Australia should strengthen its privacy laws and remove exemptions for politicians

David Vaile, UNSW

As revelations continue to unfold about the misuse of personal data by Cambridge Analytica, many Australians are only just learning that Australian politicians have given themselves a free kick to bypass privacy laws.

Indeed, Australian data privacy laws are generally weak when compared with those in the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union. They fall short in both specific exemptions for politicians, and because individuals cannot enforce laws even where they do exist.

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While Australia’s major political parties have denied using the services of Cambridge Analytica, they do engage in substantial data operations – including the Liberal Party’s use of the i360 app in the recent South Australian election. How well this microtargeting of voters works to sway political views is disputed, but the claims are credible enough to spur demand for these tools.


Greens leader Richard di Natale told RN Breakfast this morning that political parties “shouldn’t be let off the hook”:

All political parties use databases to engage with voters, but they’re exempt from privacy laws so there’s no transparency about what anybody’s doing. And that’s why it’s really important that we go back, remove those exemptions, ensure that there’s some transparency, and allow people to decide whether they think it’s appropriate.

Why should politicians be exempt from privacy laws?

The exemption for politicians was introduced way back in the Privacy Amendment (Private Sector) Bill 2000. The Attorney-General at the time, Daryl Williams, justified the exemption on the basis that freedom of political communication was vital to Australia’s democratic process. He said the exemption was:

…designed to encourage that freedom and enhance the operation of the electoral and political process in Australia.

Malcolm Crompton, the then Privacy Commissioner, argued against the exemption, stating that political institutions:

…should follow the same practices and principles that are required in the wider community.

Other politicians from outside the two main parties, such as Senator Natasha Stott Despoja in 2006, have tried to remove the exemptions for similar reasons, but failed to gain support from the major parties.

What laws are politicians exempt from?

Privacy Act

The Privacy Act gives you control over the way your personal information is handled, including knowing why your personal information is being collected, how it will be used, and to whom it will be disclosed. It also allows to you to make a complaint (but not take legal action) if you think your personal information has been mishandled.

“Registered political parties” are exempt from the operation of the Privacy Act 1998, and so are the political “acts and practices” of certain entities, including:

  • political representatives — MPs and local government councillors;
  • contractors and subcontractors of registered political parties and political representatives; and
  • volunteers for registered political parties.

This means that if a company like Cambridge Analytica was contracted to a party or MP in Australia, their activities may well be exempt.

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Spam Act

Under the Spam Act 2003, organisations cannot email you advertisements without your request or consent. They must also include an unsubscribe notice at the end of a spam message, which allows you to opt out of unwanted repeat messaging. However, the Act says that it has no effect on “implied freedom of political communication”.

Do Not Call Register

Even if you have your number listed on the Do Not Call Register, a political party or candidate can authorise a call to you, at home or at work, if one purpose is fundraising. It also permits other uses.


How do Australian privacy laws fall short?

No right to sue

Citizens can sue for some version of a breach of privacy in the UK, EU, US, Canada and even New Zealand. But there is still no constitutional or legal right that an individual (or class) can enforce over intrusion of privacy in Australia.

After exhaustive consultations in 2008 and 2014, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) recommended a modest and carefully limited statutory tort – a right to dispute a serious breach of privacy in court. However, both major parties effectively rejected the ALRC recommendation.

No ‘legal standing’ in the US

Legal standing refers to the right to be a party to legal proceedings. As the tech giants that are most adept at gathering and using user data – Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon – are based in the US, Australians generally do not have legal standing to bring action against them if they suspect a privacy violation. EU citizens, by contrast, have the benefit of the Judicial Redress Act 2015 (US) for some potential misuses of cloud-hosted data.

Poor policing of consent agreements

Consent agreements – such as the terms and conditions you agree to when you sign up for a service, such as Gmail or Messenger – waive rights that individuals might otherwise enjoy under privacy laws. In its response to the Cambridge Analytica debacle, Facebook claims that users consented to the use of their data.

Read more:
Consent and ethics in Facebook’s emotional manipulation study

But these broad user consent agreements are not policed strictly enough in Australia. It’s known as “bad consent” when protective features are absent from these agreements. By contrast, a “good consent” agreement should be simple, safe and precautionary by default. That means it should be clear about its terms and give users the ability to enforce them, should not be variable, and should allow users to revoke consent at any time.

New laws introduced by the EU – the General Data Protection Regulation – which come into effect on May 25, are an example of how countries can protect their citizens’ data offshore.

Major parties don’t want change

Privacy Commissioner Tim Pilgrim said today in The Guardian that the political exemption should be reconsidered. In the past, independents and minor party representatives have objected to the exemption, as well as the weakness of Australian privacy laws more generally. In 2001, the High Court said that there should be a right to sue for privacy breach.

Read more:
Why big data may be having a big effect on how our politics plays out

But both Liberal and Labor are often in tacit agreement to do nothing substantial about privacy rights. They have not taken up the debates around the collapse of IT security, nor the increase in abuse of the “consent” model, the dangers of so called “open data”, or the threats from artificial intelligence, Big Data, and metadata retention.

The ConversationOne might speculate that this is because they share a vested interest in making use of voter data for the purpose of campaigning and governing. It’s now time for a new discussion about the rules around privacy and politics in Australia – one in which the privacy interests of individuals are front and centre.

David Vaile, Teacher of cyberspace law, UNSW

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


As the Libs claim South Australia, states are falling into line behind the National Energy Guarantee

Kate Griffiths, Grattan Institute

Former prime minister Paul Keating used to say that when you change the government, you change the country. On Saturday South Australians changed their government, and now the country’s energy policy could finally change – and for the better, if current policy uncertainty is put to bed.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull certainly seems to think it will. He is already claiming the SA election result as an endorsement of his National Energy Guarantee.

Read more:
How the National Energy Guarantee could work better than a clean energy target

Incoming Liberal Premier Steven Marshall has consistently supported a national approach to energy policy, and on his first day in office he pledged to end South Australia’s go-it-alone approach.

But while South Australia’s support is vital, the National Energy Guarantee – which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ensure reliability in Australia’s National Electricity Market – is not a done deal yet.

Designing the guarantee

The independent Energy Security Board recommended a National Energy Guarantee last October, and the Turnbull government quickly adopted it as policy.

In November, at a meeting of the COAG Energy Council, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania voted for work on a detailed design of the guarantee. South Australia and the ACT voted against (Queensland was absent).

The weekend’s election result seems to have brought South Australia into the tent; it certainly draws a line under the tensions between the outgoing premier, Jay Weatherill, and Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg, which bubbled over in a public stoush last year.

But the ACT government still has concerns about the guarantee, and all states will be holding out for more detail on the policy.

In February the ESB released a consultation paper on the design of the guarantee, which indicated that there is much work still to be done.

The design should not be rushed – getting the detail right is crucial if Australia is to tackle climate change and maintain a reliable electricity supply at lowest cost.

The guarantee is a means to an end, not the end itself. It is neither pro-coal nor pro-renewables. It is a mechanism to achieve national targets. The emissions target itself – a 26-28% cut in greenhouse gas emissions relative to 2005 levels by 2030 – remains a political choice of the federal government.

The design must be sufficiently robust to produce the desired outcomes, but should also be flexible enough to allow the emissions target and required level of reliability to change over time. People’s preferences change, new technologies are emerging, and current and future governments will almost certainly need to increase emissions targets under the Paris Agreement.

A design that is flexible in response to alternative political choices has a much better chance of getting unanimous support from the states and territories. A state or territory supporting the guarantee need not endorse the current target.

What next for renewables?

Weatherill famously declared South Australia’s election to be “a referendum on renewable energy”. His defeat almost certainly means that South Australia’s 50% renewable energy target, which Weatherill had pledged to extend to 75%, will be abolished.

But South Australia’s wind, solar and battery projects aren’t going anywhere. While there has been some concern about the future of individual projects, the change in policy won’t affect existing solar and wind farms. Marshall has promised to honour existing contracts. South Australia remains the location of choice for many projects under the federal Renewable Energy Target.

The National Energy Guarantee would not replace or preclude state targets for renewable energy. They achieve different things. A renewable energy target is aimed at guiding and shaping industry investment, rather than specifically reducing emissions (although states have used renewable energy targets in recent years to attempt to cut emissions in the absence of a credible federal scheme).

Read more:
Will the National Energy Guarantee hit pause on renewables?

South Australia is likely to continue to contribute strongly to a national emissions reduction target, with or without a local renewable energy target. High levels of intermittent renewable energy in the state will require backup generation and demand response to meet the reliability obligation.

Under the guarantee, states and territories can still choose to deliver greater emissions reductions than the federal target. They can do this through renewable energy targets or more direct emissions policies. But individual states that want to pursue these deeper cuts could end up doing the heavy lifting for the nation, unless states can collectively agree to beat the national target.

Unanimous support still needed

The COAG Energy Council will meet again on April 20 to discuss the future of the National Energy Guarantee. With South Australia’s support looking much more likely this time around, the policy can be expected to remain on the table. But all states and territories will no doubt reserve judgement until they have the final design, and that won’t be until the second half of 2018.

The ConversationAustralia is edging closer to finally having a national, integrated, energy and climate policy. We’ve been here before, and previously have let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Let’s not make that mistake again – let’s get a foundation in place to build on. So many politicians have fallen trying. But perhaps Weatherill will be the last.

Kate Griffiths, Senior Associate, Grattan Institute

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

New Zealand, US and UK outrank Australia in scores on budget transparency

Miranda Stewart, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University and Teck Chi Wong, Australian National University

Australia ranks 12th in the Open Budget Index, and scores 74, much higher than the global average of 42 and the OECD average of 68. But Australia’s budget could still be more transparent if it included more on the budget’s impact on welfare and tax and by gender.

The Open Budget Index is published every two years and ranks countries using a transparency score, which is based on a survey for each country about publishing of budget documents, budget oversight and public participation.

This year, there were 115 countries in the index and Australia was included for the first time. Australia ranks behind our neighbours New Zealand and also behind the United States, United Kingdom and France. The top three countries in the index are New Zealand (with a score of 89), South Africa (89) and Sweden (87).

Each country’s survey for the index is prepared independently by an in-country civil society organisation or academic researcher. Applying standardised questions and based on evidence, researchers at the Tax and Transfer Policy Institute conducted the Australian survey. The assessments are also reviewed anonymously..

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How transparent is the Australian budget?

The survey assessed Australian federal budget process for the 2015-2016 year and the first half of the 2016-2017 year. Australia’s government performs well in publishing most budget documents at different points in the budget process.

The budget documents include: Budget Paper No. 1 (with a score of 87), the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) report (with a score 93) and the The Auditor-General annual report (81). The government reformed these documents in the 1990s with the introduction of the Charter of Budget Honesty.

Where the Australian budget falls down is in engaging the public in the budget process. The index evaluates public participation with 18 indicators. Australia’s weakest score is in budget participation (41 out of 100). This indicates limited opportunities for the public to engage in the budget process.

For example the Australia government doesn’t publish a pre-budget statement and publishes less information in the budget that has been approved by the parliament and the government summary of the budget (a simpler and less technical version of the government’s budget proposal and other budget documents). Australia also lags behind New Zealand in transparency of most reports.

Yet, given participation opportunities are much scarcer in most other countries in the world, Australia is in fact one of the top performers on this measure. Almost all countries have only scant opportunities for public participation (score 40 and below), except New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Australia and the Philippines.

Where Australia scores really well is in its budget oversight by the Australian National Audit Office (a score of 100). But Australia presents a mixed picture on the checks and balances in overseeing the budget. The parliament provides adequate oversight at the executive and audit stage (that gets a score of 67); but limited oversight at the formulation and approval stage for the budget (with a score of 48). Overall, Australia gets a score of 70 out of 100, lagging considerably behind Norway (91) and Germany (89).

The main barrier to improving this is the lack of pre-budget debate by the parliament. Budget Paper No. 1 is given to members of parliament less than two months before the start of the budget year, and in-year budget implementation is not examined by a parliamentary committee.

Room for improvement

It’s crucial that budget processes are fair, open, democratic and accountable. Australia performs well generally on budget transparency – as we should expect as citizens in a robust parliamentary democracy. But there is some room for improvement.

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For example, Australia’s budget contains much less information than in the past about distributional effects of budget policy on taxes and welfare. The government is no longer providing “cameo” tables, which show the projected impact in the real disposal incomes of different hypothetical families, as it did in the previous budgets prior to 2014-15.

The Australian budget also does not contain any analysis of the budget by gender. This is in contrast to the 1980s, during that time Australia was the pioneer in introducing gender budget analysis.

The ConversationThese gaps show us why it’s important for us to keep an eye on transparency. We should not be complacent. We need more public reporting, analysis and opportunities for public participation in the budget process.

Miranda Stewart, Professor and Director, Tax and Transfer Policy Institute, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University and Teck Chi Wong, Research Assistant at the Tax and Transfer Policy Institute, Australian National University

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

Peter Dutton’s ‘fast track’ for white South African farmers is a throwback to a long, racist history

File 20180316 104663 10sffza.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Peter Dutton’s sympathy for white South Africans has long historical roots.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Jon Piccini, The University of Queensland

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s recent statements that Australia should open its arms to white farmers in South Africa facing “persecution” at the hands of a black majority government sparked national bemusement, international outrage, and rejection from members of his own government.

Dutton’s sympathy for white South Africans, who would “abide by our laws, integrate into our society, work hard [and] not lead a life on welfare”, has long historical roots.

This sense of mutual racial purpose in “white men’s countries” like Australia, South Africa and North America is located in a shared fondness for racial exclusion and segregation.

Proposed South African legislation that would allow the ruling African National Congress to expropriate land from white farmers without compensation to meet a modest target of 30% of farmland in black hands seems to have sparked Dutton’s benevolence.

Australia’s far-right has been reporting on white farmers being murdered in racially motivated attacks for some time, reprising a “white genocide” meme popular in alt-right circles abroad. Mainstream media outlets in Australia then adopted this narrative.

‘White men’s countries’

Australia’s colonial immigration restriction regimes, which originated during the 1850s gold rushes in Victoria, heavily influenced similar polices introduced in Natal, South Africa, in 1896.

And when Australia federalised colonial immigration laws in 1902, the notorious dictation test, which quizzed potential immigrants in any European language, was in turn borrowed from Natal.

Australians and “Boers” (South Africans of Dutch descent, also known as Afrikaners) forged a sort of racial fraternity across the battlefield in the Boer War between 1899 and 1902. Australian light horsemen sent to fight in South Africa found themselves not all that dissimilar to their enemy.

As Australian soldier J.H.M. Abbott put it in a book on his exploits:

The [Australian] bushman – the dweller in the country as opposed to the town-abiding folk – … is, to all practical purposes, of the same kind as the Boer. [I]n training, in conditions of living, in environment, and to some extent in ancestry, the [Australian] and the Boer have very much that is in common.

Such sympathy – and a hatred for black South Africans, mirroring sentiments toward Indigenous Australians – extended well into the 20th century. Some of the 5,000 Australians living in Johannesburg in the 1900s, either war veterans or economic migrants, were instrumental in forming white-only trade unions modelled on those back home.

Protecting the home front

Australia and South African governments worked together in the 1940s to ensure their restrictive racial policies were beyond the reach of new international organisations.

Jan Smuts, South Africa’s prime minister between 1939 and 1948, was responsible for the inclusion of the term “basic human rights” in the preamble to the UN Charter.

Along with “Doc” Evatt, Australia’s attorney-general and the key author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Smuts saw the idea of human rights not as “synonymous with political, social or racial equality” but as a protection of countries from the threat of further war and international encroachment.

The prominence of domestic jurisdiction became a central part of the UN Charter. This ensured human rights were not enforceable on – or even relevant to – individual countries.

Doc Evatt and UK Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden examine documents at a meeting in 1945.
United Nations

South African apartheid, the White Australia Policy, and treatment of Indigenous Australians became hot-button issues from the late 1950s onward.

Apartheid, introduced in 1948 and modelled on Queensland legislation, entered public consciousness after the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa in 1960.

Decolonising African and Asian countries soon moved to have South Africa excluded from the Commonwealth of Nations. Australia’s prime minister, Robert Menzies, rejected such moves, standing alone in refusing to condemn apartheid. Instead, Menzies and his conservative successors advocated a stance of “non-interference”. They were fearful Australia would be the anti-colonial campaigns’ next target.

Weathering decolonisation

The 1970s and 1980s saw increasing protests against apartheid in Australia – particularly around the Springbok rugby tours in 1971. This period was also marked by efforts from conservatives to blunt the edge of an international sanctions campaign against South Africa.

Coalition prime minister Malcolm Fraser and his Labor successor Bob Hawke were strong opponents of apartheid. But the Coalition under John Howard in the 1980s joined with US President Ronald Reagan and UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to do:

… everything it could to see that nothing was done to bring [apartheid] to an end.

A protester against the tour of the Springboks rugby team in 1971.
The Australian

The first arrival of what Dutton would now term “refugees” from southern Africa to Australia began in the 1980s. White farmers fled the democratic election of a black majority government in Zimbabwe in 1980, followed in the 1990s by a rush of South Africans “packing for Perth” after Nelson Mandela’s 1994 election and the abolition of apartheid.

Studies find these migrants feel victimised by the process of decolonisation and bad (read, black) government. Australia, which is yet to reconcile itself with the legacy of colonialism or offer meaningful participation in government to Indigenous people, must then appear to be an ideal destination.

The ConversationDutton’s call for “civilised nations” to rescue beleaguered white farmers draws explicitly on this long history of equating civilisation with a global white identity. This mental universe has dangerous ramifications for Australia in a world where the “global colour line” has disappeared.

Jon Piccini, UQ Research Fellow, School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry, The University of Queensland

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

Batman is a strong victory for Shorten, but he still has a selling job on tax move

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Ged Kearney and Bill Shorten pose for a photo at Preston Market.
AAP/Ellen Smith

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

On “Super Saturday”, Bill Shorten dodged a political bullet, while Nick Xenophon took one. South Australian Liberal leader Steven Marshall got the result he should have secured four years ago. The Greens proved the old maxim that disunity is death.

The Batman byelection and the poll in South Australia threw up all sorts of interesting points – even though in other circumstances, contests in a heartland Labor seat and a state with a 16-year-old government might have been routine.

For Shorten, avoiding defeat in Batman was vital – for Labor’s current momentum, for confidence in his leadership and, given his gamble of announcing his latest tax move in the campaign’s last week, for holding the line on a controversial policy.

Read more:
After 16 years, electoral dynamics finally caught up with Labor in South Australia

Many things contributed to Labor’s win, but if you were looking for one, I suspect it might have been that Ged Kearney wasn’t David Feeney. Kearney was the sort of candidate who encouraged Labor voters to be faithful, and not run away in fury.

As for the tax announcement, election watcher Tim Colebatch notes that the pro-Labor swing in the postals and pre-poll votes was much bigger than in the polling booths on the day, and suggests this may show the impact of Shorten unveiling his plan to scrap cash refunds for excess dividend imputation credits.

That the announcement didn’t stymie Labor in the byelection doesn’t mean Shorten has won the argument more widely. Labor will have much explaining to do in this complicated area. But if it had seriously backfired in Batman, that would have given ammunition to the Coalition and caused tensions in the opposition.

Labor was helped in the byelection by the Greens’ internal backbiting. The Greens’ failure to capitalise on a great chance reflects badly on their locals and on leader Richard Di Natale.

The party has deeper problems than its schisms in Batman. It lost a seat in the recent election in Tasmania, its heartland. Nationally, the citizenship crisis has taken its toll, costing it a couple of its strongest Senate performers in Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters. Batman suggests it may have stalled in its push for inner-city federal seats. The next federal election sees the Greens particularly exposed because of the number of senators the party has going out.

The South Australian result has presented something of a reality check on perceptions of the potency of so-called “insurgencies”. This is the third recent state poll in which a major party has won a majority. Late last year in Queensland, Labor secured a second term, as did the Liberals in Tasmania earlier this month.

In Tasmania, the Jacqui Lambie Network got nowhere. In Queensland, One Nation won votes but only one seat. And in South Australia, Xenophon’s SA-Best crashed after initial too-good-to-be-true polls, with Xenophon failing to win the seat he was seeking and SA-Best expected to have no lower house representation.

Read more:
Liberals win South Australian election as Xenophon crushed, while Labor stuns the Greens in Batman

At state level, even when such parties achieve a respectable vote (SA-Best received about 14% of the statewide vote, as did One Nation in the Queensland election), the electoral system makes it hard for them to translate that into lower house seats.

Federally, the Senate’s proportional representation voting system has given small players a relatively easy passage to a very powerful place, although changes to the electoral arrangements will make that more difficult in future.

The “disruptors” are important, because the support they attract is a measure of the disillusionment and fragmentation in the contemporary political system. But South Australia reinforces the point that the major parties are still strong. For quite a few voters, the choice is between duelling desires – between sending an angry message or opting for stability.

Outgoing premier Jay Weatherill, gracious in defeat on Saturday night, didn’t look all that upset. Labor’s bidding for a fifth term in this day and age was an almost impossible ask; anyway, Labor won last time with only about 47% of the two-party vote, so it has been on borrowed time.

The huge loser in South Australia was Xenophon. In politics, as in business, you can be too greedy. Xenophon led a three-person Senate block that had a decisive share of the balance of power. It was capable of exerting much influence, and winning concessions in negotiating legislation. Then he decided he wanted to be kingmaker in South Australia – while still aspiring to be the absent master in Canberra.

His party is likely to end up with just a couple of upper house seats in South Australia. Meanwhile, the federal Senate team has been hit by the citizenship crisis as well as weakened by Xenophon’s departure.

Due to a fight with the party, Tim Storer, a replacement for Skye Kakoschke-Moore, a casualty of the citizenship debacle, will be sworn into the Senate on Monday as an independent. The Nick Xenophon Team has been reduced to two senators (and Rebekha Sharkie in the lower house, who could face a byelection in the citizenship saga).

Xenophon is in neither parliament, and the road ahead for his party is rocky. He now talks about SA-Best as a “start-up party” to gloss over its bad result, but it’s hard to see it as a “start-up” with an enduring future. Xenophon dismisses the prospect of a return to the Senate, but it remains to be seen whether his feet will become itchy.

Federal factors were not significant in the change in South Australia. But the outcome has positive implications for Malcolm Turnbull’s government. One of the big arguments between the federal and Weatherill governments was over energy policy, with Weatherill holding out against Canberra’s National Energy Guarantee (NEG). On Sunday, the federal government was welcoming the South Australian result as very good for the future of the NEG.

Another Liberal win at state level, coming after Tasmania, will also be a morale boost, albeit a limited one, for the embattled federal Liberals.

The ConversationSo, Super Saturday had positive spin-offs for both federal leaders, but substantially more for Shorten than Turnbull.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

After 16 years, electoral dynamics finally caught up with Labor in South Australia

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Labor leader Jay Weatherill concedes defeat as South Australians opt to toss the party out after 16 years.
AAP/David Mariuz

Rob Manwaring, Flinders University

History, finally, caught up with Labor in South Australia. After 16 years in office, and seeking a record fifth term, Jay Weatherill’s Labor has conceded to the Liberals.

While the results have not been finalised, the current state of play has Steven Marshall’s Liberals securing a majority. In the projected seat tally, the Liberals have won 24, Labor 18, Independents three and two seats remain undecided. This is a remarkable and unexpected result for a range of reasons.

Elections, as Nick Xenophon is discovering, have a cold, hard way of clarifying the minds of the voters.

Only two days before the election, most of the major betting agencies had far more favourable odds for a Labor win. Betting odds are sometimes seen as better predictors of election results than polls.

Read more:
Liberals win South Australian election as Xenophon crushed, while Labor stuns the Greens in Batman

So, as we still pick over the results, what seemed to go right for the Liberals and so wrong for Nick Xenophon’s SA-Best team?

For the Liberals, while this was a win, it was not as resounding as, say, Mike Rann’s 2006 “Rann-slide”. Yet, it has been a result a long time coming, having won the popular vote in three of the past four state elections. Marshall’s campaign centred on him being a “safe” change-agent.

Marshall’s success lies in a range of incremental factors. First, he put to bed the historic divisions in the party. In a striking insight, he followed John Howard’s advice not to have votes at shadow cabinet meetings, but decide by consensus. New leadership, coupled with the misery of the long years in the wilderness, helped cement party unity.

Second, Marshall’s policy agenda has remained consistent and undramatic. When he launched his first 100 days in office, this was a smart relaunch of policies already well-known. It might have lacked a “wow” factor, but this has proven to be an asset. South Australians will now see cuts to household bills, a roll-out of a home battery scheme, and a push to deregulate working hours.

Third, the Liberals finally managed to make the most of the ammunition of Labor’s 16 years in office, especially the release of the Oakden report into abuse at the state-run mental health facility. The Liberals capitalised on this with a powerful campaign ad by the son of one of the victims, saying he “had enough” of Labor.

Yet, the story of the night was the deflation of the Xenophon SA-Best threat to the major parties. SA-Best looks set to secure just 13.7% of the vote, much lower than even lowered expectations.

The Xenophon vote fail to carry through – arguably for the following reasons.

First, there was overreach by Xenophon, perhaps mistakenly buoyed by the December Newspoll that not only suggested his party could hoover up a third of the vote, but also dangling the prospect of Xenophon as future premier.

Nick Xenophon and SA-Best may have been too ambitious at this election, with a disappointing result.
AAP/Kelly Barnes

Running 36 SA-Best candidates proved a stretch too far for South Australian voters.

Second, the SA-Best machine seemed ill-equipped and under-prepared for the campaign. Policy announcements came late in the campaign, giving the veneer of “policy on the run”.

In other key seats, some untested SA-Best candidates met difficult challenges. In Colton, Matt Cowdrey, the Liberal candidate and former paralympian, easily saw off the SA-Best candidate. In Mawson – a key SA-Best target, Leon Bignell the Labor (now former) minister ran a strong campaign to damage Xenophon hopes.

The thinness of the SA-Best “machine” might prove a factor, as candidates were recruited late in the piece, and some did not seem quite ready for the media scrutiny, nor have enough time to embed themselves as the SA-Best candidate in their seats.

Voters also seem to have pulled back from the unclear positioning of SA-Best. After the initial honeymoon, SA-Best shifted from its traditional “watchdog” role – previously held by the Democrats – to presenting as a “kingmaker”. This brought additional scrutiny and expectation, pushing Xenophon onto the back foot.

Read more:
As South Australia heads to the polls, the state is at a crossroads

In the final weeks of the campaign, Xenophon was playing to his familiar strength, gambling reform, but voters expected a more embracing policy agenda.

Finally, the Australian political system is undergoing change, but the institutional factors continue to suppress minor party challengers. The lower house, with its majoritarian electoral system, requires a strong performance by the next best-placed challenger. Three-into-two does not easily go.

It is notable too, that the election did not go as planned for other parties. The Australian Conservatives clearly failed to capitalise on their merger with Family First, with a drop in its vote share to 3.1%.

For Labor, the result is far from a disaster, and offers them the chance to rebuild, perhaps with a new leader in Peter Malinauskas.

The ConversationCritically, Australian democracy seems more accelerated, with Liberal governments in Victoria and Queensland ejected after just one term. Marshall will need to move quickly to ensure his new government does not follow this new trend.

Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer, Politics and Public Policy, Flinders University

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

Liberals win South Australian election as Xenophon crushed, while Labor stuns the Greens in Batman

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Steven Marshall will become the next South Australian premier after defeating Jay Weatherill’s Labor government.
AAP/Tracey Nearmy

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

With 66% of enrolled voters counted in Saturday’s South Australian election, the ABC is calling 24 of the 47 lower house seats for the Liberals, 18 for Labor and three independents. Two seats – Adelaide and Mawson – are in doubt. Pre-poll, postal and absent votes will not start to be counted until Tuesday.

While the Liberals won the election, the biggest losers were Nick Xenophon and his SA-BEST party. SA-BEST does not appear to have won a single lower house seat, while the Liberals crushed Xenophon in Hartley 58.6-41.4. When preferences are distributed, Labor could eliminate Xenophon from the final two candidates on Greens’ preferences.

Statewide primary votes were 37.4% Liberals (down 7.4% since the 2014 election), 33.9% Labor (down 1.9%), 13.7% SA-BEST, 6.6% Greens (down 2.1%) and 3.1% Australian Conservatives (down 3.0% from Family First’s 2014 vote). When counting is complete, I would expect Labor to fall somewhat, with the Liberals and Greens gaining.

Family First merged into the Conservatives last year, but this was not successful in South Australia. In my opinion, Family First had a catchier name than the Australian Conservatives.

In an October-to-December Newspoll, SA-BEST had 32% of the South Australian primary vote, and it was plausible that Xenophon could be the next premier. In the lead-up to the election, Xenophon was attacked by all sides. I believe the biggest reason for Xenophon’s flop was that he lacked a clear agenda to distinguish his party from the major parties.

Read more:
Nick Xenophon could be South Australia’s next premier, while Turnbull loses his 25th successive Newspoll

Labor had governed South Australia for 16 years, and the “it’s time” factor appears to have contributed to the result. But this election was not the disaster Labor suffered after 14 to 16 years in power in Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania at elections between 2011 and 2014.

According to the Poll Bludger, Labor achieved about a two-point swing in its favour in two-party terms from the 2014 election, but it needed a three-point swing to win after a hostile redistribution. In 2014, Labor clung to power, despite losing the two-party vote 53.0-47.0.

In the upper house, half of the 22 members were up for election using statewide proportional representation. With 11 to be elected, a quota is one-twelfth of the vote, or 8.3%. Currently, the Liberals have 3.78 quotas, Labor 3.56, SA-BEST 2.27, the Greens 0.72 and the Conservatives 0.42.

Read more:
Xenophon’s SA-BEST slumps in a South Australian Newspoll, while Turnbull’s better PM lead narrows

Optional above-the-line preferential voting was used at this election. The Liberals will win four seats, Labor three, SA-BEST two and the Greens one. Labor is currently well ahead of the Conservatives in the race for the last seat, but Labor’s vote will probably drop after election day. However, preferences from Dignity, Animal Justice and SA-BEST should help Labor against the Conservatives, with only Liberal Democrats’ preferences likely to flow the other way.

If Labor wins a fourth upper house seat, SA-BEST’s two seats would come at the expense of Dignity and the Conservatives. The overall upper house would then be eight Liberals, eight Labor, two Greens, two SA-BEST, one Advance SA (formerly SA-BEST) and one Conservative. The Liberals would need all of SA-BEST, Advance SA and Conservative to pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens.

The final polls for the South Australian election, from Newspoll and ReachTEL, gave the Liberals 34%, Labor 31% and SA-BEST 16-17%. The major parties, particularly the Liberals, performed better than expected, while SA-BEST performed worse.

Labor defeats the Greens 54.1-45.9 at the Batman byelection

With 74.5% of enrolled voters counted at Saturday’s Batman byelection, Labor’s Ged Kearney defeated the Greens’ Alex Bhathal by a 54.1-45.9 margin, a 3.1% swing to Labor since the 2016 election. Primary votes were 42.7% Kearney (up 7.4%), 40.3% Bhathal (up 4.1%), 6.4% Conservatives and 2.9% Animal Justice. The Liberals won 19.9% at the 2016 election, but did not contest the byelection.

Ged Kearney celebrates her win in Batman with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.
AAP/David Crosling

In the Northcote West booth, Labor and the Greens’ two-party results are the wrong way round. The correction of this error will push Labor’s overall margin down to 53.8-46.2, but postals counted so far have strongly favoured Labor.

At byelections, there are no Greens-favouring absent votes, so Labor’s lead is likely to increase as more postals are counted.

Labor received large swings in its favour in the southern part of Batman, the more Greens-favouring part. Kearney was a far better fit for this part of the electorate than the right-aligned David Feeney. It is also possible there was a backlash against the Greens for courting Liberal votes over opposition to Labor’s plan to alter the tax treatment of franking credits.

Read more:
With Feeney gone, Greens sniff a chance in Batman, and has Xenophon’s bubble burst in South Australia?

For Bill Shorten and federal Labor, the Batman result will be a huge relief. If Labor had lost Batman, the media would have seen it as a backlash against Labor’s tax plan.

The ConversationWhile Labor lost the South Australian election, it was not a disaster. Federal parties generally do better in states where the opposite party is in power, so Labor could do very well in South Australia at the next federal election.

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

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

Labor fends off Greens challenge in Batman

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Ged Kearney winning the seat of Batman is a big relief for Labor leader Bill Shorten.
AAP/David Crosling

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Labor has held the Victorian seat of Batman, with the ALP’s Ged Kearney leading the Greens’ Alex Bhathal 52-48% on the two-party vote with almost two-thirds of the votes counted.

Hanging onto the seat, which is in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, is a big relief for Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, especially given his risky move of announcing in the last week of the byelection campaign his plan to scrap cash refunds for excess dividend imputation credits.

Shorten told jubilant Labor supporters: “Labor is back in Batman. From the bookmakers to the commentators – they wrote Labor off in Batman and you have proved them wrong.”

Kearney said: “This is a victory for true Labor values”, and “Labor is on its way to a Shorten government”.

Both Shorten and Kearney said they had heard the messages from the electorate.

The Batman result came as in the South Australian election, the Liberals won a majority in their own right, defeating the Labor government, which had held office for 16 years. The much-vaunted bid by former senator Nick Xenophon to gain the balance of power for his SA-Best party proved a fizzer.

As the campaign wound up, Labor robocalled voters in Batman to stress that most of those affected by the proposed tax change would be people on high incomes. The byelection result will to some extent be a counter to government’s fierce criticism of the policy.

The failure to wrest Batman is a big setback for the Greens, who were buoyed last year by their victory in the state electorate of Northcote, which is within the federal seat.

On the figures late on Saturday night, there was a two-party swing of more than 1% to Labor from the last election.

Kearney had more than 42% of the primary vote, while Bhathal was on a primary vote of about 41%. There were ten candidates in the field but the Liberals did not run.

The Greens nearly took Batman in 2016 from the ALP’s David Feeney, a right-winger who was very unpopular in the electorate and had a bad campaign. The byelection was caused by Feeney’s resignation in the citizenship crisis.

Kearney, former president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and from the left, was generally regarded as a very good candidate who was an appropriate fit for what is seen as a “progressive” seat. In the electorate during voting on Saturday, Shorten said Kearney “has done wonders to lift confidence in Labor in this electorate”.

Conceding defeat, Bhathal said: “I’ve always said regardless of the result we would have a strong woman member from a caring profession”.

Bhathal was making her sixth tilt at the seat, which had been moving toward the Greens previously, as its southern part gentrified. But the Greens campaign was marred by bitter internal controversy over Bhathal’s candidacy, with Greens dissidents lodging a formal protest about her, accusing her of bullying.

The ConversationThe Greens campaigned strongly on the proposed Queensland Adani mine, an issue Shorten struggled with as he sought to stop votes haemorrhaging to the Greens.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Failure to curb tax concessions will put increasing burden on ordinary workers: Bowen

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen will target tax loopholes and concessions in a speech on Monday, arguing that the economic case for budget repair has never been stronger.

Countering government criticism of Labor’s proposed crackdown on concessions, Bowen will say an important part of sensible fiscal strategy is to identify tax concessions that “eat away at the revenue base” and reform or abolish them, so as “to underpin both budget repair and the funding of new initiatives”.

The opposition has announced moves that would hit negative gearing, capital gains discounts, and trusts.

Bowen says in his speech to the Per Capita think tank – released ahead of delivery – that failure to reform negative gearing and family trusts will put increasing tax pressure on low- and middle-income earners.

He says analysis by the Parliamentary Budget Office shows that for the middle income quintile, with people earning A$46,000, average tax rates are set to rise more strongly than for any other group.

“Every dollar not recouped through winding back these loopholes and concessions is another dollar that Australian workers will have to shoulder.”

Bowen says that instead of closing loopholes and strengthening the tax base, the government would prefer to increase income taxes by $44 billion, hitting all workers earning more than $21,000.

“At a time when wages are growing at record low rates this is a tax hit that will see someone earning $70,000 with $350 less in their pocket from next year.

“Meanwhile the tax base remains full of holes and tax concessions and other loopholes go unreformed,” he says.

“Using an infamous metaphor of the treasurer’s, the government has barely even taken a scalpel to tax concessions which largely accrue to wealthier Australians”.

Half of all the benefits of negative gearing accrue to the top 10% of income earners, as do 80% of the benefits of capital gains, and trusts are used as income-splitting tools by high-income earners, Bowen says.

Labor’s planned negative gearing reform would be good for the budget as well as for first home buyers, he says. By the end of decade Labor’s negative gearing and capital gains tax reforms would together be adding $8 billion annually to the budget.

Bowen attacks Treasurer Scott Morrison over the “ridiculous argument” that the company tax cuts are funded because they are in the budget.

“Simply ensuring that the budget bottom line reflects the cost of the tax cuts does not mean they are funded. The fact is that the budget would be $65 billion better off over the decade if the [company] tax cuts weren’t proceeded with.”

Bowen says Morrison undermines his own argument that Labor did not fund the NDIS. “Of course NDIS and the Gonski schools funded model were both reflected in Labor’s budgets. Putting aside the fact that Labor in government made other cuts and revenue decisions to fund both initiatives, even if we hadn’t, by the treasurer’s logic, they were funded because the budget bottom line reflected them.

“The treasurer has killed his own scare campaign on NDIS funding.”

This $65 billion tax cut “puts the medium term budget at risk”, Bowen says. At the end of the plan’s proposed ten years, the tax cut would be costing an annual $15 billion. “It is a fiscal ram-raid.”

So far the government has only been able to legislate the cut for firms with annual turnovers up to $50 million. The Senate has not agreed to the reduction for big companies. Labor has said it accepts the cut for firms with turnovers up to $2 million but has not announced yet what it would do about the legislated cut for firms with turnovers between $2 million and $50 million.

“Labor believes in strong fiscal policy and return to surplus and we are prepared to make the tough decisions to do it,” Bowen says.

“I believe in the return to surplus when conditions allow because locking in the AAA rating reduces borrowing costs and gives more room to fund important social initiatives.

“The progressive case for return to surplus also recognises that this would give me and future treasurers more room to move if we face another global downturn.

“The economic case for budget repair has simply never been stronger.”

Bowen says Labor’s policy work has been thorough and he promises “more detailed policy announcements” to come.

“We’ll continue to outline our plans from opposition, seeking a mandate and the moral authority in government to do big and important things.”


Malcolm Turnbull’s lead over Bill Shorten as better prime minister has narrowed to two points in Monday’s Newspoll in The Australian.

In mid-February Turnbull led 40-33% on this measure; now he is ahead by just 37-35%. In face of continuing bad polls, the Liberals have always taken heart that Turnbull does better than his opponent in the head-to-head comparison, so the tighter margin will inevitably be of concern to them.

The ConversationLabor’s 53-47% two-party lead is unchanged.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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