New electoral law could still hobble charities



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Charities are unclear about how they can engage in democracy because the terms in the proposed bill are unclear.
Shutterstock

Krystian Seibert, Swinburne University of Technology

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has released its report into the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017.

The bill seeks to ban foreign donations to political parties and their “associated entities”. But it also seeks to capture organisations, including charities, that undertake public advocacy on policy issues.

While much of the media attention has focused on the foreign donation ban, the bill also introduces a new compliance framework for such actors. This applies irrespective of whether they receive foreign donations or not.

The inquiry received over 200 submissions from a diverse range of charities, not-for-profit organisations, think tanks and legal experts. Most expressed major concerns about the complex and burdensome nature of the proposed compliance framework, and the “chilling effect” it could have on advocacy by charities in particular.

The committee made 15 recommendations in its report, released on Monday. It provided in-principle support for the bill’s passage, subject to the recommendations being adopted.




Read more:
Ban on foreign political donations is both too broad and too narrow, and won’t fix our system


The recommendations are a step in the right direction, responding to many of the concerns raised in the inquiry. But they are light on detail, and much will depend on how the government responds to them.

Contrary to what the chair of the committee, Senator Linda Reynolds, has stated, a number of the recommended changes are complex. This is particularly the case with redefining “political expenditure”, a key term that underpins almost the entire bill.

What is ‘political expenditure’?

If a charity or other organisation incurs “political expenditure” above $13,500, then it becomes subject to the bill’s compliance framework. Additional requirements are imposed for those incurring more than $100,000, but the committee recommended this level be reviewed.

The definition of this term is unclear. It’s also potentially very broad. It includes any expenditure on the public expression of views on an issue that is “likely to be before electors in an election”, regardless of whether an election has been called. This could include activities such as publishing reports advocating for changes to government policies, media engagement, advertising and potentially even paying staff to do this work.

A big problem is that the bill provides no guidance on the specific types of activities that are captured, nor how a charity is meant to look into the future and predict whether an issue is “likely to be before electors in an election”.

This makes it almost impossible for a charity to know with any certainty whether it’s complying with the definition.

The Australian Electoral Commission provided a supplementary submission to the inquiry, setting out the seven steps it uses to interpret the definition.

But it’s complicated and unworkable, and involves looking at different party platforms to assess how topical an issue may be. A leading constitutional law expert, Professor Anne Twomey, has extensively critiqued it.

It’s therefore not surprising that the committee recommended the definition be amended to make it more precise. The aim would be to ensure it applies only to:

expenditure undertaken to influence voters to take specific action as voters, so as not to capture non-political issue advocacy.

However, this will be no simple task, as the line between the two is not clear.

For example, if a charity produces a document outlining the positions of different political parties on the issue of homelessness, how would that be defined? Arguably, it is just providing information to voters, rather than influencing them to “take specific action as voters”.

What should be done?

Although the committee made a laudable attempt to address the various flaws in the bill, there is no quick fix.

Given the key term underpinning the bill is flawed and cannot be easily redrafted, the best outcome would be for it to be withdrawn.

This would allow for more public consultation and the preparation of a comprehensive regulatory impact statement. This would quantify compliance costs and consider alternative policy options.

If the government won’t withdraw the bill, it at least needs to act on each of the committee’s recommendations. In doing so, it should undertake public consultation on the detail of any amendments and seek a genuine outcome that ensures advocacy by charities and other organisations isn’t stifled.




Read more:
Federal government’s foreign donations bill is flawed and needs to be redrafted


More broadly, it’s arguable that the entire premise for increased regulation of non-political party actors such as charities and other organisations is flawed.

Few would argue against the need for some basic disclosure requirements regarding their direct electioneering activities, to provide transparency about the origin of the funds used for these activities. But these requirements already exist.

It’s not clear why a new compliance framework is needed to further burden these organisations, made up of people coming together to participate in our democratic processes. This is something explored in a US context in the book Unfree Speech. It argues against increased regulation because it restricts the free exchange of views, which is meant to be a cornerstone of democracy.

The argument for increased regulation of charities, including banning them from receiving donations from international philanthropy for use towards “political expenditure”, is particularly weak. By their very nature, charities exist for the public benefit. They are not permitted to have politically partisan purposes under the Charities Act 2013.

There is no evidence that international philanthropy is using Australian charities to subvert our democracy. On the contrary, the support it provides helps charities advocate on important issues such as the role of Australian aid.

The ConversationRegulation can have benefits, but it can also have costs. If this bill becomes law, the cost could be a less vibrant democracy, with fewer voices willing to debate the policies that will shape our nation’s future.

Krystian Seibert, Industry Fellow, Centre for Social Impact, Swinburne University of Technology

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

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Shorten’s plan to triple anti-dumping penalties misunderstands the law


Weihuan Zhou, UNSW

Bill Shorten’s proposal to triple anti-dumping penalties demonstrates a misunderstanding of dumping and its impact on the economy. It also misunderstands when anti-dumping measures may be lawfully applied and to what extent.

Shorten’s proposal is purportedly to prevent Australia from becoming a “dumping ground for cheap foreign goods sent here by trade cheats”. The Opposition Leader says Labor is a strong believer in trade, but it should be conducted on a “level playing field”. He also wants to give the Anti-Dumping Commission 30 new staff and new responsibilities.




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Australia may be engaging in ‘free trade’ but it’s becoming more protectionist too


There are no existing penalties in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) anti-dumping regime, or in Australia’s anti-dumping regime – that would be in breach of WTO rules. Australia’s current regime involves the use of anti-dumping measures to counteract injury caused by dumped imports to domestic industries. These typically take the form of import tariffs.

Anti-dumping measures like duties are not “penalties” as such, but simply taxes in the form of a customs duty to remove the injury caused by dumping.

In recent years, the use of anti-dumping measures has been on the rise predominantly to protect the steel industry in Australia.

Current dumping rules

“Dumping” is when an exporter exports goods to another country at an export price less than what it sells the same like goods in its own country. Under WTO rules, this is neither illegal nor unlawful.

It is a perfectly legitimate commercial practice. In fact, in 2016 the Productivity Commission found there was no compelling economic rationale for a country like Australia to act against dumping.

Rather than prohibiting the practice of dumping, WTO anti-dumping rules only provide a remedy where the dumping causes material injury to a domestic industry in the country of import, for example reduced revenues and profits. The remedy is the imposition of dumping duties, or customs duties.

This should be equal to or less than the margin of dumping – the extent to which an exporter’s export price is lower than its home market price.

It’s not clear how the “triple penalties” proposed by Shorten could be imposed in line with the WTO rules.




Read more:
It’s time to drop Australia’s protectionist anti-dumping rules


Increasing penalties could hurt the economy

Mr Shorten’s anti-dumping penalties would have several effects – including to increase prices of imported goods and inputs for Australian produced goods. This price rise would be passed on to Australian companies and consumers. For example, this would increase the cost of steel for construction industries.

Shorten’s policy would benefit a small group of import-competing industries, such as those producing steel and A4 copy paper, including companies that are wholly owned by foreign companies. But such policy completely ignores the interest of Australian manufacturers using imported materials, their employees or consumers.

Increased dumping penalties could also stifle competition, increasing prices. This could also increase unemployment, as the imposition of the penalties would make the cost of business uneconomical.




Read more:
Consumers lose out to Australia’s protectionist anti-dumping laws


Shorten’s policy on dumping seems misguided and ill-informed and can only operate to Australia’s detriment. These observations are consistent with the findings of the Productivity Commission that Australia’s anti-dumping system has become increasingly more protectionist and damaging.

In the interests of fair trade, similar penalties would need to apply to Australian companies engaged in dumping, and to both export and domestic sales to ensure a “level playing field”.

More fundamentally, as the Productivity Commission has observed, “fairness” does not provide a justification for anti-dumping measures which fail to consider the impact of such measures on the community as a whole.

What’s more, Shorten’s “triple penalty” could drag Australia into the ongoing trade conflict and harm Australian consumers and industries using imports from China. If the “triple penalty” provokes China’s retaliation, that will hurt Australian goods and services exporters.

The ConversationThis article was co-authored by Andrew Percival, Principal at Percival Legal.

Weihuan Zhou, Senior Lecturer and member of China International Business and Economic Law (CIBEL) Initiative, Faculty of Law, UNSW Sydney, UNSW

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

When it comes to China’s influence on Australia, beware of sweeping statements and conflated ideas


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Australia’s approach to the debate over Chinese influence should be to carefully disaggregate the various problems under discussion in this debate and risk-manage them individually.
Shutterstock

Andrew Chubb, Princeton University

In December, the Turnbull Government tabled sweeping new national security legislation in response to what the PM called “disturbing reports of Chinese influence” in Australian politics.

An ongoing parliamentary review of the proposed laws has attracted hundreds of public submissions, with intelligence agencies and civil society organisations predictably lining up on opposite sides of the argument.

More surprising, perhaps, is the controversy the laws have sparked within Australia’s community of China experts.




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Rival petitions

On March 19, a group of 30 China scholars submitted a petition calling for the espionage and foreign interference legislation to be withdrawn, pending more extensive consultation and rigorous, measured public debate.

The open letter argued the bill directly threatened academic freedom, and that the “alarmist tone” of recent public discourse over China was impinging Australia’s ability to calmly and rationally deal with the issues.

In particular, it warned that “a racialised narrative of a vast official Chinese conspiracy” was taking shape:

We should be vigilant that public discourse in Australia does not create undue pressure on one particular section of our society to demonstrate its loyalty to Australia at the expense of its freedom to criticise Australian policies and actions.

A week on, a different group of China and Asia experts submitted another letter — ostensibly in response to the first — defending public policy debates over the issue in light of “well-documented reports about the Chinese Communist Party’s interference” in Australia. It read:

We firmly believe the current debate is not characterised by racism and that it is crucial for Australia to continue this debate. Indeed, Chinese Australians are among the main initiators and drivers of this debate.

The rival letters attracted international media coverage, with a reports touting a split among Australian China scholars over the issue.

But how much did the two letters really differ?

Furious agreement

In fact, the two letters share a great deal in common. Both call for informed debate over the issues; both denounce racism; both affirm scrutiny of the CCP’s activities in Australia and the application of legal penalties where evidence of wrongdoing is clear.

Most signatories would agree that discussion of the set of issues raised is necessary, and that it is not motivated by racism. They would also agree that new laws may be necessary but must be carefully drafted, and there have been problematic elements in the public debate as it has unfolded so far.

Both lists of signatories contain trenchant critics of Beijing, as well as relatively China-friendly voices.

Yet, I’m aware of only one person who signed both.

Why have Australia’s China scholars cleaved into two camps on a matter of great public interest that requires their collective expertise — camps that seem to cut across personal networks and ideological preferences?

To some extent, as ANU National Security College head Rory Medcalf has observed, this reflects healthy scholarly disagreements among colleagues.

But the rival letters are also indicative of a less-than-healthy polarisation in the discourse at a time when identifying consensus views might be more valuable. After all, the letters were substantively in agreement on many of the key issues.

It may help, then, to clarify what we do disagree about.

As a signatory to the first letter, but not the second, I can identify four main points of contention. Yet, as shown below, even within these four areas there appears to be more agreement than the rival letters might suggest.

Four points of contention

The scope of CCP activities in Australia

While the first letter cautions against conflating distinct China-related issues in Australia into “a vast official Chinese conspiracy”, the second offers a list of ten bullet-point examples of the “CCP activities” Australia should be vigilant against.

The list ranges from espionage and intimidation of dissidents, to university student groups and pro-China political rallies.

The view that vigilance is warranted over the party’s activities in Australia should be uncontroversial. It is an unreformed and increasingly dictatorial Leninist regime with a ministerial-level department tasked with instrumentalising non-party actors to advance the party’s interests and counter its perceived enemies.

The scope of this “United Front Work” system is vast and expanding, and it is rooted in a thoroughly cynical vision of the world. It is an institution and a vision that Australians — especially political elites — ought to be properly educated about.

But it should also be equally uncontroversial to affirm that a person or group’s inclusion as a target within the scope of united front work does not constitute grounds for suspecting them of disloyalty or subversiveness if they espouse a CCP-friendly view on an issue.

Causes of racist and alarmist sentiments

The first letter criticises the Australian media for fanning “suspicion and stigmatisation of Chinese-Australians”.

The second letter acknowledges the public discourse has prompted “alarmist and racist sentiments”, but argues this is an inevitable side effect of having a debate in the first place.

Perhaps we could at least agree that the prevalence of racism and alarmism on the fringes of a debate depends significantly on the language used by those in the mainstream debate.

If so, this would narrow the disagreement down to whether or not the costs of using inaccurate and inflammatory language such as “Chinese”, “invasion”, “infiltration”, and “penetration” are acceptable.

The meaning of sovereignty

The first letter argues there’s no evidence that the PRC’s activities are aimed at challenging Australia’s sovereignty. The second letter, by contrast, advocates action to counter “threats to sovereignty”.

Each appears to have a different notion of sovereignty in mind.

If the word means, narrowly, paramount legal authority within territorial limits, then a PRC challenge to Australia’s sovereignty implies that it seeks to lay claim to parts of the Australian landmass, or reduce its polity to a tributary “vassal”. But as the first letter pointed out, there is to date no credible evidence of this.

On the other hand, there have been clear instances of PRC violations of Australian sovereignty in recent years. In 2015, for example, Chinese undercover police pursued a fugitive on Australian territory. Importantly, in that case, Beijing admitted its wrongdoing.

Interference with the political freedoms of residents of Australia, such as intimidation of dissidents’ families in China, also arguably violate Australia’s sovereignty in a broad sense.

Neither letter defines sovereignty, but both invoke the word’s emotive power. Those of us speaking of a CCP threat to Australian sovereignty (or absence thereof) might be able to agree on more if we specify in what sense this is (not) the case.

Threats to democratic politics in Australia

Whereas the second letter emphasises the threats that CCP activities pose to democracy and free speech, the earlier letter suggests the sweeping proposed national security laws and alarmist public discourse were creating an even more immediate threat to democratic political rights.

It is hardly in doubt that the CCP’s activities undermine the political values of democracy, liberalism and openness. It is openly hostile to them.

But there are well-documented cases of self-censorship resulting from the alarmist tone in Australia’s public discourse on the issue, with reports of some Chinese-Australian politicians growing afraid of associating with CCP-linked community figures.




Read more:
Australians working in China should expect fallout over questions of political interference


The second letter affirms that all residents of Australia “should be able to express their point of view free of fear or censorship, whether from forces foreign or domestic”.

This suggests, once again, that there is significant overlap among China scholars even within this ostensible area of disagreement. Specifically, both seem to recognise that threats to democratic rights exist inside Australia as well as outside.

A risk-management approach

Where to from here? In an upcoming report, I argue that if Australia wants to maintain a broad engagement with a powerful, increasingly dictatorial Leninist party-state ruling a billion-plus people while maintaining a liberal democracy, it will require careful understanding and management of the risks involved.

It will not be possible to simply disallow all CCP “operations of influence” without impinging on the very democratic rights the CCP threatens.

Conflating distinct issues (for example, espionage, lobbying, Chinese-language media, student activism) under single sweeping labels (such as “influence” or “operations”) that imply they’re all part of one Beijing-orchestrated campaign of subversion is also not helpful in developing methodical, systematic responses.

Policymakers in Beijing may dream of coordinating a vast conspiracy involving ethnic Chinese all over the world advancing the CCP’s interests, but that does not make it a reality.

Australia’s approach, I argue, should be to carefully disaggregate the various problems under discussion in this debate and risk-manage them individually, rather than grasping for some kind of resolution that will free Australia of “CCP influence”.


The ConversationThis article has been amended. The line that originally read: Yet, I’m not aware of a single person who signed both has been changed to Yet, I’m aware of only one person who signed both.

Andrew Chubb, Postdoctoral Fellow, Princeton-Harvard China and the World Program, Princeton University

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

Can the Liberal Party hold its ‘broad church’ of liberals and conservatives together?



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John Howard, pictured here with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, is fond of describing the Liberal Party as a “broad church”. But that breadth has led to increasing fracture within the party in recent years.
AAP/Dean Lewins

Gregory Melleuish, University of Wollongong

This article is the first in a five-part series on the battle for conservative hearts and minds in Australian politics.


In July 2017 Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull upset conservatives within his own ranks by emphasising the liberal, as opposed to conservative, traditions of the party he leads.

One of the great truisms of contemporary Australian politics is that liberals and conservatives on the non-Labor side are locked in a dance in which each partner tries to dominate the other, even as they cling to each other in an endless embrace.

Many assume it has always been thus. In reality, the contemporary emphasis on the ideals of liberalism and conservatism is a relatively recent phenomenon, which political figures of the past would find somewhat puzzling.

Deakinite liberalism

In the 19th-century Australian colonies, liberalism reigned supreme. Most political figures identified as liberals and conservatives were uncommon. Even those who held conservative views, such as New South Wales politician James Martin, were happy to pose as liberals. Liberalism was not particularly ideological and often meant little more than good government.

As Australian politics divided along Labor versus non-Labor lines in the early 20th century, the non-Labor side took the name Liberal Party. Its members embraced a range of political positions, from Deakinite progressives (after Alfred Deakin) to adherents of laissez-faire economics.

As Judith Brett has argued, the key difference between Labor and non-Labor did not necessarily lie in policy as much as in the way the Labor Party pledge enforced caucus control of individual conscience. This was anathema to liberals.

Liberals in the Deakinite tradition were not opposed to state action and supported increased social co-operation, as long as that co-operation was voluntary and enhanced the individual as an ethical being. Such views can be found in the writings of the philosopher and social commentator Frederic Eggleston.

Menzies’ pragmatism

So, when Robert Menzies relaunched the Liberal Party in 1944, his motivation was not an ideological zeal to impose what today is understood as liberalism on the country. This can be seen quite clearly in his 1942 radio talks, collected as the Forgotten People.

In these talks, Menzies generally discusses freedom rather than liberty. His main focus is the individual and the family as the foundation of society, and the need for individuals to be self-reliant and to strive to improve both themselves and their families.

Robert Menzies was Australia’s longest-serving prime minister.
Wikimedia Commons

The Forgotten People expressed a set of moral ideals rather than a political ideology. The focus was a particular form of moral personality, not an abstract model of society. In his emphasis on the family, Menzies was not appealing to a “conservative” ideology; the importance of the family was taken for granted by all sides of politics at that time.

Menzies’ liberalism was concrete and practical in nature. It was inspired by the same philosophy, idealism, that had influenced Deakin and Eggleston. Menzies understood, for example, that in an increasingly technological society, moral ideals were needed to prevent such technology from being used for evil purposes. That is why he was a strong supporter of universities and liberal education.

As prime minister from 1949 to 1966, Menzies dominated the philosophical direction of the Liberal Party. Menzies understood liberalism in practical – and 19th-century – terms as being equivalent to good government. He did not intend to reshape society in line with a liberal ideology.

Ideological fracturing

One of the most interesting developments of the 50 years since Menzies’ retirement is that the non-Labor side of politics has become more ideological. Deep fractures have emerged between those who identify as liberals and those who consider themselves to be conservatives. This has happened at a time when, in many ways, liberalism has triumphed as an ideology in Australian life.

For example, the ideal of the family, which was so strong in the Forgotten People, has taken something of a battering at the hands of almost all political parties.

The individual is now the central political ideal, and there has been an increasing focus on rights, something Menzies would have viewed as alien to the Westminster system that Australia inherited from the United Kingdom.

The 1980s were a crucial period of transformation. Malcolm Fraser, prime minister from 1975 to 1983, can be understood as the last of the old Menzies-style liberals, but many Liberals largely disowned him for not being more economically liberal during his term of office.

Fraser was followed not only by the economic reforms of the Hawke-Keating Labor governments, but the full emergence of a far more ideologically committed liberalism in the Liberal Party. The party’s more economically liberal “dries” fought and defeated the Deakinite “wets”. This culminated in the Fightback! program of John Hewson and the defeat of the Liberal Party at the 1993 election.

Howard’s ‘broad church’

The genius of John Howard was to recognise that there was only so much liberalism the Australian people would tolerate, and to reinvent the Liberal Party as a custodian of both economic liberalism and social conservatism. Howard was fond of describing the Liberal Party as a “broad church”, which was “at its best when it balances and blends those two traditions.”

However, he also made the Liberal Party more ideological, as conservatism emerged as an ideology alongside liberalism. Howard completed the process through which conservatism and liberalism emerged as distinct – and competing – ideological positions in Australian political life.

Both Deakin and Menzies would find this ideological division puzzling. For them, liberalism was less an ideology than a moral outlook on the world that encouraged individuals to act in a responsible and ethical fashion.

The ConversationHoward’s broad church worked well, as long as he was at the helm. Once he was gone, the Liberal Party seemed to erupt in conflict between liberals and conservatives. More than a decade later, the conflict shows few signs of reaching a peaceful resolution.

Gregory Melleuish, Professor, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, University of Wollongong

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

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.

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.

Government loses 30th consecutive Newspoll, despite slight improvement


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

As widely anticipated, the government has lost its 30th Newspoll in a row, although it slightly reduced Labor’s two-party lead.

The Coalition trails 48-52%, compared with 47-53% a fortnight ago. The Australian reports it is only the second time since April last year that the government has come within this striking distance.

Given a universal expectation of a bad poll, the Coalition will breathe a sigh of relief at the numbers overall, especially after last week’s controversial push by dissident Coalition backbenchers on energy policy which created bad media.

Despite its continued lead, the poll contains some disappointments for Labor. The ALP’s primary vote fell 2 points to 37%, while the Coalition vote rose a point to 38%. The Greens are on 10%, and One Nation stayed at 7% in the poll, taken Thursday to Sunday.

Bill Shorten is only 2 points behind Malcolm Turnbull as better prime minister, an improvement of a point. But Shorten’s satisfaction rating fell 2 points to 32% and his dissatisfaction rose 3 points to 57%, to equal Turnbull on both measures. Turnbull’s ratings were largely unchanged.

Turnbull can also be grateful for the competitive instinct of newspapers. Before the Newspoll, Fairfax Media – which polls only intermittently – had a “spoiler” out in its Saturday papers that suggested the government’s position mightn’t be as dire as it had been painted.

The Fairfax-Ipsos poll had the Coalition trailing 48-52% on the two-party vote, when preferences were distributed, as is usual, on the basis of the last election. But distributing preferences according to how people said they would allocate them brought the result to 50-50%.

Even more encouraging for Turnbull, 62% said the Liberal party should stay with him as leader, rising to 74% among Coalition supporters.

The Fairfax poll formed a useful bit of inoculation for Turnbull, who was also out in the media ahead of Newspoll with a round of interviews.

When he was informed of the Newspoll, he told The Australian the “electoral contest is very close and the election is there to be won”.

Turnbull had ensured that if his government had a 30th consecutive Newspoll defeat it would turn into a faux crisis because he used the Abbott government’s 30 lost Newspolls as one of his grounds for challenging the former prime minister.

Since then he has to contend with a disruptive Abbott who on Monday is
“pollie pedalling” in the Latrobe Valley, making sure he is best placed to exploit simultaneously Turnbull’s pain over the Newspoll and his difficulty with the energy issue.

Abbott, who has been stirring since he was ousted, declared on Sunday: “the last thing I want to see is instability in government”.

Interestingly, “Newspoll” has been rather different in Turnbull’s time than it was in Abbott’s, as former Nielsen pollster John Stirton wrote at the weekend.

In mid 2015 the Newspoll organisation closed and Galaxy was commissioned to do the poll, which retained its name but has undergone some changes in methodology. “When Tony Abbott lost his 30 Newspolls they were almost entirely the old Newspoll which tended to bounce around a bit, as polls do,” wrote Stirton on Sunday. “The new Newspoll is a very different poll. Turnbull’s 29 losses have all been the new Newspoll, which doesn’t move around much at all”.

“Everything else being equal, Turnbull was always more likely to lose (or for that matter win) 30 polls in a row than previous prime ministers because the new Newspoll simply doesn’t move around as much as the old one.”

Stirton stressed he was not suggesting there is anything wrong with the poll results. “Newspoll is a very good poll and there is no suggestion that the individual poll numbers are in some way wrong. It’s just that the poll is much less variable than it used to be and short-term changes in sentiment are less likely to show up”.

The climactic hype around this poll reflects the degree to which polling has been driving political judgements and media analysis, often to the detriment of both.

The plethora of polls, which now never let up between elections, has made “leading” harder. When things are going poorly for a government, the followers are endlessly and quantitatively reminded of looming disaster, increasing their agitation. And polls are easy stories for the media, falling on especially fertile ground in the 24-hour news cycle.

This Newspoll confirms what seems to be a constant message – that it is more likely than not Turnbull will lose next year’s election. So inevitably, the previews have been accompanied by leadership speculation.

But there is no sign of any move against Turnbull, and the Fairfax poll shows why any such a move would be ill-judged.

Even if Liberal MPs believe they are heading into opposition – and the Coalition received another blow last week when the proposed redistributions in Victoria and the ACT helped Labor – they would need to face the question: who would be best to save the furniture?

Labor’s changing back to Kevin Rudd before the 2013 election was about furniture-saving – and he did indeed do that. The switch was rational and benefitted Bill Shorten in the 2016 election.

But how many Liberals would think Peter Dutton or Julie Bishop would attract more voters than Turnbull? There is nothing to suggest that Dutton could improve the Coalition vote, and Bishop would be an almighty gamble in a role that would throw her into the rigours of a tough economic debate.

The ConversationTurnbull remains the Coalition’s best bet, whether to give it a chance of pulling off a victory or limiting its loss.

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



File 20180409 149360 1j9tjhl.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
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.