An extraordinary amount of hype and some confected hysteria preceded Tuesday’s vote on the medical transfer legislation.
The government threw everything at trying to avoid a defeat. In a last stand, it fell back on a constitutional argument – backed by
Solicitor-General advice – that carried no practical weight and was simply circumvented by the majority that passed the bill in the House of Representatives.
While the government frantically attempted to thwart Labor and the crossbench, Scott Morrison also ran the line that he wasn’t that fussed. Afterwards he told a news conference: “Votes will come and votes will go, they do not trouble me.” That claim wouldn’t pass a fact check.
This was a big vote, and everyone knew it. Morrison operates a
minority government and Tuesday’s loss underscored that he can’t
automatically get his way. (Ironically, in the last days of Turnbull’s majority government, the threat of losing a House vote came from internal dissidents.)
The next test for Morrison will be on whether the House agrees to
extra sitting days to discuss the measures from the banking royal
commission. For procedural reasons, this needs 76 votes, one more than the 75 required on the medical transfer bill. The government has been leaning heavily on Bob Katter, the crossbencher who will be the key.
While the government looked rattled as the votes on the medical
transfer bill proceeded, Labor was calm and steely.
For all the talk about Labor’s misjudgement on the issue, this week it has moved cautiously and methodically.
Originally pushed by the crossbench into taking a stand on
humanitarian grounds – the bill is based on a proposal from
independent Kerryn Phelps – Labor has sought to display compassion but contain the political risk.
Bill Shorten, knowing the danger, decided the version of the bill
coming from the Senate (which Labor had supported there) left the ALP too exposed. He flagged last week he’d like a “middle” course.
So the opposition came up with amendments to give the minister wider discretion and more time in making decisions, and to limit the application of the legislation to those on Nauru and Manus now. The latter change was to minimise the “pull” factor – the extent to which the new arrangement would encourage the people smugglers.
Then it was a matter of persuading the required six crossbenchers.
They accepted in the negotiations that a modified bill was better than nothing (though there was some Greens cavilling).
In the House, the ALP troops were kept carefully in check; the emotion was turned down; the speeches from the bill’s supporters were few and brief. Labor just wanted one thing in the chamber – a win. This wasn’t the time to grandstand.
The government, wounded and worried, is seeing this as one (albeit
major) battle in the long war to the election. Its spruikers will say that in defeat it has had a victory – that Labor has given the
Coalition ammunition for the campaign.
It’s true the bill has breathed new life into the border security
debate, but whether this will be enough to do Labor serious harm is an open question. `
The ALP is always vulnerable on boats. On the other hand, boats are lower in voters’ minds than they used to be.
The government will turn up the dial by announcing “contingency plans” against fresh arrivals. Morrison, having accused Shorten of
undermining offshore processing, is already moving on to the claim that he couldn’t be trusted to be strong on turnbacks.
Goodness knows how the politics would play out if a boat appeared on the horizon in the next few weeks. You can be sure, however, that the government would be quick to tell us about it, and point the finger at Shorten.
In all this, the bill itself (which has to go back to the Senate for a tick off on the amendments) should be kept in perspective.
The minister has a veto on “security” grounds, including being able to exclude anyone who has committed a major crime. The composition of the medical panel which would have the final say on other transfers is broad and balanced.
Probably, over a period, there would be a lot of transfers out of the 1000 people offshore. But there have already been nearly 900 (some after legal action). These transfers have amounted to a backdoor route into Australia.
If the legislation in the longer term opens that door a little wider, it will also be a way of “settling” people in Australia without acknowledging that is being done.
More of the same? Or a radical change? It depends how you look at it.
This week’s Newspoll, conducted February 7-10 from a sample of 1,570, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, unchanged from last fortnight. Primary votes were 39% Labor (up one), 37% Coalition (steady), 9% Greens (steady) and 5% One Nation (down one) – One Nation’s lowest Newspoll vote since February 2018.
43% were satisfied with Scott Morrison (up three), and 45% were dissatisfied (down two), for a net approval of -2, up five points. Bill Shorten’s net approval was down two points to -15. Morrison led Shorten by 44-35 as better PM (43-36 last fortnight).
There has been much debate in the last fortnight about Labor’s proposal to abolish franking credit cash refunds. Voters were opposed by 44-35, but this is down from 48-30 opposition in December. Opposition was strongest among those aged over 65 (59-28 opposed).
Voters supported reducing investor tax breaks, such as negative gearing and capital gains tax deductions, by a 51-32 margin (47-33 in November).
It has been over five months since Morrison replaced Malcolm Turnbull as PM in late August 2018. In nine Newspolls, his net approval has been in the single digits, positive or negative.
The last three Newspolls of 2018 were all 55-45 to Labor, while the first two of 2019 have been 53-47. I believe the Coalition has been assisted by Morrison’s relative popularity and a greater distance from the events of last August.
In Turnbull’s last four Newspolls as PM, the Coalition trailed by just 51-49, but Turnbull’s ratings were weaker than Morrison’s, with a peak net approval of -6. However, Turnbull’s ratings would have been better if not for the hard right’s hatred of him; it is plausible that 10% of the electorate disliked him from the right. Morrison has no problem with his right flank.
The Coalition is perceived as too close to big business (see Essential below), and Greg Jericho wrote in The Guardian that the latest data are not good for the Australian economy. A key question is whether Morrison’s ratings eventually fall due to the unpopularity of most Coalition policies. Economic credibility is likely to be important if the economy slows.
Essential poll: 52-48 to Labor
Last week’s Essential poll, conducted January 23-31 from a sample of 1,650, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since Essential’s mid-January poll. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (steady), 36% Labor (down two), 10% Greens (steady) and 7% One Nation (steady).
The fieldwork period and the sample size were both larger than usual for Essential – normally Essential is conducted over four days with a sample a bit over 1,000.
By 47-41, voters agreed that one of the reasons why there are relatively few female MPs is that women choose not to get involved with politics. By 46-39, they disagreed with the proposition that voters preferred to elect men, rather than women. By 72-20, they disagreed with women being less capable politicians. Gender quotas were supported 46-40, but Coalition voters were opposed 50-37.
37% supported a separate national day to recognise Indigenous Australians alongside Australia Day, 15% thought Australia Day should be replaced, and 40% did not support a separate day.
At least 50% thought that private health insurance companies, big banks, mining companies and big business wanted the Coalition to win the next election. Labor had a lead on this question with pensioners and people with a disability, and at least 50% with families with young children and the unemployed.
Seat polls of Warringah, Stirling and Pearce
A ReachTEL poll of the NSW seat of Warringah for GetUp, from a sample of 622, gave independent Zali Steggall a 54-46 lead over incumbent Tony Abbott. Primary votes and fieldwork dates were not included in the media report. In 2016, Abbott won Warringah by 61.6-38.4 against the Greens, and 61.1-38.9 against Labor.
60% thought Abbott’s performance as a local member poor, and 60% said they were more likely to vote for a candidate who would tackle climate change – 78% among those who had defected from Abbott.
A Labor internal poll of the WA seat of Stirling, conducted after Michael Keenan announced his retirement from a sample of 950, gave Labor a 1.5% lead after preferences. In 2016, Keenan won Stirling by a 6.1% margin. Labor and the Liberals were tied at 36% each on primary votes with 6.8% undecided.
A GetUp ReachTEL poll of the WA seat of Pearce, conducted January 16 from a sample of 674, gave the Liberals a 52-48 lead over Labor (53.6-46.4 at the 2016 election).
Seat polls are very unreliable, but Stirling and Warringah are inner metropolitan seats, while Pearce is outer metropolitan. I believe the Coalition will struggle most in better-educated inner metropolitan seats.
The three seat polls were commissioned by left-aligned groups. However, ReachTEL asks for voting intentions first. Media-commissioned polls are superior to polls from political interest groups, but seat polls are unreliable in any case.
SA byelections and NSW pill testing Newspoll
Byelections occurred on Saturday in the South Australian state seats of Cheltenham and Enfield, following the resignations of Labor’s Jay Weatherill and John Rau respectively. Labor retained both seats easily, with primary vote swings to Labor of 6.6% in both Cheltenham and Enfield since the March 2018 election. The Liberals did not contest either seat.
In an additional question conducted with last fortnight’s NSW Newspoll that had a 50-50 tie, voters were in favour of the NSW government providing a pill testing service at music festivals by a 56-35 margin. Over 70% of Labor and Greens voters supported pill testing, while Coalition voters were narrowly opposed 49-45.
On January 25, the US government shutdown ended when President Donald Trump accepted a bill that would reopen the government until February 15 without funding for the southern border wall he had demanded. The 35-day shutdown was the longest, beating the previous record of 21 days from 1995-96. Trump has suggested declaring a national emergency if Congress cannot agree to fund the wall by February 15.
In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Trump’s ratings fell to 39.3% approve, 56.0% disapprove on January 26. Since then, his ratings have recovered to 40.2% approve, 55.1% disapprove. However, Trump’s ratings among Republicans are well over 80% approve.
A second shutdown could occur after talks between Democratic and Republican members of Congress broke down. To avert a shutdown, new funding must be passed by Friday (Saturday Melbourne time).
Given strong opposition to Trump in the polls, he needs the US economy to stay strong to have a reasonable chance of re-election in 2020. Despite the January shutdown, the economy added 304,000 jobs in that month.
Strangely enough, there’s a link between “Kevin07” as an electoral phenomenon and the recent successes of independents such as Kerryn Phelps (Wentworth), Cathy McGowan (Indi), and Rebekha Sharkie (Mayo). All three now hold once safe Coalition seats.
And the link is one that may prove influential in 2019, particularly for Zali Steggall, who is challenging Tony Abbott in Warringah.
As in the case of Kevin07, the formerly Coalition-friendly independents, which is also how Steggall positions herself, found a way of giving life-long centre-right voters permission to break ranks without feeling like they were being disloyal.
The aim is to present as essentially similar to the incumbent conservative, but better. Modernised. Updated.
The implicit message to voters was that it was their party that had left them, not the other way around.
Such a sentiment may be ripe for expression in Warringah which, while economically conservative, has emerged as demonstrably more progressive than its long-time MP, Abbott. The blue-ribbon jewel was among the most pro-equality electorates in the country in the 2017 postal survey.
Beaten only by Wentworth, the two inner-Sydney electorates were the leading Liberal-held “yes” seats in NSW.
And it is to these voters that new and fresh quasi-independent candidates like Steggall seek to speak – voters whose Liberal loyalties have been tested by Abbott’s blunt antipathy for social reform and particularly his denial of tough Australian action against global warming.
The trick is to be close, but not the same, and it has a record of working in conservative-minded electorates.
Underpinning Kevin Rudd’s defeat of John Howard in 2007 was a carefully calibrated reassurance that Howard’s Australia – in which political correctness had been demonised and social reform moved at a glacial pace – would continue even with a change to a Labor government.
Labor’s plan was to strip the election of the usual contrast between parties, reducing the choice before voters to John Howard or a kind of John Howard 2.0.
In a number of ways, Rudd presented as a prime ministerial simulacrum, updated but only where required to: prioritise “working families”, take faster action on climate change, and offer an exciting public investment bridge to the digital future (the NBN).
So successful was this unusual proposition, it tended to minimise other policy differences between the parties and neutralise the usual fear of change itself among cautious voters.
From a marketing perspective, it was daring given Rudd was in fact the leader of the opposing Labor Party.
Crucially, it sought simultaneously to share in the government’s credit for economic stewardship – moderate inflation, strong employment, and a healthy budget surplus again – while outflanking Howard on his right.
Of course there was more to the 2007 changeover than mere campaigning, not least being Howard’s odious industrial relations laws (WorkChoices), an inconvenient mid-campaign cash rate hike (to 6.75%), and simple fatigue after a dozen years of Coalition rule.
Even so, there’s no denying that with his lay-preacher persona, non-union background, and claim to be fiscally conservative, Rudd deftly positioned himself as the safe choice for those voters considering change but still concerned with budget discipline and creeping permissiveness.
Similar to Labor’s 2007 strategy, Phelps, McGowan and Sharkie have offered the tribally conservative voter a reduced-risk alternative to the status quo. Or, as some have coined it, “continuity through change”.
But there are also key differences. While Rudd promised measured economic modernisation in a socially-conservative manifesto – opposing same-sex marriage, for example – the new breed of once-were-Liberals flip that around.
They tend to emphasise the low tax, pro-business instincts of conservatives, but are more left-leaning on social policy and the environment. This turns out to reflect much of the electorate also – including many Liberal voters.
Can Steggall do the same in Warringah?
It’s a formula with a particular piquancy now given 2019 marks ten years since Tony Abbott rolled Malcolm Turnbull for the Liberal leadership over emissions trading.
An acrimonious decade on, and with no government climate or energy policy to speak of, voters’ patience has been strained to breaking point. The endless point-scoring and division has nudged moderately inclined Liberals within the grasp of new independents.
Fittingly, these events are coming to a head most threateningly for the government in Abbott’s own stronghold of Warringah.
Abbott’s vulnerability turns on three things: the standing of the Morrison government come polling day (which may or may not have improved), the campaign prowess of the Steggall operation (unknown), and the extent of declining loyalty by once solid supporters in his electorate. All are in flux.
Steggall’s threshold objective must be to drive Abbott’s primary vote south of 45%. That will not be easy. In 2016, his primary vote tanked by some 9% but he still managed to hold the seat without need for second preferences at 51.65%.
Still, if the zeitgeist is any guide, Steggall’s presentation as “the Liberal for the future against the Liberal for the past” will be appealing to those voters peeved at Abbott’s undermining of Turnbull and specifically the right-wing insurgency against the government’s National Energy Guarantee.
It could also resonate strongly with Liberal backers who were appalled at Abbott’s starring, if roundly ineffective, campaign against marriage equality.
Despite its unwavering support for Abbott through nine elections, Warringah voted “yes” to legalising same-sex marriage at the rate of 75% compared to the national rate of 62%. It even exceeded support in the most progressive jurisdiction – the ACT.
Steggall’s backers believe Abbott’s famous resistance to a reform his constituents found uncontroversial will prove it is his failure to move with the times that will force them to move their votes.
The government has finalised the removal of the last children from
Nauru, as it battles to head off a parliamentary defeat on legislation
to facilitate medical transfers from offshore.
Scott Morrison and Immigration Minister David Coleman said on Sunday:
“There are now only four asylum seeker children on Nauru and they have
all been approved for departure to the United States of America with
When parliament rose for its summer break a government filibuster had
prevented amendments reaching the House of Representatives that would
put medical transfers into the hands of doctors, though with the
minister having some oversight on security grounds. The amendments –
based on a proposal originally coming from independent Kerryn Phelps
and supported by Labor – had been passed by the Senate.
At that time the legislation potentially had enough crossbench backing
in the House to pass, but it is not clear whether that will hold when
it is put to the test this month. The government is pulling out all
stops to peel away crossbench support.
Passage of the measure would be a major blow to the Coalition,
although it would not amount to a vote of no confidence. Asked about major defeats in the past, House of Representatives clerks last year had to go as far back as 1929 (which led to an election) and on the 1941 budget
(which brought down the Fadden government).
The government has been hopeful that it can persuade independent Cathy
McGowan to break ranks with other crossbench supporters of the bill.
McGowan said on Sunday it was good news about the children but she
would reserve her position on the legislation until it came before the
House, after parliament resumes on Tuesday of next week.
“Indefinite detention needs to be addressed,” she said.
Phelps said the news about the remaining children was “absolutely
fantastic” but it was “nowhere near enough”.
Hundreds of people were still languishing on Manus and Nauru and there
were “dire reports” about mental health issues, Phelps said.
The proposed change, which would see medical transfers on the basis of
the advice of two doctors, would “take medical decisions out of the
hands of bureaucrats and politicians – with appropriate ministerial
oversight on national security grounds”.
Phelps said she hadn’t seen any evidence of a weakening of crossbench
support while parliament has been in recess.
The government on Sunday declined to explain how it has been able
arrange for the removal of all the children from Nauru when Home
Affairs Minister Peter Dutton last year suggested security issues were a
barrier to removing some of them.
Dutton told parliament in October there were 13 children at that time
in family groups where there were adults, mostly males “that are the
subject of adverse security assessments from the United States.”
At his news conference on Sunday Coleman refused to clarify how these
security concerns had been resolved or where the people in question
“I can’t go into specific cases but I will say that in each case issues have been worked through to the satisfaction of the Department,” he said.
Asked whether some of the children who had been brought to Australia
still had parents on Nauru because of a negative security assessment,
Coleman said: “There have been a number of issues that have been
worked through – but, no, the family groups are together”.
In a fresh effort to persuade the crossbenchers not to inflict a
damaging parliamentary defeat on the government, Scott Morrison has
said the government will set up a medical panel to review transfers
from Manus and Nauru.
The Medical Transfer Clinical Assurance Panel would be chaired by a
nominee of the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, and include
representatives from Foundation House (which provides services to
refugees) and the Australian Medical Association, and two nominees
from the Home Affairs department’s Chief Medical Officer.
If a transfer was rejected, the panel would look at the case, and make
a recommendation to the minister.
The structure would still leave the ultimate authority at ministerial level.
Phelps told the ABC on Monday the new panel would not solve the
problem because bureaucrats would still be making the decisions on
transfers, with the review coming later. The process needed to be
fast-tracked, she said, maintaining support for the bill that will
come to the House.
Coleman said if the bill were passed this would “effectively lead to
the end of offshore processing”.
A high profile independent candidate, Oliver Yates, is expected to run against Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in the heartland Liberal seat of Kooyong in Melbourne.
Yates, who lives in the electorate, is a member of the Liberal party
and a former international banker and former CEO of the Clean
Energy Finance Corporation. At present he works for several firms on
renewable energy projects.
Son of Bill Yates, a colourful character who held the Victorian seat
of Holt in 1975-80 and was earlier a member of the House of Commons,
Yates has made swingeing attacks on the Liberals, saying in a recent
Guardian article that the “party is in need of desperate cultural
On climate change, which would be central to his campaign, he wrote in
an earlier Guardian piece: “Refusing to reduce emissions as cheaply as
possible is irrational, immoral and economically reckless.”
Frydenberg had a very solid 58% of the primary vote in 2016, and would
not be at risk unless his primary vote was pushed well under 50%. But
Liberals were shocked when at the Victorian election the seat of Hawthorn, which is within Kooyong,
was lost to Labor.
Yates’ expected challenge and an anticipated announcement by former Liberal Julia Banks that she will run against Health Minister Greg Hunt in
Flinders follow the unveiling of Zali Steggall’s bid to oust
former prime minister Tony Abbott in Warringah.
The political crows have been circling Abbott, but until the appearance
of Steggall – a Liberal-leaning born-and-bred local – the political
odds were on him.
Now the Liberal disruptor is himself target of a major disruption,
with the outcome uncertain.
The House of Representatives voting system makes it hard for
independents to break through, so they are still a relatively rare
breed in the lower house. However they are more common than previously
and now the times are more auspicious for them than ever before.
Once established, they are hard to shift. So we can expect
independents Rebekha Sharkie in Mayo and Andrew Wilkie in Denison to be
back after the May election.
Banks’ prospects in Flinders would not seem high, although union-commissioned polling has been bad for Hunt, who backed Peter Dutton’s challenge to Malcolm Turnbull.
Banks presently holds the seat of Chisholm. Last year she deserted the
Liberals to go to the crossbench citing the leadership change and
Hunt had 51.6% of the primary vote last election; ABC election analyst
Antony Green says that post-redistribution he is on about 50.5%. But
the ALP vote is around 27% and Hunt seems in more danger from Labor
than from an independent.
Two of the most interesting contests involving independents will Indi
in north eastern Victoria, and Wentworth in Sydney.
Cathy McGowan famously tipped out Liberal frontbencher Sophie
Mirabella from Indi in 2013. McGowan, with a long background in the
area, and backed by the grassroots “Voices For Indi” forum, was
completely dug in by 2016. She would have won again this year.
But she had set in place a process for a community selection for a
successor and earlier this month that produced Helen Haines, 57, from
Wangaratta , a public health researcher. McGowan then confirmed she would not stand.
Indi will test whether can one independent can pass on the “community
candidate” heritage to another.
All the McGowan infrastructure is in place for Haines. On the other
hand, by definition an independent candidate must establish themselves
as an individual.
Haines will have to demonstrate her personal credentials, and convince
voters that the local area will have a stronger “voice” in the next
parliament if it has an independent than if its member comes from the
Coalition (Labor can’t win the seat).
McGowan’s “voice” has been enhanced in this parliament because of the
tight numbers. The crossbench has the crucial balance of power in
these last months because the parliament is now “hung”.
The numbers in the next parliament are unlikely to be as close which
would reduce the clout of a crossbencher.
In Wentworth, Kerryn Phelps was greatly helped to her 2018 byelection
win by voters anger at the treatment of the seat’s former member Malcolm
Turnbull. She was also assisted by the Liberal candidate Dave Sharma,
a former diplomat, not being a local.
By the time the election comes in May Phelps – who won by just 1850
votes – will enjoy the advantage of incumbency but have had less than
a year to establish herself as member.
In this contest there are two interesting questions. Will a sizeable
number of the locals have got over their rage about Turnbull, and
reassess their vote? And will some people, in a seat where voters like
to have a high flier, decide to switch to a candidate with prospects
of rising through the Liberal ranks in the next few years?
Some might say the Wentworth contest as one in which the voters are
spoilt for choice.
Wentworth voters reacted against the loss of a former prime minister –
in Warringah, many voters just want their ex-PM to shuffle off.
Steggall, an former Olympian (in winter sports) and a barrister, will run hard on climate change, and attack Abbott’s views in general as out of touch with his constituents. She says Warringah is conservative economically and financially but progressive socially (as shown by a 75% yes vote on same-sex marriage).
As with Indi – although in a much less developed form – there is a
community group backing Steggall – and she says she wants to give
people in Warringah “a real choice for a voice”.
While it is possible that two seats could change, Labor appears to have won 56 of the 88 seats in the Victorian lower house, up nine seats since the 2014 election, the Coalition won 26 seats (down 12), the Greens three seats (up one) and independents three seats (up two).
These results reflect changes since the 2014 election, and do not account for Labor’s loss of Northcote to the Greens at a byelection, which Labor regained at the general. Party defections are also ignored.
Labor’s unexpectedly crushing victory was capped by triumphs in Hawthorn (50.4-49.6) and Nepean (50.9-49.1). Labor had not won Hawthorn since 1952, and Nepean (formerly known as Dromana) since 1982. It also came close to winning Caulfield (a 50.3-49.7 loss), which has never been Labor-held since its creation in 1927.
The 8-10 point swings to Labor in Hawthorn, Nepean and other affluent Liberal heartland seats such as Brighton and Malvern appear to demonstrate well-educated voters’ anger with the Liberals’ law and order campaign, and the federal Liberals’ ousting of Malcolm Turnbull.
Labor was assisted in Victoria by a strong state economy, and an unpopular federal Coalition government. The national economy is currently good, and this could assist the federal government if they could stop fighting among themselves.
While Labor had massive wins in Melbourne and its outskirts, and increased its margins in regional cities, it did not perform well by comparison in country areas. Labor only gained one country seat, Ripon, and that was by just 31 votes on a swing under 1%; there could be a recount in Ripon.
The Greens held Melbourne and Prahran, and gained Brunswick from Labor. In Prahran, Green Sam Hibbins was third on primaries, trailing Labor by 0.8%. On preferences of left-wing micros, he overtook Labor by 0.7%, and easily defeated the Liberals on Labor preferences. This is the second consecutive election in which Hibbins has come from third on primary votes to win Prahran.
Russell Northe, who defected from the Nationals in the last parliament, retained Morwell as an independent. Ali Cupper, who had contested Mildura in 2010 as a Labor candidate, gained it as an independent from the Nationals. Independent Suzanna Sheed retained Shepparton, a seat she gained from the Nationals in 2014.
Near-final statewide primary votes were 42.8% Labor (up 4.7% since the 2014 election), 35.2% Coalition (down 6.7%) and 10.7% Greens (down 0.8%). It is unlikely we will have an official Labor vs Coalition statewide two party count until next week, but The Poll Bludger estimates Labor won this count by 57.4-42.6, a 5.5% swing to Labor.
Final pre-election polls greatly overstated the Coalition and understated Labor, as shown by the table below. The only poll that came close to the result was a ReachTEL poll for a left-wing organisation, taken 11 days before the election, that gave Labor a 56-44 lead.
Bold numbers in the table indicate a poll estimate that was within 1% of the results. All polls had the Greens right, but missed on Labor and the Coalition.
Micro parties still likely to win ten upper house seats
The ABC calculator currently gives Labor 18 of the 40 upper house seats, the Coalition 11, the Greens just one, and ten for all others. Others include four Derryn Hinch Justice, two Transport Matters, one Animal Justice, one Liberal Democrat, one Aussie Battler and one Sustainable Australia.
The upper house has eight regions that each elect five members. The three country regions are very close to completion of their counts, while the city regions lag. In Northern Victoria, Labor will win two seats, the Coalition one, Hinch Justice one and Liberal Democrats one. In Western Victoria, Labor will win two, the Coalition one, Animal Justice one and Hinch Justice one.
In Eastern Victoria, the calculator has Labor and the Coalition each winning two seats with one for Aussie Battler. However, Kevin Bonham says that Aussie Battler is ahead of Hinch Justice at a critical point by just 0.11%, and this lead will be overturned with below-the-line votes. The Shooters will win the final Eastern Victoria seat.
In Eastern Metro, with the count at 87.2%, there will be two Labor, two Liberals and Transport Matters wins the final seat from just 0.6% (0.04 quotas). In Southern Metro, two Labor and two Liberals win. The Greens, with 0.79 of a quota, are easily beaten to the last seat by Sustainable Australia, with just 1.3% or 0.08 quotas.
While the figure used by the ABC is the rechecked percentage counted, the electoral commission has been providing actual primary counts in Word files, which are ahead of the rechecked count in Metro regions.
In South-Eastern Metro, Labor will win three seats and the Liberals one. Bonham says Transport Matters could be excluded at a critical point, and fail to take the final seat, in which case it goes to the Liberal Democrats, who had an even lower vote than Transport Matters in that region (1.2% vs 0.8%).
In Western Metro, Labor will win three seats and the Liberals one. The last seat is likely to go to Hinch Justice, which won 6.9% in that region. However, the Shooters, with just 1.9%, could win the final seat.
In Northern Metro, two Labor and one Green are certain winners. In Bonham’s more up-to-date figures, the Liberals win one seat, and the final seat is probably a contest between Hinch Justice and Fiona Patten.
Labor and the Coalition are likely to win the 18 and 11 seats respectively that the calculator currently gives them. The ten micros could be a little different from the ABC’s current projection.
The group voting tickets are excessively complex, and it would be far easier to call these seats with a more sensible system.
NSW Galaxy: 52-48 to Labor, ReachTEL: 51-49
The New South Wales election will be held on March 23, 2019. A YouGov Galaxy poll for The Daily Telegraph, conducted November 29-30 from a sample of 903, gave Labor a 52-48 lead; this is the first NSW Galaxy poll since the 2015 election. A ReachTEL poll for The Sydney Morning Herald, conducted November 29 from a sample of 1,560, gave Labor a 51-49 lead, a one-point gain for Labor since a September ReachTEL poll.
Primary votes in the Galaxy poll were 39% Labor, 37% Coalition, 9% Greens and 8% One Nation. In ReachTEL, primary votes, after excluding 3.1% undecided, were 37.7% Coalition, 35.2% Labor, 9.9% Greens and 7.7% One Nation. Labor’s primary vote is four points lower in ReachTEL than Galaxy.
After replacing Luke Foley as Labor leader, Michael Daley appears to be benefiting from a honeymoon. He trails incumbent Gladys Berejiklian 33-31 in Galaxy, and leads her 54.2-45.8 in ReachTEL as better Premier. ReachTEL’s forced choice better PM/Premier questions usually benefit opposition leaders.
State parties tend to do better when the opposite party is in power federally, and the current federal government is unpopular. It appears that the federal election will be held in May 2019, and this is bad news for the NSW Coalition, which has to face voters first. In ReachTEL, voters said by 50-36 that federal politics would play a role in their state election decision.
By 58-36, voters in ReachTEL opposed the NSW government’s stadium policy, which includes knocking down and rebuilding stadiums.
Newspoll: 55-45 to federal Labor, but Morrison’s ratings recover
Last week’s federal Newspoll, conducted November 22-25 – the same weekend as the Victorian election – from a sample of 1,720, gave Labor a 55-45 lead, unchanged since three weeks ago. Primary votes were 40% Labor (steady), 34% Coalition (down one), 9% Greens (steady) and 8% One Nation (up two).
43% were satisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance (up four), and 42% were dissatisfied (down five), for a net approval of +1, up nine points. Bill Shorten’s net approval was up two points to -13. Morrison led Shorten by 46-34 as better PM (42-36 three weeks ago).
By 40-34, voters opposed moving the Australian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. After being told that Indonesia and Malaysia had raised concerns about the embassy move, voters thought by 46-34 that Morrison should announce the move will not take place, rather than ignore those countries’ concerns.
Newspoll was three points better for Labor than two polls last fortnight, which both had Labor leading by just 52-48. The PM’s ratings are usually a good guide to voting intentions, so the hope for the Coalition is that Morrison’s lift could soon lift the Coalition. This poll was taken before last week’s parliamentary session.
UK Brexit deal vote on December 11
The UK House of Commons will decide whether to reject or approve PM Theresa May’s Brexit deal with the European Union on December 11.
Indications are that the deal will be rejected by a large margin, with about 100 Conservative MPs set to vote against the deal. You can read my article on the probable consequences of a “no-deal” Brexit on my personal website.
Whatever it does, the Morrison government seems to find itself caught
on the sticky fly paper. As if it didn’t have trouble enough with
trying to decide about the embassy in Israel and the religious freedom
report, on Monday it became messily entangled in the issue of a
national integrity commission.
On the first day of formal minority government, the crossbench flexed
its muscle and the government bowed to the new reality.
Well, not quite bowed – but bought time by taking a line of least resistance.
After the independent member for Indi, Cathy McGowan, introduced her
private member’s bill for a national integrity commission, the House
of Representatives considered a motion from the Senate which called on
“the federal government to establish a national anti-corruption
The government didn’t oppose the motion, which went through on the voices.
It was claimed that Attorney-General Christian Porter wanted to set out
the government’s objections to the McGowan bill, which he couldn’t do
in private members’ time.
The real reason was the government didn’t want to test its numbers on
the floor when there could be a defector or two from its own ranks.
Porter embarked on something of a lawyer’s frolic as he pointed to
dangers in the bill.
He warned that any public official who, it could be argued, had
breached public trust or impaired confidence in public administration
“would be liable to a finding of corruption”, even for a trivial
The ABC would come under the proposed body. So Porter conjured up the
scenario of ABC political editor Andrew Probyn (who, it will be
recalled, former ABC chairman Justin Milne wanted shot) being caught
under the bill.
On Porter’s account, that would be because Probyn was found in breach
of the ABC code of practice’s provision on impartiality for saying
Tony Abbott was the “most destructive politician of his generation”.
“Under this bill before the House—no ifs, ands or buts—Andrew Probyn
would be found to have committed corruption,” Porter declared.
He didn’t sound as if he were joking but maybe the Attorney has a very
dry sense of humour.
Not that McGowan is claiming her bill has the detail right. What she
and other crossbenchers are trying to do is force the government’s
How far they’ll succeed is not clear – they’ll get something but not
the full monty.
The government’s preference would be to do nothing. But that’s no
longer politically viable. Labor is committed to a new anti-corruption
body (once it didn’t believe in one), and the level of public distrust
of the political system makes this an issue that resonates in the
The government now finds itself in the rather bizarre situation of
having voted for a “national anti-corruption commission” without
committing itself to one.
In fact, such a commission is the least likely to get a tick of the
three options before the government. Porter has all but written it
The other options, according to Porter, are expanding one of the
existing 13 bodies that presently deal with integrity and corruption
(probably the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity),
or merging some of them to eliminate overlap.
Ideally the way forward would be by a bipartisan approach. The issues
are indeed complex and state experience suggests the need for careful
balances and protections. But bipartisanship not the way of things
before an election.
Attacking Shorten, Scott Morrison accused him of being preoccupied
with a “fringe issue”.
Morrison said the matter would be dealt with “through a normal Cabinet
process”. Porter says this process is well underway. Indeed a lot of
it happened under Malcolm Turnbull – Porter says he has been working
on it since he became attorney-general nearly a year ago.
Both the embassy question and the religious freedom report are in
“processes” at the moment.
The government received another prod on the latter when on Monday a
Labor-chaired Senate committee recommended in its majority report that
a ban on religious schools discriminating against gay teachers should
This goes much further than the government’s plan – bogged down in
negotiations with Labor – for legislation to prevent discrimination
against gay students. The opposition is expected on Tuesday to push the
government to act immediately on its promise to protect students.
As the Liberals took in the devastating Victorian result, there was
the feeling that the Morrison government was just holding things
Senate president and Victorian Liberal Scott Ryan, who rarely enters controversies given his position as a presiding officer, unleashed a restrained but pointed assault against the right of the party (and rightwing commentators).
Victorian Liberal backbencher Tim Wilson delivered a sharp message to the coal lovers. “If anybody thinks that there’s this great public sentiment out there that people really deep down hate renewables and they’re hugging something like coal, I say again — get real”.
That immediately encouraged a rerun of Morrison’s coal hugging in parliament.
In question time the Prime Minister was decidedly shouty and aggressive.
And, despite the crossbenchers now looming large in his world, he
didn’t make time to sit in the chamber for Kerryn Phelps’ maiden
speech. He had other engagements, his office said.
The Morrison government has been thrown into a parliamentary minority after a crushing defeat in the traditional Liberal seat of Wentworth, which has been captured by high profile independent Kerryn Phelps.
The anti-government swing in Malcolm Turnbull’s former seat of about 20% is one of the biggest for a federal byelection in modern history.
As of late Saturday night, Phelps had achieved a 52-48% two-candidate lead over the Liberals Dave Sharma. Sharma had about 42% of the primary vote; Phelps has polled about 30%.
Labor, which ran dead in the campaign to give the maximum chance of Phelps defeating the Liberals, was on 11%, down nearly 7 percentage points.
Turnbull had a 17.7% margin at the 2016 election, with 62% of the primary vote.
The byelection fiasco will re-open fractures in the government and threatens a damaging burst of infighting between Liberal conservatives and moderates.
It is not clear how it will affect the instability wracking the Nationals, where there is a push on from Barnaby Joyce to try to regain the leadership.
The government is not in danger of falling on the floor of the House because it has enough crossbench support on the matter of confidence. But to pass legislation, it will need the support of one of the now six crossbenchers.
The thumping in Wentworth, although there were special circumstances and it is not a typical seat, will be devastating for government morale and is another major fillip for Labor.
The tearing down of Turnbull in a coup initiated by the conservatives and their candidate Petter Dutton was clearly the key factor in the huge backlash. But also climate change – where the conservatives have pushed for a weakening of policy – was a major issue in the campaign, and the treatment of refugees was also prominent.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s frantic efforts to shore up the vote, including by a major change of the government’s Middle East policy in the campaign’s final week, failed to have an impact.
Phelps told a jubilant election party: “We have made history tonight. This is a great moment for Australian democracy.”
She sent a message to “any young people, any women, any aspiring Independents out there – if you are thinking of running for parliament or running for public office: yes, it can be tough, yes, the road can be hard, but it is so worthwhile that we have the right people stepping up to represent Australia.”
She told the ABC: “People have been concerned about the direction of government for a very long time and we’ve seen a lack of decency, a lack of integrity and we have to look at what the House of Representatives is about. It is about representing the people and the people have spoken loud and clear.”
Morrison left the Invictus Games to appear at the Liberal gathering. “I know this is a tough day, but leadership requires you to turn up on the tough days and the good days, and that’s what you will always get from me as the leader of the Liberal party.”
Morrison admitted: “The Liberal party has paid a big price tonight for the events of several months ago”.
“What’s happened here in Wentworth is not unexpected. Liberals are angry,” he said.
“Tonight is a night when we listen, learn and accept the blows.
In remarks also aimed at rallying his humiliated party, Morrison declared “the bell hasn’t rung” on the bigger fight for the next election.
He defaulted to his stump speech, saying “we believe in a fair go for those who have a go. …we believe it is every Australian’s duty to make a contribution and not take a contribution….My message to Bill Shorten is you will never lead a country that you want to divide.”
Morrison has to quickly recalibrate his pre-election message about the threat of instability if the seat were lost. This was a point he stressed at the end of the campaign, warning: “If an independent is elected at the Wentworth by-election, that will throw us into a hung Parliament and a lot of uncertainty, at a time when the country doesn’t need it.”
Morrison stressed the generally-acknowledged point that Sharma was a quality candidate. “The result today is on us, the Liberals, not on Dave Sharma. When you attract the crystal quality of the man like Dave Sharma, you know your party is heading in the right direction.”
In a gracious speech paying tribute to Phelps and other candidates, Sharma admitted the campaign had been “a little bruising”, and said “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to earn the trust of the voters of Wentworth tonight”.
While some Liberals want Sharma to contest Wentworth at the election, it will be hard to dislodge Phelps, and there will also be pressure to keep him for a more winnable seat.
Former minister Craig Laundy, a strong Turnbull supporter, appearing on Sky, lashed out at right wing commentators, urging colleagues who listened to them to realise they “do not shift votes”.
NSW Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman, who was on the ABC panel, said the result was “not a distinctly Wentworth message” and the Liberals had to heed the lesson. Zimmerman said Liberal research showed that the two biggest things working against the Liberals were the removal of Turnbull as prime minister and concern about climate change.
“I think what we’re seeing tonight is a reflection of the anger in the broader community, but particularly in his own seat … on what happened on that mad week two months ago,” Zimmerman said.
NSW Labor MP Linda Burney said Morrison should consider calling an election.
Turnbull’s son Alex, who urged a vote against the Liberals, tweeted: “Incredible result and proud of the people of Wentworth. A hearty congratulations to @drkerrynphelps who fought a great campaign. A great day for Australian democracy”.
The vote has raised speculation that Tony Abbott could face a threat at the election from an independent in his seat Warringah.
There had been speculation the result could be close, but it was obvious from nearly the start of counting – ABC analyst Antony Green called the result at 7:18pm.
There were 16 candidates in the field.
*This story has been corrected to say one of the biggest swings rather than a record swing.
Fittingly, given the perennial instability of federal politics, the
Wentworth byelection looked clearcut on Saturday night only to become
very murky on Sunday morning.
But as things stand, although a lot of postals are still outstanding,
independent Kerryn Phelps is expected to take the seat and the
Coalition is poised to go into minority government, and potentially to
descend into yet more infighting on the way to seemingly inevitable
defeat next year.
In Wentworth Phelps’ support appears to have strengthened late. She
improved her messaging, while the government’s shambles last week
reinforced in voters’ mind why it needed a walloping.
Regardless of the narrowing in the count, the top line message is that
these voters shouted their outrage at the political assassination of
Malcolm Turnbull. They also strongly signalled they care about climate
change and are not satisfied at the government’s policy response; as
well, they want something done about the offshore refugees who have
been treated inhumanely for so long.
Defenders of the leadership switch will say Wentworth isn’t Australia,
voters elsewhere won’t feel so strongly, and Scott Morrison cuts
through better than Turnbull.
But a large number of Australians are disgusted with the expedient
coup culture that has overtaken our politics. As Liberal candidate
Dave Sharma told Sky on Sunday, “Australians are sick of this
[instability]”. The Coalition can’t avoid paying a price for that at
the election – the question is only how high a one.
To think that the Nationals could be even remotely contemplating a
coup by Barnaby Joyce against Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack
shows that some politicians find it hard to learn the most basic
McCormack is lacklustre but cutting him down would be simply to court
danger. Not least, some rural women are so against Joyce that the
party might face active opposition from them. Yet, Nationals sources
still don’t rule out a move before Christmas.
As for Morrison, as much as bringing him new problems, Wentworth has
put up in lights the ones that were already there.
Even if those in other electorates are not as agitated about climate
change as Wentworthians, that issue is more important to the broad
Australian community than it is to the government.
Morrison may have held the line against the right wing Liberals
arguing for quitting the Paris agreement but he errs by
brushing away people’s concerns about climate change with his
singleminded focus on power prices. Many voters won’t see that
approach as adequate.
Morrison remains wedged between his Liberal right wing ideologues and
mainstream voters. The right claims to speak for the “mainstream” on
climate (and other things) but it doesn’t.
Morrison needs a way out – to show that he understands a more
sophisticated policy is required – but none is in sight.
Liberal deputy leader Josh Frydenberg was holding firmly to present
policies on Sunday, even though he has previously admitted his bitter
disappointment at the death of the National Energy Guarantee, which in
its totality integrated energy and climate policy.
The story is a little more positive on the refugees. Finally, the
government shows a willingness to settle some in New Zealand, but it
demands that Labor pass the legislation to close the “back door” to
stop these people (and boat people settled elsewhere) ever setting
foot in Australia. Labor says such a ban is too wide but the pressure
is on for a deal. One “push” factor is that progress on a New Zealand
solution, albeit partial, would take some weight off Bill Shorten at
Labor’s December national conference.
A hung parliament, assuming it happens, will make everything harder for the government, including building a platform for the election. To pass any
controversial legislation, it would have to get the support of at least one of six crossbenchers. The crossbenchers will exploit their enhanced importance.
Generally, risks will be higher. The possibility of a successful no
confidence motion is remote. But Home Affairs Minister Peter
Dutton might be a little more nervous about the chances of his eligibility to sit in parliament being referred to the High Court.
The government’s worsened situation may impose more discipline on its backbenchers – or it may encourage backbench grandstanding in the pursuit of survival.
Coming up on the policy front is the issue of the response to the religious freedom report. Here Morrison is on a hiding to nothing. His right wing wants
more religions protections to be legislated. But in the run up to
Wentworth he had to promise legislation to remove the existing right
of religious schools to discriminate against gay students – and he is
resisting calls to do the same for teachers. The religious freedom
debate is going in quite another direction to that foreseen by the
right and Morrison himself.
Morrison would do better to simply bury the (still unreleased) report.
But the right won’t allow that.
Then there is the Middle East policy U-turn Morrison put on the table
in the campaign’s last week – to consider shifting the Australian
embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. A decision is due by year’s end.
Is Morrison going to stick to this controversial path – or make an
ungainly retreat? Either way, there’ll be a fresh argument.
After the Wentworth debacle Turnbull’s critics predictably are
intensifying their attack on him – firstly for jumping ship ahead of
the election and secondly for his failure to intervene to help Sharma.
Both Morrison and Sharma appealed personally to Turnbull to come to
the aid of the party.
Turnbull can say he made it clear he would quit parliament if rolled,
and that ex-PMs shouldn’t hang about. The former prime minister can
argue that weighing into the campaign would have been viewed cynically
and thus counterproductive.
If, however, Sharma misses out by a relatively modest margin, the
question will hang in the air: might Turnbull have swung a few votes?
His decisions will seen even by some of his supporters on the
negative side of his legacy ledger.
Independent Kerryn Phelps was more than 1600 votes ahead on Sunday night and still on track to win Wentworth, after a dramatic narrowing of the margin earlier brought Liberal candidate Dave Sharma back into the race.
Phelps received a fillip during the day after a recount found some errors in preference tallies in the Bondi Beach and Bellevue Hill booths.
Phelps’ margin had begun to shrink at the end of Saturday night in the count of prepoll votes. Her lead was then pushed down at the start of Sunday with the count of some postal votes.
There are still several thousand postal votes outstanding, which can come in up to 13 days after the poll.
On a two-candidate basis Phelps is now leading the Liberals Dave Sharma 51.1% to 48.9%.
ABC electoral analyst Antony Green said on Sunday night that Phelps looked to have enough votes to survive a trend against her in postal voting.
Green said Phelps’ campaign peaked on polling day. “She won clearly on polling day, but the votes cast ahead of polling day were not nearly as strong for her.”
Sharma, speaking on Sky on Sunday night, conceded it would be hard for him to make up the gap.
The expected loss of Wentworth throws the Coalition into minority government.
While the government currently has pledges of confidence from some crossbenchers, they would be in a strong position to demand concessions in a hung parliament.
Phelps has said she prefers governments to run full term but has left in qualifiers, when pressed on the issue of whether she would give confidence.
She said on Sunday: “The government and all governments should go full term unless there are exceptional circumstances, and the next election is due in May next year and that’s time enough”.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was in touch with Phelps on Sunday.
He repeated at a news conference his Saturday night message that the result demonstrated the great anger over the leadership coup.
Morrison also said he and Sharma had unsuccessfully asked Malcolm Turnbull to intervene in the campaign. What impact such an intervention would have had “ultimately is for others to judge,” Morrison said.
He reiterated the government’s intention to serve its full term. There was no reason why it couldn’t serve in minority, he said.“That is not an uncommon circumstance”.
“What I will continue to do is be working closely with the crossbenchers, as I have been doing,” he said, noting the government had not had a majority during the byelection period, and hadn’t lost one vote in that time.
With parliament sitting this week Centre Alliance crossbencher Rebekha Sharkie said she and independent Cathy McGowan would seek a meeting with Morrison on Monday to discuss issues – including the instability
in the Nationals.
Sharkie, who had guaranteed the government confidence until after the byelection, said she wanted to hear how Morrison was going to deal with the children on Nauru. As well, there needed to be an action plan for tackling climate change, she said – although the government on Sunday signalled there would be no change in its climate policy.
Sharkie said: “I don’t want to hold the government to ransom but I want to hold them to account”.
She said that the issue of Barnaby Joyce seeking to return to the Nationals’ leadership was about stability.“Do we need another deputy prime minister change?”
“The instability has to stop. I hope the government will knuckle down and deliver good governance.” Her electorate of Mayo, and the rest of the country, did not want to go to an early election.
Sharkie said she was not sure, from Morrison’s Saturday night speech, that he had got the message from Wentworth, but hoped he had thought it through overnight. “I’m not sure we have an understanding of what is the vision of the Prime Minister and his team,” she said, pointing to the chaos of last week.
The government was “all over the place” on the Middle East, she said. She also expressed amazement that government senators had voted by mistake for the Pauline Hanson “It is OK to be white motion”. “I don’t buy that argument. We in the Centre Alliance go through all these motions, make notes on the notice paper and the senators keep up with what they are voting on”.