The Nationals have been unable to make a finding on the claim by a woman that former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce sexually harassed her.
Catherine Marriott, former West Australian Rural Woman of the Year, made the allegation at the height of the controversy over Joyce’s affair with his former staffer (and now partner), Vikki Campion. He claimed at the time it was the tipping point that led him to quit the Nationals’ leadership, although he has said subsequently when Campion became pregnant, he always knew he would have to go.
Marriott, who made the complaint in confidence, was highly upset when her name was quickly leaked.
She said in a Friday statement expressing her frustration at the inconclusive result of the eight months investigation that “this outcome simply isn’t good enough”.
She had been told by email on Thursday that the NSW National Party “has been unable to make a determination … due to insufficient evidence”.
“This is despite the investigation finding I was ‘forthright, believable, open and genuinely upset’ by the incident.
“The result of this investigation has underpinned what is wrong with the process and the absolute dire need for change”, she said.
Joyce on Friday had no comment beyond standing by what he had said initially, when he described the accusation as “spurious and defamatory”.
Marriott said she was “extremely disappointed that after eight months of waiting, three trips to the east coast at my own expense to meet with the party, my name and confidential complaint being leaked to the national media, and my personal and professional life being upended, the National Party have reached a ‘no conclusion’ verdict.”
But she said she wasn’t surprised because the party hadn’t had an external process in place to deal with such a complaint “My complaint was handled internally by the NSW National Party executive with no professional external expert brought in at any stage.”
She said the only positive outcome from a “harrowing experience” had been “the development of much improved policy by the party”, which she had encouraged. She was heartened that people who found themselves in similar situations in future “will have a robust policy in place to assist them”.
The outcome of the investigation comes as the Liberal party has been rocked by allegations of bullying during the leadership battle. Several Liberal women have spoken out strongly against the bad behaviour, and MPs are waiting to see whether individuals are named in parliament next week.
Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce have each accepted job offers from new Prime Minister Scott Morrison to serve as his special envoys.
The prime minister’s offers may have been a clever way to keep these two former leaders busy and put their abilities to use. But these jobs may have inadvertently rendered both Abbott and Joyce disqualified from parliament under section 44 of the Constitution. That section disqualifies any MP who accepts a paid job in government that is not a ministerial position.
The special envoy jobs
Tony Abbott is now the prime minister’s Special Envoy for Indigenous Affairs, whereas Barnaby Joyce is Special Envoy for Drought Assistance and Recovery.
Special envoys are not ministerial positions. Neither Abbott nor Joyce is part of the Morrison ministry. Their roles are to work with the relevant ministers and the prime minister to advance policy in these respective areas. The precise details of what they will be doing are not yet clear.
Section 44 of the Constitution sets out several grounds on which a politician will be disqualified from membership of parliament. Being a dual citizen is only one of them.
Another ground for disqualification is set out in section 44(iv). That provision disqualifies anyone holding an “office of profit under the Crown”, unless the position is that of a minister.
The special envoy roles look suspiciously like offices of profit under the Crown.
What is an office under the Crown?
There is no doubt the special envoys hold offices under the Crown.
In Re Lambie (No 2) from March this year, the High Court decided that Jacquie Lambie’s successor, who was the Mayor of Devonport in Tasmania, was not disqualified under section 44(iv).
The High Court held that a position is under the Crown if hiring or firing decisions are made by the executive government. Mayors are voted in and out by the people, rather than hired and fired by governments.
The prime minister, who is the effective head of the executive government, appointed Abbott and Joyce to their special envoy roles. The prime minister can also sack Abbott and Joyce as special envoys if he wants.
Positions like Speaker of the House of Representatives, Leader of the Opposition, and Chairperson of a Parliamentary Committee are not “under the Crown”. They are parliamentary positions.
The key issue is whether the special envoy positions are “of profit”.
Is the position of special envoy “of profit”?
It has been reported that Abbott and Joyce were offered remuneration for their special envoy roles.
ABC Radio National Presenter Patricia Karvelas tweeted:
Access to staff does not make a position “of profit”. Nor does covering of work expenses. But a salary, however small, definitely makes a position “of profit”.
On the same day, having already accepted the special envoy job, Tony Abbott told 2GB radio host Ray Hadley that he would not be receiving any pay for his role as Special Envoy. Abbott said: “The other thing I want to say, Ray, is that I certainly don’t expect any extra pay”.
Hadley had not asked Abbott about payment. Abbott simply made the comment off his own bat.
This all suggests that Abbott may have been offered remuneration for the special envoy job, but decided to decline that offer.
The High Court has said that to fall foul of section 44(iv) it does not matter whether a person is actually paid. What matters is “the character of the office”.
In the 1992 case of Sykes v Cleary, the High Court held that Philip Cleary, who had won the federal seat of Wills, was disqualified under section 44(iv). Cleary was a teacher who was on leave without pay at the time of the election.
The High Court decided that it doesn’t matter whether a person is actually receiving payment. What matters is whether payment attaches to the position. Cleary held an office of profit under the Crown even though he was not receiving any payment.
Chief Justice Anthony Mason and Justices John Toohey and Michael McHugh said:
The taking of leave without pay by a person who holds an office of profit under the Crown does not alter the character of the office which he or she holds. The person remains the holder of an office, notwithstanding that he or she is not in receipt of pay during the period of leave.
Logically, the same reasoning applies to an office-holder who waives their right to payment or declines to take a salary. A person is not saved from disqualification because they are not currently receiving payment.
Abbott and Joyce will be disqualified if, and this is the crux of the issue, remuneration was originally part of the special envoy job offers.
It doesn’t matter if Abbott and Joyce never asked for payment. It doesn’t matter that they declined an offer of payment. And it doesn’t matter that they aren’t actually being paid now.
If a non-ministerial position answers the description of an “office of profit under the Crown” then the holder of that position is disqualified.
Could Abbott and Joyce really be disqualified?
A clear answer is needed to the question of whether Abbott and Joyce were offered payment as part of their special envoy roles. Morrison, Abbott or Joyce could each easily answer that question.
If payment was indeed offered as part of the roles, the only way the issue of disqualification could be decided authoritatively is for the House of Representatives, where the government has a slim majority, to refer Abbott and Joyce to the High Court.
It is unlikely the government will refer Abbott and Joyce to the High Court, and quite likely that the opposition will pursue the issue – and also Peter Dutton’s potential section 44 problem – when parliament resumes in September.
Government funding of agriculture during a drought typically falls into three categories:
subsidies for farm businesses
income supplements for low-income farm families
support for better decision-making.
Unfortunately, none of these government outlays induces the much-needed rainfall. But, as this article will explain, income supplements and help with decision-making are better ways of supporting sustainable farming. Subsidies are much more problematic.
Farming is a known risky business. Seasonal conditions vary from drought to normal and above-average rainfall. Some are hit by floods and cyclones. Farmers also face outbreaks of pests and diseases.
Farm commodity prices are volatile. Farmers, and others along the food and fibre supply chains, are fully aware of volatile and uncertain seasons and markets.
People commit to farming if anticipated returns in the good times balance low or negative returns during droughts and other adverse conditions. This is consistent with the productive allocation of limited national labour and capital between agriculture and other sectors of the economy.
Farmers employ production and financial strategies to adapt to changing seasonal and market conditions. This includes smoothing over time the availability of funds for family consumption. Most farmers prepare for and adjust to the ups and downs of farming, including droughts.
So why a new round of government handouts for another drought? Current drought relief amounts to $576 million, a figure that excludes concessional loans to farmers. Of course, drought conditions are tough, but they are not a surprise. They do, however, provide graphic material for the media, and some families fall into poverty.
Drought subsidies have the effect of raising the average return from farming. They might be said to “privatise the profits of good seasons and subsidise some of the losses of droughts”.
Subsidies must be paid for, though, by higher taxes or lower government outlays affecting others. Artificially increasing the average returns to farming leads to a misallocation of limited national labour, capital and other resources from the rest of the economy to agriculture. The effect is much the same as the efficiency costs of tariffs protecting the car assembly industry.
Farm drought subsidies have important and unintended side effects. Knowing that subsidies will be provided during drought and other adverse conditions reduces the incentives for some farmers to adopt appropriate drought preparation and mitigation strategies.
Structural adjustment is a continuing feature of farming, as it is for all other industries. Increased costs of labour relative to capital equipment, as well as the scale bias of much farming technological change, favour the expansion of farm sizes over time. Drought subsidies work to hold up inevitable structural changes, including smart farmers who have planned for and adapted to drought buying out less successful operators.
Subsidies for farm outputs or inputs are a very blunt policy instrument to support farm families facing poverty. Direct household income measures, as discussed next, are more effective.
Farm household income support
Australia has long-established equity objectives of a minimum income and safety net for all citizens. Newstart is the policy for the unemployed, Age Pension for retirees, Disability Support Pension for the disabled, and so forth.
Because of poor decisions or bad luck, some farm households find themselves short of money to provide basic food, clothing, education and so forth for the family. The Farm Household Allowance (FHA) is a means-tested (assets and income) government-funded safety net to counter poverty of farm households.
This allowance raises horizontal equity issues. Initially, the FHA rate was the same as for Newstart. In an August 5 policy announcement, the government added additional lump-sum payments, described as a supplement. Arguably, the supplement can be interpreted as a form of farm subsidy.
Providing a minimum income support to the self-employed, including farmers but also many small-business people in other parts of the economy, has been a challenge. A key challenge is the difficulties of applying a means test. Why other small-business families experiencing a downturn in business income – including some who depend on the farm sector – are not eligible for an equivalent to the Farm Household Allowance remains an issue.
Government funding of mental health, social and other support for farmers and their families adversely affected by drought can be regarded as an important social equity instrument. These programs may also be a valuable investment in society.
A number of programs to support better farm plans to manage droughts are funded. This includes the provision of meteorological and other data on seasonal conditions to guide decisions.
Hands-on education and support to individual farmers in developing more appropriate decision strategies and plans are also available. This adds to a more robust and self-sufficient farming sector.
To summarise, government funding for farm household incomes to avoid poverty and to improve farm decision-making make sense. Subsidies for farm inputs or outputs have undesirable longer-term resource misallocation effects, and are relatively blunt income-support measures.
Malcolm Turnbull has strongly backed Barnaby Joyce running for another parliamentary term, in contrast to Nationals leader Michael McCormack’s much more lukewarm attitude.
As the Joyce saga continued to suck political oxygen in the wake of Sunday’s TV interview on Seven with Joyce and partner Vikki Campion, the former deputy prime minister rejected speculation that he might not contest his New England seat.
“I am disappointed to hear some people speaking about me not contesting the next election,” he said in a statement. “I will certainly be contesting and have been humbled by the support I have received so far from around the New England electorate.”
Turnbull, on a “listening” tour of drought-affected areas, told reporters in Blackall, “Barnaby has been a great advocate for regional Australia … and I look forward to him running again in New England.
“I look forward to him continuing to play a role, a prominent role in Australian public life.”
At a later news conference in Charleville, Turnbull was as enthusiastic when asked if he would be happy for Joyce to run again: “Yes absolutely, absolutely.”
Turnbull’s comment came despite their huge public spat earlier this year over Joyce’s affair with Campion, his former staffer, and the criticism both Joyce and Campion made of Turnbull in the Seven interview.
Joyce said in the interview that Turnbull’s doing a doorstop on the matter, rather than following the usual course of admonishing privately and giving support publicly, had been “wrong”. Campion said, “It’s like you can chew out your vice-captain in the locker room but not on the field.”
When McCormack, standing with Turnbull at the Charleville news conference, was asked whether he echoed the Prime Minister’s comments on Joyce’s running again, he gave a less-than-full endorsement.
“Yes. At the end of the day it’s a matter for the local branch in New England and a matter for the National Party members of the federal electoral council there … they do the preselection, just like they do the preselections right across Australia in the Liberal National parties.
“It’s democracy at work. So you put your hand up, anyone can get challenged, anybody can win so long as they’ve got the support of their local branch and their local federal electorate council and that’s the way it works.”
McCormack was similarly qualified in comments last week in a podcast with The Conversation.
The Seven interview has intensified suggestions in the Nationals and elsewhere that Joyce should quit parliament at the election.
But the chair of the Nationals’ Tamworth branch, Ian Coxhead, told The Conversation it supported Joyce running again.
Coxhead said the branch had given a vote of support to Joyce in February, before he resigned as leader. The motion was carried unanimously, with applause, he said. The Tamworth branch is the biggest of some eight branches in the New England electorate.
Coxhead said he had spoken to Joyce on Tuesday. “He said that as chair of the Tamworth branch I’d be the first to know if he was not recontesting. But he said ‘I have no thought along those lines,’” Coxhead said.
Joyce has a book coming out later this year, which is likely to generate more controversy around him.
Barnaby Joyce has said he knew as soon as Vikki Campion found she was pregnant that he would lose his job as deputy prime minister, in a tell-all interview sure to further infuriate colleagues already angry at the damage he has caused the government.
In the couple’s much-anticipated appearance on the Seven Network Joyce, asked his reaction when Campion had a positive pregnancy test, said he didn’t believe in abortion “so I just knew straight away that … I was going to lose my job as the deputy prime minister”.
But it was only in February – after he was re-elected at the December 2 New England byelection and following the baby story breaking in the media as well as allegations against him of sexual harassment – that Joyce finally quit the Nationals leadership.
“I knew that the day would come that I had to step down – I wasn’t going to have Seb as the deputy prime minister of Australia. … I suppose towards the end I was fighting more out of spite than logic and just thinking, I’m not going to let these people beat us,” Joyce said.
In the pre-recorded interview aired on Sunday night, during which Joyce and Campion sometimes disagreed and she was often emotional, Campion accused conservatives “within the parliament” of pressing her to have an abortion.
She didn’t identify anyone but said these people had told her she had to get an abortion because “if you don’t they’re going to come after you”.
Pushed to be more specific she said “can I just say conservatives, you know, people who are supposed to be conservatives.” When it was put to her, “god fearing conservatives”, she said, “Yeah I wouldn’t want to tar the brush of everyone in the National party as like that at all”.
Campion, Joyce’s former staffer and now partner, said she thought a woman had the right to choose an abortion up until the baby had a heartbeat, and she disclosed had considered one. She had bought medicine online, but decided she could not do it. She then thought she might be having the baby on her own.
The Seven Network paid a reported $150,000 for the interview which Joyce and Campion are putting into a trust fund for Sebastian, who was born in April.
Joyce sought to stop Campion answering questions about a confrontation in Tamworth between his wife Natalie and her. “You don’t have to answer it darl”, he told her, saying he wanted to make certain they weren’t putting someone else in the interview who mightn’t wish to be part of it. “Natalie has every right to be left alone”.
Campion did however say “I can’t repeat the words on television” that had been said.
She also said she was “deeply hurt” when Joyce had publicly said the child’s paternity was a “grey” area. Joyce told the program they had made the decision together for him to say something but Campion said, “I didn’t say use the words grey area”. Joyce sought to explain the comment by referring to the media pressure they were under at the time.
With some speculation that he might not seek re-election, Joyce gave no hint about his plans for the future. He is currently on leave, with a medical certificate, until mid June. The leave followed a backlash last week, including from some colleagues, at the paid interview.
It’s obvious, but easily underestimated, that in politics judgement and temperament are key. Together with character, with which they’re often entwined, they are probably more important than high intelligence, or low cunning.
We just need to look at the federal scene today.
Barnaby Joyce provides the current case study about the importance of judgement or in his instance, lack or it. Here is a career, so carefully built, dramatically torn down by his own hand.
And as for temperament, we have the contrasting examples of Mathias Cormann and Greg Hunt, of whom more later.
Joyce burst onto the political scene in 2005 as a larger-than-life high profile Nationals senator. Because of tight numbers, he started with disproportionate power; for his Coalition peers and betters, he was a headache.
But he had charisma out in the bush, and ambition, and he set his sights on becoming Nationals leader, eventually adopting (mostly) the discipline needed to get there. When he reached the deputy prime ministership he began well, and his party outperformed the Liberals at the 2016 election.
But soon after, his private life became complicated, with his staffer Vikki Campion the new woman in his life.
Campion says in Sunday’s interview on Seven, “you can’t help who you fall in love with.”
That may or may not be true, but you can manage the implications. A public figure can separate the work and private parts of their lives. Joyce let the two merge messily, as Campion shifted to colleagues’ offices. With this failure of judgment, his fall began.
Now we have the paid interview. You only need political instinct, not even judgement, to know it’s unacceptable.
Then, when things became hot, Joyce this week took leave. Leader of the House Christopher Pyne said Joyce had a doctor’s sick- leave certificate, “and any other person in a workplace who produced such a certificate would get the same kind of leave.”
Give us all a break! The guy gets a reported $150,000 for the couple’s “tell all” interview, and when people are critical, he goes on stress leave.
To people away from politics, coping with serious stresses often not of their own making, this saga just comes across as self-indulgence.
Now there is speculation about Joyce’s future – will he, should he, stay on in his seat of New England?
This ought to be resolved quickly, for Joyce’s own sake, and that of the Nationals, who don’t want to risk the emergence of a new strong independent, remembering that Tony Windsor grabbed and held this electorate for many years.
If Joyce wants to stay, he’ll have a big rebuilding job, locally and in Canberra. If – and it would probably be the more sensible course – he feels it would be better to strike out into another career, he should announce that decision without delay (while of course remaining in place until the election).
Probably no one would be surprised to hear of a few expletives from Joyce, but this week’s News Corp story that Greg Hunt had sworn at the mayor of the Northern Territory town of Katherine, Fay Miller, in a private meeting last year, telling her she needed to “f…ing get over” herself, would have raised eyebrows among those who see the very reasonable-sounding Health minister on TV. Hunt only apologised to Miller – who’d been leading a delegation from the town to discuss a health package following contamination from RAAF Base Tindal – when the story was about to break.
Hunt’s temperament is of the “street-angel, house-devil” type; he is known for private outbursts of temper, and has now been rather dramatically “outed”.
In question time on Thursday, pursued by the Opposition, he also admitted that he’d been subject of a complaint after what he described as a “strong discussion” with a former health department secretary (Martin Bowles).
He told Parliament: “The Prime Minister himself raised it and asked that I speak with the secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet.” The nature of Hunt’s behaviour can be judged by the fact that departmental secretaries – robust characters, for the most part – don’t usually complain upwards, to the head of the Prime Minister’s department, when their ministers have “strong discussions” with them.
Colleagues might recall such incidents, if Hunt in years to come eyes his party’s deputy leadership – a position that ideally requires an even temperament.
Fortunately for the government, Hunt isn’t in the sort of position occupied by Senate leader Mathias Cormann, who has to manage relationships and negotiate in perennially-testing circumstances.
Cormann has a few heated clashes with opponents, especially recently with Labor’s Senate leader Penny Wong, but he manages political conflict in a civilised, quite respectful way. In dealing with a Senate crossbench packed with volatile and unpredictable characters surfing atop inflated egos, Cormann displays inexhaustible patience and general good humour.
Beyond judgement and temperament, there is another quality that is crucial in politics: character.
The voters are like sniffer dogs when it comes to character – if that hadn’t been the case Mark Latham might have won the 2004 election.
For years, the government has been on a constant mission to fan doubts about Bill Shorten’s character. It knows that if such an attack is effective, it can be lethal for a leader’s chances.
That was in part behind the Abbott government establishing the royal commission into trade unions. And it’s why Michaelia Cash set the Registered Organisations Commission onto the 2005 $100,000 Australian Workers Union donation to GetUp, when Shorten was union secretary. But as we saw this week, the donation affair has so far inflicted more pain on the government than on Shorten.
We know from the polls the public don’t warm to the opposition leader. So far, however, Labor’s two-party lead indicates people haven’t concluded that he is not fit to rule. Shorten hasn’t failed the character test, but he hasn’t entirely passed it yet, either.
Barnaby Joyce’s decision to accept money – reportedly $150,000 – from Channel Seven in return for giving an interview about his relationship with his former staffer Vikki Campion, calls into question his fitness for public office.
It betrays a complete lack of understanding of the convention that in democratic political systems, public officials are accountable through the media to the people. That responsibility to be accountable comes with public office. It is not a marketable commodity.
To treat it as such is a fundamental breach of the professional ethics of a public officeholder.
So far, his fellow Coalition MPs have failed to come to grips with this central problem. While none of those who have spoken publicly have tried to defend Joyce’s decision, most have either equivocated or contented themselves with general statements of disapproval.
Michael McCormack, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the National Party, which Joyce represents in the seat of New England, told ABC radio he would “have a yarn” to Joyce, as if it were some casual matter of no particular importance.
Malcolm Turnbull, who previously got himself in hot water by preaching morals to Barnaby Joyce about marital fidelity, this time is saying he will be “circumspect” and speak to him in private.
To date, only the Financial Services Minister, Kelly O’Dwyer, has spoken her mind publicly, saying she believed most Australians would be “disgusted” by Joyce’s behaviour.
From a professional ethics perspective, it makes no difference which of them made the decision. The fact is their relationship became a matter of legitimate public interest once it was revealed it led to the expenditure of public money in finding Campion a government job outside Joyce’s office, given her presence inside it had become untenable because of their affair.
his determination to cling to office in the face of sustained pressure from his colleagues that he should go.
In a democratic society, public officials are held to account for mistakes like these. The media are the primary means by which this is done: that is what is meant by the term the “fourth estate”. It does not rest on formal legal power but on a convention that has its roots in 18th century English constitutional arrangements.
When a convention that is so central to the working of democracy is flouted, as it has been here, both parties – Joyce and Channel Seven – are seriously at fault.
To reduce these abstractions to everyday language, if someone says: “I was paid to say that” the ordinary reasonable person is entitled to disbelieve what was paid for.
Now, the code needs to be amended to make this kind of arrangement a breach punishable by the imposition of a condition on the broadcaster’s licence.
This makes it a matter for the broadcasting regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which is required to approve the code and is empowered to have it reviewed.
Meanwhile, we may sit back and marvel at the hypocrisy involved, as Campion complains to the Australian Press Council about the newspapers’ breach of privacy in reporting her pregnancy, while she and Joyce take money from a television channel to tell even more about it.
And Joyce blames it all on the absence of a general right to sue for breach of privacy. If there had been such a law, he says, then he and Campion would not have been subject to invasive drones and paparazzi stakeouts at their home. If they had not been persecuted like that, they would not have felt the need to be compensated by selling their story.
The logic is not persuasive, but if he survives in office, perhaps Joyce could bring forward a private member’s bill introducing a tort of privacy.
The Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority (IPEA) has told Barnaby Joyce it can’t give him a finish date for the audit into his travel and related expenses, citing the difficulties of an aging system and consulting third parties.
The audit has been underway since early this year, sparked by the controversy around his affair with his former staffer and now partner Vikki Campion. Eventually the row around the affair, which was accompanied by allegations of sexual harassment, saw Joyce resign as Nationals leader and deputy prime minister.
On May 22 Joyce, who has answered multiple questions from the IPEA, wrote to the authority asking where the audit was up to.
The authority’s CEO Annwyn Godwin said in a reply dated May 24 that it was progressing matters “as quickly and with as little formality as a proper consideration of the issues allows”. She said the authority was aware of the outcome’s potential impact “on the reputation and credibility of all involved”.
The IPEA was working “with aging systems and this requires manual integration of a variety of different data sets and information sources,” she wrote.
“It is therefore important that care and attention is given to cross referencing and substantiating details where appropriate.
“This cross referencing may require sourcing additional information from third parties adding to the timeframes overall.
“Due to our current engagement with a number of third parties, and noting the members of the authority must consider and deliberate upon the audit findings, I am unable to give you a definitive date by which the audit will be complete.
“I can however assure you that I consider it in everyone’s best interests that the audit is finalised as soon as possible,” the letter said.
Joyce said in his reply that as an accountant, he understood the issues with audit process.
But he said that “an extenuated period of no conclusion” risked the audit possibly being branded a “fishing expedition”.
Joyce has said his expenses were done by members of his staff and then checked by him to avoid mistakes in claims.
The Nationals launched an inquiry into the sexual harassment allegation, but Joyce has not yet received an outcome on that, either.
This week’s Newspoll, conducted April 5-8 from a sample of 1,600, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (up one), 37% Labor (down two), 10% Greens (up one) and 7% One Nation (steady).
Turnbull’s ratings were 32% satisfied (down one) and 57% dissatisfied (steady), for a net approval of -25. Bill Shorten’s net approval fell five points to -25. Turnbull led Shorten by 38-36 as better PM (39-36 previously).
A big difference between the losing streaks of Turnbull and Abbott is that Abbott often trailed Shorten as better PM, while Turnbull has always led Shorten.
On best Liberal leader, 28% preferred Turnbull (down two since early February), 27% Julie Bishop (up one), 13% Abbott (steady) and 9% Peter Dutton (up two). Coalition voters gave Turnbull 46%, Bishop 22%, Abbott 15% and Dutton 7%. Abbott and Dutton performed best with One Nation voters.
By 55-27, voters thought the 30 Newspoll losses demonstrated a failure of Turnbull’s leadership.
On best Labor leader, 24% preferred Shorten (up two since early February), 23% Tanya Plibersek (down two) and 23% Anthony Albanese (down one). Labor voters gave Shorten 36%, Plibersek 27% and Albanese 22%. Plibersek now leads Shorten by 33-26 with Greens voters (43-18 previously).
There was little change in Turnbull’s ratings on nine leaders’ attributes since early December. Shorten’s ratings increased six points on “arrogant” and four points on “has a vision for Australia”.
By 50-41, voters supported Australia becoming a republic (51-38 in August 2017). If Prince Charles becomes King, support rises to 55-35 (55-34 previously).
Other than the 30 Newspoll losses, this was not a good poll for Labor. Labor’s primary vote was down two points, and the total Labor/Greens vote fell back one point to 47%, after breaking out of a long run of 47% support last fortnight.
The Coalition has tended to do better under Turnbull when Parliament is not sitting. The fading of the Barnaby Joyce scandal and the big company tax cuts as issues may explain the Coalition’s gains.
Former Nielsen pollster John Stirton wrote in the Fairfax papers that the new Newspoll, which is conducted by Galaxy Research and uses online and robopolling methods, is far less volatile than the old Newspoll, a landline-based live phone poll. The new Newspoll started in mid-2015, and the Coalition’s chances of getting a tie by luck have been greatly reduced.
However, it is not just Newspoll that has the Coalition continuously behind. Until a 50-50 tie in Ipsos’ respondent-allocated preferencing method (see below), the Coalition had trailed in every poll conducted since September 2016, apart from a short-lived YouGov series that published polls in the second half of 2017.
Although both left-wing and far-right partisans would like to see Turnbull dumped, Turnbull has led Abbott by an overwhelming margin in every poll in which voters are asked to compare the two. In a June 2017 ReachTEL poll, voters favoured Turnbull over Abbott as Liberal leader by a 68-32 margin.
Ipsos: 52-48 to Labor
A Fairfax Ipsos poll, conducted April 3-5 from a sample of 1,166, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since early December 2017. Primary votes were 36% Coalition (up two), 34% Labor (up one), 12% Greens (down one) and 8% One Nation.
Ipsos is the only live phone pollster left in Australia; all other polls use robopolling or online methods. Ipsos gives the Greens higher support than other polls, at the expense of Labor.
Turnbull’s ratings were 47% approve (up five), and 43% disapprove (steady). Ipsos gives Turnbull better ratings than other pollsters, particularly Newspoll. Shorten’s net approval was -15, down one point. Turnbull led Shorten by 52-31 as better PM (48-31 previously). By 62-28, voters thought Turnbull should remain Liberal leader.
By 49-40, voters supported cutting the company tax rate from 30% to 25% over the next ten years. Two weeks ago, ReachTEL had voters opposed to tax cuts for big companies by 56-29.
In March 2017, tax cuts were passed for companies with turnover of up to $50 million a year. The government is now trying to pass cuts for companies with more than $50 million in turnover. Since these are big companies, I think ReachTEL’s question is better than Ipsos’.
Essential: 53-47 to Labor
This week’s Essential poll, conducted April 5-8 from a sample of 1,033, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a one-point gain for Labor since last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (steady), 37% Labor (up one), 10% Greens (up one) and 7% One Nation (down one).
Primary votes in Essential are the same as in Newspoll, but Newspoll’s two party result is better for the Coalition. Newspoll is now assuming that One Nation preferences flow to the Coalition at about a 65% rate, consistent with the November 2017 Queensland election. Essential continues to assume the Coalition will win just half of One Nation’s preferences.
Turnbul’s net approval in Essential was -3, down one point since March. Shorten’s net approval was -8, also down one point. Turnbull led Shorten by 41-26 as better PM, unchanged since March.
Shorten’s ratings on being a capable leader and good in a crisis increased five points since June 2017, and he had four-point increases on “visionary” and “more honest than most politicians”. Turnbull’s ratings dropped four points on “arrogant” and “aggressive”.
There were two double digit differences between the two leaders: Turnbull led by 15 points on “intelligent” and by 13 points on “out of touch”.
On best Liberal leader, Turnbull had 24% (up three since December), Bishop 17% (down two), Abbott 11% (up one) and Dutton just 3% (down one). Among Coalition voters, Turnbull had 45%, Abbott 17%, Bishop 13% and Dutton 4%.
37% thought the government should prioritise renewable energy over coal, 13% thought they should prioritise coal over renewable energy, and 35% thought the government should treat both industries equally.
Far-right Hungarian government re-elected in landslide
The Hungarian election was held on Sunday. There were a total of 199 seats, with 106 elected using first past the post, and the remaining 93 by proportional representation.
Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán’s far-right Fidesz won 48.5% of the vote, and 134 of the 199 seats. Another far-right party, Jobbik, was second with 19.5% and 25 seats, while the social-democratic MSZP won just 12.3% and 20 seats – their worst result since 1990.
Fidesz’s vote was up 3.2% since the 2014 election, and they won 91 of the 106 first past the post seats.
Barnaby Joyce, a National, hasn’t a vote for the Liberal leadership. But he’s a man of opinions and now he’s on the backbench there are no restraints on his expressing them.
On Monday night, amid the feeding frenzy over Newspoll, Joyce declared that if, as Christmas approached, polling indicated Turnbull was heading to electoral defeat, he should call it quits. There was an obligation “not to drive your party or the government off a cliff,” he told Sky.
A new unhelpful spot fire erupted into flame.
With the fateful 30th Newspoll finally out there, the government on Monday descended into an orgy of destructive self-indulgence. It was a collective performance made up of individual bitterness, tactical misjudgement, and plain ill-discipline. Just the sort of thing to further disgust a public already turned off by the shambles of Canberra.
For Abbott, Monday was the occasion for the primal scream. It might be two-and-a-half years since Turnbull seized his job, but the former prime minister’s pain hasn’t abated a jot, nor his sense of what he sees as the injustice delivered to him.
As he pedalled through the Latrobe Valley, Abbott told 2GB it was for Turnbull to explain why the 30 lost Newspolls measure that he invoked in his 2015 challenge “applied to me but shouldn’t apply now.”
And then there were the other points Turnbull had raised back then – about the need to restore cabinet government, and the lack of an economic narrative.
“Well, I ran a perfectly orthodox cabinet government”, Abbott insisted; as
for having no clear economic narrative, “I completely reject that. There was a very, very clear economic narrative under my government.” For good measure, he threw in a defence of the 2014 budget – which in fact began his political demise.
On the policy front, he topped his call for the government to build a coal-fired power station by suggesting it should nationalise the Liddell power plant, owned by AGL, which is resisting selling to another company despite sustained bullying from the government.
Given everyone knew Abbott would be grabbing the spotlight after Monday’s Newspoll, the government had to make a tactical judgement about how best to counter.
It could keep a low profile, with minimal prime ministerial and ministerial appearances. While that would give maximum room to Abbott, it would also avoid further fanning the poll story. Or Turnbull and his ministers could confront the bad poll day full on. That was the course chosen – and it was hard to see the sense of it.
Ministers were out everywhere, backing Turnbull. That just gave the impression that his leadership was in need of protection, despite there being no challenge.
In a round of media appearances, Turnbull said (for the umpteenth time) that he regretted citing Newspoll, declared he had the backing of his colleagues, and submitted himself to some humiliation.
On 2GB, Ben Fordham announced he had invited listeners to say what he should ask Turnbull. “I hate to tell you PM: the overriding response was, ‘when will you resign?’” Fordham told his guest, with the cameras looking on.
“Oh really,” Turnbull said. “Well, well the answer is I’m not, I am not. I am going to go to the next election and win it”.
Then there was Wayne on the talkback line. “I’m a rusted on Liberal and you’ve taken the party – you nearly lost the unlosable election. I find you politically inept, and basically you’ve taken the party in my view too far to the left and I think you should do the honourable thing and resign, put it to a party vote because quite frankly if we go to an election with you we are doomed as a party”.
“Well thanks Wayne for the advice,” said the PM. “I don’t propose to take it, however.” Turnbull then went on to invite Wayne to tell him how he had taken the party to the left, and argue the toss with him.
Now one can say it’s admirable that a leader gets out and deals with criticisms. But Monday didn’t seem the day for maximum exposure.
Or for canvassing long-term leadership ambitions, as did Peter Dutton. “I think people are best to be honest about their ambitions”, the Home Affairs minister told 3AW. His comments were in the context of reaffirming his loyalty to Turnbull and were not new, but such candour just set off another spot fire of questioning, that soon reached Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison, both of whom acknowledged the batons in their knapsacks.
The 30th Newspoll was destined to be difficult. Abbott was determined to make it so. Joyce is a loose cannon. But the strategy adopted by Turnbull – for he and his ministers to try to control the story by swarming all over it – simply made him a bigger target. It displayed a lack of political nous but also suggested he is feeling more than a little rattled by the situation in which he finds himself.