If anyone needs further evidence of the self-defeating weird places
the Liberals seem to find themselves in, consider what happened on
Malcolm Turnbull made another intervention in the political debate,
this time talking about the National Energy Guarantee, when he spoke
at an energy conference on Tuesday morning.
“I’ve strongly encouraged my colleagues to work together to revive the
National Energy Guarantee. It was a vital piece of economic policy and
had strong support, and none stronger I might say, than that of the
current Prime Minister and the current Treasurer,” he said.
This and the rest of Turnbull’s observations on energy policy provided
abundant material for a question time attack by a Labor party bloated
from dining on the unending manna that’s been flowing its way from
some political heaven.
As Scott Morrison sought to counter this latest attack by concentrating on
Labor’s substantial emissions reduction target (45% on 2005 levels by
2030), suddenly a tweet appeared from Turnbull.
“I have not endorsed “Labor’s energy policy”. They have adopted the
NEG mechanism,“ Turnbull said – adding a tick of approval – “but have
not demonstrated that their 45% emissions reduction target will not
push up prices. I encouraged all parties to stick with Coalition’s NEG
which retains wide community support.”
Here was the former PM effectively inserting himself into Question
Time – in real time.
Morrison quickly quoted from the tweet, but it couldn’t repair the
damage done by Turnbull’s earlier comments.
All round, it was another difficult day for the government on the energy front.
The Coalition parties meeting discussed its controversial plan
providing for divestiture when energy companies misuse market power,
with conduct that is “fraudulent, dishonest or in bad faith” in the wholesale market.
The government has put more constraints on its plan than originally
envisaged. Notably, rather than a divestiture decision resting with
the treasurer, it would lie with the federal court (although precisely what this would mean is somewhat unclear).
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told a news conference: “This power will be on the advice
of the ACCC [the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission] to
the Treasurer, and then the Treasurer will make a referral to the
Federal Court. The Federal Court will then be empowered to make that
There had already been backbench criticisms of the divestiture proposal expressed to Frydenberg last week; the changes dealt with some of these.
But the plan is still leaving some in Coalition ranks uneasy.
According to the official government version, in the party room 18
speakers had a say, with 14 supporting (though a couple of them were
concerned about the interventionism involved) and four expressing
varying degrees of reservation. No one threatened to cross the floor.
Backbench sources said the strongest critics were Jason Falinski,
Russell Broadbent, Tim Wilson and former deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop,
while milder criticisms came from Craig Laundy, Scott Ryan and Jane
There were two main worries about the measure – the potential negative
impact on business investment and its inconsistency with Liberal party
free market principles.
Bishop – who, it might be recalled, was recently saying there should
be a bipartisan deal with Labor on the NEG – highlighted the
investment implications and the issue of sovereign risk.
She said: “This is not orthodox Liberal policy. We need to do more
consultation with the industry and we need to be cautious of
unintended consequences of forced divestiture”.
Addressing the concerns, Morrison told the party room that a variety
of principles were at play.
The energy sector was not “a free market nirvana” but rather “a
bastardised market,” he said. The law was targeted at situations where
sweetheart deals came at the expense of consumers.
Energy minister Angus Taylor said governments of the centre-right,
including the Menzies and the Thatcher governments, had acted to
ensure markets operated for consumers.
Taylor invoked an example of the beer drinkers against the brewers,
when Thatcher had been on the side of the beers drinkers.
Frydenberg produced a quote from Menzies’ “Forgotten People”
broadcasts about the need to balance the requirements of industry with
The legislation, which is opposed by Labor even with the changes, is
being introduced this week. But there is no guarantee that it can be
passed by the time of the election – not least because there are so
few sitting days next year.
So the most controversial part of the government’s “big stick”, which
has caused so much angst with business, may never become a reality.
In the topsy turvy Liberal universe, just when the right is trying to
tighten its grip on the throat of the party, the government is haring
off to the left, with this week’s legislation to allow it to break up
recalcitrant energy companies.
As former deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop – who as a backbencher
has become very forthright – said in the Coalition party room on
Tuesday, “this is not orthodox Liberal policy”. Bishop canvassed the
danger of sovereign risk.
To find a rationale for a frolic into what in other circumstances the
Liberals would no doubt denounce as “socialism”, one might see it as
driven by the veto of the so-called conservatives.
Those on the right (led by Tony Abbott and his band) have long stopped
the government putting forward a sound energy policy, despite the
strong pleas from stakeholders across the board.
Instead, trying to respond to the pressing electoral issue of high
electricity prices, the government has reached for its “big stick”
including the threat of divestiture – a policy that’s being attacked
by Labor as well as business.
Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen was correct on Thursday when he said:
“this is what we see when a government’s policy agenda falls apart”.
Having to defend this draconian policy, first from critical Coalition
backbenchers (who won some changes) and then in parliament, the
government found itself tied in knots.
Given this is such a radical proposal, it was also in an enormous rush with the legislation, introducing it on Wednesday and wanting the House of Representatives to pass it by Thursday.
But that timetable was stymied by Labor. Passage through the House
will have to wait until February.
Meanwhile there will be a Senate inquiry, reporting in March. This
puts off a Senate vote until budget week in April – ensuring a lot
of noise about this controversial measure just when the government
will want all the attention on a budget crafted to appeal to voters
for a May election.
Even if the divestiture legislation gets through the Senate next year,
a likely Labor election victory would mean we’ll probably never see
this particular “big stick” wielded. It’s highly doubtful the threat
will have been worth the angst, or the trashing of Liberal principles.
The final parliamentary fortnight of 2018 coincided with the first
fortnight of the hung parliament.
For Scott Morrison, it has been an excruciating two weeks, with the
backlash from the Liberals’ trouncing in Victoria, Julia Banks’
defection to the crossbench, Malcolm Turnbull’s provocative
interventions, and an impasse with Labor over the plan to protect LGBT
The government’s stress culminated in Thursday’s extraordinary battle
to prevent a defeat on the floor of the House.
This test of strength was over amendments, based on a proposal
originally coming from new Wentworth member Kerryn Phelps, that would
make it easier to transfer people needing medical treatment from Nauru
and Manus to Australia.
As both sides played the tactics, a remarkable thing happened in the
House of Representatives. Behaviour improved one hundred percent, with
none of the usual screaming and exchanges of insults. This pleasing
development was, unsurprisingly, driven by self-interest – neither
government nor opposition could afford to have anyone thrown out ahead
of the possible crucial vote.
Earlier, Morrison had shown anything but restraint when at his news
conference he described Bill Shorten as “a clear and present threat to
Australia’s safety”. Once that would have been taken as a serious
claim, which a prime minister would have been called on to justify. In
these days, it’s seen as a passing comment.
In what was a highly aggressive performance, Morrison gave us another
foretaste of what he’ll be like on the hustings.
In the end, by its delaying tactics in the Senate, the government
prevented the amendments reaching the House before it adjourned, and
so avoided a test of the numbers.
Defeat in the House would not have equalled a no confidence vote, but
it would have been a serious blow for Morrison. Looking for a
precedent, the House of Representatives’ clerks office went back to
votes lost in 1929 (which led to an election) and on the 1941 budget
(which brought down the Fadden government).
But the government may have just put off, rather than prevented, the
reckoning. Phelps said on Sky, “I am sad that we didn’t get this
through today … because I believe it would have gone through on the numbers … But you know if we have to wait until February, at least I believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Dodging this vote meant that legislation to give authorities better
access to encrypted messages to help in the fight against terrorism
looked like it would be delayed. Once the House had adjourned, any
Labor amendments the Senate might pass couldn’t go back there until
The government had declared the encryption measure was urgent, and the
blame game started in anticipation of a hold up. Then, mid-debate in
the Senate, Labor abandoned its attempt to amend the bill, which
glided through. In an agreement which may mean something or nothing,
the government undertook to consider the ALP amendments in the new
Shorten didn’t want to be open to the government’s accusations of impeding legislation the security agencies said would help prevent terrorist
acts. “I couldn’t go home and leave Australians over Christmas without
some of the protections which we all agree are necessary,” he said.
The events of this week show why the government decided to have
the minimum of sitting days before the election next year.
The new parliamentary session will open with a deadlock on the
protection of gay students, the divestiture plan up in the air, and
the Nauru-Manus vote hanging over the government.
And by that time Scott Morrison will have had his first and probably
his last Christmas at Kirribilli.
While it is possible that two seats could change, Labor appears to have won 56 of the 88 seats in the Victorian lower house, up nine seats since the 2014 election, the Coalition won 26 seats (down 12), the Greens three seats (up one) and independents three seats (up two).
These results reflect changes since the 2014 election, and do not account for Labor’s loss of Northcote to the Greens at a byelection, which Labor regained at the general. Party defections are also ignored.
Labor’s unexpectedly crushing victory was capped by triumphs in Hawthorn (50.4-49.6) and Nepean (50.9-49.1). Labor had not won Hawthorn since 1952, and Nepean (formerly known as Dromana) since 1982. It also came close to winning Caulfield (a 50.3-49.7 loss), which has never been Labor-held since its creation in 1927.
The 8-10 point swings to Labor in Hawthorn, Nepean and other affluent Liberal heartland seats such as Brighton and Malvern appear to demonstrate well-educated voters’ anger with the Liberals’ law and order campaign, and the federal Liberals’ ousting of Malcolm Turnbull.
Labor was assisted in Victoria by a strong state economy, and an unpopular federal Coalition government. The national economy is currently good, and this could assist the federal government if they could stop fighting among themselves.
While Labor had massive wins in Melbourne and its outskirts, and increased its margins in regional cities, it did not perform well by comparison in country areas. Labor only gained one country seat, Ripon, and that was by just 31 votes on a swing under 1%; there could be a recount in Ripon.
The Greens held Melbourne and Prahran, and gained Brunswick from Labor. In Prahran, Green Sam Hibbins was third on primaries, trailing Labor by 0.8%. On preferences of left-wing micros, he overtook Labor by 0.7%, and easily defeated the Liberals on Labor preferences. This is the second consecutive election in which Hibbins has come from third on primary votes to win Prahran.
Russell Northe, who defected from the Nationals in the last parliament, retained Morwell as an independent. Ali Cupper, who had contested Mildura in 2010 as a Labor candidate, gained it as an independent from the Nationals. Independent Suzanna Sheed retained Shepparton, a seat she gained from the Nationals in 2014.
Near-final statewide primary votes were 42.8% Labor (up 4.7% since the 2014 election), 35.2% Coalition (down 6.7%) and 10.7% Greens (down 0.8%). It is unlikely we will have an official Labor vs Coalition statewide two party count until next week, but The Poll Bludger estimates Labor won this count by 57.4-42.6, a 5.5% swing to Labor.
Final pre-election polls greatly overstated the Coalition and understated Labor, as shown by the table below. The only poll that came close to the result was a ReachTEL poll for a left-wing organisation, taken 11 days before the election, that gave Labor a 56-44 lead.
Bold numbers in the table indicate a poll estimate that was within 1% of the results. All polls had the Greens right, but missed on Labor and the Coalition.
Micro parties still likely to win ten upper house seats
The ABC calculator currently gives Labor 18 of the 40 upper house seats, the Coalition 11, the Greens just one, and ten for all others. Others include four Derryn Hinch Justice, two Transport Matters, one Animal Justice, one Liberal Democrat, one Aussie Battler and one Sustainable Australia.
The upper house has eight regions that each elect five members. The three country regions are very close to completion of their counts, while the city regions lag. In Northern Victoria, Labor will win two seats, the Coalition one, Hinch Justice one and Liberal Democrats one. In Western Victoria, Labor will win two, the Coalition one, Animal Justice one and Hinch Justice one.
In Eastern Victoria, the calculator has Labor and the Coalition each winning two seats with one for Aussie Battler. However, Kevin Bonham says that Aussie Battler is ahead of Hinch Justice at a critical point by just 0.11%, and this lead will be overturned with below-the-line votes. The Shooters will win the final Eastern Victoria seat.
In Eastern Metro, with the count at 87.2%, there will be two Labor, two Liberals and Transport Matters wins the final seat from just 0.6% (0.04 quotas). In Southern Metro, two Labor and two Liberals win. The Greens, with 0.79 of a quota, are easily beaten to the last seat by Sustainable Australia, with just 1.3% or 0.08 quotas.
While the figure used by the ABC is the rechecked percentage counted, the electoral commission has been providing actual primary counts in Word files, which are ahead of the rechecked count in Metro regions.
In South-Eastern Metro, Labor will win three seats and the Liberals one. Bonham says Transport Matters could be excluded at a critical point, and fail to take the final seat, in which case it goes to the Liberal Democrats, who had an even lower vote than Transport Matters in that region (1.2% vs 0.8%).
In Western Metro, Labor will win three seats and the Liberals one. The last seat is likely to go to Hinch Justice, which won 6.9% in that region. However, the Shooters, with just 1.9%, could win the final seat.
In Northern Metro, two Labor and one Green are certain winners. In Bonham’s more up-to-date figures, the Liberals win one seat, and the final seat is probably a contest between Hinch Justice and Fiona Patten.
Labor and the Coalition are likely to win the 18 and 11 seats respectively that the calculator currently gives them. The ten micros could be a little different from the ABC’s current projection.
The group voting tickets are excessively complex, and it would be far easier to call these seats with a more sensible system.
NSW Galaxy: 52-48 to Labor, ReachTEL: 51-49
The New South Wales election will be held on March 23, 2019. A YouGov Galaxy poll for The Daily Telegraph, conducted November 29-30 from a sample of 903, gave Labor a 52-48 lead; this is the first NSW Galaxy poll since the 2015 election. A ReachTEL poll for The Sydney Morning Herald, conducted November 29 from a sample of 1,560, gave Labor a 51-49 lead, a one-point gain for Labor since a September ReachTEL poll.
Primary votes in the Galaxy poll were 39% Labor, 37% Coalition, 9% Greens and 8% One Nation. In ReachTEL, primary votes, after excluding 3.1% undecided, were 37.7% Coalition, 35.2% Labor, 9.9% Greens and 7.7% One Nation. Labor’s primary vote is four points lower in ReachTEL than Galaxy.
After replacing Luke Foley as Labor leader, Michael Daley appears to be benefiting from a honeymoon. He trails incumbent Gladys Berejiklian 33-31 in Galaxy, and leads her 54.2-45.8 in ReachTEL as better Premier. ReachTEL’s forced choice better PM/Premier questions usually benefit opposition leaders.
State parties tend to do better when the opposite party is in power federally, and the current federal government is unpopular. It appears that the federal election will be held in May 2019, and this is bad news for the NSW Coalition, which has to face voters first. In ReachTEL, voters said by 50-36 that federal politics would play a role in their state election decision.
By 58-36, voters in ReachTEL opposed the NSW government’s stadium policy, which includes knocking down and rebuilding stadiums.
Newspoll: 55-45 to federal Labor, but Morrison’s ratings recover
Last week’s federal Newspoll, conducted November 22-25 – the same weekend as the Victorian election – from a sample of 1,720, gave Labor a 55-45 lead, unchanged since three weeks ago. Primary votes were 40% Labor (steady), 34% Coalition (down one), 9% Greens (steady) and 8% One Nation (up two).
43% were satisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance (up four), and 42% were dissatisfied (down five), for a net approval of +1, up nine points. Bill Shorten’s net approval was up two points to -13. Morrison led Shorten by 46-34 as better PM (42-36 three weeks ago).
By 40-34, voters opposed moving the Australian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. After being told that Indonesia and Malaysia had raised concerns about the embassy move, voters thought by 46-34 that Morrison should announce the move will not take place, rather than ignore those countries’ concerns.
Newspoll was three points better for Labor than two polls last fortnight, which both had Labor leading by just 52-48. The PM’s ratings are usually a good guide to voting intentions, so the hope for the Coalition is that Morrison’s lift could soon lift the Coalition. This poll was taken before last week’s parliamentary session.
UK Brexit deal vote on December 11
The UK House of Commons will decide whether to reject or approve PM Theresa May’s Brexit deal with the European Union on December 11.
Indications are that the deal will be rejected by a large margin, with about 100 Conservative MPs set to vote against the deal. You can read my article on the probable consequences of a “no-deal” Brexit on my personal website.
The Government opposes it. Labor has opposed such proposals in the past. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said he would like to increase payments, but they would be ones of his choosing – he would lift the pension before lifting Newstart.
But the pension is already much higher than Newstart, and other benefits have fallen behind by more.
In a report on Australia it suggested that not only it might be insufficient to live on, it also might be insufficient to enable those on it to look for work.
The relatively low net replacement rate in the first year of the unemployment spell raises issues about its effectiveness in providing sufficient support for those experiencing a job loss, or enabling someone to look for a suitable job.
The main reason why it is inadequate is that it hasn’t increased by much more than inflation since 1994. General living standards have soared during those two and a half decades, as has the pension which is linked to them by being set as proportion of male wages, and which was increased substantially in 2009.
Newstart is now only A$275.20 per week. The pension is A$417.20 per week (A$458.15 with the pension supplement and energy supplement).
Unless it is better indexed, Newstart will slide even further relative to other payments and living standards.
The relative decline in Newstart was the result of neglect. It was left indexed to the consumer price index when, over the long term, it should have been indexed to a measure that moves with community living standards.
But in other cases, governments under five prime ministers over the past twelve years have made explicit decisions to cut assistance, most severely for low income single parents.
In 2006 the Howard government made substantial changes to the Parenting Payment Single (PPS) and the Parenting Payment – Partnered (PPP) as part of what it called a welfare to work program.
Single parents claiming the PPS after July 1, 2006 would lose it when their youngest child turned eight. They would go onto the much lower Newstart unemployment benefit, and be expected to look for work.
Partnered parents claiming the PPP would lose it when their youngest child turned six, but for them it made little difference because their parenting payment and Newstart were about the same.
These changes have shrunk Family Tax Benefit payments per child from 16.6% – 21.6% of the married pension rate to 14.5% – 18.9%, a difference now of $13 per week for each younger child and $17 per week for each older child – with more shrinkage to come.
After a tough time in the Senate, several of his measures finally passed, under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2016 and 2017.
Family Tax Benefit B has been closed to couple families with children aged 13 years or older and the Family Tax Benefit B income test tightened, the size of the payments to large families has been wound back, the Family Tax benefit A end of year supplement has been withdrawn from families earning over A$80,000 per annum and rates have pay have been temporarily frozen, so that they don’t even increase with inflation.
What’s been the total of cuts since 2006?
The cumulative effects of the policy choices since 2006 on the disposable incomes of single parent families are substantial.
We have compared how much low-income parents currently receive, compared to what they would be receiving if these changes had not been made.
Our calculations are conservative.
We have ignored a number of changes including payments that have come and gone such as the Schoolkid’s Bonus and the Energy Supplement or changes that affect high income families. Nor have we taken into account the loss of payments to families with with four or more children due to the phasing out of the Large Family Supplement from July 2016.
Single parents still on Parenting Payment Single with two younger children have lost nearly $85 per fortnight; about 6% of their disposable incomes. For families with older children, the loss is about $271 per fortnight; a cut in disposable income of nearly 19%.
In total there are around 360,000 families with children, Australia’s poorest, who are getting considerably less financial support.
It has happened as a result of actions by both sides of politics under prime ministers Howard, Rudd, Gillard, Abbott and Turnbull.
As with the decision to link Newstart to the consumer price index rather than wages, the effects of their decisions will widen over time. The poorest families, and their children, will increasingly fall behind the rest of the population.
And the proportion of single parents employed went backwards during the global financial crisis, sliding to 53% and only recovering to 55% in 2017, despite the move of families from Parenting Payment Single to Newstart.
It’s time for a proper review
The “root and branch review” promised by Bill Shorten and the ongoing commission proposed by crossbenchers are not mutually exclusive.
An immediate review could be used to increase payments in the shorter term, while an ongoing commission could examine longer-term priorities.
A comprehensive review of Australia’s social security system, undertaken in an integrated fashion and including tax as well as payments (including those for childcare and to support people who study and work) is overdue.
We need such a review to consider the design of our safety net in the light of economic, demographic, technological and social changes, and those to come.
It ought to be a key priority of Australia’s next government.
It ought to set up our support systems for the future.
Many voters mightn’t thank Scott Morrison for confirming he plans to
run the election date out to May. Given Canberra politics is so
dysfunctional, it feels like prolonging the agony.
With the widespread assumption that the Coalition can’t recover, the
early months of 2019 will be something of a hiatus – various
stakeholders will put decisions on hold because they expect a change of
Morrison’s strategy is clear. Play on the best thing he has going for
him – a strong economy, which is flowing through to government
revenue. Release a budget update on December 17 that shows a healthy
bottom line, and probably contains some substantive decisions. Then
the April 2 budget can be loaded with voter bait, and contain the long-awaited surplus, opening the way for the poll on May 11 or 18.
The budget update will come out during the ALP’s national conference.
Usually the Coalition would have avoided a clash, expecting that
conference, which determines a supposedly-binding platform, would see
Labor divisions on display.
But while issues like refugees, Palestine, industrial relations and
trade may stir vigorous debate, the Liberals know they won’t get much
grist for their purposes. As one Labor man says, the “government”
faction at the conference will be large – those with eyes firmly on
seeing Bill Shorten reach The Lodge.
By setting out his timetable this week, Morrison has given away the
option of a March poll. Unwise to abandon the flexibility, one might say. But March had always been unpopular with the Feds because they didn’t want to be the first government on whom NSW voters vent their rage (the
state election is late March).
Morrison is no doubt also operating on the basis that the longer he
waits the greater the possibility of something turning up.
The government hopes that with maximum time it can turn the political
debate onto the economic argument, as well as looking to its fear
campaign against Labor to have more impact.
But governments can’t rely on being rewarded for favourable numbers. Voters expect them to deliver on the economy. Even with a bright macro
picture, they are out of sorts because of low wage growth, cost of
living pressures and the general disgruntlement that permeates the
Making the budget the election launch pad has its risks. The 2016
precedent is not encouraging, even if Turnbull’s bad campaigning has
to take a good deal of blame. A budget can contain unanticipated land
mines, and it is awkward if they explode during the campaign – which
of course next time will be much shorter than Turnbull’s marathon.
Now in minority government, the Coalition is minimising its
parliamentary exposure, proposing only some 10 days of sitting next year
before the election. When the houses aren’t in session the Senate
can’t cause trouble and the newly-empowered lower house crossbenchers
lose their clout.
But the Senate this week made sure that it will have time for estimate
committees to scrutinise (albeit briefly) budget measures, by voting
to alter the sitting timetable. Labor recalls that just before the
2016 election it extracted, via the estimates process, the long term costing for the government’s company tax cut plan.
With the arrival of Kerryn Phelps in parliament on Monday, and then
Tuesday’s defection of Julia Banks, the House of Representatives crossbench has become the centre of attention. We’re yet to see just what tangible results this will produce for Labor or for the crossbenchers themselves.
Labor is trying to muster the numbers to refer Home Affairs Minister
Peter Dutton’s eligibility to the High Court but hasn’t locked them in
so far. Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie on Thursday suggested he’d
like to see several referrals together.
The crossbenchers have agendas, including the push for an
anti-corruption body and Phelps’ bill facilitating medical transfers
from Nauru and Manus Island. It’s a matter of what they can “land”
with the opportunities and time available.
Government legislation such as that giving itself the power to break
up recalcitrant energy companies (to be introduced next week) will
both test the House crossbenchers and give them openings to pursue
When on Thursday Labor tried to suspend standing orders to move a
motion condemning the government on multiple fronts, the crossbenchers
went in all directions.
Wilkie and the Greens’ Adam Bandt supported Labor; Bob Katter voted
with the government; the women – Cathy McGowan, Rebekha Sharkie,
Phelps and Banks – abstained. The vote was lost 66-68.
Within the expanded crossbench, the four women have formed a defacto
mutually-supportive subgroup. Phelps has confirmed she counselled
Banks before she defected. “Julia reached out to me for some consultation about what that process might look and feel like, and I indicated that I would be there to support her in that transition,” Phelps said.
While the Liberals are losing out politically because of their low female representation and their inability to properly address that problem, on the House crossbench the women are now standouts (and a majority).
On Thursday they came to Morrison’s rescue. If three of the four had
voted with the opposition, the Labor motion would have received a
It would not have achieved the absolute majority needed to suspend
standing orders, but losing on the straight numbers would have been
very embarrassing for the Prime Minister, a symbol of his government’s
new, diminished status.
Sharkie later explained that “we abstain on what we see as party
political games”, though adding that she wasn’t disputing there were
facts in some of the points in the motion.
Labor believed the four had missed an opportunity to deliver a soft
blow to the government. Looked at another way, the women may have
banked some credit with the government for other things.
As he left for his weekend at the G20 in Argentina, the action – or
inaction – of the four female crossbenchers gave Morrison a small
salve to apply to the black eye he received earlier in the week from
one of their number.
Whatever it does, the Morrison government seems to find itself caught
on the sticky fly paper. As if it didn’t have trouble enough with
trying to decide about the embassy in Israel and the religious freedom
report, on Monday it became messily entangled in the issue of a
national integrity commission.
On the first day of formal minority government, the crossbench flexed
its muscle and the government bowed to the new reality.
Well, not quite bowed – but bought time by taking a line of least resistance.
After the independent member for Indi, Cathy McGowan, introduced her
private member’s bill for a national integrity commission, the House
of Representatives considered a motion from the Senate which called on
“the federal government to establish a national anti-corruption
The government didn’t oppose the motion, which went through on the voices.
It was claimed that Attorney-General Christian Porter wanted to set out
the government’s objections to the McGowan bill, which he couldn’t do
in private members’ time.
The real reason was the government didn’t want to test its numbers on
the floor when there could be a defector or two from its own ranks.
Porter embarked on something of a lawyer’s frolic as he pointed to
dangers in the bill.
He warned that any public official who, it could be argued, had
breached public trust or impaired confidence in public administration
“would be liable to a finding of corruption”, even for a trivial
The ABC would come under the proposed body. So Porter conjured up the
scenario of ABC political editor Andrew Probyn (who, it will be
recalled, former ABC chairman Justin Milne wanted shot) being caught
under the bill.
On Porter’s account, that would be because Probyn was found in breach
of the ABC code of practice’s provision on impartiality for saying
Tony Abbott was the “most destructive politician of his generation”.
“Under this bill before the House—no ifs, ands or buts—Andrew Probyn
would be found to have committed corruption,” Porter declared.
He didn’t sound as if he were joking but maybe the Attorney has a very
dry sense of humour.
Not that McGowan is claiming her bill has the detail right. What she
and other crossbenchers are trying to do is force the government’s
How far they’ll succeed is not clear – they’ll get something but not
the full monty.
The government’s preference would be to do nothing. But that’s no
longer politically viable. Labor is committed to a new anti-corruption
body (once it didn’t believe in one), and the level of public distrust
of the political system makes this an issue that resonates in the
The government now finds itself in the rather bizarre situation of
having voted for a “national anti-corruption commission” without
committing itself to one.
In fact, such a commission is the least likely to get a tick of the
three options before the government. Porter has all but written it
The other options, according to Porter, are expanding one of the
existing 13 bodies that presently deal with integrity and corruption
(probably the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity),
or merging some of them to eliminate overlap.
Ideally the way forward would be by a bipartisan approach. The issues
are indeed complex and state experience suggests the need for careful
balances and protections. But bipartisanship not the way of things
before an election.
Attacking Shorten, Scott Morrison accused him of being preoccupied
with a “fringe issue”.
Morrison said the matter would be dealt with “through a normal Cabinet
process”. Porter says this process is well underway. Indeed a lot of
it happened under Malcolm Turnbull – Porter says he has been working
on it since he became attorney-general nearly a year ago.
Both the embassy question and the religious freedom report are in
“processes” at the moment.
The government received another prod on the latter when on Monday a
Labor-chaired Senate committee recommended in its majority report that
a ban on religious schools discriminating against gay teachers should
This goes much further than the government’s plan – bogged down in
negotiations with Labor – for legislation to prevent discrimination
against gay students. The opposition is expected on Tuesday to push the
government to act immediately on its promise to protect students.
As the Liberals took in the devastating Victorian result, there was
the feeling that the Morrison government was just holding things
Senate president and Victorian Liberal Scott Ryan, who rarely enters controversies given his position as a presiding officer, unleashed a restrained but pointed assault against the right of the party (and rightwing commentators).
Victorian Liberal backbencher Tim Wilson delivered a sharp message to the coal lovers. “If anybody thinks that there’s this great public sentiment out there that people really deep down hate renewables and they’re hugging something like coal, I say again — get real”.
That immediately encouraged a rerun of Morrison’s coal hugging in parliament.
In question time the Prime Minister was decidedly shouty and aggressive.
And, despite the crossbenchers now looming large in his world, he
didn’t make time to sit in the chamber for Kerryn Phelps’ maiden
speech. He had other engagements, his office said.
Labor has maintained a 55-45% two-party lead in the latest Newspoll,
in a weekend of woe for the Morrison government, which is trying to
play down the federal contribution to the Victorian Liberal wipeout.
The Coalition’s primary vote fell for the third consecutive
time, to 34%, in a poll that if replicated at an election would see a loss of 21 seats. Labor’s primary vote remained at 40%. One Nation rose 2
points to 8%; the Greens were steady on 9%.
Scott Morrison boosted his lead over Bill Shorten as better PM to 12
points, leading 46-34% compared with 42-36% a fortnight ago. Morrison
has a net positive satisfaction rating of plus one, improving from
minus 8 in the last poll.
The poll will reinforce Coalition gloom after Saturday’s Victorian
election which saw a swing to the Labor government estimated by ABC
election expert Antony Green at around 4% in two-party terms. While an
ALP win was expected, the stunning size of it came as a surprise.
Even assuming the Victoria election was mainly won (or lost) on state
issues, there are clearly federal factors and lessons in this smashing
of the Liberals, which if translated federally would potentially put at risk half a dozen Victorian seats.
As Premier Daniel Andrews said, Victoria is a “progressive” state. It
stands to reason that Liberal infighting and the dumping of Malcolm
Turnbull, the trashing of the National Energy Guarantee and the
talking down of renewables, and the broad rightward lean of the
federal Coalition alienated many middle-of-the-road Liberal voters.
The anecdotal evidence backs the conclusion that Victorians were
sending strong messages to the Liberal party generally, including the
But are the federal Liberals willing to hear those message? And anyway,
does Morrison have the capacity to respond to them effectively?
Morrison has so far demonstrated no personal vision for the country,
and his play-for-the-moment tactics are being increasingly seen as
Morrison took the unusual course of not saying anything about Victoria
on Saturday night or Sunday. He will meet the Victorian federal
Liberals on Monday to discuss the outcome.
Ahead of that meeting Treasurer Josh Frydenberg – who is from Victoria and is deputy Liberal leader – played down the federal implications. While conceding “the noise from Canberra certainly didn’t help”, he claimed in an ABC Sunday night interview that the lessons to be learned federally were about grassroots campaigning and the need to rebut “Labor lies”. He would not concede a recalibration of policy was needed.
Some in the right will try to write Victoria off as unrepresentative
of the nation, just as they did Wentworth. This flies in the face of
reality – there were big swings in the eastern suburbs and the sandbelt,
the sort of areas the Liberals would expect to be their middle class strongholds.
The government needs to pitch much more to the centre in policy terms
but it will be hard to do so.
Given its current positioning, how could it sound moderate on energy
and climate policy? It can’t go back to the NEG. It is stuck with its
obsessions about coal and its distrust of, or at least equivocation
about, renewables, as well as its business-bashing threat of
On issues such as coal and climate change, the party’s eyes have been
turned obsessively to Queensland, where there is a raft of marginal
seats, without sufficient regard to those in Victoria and NSW. Even in
relation to Queensland, there has been a failure to adequately
recognise that that state is not monolithic when it comes to issues
The right is unlikely to stop its determined effort to take over the
party, whatever the cost. Indeed some on the right will argue that the Morrison strategy should be to sharpen the policy differences further, rather than looking to the centre.
The right’s mood will be darkened by the Saturday dumping of rightwing senator Jim Molan to an unwinnable position on the NSW Liberal ticket. Molan has pulled out from Monday’s Q&A program; the ABC tweeted that he’d said he could “no longer defend the Liberals”.
As if the Victorian result was not sobering enough, the government
this week begins the final fortnight of parliament for the year in minority
government, with independent Kerryn Phelps sworn in on Monday as
Turnbull’s replacement in Wentworth.
The government wants the focus on national security legislation but
other issues will be political irritants for it.
Labor and crossbenchers are pushing the case for a federal
anti-corruption body – the sort of initiative that would appeal to
voters highly distrustful of politicians.
Crossbenchers Cathy McGowan and Rebekha Sharkie will introduce a
private member’s bill. 34 former judges have signed an open letter
advertisement calling for a national integrity commission.
They said: “Existing federal integrity agencies lack the necessary
jurisdiction, powers and know-how to investigate properly the
impartiality and bona fides of decisions made by, and
conduct of, the federal government and public sector.”
The government is resisting a new body but will need some convincing
The government will also be under pressure over Morrison’s pledge to
legislate to remove the opportunity for religious schools to
discriminate against gay students. Negotiations with the opposition
have been at an impasse, although the government says it still wants
legislation through this fortnight.
In the middle of the fortnight Morrison attends the G20, where he is
expected to have a meeting with Donald Trump. One would assume they
will canvass the Australian government’s consideration of moving our
embassy to Jerusalem, with Trump urging Morrison to go ahead with
the controversial move.
Senate president Scott Ryan has called out the right within the
Liberal party and among commentators, declaring that Liberal voters
“don’t want views rammed down their throats”.
In a trenchant critique of federal influences in the rout of the
Victorian Liberals, Ryan, a former vice-president of the state
division, pointed to the swings in seats “that are the cradle of the
They were areas that were in federal seats like Goldstein, Higgins,
Menzies and Kooyong, he told the ABC.
These voters were the “real base of the Liberal party. They sent us a
message,” he said. “They don’t want litmus tests for what it means to be a real Liberal”.
Many Liberal voters were fairly conservative in their own lives,
raising kids, working hard, running small businesses, supporting
strong local communities. “But they’re pretty liberal in their
political outlook. They don’t want views rammed down their throat, and
they don’t want to ram their views down other people’s throat.
“And that has historically been the Liberal way. We’re often
conservative in our disposition – I am – but I’m very liberal in my
He said part of the problem was “tone” – while Victoria was a state
election some of the noise that came out of Canberra “did strongly
influence the scale of the loss, where it happened”.
Ryan said after the loss of Wentworth some had “tried to dismiss those
voters as not part of real Australia … labelling people, dismissing
them – that’s not the Liberal way.
“I want to cast the net wide in the Menzies and Howard tradition [so]
as to give people a reason to be Liberals, not come up with litmus
tests and say if you don’t hold this view on a social issue, or if you
don’t hold this particular view on climate change or renewable energy,
then somehow you’re not a real Liberal.
“This is not the path to electoral success. And I’m sick of being
lectured to by people who aren’t members of the party, by people who
have never stood on polling booths, about what it means to be a real
Ryan declined to name names, but his reference to the media was
directed at commentators on Sky in the evening and the Sydney shock
Liberal voters wanted the government to focus on their issues and “I
think the federal government is doing that,” he said.
Ryan said that the days before Wentworth “were distracted … talking
about what some people call religious freedom”. In Victoria people
weren’t raising anti-discrimination law with him on polling booths.
“What we need to do is say the Liberal party has people with various
views, and all of those views can be accommodated, and internally the
idea of compromise is actually a good thing”.
Too often compromise was seen as a sell out, he said. But John Howard
and Peter Costello had compromised to achieve historic tax reform;
Peter Reith had compromised with the Australian Democrats to get
industrial relations change.
“This idea – and I think this is another thing that a lot of our
voters are tired of – that somehow to compromise to address a problem,
and move on to one of the other plethora of problems governments need
to address – that is not selling out – that is getting the jobs done”.
Tim Wilson, the member for Goldstein, criticised those who were being
ideological about energy policy.
“If anybody thinks that there’s this great public sentiment out there
that people really deep down hate renewables and they’re hugging
something like coal, I say again — get real,” Wilson told Sky.
He said he had sat on polling booths where “every second person either gave you deadly silence, which is a very cold, deadly silence, or there were people mentioning energy, climate, or the deposing of the prime minister”.
Victorian senator Jane Hume wrote in the Australian Financial Review:
“Our quest should always be to raise the standard of living – whether
through economic policies, energy, health or education. If we allow
good policy to be infiltrated by even the perception of an ideological
crusade, Labor will win the messaging war”.
After the Prime Minister met Victorian Liberal federal MPs on Monday
morning Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who is deputy Liberal leader, said
“We had a good, honest discussion about lessons to be learned from the
state campaign. As a group we will continue to be focused on
delivering for our local communities.”
On election night, the ABC had Labor winning 58 of the 88 seats, to 20 for the Coalition. After late counting of pre-poll and postal votes, the ABC now shows Labor has won 52 of the 88 lower house seats, the Coalition 24, two Independents and ten seats are undecided, with 71% of enrolled voters counted.
Statewide primary votes are currently 42.9% Labor (up 4.8% since the 2014 election), 35.8% Coalition (down 6.3%) and 9.8% Greens (down 1.6%). As much of the Coalition-favouring pre-polls and postals have been counted, I expect the Greens to gain in late counting as left-leaning polling-day absent votes are counted.
In two party Labor vs Coalition terms, The Poll Bludger has Labor winning by 56.0-44.0 in seats that currently have such a count – that is, excluding Labor vs Greens counts in inner city seats, and Coalition vs independents in the regions. In seats with a two party count, the swing to Labor is 5.3%, which would be a 57.3-42.7 thrashing if projected to the whole state.
The Liberals have lost eastern suburbs heartland seats such as Mount Waverley, Burwood, Ringwood and Box Hill to Labor, but they have retained Caulfield and likely Sandringham, which looked likely to be losses earlier in the night. In Hawthorn, the Liberals lead by 53 votes, with many absent votes to come.
While the ABC currently lists Melbourne as in doubt, Greens-favouring absent votes will easily win it for the Greens. Labor leads the Greens by 72 votes in Brunswick, and will probably lose on absent votes. Labor has clearly retained Richmond against the Greens, and will regain Northcote, which they lost at a byelection. In Prahran, whichever of Labor or Greens finishes second will defeat the Liberals on the other’s preferences.
An independent has gained Mildura from the Nationals, and an independent has retained Shepparton. According to analyst Kevin Bonham, independents are some chance in Geelong, Benambra, South-West Coast, Morwell, Melton and Pascoe Vale; in some of these seats, independents are currently third, but could move ahead of a major party, then receive that major party’s preferences. These seats do not yet have a two candidate count against the independent; the ABC is guessing the two candidate result.
Micro parties could win ten upper house seats
The ABC’s upper house calculator currently has Labor winning 19 of the 40 upper house seats, the Coalition ten, the Greens one, and ten from other parties. These others include four Derryn Hinch Justice, two Transport Matters, one Aussie Battler, one Animal Justice, one Liberal Democrat and one Sustainable Australia.
Overall upper house vote shares were 40.8% Labor, 28.2% Coalition, 9.2% Greens, 3.4% Hinch Justice and 0.6% Transport Matters. It is ludicrous that a party with 0.6% of the vote could win one more seat than a party with 9.2%, or that a party with 3.4% could win three more seats than the Greens.
The upper house count is only at 42.5%, while the lower house is at 71.1%. The pre-poll and postal votes that have assisted the Coalition in the lower house have not yet been tallied for the upper house. When they are counted, Labor will drop back and the Coalition will gain.
The below-the-line vote rate increased to about 10% at this election, from 6% in 2014. As the ABC calculator assumes that all upper house house votes are above-the-line ticket votes, errors can occur if the calculator margin at a critical point is close. Bonham thinks the Coalition will do a bit better at the expense of micro parties, but he still thinks there will be at least six micro party members.
If Labor wins 19 upper house seats, they will be in a strong position in the upper house. Since the election was a Labor landslide, they performed well in the upper house. Had Labor done worse, there would have been some incentive for them to attempt to reform group voting tickets, but this is now unlikely to happen.
The commanding return to office of the Andrews government emphatically reaffirms that Labor is the natural ruling party in Victoria. By the time the state’s next election is due in November 2022, Labor will have presided over Spring Street for three-quarters of the previous four decades.
That ascendancy is replicated in federal election results: the ALP has won the two-party preferred vote in Victoria on 12 of the past 14 occasions. The flipside is that Victoria has become foreign ground for the Liberal Party. It seems almost unimaginable that this was once the state dubbed the “jewel in the Liberal crown”.
If Labor’s re-election consolidates an established trend in Victorian politics, the scale of the victory (it has invited comparisons with the ALP’s Steve “Bracks-slide” of 2002) and the terms on which it has been won are remarkable.
From the moment he won office in 2014, Daniel Andrews styled himself as an assertive and activist premier. This has been exemplified by an ambitious infrastructure agenda, but also a willingness to barge his way through controversies unapologetically.
Lacking the every-man touch of Bracks, Andrews has never seemed especially fussed about courting popularity and has mostly eschewed media contrivances to leaven his image. Neither has he sought to disguise that he is unambiguously a creature of the Labor Party, nor camouflaged his government’s closeness to the trade union movement.
Only last month, Andrews boldly marched at the head of an ACTU-organised rally in support of strengthened industrial rights and improved conditions for workers. On Saturday night, he made a conspicuous point of thanking the labour movement in his victory speech. All of this has inflamed his detractors (not least News Limited’s Herald Sun), yet Andrews has remained defiantly unmoved.
Arguably, there is a risk in this audacity that might grow greater with Andrews emboldened by winning a second term. And there remains a danger that, despite Labor’s expansive infrastructure program, his government will be overwhelmed by Melbourne’s exponential growth and the enormous strains this is placing on services.
For now, though, one cannot deny Andrews’ achievement. Pledged to serve another four years, he is on track to become the state’s second longest-serving Labor premier and he has bequeathed his party a victory so sweeping it should guarantee two further terms.
For the Liberal Party, this is an abject result. It rubs salt into the wounds of the Coalition’s first-term defeat in 2014. Twice in Labor’s era of dominance of the past four decades, the Liberals have squandered office.
A combination of policy inertia and ill-discipline sowed the seeds of the premature fall of the Ted Baillieu-Denis Napthine government in 2014, while in 1999 Jeff Kennett’s tenure was cut short by hubris and insensitivity to rural and regional Victoria that paved the way for an 11-year Labor reign under Bracks and John Brumby.
For the second state election in succession, the Victorian Liberals have also been handicapped by the actions of their federal counterparts. When Victorians voted in 2014, the politically poisonous first budget of Tony Abbott’s government was still exercising their minds, while on this occasion there was the backdrop of the upheaval surrounding Malcolm Turnbull’s deposal as prime minister.
But this result shows the Liberals’ difficulties in Victoria run far deeper to matters of identity and philosophy (and organisation). Though Matthew Guy gestured towards broadening his election pitch through decentralisation policies, everything in the Liberal campaign was ultimately dwarfed by a muscular, conservative law and order agenda.
It was both narrow and discordant in a community of progressive sensibility, and one that is defined by complexity and diversity. It is a community where, for example, there are electorates in which greater than 50% of people were born in non-English speaking countries, electorates where more than 30% of the population are of Muslim faith, and electorates where nearly 50% have no religion. The contemporary Liberal Party appears bereft of a vocabulary to speak to this pluralism.
This problem of being out of step with the nation’s second largest and fastest growing state besets the Liberal Party federally as well. Yet Scott Morrison and many of his colleagues have shown scant evidence of recognising, let alone addressing, this dilemma.
Instead, they seem intent on appealing to a Queensland-focused “base”. The cost of this hewing to the right and what it potentially augurs for next year’s federal election in Victoria is now plain to see.
In a more immediate sense, there is a serious chance the Morrison government will be further destabilised by the recriminations flowing from this result. It is likely to deepen the divide in Liberal ranks between those who appear hell-bent on remaking the party in their own conservative self-image regardless of electoral consequences and those who understand that this is folly.
Lastly, what of the Greens? Since 2002, the Greens have stalked Labor in its once traditional heartland in Melbourne’s inner city. Buoyed by a heady triumph in the Northcote by-election 12 months ago, the Greens looked forward to this contest convinced they were on an irresistible forward march.
That optimism was dented by defeat in the federal byelection in Batman in March. Now, after an unhappy campaign during which the party became mired in controversy over its culture towards women and struggled for traction against a progressive-credentialed government, the Greens have lost ground. Some experienced observers are speculating that we have witnessed “peak Green”.
That is probably premature. Yet, for Labor, the sullying of their tormentor’s image and disruption of their momentum is icing on its glorious election victory cake.