Sri Lanka election: will the country see a return to strongman politics?



Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the frontrunner in Sri Lanka’s presidential election, faces a lawsuit in the US for alleged extrajudicial killing and torture.
M.A. Pushpa Kumara/EPA

Niro Kandasamy, University of Melbourne

Sri Lanka’s presidential election on Saturday comes at a critical time for the country. The government has been in turmoil since President Maithripala Sirisena sacked the prime minister last year and replaced him with former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa, a move that sparked a three-month constitutional crisis.
Then came the Easter bombings this year that killed over 250 people, including two Australians. Sirisena was accused in a parliamentary report of “actively undermining” national security and failing to prevent the attacks.

A harsh crackdown on the country’s Muslim minority followed, including arbitrary arrests and detention, according to human rights groups, often with state complicity. Sinhalese nationalist politicians have also been blamed for injecting

new energy into long-standing efforts to undermine the status and prosperity of the Muslim community.

Sirisena, who is not seeking re-election, has not fulfilled many of the election promises he made four years ago. He ran on issues of economic reform and achieving lasting peace on the island following its long-running civil war. But today, Sri Lanka is still very much a divided nation.




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Another Rajapaksa back in office

A record 35 candidates are running for president in the upcoming election. Gotabaya Rajapaksa of the opposition party SLPP is favoured to win.

Gotabaya is Mahinda Rajapaksa’s brother and served in his decade-long administration as defence secretary. Under their watch, the government became increasingly authoritarian and was blamed by the minority Tamils and Muslims for political violence and repression.

Mahinda Rajapaksa has been tipped as a possible prime minister in his brother’s government.
M.A. Pushpa Kumara/EPA

However, among the Sinhalese majority, Gotabaya is a national hero for orchestrating the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers rebel group in 2009 and bringing an end to the 26-year-long armed conflict.

Gotabaya’s popularity increased significantly following the Easter Sunday terror attacks, thanks to his aggressive stance on terrorism and national security. He is viewed by many Sinhalese as a strongman similar to his brother, who can guarantee their safety and produce economic growth.

However, Gotabaya remains deeply unpopular among the Tamil and Muslim communities, as well as some Sinhalese critics.




Read more:
Sri Lanka has a history of conflict, but the recent attacks appear different


The United Nations has accused Gotabaya’s military of committing numerous abuses in the final stages of the civil war, including torture, extrajudicial killings and repeated shelling in the no-fire zone.

Earlier this year, Gotabaya was sued in the US for authorising the extrajudicial killing of a prominent journalist and the torture of an ethnic Tamil. The lawsuit also includes allegations of rape, torture and brutal interrogations in army camps and police stations between 2008 and 2013.

Gotabaya has dismissed all the allegations against him as “baseless” and “politically motivated”.

Mahinda Rajapaksa has also repeatedly denied that his government was responsible for civilian deaths during the end of the war. If elected, Gotabaya said he would not honour an agreement the government made with the UN to investigate alleged war crimes.

According to some UN estimates, around 100,000 people were killed in the civil war, though a later UN report said 40,000 civilians may have been killed in the final months alone.

The UN has noted that only a proper investigation can lead to an accurate figure for the total number of deaths.

Supporters of Gotabaya Rajapaksa gather at an election rally in Jaffna.
M.A. Pushpa Kumara/EPA

For nearly 1,000 days now, the Tamil families of those who disappeared at the end of the civil war have staged a protest to demand the government provide information about the whereabouts of their loved ones.

If Gotabaya wins the election, it will do little to ease the longstanding grievances of the island’s Tamil people, let alone the escalating tensions between the Sinhalese and Muslim community.




Read more:
Explainer: Why Sri Lanka is sliding into political turmoil, and what could happen next


His main contender, Sajith Premadasa, is the son of another former president, Ranasinghe Premadasa (1989-93). He has been promising a social revolution that includes everything from eliminating poverty to universal health care to tax concessions for small- and medium-sized businesses.

Premadasa has also promised to ramp up national security, including through the appointment of Sarath Fonseka as the head of national security.

Fonseka was the army chief during the end of the civil war. In 2011, Mahinda Rajapaksa jailed Fonseka for suggesting that Gotabaya had ordered all Tamil Tiger leaders to be killed and not allowed to surrender. Sirisena ordered him to be released when he took power.

What does the election mean for Australia relations?

A Gotabaya presidency is unlikely to change the deepening relationship between Australia and Sri Lanka. Labor and Coalition governments have pursued better relations with both the Rajapaksa and Sirisena governments following the end of the war.

However, the cooperation between the two countries will become harder to justify if Gotabaya wins the election, given the allegations he faces of war crimes.

Recent years have seen a closer strategic alignment between the countries, given Sri Lanka’s pivotal position in the Indian Ocean and China’s increasing presence in the region.

Australia gave two offshore patrol vessels to Sri Lanka in 2014, and this year, sent 1,200 ADF personnel to take part in a joint taskforce in Sri Lanka – the largest-ever defence engagement between the countries.

If Australia wants to continue to position itself as a leader of democratic values, it needs to play a greater role in facilitating lasting peace in Sri Lanka.

There is an opportunity for Australia to challenge the next president of Sri Lanka to address the real concerns facing minority groups on the island, not least because they continue to seek safety and protection in Australia.The Conversation

Niro Kandasamy, Tutor, University of Melbourne

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

Nuance and nostalgia: Labor’s election review provides useful insights and inevitable harking back to Hawke


Frank Bongiorno, Australian National University

The media have been itching for a report that blamed Labor’s defeat on a dud leader. But the Review of Labor’s 2019 Federal Election Campaign, chaired by former Rudd and Gillard government minister Craig Emerson and former South Australian premier Jay Weatherill, is proportionate in the blame it sends Bill Shorten’s way. Shorten’s unpopularity contributed to Labor’s defeat, but there were wider problems that cannot be put down to leadership alone.

The review is a nuanced account of why Labor lost. Its brief explanation for that loss – a combination “of a weak strategy that could not adapt to the change in Liberal leadership, a cluttered policy agenda that looked risky and an unpopular leader” – belies the sophistication of the report as whole.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Labor’s post-mortem leaves the hard work still to be done


The document does better than most post-election analysis that has so far come from within the party. Some of this has been so tendentious and self-serving that its value in either explaining what went wrong or in pointing a way forward has been close to nil.

The review suggests that central to the party’s failure was that it did not reassess its approach adequately when Scott Morrison replaced Malcolm Turnbull. Rhetoric that might have made sense when the Liberal Party was being led by “Mr Harbourside Mansion”, as well as proposing business tax cuts, made rather less sense once the “daggy suburban dad” in the baseball cap was in charge.

Labor made too little of the chaos in the Coalition. Instead, the ALP made itself the issue at the election, a kind of government-in-waiting with a target on its back.

University-educated voters in the southern states, when they tuned in to Morrison, might have heard a sound something like the air escaping from a whoopee cushion. And such voters swung to the Labor Party in the election.

But voters in the suburbs and the regions, especially in Queensland, liked what they saw. So did professing Christians, who liked it even more when they saw photos of the devout believer at prayer, right arm pointing to heaven.

Christian voters swung behind the devout Scott Morrison in the 2019 election.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

On the other hand, many voters saw a danger to their already insecure lives in Labor’s multitude of expensive promises – and the taxation changes proposed to pay for them. They believed Morrison when he warned them of the risks of voting Labor.

Then there was coal. The authors of the report do seem to struggle with Adani. Like just about everyone else, they know it’s a financial and environmental mess. But in terms of electoral politics, Adani is radioactive.

Labor suffered in Queensland and the Hunter Valley as a result of its ambiguity, but the authors are silent on what the party could have done differently. If it had been less ambiguous about Adani, it would have needed to take a stand. But what should that stand have been?

The report is insistent that Labor should not alienate progressive and well-educated voters for whom climate change matters a lot and Adani is toxic. But how can it avoid their alienation while also pleasing economically insecure voters in Queensland? Is this simply a matter of finessing one’s language, or do the problems run deeper?

This is perhaps the report’s weakness. It is good at setting out the kinds of dilemmas Labor faces, which the party failed to grapple with at the 2019 election. It bemoans the party’s tendency to become the vehicle for various interests with diverse grievances, at the expense of serving the needs of economically insecure working-class voters. The habit of trying to serve too many masters multiplies policies and increases the complexity of campaign messaging, while undermining the party’s ability to craft a coherent story based on the party’s “core values”.

Yet the report has little to say on what such a narrative would look like or what those core values actually are. We are told the latter include:

improving the job opportunities, security and conditions of working Australians, fairness, non-discrimination on the basis of race, religion and gender, and care for the environment.

But there is nothing much here that would prompt an undecided voter to look to Labor rather than the Coalition, especially if they like the look of the Coalition’s leader better than Labor’s – as most did in 2019.

And then, when the review tries to set out what a “persuasive growth story” might look like, we are treated to the usual history lesson on the Hawke and Keating governments, whose “whole economic strategy” was about promoting “growth, and through it, jobs” (otherwise known as “jobs and growth”). For the Labor Party, it seems, it’s always 1983. We just need to find the winged keel to get us home.

Rather as the Hawke and Keating governments did, the review pushes any idea of redistribution, or of reducing inequality, to the very margins of Labor philosophy and policy. Indeed, the hosing down of such aspirations – modest as they were at the 2019 election – may well help to explain one of the strangest silences in the report: its failure to deal with the role of the Murdoch press.

The Murdoch media didn’t merely favour the government over the opposition. It campaigned vigorously for the return of the Coalition. And it is a vast empire, with a monopoly through much of regional Queensland, for instance. It is hard not to see in the review’s silence on this matter a clearing of the way for a future kissing of the ring of the familiar kind.

Still, there is much that is valuable in the review. There is its frank criticism of the deficiencies in the Labor Party’s strategising and the incoherence of its campaign organisation. There is the news that the party’s own internal data pointed to the possibility of the catastrophe that ultimately occurred – polling outside the party prompted a misreading of the readily available evidence.




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The review is also particularly good on the damaging effects of Clive Palmer’s massive advertising splurge. And it makes a fair attempt to relate the Labor Party’s problems to wider international trends, such as the decline of trust, the insecurity of working life for many, the crisis of social democracy, and the search for convenient scapegoats – all of which have undermined the position of parties of reform.

Best of all, the review spares us a lot of rubbish about moving the party to the centre, or the right. It does make much of the need for Labor to reinvigorate its appeal to those groups who seem to have been most alienated at the 2019 election.

It recognises – correctly in my view – that Labor’s position on Adani performed unfortunate symbolic work, suggesting to people especially in parts of Queensland “that Labor did not value them or the work they do”.

But when your primary vote in Queensland is tracking at about 25% and you hold fewer than a quarter of the lower-house seats in that state and Western Australia combined, you probably don’t need a review to tell you something has to change.The Conversation

Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

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

Grattan on Friday: Labor’s post-mortem leaves the hard work still to be done



Bill Shorten may or may not have been able to beat Malcolm Turnbull, but the review makes it clear the ALP failed to adapt to a new, tactically-astute prime minister.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The messages for next time from Labor’s 2019 election post-mortem are clear. Have a better strategy. Have a stronger narrative, fewer policies, greater emphasis on economic growth. Have a better leader.

Obvious. Incontestable. Just, as a package, devilishly hard to achieve.

The review by Labor elders Jay Weatherill and Craig Emerson identifies the plethora of reasons for Labor’s unanticipated failure. It doesn’t pull punches and contains sensible recommendations.

But no prescribed remedies can guarantee success, in a game where how the other side operates is as important – and can be more so – than what your side does. And that’s apart from the general climate of the times, these days characterised by uncertainty and distrust.

Political success comes from judgement and planning, but there’s also the lottery element. We’ll never know whether Bill Shorten could have beaten Malcolm Turnbull if he’d still been the prime minister in May. Turnbull would say no. Many of the Liberals who ditched Turnbull would say yes. Everyone would agree with the review’s conclusion that Labor failed to adapt when it suddenly faced a new, tactically-astute Liberal PM.

The review’s release was much anticipated, as though it marks a watershed. It doesn’t. It’s sound, well and thoroughly prepared. But it was never going to say how policies should be recast. It leaves the hard work still to be done, and that will be painful and prolonged.

While there’s been much emphasis on Labor’s big taxing policies, the review stresses they were driven by the ALP opting for big spending.

It says “the size and complexity” of the ALP’s spending promises – more than $100 billion – “drove its tax policies and exposed Labor to a Coalition attack that fuelled anxieties among insecure, low-income couples in outer-urban and regional Australia that Labor would crash the economy and risk their jobs”.

Labor has long believed in both the policy desirability and the political attractiveness of large dollops of money for education and health in particular.

Beyond a certain point, however, the value of ever more dollars becomes questionable, on both policy and political grounds. Is the community, for example, getting the return it should for the funds put into schools over the past decade?

One can assume – and Anthony Albanese is signalling – Labor will throw around fewer dollars next time.

The review doesn’t target the controversial policies on negative gearing and franking credits. But they’ll be watered down or dumped.

Albanese, speaking to the National Press Club on Friday, said of the franking credits policy: “When you’ve got to explain dividend imputation and franking credits from opposition – tough ask”. He recounted talking to a pensioner worried about the policy – although pensioners would have been exempted and she’d never owned a share in her life.

The franking policy should have had a protection built in to avoid hitting genuinely low-income retirees while still catching wealthy people who’d rearranged their affairs to have little or no income. Shorten was advised to change it, but refused. On Thursday he said “were the universe to grant reruns” he would “take a different position on franking credits”.

It will be a lot easier for Labor to deal with these tax measures than with climate policy.

The review says: “A modern Labor Party cannot neglect human-induced climate change. To do so would be environmentally irresponsible and a clear electoral liability. Labor needs to increase public awareness of the costs of inaction on climate change, respect the role of workers in fossil-fuel industries and support job opportunities in emissions-reducing industries while taking the pressure off electricity prices.”

Indeed. The summary just highlights the complexities for Labor in working out its revised climate policy.

Anthony Albanese has already put the policy, whatever its detail, into a framework of its potential for job creation as the energy mix moves to renewables.

It’s part of his broader emphasis on jobs and growth (accompanied by his pursuit of improved relations with business, never again to be labelled “the big end of town”).

It’s possible increasing public worry about climate change could help Labor at the next election, if the government’s response is seen as inadequate. That won’t, however, make it any less imperative for the ALP to have a better pitched policy than its 2019 election one, which was too ambitious, lacked costings, and was conflicted on coal.

This segues into Labor’s problem juggling its “progressive” supporters with its working class suburban base, to say nothing of those in coal areas. Taking one line in the south and another in the north didn’t work. The unpalatable truth may be these constituencies are actually not reconcilable, but Labor has to find more effective ways to deal with the clash.

Notably, the review points to the risk of Labor “becoming a grievance-based organisation”. “Working people experiencing economic dislocation caused by technological change will lose faith in Labor if they do not believe the party is responding to their needs, instead being preoccupied with issues not concerning them or that are actively against their interests,” it says.

This is an important warning in an era of identity politics. But again, Labor is in a difficult position, because its commitment to rights, non-discrimination and similar values will mean it attracts certain groups and has to be concerned with their problems. It’s a matter of balance, and not letting itself become hostage.

Grievance politics, looked at through a positive lens, is a way of identifying wrongs and injustices and seeking to rectify them. But it is also in part a reflection of the wider negativity infecting contemporary politics, amplified by today’s media.

That culture can add to the problems of a centre left party trying to sell an alternative.

Labor frontbencher Mark Butler recently noted that on the three post-war occasions when Labor won from opposition, it had immensely popular leaders (Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd), visions for the nation and superior campaigns.

Whitlam sold a sweeping new program in tune with the changing times. Hawke promoted “reconciliation, recovery and reconstruction”. Rudd was welcomed as a fresh face embracing concern about climate change. Albanese has boldly dubbed a series of his speeches (the first already delivered) “vision statements”. But “vision” is an elusive elixir, apparently harder than ever to come by.

Winning from opposition is a struggle for Labor. This makes it crucial to have a leader who can both reassure and inspire swinging voters. Unfortunately out-of-the box leaders don’t come often; in reality, a party has to work with what it has got.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.

Labor’s election post-mortem warns against ‘becoming a grievance-based organisation’



Former minister Craig Emerson and former South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill have pinpointed key weaknesses in Labor’s 2019 election strategy.
AAP/Julian Smith

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The long-awaited ALP campaign review says Labor lost “because of a weak strategy that could not adapt to the change in Liberal leadership, a cluttered policy agenda that looked risky and an unpopular leader”.

“No one of these shortcomings was decisive but in combination they explain the result,” says the report from former South Australian premier Jay Weatherill and former federal minister Craig Emerson.

While it says Labor’s big tax policies didn’t cause the defeat, the size and complexity of its spending plans “drove its tax policies” exposing it “to a Coalition attack that fuelled anxieties among insecure, low-income couples in outer-urban and regional Australia that Labor would crash the economy and risk their jobs”.

Labor failed to “craft a simple narrative” bringing together its policies, the reviews says.

Its analysis is damning while seeking to be positive for the future, at a time when the ALP remains in shock at its unexpected loss and divided and uncertain about the way forward.

Looking ahead, the report says “policies can be bold but should form part of a coherent Labor story, be limited in number and be easily explainable, making them less capable of misrepresentation”.

“Labor should position itself as a party of economic growth and job creation. Labor should adopt the language of inclusion, recognising the contribution of small and large businesses to economic prosperity, and abandon derogatory references to ‘the big end of town’.”

The report’s emphasis on the importance of Labor tapping into economic growth and being attuned to business reflects the direction in which Anthony Albanese has been seeking to take the party since becoming leader.

The criticism of the “top end of town” language is a direct slap at the rhetoric of Bill Shorten.



The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Just ahead of the report’s release, Shorten said in a Thursday statement that “were the universe to grant reruns” he would have fewer campaign messages, put more emphasis on the opportunities provided by renewable energies, and take a different position on franking credits.

He also said he should have promised bigger immediate tax cuts for working people.

Shorten reiterated his intention to remain in politics for the next 20 years.

The report warns that “care needs to be taken to avoid Labor becoming a grievance-based organisation,” saying it “has been increasingly mobilised to address the political grievances of a vast and disparate constituency”.

“Working people experiencing economic dislocation caused by technological change will lose faith in Labor if they do not believe the party is responding to their needs, instead being preoccupied with issues not concerning them or that are actively against their interests.

“A grievance-based approach can create a culture of moving from one issue to the next, formulating myriad policies in response to a broad range of concerns.”

Addressing the swing against the ALP by low-income workers, the report says the party’s “ambiguous language on Adani, combined with some anti-coal rhetoric, devastated its support in the coal mining communities of regional Queensland and the Hunter Valley.”

In contrast, higher-income urban voters worried about climate change moved to Labor, despite the potential impact on them of the opposition’s tax policies.

Labor lost some Christian voters, “particularly devout, first-generation migrant Christians”, but the review does not find that people of faith in general deserted Labor.

The review does not believe Labor’s values – “improving the job opportunities, security and conditions of working Australians, fairness, non-discrimination on the basis of race, religion and gender, and care for the environment – were the problem at the election, and says Labor should retain its commitment to these values.

“Labor’s policy formulation should be guided by the national interest, avoiding any perception of capture by special interest groups.”

As a debate has raged within the ALP on how Labor should reshape its climate change policy, and notably its targets, the report says: “A modern Labor Party cannot neglect human-induced climate change. To do so would be environmentally irresponsible and a clear electoral liability.

“Labor needs to increase public awareness of the costs of inaction on climate change, respect the role of workers in fossil fuel industries and support job opportunities in emissions-reducing industries while taking the pressure off electricity prices.”

The report says that high expectations of victory caused Labor incorrectly to assume it had a stronger campaign machine and better digital capacity than the Coalition. It also led to “little consideration being given to querying Labor’s strategy and policy agenda”.

Following Clive Palmer’s huge advertising blitz, the review urges caps on spending by high wealth individuals. Also, influenced by the scare campaign that wrongly asserted Labor had in mind a death tax, the review said the issue of truth in advertising should be looked at.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.

The UK’s 2019 election cannot be a re-run of the 2017 campaign


Christopher Kirkland, York St John University

The UK is due to go to the polls on December 12 in an attempt to overcome parlaiment’s impasse over Brexit. Given the latest missed deadline of October 31, it seems inevitable that Brexit will dominate this campaign. Boris Johnson and the Conservatives are blaming parliament for blocking the passage of a Brexit agreement. Jeremy Corbyn and Labour are highlighting the dangers of Johnson’s deal, as well as pointing out that the government pulled the deal before parliament could vote on it, somewhat undermining the idea that MPs have blocked it.

While politicians may be keen to offer such narratives, voters may – and indeed should – express different priorities. They should ask more of candidates than a simple re-run of either the 2016 referendum or the 2017 general election, both of which have been unable to deliver change.

Politicians can help this by ensuring that debating Brexit does not come at the expense of other topics. To achieve that, the narrative on the biggest issue of the day needs to be focused and specific so that it is less likely to sprawl out and dominate everything. If politicians can do this then we can begin to talk about other issues.

Even if a new government were to agree a deal quickly and get it through the new parliament in time for the January 31 deadline, that would not be the end of the story. After the deal passes, the UK will enter a transition period with a new deadline of December 31 2020. Any agreements made here will set out the UK’s future relationship with the EU. This will be much more difficult to negotiate than the current withdrawal agreement (not least as this agreement will encompass far more than the current withdrawal agreement).

It seems remote to suggest that the future relationship – something more complex than the process of leaving – can be negotiated any quicker than the withdrawal agreement. Bearing in mind there already been two and a half years of negotiations up to now, it is likely that these negotiations will consume most of the time afforded to the next parliament. They may not even be completed before the next election in 2024.

Hopes are not plans

One problem is that without knowing when or how the big Brexit issues will be resolved, the debate can only revolve around abstract ideas. This was a key problem in the original Brexit campaign. Important questions could be left unanswered because so much was unknown. At times, voters were even fed misinformation.

One function of an election is to hold incumbent governments and MPs to account – and in order to do this in the future, greater attention needs to be placed on demanding politicians present feasible policy suggestions rather than chasing fanciful ideas.

We should be wary of MPs or candidates who appear able to promise a range of options to different (sub-groups of) voters. Even in the early stages of the campaign we can see divergence between those advocating a form of Brexit. Johnson is promoting his deal and new deadline of 31 January 2020, while Nigel Farage, at the launch of the Brexit Party, criticised the deal and suggested a further extension to July 2020 could be possible.

Here it is important to note the language used on the campaign trail. What a party hopes to achieve in Brexit negotiations is not necessarily the same as what they can achieve. They may not even have control over the things they are promising. Remember any deal (including any alterations or new deals) will have to be signed off by the EU.

The domestic agenda

Even if we accept the narrative that Brexit can be “resolved” in the next parliament, the question then left is what comes next? What are the post-Brexit plans? Any aspiring government simply cannot wait until the end of Brexit to start implementing policies. Parliament has been bogged down by Brexit ever since Article 50 was triggered in 2017 and has carried only a fraction of the amount of work it might otherwise.

Candidates in the elections could help to offer some reassurances about Brexit by talking about other policy areas too. A government looking to hold office until May 2024 will need to address environmental changes, the future of the union, the legacy of austerity and plans for reigniting the economy, as well as traditionally salient issues such as welfare (including the NHS) and education.

Clarity on domestic policies will also have the effect of reassuring voters who are worried by the different permutations that Brexit may offer. And such clarity could, in turn, help to mitigate some of the economic risks associated with Brexit. If we can’t be sure about what will happen after Brexit, a party hoping to reach government could at least offer stability on other matters.The Conversation

Christopher Kirkland, Lecturer in Politics, York St John University

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

Surge in pre-poll numbers at 2019 federal election changes the relationship between voters and parties



Another issue is that pre-polling gives an advantage to the major parties over the smaller ones, due to the latter having fewer resources.
AAP/Bianca de Marchi

Stephen Mills, University of Sydney and Martin Drum, University of Notre Dame Australia

On the morning of the last Monday in April, 2019, federal election officials opened the doors of more than 500 pre-poll voting centres around Australia, and waited for the voters to turn up. It was the first day of the three-week early voting period leading up to the May 18 election day.

They didn’t have to wait long. By the end of the day, 123,793 voters had walked through the doors and cast their votes – more than the enrolment of an average House of Representatives electorate, and a record number for the first day of pre-polling.




Read more:
Three weeks of early voting has a significant effect on democracy. Here’s why


That evening, the rush to the polls attracted comment at the first leaders’ debate. Opposition leader Bill Shorten claimed people were voting early because they wanted “change”; Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisted it showed people “deserve” to know the cost of opposition policies.

In turn, pre-polling attracted more media attention than in previous campaigns.

Pre-polling increased steadily through the campaign, culminating on the last Friday with 710,000 pre-poll voters. The total for the full three weeks was 4.7 million, or 31.6% of total turnout.

Picture.
Author supplied

Another 1.6 million voted early by post. In short, nearly four in ten voters decided, before the campaign had finished, that they had heard enough and were ready to cast their votes.

Pre-polling has come of age. While it has been on the rise in recent electoral cycles, it reached record levels federally in 2019. Casting a vote before election day has been transformed, over a very few electoral cycles, from the occasional practice of a limited number of eligible voters to the habitual form of electoral participation of a large minority of the electorate.

Who votes early?

Despite the popularity of pre-polling, there is a puzzling unevenness about it. Some voters love it more than others. Australian Electoral Commission data show the Northern Territory, with its own particular geography and demography, had the highest form of pre-poll voting at 42.9% of turnout. Victoria (37.2%), ACT (36.5%) and Queensland (35.6%) were well above average, while Tasmania (19%), SA (21.7%) and WA (22.9%) lagged. NSW sat just below the national average at 30.1%.

While the rates of all states and territories were lower in 2016, their relative percentages were very similar.

Pre-polling is particularly strong in rural electorates. Ten of the 15 electorates in the country with the highest pre-poll percentage were rural electorates, despite the fact that the AEC has less than one third of seats classed in this category. All 15 of these seats are in Victoria, NSW or Queensland.

By contrast, 13 of the 15 electorates with the lowest percentage of pre-poll voters came from WA, Tasmania and South Australia, and just three of these were from outside the main metropolitan areas.

In terms of political allegiance, the inclination of early voters is well known: those voting early have tended to lean towards the Coalition. As psephologist Peter Brent has shown, this gap has only widened in recent electoral cycles, despite the growing number of early voters.

In 2004, the Coalition did 4% better in early voting than voting on election day; by 2019 this gap rose to just over 5%. There is strong evidence for Coalition mobilisation of postal voters, with 312,391 postal vote applications received from Coalition parties in 2019, and just 149,582 from the Labor party.

The reasons why people vote early are still widely debated, but the key reasons are convenience and access.

There is also evidence that indicates older people like voting earlier. Such arguments are borne out in those figures, given the older demographics of rural areas, and the greater distances that voters may need to travel to access voting booths.

Has deregulating early voting made a difference?

One factor cited as an explanation for the increase in early voting is the easing of restrictions on the practice. A number of jurisdictions including Victoria (2010), Queensland (2015), and Western Australia (2016) have made it easier to vote early at pre-poll booths for state elections by removing the need for voters to provide justifications for doing so. The rationale when doing so has been that this would make such voting forms more accessible.

While we would expect to see these jurisdictions record higher levels of pre-poll voting, the outcomes of these changes in legislation have been mixed (see chart two).


Author supplied, Author provided

Victoria’s 2018 state election recorded the highest levels of pre-poll voting of any state, at 37.29%, and this may be linked to their decision to deregulate the practice earlier than elsewhere. But at their last state elections, WA, while recording a boost in postal voting (which remains regulated) had a pre-poll rate of 15.47%, and Queensland of 19.64% – both still well short of Victoria.

While pre-poll voting in Queensland and WA increased after deregulation, it did not increase any more markedly than other jurisdictions that retained regulation.

Moreover, each of these jurisdictions recorded a prepoll rate for the 2019 Federal election equal to, or higher than, the previous state election, despite the Commonwealth retaining the need for voters to justify their decision to do so.

While in Victoria the rate was almost identical, in WA and Queensland the Federal rate of pre-poll was much higher.

Conclusions: unexpected implications

An examination of early voting data, particularly around the practice of pre-polling, demonstrates clear but unexplained trends. Tasmania, WA and South Australia lag well behind the other states and territories in pre-polling. There is even clearer unevenness within states, where rural and regional voters are voting early in significantly higher numbers than their metropolitan counterparts.

The data also indicate that making forms of early voting more accessible (such as by deregulating pre-polling) has in itself not led to marked increases in the practice.




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What we also know is that the large rates of early voting have changed the relationship between voters and the people or parties they are choosing to vote for, in that many voters cast their ballots before the parties have released all their policies.

Other unanticipated effects have emerged. In 2019, we saw many early voters casting votes for candidates who were later disendorsed by their own parties.

This arises because the early voting period occupies the maximum available time on the campaign calendar, beginning as soon as possible after close of nominations. This may create a dysfunction between voters and the parties candidates claim to represent on the ballot.

Pre-polling also leads to uneven playing fields between major parties as opposed to minor parties and independents, due to the latter having fewer resources.

There are also additional challenges faced by electoral commissions in the provision of pre-poll centres and staff to manage this surge. This research has been published in The Conversation and in a previous report on voting flexibility late last year.

The increased uptake of early voting in 2019 only exacerbates these implications, many of which may not have been anticipated until recently.

While early voting is important in providing greater accessibility to voters and encouraging turnout, thought should be given to reviewing the full implications through the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM).

One possibility is to retain the current forms of early voting but limit the pre-poll period to two weeks rather than three. This would retain flexibility for voters, but make the process more manageable for all the stakeholders concerned.The Conversation

Stephen Mills, Hon Senior Lecturer, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Sydney and 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.

High Court challenge to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg under section 44


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The citizenship provision of the Constitution’s section 44 has raised its head again, with the eligibility of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg being challenged by an elector in his Kooyong seat.

Michaal Staindl has filed a petition with the High Court, which sits as the Court of Disputed Returns, alleging Frydenberg is ineligible “because he is a citizen of the Republic of Hungary”.

The petition says

The respondent’s mother arrived in Australia in 1950 in possession of a valid passport, inferred to be a valid Hungarian passport. This indicates that she continued to be a citizen of Hungary after 1948.

Pursuant to the law of Hungary, all children born to the respondent’s mother are a citizen of Hungary from the time of their birth and in the premise, the respondent is a citizen of Hungary

Staindl told Guardian Australia he was pursuing the action against Frydenberg, whom he knew, because “he’s consistently betrayed me, the electorate and the country on climate change”.

The Guardian reported that Staindl “said if Frydenberg shows evidence he is not Hungarian he could drop the case”; otherwise, he said, he would “see it through”.

Under Section 44, a person cannot sit in the federal parliament if he or she is “under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power”.

In his “statement of member’s qualifications relating to section 44 and 45 of the constitution”, posted on Wednesday, Frydenberg records that his mother – who arrived in Australia as a refugee – was a Hungarian citizen between 1943 and 1948.

Frydenberg said “I have clear legal advice that I do not hold citizenship of another country.”

Section 44, which has several prohibitions, cut a swathe through the last parliament, overwhelmingly on citizenship grounds, hitting Coalition, Labor, and crossbench parliamentarians and triggering multiple byelections.

Although Frydenberg’s situation was canvassed during the previous term Labor backed off, given his mother had escaped the Holocaust.

Frydenberg, in comments in the last term, said his mother had arrived stateless. “It is absolutely absurd to think that I could involuntarily acquire Hungarian citizenship by rule of a country that rendered my mother stateless,” he said then.

Separately, Frydenberg’s eligibility is being challenged under the Electoral Act over Liberal party Chinese-language signs. This challenge is being brought by Oliver Yates, who ran as an independent against Frydenberg. It is claimed the signs were likely to have misled voters into thinking that to cast a valid vote they had to put the figure 1 beside the Liberal candidate.

A similar challenge over Chinese-language signs has been brought by a Chisholm voter against the new Liberal MP for Chisholm, Gladys Liu.

The ALP is not involved in the challenges.

The ALP’s acting national secretary Paul Erickson said in a statement that Labor was “disappointed by the tactics employed by the Liberal Party at the election, which went well beyond the accepted bounds of a vigorously contested campaign – especially in the divisions of Chisholm and Kooyong.

“The Chinese-language signs used by the Liberal Party in those contests were clearly designed to look like official Australian Electoral Commission voting instructions using the AEC colours, for the clear purpose of misleading Mandarin and Cantonese-speaking voters into voting for the Liberal Party,” he said.

But while there was a strong case that the signs breached the Electoral Act Labor was not seeking to overturn the results in Chisholm and Kooyong, given the cost and time involved, Erickson said.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.

The 2019 flu shot isn’t perfect – but it’s still our best defence against influenza



Early indications are that the vaccine has been a reasonably good match in the 2019 season.
Shutterstock

Lauren Bloomfield, Edith Cowan University

Over recent months, reports of “a horror flu season” causing serious illness and death have dominated the headlines.

The high number of cases has led some people to question the effectiveness of the flu vaccine, and whether it’s worth getting if it doesn’t guarantee you won’t get the flu.

The flu vaccine is designed to cover the strains of the flu anticipated to circulate during the season. But even with the most sophisticated scientific processes, determining the right strains to include in the vaccine isn’t 100% foolproof.




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Sometimes the virus undergoes major genetic changes or “mutations” in a relatively short space of time. Reports of a “mutant strain” this year means there’s concern some people might catch a strain the vaccine hasn’t protected against.

It’s too soon to tell the full extent of the effects of this mutation on how well the vaccine has worked. But the 2019 vaccine is showing early signs of being a good match for the common strains of the flu circulating this season.

What’s in a name?

Influenza or “flu” isn’t just one virus; different strains circulate each season.

Flu viruses that cause seasonal epidemics in humans fit under one of two major groups: influenza A or B.

Most flu vaccines protect against four strains of influenza.
Image Point Fr/Shutterstock

Influenza A is further broken down into strains or subtypes based on surface proteins called hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N).

We’re currently concerned about two subtypes which cause outbreaks in humans: A/H1N1pdm09 and A/H3N2.

Influenza B viruses are similarly categorised into strains based on two distinct lineages: B/Yamagata and B/Victoria.

Understanding the circulating strains is important because it gives us clues as to which age groups will likely be worst affected. Influenza A/H3, for example, has historically been associated with higher rates of disease in people aged 65 and over.

But the circulating strains are also important because they inform how the vaccine will be developed. A good match between the vaccine strains and what is circulating will mean the vaccine offers the best possible protection.

So how do we decide which flu strains are covered by the vaccine?

Every year, a new vaccine is produced to cover the strains that are predicted to be circulating in the northern and southern hemispheres. The World Health Organisation (WHO) uses a range of measures to determine which strains should be included in the vaccine.

Many of us who were vaccinated this year would have received a quadrivalent vaccine. This means it covered four strains in total: two strains of influenza A, and two strains of influenza B.

People aged 65 and over are offered a “high-dose” trivalent vaccine, which covers both A strains, and one B strain.




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The Australian Influenza Vaccine Committee (AIVC) reviews the results and makes recommendations for the Australian vaccine, which in 2019 covered the following strains:

  • an A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus
  • an A/Switzerland/8060/2017 (H3N2)-like virus
  • a B/Colorado/06/2017-like virus (Victoria lineage) – not included in the trivalent vaccine recommendation
  • a B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus (Yamagata lineage).

Do we always get it right?

The basic premise of forecasting is that it’s a “best guess”. It’s a highly educated guess, based on analysis and evaluation, but it’s not a guarantee.

The effectiveness of a vaccine depends on a number of factors, only some of which are within our control. While the choice for the vaccine is made on the best evidence available at the time, the viruses circulating in the population undergo changes as they replicate, known as antigenic “drift” and “shift”.

Flu viruses change every year so researchers have to make an educated guess about which ones might circulate.
Image Point Fr/Shutterstock

If the changes are only small, we can still get good cross-protection.

Less frequently, a big genetic “shift” happens. If this occurs after vaccine development has started and the strains have been chosen, we are dealing with a so-called “mutant flu” and the vaccine will likely not be a good match.

So is this year’s vaccine is working?

Data available for this year are showing the majority of influenza cases in Australia have been influenza A – with some states reporting more H3N2 than H1N1, and others reporting a more even mix of both.

The WHO Collaborating Centre in Victoria is also reporting that the majority of specimens of all four strains they’ve tested this year appear to be similar to the vaccine strains.




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While early indications are that the vaccine has been a good match in the 2019 season, the WHO Collaborating Centre has also recently confirmed there has been a mutation in the A/H3N2 strain this season.

It’s not clear yet if this mutation will have a significant impact on vaccine effectiveness, but it may at least partially explain the high case numbers we’ve seen so far.

Large vaccine effectiveness studies done at the end of the flu season will help assess the impact of this mutation. In the meantime, a mismatch on only one strain means the vaccine will still provide reasonable protection against other circulating strains.

It’s still worth being vaccinated

In the same way wearing a seat belt is no guarantee we won’t be injured in a car accident, a flu vaccine is no guarantee we won’t develop influenza this season.

A person’s underlying susceptibility, due to factors such as their age and health, will also influence how well a vaccine works.




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But the flu shot remains a safe and reasonably effective strategy to reduce your risk of serious illness.

While flu epidemics remain complex, advice to prevent flu transmission remains simple. Regularly washing our hands, covering our mouth when we cough or sneeze, and staying home when we’re unwell are things we can all do to help stop the spread.The Conversation

Lauren Bloomfield, Lecturer, 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.

Labor sets up review into election loss as top official falls on his sword



Labor National Secretary Noah Carroll is stepping down following the party’s surprise election loss in May.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Labor National Secretary Noah Carroll has resigned and the party’s national executive has set up a review to examine its election campaign performance and the reasons for the unexpected loss.

The post mortem will be jointly headed by former South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill and former federal minister Craig Emerson.

Other members of the committee are Linda White, an official of the Australian Services Union; Queensland Senator Anthony Chisholm, a former state secretary; John Graham, a member of the NSW upper house and a former state assistant general secretary, and Lenda Oshalem, formerly an official in the Western Australian branch of the party.

The review will be wide-ranging but done quickly, reporting in October.

It will look at Labor’s campaign strategy and organisation, including digital campaigning, engagement with unions and third-party campaigns, fund-raising, policy, preference negotiations and strategy, polling, candidate selection, target seat campaigning, media strategy, gender diversity in the campaign, and the methods used by opponents that were particularly effective against the party.




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After the party’s shock loss in May, stories emerged of tensions in the campaign, with a good deal of blame shifting over the result. Carroll, who is from the right and as Victorian secretary had run the successful 2014 state campaign, had both detractors and supporters.

One issue of controversy revolved around party research. John Utting, who had a long record running polling for the party, was replaced by YouGov Galaxy for quantitative polling. Utting did just the qualitative (focus group) research.

Assistant secretary Paul Erickson will become acting national secretary until a replacement for Carroll is decided.

The Friday executive meeting had been due to consider the expulsion of construction union official John Setka, but he has been given until July 15 to prepare his defence. Meanwhile, he has launched legal action to try to stymie his expulsion.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said Setka would not succeed in heading off his ousting.

Albanese began his move against Setka on the ground he had denigrated anti-domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty at a private union meeting – a claim that is contested. But Albanese has also said Setka should be thrown out of the party because of his general behaviour. He recently pleaded guilty to harassing his wife with a plethora of offensive text messages.




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Setka furore opens division within the labour movement – and there is no easy solution


Albanese said on Friday he was not surprised Setka had started legal proceedings.

It always going to be the case given Mr Setka’s background in litigation. But the fact is that the Australian Labor Party has the right to determine who we want to be members, just like any organisation.

If a footy player, rugby league or AFL, had pleaded guilty essentially to two issues relating to harassment of a woman they’d be sacked by their club. We’ll sack John Setka and we’ll do it on July 15.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.