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.
Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce says he would be “100%” behind the government constructing coal-fired power stations if that would lower the price of electricity.
“My exasperation is that we have been talking about cheaper power and nothing is happening. No government has dealt with the power issue in a form that has brought down the price over the medium-to-longer term,” he told The Conversation on Tuesday. “The carbon tax’s removal brought it down only briefly.”
One of the signatories of the Coalition backbench Monash Forum’s call for the government to build “Hazelwood 2.0”, Joyce described his support for the group’s manifesto as “like signing a birthday card”, adding: “It would have been more surprising if I didn’t sign it”.
“I want cheaper power prices in country areas for the poor people who can’t afford it. Winter is coming,” he said.
He said the government building a coal-fired power station would be consistent with its planned investment in Snowy 2.0 and its regulatory support for renewable energy.
The public push on coal by the backbench group is being made in the run up to the Coalition’s expected 30th consecutive Newspoll loss.
It is being seen as another hit at Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership. Among those prominent in the group are Tony Abbott and his close allies Kevin Andrews and Eric Abetz. But Joyce stressed that “for me, it’s not about Malcolm’s leadership. It’s about power prices.”
The manifesto has been signed by several Nationals. While signatories may have different motives, some backbenchers have reportedly refused to put their names to it because of the implications and timing for Turnbull.
The name “Monash Forum” refers to first world war general John Monash, who subsequently headed the State Electricity Commission of Victoria, spearheading the development of the Latrobe Valley coal reserves and power industry. Some signatories would have preferred a plainer name.
The manifesto says: “If the government can intervene to build Snowy 2.0, why not intervene to build Hazelwood 2.0 on the site of the coal-fired power station in Victoria that is now being dismantled?
“All the transmission infrastructure already exists; all the environmental permits have already been obtained; and a new, low-emissions coal-fired power station can certainly be built for no more than A$4 billion.”
Turnbull has trumpeted the expansion of the Snowy scheme as one of his big policy initiatives.
Backing coal-fired power has been among the issues Abbott has strongly promoted from the backbench. He said last August: “If we are prepared to go ahead with pumped hydro, and we are neutral on technology, we should certainly be prepared to go ahead with a new coal-fired power station”.
Last week, launching Pauline Hanson’s book, he was highlighting that “we should build new coal-fired power stations”.
The backbench push coincides with the government working to bed down with the states and territories its National Energy Guarantee. This effort has been helped by the recent win by the Liberals in South Australia. The policy is described as “a technology-neutral approach that does not provide direct subsidies to renewables or any other particular technology, creating a level playing field for all energy sources”.
Turnbull said on Tuesday the guarantee “provides every incentive for the energy sector to invest in dispatchable power”.
“[For] those who are concerned that there should be more investment in coal -fired power stations, the [guarantee] puts a premium on dispatchability, 24/7 power. Now coal can obviously provide that, so can gas, so can hydro, so can other technologies.”
Asked whether it was a slight to his leadership that the Monash Forum was formed rather than the normal policy channels followed, Turnbull said the National Energy Guarantee had been endorsed by “the whole Coalition partyroom”.
Tony Wood, energy program director at the Grattan Institute, said it seemed like an extraordinary approach for members of a Coalition government that had championed markets and the private sector to be advocating going back to a nationalised system.
It also seemed highly unlikely that a coal-fired power station would be a commercial investment for the government. “The longer-term prospect of the investment providing a return to taxpayers would be remote. So it would be writing off a relatively new asset in a relatively short time. It would be a highly questionable use of public funds.”
Private investors were not going into new coal-fired power stations because they did not see a prospect of them making money, Wood said.
“It may very well be that keeping existing stations going longer would be justified but that would be relatively modest expenditure,” he said.
Wood said that to lower prices to consumers it would be more cost-effective to give them refunds – although he wasn’t advocating that.
“A well-designed NEG, or an equivalent, that provides clear policy on emissions reduction and values reliability will provide the best policy framework to deliver efficient new investment in affordable energy,” Wood said.
One man’s disaster is another man’s serendipity. If Barnaby Joyce hadn’t fallen spectacularly, Michael McCormack, 53, the new deputy prime minister, would likely never have become the Nationals’ leader.
In the normal course of events, by the time Joyce had moved on the party probably would have been ready for generational change – for example, to Queenslander David Littleproud, 41, who counted the numbers at the weekend but found he did not have enough for a tilt at the leadership on Monday.
Littleproud, a former agri-banker who was elevated by Joyce in December from the backbench to cabinet, potentially had as many as eight or nine out of the 21 Nationals, according to his supporters.
McCormack, the one-time editor of a regional newspaper who holds the New South Wales seat of Riverina and was a junior minister, comes to the top job with no blood on his hands, and with the Nationals knowing it is in their interests to get solidly behind him ahead of a difficult election next year. Those are significant advantages.
On the other hand, McCormack faces an uphill and possibly hazardous path, as he tries to establish himself within the government – where he’s unlikely to be a Joyce-type squeaky wheel and so could lose battles – and in regional Australia.
Joyce set the electoral gold standard for the Nationals at the 2016 election. When Turnbull was losing multiple seats the Nationals kept all theirs (and took one from the Liberals).
To replicate this or come close, McCormack must project the Nationals as having a distinct identity and relevance, and to cut through with their messages.
As one Nationals source puts it, when the Liberals are in the ascendant, as in 2013, the Nationals can ride on their coat-tails. But when the major partner is struggling, as in 2016 (and likely in 2019), it’s vital for the Nationals to distance themselves and establish their own pitch for support.
For all that Joyce’s position was untenable and his resignation a relief for the government, most of the Nationals – apart from Joyce’s known enemies – lament what they’ve lost. They recognise that even if McCormack proves a good leader he will never resonate in the bush the way Joyce has in the past (how he will in the future, after everything that’s happened, remains to be seen).
McCormack will need to work especially hard in Queensland, a state vital to the Nationals at the election (and where the Liberals and Nationals are formally joined in the Liberal National Party). Joyce was uniquely placed – a sort of dual citizen, the cheeky might say, who holds a NSW seat but previously was a Queensland senator.
Even after he moved to NSW, the Nationals from Queensland still saw Joyce as one of them. They had him there in the Queensland election, which was on when he was fighting his New England byelection. McCormack doesn’t enjoy such a convenient dual identity.
It will be important for McCormack to establish a good relationship with Littleproud, who’s well placed to help with the formidable task of Queensland campaigning. Those who know Littleproud say he is by nature loyal and would not seek to undermine McCormack.
Another Queensland challenge is maverick Queensland backbencher George Christensen – who made a token run in Monday’s leadership vote. He was difficult enough for Joyce to handle, though the two were personally quite close. Christensen won’t be any easier for McCormack, and could be harder.
How Joyce plays things in the next few months will be relevant to McCormack’s ability to run a united team.
As well as always being a centre of interest because he’s such a colourful character, in the minds of some in the party and the media Joyce is not dead forever. Immediately after he was elected as leader, McCormack was asked whether he was “keeping the seat warm for Barnaby until he can mount a comeback”.
Such questions (though I think far-fetched) must be annoying for the new leader. But whether Joyce’s presence becomes a serious irritant depends as much on McCormack’s performance as on Joyce’s behaviour.
Most immediately, Joyce’s travails aren’t over. It was revealed in Senate estimates on Monday that last week Malcolm Turnbull asked the head of his department, Martin Parkinson, to look into whether Joyce had broken the ministerial code of conduct. This investigation has now been abandoned with Joyce’s resignation.
But the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority is still probing whether there was any misuse of entitlements by Joyce and his former staffer – now partner – Vikki Campion.
More seriously, the Nationals’ organisation has on its plate the complaint from former Western Australian Rural Woman of the Year Catherine Marriott, accusing Joyce of sexual harassment.
Leaving aside the row over who leaked the woman’s name (the Nationals deny it was them), this matter is surely a nightmare for the party. How is it going to inquire into it? Is the matter going to be tied up in a protracted legal argument? Will Joyce and his accuser be summoned for questioning?
To state the obvious, the outcome of this inquiry is critical to Joyce’s personal reputation. He’s called for the allegation to be referred to the police. He has also claimed in private conversations that his rejection of the allegation would be backed by text messages.
The Tasmanian election will be held on Saturday. A ReachTEL poll, conducted for The Mercury on February 22 from a large sample of more than 3,100, gave the Liberals 46.4% of the vote, Labor 31.1%, the Greens 12.1%, the Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN) 5.2%, others 2.0%, and 3.3% were undecided.
When undecideds are excluded, the Liberals have 48.0%, Labor 32.2%, the Greens 12.5%, and JLN 5.4%.
Tasmania uses the Hare-Clark system, with five five-member electorates. A quota is one-sixth of the vote, or 16.7%. Sample sizes for each electorate in ReachTEL were 620-650. The Liberals had well over 50% in Bass and Braddon, and 49.6% in Lyons, implying they would win three of the five seats in each.
In Franklin, the Liberals had 42.6%, easily enough for two seats. In Denison, the Liberals had 33.8%, just enough for two seats.
On the stated figures, the most likely overall seat outcome is 13 or 14 Liberals out of 25, eight-to-ten Labor, and two or three Greens. So, the Liberals should win a majority.
Like other Tasmanian polls, ReachTEL has in the past skewed to the Greens and against Labor. At the last two federal elections, ReachTEL skewed to the Liberals in Tasmania, though it skewed against the Liberals at the 2014 state election.
Adjusting for ReachTEL’s skew, Tasmanian analyst Kevin Bonham thinks the most likely outcome is 13 Liberals, ten Labor, and two Greens. The next two most likely outcomes are 13 Liberals, 11 Labor, one Green; and 12 Liberals, 11 Labor, two Greens.
I do not think opposition to Labor’s anti-pokies policy caused the swing to the Liberals during the campaign. The most important factor was probably that many Tasmanians detest the Greens, and will vote for the major party most likely to win a majority. In 2006, Labor easily won an election that had appeared likely to result in a hung parliament.
The Greens’ vote of 12.5% in this poll is below the 13.7% they won at the 2014 election, and it could be lower given ReachTEL’s pro-Greens skew. It is likely the Greens are doing badly because Labor, under Rebecca White’s leadership, has become more left-wing, so the Greens are having trouble differentiating themselves from Labor.
Incumbent Will Hodgman led White by 51.8-48.2 on ReachTEL’s forced choice better premier question. Labor’s pokies policy was supported against the Liberals’ policy by a 57-43 margin.
ReachTEL 54-46 to federal Labor
A Sky News ReachTEL, conducted February 22 – the day before Barnaby Joyce resigned – had federal Labor leading by 54-46, a two-point gain for Labor since late January. Primary votes were 37% Labor (up one), 33% Coalition (down one), 11% Greens (up one), and 7% One Nation (down one). The remaining 12% probably included some undecided voters.
ReachTEL is using respondent-allocated preferences, which have been better for the Coalition than previous election preferences, as One Nation preferences are flowing to the Coalition at a greater rate than the 50-50 flow at the 2016 election. By last election preferences, Bonham calculates this poll was about 55.5-44.5 to Labor. This makes it one of the worst polls for the Coalition this term.
Despite the blowout in the Labor margin, Malcolm Turnbull continued to lead Bill Shorten by 53-47 in ReachTEL’s forced choice better prime minister question (54-46 in January). Although the Joyce affair appears to have damaged the Coalition, Turnbull is not being blamed.
Last week’s Newspoll, conducted February 15-18 from a sample of 1,630, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a one-point gain for Labor. Primary votes were 37% Labor (steady), 36% Coalition (down two), 10% Greens (steady), and 8% One Nation (up three). This was Turnbull’s 27th successive Newspoll loss, three short of Tony Abbott.
The overall Labor/Green vote in this Newspoll was 47%; the left vote has been stuck at 47% in Newspoll since August. Despite the Joyce affair, the overall Coalition/One Nation vote was up one point to 44%.
Turnbull’s ratings were 34% satisfied, 54% dissatisfied (37-50 previously). Shorten’s ratings were the same as Turnbull’s, and Turnbull led Shorten 40-33 as better prime minister (45-31 previously).
A total of 65% thought Joyce should resign as deputy prime minister, while only 23% thought he should stay. By 64-25, voters supported a ban on politicians having sexual relations with their staff. By 57-32, voters supported Shorten’s policy to give Indigenous people a voice to federal parliament.
As long as Republicans hold Congress, no chance of real US gun control
After the recent Florida high school gun massacre, there has been a renewed push for US gun control. However, as I wrote following the Las Vegas massacre in October, meaningful gun control will not happen under Donald Trump and the current Republican-controlled Congress.
The Florida state legislature, which Republicans control 76-40, defeated a motion to debate a ban on assault weapons by 71-36, even as students from the affected school looked on. Instead, it passed a motion declaring pornography a public health risk.
Trump’s ratings are currently 39.1% approve, 55.6% disapprove, in the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate. Before the gun massacre, Trump’s approval had risen to 41.5% owing to perceptions of an improving US economy; for several weeks, Trump’s approval was at least 40%.
Democrats lead by 47.0-38.8 in the race for Congress. Before the massacre, the Democrats’ lead had fallen to 6.4 points. All 435 US House of Representatives seats will be up for election in November, and also one-third of the 100 senators. Democrats probably need a mid-to-high single-digit popular vote margin to win control of the House of Representatives.
The Italian election will be held on March 4. 37% of both chambers of the Italian parliament will be elected by first past the post, and the remainder by proportional representation.
Italy imposes a blackout on polling during the final two weeks of election campaigns. The last polls were published on or before February 16.
In the final pre-blackout polls, the centre-right coalition was in the high 30s, with the centre-left coalition and the populist left Five Star Movement trailing with about 27% each. A left-wing breakaway from the centre-left had about 6%.
Even though the overall left vote is about 60%, the right could win a majority owing to the first-past-the-post seats.
The centre-right coalition includes former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s old party (Forza Italia). Although Berlusconi is banned from contesting elections, he could be the power behind the throne if his coalition wins a majority in both chambers.