Coalition maintains Newspoll lead federally and in Queensland; Biden’s lead over Trump narrows



AAP/Lukas Coch

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s federal Newspoll, conducted August 5-8 from a sample of 1,509, gave the Coalition a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for Labor since the last Newspoll, three weeks ago. Primary votes were 43% Coalition (down one), 33% Labor (down one), 11% Greens (up one) and 4% One Nation (steady). Figures from The Poll Bludger.

68% (steady) were satisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance, and 29% (up two) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of +39, just off Morrison’s record +41 in the last two Newspolls.

Anthony Albanese’s net approval improved two points to +3. Despite these slight movements against Morrison and favouring Albanese, Morrison’s better PM lead widened to 60-25 from 59-26 three weeks ago.

So far the Victorian Labor government is taking the blame for the coronavirus crisis. Three weeks ago, Newspoll polled the ratings of NSW Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews. 57% were satisfied with Andrews and 37% were dissatisfied for a net approval of +20, down 20 points since late June. Berejiklian’s net approval also slid eight points to +34, with 64% satisfied and 30% dissatisfied.

As long as the Victorian government is blamed for the new coronavirus surge, while the federal government escapes blame, it is likely the federal Coalition will maintain its poll lead.

Rex Patrick’s resignation from Centre Alliance makes Senate easier for Coalition

On Sunday, SA Senator Rex Patrick announced he was leaving Centre Alliance and would continue in the Senate as an independent.

After the 2019 election, the Coalition held 35 of the 76 senators, Labor 26, the Greens nine, One Nation two, Centre Alliance two and Cory Bernardi and Jacqui Lambie one each. In January, Bernardi resigned from the Senate, and his seat reverted to the Liberals.

Before Patrick left Centre Alliance, the Coalition’s easiest path to the 39 votes required to pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens was to win support from One Nation and one of Centre Alliance or Lambie.

Now the Coalition has an extra option if they win One Nation’s support, needing just one out of Lambie, Patrick or Centre Alliance.

Queensland Newspoll: 51-49 to LNP

The Queensland election will be held on October 31. A Newspoll, conducted July 23-29 from a sample of 1,000, gave the LNP a 51-49 lead. Primary votes were 38% LNP, 34% Labor, 12% Greens and 11% One Nation.

This poll was branded as Newspoll, but Newspoll is conducted by YouGov. A YouGov poll in early June gave the LNP a 52-48 lead from primary votes of 38% LNP, 32% Labor, 12% Greens and 12% One Nation.

Despite the LNP lead on voting intentions, Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s ratings improved from the late June premiers’ Newspoll. 64% (up five) were satisfied with her performance, and 29% (down six) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of +35. Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington was at 34% satisfied, 42% dissatisfied. Palaszczuk led as better premier by 57-26.

Both Palaszczuk and Morrison had great results on handling coronavirus, with Palaszczuk at 81% well, 14% badly and Morrison at 80% well, 17% badly.

Biden’s lead over Trump narrows

This section is an updated version of an article I had published for The Poll Bludger last Friday.

In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Donald Trump’s ratings with all polls are 41.4% approve, 54.7% disapprove (net -13.3%). With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s ratings are 42.0% approve, 54.4% disapprove (net -12.4%). Since my article three weeks ago, Trump’s net approval has improved about two points.

Less than three months before the November 3 election, FiveThirtyEight’s national aggregate has Joe Biden’s lead narrowing to a 49.9% to 42.1% margin over Trump, from a 50.3% to 41.2% margin three weeks ago.

In the key states, Biden leads by 7.8% in Michigan, 7.3% in Wisconsin, 6.0% in Pennsylvania, 5.2% in Florida and 3.6% in Arizona.

On current polling, Pennsylvania is the tipping-point state. If Trump wins all states more favourable for him than Pennsylvania, and Biden wins Pennsylvania and other states that are better for him, Biden wins the Electoral College by 278 Electoral Votes to 260. But the issue for Biden is that Pennsylvania is currently 1.8% more pro-Trump than the national average.

Trump’s gains come despite a coronavirus death toll that has trended up to over 1,000 daily deaths on most days. There have been over 160,000 US coronavirus deaths. However, the daily new cases have dropped into the 50,000’s from a peak of over 78,000 on July 24.

I believe Trump has gained owing to memories of George Floyd’s murder fading, and thus race relations becoming less important to voters. An improving economic outlook could also explain the poll movement.

Despite the coronavirus’ effect on the US economy, Trump’s economic approval is close to a net zero rating according to the RealClearPolitics average. Analyst Nate Silver says real disposable personal income increased sharply in April, contrary to what occurs in most recessions. This increase was due to the coronavirus stimulus, and explains Trump’s better economic ratings.

In the RealClearPolitics Senate map, Republicans lead in 46 races, Democrats lead in 45 and there are nine toss-ups. If toss-up races are assigned to the current leader, Democrats lead by 51 to 49. If Trump’s numbers continue to improve, Republicans are likely to be boosted in congressional races.

Danger for Democrats in mail voting

Owing to coronavirus, much of the US election will be conducted by mail voting. Trump has been castigating mail voting, and this could depress Republican mail turnout. But there is a danger for Biden and Democrats in Trump’s attacks.

As Cook Political Report analyst Dave Wasserman says, mail votes can be rejected owing to voter error. Also, while there are some states that conduct elections mostly by mail, the US as a whole does not. This means there could be errors such as voters not being sent their ballot papers in time.

If Republicans mostly vote in person, while Democrats mostly vote by mail, it is likely to distort the election night results as mail votes usually take longer to count. Furthermore, mail errors, whether by election officials or voters, are likely to cost Democrats in close races.

If Trump could get within five points in national polls, his advantage in the Electoral College and the mail issue could see him sneak another win.

Another good US jobs report

After the terrible US April jobs report, the last three have indicated a clear recovery trend from coronavirus. In July, 1.8 million jobs were created and the unemployment rate fell 0.9% to 10.2%. The unemployment rate is still high by historical standards, but much better than the 14.7% in April.

Job gains in July slowed from 4.8 million in June and 2.7 million in May. The employment population ratio – the percentage of eligible Americans employed – increased 0.5% in July to 55.1%, but is still over 3% below the 58.2% low reached in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

NZ Labour has huge poll lead ahead of September 19 election

On July 28, I wrote for The Poll Bludger that a New Zealand Reid Research poll gave Labour a thumping 61% to 25% lead over the opposition National. A Colmar Brunton poll, released after the Poll Bludger article was published, gave Labour a 53% to 32% lead.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.

HomeBuilder only makes sense as a nod to Morrison’s home-owning voter base


Lisa Adkins, University of Sydney; Gareth Bryant, University of Sydney, and Martijn Konings, University of Sydney

HomeBuilder grants of A$25,000 are being offered to build or renovate a home as part of the Australian government’s emergency economic response to the coronavirus pandemic. Critics note that the program, framed as stimulus for residential construction, benefits already well-off households. It ignores the realities of the housing market, especially the affordability crisis, with housing stress affecting precarious renters, the homeless and those struggling with bloated mortgage payments.

Homebuilder appears to be a bewildering policy. It’s likely to support construction work that would have occurred anyway while failing to meet real housing needs.

However, to criticise HomeBuilder simply as bad policy made on the run is to miss a broader picture. HomeBuilder begins to make a lot more sense when understood as a response to the role of housing assets in shaping both economic inequality and electoral politics.




Read more:
Scott Morrison’s HomeBuilder scheme is classic retail politics but lousy economics


The rise of the ‘asset economy’

We describe this dynamic as the “asset economy”: our socio-economic positions are defined less and less by employment income and more and more by our holdings of wealth-generating assets, especially housing.

The government has touted HomeBuilder as boosting construction jobs through a “tradie-led” recovery. House-price inflation has made the economy particularly dependent on construction jobs. Construction is the third-biggest employer in Australia and the only industry outside the services sector to have had significant job growth in recent years.

However, the government could have boosted construction jobs at least as much, if not more, by investing in social housing or energy-efficient housing. Why then did it choose to make the already well-off even better off by paying owners to add value to their homes?




Read more:
Why the focus of stimulus plans has to be construction that puts social housing first


A long history of looking after home owners

It’s no coincidence that, beyond the initial emergency responses to support household and business incomes, the first substantive stimulus the Coalition government announced went to residential property owners.

The rise of the asset economy has occurred in parallel with a shift in voting patterns. The 2019 Australian Election Study observed a move “away from occupation-based voting and towards asset-based voting”. Voters who own housing – owner-occupiers and investors – strongly favour the Liberal and National parties.

Our research on the asset economy reveals the long-term drivers of Australia’s asset-based politics. HomeBuilder is the latest in a long line of Australian government policies over the past four decades to encourage, prop up and reward residential property ownership. These policies have included selling off public housing, tax incentives (especially negative gearing and capital gains tax exemption for the family home) and promoting home ownership as an alternative to welfare programs such as public pensions.




Read more:
Fall in ageing Australians’ home-ownership rates looms as seismic shock for housing policy


These policies have not simply encouraged home ownership – they have transformed it. Nowadays the home is a financial asset, an investment financed by growing debt that is supposed to generate capital gains.

Property price increases, driven by the liberalisation of credit and low interest rates, came to be seen as a key route to economic security for households in an economy with stagnant wages and precarious employment. Credit-driven home ownership expanded and property prices grew. Many property-owning households saw major gains in their wealth portfolios.




Read more:
HomeBuilder might be the most-complex least-equitable construction jobs program ever devised


Housing is now a driver of inequality

Credit-driven home purchases pushed prices to heights where it became increasingly difficult for people to enter the market. In Australia as well as in other Anglo-capitalist countries ― including the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada ― rates of home ownership show the same pattern from 1980 to 2020: increases followed by decreases.

In large cities such as Sydney and Melbourne price inflation over time has made it virtually impossible to buy a house on the basis of an average wage alone. As a result, private rental markets have expanded, rents have soared and new modes of occupancy have emerged, including multigenerational and shared living. These renters are not simply locked out of home ownership but also out of the wealth it generates.

Graph showing changes in rates of home ownership and rental by households from 1994-95 to 2017-18

Source: AIHW. Data: ABS 2019, CC BY

These trends have opened up a rift between those with and without housing assets. This entails not just major differences in levels and patterns of wealth accumulation, but also in life chances. The asset economy has fundamentally reworked the social structure, or what sociologists study as patterns of “class” or “stratification”.

This means even when people have similar jobs or earn the same wages, deep inequalities can exist between those who own assets and those who do not.

These trends are particularly notable among younger generations, giving rise to stark new forms of inequality. Those who are set to inherit housing assets or whose access to parental wealth offers a route into home ownership have a distinct advantage. They can benefit from property-based asset inflation and capital gains.




Read more:
The housing boom propelled inequality, but a coronavirus housing bust will skyrocket it


Shoring up the base in a crisis

HomeBuilder is a product of the electoral politics that emerged out of this asset economy. Asset owners vote with their feet and resist any changes that would jeopardise the long-lived advantages that asset ownership gives them. The result of the 2019 federal election, when Labor’s policy was to reduce the benefits available from negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount, showed this.

The government knows as long as it keeps in place the advantages that flow to home owners, residential property investors and the “bank of mum and dad”, they form a powerful core of the Coalition’s electoral base. It’s offering a stimulus measure directed specifically at this constituency, adding yet more value to their assets at a time of economic uncertainty. HomeBuilder is an asset owner’s policy aimed at appeasing and shoring up the Liberal-National party’s electoral base.

As home ownership rates decline and asset-based inequalities increase, just how long such tactics can produce electoral success remains a critical question.The Conversation

Lisa Adkins, Professor of Sociology and Head of School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Sydney; Gareth Bryant, Senior Lecturer in Political Economy, University of Sydney, and Martijn Konings, Professor of Political Economy and Social Theory, University of Sydney

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

Coalition’s lead increases in Newspoll; Biden maintains clear lead over Trump




Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted July 15-18 from a sample of 1,850, gave the Coalition a 53-47 lead, a two-point gain for the Coalition since the previous Newspoll, three weeks ago. This is the Coalition’s largest lead since the first Newspoll of the current parliamentary term in July 2019.

Primary votes were 44% Coalition (up two), 34% Labor (down one), 10% Greens (down one) and 4% One Nation (up one). Figures from The Poll Bludger.

Scott Morrison’s ratings were steady at 68% satisfied, 27% dissatisfied (net +41). He maintains the highest net approval for a prime minister since Kevin Rudd in October 2009. Anthony Albanese’s net approval dropped one point to +1. Morrison led Albanese as better PM by 59-26 (58-26 three weeks ago).

In the past weeks, there has been a major surge in Victorian coronavirus cases, reaching a peak so far of 428 new cases on Friday. Newspoll last polled the premiers’ ratings three weeks ago, when Victoria’s new coronavirus crisis was beginning. That poll had Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews dropping 18 points on net approval to +40.




Read more:
Labor set to win Eden-Monaro; Andrews’s ratings fall in Victoria


In an Essential poll last week, state breakdowns had the Victorian government’s response to coronavirus slumping to a net +23 from +52 in late June. As the coronavirus situation in Victoria has worsened, voters appear to be blaming the state government far more than the federal government.

I have previously written that, with Morrison’s net approval at about +40 since late April, the Coalition should have been far further ahead than the 51-49 leads they previously held. The “national cabinet”, which involved Labor premiers, held the Coalition back.

But with Andrews being blamed for Victoria’s coronavirus crisis, the Coalition has increased its lead. As long as the virus does not become more widespread across Australia, the federal Coalition is likely to perform well in the polls.

Eden-Monaro byelection final result

Labor’s Kristy McBain won the July 4 Eden-Monaro byelection by a 50.4-49.6 margin over the Liberals’ Fiona Kotvojs; this was a swing of 0.4% to the Liberals since the 2019 election. Primary votes were 38.3% Liberal (up 1.3%), 35.9% Labor (down 3.3%), 6.4% Nationals (down 0.6%), 5.7% Greens (down 3.1%), 5.3% Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, and 2.3% Help End Marijuana Prohibition.

Biden maintains clear lead over Trump

This section is an updated version of an article I had published at The Poll Bludger on Thursday.

In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Donald Trump’s ratings with all polls are 40.5% approve, 55.5% disapprove (net -15.0%). With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s ratings are 41.1% approve, 55.4% disapprove (net -14.3%). Since my article three weeks ago, Trump has lost about one point on net approval. While Trump’s approval has continued to drop, his disapproval has fallen a point from a peak ten days ago.

The latest FiveThirtyEight national poll aggregate gives Joe Biden a 50.4% to 41.6% lead over Trump. Most polls at this stage give voting intentions based on registered voters, but Republican-supporting demographics have historically been more likely to vote, hence FiveThirtyEight adjusts registered voter polls a little in Trump’s favour. Three weeks ago, Biden’s lead was 9.6%.

Where there have been few recent polls of a state, FiveThirtyEight adjusts that state’s polls for the national trend. In the key states that are likely to decide the Electoral College, Biden remains well ahead. He leads by 9.0% in Michigan, 7.7% in Pennsylvania, 7.5% in Wisconsin and 6.8% in Florida.

If Biden wins all the states carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016 (232 Electoral Votes), he needs another 38 EVs to reach the 270 needed to win. If Biden wins Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin (46 total EVs), he wins the election with at least 278 EVs.

The issue for Biden is that the tipping-point state in the Electoral College is still about 1.5% better for Trump than the national polls. In 2016, the tipping-point state was 2.9% better for Trump than the national popular vote. If Trump were able to hold Biden’s national vote margin to under five points, and make bigger gains in the Midwestern swing states, he could still win the Electoral College.

Trump’s general behaviour offends well-educated voters, and they were always likely to vote for an alternative. To compensate, Trump needed the support of voters without high educational attainment. Had the coronavirus faded well before the November 3 election, and an economic rebound was on track, such an outcome would have been plausible.

However, the last few weeks have seen records set in numbers of daily cases, then exceeded a short time later. On four days since July 10, over 70,000 new US coronavirus cases were recorded.

Despite the surge in cases, daily coronavirus deaths had generally been decreasing until about two weeks ago. But it takes time for patients to go from showing symptoms to death, and it also takes time for states to process the paperwork. US daily coronavirus deaths are rising again, with just over 1,000 recorded last Wednesday. It is likely they will increase further.

With coronavirus such a huge crisis, the candidate seen as best able to handle it is likely to win, and at the moment, that’s Biden. In a terrible Quinnipiac poll for Trump, in which he trailed Biden by 15 and had a -24 net approval, Biden led on the coronavirus by 59-35, and Trump’s net approval of handling of coronavirus was -27. By 67-30, voters said they did not trust information about the coronavirus provided by Trump, while by 65-26 they trusted information provided by Dr Anthony Fauci. Picking a fight with Fauci appears to be dumb.

As I wrote recently, the June US jobs report was good, but there’s still a long way to go to reach employment levels that would normally be considered poor. The coronavirus surge is likely to derail any economic recovery.

In the battle for the Senate, the RealClearPolitics Senate map currently shows 47 seats where Republicans are ahead, 46 with Democrats leading and 7 toss-ups.

Polish and Croatian elections

Owing to lack of elections, last Wednesday’s article about the recent Polish and Croatian elections is the first I’ve published on my personal website since February. In the Polish presidential election, the candidate aligned with the economically left but socially conservative Law and Justice party won narrowly. In Croatia, the conservatives won easily in a disappointing result for the left.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.

Scott Morrison set to slow the arrival home of Australians amid coronavirus fears


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison will take a proposal to Friday’s national cabinet to slow arrivals of Australians returning from overseas.

Morrison’s proposal followed this week’s request from Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan for a cap on international flights landing in Perth to relieve pressure on resources, and the earlier diversion of flights from landing in Melbourne because of the new outbreak.

There is already a cap applying to NSW, and the WA government has said the federal government has responded favourably to its representation. Queensland also wants limits.

The prime minister told a news conference his proposal would be to contain the flow rather than pause it. He said the numbers coming in were very low “but at this time, we don’t want to put any more pressure on the system than is absolutely necessary”.

New Zealand has moved to slow the flow of returnees.

Morrison also said the federal government would support state governments charging travellers returning from abroad for their quarantine.

It was up to the states but “if they wish to do that, then the Commonwealth would have no objection to that”.

“I think that would be a completely understandable proposition for people who have been away for some time.”

There had been “many opportunities for people to return. If they’re choosing to do so now, they have obviously delayed that decision for a period,” he told a news conference.

Queensland is already charging – $2,800 for one adult, $3,710 for two adults, and $4,620 for two adults and two children, with some provision for waivers. The Northern Territory also charges.

As Victoria announced 134 new cases, Morrison’s message to Melburnians facing the six-week lockdown was: “It’s tough. And it will test you and it will strain, but you have done it once before and you will be able to do it again because you have proven that”.

“We’re all Melburnians now when it comes to the challenges we face. We’re all Victorians now because we’re all Australians.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the cost to the economy of the Victorian re-imposed lockdown would now be factored into the government’s July 23 economic statement. It would affect forecasts for growth and unemployment. “Victoria is a big part of the national economy” and “the cost to Victoria is up to a billion dollars a week and that will fall heavily on businesses”.

“This is a major challenge to the economic recovery. This is going to have an impact well beyond the Victorian border. It’s already starting to play out in consumer confidence numbers that have been down in the last two weeks, ” Frydenberg said.

“We have been there with JobKeeper and the cash flow boost, which together have provided more than $10 billion into the Victorian economy,” he said.

“We’re ready to do what is required to support Victoria, and Daniel Andrews himself has said whenever he’s asked the Prime Minister for support the answer has been an unequivocal yes.”

Frydenberg confirmed there will be another phase of income support for the period beyond September when JobKeeper is due to finish. The future support would be temporary and targeted, he said. The higher JobSeeker payment is also scheduled to snap back at the end of September, although it is not expected to return to the old rate.

Frydenberg also indicated the government was considering bringing forward the next round of the legislated tax cuts. “We are looking at that issue, and the timing of those tax cuts, because we do want to boost aggregate demand, boost consumption, put more money in people’s pockets, and that is one way to do it”.

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian told people in communities along the NSW-Victorian border not to move outside their “bubble”; nor should people go into these areas. She warned “the probability of contagion in NSW given what’s happening in Victoria is extremely high”.

The ACT has three new cases, the first in more than a month. Two arrived from a Melbourne hot spot and the third is a household contact.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.

View from The Hill: Morrison government accepts Victorian closure but won’t budge on High Court border challenges


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has repeatedly and vociferously championed keeping state borders open.

But on Monday, Morrison was forced to change course, agreeing, in a hook up with premiers Daniel Andrews and Gladys Berejiklian that the Victorian-NSW border should be closed.

In a somewhat Jesuitical distinction, Morrison said they had agreed “now is the time for Victoria to isolate itself from the rest of the country. What’s different here [is] this isn’t other states closing their borders to Victoria”.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd said later “the Commonwealth accepts the need for this action in response to containing spread of the virus”.

But, Kidd said, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee – the federal-state health advisory body so often invoked by Morrison – “was not involved in that decision”.

“The AHPCC does not provide advice on border closures,” Kidd added.

Borders have always been a strictly state matter.




Read more:
Here’s how the Victoria-NSW border closure will work – and how residents might be affected


Even during the high stage of the pandemic, NSW and Victoria kept their border open, unlike Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania.

Monday’s decision to close the border from Tuesday night underlines that we are staring at a dangerous new phase in the evolution of the COVID crisis.

The latest Victorian tally of 127 new cases was a record for the state. Kidd said: “The situation in Melbourne has come as a jolt, not just for the people of Melbourne but people right across Australia who may have thought that this was all behind us. It is not.

“The outbreak in Victoria is a national issue. We are all at risk from a resurgence of COVID-19.”

If the Victorian situation can’t be brought under control quickly – and conditions in Melbourne are complicated, even chaotic – the country could face a new bleak outlook on the health front, with a substantial risk of the virus ticking up elsewhere, regardless of other states keeping out Victorians, and an even deeper than anticipated recession.

Borders have been a source of division among governments from early on.

In particular Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk – now reopening her state’s borders from this Friday though excluding Victorians – found herself under attack from the federal government and also from NSW.




Read more:
Victoria is undeniably in a second wave of COVID-19. It’s time to plan for another statewide lockdown


As well, both Queensland and WA face challenges from Clive Palmer in the High Court over the constitutionality of their border closures. There’s also another case being brought by Queensland tourism operators.

The High Court has sent the three cases to the federal court to look at certain aspects. The WA matter will be before that court on July 13 and 14.

The constitution provides for free trade and intercourse between the states. The key issue is “proportionality” – whether keeping a border closed is reasonable on health grounds at a particular point of time.

The Morrison government, consistent with the Prime Minister’s argument from the get go, is intervening in the cases to argue the borders should have been opened.

WA premier Mark McGowan on Monday was quick to use the Victorian development to call on Morrison to pull out, saying that in light of the Victoria-NSW closure “I’ve asked the Prime Minister to formally withdraw [federal government] support from Clive Palmer’s High Court challenge.

“It does not make sense for the federal government to be supporting a border closure between NSW and Victoria but on the other hand challenging Western Australia’s border in the High Court.

“Quite frankly, the legal challenge, and especially the Commonwealth involvement in it, has now become completely ridiculous.”

But the federal government is refusing to take a step back.




Read more:
Nine Melbourne tower blocks put into ‘hard lockdown’ – what does it mean, and will it work?


Attorney-General Christian Porter noted the challenges were not being brought by the Commonwealth, and said it was the right of any citizen to take legal action if they believed “their basic rights of freedom of interstate movement are being disproportionately taken from them”.

“The Commonwealth has intervened to put evidence and views on the situation … the Court would normally expect the Commonwealth to be involved, given the importance of the issues raised.”

Porter said the Commonwealth’s intervention was to provide its view on whether, constitutionally, border closures were permitted in certain circumstances and not others.

“Clearly the courts will be required to consider whether, in determining these specific cases, border restrictions were proportionate to the health crisis at specific points in time as Australia dealt with the immediate and longer-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Court would expect to hear from the Commonwealth on those types of significant constitutional questions.”

Whatever the legal logic, to be endorsing the Victorian closure but arguing against other states’ abundant caution may be a complicated proposition to defend in the court of public opinion.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.

Eden-Monaro focus groups: Voters want government to cushion pandemic recovery path


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Eden-Monaro voters are calling for a compassionate and empathetic recovery process as Australia emerges from the pandemic.

In focus group research conducted this week, ahead of Saturday’s byelection, the vast majority of participants favoured increasing the JobSeeker payment above the pre-COVID level, extending the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme, and providing targeted help for areas hit hard by the summer fires and the impact of the coronavirus.

More surprising, almost all participants were willing to pay more tax to assist the economic and social recovery effort. Many were concerned about leaving debt for future generations.

This was the second round of online research by the University of Canberra’s Mark Evans and Max Halupka. Two groups, with 10 and nine participants respectively, were held on Monday and Tuesday. All but three participants had taken part in the research’s first round. Drawn widely from the diverse electorate, participants included aligned and swinging voters.

Focus group research taps into voters’ attitudes rather than being predictive of the outcome.

Both Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese have been very active in the seat as voting day nears, although over the campaign as a whole Albanese has been on the ground much more than the PM. But the Liberals have invested heavily in an effort to wrest the seat – which is on a margin of under 1% – from Labor and increase the government’s parliamentary majority.

There was only marginal change in participants’ views on the key issues.

Top issues are: action on climate change, the federal government’s response to the bushfire crisis, job creation, better access to public health care, and addressing the high cost of living.

Climate change action continued to receive the greatest support when people were asked to nominate the one most important issue to them. Most participants saw a link between the bushfire crisis and the need for climate action.

People continued to be aggrieved at the Morrison government’s handling of the fire crisis, which they thought suffered from poor federal leadership, inadequate preparation and insufficient collaboration between federal and state government.

In the second round discussion, there was greater concern over economic recovery issues. “The economy looks weak so we will need good economic management and that tends to come from the Coalition,” a retired Coalition voter noted.

But there was some cynicism over the extra support the government has promised.

People saw Morrison’s announcement in Bega of a $86 million package for the forestry industry, wine producers and apple growers hit by the bushfires as “guilt money”. “It’s an obvious bribe – which might well work,” said a middle-aged hard Coalition supporter, while a female Greens voter described it as “a shameful example of logrolling”.

Most participants thought there would still be a bushfire backlash against the Coalition, despite Morrison’s announcement.

The government is hoping Morrison’s performance on the pandemic negates criticism of his handling of the fires.

Since their first discussion, people have cooled in their views of leaders’ management of the virus crisis. Morrison is now seen as the best performer, followed by NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian, a reversal from the first round.

Berejiklian’s poorer performance is attributed to general annoyance with the states and the perception they are acting “selfishly”. The vast majority of participants think Morrison “is handling the coronavirus outbreak competently and efficiently.” But people are worried by a second wave and cautious about re-opening too quickly.

Albanese is a distant third (the question about him was whether he was doing a good job holding the PM to account); his performance was rated more poorly in the second discussion compared with the first. He wasn’t impacting on the core political agenda: “he hasn’t got a plan,” said one participant.

The vast majority of participants, however, did not believe any party was offering a clear COVID-19 recovery plan and were surprised there hadn’t been a national conversation on the issue.

COVID-19 has constrained the usual forms of campaigning, and has led to a very high demand for postal votes. Participants perceived the Coalition had run a very traditional campaign using “old media”, while they thought Labor had run a “new media” campaign with more emphasis on social media platforms.

Both the major candidates are seen positively. Fiona Kotvojs (Liberal) was considered an “excellent” candidate even by Labor supporters. But several people suggested the intervention of senior Coalition figures in the campaign (Morrison and Payne) may have “reduced her community standing”. Labor’s Kristy McBain was considered a “really hard working” and a “very well liked” candidate by Coalition supporters.

But McBain was regarded as having run the better campaign.

When people were asked who they would vote for, the responses suggested a Labor victory and strong support for McBain. However there had been some attitudinal changes over the campaign.

There appeared to be a marginal increase in support for Cathy Griff (Greens) as the campaign neared its end and two independent candidates emerged from the woodwork – Narelle Storey (Christian Democratic Party) and Matthew Stadtmiller (Shooters, Fishers and Farmers) – during the discussion. That suggested the possibility certain soft Coalition voters might be exercising a protest vote against the government.

Some soft Coalition and Green voters might have moved to Labor and some soft Coalition voters to the Greens, but hard Coalition, Green and Labor voters looked to be remaining loyal.

Kotvojs’s well-resourced campaign appeared to be losing some momentum. But the participants continued to think the election – a straight Labor-Liberal battle despite a field of 14 candidates – would be very close.

This is a byelection where even seasoned watchers are wary of chancing their arm in advance of Saturday night.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.

Morrison’s $1.3 billion for more ‘cyber spies’ is an incremental response to a radical problem



Mick Tsikas/AAP

Greg Austin, UNSW

The federal government has announced it will spend more than a billion dollars over the next ten years to boost Australia’s cyber defences.

This comes barely a week after Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned the country was in the grip of a “sophisticated” cyber attack by a “state-based” actor, widely reported to be China.




Read more:
Morrison announces repurposing of defence money to fight increasing cyber threats


The announcement can be seen as a mix of the right stuff and political window dressing – deflecting attention away from Australia’s underlying weaknesses when it comes to cyber security.

What is the funding for?

Morrison’s cyber announcement includes a package of measures totalling $1.35 billion over ten years.

This includes funding to disrupt offshore cyber crime, intelligence sharing between government and industry, new research labs and more than 500 “cyber spy” jobs.

As Morrison explained

This … will mean that we can identify more cyber threats, disrupt more foreign cyber criminals, build more partnerships with industry and government and protect more Australians.

They key aim is to help the country’s cyber intelligence agency, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), to know as soon as possible who is attacking Australia, with what, and how the attack can best be stopped.

Australia’s cyber deficiencies

Australia certainly needs to do more to defend itself against cyber attacks.

Intelligence specialists like top public servant Nick Warner have been advocating for more attention for cyber threats for years.

Concerns about Australia’s cyber defences have been raised for years.
http://www.shutterstock.com

The government is also acknowledging publicly that the threats are increasing.

Earlier this month, Morrison held an unusual press conference to announce that Australia was under cyber attack.

While he did not specify who by, government statements made plain it was the same malicious actor (a foreign government) using the same tools as an attack reported in May this year.

Related attacks on Australia using similar malware were also identified in May 2019.

This type of threat is called an “advanced persistent threat” because it is hard to get it out of a system, even if you know it is there.




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Australia is under sustained cyber attack, warns the government. What’s going on, and what should businesses do?


All countries face enormous difficulties in cyber defence, and Australia is arguably among the top states in cyber security world-wide. Yet after a decade of incremental reforms, the government has been unable to organise all of its own departments to implement more than basic mitigation strategies.

New jobs in cyber security

The biggest slice of the $1.35 billion is a “$470 million investment to expand our cyber security workforce”.

This is by any measure an essential underpinning and is to be applauded.

The Morrison government wants to recruit more than 500 new ASD employees.
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But it is not yet clear how “new” these new jobs are.

The 2016 Defence White Paper announced a ten year workforce expansion of 1,700 jobs in intelligence and cyber security. This included a 900-person joint cyber unit in the Australian Defence Force, announced in 2017.

The newly mooted expansion for ASD will also need to be undertaken gradually. It will be impossible to find hundreds of additional staff with the right skills straight away.

The skills needed cut across many sub-disciplines of cyber operations, and must be fine-tuned across various roles. ASD has identified four career streams (analysis, systems architecture, operations and testing) but these do not reflect the diversity of talents needed.

It’s clear Australian universities do not currently train people at the advanced levels needed by ASD, so advanced on-the-job training is essential.

Political window dressing

The government is promoting its announcement as the “nation’s largest ever investment in cyber security”. But the seemingly generous $1.35 billion cyber initiative does not involve new money.

The package is also a pre-announcement of part of the government’s upcoming 2020 Cyber Security Strategy, expected within weeks.

This will update the 2016 strategy released under former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and cyber elements of the 2016 Defence White Paper.




Read more:
Australia is facing a looming cyber emergency, and we don’t have the high-tech workforce to counter it


The new cyber strategy has been the subject of country-wide consultations through 2019, but few observers expect significant new funding injections.

The main exceptions which may receive a funding boost compared with 2016 are likely to be in education funding (as opposed to research), and community awareness.

With the release of the new cyber strategy understood to be imminent, it is unclear why the government chose this particular week to make the pre-announcement. It obviously will have kept some big news for the strategy release when it happens.

The federal government is expected to release a new cyber security strategy within weeks.
http://www.shutterstock.com

The government’s claim that an additional $135 million per year is the “largest ever investment in cyber security” is true in a sense. But this is the case in many areas of government expenditure.

The government has obviously cut pre-planned expenses in some unrevealed areas of Defence.

Meanwhile, the issues this funding is supposed to address are so complex, that $1.35 billion over ten years can best be seen as an incremental response to a radical threat.

Australia needs to do much more

According to authoritative sources, including the federal government-funded AustCyber in 2019, there are a number of underlying deficiencies in Australia’s industrial and economic response to cyber security.

These can only be improved if federal government departments adopt stricter approaches, if state governments follow suit, and if the private sector makes appropriate adjustments.

Above all, the leading players need to shift their planning to better accommodate the organisational and management aspects of cyber security delivery.




Read more:
Australia is vulnerable to a catastrophic cyber attack, but the Coalition has a poor cyber security track record


Yes, we need to up our technical game, but our social response is also essential.

CEOs and departmental secretaries should be legally obliged to attest every year that they have sound cyber security practices and their entire organisations are properly trained.

Without better corporate management, Australia’s cyber defences will remain fragmented and inadequate.The Conversation

Greg Austin, Professor UNSW Canberra Cyber, UNSW

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

Defence update: in an increasingly dangerous neighbourhood, Australia needs a stronger security system



Glenn Hunt/AAP

John Blaxland, Australian National University

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a new 2020 Defence Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan that marks a considerable departure from the past.

The update boosts defence spending from A$195-$270 billion over the next decade, with a commitment to see it through, regardless of the proportion of GDP it may reflect in the economically challenging months ahead.

The update promises increases for the three services (navy, army, air force), a satellite constellation, a bolstered cyber capability and plans for increased engagement with the neighbourhood. The intention is to bolster the ADF’s reach, precision, speed, agility and resilience.




Read more:
Australia’s latest military commitment should spark assessment of how well we use our defence forces


The extended reach and more robust capabilities are intended to catch up with recent upgrades in the militaries in our region (notably in the Chinese armed forces).

This update is also intended to complicate the plans of any adversary seeking to cause us harm. Diversifying our capabilities is key to avoiding being limited by a shortage of force options.

China’s military has been undergoing dramatic reforms in recent years.
XINHUA NEWS AGENCY HANDOUT/EPA

China is the main motivator – but not the only one

China didn’t feature explicitly in the prime minister’s launch speech, but the dramatic growth in its military capabilities, coupled with an aggressive approach to cyber intrusions and its “wolf warrior diplomacy ”, is clearly a significant motivator for this surge in defence spending.

The plan makes clear, though, that other issues beyond great power rivalries are also contributing to the world’s sense of uncertainty, including threats to human security, pandemics and natural disasters.

Also implicit in the plan is the concern over heightened US introspection and waning relative influence, particularly in our region.

It is sometimes helpful to think of defence as being like a signposted home insurance policy and alarm system, designed to deter intruders and provide for potential calamity. The ADF capability, to date, has offered insufficient deterrence at a time when the prospect of (literal and metaphoric) fires and intrusions is growing.

The plan doubles down on regional engagement initiatives (a “neighbourhood watch” program, if you like). Key priorities here include better cooperation with maritime Southeast Asian states and the South Pacific, as well as other security partners further afield.




Read more:
With China-US tensions on the rise, does Australia need a new defence strategy?


This will complement the work being undertaken as part of Australia’s Pacific “Step Up” policy and reflects the investment in regional military partnerships, such as the Indo-Pacific Endeavour. However, it does not yet go as far as a more comprehensive proposal for a grand compact for the Pacific.

There is an underlying purpose to the ADF update: to ensure what Australia does is seen as being in the shared interests of the region, helping to bolster regional stability and security in these uncertain times.

It also may demonstrate a heartening increase in resolve to confront challenges in our region and stand with our neighbours as we have done in the past, instead of being focused on security challenges in the far corners of the globe, where our influence is commensurately less.

Greater resilience and preparedness

The update’s workforce plan projects incremental personnel growth in the hundreds, not thousands. And the service chiefs appear content. With unemployment spiking due to the coronavirus and related economic downturn, their recruitment and retention problems have faded for now.

The plan acknowledges the prospect of further “black swan” events, such as bushfires and pandemics. The ADF, however, is only a boutique force and while its utility and adaptability is impressive, there is little spare capacity in the event of a spike in crises – even with more soldiers and other staff.

As such, there may still be scope for a voluntary but incentivised national and community service scheme.

Resilience featured prominently in the update, as well, reflecting growing awareness of Australia’s vulnerability arising from an overdependence on supply lines from abroad, notably refined petroleum products.

Morrison said Australia needs to prepare for a world that is ‘poorer, more dangerous and more disorderly’.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Deterrence is critically important

Critics may argue this update is a mistake and our words and actions may antagonise China – our largest trading partner.

But China is itself antagonising many countries, all of which have extensive trade ties with it. Even the Philippines, which has made concessions and reached out to China under President Rodrigo Duterte, has seen these efforts spurned. As a result, it has retained its ties with the United States.

It is not just us. We are not the ones being pushy or rude. In fact, looking around to the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Europe, Southeast Asia and beyond, the pattern of assertive Chinese actions suggests we may have been a bit too polite so far.




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It also points to the need to double down on consulting and collaborating with neighbours who are equally disconcerted by China’s belligerence and America’s evident retreat from global leadership. That seems to have been the point of much of the policy prescriptions in the Foreign Policy White Paper of 2017 – or what I call our Foreign Policy “Plan B”.

Meanwhile, China has built its robust, lethal and rapidly expanding military capability, structured to confront its very own trading partners.

Australia’s actions are not happening in a vacuum. Rather, Australia is appropriately and commensurately responding in an effort to bolster its own resilience and deterrence. After all, wars start when one side calculates the other’s ability to deter is insufficient and they feel confident of victory. Deterrence is critically important.The Conversation

John Blaxland, Professor, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University

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

Scott Morrison pivots Australian Defence Force to meet more threatening regional outlook



Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison will deliver a stark warning that Australia faces an increasingly threatening regional outlook and announce a pivot in its defence posture, when he releases the government’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update on Wednesday.

The Prime Minister will declare: “Even as we stare down the COVID pandemic at home, we need to also prepare for a post COVID world that is poorer, more dangerous and more disorderly”.

He will say the Indo-Pacific is the “epicentre” of increasing strategic competition, highlight “fractious” United States-China relations, and point to rising regional tensions over territorial claims, notably in the South China Sea and on the India-China border.

Australia’s defence policy is being adjusted to concentrate on our immediate region, and to equip the Australian Defence Force (ADF) with greater capability for deterring threats, including by significant new investment in longer-range strike capabilities across air, sea and land.

Morrison will announce the government will buy the AGM-158C Long Range Anti-Ship Missile from the US Navy, costing about $800 million. This missile has a range of more than 370 kilometres and is a significant upgrade from the current Harpoon anti-ship missile.

The very blunt language and unvarnished tone of Morrison’s speech, released ahead of delivery, reflect the heightening regional uncertainty, as China’s power and assertiveness increase, and American policy is unpredictable.

The update comes as relations between Australia and China continue to deteriorate, with Australia pointing to cyber attacks from “a state-based” actor and China accusing Australia of spying on it.

In his speech Morrison says the 2016 Defence White Paper gave equal weighting across three areas: Australia and its northern approaches, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, and operations in support of the rules-based global order.

“In this update, the government has directed Defence to prioritise the ADF’s geographical focus on our immediate region – the area ranging from the north-east Indian Ocean, through maritime and mainland Southeast Asia to Papua New Guinea and the South West Pacific,” he says.

“With the Indo-Pacific experiencing fundamental shifts and increased threats, our commitment will deepen.

“Our defence forces will need to be prepared for any future, no matter how unlikely,” Morrison says.

“The government has set three new strategic objectives to guide all defence planning, including force structure, force generation, international engagement and operations,” he says. These are to

  • shape Australia’s strategic environment

  • deter actions against Australia’s interests

  • respond with credible military force, when required.

Morrison says maintaining a “largely defensive force” won’t be adequate to deter attacks against Australia or its interests in the challenging strategic environment the country faces.

The ADF’s deterrence capabilities must be strengthened.

It needs “capabilities that can hold potential adversaries’ forces and critical infrastructure at risk from a distance, thereby deterring an attack on Australia and helping to prevent war,” he says.

To meet the new circumstances, “Australia will invest in longer range strike weapons, cyber capabilities and area denial”.

“We will increase the Australian Defence Force’s ability to influence and deny operations directed against our interests — ones below the threshold of traditional armed conflict, in what experts call the ‘grey-zone’.

“This will involve boosting Defence’s special operations, intelligence and offensive cyber capabilities, as well as its presence operations, capacity-building efforts, and engagement activities.”

Outlining the worsening risks, Morrison says: “We have moved into a new and less benign strategic era – one in which the institutions and patterns of cooperation that have benefited our prosperity and security for decades are under increasing strain.

“The Indo-Pacific is the epicentre of rising strategic competition.

“Our region will not only shape our future – increasingly it is the focus of the dominant global contest of our age.

“Tensions over territorial claims are rising across the Indo-Pacific region – as we have seen recently on the disputed border between India and China, in the South China Sea, and in the East China Sea.

“The risk of miscalculation – and even conflict – is heightening.

“Regional military modernisation is occurring at an unprecedented rate.

“Capabilities and reach are expanding.

“Previous assumptions of enduring advantage and technological edge are no longer constants.

“Coercive activities are rife.

“Disinformation and foreign interference have been enabled by new and emerging technologies.

“Terrorism and the evil ideologies that underpin it remain a tenacious threat.

“And state sovereignty is under pressure — as are rules and norms, and the stability these help provide.

“Relations between China and the United States are fractious as they compete for political, economic and technological supremacy,” Morrison says.

He says “the largely benign security environment Australia has enjoyed – roughly from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the Global Financial Crisis – is gone.”

The government’s updated defence funding will see investment in capability grow to $270 billion over the next decade. This compares with the $195 billion decade-long commitment in the 2016 White Paper.

Australia’s sharpened regional focus would have the ADF forming even deeper links with regional armed forces.

“Our new strategic settings will also make us a better, more effective ally.”

However, in a message that Australia no longer is as keen to be drawn into situations further afield, Morrison says, “We remain prepared to make military contributions outside of our immediate region where it is in our national interest to do so, including in support of US-led coalitions.

“But we cannot allow consideration of such contingencies to drive our force structure to the detriment of ensuring we have credible capability to respond to any challenge in our immediate region.

“It is in our region that we must be most capable in the military contributions we make to partnerships, and to our ever-closer alliance with the United States.”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.