition’s strategy for the past eight weeks – running almost entirely on a “plan” based on company tax cuts – to the mechanics of getting the case across, will be under internal criticism. It will be remembered that Turnbull’s pitch for leadership included his ability as an economic salesman. That, as it turned out, he over-hyped.
The Liberal conservatives will try to unravel policy. They started on election night with their bugbear – the superannuation changes. Assuming the Coalition survives in government, how will the ructions in the Liberals now play out for the same-sex marriage plebiscite?
Turnbull was looking for a mandate to allow him to be his own man. Instead of getting that, his government has been left struggling to survive.
If it does, the conservative forces will now take one of two views of him: as someone who must be forced to follow their will on core policies, or as someone who at a future date should be replaced. Or maybe they will adopt both views.
Turnbull’s enemies within his party have played this election craftily. Abbott was mostly quiet during the campaign, although in the final week he made clear that he thought the issues of budget repair, national security and border protection had been underdone. His former chief-of-staff Peta Credlin used her role as TV commentator to run an at times sharp critique of the Turnbull campaign. Now the conservatives will be full-throated.
Turnbull talks about the need for stability and unity. The Australian public is faced with instability. Whatever the result ends up being, there is no clear mandate and an extremely difficult Senate.
Turnbull, if he is still prime minister, would be confronted by the prospect of internal disunity plus a chaotic upper house that could likely make it nearly impossible to do much that is meaningful.
As happened when he was opposition leader, Turnbull is again in a situation where he didn’t read the danger signals. He thought he was more persuasive than Bill Shorten; he and his strategists (apparently) believed that whatever the national polls said, the marginal seats would stick. They said the election would be close but appeared confident it was in the bag.
Turnbull will pay a high price for his misjudgements, though it is unclear exactly how high.