Poll wrap: Labor and LNP tied in Longman, Sharkie’s massive lead in Mayo, but can we trust seat polls?



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The Centre Alliance’s Rebeka Sharkie looks to be a strong contestant in Mayo’s by-election.
AAP/Kelly Barnes

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

Longman and Mayo are two of the five seats that will be contested at byelections on July 28. ReachTEL polls for the left-wing Australia Institute had a 50-50 tie between Labor and the LNP in Longman, and a massive 62-38 lead for the Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie over the Liberals’ Georgina Downer in Mayo.

These polls represent a two-point gain for Labor in Longman since a late May ReachTEL for Sky News, and a four-point gain for Sharkie since early June. Both polls were conducted with 720 to 740 respondents on June 21 – the day the Coalition passed its complete income tax cuts package through the Senate.

Primary votes in Longman were 39.1% Labor, 34.9% LNP, 14.7% One Nation, 4.4% Greens, 3.7% Other and 3.2% undecided. With Labor well ahead on primary votes, the LNP is benefiting from a strong flow of One Nation preferences.

I believe this is the first Longman poll that has asked for candidate names, rather than just parties. Labor’s MP Susan Lamb resigned over the citizenship fiasco, but will recontest. The LNP’s candidate is Trevor Ruthenberg, former MP for the state seat of Kallangur, which is close to Longman. Both major party candidates are likely to be well-known to Longman voters.

In Mayo, primary votes were 43.5% Sharkie, 32.7% Downer, 9.0% Greens, 8.2% Labor, 4.1% Other and 2.6% undecided. I discussed potential problems with Downer’s candidacy here.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Coalition’s record Newspoll losing streak, and Rebekha Sharkie has large lead in Mayo


The ReachTEL Australia Institute polls for both Longman and Mayo repeated a question on the company tax cuts that I criticised in the above article.

National Ipsos: 53-47 to Labor (54-46 respondent allocated)

A national Ipsos poll for the Fairfax papers, conducted June 20-23 from a sample of 1,200, gave Labor a 53-47 lead by 2016 election preferences, a one-point gain for the Coalition since the post-budget Ipsos in mid-May. Primary votes were 35% Coalition (down one), 35% Labor (down two), 12% Greens (up one) and 6% One Nation (up one).

Labor’s 54-46 lead in the post-budget Ipsos was an outlier, with other polls showing better results for the Coalition. This week’s Ipsos is in line with other polls by 2016 election preferences.

Almost all polling this term has given the Coalition a better position in respondent allocated polling than using the previous election method. This Ipsos poll is an exception, with a 54-46 lead for Labor using respondent preferences, a point better for Labor than the previous election method.

Ipsos is the only current Australian pollster that uses live phone polling. It tends to have weaker primary votes for the major parties than other polls, and stronger primary votes for the Greens and Others.

50% (down one) approved of Malcolm Turnbull’s performance, and 44% (up five) disapproved, for a net approval of +6. Bill Shorten’s net approval was -13, down one point. Turnbull led Shorten by 51-33 as better PM (52-32 in May). Ipsos gives Turnbull stronger ratings than other pollsters, particularly Newspoll.

Turnbull led Shorten on nine of 11 attributes; the exceptions were on social policy and confidence of his party. The largest Turnbull leads were on economic policy (67-48) and foreign policy (64-45). Since April 2016, attribute scores have moved in Shorten’s favour.

In additional questions from last week’s Newspoll, voters favoured Turnbull over Shorten on asylum seekers by 47-30, down from a 52-27 margin in December 2017. 37% thought Labor would open the floodgates to asylum seekers if it wins the next election, 26% thought Labor would improve the current policy, and 24% thought there would be no difference.

ReachTEL’s large error in Darling Range (WA) byelection

On Saturday, the Liberals won the byelection for the Western Australian state seat of Darling Range by a 53.3-46.7 margin against Labor, a 9.1% swing to the Liberals since the 2017 state election. The byelection was caused by the resignation of Labor MP Barry Urban over allegations of fraudulent behaviour. You can read more at my personal website.

The major implication of this byelection to the July 28 federal byelections is that individual seat polls can be very wrong. Just one week before the Darling Range byelection, a ReachTEL poll for The West Australian gave Labor a 54-46 lead, so there was a seven-point error in this poll.

The Darling Range poll was skewed to Labor, but in general seat polls have had large misses in both directions. The Poll Bludger reviewed the performance of seat polls at the last federal election in a July 2016 article. National and state-wide polls have been far more accurate in Australia.

If a seven-point error is applied to the Longman and Mayo polls, then Labor’s two party vote in Longman could be between 43% and 57%, and Sharkie could be between 55% and 69% in Mayo.

Another concern about the Longman poll is the unbelievable age breakdowns. Young people nationally are the strongest demographic for Labor and the Greens, but ReachTEL gave Labor just 20.4% among those aged 18-34, behind One Nation’s 23.0% and the LNP’s 38.8%. Among those aged 51-65, Labor had 53.8% and the LNP just 25.8%.

In brief: Turkish President Erdoğan re-elected

In Sunday’s Turkish election, incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has dominated Turkish politics since 2002, was re-elected with 52.6% of the vote, avoiding a runoff election. Erdoğan’s AKP party lost its single-party parliamentary majority, but will form a coalition with a right-wing ally.

The ConversationIn April 2017, a constitutional referendum granted far more powers to the president at the expense of parliament. Erdoğan will arguably now have powers comparable to a feudal king.

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

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

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Poll wrap: Coalition’s record Newspoll losing streak, and Rebekha Sharkie has large lead in Mayo



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Recently, hard-right Coalition MPs have not had as much influence on government policy as they used to, and Malcolm Turnbull is probably benefiting from this.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted June 14-17 from a sample of 1,660, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, unchanged since three weeks ago. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (steady), 38% Labor (steady), 10% Greens (up one) and 6% One Nation (down two).

This Newspoll is Malcolm Turnbull’s 34th consecutive loss as prime minister, four ahead of Tony Abbott. According to analyst Kevin Bonham, this is the worst Newspoll losing streak for a government, with Turnbull and the Coalition now one ahead of Julia Gillard’s 33 successive losses as PM.

Prior to July 2015, Newspoll was conducted by landline live phone polling with samples of about 1,100. Since July 2015, Newspoll has been administered by Galaxy Research, using robopolling and online methods with samples of about 1,700. The new Newspoll is much less volatile than the old Newspoll, so trailing parties have far less chance of getting lucky with an outlier 50-50 poll.

In this Newspoll, the total vote for Labor and the Greens was up one to 48%, and the total vote for the Coalition and One Nation was down two to 44%. This matches a late March Newspoll as the highest vote for the left-of-centre parties this term. These changes would normally give Labor a two party gain, but it is likely the previous Newspoll was rounded up to 52%, and that this one has been rounded down.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Labor maintains its lead as voters reject company tax cuts; wins on redrawn boundaries


40% were satisfied with Turnbull’s performance (up one), and 50% were dissatisfied (also up one), for a net approval of -10. Bill Shorten’s net approval was down one point to -22. Turnbull continued to lead Shorten by a large 46-31 as better PM (47-30 previously).

Turnbull’s ratings improvement has been sustained since the budget. It is likely he is benefiting from the tax cuts in the next financial year. Recently, hard-right Coalition MPs have not had as much influence on government policy as they used to, and Turnbull is probably benefiting from this.

While Turnbull’s ratings improved, I believe the greater focus on the government’s tax policies and the publicity regarding Barnaby Joyce are holding back the Coalition’s vote. One Nation probably slumped owing to the split between Pauline Hanson and Brian Burston, who is now a senator for Clive Palmer’s new United Australia Party.

Both Newspoll and Essential’s fieldwork was mostly conducted before the federal Liberal council passed a motion to privatise the ABC on Saturday. This vote is likely to be embarrassing for Turnbull and Coalition ministers.

The Australian has been campaigning against the Australian National University’s refusal to allow a Western civilisation course. Most voters would have heard nothing about this issue. It is not surprising that, when given a question skewed in favour of the Western civilisation course, voters backed it by a 66-19 margin.

Essential: 52-48 to Labor

This week’s Essential poll, conducted June 14-17 from a sample of just over 1,000, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a two-point gain for the Coalition since last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (up two) and 35% Labor (down two). Tables have not yet been published, so The Poll Bludger’s report is the best for domestic issues.

79% supported the first stage of the income tax cuts that are introduced in the next financial year, but only 37% supported the third stage, which is scheduled to be phased in from 2024 – these tax cuts would flatten the tax scales. Support and opposition to the company tax cuts were tied at 39% each.

From Peter Lewis in The Guardian, 35% thought the agreement between US President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un would make the world safer, 8% less safe, and 41% thought it would make no difference.

Despite Trump’s presidency, 50% consider it very important for Australia to have a close relationship with the US, followed by the UK at 47% and China at 39%. Russia at 17% and Saudi Arabia at 14% are at the bottom of this table.

By 54-11, voters had a favourable view of New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern, followed by Canadian PM Justin Trudeau (54-14), German Chancellor Angela Merkel (43-18), French President Emmanuel Macron (42-15) and UK PM Theresa May (42-19). Trump had an unfavourable 64-22 rating, Russian President Vladimir Putin 56-19 unfavourable and Kim Jong-un 68-9.

Two Mayo polls give Rebekha Sharkie 58-42 leads over Georgina Downer

On July 28, Mayo is one of five seats up for federal byelections. The incumbent, Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie, was forced to resign over the dual citizenship fiasco, but will recontest. The Liberal candidate is Georgina Downer, daughter of Alexander Downer, who held Mayo from 1984 to 2008.

A ReachTEL poll for the left-wing Australia Institute and a Galaxy poll for The Advertiser both gave Sharkie a 58-42 lead over Downer. Primary votes in Galaxy were 44% Sharkie, 37% Downer, 11% Labor and 6% Greens. In ReachTEL, primary votes were 41.4% Sharkie, 35.5% Downer, 11.1% Greens and 8.2% Labor.

These poll results represent a 3% swing to Sharkie in Mayo compared to the 2016 election. The ReachTEL poll was conducted June 5 from a sample of 1,031, and the Galaxy poll June 7 from a sample of 515.

In the Galaxy poll, 62% had a positive view of Sharkie and just 10% a negative view. In contrast, 31% had a positive view of Downer and 41% a negative view.

The Centre Alliance was Nick Xenophon’s former party, and the expectation was that Sharkie would follow Xenophon down. However, it appears that she has built up a strong profile in Mayo that is independent of Xenophon’s appeal. It is likely Sharkie will defy the collapse of her party to retain Mayo.

It could be perceived that Downer thinks she should have the seat because it was her father’s seat. Other weaknesses for Downer are her membership of the hard-right Institute of Public Affairs, and her absence from Mayo for the last 20 years.

The Australia Institute ReachTEL has left-skewed additional questions. Question 2, regarding company tax cuts, gave unpopular examples of large companies — banks, mining companies and supermarkets. It then offered three options for company tax rates (increased, kept the same or decreased), with only one unfavourable to The Australia Institute’s left-wing agenda.

Three weeks ago, The Australian had a right-skewed company tax cut question in Newspoll, but left-wing organisations often do the same thing, though their profile is far lower than Newspoll.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Newspoll asks skewed company tax cut question as Labor gains


In brief: Darling Range (WA) byelection, Conservatives win in Ontario and Colombia

A byelection for the Western Australian state seat of Darling Range will be held on Saturday. At the March 2017 state election, Labor won Darling Range by 55.8–44.2 against the Liberals, a massive 18.9% swing to Labor from the 2013 election. However, Labor member Barry Urban was forced to resign over allegations of fraudulent behaviour. A ReachTEL poll for The West Australian gave Labor a 54-46 lead in Darling Range.




Read more:
Labor romps to landslide win in WA election


At the June 7 Ontario provincial election, the Conservatives won 76 of the 124 seats, the left-wing NDP 40, the centre-left Liberals seven and the Greens one. The Liberals had governed Ontario for the last 15 years. The Conservatives won just 40.5% of the popular vote, with 33.6% NDP, 19.6% Liberals and 4.6% Greens. First Past the Post, which is used in all federal and provincial Canadian elections, greatly benefited the Conservatives with the left vote split. You can read more at my personal website.

The ConversationAt the Colombian presidential runoff election held on Sunday, conservative Iván Duque Márquez defeated the left-wing Gustavo Petro by a 54.0-41.8 margin. Duque opposes the 2016 peace deal between the government and guerrilla fighters.

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

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

Liberals’ Georgina Downer trailing in early Mayo poll


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie, who quit parliament in the citizenship crisis, has an early lead in her fight to win back her South Australian seat of Mayo, according to a ReachTEL poll.

Sharkie is ahead of her opponent, the high-profile Liberal Georgina Downer, 58% to 42% on a two-party basis.

The poll was commissioned by the Australia Institute, a progressive think tank.

The Liberals have been hopeful of capturing Mayo, thus increasing their parliamentary majority. They held the seat until Sharkie, as part of the Nick Xenophon Team (since renamed the Centre Alliance) won it in 2016 from Jamie Briggs, who earlier had to resign from the ministry over a personal indiscretion.

Georgina Downer is the daughter of Alexander Downer, a former occupant of the seat who was foreign minister in the Howard government.

The vote is on July 28, when five byelections will be held in a Super Saturday across the country. The Liberals believe the long campaign will favour them in Mayo because Sharkie has much less in terms of resources. She is, however, well known in the electorate.

The poll has her on a 40.1% primary vote, with Downer on 34.4%. Labor is polling 7.7%; the Greens 10.7%. The vote for “other/independent” is 3.5%, with 3.6% undecided. The sample was 1031 with polling on the night of June 5.

The poll also asked whether company tax for large companies like banks, mining companies and supermarkets should be increased, kept the same or decreased. The results were: increased, 25.4%; kept the same, 44.9%; decreased, 24.8%.

People were overwhelmingly opposed to the banks receiving a company tax cut (69.1% against).

Asked how they would prefer to spend the $80 billion proposed to be spent on company tax cuts, 51.4% chose “infrastructure and government services like health and education”, 6.5% said personal income tax cuts, 29.1% said decreasing the deficit and repaying debt, and 8.7% said proceeding with the company tax cuts.

The ConversationAsked how the Senate should vote on the third stage of the budget’s income tax policy, which “removes the 37-cent income tax bracket altogether, meaning someone earning $41.000 would pay the same marginal tax rate as someone earning $200,000”, about two thirds (65.3%) said the Senate should oppose it, while 25.2% said it should vote in support.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie most vulnerable at byelections forced by dual citizenship saga



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Rebekha Sharkie’s seat of Mayo is the most likely to change hands at the byelection, after she resigned in the light of the dual citizenship saga.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

On Wednesday morning, the High Court disqualified Labor’s ACT Senator, Katy Gallagher. As a senator, Gallagher’s disqualification will not require a byelection; she will be replaced by Labor’s second candidate on its ACT ticket, David Smith.

However, Gallagher’s case was seen as a test case for four House members: Susan Lamb (Labor, electorate of Longman), Josh Wilson (Labor, Fremantle), Justine Keay (Labor, Braddon) and Rebekha Sharkie (Centre Alliance, Mayo).

By Wednesday afternoon, all four of these members had announced they would resign from Parliament and recontest their seats at subsequent byelections. With the Perth byelection that was required last week, there are likely to be five federal byelections on the same date.




Read more:
Dual citizenship debacle claims five more MPs – and sounds a stern warning for future parliamentarians


All byelections will be held on 2016 boundaries, even if there has been a redistribution in the state in which the byelection takes place. As the incumbent will be recontesting, the byelections caused by section 44 are different from most byelections.

At the 2016 election, Labor gained both Braddon and Longman by defeating Coalition incumbents. Labor’s 0.8% margin in Longman, and 2.2% margin in Braddon do not reflect the “sophomore surge” effect.

If Longman and Braddon were held at a general election, Labor would expect to do better in those seats than nationally, as their new incumbents should receive a personal vote bonus, while the Coalition loses the personal votes of their previous members.

A negative for Labor in Longman is One Nation preferences. In 2016, One Nation won 9.4%, and their how-to-vote cards put Labor ahead of the LNP; Labor won 56.5% of One Nation preferences. One Nation is now more pro-Coalition than in 2016, and is likely to recommend preferences to the LNP at the byelection. However, One Nation’s primary votes are likely to come more from the LNP than Labor, mitigating damage from One Nation’s preferences.

Labor has a 7.5% margin in Fremantle, and the Liberals are more likely to focus on Perth (Labor by 3.3%), where the incumbent Labor member is not recontesting.

In Mayo, the Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie (formerly Nick Xenophon Team) holds a 5.0% margin against the Liberals. However, Xenophon’s attempt to win the balance of power in the South Australian election failed dismally, as his party won zero lower house seats.




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


It is likely Xenophon’s failure will affect Sharkie, although her profile as a sitting member will help her. Sharkie’s interest would be best served by running as an independent, not endorsing Centre Alliance policies. The former Liberal MP Jamie Briggs was negatively perceived, explaining some of the swing to Sharkie in 2016.

On a two party basis, the Liberals hold a 5.4% margin against Labor, a 7.2% swing to Labor since the 2013 election. However, some of this swing is explained by Briggs, and Labor is unlikely to be competitive with a better Liberal candidate.

In summary, I think it is likely that Labor will hold all four of its seats, and that Sharkie is the most vulnerable at these byelections.

Essential: 53-47 to Labor

This week’s Essential, conducted May 3-6 from a sample of 1,033, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, unchanged since last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (up one), 37% Labor (up one), 10% Greens (down one) and 6% One Nation (down two). This will be the last poll conducted before the budget.

Malcolm Turnbull’s net approval was -2, up one point since April. Bill Shorten’s net approval was -4, up four points. Turnbull led Shorten 40-26 as better PM (41-26 in April).

39% (up six since November 2017) thought the Australian economy was good, 32% (down six) thought it was neither good nor bad, and 24% (steady) thought it was poor.

Since May 2017, there was an 11-point increase in those thinking the budget should increase assistance to the unemployed, and eight-point increases for aged pensions, affordable housing and assistance to the needy. The only large decrease was for public transport infrastructure (down six).

28% thought more funding for schools and hospitals most important for the budget, followed by 22% for supporting industries that create jobs, 17% for personal tax cuts, 12% for building infrastructure and 8% for fully funding the NDIS.

Status quo result likely in Tasmanian upper house elections

Every May, two or three of Tasmania’s 15 upper house seats hold elections for a six-year term. Currently the left has control with eight seats (four Labor and four left-wing independents). On Saturday, elections were held in Hobart and Prosser.




Read more:
Dems easily win Virginia and New Jersey governors. Left gains control of Tas upper house


Tasmanian analyst Kevin Bonham has more details. In Hobart, left-wing incumbent independent Rob Valentine defeated another left-wing independent challenger, 61-39, with the Liberals a distant third.

In Prosser, in a field of 13, Liberal Jane Howlett had 26.1%, Labor’s Janet Lambert 22.0% and independent Steve Mav 19.8%. Bonham thinks Howlett is most likely to win when preferences are distributed next Tuesday, the final day for receipt of postals.

If either Howlett or Mav wins in Prosser, the right and left will retain their seats, with no change to the overall balance of power.

In brief: UK local elections, Malaysian election, Australian vs US employment

I wrote for The Poll Bludger about the May 3 UK local government elections. According to the BBC’s projected national vote share, Labour and the Conservatives tied on 35% each. This was the first major UK electoral test since Labour surged back at the June 2017 general election to deny the Conservatives a Commons majority.




Read more:
Conservatives suffer shock loss of majority at UK general election


In Wednesday’s Malaysian election, the party that had governed Malaysia since independence in 1957 was defeated. Former PM, and current opposition leader, Mahathir Mohamad, will become the new PM, the oldest head of government in the world at the age of 92. The opposition parties gained 54 seats from the government.

The ConversationI have written about the Australian and US employment figures on my personal website. The current US unemployment rate is 3.9%, while Australia’s is 5.5%, but Australia’s participation rate is 2.7% higher than in the US. As a result, in my opinion, Australia’s employment situation is better than in the US.

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

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

Dual citizenship debacle claims five more MPs – and sounds a stern warning for future parliamentarians


Anne Twomey, University of Sydney

In one fell swoop, the High Court’s judgment about the eligibility of Katy Gallagher as a Senator disposed of five members of Parliament.

Not only was Gallagher disqualified, but the consequence was that Susan Lamb, Justine Keay, Josh Wilson and Rebekha Sharkie had no legal ground left to stand on. They had to resign, and they did.

In each case, although they had initiated the procedure to renounce their foreign citizenship before the nomination date at the last election, that procedure had not been completed in the United Kingdom and they were still formally British citizens on nomination day. That was enough to see them disqualified.

A change in the law or a clarification?

The ALP had previously boasted of its rigorous vetting of its candidates, and expressed certainty they were all validly elected.

What went wrong? Has the High Court changed its interpretation of the Constitution or has it been consistent, as the Liberal Party claims?

The answer is that the previous position, as set out by the High Court, was ambiguous and could legitimately have been interpreted in two different ways. What the High Court did was to clarify the law by removing the ambiguity.




Read more:
Explainer: what the High Court decision on Katy Gallagher is about and why it matters


When the issue was first dealt with in the 1992 case of Sykes v Cleary, Chief Justice Mason and Justices Toohey and McHugh rejected a strict reading of section 44(i) of the Constitution on the ground that it would:

result in the disqualification of Australian citizens on whom there was imposed involuntarily by operation of foreign law a continuing foreign nationality, notwithstanding that they had taken reasonable steps to renounce that foreign nationality.

They considered that it would

be wrong to interpret the constitutional provision in such a way as to disbar an Australian citizen who had taken all reasonable steps to divest himself or herself of any conflicting allegiance.

Their Honours pointed out that even at federation, Australia was a nation of migrants, and that:

it could scarcely have been intended to disqualify an Australian citizen for election to Parliament on account of his or her continuing to possess a foreign nationality, notwithstanding that he or she had taken reasonable steps to renounce that nationality.

The ambiguity was whether the “reasonable steps test”: (a) only applies where the person would otherwise be disbarred from parliament because he or she was unable to renounce the foreign citizenship by any reasonable means; or (b) applies to all categories of dual citizenship, including those that can readily be renounced by following a reasonable procedure. This would mean that a candidate need only take all the reasonable steps within his or her power to renounce the foreign nationality prior to the nomination date, even if the formal renunciation did not happen until after that date.

Either view about what the court meant could have been fairly taken, but on balance most scholars favoured interpretation (b) because their Honours went on to apply the test of “reasonable steps” to two candidates who had dual citizenship with countries that permitted renunciation.

It was therefore unsurprising that the ALP, in its legal advice to candidates, took interpretation (b), with the consequence that some of its candidates undertook the renunciation process before the nomination date, but not sufficiently early for the renunciation to be completed prior to nomination.

While this approach was legitimate, it was not the most cautious one, as it involved a risk of invalidity if the High Court later decided that (a) was the correct approach.

Doubts arose about this interpretation when the High Court handed down its judgment last year in relation to Barnaby Joyce and the other “citizenship seven” in the Re Canavan case.

There, when discussing the “reasonable steps test”, the High Court did so solely in the context of the “constitutional imperative” to avoid the “irremediable exclusion” of citizens from being capable of election to parliament.

This left lawyers wondering whether the reasonable steps test applied more broadly, and the court had simply not mentioned it in that context, or whether the Court was confining its application to circumstances where the foreign citizenship could not be renounced at all.

What the High Court decided in the Katy Gallagher case

We now have an answer – the court took interpretation (a) above. It held that the “reasonable steps test” only applies where it is impossible or not reasonably possible to renounce the foreign citizenship.

In such a case, the person must still take all reasonable steps within his or her power to renounce that citizenship (but not the “unreasonable” ones). Once this is done, the person can stand for Parliament even though the foreign citizenship continues.

But if the impediment is simply slow processing, or that renunciation is a matter of discretion, this is not enough to trigger the exception. The process of renunciation has to be completed in accordance with the law and procedures of the foreign country before the person nominates as a candidate in a Commonwealth election.

Has this now resolved all the problems?

We now have more certainty than we did a year ago. We know that a person can be disqualified for holding dual citizenship, even when it was inherited through parents and the person holding it did not know of its existence. Ignorance is no excuse. We also now know that a person has to complete the process of renunciation of that foreign citizenship before he or she nominates to stand for parliament, even if it takes a long time to complete it.

The only exemption will be if it is impossible to renounce the foreign citizenship or the steps for doing so are unreasonable, such as a requirement that would involve a risk to the person, such as residency in a dangerous country.

It is in this area that there may yet be litigation. Some countries make it very difficult to renounce foreign citizenship, and the court may have to decide in the future about the point at which that difficulty becomes unreasonable. So this may not necessarily be the last of these cases.

What are the ramifications?

In practice, it will mean that political parties need to complete their pre-selection processes well before an election to allow sufficient time for any renunciation. If there is a snap election, or where casual vacancies or byelections occur and a candidate is needed quickly, those with dual citizenship may have to be passed over if there is not enough time to renounce the foreign citizenship.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Voters just want citizenship crisis fixed – but it isn’t that easy


It is also likely that arrangements will be made with some countries, such as the United Kingdom, to fast-track processing of renunciation to deal with this problem.

But in other countries, this will not be feasible, so some potential candidates will have to renounce a long time in advance in order to be ready to nominate if the opportunity arises. The message to every aspiring politician is to check your family tree, identify any foreign citizenship you may have and renounce now.

Can this be fixed?

Realistically, the only way of removing this problem is by way of a constitutional amendment approved by a referendum. There have been many past proposals to repeal this disqualification, or to replace it with a requirement that all candidates be Australian citizens, or instead to give parliament the power to deal with the issue by legislation.

It would not be necessary to abandon the principle that members of parliament have sole allegiance to Australia. Instead, this could be achieved by legislation that puts control over renunciation of foreign citizenship into Australian hands.

The biggest problem with the current provision is that both the law as to who is a foreign citizen and the procedure to renounce it are outside Australian control.

Would such a referendum be successful? I have my doubts. It is likely to be perceived as something to help politicians, not the people.

The ConversationBut this High Court judgment will make it more difficult for people from some countries to become members of parliament, and that unfairness may provide a stronger argument to support a referendum to change the system.

Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Sydney

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

Four MPs resign as citizenship crisis causes more havoc


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Update

Voters in four states will face byelections after three Labor MPs and a crossbencher announced they were resigning from parliament in the wake of a landmark High Court decision disqualifying ACT Labor senator Katy Gallagher on the grounds that she was a dual British citizen when she nominated for the 2016 election.

Labor’s Josh Wilson (WA), Justine Keay (TAS), and Susan Lamb (QLD) and the Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie (SA) quit within hours of the judgement.

Another byelection will also come from the proposed resignation of the ALP’s Tim Hammond (WA) who is stepping down for family reasons.

Lamb, who holds the highly marginal Queensland seat of Longman will have to renounce her British citizenship before she can recontest her seat. Bill Shorten said he was confident she could do so in time for a byelection.

Earlier story

The High Court has disqualified ACT Labor senator Katy Gallagher from sitting in parliament, in a decision opening the way for four byelections, three of them in Labor seats.

The decision, reigniting the citizenship crisis, has transformed the immediate political landscape, overshadowing Tuesday’s budget and putting immense pressure on Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who delivers his budget reply on Thursday, to have three ALP MPs immediately quit.

Gallagher was ineligible to sit because she had not completed the renunciation of her dual British citizenship when she nominated for the 2016 election.

The four MPs in the firing line are Susan Lamb in the Queensland seat of Longman (0.8% margin), Justine Keay from Braddon in Tasmania (2.2%), Josh Wilson who holds Fremantle in Western Australia (7.5%) and crossbencher Rebekha Sharkie from the South Australian seat of Mayo (5.4%).

Labor already faces a byelection for the seat of Perth, with Tim Hammond announcing last week he would resign for family reasons.

Attorney-General Christian Porter declared the court had provided a “crisp and crystal-clear clarification” of the law. He called for the resignations of the Labor MPs by the end of the day.

Porter flatly rejected Shorten’s earlier statement that the court had set a new precedent. Shorten said Labor would now consider the implications of the decision.

Porter said for Shorten to claim it was a reinterpretation was “talking absolute rubbish”.

“We all knew what the circumstance was last October”, when the court ruled on the case of the Nationals’ Matt Canavan, Porter said.

“Bill Shorten must require the resignation of those three Labor members today, and that must occur before close of business today,” he said.

Neither side looks forward to a plethora of byelections, which are expensive and with unpredictable fallout, so close to a general election.

The contest in Longman would be testing for Labor. The Liberals would have a prospect of picking up Mayo. Sharkie is from the Centre Alliance, formerly the Nick Xenophon Team, the fortunes of which have collapsed.

University of Sydney constitutional expert Anne Twomey said the crux of the court’s decision was that the test of someone having taken reasonable steps to renounce their foreign citizenship – the argument on which Gallagher relied – applied only when the country actually or effectively would not let the person renounce. This did not apply with UK citizenship.

Twomey said the four MPs in question, who were all British citizens when they nominated, were in similar circumstances to Gallagher’s.

She added that “the real problem will be for those people from countries where it is difficult to renounce or it takes a very long time.

“Parties will have to complete pre-selection at least a year before an election to allow sufficient time for renunciation, and even this might not be enough for people from some countries.

“It will also narrow the field for filling casual vacancies to those who have no foreign citizenship, so that renunciation problems can be avoided. The big message here for anyone who might want to be a member of parliament in the future is to renounce now.”

George Williams, from the University of New South Wales, said there could be more MPs caught by the decision.

As a senator, Gallagher’s disqualification does not trigger a byelection – she is set to be replaced on a recount by the next person on the ALP ticket, David Smith.

Sharkie said she would now take urgent legal advice.

“It is my belief that the particulars of my circumstances are materially different to Senator Gallagher’s case. My paperwork was lodged and received by the UK Home Office before the election was called. My paperwork was returned before the election was held.”

Porter rejected her argument that her circumstances were different.

Gallagher said she had always acted on legal advice which indicated she satisfied the eligibility requirements. But she respected court’s decision.

“I believe that I have more to contribute to public life and I will take the time to talk with Labor Party members on how I can do this over the months ahead,” she said.

The citizenship crisis has claimed nine federal parliamentarians since the election. Another two, Barnaby Joyce and John Alexander, were either ruled ineligible or resigned but are still in parliament after being returned at byelections.

The ConversationIn the earlier stages of the citizenship crisis Shorten had been adamant that all Labor MPs had fulfilled the constitutional requirement on citizenship.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

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.

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.