New Zealanders were not the only ones to go to the polls over the weekend. On Saturday, the Australian Capital Territory also voted, returning Labor for a sixth consecutive term after almost 20 years in office.
Andrew Barr, after almost six years as chief minister, has won a further four years in office.
The result confirms Canberra’s reputation as the most progressive jurisdiction in the Australia.
Big wins for the Greens, losses for Liberals
Labor’s vote remained steady, despite being the nation’s longest-serving government, albeit under different leaders.
The big winner on the night was Barr’s coalition partner, the Greens, led by Minister for Climate Change, Sustainability and Corrections, Shane Rattenbury.
The Greens earned a swing of 3.4%. It looks like the party will go from two to at least three seats, with the possibility of up to six in the 25-seat Legislative Assembly as counting is confirmed.
The government ran as an experienced, progressive coalition, tagging the opposition leader as inexperienced and too socially conservative for Canberra. It was a low-key, steady pair of hands approach, in contrast to an opposition relying on stunts and expensive policy proposals.
The Liberal’s slogan was “lower taxes, better services”, playing on community concerns about rate rises and problems in health and transport services. It wanted to “grow the pie” through population growth, by appealing for the return of Canberrans attracted to nearby NSW towns by lower property prices. It also painted the government as arrogant and tired.
But the Liberal campaign, widely acknowledged to be disciplined, failed to cut through and was dogged by its inability to convincingly answer where the money was coming from for better services, if rates were frozen. The Liberals have now campaigned for almost a decade against cost of living rises without any return.
Saturday’s election result also sees the long-running controversy about the government’s investment in light rail resolved in Labor-Greens’ favour.
Despite concerns about the construction and usage of the new transport system, which launched in the city’s north in 2019, it is now seen as a positive. Canberrans in the southern suburbs want to get on board too.
Within the overall result, there were some intriguing variations between and within the parties and regions.
The Liberals’ lost a seat in its hitherto southern heartland, Brindabella. This may have been connected to growing concerns about climate change, fuelled by the bushfires and smoke haze at the beginning of the year.
But in the northern seat of Yerrabi, which benefited from the new light rail, Labor surprisingly looks like losing a seat to the Greens.
Independents and new parties made no inroads. The Belco Party, created by former Liberal leader, Bill Stefaniak, fell short in the western seat of Ginnindera, damaging the Liberals in the process.
Stinging criticism of Labor, by former Labor Chief Minister Jon Stanhope, may have driven some Labor voters, not to the Liberals, but to the Greens.
Combined with retirements, the losses among sitting members on both sides may mean as many as seven new faces in the 25-member Legislative Assembly.
COVID elections good for incumbents
Given the small size of the ACT and its traditional Labor-leanings, there are few national lessons from Saturday’s result. But the Greens will be encouraged to campaign again on a positive vision.
Meanwhile, the idea that incumbent governments thrive under pandemic condition elections also received a boost. There will be another opportunity to test this theory when Queensland goes to the polls on October 31.
At Saturday’s New Zealand election, Labour won 64 of the 120 seats (up 18 since the 2017 election). This means a Labour eight-seat majority. The opposition National won 35 seats (down 21), the right-wing ACT ten (up nine), the Greens ten (up two) and the Māori party one (up one).
Vote shares were 49.1% Labour (up 12.2%), 26.8% National (down 17.6%), 8.0% ACT (up 7.5%), 7.6% Greens (up 1.3%) and 1.0% Māori (down 0.2%).
Under New Zealand’s system, parties are entitled to a proportional allocation of seats if they either win at least 5% of the overall vote, or win a single-member seat. The Māori party entered parliament by winning one of the seven single-member seats reserved for those on the Māori roll. The Greens and ACT also won single-member seats.
Since the 2017 election, Labour has governed in coalition with the Greens and the populist NZ First. NZ First will not be returned to parliament, as their vote slumped to 2.7% (down 4.5%), and they failed to win a single-member seat.
In February, two polls had National ahead of Labour. But Labour recorded massive poll leads in May owing to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s handling of coronavirus. Labour’s lead narrowed somewhat as the election approached, but final polls understated Labour’s lead; they won by 22 points, not the 15 in final polls.
Greens could win six of 25 ACT seats
With 78% of enrolled voters counted at Saturday’s ACT election, vote shares were 38.4% Labor (down 0.1% since 2016), 33.1% Liberals (down 3.6%) and 13.9% Greens (up 3.6%).
The ACT uses five five-member electorates, with candidates elected using the Hare-Clark system. A quota is one-sixth of the vote, or 16.7%. Preference distribution sheets have been released based on votes cast electronically. Paper ballots will be manually entered.
In Brindabella, Labor has 2.5 quotas, the Liberals 2.3 and the Greens 0.7. The Poll Bludger’s analysis of preferences has it very close between Labor and the Greens for the final seat.
In Ginninderra, Labor has 2.4 quotas, the Liberals 1.6 and the Greens 0.8. Labor leads the Liberals for the final seat, but it could be overturned on late counting.
In Kurrajong, Labor has 2.3 quotas, the Liberals 1.6 and the Greens 1.4. Preferences from Labor and minor parties give the Greens a solid lead over the Liberals in the race for the final seat. So Kurrajong is likely to split two Labor, two Greens and just one Liberal.
In Murrumbidgee, Labor has 2.2 quotas, the Liberals 2.1 and the Greens 0.7. This is a clear two Labor, two Liberals, one Green result.
In Yerrabi, the Liberals have 2.4 quotas, Labor 2.1 and the Greens 0.6. This will be two Liberals, two Labor and one Green.
In summary, Labor is likely to win ten of the 25 seats, the Liberals eight and the Greens five, with two in doubt, one Labor vs Greens and one Labor vs Liberal. In 2016, the result was 12 Labor, 11 Liberals, two Greens. The current Labor/Green coalition has easily retained power.
Queensland Newspoll: 52-48 to Labor
The Queensland election will be held on October 31. A Newspoll, conducted October 9-14 from a sample of 1,001, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a three-point gain for Labor since a late July Newspoll. Labor’s lead is the same as in a YouGov poll that I covered in early October. YouGov conducts Newspoll, so it is effectively the same pollster.
Primary votes were virtually identical to that YouGov poll, at 37% Labor, 37% LNP, 11% Greens and 9% One Nation; the only difference a one-point drop for the Greens.
63% were satisfied with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s performance and 33% were dissatisfied, for a net approval of +30. These figures are identical to a September Newspoll of the Victorian and Queensland premiers’ ratings.
Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington had a net approval of -7, up one point since the late July Newspoll. Palaszczuk led Frecklington as better premier by 57-32 (57-26 in July).
More state polls: NSW and Victoria
Channel 10 commissioned a uComms NSW poll after revelations of Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s affair with former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire. 63% said Berejiklian should not resign, and just 28% thought she should go.
The only information provided on voting intentions was that the Coalition led Labor by 38-30. William Bowe says that uComms includes undecided in the initial table, and that this implies little change from the 2019 election result.
A YouGov poll for The Sunday Telegraph gave Berejiklian a 68-26 approval rating. By 49-36, voters did not think she had done anything wrong. By 60-29, they wanted her to stay as premier.
A Victorian SMS Morgan poll, conducted October 12-13 from a sample of 899, gave Labor a 51.5-48.5 lead, unchanged since late September. Primary votes were 40% Labor (up one), 40% Coalition (up 0.5) and 9% Greens (down one). Premier Daniel Andrews had a 59-41 approval rating (61-39 previously).
Trump still down by double digits nationally
The FiveThirtyEight national polls aggregate currently gives Joe Biden a 10.6% lead over Donald Trump (52.4% to 41.8%). It’s somewhat closer in the key states with Biden leading by 7.9% in Michigan, 7.8% in Wisconsin, 6.8% in Pennsylvania, 4.0% in Florida and 3.9% in Arizona.
Pennsylvania has returned to being the “tipping-point” state, and is currently polling 3.8% better for Trump than nationally. But Trump needs to get within five points to make the Electoral College competitive.
There appears to be a new surge of coronavirus in the US: over 70,000 new cases were recorded Friday, the highest since late July. Trump is perceived to have handled coronavirus poorly, so the more it is in the headlines, the worse it will probably get for him.
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.
He’s certainly no shoo-in, however. There are already multiple candidates, the pandemic will make campaigning complicated, and Australian’s record on climate change might be a negative.
But he’ll have strong government support and, given his meticulous organisational skills and network of contacts abroad, nothing will be left undone.
Finance minister throughout the Coalition’s term, Cormann is respected across the political spectrum, which has made him effective as the government’s “wrangler” of the difficult characters in the Senate.
His dour image conceals a lighter side, seen in Wednesday’s cameo appearance on the ABC’s “Mad as Hell” as he jested with his “spokesman” Darius Horsham, a long-running character on the show.
Cormann’s October 30 parliamentary exit – the timing determined by the OECD’s process – is a significant loss for the government. But Scott Morrison was determined not to let it become a disruption.
Morrison has filled Cormann’s shoes even before his minister has stepped out of them, announcing Simon Birmingham will take over the finance portfolio and Senate leadership when Cormann goes.
The PM said he’d make no other changes at that time, but there’ll be a reshuffle at year’s end.
Birmingham will then shed his trade ministry, and Morrison will have the opportunity to make other alterations to his team. With aged care set to be a mega issue after the royal commission reports in February, one thing he should do is put a heavyweight into that portfolio and elevate it to cabinet.
Thursday’s small shuffle was a side show in the major play of the week, which saw a budget with a deficit of $213.7 billion this financial year that gambles on being large enough to get the country marching to recovery.
It will take months to judge whether the government has pitched its budget well (and that’s assuming no new seismic setbacks), but it is satisfied with the immediate reception. Income tax cuts are likely to be popular even if their critics argue other measures would be better. Business can only welcome the massive incentives to invest, although many enterprises won’t survive to take advantage of them.
Labor has given its support to the huge tax concessions for business in Josh Frydenberg’s second budget.
This ease of passage is in sharp contrast to the company tax cuts in then treasurer Scott Morrison’s first budget, which embroiled the Turnbull government in a debilitating fight from 2016 to 2018. Even Cormann couldn’t wrangle the big business tranche of those through the Senate; it was abandoned in the final week of Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership.
The budget has come under fire on various fronts – for example, the wage subsidy for younger workers carries the risk of being rorted, and there’s criticism about the lack of assistance for older workers.
Nevertheless, it has been a difficult budget for the opposition to savage, given Labor is endorsing its core elements of income tax cuts and business concessions.
But one fertile area for the opposition has been the lack of specific assistance for women, many of whom have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. They’re often in casual jobs, and in sectors with the biggest job losses (although Frydenberg pointed out women have been strongly represented in the restored jobs). Women have also carried a disproportionate load of home schooling.
Anthony Albanese tapped into this area of government vulnerability when he delivered his Thursday night budget reply.
The opposition leader had several imperatives to meet as he went into that speech. To produce some policy flesh. To set up an ideological difference with the government. To cut through to the public.
With possibly only a little over a year before an election, the opposition is under pressure to start rolling out detailed policies. Albanese’s promises to make child care more affordable (at a cost of $6.2 billion) and to modernise the energy grid (a $20 billion investment) were substantial commitments.
The child care policy will appeal to women in particular. The pandemic has made families, but especially women, even more aware how important child care is for them – the brief period of it being free only increased the appetite for a better system – and the budget didn’t respond.
The proposals Albanese put forward to boost skills and local manufacturing highlighted Labor’s message that it believes in using government as a driver of change, through prescriptions, procurement policy and other means.
Albanese proposes mandating that a certain proportion of workers on major government-funded projects should be apprentices and trainees. He even suggests this could be extended to government-funded sectors such as aged care – how practical that would be is debatable.
There wasn’t a detailed social housing policy but Albanese flagged Labor would invest substantially in this area – that’s spending favoured by many economists as well as necessary to improve lives.
While Albanese is at pains to argue he’d mobilise the power of government, Morrison has muddied this political water.
The budget might be heavily private-sector oriented (and from that vantage point, seen as ideological), but Morrison is also interventionist when it suits him. His so-called gas led recovery, and his identification of designated sectors in his manufacturing policy are examples.
In terms of the imperatives he was trying to meet, Albanese did produce some policy flesh but of the announcements, probably only the child care initiative is likely to achieve general “cut through”.
The danger for Albanese is that come the next election, if Morrison sees child care as a political weak spot, he’s likely to address it.
In his stress on child care and social housing, Albanese made his point that Labor had different priorities to the government’s. And we got the message about putting government in the driver’s seat.
But the picture of what an Albanese government would actually look like wasn’t clear – as it can’t be, because that remains a work-in-progress.
Nor did we get any comprehensive idea of how, if this had been a Jim Chalmers budget, Labor would be tackling the immediate crisis differently.
Albanese’s problem was that circumstances demanded too much of him in his budget reply. He had a fair crack at meeting those demands, but he couldn’t change the perception that the pandemic has made the opposition one of its victims.
With four weeks left until the November 3 election, the FiveThirtyEight aggregate of US national polls gives Joe Biden a 9.0% lead over Donald Trump (51.4% to 42.4%). Biden’s lead has increased 1.4% since an October 1 article I wrote for The Poll Bludger.
In the key states, Biden leads by 7.5% in Michigan, 7.0% in Wisconsin, 6.6% in Pennsylvania, 4.3% in Arizona and 3.4% in Florida. If Biden wins the states that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, plus Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, he wins the election with at least 278 of the 538 Electoral Votes.
Pennsylvania is still the “tipping-point” state that could potentially put either Trump or Biden over the 270 EVs required to win. But it is polling closer to Wisconsin and Michigan than in the recent past. The current difference between Pennsylvania and the national vote is 2.4% in favour of Trump.
There are five states where Biden is either just ahead or just behind: North Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Iowa and Ohio. If Biden won all of them, he would win a blowout victory with over 400 EVs.
In the FiveThirtyEight forecast, Trump still has a 17% chance to win, though only an 8% chance to win the popular vote. Trump’s chances have declined 4% since last week. Still, a 17% chance is the probability of rolling a six on a six-sided die.
Trump’s ratings with all polls in theFiveThirtyEight aggregateare 43.4% approve, 53.0% disapprove (net -9.6%). With polls of likely or registered voters, Trump’s ratings are 43.7% approve, 53.0% disapprove (net -9.3%). His net approval has declined about one point since last week.
The FiveThirtyEight Classic Senate forecast gives Democrats a 70% chance to win, up 2% since last week. The most likely outcome is a narrow 51 to 49 Democratic majority, unchanged from last week. The forecast gives Democrats an 80% chance of holding between 48 and 55 seats after the election.
Perhaps there would have been some public sympathy for Trump had his coronavirus appeared to be bad luck. But it is likely Trump and other prominent Republicans’ coronavirus infections occurred at a September 26 event to announce Amy Coney Barrett as Trump’s nominee to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.
The footage shows people sitting close together, without face masks. This created an impression of reckless conduct by Trump and other Republicans in ignoring medical advice.
In a CNN poll taken after Trump’s coronavirus, 60% disapproved and 37% approved of Trump’s handling of coronavirus; his -23 net approval is a record low on that issue. 63% thought Trump had acted irresponsibly and just 33% thought he had been responsible.
An additional problem for Trump is that coronavirus is back in the headlines. As Trump is perceived to have been poor on this issue, that helps Biden. New US daily cases have plateaued between 30,000 and 50,000.
Biden wins first presidential debate
The first presidential debate between Biden and Trump occurred on September 29. A CBS News post-debate scientific poll gave Biden a narrow 48-41 victory, while a CNN poll gave him a far more emphatic 60-28 win. Trump needed a clear win to change the current polling. There will be two more presidential debates on October 15 and 22, and a vice presidential debate Thursday AEDT.
The major headlines from the debate were that it was a shouting match, and Trump’s refusal to denounce white supremacists. I have said before that the US economy’s fast recovery from the April coronavirus lows is Trump’s best asset for re-election, but he did nothing during the debate to tell a positive story about the economy.
Concerning the Supreme Court fight over Ginsburg’s replacement, a Morning Consult poll found a record 62% supported the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), while 24% were opposed. In March, this was 55-29 support. There is clear danger for Trump and Republicans in appointing a judge who may overturn Obamacare.
US employment growth slows
The September US jobs report was the last before the November 3 election. 661,000 jobs were created, and the unemployment rate dropped 0.5% to 7.9%. This was the first month with fewer than a million jobs added since the April nadir.
The unemployment rate has almost halved from April’s 14.7%. But the gain in September was mainly attributable to a 0.3% slide in the participation rate, to 61.4%. The employment population ratio – the percentage of eligible Americans who are employed – increased just 0.1% to 56.6%. It is 1.6% below where it was at the lowest point of the recovery from the global financial crisis (58.2%).
Trump may have undermined his relative advantage on the economy, compared to other issues, by withdrawing from negotiations with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over a new stimulus bill. An article by analyst Nate Silver says stimulus spending was very popular: in a September Siena poll for The New York Times, voters supported a $US 2 trillion stimulus by a 72-23 margin.
Queensland YouGov: 52-48 to Labor
The Queensland election will be held on October 31. A YouGov poll, conducted September 24 to October 1 from a sample of 2,000, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a four-point gain for Labor since the last such poll in June. A Queensland Newspoll, which is conducted by YouGov, gave the LNP a 51-49 lead in late July.
Primary votes were 37% Labor (up five since the June YouGov), 37% LNP (down one), 12% Greens (steady) and 9% One Nation (down three). Figures are from The Poll Bludger.
The overall shift in this poll is a 1% swing to Labor since the 2017 election. Regional breakdowns gave Labor a 57-43 lead in Brisbane (1% swing to the LNP), the LNP a 54-46 lead on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts (3% swing to Labor) and the LNP a 53-47 lead in regional Queensland (1% swing to the LNP).
57% (up eight) approved of Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s performance and 27% (down six) disapproved, for a net approval of +30, up 14 points. Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington had a net approval of -3, up six points. Palaszczuk led as better premier by 48-22 (44-23 in June).
The movement to Labor is likely a result of Queensland’s handling of coronavirus. But polls greatly overstated Labor’s Queensland performance at the 2019 federal election, although they were accurate at the 2017 Queensland state election.
New Zealand: latest poll has Labour short of majority
Last week’s Colmar Brunton New Zealand poll had Labour on 47%, National 33%, ACT 8% and the Greens 7%. If repeated at the October 17 election, Labour would win 59 of the 120 seats, two short of a majority. You can read more at my personal website.
The Queensland election campaign officially begins this week, with the government entering caretaker mode on Tuesday, and the election set for October 31.
But the crystal ball for this election, which will see a number of significant firsts, is frustratingly cloudy.
Palaszczuk vs Frecklington
This is the state’s first election for a four-year fixed term of parliament since 1893. It’s also the first occasion at which the leaders of the two major parties — Labor’s Annastacia Palaszczuk and the Liberal-National Party’s (LNP) Deb Frecklington — are women.
Meanwhile, apart from August’s Northern Territory election, Queensland’s poll will be the first major electoral test of any Australian jurisdiction since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
All of this makes the election extremely difficult to forecast, especially given the marked difference in how voters rate the parties, as opposed to their leaders.
That’s before you throw in the pull of four significant minor parties and their unpredictable preference flows.
A change of government is possible
Even so, we might say Labor is Queensland’s “natural” party of government, given it has held office for 26 of the past 31 years, and for 70 of the past 105 years (since the birth of the modern party system).
This stands in sharp contrast to Queenslanders’ predilection to back conservative parties at federal elections. In 2019, for example, the state swung toward the Morrison-led Coalition at a rate about four times the Australian average.
Heading into the election, Labor holds a razor-thin buffer, with just 48 seats in the 93-seat parliament. A tiny after-preference swing of 0.7% would see Labor lose two seats and its majority.
The LNP, currently on 38 seats, must win nine additional seats, via a 3.4% swing to form majority government.
Ironically, that’s virtually identical to the 3.5% swing against the NT Labor government last month.
In June, a YouGov poll had the LNP in front of Labor, 52% to 48%, two-party preferred. In July, Newspoll had the LNP ahead, 51% to 49%.
The implications are clear: victory for the LNP is eminently possible.
A hung parliament is also on the cards
With polls putting Labor’s primary vote as low as 32%, preferences will be crucial and minor parties will once again play a significant role.
Because of recently introduced election spending caps, Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party is expected to walk away empty-handed. This comes after Palmer donated almost $84 million to his own campaign during the 2019 federal election.
But with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation likely to maintain its lone seat, Katter’s Australian Party its three, and the Greens almost certain to double their representation to two, a hung parliament – a repeat of the 2015-17 term – is also a real possibility.
Referendum on three questions
For these reasons and more, the political eyes of Australia will be on Queensland on October 31. And it will invariably be a referendum on three questions.
The first is whom Queenslanders trust more as their premier for the next four years.
In late July, Newspoll found 81% of those surveyed approved of Palaszczuk’s handling of the pandemic, with 57% preferring her as premier. Just 26% preferred Frecklington.
But a late September, Newspoll saw a marked dip in Palaszczuk’s ratings, with 69% of respondents saying the premier was performing well over coronavirus.
Health vs economy
A second question is which public policy frame — public health or economic buoyancy — do Queenslanders rate more highly? This comes down to simple arithmetic.
But with border and pub relaxations introduced last week, even that anger might be quelled by election day.
If not, these concerns would be compounded by a third question: which party do Queenslanders trust more to navigate the state out of the COVID-19 economic quagmire?
Labor has reason to feel secure here, despite state debt nearing $100 billion and an unemployment rate above the national average. In June, a YouGov poll found Labor enjoyed an 11 point lead on the question of preferred economic managers. That figure alone has panicked LNP strategists.
But since then, the LNP has come out with economic guns blazing. It has re-embraced the 1930s Bradfield Scheme — a largely debunked populist dream to divert northern rivers westward. More pragmatically, the LNP also launched a $33 billion plan to upgrade the entire Bruce Highway from Gympie to Cairns.
Given more than half the state’s seats are outside Greater Brisbane, this policy pays the sort of regional homage that wins elections in Queensland.
The Prime Minister will be watching
Beyond Queensland, who will be watching the Queensland poll most closely?
Morrison found his way back to government last year via regional Queensland, which is now torn between border closures and economic survival. He will certainly be keeping a close eye on the contest, even if it is impossible to visit in person.
We have long been accustomed in Australia to the Commonwealth’s pre-eminence over the states and prime ministers dwarfing premiers. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has given us a practical reminder of the extensive day-to-day powers that still sit with state governments in our federation. Premiers can have an influence and prominence that transcends their own jurisdictions.
In a situation he no doubt would prefer to have forgone, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has loomed large over the national landscape since a second wave of the pandemic gripped his state in July. One indicator of how many eyes have been glued on the premier: a database of Australian media outlets shows there have been almost as many mentions of him as of Prime Minister Scott Morrison over the past three months. Andrews has had nearly as many hits as all the other state leaders combined.
Elected in November 2014, Andrews is Australia’s longest-serving head of government. The next closest is Queensland’s Annastacia Palaszczuk, who has been premier since February 2015.
Two things stand out about Andrews’ pathway to office. First, it exhibits the hallmarks of a quintessential Labor apparatchik. Second is its rapidity.
Following graduation from Monash University where he majored in politics, Andrews became an electorate officer and factional enforcer for federal Labor MP Alan Griffin, before stints as an organiser and then assistant state secretary for the Victorian ALP. In November 2002, aged 30, he won a seat in the Legislative Assembly. He was immediately appointed as a parliamentary secretary in the second Steve Bracks-led Labor government.
Four years later, Andrews was promoted to the ministry and, after the ALP lost office in November 2010, he was elected opposition leader. By age 42, he was premier of Victoria.
One of the perversities of the modern party apparatchik scheming their way into parliamentary office from a tender age is that, once there, they commonly lack the wherewithal to meaningfully exercise power. They resemble a dog that chases and catches the truck. It is as if they have spent too much time obsessing about the object of their ambition at the expense of bothering to understand its purpose.
Andrews is different. Early this year, I attended the memorial service for the former Labor premier John Cain, who presided over a period of watershed reform in Victoria in the 1980s. A story Andrews chose to tell about Cain said as much about him as it did about the late premier. He recalled that Cain rang him on the eve of the November 2014 state election with Andrews poised to win government. An emotional Cain impressed on Andrews the opportunities of office and implored him not to waste a day of power.
If his own instincts to leave an imprint on the state and Cain’s urgings weren’t enough, Andrews had another reason to be an activist premier. The Liberal-National government Labor defeated in 2014 had mostly seemed becalmed during its single term in office, exacerbating the state’s infrastructure shortfall and squandering the goodwill of an impatient, fast-growing Victorian community.
It was a very different scenario from the last time Labor had won power from opposition in 1999, when Steve Bracks surprisingly triumphed over Jeff Kennett. Then, the imperative had been for a period of healing and consensus following Kennett’s steamroller leadership. The amiable and cautious Bracks was perfectly attuned to that need, but some problems were put in the too-hard basket. Eventually, time ran out for Bracks’ successor, John Brumby, not least because of discontent with Melbourne’s overstretched public transport system.
Andrews, by contrast, styled himself as an assertive premier from the moment he took office. This was exemplified by an ambitious infrastructure building agenda: signature policies were a major program of level-crossing removals and the Metro tunnel rail project.
Andrews the earnest reformer coexists with a powerful streak of the political hard man. He demonstrated a willingness to barge through controversies unapologetically (whether cancelling the contract for the East West Link project, the prolonged dispute over reforming the Country Fire Authority, or revelations about Labor’s deployment of taxpayer-funded electoral staff in its 2014 election campaign — the so-called “red shirts” affair).
Similarly, Andrews seemed to derive satisfaction and affirmation in provoking critics. He thumbed his nose at Melbourne’s top-rating commercial talkback radio host, Neil Mitchell, and appeared unfazed at earning the enmity of the state’s News Corp tabloid, the Herald Sun.
Enter the ‘Danslide’
The formula worked. Despite vociferous attacks by the Herald Sun but aided by a tin-ear law-and-order campaign by the Liberal opposition, which jarred in a community defined by complexity and diversity, the Andrews government was triumphantly returned in November 2018. The victory was so comprehensive that it was dubbed the “Danslide”.
Former Liberal prime minister John Howard sought to console devastated Victorian Liberals by christening the state the “Massachusetts of Australia”. Yet in a review of the election for the Victorian Liberal Party, Howard’s former principal adviser, Tony Nutt, acknowledged the effectiveness of Andrews’ leadership over the previous four years. In private circles, Liberals conceded he was one of the most formidable politicians of the generation.
When Andrews so emphatically won a second term, I wrote that a potential danger was that, emboldened, he might grow too domineering.
That, of course, was long before the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically impacted the political landscape. Early in the crisis, Andrews’ decisive style appeared ideally equipped for the challenge. As head of one of the senior states, he had an influential presence in Morrison’s specially formed national cabinet.
In common with his fellow leaders, Andrews’ management of the first wave of the virus won strong public endorsement. In late April, Newspoll recorded him enjoying an approval rating of 75%, with 85% of respondents believing he had handled the pandemic well.
Then came the botched hotel quarantine program, the unleashing of a second wave of the virus and the imposition of strict restrictions on Victorians in early July. For Andrews, who has prided himself on his control of his government and mastery of detail, it has no doubt been a humbling experience.
He has responded in perhaps the only way he knows how: by asserting still tighter hold over his government and upping an already onerous workload. Day in and day out for the past three months, he has fronted a media conference to announce the latest COVID numbers, exhausting the questions of a frequently hostile journalist pack.
Any semblance of bipartisanship over the management of the virus disintegrated. The state opposition and Morrison government ministers have roundly condemned Andrews.
Predictably, the News Corp press has been especially strident. They resent what they regard as Andrews’ ideological adventurism and also seem actuated by revenge for the 2018 election result.
The legitimate criticisms that can be made of his government for its defective co-ordination, lack of accountability and occasionally tactless overreach have been overshadowed in their pages by hyperbolic columns depicting Victoria as a kind of failed state in which “Dictator Dan” tramples civil liberties. One wonders how many of these columnists have actually walked the streets of Melbourne during the lockdown: the public hardly gives the impression of being cowered under the jackboot of a police state.
Last week, through gritted teeth, The Australian reported the results of a Newspoll that indicated support for Andrews was holding up in Victoria. His approval rating was 62%. Two-thirds of those surveyed believed his government was doing well in handling COVID-19.
What this suggests is that the shrillest voices of criticism are not representative of public opinion at large. The public stoically accepts the restrictions and also has a sense of proportion about what has happened in Victoria when compared to the severity of the crisis in many other countries.
Even as the second wave of the virus is contained, the challenges for Andrews are many. Like his counterparts federally and in the other states, the premier’s destiny will likely be determined by how dire the economic reckoning is and how effectively his government handles the task of recovery.
Andrews may also need to moderate his leadership approach. Crises have a habit of leaving a legacy of centralised authority in governments — think of Kevin Rudd’s federal Labor government and the GFC — but monopolising too much power is ultimately neither sustainable nor wise for any leader. Unless tempered, his ruthlessness, most recently displayed by publicly cutting adrift Health Minister Jenny Mikakos, risks eventually seeding an internal revolt.
There are some predictions a wounded Andrews, emulating what Bracks did in 2007, will resign the premiership before the next state election. I’m unpersuaded. There are amends to be made and to walk away now would be tantamount to conceding to his detractors.
Besides, relinquishing power would go against the grain.
The politician who achieved equal rights legislation for women in Australia, Hon Susan Ryan AO, died unexpectedly yesterday in Sydney aged 77, still fighting for fairness in a country challenged by deep inequalities.
In 1983, new Prime Minister Bob Hawke appointed Ryan Minister for Education and Youth Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women. She was the first woman to be appointed to cabinet in a Labor government.
Rivalled only by the achievement of voting rights for women earlier in the 20th century, the Sex Discrimination Act Ryan created and saw through parliament was the single biggest step forward for women in Australian history.
Ryan was a wry, intelligent, witty and energetic force for good in public life. She rose to the biggest policy challenges besetting Australia – inequality and discrimination – and achieved real change.
She brought brains and spirit to the big fights and relished them. Not for Ryan any slinking to the sidelines, crushed by sledges and slights.
The first time I saw her was at a party in 1983, in the Old Parliament House office of her Hawke Government cabinet colleague, Peter Walsh. Here they led a raucous wine-fuelled rendition of a Catholic hymn, followed by an equally spirited version of The Internationale. Ryan was from a generation of politicians who knew how to fight, have fun and get really important things done.
Born in Maroubra in 1942, Ryan was educated at the Brigidine School where she absorbed the lesson that “St Brigid was the equal of St Patrick, she worked with him in partnership”. It was here she registered too that:
… women were as clever, energetic and knowledgeable as men (but) society at large and the Church placed women in an inferior position and fought hard to keep us there.
Ryan was the first in her family and school to win a scholarship to the University of Sydney. She studied education, expecting to go on to a career in teaching. After graduating she married public servant and later diplomat Richard Butler. “Because of this I lost my scholarship and had to pay back the scholarship money,” Ryan recalled, a penalty not suffered by men in the same position.
In 1965, Ryan and Butler moved to Canberra and the next six years saw Ryan study for an MA in English Literature at the Australian National University, tutor at the Canberra College of Advanced Education (now University of Canberra), and become a founding member of the Belconnen Branch of the ALP.
This was interrupted by two periods living overseas when Butler was posted first to Vienna and then, in the early 1970s, to New York just as the foundational texts of second-wave feminism by Kate Millett, Gloria Steinem and others, primed by earlier work by Betty Friedan, were published. Ryan’s fellow Sydney University alumna Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch was part of the mix too, giving Ryan and her peers revolutionary insights into the outrageous injustices permeating their lives as women.
Ryan returned to Canberra in 1971 with their two children but without Butler, whom she divorced the following year. Her energetic, entwined Women’s Electoral Lobby (WEL) and ALP activism were conducted while completing her ANU masters degree and being employed as head of the Australian Council of State School Organisations.
Ryan worked hard for the Whitlam government’s election in 1972. Two federal elections later, at the “Dismissal” election of December 1975, she was elected a Labor senator for the ACT. When Bill Hayden succeeded Gough Whitlam as opposition leader after the 1977 election, he made Ryan Labor’s first ever woman frontbencher with responsibility for communications, the arts, media and women’s affairs.
Focused intently on the development of high-quality policy, Ryan was on the progressive end of the Labor party and impatient with its left/right factional battles, which she perceived as more about personal power struggles than genuine differences over ideas.
Ryan joined the Hayden-led Centre Left faction, home of federal parliamentary Labor’s sophisticated policy thinkers who modernised the ALP platform in a progressive direction focused on jobs and social justice.
These policies were embraced and implemented by the Hawke government on its election in March 1983, with tremendous success.
Ryan was initially sceptical of the virtues of Bob Hawke over Hayden as Labor leader and she, like Paul Keating whose dynamism she admired and with whom she shared a deep mutual respect, switched camps late.
Ryan nevertheless came to admire Hawke’s leadership, which culminated in the 1983 victory and three subsequent election wins. With Paul Keating’s 1993 election win, this gave Labor five consecutive terms of government in what it retrospect has come to be seen as a golden age in postwar social democratic politics and policy in Australia.
Within three months of the government’s election, Ryan introduced the Sex Discrimination Bill, which drew heavily on a private member’s bill she pursued unsuccessfully from the opposition benches in 1981. The bill was controversial and its passage rocky. Ryan fought the good fight and won.
Ryan’s work as a spearhead for progressive policy took its toll. As the government wrestled with economic policy adjustments necessitated by Australia’s current account crisis in the mid-1980s, she left politics after just five years in cabinet. Her post-parliamentary life saw her focus on superannuation policy and rights for the aged, especially for older women.
Ryan’s contribution to public life was outstanding. She was happy with the reality of her achievements and did not look for credit or applause. She is a signal example to those who despair of getting things done in democratic politics. Ryan showed, even on the most controversial issues, it can and should be done.
Victoria’s health minister Jenny Mikakos has resigned, pointing the finger at Premier Daniel Andrews’ evidence that hung her out to dry in the hotel quarantine inquiry on Friday.
Mikakos said in a Saturday statement she will also quit parliament.
She said she never wanted to leave a job unfinished but in light of Andrews’ statement to the inquiry “and the fact that there are elements in it that I strongly disagree with, I believe that I cannot continue to serve in his Cabinet”.
“I am disappointed that my integrity has sought to be undermined. I know that my statement [to the inquiry] and evidence would have been uncomfortable for some.”
Andrews told the inquiry in his written statement that after an April 8 cabinet meeting, Mikakos was in charge of the hotel quarantine program, in which private security guards were used. This program went horribly wrong when COVID got out, triggering Victoria’s second wave. Andrews, Mikakos and other witnesses have all said they do not know who made the decision to use private guards.
Andrews said: “At the start of the program, I regarded Minister Mikakos and Minister Pakula as responsible for informing cabinet about, and seeking cabinet’s endorsement of, the initial overall service model and costings that had been determined for the program. They did so at the Crisis Council of Cabinet meeting on 8 April 2020.
“I then regarded Minister Mikakos as accountable for the program. The CCC was provided with regular reports by Minister Mikakos containing data relevant to Victoria’s response to the public health emergency, key insights from the data, as well as other updates, including in relation to the program.”
Mikakos, in her statement posted on Twitter, said: “For 3 months I had looked forward to learning who made the fateful decision to use security guards. Victorians deserve to know who.”
She said she had never shirked her responsibility for her department “but it is not my responsibility alone”.
“As I said to the Board of Inquiry, I take responsibility for my department, the buck stops with me. With the benefit of hindsight, there are clearly matters that my department should have briefed me on. Whether they would have changed the course of events only the Board and history can determine,”
“I look forward to the Board of Inquiry’s final report.”
Mikakos said she was “deeply sorry” for the situation Victorians found themselves in. “In good conscience, I do not believe that my actions led to them.”
On Thursday she told the inquiry she was “not at all” involved in the decision to use private security guards, and “I do not know who made that decision”. She said she didn’t know private security guards were being used until late May after a COVID outbreak at Rydges, almost two months after the program started.
“I can‘t imagine why it [the use of private security guards] would be brought to my attention, because […][the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions] held the contracts with the security companies,” she said.
But her evidence immediately came into question, because she had been at a press conference in late March when the use of private security was confirmed, and private security was mentioned in a briefing note for caucus on April 8. In a statement to the inquiry on Friday, Mikakos denied misleading it.
Andrews announced at a news conference on Saturday afternoon that the Mental Health Minister, Martin Foley, will replace Mikakos as health minister.
Andrews said Mikakos had taken the “appropriate course” in resigning. But he said he had not spoken to her beforehand – or since. She has texted him that she had sent a letter to the governor, of which he was already aware.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said on Twitter:
But the Health Workers Union, which had called for Mikakos’ resignation earlier this week, welcomed her departure.
Andrews said Labor would aim to have a replacement for Mikakos in the upper house before parliament next meets. Labor’s national executive will formally determine who fills the seat because the state ALP is being federally administered at present.
There will also be a replacement in cabinet, drawn from the upper house.
Foley told the Andrews news conference he had nothing but confidence in the health department and its secretary.
Andrews said the latest Victorian COVID tally was 12 new cases, and he would be making a statement on Sunday about the easing of restrictions. He said there was no dramatic variation from the road map but there were a couple of areas where more could be done.
This week’s Newspoll, conducted September 16-19 from a sample of 2,068, gave the Coalition a 51-49 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since the previous Newspoll, three weeks ago.
Primary votes were 43% Coalition (up two), 34% Labor (down two), 12% Greens (up one) and 3% One Nation (steady) – all figures from The Poll Bludger.
65% were satisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance (up one), and 31% were dissatisfied (down one), for a net approval of +34. Anthony Albanese’s ratings fell into negative territory: his net approval was -1, down three points. Morrison led Albanese as better PM by 59-27 (58-29 last time).
The last Newspoll had the Coalition’s lead dropping from 52-48 to a 50-50 tie, while Morrison’s net approval was down seven points. This Newspoll implies movements in the previous Newspoll may have been exaggerated.
It is also possible the federal Coalition is benefiting from restrictions to fight coronavirus becoming less popular in Victoria. A Morgan Victorian state poll (see below) gave Labor a narrow lead, but that lead was well down on the November 2018 election result. In other state polls, there was a clear surge to the incumbent government.
Australian state polls: Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania
A Victorian SMS Morgan poll, conducted September 15-17 from a sample of 1,150, gave Labor a 51.5-48.5 lead over the Coalition, a six-point gain for the Coalition since the November 2018 state election. Primary votes were 38.5% Coalition, 37% Labor and 12% Greens. Morgan’s SMS polls have been unreliable in the past.
A South Australian YouGov poll, conducted September 10-16 from a sample of 810, gave the Liberals a 53-47 lead over Labor, a six-point gain for the Liberals since March, likely due to the state’s handling of coronavirus. Primary votes were 46% Liberals (up seven), 35% Labor (down three) and 10% Greens (down one).
Liberal Premier Steven Marshall had a massive surge in net approval, to +52 from -4 in March. Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas had a +22 net approval.
A Tasmanian EMRS poll, conducted August 18-24 from a sample of 1,000, gave the Liberals 54% (up 11 since the last publicly released EMRS poll in March), Labor 24% (down ten) and the Greens 12% (steady). Liberal Premier Peter Gutwein led Opposition Leader Rebecca White by 70-23 as better premier (41-39 to White in March).
Time running out for Trump
This section is an updated version of an article I had published for The Poll Bludger last Thursday.
Six weeks before the November 3 election, FiveThirtyEight’s national aggregate gives Joe Biden a 6.8% lead over Donald Trump (50.3% to 43.5%). This is an improvement for Trump from three weeks ago, when he trailed by 8.2%. In the key states, Biden leads by 7.6% in Michigan, 6.6% in Wisconsin, 4.6% in Pennsylvania, 4.5% in Arizona and 2.0% in Florida.
In my article three weeks ago, the difference in Trump’s favour between the Electoral College tipping-point state and the national vote had widened to three points, but this difference has fallen back to about two points, with Arizona and Pennsylvania currently two points more favourable to Trump than national polls.
If Biden wins all the states carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016, plus Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona, he gets exactly 269 Electoral Votes, one short of the 270 required for a majority. Maine and Nebraska award one EV to the winner of each of their Congressional Districts, and two to the statewide winner. All other states award their EVs winner-takes-all.
Under this scenario, Biden would need one of either Nebraska’s or Maine’s second CDs for the 270 EVs required to win the Electoral College. Nebraska’s second is a more likely win for Biden as it is an urban district.
The US economy has rebounded strongly from the coronavirus nadir in April. Owing to this, the FiveThirtyEight forecast expects some narrowing as the election approaches. Every day that passes without evidence of narrowing in the tipping-point states is bad news for Trump. Biden’s chances of winning in the forecast have increased from a low of 67% on August 31 to 77% now.
While Trump has improved slightly in national polls, some state polls have been very good for Biden. Recently, Biden has had leads of 16 points in Minnesota, 21 points in Maine, 10 in Wisconsin and 10 in Arizona.
Trump’s ratings with all polls in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate are currently 43.2% approve, 52.7% disapprove (net -9.5%). With polls of likely or registered voters, his ratings are 44.0% approve, 52.8% disapprove (net -8.8%). In the last three weeks, Trump has gained about two points on net approval, continuing a recovery from July lows.
The RealClearPolitics Senate map has 47 expected Republican seats, 46 Democratic seats and seven toss-ups. If toss-ups are assigned to the current leader, Democrats lead by 51-49, unchanged from three weeks ago.
Coronavirus and the US economy
The US has just passed the grim milestone of over 200,000 deaths attributable to coronavirus. However, daily new cases have dropped into the 30,000 to 50,000 range from a peak of over 70,000 in July. Less media attention on the coronavirus crisis assists Trump.
In the US August jobs report, 1.4 million jobs were created and the unemployment rate fell 1.8% to 8.4%. The unemployment rate has greatly improved from its April high of 14.7%.
The headline jobs gained or lost are from the establishment survey, while the household survey is used for the unemployment rate. In August, the household survey numbers were much better than the establishment survey, with almost 3.8 million jobs added.
It is probably fortunate for Biden that the September jobs report, to be released in early October, will be the last voters see before the election. The October report will be released November 6, three days after the election.
I believe Trump should focus on the surging economy in the lead-up to the election, and ignore other issues like the Kenosha violence and culture war issues. Particularly given the Supreme Court vacancy, Biden should focus on Trump and Republicans’ plans to gut Obamacare.
Implications of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death
On Friday, left-wing US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. While Democrats control the House of Representatives, only the Senate gets a vote on judicial appointments, and Republicans control that chamber by 53-47.
Even if Democrats were to win control of both the Senate and presidency at the November 3 election, the Senate transition is not until January 3, with the presidential transition on January 20.
There is plenty of time for Trump to nominate a right-wing replacement for Ginsburg, and for the Senate to approve that choice. That will give conservative appointees a 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court.