Labor’s thumping win in Western Australia carries risks for both sides



AAP/Richard Wainwright

Martin Drum, University of Notre Dame Australia

Liberal fears of a wipeout in the Western Australia state election have been realised, with the Labor party winning about 52 seats in the 59-member Legislative Assembly.

This represents the biggest electoral win in any Australian jurisdiction since the stabilisation of the two-party system over 70 years ago. There is no doubt that the immense popularity of Labor Premier Mark McGowan was a decisive factor in the result. McGowan enjoys rock-star-like status in the state, and this was noted by his political opponents during the count.

For the Liberals it has been a devastating loss: not only have they almost been obliterated from the parliament, but their leader has gone and they are no longer the official opposition – that now goes to the National Party.

One of the earliest seats to call was the seat of Dawesville, held by 34 year old Liberal leader Zak Kirkup. He had already conceded that he could not win the election before a vote had been cast, and his subsequent focus had been on retaining as many Liberal seats as possible.

Another high profile casualty was former Liberal leader Liza Harvey, who lost her seat of Scarborough. Harvey was blamed by some in Liberal circles for the defeat. As opposition leader in 2020 she had called for WA’s hard border to come down, which was followed immediately by the COVID-19 outbreak in Victoria.

At this stage, it looks like the extraordinary support for Labor will translate into an upper house majority for the first time for Labor. It is worth noting that Liberal-National governments in WA have regularly controlled both houses of parliament while in government. While the Nationals occasionally voted differently from the Liberals, being in cabinet meant this was a rarity. Control of both houses should mean government bills will pass into law with little resistance.




Read more:
Labor obliterates Liberals in historic WA election; will win control of upper house for first time


Is WA a one-party state?

While there will be at least six Liberal or National MPs in the 59 seat lower house, and a much higher number of non-government MPs in the upper house, there is no doubt the McGowan government will dominate proceedings in parliament.

Such is the imbalance, though, that it raises questions of accountability. Parliament is the principal body of accountability for governments in our democratic system, and it is critical parliamentary processes that typically hold government to account are maintained. Opposition parties need resources to research contentious issues, investigate complaints, and develop alternative policies.

It is critical oppositions are able to ask questions without notice in question time, put detailed questions on notice to the government in the Legislative Council, and have a presence on parliamentary committees that investigate issues arising in government and in the broader community. Most importantly, they need the resources to scrutinise bills which are introduced into either house.




Read more:
Meet Mark McGowan: the WA leader with a staggering 88% personal approval rating


There are dangers for the government itself in having a large majority. Some Labor members may struggle to have their voices heard in such a large party room. There will be increased competition for all manner of roles in government, starting with positions in the new Labor ministry, and disappointment may lead to discontent and in-fighting within the partyroom.

Governments that control both houses run the risk of passing poorly-structured legislation. Parliamentary scrutiny leads to better governance, a factor that in the long run helps governments as much as oppositions. One factor in the demise of the long-running Howard government was the passage of its “workchoices” legislation, achieved during a rare incidence of government controlling both houses of the federal parliament.

WA Liberals have been all but obliterated in the state election, with leader Zak Kirkup among those who lost their seats.
AAP/Richard Wainwright

Federal implications

There will no doubt be some pundits who draw federal implications from Labor’s stunning victory, but it is worth remembering that neither Scott Morrison nor Anthony Albanese featured in the campaigns of either party. Albanese did visit WA during the campaign period, but did not join McGowan on the campaign trail.

Western Australia has long been a traditional heartland for the federal Liberals, and they currently hold 11 of the 16 seats here. Federal Liberals from WA have been punching well above their weight in the federal government. But Morrison has not visited Western Australia since October 2019, and two of his senior ministers from WA are both on leave with their futures under a cloud.

Any suggestion of trying to overlay these results onto federal seats is a fraught exercise. But there is one thing we know for sure: there will be a lot fewer people in WA working for the Liberal party in paid positions than there were before the election. This will affect the ability of Liberals to strategise, and organise on the ground.

The organisational structure of the party has come under scrutiny in recent times, amid fears that the WA branch is dominated by a small group of powerbrokers. Maintaining robust structures for campaigning will be crucial with a federal election due within the next year.

But there are a few positives that the federal government may take out of the campaign. First, WA voters have consistently voted differently at state and federal level. And Morrison, while not enjoying the popularity of McGowan, is more popular than his opponent. The WA election also marks the fourth straight state or territory election during COVID-19 where the incumbent government has been returned. It is clear incumbency and competent management are distinct advantages during a pandemic.The Conversation

Martin Drum, Lecturer Politics and International Relations, University of Notre Dame Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Labor obliterates Liberals in historic WA election; will win control of upper house for first time



AAP/Richard Wainwright

Adrian Beaumont, The University of Melbourne

With 43% of enrolled voters counted in yesterday’s Western Australian election, the ABC was calling Labor wins in 49 of the 59 lower house seats, to just two for the Liberals and three for the Nationals. Five seats remained in doubt.

The current final outcome prediction is 52 Labor, three Liberals and four Nationals. Since the 2017 election, this would be an 11-seat gain for Labor and a 10-seat loss for the Liberals. Liberal casualties included current leader Zak Kirkup’s seat of Dawesville, and former leader Liza Harvey’s Scarborough.

Statewide primary vote shares were a massive 59.1% for Labor (up 16.9% since 2017), 21.3% Liberals (down 9.9%), 4.5% National (down 0.9%), 7.1% Greens (down 1.8%) and just 1.3% for One Nation (down 3.7%). The Poll Bludger’s statewide two party projection is 69.2-30.8 to Labor, a 13.7% swing to Labor.

With 30.8% of the upper house vote counted, the ABC’s group ticket voting calculators are giving Labor 22 of the 36 seats (up eight), the Liberals six (down three), the Nationals four (steady), Legalise Cannabis two (up two), the Shooters and Fishers one (steady) and the Greens one (down three).

Current results show Labor winning 20 of its 22 seats on raw quotas without requiring preferences. They need a small amount of preferences to win three seats in Agricultural region and four in North Metropolitan. Labor is set to win the heavily malapportioned upper house for the first time in its history.




Read more:
Whopping lead for Labor ahead of WA election, but federal Newspoll deadlocked at 50-50


Why this result occurred

As I wrote recently, the current 69-31 two party result is probably the most lopsided ever in Australian electoral history for any state or federally. Labor’s primary vote may drop back as more votes are counted, but will be at least roughly level with the combined National and Liberal vote at the Queensland 1974 election.

With the opposite party in power federally, and campaigning for its second term, Labor was likely to win unless they had major stuff-ups. But Premier Mark McGowan’s handling of COVID created this record landslide.

Imposing hard borders to stop the spread was very popular, and with relatively few cases in WA, life remained relatively normal with the exception of a five-day lockdown in early February. In the final pre-election Newspoll, McGowan’s ratings were 88% satisfied and just 10% dissatisfied.

I do not think there are federal implications from this massive Labor victory at the state level. While not at McGowan’s levels, Scott Morrison was still very popular by historical standards at 64% satisfied, 32% dissatisfied in the last federal Newspoll.

If being perceived as dealing well with COVID is a criterion for a successful re-election, the federal Coalition would be likely to win now.

In February 2001, Peter Beattie led Queensland Labor to 66 of the 89 lower house seats, to just 15 for the Coalition parties. But in November 2001, the federal Coalition under John Howard was re-elected, with the Coalition winning 19 of the 27 federal Queeensland seats.

Many people did not believe the 68-32 Newspoll three weeks ago, and the final pre-election Newspoll (66-34) was also hard to believe. But Labor has exceeded both these Newspolls. A YouGov poll of Dawesville had Labor winning by 60-40; it’s currently 64.5-35.5. Expecting outcomes to be narrower than polls indicate can be a big mistake.

Biden’s $US 1.9 trillion stimulus becomes law

To revive the US economy from its COVID-induced recession, President Joe Biden proposed a $US 1.9 trillion stimulus. On March 6, this stimulus passed the US Senate on a 50-49 vote, with all 50 Democrats in support and all Republicans opposed; one Republican missed the vote.

Had the vote been tied at 50-50, Vice President Kamala Harris would have broken the tie. This stimulus vote shows how important the two narrow Democratic wins in the January 5 Georgia Senate runoffs were.

Without those victories, there is no possibility this stimulus would have become law, and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell would still control the Senate’s agenda, enabling him to deny votes on items he disliked.

On Wednesday the House of Representatives, which had earlier passed its own version of the stimulus, agreed to the Senate’s amendments by a 220-211 margin. Biden signed the stimulus into law on Thursday. All Republicans who voted in either chamber of Congress opposed the stimulus.The Conversation

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

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Meet Mark McGowan: the WA leader with a staggering 88% personal approval rating



Richard Wainwright/ AAP

John Phillimore, Curtin University

Last March, Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan donned an AC/DC t-shirt to pay tribute to Bon Scott, the late lead singer of the legendary band.

He joined some 150,000 fans who gathered along Perth’s Canning Highway to hear bands covering “Highway to Hell” and other AC/DC classics.

In the 12 months since, the world has certainly been to hell and back. Politically, however, for McGowan the year may feel more like a stairway to heaven. With the state election due on March 13, polls suggest he will win easily, and even increase Labor’s already record majority. His personal approval rating sits at a staggering 88%.




Read more:
Whopping lead for Labor ahead of WA election, but federal Newspoll deadlocked at 50-50


But polling is one thing, celebrity status is another. And McGowan’s popularity is bordering on rock star status in some quarters.

In recent weeks, a voter has willingly tattooed a likeness of McGowan’s face on their body, a local comedian has written a song of devotion to him, a wedding party hauled him on stage to speak to 300 cheering guests, and a video of the Premier’s dance moves at the Perth Fringe has gone viral on TikTok.

Who is McGowan, and why is the 53-year-old enjoying such a huge poll lead? And what lies in store on the other side of the election?

From the navy to state politics

Originally from regional New South Wales, McGowan joined the navy as a lawyer. In 1991 he was posted to HMAS Stirling near Rockingham, 50 kilometres south of Perth. In 1995, he won a bravery commendation for rescuing a man from a burning car.

WA Premier Mark McGowan and his wife Sarah casting their votes at a pre-polling booth.
WA Premier Mark McGowan and his wife Sarah cast their votes last week at a pre-polling booth.
Richard Wainwright/ AAP

He has been Rockingham’s local MP since 1996 — the second longest-serving MP in state parliament. He entered Geoff Gallop’s cabinet in 2005 and is seen to have chalked up solid achievements in environment, education and perhaps most notably in loosening regulations to encourage small bars.

With Labor in opposition, he took over as leader in 2012, only to see his party go backwards at the 2013 election. He then resisted a far-fetched leadership challenge from former federal minister Stephen Smith before finally winning a record victory in 2017 against Colin Barnett and the Liberal Party.

The WA factor

Most Australian political leaders saw their popularity grow during COVID-19, with trust in governments rising as Australia performed well, minimising health and economic impacts.

But WA provides particularly fertile ground for a leader. The state has always had a strongly independent streak, distant from “the eastern states”. It also firmly believes its mining and gas resources are the basis for Australia’s economic prosperity and that the proceeds have not — until a recent GST deal — flowed back to the state.

McGowan played this situation adroitly, declaring in early April 2020 that WA would become an “island within an island” by closing its borders. He took a firm line on international cruise ships. His public image was ubiquitous with daily media briefings, and softened by his spontaneous response to a media query about buying a kebab, of all things, which also went viral.

He successfully fended off a High Court challenge to WA’s hard border from businessman Clive Palmer as well as the mining magnate’s claim the state owes him A$30 billion.




Read more:
Clive Palmer just lost his WA border challenge — but the legality of state closures is still uncertain


Meanwhile, McGowan worked with the mining industry to keep production going by transferring interstate fly-in fly-out workers to WA. He was rewarded as iron ore prices skyrocketed and the state’s finances grew. Regional tourism has revived and the state’s economy recovered more quickly than interstate counterparts.

Since mid-2020 daily life in WA has been largely normal again, despite a blip in January when a short lockdown was imposed, due to a hotel quarantine breach.

Of course, it’s not all bouquets. The Western Australian Council of Social Service has called on the McGowan government to do more to address child poverty, improve housing affordability and reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal young people in out-of-home care and juvenile justice. Critics have described his government’s efforts to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for its greenhouse gas emissions as “limp”. Plenty outside the state have condemned some of the WA government’s snap decisions on COVID border closures.

Despite all that, McGowan’s government remains enormously popular where it counts: among WA voters.

What’s next?

Assuming he wins — and wins big — on 13 March, what are the challenges and opportunities facing McGowan and his government?

Economically, WA appears in a strong position, and Labor’s election campaign has focused on more job creation. But the state is always subject to international commodity cycles, while tensions in Australia’s relationship with China — the main customer of WA iron ore — add a new element of risk.

Portraits of Zak Kirkup and Mark McGowan.
Liberal leader Zak Kirkup has already conceded he cannot win the election.
Richard Wainwright/ AAP

Socially, dealing with homelessness and rising house prices and rents will be on the agenda, after several years of relative stagnation in the property market.

Politically, despite Liberal warnings of Labor gaining “total control” of parliament, it is highly unlikely McGowan can secure an outright majority in the upper house, given the high levels of rural malapportionment. But there is a chance that Labor and the Greens combined could win an upper house majority for the first time.

This could put pressure around issues such as carbon emission reductions, where WA Labor has generally been happy to let Canberra take the lead. More prosaically, the prospect of a big win means McGowan will have to find ways of managing a large backbench that will inevitably include restive MPs with thwarted cabinet ambitions.




Read more:
The Liberals face electoral wipeout in WA, but have 3 good reasons to keep campaigning


However, the prime concern will be to avoid complacency and overreach, especially if the opposition is weak. WA governments tend to win two terms. A big win for McGowan may make a third term seem inevitable, but upsets like the Liberal National Party’s 2015 loss in Queensland show elections can’t be taken for granted.

But for now, the WA Liberals, under leader Zak Kirkup, appear to be on a road to nowhere. For Mark McGowan, it’s been a long way to the top. He is in no hurry to come down.The Conversation

John Phillimore, Executive Director, John Curtin Institute of Public Policy, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

WA election could be historical Labor landslide, but party with less than 1% vote may win upper house seat



AAP/Richard Wainwright

Adrian Beaumont, The University of Melbourne

The Western Australian election will be held on Saturday, March 13. Polls close at 9pm AEDT. I am not aware of any WA polling conducted since the blowout 68-32 lead for Labor in a Newspoll that I covered two weeks ago.




Read more:
Whopping lead for Labor ahead of WA election, but federal Newspoll deadlocked at 50-50


If replicated at the election, a 68-32 two party result would be over ten points better for Labor than at the November 2018 Victorian election, which was regarded as a Labor landslide.

In recent Australian electoral history, Labor was crushed at the March 2011 NSW election, and at the March 2012 Queensland election. In NSW 2011, the Coalition under Barry O’Farrell won the two party vote by 64.2-35.8, and Labor won just 20 of the 93 lower house seats.

A more extreme seat wipeout occurred in Queensland 2012, despite a slightly narrower two party margin. Labor was reduced to just seven of the 89 seats on a two party result of 62.8-37.2 to the LNP under Campbell Newman.

The fortunes of Queensland and NSW Labor have diverged since these elections. Queensland Labor won the 2015 election, and has held office since with wins in 2017 and 2020. In NSW, the Coalition decisively won both the 2015 and 2019 elections.

In February 2001, Queensland Labor under Peter Beattie reduced the Coalition parties to 15 of the 89 seats on primary votes of 48.9% Labor to 28.5% for the Coalition. At the December 1974 Queensland election, Labor won just 11 of the 82 seats; that election was in the Joh Bjelke-Petersen era.

The most recent Newspoll gave WA Labor a primary vote of 59%. Once the two major parties would win over 90% of the primary vote between them, but the rise of the Greens, One Nation and other small parties has seen the major party share decline.

It appears the last time a party came close to 59% of the primary vote was at the 1978 NSW election, when Neville Wran led Labor to 57.8%. At the 1974 Queensland election, the combined vote for the Nationals and Liberals was 59.0%.

A 68-32 two party result with a Labor primary vote of 59% would be a historical result in Australia.

Group voting tickets could see micro-party elected to upper house

Analyst Kevin Bonham has conducted simulations using the ABC’s upper house group voting ticket calculators. He says the biggest danger of a micro-party winning is in the conservative Agricultural region, which spans four lower house electorates – Central Wheatbelt, Geraldton, Moore and Roe.

As I covered previously, the WA upper house has six regions that each return six members. Three of those regions are in Perth, so that Perth has just half the upper house seats on almost 80% of the state’s population. The Agricultural region only has 6% of enrolled voters, but will elect one-sixth of the upper house.

In Bonham’s scenario, Bass Tadros, the lead candidate of Health Australia Party in Agricultural region who has put forward debunked theories about a linke between 5G and vaccines, could win through a preference snowball on as little as 0.2% of the vote. Tadros Greens’ preferences are going to Tadros ahead of Labor in that region, so they will be partly responsible if he wins and costs Labor a seat.

This is a very conservative region, and the Greens have no chance of winning a seat themselves. It would be better for Greens voters in that region to vote Labor than risk electing Tadros and costing the left a seat that could see Labor and the Greens fail to win an upper house majority.

SA poll: 51-49 to Liberals

About a year before the next South Australian election, a YouGov poll has given the Liberals a 51-49 lead, a two-point gain for Labor since September. Primary votes were 43% Liberals (down three), 36% Labor (up one), 10% Greens (steady) and 6% SA Best (up one).

Incumbent premier Steven Marshall led Labor’s Peter Malinauskas by 50-30 as better premier (54-26 in September). This poll was conducted February 24 to March 1 from a sample of 843. Figures from The Poll Bludger.

Tasmanian poll: Liberals over 50%

A Tasmanian EMRS poll, conducted February 15-23 from a sample of 1,000, gave the Liberals 52% (steady since November), Labor 27% (up two) and the Greens 14% (up one). Incumbent Peter Gutwein led Labor’s Rebecca White as preferred premier by 61-26, unchanged since November.

The next Tasmanian election is likely to be held in early 2022. Tasmania uses a proportional system with five electorates each returning five members that are elected using the Hare-Clark method. With a majority of the vote, the Liberals would easily win a majority of seats.

The EMRS polling suggests a big COVID boost for the Liberals, from 43% in March 2020 to a peak of 54% in August.The Conversation

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

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Liberals face electoral wipeout in WA, but have 3 good reasons to keep campaigning



Richard Wainwright/AAP

Martin Drum, University of Notre Dame Australia

Time is running out for the Western Australian Liberal Party. Polling points to a massive Labor landslide at the upcoming state election on March 13.

Following last month’s Newspoll, which put Labor in front by 68-32, two-party-preferred, Liberal opposition leader Zak Kirkup abandoned any public pretence he might actually win the election.

“I accept it’s not my time,” he told The West Australian newspaper last week.

Not following the election script

While not entirely unprecedented (then Labor leader Geoff Gallop said the Court government would be “returned comfortably” three days before the 1996 WA election), it is nonetheless an extraordinary admission from Kirkup. It departs from established practice where political leaders try to preserve hope amongst their faithful, even in the face of extreme adversity.

Some voters may applaud Kirkup — who only took up the Liberal leadership last November — for his honesty. This was certainly the editorial view of The West Australian. It is also a definitive way of capturing the “underdog” status going into election day and emphasising the importance of checks and balances in our political system, while highlighting the importance of the upper house race as well.

Liberal leader Zak Kirkup
Zak Kirkup was elected WA’s Liberal leader in November 2020.
Richard Wainwright/AAP

But there are significant risks to this approach. One is that voters may feel its disrespectful to the vast majority of people who are yet to vote. Another is, why would voters take any notice of Liberal party policy announcements, if they won’t be in government to deliver on any of them?

Under the circumstances, the Liberal Party could be forgiven for pitching their policy settings firmly towards their own base. Curiously, their one signature policy involves shutting WA’s coal-fired power plants by 2025, backing in renewable energy generation, and achieving net zero carbon emissions in the state electricity system by 2030.

It has certainly attracted the ire of federal colleagues, with Liberal MP Andrew Hastie describing it as a “lemon”. For their part, the McGowan government has borrowed lines from the federal Coalition’s playbook, arguing the policy would see,

many, many billions of extra debt, a huge increase in family power bills, rolling blackouts across the state and huge job losses.

More at stake than forming government

While the headline result of the election looks like a foregone conclusion, there are plenty of reasons for the Liberals to continue to fight hard for every vote.

The first is to try to stop Labor from winning control of the Legislative Council (upper house). While the Coalition almost always win control of the upper house when in government in WA, this is extremely rare for Labor.

A Labor majority (or a Labor-Greens majority) could pave the way for electoral reform to remove undemocratic malapportionment in WA. In the upper house, one regional six-member electorate has fewer than 70,000 voters, while three six-member metropolitan ones have more than 400,000 each.




Read more:
Whopping lead for Labor ahead of WA election, but federal Newspoll deadlocked at 50-50


However, this malapportionment is so extreme, it means even a Labor landslide doesn’t guarantee an upper house majority in its own right. The Labor party currently has just 14 seats in the 36 seat chamber, despite winning 41 of the 59 seats in the lower house in 2017.

To win 19 seats they need to pick up additional seats in five of the six upper house regions. They already hold three seats in both the east metropolitan and south metropolitan regions and the quota for four is a whopping 57.14% of the primary vote. This provides us with some sense of magnitude of the victory required to achieve a basic majority.

Being able to be an effective opposition

A second critical reason for the Liberal party to chase every vote is to avoid a wipe out that is so bad it makes them ineffective as an opposition.

The Liberal Party currently has just 13 seats in the 59 seat Legislative Assembly, which is the legacy of a very poor performance at the last election. While they look very likely to sink further, they would be desperate to avoid the most catastrophic outcome — a return of fewer seats in the lower house than the Nationals and the loss of official opposition status.

Labor Premier Mark McGowan
Labor Premier Mark McGowan has a a commanding lead in the polls.
Richard Wainwright/AAP

There is also the possibility their numbers could be so low as to deny them the resources normally allotted to parliamentary leaders and whips as set out by the Salaries and Allowances Act.

This means they would have very few staff and minimal funds to hold the government to account. It also means their capacity to probe during question time and ask useful Questions on Notice would be limited. They would also have a very thin presence on parliamentary committees.

Thinking ahead to 2025

There is also a third, compelling reason for Kirkup and the Liberals to avoid electoral oblivion.

While the modern electorate is a volatile one, if they win just a handful of seats in 2021, the task of winning in 2025 would also become much more difficult — the Liberals may face at least three terms in opposition.




Read more:
Labor wins WA in a landslide as One Nation fails to land a blow


An electoral wipe-out could ruin the careers of future leadership aspirants and ensure that the next Liberal premier is yet to enter parliament.The Conversation

Martin Drum, Lecturer Politics and International Relations, University of Notre Dame Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Whopping lead for Labor ahead of WA election, but federal Newspoll deadlocked at 50-50



Richard Wainwright/AAP

Adrian Beaumont, The University of Melbourne

With less than three weeks left until the March 13 Western Australian election, the latest Newspoll gives Labor a 68-32 lead, two-party-preferred. If replicated on election day, this would be a 12.5% swing to Labor from the 2017 election two party result.

Analyst Kevin Bonham describes the Newspoll result as “scarcely processable” and says it is the most lopsided result in Newspoll history for any state or federally.

Primary votes were 59% for Labor, up from 42.2% at the 2017 election, 23% for the Liberals (down from 31.2% in 2017), 2% National (5.4%), 8% Greens (8.9%) and 3% One Nation (4.9%). This poll was conducted February 12-18 from a sample of 1,034.

Premier Mark McGowan had an 88% satisfied rating with 10% dissatisfied (net +78), while Liberal opposition leader Zak Kirkup was at 29% satisfied, 41% dissatisfied (net -12). McGowan led Kirkup as “better premier” by a crushing 83 to 10.

A pandemic boost?

Other recent polls have been strong, albeit less spectacular for Labor. Bonham refers to a January 30 uComms poll that gave Labor a 61-39 lead, from primary votes of 46.8% Labor, 27.5% Liberal, 5.1% National, 8.3% Greens and 6.9% One Nation.

There is also a pattern here. Since the pandemic began, governments that have managed to keep COVID cases down have been rewarded. This includes Queensland and New Zealand Labo(u)r governments at their respective October elections last year.

WA Liberal leader Zak Kirkup.
Zak Kirkup was only elected as WA’s Liberal leader last November.
Richard Wainwright/AAP

McGowan’s imposition of a hard WA border to restrict COVID has boosted both his and Labor’s popularity. There have been relatively few WA COVID cases, and life has been comparably normal with the exception of a five-day lockdown in early February.

Upper house a different story

But it’s not all good news for McGowan. While Labor will easily win a majority in the lower house, it will be much harder for the ALP and the Greens to win an upper house majority. The upper house suffers from both a high degree of rural malapportionment (where there are relatively fewer voters per member) and group ticket voting.

Group ticket voting, in which parties direct the preferences of their voters, was abolished in the federal Senate before the 2016 election, but continues to blight elections in both Victoria and WA.




Read more:
Victorian upper house greatly distorted by group voting tickets; federal Labor still dominant in Newspoll


There are six WA upper house regions that each return six members, so a quota is one-seventh of the vote, or 14.3%. While Perth has 79% of the overall WA population, it receives just half of upper house seats.

There is also malapportionment in non-metropolian regions. According to the ABC’s election guide, the south west region has 14% of enrolled voters, the heavily anti-Labor agricultural region has just 6% of voters and the mining and pastoral region 4%. All regions return six members.

Despite the convincing lower house win in 2017, Labor and the Greens combined won 18 of the 36 upper house seats, one short of a majority. Bonham notes if the Newspoll swings were replicated uniformly in the upper house, Labor would win 19 of the 36 seats in its own right on filled quotas without needing preferences.

But group ticket voting and malapportionment could see Labor and the Greens fall short of an upper house majority again if Labor’s win is more like the uComms poll than Newspoll.

Federal Newspoll still tied at 50-50

This week’s federal Newspoll, conducted February 17-20 from a sample of 1,504, had the two party preferred tied at 50-50, the same as three weeks ago. Primary votes were 42% Coalition (steady), 37% Labor (up one), 10% Greens (steady) and 3% One Nation (steady).

Labor leader Anthony Albanese and Prime Minister Scott Morrison look towards the Speaker's chair in Parliament.
Newspoll continues to have the Coalition and Labor neck and neck.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Of those polled, 64% were satisfied with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s performance (up one), and 32% were dissatisfied (down one), for a net approval of +32. Labor leader Anthony Albanese dropped five points on net approval to -7. Morrison led Albanese by 61-26 as better prime minister (compared to 57-29 three weeks ago).

During the last week, there has been much media attention on the rape allegations made by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins against an unnamed colleague.




Read more:
Brittany Higgins will lay complaint over alleged rape – and wants a role in framing workplace inquiry


However, it appears the general electorate perceives this issue as being unimportant compared to the COVID crisis. Albanese’s ratings may have suffered owing to the perception that Labor has focussed too much and being too negative on an “unimportant” issue.

Despite Morrison’s continued strong approval ratings and the slump for Albanese, the most important measure — voting intentions — is tied. Since the start of the COVID crisis, there has been a continued discrepancy between voting intentions based off Morrison’s ratings and actual voting intentions.

Newspoll is not alone in showing a close race on voting intentions or strong ratings for Morrison. A Morgan poll, conducted in early to mid February, gave Labor a 50.5-49.5 lead. Last week’s Essential poll gave Morrison a 65-28 approval rating (net +37).

Labor bump in Craig Kelly’s seat

As reported in The Guardian, a uComms robopoll in controversial Liberal MP Craig Kelly’s seat of Hughes has Kelly leading by 55-45. This is about a 5% swing to Labor from the 2019 election result.

Liberal MP for Hughes Craig Kelly.
Liberal MP Craig Kelly has recently been banned by Facebook for promoting alternative, medically unproven COVID-19 treatments on social media.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

The poll was conducted February 18 from a sample of 683 for the community group Hughes Deserves Better.

While additional questions are often skewed in favour of the position of the group commissioning uComms polls, voting intention questions are always asked first. However, individual seat polls have been unreliable in Australia.

Trump acquitted by US Senate

As I predicted three weeks ago, Donald Trump was comfortably acquitted by the United States’ Senate on February 13 on charges of inciting the January 6 riots.

The vote was 57-43 in favour of conviction, but short of the two-thirds majority required. Seven of the 50 Republican senators joined all 50 Democrats in voting to convict.The Conversation

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

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Perth’s 5-day ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown isn’t an overreaction to a single case — it’s basic common sense


Erin Smith, Edith Cowan University

Perth and the Peel and South West regions of Western Australia will go into a five-day hard lockdown from 6pm local time on Sunday, after one new local COVID-19 case was detected in the state.

The new case is a male security guard who was working on the same floor as a person in quarantine with the UK coronavirus variant.

Contact tracing is underway, and residents have been asked to get a COVID test if they visited any of several venues listed as potential exposure sites.

The lockdown is currently scheduled to last until 6pm on Friday February 5, although Premier Mark McGowan has not ruled out extending the restrictions if necessary.

What do the restrictions mean?

Residents will only be allowed to leave home for four essential reasons: work or study, exercise, to shop for essentials or to access healthcare.

Schools, many of which were scheduled to begin on February 1, will remain closed for the coming week.

Face masks will be mandatory in the state when leaving home for essential reasons.

The WA state election campaign has been suspended, and Big Bash cricket fixtures and Perth Fringe Festival events cancelled for the duration of the lockdown.

McGowan said the lockdown is “a crucial reaction to keep the community safe”.

Border restrictions likely

McGowan has also recommended that other states suspend travel to WA — a blunt tool for dealing with outbreaks of this size.

Restricting travel from specific hotpots can be a successful circuit-breaker to disease transmission.

But hard border closures — particularly with no evidence of widespread community transmission — seem unnecessary and counterproductive at this stage, and are associated with a host of health and economic consequences.

Face masks, meanwhile, can certainly help reduce the risk of disease transmission, and thereby help keep borders open.

Quashing a cluster before it happens

Compared with Victoria’s months-long COVID lockdown, Perth’s latest lockdown — like Brisbane’s earlier this year — aims to stamp out a new COVID cluster before it gains a foothold.




Read more:
Brisbane’s COVID lockdown has a crucial difference: it aims to squash an outbreak before it even starts


The lockdown will hopefully act as a circuit-breaker, minimising community transmission and allowing health authorities to trace and test anyone who might have been infected.

Disappointingly, meanwhile, Perth supermarkets were hit with a wave of panic-buying, similar to the scenes during previous lockdowns elsewhere.




Read more:
Why are people stockpiling toilet paper? We asked four experts


This behaviour is unnecessary and counterproductive. Shops will remain open, and people will still be able to buy what they need during the lockdown. Crowding into shops (especially without wearing masks) directly before the lockdown begins actually increases the risk of infection.

Is the lockdown an overreaction?

Back on January 13, WA’s chief health officer Andy Robertson suggested the state would likely enter a short, sharp lockdown if a coronavirus outbreak was detected within the community.

Going hard and fast was effective in South Australia, and also seems to have been quite effective in Queensland.




Read more:
South Australia’s 6-day lockdown shows we need to take hotel quarantine more seriously


Queensland chief health officer Jeannette Young said the January 2021 lockdown did indeed act as a circuit-breaker, similar to SA’s November 2020 response, to stop the virus spreading out of control.

“I think Adelaide managed their outbreak brilliantly … it was probably one of the best responses in the country,” she said.

Last year, at the height of Melbourne’s second COVID wave, UNSW professor and epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws suggested public health officials were likely to be criticised regardless of their strategy.

“If we call it early, then the public thinks that we’re saying the sky is falling in. If we call it late, then you’re said to not be able to handle an outbreak. So you’re not going to win,” she said.

If health authorities are going to cop criticism either way, this suggests the best strategy is to err on the side of overreacting, rather than underreacting, and aim to be safe rather than sorry.

By this logic, Perth’s five-day circuit-breaker is simple common sense.The Conversation

Erin Smith, Associate Professor in Disaster and Emergency Response, School of Medical and Health Sciences, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Clive Palmer just lost his WA border challenge — but the legality of state closures is still uncertain



original.

Anne Twomey, University of Sydney

Mining magnate Clive Palmer has lost his challenge to the closure of the Western Australian border in response to COVID-19. Palmer has also been ordered to pay costs.

While it is clear from the High Court’s order in Palmer v Western Australia that Palmer lost, it remains unclear whether the border closure was and remains valid.




Read more:
WA border challenge: why states, not courts, need to make the hard calls during health emergencies


The reason for the lack of clarity is because the High Court has not yet handed down its reasons, which may take weeks or months. In the meantime, all we have is its orders – and they are phrased in a rather peculiar and limited way.

What did the court decide?

The High Court was asked whether WA’s Emergency Management Act or its Quarantine (Closing the Border) Directions were invalid because they breached the Constitution by stopping people from crossing the state’s border.

Section 92 of the Constitution says the movement of people among the states shall be “absolutely free”. But the High Court has previously accepted it can be limited if it is reasonably necessary to achieve another legitimate end, such as the protection of public health.

In the Palmer case, the High Court gave a very limited answer to the questions it was asked. In relation to the Emergency Management Act it said that “on their proper construction”, sections 56 and 67,

in their application to an emergency constituted by the occurrence of a hazard in the nature of a plague or epidemic comply with the constitutional limitation of section 92 of the Constitution.

Both these sections are quite general in nature. Section 56 says the minister can declare a state of emergency in the whole of the state or a part of it. There is nothing on obvious that would appear to offend section 92 of the Constitution in each of its limbs.

Section 67 says during a state of emergency, certain officers may issue directions that prohibit the movement of persons within, into or out of an emergency area. On the face of it, it is not directed at the movement of people across state borders. However, if a state of emergency were issued for the entire state under section 56, then section 67 would potentially allow a direction to be made that would prevent people from entering or leaving WA.

High Court of Australia
Clive Palmer launched his challenge after WA closed its border in April.
Lukas Coch/AAP

The High Court’s qualification in the phrase “on their proper construction” is therefore important. This raises the question of how the High Court has interpreted section 67 and whether it has restricted its interpretation in a manner that accommodates section 92 of the Constitution. We will have to wait for the High Court’s reasons to learn this.

The court’s order in relation to the Quarantine Directions is more unusual. It says the exercise of this power under clauses 4 and 5 of the directions “does not raise a constitutional question”. This refers to an issue raised during the hearing. The argument, initially raised by Victoria, was that the validity of a direction made under a power conferred by an act will depend on whether the direction falls within the scope of that power in the act.




Read more:
States are shutting their borders to stop coronavirus. Is that actually allowed?


If the section in the act that confers the power (in this case, section 67 of the Emergency Management Act) is constitutionally valid, then any direction that falls within that power will be valid too.

The real question, then, is whether the direction falls within the scope of the legislative power. This is not a constitutional question, but a question of administrative law. The High Court then said in its order that it had not been asked this question, so it did not need to answer it.

On the basis of this technicality, the High Court (or at least a majority of the Justices) concluded it was not necessary to address whether the actual directions that stop people going in or out of Western Australia were valid.

Does this mean more litigation?

As this case does not seem to have resolved whether or not the directions are valid, will there be more litigation? It is possible someone could challenge the directions, arguing this time that they do not fall within the scope of the authorising section in the legislation.

But such litigation would have to start from square one and so would take some time to determine. As it would not be a constitutional matter, it might have to be decided by a lower court first.

WA Premier Mark McGowan
WA Premier Mark McGowan celebrated the High Court result on Friday.
Richard Wainwright/AAP

Further, before initiating any such litigation, it would be important to read the High Court’s reasons, which may not be produced for some time. Those reasons will tell us about the scope of the legislative provision, which will be essential to know before any challenge to the directions made under it could proceed.

Hopefully, by the time we get to that point, there will be no need for such litigation because no such directions will exist, if the pandemic continues to ease in Australia.




Read more:
How Clive Palmer could challenge the act designed to stop him getting $30 billion


But it does mean we may be left with inadequate guidance about such matters for the future, which would be unfortunate given the cost and time taken with this litigation. Perhaps the court’s reasoning about the interpretation of section 67 of the Emergency Management Act will give us sufficient understanding about the operation of section 92 of the Constitution and the tests applicable to border closures in a pandemic. But that remains to be seen.

Victorian lockdown challenge also rejected

In a busy day for the High Court on Friday, it also threw out hotelier Julian Gerner’s challenge to Melbourne’s lockdown laws.




Read more:
Can a High Court challenge of Melbourne’s lockdown succeed? Here’s what the Constitution says


Gerner’s challenge, to be successful, would have required the High Court to find an implied freedom of movement in the Constitution.

This would have opened up all sorts of other laws to challenge and been condemned by conservatives as judicial activism. The court was so unimpressed by the argument that it unanimously rejected it on the spot, without even needing to hear Victoria’s response.

The end of the case was swift and brutal. It is unlikely this point will be raised again before the court.The Conversation

Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: New Zealand arrivals inject new irritation into federal-Victorian tensions


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews’ angst at the weekend about the multiple New Zealanders who arrived in Victoria via the travel bubble from New Zealand to New South Wales is, as much as anything, a pointer to the pressure the premier is under.

Andrews says his state chose not to be part of the bubble at this stage and he didn’t know these people were coming to Victoria. Now, he says, 55 have “turned up” from NZ.

The federal government counters that Victoria was at the meeting of the federal-state health officials committee where issues of New Zealanders travelling on were canvassed.

Andrews claims when Victoria asked the feds for details of the arrivals they were slow to pass it on. The feds deny a delay but say dealing with internal border issues is up to the states anyway.

The point is, this is a dispute of little consequence. New Zealand doesn’t have community transmission – the visitors are at the very bottom end of risk.

Andrews might be annoyed that these New Zealanders, and thus the Morrison government, have found a way to circumvent his refusal to sign up to the COVID “hotspot” definition and become part of the (one way) trans-Tasman bubble.

But Victoria has an open border for people going in (it’s a different matter for those exiting, for whom other states make the rules). So provided they’re told to abide by the current state restrictions, the presence of the New Zealanders is neither here nor there.

Western Australia is also complaining about New Zealand arrivals – it is in a rather different position because it has a hard state border.

The overall takeout is that those travelling from New Zealand in the “bubble” – which also involves the Northern Territory – might need to be given more information about the restrictions in particular states and internal borders before they leave NZ.

The micro takeout is that Andrews is picking an unnecessary fight. The verbal Victorian-federal tennis match over the New Zealanders is another indication of the tensions between the two governments.

Federal ministers tried to twist Andrews’ arm ahead of Sunday’s announcements about the next stages of opening in Victoria.

Andrews announced a range of restrictions would be relaxed from midnight. People can travel 25 kilometres from their home for shopping and exercise (widened from five). Groups of up to ten from two households will be able to gather in an outdoor places for exercise or a picnic.

Hairdressers can open, but people can’t have visitors over to watch next weekend’s AFL final (played in Queensland).

Retail isn’t scheduled to reopen open until November 2, when restaurants will be open to diners (with limits), and people will be able to leave home for any reason.

With new cases in single figures for the last five days, Andrews indicated the timetable could move faster than outlined.

The politically embattled premier is determined to minimise risks in bringing the state out of lockdown. The federal government and business community continue to rail. Andrews may judge that he’s taken the attacks from those quarters and the greater immediate danger to him is the possibility of a fresh tick-up in virus numbers.

The eventual fallout – in lost businesses, in the public’s judgement of Andrews – will be months, possibly years, in the coming.

In the meantime, whether his ultra-caution is excessive or well-judged will be fiercely debated.

He maintains it’s all on the health advice.

When asked how come his advice was at odds with the position of the federal government and epidemiologists who disagree with him, his edginess was obvious.

“I will put it to Minister [Greg] Hunt and anybody else
who has a view about these things, I don’t accept that anybody has a more complete picture of what this virus is doing in Victoria than the Victorian chief health officer, the Victoria deputy chief health officer, the Victorian health minister and the Victorian premier.” And so he went on.

Some Victorians will welcome the timetable as tangible hope in a bottle. More than a few small business owners will see the hairdresser across the road opening and ask, why not us?

The Australian Industry Group described the announcement as “plodding steps in the right direction”, while raising a nightmare scenario, saying businesses “still have no certainty that [they] will not be forced to shut again after they have been allowed to reopen”.

The federal government’s impatience with Victoria was on show again in a Sunday statement from Prmie Minister Scott Morrison, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Health Minister Greg Hunt, which highlighted economic and mental health costs.

“Victoria’s three-day rolling average is now below two cases per day. Maintaining this result will make a strong case for the retail and hospitality sectors to reopen before the next review date in November,” they said.

“The continued health, mental health and financial impacts of these restrictions will be profound on many Victorians. That is why we encourage Victoria to move safely and quickly towards the NSW model of strong contact tracing and a COVID-Safe but predominately open economy.”

As Morrison and the ministers say, “the national picture is a positive one” in terms of case numbers and handling them. Yet politically, the national handling of COVID continues to fray.

The conflicts around the blunders and inadequacies that led to the Victorian second wave, the imminent Queensland election in which Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is relying substantially on her COVID record, with its tough border policy, and WA’s semi-secessionist mindset are all straining the federation.

The national cabinet initially managed dissent among the various governments. But presently the disunity is swamping the unity.
To the extent possible, it is important Morrison keep together what has become an unwieldy beast.

While COVID in Australia may be substantially under control when we say a thankful goodbye to 2020, 2021 will be a challenging year that would only be made more difficult by excessive fractiousness within the federation.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coalition gains in Newspoll after budget; Trump falls further behind Biden



Mick Tsikas/AAP

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted October 8–10 from a sample of 1,527 voters, gave the Coalition a 52–48% lead over Labor in the two-party preferred question, a one-point gain for the Coalition since the previous Newspoll three weeks ago.

Primary votes were 44% Coalition (up one), 34% Labor (steady), 11% Greens (down one) and 3% One Nation (steady).

Prime Minister Scott Morrison remained very popular: 65% were satisfied with his performance and 31% were dissatisfied, for a net approval of +34. These figures are unchanged from the last poll.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese’s net approval slid three percentage points to -4. His net approval is down six points since late August. Morrison led as better PM by 57-28% (compared to 59-27% three weeks ago).

Newspoll asks three questions after each budget: whether the budget was good or bad for the economy, whether it was good or bad for you personally, and whether the opposition would have delivered a better budget.

On the economy, 42% said the budget was good and 20% bad. When it came to people’s personal fortunes, 26% said they would be better off after the budget, compared to 23% who said worse off. By 49-33%, respondents said Labor would not have delivered a better budget.

Analyst Kevin Bonham tweeted a graph showing this budget performed well compared to historical budgets. The 16-point deficit for the question of whether Labor would have delivered a better budget is the worst for an opposition since 2009.

The one-point gain for the Coalition on people’s voting intentions is also consistent with a well-received budget.

Australian state polls: Victoria and WA

A Victorian Morgan SMS poll, conducted September 29-30 from a sample of 2,220 voters, gave Labor a 51.5-48.5% lead over the Coalition, unchanged from mid-September.

Primary votes were 39% Labor (up two), 39.5% Coalition (up one) and 10% Greens (down two). Morgan’s SMS polls have been unreliable in the past.

In a forced choice, Premier Daniel Andrews had a 61-39% approval rating, down from 70-30% in early September.

Three weeks ago, Newspoll gave Andrews a 62-35% approval rating (compared to 57-37% in late July).

An Utting Research poll of five Western Australian marginal seats showed an average swing to Labor of 16%. In Liberal leader Liza Harvey’s Scarborough seat, the result was 66-34% to Labor.

Labor had a big victory at the March 2017 state election, and this poll suggests a Liberal wipe-out at the next election, due in March 2021.

Biden’s national lead over Trump exceeds ten points

In the FiveThirtyEight national poll aggregate, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden now leads President Donald Trump by 10.4% (52.2–41.9%). It’s somewhat closer in the key swing states, with Biden leading by 8.0% in Michigan, 7.3% in Pennsylvania, 7.2% in Wisconsin, 4.5% in Florida and 3.9% in Arizona.

Since my article about Trump’s coronavirus infection and the first presidential debate, Biden’s national lead has increased by 1.4%.

With Pennsylvania and Wisconsin now polling very closely, both can be seen as “tipping point” states. Previously, Pennsylvania had been better for Trump than Wisconsin.

The gap in Trump’s favour between the national vote and the tipping-point states of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania has increased from 2.4% to 3.2%. If Trump were within five points nationally, this election would be highly competitive. But this difference isn’t going to matter with Biden up ten points nationally.

CNN analyst Harry Enten says Biden is polling better than any challenger against an incumbent president since 1936, when scientific polling started.

US polls include undecided voters, so it is hard for candidates to reach 50%. In 2016, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton never reached that mark in polls, and Trump was able to win far more of the late deciders.

The FiveThirtyEight forecast gives Trump a 14% chance to win, down from 17% last week. Trump has just a 6% chance to win the popular vote.

The Senate forecast gives Democrats a 72% chance to win the Senate, up from 70% last Wednesday. The most likely Senate outcome is still a narrow 51-49 Democratic majority.The Conversation

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

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.