“It’s not a game of SimCity,” NSW treasurer, Dominic Perrottet assured viewers on the ABC’s NSW election night coverage. “Sydney’s under construction”, he added, acknowledging the Coalition government’s unfinished infrastructure projects are causing grief, but noting, “I don’t sense any baseball bats”. He was right.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s Liberal-National government was returned to office on Saturday night, albeit on a slender margin. With the victory came some wreckage, and largely unexpected beneficiaries. This poll was predicted to be decided in the bush, and that’s where the movement occurred.
The Nationals lost the long held seats of Murray and Barwon on swings of around 27% and 21% respectively. And it was the Shooters, Farmers and Fishers that swept the field, capitalising on internal Nationals strife and pledging to act on the fish kill, water security and the drought.
The Shooters also consolidated the slender claim they had on Orange after the 2017 byelection, securing a 37% swing to make the central west firmly their own. A possible tempering of the Shooters vote in light of events in Christchurch didn’t eventuate, with victorious Orange candidate, Phil Donato, telling Channel Seven, “there wasn’t a real lot of talk about it”, adding, “it’s unfortunate it was politicised by the government.”
NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro remarked that his was “not a party of ideology” but a “party of geography”. He wasn’t wrong. While they incurred considerable drops in support in parts of the central, southern and outer west of the state, the Nationals actually attracted a swing of, on average, 5.6% across the seats of Clarence, Cootamundra, Monaro, Northern Tablelands and Oxley. Nevertheless, their Coalition partners were clearly concerned at the federal implications. Progressive Liberal Trent Zimmerman reserved particular scorn for Barnaby Joyce, arguing the NSW result confirmed, “he should spend more time in Tamworth and less time on TV”.
Newly-minted independent, Joe McGirr, has made Wagga Wagga his own, retaining the seat he won from the Liberals at last year’s byelection and building his buffer to over 15%. Long-standing Lake Macquarie independent, Greg Piper has put the one-time Labor stronghold squarely out of reach, picking up a 12% swing in the process. Depending on the flow of votes in the lower house, there is talk Piper will be approached for the speakership.
Affirming this election’s broad trend away from the major parties, Alex Greenwich retained Sydney with a roughly 3% swing in his favour. While still in doubt, independent Mathew Dickerson is making a very close run affair of Dubbo, nudging the high profile Nationals’ candidate, Dugald Saunders, a former ABC radio host.
Unlike the independents and the Shooters, One Nation was never going to secure lower house representation. But it did make notable inroads in urban areas. At last count, the NSW arm of Pauline Hanson’s party was odds on to usurp the Greens as the third force in Sydney metropolitan seats like Camden, Holsworthy, Penrith and Wollondilly.
Despite their recent internal turmoil, the Greens made a strong showing in lower house voting. Jamie Parker (Balmain) and Jenny Leong (Newtown) substantially grew their base, securing swings of 6.4 and 5.1% respectively. While in the north, Tamara Smith expanded her two-party preferred vote to over 57%.
The struggle to take neighbouring Lismore is going down to the wire, with former federal Labor MP, Janelle Saffin a chance to pull ahead of the Greens and Nationals in a complex three-way preference contest.
The outcome for the Greens and the Coalition in the upper house won’t be determined for some time. The trend towards minor parties and independents in the lower house, however, suggests that they will feature substantially in the 21 Legislative Council spots in play.
One Nation’s Mark Latham looks to have secured the required 4.55% vote share, with his party a chance for a second. At last count, the Coalition had just over seven spots, Labor six the Greens two and the Shooters one. The eventual upper house composition will almost certainly see the Coalition required to deal with a significantly expanded and unwieldy crossbench; a change from their current, more predictable arrangements, usually with the Christian Democrats.
This election will be remembered as a contest of clear delineations for the Coalition. While their partners, the Nationals, took substantial hits in the bush, the Liberals managed to hold the line in the city, losing Coogee, but retaining marginal East Hills, against the odds.
Labor leader Michael Daley’s “schools and hospitals before stadiums” message may have found traction in pre-election polling and with parts of the electorate, but it wasn’t sufficient for a relatively untested leader to take down a government pledging to “get it done” on infrastructure programs worth over A$80 billion.
Getting it done is the task now for the Berejiklian government, who will be looking to deliver on the large scale but delay-plagued infrastructure projects it has undertaken. Pressing ahead with that agenda won’t be easy for a government skirting a possible minority in the lower house and an unknown quantity in the upper house.
As for Labor, Daley is seeking to stick it out. Barring the stumbles of the last week of his campaign, he has performed remarkably well for a leader in the job only four months, fronting a party that only eight years ago suffered one of the worst electoral defeats in Australian political history. That might not matter to those seeking a new leadership direction after Saturday’s result.
Scott Morrison couldn’t wait for NSW opposition leader Michael Daley’s concession speech on Saturday night. Morrison leapt to the stage at the Liberals’ function, speaking ahead of Gladys Berejiklian, to hail the victory of her government.
For the federal Liberals, the night was a vital morale booster, though the result had been determined mostly on state factors.
Consider what could have happened. Months ago all the talk was how the NSW government feared that going to the people ahead of its federal counterpart meant it would take a serious knock from voters wanting to protest against the Morrison government.
That knock (and attendant backbiting) didn’t come. The polls suggest it is in the pipeline, but if it had been delivered prematurely it would have blown away Morrison’s messages.
The Liberals would delude themselves if they took too much heart from NSW. But at a psychological level it will lift the spirits of their MPs and campaign workers, and provide a better climate in which to launch the April 2 budget than if Labor had won or done significantly better.
Some in Labor are concerned the NSW result breaks the momentum for the federal opposition – that feeling of total inevitability about a Bill Shorten win. If, on the back of this result, the next Newspoll saw a tightening, there’d be a sharp intake of breath in ALP circles.
Both the NSW and federal Liberals have had change at the top since their previous elections. But the difference is dramatic. The federal Liberals tore down a leader in a coup driven by ideology and revenge. The NSW Liberals saw Mike Baird exit and a smooth handover to Berejiklian. The nature of the succession helped set her up for this election.
The Liberals are making much of the fact Berejiklian becomes the first woman to be elected as NSW premier. But that piece of history doesn’t offset the reality that women are thin on the ground in the federal parliamentary party and will remain so after the election.
The failure of NSW Labor has reinforced the message that the actual campaign matters.
Perhaps the ALP wouldn’t have come close even with a better final week. But until then the commentary judged the Berejiklian campaign as poor. Then the video emerged of Daley saying Asians were taking local jobs. He had another own goal when, questioned at a people’s forum, he couldn’t recall the detail of his own policies.
The contrast was stark: a premier who knew what she was doing, and an opposition leader who wasn’t sure what he was promising.
Federally, the 2016 election showed the importance of the last few weeks before voters make their choice. Malcolm Turnbull performed poorly on the hustings and nearly lost.
Indeed, campaigns may matter increasingly. The contemporary electorate is very volatile. And are some voters so disgusted with politics they refuse to listen to the noise until close to election day?
The NSW results also underlined that local campaigns are pivotal. The performance of individual MPs and the quality of candidates can be critical when voters are often focused as much or more on what is happening in their own backyard as on the central messages coming through the media.
The Nationals have been big losers out of the NSW poll, with huge swings in some areas. Two of their seats have gone – Barwon and Murray, won by the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers – and a third, Lismore, is in the balance but likely to be lost to Labor.
In the first two, water was a crucial issue. More generally, the Nationals are having trouble convincing their constituencies they can deliver for them; they’ve become hostage to regional voters’ belief they get a worse deal in services than city people. The siren call of protest parties is potent.
The federal Nationals – who are taking a little comfort from modest positive swings in some other areas – don’t have to worry about the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers winning seats in May.
But, coming against the background of destabilisation in their ranks, the state losses will further unnerve them as they face their test with weak leadership and doubtful prospects.
Michael McCormack is safe until the election but he struggles to manage an unsettled bunch. It seemed very deliberate that Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos on Sunday went out of his way to give a shout-out to McCormack.
“Let me make it very clear: Scott Morrison, Josh Frydenberg, Arthur Sinodinos for what it’s worth, and all the other members of the Liberal-National coalition back Michael McCormack as the leader to go into the election,” Sinodinos said on the ABC.
The Nationals have several lower house seats vulnerable in May. They’ll need to differentiate themselves from the Liberals – as they did in 2016 – but how effectively McCormack can execute this is another matter.
Former leader Barnaby Joyce, a campaigning asset for the Nationals – and by extension the government – in 2016, now runs off the leash, often sounding quite wild. His aggressive performance on Seven was the talk of the election-night TV coverage.
In a clear signal to Joyce, Sinodinos said his campaigning ability should be “used to the greater good of the Coalition”. NSW federal Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman put it more bluntly – Joyce should “spend more time in Tamworth and less time on TV”. But the man who declared on Saturday night “we’ve got to stop taking our political advice from the ABC” is unlikely to be tuning into those who want him to turn his volume down.
The NSW outcome probably puts even more eggs in the budget basket.
Sinodinos highlighted its tax cuts as a campaigning counter to Labor’s line on wages.
“When the ACTU and others are out there talking about ‘we need a wage increase of X’, that’s a pre-tax wage increase. You can get an equivalent effect through a proper tax cut for low and middle income earners,” he said. “So we’ll be saying that until our policies kick in to help lift wages even further, the way to do this is through tax cuts focussed on low and middle income earners”.
As is so often observed, people distinguish between their state and federal votes. For the federal battle, this NSW poll has not thrown any switch – it has just made some readjustment to the temperature.
With 54% of the vote counted at the New South Wales election held today, the ABC is currently projecting 45 of the 93 lower house seats for the Coalition, 35 for Labor, three Greens, three independents and two Shooters, Fishers and Farmers. Five seats remain undecided. Coogee is the only current clear Labor gain from the Coalition.
Forty-seven seats are needed for a majority, but the Coalition is in a strong position to form a minority government if it falls short. This will be the Coalition’s third term in NSW. It is the first time the Coalition has won a third term in NSW since 1971; the last time the Coalition won a third term in state government in Australia was in 1980.
All crossbenchers in the current parliament retained their seats. The Greens won Newtown, Balmain and Ballina. The Shooters retained Orange, which they had won at a byelection, and gained Murray from the Nationals. Independents retained Sydney, Lake Macquarie and Wagga Wagga (also won at a byelection).
The ABC’s projection of final primary votes are currently 41.7% Coalition (down 3.9% since the 2015 election), 33.4% Labor (down 0.7%), 9.9% Greens (down 0.4%) and 3.1% Shooters. If the projection is accurate, it is an indictment on Labor that their primary vote fell. The two party statewide result will not be available for a long time, but the Coalition probably won by about 53-47, a swing of about 1.5% to Labor.
Late campaign mishaps probably cost Labor in NSW. On March 18, Labor leader Michael Daley was revealed to have made comments in September 2018, before he became leader, that could be perceived as anti-Asian. On March 20, during a leaders’ debate, Daley could not recall details of funding for his party’s policies.
The final NSW Newspoll gave the Coalition a 51-49 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since eleven days ago. Primary votes were 41% Coalition (up one), 35% Labor (down one) and 10% Greens (steady). Reflecting his bad final week, Daley’s net approval plunged 14 points to -15, while Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s net approval dropped five points to +1. That Newspoll was taken March 19-21, and the momentum towards the Coalition appears to have carried over into the election results.
I believe the difference between Queensland 2015 and NSW 2019 is that voters are more inclined to forgive politicians who make a mistake that is perceived to be out of character. Daley has only been the NSW Labor leader since November, and his anti-Asian video revealed something that voters did not like. It is probably more dangerous for a left-wing leader to be perceived as racist than a right-wing leader.
I will update this article tomorrow with more complete details of the lower house and a look at the upper house.
MORE TO COME
On Saturday, March 23, the people of New South Wales will head to the ballot boxes for a state election. It is looking increasingly close, with polls showing government and opposition neck and neck on about 50% of the two-party preferred vote. This is a decline in the Coalition vote of 4% compared to the 2015 election.
The current campaign is reminiscent of a 1950s “I’ll see you and raise you” one. Government and opposition are engaged in an auction to outbid each other in the amounts committed to schools, hospitals, transport and other basic services. The campaign is one of the quietest in a long time, with little excitement about the respective leaders and no major clash of visions for the future.
Mike Baird’s victory in 2015 laid the foundation for this. The then Coalition leader won a mandate to privatise the state’s electricity network, although sacrificing seats his successor would be glad to have in reserve. The mountains of money produced by this and other privatisations have allowed Premier Gladys Berejiklian to go to the election with a massive war chest.
In addition, the NSW economy is in good shape, performing well compared to most other states. The budget is in surplus and predicted to remain there. Net debt is negative. Unemployment is at a record low.
The Coalition government has a large array of infrastructure projects in progress, including the Westconnex and Northconnex motorways, Sydney Metro – the largest public transport project in Australia – and the CBD and South East light rail. The amount committed for infrastructure over the next four years is just under A$90 billion.
Berejiklian’s pitch is: don’t jeopardise all this by electing Labor. She is keen to remind the electorate of the factional bloodletting, policy paralysis and corruption that marked the final years of the last ALP government in NSW. The release during the campaign of Ian Macdonald, another ex-ALP minister, after his conviction was quashed, assisted the government by putting their misdeeds back on the front pages.
The Coalition also has some significant problems. Overdevelopment is devastating many Sydney suburbs. Residents angry at the disruption to their lives are likely to turn against the Liberals. The premier will not be presiding at many opening ceremonies for infrastructure projects before the election. More apparent are cost over-runs, delays and short-term inconvenience.
The general unpopularity of the federal Coalition government is a handicap for its NSW counterpart. In rural NSW, a belief that the Nationals have neglected voters’ interests could cost the government seats.
Opposition Leader Michael Daley struggled at first to gain momentum and attention. His campaign ignited three weeks out from polling day when he took on influential radio commentator Alan Jones over the Sydney stadiums issue. This has been a festering sore for the government since November 2017, when Berejiklian announced that both Allianz Stadium at Moore Park and ANZ Stadium at Homebush would be simultaneously demolished and rebuilt at an estimated cost of A$2.5 billion.
The public outcry at what was seen as wasteful expense was so great that she quickly backed off. The rebuilding of Allianz would proceed, but ANZ would now be renovated, saving A$1 billion.
Labor quickly seized on the issue, opposing the demolition of Allianz and coining the effective slogan of “schools and hospitals before Sydney stadiums”.
Jones is a member of the prestigious Sydney Cricket Ground Trust, which controls Allianz and has lobbied strongly for its rebuilding. Daley attacked Jones and promised to sack him and most members of the trust.
Daley instantly became the people’s politician, unafraid to stand up to a powerful broadcaster and an elite board. He put the stadium issue back at the centre of the campaign. It crystallised the perception that the government is more concerned about developers and big business than the community.
But does Daley have anything more positive to offer? There is some policy differentiation.
Labor has promised there will be no more privatisations and will re-regulate the electricity industry. Labor also has stronger policies on the environment and climate change than the Coalition. It will be more generous to the public sector. But the main thrust of Daley’s campaign is: we will give you more of the same but do it better.
The government has 52 of the 93 seats in the Legislative Assembly. The opposition holds 34. A uniform swing of nearly 9%, just under what it achieved at the last election, would be needed for Labor to gain a majority in its own right.
A feature of this poll is the difference between Sydney and the bush. In 2015, Labor picked up most of the low-hanging fruit in Sydney and only a handful of seats are in play this time. In rural and regional NSW, the Nationals face a strong challenge from independents and minor parties.
If the government loses six seats, it will be in a minority. After appointing a speaker, its numbers would drop to 45. The crossbench would be in a crucial position.
Currently, there are seven crossbench MPs in the lower house: three Greens, a Shooter and three independents (Alex Greenwich, Joe McGirr and Greg Piper). The Greens have already indicated they would support the Coalition. Greenwich is on the left and has close links with his predecessor, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore. The other three are more conservatively inclined. The election of additional crossbenchers would add to the unpredictability.
Daley is hoping the electorate has forgotten about Obeid and that accumulated dissatisfaction with the government will translate into a victory for him. The result hinges on whether voters have lost faith in the Coalition to the extent that they are prepared to trust Labor again.
About two months from the expected May election date, this week’s Newspoll, conducted March 7-10 from a sample of 1,610, gave Labor a 54-46 lead, a one-point gain for Labor since last fortnight. Primary votes were 39% Labor (steady), 36% Coalition (down one), 9% Greens (steady) and 7% One Nation (up two).
This Newspoll is the Coalition’s 50th successive Newspoll loss. The closest they have come to breaking that losing streak was a run of four consecutive 51-49 results from July to early August 2018 before Malcolm Turnbull was dumped. This Newspoll reverses the gains the Coalition had made to close the gap to 53-47 from 55-45 in November and December.
Despite the Coalition’s woes on voting intentions, Scott Morrison remains relatively popular. 43% were satisfied with his performance (up one), and 45% were dissatisfied (down three), for a net approval of -2. Bill Shorten’s net approval was up three points to -15. Morrison led Shorten as better PM by 43-36 (44-35 last fortnight).
I believe Morrison’s relative popularity is because he has not yet proposed something that would make him unpopular, in the way Tony Abbott did with the May 2014 budget, and his January 2015 knighting of Prince Philip. Turnbull was very unpopular with the hard right, and their hatred of him damaged his overall ratings.
During the election campaign, Labor will attempt to tie Morrison to unpopular Coalition policies, and this could impact his ratings.
The last fortnight has not been good for the Coalition with the retirements of Christopher Pyne and Steve Ciobo, infighting within the Nationals, and Turnbull and Julie Bishop saying they could have beaten Shorten if they were the leader.
While these events may have had an impact, I believe the Coalition’s biggest problem is weak economic data. On March 6, the ABS reported that Australia’s GDP grew 0.2% in the December quarter after the September quarter GDP was up 0.3%. In per capita terms, GDP growth was negative in both the September and December quarters, meaning Australia has had its first per capita GDP recession since 2006.
In the December quarter, wages grew by 0.5%, matching the rate of inflation in that quarter. The Coalition already has a problem with well-educated voters owing to their perceived lack of climate change policies and the removal of Turnbull – see my personal website for where I thought Morrison could have problems. With good wages growth and a strong economy, the Coalition may have been able to compensate with less educated voters.
With neither a strong economy nor good wages growth, I believe the Coalition’s only realistic chance of re-election is a massive scare campaign against Labor’s economic policies, such as the proposal to abolish franking credit cash refunds.
This week’s Essential poll, conducted March 6-11 from a sample of 1,080, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a one-point gain for Labor that validates Newspoll’s movement. Primary votes were 38% Labor (up one), 37% Coalition (down one), 8% Greens (down one) and 7% One Nation (up one). According to The Poll Bludger, this is the worst result for the Greens from any pollster since September 2016.
Morrison’s net approval was +2, down two points since January. Shorten’s net approval was -6, up six points. Morrison led Shorten by 44-31 as better PM (42-30 in January).
62% thought climate change is happening and is caused by human activity (down one since October). 51% thought Australia is not doing enough to address climate change (down two since December). By 52-48, voters thought the reopening of Christmas Island reflected genuine concern about boats arriving, rather than a political ploy; there was no undecided option in this question.
On issue questions, the Liberals led Labor by 19 points on border protection, 16 points on national security and 15 points on economic management. Labor was 18 points ahead on the important issue of safeguarding fair wages and conditions, and had 7-9 point leads on climate change, the environment, health, education and housing affordability.
The New South Wales election will be held on March 23. A Newspoll, conducted March 8-11 from a sample of 1,003, had a 50-50 tie, unchanged since late January. A uComms/ReachTEL poll for The Sun-Herald, conducted March 7 from a sample of 1,019, gave Labor a 51-49 lead, unchanged since the last NSW ReachTEL poll in late November.
Primary votes in ReachTEL were 28.7% Liberals (down 3.4%), 7.0% Nationals (up 2.6%), 34.1% Labor (steady), 9.6% Greens (steady), 5.6% One Nation (down 1.9%), 4.6% Shooters, Fishers and Farmers (up 1.3%), 5.8% for all Others (steady) and 4.7% undecided (up 1.6%). After excluding undecided, The Poll Bludger has primary votes of 37.5% Coalition, 35.8% Labor, 10.1% Greens, 5.9% One Nation and 4.8% Shooters.
The drop for the Liberals but gain for the Nationals suggests that the Coalition could perform relatively badly in Sydney, but better in the country. According to the ABC’s Antony Green, the Shooters will be contesting 25 of the 93 lower house seats, and One Nation just 12, so both parties’ support will be overstated in this statewide poll.
In Newspoll, primary votes were 40% Coalition (up one), 36% Labor (steady) and 10% Greens (steady). In the January NSW Newspoll, One Nation had 6%, but they have been excluded from the current poll as they are not contesting many seats. The exclusion of One Nation probably assisted the Coalition.
44% were satisfied with Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s performance in Newspoll (up three), and 38% were dissatisfied (down five), for a net approval of +6. Opposition Leader Michael Daley’s net approval improved seven points to -1. Berejiklian led Daley by 41-34 as better Premier (44-31 in January).
Daley led Berejiklian as better Premier in ReachTEL by 53.3-46.7 (54.2-45.8 in November). ReachTEL’s forced choice better PM/Premier questions are usually better for opposition leaders than other polls. Voters opposed the government’s plans for Sydney sports stadiums by 52-37. By 48-43, voters thought that Labor was not ready to govern.
There were two YouGov Galaxy seat polls for The Daily Telegraph conducted February 28. East Hills was tied at 50-50 (50.4-49.6 to Liberal in 2015). Ryde had a 53-47 Liberal lead (61.5-38.5 to Liberal in 2015). Last week, there was also a national Greenpeace ReachTEL poll that gave Labor a 53-47 lead by respondent preferences. You can read more about these polls on my personal website.
The Daily Telegraph has seat polls of Lismore and Barwon conducted last week from samples of 500-600 by YouGov Galaxy. In Barwon, the Nationals lead the Shooters by just 51-49; the Nationals won 62.9% vs Labor in 2015.
In Lismore, Labor leads the Nationals by 51-49 (50.2-49.8 to Nationals in 2015). Primary votes were 35% Nationals (42.5% in 2015), 28% Greens (26.4%) and 27% Labor (25.6%). Even though NSW uses optional preferential voting, primary votes changes suggest an easier win for one of the left parties than 51-49. Seat polls have been very unreliable at past elections.
From March 12-14, the UK House of Commons will vote on PM Theresa May’s Brexit deal, whether the UK should leave without a deal, on delaying Brexit beyond the scheduled March 29 exit date, and on an amendment that would lead to a second referednum. Votes will occur in the early morning March 13-15 Melbourne time.
You can read my preview of these votes on The Poll Bludger. On February 28, I had a more general article about Brexit published by The Poll Bludger, which explained Labour’s recent slump in the UK polls.
It may come as news to many people living in New South Wales, but there is a state election to be held on March 23. There has been little of the hullabaloo associated with elections, although I have noticed the occasional election poster in the front yards of houses as I walk along the street.
This may have something to do with the fact I live in a safe Labor electorate, or it may reflect the somewhat low key approach to politics taken by Premier Gladys Berejiklian, and the low profile of her rival, Labor leader Michael Daley.
Plus federal politics has been far more exciting, especially as high-level Liberals choose to leave in advance of the upcoming federal election.
This may give the impression the NSW state election is a somewhat mundane affair. Given the relatively robust state of the NSW economy, one might expect the Liberal-National Coalition will be re-elected.
Yes, they have been in office for eight years but, on the surface at least, they appear to have done little to arouse the ire of voters, especially voters in Sydney.
However, there is a good chance that, after the election, NSW will have some sort of minority government, with an outside chance of a Labor government.
This would have enormous ramifications for both the Liberal and the National parties. If, as seems very likely, they lose office in Canberra after the federal election, they could find themselves out of office not only federally but also in Australia’s three largest states.
In the 2016 federal election, it was the Liberal Party that was battered and lost seats while the National Party held its ground. Similarly, at the 2015 NSW state election, the Liberals lost 14 seats while the Nationals lost only one.
The current situation in the NSW Legislative Assembly (lower house) is that the Liberals hold 35 seats, the Nationals 16, the ALP 34, the Greens 3, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers 1, and Independents 3. The seat of Wollondilly is currently vacant but the Liberal Party faces a high profile independent.
In 2019, the expectation is that it will be the National Party that primarily will lose seats, thereby putting the NSW Coalition government majority at risk. Should the Coalition lose five seats, the current government will be reduced to minority status (a majority requires 47 seats). The Coalition holds seven seats with a margin of less than 3.5%, five of which are held by the Nationals, while Labor has four such seats.
ABC election analyst Antony Green has emphasised, however, it is almost impossible to predict the results of this election on the basis of a uniform swing. This is because electorates and their interests vary widely with regard to age, income, ethnic origin and interests.
The state is far from homogenous, and this is reflected in what policies find favour and where. It’s been reported that in Barwon, in the state’s far west, polls show the primary vote for the National Party has dropped from 49% in 2015 to 35%.
The Coalition government under Mike Baird attempted to implement two extremely unpopular policies in many rural areas: the amalgamation of small councils and the attempt to close down greyhound racing. Both policies may have seemed sensible to city dwellers, but they didn’t resonate with the bush.
In recent days, two issues have come to the fore. The Sydney Cricket Ground Trust and the demolition of Allianz Stadium. Fascinating as such matters may be to Sydney-siders, they are hardly issues of great import to the inhabitants of Dubbo or Grafton.
There has always been a tension between Sydney and the bush but it appears this tension has increased considerably since the 2015 election.
There are a number of reasons for this. In the case of Barwon, there is the impact of the drought and water issues, including the mass death of fish in the Darling River. The provision of health services is a perennial issue in rural NSW – what is just down the road in Sydney can often be a long drive if one lives in a small country town.
There appears to be a growing discontent in the bush, one that can be seen in by-elections over the past few years, including Orange, Murray, Cootamundra and Wagga. The Nationals lost Orange and experienced substantial swings against them in Cootamundra and Murray, while the Liberals lost Wagga to an independent. In 2019, the Nationals will be contesting Wagga on behalf of the Coalition.
It’s difficult to pin down this discontent in terms of specific policies – rather, it’s a matter of attitude. Gabrielle Chan’s book Rusted Off provides the best analysis of that attitude. At its root is a feeling of being taken for granted.
Chan, who lives near the town of Harden-Murrumburrah, believes the issue for many country people is that they know that the Nationals will always be the junior partner in a coalition with the Liberal Party.
Country voters are attached to the Nationals by a bond rooted in their identity. Where are they to go if the Nationals fail to deliver and become too subservient to their senior urban partners? By instinct they will not vote Labor.
Country people are, so to speak, caught in a bind. Chan puts it eloquently: “‘make it marginal’ should be the catch-cry of country electorates”.
If country voters are to “make it marginal”, then it will not be by supporting Labor because it goes against the grain. They also value independence. This means they look to independents and parties such as Fishers, Shooters and Farmers.
If Chan is correct, then what might very well determine the outcome of this election will not be disputes over particular policies but a desire to punish the National Party for what is perceived to be its neglect of the bush. It is simply a matter of respect.
The resignation of Luke Foley as Labor opposition leader in New South Wales is a disaster for the party as it faces a March 23 general election – but it isn’t necessarily great news for the ailing Berejiklian government either.
To form a judgement about the impact of Foley’s resignation on Labor’s electoral chances, just take a look at the state of play about a month ago.
First, we need to look at how the government and opposition were travelling before Corrections Minister David Elliott accused Foley of sexual misconduct under parliamentary privilege on October 18, effectively setting off Labor’s leadership crisis.
Virtually all media attention was on the performance of the Berejiklian government and on the premier herself. Foley was little known and little regarded. However, he was steering the ship with some skill, albeit with occasional problems.
It says a great deal about the low political esteem in which the government was held that, even without a popular opposition leader, the Coalition was seen to be in electoral difficulty. Not that a wager on a Labor victory would have been a safe bet back then, either. Still, the Coalition was likely to lose seats and quite likely to lose majority status in parliament at the upcoming elections.
Nothing has changed on that side of politics. Berejiklian still faces discontent about her hasty policy decisions and frequent backtracking; uncompleted grand projects like the new tram network and WestConnex remain problems rather than achievements.
Add to that the difficulties over electoral support for the Coalition – especially for the National Party in regional New South Wales, and there is a flow-on from the disastrous performance of both Coalition parties at the federal level.
The unhappy picture only gets worse with the prospect of factional warfare in the Liberal Party as conservatives, led by Tony Abbott, attempt to take control of pre-selections and the state party machinery in the next few months.
Maybe the present crisis in the Labor Party will also have a negative effect on the Coalition, since David Elliott’s intervention smacks of the worst kind of “bear pit” politics that brings party politics into disrepute.
Still, the Foley resignation is a disaster for the prospects of the Labor Party. Perhaps a quick transfer of power to a new leader, and apologies all round, might have left the party with a chance of winning the election. But Foley’s stated determination to fight the accusation with defamation proceedings makes the situation worse.
Foley can hope to remedy his plight only if he can prove that the allegations against him are false. As the likely new leader of the party, deputy leader Michael Daley, has pointed out, it is not politically (or ethically) acceptable for a political leader to blame his alleged victim.
Daley is also the shadow planning minister, and served as a former roads and police minister before Labor lost government. After Foley stood down, Daley quickly emerged as the most likely successor.
He was Foley’s main rival in the wake of the resignation of former Labor leader John Robertson in 2014.
Daley, quite sensibly, has said that Foley should consider his position, and resign from parliament, and presumably drop his plan to sue for defamation. Foley has since said he will not re-contest his seat in the March 2019 election.
Presuming that Daley is the new leader, he will have little time to assert his authority and impress the electorate. He has ministerial experience, but that was in the disastrous last Labor administration, which was thrown out of office for the corruption that resulted in two of his ministerial colleagues going to prison.
His reputation in the party is of experience and competence, but he can expect to be reminded of his friends and colleagues, Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald. That is a lot of baggage to carry.
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%.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.