Poll wrap: Newspoll not all bad news for Turnbull as Coalition’s position improves



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A big difference between the losing streaks of Malcolm Turnbull and former PM Tony Abbott is that Abbott often trailed Shorten as better PM, while Turnbull has always led Shorten.
AAP/Brendan Esposito

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted April 5-8 from a sample of 1,600, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (up one), 37% Labor (down two), 10% Greens (up one) and 7% One Nation (steady).

This was Malcolm Turnbull’s 30th successive Newspoll loss, matching Tony Abbott’s streak before Turnbull ousted him as Liberal leader and PM in September 2015. Famously, Turnbull justified moving against Abbott partly because of the Newspoll losses.

Turnbull’s ratings were 32% satisfied (down one) and 57% dissatisfied (steady), for a net approval of -25. Bill Shorten’s net approval fell five points to -25. Turnbull led Shorten by 38-36 as better PM (39-36 previously).




Read more:
Government loses 30th consecutive Newspoll, despite slight improvement


A big difference between the losing streaks of Turnbull and Abbott is that Abbott often trailed Shorten as better PM, while Turnbull has always led Shorten.

On best Liberal leader, 28% preferred Turnbull (down two since early February), 27% Julie Bishop (up one), 13% Abbott (steady) and 9% Peter Dutton (up two). Coalition voters gave Turnbull 46%, Bishop 22%, Abbott 15% and Dutton 7%. Abbott and Dutton performed best with One Nation voters.

By 55-27, voters thought the 30 Newspoll losses demonstrated a failure of Turnbull’s leadership.

On best Labor leader, 24% preferred Shorten (up two since early February), 23% Tanya Plibersek (down two) and 23% Anthony Albanese (down one). Labor voters gave Shorten 36%, Plibersek 27% and Albanese 22%. Plibersek now leads Shorten by 33-26 with Greens voters (43-18 previously).

There was little change in Turnbull’s ratings on nine leaders’ attributes since early December. Shorten’s ratings increased six points on “arrogant” and four points on “has a vision for Australia”.

By 50-41, voters supported Australia becoming a republic (51-38 in August 2017). If Prince Charles becomes King, support rises to 55-35 (55-34 previously).

Other than the 30 Newspoll losses, this was not a good poll for Labor. Labor’s primary vote was down two points, and the total Labor/Greens vote fell back one point to 47%, after breaking out of a long run of 47% support last fortnight.

The Coalition has tended to do better under Turnbull when Parliament is not sitting. The fading of the Barnaby Joyce scandal and the big company tax cuts as issues may explain the Coalition’s gains.

Former Nielsen pollster John Stirton wrote in the Fairfax papers that the new Newspoll, which is conducted by Galaxy Research and uses online and robopolling methods, is far less volatile than the old Newspoll, a landline-based live phone poll. The new Newspoll started in mid-2015, and the Coalition’s chances of getting a tie by luck have been greatly reduced.

However, it is not just Newspoll that has the Coalition continuously behind. Until a 50-50 tie in Ipsos’ respondent-allocated preferencing method (see below), the Coalition had trailed in every poll conducted since September 2016, apart from a short-lived YouGov series that published polls in the second half of 2017.

Although both left-wing and far-right partisans would like to see Turnbull dumped, Turnbull has led Abbott by an overwhelming margin in every poll in which voters are asked to compare the two. In a June 2017 ReachTEL poll, voters favoured Turnbull over Abbott as Liberal leader by a 68-32 margin.

Ipsos: 52-48 to Labor

A Fairfax Ipsos poll, conducted April 3-5 from a sample of 1,166, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since early December 2017. Primary votes were 36% Coalition (up two), 34% Labor (up one), 12% Greens (down one) and 8% One Nation.

Ipsos is the only live phone pollster left in Australia; all other polls use robopolling or online methods. Ipsos gives the Greens higher support than other polls, at the expense of Labor.

Turnbull’s ratings were 47% approve (up five), and 43% disapprove (steady). Ipsos gives Turnbull better ratings than other pollsters, particularly Newspoll. Shorten’s net approval was -15, down one point. Turnbull led Shorten by 52-31 as better PM (48-31 previously). By 62-28, voters thought Turnbull should remain Liberal leader.

By 49-40, voters supported cutting the company tax rate from 30% to 25% over the next ten years. Two weeks ago, ReachTEL had voters opposed to tax cuts for big companies by 56-29.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Labor maintains its lead as voters reject company tax cuts; wins on redrawn boundaries


In March 2017, tax cuts were passed for companies with turnover of up to $50 million a year. The government is now trying to pass cuts for companies with more than $50 million in turnover. Since these are big companies, I think ReachTEL’s question is better than Ipsos’.

Essential: 53-47 to Labor

This week’s Essential poll, conducted April 5-8 from a sample of 1,033, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a one-point gain for Labor since last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (steady), 37% Labor (up one), 10% Greens (up one) and 7% One Nation (down one).

Primary votes in Essential are the same as in Newspoll, but Newspoll’s two party result is better for the Coalition. Newspoll is now assuming that One Nation preferences flow to the Coalition at about a 65% rate, consistent with the November 2017 Queensland election. Essential continues to assume the Coalition will win just half of One Nation’s preferences.

Turnbul’s net approval in Essential was -3, down one point since March. Shorten’s net approval was -8, also down one point. Turnbull led Shorten by 41-26 as better PM, unchanged since March.

Shorten’s ratings on being a capable leader and good in a crisis increased five points since June 2017, and he had four-point increases on “visionary” and “more honest than most politicians”. Turnbull’s ratings dropped four points on “arrogant” and “aggressive”.

There were two double digit differences between the two leaders: Turnbull led by 15 points on “intelligent” and by 13 points on “out of touch”.

On best Liberal leader, Turnbull had 24% (up three since December), Bishop 17% (down two), Abbott 11% (up one) and Dutton just 3% (down one). Among Coalition voters, Turnbull had 45%, Abbott 17%, Bishop 13% and Dutton 4%.

37% thought the government should prioritise renewable energy over coal, 13% thought they should prioritise coal over renewable energy, and 35% thought the government should treat both industries equally.

Far-right Hungarian government re-elected in landslide

The Hungarian election was held on Sunday. There were a total of 199 seats, with 106 elected using first past the post, and the remaining 93 by proportional representation.

Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán’s far-right Fidesz won 48.5% of the vote, and 134 of the 199 seats. Another far-right party, Jobbik, was second with 19.5% and 25 seats, while the social-democratic MSZP won just 12.3% and 20 seats – their worst result since 1990.

The ConversationFidesz’s vote was up 3.2% since the 2014 election, and they won 91 of the 106 first past the post seats.

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

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

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View from the hill: An ugly set of numbers triggers havoc in the Turnbull government


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Barnaby Joyce, a National, hasn’t a vote for the Liberal leadership. But he’s a man of opinions and now he’s on the backbench there are no restraints on his expressing them.

On Monday night, amid the feeding frenzy over Newspoll, Joyce declared that if, as Christmas approached, polling indicated Turnbull was heading to electoral defeat, he should call it quits. There was an obligation “not to drive your party or the government off a cliff,” he told Sky.

A new unhelpful spot fire erupted into flame.

With the fateful 30th Newspoll finally out there, the government on Monday descended into an orgy of destructive self-indulgence. It was a collective performance made up of individual bitterness, tactical misjudgement, and plain ill-discipline. Just the sort of thing to further disgust a public already turned off by the shambles of Canberra.

For Abbott, Monday was the occasion for the primal scream. It might be two-and-a-half years since Turnbull seized his job, but the former prime minister’s pain hasn’t abated a jot, nor his sense of what he sees as the injustice delivered to him.

As he pedalled through the Latrobe Valley, Abbott told 2GB it was for Turnbull to explain why the 30 lost Newspolls measure that he invoked in his 2015 challenge “applied to me but shouldn’t apply now.”

And then there were the other points Turnbull had raised back then – about the need to restore cabinet government, and the lack of an economic narrative.

“Well, I ran a perfectly orthodox cabinet government”, Abbott insisted; as
for having no clear economic narrative, “I completely reject that. There was a very, very clear economic narrative under my government.” For good measure, he threw in a defence of the 2014 budget – which in fact began his political demise.

On the policy front, he topped his call for the government to build a coal-fired power station by suggesting it should nationalise the Liddell power plant, owned by AGL, which is resisting selling to another company despite sustained bullying from the government.

Given everyone knew Abbott would be grabbing the spotlight after Monday’s Newspoll, the government had to make a tactical judgement about how best to counter.

It could keep a low profile, with minimal prime ministerial and ministerial appearances. While that would give maximum room to Abbott, it would also avoid further fanning the poll story. Or Turnbull and his ministers could confront the bad poll day full on. That was the course chosen – and it was hard to see the sense of it.

Ministers were out everywhere, backing Turnbull. That just gave the impression that his leadership was in need of protection, despite there being no challenge.

In a round of media appearances, Turnbull said (for the umpteenth time) that he regretted citing Newspoll, declared he had the backing of his colleagues, and submitted himself to some humiliation.

On 2GB, Ben Fordham announced he had invited listeners to say what he should ask Turnbull. “I hate to tell you PM: the overriding response was, ‘when will you resign?’” Fordham told his guest, with the cameras looking on.

“Oh really,” Turnbull said. “Well, well the answer is I’m not, I am not. I am going to go to the next election and win it”.

Then there was Wayne on the talkback line. “I’m a rusted on Liberal and you’ve taken the party – you nearly lost the unlosable election. I find you politically inept, and basically you’ve taken the party in my view too far to the left and I think you should do the honourable thing and resign, put it to a party vote because quite frankly if we go to an election with you we are doomed as a party”.

“Well thanks Wayne for the advice,” said the PM. “I don’t propose to take it, however.” Turnbull then went on to invite Wayne to tell him how he had taken the party to the left, and argue the toss with him.

Now one can say it’s admirable that a leader gets out and deals with criticisms. But Monday didn’t seem the day for maximum exposure.

Or for canvassing long-term leadership ambitions, as did Peter Dutton. “I think people are best to be honest about their ambitions”, the Home Affairs minister told 3AW. His comments were in the context of reaffirming his loyalty to Turnbull and were not new, but such candour just set off another spot fire of questioning, that soon reached Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison, both of whom acknowledged the batons in their knapsacks.

The ConversationThe 30th Newspoll was destined to be difficult. Abbott was determined to make it so. Joyce is a loose cannon. But the strategy adopted by Turnbull – for he and his ministers to try to control the story by swarming all over it – simply made him a bigger target. It displayed a lack of political nous but also suggested he is feeling more than a little rattled by the situation in which he finds himself.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

After 30 Newspoll losses, Turnbull is down, but certainly not out



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If Malcolm Turnbull is to draw any comfort from a self-inflicted wound, he might consider the history of leaders who have endured bad polling and prevailed.
AAP/Darren England

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Live by the polls, die by the polls – or, just maybe, be given a reprieve by the polls.

With his ill-advised reference back in 2015 to “30 losing Newspolls” in his successful challenge to Tony Abbott, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made himself a hostage to fortune.

Foolishly, he tempted fate, and is now living with the consequences.

However, if Turnbull is to draw any comfort from a self-inflicted wound, he might consider the history of leaders who have endured bad polling and prevailed.

Fickle polls and election results

Newspoll didn’t exist in Robert Menzies’ day. But if it had, the founder of the party Turnbull leads might have been on course in election year 1954 for 50 losing Newspolls.

Menzies prevailed in that year thanks to the Labor “split” and the Petrov Affair, which involved the defection of a Russian spy at the height of the Cold War and on the eve of the 1954 poll.

Turnbull might also draw on Paul Keating’s example in the lead-up to the “unlosable” March 1993 election.




Read more:
Government loses 30th consecutive Newspoll, despite slight improvement


People forget the extent to which voters disliked Keating and the Labor Party after he became leader in December 1991 at the expense of the popular Bob Hawke. After the Keating takeover, the ALP’s primary vote was down in the mid-30s, compared with the Coalition‘s low 50s.

In an election-eve poll in 1993, Newspoll recorded Keating’s net approval rating at minus 25. Yet he prevailed for what he described as a victory for the “true believers”. This was after running the mother of all scare campaigns against John Hewson’s austerity “Fightback!” package.

In more recent memory, John Howard was deemed to be on political death row in the lead-up to the 2001 election. Labor under Kim Beazley led the Coalition 60-40 in its absolute trough in mid-2000, according to the Roy Morgan polling organisation.

After losing the formerly safe Liberal seat of Ryan in Queensland in a March 2001 byelection, Howard’s obituaries were being written. But by mid-2001, he had prevailed in a byelection in the Melbourne suburban seat of Aston. He went on to exploit the “Tampa affair”, in which he refused entry to refugees rescued at sea by a Norwegian freighter. He benefited politically from terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001.

Two months later, Howard fought a “khaki election”, in which Australia had joined the US in Afghanistan in combat against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. He won 82 seats to Labor’s 65. Under Beazley, Labor recorded its lowest primary vote since 1934.

The turnaround in the Coalition’s fortunes attests to the fickleness of public opinion polls taken mid-term, when real choices between parties and candidates are more snapshots than a definitive reading of the electorate’s mood.

Turnbull might give himself pause, however, if he reflects on more recently polling episodes. Julia Gillard’s ousting of Kevin Rudd in 2010 came on the back of polling that showed a slide in approval for Rudd himself.

But sometimes neglected is that Labor under Rudd was still leading the Coalition 52-48.

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Gillard went on to lead Labor to a deadlocked election against Tony Abbott in August 2010. She formed a government with the support of independents.

Turnbull will have the recent bad memory of squandering a 14-seat margin, gained by Abbott in 2013, in last year’s federal election. This will long be regarded in conservative circles as an unnecessarily long and poorly-executed campaign.

Turnbull ended up retaining a one-seat majority. This resulted in a further diminution of his authority within his own party.

Where to now for Turnbull?

This brings us to the latest Newspoll and its lessons for Turnbull and poll-watchers in this next phase leading up to an election due by mid-2019.

If there is a lesson for Turnbull in the examples of his predecessors, it reinforces the point made above that polling between elections is an imprecise science.

On the basis of the latest Newspoll and a Fairfax/Ipsos poll at the weekend, the outlook for the prime minister is not all doom and gloom.

Both Newspoll and Ipsos reflected a slight improvement for the government. According to both polls, Labor is leading 52-48. This is close to the mean for polling over much of the past two years since the 2016 election, although better for the Coalition than recent polls.

For Turnbull, the Fairfax/Ipsos poll had some encouraging news on two separate fronts.

First, this poll found that when voters were asked to allocate preferences, the Coalition and Labor were running neck and neck, 50-50.

Second, voters overwhelmingly want Turnbull to remain leader. Some 74% of Coalition voters – and 62% of all voters – told the Fairfax/Ipsos survey they believed the Liberals should keep Turnbull.

These two elements should provide a modicum of encouragement for a beleaguered prime minister.

On the other hand, Turnbull can draw little satisfaction from the precipitous drop in his own approval ratings. When he ousted Abbott, he was sitting on a plus-38 approval: he is now down to the minus-mid-20s.

This is an astounding collapse in public esteem, and one that reflects a pervasive level of disappointment among voters in Turnbull’s leadership.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Coal fires Tony Abbott’s pre-Newspoll play


In an interesting sidebar to The Australian’s reporting of the latest Newspoll, a majority of focus group participants felt that Turnbull was “out of touch” with the electorate compared with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. Shorten is comfortably leading in this important polling category.

Conversely, Shorten lags on leadership qualities of trustworthiness, decisiveness, experience and likeability.

You can be sure that in the run-up to the forthcoming election, the Coalition will launch the mother of all campaigns against Shorten in its efforts to further drive up his negative polling.

Whether this will work will depend on a range of imponderables. These include Turnbull’s own performance, the budget’s reception, and an end to damaging internal tensions in the Liberal Party itself. These and other events such as fallout from the actions of an unpredictable American presidency are all impossible to predict.

Turnbull is down, but he is not out, even if a slow drip-drip of negative polls will continue for the foreseeable future. He will now face a tiresome fortnightly reckoning with Newspoll beyond the current 30 negative polls benchmark.

The ConversationTo paraphrase a former Liberal leader, life for Malcolm Turnbull is unlikely to become much easier.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

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

Poll wrap: Labor maintains its lead as voters reject company tax cuts; wins on redrawn boundaries



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The results of next week’s Newspoll will be eagerly awaited on both sides of the House.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

A ReachTEL poll for Sky News, conducted March 28 from a sample of over 2,000, gave Labor a 54-46 lead, unchanged since late February. Primary votes were 36% Labor (down one), 34% Coalition (up one), 10% Greens (down one) and 7% One Nation (steady).

ReachTEL uses respondent allocated preferences. The primary votes imply a swing to the Coalition, though that swing is from the ReachTEL taken the day before Barnaby Joyce resigned as Nationals leader. Analyst Kevin Bonham estimated the February ReachTEL as 55.5% two party to Labor by last election preferences, and this ReachTEL at 54.2%.

Malcolm Turnbull led Bill Shorten by 52-48 as better PM in ReachTEL’s forced choice question (53-47 in February).

By 56-29, voters opposed tax cuts for big companies. 68% thought it unlikely that tax cuts would be passed on to workers, with just 26% thinking it likely. The government was unable to pass its company tax cuts through the Senate before parliament adjourned until the May budget.

By 64-25, voters did not want Tony Abbott to return as Liberal leader after the next election. 37% opposed Labor’s plan to alter the tax treatment of franking credits, 27% were in favour and the rest were undecided.

Newspoll: 53-47 to Labor

In last week’s Newspoll, conducted March 22-25 from a sample of 1,600, Labor led by 53-47, unchanged since early March. Primary votes were 39% Labor (up one), 37% Coalition (steady), 9% Greens (steady) and 7% One Nation (steady).

As has been much discussed, this Newspoll was Turnbull’s 29th successive loss as PM, just one behind Abbott’s 30 losses. Labor’s primary vote was its highest since Abbott was still PM, and the total vote for Labor and the Greens was 48%, up one point – the first change in the total left vote since August.

Turnbull’s net approval was up one point to -24, while Shorten’s improved three points to -20. Turnbull led Shorten by 39-36 as better PM (37-35 previously).

By 50-33, voters were opposed to Labor’s franking credits policy. I believe Labor has gained despite this opposition as those strongly opposed are likely to be Coalition voters anyway. In addition, Labor’s policy may give it more economic credibility as they may be seen as more likely to balance the books.

On Monday, The Australian released Newspoll’s February to March analysis. In Queensland, the Coalition improved from a 55-45 deficit in October to December to a 51-49 deficit. It appears Newspoll is now assuming One Nation preferences flow to the Coalition at about a 65% rate, consistent with the Queensland state election; previously they assumed the Coalition would receive just half of One Nation preferences.

With One Nation’s Queensland vote at 13%, the four-point gain for the Coalition is partly due to the changed preference assumptions. Under the previous method, Labor would lead in Queensland by 52-48 or 53-47.

Turnbull’s net approval with those aged 18-34 was just -3, compared with -20 overall, yet the left-wing parties dominated this age group with a combined 57%, to just 30% for the Coalition and 4% One Nation. Turnbull has been seen as a social progressive, restrained by the conservative Coalition base. Young people are far more likely to like Turnbull than they do the Coalition generally.

Turnbull’s persistent lead over Shorten as better PM can be explained by a lead with young people, among whom the Coalition would be crushed at an election.

Essential: 52-48 to Labor

Unlike ReachTEL and Newspoll, last week’s Essential moved two points to the Coalition, though Labor retained a 52-48 lead. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (up two), 36% Labor (down two), 9% Greens (steady) and 8% One Nation (steady). This poll was conducted March 22-25 from a sample of 1,027.

Only 21% understood a lot or a fair amount about franking credits. 10% said they received a cash payment from franking credits and 16% a tax deduction. By 32-30, voters supported Labor’s plan on franking credits.

Voters generally supported left-wing tax ideas, though they supported “cutting the company tax rate to 25%” by 40-30, in contrast to ReachTEL. Voters trusted the Coalition over Labor 28-26 to manage a fair tax system, with 31% opting for no difference.

By 79-12, voters thought there should be more regulation of Facebook, and by 68-22, they were concerned about how Facebook uses their personal information. Nevertheless, voters thought Facebook is generally a force for good by 45-37.

In the early March Essential, concerning the Adani coal mine, 30% supported the Greens’ anti-Adani position, 26% the Liberals’ pro-Adani position, and just 19% Labor’s murky position. 38% of Labor voters supported their party, 31% the Greens and 15% the Liberals. Other voters supported the Greens by 40-26 over the Liberals with 11% for Labor.

Voters supported regulating energy prices 83-7, creating a new Accord between business, unions and government 66-11, increasing the Newstart allowance 52-32 and company tax cuts 42-39. These proposed measures were all asked with a question phrased to skew to support.

By 65-26, voters supported same sex marriage (61-32 in October, before the result of the plebiscite was known).

Victorian and ACT federal draft redistribution

Last year, it was determined that Victoria and the ACT would each gain a House seat, giving Victoria 38 House seats, up from 37, and the ACT three seats, up from two. On Friday, draft boundaries were released.

The Victorian redistribution creates the new seat of Fraser in Melbourne’s north-western growth suburbs, which will be a safe Labor seat. According to the Poll Bludger, Labor also notionally gains Dunkley from the Liberals, and the renamed Liberal-held seat of Cox (formerly Corangamite) is very close.

Labor won the ACT-wide vote by 61-39 against the Liberals at the 2016 election, so the new ACT seat had to be a Labor seat.

In other changes to state representation, South Australia will lose a seat, falling from 11 seats to ten. The total number of House seats will increase by one, from 150 to 151. The new draft South Australian boundaries will be released on April 13.

At the 2016 election, the Coalition won 76 of the 150 seats, and Labor 69. The draft boundaries released Friday give Labor three extra notional seats, while the Coalition loses two. With the South Australian redistribution still to come, the Coalition has notionally lost its majority, and will require a swing in its favour at the next election to retain a majority.




Read more:
ReachTEL: One Nation voters prefer Abbott to Turnbull by over 3:1


The draft boundaries will go through a further consultation process before they are finalised. If an election is called before all boundaries are finalised, emergency redistributions are used. These emergency redistributions have never been used.

Batman byelection final results

The ConversationAt the March 17 Batman byelection, Labor’s Ged Kearney defeated the Greens’ Alex Bhathal by a 54.4-45.6 margin, a 3.4% swing to Labor since the 2016 election. Primary votes were 43.1% Labor (up 7.9%), 39.5% Greens (up 3.3%) and 6.4% for the Conservatives. The Liberals, who won 19.9% in 2016, did not contest.

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

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

Grattan on Friday: Coal fires Tony Abbott’s pre-Newspoll play


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

One Liberal moderate bluntly characterises the “Monash Forum”, which burst into the energy debate this week, as “the deplorables trying to give themselves a credible front”.

Whatever else it might be, the so-called forum is Tony Abbott’s latest weapon in baiting the Turnbull bear.

Coalition backbenchers who signed the forum’s letter, which calls for the government to construct a new coal-fired power station in the Latrobe Valley on the site of the now-closed Hazelwood, are driven by various motives – revenge against Malcolm Turnbull, an ideological commitment to coal, the desire to sharpen the differences with Labor, a passion for publicity.

For Abbott and his allies Kevin Andrews and Eric Abetz this is a guerilla operation, in part building on an earlier loose conservative grouping. There is also a strong “coal constituency” within Coalition ranks.

It looks like the gathering of signatories involved a whip-around of the usual suspects and a few innocents. It’s unclear how many signed. Invoking John Monash, famed World War 1 general who spearheaded the development of Victoria’s coal power supply, turned out to be too clever by half – descendants of Monash issued an angry statement.

Regardless of numbers, a strongly-motivated few can do a lot of harm, when today’s breathless 24-hour news cycle amplifies everything. The forum’s voice easily reached high volume.

We always knew there’d be a performance from Abbott to mark next week’s expected 30th consecutive negative Newspoll. A radio and TV blitz seemed inevitable.

But we underestimated the planning. Not only has the coal group created bad vibes in the run-up to the poll, but Abbott will be in the Latrobe Valley on Monday with his annual pollie pedal, cycling through the coal and power seat of Gippsland, held by Nationals minister Darren Chester.

The lycra-clad former prime minister will be camera-bait on the current prime minister’s anticipated black day.

As well as being a distraction politically, the coal push is flawed as a policy.

The unwillingness of private enterprise to invest in new coal-fired power stations emphasises how ill-judged it would be for government to do so. It would be flying in the face of the energy transformation, and squandering taxpayers’ dollars.

It would go against the grain of traditional Liberal philosophy, articulated by John Howard, who has declared he isn’t keen on the idea: “I don’t think governments should do things private enterprise do better.”

Treasurer Scott Morrison countered the cheapness argument, distinguishing between “old coal” and “new coal,” with the price of electricity from new coal-fired plants being much higher than from existing ones.

Abbott (who harbours bitterness about Morrison from the coup) lost no time in delivering a backhander to the Treasurer. Recalling Morrison not so long ago flourishing a lump of coal in Question Time, he said, “I thought he was making a lot more sense that day than he was today.”

The forum letter has publicly divided the Nationals, still reeling from the trauma created by the Barnaby Joyce crisis. Joyce is a signatory, but Resources Minister Matt Canavan, Joyce’s one-time chief-of-staff and personally strongly pro-coal, said he didn’t think coal needed subsidies.

The coal insurgency won’t prevail – in that the government won’t be building a Hazelwood 2.0, or any other coal-fired power station. But what will be the political fallout of the push?

Many among the public will discount Abbott’s activities as just his usual trouble-making. The noise, however, reinforces the general impression of a fractured government.

It complicates Energy Minister’s Josh Frydenberg’s pursuit of the National Energy Guarantee (NEG). Assuming a deal is struck with the states and territories on the NEG, it could make it more challenging for the government to then laud that achievement, if the internal dissenters continue to say it is not enough.

Frydenberg meets energy ministers on April 20 on the NEG, with the negotiations much helped by the change of government in South Australia.

The April meeting will look at a design proposal for the NEG; a final design needs to be approved by the governments in August. Legislation for the separate parts of the plan then has to be passed by the South Australian parliament (as a model for other states and the ACT, but not Western Australia or the Northern Territory which are not in the National Electricity Market) and by the federal parliament.

The government’s timetable is to have this done and dusted by year’s end, so the energy plan can come into operation over 2019-20. The timetable is extremely tight, especially given the politics of the Senate, the opposition’s incentive to make trouble, and the discontent among some on the backbench.

The timing fits with the election, due in the first half of next year. It is imperative for the government to be able to say in the campaign that it has a viable energy policy, even if prices are still high.

Where to now for the Monash Forum remains to be seen.

On Thursday Howard delivered a very deliberate, stern message to Liberal MPs, saying they had “a collective responsibility to get the act together.”

Supporters around the country “want you to work together. They want you to bury differences,” he said in an ABC interview. “They want you to make certain that we speak as much as possible with one voice and, sure, Malcolm Turnbull has got to give the lead – that can’t be disputed – but he is not the only person who has got a responsibility. Every man and woman in the parliamentary party has one as well.”

It seems very unlikely Abbott will heed his old boss.

The ConversationAs for Monday, Western Australian Liberal backbencher Andrew Hastie had some advice for the man who invoked 30 lost Newspolls when making his 2015 leadership challenge: “Just acknowledging the irony is probably a good way forward.”

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

The pro-coal ‘Monash Forum’ may do little but blacken the name of a revered Australian


Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

The coal industry has a new voice in parliament, in the form of the so-called Monash Forum – an informal government faction featuring former prime minister Tony Abbott and backbench energy committee chair Craig Kelly.

The group, which also reportedly contains former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce alongside as many as 11 of his Nationals colleagues, is agitating for the government to go beyond its current energy policy and build a taxpayer-funded coal power station.

As several commentators have pointed out, the move is a calculated push by the usual backbench suspects to put pressure on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, two weeks ahead of crucial talks with state and territory leaders over the design of the National Energy Guarantee (NEG).




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Perversely, the Monash Forum’s members want the NEG to prove its “technology neutral” credentials by including coal as well as renewables. And let’s not forget that the NEG policy was cooked up when it became clear that Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s Clean Energy Target was unpalatable to Coalition MPs (but not economists).

What’s in a name?

In choosing to form a group like this, opponents of action on climate change are trying to give themselves gravitas, in three possible ways.

First and foremost, they are aiming for the “halo effect” of taking a known public figure and claiming some of his (and it’s usually a he) intellectual cachet. First and foremost here are groups named after scientific figures.

In 2000, a group of climate deniers, including the late Ray Evans and former Labor finance minister Peter Walsh, set up the grandly named Lavoisier Group to undermine progress towards Australian ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and a domestic emissions trading scheme. Economist John Quiggin probably said it best when he wrote that the group was “devoted to the proposition that basic principles of physics discovered by, among others, the famous French scientist Antoine Lavoisier, cease to apply when they come into conflict with the interests of the Australian coal industry”.

Then in 2011, opponents of Julia Gillard’s carbon pricing scheme created the Galileo Movement – casting themselves, like their Renaissance namesake, as heroic dissidents to an unthinking orthodoxy.

The second aim is to create a name that implies a stolid, no-nonsense approach to policy. One example is the now defunct Tasman Institute, which was an influential voice against climate action and in favour of electricity privatisation in the 1990s.

The third tactic takes this approach a step further, by creating a name that sounds impartial or even pro-environmental, thus obfuscating the group’s true intent, which is to stymie climate policy. Previous examples include the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network, the Global Climate Coalition, the Australian Climate Science Coalition, and the Australian Environment Foundation, launched in 2005 to the chagrin of the existing Australian Conservation Foundation.

The Monash Forum – with its implied connotations of nation-building and high-minded political debate – is perhaps trying to achieve all three of these goals, this time from within parliament itself rather than the surrounding policy development bubble.

Monash on the march

For the younger readers among us, John Monash was arguably Australia’s most revered soldier, described by British war historian AJP Taylor as “the only general of creative originality produced by the First World War”.

The Monash Forum’s founders also hark back to his role in helping kick-start the exploitation of Victoria’s enormous brown coal reserves in the 1920s.

But the Returned and Services League is not impressed that this former serviceman has been pressed into political service, declaring that “Monash’s name is sacrosanct and should be above this form of political posturing”.

What’s more, the name is bound to create confusion over whether it is affiliated in some way with Monash University (it isn’t), and there will doubtless be some unhappy faces at the Economic Society of Australia’s ESA Monash Forum (which is).

Will coal really make a comeback?

In seeking to deliver new coal-fired power stations, the new Monash Forum is attempting to mine a seam that has already been extensively excavated.

The Minerals Council of Australia, which [merged with the Australian Coal Association in 2013], has been trying for years to kickstart public support for coal. Who could forget the “Australians for Coal” and “Little Black Rock” campaigns, or last year’s “Coal: Making the future possible”?

But the council’s latest energy and climate policy statement refers to coal only once, prompting headlines that it has gone cold on coal. BHP has considered quitting the council over its pugnacious stance, while Rio Tinto is selling off Australian coal assets. The mining lobby may soon have to recalibrate its priorities – lithium, anyone?

The problem for coal’s proponents is that most Australians are keen to see the back of it. The promised global wave of “High Efficiency, Low Emission” coal plants has failed to materialise. And stunts such as Treasurer Scott Morrison waving a lump of coal in parliament are derided by a public who are far more energised by the prospect of renewables.




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When he was prime minister, Abbott tried to sabotage investment in large-scale renewables so as to keep the way clear for fossil fuels. But tellingly, he left subsidies for rooftop solar panels largely untouched, presumably realising that voters saw renewable energy as sensible and viable, on a small scale at least.

The problem for advocates of renewables, and climate action more broadly, is that winning slowly on climate change is the same as losing, as Bill McKibben noted last year.

The ConversationPerhaps that is the ultimate aim of the Monash Forum and those who share its goals. Renewable energy may win in the end, but it will win slowly enough that coal can earn one last payday.

Marc Hudson, PhD Candidate, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester

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

Barnaby Joyce criticises lack of results on power prices as winter approaches


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce says he would be “100%” behind the government constructing coal-fired power stations if that would lower the price of electricity.

“My exasperation is that we have been talking about cheaper power and nothing is happening. No government has dealt with the power issue in a form that has brought down the price over the medium-to-longer term,” he told The Conversation on Tuesday. “The carbon tax’s removal brought it down only briefly.”

One of the signatories of the Coalition backbench Monash Forum’s call for the government to build “Hazelwood 2.0”, Joyce described his support for the group’s manifesto as “like signing a birthday card”, adding: “It would have been more surprising if I didn’t sign it”.

“I want cheaper power prices in country areas for the poor people who can’t afford it. Winter is coming,” he said.

He said the government building a coal-fired power station would be consistent with its planned investment in Snowy 2.0 and its regulatory support for renewable energy.

The public push on coal by the backbench group is being made in the run up to the Coalition’s expected 30th consecutive Newspoll loss.

It is being seen as another hit at Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership. Among those prominent in the group are Tony Abbott and his close allies Kevin Andrews and Eric Abetz. But Joyce stressed that “for me, it’s not about Malcolm’s leadership. It’s about power prices.”

The manifesto has been signed by several Nationals. While signatories may have different motives, some backbenchers have reportedly refused to put their names to it because of the implications and timing for Turnbull.

The name “Monash Forum” refers to first world war general John Monash, who subsequently headed the State Electricity Commission of Victoria, spearheading the development of the Latrobe Valley coal reserves and power industry. Some signatories would have preferred a plainer name.

The manifesto says: “If the government can intervene to build Snowy 2.0, why not intervene to build Hazelwood 2.0 on the site of the coal-fired power station in Victoria that is now being dismantled?

“All the transmission infrastructure already exists; all the environmental permits have already been obtained; and a new, low-emissions coal-fired power station can certainly be built for no more than A$4 billion.”

Turnbull has trumpeted the expansion of the Snowy scheme as one of his big policy initiatives.

Backing coal-fired power has been among the issues Abbott has strongly promoted from the backbench. He said last August: “If we are prepared to go ahead with pumped hydro, and we are neutral on technology, we should certainly be prepared to go ahead with a new coal-fired power station”.

Last week, launching Pauline Hanson’s book, he was highlighting that “we should build new coal-fired power stations”.

The backbench push coincides with the government working to bed down with the states and territories its National Energy Guarantee. This effort has been helped by the recent win by the Liberals in South Australia. The policy is described as “a technology-neutral approach that does not provide direct subsidies to renewables or any other particular technology, creating a level playing field for all energy sources”.

Turnbull said on Tuesday the guarantee “provides every incentive for the energy sector to invest in dispatchable power”.

“[For] those who are concerned that there should be more investment in coal -fired power stations, the [guarantee] puts a premium on dispatchability, 24/7 power. Now coal can obviously provide that, so can gas, so can hydro, so can other technologies.”

Asked whether it was a slight to his leadership that the Monash Forum was formed rather than the normal policy channels followed, Turnbull said the National Energy Guarantee had been endorsed by “the whole Coalition partyroom”.

Tony Wood, energy program director at the Grattan Institute, said it seemed like an extraordinary approach for members of a Coalition government that had championed markets and the private sector to be advocating going back to a nationalised system.

It also seemed highly unlikely that a coal-fired power station would be a commercial investment for the government. “The longer-term prospect of the investment providing a return to taxpayers would be remote. So it would be writing off a relatively new asset in a relatively short time. It would be a highly questionable use of public funds.”

Private investors were not going into new coal-fired power stations because they did not see a prospect of them making money, Wood said.

“It may very well be that keeping existing stations going longer would be justified but that would be relatively modest expenditure,” he said.

Wood said that to lower prices to consumers it would be more cost-effective to give them refunds – although he wasn’t advocating that.

The Conversation“A well-designed NEG, or an equivalent, that provides clear policy on emissions reduction and values reliability will provide the best policy framework to deliver efficient new investment in affordable energy,” Wood said.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Coalition trails 47-53% in 29th consecutive Newspoll loss



File 20180325 54872 l1bzv6.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
It now appears inevitable the government will hit 30 consecutive negative Newspolls.
AAP/James Ross

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Labor retains a 53-47% unchanged two-party lead in the latest Newspoll, despite one in two voters opposing its recently announced policy to scrap cash refunds for dividend imputation.

In a status-quo poll, published in Monday’s Australian, the primary vote of the Coalition remained at 37%, while Labor increased one point to 39%. There was minimal change in the better prime minister ratings – Malcolm Turnbull has risen from 37% to 39%, while Bill Shorten is up from 35% to 36%.

This is the 29th consecutive Newspoll in which the Coalition has trailed. It now appears inevitable the government will hit 30 consecutive negative Newspolls – the number Turnbull invoked when launching his 2015 challenge against Tony Abbott. He has since admitted he regrets using Newspoll as one of the several reasons he gave for arguing the leadership should be changed.

When Newspoll asked voters about Shorten’s policy “to abolish franking credit cash refunds for retirees”, 50% said they opposed it. Only 33% were in favour.

The controversial policy was unveiled just before the Batman byelection, which Labor won well. Some Labor sources had predicted the policy would cause the opposition to take a hit in the polls but it obviously has not been a vote-changer in this one.

The poll comes as the government hopes to cut deals quickly with key crossbenchers to get its A$35 billion tax cut for large companies through the Senate this week. This is the last sitting week before the May budget.

The key outstanding crossbenchers are Derryn Hinch from Victoria and Tim Storer from South Australia. Storer was only sworn in last week; he replaced a Nick Xenophon Team senator but sits as an independent, having fallen out with the party before reaching the parliament.

Treasurer Scott Morrison dismissed the latest Newspoll result, reeling off improved budget and economic numbers and saying these were the numbers “Australians sweat on more than the Newspoll”.

The Conversation“These are the things that change people’s daily lives. Newspoll doesn’t,” he told the ABC.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

‘Soft’ voters scathing about Turnbull’s handling of sex in politics: focus group research


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull handled the Barnaby Joyce affair badly and his ban on ministers having sex with members of their staff is risible, according to “soft voters” in focus groups held last week.

The research, done ahead of the South Australian election but canvassing views about the federal leaders as well as state issues, also found people critical of Bill Shorten, especially disdainful of what they saw as his “opportunistic” position on the Adani coal mine in Queensland.

Four focus groups each of nine or ten “soft” voters – those who had not decided who to vote for in next Saturday’s election – were conducted on March 7 and 8: two each in Adelaide and the regional city of Murray Bridge. The work was done by Landscape Research on behalf of the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis.

These soft voters, meeting on the heels of Turnbull’s Newspoll slump in the wake of the Joyce affair, believed Turnbull misjudged the public mood on the issue, didn’t handle it well, and let it drag on to become much more of a distraction than it should have been.

“I didn’t think it was even any of his business to be quite frank,” a 61-year-old male real estate agent said. “He wasn’t even in the same party.”

Many soft voters wonder why Turnbull didn’t simply get Joyce to keep his mouth shut.




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A retired man in Murray Bridge said that “publicly dissing Barnaby … was bad”, while a customer services manager from the town thought “he should have got rid of him quicker”.

As for the sex ban: “That rule about no bonking in parliament was an absolute joke,” an Adelaide male security office declared, while a social worker in Murray Bridge thought it “probably inflamed the situation”.

A young woman from retail was sceptical about implementation. “It’s going to happen. They can’t stop it.”

A retired female cook summed up the cynicism: “I mean, for goodness sake!”, while another woman said: “At the end of the day does it really matter? Just focus on what you need to focus on and stop focusing on people’s sex lives.”

When it comes to representing Australia on the world stage, these voters prefer Turnbull over Shorten. But more generally, many see Turnbull hamstrung by his party, weak and wishy-washy because he can’t free himself and be true to his own beliefs.

There is a strong sense that Turnbull’s perceived lack of leadership has let down many voters who expected big things from him.

“There’s no passion anymore,” said an Adelaide pensioner. A retired male teacher thought he was “not a conviction politician. You don’t feel he’s got a set of beliefs.”

An older Murray Bridge participant struggled with the gap between Turnbull’s words and actions, as shown by recent events.

“He comes across as a very decent sort of man. He made a statement at the beginning of the year about his aspiration for things to be better in parliament. And then we have Michaelia Cash getting out of her tree and he virtually starts making excuses for her, and then we’ve got Peter Dutton and a couple of other ministers being very, very personal about the marital affairs of others, and he lets all that happen in spite of what he’s already said.”

Given Turnbull is seen as still preferable to his opponent, soft voters would like him to improve and “act like a leader”, and especially to gag the voices behind him, who they regard as undermining him.

But there is doubt that he can break through. A young male factory worker thought “he’s had too many scandals in his party and it’s starting to take effect on how people see him. Like, he has no control over his party. And people are thinking, maybe he’s not cut out for the job.”

Shorten is seen as having sat back and gloated at the government’s troubles. But there was a surprisingly high unprompted awareness of his “opportunistic”, “two-faced” position on Adani. Shorten’s union association also lingers in people’s minds.

A young Adelaide bank worker observed: “Recently he went up to Queensland and said he was in favour of the Adani coal mine and then he was in Melbourne and said he was against the coal mine. Flip-flops.”

Another Adelaide voter parodied Shorten’s statements on the project: “Yeah but, yeah but … we won’t tear the contract up but …”

The ConversationFor both leaders, these soft voters have become an unforgiving lot – which in part explains the attraction of casting a protest vote.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Newspoll round-up: Labor leading in Victoria and tied in New South Wales; populists dominate in Italy



File 20180308 30979 1rx6p2w.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Polls indicate a swing back in favour of the Andrews government in the lead-up to the November state election.
AAP/Joe Castro

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The Victorian election will be held on November 24, and the New South Wales election in March next year. Newspolls have been conducted in these states in February and early March from samples of 1,268 in Victoria and 1,526 in New South Wales. Labor led by 52-48 in Victoria, and was tied 50-50 in New South Wales, a one-point gain for Labor since February to March 2017.

In Victoria, primary votes were 39% Coalition, 37% Labor, 11% Greens and 6% One Nation. The last Victorian Newspoll was conducted in 2016, so it is not useful for comparison. However, Galaxy polling had Labor slumping to a 53-47 deficit in June 2017, before recovering to a 50-50 tie in December, so this Newspoll suggests a continuing trend to Labor.




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Premier Daniel Andrews’ ratings were 46% satisfied, 41% dissatisfied. Opposition Leader Matthew Guy’s ratings were 36% satisfied, 37% dissatisfied. Andrews led Guy 41-30 as better premier.

Labor led the Liberals 44-34 on party best to maintain energy supply and keep power prices lower, while the Liberals led 42-37 on law and order. 65% thought the Andrews government should be doing more to reduce gang violence, while just 25% thought it was doing enough.

This poll will be a major disappointment for right-wing media that have campaigned strongly against Labor on the gang violence issue. Despite this campaign, the Liberals only have a five-point lead over Labor on law and order, a conservative-leaning issue. Other issues are likely to be helping Labor.

In New South Wales, primary votes were 38% Coalition (down two), 34% Labor (steady), 11% Greens (up one) and 8% One Nation (steady). This Newspoll is the first since early 2008 that has not had a Coalition lead after preferences.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s ratings were 45% satisfied (up one since February to March 2017), 35% dissatisfied (up 14). Opposition Leader Luke Foley’s ratings were 37% satisfied (up five), 35% dissatisfied (down one). Berejiklian led Foley 43-25 as better premier (43-21 previously).

New South Wales is the only state that now uses optional preferential voting for single-member electorates. All other state and national elections use compulsory preferential voting (Queensland changed to compulsory preferential during the last parliamentary term).

Populists dominate Italian election

At the Italian election on March 4, the centre-right coalition won 37.0% of the vote, the populist left Five Star Movement won 32.7% and the centre-left coalition 22.9%. Within the right coalition, the anti-immigrant populist League won 17.4%, while former PM Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia had just 14.0%.

37% of both chambers of the Italian Parliament were elected by “first past the post”, while the remainder used proportional representation. The right coalition’s narrow lead over the Five Star Movement did not allow them to win a large majority of the first past the post seats, and they were well short of an overall majority.

42-43% of both chambers went to the right coalition, 36% to the Five Star Movement and 18-19% to the left coalition. A governing coalition could be formed between Five Star and the Democratic Party, the main component of the left coalition. It is also possible that the League and Five Star could combine, or a new election may be needed.




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More than five months after election, German government formed

On March 4, the Social Democrats’ members voted by 66-34 to join Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats in a grand coalition – the same right/left coalition that had governed Germany from 2013-17.

At the September 2017 election, the Social Democrats’ vote had fallen to 20.5% – its lowest in a free election since 1932. Since the election, their vote has fallen to about 17%. It is difficult for a centre-left party in coalition with conservatives to differentiate itself.




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By the next German election, due in 2021, it would be no surprise if the Social Democrats had fallen into single figures, and been overtaken by one or both of the more left-wing parties – the Greens and the Left.

Centre-left parties faltering in Europe, but UK Labour is performing much better

The German and Italian elections are examples of a Europe-wide problem for centre-left parties. The exception appears to be the UK, where Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour won 40% at the June 2017 election, and is now neck-and-neck with the Conservatives, with both parties in the 40’s.

I believe the most important cause of this disparity is that UK Labour has adopted many populist left policies, while European centre-left parties resist populist policies.

Putin set for crushing victory at March 18 Russian election

The ConversationIncumbent Russian President Vladimir Putin is polling over 60%, and will win the first round of the Russian Presidential election on March 18 with an outright majority, avoiding a runoff. The other candidates all have under 10% support.

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

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