Grattan on Friday: Liberals plan for May election but Morrison might look better in March


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

While the Coalition took a hit in its two-party vote after the leadership change, the next few Newspolls will tell whether Scott Morrison – who’s started better than many anticipated – restores the government to the 49-51% position of Malcolm Turnbull’s last days.

That would still leave Labor election favourite, not least because the government has no fat in terms of seats and the redistribution works against it. Plus, of course, the voters’ sour mood.

But the narrowing would put Labor nerves on edge. It would judge that if, come election time, it goes into a campaign against Morrison with a lead around 51-49%, the fight could be tougher than if the margin were similar but the opponent had been Turnbull. Turnbull was a poor campaigner; Morrison shows the signs of a good one.

Labor has had plenty of luck, but it needs to keep up the momentum, to look the positive alternative, not just a fallback for disillusioned voters.

This week again saw Bill Shorten on the move. His proposed funding to extend subsidised pre-schooling to three-year-olds is playing to Labor’s policy strength in education.




Read more:
A Shorten government would subsidise pre-school for three year olds


His other initiative – roundtables to hear the stories of more victims of the banks and other financial institutions – exploits the potent politics of a scandal that has gripped most people’s attention. Labor’s research tells it the public are red hot with anger about what’s come out at the royal commission.

The government accuses the opposition of disrespecting the commission by launching its own listening tour.

But it’s unlikely too many voters will see it that way. And the sessions, especially those in regional areas, will build on another strength. As leader Shorten has held town hall meetings all over the country. Such grassroots gatherings are useful for establishing Labor’s presence on the ground.




Read more:
Labor to hold its own ‘hearings’ for bank victims


Between now and Christmas Shorten will be rolling out more policy. Meanwhile, the government continues working on removing negatives.

Morrison as treasurer had started on one of these when in July the government announced a new formula for distributing the GST revenue, rectifying Western Australia being disadvantaged under the existing one. To smooth the way, the Commonwealth threw in an extra $9 billion over a decade so no state or territory would be left worse off.

With several WA Liberal seats at risk, getting this sorted was urgent; the government decided not to haggle with the states for an agreement but to legislate the change.

But, despite the assurance there’ll be no losers, state treasurers on Wednesday conjured up possible adverse scenarios and insisted the “no worse off” guarantee must be in the legislation, a demand the federal government is resisting.

The legislation is expected to pass in the end, but only after more argy bargy. It is another example of how messy barnacle-removal can be.




Read more:
States want the GST guarantee set in legislative stone


Especially when it involves state governments that have elections pending: Victoria goes to the polls on November 24 and NSW on March 23. NSW treasurer Dominic Perrottet was particularly vocal on the GST guarantee.

The Berejiklian government has its elbows out more generally. It recently attacked the Morrison deal to give a pot of money to the Catholic (and other non-government) schools to buy peace. NSW complained this was unfair because it left out government schools and distorted the Gonski-based policy announced by Turnbull.

The Morrison and Berejiklian governments might be of the same stripe but, with both facing elections in the first half of 2019, their interests rub up against each other uncomfortably.

Each is on the nose. The thinking is that whichever goes to the people first could get a double hit, with NSW voters taking out their anger simultaneously against both administrations.

This is a big strike against a March federal poll in the eyes of federal Liberals, apart from the problem of partially overlapping campaigns. The NSW government would dearly like Morrison to run first but all the federal Liberal planning appears to be heading towards May.

“Morrison needs time,” is the mantra. Maybe. But there is a counter argument, even if it is not being run.

Morrison hasn’t received a honeymoon bounce in the two-party vote, but he has had good publicity. He’s been cast as a can-do guy. But will this fade as the months wear on?

By the time the government gets to the weeks before a May election, the arguments about policy will have deepened, and how will Morrison go then?

In particular, will the Coalition’s energy policy uncertainty be difficult to handle as the weather starts to chill and people look to another winter?

It is unlikely there will be serious good news on consumer prices. It’s early days but the new energy minister, Angus Taylor, has not at yet come across strongly or indeed been much in evidence. Will he be convincing when he’s put under pressure?

An election launched at the start of February for early March would come off a non-parliamentary period; one launched in April for May (with, incidentally, Easter falling awkwardly during the campaign) would come after parliamentary sittings, which often are difficult for the government.

One reason for the May timetable is that the government needs to fit in a pre-election economic statement (because there would not be a budget before the poll). But though a squeeze, it wouldn’t be too hard to have that statement early.

A factor in the government’s standing over the summer will be the October 20 Wentworth byelection – the outcome will affect its morale and subsequent media coverage.

The conventional wisdom is that a prime minister (who can choose the date, unlike a premier faced with a fixed date) will go when the evidence suggests they can win. This is trickier if a loss seems more probable than victory, whatever the date.

So the assessment becomes: when will the government be at its peak, whatever that peak might be?

Whether Morrison would be at his strongest in March or May is a moot point.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Poll wrap: Phelps slumps to third in Wentworth; Trump’s ratings up after fight over Kavanaugh



File 20181005 72110 1qdrmpu.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Independent Kerryn Phelps has slumped in the polls ahead of the Wentworth byelection, which was likely caused by changing her position on preferences.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The Wentworth byelection will be held on October 20. A ReachTEL poll for independent Licia Heath’s campaign, conducted September 27 from a sample of 727, gave the Liberals’ Dave Sharma 40.6% of the primary vote, Labor’s Tim Murray 19.5%, independent Kerryn Phelps 16.9%, Heath 9.4%, the Greens 6.2%, all Others 1.8% and 5.6% were undecided.

According to The Poll Bludger, if undecided voters were excluded, primary votes would be 43.0% Sharma, 20.7% Murray, 17.9% Phelps, 10.0% Heath and 6.6% Greens. Compared to a September 17 ReachTEL poll for GetUp!, which you can read about on my personal website, primary vote changes were Sharma up 3.7%, Murray up 3.3%, Phelps down 4.8%, Heath up 5.6% and Greens down 6.0%. Phelps fell from second behind Sharma to third behind Murray and Sharma.

Between the two ReachTEL polls, Phelps announced on September 21 that she would recommend preferences to the Liberals ahead of Labor, backflipping on her previous position of putting the Liberals last. It is likely this caused her slump.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Labor drops in Newspoll but still has large lead; NSW ReachTEL poll tied 50-50


While more likely/less likely to vote a certain way questions always overstate the impact of an issue, it is nevertheless bad for Phelps that 50% of her own voters said they were less likely to vote for her as a result of the preference decision.

This ReachTEL poll was released by the Heath campaign as it showed her gaining ground. Heath appears to have gained from the Greens, and the endorsement of Sydney Mayor Clover Moore could further benefit her.

Despite the primary vote gain for Sharma, he led Murray by just 51-49 on a two candidate basis, a one-point gain for Murray since the September 17 ReachTEL. The Poll Bludger estimated Murray would need over three-quarters of all independent and minor party preferences to come this close to Sharma.

At the 2016 election, Malcolm Turnbull won 62.3% of the primary vote in Wentworth. While the Liberals’ primary vote in this poll is about 19% below Turnbull, it is recovering to a winning position.

Trump, Republicans gain in fight over Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation

On July 9, Trump nominated hard-right judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace the retiring centre-right judge Anthony Kennedy. The right currently has a 5-4 Supreme Court majority, but Kennedy and John Roberts have occasionally voted with the left. If Kavanaugh is confirmed by the Senate, it will give the right a clearer Supreme Court majority. Supreme Court judges are lifetime appointments.

Although Kavanaugh is a polarising figure, he looked very likely to be confirmed by the narrow 51-49 Republican majority Senate until recent sexual assault allegations occurred. Since September 16, three women have publicly accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when he was a high school or university student.

On September 27, both Kavanaugh and his first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. On September 28, without calling additional accusers, the Committee favourably reported Kavanaugh by an 11-10 majority, with all 11 Republicans – all men – voting in favour.

However, after pressure from two Republican senators, the full Senate confirmation vote was delayed for a week to allow an FBI investigation. The Senate received the FBI’s findings on Thursday, and the investigation did not corroborate Ford. Democrats have labelled the report a “whitewash”, but it appears to have satisfied the doubting Republican senators, and Kavanaugh is very likely to be confirmed.

Since the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh began, Trump’s ratings in the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate have recovered to about a 42% approval rating, from 40% in mid-September. Democrats’ position in the race for Congress has deteriorated to a 7.7 point lead, down from 9.1 points in mid-September.

Midterm elections for all of the US House and 35 of the 100 Senators will be held on November 6. Owing to natural clustering of Democratic votes and Republican gerrymandering, Democrats probably need to win the House popular vote by six to seven points to take control.

While the House map is difficult for Democrats, the Senate is far worse. Democrats are defending 26 Senate seats and Republicans just nine, Five of the states Democrats are defending voted for Trump in 2016 by at least 18 points. Two polls this week in one of those big Trump states, North Dakota, gave Republicans double digit leads over the Democratic incumbent.




Read more:
Polls update: Trump’s ratings held up by US economy; Australian polls steady


The FiveThirtyEight forecast models give Democrats a 74% chance of gaining control of the House, but just a 22% chance in the Senate.

Republican gains in the polls are likely due to polarisation over Kavanaugh. In a recent Quinnipiac University national poll, voters did not think Kavanaugh should be confirmed – by a net six-point margin – but Trump’s handling of Kavanaugh was at -7 net approval. Democrats led Republicans by seven points, and Trump’s overall net approval was -12. Kavanaugh was more unpopular than in the previous Quinnipiac poll, but Trump and Republicans were more popular.

The hope for Democrats is that once the Kavanaugh issue is resolved, they can refocus attention on issues such as healthcare and the Robert Mueller investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia. However, the strong US economy assists Trump and the Republicans.

In brief: contest between left and far right in Brazil, conservative breakthrough win in Quebec, Canada

The Brazil presidential election will be held in two rounds, on October 7 and 28. If no candidate wins over 50% in the October 7 first round, the top two proceed to a runoff.

The left-wing Workers’ Party has won the last four presidential elections from 2002 to 2014, but incumbent President Dilma Rousseff was impeached in August 2016, and replaced by conservative Vice President Michel Temer.

Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad and far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro are virtually certain to advance to the runoff. Bolsonaro has made sympathetic comments about Brazil’s 1964-85 military dictatorship. Runoff polling shows a close contest.

In the Canadian province of Quebec, a conservative party won an election for the first time since 1966.

You can read more about the Brazil and Quebec elections at my personal website.The Conversation

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

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Privatising WestConnex is the biggest waste of public funds for corporate gain in Australian history



File 20180924 7728 p04ur8.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Gladys Berejiklian’s government will pay for much of WestConnex construction, give away other toll roads, guarantee annual toll increases and force motorists to use the toll road.
AAP Image/Joel Carrett

Christopher Standen, University of Sydney

The NSW government has confirmed it will sell 51% of WestConnex — the nation’s biggest road infrastructure project — to a consortium led by Transurban, the nation’s biggest toll road corporation.

NSW treasurer Dominic Perrottet described the A$9.3 billion sale to one of his party’s more generous donors as a “very strong result”.

I would describe it differently: the biggest misuse of public funds for corporate gain in Australia’s history.

Let’s examine how much public funding has been or will be sunk into WestConnex, a 33km toll road linking western Sydney with southwestern Sydney via the inner west.

Privatising Westconnex will return the NSW government 30 cents for every dollar of public money spent.
WestConnex Business Case Executive Summary

To date, the NSW and federal governments have provided grants of about $6 billion. Much of this was raised through selling revenue-generating public assets, including NSW’s electricity network.

Hiding privatisation by stealth

As well, the NSW government is bundling three publicly owned motorways into the sale: the M4 (between Parramatta and Homebush), the M5 East and the M5 Southwest (from 2026). Together, Credit Suisse values these public assets at A$9.2 billion. The government is privatising them by stealth. Leaked NSW cabinet documents suggest the Sydney Harbour Bridge will be next.

Then there is the A$1.5 billion bill for property acquisitions and the millions spent on planning, advertising, consultants, lawyers and bankers.

The government is funding extra road works to help prop up WestConnex toll revenue. It will increase the capacity of road corridors feeding into the interchanges. But it will reduce the number of traffic lanes on roads competing with WestConnex, such as Parramatta Road.




Read more:
Modelling for major road projects is at odds with driver behaviour


It will also pick up the bill for building a A$2.6 billion airport connection and the complex underground interchange at Rozelle. It will even pay compensation if the latter is not completed on schedule.

To further bolster toll revenue, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian introduced a vehicle registration cashback scheme for toll-road users.

Her government has also committed to continuing the M5 Southwest toll cashback scheme. The cost of these incentives to the public purse is likely to exceed A$2 billion every ten years.

In total, I estimate the NSW government is pumping more than A$23 billion worth of cash, public assets, enabling works and incentives into WestConnex — though efforts to shield the scheme from public scrutiny mean the figure could be much higher.

Finally, as part of the deal with Transurban, the government has agreed to plough A$5.3 billion of the sale proceeds back into WestConnex. It’s recouping just A$4 billion by selling majority ownership.

This translates to a financial return of 34 cents for every dollar spent.

Government expenses and receipts.

Of course, governments don’t always spend our money with the intention of making a profit. Usually there are broader social benefits that justify the expenditure. However, past experience shows inner-city motorways do more harm than good — which is why many cities around the world are demolishing them.

Given its proximity to residential areas, WestConnex will have serious impacts on Sydney’s population. Construction is already destroying communities, harming people’s health and disrupting sleep and travel — with years more to come.

Motorists who cannot afford the new tolls on the M4 ($2,300 a year) and M5 East ($3,100 a year) will have to switch to congested suburban roads. This will mean longer journey times — especially with the removal of traffic lanes on Parramatta Road.

New tolls on existing motorways.

Those who do opt to pay the new tolls may enjoy faster journeys for a few years — until the motorways fill up again.

Costs outweigh the benefits

But this benefit will be largely cancelled out by the tolls they have to pay — with low-income households in western Sydney bearing much of the pain. As such, the ultimate beneficiary will be a corporation that pays no company tax and employs very few people.

Traffic and congestion on roads around the interchanges will increase significantly. Moreover, with tolls for trucks three times those for cars, we can expect to see them switching to suburban and residential streets — especially between peak hours and at night.

The extra traffic created by WestConnex will lead to more road trauma, traffic noise and air pollution across the Sydney metropolitan area. With unfiltered smokestacks being built next to homes and schools, more people may be at risk of heart disease, lung disease and cancer in years to come.




Read more:
Big road projects don’t really save time or boost productivity


On any measure, the WestConnex sale is not in the public interest. The billions of dollars ploughed into the scheme would have been better spent on worthwhile infrastructure or services that improve people’s lives.

Is the WestConnex acquisition a good deal for Transurban? A$9.3 billion may sound like a high price, given the past financial collapses of other Australian toll roads.

However, with the Berejiklian government agreeing to fund most of the remaining construction, giving away the M4 and M5, guaranteeing annual toll increases of at least 4%, and bending over backwards to force motorists under the toll gantries, it can only be described as a “very strong result” for the consortium, though not for taxpayers.The Conversation

Christopher Standen, Transport Analyst, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Battle won. Our budget woes are behind us


Warren Hogan, University of Technology Sydney

The government’s final budget outcome for 2017-18 is a deficit of A$10.1 billion. That’s an extraordinary A$8.1 lower than the May estimate just months ago, and more than A$19 billion lower than when the 2017-18 budget was originally put together the previous May.

The deficit, a mere 0.6% of gross domestic product, is the smallest in the run of ten that began in the global financial crisis of 2008-09.

The result tells us something important about the Australian economy ten years on from the crisis.




Read more:
Budget deficit comes in at $10.1 billion, in boost for early
return to surplus



First, it’s performing better than expected.

Not only is it growing faster than most forecasters expected, it has been producing more jobs and less inflation than such growth would have produced in the past.

This has allowed much low interest rates than would have once been the case and supported investment across the economy.

Back to normal

So good is the government’s financial position that the heavy lifting has been all but been done.

A return to budget balance is entirely possible this financial year.

Indeed, for most purposes the budget is already balanced.

Federal government revenues and expenses are each about 25% of GDP. Given the complexity and natural variability of the budget and the economy, an outcome within 0.5% of GDP from balance is basically in balance.

The fact that two-thirds of the originally projected 2017-18 budget deficit has vanished due to “forecast error” makes the point.

Fiscal policy is effectively back to normal, with plenty of spending power in reserve should the economy deteriorate.

Better confidence, for now

Solid government finances will support confidence, not least among households that are used to worrying about large deficits boosting future tax burdens or eating away at government services.

That isn’t to say that everything is baked in.

The economy and government finances can go the other way. But the task of budget repair, which started years ago under Treasurer Wayne Swan, is virtually complete. Any further substantive budget tightening will produce growing surpluses rather than shrinking deficits.

More profits, less welfare

Over the past 15 months the big improvement in the government’s financial position has come in two phases.

The first surprise was a revenue windfall received last summer. This was mostly because of higher commodity prices and the boost this gave to corporate profits.

Corporate income tax receipts are 8.7% higher than originally projected, resulting in an almost A$7 billion windfall for the budget. This represents about a third of the A$19 billion budget improvement.




Read more:
Morrison’s return to surplus built on the back of higher tax – Parliamentary Budget Office


This was well known by the time of the May budget and was responsible for most of the improvement in the budget bottom line between May 2017 and May 2018.

The next phase was a substantial drop in government payments near the end of the financial year just concluded.

This was not factored into the May 2018 budget. Most of it is made up of lower welfare and social security payments, partly in response to the stronger economy, and partly due to much lower than anticipated spending on disability assistance.

Disability-related payments, both in terms of payments to states and National
Disability Insurance Scheme spending, are about A$3 billion lower than expected in May last year.

And improvement all around

The rest of the good news is spread across the board. Income tax receipts are higher due to stronger employment growth. The government has collected more duties and excise than it expected. Pension payments have been a little lower than expected, as have infrastructure-related payments to the states.

Because the presentation of the final budget outcomes does not come with any formal update of budget forecasts, the treasurer and his finance minister had very little to say about the government’s fiscal strategy other than to reinforce that its jobs, growth and budget repair strategy is on track.

They’ll say more in the midyear economic and fiscal update (also called MYEFO) in December.

Question time

Ministers Frydenberg and Cormann were asked a number of questions at their Tuesday press conference that they chose not to answer properly.

I thought I would take the liberty of doing it for them.

REPORTER: So does this outcome increase the likelihood that you will return to surplus sooner than predicted?

MY ANSWER: It most certainly it does. The better result is mainly due to a stronger-than-expected economy. At the time of the budget in May 2017 the government had forecast economic growth of 2.75% for the 2017-18 financial year. As it turned out, growth came in at 2.9% and we are taking strong momentum into 2018-19.

It won’t take much to nudge the budget into surplus this year, that is, a year earlier than forecast. Simply factoring in the better baseline performance of the budget from last year should produce a deficit for 2018-19 of around A$5-8 billion. If the recent trends of higher commodity prices, a lower Australian dollar and stronger domestic economic activity persist, as they appear to be doing, then we will easily get a surplus this year.

Complicating the picture is the political cycle. With a government well behind in the polls and an election due in the next six months or so, it will be hard to resist the temptation to spend some of this recent budget improvement.

It will become a political judgment for the new prime minister and his cabinet. Is the political benefit of presenting a budget surplus greater than the electoral impact of new spending measures?

REPORTER: And do you continue to adhere to the budget discipline that all new spending must be accompanied by savings in equal amount?

MY ANSWER: The government should be commended for keeping real spending growth to just 1.9%, the lowest in a generation. It is projecting it to fall even further, to around 1.6% over the next few years. With a tough election contest ahead, my guess is that we may see some slippage on government spending.

REPORTER: You are out by 40% to 45% on the deficit you published in May this year. That’s a wild variation in just 6 weeks. Should Treasury be doing better than that, basically?

MY ANSWER: Revenues total just under A$450 billion and expenses total just over $450 billion. The deficit figure is the result of the calculation of the small difference between those two big numbers.

Rather than thinking about an A$8 billion miss on a A$18 billion deficit we should be thinking about A$8 billion on the $450 billion revenue and expense base.

Instead of a 40% variation, the real variation is less than 2%.

Given that the Treasury only had the March quarter national accounts at its disposal when pulling together the May Budget forecasts and considering the propensity of the Bureau of Statistics to revise the national accounts, the fact that the misses are less than 2% is actually pretty amazing.

The economy is complex and ever changing.

Economic forecasting is hard. Understanding the relationship between government revenues and an economy experiencing significant industrial structural change is far from a perfect science.The Conversation

Warren Hogan, Industry Professor, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Poll wrap: Labor drops in Newspoll but still has large lead; NSW ReachTEL poll tied 50-50



File 20180925 149982 tcyya3.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Prime Minister Scott Morrison appears to be enjoying a honeymoon period, with the Coalition up two points on two-party preferred in the latest Newspoll.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted September 20-23 from a sample of 1,680, gave Labor a 54-46 lead, a two-point gain for the Coalition since last fortnight. Primary votes were 39% Labor (down three), 36% Coalition (up two), 10% Greens (steady) and 6% One Nation (steady).

This is the Coalition’s 41st successive Newspoll loss. In Malcolm Turnbull’s last four Newspolls as PM, the Coalition trailed Labor by just 51-49. In Scott Morrison’s first three as PM, Labor has had two 56-44 leads followed by a 54-46 lead. This Newspoll contrasts with last week’s Ipsos, which gave Labor just 31% of the primary vote and the Greens 15%.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Labor’s lead shrinks in federal Ipsos, but grows in Victorian Galaxy; Trump’s ratings slip


44% were satisfied with Morrison (up three) and 39% were dissatisfied (steady), for a net approval of +5. After rising ten points last fortnight, Bill Shorten’s net approval slumped eight points this week to -22. Morrison led Shorten as better PM by 45-32 (43-37 last fortnight). Morrison also led Shorten by 46-31 on who is the more “authentic” leader.

Morrison is currently benefiting from a personal ratings “honeymoon” effect, while Shorten’s honeymoon is long over. However, Morrison’s ratings are far worse than for Turnbull’s first two Newspolls as PM, with Turnbull’s net approval at +18 then +25, compared with Morrison’s +2 and +5. Honeymoon polling is not predictive of the PM’s long-term ratings.

On September 5, the ABS reported that the Australian economy grew by 0.9% in the June quarter for a 3.4% annual growth rate in the year to June. On September 13, the ABS reported that 44,000 jobs were created in August in seasonally-adjusted terms, with the unemployment rate remaining at 5.3%.

Greg Jericho wrote in The Guardian that these figures are very good for the government. The narrowing of Labor’s lead to 51-49 in Turnbull’s last four Newspolls as PM probably reflected good economic news as well as a period where the Coalition was relatively unified.

Given Morrison’s relatively good personal ratings and the economy, the Coalition is performing far worse than would be expected on voting intentions. In the US, Donald Trump’s ratings are far worse than they should be given the strength of the US economy. Perhaps being very right-wing is not a vote winner.




Read more:
Polls update: Trump’s ratings held up by US economy; Australian polls steady


Essential poll: 53-47 to Labor

This week’s Essential poll, conducted September 20-23 from a sample of 1,030, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since last fortnight. Primary votes were 37% Coalition (up one), 36% Labor (down one) 12% Greens (up two) and 5% One Nation (down three).

Essential is using 2016 election preferences for its two party estimates, while Newspoll assigns One Nation preferences about 60-40 to the Coalition. Essential has probably been rounded down to 53% to Labor this week, while Newspoll has been rounded up to 54%.

70% in Essential had at least some trust in the federal police, 67% in the state police, 61% in the High Court and 54% in the ABC. At the bottom, 28% had at least some trust in federal parliament and in religious organisations, 25% in trade unions and just 15% in political parties. Since October 2017, trust in local councils is up four points, but trust in political parties is down three.

By 61-21, voters would support the Liberals adopting quotas to increase the number of Liberal women in parliament. By 37-26, voters would support a new law enshrining religious freedoms, but most people would currently have no idea what this debate is about.

45% thought corruption was widespread in politics, with 36% saying the same about the banking and finance sector, 29% about unions and 25% about large corporations. The establishment of an independent federal corruption body was supported by an overwhelming 82-5.

By 78-14, voters agreed that there should be laws requiring equal pay for men and women in the same position. However, voters also agreed 47-44 that gender equality has come far enough already.

53% approve of constitutional amendment to separate government and religion

The NSW Rationalists commissioned YouGov Galaxy, which also does Newspoll, for a poll question about separation of government and religion. The survey was conducted from August 30 to September 3 from a national sample of 1,027.

The question asked was, “Australia has no formal recognition of separation of government and religion. Would you approve or disapprove of a constitutional amendment to formally separate government and religion?”

53% approved of such an amendment, just 14% disapproved and 32% were unsure. Morrison advocates new laws to protect religious freedom, but this poll question does not suggest there is any yearning within Australia for more religion. The same-sex marriage plebiscite, in which Yes to SSM won by 61.6% to 38.4%, was a huge defeat for social conservatism.

More results and analysis are on my personal website.

Phelps to preference Liberals in Wentworth

The Wentworth byelection will be held on October 20. On September 21, high-profile independent candidate Kerryn Phelps announced that she would recommend preferences to the Liberals. Just five days earlier, Phelps had said voters should put the Liberals last.

Until her preference decision, Phelps had appeared to be a left-wing independent candidate, but Wentworth is unlikely to be won from the left. This decision will cost Phelps left-wing support; the question is whether she wins over enough right-wing voters who dislike the Liberals or the Liberal candidate, Dave Sharma, to compensate for the loss of left-wing voters.

By backflipping on the “put the Liberals last” message, Phelps has made an issue of her preferences that may dog her for the rest of the campaign.

Phelps’ preferences will not be distributed if she finishes first or second, and Labor preferences will still assist her against the Liberals. If primary votes have Sharma well ahead, and Labor and Phelps in a close race for second, Phelps is now more likely to be excluded owing to Greens preferences. If the final two are the Liberals and Labor, Phelps’ preferences will help the Liberals, relative to her previous position of putting them last.

NSW ReachTEL poll: 50-50 tie

The New South Wales election will be held in March 2019. The first state poll in six months is a ReachTEL poll for The Sun-Herald, conducted September 20 from a sample of 1,630. The Coalition and Labor were tied at 50-50 by 2015 election preference flows, a two-point gain for Labor since a March ReachTEL.

Primary votes were 35.1% Coalition (down 6.8%), 31.5% Labor (down 1.0%), 10.2% Greens (up 0.8%), 6.1% Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, 4.2% One Nation (down 0.9%), 7.0% for all Others and 5.9% undecided. If undecided voters are excluded, primary votes become 37.3% Coalition, 33.5% Labor, 10.8% Greens, 6.5% Shooters and 4.5% One Nation.

Opposition Leader Luke Foley had a very narrow 50.2-49.8 lead over incumbent Gladys Berejiklian as better premier, a 2.5% gain for Foley since March. ReachTEL’s forced choice better PM/Premier questions usually give opposition leaders better results than polls that do not use a forced choice.

It is likely that the federal leadership crisis had some impact on NSW state polling, but we do not know how much, as the last NSW state poll was in March.

As I wrote last week, independent Joe McGirr defeated the Liberals in the September 8 Wagga Wagga byelection by a 59.6-40.4 margin. The Labor vs Liberal two party vote gave Labor a narrow 50.1-49.9 win, a 13.0% swing to Labor since the 2015 election.The Conversation

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

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Budget deficit comes in at $10.1 billion, in boost for early return to surplus


File 20180925 85755 up06mj.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Estimates out, but happy. Mathias Cormann and Josh Frydenberg announce the smallest deficit in a decade.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The budget outcome for 2017-18 shows a deficit of A$10.1 billion –
dramatically less than expected in May, and just 0.6% of GDP.

In this year’s May budget, a mere four months ago, the outcome for the last financial year was forecast to be just over A$18 billion, already revised well down on the more than A$29 billion estimate in the 2017 budget.

The drivers of the better-than-anticipated result were stronger
revenue and lower spending than earlier expected.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Finance Minister Mathias Corman said in
a statement: “At A$10.1 billion, just 0.6 per cent of gross domestic
product (GDP), the underlying cash deficit is the smallest in ten
years.

“Stronger economic growth and much stronger employment growth than
anticipated at the time of the 2017-18 budget have driven increases in
personal income tax and company tax receipts, with total receipts
$13.4 billion higher than expected at the time of the budget.

“Total payments were A$6.9 billion lower than forecast at budget time,
including as a result of lower welfare payments with more Australians
in paid work. Welfare dependency for working age Australians is now at
its lowest level in 25 years and in 2017-18, there were 90,000 fewer
working age Australians on welfare,” they said.

“Real GDP in 2017-18 was stronger than anticipated in the 2017-18 budget.”

Last week Standard & Poor’s ratings agency reaffirmed Australia’s
triple A credit
rating. Frydenberg said Australia was one of only 10 countries with a AAA
credit rating from the three major agencies.

He told a news conference that the budget outcome confirmed the budget
was on the path back to balance in 2019-20.

The mid-year budget update will come in December, with the revisions
at that time setting the scene for the run into the election a few
months later, with the government making economic and fiscal
management a key plank in its campaign.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said the final budget outcome “shows the
deficit came in almost four times worse than forecast in the Liberal
Party’s first budget. This is after the Liberal Party’s massive cuts
to schools, hospitals and the pension.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Labor leads 54-46% in Newspoll that shows slight improvement for government


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government would be trounced at an election held now, although the Coalition has clawed back slightly in the past fortnight and Scott Morrison has improved his lead as better prime minister, according to the latest Newspoll.

The Coalition trails 46-54% in the poll, published in Monday’s Australian, compared with 44-56% in the first two Newspolls after the change of leader. This is the government’s 41st Newspoll loss in a row.

The Coalition’s primary vote is up 2 points to 36%, while the ALP primary vote has fallen 3 points to 39%.

Morrison leads Bill Shorten as better PM 45-32%, compared with 42-36% two weeks ago.

Morrison’s net satisfaction was plus 5; Shorten’s net rating is minus 22. In the previous Newspoll, Morrison’s net satisfaction was plus 2, while Shorten was on minus 14.

The poll comes after Morrison’s burst of intense activity to get on the front foot, including last week announcing a royal commission into aged care, and a multi-billion dollar deal aimed at placating the Catholic education sector, as well as passing tough legislation through parliament in response to the strawberry contamination.




Read more:
VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on strawberries, Sudmalis, schools, and the au pair affair


But the Newspoll two party vote remains much worse than the last days of Malcolm Turnbull, and the controversy over his ousting continues.

In an interview on Nine on Sunday night former foreign minister Julie Bishop said she had had many calls from foreign ministers “asking why I’m no longer the foreign minister and what happened to the prime minister?

“They have been some rather unkind comments about Australia being the Italy of the South Pacific and the coup capital of the world,” she said.

Bishop said the change was perplexing “because Malcolm Turnbull was way ahead as preferred prime minister. We were coming back in the polls. It was quite close and there were no deep policy issues that divided the party”, because Turnbull had given way on a number of issues.

Bishop renewed her criticism of parliament’s Question Time, saying it “probably does more damage to the reputation of the political class than any other issue.”

“Question Time is only 70, 80 minutes a day, yet it’s what is televised. So people are concerned that that is what their well paid representatives are doing all day, every day in the parliament.

“They don’t see the thoughtful contributions and the more intelligent speeches that can be given in the Parliament because they’re not televised,” Bishop said.

“I’m afraid that not withstanding the best efforts of the Speaker and the standing orders, there’s far too much throwing of insults, and vicious behavior, name calling, and the like. And the public see that as no better than school children. In fact, not as well behaved as school children,” she said.

On the policy front, Labor at the weekend announced that if elected it would require Australian companies with more than 1000 employees to reveal how much they paid women compared with men.

“The gender gap is stubbornly high. On average, women working full time still get paid almost 15% less than men working full time. It is unacceptable that this has barely changed over the last two decades,” the opposition said.

“Companies already report their gender pay data to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. Labor will make it public”.

In response, Morrison warned of “setting up conflict in the workplace”, while saying he was not ruling out such an idea.

“We’re open to all suggestions but these things are already reported at a sector-wide level and at an economy-wide level.” he said.

Meanwhile Kerryn Phelps, high profile independent candidate in Wentworth, has sought to make the government’s push for religious freedom protections an issue in the byelection.

She challenged the Liberals to say whether the government would release the Ruddock report on the issue before the October 20 vote, pointing out it had been sitting on it for months.

Morrison has flagged he plans to strengthen the law but it is thought the government wants to keep the detail under wraps until after Wentworth. Phelps said she was strongly opposed to any watering down of the anti-discrimination legal provisions.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Just a regular Joe (or Bill or ScoMo): how our leaders work hard at being ‘ordinary’



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Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Frank Bongiorno, Australian National University

Is it sufficiently dignified to call a prime minister, as distinct from an immigration minister or treasurer, ScoMo? Is this part of Scott Morrison’s “ordinary bloke” persona? It does sound a bit like Joe Shmoe, which Wikipedia tells me means “no one in particular” and “is one of the most commonly used fictional names in American English”. But it also sounds a bit Hollywood, evoking JLo.

So it may well be the kind of game that virtually every politician with serious leadership aspirations has to play. They need to convince us that they are not so far above us that they are out of touch. (“How much is a litre of milk, Prime Minister?”) Yet when they do present themselves as just like us, we can’t really take them seriously. We do, in the end, expect our leaders to be different.

Each leader plays the game differently. William Shorten is, of course, Bill – who tweeted about doing the shopping with his young daughter on Father’s Day.

Minus the shopping trolley, Robert Menzies and Robert Hawke were both Bob, and William Hughes and William McMahon were Billy. Curtin was Jack to his mates but John to the public. Chifley was Ben to all, and the unassuming Lyons was happy enough with Joe. It was hard to do much with Gough or Paul, and Malcolm Fraser only became Mal when he was being ridiculed. Everyone knew he was no Mal, and nor was Turnbull. “Johnny Howard” was almost never complimentary, especially when preceded by “Little”, and Kevin might have been from Queensland and here to help, but he never became Kev – not even when worrying over the shaking of sauce bottles – any more than Julia became Jules.

Politicians have long fretted over these matters. When Stanley Melbourne Bruce became prime minister in 1923, he issued a note to the press:

Mr Bruce would be very glad if the newspapers would not refer to him by his Christian name, as Mr Stanley Bruce, but always as Mr S.M. Bruce.

Today’s journalists, cartoonists and comedians – to say nothing of one’s political opponents – would be in raptures if a newly minted prime minister issued such a notice. And it was clearly unthinkable that the golf-playing, spats-wearing Bruce would be just plain Stan.

Here is a reminder that there is more than one way of performing the role of Australian prime minister. The late political psychologist Graham Little used to give a set-piece lecture on political leadership at Melbourne University, whose major details I can still recall 30 years later – so it must have been good.

Little thought there were broadly three types. Margaret Thatcher was a “strong leader” – the children’s TV program that demonstrated the style was Romper Room. Boys wore boys’ clothes and looked like boys. Girls wore girls’ clothes and looked like girls. Miss Helena dressed conservatively and had a mirror through which she could keep an eye on us at home. Moral codes were strictly defined, with the help of Mr Do Bee (“Do be an asker. Don’t be a help yourself”). Good conduct included being able to walk around with a basket balanced on your head.

“Inspiring leadership” was exemplified by Gough Whitlam – and Play School. Each, in turn, went out of their way to demonstrate good, inclusive citizenship, and creative, inclusive play, yet without pretending to become an ordinary citizen, or an ordinary child.

Like Miss Helena, Play School leaders were grownups. But unlike her – and like Whitlam – they spoke to their audience of children as intelligent equals, dressed a bit like kids (possibly in overalls, not skirts, for women) and played along with them rather than laying down the law. Big Ted was a more gentle soul than Mr Do Bee – who presumably had a sting. Gender differences are more frankly acknowledged, but explored rather than taken for granted.




Read more:
What kind of prime minister will Scott Morrison be?


And then there were “group leaders”, like Bob Hawke – and Humphrey B. Bear. Humphrey, seemingly male yet somewhat ambiguously defined, runs around without trousers (any resemblance here to an Australian prime minister, living or dead, being purely coincidental). He is also a child, not an adult, and to this extent he shares a common identity with his audience. But they are not entirely deceived: Humphrey’s not really the same as the kids watching at home. In short, he’s rather like Hawke, who at his best convinced us that he was one of us even while being unmistakably “special”.

Not all have even attempted this balancing act. Neither Bruce nor Menzies ever pretended to be everyman, although Menzies occasionally pointed to his humble origins as the son of a country storekeeper. Keating barely made the effort; his adoption of Collingwood Football Club when he became prime minister was widely ridiculed for its cynicism, coming as it did from a man whose interests ran more to classical music and French clocks.

Malcolm Turnbull’s leather jacket, never entirely convincing, did not survive his elevation to prime minister. His persona in the job more resembled a Renaissance Florentine merchant-statesman – albeit without the art or culture, which may well have been Turnbull’s major concession to the common folk.

Like Keating, the very Sydney-ish Morrison is looking south for an AFL club, and he has cultivated what journalist Phillip Coorey calls a “daggy ordinariness”. But his everyman act is already running up against his evangelical Christianity. The classic Australian plain man is not an evangelical.

Russel Ward sketched the “the typical Australian” most influentially in The Australian Legend 60 years ago. He is, Ward writes, “sceptical about the value of religion and of intellectual and cultural pursuits generally”. The latter certainly fits Morrison, but not the former.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Worst reaction to midterm PM change in Newspoll history; contrary polls in Dutton’s Dickson


That said, he leads Shorten as preferred prime minister in Newspoll. It is worth pausing to ask why Shorten, former Australian Workers’ Union leader, has never been able to break through as a personally popular figure. He has clearly modelled aspects of his career on Hawke, but no one would ever accuse him of possessing Hawke’s charisma. He will never approach his stratospheric approval ratings. Perhaps there are too many stories around of his cosy relations with filthy rich businessmen.

He became a national figure on the back of his media profile during the Beaconsfield mine disaster and rescue in Tasmania in 2006, and he campaigned most effectively in the 2016 election. Yet he often seems wooden in front of a camera, as distinct from when talking with ordinary voters. On the couple of occasions I’ve witnessed him deliver prepared speeches, he was engaging if not magnetic, and improved as he warmed to the message he was delivering.

Hawke moved in similar business circles to Shorten, and had his deficiencies as both a public speaker and parliamentary performer. But he was brilliant if unpredictable in a TV interview, before he cut the drinking and learned better to control his temper. His media image in the 1970s, while ACTU president, overwhelmed any popular suspicion that he was in the pockets of the top end of town, although there was a growing chorus of complaints about rich mates during his prime ministership.

Shorten, much more than Hawke, has been damaged by the perception of backroom dealing; with bosses, while a union leader, and over the internecine warfare within the Labor Party. Voters might have a sneaking respect for his doggedness – think John Howard – but they don’t love him and probably never will. Nonetheless, they may well elect him.The Conversation

Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Quotas are not pretty but they work – Liberal women should insist on them


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Liberal women such as those in the Morrison ministry, pictured here, should organise to achieve structural change – the only kind that ever sticks.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Chris Wallace, Australian National University

It is an historic moment for Liberal Party women. Individual complaints of sexist bullying invariably end with the lone complainant being isolated and getting crunched.

But since the Liberal leadership spill, several women have spoken out and two MPs, Julia Banks and Ann Sudmalis, have foreshadowed their exit from parliamentary politics over it. This post-#LibSpill moment holds immense promise – but only if the collective momentum is seized and built upon.

From Prime Minister Scott Morrison down, Liberal Party men are pushing back against women pressing for cultural change within the party. They don’t want to share power for ideological reasons: conservative men like women to know their place, and that place is not in the House of Representatives or the Senate. This ethos is intensifying as fringe and evangelical Christians make ever deeper inroads into Liberal Party branches and preselection processes.

Respected Liberal women like former Liberal Party vice-president Tricia Worth and former Liberal senator Sue Boyce have poured scorn on the internal party mechanisms proposed so far to deal with the problem. They point out the implausibility, for example, of making a bullying complaint to Victorian Liberal Party president Michael Kroger who denies such bullying exists.




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A ‘woman problem’? No, the Liberals have a ‘man problem’, and they need to fix it


Liberal Party women face an immediate choice. They can be cowed by the “quota girl” sledge of hostile male colleagues, and other unsupportive comments by these men’s female enablers such as NSW Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.

Alternatively, Liberal women can organise to achieve structural change – the only kind that ever sticks – arguing that if it’s good enough for “quota boys” like Senator Abetz and Michael McCormack, quotas are all right by them too.

Practical politics runs on quotas. They are the tool of last resort when dominant powers refuse to share power fairly or could refuse to in the future. They work.

The most striking example of a quota in Australian politics is that underpinning Federation. The Australian colonies would not agree to federate without agreement to an upper house in which each state, even the smallest, was represented by the same number of senators as the biggest.

That’s why NSW, with a population of 7.9 million, and Tasmania, with a population of 524,000, both send 12 senators to Canberra every election. This makes the ranking Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz arguably the biggest beneficiary of quotas currently in the federal parliament.

There are 76 senators. Would anyone seriously suggest that on merit Eric Abetz would make the list of the top 76 Australians elected as senators in Australia’s upper house if they were elected in a single nationwide ballot? The state-based quota system established at Federation ensures he gets there.

The next most striking example is the quota agreement that enables Australia’s two main conservative parties to form government in coalition, since each usually returns too few MPs at federal elections to govern in its own right.

The National Party’s price for supporting the Liberals in forming government is a quota of ministerial positions reserved for National Party MPs, along with the deputy prime ministership. This quota arrangement today underpins the cabinet position and deputy prime ministership of National Party leader Michael McCormack. Does anyone really believe that without this quota McCormack would have naturally risen to become Australia’s second most senior politician? Of course not.

The third most striking example of quotas in Australian politics is their use by the Australian Labor Party to normalise the presence of women in progressive parliamentary politics. Attempts to establish quotas in the early 1980s, backed by then Labor opposition leader Bill Hayden, foundered when ALP conference delegates, including many women, voted them down on factional lines. It was not until 1994 that an enforceable formula guaranteeing women preselection in one-third of winnable seats was established.


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In her memoir Catching the Waves, Hawke Government cabinet minister Susan Ryan wrote:

These rules are bitterly resented by many men in the Party, and when they favour a woman from the wrong faction they upset some women as well.

Quotas are “a blunt tool”, Ryan readily conceded, but she supported them after experience showed nothing else could “change the gender balance among Labor members of parliament”. It worked. Labor now has a critical mass of women in caucus making a big contribution, their presence normalised and unremarked on except by misogynistic conservatives across the aisle.

People don’t have to like quotas. But no reasonable person can fail to accept that they are a regular part of political life, not the intrusive tool of progressive pinot noir drinkers pushing their own political barrows. Hundreds of examples beyond Australia’s shores could be cited, but here are just a few.

The United States has a quota of two senators from every state in its upper house, the inspiration for Australia’s state senate quotas. Conservative German chancellor Angela Merkel legislated board quotas for women when German business proved intractable in voluntarily improving board diversity. Singapore set racial quotas in public housing, reflecting the ethnic makeup of the country’s population, in the interests of racial harmony.


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Quotas, in short, are management tools to ensure power-sharing where it would not otherwise occur in the interests of a greater good – and they’re used by progressives and conservatives alike. No-one could accuse Angela Merkel or the Singaporean government of being subversive left-wing entities. It has been estimated that half the countries in the world use some kind of gender quota in their electoral system and there is extensive evidence that they work.




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View from The Hill: Morrison’s challenge with women goes beyond simple numbers


There is high level support from Labor for Liberal women to tackle the problem and succeed in the interests of improving Australia’s political culture overall. Labor Senate leader, Penny Wong, told parliament this week that the under-representation of women in the Liberal party room is “not only bad for women, and bad for the Liberal Party, it is bad for democracy”. She urged Liberals to walk the same difficult road to establishing quotas that so successfully fixed what had also been a chronic problem for Labor.

Failure to push on to embrace and establish quotas will see the current burst of bravery by Liberal women dissipate, and the male oligopoly in the Coalition party room become even more entrenched.

Advocates could impress on internal opponents that the only winner from the current extreme and worsening masculinist culture in the Liberal Party will be Labor, whose caucus since quotas for women in winnable seats were adopted has increasingly reflected the communities it represents – something voters very much like and ultimately reward.The Conversation

Chris Wallace, ARC DECRA Fellow, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Media power: why the full story of Murdoch, Stokes and the Liberal leadership spill needs to be told



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Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is notorious for meddling in politics.
AAP/Dan Himbrechts

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

The first German chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, said there were two sights the public should not see: the making of laws and the making of sausages. To this list of enduringly nauseating spectacles we should add one more: the political machinations of media moguls.

ABC political editor Andrew Probyn has skilfully violated this standard of public taste by laying out what look like very plausible entrails of the evident involvement of Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Stokes in the recent Liberal Party leadership spill.




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How the right-wing media have given a megaphone to reactionary forces in the Liberal Party


It is impossible to independently verify Probyn’s account because he has been careful to mask his sources. But it is plausible partly because some elements are corroborated by separate reports in the Australian Financial Review and Sydney Morning Herald, partly because Probyn worked for both Murdoch and Stokes for lengthy periods and may be assumed to have good contacts in those places, and partly because there is circumstantial evidence to support some of what he says.

The Australian reports that Stokes has denied having communicated with Murdoch over Turnbull’s leadership. Interestingly, however, the newspaper does not quote its own proprietor on the matter, which is the obvious way to corroborate Stokes’s claim.

Murdoch, of course, is notorious for meddling in politics. In Australia, it can be traced back to his endorsement of Gough Whitlam at the 1972 election, his campaign against Whitlam in 1975, which was so virulent even his own journalists held a strike in protest, his support for John Howard in 1996, his somewhat ambivalent support for Kevin Rudd in 2007 and his full-frontal support for Tony Abbott in 2013.

Front page of the The Sun newspaper, April 11 1992.
Wikicommons

These campaigns were all in support of the winning side, and much the same has been true of his equivalent campaigns in the UK and the US. After John Major led the British Conservative Party to victory in 1992, Murdoch’s London Sun newspaper proclaimed in a front-page banner headline: “It’s the Sun wot won it”.

All this has created a perception of Murdoch as political kingmaker, a perception that frightens the life out of politicians and thus confers great power on Murdoch.

But as two Australian scholars, Rodney Tiffen and David McKnight, have persuasively argued in their separate studies of Murdoch, while his media outlets routinely shred and humiliate their political targets, the evidence is that Murdoch observes which way the wind is blowing and then finds a rationale for endorsing the likely winner.

The Economist’s Bagehot column was on to this 15 years ago, as Tiffen records. Referring to the London Sun’s boasting of its political power, the column observed:

[T]hat probably says more about Mr Murdoch’s readiness to jump ship at the right time than about the Sun’s ability to influence the votes of its readers.

Even so, perceptions can swiftly harden into political reality.

According to Probyn, when Murdoch was seen to turn against Turnbull over the past couple of months, the alarm went off in the prime minister’s office.

This is where Stokes, chairman of Seven West Media, is said to have entered the picture.

He is a friend of Turnbull’s and they are said to have discussed the apparent campaign by the Murdoch media to oust the prime minister.

Stokes and Murdoch have a chequered history, to put it mildly. They have fought long, bitter and costly legal battles, but as Margaret Simons says in her biography of Stokes:

In the cosy club of media, neither love nor hate lasts forever. The only constants are power, money and self-interest.

So, according to accounts by Probyn and the Financial Review, Stokes rang Murdoch to ask what was going on and Murdoch is said to have told him: “Malcolm has got to go.”

But on the question of who should replace him, the moguls were all over the shop.

Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph was touting Peter Dutton. Three days later, when Turnbull spilled the leadership positions, Dutton nominated, lost, but lit the fuse for the ultimate detonation of the Turnbull prime ministership.

Stokes was opposed to Dutton for complex reasons, but didn’t seem to know who to go for instead. On the day before the leadership spill, his newspaper, The West Australian, was promoting Scott Morrison. The next day it was promoting Julie Bishop, a West Australian.

This shambolic confusion among the moguls is comforting in a perverse kind of way, because in the end neither of them was able to dictate the outcome.

Murdoch achieved one objective – the ousting of Turnbull – but Dutton, his preferred pick to replace him, is now clinging to political life by a single vote in the House of Representatives thanks to the hovering spectre of the Constitution’s section 44 (v), not to mention trouble with au pairs.

Stokes? Well, he is new to this kingmaking caper. He clearly did not want his friend Turnbull out, but when that became inevitable, he didn’t know where to turn. As my old editor at The Age, Creighton Burns, was fond of saying, he was caught between a shit and a shiver.

The net effect of their efforts has been to bring the Liberal-National government to the brink of disintegration within months of a general election.

This time, Murdoch may have indeed created a winner – Labor leader Bill Shorten – not by the traditional means of showering support on him, but by destroying his opponents, even though they happen to be Murdoch’s own ideological allies.

It is the latest chapter in a long and discreditable history of media proprietors using their power to advance their political ends, usually for commercial rather than ideological purposes.

Sir Frank and Kerry Packer did it; so did successive generations of Fairfaxes. In 1961 the Fairfaxes went so far as to virtually run Arthur Calwell’s campaign out of the company’s executive offices on the 14th floor of its newspaper mausoleum in Sydney’s Broadway. The Sydney Morning Herald’s journalists renamed it the Labor ward in honour of the exercise.

In Britain, the mould for the politically meddling modern newspaper proprietor was set by Alfred Harmsworth (Lord Northcliffe) in the early 20th century.

He and the other mighty British press baron of the time, Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook), were the inspiration, if that is the word, for Rudyard Kipling’s celebrated condemnation:

[The press exercises] power without responsibility: the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.

So Probyn has done Australian democracy a service by exposing the entrails of what looks like another abuse of media power, even if it makes for a nauseating public spectacle.

It also raises serious questions about media accountability.

Australia has never had a publicly trusted or effective system of media accountability. All attempts to create one have been howled down, the loudest and crudest voices belonging to Murdoch’s lieutenants.




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Australian media are playing a dangerous game using racism as currency


There is already a crisis in people’s faith in democratic institutions. A new report by the Australian Museum of Democracy and the University of Canberra shows only 41% of Australians are satisfied with the way democracy is working. That is a dramatic plunge from the 86% recorded in 2007.

In this climate of disenchantment, it is not surprising there are now calls for a public inquiry into the way Murdoch and Stokes have evidently played a manipulative role in changing the prime minister.The Conversation

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.