Batman is a strong victory for Shorten, but he still has a selling job on tax move



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Ged Kearney and Bill Shorten pose for a photo at Preston Market.
AAP/Ellen Smith

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

On “Super Saturday”, Bill Shorten dodged a political bullet, while Nick Xenophon took one. South Australian Liberal leader Steven Marshall got the result he should have secured four years ago. The Greens proved the old maxim that disunity is death.

The Batman byelection and the poll in South Australia threw up all sorts of interesting points – even though in other circumstances, contests in a heartland Labor seat and a state with a 16-year-old government might have been routine.

For Shorten, avoiding defeat in Batman was vital – for Labor’s current momentum, for confidence in his leadership and, given his gamble of announcing his latest tax move in the campaign’s last week, for holding the line on a controversial policy.




Read more:
After 16 years, electoral dynamics finally caught up with Labor in South Australia


Many things contributed to Labor’s win, but if you were looking for one, I suspect it might have been that Ged Kearney wasn’t David Feeney. Kearney was the sort of candidate who encouraged Labor voters to be faithful, and not run away in fury.

As for the tax announcement, election watcher Tim Colebatch notes that the pro-Labor swing in the postals and pre-poll votes was much bigger than in the polling booths on the day, and suggests this may show the impact of Shorten unveiling his plan to scrap cash refunds for excess dividend imputation credits.

That the announcement didn’t stymie Labor in the byelection doesn’t mean Shorten has won the argument more widely. Labor will have much explaining to do in this complicated area. But if it had seriously backfired in Batman, that would have given ammunition to the Coalition and caused tensions in the opposition.

Labor was helped in the byelection by the Greens’ internal backbiting. The Greens’ failure to capitalise on a great chance reflects badly on their locals and on leader Richard Di Natale.

The party has deeper problems than its schisms in Batman. It lost a seat in the recent election in Tasmania, its heartland. Nationally, the citizenship crisis has taken its toll, costing it a couple of its strongest Senate performers in Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters. Batman suggests it may have stalled in its push for inner-city federal seats. The next federal election sees the Greens particularly exposed because of the number of senators the party has going out.

The South Australian result has presented something of a reality check on perceptions of the potency of so-called “insurgencies”. This is the third recent state poll in which a major party has won a majority. Late last year in Queensland, Labor secured a second term, as did the Liberals in Tasmania earlier this month.

In Tasmania, the Jacqui Lambie Network got nowhere. In Queensland, One Nation won votes but only one seat. And in South Australia, Xenophon’s SA-Best crashed after initial too-good-to-be-true polls, with Xenophon failing to win the seat he was seeking and SA-Best expected to have no lower house representation.




Read more:
Liberals win South Australian election as Xenophon crushed, while Labor stuns the Greens in Batman


At state level, even when such parties achieve a respectable vote (SA-Best received about 14% of the statewide vote, as did One Nation in the Queensland election), the electoral system makes it hard for them to translate that into lower house seats.

Federally, the Senate’s proportional representation voting system has given small players a relatively easy passage to a very powerful place, although changes to the electoral arrangements will make that more difficult in future.

The “disruptors” are important, because the support they attract is a measure of the disillusionment and fragmentation in the contemporary political system. But South Australia reinforces the point that the major parties are still strong. For quite a few voters, the choice is between duelling desires – between sending an angry message or opting for stability.

Outgoing premier Jay Weatherill, gracious in defeat on Saturday night, didn’t look all that upset. Labor’s bidding for a fifth term in this day and age was an almost impossible ask; anyway, Labor won last time with only about 47% of the two-party vote, so it has been on borrowed time.

The huge loser in South Australia was Xenophon. In politics, as in business, you can be too greedy. Xenophon led a three-person Senate block that had a decisive share of the balance of power. It was capable of exerting much influence, and winning concessions in negotiating legislation. Then he decided he wanted to be kingmaker in South Australia – while still aspiring to be the absent master in Canberra.

His party is likely to end up with just a couple of upper house seats in South Australia. Meanwhile, the federal Senate team has been hit by the citizenship crisis as well as weakened by Xenophon’s departure.

Due to a fight with the party, Tim Storer, a replacement for Skye Kakoschke-Moore, a casualty of the citizenship debacle, will be sworn into the Senate on Monday as an independent. The Nick Xenophon Team has been reduced to two senators (and Rebekha Sharkie in the lower house, who could face a byelection in the citizenship saga).

Xenophon is in neither parliament, and the road ahead for his party is rocky. He now talks about SA-Best as a “start-up party” to gloss over its bad result, but it’s hard to see it as a “start-up” with an enduring future. Xenophon dismisses the prospect of a return to the Senate, but it remains to be seen whether his feet will become itchy.

Federal factors were not significant in the change in South Australia. But the outcome has positive implications for Malcolm Turnbull’s government. One of the big arguments between the federal and Weatherill governments was over energy policy, with Weatherill holding out against Canberra’s National Energy Guarantee (NEG). On Sunday, the federal government was welcoming the South Australian result as very good for the future of the NEG.

Another Liberal win at state level, coming after Tasmania, will also be a morale boost, albeit a limited one, for the embattled federal Liberals.

The ConversationSo, Super Saturday had positive spin-offs for both federal leaders, but substantially more for Shorten than Turnbull.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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After 16 years, electoral dynamics finally caught up with Labor in South Australia



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Labor leader Jay Weatherill concedes defeat as South Australians opt to toss the party out after 16 years.
AAP/David Mariuz

Rob Manwaring, Flinders University

History, finally, caught up with Labor in South Australia. After 16 years in office, and seeking a record fifth term, Jay Weatherill’s Labor has conceded to the Liberals.

While the results have not been finalised, the current state of play has Steven Marshall’s Liberals securing a majority. In the projected seat tally, the Liberals have won 24, Labor 18, Independents three and two seats remain undecided. This is a remarkable and unexpected result for a range of reasons.

Elections, as Nick Xenophon is discovering, have a cold, hard way of clarifying the minds of the voters.

Only two days before the election, most of the major betting agencies had far more favourable odds for a Labor win. Betting odds are sometimes seen as better predictors of election results than polls.




Read more:
Liberals win South Australian election as Xenophon crushed, while Labor stuns the Greens in Batman


So, as we still pick over the results, what seemed to go right for the Liberals and so wrong for Nick Xenophon’s SA-Best team?

For the Liberals, while this was a win, it was not as resounding as, say, Mike Rann’s 2006 “Rann-slide”. Yet, it has been a result a long time coming, having won the popular vote in three of the past four state elections. Marshall’s campaign centred on him being a “safe” change-agent.

Marshall’s success lies in a range of incremental factors. First, he put to bed the historic divisions in the party. In a striking insight, he followed John Howard’s advice not to have votes at shadow cabinet meetings, but decide by consensus. New leadership, coupled with the misery of the long years in the wilderness, helped cement party unity.

Second, Marshall’s policy agenda has remained consistent and undramatic. When he launched his first 100 days in office, this was a smart relaunch of policies already well-known. It might have lacked a “wow” factor, but this has proven to be an asset. South Australians will now see cuts to household bills, a roll-out of a home battery scheme, and a push to deregulate working hours.

Third, the Liberals finally managed to make the most of the ammunition of Labor’s 16 years in office, especially the release of the Oakden report into abuse at the state-run mental health facility. The Liberals capitalised on this with a powerful campaign ad by the son of one of the victims, saying he “had enough” of Labor.

Yet, the story of the night was the deflation of the Xenophon SA-Best threat to the major parties. SA-Best looks set to secure just 13.7% of the vote, much lower than even lowered expectations.

The Xenophon vote fail to carry through – arguably for the following reasons.

First, there was overreach by Xenophon, perhaps mistakenly buoyed by the December Newspoll that not only suggested his party could hoover up a third of the vote, but also dangling the prospect of Xenophon as future premier.

Nick Xenophon and SA-Best may have been too ambitious at this election, with a disappointing result.
AAP/Kelly Barnes

Running 36 SA-Best candidates proved a stretch too far for South Australian voters.

Second, the SA-Best machine seemed ill-equipped and under-prepared for the campaign. Policy announcements came late in the campaign, giving the veneer of “policy on the run”.

In other key seats, some untested SA-Best candidates met difficult challenges. In Colton, Matt Cowdrey, the Liberal candidate and former paralympian, easily saw off the SA-Best candidate. In Mawson – a key SA-Best target, Leon Bignell the Labor (now former) minister ran a strong campaign to damage Xenophon hopes.

The thinness of the SA-Best “machine” might prove a factor, as candidates were recruited late in the piece, and some did not seem quite ready for the media scrutiny, nor have enough time to embed themselves as the SA-Best candidate in their seats.

Voters also seem to have pulled back from the unclear positioning of SA-Best. After the initial honeymoon, SA-Best shifted from its traditional “watchdog” role – previously held by the Democrats – to presenting as a “kingmaker”. This brought additional scrutiny and expectation, pushing Xenophon onto the back foot.




Read more:
As South Australia heads to the polls, the state is at a crossroads


In the final weeks of the campaign, Xenophon was playing to his familiar strength, gambling reform, but voters expected a more embracing policy agenda.

Finally, the Australian political system is undergoing change, but the institutional factors continue to suppress minor party challengers. The lower house, with its majoritarian electoral system, requires a strong performance by the next best-placed challenger. Three-into-two does not easily go.

It is notable too, that the election did not go as planned for other parties. The Australian Conservatives clearly failed to capitalise on their merger with Family First, with a drop in its vote share to 3.1%.

For Labor, the result is far from a disaster, and offers them the chance to rebuild, perhaps with a new leader in Peter Malinauskas.

The ConversationCritically, Australian democracy seems more accelerated, with Liberal governments in Victoria and Queensland ejected after just one term. Marshall will need to move quickly to ensure his new government does not follow this new trend.

Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer, Politics and Public Policy, Flinders University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Liberals win South Australian election as Xenophon crushed, while Labor stuns the Greens in Batman



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Steven Marshall will become the next South Australian premier after defeating Jay Weatherill’s Labor government.
AAP/Tracey Nearmy

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

With 66% of enrolled voters counted in Saturday’s South Australian election, the ABC is calling 24 of the 47 lower house seats for the Liberals, 18 for Labor and three independents. Two seats – Adelaide and Mawson – are in doubt. Pre-poll, postal and absent votes will not start to be counted until Tuesday.

While the Liberals won the election, the biggest losers were Nick Xenophon and his SA-BEST party. SA-BEST does not appear to have won a single lower house seat, while the Liberals crushed Xenophon in Hartley 58.6-41.4. When preferences are distributed, Labor could eliminate Xenophon from the final two candidates on Greens’ preferences.

Statewide primary votes were 37.4% Liberals (down 7.4% since the 2014 election), 33.9% Labor (down 1.9%), 13.7% SA-BEST, 6.6% Greens (down 2.1%) and 3.1% Australian Conservatives (down 3.0% from Family First’s 2014 vote). When counting is complete, I would expect Labor to fall somewhat, with the Liberals and Greens gaining.

Family First merged into the Conservatives last year, but this was not successful in South Australia. In my opinion, Family First had a catchier name than the Australian Conservatives.

In an October-to-December Newspoll, SA-BEST had 32% of the South Australian primary vote, and it was plausible that Xenophon could be the next premier. In the lead-up to the election, Xenophon was attacked by all sides. I believe the biggest reason for Xenophon’s flop was that he lacked a clear agenda to distinguish his party from the major parties.




Read more:
Nick Xenophon could be South Australia’s next premier, while Turnbull loses his 25th successive Newspoll


Labor had governed South Australia for 16 years, and the “it’s time” factor appears to have contributed to the result. But this election was not the disaster Labor suffered after 14 to 16 years in power in Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania at elections between 2011 and 2014.

According to the Poll Bludger, Labor achieved about a two-point swing in its favour in two-party terms from the 2014 election, but it needed a three-point swing to win after a hostile redistribution. In 2014, Labor clung to power, despite losing the two-party vote 53.0-47.0.

In the upper house, half of the 22 members were up for election using statewide proportional representation. With 11 to be elected, a quota is one-twelfth of the vote, or 8.3%. Currently, the Liberals have 3.78 quotas, Labor 3.56, SA-BEST 2.27, the Greens 0.72 and the Conservatives 0.42.




Read more:
Xenophon’s SA-BEST slumps in a South Australian Newspoll, while Turnbull’s better PM lead narrows


Optional above-the-line preferential voting was used at this election. The Liberals will win four seats, Labor three, SA-BEST two and the Greens one. Labor is currently well ahead of the Conservatives in the race for the last seat, but Labor’s vote will probably drop after election day. However, preferences from Dignity, Animal Justice and SA-BEST should help Labor against the Conservatives, with only Liberal Democrats’ preferences likely to flow the other way.

If Labor wins a fourth upper house seat, SA-BEST’s two seats would come at the expense of Dignity and the Conservatives. The overall upper house would then be eight Liberals, eight Labor, two Greens, two SA-BEST, one Advance SA (formerly SA-BEST) and one Conservative. The Liberals would need all of SA-BEST, Advance SA and Conservative to pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens.

The final polls for the South Australian election, from Newspoll and ReachTEL, gave the Liberals 34%, Labor 31% and SA-BEST 16-17%. The major parties, particularly the Liberals, performed better than expected, while SA-BEST performed worse.

Labor defeats the Greens 54.1-45.9 at the Batman byelection

With 74.5% of enrolled voters counted at Saturday’s Batman byelection, Labor’s Ged Kearney defeated the Greens’ Alex Bhathal by a 54.1-45.9 margin, a 3.1% swing to Labor since the 2016 election. Primary votes were 42.7% Kearney (up 7.4%), 40.3% Bhathal (up 4.1%), 6.4% Conservatives and 2.9% Animal Justice. The Liberals won 19.9% at the 2016 election, but did not contest the byelection.

Ged Kearney celebrates her win in Batman with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.
AAP/David Crosling

In the Northcote West booth, Labor and the Greens’ two-party results are the wrong way round. The correction of this error will push Labor’s overall margin down to 53.8-46.2, but postals counted so far have strongly favoured Labor.

At byelections, there are no Greens-favouring absent votes, so Labor’s lead is likely to increase as more postals are counted.

Labor received large swings in its favour in the southern part of Batman, the more Greens-favouring part. Kearney was a far better fit for this part of the electorate than the right-aligned David Feeney. It is also possible there was a backlash against the Greens for courting Liberal votes over opposition to Labor’s plan to alter the tax treatment of franking credits.




Read more:
With Feeney gone, Greens sniff a chance in Batman, and has Xenophon’s bubble burst in South Australia?


For Bill Shorten and federal Labor, the Batman result will be a huge relief. If Labor had lost Batman, the media would have seen it as a backlash against Labor’s tax plan.

The ConversationWhile Labor lost the South Australian election, it was not a disaster. Federal parties generally do better in states where the opposite party is in power, so Labor could do very well in South Australia at the next federal election.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

South Australian ‘soft’ voters inclined to change their government but not impressed with the alternative



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Jay Weatherill was seen as the better performer during the campaign when compared with Steven Marshall.
Morgan Sette/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

An “old” government, an opposition leader many people find lacklustre, and a popular centrist player adept at exploiting discontent. That’s the confusing choice facing “soft” voters in next Saturday’s South Australian election.

It’s little wonder that observers are unwilling to predict the election’s outcome.

In focus group research last week, participants were divided over whether South Australia – which often sees itself as the poor relation among states – is headed in the right or wrong direction.

On the positive side they noted the technology industries, renewable energy, and defence contracts. But then there is the pain – the decline of manufacturing, lack of jobs, low wages, high cost of living, and many young people leaving the state.

Four groups of nine to ten “soft” voters – people still to decide how they will vote – were run on March 7-8, two each in Adelaide and Murray Bridge, a regional city of some 20,000 population. The work was done by Landscape Research for the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis.

There was a mix of gender, age and socioeconomic backgrounds. In Adelaide voters were drawn mainly from the marginal Liberal seat of Hartley (where SA-Best leader Nick Xenophon is running) and Dunstan (also marginal Liberal, held by Opposition Leader Steven Marshall). Both seats are within federal cabinet minister Christopher Pyne’s seat of Sturt.

Murray Bridge is within the state seat of Hammond (safe Liberal); it is located in the federal Liberal seat of Barker, which saw a strong Nick Xenophon Team vote in the 2016 federal election.

Among the election issues, health – including the cost and teething problems of the new Royal Adelaide Hospital – was a prominent concern for these soft voters, especially older ones.

The plight of the Murray River and the management of the Murray Darling Basin resonated in Adelaide as well as obviously in the river city. For the regional voters, inadequate public transport servicing Murray Bridge (cost and availability) was important.




Read more:
Politics podcast: the ‘X factor’ in the South Australian election


Across all groups, a common catch-cry was that “the government should do more to keep young people here” in South Australia.

Premier Jay Weatherill was seen as the better performer during the campaign, when compared with Marshall.

Weatherill, premier since 2011, was perceived as the stronger leader of the two; he has to a degree escaped the blame for South Australia’s decline that is directed at the 16-year-old government.

“He speaks with more authority than Marshall,” said an older Adelaide voter, while an older participant in Murray Bridge thought “the current mob have given us a clearer idea of where they want to take the state than the Liberals”. But there was as well a strand of criticism from the older cohort – that Weatherill is “weak” and “insipid”.

Among the soft voters there was also a compelling sense of “change for change’s sake”, as one participant put it. “Labor has been in power long enough,” said a retiree; another wanted “new faces”.

Going against Weatherill is that, while he was seen as the better political performer, many of these soft voters had no great regard for him or his record in government. “Weatherill is just coasting along on what he thinks he has achieved and bullying tactics,” was the view of one Adelaide participant.

While many soft voters didn’t think Labor deserved re-election, they were hesitant about the Liberals under Marshall.

“If you look at Marshall, how can you ever call him a leader?” said an Adelaide real estate agent, while a retiree said: “He hasn’t imploded yet but that could happen any day given past experience with the Liberal Party”.

Xenophon was regarded widely as standing up for South Australia – several of these voters could spontaneously bring to mind examples of this.

He was seen to have run a “positive” campaign, in contrast to the major parties – this adds to his appeal when soft voters are disappointed with the sniping of the big parties, with which they are deeply disillusioned anyway. People judged the major parties were worried about Xenophon by the fact they were attacking him. “Both parties are seeing him as a real threat and are putting the boot in,” said one participant.

Xenophon, who started his political career as an anti-pokies campaigner, has adopted a pragmatic approach on the issue at this election. Some of these voters regarded this as selling out and becoming “just like the rest”, but for others it was a sign he understood “the need for compromise”.

The Hotels Association campaign against Xenophon has penetrated people’s awareness but also to a degree appears to have backfired, with some of these voters taking the view this was a “big lobby with deep pockets” targeting him for their own nefarious ends.

Soft voters, reacting against the major parties, are attracted to the idea of Xenophon’s party having the balance of power as an antidote to their disillusionment. For those leaning toward voting for SA-Best, it represented a genuine alternative to the majors.

On the other hand, there was some disappointment with Xenophon. His hokey election advertising had not impressed the critics, and they viewed him as superficial. “He’s been exposed when he’s tried to be serious,” said one; another said: “People are beginning to understand Nick is just a showman”.

In Adelaide, SA-Best was seen largely as something of a one-man show, with not much in the way of policies, its attraction being as a vehicle for a protest vote rather than for what it represents in positive terms.

There was also the issue that while Xenophon was a household name, outside the seat of Hartley his supporters would be voting for candidates who were often unknown quantities. As a young Adelaide voter put it, voting for SA-Best was “an awesome gamble”.

In Murray Bridge, a relatively small community, SA-Best has fielded a candidate described in the discussion as a “strong young woman” and the competition appears fierce, with Liberal incumbent Adrian Pederick facing a serious threat.

Participants acknowledged upsides and downsides in the prospect that SA-Best might hold the balance of power. An older Murray Bridge voter said it would “take the arrogance out of decision-making”. But another feared it would mean “South Australia will be stuck in quicksand, no movement, mired”.

Unlike quantitative polling, focus group research has no statistical validity. But for interest, here is the vote-leaning breakdown of these soft voters, in the penultimate week of the campaign.

Of 38 participants in total, eight remained firmly undecided. Of those who could say to which party they were leaning, the Liberals and SA-Best were neck and neck on 11 and 12 respectively, with five leaning to Labor and two thinking of voting for an independent or party other than these three. The Liberals fare more strongly in Adelaide seats, while SA-Best is the frontrunner in Hammond.

The ConversationNotwithstanding their own leanings there was a feeling among some soft voters that Labor might win “by default” because Xenophon would split the Liberal vote and “people will forget the crap”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Xenophon’s SA-BEST slumps in a South Australian Newspoll, while Turnbull’s better PM lead narrows



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Although SA-BEST is averaging 27% in seats it is contesting, the major parties are less vulnerable to losing seats to SA-BEST than it may appear from primary votes.
AAP/David Mariuz

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The South Australian election will be held on March 17. A Newspoll, conducted in the three days from February 27 to March 1 from a sample of 1,078, gave the Liberals 32% of the primary vote (up three since the October to December Newspoll), Labor 30% (up three), SA-BEST 21% (down 11), the Greens 7% (up one) and the Australian Conservatives 6%. No two-party figure was calculated.

About half of SA-BEST’s drop is because it is contesting 36 of the 47 lower house seats, and Newspoll did not offer SA-BEST as an option in the seats it is not contesting. In the seats SA-BEST is contesting, it averaged 27%.




Read more:
With Feeney gone, Greens sniff a chance in Batman, and has Xenophon’s bubble burst in South Australia?


On the three-way better premier question, 29% supported Nick Xenophon (down 17), 28% incumbent Jay Weatherill (up six) and 24% Opposition Leader Steven Marshall (up five). Weatherill led Marshall 38-31 head-to-head (37-32 previously).

Although SA-BEST and Xenophon’s support has slumped, neither of the two major party leaders is at all popular. Weatherill’s net approval is -21, down two points, and Marshall’s net approval is -26, down three points.

The Liberals led Labor 42-38 on best party for the South Australian economy, and led Labor 37-36 on best to maintain the energy supply and keep power prices lower. SA-BEST voters favoured the Liberals 37-33 on the economy and Labor 35-27 on energy.

Although SA-BEST is averaging 27% in seats it is contesting, the major parties are less vulnerable to losing seats to SA-BEST than it may appear from primary votes. Most Greens will preference Labor higher than SA-BEST, and most Conservatives will preference the Liberals higher.

Labor’s biggest problem in South Australia is that it has been in government since 2002. Old governments cannot blame problems on their predecessors, and there is an “It’s Time” factor.

14-to-16-year-old Labor governments in Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania were smashed between 2011 and 2014, so Labor in South Australia is doing well to be competitive. Picking fights with the unpopular federal Coalition government probably explains Labor’s competitiveness.

Only once in the four elections since 2002 South Australian Labor won has the party received a majority of the two party vote (in 2006). At the 2014 election, despite losing the two-party vote 53.0-47.0, Labor won 23 of the 47 seats, and formed government with an independent’s support.

Unlike other Australian electoral commissions, the South Australian commission is required to create electorally fair boundaries. The 2018 boundaries were drawn so that, based on the last election’s results, a party that won a majority of the two-party vote should win a majority of the seats, ignoring independents.

The result of this requirement is that boundaries have been changed to favour the Liberals. According to the ABC’s Antony Green, the new boundaries notionally give the Liberals 27 seats out of 47, to Labor’s 20. Including independents, the Liberals have 24 seats, Labor has 19 and independents four. Ignoring independents, Labor needs a 3.1-point uniform swing to gain four seats from the Liberals and a majority.

The South Australian upper house has 22 members, with half up for election every four years. Statewide proportional representation is used to elect the upper house, with a similar system to the Senate. The South Australian parliament abolished group voting tickets last year.

The new system has optional preferential voting above the line; a single “1” vote above the line will expire within the chosen party, and will not be passed on as preferences to another party. Voters can direct preferences to other parties by marking “2”, “3”, and so on, above the line.

With 11 members to be elected, a quota is one-twelfth of the vote, or 8.3%. Overall, the upper house has eight Liberals, eight Labor, two Greens, two Conservatives, one Dignity and one Advance SA (formerly SA-BEST). At this election, the members up for election are four Liberals, four Labor, one Green, one Conservative and one Dignity.

Federal Newspoll: 53-47 to Labor

This week’s Newspoll, conducted March 1-4 from a sample of 1,660, gave federal Labor a 53-47 lead, unchanged on last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Labor (up one), 37% Coalition (up one), 9% Greens (down one) and 7% One Nation (down one).

This is Malcolm Turnbull’s 28th successive Newspoll loss, just two short of Tony Abbott. If Newspoll sticks to its schedule, Turnbull will hit his 30th loss in April, but parliament will not be sitting until the May budget.

Despite the argument about Bill Shorten and Labor’s stance on the Adani coal mine, Labor gained a point at the expense of the Greens on primary votes. However, the overall Labor/Greens primary is still stuck at 47%, where it has been since August.

Turnbull’s ratings appear to have suffered further from the Barnaby Joyce and Michaelia Cash controversies. 32% were satisfied with Turnbull (down two), and 57% were dissatified (up three), for a net approval of -25. Shorten’s net approval was down three points to -23. Turnbull’s lead as better PM narrowed from 40-33 to 37-35, his equal lowest better PM lead.

In the first Newspoll of the year, in early February, Turnbull was at a net -13 approval, Shorten at a net -18, and Turnbull led Shorten by an emphatic 45-31 as better PM. That Newspoll came after a controversy-free summer holiday period. Since then, Turnbull has lost 12 points of net approval, Shorten has lost five, and Turnbull’s better PM lead has narrowed from 14 points to two.




Read more:
Turnbull and the Coalition begin the year on a positive polling note – but it’s still all about the economy


Essential 53-47 to Labor

In last week’s Essential, conducted February 22-25 from a sample of 1,028, Labor led by 53-47, a one-point gain for the Coalition. Primary votes were 35% Coalition (down one), 35% Labor (down two), 10% Greens (steady) and 8% One Nation (up two).

By 50-32, voters supported a ban on sex between ministers and their staff. Voters also supported a ban on politicians having extra-marital sex 44-36, and a ban on sex between managers and their staff in the workplace 48-35. However, voters were opposed to a ban on sex between workmates 55-22.

A total of 60% thought Barnaby Joyce should resign, with 26% saying he should remain in parliament, and 34% saying he should leave parliament. Only 19% thought he should remain deputy PM.

By 44-41, voters approved of the media reporting on politicians’ private affairs.

Only 23% thought Joyce’s sexual relationship with his staffer was a major concern. On the other hand, 60% thought alleged excessive use of travel entitlements a major concern, and 50% thought finding the staff member work in another minister’s office a major concern.

Essential asked whether four Indigenous-related issues, the republic and changing Australia Day were a high priority. Just 11% thought changing the date of Australia Day was a high priority, and 21% becoming a republic. All the Indigenous-related issues scored higher.

The ConversationBy 48-32, voters would support abolishing private health insurance subsidies, and using this money to include dental care within Medicare.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

‘No pokies’ Xenophon goes for ‘some pokies’, but does his gambling policy go far enough?



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The evidence behind Nick Xenophon’s proposed gambling reforms in South Australia is reasonably strong.
AAP/Morgan Sette

Charles Livingstone, Monash University

SA-Best, led by high-profile former senator Nick Xenophon, has announced its gambling policy ahead of next month’s South Australian election. Xenophon has backed away from the “no pokies” policy that characterised his earlier approach to gambling reform. However, the evidence behind his party’s proposed suite of measures is reasonably strong.

What’s in the policy?

Key aspects of SA-Best’s proposal are:

  • a five-year plan to cut poker machines numbers in South Australia from 12,100 to 8,100;

  • a reduction in maximum bets to A$1, from the current $5;

  • a reduction in maximum prizes from $10,000 to $500;

  • removing particularly addictive features such as “losses disguised as wins”;

  • prohibition of political donations from gambling businesses; and

  • the removal of EFTPOS facilities from gambling venues.

The policy would also empower the state’s Independent Gambling Authority to implement and evaluate these proposals.

The policy is targeted at commercial hotel operators; clubs, “community hotels” and the casino are exempt from the reduction provisions.

There are also proposals to cut trading hours from 18 to 16 per day, with the introduction of a seven-year pokie licence for venues, from January 1, 2019. Increased resources would go to counselling and support for those with gambling problems.

Notably absent from the policy is the introduction of a pre-commitment system, which would enable pokie users to decide in advance how much they want to spend. Along with $1 maximum bets, this was a key recommendation of a Productivity Commission inquiry in 2010.

The policy has attracted the expected response from the gambling industry. The Australian Hotels Association argued the changes would “rip the guts” out of the gambling industry and attack the “26,000 jobs” it claims the industry directly creates.

Does evidence support SA Best’s policies?

We’ve known for some time that reducing maximum bets is likely to reduce the amount wagered by people experiencing severe gambling problems. This in turn reduces the harm they suffer.




Read more:
A $1 maximum bet on pokies would reduce gambling harm


Reducing maximum prizes reduces “volatility”, meaning pokies may have more consistent loss rates.

Reducing access to pokies is also an important intervention, since easy access is a key risk factor for developing a gambling problem. Reducing the number of machines, and the hours they are accessible, support this.




Read more:
Too close to home: people who live near pokie venues at risk


However, very substantial cuts in pokie numbers are needed to meaningfully reduce harm. A cut of the magnitude SA-Best proposes may not be sufficient to prevent those with serious gambling habits from readily accessing pokies. This is because pokies are rarely fully utilised at all times of the week.

Removing easy access to cash has also been identified as an important harm-reduction intervention. This had a positive initial effect in Victoria (especially among high-risk gamblers), when ATMs were removed from pokie venues in 2012.

The harms associated with gambling generally affect far more people than just the gambler. The most recent study, from 2012 indicates that 0.6% of the SA adult population is classified as at high risk of gambling harm, 2.5% are classified as at moderate risk, and another 7.1% at low risk.

Based on census data, this equates to about 8,000 South Australians experiencing severe harm from gambling. Another 33,100 are experiencing significant harm, and about 94,000 are experiencing some harm.

However, each high-risk gambler affects six others; each moderate-risk gambler affects three others; and each low-risk gambler one other. So, the problems of each high-risk gambler affect another 47,660 South Australians. These are children, spouses, other relatives, friends, employers, the general community via the costs of crime, and so on.

Another 99,300 are affected by moderate-risk gambling, and another 94,000 by low-risk gambling. All up, this amounts to 241,000 people.

Of these, 190,000 are affected at high or significant levels. These harms include financial disaster and bankruptcy, divorce or separation, neglect of children, intimate partner violence and other violent crime, crimes against property, mental and physical ill-health, and in some cases, suicide.

Most gambling problems (around 75%) are related to pokies, and by far the greatest expenditure goes through them. Nothing has changed in this regard since the Productivity Commission identified this in 2010.

In this context, SA-Best’s policy has substantial justification.




Read more:
Removing pokies from Tasmania’s clubs and pubs would help gamblers without hurting the economy


Does it go far enough?

The South Australian Greens, like their counterparts in Tasmania and the Tasmanian Labor Party, want to get all pokies out of pubs and clubs. They argue gambling’s social and economic costs are far in excess of the benefits.

For Tasmania, the costs of gambling can be estimated at about $342 million per year. This is more than three times as much as the total tax take from all gambling in the state.

A similar calculation for South Australia suggests its overall costs of problem gambling are more than $1.6 billion per year. This is more than four times the total taxes from gambling the South Australian government derived in 2015-16 ($380.3 million).

With a cost-benefit ratio like that, some strong measures could well be called for. Xenophon says the proposals encapsulated in his party’s policy are the start. However, Tasmanian Labor has set the new benchmark for pokie regulation – removing them entirely from pubs and clubs.

It is remarkable that a party traditionally in lockstep with – and substantially supported by – the gambling industry has adopted such a position. Perhaps the harms have become too much to ignore?

The ConversationHow these policies might be implemented, amid the resistance they will face from a well-heeled and often-influential gambling industry, presents an intriguing prospect over coming months.

Charles Livingstone, Senior Lecturer, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

With Feeney gone, Greens sniff a chance in Batman, and has Xenophon’s bubble burst in South Australia?



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Ged Kearney has been announced as Labor’s star candidate for the inner-Melbourne seat of Batman.
AAP/David Crosling

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

On February 1, Labor’s David Feeney resigned as the member for Batman, as he could not find proof that he had renounced his British citizenship. This will trigger a byelection in Batman, which Labor could lose to the Greens. In November 2017, Labor lost the Victorian state seat of Northcote to the Greens at a byelection.




Read more:
Contradictory polls in Queensland, while the Greens storm Northcote in Victoria


Victoria has 37 federal seats, and 88 lower house state seats, so federal seats have more than twice as many enrolled voters as state seats. Batman encompasses Northcote, but also includes northern suburbs away from the inner city, where Labor does relatively well and the Greens poorly.

The Poll Bludger’s booth map below shows the clear divide between north Batman (all red booths representing Labor two-party wins against the Greens in 2016) and south Batman (all but one booth Green). The state seat of Northcote is south Batman. Larger numbers on the map are booths where more people voted.

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During the 2016 election campaign, Feeney embarrassed Labor when it was revealed he had not declared a A$2.3 million house. Feeney narrowly held Batman by 51-49 against the Greens at the election, a 9.6-point swing to the Greens. Labor will hope the large swing reflected anti-Feeney sentiment, and that a fresh Labor candidate – former ACTU president Ged Kearney – can hold Batman.

At the 2016 election, the Liberals directed preferences to Feeney, enabling him to win after trailing the Greens on primary votes. The Liberals are very unlikely to field a candidate at the byelection, and this will help the Greens.

Kearney is already well-known and will have a personal vote. She is from Labor’s left faction, and will be a better fit with the electorate than the right-aligned Feeney. Alex Bhathal will be the Greens’ candidate; she also stood at the 2016 election.

Other Section 44 cases

In late 2017, Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie resigned owing to a dual citizenship. However, Lambie’s number-two candidate, Steve Martin, could also be disqualified, as he was the Devonport mayor at the 2016 election. The High Court has not yet ruled on whether a local government position violates Section 44(iv) of the Constitution, pertaining to public service employees.

If Martin is disqualified, her number three, Rob Waterman, also has problems. If none of Lambie’s ticket are eligible, One Nation’s Kate McCullogh would win the final Tasmanian Senate seat.

SA-BEST’s number four, Tim Storer, attempted to replace Nick Xenophon in the Senate, against his party’s wishes, when Xenophon resigned to contest the South Australian election. As a result, Storer was kicked out of the party.

However, SA-BEST senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore resigned in November as she had a dual citizenship. SA-BEST is arguing that Storer should not be allowed to replace Kakoschke-Moore as he is no longer in SA-BEST; it wants Kakoschke-Moore to replace herself.

Labor’s ACT senator, Katy Gallagher, renounced her British citizenship before nominations closed for the 2016 election, but she did not receive confirmation of renunciation until after nominations closed. If the High Court rules against Gallagher, at least three Labor lower house members, whose circumstances are similar to Gallagher, will probably have to resign.

Another issue is assignment to short and long Senate terms. At the beginning of this parliamentary term, following the double-dissolution election, senators were assigned to either short terms (expiring June 2019) or long terms (expiring June 2022). If a long-term senator is replaced by someone on the ticket who should only get a short term, it creates a fairness problem.

In late December, Liberal Jim Molan was declared elected to the Senate by the High Court to replace National Fiona Nash, who had a long term. Molan accepted a short term, and the number four on the joint New South Wales Coalition ticket, Liberal Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, will be promoted from a short term to a long term.

Molan won his seat from number seven on the Coalition ticket, after Nash’s original replacement, the moderate Liberal Hollie Hughes, was disqualified for taking up public service work following her failure in the 2016 election.

Bob Day’s replacement in Senate, Lucy Gichuhi, becomes a Liberal

In early 2017, before the citizenship crisis started, Family First senator Bob Day was declared ineligible to be elected by the High Court, and replaced by Family First’s South Australian number two, Lucy Gichuhi.

When Family First became part of Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives, Gichuhi did not join the new party, instead sitting as an independent. Yesterday, Gichuhi joined the Liberals.

This outcome gives the Coalition 30 of 76 Senate seats, making up for the loss of Bernardi. It is unlikely to have an impact on Senate votes, as Gichuhi voted with the Liberals a large proportion of the time.

While Gichuhi has a short Senate term, Bernardi has a long term, so he cannot be replaced until July 2022 barring a double dissolution.

ReachTEL South Australian poll: just 17.6% for Xenophon’s SA-BEST

The South Australian election will be held in six weeks, on March 17. A ReachTEL poll for the Climate Council, conducted on January 29 from a sample of 1,054, gave the Liberals 33.4% of the primary vote, Labor 26.1%, Nick Xenophon’s SA-BEST 17.6%, the Greens 5.5%, Others 9.1% and 8.3% were undecided.

If undecided were excluded, primary votes would be 36.4% Liberal, 28.5% Labor, 19.2% SA-BEST, 6.0% Greens and 9.9% others.

There has been no statewide South Australian ReachTEL poll since the 2014 state election. An October to December Newspoll gave SA-BEST 32%, ahead of both major parties. Galaxy polling conducted about three weeks ago gave SA-BEST primary vote leads in three seats it is contesting.




Read more:
Nick Xenophon could be South Australia’s next premier, while Turnbull loses his 25th successive Newspoll


If this ReachTEL poll is correct, there has been a dramatic fall in SA-BEST support in the fortnight from when the Galaxy polls were conducted to the ReachTEL. The major South Australian parties started to vigorously campaign against SA-BEST after the Galaxy polls had been conducted.

The ConversationI would like to see some more polls before concluding that Xenophon’s bubble has burst, but this ReachTEL is not at all good for him.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Nick Xenophon could be South Australia’s next premier, while Turnbull loses his 25th successive Newspoll



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Nick Xenophon won 46% of the preferred South Australian premier vote in a recent Newspoll.
AAP/Morgan Sette

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The next South Australian election will be held in three months, on March 17, 2018. A South Australian Newspoll, conducted October to December from a sample of 800, had primary votes of 32% for Nick Xenophon’s SA-BEST party, 29% Liberal, 27% Labor, and 6% Greens.

On the better premier measure, Nick Xenophon had 46% of the vote, followed by incumbent Jay Weatherill on 22% and Opposition Leader Steven Marshall on 19%.

Xenophon’s strong performance is partly explained by the dire ratings of both Weatherill and Marshall. Weatherill had 53% dissatisfied, 34% satisfied, for a net approval of minus 19. Marshall had 50% dissatisfied, 27% satisfied, for a net approval of minus 23.

The previous South Australian Newspoll was taken in late 2015. A Galaxy poll taken for the Australian Bankers’ Association in early October gave the Liberals 31% of the primary vote, SA-BEST 30%, and Labor 26%. The better premier measure in that poll had 41% Xenophon, with Weatherill and Marshall both on 21%.

If the primary votes in Newspoll were replicated at the March 2018 election, SA-BEST would probably win a clear majority of lower house seats. Both major parties’ supporters dislike the other major party, so most Labor voters will preference SA-BEST ahead of the Liberals, and vice versa.

There are still three months until the election, and SA-BEST will be attacked ferociously in the coming weeks. However, the disdain for both major parties, and Xenophon’s popularity, gives SA-BEST a real opportunity to end the major party duopoly in South Australia.

The total vote for all “others” in Newspoll is 6%. At the 2014 state election, Family First won 6%. This poll does not suggest the Australian Conservatives, formed by Cory Bernardi, are surging.

Turnbull loses his 25th successive Newspoll, 53-47

This week’s Newspoll, conducted December 14-17 from a sample of 1,670, gave federal Labor a 53-47 lead, unchanged from last fortnight. Primary votes were 37% Labor (steady), 36% Coalition (steady), 10% Greens (steady), and 7% One Nation (down one).

This is Malcolm Turnbull’s 25th successive Newspoll loss. Tony Abbott lost 30 in a row before he was dumped.

Turnbull’s ratings were unchanged at 57% dissatisfied, 32% satisfied, for a net approval of minus 25. Bill Shorten’s net approval fell three points to minus 24. Turnbull led by 41-34 as better prime minister (39-33 last fortnight).

The 7% for One Nation is its lowest support in Newspoll since December 2016, before One Nation was included in the party readout. On the overall vote for left- and right-wing parties, the left leads by 47-43 in this Newspoll (47-44 last fortnight). This is the first change in the overall left/right balance since October.

The passage of same-sex marriage legislation through parliament and the media furore over Sam Dastyari do not appear to have improved the Coalition’s position. Most voters realise that the large “yes” vote in the plebiscite forced the Coalition to act. It is likely that only partisans are interested in Dastyari.

Newspoll (paywalled) asked who was better at handling the economy, national security, asylum seekers, cost of living, and tax cuts. Turnbull had more than 20-point leads over Shorten on the first three issues, and a 40-33 lead on tax cuts. Shorten led by 43-41 on cost of living.

These questions are biased in favour of Turnbull, as they appeal to the Coalition’s perceived strength on the economy, national security and asylum seekers. There were no questions regarding issues like health, education and climate change, where Labor is perceived to be better than the Coalition.

Incumbent prime ministers tend to outperform their party, so Labor would probably have obtained more favourable results had Newspoll asked Coalition vs Labor, not Turnbull vs Shorten.

Essential 53-47 to Labor

In this week’s Essential, the Coalition gained two points since last fortnight, reducing Labor’s lead to 53-47. Primary votes were 38% Labor, 37% Coalition, 9% Greens and 7% One Nation. Essential uses a two-week sample of about 1,800, with additional questions based on one week’s sample.

All proposed reforms of political donations were very popular, with the exception of banning donations and making all political party spending taxpayer-funded (50-30 opposed).

Respondents were asked whether the last 12 months had been good or bad for various items. The economy had a net +11 rating, large companies a net +22, your workplace a net +34, and you and your family a net +27. The planet had a net -22 rating and Australian politics a net -36.

Respondents were also asked about their expectations for 2018, though Essential apparently thought the next year is 2017.

By 54-29, voters disapproved of the proposed A$50 billion in company tax cuts to medium and large businesses (50-30 in October). By 47-8, voters thought personal income tax cuts were more important than business tax cuts, with 33% for both being equally important.

37% thought interference in Australian politics by foreign countries is a major problem, 36% a minor problem, and 12% did not think it was a problem at all.

Bennelong preference flows

With virtually all votes counted in Saturday’s Bennelong byelection, Liberal John Alexander defeated Labor’s Kristina Keneally by 54.9-45.1, a 4.9-point swing to Labor since the 2016 election. Primary votes were 45.1% Alexander, 35.8% Keneally, 6.7% Greens, 4.3% Australian Conservatives, and 3.1% Christian Democrats.

The informal rate of 8.1% is far too high, and indicates savings provisions should be introduced so that votes can still be counted even if voters do not number every square. There is confusion in New South Wales because state elections use optional preferential voting.

I have information about preference flows from one booth in Bennelong from a Labor scrutineer. At this booth, Keneally won 88% of Greens preferences, but Alexander won 85% of Australian Conservatives’ preferences and 77% of Christian Democrat preferences.

Preferences of other candidates split evenly between Keneally and Alexander. This booth may not be representative of the whole electorate, but these preference flows seem reasonable.

The ConversationWhile Newspoll and Galaxy understated Alexander by four-to-five points, these polls were of one seat. Australian pollsters have been bad with seat polling, but very good with national and state polls. The error in Bennelong does not affect the trustworthiness of Newspoll’s national polls.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

High Court to rule on two Labor MPs, but partisan row protects others


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

A batch of MPs escaped being sent to the High Court on Wednesday thanks to a stalemate between the government and the opposition over who should be referred.

But the eligibility of two Labor MPs will be considered by the court – Victorian David Feeney and ACT senator Katy Gallagher.

The opposition failed in an attempt to get a “job lot” of MPs referred that included four Liberals, four from the ALP, and the Nick Xenophon Team’s Rebekha Sharkie.

The ALP motion was supported by all five crossbenchers, resulting in a tied vote of 73-73. The Speaker, Tony Smith, acting in line with parliamentary convention, used his casting vote to defeat the motion.

The government, insisting that none of its MPs should be referred, wanted the members considered individually.

But crossbenchers rejected that argument, seeing it as the government being partisan.

The government said it would continue to talk to the crossbenchers overnight but they are not likely to be swayed before parliament rises this week for the summer recess.

The Labor MPs in the opposition motion were Justine Keay, Josh Wilson, Susan Lamb and Feeney.

The case of Gallagher – who took action to renounce her British citizenship but did not get registration of her renunciation before she nominated for the 2016 election – should provide guidance in relation to the three other Labor MPs and Sharkie, who have similar circumstances.

Labor argues that those who had taken reasonable steps to renounce but did not receive their confirmations in time (or, in Lamb’s case, at all) are eligible.

Feeney is in a different category from the other Labor MPs – he has not been able to provide evidence that he renounced his British citizenship in 2007, as he says he did. He was referred after the job-lot motion’s defeat.

Both Gallagher and Feeney accepted they should be referred. Gallagher, while maintaining her eligibility, told the Senate she was standing aside from her frontbench positions and had asked to be referred to the court, saying her opponents would continue to use the issue.

Labor said the four Liberals – Jason Falinski, Julia Banks, Nola Marino and Alex Hawke – had not provided adequate documentation of their eligibility.

In the run up to the vote, Marino released advice from the Italian consulate saying she was not an Italian citizen.

Falinski produced advice saying that he was not a citizen of the UK, Poland, Russia or Kyrgyzstan. But the letter to Falinski was dated Wednesday and the law firm, Arnold Bloch Leibler, said that “as previously discussed, we cannot conclusively advise on foreign law and recommend that you seek independent advice from foreign law experts”.

The crossbenchers were lobbied hard over the motion, including on the floor of the chamber, by both the opposition and the government.

Labor made an unsuccessful attempt to get its motion dealt with before Barnaby Joyce, who has just faced a byelection after the High Court declared him ineligible to sit, returned to the lower house.

Labor had a temporary majority but did not have enough time. Joyce was sworn in at 1.15pm and his presence in the subsequent debate meant the numbers were tied.

Moving the motion, Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke said: “The only appropriate way for us to deal with this is to make sure that, wherever there has been serious doubt across the chamber, the High Court becomes the decision-maker rather than the numbers on the floor of this house”.

Arguing for a case-by-case approach, Malcolm Turnbull said that Labor “with not a principle in sight, with not a skerrick of evidence … wants to send members of the House to the High Court … without making any case that they are, in fact, dual citizens”.

The Greens’ Adam Bandt said the approach must be “even-handed and non-partisan”. “We think there should be an agreed set of names that go forward from this house.”

Sharkie, appealing for unity, said: “We will hang individually if we don’t hang together”.

Crossbencher Bob Katter told the parliament that none of the MPs should be sent to the High Court.

Labor leader Bill Shorten revealed that he had known for just over a week that Feeney didn’t have the required documents.

“I informed him that he needed to tell the parliament what was happening, and I made it clear to him that there was a deadline of disclosure,” Shorten told reporters.

Feeney has said he is still trying to have the British authorities find documentation that he renounced UK citizenship.

If Feeney is disqualified, Labor would be at risk of losing his seat of Batman to the Greens. There is doubt over whether he would be the candidate in a byelection.

Shorten did not disguise how angry he is with Feeney. “I am deeply frustrated – that’s a polite way of putting it – that one of my 100 MPs can’t find some of the documents which, to be fair to him, [he] says exist and says he actioned,” Shorten said.

He admitted that if he had been aware of Feeney’s situation he would not have been so definite in his repeated confident statements about the eligibility of all his MPs.

The ConversationLabor was divided internally over whether it should pursue Josh Frydenberg, whose mother came to Australia stateless: the Burke motion did not include him. The ALP is also not at this point pursuing another of those it has named, Arthur Sinodinos, who is away on sick leave.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/hdjfk-7dce11?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Near enough may not be good enough as parliament’s dual citizenship crisis deepens



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Labor senator Katy Gallagher has been referred to the High Court over her possible dual citizenship status.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Lorraine Finlay, Murdoch University

Over the past five months, a growing of numbers MPs elected at the 2016 federal election have either been disqualified or resigned from parliament because of dual citizenship issues.

This extraordinary chain of events started back in July with the resignation of Greens senator Scott Ludlam. It looks set to continue into 2018, after the publication of citizenship registries revealed several more MPs have serious dual citizenship questions to answer.


Further reading: New blow for Labor as David Feeney hits citizenship hurdle


Among those likely to be referred to the High Court are several senators and MPs whose citizenship declarations show they were technically still dual citizens when nominations closed before the 2016 federal election, but who claim they had personally taken all reasonable steps to renounce their dual citizenship before that date.

This group includes Labor’s Katy Gallagher (who has been referred to the High Court already), Justine Keay, Susan Lamb and Josh Wilson, and the Nick Xenophon Team’s Rebekha Sharkie.

All reasonable steps?

Several of these MPs have received legal advice suggesting they will not be disqualified under Section 44 of the Constitution because they had taken all reasonable steps to renounce their dual citizenship before nominating as an election candidate.

For example, all appear to have completed their renunciation paperwork and paid the required fee before nominating, but were waiting on the British Home Office to register the renunciation. They did not receive formal confirmation of their renunciation until after the election.

Under British law, citizenship does not cease until the secretary of state actually registers the declaration of renunciation.

In order for someone personally taking “all reasonable steps” to be eligible – in circumstances where that renunciation has not actually been accepted – the High Court would need to take a flexible view of Section 44’s wording.

The court has never been asked to directly consider this precise set of circumstances before, so nobody can be entirely sure what it would find. But given the strict reading of Section 44 adopted in recent cases, it would not be surprising if these five MPs were all found to be disqualified.

In the case of the “Citizenship Seven”, the court unanimously found that the dual citizenship provision is “cast in peremptory terms”. This means it sets out a definite obligation in clear and certain words.

While the court found there would be cases where someone who had taken “all reasonable steps” to renounce dual citizenship would not be disqualified, this was not a test of general application. Rather, it was a specific exception that applied where the law of a foreign country prevented someone from renouncing their foreign citizenship, or made it unreasonably difficult for them to do so.

This was based on the constitutional imperative that an Australian citizen should not:

… be irremediably prevented by foreign law from participation in representative government.


Further reading: The High Court sticks to the letter of the law on the ‘citizenship seven’


None of the five MPs mentioned above were “irremediably prevented” from renouncing. Instead, they had failed to do so in enough time to have the renunciation registered before the required date. So, it is difficult to see the court accepting that the British renunciation procedures were so unreasonable that they amounted to someone being “irremediably prevented”.

Taking this approach, the only fact that will matter is that these MPs were all still actually dual citizens at the time of nomination. On this basis, they would all be disqualified.

To escape disqualification, they will need the court to extend the “all reasonable steps” exception to every case of dual citizenship. It is open to the court to do this, but the recent decisions in relation to both the Citizenship Seven and Hollie Hughes suggest a stricter approach.


Further reading: High Court strikes again – knocking out Hollie Hughes as replacement senator


This means it is entirely possible that Gallagher, Keay, Lamb, Wilson and Sharkie will all be declared ineligible. At the very least, there is a real question to be answered about their eligibility.

That it has taken more than five months and a compulsory declaration procedure for this to come to light reflects extremely badly on these MPs.

Previous ineligibility

The citizenship registers have also revealed that there are several MPs who were eligible at the time of the 2016 federal election but who appear to have had dual citizenship issues for at least part of a previous parliamentary term. This includes Greens senator Nick McKim, Labor senators Alex Gallacher, Louise Pratt and Lisa Singh, and Liberal senator Dean Smith.

Since they relate only to previous parliamentary terms, none of these cases will be referred to the High Court. However, these MPs’ conduct should not escape criticism.

Again, that it has taken more than five months and a compulsory declaration procedure for these cases to come to light is highly disappointing.

The ConversationThe real issue here isn’t one of dual citizenship, but rather the honesty and integrity of our MPs. The dual citizenship issue is likely to be fixed in the future through greater candidate awareness and political parties undertaking stricter vetting processes. The loss of trust between the Australian people and their MPs is much harder to fix.

Lorraine Finlay, Lecturer in Law, Murdoch University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.