View from The Hill: Wentworth mightn’t be typical but it’s the shrill canary in the mine


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Fittingly, given the perennial instability of federal politics, the
Wentworth byelection looked clearcut on Saturday night only to become
very murky on Sunday morning.

But as things stand, although a lot of postals are still outstanding,
independent Kerryn Phelps is expected to take the seat and the
Coalition is poised to go into minority government, and potentially to
descend into yet more infighting on the way to seemingly inevitable
defeat next year.




Read more:
Phelps consolidates her lead in Wentworth after nail biting day


In Wentworth Phelps’ support appears to have strengthened late. She
improved her messaging, while the government’s shambles last week
reinforced in voters’ mind why it needed a walloping.

Regardless of the narrowing in the count, the top line message is that
these voters shouted their outrage at the political assassination of
Malcolm Turnbull. They also strongly signalled they care about climate
change and are not satisfied at the government’s policy response; as
well, they want something done about the offshore refugees who have
been treated inhumanely for so long.




Read more:
Government raises glimmer of hope for New Zealand deal on refugees


Defenders of the leadership switch will say Wentworth isn’t Australia,
voters elsewhere won’t feel so strongly, and Scott Morrison cuts
through better than Turnbull.

But a large number of Australians are disgusted with the expedient
coup culture that has overtaken our politics. As Liberal candidate
Dave Sharma told Sky on Sunday, “Australians are sick of this
[instability]”. The Coalition can’t avoid paying a price for that at
the election – the question is only how high a one.

To think that the Nationals could be even remotely contemplating a
coup by Barnaby Joyce against Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack
shows that some politicians find it hard to learn the most basic
lessons.

McCormack is lacklustre but cutting him down would be simply to court
danger. Not least, some rural women are so against Joyce that the
party might face active opposition from them. Yet, Nationals sources
still don’t rule out a move before Christmas.

As for Morrison, as much as bringing him new problems, Wentworth has
put up in lights the ones that were already there.

Even if those in other electorates are not as agitated about climate
change as Wentworthians, that issue is more important to the broad
Australian community than it is to the government.

Morrison may have held the line against the right wing Liberals
arguing for quitting the Paris agreement but he errs by
brushing away people’s concerns about climate change with his
singleminded focus on power prices. Many voters won’t see that
approach as adequate.

Morrison remains wedged between his Liberal right wing ideologues and
mainstream voters. The right claims to speak for the “mainstream” on
climate (and other things) but it doesn’t.

Morrison needs a way out – to show that he understands a more
sophisticated policy is required – but none is in sight.

Liberal deputy leader Josh Frydenberg was holding firmly to present
policies on Sunday, even though he has previously admitted his bitter
disappointment at the death of the National Energy Guarantee, which in
its totality integrated energy and climate policy.

The story is a little more positive on the refugees. Finally, the
government shows a willingness to settle some in New Zealand, but it
demands that Labor pass the legislation to close the “back door” to
stop these people (and boat people settled elsewhere) ever setting
foot in Australia. Labor says such a ban is too wide but the pressure
is on for a deal. One “push” factor is that progress on a New Zealand
solution, albeit partial, would take some weight off Bill Shorten at
Labor’s December national conference.

A hung parliament, assuming it happens, will make everything harder for the government, including building a platform for the election. To pass any
controversial legislation, it would have to get the support of at least one of six crossbenchers. The crossbenchers will exploit their enhanced importance.




Read more:
Explainer: what is a hung parliament and how would it affect the passage of legislation?


Generally, risks will be higher. The possibility of a successful no
confidence motion is remote. But Home Affairs Minister Peter
Dutton might be a little more nervous about the chances of his eligibility to sit in parliament being referred to the High Court.

The government’s worsened situation may impose more discipline on its backbenchers – or it may encourage backbench grandstanding in the pursuit of survival.

Coming up on the policy front is the issue of the response to the religious freedom report. Here Morrison is on a hiding to nothing. His right wing wants
more religions protections to be legislated. But in the run up to
Wentworth he had to promise legislation to remove the existing right
of religious schools to discriminate against gay students – and he is
resisting calls to do the same for teachers. The religious freedom
debate is going in quite another direction to that foreseen by the
right and Morrison himself.

Morrison would do better to simply bury the (still unreleased) report.
But the right won’t allow that.

Then there is the Middle East policy U-turn Morrison put on the table
in the campaign’s last week – to consider shifting the Australian
embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. A decision is due by year’s end.
Is Morrison going to stick to this controversial path – or make an
ungainly retreat? Either way, there’ll be a fresh argument.

After the Wentworth debacle Turnbull’s critics predictably are
intensifying their attack on him – firstly for jumping ship ahead of
the election and secondly for his failure to intervene to help Sharma.
Both Morrison and Sharma appealed personally to Turnbull to come to
the aid of the party.

Turnbull can say he made it clear he would quit parliament if rolled,
and that ex-PMs shouldn’t hang about. The former prime minister can
argue that weighing into the campaign would have been viewed cynically
and thus counterproductive.

If, however, Sharma misses out by a relatively modest margin, the
question will hang in the air: might Turnbull have swung a few votes?
His decisions will seen even by some of his supporters on the
negative side of his legacy ledger.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.

Phelps consolidates her lead in Wentworth after nail biting day


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Independent Kerryn Phelps was more than 1600 votes ahead on Sunday night and still on track to win Wentworth, after a dramatic narrowing of the margin earlier brought Liberal candidate Dave Sharma back into the race.

Phelps received a fillip during the day after a recount found some errors in preference tallies in the Bondi Beach and Bellevue Hill booths.

Phelps’ margin had begun to shrink at the end of Saturday night in the count of prepoll votes. Her lead was then pushed down at the start of Sunday with the count of some postal votes.

There are still several thousand postal votes outstanding, which can come in up to 13 days after the poll.

On a two-candidate basis Phelps is now leading the Liberals Dave Sharma 51.1% to 48.9%.

ABC electoral analyst Antony Green said on Sunday night that Phelps looked to have enough votes to survive a trend against her in postal voting.

Green said Phelps’ campaign peaked on polling day. “She won clearly on polling day, but the votes cast ahead of polling day were not nearly as strong for her.”

Sharma, speaking on Sky on Sunday night, conceded it would be hard for him to make up the gap.

The expected loss of Wentworth throws the Coalition into minority government.

While the government currently has pledges of confidence from some crossbenchers, they would be in a strong position to demand concessions in a hung parliament.

Phelps has said she prefers governments to run full term but has left in qualifiers, when pressed on the issue of whether she would give confidence.

She said on Sunday: “The government and all governments should go full term unless there are exceptional circumstances, and the next election is due in May next year and that’s time enough”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was in touch with Phelps on Sunday.

He repeated at a news conference his Saturday night message that the result demonstrated the great anger over the leadership coup.

Morrison also said he and Sharma had unsuccessfully asked Malcolm Turnbull to intervene in the campaign. What impact such an intervention would have had “ultimately is for others to judge,” Morrison said.

He reiterated the government’s intention to serve its full term. There was no reason why it couldn’t serve in minority, he said.“That is not an uncommon circumstance”.

“What I will continue to do is be working closely with the crossbenchers, as I have been doing,” he said, noting the government had not had a majority during the byelection period, and hadn’t lost one vote in that time.

With parliament sitting this week Centre Alliance crossbencher Rebekha Sharkie said she and independent Cathy McGowan would seek a meeting with Morrison on Monday to discuss issues – including the instability
in the Nationals.

Sharkie, who had guaranteed the government confidence until after the byelection, said she wanted to hear how Morrison was going to deal with the children on Nauru. As well, there needed to be an action plan for tackling climate change, she said – although the government on Sunday signalled there would be no change in its climate policy.

Sharkie said: “I don’t want to hold the government to ransom but I want to hold them to account”.

She said that the issue of Barnaby Joyce seeking to return to the Nationals’ leadership was about stability.“Do we need another deputy prime minister change?”

“The instability has to stop. I hope the government will knuckle down and deliver good governance.” Her electorate of Mayo, and the rest of the country, did not want to go to an early election.

Sharkie said she was not sure, from Morrison’s Saturday night speech, that he had got the message from Wentworth, but hoped he had thought it through overnight. “I’m not sure we have an understanding of what is the vision of the Prime Minister and his team,” she said, pointing to the chaos of last week.

The government was “all over the place” on the Middle East, she said. She also expressed amazement that government senators had voted by mistake for the Pauline Hanson “It is OK to be white motion”. “I don’t buy that argument. We in the Centre Alliance go through all these motions, make notes on the notice paper and the senators keep up with what they are voting on”.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.

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.

Grattan on Friday: Wentworth preselectors’ rebuff to Morrison caps week of mayhem


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

In the early hours of Friday morning, the Liberal preselectors of Wentworth delivered their new prime minister a humiliating public slapdown.

In selecting Dave Sharma, 42, former Australian ambassador to Israel and now a partner in an accountancy firm, as the candidate for the October 20 byelection, the preselectors have on all accounts chosen the best candidate.

But Scott Morrison had made it known he wanted a woman, a preference that’s been embarrassingly rejected. Katherine O’Regan, who was supposed to come out the winner, ran fifth.

Moreover, on Thursday it was learned that John Howard and Malcolm Turnbull were both encouraging Sharma to stay in the contest. So the two former prime ministers managed to do over the current prime minister.

The Wentworth Liberals, whose local member and PM was cut down, have had their revenge. The question now is whether the electors will also take theirs. Sharma has the potential to be an excellent MP. But he lives way outside the electorate, so he’ll start with a disadvantage against the high profile Kerryn Phelps, who is set to run as an independent.




Read more:
Wentworth goes to the polls on October 20


This week has recalled the worst of Labor’s days. Morrison’s attempt to move things on from the coup didn’t cut it, just like Julia Gillard found her wheels spinning when she tried to dig her government out of various bogs.

In a highly provocative move, Turnbull has been busy from New York lobbying to have cabinet minister Peter Dutton’s parliamentary eligibility referred the High Court, to determine whether an interest in a child care business through a trust could see him in breach of the constiution’s troublesome section 44.

Turnbull explained in a tweet:

Morrison brushed this aside, saying the public didn’t want the “lawyers’ picnic” to continue. But wishing it away won’t resolve a legitimate question that needs to be answered.

Never mind that Turnbull can be accused of malice; that he wasn’t worried about Dutton’s situation months ago, or that his government voted against referral.

Post coup, we are in a new era. A spurned Turnbull is off the leash. So is former Liberal deputy Julie Bishop who, when asked about her stance, was coy.

“If there’s a vote on that matter then I’ll make my mind up at that time, but of course we want clarity around the standing of all the members of parliament,” she said. Backbencher Bishop has been reborn as outspokenly independent.

An unhappy “ex” is dangerously liberated to cause trouble, whether they’re inside or outside parliament. Tony Abbott has been the model.

Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce was also freelancing, accusing Turnbull of “an active campaign to try and remove us as the government”.

Turnbull quitting parliament has already delivered a major blow to his successor by triggering the byelection that, at worst, could put Morrison into minority government.

The legal opinion that Turnbull commissioned from the Solicitor-General during the leadership crisis has left sufficient uncertainty about Dutton’s eligibility to enable Turnbull to pursue the man who moved against him.

As we saw in the citizenship cases, this High Court takes a narrow view of section 44. Dutton might be on solid ground – as he insists and the Solicitor-General’s opinion supports. But doubt remains – as that opinion also concedes.

Labor is set to have a fresh try next week to refer Dutton to the court. The Herald Sun reports that two Liberals are considering voting with the opposition, a threat they’re making to push the government to take the matter into its own hands. The internal unease will be hard for Morrison to manage.

Bloodied by his unsuccessful power grab, Dutton is also still locked in an altercation with former Border Force chief Roman Quaedvlieg about ministerial interventions on visas.

Holes have been shot in Quaedvlieg’s claims. But Dutton went over the top when he used parliamentary privilege to accuse Quaedvlieg – sacked for helping his girlfriend get a job – of “grooming” a girl 30 years his junior. Even his colleagues did a double take at the term.




Read more:
Dutton accuses Quaedvlieg of “grooming” a young woman, in new angry clash


Dutton’s Canberra troubles can’t be helping him in his battle to hold his very marginal Queensland seat of Dickson, where GetUp has him in its sights.

All in all, Dutton is a marked man. If he survives to serve in the next parliament, it will be remarkable. That he remains in cabinet in this one is notable.

Normally someone who’d caused so much damage to the party and himself would now be on the backbench. But Dutton had hardly warmed a seat there, after the first challenge, than he was back in Home Affairs following the second one.

Here is a paradox: he is damaged goods, but too powerful to cast aside. Or rather, his right-wing support base is too strong for him to be relegated.

If Morrison wasn’t able to keep the lid on the controversies around Dutton, he was a little more successful in containing the insurgency from some of the women over bullying and low female representation.

He headed off backbencher Lucy Gichuhi’s threat to name the bullies. “The Prime Minister has taken up the issue,” she tweeted after their meeting.

Morrison’s pitch to the women was that he’d work with them and the whips internally. It is believed some complaints about behaviour have been made to the whips. The Minister for Women, Kelly O’Dwyer, has proposed the Liberal party organisation should have an independent and confidential process to operate when concerns are raised.

The recent events have sparked a few calls in the party for quotas, but there is minimal chance of the Liberals following Labor down that path.

But the Wentworth outcome could produce another round in the war over gender representation.

All week, the Liberals struggled to answer the key question: why was Turnbull deposed? It took Nationals leader Michael McCormack to give the brutal response on Thursday. McCormack identified three factors – ambition, Newspolls, and opportunity. “People take those opportunities and we’ve got a new prime minister,” he said.

And the view from the voters? As one Liberal MP says, they’ve got the baseball bats out.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.