The case for holding politicians to the same disclosure standards as company directors



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Cory Bernardi was recently caught up in a dispute over whether he had correctly disclosed a property he owns.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Bede Harris, Charles Sturt University

Recent commentary on the rules governing politicians’ declaration of financial interests has highlighted the ease with which they are circumvented and the laxity with which they are enforced. The Conversation

Senator Cory Bernardi was recently caught up in a dispute over whether he had correctly disclosed a A$1 million commercial property he owns in South Australia. He denies any wrongdoing and says he complied with the rules.

There are differences between the regimes governing politicians and directors of public companies; the former relate to assets whereas the latter govern transactions. But they both serve the same end – ensuring transparency and reducing the risk of conflicts of interest.

Why, then, are the rules so lax for politicians?

Why MPs aren’t pursued

Parliamentary rules require MPs declare a broad range of interests. They must also declare interests they are “aware” are held by their spouses and dependant children.

Politicians file interests late – sometimes only after media exposure. They frequently disregard the rules relating to minor assets and defy the rule relating to reporting spousal assets. The requirement of awareness in relation to family assets makes ignorance an easily available defence.

However, the chief problem is enforcement. The relevant law says events occurring within parliament, which would include breaches of financial disclosure rules, cannot be judged by the courts.

This rule is important because it protects free debate. But it ultimately makes the enforcement of internal parliamentary rules subject to political forces rather than purely legal considerations. This is because of how parliament’s internal processes work.

The initial decision on whether an MP has acted in contempt of parliament – for example, by failing to declare assets – is made by the relevant house’s privileges committee.

The government has a majority on the House of Representatives committee, so there is obviously little chance it will find against one of its own MPs. And even if a committee does make an adverse finding, it amounts only to a recommendation. It is up to the entire house (in which, again, the government has a majority) to make the final decision as to whether contempt has occurred and, if so, what punishment to impose.

Where an opposition MP is under the spotlight, a finding of contempt is theoretically more likely. But the reason this is only theoretical is that a party with a majority is aware the time will come when it will lose that majority. For this reason, it will not want to establish a precedent that can later be used against it.

So, it is in the interests of both major parties not to pursue contempt matters too vigorously.

This was strikingly illustrated in 2002, when former defence minister Peter Reith refused to appear before a Senate committee investigating the “children overboard” affair. On the face of it this amounted to contempt. Also, the Coalition parties did not hold a Senate majority. But Labor refrained from compelling Reith to give evidence or face contempt proceedings.

The upshot is there is no real likelihood MPs will face punishment for breaching financial disclosure rules. All that happens is they are allowed to “correct the record” – which makes failure to disclose essentially risk-free.

Company directors face stringent requirements

Contrast this with the requirements imposed on directors of public companies.

If any “related party” of a company – including a director, their spouse, child, parent or other company that any of these parties controls – wants to enter into a transaction with the director’s company, the shareholders’ permission has to be obtained in advance.

So, for example, if the father of a director wanted to purchase a vehicle owned by the company of which she was a director, the shareholders would have to approve the transaction before it took place.

Most importantly, any person involved in a breach of the rules is subject to a civil penalty of up to A$200,000 if the breach is not dishonest (that is, if it is unintentional), and faces criminal prosecution and a fine of up to A$200,000 and/or imprisonment for five years if the breach is intentional.

The consequences of MPs breaching financial disclosure rules could easily be toughened by amending the relevant law. Breaches should be subject to normal court proceedings, rather than being left to parliament’s dubious procedures. There should also be a penalty regime mirroring that applicable to company directors.

Bede Harris, Senior Lecturer in Law, Charles Sturt University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australians could get faster broadband with more kerbside NBN connections



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The National Broadband Network comes to Hobart.
STRINGER Image/Shutterstock

Rod Tucker, University of Melbourne

The latest complaints about the National Broadband Network (NBN), including concerns about slow download speeds and frequent dropouts, show that all is not well with the NBN. The Conversation

A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) also flags Australia’s broadband speeds as among the worst in the OECD, beating only Mexico, Chile and Greece in terms of internet speed and penetration.

This raises questions on NBN’s continued use of fibre to the node (FTTN) over a large proportion of the total NBN footprint.

When the coalition government came to power in 2013, it instructed a new NBN management team to stop rolling out fibre to the premises (FTTP) and instead build a multi-technology-mix (MTM) version of the NBN.

But, as predicted, it is becoming clear that the FTTN component of the network is inadequate for Australia’s future needs.

Who’s to blame?

NBN chief executive Bill Morrow has deflected some of the blame for low speeds away from NBN and onto retailers, suggesting that their networks might not be up to the task.

He has correctly pointed that part of the problem is that many customers are opting for cheaper, slower services rather than the more costly faster ones.

In defence of its network, NBN points out that existing slow-speed ADSL services dominate the speed data quoted in the OECD report. It suggests that rolling out the NBN out across the entire country will help to improve Australia’s broadband ranking.

But this argument ignores any future developments in other OECD countries. There are numerous broadband initiatives in the OECD, and many of these initiatives use FTTP networks, which offer much higher speeds than FTTN.

Faster speeds overseas

Worldwide, the proportion of fixed broadband services using FTTP has increased by 77% in the past year and those using copper, such as FTTN, have decreased by 11.6%.

While the OECD and the rest of the world are moving forward with ramped-up FTTP deployments, Australia is moving backwards with its continuing rollout of FTTN.

New Zealand, for example, currently sits three places ahead of Australia in the OECD report. But in New Zealand, the telco and internet provider Chorus is installing FTTP around the country.

It announced in September last year gigabit-per-second services across its fibre footprint, starting at a wholesale price of NZ$60 (A$55) per month. This follows the announcement of gigabit services in Dunedin in 2015.

In Spain, more than one-third of customers have access to FTTP and this fraction is growing. A similar surge in FTTP connections is taking place in France.

In the United States, fibre rollouts are expanding, and countries such as Sweden and Finland already have a large penetration of fibre in their networks. Many countries in Southeast Asia either have rolled out, or are rolling out, high-speed FTTP networks.

One of the reasons why FTTP deployments are expanding worldwide is that newer construction techniques and cabling technologies are driving down the cost of FTTP.

Enter Fibre to the Curb (FTTC)

NBN Co announced last September that it will roll out Fibre to the Curb (FTTC) to around 700,000 premises originally slated to use an upgraded version of the Optus HFC network.

FTTC is a relatively new technology in which fibres link the local telephone exchange to small existing pits in the street, outside a home or business. FTTC potentially provides speeds in excess of 500 Megabits per second.

Up to the pit, FTTC is essentially the same as a FTTP. The key difference is that in FTTC, a small waterproof electronic box in the pit connects the fibre to the existing copper wires that run into the home.

But FTTC is largely untested in large deployments such as Australia’s NBN. So a rollout of FTTC will carry a degree of technological risk.

NBN says it will cost about A$2,800 to roll out FTTC to each premises, which is only $630 more than FTTN. Like FTTP, the cost of rolling out FTTC will decrease over time using newer construction techniques. FTTC and FTTP are both becoming more cost competitive.

With speeds as much as ten times higher than FTTN, FTTC has the potential to improve Australia’s rankings in broadband speeds and accelerate Australia’s transition into the digital economy. These were the original objectives of the NBN.

In a blog post, NBN’s chief network engineering officer, Peter Ryan, says that FTTC and FTTN are closely related, and uses this premise to paint a picture of how easy it will be to upgrade from FTTN to FTTC.

But FTTC has a natural relationship to FTTP and not to FTTN. In FTTN, fibres feed a cabinet on the side of a road that is connected to nearby 240-volt power lines. The power supplies backup batteries and banks of electronics that connect to the premises via the existing copper wires.

In FTTC (and FTTP, for that matter) the expensive powered node is not needed, meaning that the cabinets in the street could have to be trashed when FTTN is upgraded.

In an attempt to bolster its arguments for FTTN, NBN has asserted that those cabinets are “an extremely valuable asset … which can be used for a range of purposes”. But it is very hard to imagine what these purposes could be.

Taking stock

Despite the excitement over FTTC, it’s getting harder to cancel contracts for FTTN and move to a more sensible strategy.

Ryan points out it’s not possible to “tear up 18 months” of FTTN planning as that would only delay some connections for two to three years.

The NBN network is like an enormously long train; you can’t just bring things to a complete stop and change direction, it just doesn’t work that way and never will.

Rod Tucker, Laureate Emeritus Professor, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How the law allows governments to publish your private information



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Controversy has recently surrounded Centrelink and its handling of ‘overpayments’ and personal information.
AAP/Dave Hunt

Bruce Baer Arnold, University of Canberra

Recent controversy over the government’s use of information provided to Human Services and Veterans’ Affairs demonstrates there are major holes in Australia’s privacy regime that we need to fix. The Conversation

Australians are accustomed to providing personal information to federal and state governments. We do it repeatedly throughout our lives. We do so to claim entitlements. We also do so as the basis of public administration – the contemporary “information state”.

In making that state possible we trust we will not be treated as a file number or an incident. We will not be doxed.

A key aspect of that trust, consistent with international rights law since the 1940s, is that our privacy will be protected. We assume officials – and private sector entities they use as their agents – will not be negligent in safeguarding personal information.

We also assume they will not share personal information with other agencies unless there is a substantive need for that sharing – for example, for national security or to prevent harm to an individual. And we expect they will not disclose personal information to the media or directly to the community at large as a way of silencing criticism or resolving disputes.

Australia has a sophisticated body of administrative law and ombudsmen. So, there is no need for public shaming of people who disagree with ministers, officials or databases.

The complicated and inconsistent body of privacy law highlighted by law reform commissions over the past two decades attempts to provide legal protection for personal information. It is overseen by under-resourced watchdogs that – amid threats of termination – are inclined to lick the ministerial hand that feeds them.

That law has major weaknesses, illustrated by the Centrelink controversy and the furore over the Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Digital Readiness and Other Measures) Bill. The Commonwealth is able to ignore ostensible protections under the Privacy Act and other statutes. That is quite lawful. It has been so for many years, evident in the watchdog’s finding in L v Commonwealth Agency.

The watchdog’s guidelines state that where someone:

… makes adverse comments in the media about the way [a body] has treated them … it may be reasonable to expect that the entity may respond publicly to these comments in a way that reveals personal information specifically relevant to the issues that the individual has raised.

Put simply, if you complain publicly about a Commonwealth agency that holds personal information relating to you, that agency can lawfully give the information to the media or publish it directly. It can do so to correct what the minister deems to be “misinformation”.

There is no requirement that your complaint be malicious, fraudulent, vexatious or otherwise wrong. Disclosure is at the minister’s discretion, not subject to independent review. You have no legal remedies unless it could be proved that the official was malicious or corrupt.

We have seen such a disclosure. The Department of Human Services gave personal information to a journalist for publication about a person who disagreed with action by Centrelink to recover an alleged overpayment of an entitlement.

There has been much discussion in the media and the national parliament about the vigour with which the government is seeking to recover overpayments. Worryingly, it remains uncertain whether many of the alleged overpayments actually exist.

Ongoing changes to entitlements policy, the hollowing out of key agencies by the annual “efficiency dividend” (that is, ongoing cuts to budgets) and problematical design and management of very large information technology projects mean overpayments might not have occurred.

Public disclosure of someone’s personal information thus looks very much like bullying, if not a deliberate effort to chill legitimate criticism and discussion of publicly funded programs.

The veterans’ affairs minister and the shadow minister have apparently not done their homework. The new Digital Readiness Bill – passed in the House of Representatives but not in the Senate – allows the minister to publicly disclose medical and other personal information about veterans. The rationale for that disclosure is to correct misinformation.

Understandably, veterans are unhappy. Legal practitioners and academics wonder about the scope for public shaming through release of department information that might not be correct.

The national Privacy Commissioner has been complacent. Labor’s veterans’ affairs spokeswoman, Amanda Rishworth, has belatedly expressed concern. The minister has simply referred to the establishment of an independent review by the Australian Government Solicitor and his department. It is difficult to understand why privacy wasn’t properly considered before the bill went into parliament.

There are too many loopholes in Australia’s privacy regime. Government agencies also need to toughen up in the face of criticism – legitimate or otherwise – and not respond by bullying people through publication of personal information.

Bruce Baer Arnold, Assistant Professor, School of Law, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

One Nation’s preference deal in the WA election comes back to bite it


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Pauline Hanson after her One Nation party performed worse than expected at the WA election.
AAP/Rebecca Le May

Narelle Miragliotta, Monash University

One Nation thought it could smell sweet electoral success for much of the Western Australian state election campaign. The Conversation

The party had reason to be confident about its prospects, despite the recent debacle concerning Rod Culleton, the former One Nation and later independent senator found ineligible to stand for parliament.

The party’s founder, Pauline Hanson, had resumed the leadership mantle and had emerged as a high-profile deal-maker in the Senate. Hanson used her profile to support her “down-to-earth, upfront and honest grassroots” candidates by making frequent visits to the state during the campaign.

Polls had the party as resurgent and on track to win up to 13% of the primary vote.

On the strength of its strong performance in the polls, both major parties were reported to have been jostling for One Nation’s preferences. It was the Liberals that sealed the deal in the end. Liberal leader Colin Barnett was unapologetic, even if “uncomfortable”, about the decision.

This deal was significant for One Nation.

The preference pact had the potential to enhance the electoral prospects of One Nation candidates contesting upper house regions.

The deal was also important because it signalled that One Nation was no longer a political pariah. Former Liberal prime minister John Howard defended the preference deal with One Nation on the grounds that “everyone changes in 16 years”. And high-profile Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos argued One Nation are “a lot more sophisticated”.

But the party’s supposed new-found sophistication was rarely on show during the campaign.

Hanson applauded Russian President Vladimir Putin for his patriotism and strong-man persona, but paradoxically likened a policy that made eligibility for certain forms of family payments and childcare benefits contingent on parents vaccinating their children as akin to living in a dictatorship.

“Bloody lefties” within the education system were denounced as the cause of social problems that were afflicting regional towns. Muslims were accused of having “no respect” for Australia, and making preparations to eventually overthrow Australian governments.

The party struggled to contain its candidates. Two were disendorsed and two more resigned during the campaign. Four days before polling day, two former high-ranking party officials who were sacked from the party went public with their decision to take legal action against Hanson for age discrimination.

And three days before the election, there were concerns the party’s how-to-vote cards were not legally compliant.

In a final blow to an already chaotic campaign, Hanson declared the preference deal it had struck with the Liberals had likely done the party “damage”.

What cost the preference deal?

Certainly the result reveals that One Nation failed to perform as strongly as the early opinion polls had predicted. With 67.25% of the lower house vote counted, One Nation attracted only 4.74% of primary votes.

What then does this all mean? Was the preference deal a mistake for One Nation? Can a so-called anti-establishment party enter into a preference deal with an establishment party and survive to tell the story? The prevailing opinion is “no”.

However, let’s consider the claims that have been levelled about the preference deal. The main claim is the preference deal was the primary cause of One Nation’s electoral woes.

There is definitely polling data which shows many voters were opposed to the deal. What is less clear is if this opposition translated into action at the ballot box. If, for example, we calculate (or average) One Nation’s primary vote according to the actual number of lower house seats it contested, then its primary vote is around 8.26%.

While this figure is well short of the early double-digit polling results tipped for One Nation, it suggests that its support did hold up (and this is in spite of an electoral campaign that was chaotic and ill-disciplined).

The second general claim is the idea that a preference deal for either party under any circumstances is tantamount to electoral suicide.

Again, this argument might be something of a stretch. What appeared to actually blight this agreement was the particular electoral and political dynamics that surrounded it, and not the mere fact of a deal being negotiated between the two parties.

The Liberals struck a preference deal that favoured One Nation over its historical alliance partner, the Nationals. While the Liberals might have been justified by its decision, it ultimately proved very difficult to square with the conservative base more generally. The preference deal made a desperate party appear even more desperate.

One Nation agreed to a preference deal with the Liberals even though it proposed the partial privatisation of the electricity utility, a policy One Nation rejected. The planned privatisation of the utility was deeply unpopular, opposed by as many as 61% of voters.

In spite of its protestations to the contrary, One Nation had hitched its wagon to one of the most controversial policy issues of the entire campaign.

It could be argued that under different conditions, this preference deal need not have generated as much collateral damage as this one seems to have caused.

Any damage arising from this preference deal to One Nation is likely to prove fleeting. The party is on track to win two seats in the Legislative Council, most likely with the assistance of Liberal preferences.

In the end, the real danger for One Nation lies not with who it chooses to enter into preference deals with, but how it manages it internal affairs, and the conduct of its elected members – especially its leader.

Narelle Miragliotta, Senior Lecturer in Australian Politics, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull’s refusal to rule out preferencing Hanson raises questions about the ‘real Malcolm’



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Malcolm Turnbull will have to work out how best to handle Pauline Hanson and One Nation before the next federal election.
AAP/Brendan Esposito

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

For the national narrative, perhaps the most notable story out of the Western Australian election revolves around Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Turnbull. The Conversation

Despite the backlash from WA Liberal voters over the now-infamous preference deal the party did with her, Turnbull on Sunday wouldn’t rule out the Liberals playing footsie on preferences federally, deflecting questions by saying it was a matter for the party organisation.

Turnbull surely must be uncomfortable with his line. This would seem to be yet another area where he is not being true to his personal values. It must add to the confusion of voters wondering about the “real Malcolm”.

Hanson has come out of the WA election with her very ragged petticoats on display.

One Nation did much worse than it was polling early in the campaign. Expectations were high. On Saturday night Hanson was lamenting the preference deal, while trying to wriggle out of blame for the likely impact of her irresponsible comments on vaccination.

This was a polarising election – people were about changing the government, not just registering a protest.

While Hanson’s WA vote was very low in aggregate, in the three non-metropolitan regions for the upper house One Nation polled (on the count so far) between 9% and 14%.

In the Legislative Assembly seats with One Nation candidates, it polled about 8%; in the lower house seats it contested outside Perth it polled 9.6%.

ABC election analyst Antony Green says the preference deal delivered nothing to the Liberals, but has brought One Nation an upper house seat in the south-west region and potentially a second seat, in the mining and pastoral region.

Regardless of her poor performance, Hanson continues to present a challenge for the conservative parties.

The WA result cut her down to size, and the campaign shows how such a party is likely eventually to blow itself up (as it did before). But that could take a while, and in the meantime the damage Hanson can do in the coming Queensland election and – depending on what happens there – the federal election means the debate over how to handle her will continue to rend the conservatives.

It took some time for John Howard to muscle up against Hanson two decades ago. Now we see Turnbull remaining equivocal – denouncing some of her stands but courting her as the leader of a Senate bloc and keeping options open on preferences.

Any preference deal in Queensland or federally would be quite different from the WA one. It would not disadvantage the Nationals. There is a combined party in Queensland and a coalition nationally (as distinct from the “alliance” that operated in WA).

It would be a matter of putting One Nation ahead of Labor.

The debate ahead involves not just how the Liberals see their electoral advantage, but a question of principle: given what Hanson represents, shouldn’t the major parties form a united front to try to squeeze her out of existence – which means placing her last or, for the Liberals and Nationals, at least behind Labor?

The Nationals are clear-eyed about Hanson because she is such a direct threat to them. But they are divided on the best approach to the danger she represents, and are likely to be pragmatic about preferences.

It is notable that the Nationals vote in WA held up relatively well (though the fate of their leader Brendon Grylls is uncertain). The same happened at last year’s federal election; the Nationals are often closer to feeling on the ground than the Liberals.

Turnbull is right that the thumping WA loss is overwhelmingly about the local scene. If the federal government was doing well, the main impact of the result would be having to deal with another state ALP government. But when you are in deep trouble, it’s another matter.

The WA defeat will add to the jitters on the backbench; it is an object lesson in how fierce the voters can be when they turn against a government. You can be sure also that Turnbull’s enemies within his own ranks will find ways to turn this latest Liberal bad news against him.

Meanwhile Bill Shorten is seeking – without the slightest evidence – to segue from the state result to the federal battlefield by claiming that a reaction to Turnbull’s “absolute refusal to stop the cuts to penalty rates” was one factor.

Morale is vital in politics, and just as the federal Liberals will be discombobulated by the WA result, so federal Labor will be encouraged. In Labor there is confidence the tide is moving its way. Strategists believe Queensland can be held at the state election.

For Shorten the message from WA is that a steady leader, albeit without charisma but with a united team and an acceptable message, can win when the electorate has become disenchanted with the government.

Circumstances are different federally from WA, where the economy and the electorate are suffering from the post-mining boom shocks. But what’s common is a struggling government, a budget in the red, and a leader who has become unpopular.

Going for Turnbull is that he has time – two years – before the voters get a chance to declare “time’s up”. The question for him is how to best use that time.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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



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Former navy lawyer Mark McGowan is set to become the new premier of Western Australia.
AAP/Dan Peled

Natalie Mast, University of Western Australia

Labor has won the 2017 Western Australian election in a landslide, sweeping aside the long-running Barnett government and installing Labor’s Mark McGowan as the state’s 30th premier. The Conversation

The ABC is predicting Labor will win 40 seats, doubling its current number of seats held and providing it with a clear majority.

The Liberals look to have held only 14 of their 30 seats, while the Nationals appear to have held five of their seven lower house seats. Several seats technically remain in doubt.

Labor’s victory is Perth-based. Thirty-five of the 40 predicted seats it won are based in the metropolitan area. Within the three non-metropolitan regions, Labor has held Kimberley and Albany, and likely picked up only three seats – Bunbury, Collie-Preston, Murray-Wellington. All, except Kimberley, are in the state’s south-west.

State-wide, the One Nation vote in the Legislative Assembly is only 4.7%. It looks like One Nation could win two seats in the Legislative Council, one in Mining and Pastoral and the other in the south-west. This is below the results expected prior to Pauline Hanson’s disastrous trip to WA.

A drover’s dog type of election?

This was an election where the vote was driven by dislike of the sitting government, rather than attraction to the opposition.

It’s rare for a party to gain a third term in WA, and the Barnett government has been trailing in the polls for some time. In particular, as the face of his government, Premier Colin Barnett is deeply unpopular across the state.

The election day ReachTEL poll of 2,573 voters, published in The West Australian, had Labor on a two-party-preferred vote of 54% to 46%. Of those planning to vote Labor, 27.2% said their main reason was that “It’s time for a change of government”, and 16.3% said “I don’t like Colin Barnett”.

ReachTEL poll, March 9.
ReachTEL

Mark McGowan: WA’s new premier

McGowan will become premier after surviving a somewhat bizarre challenge on his leadership last March by former federal Labor minster Stephen Smith.

McGowan, who has been opposition leader since 2012, has patiently plugged away at the government.

In the strained economic circumstances in which WA finds itself, it is difficult to run a campaign full of expensive promises. The most high-profile of Labor’s policies was its declaration that it would not sell Western Power, which the government hoped to use to reduce state debt by around A$8 billion.

Labor also campaigned heavily on public transport, which the government had failed to deliver on over its last two terms.

The Metronet rail network plan gained a place in the public imagination during the 2013 campaign. The basics of the plan survived Labor’s defeat at the last state election as it remained popular within the electorate, providing a clear alternative plan to the changing positions of the Barnett government.

Labor cleverly claimed it would fund Metronet by cancelling the Perth Freight Link, which includes the deeply unpopular Roe 8 extension, and diverting the federal funding from that project to Metronet.

Colin Barnett’s defeat is a tale of a tin ear

The key issues in this election have tended to be economic in nature. WA’s unemployment rates, high state debt, high cost of living, and predicted budget deficits, have not instilled confidence in voters.

The outgoing premier’s last appeal to voters was “please don’t vote for a return to Dullsville” that ended with the old argument that the unions would be in control under Labor.

Given the economic uncertainty, it was a strange plea. Many voters are more concerned with being able to pay their mortgage than take advantage of the improvements to city.

Outgoing premier Colin Barnett had become unpopular with voters.
AAP/Richard Wainwright

Barnett’s fundamental problem is that while his government has transformed Perth over the last eight years, voters are more concerned with their own economic circumstances, and the benefits of large infrastructure projects have not resonated.

It’s a hard sell to convince people that while the significant economic downturn over the last four years is due to circumstances the government can’t control, the government can nonetheless be trusted to turn the state’s fortunes around.

Brendan Grylls distinguishes the Nationals from the Liberals

Outside of Perth, Brendan Grylls appears to have saved the Nationals from oblivion.

Grylls is responsible, through the Royalties for Regions program, for differentiating the Nationals from the Liberals. While the swing against the Liberals is projected to be around 16%, the swing against the Nationals is projected to be less than 1%.

The fact the Nationals have held their ground is impressive on two fronts. The first was the threat One Nation posed outside the metro area.

The other is that the WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy spent around $2 million campaigning against Grylls’ proposal of raising the 25 cent per tonne production rental fee on iron ore to $5, which would deliver an estimated $7.2 billion over the next four years.

Grylls is the member for Pilbara, having moved from the seat of Central Wheatbelt in the 2013 election. The tax policy was high risk, particularly for Grylls himself given that much of WA’s mining happens in his seat.

While the plan seems to have worked in the agricultural parts of the state, the count will continue in the mining seats of Pilbara and Kalgoorlie, which are too close to call.

What the eastern states can learn from the result

In terms of the WA election having federal implications for the Turnbull government, this really was an election determined by local issues.

During the campaign Bill Shorten visited three times, while Malcolm Turnbull made only one fleeting visit, where he failed to deliver a plan to get WA a “fair” share of the GST.

While it is generally not opportune for a national governing party to lose at state level, only internal mischief-makers would try to blame the loss on Turnbull’s leadership.

The most significant issues that will resonate across the country will be the outcome of the preference deal with One Nation, and the ability of the Nationals to differentiate themselves so convincingly from the Liberals.

Natalie Mast, Associate Director, Business Intelligence & Analytics, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Labor romps to landslide win in WA election


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

With 67% of enrolled voters counted in yesterday’s Western Australian election, the ABC’s election computer was giving Labor 36 of the 59 lower house seats, to 11 Liberals and 5 Nationals. Of the seven doubtful seats, I expect the Liberals to overtake narrow current Labor leads in two seats on late counting. If that happens, Labor will win 38 seats to 21 for the Liberals and Nationals, a reversal of the 2013 result (38 Liberal/Nationals, 21 Labor). The Conversation

Primary vote shares were 42.8% for Labor (up 9.7 points since the 2013 election), 31.4% for the Liberals (down a massive 15.7 points), 5.4% for the Nationals (down 0.7), 8.5% for the Greens (up 0.1), a disappointing 4.7% for One Nation and 7.2% for all Others (up 1.9). As post-election day votes are processed, I expect Labor’s share to drop slightly, and the Liberals and Greens to slightly improve.

No statewide two party result has been provided by the Electoral Commission, and this will not be known until after all other results are finalised.

At the time of One Nation’s last peak from 1998-2001, they won 9.6% at the 2001 WA election. After polling in the 12-13% range early in the campaign, One Nation’s vote slumped to 7-9% in the final polls. Polls may have overestimated One Nation as they were only standing in 35 of 59 lower house seats.

There were two reasons for One Nation’s loss of support late in the campaign. First, the preference deal with the Liberals damaged their brand: it is hard to be an anti-establishment party if you deal with an established major party. Second, One Nation’s policies received more exposure in the closing days, causing some One Nation supporters who disagreed with the party’s far right agenda to desert.

The preference deal with One Nation also had dire consequences for the Liberals. While the Liberals were behind prior to the deal, it did not appear that Labor would win a landslide before the deal was announced. The fallout from this deal will mean that the Coalition parties and One Nation, in other states and federally, will be more reluctant to trade preferences.

Barnett was deeply unpopular, WA’s economy was weak, and the unpopular Federal government was a drag. These factors made a Labor win probable, but the deal with One Nation probably exacerbated the Liberals’ losses.

This will be Labor’s first true landslide in any state or federally since 2006, when Labor had landslide wins in Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania. By “landslide”, I mean not just defeating the opposition, but thrashing them in both seat and vote terms. That Labor won a big victory in the most conservative state at Federal level will make it even sweeter for them.

Polling appears to have underestimated the Greens and Labor’s primary votes a little, and overestimated One Nation. Galaxy and Newspoll had the Liberals and Nationals about right, but ReachTEL overestimated their vote.

Fluoride Free could win a seat in WA upper house

While 67% of enrolled voters for the lower house have been tallied, only 47% has been counted in the upper house. The WA upper house is severely malapportioned, and still uses the group voting ticket system that was abolished in the Senate.

Using the group voting tickets, the ABC is currently predicting Labor to win 15 of 36 upper house seats (up 4 since 2013), the Liberals 9 (down 8), the Nationals 4 (down 1), the Greens 3 (up 1), Shooters 2 (up 1) and One Nation, Liberal Democrats and Fluoride Free are currently predicted to win one seat each.

The ABC currently gives one seat to Daylight Saving, but Kevin Bonham spotted an error. The Daylight Saving candidate in Mining and Pastoral region is actually the Shooters candidate.

With the upper house count well behind the lower house count, these results may change. However, currently Fluoride Free is winning a seat in East Metro region on just 0.35%. A quota is 1/7 of the vote, or 14.3%.

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

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Labor very likely to win WA election as One Nation slumps


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The West Australian election will be held today. Polls close at 6pm local time (9pm Melbourne time). All three polls taken in the last week give Labor a 54-46 lead, which would represent an 11 point swing to Labor since the 2013 election. If this polling is accurate, Labor leads the combined Liberal/National total on primary votes. Here is the WA final poll table. The Conversation

WA final polls.

The last Newspoll was taken in late January. Primary votes in this Newspoll were Labor 41% (up 3), Liberals 32% (up 2), Nationals 5% (steady) One Nation 8% (down 5) and Greens 7% (down 2). 34% (up 2) were satisfied with Premier Colin Barnett’s performance, and 57% (steady) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of -23. Opposition leader Mark McGowan had a net approval of +5, down 7 points. 54% thought Labor would win, with 27% backing the Liberals.

The last ReachTEL was taken for Fairfax on 27 February. After excluding 3.5% undecided, this ReachTEL has primary votes of Labor 41.8% (up 6.6), Liberals 33.9% (down 0.7), Nationals 6.0% (down 0.8), One Nation 6.8% (down 1.7) and Greens 6.5% (down 4.2). 61% thought the Liberals should not have entered a preference deal with One Nation, with only 22% in favour.

The only Galaxy poll since the last election was published last Sunday. It had primary votes of Labor 40%, Liberals 31%, Nationals 5%, One Nation 9% and Greens 8%.

On better Premier, McGowan led Barnett 45-37 in Newspoll, 56.5-43.5 in ReachTEL and 46-33 in Galaxy.

Much of Labor’s strong primary vote is coming at the expense of the Greens. Greens preferences help Labor in two party terms, so Labor will not do as well from preferences with a low Green primary.

It appears that the preference deal between the Liberals and One Nation has damaged both parties. From a peak of 12-13%, One Nation’s vote has slumped to 7-9%. The Liberals started the campaign behind, and this deal was an attempt to win One Nation lower house preferences. It is now likely that the Liberals will lose by a greater margin than if they had avoided this deal.

There may be shy One Nation voters, but neither ReachTEL nor Newspoll use live phone interviews. ReachTEL is a robopollster, while Newspoll uses robopolling and online panel methods.

Tasmanian EMRS poll: Liberals slump to 35%

A Tasmanian EMRS poll, conducted 1-4 March from a sample of 1000, has the Liberals on 35% (down 5 since November), Labor on 29% (up 1), the Greens on 19% (up 1), Independents on 10% (down 1) and One Nation on 6%.

Kevin Bonham says that EMRS skews to the Greens and Independents and against Labor. He interprets this poll as having primaries of 37% Liberal, 33% Labor, 16% Greens and 6% One Nation. Under Tasmania’s Hare Clark system, this poll would result in a hung Parliament with the Greens holding the balance of power; Bonham thinks 11 Liberals, 10 Labor, 4 Greens the most likely result.

No approval ratings are provided, but Premier Will Hodgman has a massive 52-20 lead over Labor’s Bryan Green as better Premier. Although better Premier is skewed in favour of the incumbent, the lead should not be this huge on a poll that would result in a Labor/Greens parliamentary majority. It is likely that Green’s lack of popularity is driving this disparity.

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

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Barnett government looks set for defeat as One Nation looms large in WA election


Image 20170303 24325 kn3mg
The odds are against Colin Barnett still being WA premier after March 11.
AAP/Rebecca Le May

Natalie Mast, University of Western Australia

The past four years have not been kind to Western Australia. Coming off a once-in-a-lifetime boom, the bust, which for some reason the state always forgets to anticipate, is cutting deep, and it’s proving a problem for the Barnett-led Coalition government. The Conversation

It’s the economy, stupid

Treasury’s pre-election financial projections statement has growth for the financial year dropping from 1% to 0.5%.

While the current and next financial year budgets are expected to have smaller deficits than projected, primarily due to a three-year high in iron ore prices, state debt is expected to reach A$41.1 billion in 2020. Treasury does not foresee an operating surplus in the forward estimates period.

Population growth, driven by interstate and international migration, has fallen from 4% a year in 2012 to just over 1%.

Job uncertainty is a major issue. WA now has the highest unemployment level in the country, at 6.5% in January, although the rate has dropped by 0.2% since November 2016.

Many Western Australians are now fearful of losing their jobs while having to maintain large mortgages. This is in a climate in which the median value of a house in Perth has fallen back to 2013 levels, down 2.3% in 2016.

It’s worse in some remote parts of the state, where property prices have dropped by up to 75% over the last three years.

For those who have maintained their jobs, many are still in a worse financial position as bonuses and other financial incentives from the boom dry up. Others managing to find employment now have reduced salaries.

The public education system has increased its share of the students in each of the last five years. Part of this rise has been attributed to the downturn in the economy, as people divert money from school fees to the mortgage and other essentials. This in turn adds costs to the state budget.

Who’s responsible for this situation?

During his two terms, Premier Colin Barnett has projected the image of a leader in control. Treasurers have come and gone, and most ministers have minimal presence in the media. Barnett is the face of the government, and he bares the brunt of a scared and angry population, wondering what happened to his 2009 promise of a 20-year boom with growth of 5-7% a year.

At the time of the 2013 leaders’ debate, state debt was around A$18 billion, but Barnett insisted the rate of increase would not be maintained. Instead, over the last four years, the debt has risen by around A$15 billion.

In August 2014, the state lost its AAA credit rating. In February 2016, Moody’s further downgraded the rating from AA1 to AA2.

During the recent leaders’ debate on February 22, Barnett pointed to his government’s investment in schools and health, with construction of the Fiona Stanley and new Perth Children’s hospitals. The latter has yet to open and is now more than a year behind schedule.

Part of the reason for the government’s high debt levels are investments in Perth infrastructure, such as a new stadium, which will open in 2018, Elizabeth Quay and the sinking of the railway line and bus station in Northbridge.

While of long-term benefit to the city, the last two projects are releasing inner-city land for development at a time when office vacancies are at 30% with retail vacancies at a similar level.

Other key election issues

Without funds to play with, promises are limited. Barnett is arguing that his government is a strong pair of hands for these hard times.

There are two significant issues separating the Labor and Liberal parties at this election.

The first is the privatisation of Western Power, which the government will use to pay off part of the state’s debt.

Labor leader Mark McGowan is running an old-fashioned scare campaign claiming prices will rise if the monopoly is sold. Energy prices have long been contentious in Western Australia, with the Barnett government overseeing a 67% price increase for households since 2009, admittedly off an artificially low base. McGowan is arguing the state should not sell off a revenue-generating monopoly to deal with the debt.

The second issue is public transport. The Barnett government has broken promises to deliver improved services to the outer suburbs of Perth, in places such as Ellenbrook.

The government’s key 2013 election transport promise of Max light-rail was abandoned as the state’s economic situation deteriorated.

Labor has resurrected its highly popular Metronet rail plan from the last election. Federal leader Bill Shorten is promising to help fund the plan should Labor return to government at the national level.

The costs of Metronet appear rubbery at the moment, but WA Labor is also planning to divert federal funding from the controversial Roe 8 highway.

While Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has stated the Commonwealth will not allow the diversion of funds, McGowan is pointing to the success of the Victorian Labor government in cancelling the East-West Link and using the funding for other projects.

WA is also seeing an increase in crime, some of which is linked to the so-called ice epidemic. Both parties are promising to be tough on crime. The Liberals are promising mandatory sentencing and Labor is advocating a maximum sentence of life for meth dealers.

During his blink-and-you-miss-it trip west, Turnbull disappointed Liberals with his lack of a plan to provide WA with its fair share of GST. Barnett has been campaigning on this issue for years, and the claimed A$4.7 billion annual shortfall in funds would help with the budget deficit.

Just how big is the swing to Labor?

There are 59 seats in the Legislative Assembly. The Liberals go into the election holding 30 seats and the Nationals seven, for a total of 37. Labor holds 21 seats. There’s one independent, former Liberal minister Rob Johnson.

In the 2015 electoral boundary redistribution, the Liberals notionally gained a seat from Labor.

To win government, Labor needs to win ten seats, with a uniform swing of around 10%.

Polling has been somewhat inconsistent. A ReachTEL poll for The West Australian on February 19 showed a two-party-preferred (TPP) result of 50-50. The two previous polls had Labor at 52-48 on TPP.

On February 23, The West published a private poll of marginal seats funded by advocacy group, The Parenthood, again conducted by ReachTEL. The West noted a surge to Labor, with all six seats polled (Southern River, Perth, Mt Lawley, Wanneroo, Joondalup and Bicton) predicted to fall with an average TPP swing of 15%.

A swing of this magnitude would deliver a decisive Labor victory, with the party winning 41 seats.

Fairfax commissioned a ReachTEL poll published on March 3, in which Labor had a 52-48 lead on the TPP vote. The swing of 9% suggests Labor could fall one seat short in its bid to gain government.

How important are One Nation Preferences?

From a purely pragmatic viewpoint, Barnett’s preference deal with One Nation is a legitimate gamble. His unpopular government is facing electoral defeat and with One Nation’s fortunes on the rise again in WA, shoring up the two party preferred vote is essential.

There are risks in the deal. The first question put to the premier by the panel at the leaders’ debate focused on how a man with integrity could engage in a “dirty preference deal”. While One Nation may have become more politically savvy, the party’s distasteful views remain and trying to suggest the party reflects mainstream opinion is disingenuous.

Barnett risks losing preferences from Nationals who are outraged at being placed behind One Nation in the Legislative Council, Greens who won’t direct their preferences on principle, and moderate Liberals protesting the deal.

The flow of preferences from One Nation supporters isn’t guaranteed either. Despite Pauline Hanson’s “it’s my party, I am the leader and I make the deals” position, a number of WA One Nation candidates are unhappy. Two were disendorsed — although it is unclear how large a role their position on the preference deal played.

A week out, the bookmakers have Labor at A$1.30 and the Coalition at A$3.40. The betting would suggest that WA is about to have a change of government.

Natalie Mast, Associate Director, Business Intelligence & Analytics, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Scott Morrison says budget will remember the renters


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The proposed housing affordability package in the May budget will target people relying on social housing as well as those trying to break into the market, Treasurer Scott Morrison has said. The Conversation

Morrison said housing would be a very strong focus of the budget and he stressed the rental side.

“It won’t just deal with the challenges faced by first home-owners,” he said. “You have got to remember that over 30% of Australians actually live in homes that are rented, and when people are finding it hard to get into the housing market that puts a lot more pressure on the rental market.”

Noting that the number of people on low incomes in rental stress had gone up, Morrison said: “I am as much concerned about someone who is on a low income struggling with their rent as I am with someone who I know wants to get on the home-ownership market themselves. They are both important challenges for Australians.”

Morrison renewed his criticism of “one of the most disgraceful failures of public spending” – the National Affordable Housing Agreement. This was “a one-way cash ATM to the states which asks for nothing in return.

“We are handing over A$1.3 billion every year and the number of people on public housing waiting lists has gone up. The number of social housing dwellings which are owned by the state governments has gone down. We have basically shelled out billions and billions and billions for a program that isn’t achieving anything,” he told Sky. These were matters that would be addressed in the budget.

“We have to spend that money better. We don’t necessarily need to spend less on that. It is a very important issue,” he said.

He was frustrated as treasurer that while serious money was spent on a lot of problems, “the debate is so often that you need to spend more here. No, just spend what you are spending really well and more effectively and get the outcomes that we are accountable for.”

He said social housing often got overlooked in the debate, and he was “quite passionate” about it.

The Victorian government at the weekend announced relief from stamp duty for first home-buyers purchasing properties below $600,000. Investment properties would not be eligible.

There will be a concession, applied on a sliding scale, for properties between $600,000 and $750,000. The exemption and concession applies to both new and established properties and the state government says it will help 25,000 Victorians with first homes.

Morrison also highlighted the problem of flat wages growth and the consequences that brought.

“Whether it is the NDIS [National Disability Insurance Scheme], whether it is schools, whether it is hospitals, whether it is Medicare – at a time when wages growth is admittedly and regrettably flat, Australians – particularly hard-working Australians on middle incomes – rely more and more and depend more and more on these services,” he said.

“And so the budget does need to signal, and the government has been signalling this, the need to ensure that people can feel confident about the support for those services.”

He made it clear that any improvement in commodity prices or wages growth would be used for budget repair rather than for new spending.

With an eye to the imperative that the budget must be convincing to the ratings agencies, Morrison said: “We have to deal with the political environment that we work in. You can’t just go out there and announce a whole range of things which you don’t have a reasonable prospect of being able to implement.”

He said Labor seemed “to be engaged in a very cynical process of sabotaging the budget to try and crash the AAA rating”.

“They won’t engage in getting spending under control, they want to see the nation’s welfare bill be higher. They want to tax people more to pay for a higher welfare bill.”

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/hb5bg-683276?from=yiiadmin

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/vtwdr-682691?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.