The Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie, who quit parliament in the citizenship crisis, has an early lead in her fight to win back her South Australian seat of Mayo, according to a ReachTEL poll.
Sharkie is ahead of her opponent, the high-profile Liberal Georgina Downer, 58% to 42% on a two-party basis.
The poll was commissioned by the Australia Institute, a progressive think tank.
The Liberals have been hopeful of capturing Mayo, thus increasing their parliamentary majority. They held the seat until Sharkie, as part of the Nick Xenophon Team (since renamed the Centre Alliance) won it in 2016 from Jamie Briggs, who earlier had to resign from the ministry over a personal indiscretion.
Georgina Downer is the daughter of Alexander Downer, a former occupant of the seat who was foreign minister in the Howard government.
The vote is on July 28, when five byelections will be held in a Super Saturday across the country. The Liberals believe the long campaign will favour them in Mayo because Sharkie has much less in terms of resources. She is, however, well known in the electorate.
The poll has her on a 40.1% primary vote, with Downer on 34.4%. Labor is polling 7.7%; the Greens 10.7%. The vote for “other/independent” is 3.5%, with 3.6% undecided. The sample was 1031 with polling on the night of June 5.
The poll also asked whether company tax for large companies like banks, mining companies and supermarkets should be increased, kept the same or decreased. The results were: increased, 25.4%; kept the same, 44.9%; decreased, 24.8%.
People were overwhelmingly opposed to the banks receiving a company tax cut (69.1% against).
Asked how they would prefer to spend the $80 billion proposed to be spent on company tax cuts, 51.4% chose “infrastructure and government services like health and education”, 6.5% said personal income tax cuts, 29.1% said decreasing the deficit and repaying debt, and 8.7% said proceeding with the company tax cuts.
Asked how the Senate should vote on the third stage of the budget’s income tax policy, which “removes the 37-cent income tax bracket altogether, meaning someone earning $41.000 would pay the same marginal tax rate as someone earning $200,000”, about two thirds (65.3%) said the Senate should oppose it, while 25.2% said it should vote in support.
New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia are currently affected by a massive complex low pressure system, dropping temperatures and bringing rain, hail, wind and snow.
While complex low pressure systems like this come along every year or so, some Australians may be feeling whiplash after a particularly warm autumn.
Typically, as Victoria and Tasmania head into winter we see cold fronts that move from west to east, generating rain and thunderstorms. This weather system started off like that, but developed into a complex low that will stay with us for the rest of the week.
It’s the kind of weather system you see on average once every year or two. What is a little unusual is to see such a deep pool of cold Antarctic air so early in May. Canberra, for example, is forecast to have a maximum of 9℃ on Friday – which would be its coldest day in the first half of May since 1970.
In weather-speak, “complex” describes a weather system with an intricate structure. Starting as a cold front across Victoria and Tasmania, this complex low now has multiple low-pressure centres at the surface, and is interacting with a broad low-pressure system in the upper levels of the atmosphere. These upper and low-level weather systems reinforce each other.
The other factor contributing to the complexity is the warmer waters of the Tasman Sea. The East Australian Current brings warmer waters down the east coast, raising ocean surface temperatures in the Tasman Sea relative to the neighbouring Bass Strait and Southern Ocean. When these low pressure systems develop over the western Tasman Sea, that warm water provides a lot more energy through evaporation.
When all the elements align, with a cold front and its associated cold air mass moving over warm water, beneath an upper-level low in the same place providing reinforcement, a deep and complex low-pressure system can develop.
Difficult to predict
The Bureau of Meteorology usually has several days’ indication that a system like this may form, but development of multiple low-pressure centres at the surface makes it tricky to predict exactly where local impacts will strike.
These small-scale low-pressure centres influence exactly where the heaviest rain or strongest winds will be, as do features of the landscape like mountain ranges.
While we can make broad predictions of what may be on the way, it’s not until we get closer to the event that we can really start to be more specific about rainfall totals, wind speeds, and so on.
The Bureau gets minute-to-minute readings from our Automatic Weather Stations, but we have the ability increase the frequency of some of our measurements (for example, at the moment we have increased the frequency of weather balloon releases at Hobart airport), to get additional information about the atmosphere.
This system will move fairly slowly over the next couple of days, and different elements will impact different parts of Australia.
We’ve got cold air, wind and showers over Victoria and southern New South Wales at the moment, but there are parts of the east coast that are still quite warm today. Tasmania is starting to see windy conditions in Hobart and rain developing, and potentially heavy rain through the east of the state over the next couple of days.
Once the cold air moves further north into NSW we’ll expect snow at lower levels as far north as the Central Tablelands, and then as we move into the weekend the low pressure system will move out into the Tasman Sea.
We’ll then start to see swell increase, as the ocean responds to the weather system. Heavy swell and hazardous surf conditions could push well north along the NSW coast and potentially into southern Queensland by early next week.
Currently, severe weather warnings for wind have been issued across parts of South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania. Heavy rain warnings and flood watches are in place in Victoria, and flood watches and warnings are current in Tasmania as well.
Other specific warnings provide important information for those on the land – the Bureau has alerted sheep graziers, for example, to the impacts of cold, wet and windy conditions on exposed livestock.
While these warnings are all fairly standard for this kind of weather system, always follow the advice of emergency services. We’re the weather experts, but they’re certainly the experts on preparing for hazardous weather!
On April 6, the Electoral Commission announced draft boundaries for Victoria and the ACT, with both jurisdictions gaining a House seat. Victoria went from 37 to 38 seats, and the ACT from two to three.
As a result of these changes, Labor notionally gained two seats in Victoria and one in the ACT, and the Coalition lost two seats in Victoria.
On Friday, draft boundaries were announced for South Australia, with that state dropping from 11 seats to ten. According to The Poll Bludger, the safe Labor-held seat of Port Adelaide is to be abolished, but the new seat of Spence (formerly Wakefield), Adelaide and Hindmarsh become much safer for Labor.
Margins in Liberal-held seats were not greatly affected by the redistribution. Boothby has been reduced from a 3.5% to a 2.8% Liberal margin, and the SA-BEST-held seat of Mayo goes from a 5.4% to a 3.3% Liberal vs Labor margin. After SA-BEST performed poorly in the South Australian election, Mayo is an opportunity for either major party.
After the next election, there will be 151 seats in the House of Representatives, up from the current 150. The Coalition will notionally hold 74 seats (down two), Labor 71 (up two), and the five current cross-benchers notionally hold their seats. The new Victorian seat of Cox (formerly Corangamite) is too close to call on the new boundaries between the Liberals and Labor.
On the new boundaries, Labor requires just a five-seat gain to win a majority, while the Coalition needs to gain two seats to retain its majority.
The draft boundaries will go through a further consultation process before they are finalised. Final boundaries will be gazetted (become official) by July 20. If an election is called before all boundaries are gazetted, emergency redistributions are used. These emergency redistributions have never been used.
An election of the House and half the Senate could be called in early July, before the new boundaries are gazetted. However, according to the ABC’s Antony Green, the Coalition would lose from the emergency redistributions.
South Australian election final result: 25 Liberals, 19 Labor, 3 Independents
At the South Australian election held on March 17, the Liberals won 25 of the 47 lower house seats (up three since the 2014 election), Labor 19 (down four) and independents three (up one).
The Liberals won the two party vote by a 51.9-48.1 margin, but this represented a 1.1% swing to Labor from 2014, when Labor clung to power despite losing the popular vote 53.0-47.0.
Primary votes were 38.0% Liberal (down 6.8%), 32.8% Labor (down 3.0%), 14.2% SA-BEST, 6.7% Greens (down 2.1%) and 3.0% Conservatives (down 3.2% from Family First’s 2014 vote).
In South Australia, there is a fairness clause that requires boundaries to be drawn so a party with over 50% of the two party vote should win the election. The boundaries used at this election notionally gave the Liberals 26 seats, Labor 20 and one independent (Geoff Brock in Frome).
On the new boundaries, both major parties lost a seat to independents who had defected during the last parliamentary term. The Liberals gained King from Labor, but Labor gained Mawson from the Liberals. In Mawson, sitting Labor member Leon Bignell had a 4.5% swing in his favour, just overcoming a hostile redistribution.
Conservative commentators such as Graham Richardson have blamed Labor’s loss partly on its renewable energy policies. Between 2011 and 2014, Labor governments that had been in power for 14 to 16 years were smashed in New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania. In South Australia, Labor had a two party swing in its favour. Renewable energy probably helped Labor, rather than damaged it.
The upper house results have not yet been finalised. In the race for the final seat, Labor has 3.46 quotas and the Conservatives 0.42. With preferences to come from Animal Justice, Dignity, SA-BEST and the Liberal Democrats, it is likely that Labor’s fourth candidate will defeat the Conservatives.
Final Tasmanian result: 13 Liberals, ten Labor, two Greens
At the Tasmanian election held on March 3, the Liberals won 13 of the 25 lower house seats (down two since the 2014 election), Labor won ten (up three) and the Greens two (down one). This is the first time a single party has had a one-seat majority at a Tasmanian election since 1978.
There were two seats contested between different parties that were undecided on election night. In Franklin, the Greens won the final seat by 226 votes or 0.02 quotas against the Liberals. Labor gained a seat from the Liberals.
Final primary votes gave the Liberals 2.90 quotas, Labor 2.06, the Greens 0.86 and the Shooters 0.17. As expected, the Liberals greatly benefited from Shooters’ preferences, but were damaged by within-ticket leakage. With only Labor votes left (they had 2.20 quotas at this point), the final Liberal led the final Green by just 81 votes. Labor’s votes then flowed strongly to the Greens.
In Bass, the Liberals had 3.53 quotas, Labor 1.58 and the Greens 0.56. At the three-way crunch point, the Liberals were just behind the Greens and Labor and were excluded. On Liberal preferences, Labor comfortably defeated the Greens by 801 votes or 0.07 quotas, thus gaining a seat from the Greens.
Final statewide vote shares were 50.3% Liberal (down 1.0% since 2014), 32.6% Labor (up 5.3%), 10.3% Greens (down 3.5%) and 3.2% Jacqui Lambie Network. This was the Greens’ lowest Tasmanian vote since 1998, when they received 10.2% – their vote has more than halved since they won 21.6% in 2010.
I believe the Greens’ poor result was mostly because Labor has a young left-wing leader in Rebecca White, and Labor’s anti-pokies policy attracted Greens’ voters.
The upper house was not up for election. The 15 members of the Tasmanian upper house are elected for rotating six-year terms in single-member electorates. Every May, two or three electorates are up. Labor has four upper house seats, and there are four left-wing independents, so the left currently controls the upper house.
New South Wales March ReachTEL: 52-48 to Coalition
A New South Wales ReachTEL poll for The Sydney Morning Herald, conducted March 15 from a sample of 1,521, gave the Coalition a 52-48 lead, unchanged since October 2017. Excluding 6.2% undecided, primary votes were 44.7% Coalition (up 3.8%), 34.6% Labor (up 0.9%), 10.0% Greens (up 0.1%) and 5.4% One Nation (down 3.5%).
Incumbent Gladys Berejiklian led Opposition Leader Luke Foley 52.3-47.7 as better Premier in ReachTEL’s forced choice question. By 59-26, voters opposed the government spending $2.5 billion on constructing new stadiums.
It’s been a long time coming, but Australia is finally going to have a Space Agency. This will enable Australian space industries to benefit from agency-to-agency agreements and collaborations, and facilitate our participation in the growing global space market.
The Federal Government appointed an Expert Review Panel to map out how the Agency should operate. As we wait for its report – the final strategy was scheduled to be submitted in March 2018 – two space experts offer their perspectives on what we might expect.
What will an Australian Space Agency need in terms of people, resources and infrastructure?
It seems clear there is a real appetite on both sides of politics for an agency for our times, that embraces the excitement being generated by “Space 2.0” – that is, commercial entities, low-cost access to space and avoiding some of the baggage of the older legacy agencies.
It’s likely the focus will be on growing the Australian space industry, with less emphasis on space exploration, human space flight and space science. However, for the agency to have any impact or credibility, the people, resources and infrastructure must be provided at an adequate level.
I have in the past pointed to the UK agency as a good model – it basically cost “nothing” initially and significant funding followed when it succeeded. Now, I don’t think we can afford to replicate this in Australia. The agency needs to be properly funded from the beginning. Penny-pinching will kill it.
We’ve been here before and seen how a lack of resourcing plays out. The 1980s Australian Space Board was managed by a small office within the Department of Industry, Technology and Commerce, but it fizzled out after ten years and we were back to square one. There’s a strong feeling in the Australian space community that a substantial investment in a stand-alone agency is the only way to avoid another death by bureaucracy.
In terms of personnel, we’ll need leadership with credibility and experience in the global space arena, people familiar with how existing space activities across government departments work, and probably there’ll be a role for some kind of advisory or expert panels.
The structure will also be important. NASA, for example, runs 11 research centres, and the European Space Agency has nine centres or facilities, including the Kourou launch site in French Guiana. They support human spaceflight programs as well as deep space exploration. Both organisations use private contractors, and large chunks of the private space sector rely on them as clients. This is not a model that Australia can sustain.
Personally, I think it’s critical that the new agency also takes Indigenous interests on board. Indigenous people can’t be left out of conversations about the future of Australian space technologies.
How strongly should the Space Agency be linked with Defence programs?
Recently the Australian Strategic Policy Institute argued that we must develop a solid space industry for our own strategic and Defence needs. However, strong industries such as that in the US have a dominant civilian space sector.
So I would argue that to avoid this strategic weakness, it is more important to reinforce the independence of the civilian agency from Defence. It is the job of the agency to ensure this independence. Being overly close to Defence is likely to hamper the current civilian commercial drive so effectively being driven by the start-up community. Having a thriving civilian space sector can only benefit Defence anyway.
I agree with Andrew that forging a new civil and commercial space identity is essential.
Because the Woomera rocket launch site, one of our most significant space assets, is located in South Australia, as well as the Defence Science and Technology Group – which grew out of the Cold War weapons program – South Australia has traditionally been the focus of Defence-related space activities.
At this stage we can be hopeful that a properly funded space agency will allow equal participation across all states.
Where should Australia’s Space Agency be located?
There’s interest in where the agency will be located because there will be jobs associated with it. I’ve had so many enquiries from acquaintances – and strangers – asking about this.
People probably are thinking it will be something like NASA, with a whole industrial complex. We’re not anything like that scale. Having said that, a Canberra-based headquarters supported by state-based centres makes a lot of sense.
In terms of location, I agree there will need to be an administrative presence in Canberra, to interact with the Federal Government. Other satellite sites should reflect where the action is.
If there are to be satellite offices, they need to be close to where the industry is currently active, and where it is developing. This may require some sort of representation in each state.
Senator Kim Carr’s recent announcement of Labor’s policy of several hubs and centres lends itself very well to distributed activity around the country. Bipartisanship on that issue would be very helpful.
Which Australian states have relevant space capabilities right now?
I live in South Australia, so am naturally well acquainted with this state’s space achievements! A number of exciting new start-ups such as Fleet, Neumann Space and Myriota are based in Adelaide.
The three universities in South Australia have strengths in satellite telecommunications, space law and space heritage. At the international level, South Australia has been developing relationships with the French national space agency (CNES), as well as French aerospace industries.
I am from NSW so I have a particular interest in the NSW Department of Industry submission to the expert review panel. It suggested “the future Australian Space Agency should be based in NSW” and goes on to list 17 reasons why NSW dominates in space, such as having the largest space workforce, revenue, research effort, number of start-ups, venture capital and law presence.
The only centre funded by the Australian Research Council on space is in NSW, and two of the four satellites built and launched last year involved my university.
However, I don’t believe there is any benefit to highlighting one state over another. I’m with Raytheon Australia, whose official position is that state rivalry for Defence work is getting “hysterical” and we should be avoiding that with space work.
Back in 1958, the beginning of the Space Age, Australia was one of the founding members of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. We’ve been kind of missing in action ever since.
The new Space Agency will allow us to have a credible voice on issues that may impact Australia – such as revisions to the international space treaties. It’s going to be exciting times ahead!
Put yourself in the shoes of Tim Storer. The accidental senator from South Australia has one hell of a decision to make shortly after the May budget, when the government plans to bring back its legislation to give tax cuts to big business.
A week ago the Coalition’s fairly confident hopes rested on Storer voting in favour of its A$35.6 billion package. A deal with Victorian crossbencher Derryn Hinch, whose vote also had to be secured, was seen as doable. Then Storer baulked, and the legislation’s future has again become anybody’s guess.
Think of the situation from Storer’s perspective. He has literally just arrived in the Senate, elected to replace a Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) victim of the citizenship crisis but sitting as an independent because of a stoush with his former party.
It’s amazing he’s there at all, and he’s not likely to be there long – one can’t see him re-elected next year. Now he has life-or-death sway over a key measure the government took to the 2016 poll. He has to ask himself whether he should use the extraordinary power that bizarre circumstances have given him to frustrate legislation on which the Coalition can argue it has a mandate.
On the other hand, as he said in his Wednesday Senate statement outlining his doubts about the bill, he is concerned about whether the budget can afford the cuts. And then, he noted, there’s the question of whether the money could be better spent on other things – infrastructure and the like.
When he was sworn in last week, Storer was escorted by the government and opposition Senate leaders, Mathias Cormann and Penny Wong. He chose his escorts. It was to signal his independence, and perhaps to flag that he saw himself as an active player.
He brings to the huge decision before him training in economics, and experience of business, especially in Asia. That presumably helps with evaluating the argument the government makes about the competitive importance of these cuts.
He also comes from a state with a history of federal politicians who focus locally when there are Commonwealth dollars to be had. Nick Xenophon once held up the Rudd government’s $42 billion economic stimulus package while he extracted water concessions that would benefit South Australia.
While Storer has been willing to engage with the government, and will continue to do so, if he eventually voted no, he’d be in line with his former party. The two NXT senators are opposed, despite the government trying to lure them.
Labor, fighting the tax cuts, also observes Storer’s past ALP membership as a sign of his general political orientation and thus perhaps a clue to his final decision.
But the government hopes more talking, more incentives, and perhaps the content of the budget might be enough to persuade him.
Parliament is off until the May 8 budget, when attention will turn from company tax to the government’s income tax plans – which are crucial as it tries to improve the community mood for the election due before mid-next year.
Politically, the budget will be preceded by a media feeding frenzy around the next Newspoll that – barring a miracle for Malcolm Turnbull – will be the 30th in which the Coalition trails Labor.
This will be a diversion, as attention harks back to Turnbull’s invoking 30 Newspolls against Tony Abbott. But with no challenger in sight, it won’t be a decisive moment – just another bout of bad publicity to be endured.
Abbott no doubt will make the most of it. But the more time that passes, the less relevance the former prime minister seems to have, despite a speculative story this week that he might he positioning for a tilt at the opposition leadership if Turnbull loses the election.
Abbott’s decision to launch Pauline Hanson’s book of speeches this week was eccentric and ill-judged.
Can anyone forget his toxic view of her two decades ago, when he established a fund to facilitate legal actions against One Nation and she ultimately ended up in jail? Now he is saying that “if over the last two decades we had been more ready to heed the message of people like Pauline Hanson and less quick to shoot the messenger, I think we would be a better country today”. The bitter enemies have turned into kissing cousins.
Hanson might have mellowed slightly second time around, and she is certainly helping the government in the Senate. But her politics should still be condemned by Liberals, certainly not given the sort of qualified endorsement Abbott extended.
Abbott said the only way the Coalition could win the election was if it could harvest One Nation’s preferences, and “if I can make that more likely, that is a very positive contribution that I can make to the prospects of the Turnbull government”.
His remarks at the book launch suggested a mix of conviction and expediency – regardless, they further fuel cynicism about our politicians.
Speaking of cynicism, one couldn’t miss how quickly some observers segued from the cricket scandal to political behaviour. But as they (rightly) criticise the errant Australian players, politicians would prefer to overlook awkward parallels with conduct in politics – for instance the endemic tampering with the ball of truth.
On Tuesday a fired-up Turnbull told a news conference: “I think there has to be the strongest action taken against this practice of sledging. It has got right out of control, it should have no place … on a cricket field.”
Absolutely. And also it has got out of control on the political field. But when a journalist interjected with “doesn’t it happen in parliament?”, Turnbull chose to let that pass without response.
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.
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.
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.
So, Super Saturday had positive spin-offs for both federal leaders, but substantially more for Shorten than Turnbull.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Critically, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While 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.
An “old” government, an opposition leader many people find lacklustre, and a popular centrist player adept at exploiting discontent. That’s the confusing choice facing “soft” voters in next Saturday’s South Australian election.
In focus group research last week, participants were divided over whether South Australia – which often sees itself as the poor relation among states – is headed in the right or wrong direction.
On the positive side they noted the technology industries, renewable energy, and defence contracts. But then there is the pain – the decline of manufacturing, lack of jobs, low wages, high cost of living, and many young people leaving the state.
Four groups of nine to ten “soft” voters – people still to decide how they will vote – were run on March 7-8, two each in Adelaide and Murray Bridge, a regional city of some 20,000 population. The work was done by Landscape Research for the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis.
There was a mix of gender, age and socioeconomic backgrounds. In Adelaide voters were drawn mainly from the marginal Liberal seat of Hartley (where SA-Best leader Nick Xenophon is running) and Dunstan (also marginal Liberal, held by Opposition Leader Steven Marshall). Both seats are within federal cabinet minister Christopher Pyne’s seat of Sturt.
Murray Bridge is within the state seat of Hammond (safe Liberal); it is located in the federal Liberal seat of Barker, which saw a strong Nick Xenophon Team vote in the 2016 federal election.
Among the election issues, health – including the cost and teething problems of the new Royal Adelaide Hospital – was a prominent concern for these soft voters, especially older ones.
The plight of the Murray River and the management of the Murray Darling Basin resonated in Adelaide as well as obviously in the river city. For the regional voters, inadequate public transport servicing Murray Bridge (cost and availability) was important.
Across all groups, a common catch-cry was that “the government should do more to keep young people here” in South Australia.
Premier Jay Weatherill was seen as the better performer during the campaign, when compared with Marshall.
Weatherill, premier since 2011, was perceived as the stronger leader of the two; he has to a degree escaped the blame for South Australia’s decline that is directed at the 16-year-old government.
“He speaks with more authority than Marshall,” said an older Adelaide voter, while an older participant in Murray Bridge thought “the current mob have given us a clearer idea of where they want to take the state than the Liberals”. But there was as well a strand of criticism from the older cohort – that Weatherill is “weak” and “insipid”.
Among the soft voters there was also a compelling sense of “change for change’s sake”, as one participant put it. “Labor has been in power long enough,” said a retiree; another wanted “new faces”.
Going against Weatherill is that, while he was seen as the better political performer, many of these soft voters had no great regard for him or his record in government. “Weatherill is just coasting along on what he thinks he has achieved and bullying tactics,” was the view of one Adelaide participant.
While many soft voters didn’t think Labor deserved re-election, they were hesitant about the Liberals under Marshall.
“If you look at Marshall, how can you ever call him a leader?” said an Adelaide real estate agent, while a retiree said: “He hasn’t imploded yet but that could happen any day given past experience with the Liberal Party”.
Xenophon was regarded widely as standing up for South Australia – several of these voters could spontaneously bring to mind examples of this.
He was seen to have run a “positive” campaign, in contrast to the major parties – this adds to his appeal when soft voters are disappointed with the sniping of the big parties, with which they are deeply disillusioned anyway. People judged the major parties were worried about Xenophon by the fact they were attacking him. “Both parties are seeing him as a real threat and are putting the boot in,” said one participant.
Xenophon, who started his political career as an anti-pokies campaigner, has adopted a pragmatic approach on the issue at this election. Some of these voters regarded this as selling out and becoming “just like the rest”, but for others it was a sign he understood “the need for compromise”.
The Hotels Association campaign against Xenophon has penetrated people’s awareness but also to a degree appears to have backfired, with some of these voters taking the view this was a “big lobby with deep pockets” targeting him for their own nefarious ends.
Soft voters, reacting against the major parties, are attracted to the idea of Xenophon’s party having the balance of power as an antidote to their disillusionment. For those leaning toward voting for SA-Best, it represented a genuine alternative to the majors.
On the other hand, there was some disappointment with Xenophon. His hokey election advertising had not impressed the critics, and they viewed him as superficial. “He’s been exposed when he’s tried to be serious,” said one; another said: “People are beginning to understand Nick is just a showman”.
In Adelaide, SA-Best was seen largely as something of a one-man show, with not much in the way of policies, its attraction being as a vehicle for a protest vote rather than for what it represents in positive terms.
There was also the issue that while Xenophon was a household name, outside the seat of Hartley his supporters would be voting for candidates who were often unknown quantities. As a young Adelaide voter put it, voting for SA-Best was “an awesome gamble”.
In Murray Bridge, a relatively small community, SA-Best has fielded a candidate described in the discussion as a “strong young woman” and the competition appears fierce, with Liberal incumbent Adrian Pederick facing a serious threat.
Participants acknowledged upsides and downsides in the prospect that SA-Best might hold the balance of power. An older Murray Bridge voter said it would “take the arrogance out of decision-making”. But another feared it would mean “South Australia will be stuck in quicksand, no movement, mired”.
Unlike quantitative polling, focus group research has no statistical validity. But for interest, here is the vote-leaning breakdown of these soft voters, in the penultimate week of the campaign.
Of 38 participants in total, eight remained firmly undecided. Of those who could say to which party they were leaning, the Liberals and SA-Best were neck and neck on 11 and 12 respectively, with five leaning to Labor and two thinking of voting for an independent or party other than these three. The Liberals fare more strongly in Adelaide seats, while SA-Best is the frontrunner in Hammond.
Notwithstanding their own leanings there was a feeling among some soft voters that Labor might win “by default” because Xenophon would split the Liberal vote and “people will forget the crap”.
The South Australian election will be held on March 17. A Newspoll, conducted in the three days from February 27 to March 1 from a sample of 1,078, gave the Liberals 32% of the primary vote (up three since the October to December Newspoll), Labor 30% (up three), SA-BEST 21% (down 11), the Greens 7% (up one) and the Australian Conservatives 6%. No two-party figure was calculated.
About half of SA-BEST’s drop is because it is contesting 36 of the 47 lower house seats, and Newspoll did not offer SA-BEST as an option in the seats it is not contesting. In the seats SA-BEST is contesting, it averaged 27%.
On the three-way better premier question, 29% supported Nick Xenophon (down 17), 28% incumbent Jay Weatherill (up six) and 24% Opposition Leader Steven Marshall (up five). Weatherill led Marshall 38-31 head-to-head (37-32 previously).
Although SA-BEST and Xenophon’s support has slumped, neither of the two major party leaders is at all popular. Weatherill’s net approval is -21, down two points, and Marshall’s net approval is -26, down three points.
The Liberals led Labor 42-38 on best party for the South Australian economy, and led Labor 37-36 on best to maintain the energy supply and keep power prices lower. SA-BEST voters favoured the Liberals 37-33 on the economy and Labor 35-27 on energy.
Although SA-BEST is averaging 27% in seats it is contesting, the major parties are less vulnerable to losing seats to SA-BEST than it may appear from primary votes. Most Greens will preference Labor higher than SA-BEST, and most Conservatives will preference the Liberals higher.
Labor’s biggest problem in South Australia is that it has been in government since 2002. Old governments cannot blame problems on their predecessors, and there is an “It’s Time” factor.
14-to-16-year-old Labor governments in Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania were smashed between 2011 and 2014, so Labor in South Australia is doing well to be competitive. Picking fights with the unpopular federal Coalition government probably explains Labor’s competitiveness.
Only once in the four elections since 2002 South Australian Labor won has the party received a majority of the two party vote (in 2006). At the 2014 election, despite losing the two-party vote 53.0-47.0, Labor won 23 of the 47 seats, and formed government with an independent’s support.
Unlike other Australian electoral commissions, the South Australian commission is required to create electorally fair boundaries. The 2018 boundaries were drawn so that, based on the last election’s results, a party that won a majority of the two-party vote should win a majority of the seats, ignoring independents.
The result of this requirement is that boundaries have been changed to favour the Liberals. According to the ABC’s Antony Green, the new boundaries notionally give the Liberals 27 seats out of 47, to Labor’s 20. Including independents, the Liberals have 24 seats, Labor has 19 and independents four. Ignoring independents, Labor needs a 3.1-point uniform swing to gain four seats from the Liberals and a majority.
The South Australian upper house has 22 members, with half up for election every four years. Statewide proportional representation is used to elect the upper house, with a similar system to the Senate. The South Australian parliament abolished group voting tickets last year.
The new system has optional preferential voting above the line; a single “1” vote above the line will expire within the chosen party, and will not be passed on as preferences to another party. Voters can direct preferences to other parties by marking “2”, “3”, and so on, above the line.
With 11 members to be elected, a quota is one-twelfth of the vote, or 8.3%. Overall, the upper house has eight Liberals, eight Labor, two Greens, two Conservatives, one Dignity and one Advance SA (formerly SA-BEST). At this election, the members up for election are four Liberals, four Labor, one Green, one Conservative and one Dignity.
Federal Newspoll: 53-47 to Labor
This week’s Newspoll, conducted March 1-4 from a sample of 1,660, gave federal Labor a 53-47 lead, unchanged on last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Labor (up one), 37% Coalition (up one), 9% Greens (down one) and 7% One Nation (down one).
This is Malcolm Turnbull’s 28th successive Newspoll loss, just two short of Tony Abbott. If Newspoll sticks to its schedule, Turnbull will hit his 30th loss in April, but parliament will not be sitting until the May budget.
Despite the argument about Bill Shorten and Labor’s stance on the Adani coal mine, Labor gained a point at the expense of the Greens on primary votes. However, the overall Labor/Greens primary is still stuck at 47%, where it has been since August.
Turnbull’s ratings appear to have suffered further from the Barnaby Joyce and Michaelia Cash controversies. 32% were satisfied with Turnbull (down two), and 57% were dissatified (up three), for a net approval of -25. Shorten’s net approval was down three points to -23. Turnbull’s lead as better PM narrowed from 40-33 to 37-35, his equal lowest better PM lead.
In the first Newspoll of the year, in early February, Turnbull was at a net -13 approval, Shorten at a net -18, and Turnbull led Shorten by an emphatic 45-31 as better PM. That Newspoll came after a controversy-free summer holiday period. Since then, Turnbull has lost 12 points of net approval, Shorten has lost five, and Turnbull’s better PM lead has narrowed from 14 points to two.
In last week’s Essential, conducted February 22-25 from a sample of 1,028, Labor led by 53-47, a one-point gain for the Coalition. Primary votes were 35% Coalition (down one), 35% Labor (down two), 10% Greens (steady) and 8% One Nation (up two).
By 50-32, voters supported a ban on sex between ministers and their staff. Voters also supported a ban on politicians having extra-marital sex 44-36, and a ban on sex between managers and their staff in the workplace 48-35. However, voters were opposed to a ban on sex between workmates 55-22.
A total of 60% thought Barnaby Joyce should resign, with 26% saying he should remain in parliament, and 34% saying he should leave parliament. Only 19% thought he should remain deputy PM.
By 44-41, voters approved of the media reporting on politicians’ private affairs.
Only 23% thought Joyce’s sexual relationship with his staffer was a major concern. On the other hand, 60% thought alleged excessive use of travel entitlements a major concern, and 50% thought finding the staff member work in another minister’s office a major concern.
Essential asked whether four Indigenous-related issues, the republic and changing Australia Day were a high priority. Just 11% thought changing the date of Australia Day was a high priority, and 21% becoming a republic. All the Indigenous-related issues scored higher.
By 48-32, voters would support abolishing private health insurance subsidies, and using this money to include dental care within Medicare.