Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten have been criss-crossing the country for weeks to spruik their parties’ candidates in Saturday’s all-important byelections – a key test for both the Liberals and Labor ahead of the next federal election.
Here’s what you need to know about the five electorates up for grabs and, with a federal election likely in the first half of 2019, what’s at stake for Turnbull and Shorten.
Chris Salisbury, Research Associate, University of Queensland
Longman’s very marginal status, held by Labor’s Susan Lamb by a slim 0.8% prior to her High Court-enforced resignation, makes this race the most tightly contested on Saturday.
Seasoned observers expect this to go the way of most byelection contests – largely distanced from broader federal concerns. Local issues are at play, dominated by arguments over funding for the Caboolture hospital in the electorate north of Brisbane, as well as for local education and employment support services.
Yet, the race is also being touted by some as a judgement on the major parties’ signature economic policies, and significantly on the performances of both party leaders. Labor has campaigned hard on the merits of the Coalition’s proposed company tax cuts. The Liberals, meanwhile, have fanned fears among retirees about Labor’s proposed investment savings changes.
Longman is a typical marginal seat in the outer suburban fringe, home to what a dozen years ago would have been called “Howard’s battlers”. The electorate provides a platform for the major parties to road-test policy differentiation and campaign messages on “average voters” ahead of the next federal election.
It’s also fertile ground for the growing distrust of mainstream politics. One Nation’s Pauline Hanson has been prominent in the electorate, attempting to capitalise on negative voter sentiment toward the major parties. Her party even enlisted former Labor leader Mark Latham’s support, voicing robocalls to local residents attacking Shorten.
Lamb is attempting to be re-elected to the seat she won unexpectedly from the LNP’s Wyatt Roy in 2016. She benefits from recognition as the incumbent and has the strong backing of her party leader. Shorten made a beeline for Longman ahead of the announcement of the byelection date to spruik his candidate.
LNP’s Trevor Ruthenburg also enjoys recognition of sorts as a previous state MP for nearby Kallangur. However, he might have spurned some conservative Longman voters with fresh revelations of an incorrectly claimed military service medal in his Queensland parliament biography.
Among the minor party candidates, One Nation’s Matthew Stephen will also need to overcome questions regarding his business dealings to build on his party’s 9.4% primary vote in the 2016 election.
Labor’s concerted campaigning has Lamb a slight favourite to be returned. However, a Coalition win might convince Turnbull to call an early election. This then raises the question: could a poor result for Labor put enough pressure on Shorten to prompt the party to change leaders to better combat the PM’s standing?
Michael Lester, PhD candidate, University of Tasmania
For an election that won’t change the status quo in parliament, the Braddon byelection is getting a great deal of attention.
Braddon is a notoriously fickle electorate, having changed hands four times since 1996, and the margins are always tight. This election is no different. All the polls indicate it is a close race.
In 2016, Labor’s Justine Keay won the seat with a 2.2% lead over then-sitting Liberal member Brett Whiteley. She was later forced to resign after her UK citizenship was revealed. Both candidates are standing again, but neither is considered to have strong personal followings.
Polls in the first week of July showed the gap between the parties has narrowed. This means the result will likely come down to the preferences of independents and minor parties, particularly the Greens’ Jarrod Edwards, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party candidate Brett Neal and independent Craig Garland. All three are likely to favour Labor.
The differences between the campaign styles and tactics of the two major parties are striking.
The Liberals have used incumbency at both the state and federal level to frame their campaign around their economic records and budget infrastructure spending, holding photo opportunities around a series of project announcements.
Labor, meanwhile, is using the campaign to road-test a swag of policies and messages. Key among them are wage stagnation, the loss of penalty rates, the “scourge of labour hire companies”, the bad behaviour of banks and the Liberals’ support for corporate tax cuts.
Shorten took most by surprise by also promising an AU$25 million grant to support a Tasmanian AFL team at a time when the Aussie game is in crisis in one of its foundation states. However, Labor seems to be getting better traction with promises to restore funding for essential services like health care and education.
The real impact of the Braddon byelection is likely to be on the political future of the two party leaders, the timing of the next federal election and the choice of the policies they choose to run on.
Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer, Politics and Public Policy, Flinders University
The campaign in Mayo is symptomatic of a wider problem that has beset Liberals in South Australia – a failure to lock in so-called blue-ribbon safe seats.
Mayo is now a straight two-way fight between the incumbent Centre Alliance’s Rebekah Sharkie and Liberal Georgina Downer. Downer’s success or failure could well be a strong signifier of the strength of Malcolm Turnbull’s government.
Polling has Sharkie on track to hold onto the seat, despite her citizenship problems triggering the byelection. A late-June Reachtel poll had Sharkie leading Downer by 62% to 38% in two-candidate voting.
Sharkie’s surge in the polls is striking, given that a large part of her win over then-Liberal Jamie Briggs in 2013 seemed to rest on the personal unpopularity of Briggs.
Yet, as has been proven in state-level races in South Australia before, voters in notionally safe “non-Labor” seats are often reluctant to give up strong local independents. Despite its disappointing showing in the recent state election, the Xenophon team retains deep residual support in South Australia.
The Mayo campaign is an intriguing confluence of local and national issues. Sharkie is pushing hard on a range of local issues, and her support to have the Great Australian Bight listed for World Heritage status to safeguard it from oil drilling also targets a perceived weakness of Downer’s – environment issues.
Downer, seeking to secure her family dynasty, is playing to different strengths – especially her close network with the Liberal hierarchy. (She is the daughter of former foreign minister Alexander.) Since announcing her candidacy, Downer has had notable visits from Turnbull and others. She boasts influence unavailable to her rivals, evidenced by her securing of federal funding for a new aquatic centre in Mount Barker.
Strikingly, immigration has become a new issue in the campaign. Downer’s comments about immigration may stoke local fears that the Inverbrackie site will be re-opened for mainland asylum seeker detentions.
Ian Cook, Senior Lecturer of Australian Politics, Murdoch University
Labor will win both races being contested in Western Australia in Saturday’s byelections. That’s not a brave prediction. The Liberals aren’t running candidates.
Some analysts believe it was the wrong decision by the Liberals, given that a minimal campaigning effort wouldn’t have cost that much and it’s unclear how voters will react when the Liberals do put up candidates in the federal election.
But the decision actually makes a lot of sense. Labor has held both seats – Perth and Fremantle – for much of their existence. (The electorates were created in 1901.) Labor even held on in Fremantle in the 1975 election, which was the last time it lost Perth.
On top of this, the WA Liberals had been swept from government last year as a result of a 20% swing against them across the state. And there were no signs of the federal Liberals doing much to change anything.
So, while Perth’s 3.3% margin looks close, the Liberals chose not to run a candidate there. Likewise in Fremantle, which is even less competitive, with a margin of 7.5%. The decision not only saves the Liberals money, it won’t expose their weak support in WA.
The Liberals’ decision not to run in Perth and Fremantle has brought the Greens more into the spotlight. With no other seats to talk about and no major party competition to drown them out, the Greens should be able to do something meaningful in these byelections.
Perth and Fremantle are exactly the type of inner metropolitan seat the Greens should be favoured to win, but their candidates have never gained more than 18% of first-preference voting in previous contests in the electorates. And nothing looks likely to change this time around.
If Greens candidates can’t put themselves in a position to win Perth and Fremantle in these byelections and demonstrate they are to be a meaningful political force, then they likely never will.
Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer, Politics and Public Policy, Flinders University; Chris Salisbury, Research Associate, The University of Queensland; Ian Cook, Senior Lecturer of Australian Politics, and Michael Lester, PhD candidate, University of Tasmania
Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten have entered the final week of the high-stakes Longman and Braddon byelections both publicly cautious about their prospects.
Latest polls show close numbers in the two seats, held by the ALP by narrow margins. These are the crucial contests in the five Super Saturday playoffs. Labor has a clear run in the two Western Australian seats; Mayo (South Australia) is between crossbencher Rebekha Sharkie and the Liberals’ candidate Georgina Downer.
In Longman (Queensland), a ReachTEL poll commissioned by the Courier Mail has the Liberal National Party leading Labor 51-49%. In Braddon (Tasmania), where Labor has become increasingly confident, a poll commissioned by the forestry industry and also done by ReachTEL shows Labor on 52% of the two-party vote, although its primary vote is only 34.3%.
But polling in single seats has to be treated with particular caution.
The outcomes in Longman and Braddon are vital for Shorten, who would face very serious leadership instability if he lost both seats, and a rough patch if the ALP were defeated in one. Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese has been positioning ahead of Super Saturday.
Shorten, speaking on Sunday in Longman at Susan Lamb’s formal campaign launch, said: “We are the underdogs”.
“The bookmakers have the other mob as the favourites. Now of course the LNP and the One Nation political party have teamed up again and are swapping preferences just to try to knock us off”.
In a strong attack on Pauline Hanson, Shorten said she didn’t like being called out for “pretending to be a friend of the battlers when all she wants to do is to get back on the plane to Canberra and vote with the big end of town”.
The size of the One Nation vote, where it comes from, and how its preferences split in practice will be critical in the Longman result.
One Nation has been targeting Shorten fiercely in its advertising. For example, he is depicted with a sheep and the message, “This year Bill Shorten and Susan Lamb voted with The Greens 100% of the time”.
Asked on Sunday whether he was encouraged by the polling in Longman, Turnbull said that on all the evidence the byelections appeared to be “very close” but “Labor should be streets ahead”.
“By-elections historically always swing away from the government. Particularly if it’s an opposition seat. The last time a government won a seat in a by-election from the opposition was about 100 years ago and there’s a reason for that.”
He said people in Longman and Braddon, as well as in Mayo, had “the opportunity to say what they think about Bill Shorten’s plan for higher taxes and more expensive electricity and his plan for weaker borders”.
Turnbull was in the Queensland seat of Herbert ahead of a visit to Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory.
On Saturday, campaigning in Longman with LNP candidate Trevor Ruthenberg , Turnbull said “Trev’s got the odds against him but he’s a great candidate. He’s a straight shooter. He’s as honest as he is big!”. He could “absolutely” win, although it was “tough”.
Both sides are throwing around the dollars in multiple promises in Longman and Braddon. Labor’s promises could only be made good if the ALP won the general election next year.
Five federal byelections will be held on July 28 – four in Labor-held seats and one held by the Centre Alliance. In the Western Australian seats of Perth and Fremantle, the Liberals are not contesting, and Labor is expected to easily retain. In the South Australian seat of Mayo, the Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie has a large poll lead over the Liberals’ Georgina Downer.
The contested seats are thus the Tasmanian seat of Braddon (Labor by 2.2%) and the Queensland seat of Longman (Labor by 0.8%). Polls close at 6pm Melbourne time in Braddon and Longman, 6:30pm in Mayo and 8pm in Perth and Fremantle.
In Braddon, the Labor candidate, Susan Keay, held the seat until she was forced out through the citizenship saga. The Liberal candidate, Brett Whiteley, was the member until the 2016 election, so there will be little advantage for Keay from being well-known. A similar situation applies in Longman.
As noted in the article below, seat polls are unreliable, and there could be large errors in either direction.
At the 2016 election, One Nation recommended preferences to Labor in Longman, and Labor won 56.5% of their preferences. At the byelection, One Nation is recommending preferences to the LNP — this could be crucial.
On July 17, The Courier Mail revealed that Longman LNP candidate Trevor Ruthenberg had a lesser military medal than he had claimed on his parliamentary website while a state MP. On July 19, the same paper revealed Ruthenberg had also claimed the higher medal on his personal website. Ruthenberg has apologised and said it was an honest mistake.
A Longman ReachTEL poll for The Courier Mail, conducted July 18 from an unknown sample, gave the LNP a 51-49 lead over Labor, unchanged since late June. Primary votes were 37.9% LNP (Ruthenberg) (up 2.4%), 35.8% Labor (Susan Lamb) (down 3.2%), 13.9% One Nation (down 0.8%), 4.2% Greens (up 0.9%), 4.3% for all Others and 3.9% undecided.
Labor’s weaker primary vote is being compensated by a stronger flow of respondent allocated preferences. 41% thought Ruthenberg’s medal error an honest mistake, 33% a deliberate error and 27% a careless mistake.
In Braddon, a ReachTEL poll for the Australian Forestry Products Association, conducted July 19 from an unknown sample, gave Labor a 52-48 lead over the Liberals, a 2.5-point gain for Labor since analyst Kevin Bonham’s estimate of a July 6 ReachTEL poll for the left-wing Australia Institute, and a six-point gain for Labor since a Sky News ReachTEL poll in late May.
Primary votes were 40.7% Liberal (Whiteley), 34.3% Labor (Keay), 8.9% for independent Craig Garland, 6.7% for the Greens and 4.6% undecided. 22% of undecided voters were leaning to Labor and just 11% to the Liberals. 67% of all non-major party preferences were going to Labor.
Garland supports a moratorium on salmon fishing expansion, and is recommending preferences to Labor ahead of the Liberals.
In the Australia Institute ReachTEL, 37% thought the company tax rate for businesses with over $50 million in turnover should be reduced, 37% kept the same and 20% increased. The question is better than previous Australian Institute questions on this topic, which gave examples of large businesses – banks, mining companies and supermarkets.
A total of 68% supported penalty rates for workers in the hospitality and retail industries, and just 23% were opposed.
I believe Labor’s biggest problem in Braddon is the March 2018 Tasmanian election, in which the Liberals won easily.
Update Monday morning: Galaxy has conducted polls of Braddon, Longman and Mayo for the News Ltd tabloids. In Longman, the LNP led by 51-49 from primary votes of Labor 37%, LNP 34% and One Nation 18%. In Braddon, there was a 50-50 tie. In Mayo, Sharkie led Downer by an emphatic 59-41. If Anthony Albanese were Labor leader, Labor would lead by 53-47 in both Longman and Braddon.
Last week’s Newspoll, conducted July 12-15 from a sample of 1,640, gave Labor a 51-49 lead, unchanged on three weeks ago. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (down one), 36% Labor (down one), 10% Greens (up one) and 7% One Nation (up one).
This was Malcolm Turnbull’s 36th successive Newspoll loss, six more than Tony Abbott, and three more than the previous record for a government. The total vote for left- vs right-of-centre parties was unchanged at 46-45 to the left.
41% were satisfied with Turnbull’s performance (down one), and 49% were dissatisfied (up one), for a net approval of -8, the first decline in Turnbull’s net approval since early April. Bill Shorten’s net approval was up one point to -24. Turnbull led Shorten by 48-29 as better PM (46-31 previously); this was Turnbull’s biggest lead since May 2016.
By 72-23, voters approved of the reduction in the number of immigrants to below 165,000 in the last year, down from an annual cap of 190,000.
By 40-34, voters thought Turnbull and the Coalition better at maintaining energy supply and keeping power prices lower than Shorten and Labor, a reversal of a 39-37 Labor lead in late May. 64% thought the government’s priority should be to keep energy prices down, 24% meet targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions and 9% prevent blackouts.
By 58-32, Australians were dissatisfied with Donald Trump’s performance as US president, with One Nation voters giving Trump his best ratings (63-29 satisfied). This poll was taken before the controversial Helsinki summit.
The better PM statistic virtually always favours the incumbent PM given voting intentions, and it means very little at elections. The final pre-election 2016 Newspoll gave Turnbull a 48-31 better PM lead, yet the Coalition barely clung to a majority. The PM’s net approval correlates much better with voting intentions.
Last week’s Essential poll, conducted July 12-15 from a sample of 1,014, gave Labor a 51-49 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since three weeks ago. Primary votes were 40% Coalition (steady), 36% Labor (down one), 10% Greens (down one) and 6% One Nation (steady). Essential is still using 2016 preference flows, and this poll would probably be 50-50 by Newspoll’s new method.
There appears to have been a shift towards support for coal power. By 40-38, voters agreed that the government should fund up to $5 billion to build new coal-fired plants or extend the life of existing ones. By 47-24, they agreed that coal-fired power is cheaper than power generated by renewables.
38% (up one since April) thought the government should prioritise renewable energy, 16% (up three) thought they should prioritise coal and 34% (down one) thought both should be treated equally.
By 73-20, voters supported banning plastic bags in supermarkets. By 57-36, voters thought it would change their behaviour as a consumer. 46% both agreed and disagreed that the plastic bag ban was simply an attempt by supermarkets to reduce costs.
On July 6, the UK cabinet agreed on a soft Brexit. On July 8-9, hard Brexit cabinet ministers David Davis and Boris Johnson resigned in protest. Despite the anger of hard Brexiteers, I believe PM Theresa May is likely to survive, as explained on my personal website.
Hard Brexiteers do not have the numbers to oust her within the parliamentary Conservatives, and there is little common ground between the Conservative right and Labour, so parliamentary cooperation between them will only happen occasionally.
In polls conducted since the resignations of Davis and Johnson, some of the Conservative vote has gone to the UK Independence Party (UKIP), giving Labour a 4-5 point lead in the last three polls. The Conservatives had adopted UKIP’s rhetoric on Brexit, but now that they have settled on a soft Brexit, natural UKIP support is returning.
At the Mexican election held on July 1, the left-wing presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, won a landslide with 53.2% of the vote. Left-wing parties won a majority in both chambers of the Mexican legislature. Details are on my personal website.
If the Commonwealth government’s proposed reforms for the distribution of the GST revenue between the States and Territories is implemented, about a billion dollars a year of additional commonwealth funds will be spent to ensure “no state will be worse off”. But where the extra funds will come from is left to the imagination.
A key aim of the reform is to reduce the wild swings in how much states receive from GST collected. The Productivity Commission had recommended GST be apportioned using an average of the states ability to provide services (known as “fiscal capacity”), but the government has decided to use Victoria and New South Wales as the benchmark.
Given both the current allocation and the proposed reform are instruments for meeting equity and efficiency objectives, the unknown loser is who pays for the additional commonwealth funding.
Explainer: COAG and the ‘GST carve-up’
GST is collected by the Commonwealth and then redistributed. The share of the GST given to each state is designed to meet the objective that “each of Australia’s States has the same fiscal capacity, under average policies, to provide general government infrastructure and services.”
The government’s proposed reform claims not to reduce the revenue provided to each state. However, it will change the relative shares of the larger sum to be allocated to the different states.
State and Territory governments depend on transfers from the Commonwealth government for about half of their revenue.
About half of this is special payments for things such as education, health, housing and infrastructure. The other half is the GST, and these funds are free for the states to spend as they desire.
How much each state receives is determined so that if each state applied similar state-based taxes, the revenue from state taxes plus their GST share would fund similar levels of state government services to its citizens – fiscal capacity.
Those states that have a greater ability to raise taxes (say they have a large mining industry) or can provide services more cheaply (due to a smaller remote and elderly population) receive less than an “equal” per capita share of the GST.
Currently, NSW, Victoria and Western Australia receive less than an equal per capita share of GST.
By contrast, states who can raise less revenue, or have a higher cost of providing services, receive more than an equal per capita share.
South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory are all currently net recipients of GST – they receive more than they pay in.
Giving some states more and others less than an equal per person share of GST is done for both equity and economic efficiency. For equity, the idea is that citizens in similar incomes, demographic and other circumstances should enjoy similar levels of state government services regardless of where they live.
For efficiency, the distribution aims to neutralise the need for different state tax rates; if the states are to fund similar levels of services, particularly on mobile labour and capital.
Up until the mining boom the current distribution of GST revenue among the states was generally accepted.
But the large increase in mineral royalties, and especially iron ore in WA, resulted in WA shifting from being a net recipient to receiving only a third of a per capita share in 2017-18, many years after the end of the mining boom.
The data used to determine the allocation of GST lags, meaning the 2017-18 allocation is based on average 2012-13 through 2015-16 data.
Western Australia, and more recently the Northern Territory, have been vigorous critics of their smaller share, and at the same time South Australia has vigorously argued they retain at least their current share. After all, resolving these conflicting political claims is a zero-sum game!
In order to deal with wild swings, such as that introduced by the mining boom, the Productivity Commission (PC) considered several reform options.
A key proposal was to replace the current model of bringing all states up to the fiscally strongest state with a more stable benchmark.
The preferred benchmark proposed in the draft report was the second highest state. The final report recommended an average across the states. The commission assumed a larger share for one state would mean a smaller share for other states.
But the federal government’s proposal includes additional funds to top up the GST.
The federal government’s interim response to the PC final report has a few more differences to the PC’s recommendation.
The benchmark for allocation will be the fiscal capacity of NSW or VIC, whichever is the largest. This will provide stability for major structural and cyclical economic shocks, and a high level of fiscal capacity for state government services.
A “floor” will also be established at 0.7 to 0.75 of the benchmark, creating a safety net.
The recommended reforms for distribution of the GST revenue between the states by both the PC and the commonwealth government seek to reduce volatility of the shares while roughly maintaining previously accepted principles of equity and efficiency.
For the additional revenue cost, the commonwealth government argues no state will be worse off.
The federal government promises to subsidise the transition to a new formula for carving up the GST revenue, after rejecting an alternative proposed by the Productivity Commission inquiry it ordered.
The government’s plan, to be released by Treasurer Scott Morrison on Thursday, would ensure the fiscal capacity of all states and territories was “at least the equal of NSW or Victoria, whichever is higher”.
“Benchmarking all states and territories to the economies of the two largest states will remove the effects of extreme circumstances, like the mining boom, from Australia’s GST distribution system,” Morrison said.
A “floor” would also be set, below which no state could fall. From 2022-23, this would be 70 cents per person per dollar of the GST, rising to 75 cents from 2024-25.
The changes follow years of complaint by Western Australia, after its share of the GST revenue fell drastically. The GST has threatened to be a federal election issue in WA, where the Liberals have several vulnerable seats.
In its report, commissioned by Morrison last year, the PC recommended distribution being equalised on an average of all states and territories. But Morrison said the PC’s model would move too far from the “fair go” principle – it would risk leaving behind the smaller states.
As well, it would cause “unnecessary disruption and transition costs that most states, and the Commonwealth, would not be able to reasonably accept or absorb”, he said in a statement.
The PC report was sent to the states and territories on Wednesday. When details started leaking late Wednesday Malcolm Turnbull quickly declared its proposed model had been rejected. He told a news conference that under the government’s plan “no state will be worse off and indeed every state will be better off”.
The transition to the new system would be over eight years from 2019-20, eased by funds from the federal government.
Short term untied funding would be given over three years from 2019-20 to ensure no state received less than 70 cents per person per GST dollar.
Also, Morrison said, “a fair and sustainable transition to a new equalisation standard will be ensured through an additional, direct, and permanent Commonwealth boost to the pool of funds to be distributed among the states”.
The Commonwealth would put in $600 million in 2021-22, with a second injection of $250 million in 2024-25. The additional Commonwealth funding would be indexed.
Morrison will go on a road show to sell the plan to the states, with a special meeting of the Council on Federal Financial Relations to be held in September.
The government is aiming for agreement on transition arrangements being reached by the end of the year.
Morrison said: “This will be the first time real changes have been made to fix problems in how the GST is shared since the GST was introduced almost 20 years ago”.
In its report, the PC said the current approach to horizontal fiscal equalisation (HFE), though having strengths, “also has significant weaknesses. Reform and development opportunities are likely being missed at the expense of community wellbeing over time”.
While equity should remain at the system’s heart, “there is a need for a better balance between equity and efficiency”. The Commonwealth should set a revised objective for HFE “to provide states with the fiscal capacity to deliver a reasonable standard of services,” the PC said.
The present system “seeks to give all states the same fiscal capacity to deliver public services. To do this, all states are brought up to the fiscal capacity of the fiscally strongest state”.
The original story has been corrected – it wrongly said that state consent was needed for the change. Morrison told a news conference on Thursday he wanted state and territory agreement, but it is not formally required.
The Labor Party faces a byelection in the seat of Perth after first-term MP Tim Hammond announced he was leaving politics because of the difficulties of being separated from his young children.
“I thought I had an appreciation of how to manage my duties as a federal member of parliament in a way that did not have such an impact on my family,” Hammond said. “I got that wrong. I just did not anticipate the profound effect my absence would have on all of us.”
His children are aged six, two-and-a-half and seven months.
“As a direct result of me being away from home, the strength of the relationships that I have built with my children have suffered in a way that is simply unsustainable for us as a family, and me as a dad,” he said.
Hammond, 43, elected in 2016, was already a shadow minister and was seen as having a very bright future in politics. He said he would leave politics entirely, ruling out any future tilt at state parliament. He planned to go back into the law, representing the sick and dying, and Aboriginal victims, while being “at home every night”.
Hammond is well respected on both sides of politics. Finance Minister and fellow Western Australian Mathias Cormann said he was “genuinely sad” to hear Hammond would be leaving.
“While we are political competitors, we are also friends and colleagues involved in the same profession focused on making a positive difference to our community and to our country. Tim is a very decent, highly capable individual with a bright future in whatever he decides to do next,” Cormann said.
“It is our state’s loss that Tim will now not continue to pursue his federal political career to its full potential,” he said.
The electorate of Perth is considered a safe Labor seat and is on a margin of 3.3%.
Labor was already waiting anxiously on the High Court’s decision on the status of ACT Senator Katy Gallagher, which is expected to indicate whether three House of Representatives Labor members and one crossbencher will have to face byelections as a result of dual citizenship issues when they nominated in 2016.
Hammond said he would resign “in the near future” after discharging obligations to his electorate and staff. He said he very much regretted that a byelection would be an inconvenience for his community. “The decision to cause a byelection now is the thing that gave me the greatest angst,” he told reporters.
In a detailed statement explaining his decision, he said that “as much as I have tried desperately, I just cannot reconcile my life as a federal member of parliament with being the father I need and want to be”.
“I am not saying that the life of a Western Australian federal member of parliament is unmanageable. Many of my colleagues make it work. But it is time to be brutally honest and admit that I am not one of them.”
Hammond said he had “sought professional advice and assistance to try and preserve our family unit in a way that I felt confident would not suffer from my absence. But my time from home simply means that the strength of my relationships with my daughters and my son has been compromised.”
He said he had privately agonised over his decision for many months.
In a Perth radio interview he said the baby in his family had been “an unexpected but wonderful blessing that wasn’t on the cards when I was elected almost two years ago”.
He said he had spent many years seeking to become an MP. But now “it just wasn’t working”. It was very important to him as a professional person that he give the job 120%.
At a news conference Hammond said the travel – which is often mentioned in relation to MPs from WA – was just one part of it. It was not so much the travel per se – it was just “about absence”. To do his job properly, he had to put down his bags and immediately get out again, to fulfil his obligation to the community.
He said Opposition Leader Bill Shorten had been “understandably surprised”, wanting to make sure he had thought through his decision.
Shorten said that he was disappointed Hammond would not be part of the next caucus, “but as a husband and a father, I’m glad he’ll be with the people he cares about most in this world”.
Party leaders are critical to their party’s performance, and arguably have become even more so in an age in which voter loyalties have frayed and partisanship is on the wane.
It is for these reasons that a government’s electoral defeat is often the catalyst for vanquished premiers and prime ministers to stand aside from the leadership of their party and to quit the parliament.
This is not a legal or constitutional requirement, nor is it necessarily an expectation held by voters. Rather, it is more akin to an informal rule that is invoked following a government’s defeat so as to clear the path for the incoming leadership team.
The reasons why such a practice exist was recently brought into sharp focus when the former Western Australian premier, Colin Barnett, found himself at the centre of calls from the Liberals’ new leader, Mike Nahan, and some media commentators, to quit the parliament. Barnett rejected these suggestions.
The question of whether a former premier has an obligation to resign depends in part on what one thinks the role of a political representative is, and to whom they owe their allegiance. For those who have sympathy for the partisan model of representation, former leaders should generally quit the parliament if this is what their party asks of them.
However, for those who subscribe to the view that elected representatives have obligations to the wider community (trustee model) or to the constituency that directly elected them (delegate model), then there is a much stronger case to be made for them serving out their full term, regardless of their former status within parliament.
The partisan model of representation would suggest that Barnett should quit the parliament, if this is desired by his party, in order to bring renewal within their ranks or help refocus the team following defeat.
This model positions the elected member as agents of the party, who owe a duty to their party because of the support they received and the opportunities that their party provided for them. Elected members are expected to place the party interest ahead of personal interests.
On these grounds, the Liberals have a strong case against Barnett remaining in parliament.
Barnett has not gone quietly into the night. Rather, he has caused the new leadership team embarrassment by arguing that his premiership was hamstrung by an under-performing second-term cabinet, some of whom remain in parliament.
Moreover, with the Liberals reduced to 13 members in a 59-seat chamber, and Barnett holding a safe seat, his exit would allow the party to refresh their ranks at a time when they are trying to rebuild.
If we treat Barnett as a trustee, then the logic favours that he should stay in parliament until such time as his conscience moves him to quit.
Under the trustee model, elected members are expected to be guided by their concern for the broader interests of the state. Once elected, the decision about how that member should serve these interests falls to the discretion of the member.
On this basis, Barnett can reasonably argue that he is an experienced legislator who still has much to contribute to the parliament and to the state.
Moreover, the high financial costs and general disruption associated with holding a byelection without proper cause is not advantageous to the people of the Western Australia.
The delegate model requires the elected member to act according to the wishes of those who elected them. Unlike the trustee model, such assessments are not for the MP to make, but only after careful consideration of the views of the electorate.
Based on this model, only the voters in Barnett’s seat of Cottesloe are fit to make any such decision about his future and, arguably, they have already done so when they re-elected him in 2017.
Barnett’s claims in this regard are strengthened because he was elected on first preference votes (56.67%), and because he made clear his intention to remain in parliament regardless of the outcome of the election. This would suggest that Barnett’s electorate supported his reelection full in the knowledge of his future intentions.
Thus, in the absence of any actions that would render Barnett unfit or unable to serve under the WA Constitution, the logic of the delegate model supports his remaining in parliament.
In the end, the decision about Barnett’s future in parliament is for him to make.
Neither the people of Cottesloe nor his own party can force him to resign. The Liberals can expel him from the party, but this does not solve the problem because what Barnett has said cannot be unsaid, and he may prove more of a distraction if freed from his partisan bonds.
Yet what this incident, and others similar to it underline, is that any such disagreement over whether former leaders should remain in parliament often boils down to different views about to whom they are ultimately beholden.