One Nation’s preference deal in the WA election comes back to bite it


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Pauline Hanson after her One Nation party performed worse than expected at the WA election.
AAP/Rebecca Le May

Narelle Miragliotta, Monash University

One Nation thought it could smell sweet electoral success for much of the Western Australian state election campaign. The Conversation

The party had reason to be confident about its prospects, despite the recent debacle concerning Rod Culleton, the former One Nation and later independent senator found ineligible to stand for parliament.

The party’s founder, Pauline Hanson, had resumed the leadership mantle and had emerged as a high-profile deal-maker in the Senate. Hanson used her profile to support her “down-to-earth, upfront and honest grassroots” candidates by making frequent visits to the state during the campaign.

Polls had the party as resurgent and on track to win up to 13% of the primary vote.

On the strength of its strong performance in the polls, both major parties were reported to have been jostling for One Nation’s preferences. It was the Liberals that sealed the deal in the end. Liberal leader Colin Barnett was unapologetic, even if “uncomfortable”, about the decision.

This deal was significant for One Nation.

The preference pact had the potential to enhance the electoral prospects of One Nation candidates contesting upper house regions.

The deal was also important because it signalled that One Nation was no longer a political pariah. Former Liberal prime minister John Howard defended the preference deal with One Nation on the grounds that “everyone changes in 16 years”. And high-profile Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos argued One Nation are “a lot more sophisticated”.

But the party’s supposed new-found sophistication was rarely on show during the campaign.

Hanson applauded Russian President Vladimir Putin for his patriotism and strong-man persona, but paradoxically likened a policy that made eligibility for certain forms of family payments and childcare benefits contingent on parents vaccinating their children as akin to living in a dictatorship.

“Bloody lefties” within the education system were denounced as the cause of social problems that were afflicting regional towns. Muslims were accused of having “no respect” for Australia, and making preparations to eventually overthrow Australian governments.

The party struggled to contain its candidates. Two were disendorsed and two more resigned during the campaign. Four days before polling day, two former high-ranking party officials who were sacked from the party went public with their decision to take legal action against Hanson for age discrimination.

And three days before the election, there were concerns the party’s how-to-vote cards were not legally compliant.

In a final blow to an already chaotic campaign, Hanson declared the preference deal it had struck with the Liberals had likely done the party “damage”.

What cost the preference deal?

Certainly the result reveals that One Nation failed to perform as strongly as the early opinion polls had predicted. With 67.25% of the lower house vote counted, One Nation attracted only 4.74% of primary votes.

What then does this all mean? Was the preference deal a mistake for One Nation? Can a so-called anti-establishment party enter into a preference deal with an establishment party and survive to tell the story? The prevailing opinion is “no”.

However, let’s consider the claims that have been levelled about the preference deal. The main claim is the preference deal was the primary cause of One Nation’s electoral woes.

There is definitely polling data which shows many voters were opposed to the deal. What is less clear is if this opposition translated into action at the ballot box. If, for example, we calculate (or average) One Nation’s primary vote according to the actual number of lower house seats it contested, then its primary vote is around 8.26%.

While this figure is well short of the early double-digit polling results tipped for One Nation, it suggests that its support did hold up (and this is in spite of an electoral campaign that was chaotic and ill-disciplined).

The second general claim is the idea that a preference deal for either party under any circumstances is tantamount to electoral suicide.

Again, this argument might be something of a stretch. What appeared to actually blight this agreement was the particular electoral and political dynamics that surrounded it, and not the mere fact of a deal being negotiated between the two parties.

The Liberals struck a preference deal that favoured One Nation over its historical alliance partner, the Nationals. While the Liberals might have been justified by its decision, it ultimately proved very difficult to square with the conservative base more generally. The preference deal made a desperate party appear even more desperate.

One Nation agreed to a preference deal with the Liberals even though it proposed the partial privatisation of the electricity utility, a policy One Nation rejected. The planned privatisation of the utility was deeply unpopular, opposed by as many as 61% of voters.

In spite of its protestations to the contrary, One Nation had hitched its wagon to one of the most controversial policy issues of the entire campaign.

It could be argued that under different conditions, this preference deal need not have generated as much collateral damage as this one seems to have caused.

Any damage arising from this preference deal to One Nation is likely to prove fleeting. The party is on track to win two seats in the Legislative Council, most likely with the assistance of Liberal preferences.

In the end, the real danger for One Nation lies not with who it chooses to enter into preference deals with, but how it manages it internal affairs, and the conduct of its elected members – especially its leader.

Narelle Miragliotta, Senior Lecturer in Australian Politics, Monash University

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

Labor wins WA in a landslide as One Nation fails to land a blow



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Former navy lawyer Mark McGowan is set to become the new premier of Western Australia.
AAP/Dan Peled

Natalie Mast, University of Western Australia

Labor has won the 2017 Western Australian election in a landslide, sweeping aside the long-running Barnett government and installing Labor’s Mark McGowan as the state’s 30th premier. The Conversation

The ABC is predicting Labor will win 40 seats, doubling its current number of seats held and providing it with a clear majority.

The Liberals look to have held only 14 of their 30 seats, while the Nationals appear to have held five of their seven lower house seats. Several seats technically remain in doubt.

Labor’s victory is Perth-based. Thirty-five of the 40 predicted seats it won are based in the metropolitan area. Within the three non-metropolitan regions, Labor has held Kimberley and Albany, and likely picked up only three seats – Bunbury, Collie-Preston, Murray-Wellington. All, except Kimberley, are in the state’s south-west.

State-wide, the One Nation vote in the Legislative Assembly is only 4.7%. It looks like One Nation could win two seats in the Legislative Council, one in Mining and Pastoral and the other in the south-west. This is below the results expected prior to Pauline Hanson’s disastrous trip to WA.

A drover’s dog type of election?

This was an election where the vote was driven by dislike of the sitting government, rather than attraction to the opposition.

It’s rare for a party to gain a third term in WA, and the Barnett government has been trailing in the polls for some time. In particular, as the face of his government, Premier Colin Barnett is deeply unpopular across the state.

The election day ReachTEL poll of 2,573 voters, published in The West Australian, had Labor on a two-party-preferred vote of 54% to 46%. Of those planning to vote Labor, 27.2% said their main reason was that “It’s time for a change of government”, and 16.3% said “I don’t like Colin Barnett”.

ReachTEL poll, March 9.
ReachTEL

Mark McGowan: WA’s new premier

McGowan will become premier after surviving a somewhat bizarre challenge on his leadership last March by former federal Labor minster Stephen Smith.

McGowan, who has been opposition leader since 2012, has patiently plugged away at the government.

In the strained economic circumstances in which WA finds itself, it is difficult to run a campaign full of expensive promises. The most high-profile of Labor’s policies was its declaration that it would not sell Western Power, which the government hoped to use to reduce state debt by around A$8 billion.

Labor also campaigned heavily on public transport, which the government had failed to deliver on over its last two terms.

The Metronet rail network plan gained a place in the public imagination during the 2013 campaign. The basics of the plan survived Labor’s defeat at the last state election as it remained popular within the electorate, providing a clear alternative plan to the changing positions of the Barnett government.

Labor cleverly claimed it would fund Metronet by cancelling the Perth Freight Link, which includes the deeply unpopular Roe 8 extension, and diverting the federal funding from that project to Metronet.

Colin Barnett’s defeat is a tale of a tin ear

The key issues in this election have tended to be economic in nature. WA’s unemployment rates, high state debt, high cost of living, and predicted budget deficits, have not instilled confidence in voters.

The outgoing premier’s last appeal to voters was “please don’t vote for a return to Dullsville” that ended with the old argument that the unions would be in control under Labor.

Given the economic uncertainty, it was a strange plea. Many voters are more concerned with being able to pay their mortgage than take advantage of the improvements to city.

Outgoing premier Colin Barnett had become unpopular with voters.
AAP/Richard Wainwright

Barnett’s fundamental problem is that while his government has transformed Perth over the last eight years, voters are more concerned with their own economic circumstances, and the benefits of large infrastructure projects have not resonated.

It’s a hard sell to convince people that while the significant economic downturn over the last four years is due to circumstances the government can’t control, the government can nonetheless be trusted to turn the state’s fortunes around.

Brendan Grylls distinguishes the Nationals from the Liberals

Outside of Perth, Brendan Grylls appears to have saved the Nationals from oblivion.

Grylls is responsible, through the Royalties for Regions program, for differentiating the Nationals from the Liberals. While the swing against the Liberals is projected to be around 16%, the swing against the Nationals is projected to be less than 1%.

The fact the Nationals have held their ground is impressive on two fronts. The first was the threat One Nation posed outside the metro area.

The other is that the WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy spent around $2 million campaigning against Grylls’ proposal of raising the 25 cent per tonne production rental fee on iron ore to $5, which would deliver an estimated $7.2 billion over the next four years.

Grylls is the member for Pilbara, having moved from the seat of Central Wheatbelt in the 2013 election. The tax policy was high risk, particularly for Grylls himself given that much of WA’s mining happens in his seat.

While the plan seems to have worked in the agricultural parts of the state, the count will continue in the mining seats of Pilbara and Kalgoorlie, which are too close to call.

What the eastern states can learn from the result

In terms of the WA election having federal implications for the Turnbull government, this really was an election determined by local issues.

During the campaign Bill Shorten visited three times, while Malcolm Turnbull made only one fleeting visit, where he failed to deliver a plan to get WA a “fair” share of the GST.

While it is generally not opportune for a national governing party to lose at state level, only internal mischief-makers would try to blame the loss on Turnbull’s leadership.

The most significant issues that will resonate across the country will be the outcome of the preference deal with One Nation, and the ability of the Nationals to differentiate themselves so convincingly from the Liberals.

Natalie Mast, Associate Director, Business Intelligence & Analytics, University of Western Australia

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

Barnett government looks set for defeat as One Nation looms large in WA election


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The odds are against Colin Barnett still being WA premier after March 11.
AAP/Rebecca Le May

Natalie Mast, University of Western Australia

The past four years have not been kind to Western Australia. Coming off a once-in-a-lifetime boom, the bust, which for some reason the state always forgets to anticipate, is cutting deep, and it’s proving a problem for the Barnett-led Coalition government. The Conversation

It’s the economy, stupid

Treasury’s pre-election financial projections statement has growth for the financial year dropping from 1% to 0.5%.

While the current and next financial year budgets are expected to have smaller deficits than projected, primarily due to a three-year high in iron ore prices, state debt is expected to reach A$41.1 billion in 2020. Treasury does not foresee an operating surplus in the forward estimates period.

Population growth, driven by interstate and international migration, has fallen from 4% a year in 2012 to just over 1%.

Job uncertainty is a major issue. WA now has the highest unemployment level in the country, at 6.5% in January, although the rate has dropped by 0.2% since November 2016.

Many Western Australians are now fearful of losing their jobs while having to maintain large mortgages. This is in a climate in which the median value of a house in Perth has fallen back to 2013 levels, down 2.3% in 2016.

It’s worse in some remote parts of the state, where property prices have dropped by up to 75% over the last three years.

For those who have maintained their jobs, many are still in a worse financial position as bonuses and other financial incentives from the boom dry up. Others managing to find employment now have reduced salaries.

The public education system has increased its share of the students in each of the last five years. Part of this rise has been attributed to the downturn in the economy, as people divert money from school fees to the mortgage and other essentials. This in turn adds costs to the state budget.

Who’s responsible for this situation?

During his two terms, Premier Colin Barnett has projected the image of a leader in control. Treasurers have come and gone, and most ministers have minimal presence in the media. Barnett is the face of the government, and he bares the brunt of a scared and angry population, wondering what happened to his 2009 promise of a 20-year boom with growth of 5-7% a year.

At the time of the 2013 leaders’ debate, state debt was around A$18 billion, but Barnett insisted the rate of increase would not be maintained. Instead, over the last four years, the debt has risen by around A$15 billion.

In August 2014, the state lost its AAA credit rating. In February 2016, Moody’s further downgraded the rating from AA1 to AA2.

During the recent leaders’ debate on February 22, Barnett pointed to his government’s investment in schools and health, with construction of the Fiona Stanley and new Perth Children’s hospitals. The latter has yet to open and is now more than a year behind schedule.

Part of the reason for the government’s high debt levels are investments in Perth infrastructure, such as a new stadium, which will open in 2018, Elizabeth Quay and the sinking of the railway line and bus station in Northbridge.

While of long-term benefit to the city, the last two projects are releasing inner-city land for development at a time when office vacancies are at 30% with retail vacancies at a similar level.

Other key election issues

Without funds to play with, promises are limited. Barnett is arguing that his government is a strong pair of hands for these hard times.

There are two significant issues separating the Labor and Liberal parties at this election.

The first is the privatisation of Western Power, which the government will use to pay off part of the state’s debt.

Labor leader Mark McGowan is running an old-fashioned scare campaign claiming prices will rise if the monopoly is sold. Energy prices have long been contentious in Western Australia, with the Barnett government overseeing a 67% price increase for households since 2009, admittedly off an artificially low base. McGowan is arguing the state should not sell off a revenue-generating monopoly to deal with the debt.

The second issue is public transport. The Barnett government has broken promises to deliver improved services to the outer suburbs of Perth, in places such as Ellenbrook.

The government’s key 2013 election transport promise of Max light-rail was abandoned as the state’s economic situation deteriorated.

Labor has resurrected its highly popular Metronet rail plan from the last election. Federal leader Bill Shorten is promising to help fund the plan should Labor return to government at the national level.

The costs of Metronet appear rubbery at the moment, but WA Labor is also planning to divert federal funding from the controversial Roe 8 highway.

While Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has stated the Commonwealth will not allow the diversion of funds, McGowan is pointing to the success of the Victorian Labor government in cancelling the East-West Link and using the funding for other projects.

WA is also seeing an increase in crime, some of which is linked to the so-called ice epidemic. Both parties are promising to be tough on crime. The Liberals are promising mandatory sentencing and Labor is advocating a maximum sentence of life for meth dealers.

During his blink-and-you-miss-it trip west, Turnbull disappointed Liberals with his lack of a plan to provide WA with its fair share of GST. Barnett has been campaigning on this issue for years, and the claimed A$4.7 billion annual shortfall in funds would help with the budget deficit.

Just how big is the swing to Labor?

There are 59 seats in the Legislative Assembly. The Liberals go into the election holding 30 seats and the Nationals seven, for a total of 37. Labor holds 21 seats. There’s one independent, former Liberal minister Rob Johnson.

In the 2015 electoral boundary redistribution, the Liberals notionally gained a seat from Labor.

To win government, Labor needs to win ten seats, with a uniform swing of around 10%.

Polling has been somewhat inconsistent. A ReachTEL poll for The West Australian on February 19 showed a two-party-preferred (TPP) result of 50-50. The two previous polls had Labor at 52-48 on TPP.

On February 23, The West published a private poll of marginal seats funded by advocacy group, The Parenthood, again conducted by ReachTEL. The West noted a surge to Labor, with all six seats polled (Southern River, Perth, Mt Lawley, Wanneroo, Joondalup and Bicton) predicted to fall with an average TPP swing of 15%.

A swing of this magnitude would deliver a decisive Labor victory, with the party winning 41 seats.

Fairfax commissioned a ReachTEL poll published on March 3, in which Labor had a 52-48 lead on the TPP vote. The swing of 9% suggests Labor could fall one seat short in its bid to gain government.

How important are One Nation Preferences?

From a purely pragmatic viewpoint, Barnett’s preference deal with One Nation is a legitimate gamble. His unpopular government is facing electoral defeat and with One Nation’s fortunes on the rise again in WA, shoring up the two party preferred vote is essential.

There are risks in the deal. The first question put to the premier by the panel at the leaders’ debate focused on how a man with integrity could engage in a “dirty preference deal”. While One Nation may have become more politically savvy, the party’s distasteful views remain and trying to suggest the party reflects mainstream opinion is disingenuous.

Barnett risks losing preferences from Nationals who are outraged at being placed behind One Nation in the Legislative Council, Greens who won’t direct their preferences on principle, and moderate Liberals protesting the deal.

The flow of preferences from One Nation supporters isn’t guaranteed either. Despite Pauline Hanson’s “it’s my party, I am the leader and I make the deals” position, a number of WA One Nation candidates are unhappy. Two were disendorsed — although it is unclear how large a role their position on the preference deal played.

A week out, the bookmakers have Labor at A$1.30 and the Coalition at A$3.40. The betting would suggest that WA is about to have a change of government.

Natalie Mast, Associate Director, Business Intelligence & Analytics, University of Western Australia

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