Malcolm Turnbull has secured a decisive party room victory over Tony Abbott, taking the government’s signature National Energy Guarantee policy another step towards implementation.
Tuesday’s Coalition party room, in a 155-minute debate, gave strong support to the plan. But sources variously said four or five MPs – Abbott, Andrew Hastie, senator Eric Abetz, Tony Pasin and George Christensen – had reserved their right to cross the floor when the federal legislation for the emissions target comes to parliament, and others expressed doubts and criticisms.
In a statement after the meeting, Abbott said at least a dozen had expressed “serious concerns about the NEG or about turning the non-binding Paris targets into law”.
During the debate, Abbott pointedly referred to “merchant bankers’ gobbledigook”.
Tuesday’s party room mood reflected that most Coalition MPs accept that to save marginal seats and give the government, embattled in the polls, its best chance of survival, they need to unite behind Turnbull and the government’s policies.
During the meeting, several MPs told the dissidents they should reconsider their position and show cohesion.
The fate of the NEG scheme now depends crucially on the Labor states – notably Victoria – giving consent to it, and on the parliamentary numbers for the federal emissions reduction legislation.
The government is likely to need Labor support to get the emission legislation through. The legislation will be introduced this parliamentary fortnight.
Labor’s position is that it does not want this legislation debated until the states have made their decision on the NEG. When it is debated, the opposition will seek to amend it for a higher target. It has not said what it would do if, as expected, its amendment failed.
The Victorian Energy Minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, said after the Coalition party meeting: “We’ll study the Commonwealth NEG legislation thoroughly to see what concessions Malcolm Turnbull has given the climate sceptics in his party room.”
“We have said all along – we won’t let Malcolm Turnbull put our renewable energy industry and Victorian jobs at risk. We’ll continue to work through the COAG energy council to address our concerns.”
Energy minister Josh Frydenberg has a phone hook up with state ministers late Tuesday. They are set to release draft state legislation for the NEG mechanism.
But the states are not due to consider their support for the scheme again for some weeks, after failing to sign up last Friday. It is a race against time for the federal government, because Victoria goes into caretaker mode in October for the November election.
With Victoria the main obstacle, Frydenberg said: “It’s time Daniel Andrews stopped walking both sides of the street and put the interests of Victorians first and the businesses of Victorians first. And he would do that by signing up to the National Energy Guarantee before he goes into caretaker mode.”
The pro-coal MPs were reassured in the party room by the government’s acceptance of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission recommendation for the federal government to underwrite new despatchable power projects.
After the meeting, Abbott released an angry statement in response to the “rampant hostile briefing of journalists while the meeting was underway.”
“Yes, as the Prime Minister said at its close, there was party room support for the minister’s position. Much of it though, was of the ‘yes … but’ variety: congratulating him for the work he’d done in difficult circumstances and saying that the NEG was the best way through a bad situation.
“But most then added that what really mattered was actually getting prices down – not just talking about modelling – and actually getting more despatchable power into the system via ACCC recommendation 4 [on underwriting].
“Unfortunately, most explanations of how the NEG (as it stands without price targets) might theoretically get prices down sound like merchant bankers’ gobbledigook.
“It was a real pity that the meeting broke up before the chairman of the backbench committee, Craig Kelly, was able to finish his contribution.
“Yes, there were lots of pleas for unity but as one MP said, we’ve got to be loyal to our electorates and to party members too, and not show the ‘unity of lemmings’”.
“Yes, there was lots of regard for the ‘experts’ and for ‘business leaders’ but as one MP said ‘I’m not here for the technocrats’.
“I heard at least four lower house MPs formally reserve their position on the legislation and at least a dozen express serious concerns about the NEG or about turning the non-binding Paris targets into law with massive penalties attached.
“This is the big question that the party room didn’t really grapple with: when the big emitters are not meeting Paris, why should we? Especially, as even the Chief Scientist said, the difference meeting our target would make is ‘virtually nothing’”, Abbott’s statement said.
The Business Council of Australia called on “state and territory leaders to now get on with the job of implementing the National Energy Guarantee by releasing the draft legislation.
“It’s up to Victoria and Queensland, along with the other states and territories, to stop playing political games with people’s power bills.
“COAG Energy Council must stop dithering and finally act to end the decade of dysfunction that has plagued our energy sector.”
In a phone hook-up on Tuesday night the COAG energy council agreed to release an exposure draft of the National Electricity Law amendments needed to establish the mechanism for the NEG.
This week’s Newspoll, conducted August 9-12 from a sample of 1,607, gave Labor a 51-49 lead, unchanged on last fortnight. Primary votes were 37% Coalition (down two), 35% Labor (down one), 10% Greens (steady) and 9% One Nation (up two).
This is Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition’s 38th successive Newspoll loss, eight ahead of Tony Abbott’s 30 losses and five ahead of the previous record losing streak for a government. Labor’s primary vote in this poll is its lowest since April 2017, and the Coalition’s primary is its lowest since March.
36% (down six) were satisfied with Turnbull’s performance, and 55% (up seven) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of -19, down 13 points, Turnbull’s lowest net approval since April. Analyst Kevin Bonham says this is Turnbull’s second biggest poll-to-poll net approval drop. Opposition leader Bill Shorten’s net approval was up one point to -24, and Turnbull led Shorten by 44-32 as better PM, down from 48-29 last fortnight.
By 37-36, voters thought Turnbull and the Coalition would be better than Shorten and Labor at maintaining energy supply and keeping power prices lower, a narrowing from a 40-34 Coalition lead in June. 63% (steady since June) thought the government’s priority should be to keep energy prices down, 26% (up two) thought it should meet targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and 8% (down one) thought it should prevent blackouts.
A question on lifting restrictions on gas exploration is skewed because it asks, “Would you be in favour or opposed to the lifting of these restrictions if it would lead to lower energy prices?” The italicised part should not be part of a poll question.
In the past few months, Turnbull has benefited from a more united Coalition. The main issue has been the company tax cuts, which the right wing of the party strongly supports. With Shorten under pressure owing to Turnbull’s dominance of the better PM measure, last fortnight’s Essential, which I covered on my personal website, showed that the Coalition and Labor were perceived as equally divided; the Coalition had a 13-point lead in November 2017.
I believe Turnbull’s ratings have been damaged by Coalition disagreements in the wake of the Longman byelection. Some Coalition backbenchers would now like the tax cuts scrapped. Tony Abbott and other hard right Coalition MPs disagree with Turnbull on the National Energy Guarantee. Some of the drop for Turnbull may be caused by the awarding of $444 million to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.
Whatever the cause of Turnbull’s ratings slump, the Coalition cannot take much comfort from the still-close voting intentions. The PM’s net approval and voting intentions are strongly correlated. If Turnbull’s drop is sustained, the Coalition is likely to lose ground on voting intentions.
Victorian Galaxy: 51-49 to state Labor
The Victorian election will be held on November 24. A Galaxy poll for The Herald Sun, presumably conducted last week from a sample of 1,095, gave Labor a 51-49 lead, a one-point gain for Labor since a December Galaxy poll. Primary votes were 42% Coalition (up one), 38% Labor (up two), 10% Greens (steady) and 5% One Nation (down one).
By 46-29, respondents thought Matthew Guy and the Coalition would be tougher on crime than Daniel Andrews and Labor. Andrews and Labor led by 37-35 on keeping the cost of living in check. Andrews led by 40-33 as better Premier (41-25 in December).
This is the third successive Victorian poll to give Labor a 51-49 lead, after Newspoll in April and ReachTEL in July. It will be a relief for Labor that they have a lead after 17 people were arrested on August 2 in connection with the “rorts for votes” scandal.
In July, I wrote that time is running out to abolish the group voting ticket system in the upper house. With less than six weeks until September 20, the last scheduled Victorian parliamentary sitting day before the election, there is still no proposal for upper house reform.
WA Galaxy: 51-49 to federal Coalition, 54-46 to state Labor
A federal Western Australian Galaxy poll for The Sunday Times, conducted August 2-3 from a sample of 831, gave the Coalition a 51-49 lead, a three-point gain for the Coalition since July 2017, but still a 4% swing to Labor in WA since the 2016 election. Primary votes were 42% Coalition (up three), 36% Labor (down one), 10% Greens (down one) and 5% One Nation (steady).
By 50-36, voters opposed company tax cuts for all businesses, including those with turnovers over $50 million a year. Turnbull and Shorten were tied at 40% each on ensuring WA receives a fairer share of GST revenue.
State Labor had a 54-46 lead in the same poll, a 1.5% swing to the Liberals/Nationals since the March 2017 state election. Primary votes were 40% Labor, 32% Liberal, 6% National, 11% Greens and 5% One Nation.
Queensland Galaxy: 51-49 to state Labor
A Queensland Galaxy poll for The Courier Mail, conducted August 8-9 from a sample of 800, gave state Labor a 51-49 lead, a two-point gain for the LNP since May. Primary votes were 37% LNP (up two), 35% Labor (down three), 11% Greens (up one) and 10% One Nation (down two).
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk had a 41-38 approval rating (46-38 in May). Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington had a 31-26 approval (31-28). Palaszczuk led by 44-23 as better Premier (47-27 in May).
Super Saturday byelections: final results and analysis
This section gives final results and analysis of the three contested Super Saturday byelections held on July 28. Swings are compared against the 2016 election results.
In Braddon, Labor defeated the Liberals by a 52.3-47.7 margin, a 0.1% swing to Labor. Primary votes were 39.3% Liberal (down 2.3%), 37.0% Labor (down 3.1%), 10.6% for independent Craig Garland, 4.8% for the Shooters and 4.0% for the Greens (down 2.7%). Labor probably benefited from Liberal attacks on Garland, which increased his profile and made his voters more hostile to the Liberals.
In Mayo, the Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie defeated Liberal Georgina Downer by 57.6% to 42.4%, a 2.6% swing to Sharkie. Primary votes were 44.4% Sharkie (up 9.5%), 37.4% Liberal (down 0.3%), 8.9% Greens (up 0.9%) and 6.1% Labor (down 7.5%).
In Longman, Labor defeated the LNP by a 54.5-45.5 margin, a 3.7% swing to Labor. Primary votes were 39.8% Labor (up 4.5%), 29.6% LNP (down 9.4%), 15.9% One Nation (up 6.5%) and 4.8% Greens (up 0.4%).
We do not yet have the preference flows for each candidate, but we can make some deductions. In Longman, if 80% of Greens preferenced Labor (it was 80.7% in 2016), then the LNP received 58% of all Others preferences, up from 44% in 2016. In 2016, One Nation directed preferences to Labor, and Labor won 56.5% of their preferences; at the byelection, Labor probably won less than 40% of One Nation preferences.
As regards One Nation preferences, the Longman byelection validates Newspoll’s decision to assign One Nation preferences about 60-40 to the LNP, rather than the 50-50 split at the 2016 federal election.
There have been three vigorously contested byelections between the major parties since the last election: Bennelong, Braddon and Longman. At the December 2017 Bennelong byelection, there was a 4.8% swing to Labor, compared with a 3.7% swing in Longman and just 0.1% in Braddon.
However, at the 2016 general election, there was a 7.7% swing to Labor in Longman, a 4.8% swing in Braddon, but a 2.0% swing to the Liberals in Bennelong. Adding the byelection swings to the 2016 swings gives an 11.4% swing to Labor in Longman, a 4.9% swing in Braddon, but just 2.8% in Bennelong.
The Victorian Labor government’s cabinet will consider on Monday a raft of demands around the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) ahead of a crucial federal-state energy ministers’ meeting later this week.
This comes as a broad group of business and industry bodies appeals to “federal, state and territory leaders to put aside politics and ideology and support the implementation of the National Energy Guarantee.
“Business and industry need policy certainty and stability in the energy sector. There can be no further delays,” they say in a statement issued on Monday.
Like Victoria, the Labor governments in Queensland and the ACT are pressing for changes and guarantees on the NEG package, but the Andrews government is shaping up as particularly gung ho. It is under intense political heat, facing an election in November, with contests against the Greens in inner city seats.
The Council of Australian Governments energy council meets on Friday. The federal government wants approval given to the NEG mechanism there. That mechanism requires state legislation.
If he can get in-principle agreement on the NEG mechanism on Friday, federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg will then take the planned federal legislation on emissions targets to the Coalition party room the following Tuesday, with the COAG energy council to sign off on the package after that meeting.
There would be a meeting about the final detail of the state legislation in September.
The Labor jurisdictions are discussing a range of demands.
These include that
… emissions targets could only be increased not reduced;
… increases in targets should be able to be made by regulation rather than requiring legislation that could be blocked by the Senate;
… the emissions reduction targets should be reviewed every three years. Frydenberg is proposing a five year review period, after initially planning for a ten year period.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said on Sunday: “There is significant doubt that the Prime Minister can even get through his own party room the reforms that he would like us to sign up to.” Andrews said that Tony Abbott, who is highly critical of the NEG, had significant support for his views in the party room.
Victoria wanted the Prime Minister to show he had party room support and then come back to the states, Andrews said, repeating the position his energy minister, Lily D’Ambrosio put last week. Frydenberg has said the states will get the chance for another look in the phone hook up after the Coalition party meeting.
Andrews said the federal government’s plan would in part see Victoria and other states “ceding to the Commonwealth the authority to set renewable energy targets, for instance, putting renewable energy jobs and putting additional supply into the grid into the hands of the some of those in the Prime Minister’s own party room”.
The ACT government last week said it could not support the NEG in its current form, with the territory’s legislative assembly passing a motion calling for improvements.
The Queensland Energy Minister, Anthony Lynham, will not be at Friday’s meeting – a surgeon, he is volunteering on a boat off Papua New Guinea. He will be represented by an acting minister. Queensland has expressed concerns about its renewables target – 50% of energy coming from renewables by 2030 – being compromised.
Federal sources are reacting sharply to the looming demands from the Labor states, saying that emissions targets are the responsibility of the federal government, not the states, and that nothing in the NEG restricts state governments’ renewable targets. They also say that Victoria has the second highest power prices.
As the NEG battle enters a crucial week, the statement from business and industry groups says: “Together our organisations represent businesses that employ millions of Australian workers. The business sector employs five out of six working Australians and contributes more than 80% of economic output in this country”.
The statement is put out by the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Council of Small Business Organisations, the National Farmers’ Federation, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, and the Australian Energy Council.
It says “a decade of policy uncertainty has only resulted in higher electricity prices and a less stable and reliable energy system”.
“Now is the time to act in Australia’s national interest. Australian households and businesses cannot afford the costs of yet another cycle of political sparring, indecision and inaction”.
The CEO of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott, on Sunday made a forceful plea for the NEG to get support.
She said a “decade of dysfunction” needed to be ended and this was a scheme that businesses said could be made to work.
“Look, you can’t satisfy the extremes of this debate. If you took the extreme green movement, you do nothing because the community would not tolerate the deindustrialisation of the economy that basically they’re arguing for.
“You can’t satisfy the extreme right of this debate because again, you do nothing, ” she told Sky.
“So we keep dithering as a country and as we dither … prices continue to go up. Investment uncertainty continues to rise.
“We’ll just have to get on with this and get some progress. If you’re trying to satisfy both ends of this debate … you will do nothing for another 20 years.”
Stored somewhere behind the imposing glass edifice of The Age Spencer Street headquarters – keeping up appearances even as the newsroom it trumpets is progressively hacked away – is a cardboard box containing hundreds of envelopes addressed by hand to The Age Independence Committee. Tucked in with them are piles of yellowing forms clipped out of newspapers, with signatures, names and addresses – Doveton and South Yarra, Edithvale and Wheelers Hill, Castlemaine and Korumburra.
Cracking open this modest reliquary might provide some insight into the grief – albeit largely from a certain demographic – flowing from yesterday’s announcement of the passing of the House of Fairfax.
As a young reporter, I handled a good swag of the letters in this box back in 1991 at my desk in the tiny, smoky office of The Age’s storied Insight investigations unit, which in this period moonlighted as the headquarters of The Age Independence Committee. Then The Age was situated a couple of blocks north of its present building. It occupied a brutalist chocolate-brick box in what the columnist John Lahey described as the Siberian quarter of the city, a neighbourhood of “unloved warehouses and 7am sandwich shops”, whipped by a wicked wind off what would become Docklands.
Under the editorship of the venerated Graham Perkin (1966-75), The Age had been famously recognised as one of the world’s dozen great newspapers, acquiring a circulation of over 220,000. The legacy of that had endured the fraught transition of control from Melbourne’s Syme family to the Sydney-based Fairfax stable, and shaped my understanding of journalism. But by the time I gained a long-coveted desk in the ugly building in 1989 I’d missed the best of it, I was assured by old hands and readers.
Any time I introduced myself or sat down to do an interview I braced for the inevitable critique. People professed love for the paper in the way you might love family – with no inhibitions, indeed an enthusiasm, about highlighting flaws and disappointments. The Age had lost some of the panache of the Perkin era and some of the stylish writing nurtured by his successor, Michael Davie, opined media columnist and Melbourne son Sam Lipski in The Bulletin in 1988. That said, under Creighton Burns (my first editor) it had generally become “a steadier and more balanced paper”, he wrote. “Melbourne burghers like that.”
It’s difficult to recall, from this distance, what a potent force the paper was in Melbourne and Victoria. When I try to explain this landscape to my journalism students, they retreat behind that blank, politely suffering look you give nostalgic old people.
In 1988, The Age published a special report titled “Who Shapes Melbourne?” It was the product of weeks of reporting by a team of ten journalists who interviewed dozens of the city’s movers and shakers – an enterprise also beyond the comprehension of my students, raised on a diet of impoverished newsroom budgets. As part of the project, 130 of these doyens were asked to rank Melbourne’s most influential individuals and institutions.
Out of a field of 162 men (overwhelmingly) and women, then Premier John Cain emerged as the individual with the most clout. And of 153 nominated institutions, The Age itself romped into first place ahead of the Arts Centre, the National Gallery and the University of Melbourne (tied in second place); the ACTU (third); the ABC and the Victorian Football League (this was pre-AFL) (fourth) and BHP neck-and-neck with the state cabinet/government (fifth). The tabloid Sun came in sixth, The Herald eighth, alongside the Catholic Church and the police. “Whether The Age really is the most influential institution in Melbourne matters less than the perception, among many of its powerful readers, that it is,” observed Lipski.
“The Age’s role is perplexing,” Phillip Adams (now ABC broadcaster, then advertising guru) told another Bulletin reporter, Jan McGuinness, in a 1989 dig into its place in the Melbourne firmament, archly headlined “A pillow of the community” and featuring a photograph of the Syme family mausoleum captioned “a palace under siege”. “The Melbourne Herald hasn’t had a role in my lifetime; the Melbourne Sun does its job, yet has no image,” Adams expanded. “But The Age is tied to Melbourne’s self-esteem. And, as there isn’t much of that left, it’s very important.”
Commentators may have struggled to explain the enduring gravitas of the paper, but enjoyed pricking its pomposity along the way. A special report in The Australian – “Flaws in the Fairfax formula” (April 23 1991) – listed its sins as “self-indulgence, independence, tradition, superiority”.
The article pokes around the cultural ethos of The Age, contrasting it with The Sydney Morning Herald. The Melbourne paper had long cut its cloth in a more “Whiggish” style, it argued, despite serving a more conservative city. It quotes an unnamed senior Fairfax staffer who had worked at both mastheads. “You’ve got to remember that at the Eureka stockade The Age supported the miners while The Sydney Morning Herald supported the police – the Herald has always been the drapers’ paper.”
The same article quotes a young merchant banker, one Malcolm Turnbull, verbatim and at length, arguing “there is a great deal of sanctimoniousness about journalistic independence”, and that newspapers needed to be disciplined in their exercise of independence. “Why is it that Fairfax journalists believe a proprietor can have no hand in the editorial management but a journalist can? As long as the proprietor is acting honestly and responsibly, why can he not?”
When this article ran, John Fairfax Holdings Ltd was in receivership and the odds were high that The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian Financial Review and other mastheads would soon be sold. Circulation and revenue from the classified “rivers of gold” were still bountiful, the technology that would steal them still evolving out of sight. But the fortunes and vulnerabilities of the paper were being pored over thanks to “Young” Warwick Fairfax’s disastrous play to privatise the publicly listed media empire on the eve of the 1987 stockmarket crash.
Maintain Your Age
The Age’s Charter of Editorial Independence – the first document of its type in Australia – emerged when British press tycoon Robert Maxwell took a run at the paper in 1988. Age employees banded together to defend the ethos of the masthead, and generous column space was given to reports and opinion pieces explaining to readers the implications of such a sale for editorial integrity and independence. As journalists organised and fortified, mercifully they could not have known this was merely the first skirmish in a 30-year siege to which the Fairfax name suddenly succumbed with a note to the markets just two mornings ago.
“A newspaper cannot function effectively, cannot put the readers first, if the editor and his staff always have their ears cocked to hear what the proprietor wants,” wrote former editor Michael Davie. The newly formed independence committee reached out to readers for support, establishing a fighting fund, which bought a banner advertisement declaring: “The Age must continue to present the news honestly and without fear or favour. It must not become an organ to peddle the views of a person, a political party, or an interest group.”
And here’s where the letters in the cardboard box come in, a small surviving sample of pre-internet clicktivism, requiring scissors, a stamp and a trip to the mailbox. Thousands of coupons poured in over a couple of campaigns, many with encouraging notes and $5 and $10 notes and cheques attached. The operation to save The Age and its editorial culture was coordinated by Insight chief and associate editor David Wilson, the committee’s chargé de mission and hustler, lobbying powerbrokers, opinion-shapers and glitterati for their support. Like so many others in this story, Wilson is deceased, but my recollection from hours listening to him work the phones was that he rarely encountered anything but enthusiasm for the cause, even as he copped no-holds-barred commentary on all that was wrong with the paper.
But his fondest recruit was surgeon and POW Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop, who apparently on initial approach assumed the campaign was concerned with elderly rights, but who nonetheless threw himself wholeheartedly behind The Age because that was a good cause too.
The paper was then facing a takeover by a consortium led by Canadian mogul Conrad Black (later jailed) and Australia’s Kerry Packer. Thousands of readers marched up Collins Street. Whitlam moved a motion calling on the Hawke Labor government to do everything possible to prevent further media concentration and foreign ownership. Fraser seconded it.
As the columnist Bob Millington had reflected in a piece rifling through the “Maintain Your Age” mailbag, “if politics makes strange bedfellows, defending a newspaper brings an even stranger, yet wonderful, collection of people together”. Over these early years the campaign enlisted support from individuals you could not imagine having any more in common than a football team (it is, after all, Melbourne). BHP chairman Sir James Balderstone, historian Professor Manning Clark, ACTU secretary Bill Kelty, Victorian Farmers Federation chief Heather Mitchell, former Victorian premiers John Cain and Sir Rupert Hamer, philanthropist and prisons campaigner Dame Phyllis Frost, Greens leader Bob Brown and RSL president Bruce Ruxton.
And then there were the coupon signers. Millington unearthed coupons and cheques from descendants of the Syme family and a 12-year-old boy from Brighton. Readers in Albury, Rosanna and Bentleigh declared their decades of subscription, the prize for longevity going to Mrs Florence Williams of St Kilda who “says she reads The Age from cover to cover each day. Mrs Williams will be 99 next Wednesday”. Bless her, and Millo, (both departed), but Mrs Williams represents the extreme end of a once rusted-on and apparently worthless demographic, which the enterprise has long since jettisoned.
A certain hollowness
The box of letters sat under my desk when we revived the independence committee a decade ago as we tried to defend the spirit of the charter from the storm of the great disruption. We wearily dusted off and enlisted the old tactics, reaching out to influencers and readers, this time using the infinitely more powerful tools of the same cybersphere that was eating us alive. The response was gratifying, but had a certain hollowness. Was it real, or just an echo?
As efforts crank up to defend Fairfax’s editorial tradition, if not its name, when it is consumed by Nine, I’m all too aware that the institutional journalism that defines my generation and my imagination has all but vanished. When I summon up Fairfax in talking journalism with my students, for me it’s this great warts-and-all beast with a proud history, noble ambition and organic connection to its community; for them it’s a limp tagline in their feed.
Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood yesterday tried to assure journalists that “there will be plenty of Fairfax Media DNA in the merged company and the board”. I hope so, because the remaining journalists and editors continue to produce stories of extraordinary calibre with little time and ever diminishing resources. But I wondered, given the vanishing of the masthead’s resonance in their lives, whether the community Fairfax served has already been lost, and might only be retrieved by extracting DNA from the coupons in the box, like extinct creatures out of amber.
“Where do you get your news?” I asked my students on Monday, as I do at the beginning of every semester. “Twitter” one of them replied. No, actually, you don’t.
Jo Chandler was a journalist at The Age from 1989-2012, and a former chair of the Age Independence Committee.
A Victorian ReachTEL poll for The Age, conducted July 5 from a sample of 1,500, gave Labor a 51-49 lead. Primary votes were 39.4% Coalition, 35.4% Labor, 10.5% Greens, 3.6% One Nation, 2.8% Shooters and 3.5% undecided. The Victorian election will be held on November 24.
According to The Poll Bludger, if undecided voters were excluded, primary votes would be 40.8% Coalition, 36.7% Labor, 10.9% Greens and 3.7% One Nation. ReachTEL uses respondent allocation for its two party results, and this result is about the same as we would get using 2014 preference flows.
Premier Daniel Andrews led Opposition Leader Matthew Guy by a narrow 50.6-49.4 margin as better Premier. ReachTEL’s forced choice better Premier/PM question tends to be more favourable to opposition leaders than polls that do not use a forced choice.
In other forced-choice questions, Guy edged Andrews by 50.1-49.9 on who voters thought was more trustworthy. The Coalition had a 50.8-49.2 lead over Labor on party best to handle Melbourne’s congestion, a 51.6-48.4 lead on managing Melbourne’s growing population, and a 55.8-44.2 lead on law and order. Labor was just ahead by 50.2-49.8 on cost-of-living.
The responses to these issue questions are not good for Labor, but this poll did not ask about health, the economy and education, which are likely to be significant issues in voting decisions.
This ReachTEL is the first Victorian poll since a mid-April Newspoll, which also had Labor ahead by 51-49. If there is no early federal election, the Coalition will still be in power federally by the time of the state election. State parties tend to do better when the opposite party is in power federally. As Labor has a poll lead, and this is its first term, Labor will probably win the state election.
Time running out to abolish group ticket voting in Victorian upper house
All 40 upper house seats will be up for election at the state election. There are eight upper house regions that each return five members, so a quota is one-sixth of the vote, or 16.7%.
In early 2016, group voting tickets were abolished for the federal Senate, and in late 2017, they were abolished for the South Australian upper house. However, these tickets are still current electoral law in Victorian and Western Australian upper house elections.
Under group ticket voting, above-the-line voters cannot direct their own preferences. Instead, the party that receives a “1” vote controls that voter’s preferences. Votes can go to parties that are very different from the party that received the “1” vote.
The biggest problem with the group voting tickets is that the near 100% preference flows allow parties with negligible support to pass other parties, and then benefit from those parties’ preferences. At the 2014 state election, Vote 1 Local Jobs won the final seat in Western Victoria region on just 1.3% of the vote, or 0.08 quotas, a seat that should have gone to the Greens.
To direct their own preferences, votes must be cast below-the-line. It is easier to vote below-the-line in Victoria than in other jurisdictions, as only five numbered boxes are required for a formal vote.
New South Wales and South Australia now use optional above-the-line preferential voting. Voters are required to number “1”, and can continue with “2”, “3”, and so on if they wish. Votes will exhaust when there are no further preferences to allocate.
In the federal Senate, voters are told that six numbers are required above the line, but only one is needed for a formal vote. The reformed Senate voting system performed well at the July 2016 double dissolution election.
There is no news regarding suggestions for electoral reform. I would be happy if Victoria adopted either the New South Wales or federal Senate models, but time is running out for electoral reform. Any proposal would need to pass both chambers of the Victorian parliament, likely needing bipartisan support. The final sitting day before the election is September 20.
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!
This week’s Newspoll, conducted April 19-22 from a larger-than-normal sample of 2,070, gave Labor a 51-49 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (steady), 37% Labor (steady), 9% Greens (down one) and 7% One Nation (steady).
While this is Malcolm Turnbull’s 31st successive Newspoll loss as PM (one ahead of Tony Abbott), it is the Coalition’s best position in Newspoll since September 2016. In the last four weeks, the Coalition has gained two points after preferences.
The combined vote for Labor and the Greens was down a point to 46%, the lowest total left vote since July 2017. The left vote is now only one point ahead of the total vote for the Coalition and One Nation.
Since the November 2017 Queensland election, Newspoll has altered its preference flow assumptions for One Nation. Previously, it was assumed half of One Nation voters would preference the Coalition ahead of Labor, in line with the 2016 federal election. Newspoll appears to now be assuming over 60% of One Nation voters flow to the Coalition.
As shown by The Poll Bludger, even with the new assumptions for One Nation preferences, rounding probably helped the Coalition in this Newspoll.
36% were satisfied with Turnbull (up four), and 53% were dissatisfied (down four), for a net approval of -17, up eight points, Turnbull’s highest net approval since early February. Bill Shorten’s net approval was up five points to -20. Turnbull had a 38-35 lead over Shorten as better PM (38-36 last fortnight).
56% thought the current immigration target of 190,000 per year is too high, 28% thought it about right, and just 10% too low. By 57-28, voters thought South Africans should not be treated differently from other asylum seekers.
51% rated increasing health funding one of their top two priorities for the federal budget, followed by 41% for reducing debt and deficit, 30% for increasing infrastructure spending and 28% for both increasing school funding and cutting individual tax rates.
Turnbull and the Coalition have tended to do better when Parliament is not sitting. The Syrian airstrikes may also have boosted the Coalition, though to a lesser extent than the UK Conservatives, who advanced from a tie with Labour to being up by five points in a YouGov poll.
At this point, the Banking Royal Commission has not impacted on the Coalition. Voters do not appear to be blaming the Coalition for the banks’ behaviour. The Coalition could be damaged eventually by the argument that the banks’ behaviour is an example of unfettered capitalism, which it could be perceived as supporting.
After the first Newspoll of this year, I said wages growth was likely to determine the outcome of the next election. Labor and the unions have campaigned on persistently low wages growth. If wages growth improves before the next election, they will have a harder case to make.
In contrast to Newspoll, Essential gave Labor a 53-47 lead, unchanged on last fortnight. Primary votes were 37% Coalition (down one), 36% Labor (down one), 11% Greens (up one) and 8% One Nation (up one). This poll was conducted April 19-22 (the same dates as Newspoll) from a sample of 1,026. I believe Essential is still using 2016 election preference flows.
51% said cost of living was one of their three top priorities for the federal government, with improving health care next on 36%. Business tax cuts were only rated a top priority by 6%, and income tax cuts by 15%.
54% thought Australia’s population growth rate is too fast, 31% about right, and just 4% thought it too slow. 64% (up 14 since October 2016) thought Australia’s immigration level over the last ten years is too high, 23% about right (down five) and just 5% too low (down seven).
Voters preferred fewer of all types of temporary visas, with most opposition to short-term working visas (47-12) and permanent refugees (46-19).
Although most sentiments on immigration were negative, voters agreed immigration had made a positive contribution to Australian society by 61-26. By 55-32 (55-33 three years ago), voters thought multiculturalism had enriched the social and economic lives of all Australians, rather than caused social division and dangerous extremism.
Victorian Newspoll: 51-49 to Labor
A Victorian Newspoll, conducted April 13-16 from a sample of 1,023, gave Labor a 51-49 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since a February to early March Newspoll. Primary votes were 41% Coalition (up two), 38% Labor (up one), 11% Greens (steady) and 5% One Nation (down one). The Victorian election will be held on November 24.
Both leaders’ ratings slumped. 43% were satisfied with Premier Daniel Andrews (down three), and 47% were dissatisfied (up six). Opposition Leader Matthew Guy’s net approval fell 12 points to -13. Andrews had a 41-34 lead over Guy as better Premier (41-30 previously).
Newspoll repeated three questions that were asked in its February to March poll, all with worse results for Labor. Labor led the Liberals by 42-40 on energy supply (44-34 previously). On law and order, the Liberals led Labor by 46-37 (42-37). By 69-23, voters thought Labor should be doing more to reduce gang violence (65-25).
Upper house results for the March 17 South Australian election were finalised Monday. The Liberals won four of the 11 seats up for election, Labor four, SA-BEST two and the Greens one. The Liberals now have nine of the 22 total seats, Labor eight, the Greens two, SA-BEST two and Advance SA (formerly SA-BEST) one.
Labor had 3.46 quotas on primary votes, and the Conservatives 0.42 quotas. Labor’s fourth candidate defeated the Conservatives after preferences by over 6,500 votes, or 0.57 quotas to 0.49. Optional preferential above the line voting meant that more than a quota of votes exhausted.
Conservative upper house member Dennis Hood, who was elected as a Family First member in 2014, defected to the Liberals in late March. With no Conservative elected in 2018, the party has lost its parliamentary representation. Members elected in 2014 will face election in 2022.
On legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens, the Liberals will need support from both SA-BEST and Advance SA.
Victoria is facing a worsening epidemic of flesh-eating bacteria that cause a disease known internationally as Buruli ulcer – and we don’t know how to prevent it. Also called Bairnsdale ulcer or Daintree ulcer, this disease causes destructive skin lesions that can lead to severe illness and occasionally even death.
Buruli ulcer is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium ulcerans (M. ulcerans) and often results in long-term disability and cosmetic deformity.
An epidemic, or an outbreak, is when cases of a disease occur more often than expected in a given area over a particular period of time.
In 2016, there were 182 new cases in Victoria, which, at the time was the highest number ever reported. But the number of casesreported in 2017 (275) have further increased by 51%, compared with 2016 (182). The cases are also becoming more severe in nature and occurring in new geographical areas.
In Australia, Buruli ulcer is frequently reported from the Daintree region, and less commonly the Capricorn coast, of Queensland. Occasionally we’ve heard of cases from the NT, NSW and WA. But most reports come from Victoria, where the disease has been recognised since 1948.
Despite this, we still don’t know the exact environmental niche where the organism lives and how it is transmitted to humans.
Our article, published today in the Medical Journal of Australia, calls for an urgent investigation to answer some critical questions. These include finding out the natural source of M. ulcerans; how the infection is transmitted to humans; what role possums, mosquitoes and other species play in transmission; why the disease incidence is increasing and spreading into new areas in Victoria; and why cases are becoming more severe.
Why is Buruli ulcer such a problem?
Buruli ulcer occurs most commonly in the tropical regions of West or Central Africa, and is a significant public health problem there.
Ulcers are the most common form of this disease. But it can also manifest as a small swelling or lump below the skin, a plaque or as a cellulitic form, and can be complicated by bone or joint infection. The disease can affect all age-groups, including young children.
Treatment effectiveness has improved in recent years and cure rates have approached 100% with the use of combination antibiotics (rifampicin and clarithromycin). But these are expensive and not subsidised under Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
The treatments are also powerful and about one-quarter of people have severe side-effects including hepatitis, allergy or a destabilisation of other medical conditions such as heart disease or mental illness.
Many people require reconstructive plastic surgery – sometimes with prolonged hospital admissions. On average it takes four to five months for the disease to heal, and sometimes a year or more.
All of this results in substantial costs through such things as wound dressings, medical visits, surgery, hospitalisation, and time off work or school.
What do we know about the bacteria?
M. ulcerans disease is concentrated in particular sites, and endemic and non-endemic areas are separated by only a few kilometres. In Africa it’s usually associated with wetlands, especially those with slow-flowing or stagnant waters. But in Australia it’s found mostly in coastal regions, like Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.
We know the risk of infection is seasonal, with an increased risk in the warmer months. Lesions most commonly occur on areas of the body that have been exposed. This suggests bites, environmental contamination or trauma may play a role in infection, and that clothing is protective.
Human-to-human transmission does not seem to occur, although cases are commonly clustered in families, presumably as a result of similar environmental exposure.
The rest is unclear. Possible sources of infection in the environment include the soil, or dead plant material in water bodies such as lakes or ponds.
It may be transmitted to humans though contamination of skin lesions and minor abrasions – through trauma or via the bite of insects such as mosquitoes.
In Victoria, some possums in Point Lonsdale on the Bellarine Peninsula (an endemic area) were found to have Buruli ulcers and have high levels of M. ulcerans in their faeces. The location, proportion and concentration of M. ulcerans in possum faeces was also strongly correlated with human cases. But no M. ulcerans was found in possum faeces in nearby areas with no human cases.
So, it’s thought possum faeces might increase the risk of infection to humans in contact with that environment, or infection could be potentially transmitted by insects biting possums and then humans.
We need to understand the risk factors for M. ulcerans disease by comprehensively analysing human behaviour and environmental characteristics, combined with information on climate and geography.
It’s especially relevant that over the last two years, the number of cases have been increasing in the Mornington Peninsula, while decreasing in the adjacent Bellarine Peninsula. Studying this could allow us to pinpoint the risk factors that underlie the differing incidence patterns.
Once identified, more specific analysis can be performed to further assess the role of these risk factors. We can then explore targeted interventions such as modifying human behaviour, insect control, changes to water use and informed urban planning. Through this we have the best chance to develop effective public health interventions to prevent the disease, and promote more community education and awareness campaigns to help people protect themselves.
It will also facilitate the development of predictive models for non-affected areas that closely monitor these areas for the emergence of the organism. This knowledge can hopefully also be applied globally to benefit those affected overseas.
We need an urgent response based on robust scientific knowledge. Only then can we hope to halt the devastating impact of this disease. We advocate for local, regional and national governments to urgently commit to funding the research needed to help stop Buruli ulcer.
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.
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.