The government would be trounced at an election held now, although the Coalition has clawed back slightly in the past fortnight and Scott Morrison has improved his lead as better prime minister, according to the latest Newspoll.
The Coalition trails 46-54% in the poll, published in Monday’s Australian, compared with 44-56% in the first two Newspolls after the change of leader. This is the government’s 41st Newspoll loss in a row.
The Coalition’s primary vote is up 2 points to 36%, while the ALP primary vote has fallen 3 points to 39%.
Morrison leads Bill Shorten as better PM 45-32%, compared with 42-36% two weeks ago.
Morrison’s net satisfaction was plus 5; Shorten’s net rating is minus 22. In the previous Newspoll, Morrison’s net satisfaction was plus 2, while Shorten was on minus 14.
The poll comes after Morrison’s burst of intense activity to get on the front foot, including last week announcing a royal commission into aged care, and a multi-billion dollar deal aimed at placating the Catholic education sector, as well as passing tough legislation through parliament in response to the strawberry contamination.
But the Newspoll two party vote remains much worse than the last days of Malcolm Turnbull, and the controversy over his ousting continues.
In an interview on Nine on Sunday night former foreign minister Julie Bishop said she had had many calls from foreign ministers “asking why I’m no longer the foreign minister and what happened to the prime minister?
“They have been some rather unkind comments about Australia being the Italy of the South Pacific and the coup capital of the world,” she said.
Bishop said the change was perplexing “because Malcolm Turnbull was way ahead as preferred prime minister. We were coming back in the polls. It was quite close and there were no deep policy issues that divided the party”, because Turnbull had given way on a number of issues.
Bishop renewed her criticism of parliament’s Question Time, saying it “probably does more damage to the reputation of the political class than any other issue.”
“Question Time is only 70, 80 minutes a day, yet it’s what is televised. So people are concerned that that is what their well paid representatives are doing all day, every day in the parliament.
“They don’t see the thoughtful contributions and the more intelligent speeches that can be given in the Parliament because they’re not televised,” Bishop said.
“I’m afraid that not withstanding the best efforts of the Speaker and the standing orders, there’s far too much throwing of insults, and vicious behavior, name calling, and the like. And the public see that as no better than school children. In fact, not as well behaved as school children,” she said.
On the policy front, Labor at the weekend announced that if elected it would require Australian companies with more than 1000 employees to reveal how much they paid women compared with men.
“The gender gap is stubbornly high. On average, women working full time still get paid almost 15% less than men working full time. It is unacceptable that this has barely changed over the last two decades,” the opposition said.
“Companies already report their gender pay data to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. Labor will make it public”.
In response, Morrison warned of “setting up conflict in the workplace”, while saying he was not ruling out such an idea.
“We’re open to all suggestions but these things are already reported at a sector-wide level and at an economy-wide level.” he said.
Meanwhile Kerryn Phelps, high profile independent candidate in Wentworth, has sought to make the government’s push for religious freedom protections an issue in the byelection.
She challenged the Liberals to say whether the government would release the Ruddock report on the issue before the October 20 vote, pointing out it had been sitting on it for months.
Morrison has flagged he plans to strengthen the law but it is thought the government wants to keep the detail under wraps until after Wentworth. Phelps said she was strongly opposed to any watering down of the anti-discrimination legal provisions.
Strawberries and hay have provided unlikely lenses for an insight into how Scott Morrison will conduct his prime ministership from now to the election.
The needles-in-the-berries contamination has been alarming for consumers and devastating for the industry. Anyone involved deserves the full force of the quite heavy penalties available, and the public should be encouraged to eat (with due care) this delicious fruit.
But when the government rolls out the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, the Home Affairs Minister, the Australian Federal Police chief and the Border Force Commissioner, and then rushes new legislation through parliament in a single day – well, you know a political point is being made.
A serious crime was turned into a national crisis. MPs donned aprons, grabbed knives and started slicing.
The legislation naturally received bipartisan support, with little discussion of whether the changes are actually needed. Its extremely hasty passage was despite the fact it won’t apply retrospectively to this criminal action.
As the strawberry crisis gripped the parliament, we’re reminded how rapidly a government can escalate an issue. In this case, the worst that could be said is that it’s an over-reaction with a political vibe. But you don’t need much imagination to think how a similar drama could be concocted with darker motives.
As for the hay: this was an announcement of liberalised rules for carting fodder so more could be sent faster to drought-affected farmers. Normally you’d expect a ministerial press release. Morrison turned it into a prime ministerial occasion, on Thursday being photographed climbing into a truck somewhere outside Canberra.
Earlier in the week, he’d called a “drought summit” for next month. Dealing with the drought has been one of his central themes, from his first news conference, followed by his interview on Australia All Over, and his visit to see things on the ground in Queensland.
These examples – and the very important one of the weekend announcement of a royal commission into aged care – show Morrison’s style. He will pick up and run with whatever is around – issues he sees as resonating with ordinary people.
“Scott likes to move quickly”, says a colleague. He’s not – if he can help it – going to get caught having to respond to others’ agendas. The royal commission was announced a day before the ABC’s aged care expose.
Morrison is also clearing away irritants as rapidly as possible. Thursday’s $4.6 billion decade-long package for private schools drew a line under the damaging row between the government and the vociferous Catholic sector. Negotiations have been underway for some time, but the deal’s now landed.
Morrison won’t get bogged down in process. When he recently dumped the commitment to increasing the pension age to 70, he acted before the full cabinet had ratified what was a significant policy shift.
The new PM is tactically quicker than Malcolm Turnbull, just as in his messaging he can cut through with greater sharpness. He’s more attuned to the emotional and knee-jerk drivers of today’s politics, in the age of the continuous news cycle and social media. Malcolm liked to mull over moves.
He is also freer to act than his predecessor, who was hemmed in by enemies as well as allies of convenience, like Peter Dutton, who turned into enemies.
For the Liberals, Morrison is the end of the pre-election leadership line, and that gives him a good deal of latitude to set his own course. He might be displeasing the hard right Liberals by not exiting the Paris climate agreement, but he’s able to stare them down or fob them off. They know he’s in the seat until the election.
Defining your opponent can be critical in our semi-presidential contests. “The Prime Minister is a blank canvass”, says one Labor man. “Both sides are trying to fill in the colours”.
Morrison’s brush strokes on his own portrait are designed to create the image of a leader tuned to the voters’ concerns, rather than the “Canberra bubble”. If sometimes this makes him look more like the mayor of Albury than the prime minister of Australia – well, he just hopes it works. Like the latecomer desperately working the room, he knows he has practically no time.
In his one departure from pragmatism during these first prime ministerial weeks, Morrison has flagged he’s willing to stir the hornets’ nest of religious freedom. Although unclear about the problem, he told Sky on Monday “there’s nothing wrong with a bit of preventative regulation and legislation”. Especially given the time constraints, it’s hard to see that battle is worth the likely costs.
To highlight Morrison’s agility and hyper-activity is not to overlook the government’s parlous situation, with a sour electorate, a still-shocked backbench, divisions in the ranks, all sorts of trouble over the “women problem”, and the uncertainty of the Wentworth byelection.
It’s rather to say, the way the game’s being played has changed. Labor is alert to this, wondering, for instance, whether Morrison will appeal to some of its male “battler” type voters.
The PM said in question time on Thursday that Bill Shorten “isn’t looking as certain as he was two weeks ago.” Despite the political bonuses being handed almost daily to Labor, this is probably true. The opposition is still seeking to get its fix on its new opponent.
However Morrison goes over coming months, this week should give the Liberals cause to reflect that they had a lucky escape when Dutton failed to get the numbers in the coup he started.
The Senate inquiry into the au pair affair, which reported on Wednesday, was dominated by Labor and the Greens, so it was always set to produce a majority report very critical of Dutton. Even allowing for that, a couple of things are clear from the facts of the two cases the inquiry examined.
In assisting these women, Dutton did go above and beyond what would normally have been expected – all stops were pulled out. And he did mislead parliament when he denied any personal connections.
In the case of the woman who landed in Brisbane, he had a past acquaintanceship (via their mutual police service) with her prospective employer.
But misleading parliament is no longer taken seriously. Morrison’s certainly not going to worry that his Home Affairs Minister – who has oversight of the independent agencies of the Australian Federal Police and ASIO – did not tell parliament the truth. Canberra bubble and all that.
Anyway, Morrison has a lot to thank Dutton for. After all, Dutton delivered him the prime ministership.
On female representation, Morrison has no answers. Yes, he says, he would like more Liberal women in parliament. But how to get them? Certainly not with quotas. And he just wants the best candidates.
Post election, Liberal women in the House of Representatives are likely to be an endangered species – perhaps around half a dozen. Currently there are 12 Liberal women in the House, and one National.
Two of the present women MPs, Ann Sudmalis, from NSW, and Julia Banks, from Victoria, have announced they’re quitting at the election, calling out bad behaviour (with Sudmalis naming a NSW state Liberal MP as her bete noire). Queensland’s Jane Prentice has lost preselection. Julie Bishop is unlikely to stand. Several women are on tight margins.
After Sudmalis’ lashing out on Monday, comments from Liberals on Tuesday sent unhelpful messages.
Minister Steve Ciobo tried to claim the Liberals really had done quite well on the women front; Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells invoked Harry S. Truman’s line about departing hot kitchens. Morrison said skirmishes “can happen in the local branches of a P&C”, adding “though I don’t think it probably gets as willing as what we see in politics”.
The government’s “women problem” goes beyond lack of women MPs and candidates.
In presenting its face to voters, especially female voters, Labor has two formidable female performers at the top of its team – deputy leader Tanya Plibersek and its Senate leader Penny Wong.
With Bishop’s departure from the deputyship, the Liberals have no female face in their leadership positions. Bridget McKenzie is the Nationals deputy leader, but obviously regionally focussed.
Kelly O’Dwyer, Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations and Minister for Women, doesn’t do a great deal of the government’s broad heavy lifting. New Foreign Minister Marise Payne does virtually none of it (although in this portfolio she’ll have to step up from her near invisibility while in defence). Michaelia Cash has a heap of her own political problems.
There is also the question of how Morrison will appeal to female voters.
So far, the public are still getting their heads around the fact of unexpectedly finding themselves with a new prime minister, about whom they knew little. Voters seem open-minded about Morrison: they have already put him ahead of Bill Shorten as preferred PM – probably as much a comment on their low opinion of Shorten as a definite statement about Morrison.
Women’s judgment of Morrison will take a while to shake out. He’s started by looking very blokey, with his frequent invoking of the term “mate”, his preoccupation with rugby league, and his penchant for getting around in a Cronulla Sharks cap.
But Morrison’s chameleon quality means that he may be able to modify the blokey approach if the focus groups suggest that’s required.
The Morrison persona will be tested in the Wentworth byelection. (One Labor-aligned voter from that wealthy electorate says cruelly, “The average Wentworthian would see Morrison as a bit of a hick from The Shire”.)
As is well known, Morrison wanted a woman candidate for the seat, an effort that failed. Now he is faced with the political nightmare of fighting a high profile independent female in Kerryn Phelps.
Phelps is well placed to exploit the Liberals’ women problem. One would expect many of the women of Wentworth will be interested in whether Morrison during the coming weeks can produce any plans to improve the gender balance among Liberal MPs.
As the campaign progresses, the Liberal party’s focus groups will be carefully watched for whether there is a gender difference in how voters perceive the Prime Minister. Those results would help shape campaigning later.
This week’s federal Ipsos poll for the Fairfax papers, conducted September 12-15 from a sample of 1,200, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a two-point gain for the Coalition since mid-August. Primary votes were 34% Coalition (up one), 31% Labor (down four), 15% Greens (up two), 7% One Nation (steady) and 13% for all Others (up two). The respondent allocated preference figure was also 53-47 to Labor.
Newspoll and Essential last week respectively gave Labor 42% and 37% of the primary vote, with the Greens at 10% in both polls. At the 2016 election, Ipsos consistently had the Greens higher than other polls, and the election results were in line with the other polls, not Ipsos.
Ipsos is the only Australian pollster that still uses live phone interviews (mobile and landline) for its polls. All other pollsters now use either robopolling, online methods, or a combination of the two. However, live phone polling cannot be the only explanation for the high Greens vote, as Newspoll and Ipsos’ predecessor in Fairfax, Nielsen, once used live phone polling without a persistently high Greens’ vote.
While Ipsos’ primary votes are weird, the two party vote is more volatile than other pollsters, but it usually tracks other polling well. There may have been a decline for Labor because voters are no longer focused on the chaotic events leading to Malcolm Turnbull’s ousting as PM.
The last Ipsos poll (55-45 to Labor) was released on August 20, and four days later, Turnbull was gone. While this poll was not the reason for Turnbull’s downfall, it may have been the “straw that broke the camel’s back”. Two ReachTEL polls taken in the week of Turnbull’s ousting gave Labor a 51-49 and a 53-47 lead, so the 55-45 Ipsos lead was probably an outlier.
Scott Morrison debuted in Ipsos with a 46% approve, 36% disapprove rating, for a net approval of +10. The August Ipsos gave Turnbull a net -2 approval, but the July poll gave him a net +17 approval. Shorten’s net approval rose seven points to -4. Morrison led Shorten by 47-37 as better PM (48-36 to Turnbull in August).
Wentworth candidate poll
We now know that Dave Sharma is the Liberal candidate for the October 20 Wentworth byelection, and that former AMA President Kerryn Phelps will stand as an independent. A ReachTEL poll conducted August 27 correctly listed Sharma as the Liberal candidate, and asked for two prominent independents, Phelps and Alex Greenwich; Greenwich is not running.
The results in this ReachTEL poll were 34.6% for the Liberals’ Sharma, 20.3% for Labor’s Tim Murray, 11.8% for Phelps, 11.2% for Greenwich, 8.9% Greens and 13.3% for all Others.
This poll was taken on the Monday after Turnbull was ousted, and the Coalition’s polling could improve by the byelection date. Sharma could also lift his profile before the byelection.
Victorian Galaxy poll: 53-47 to Labor
The Victorian election will be held on November 24. A state Galaxy poll for the bus industry gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a two-point gain for Labor since an early August Galaxy for The Herald Sun. No fieldwork dates, sample size or primary votes have been released yet.
Going back to April, there have been three successive Victorian polls with Labor just ahead by 51-49 from Newspoll, ReachTEL and Galaxy. It is likely Labor’s larger lead in this poll was due to a backlash over the dumping of Turnbull. On my personal website, an analysis suggested that the Coalition under Morrison was vulnerable among the well-educated, the young and in Victoria.
40% approved of Premier Daniel Andrews and 42% disapproved for a net approval of -2. Just 25% approved of Opposition Leader Matthew Guy and 44% disapproved for a net approval of -19.
In July I wrote that, unless legislation to abolish the group voting ticket system for the Victorian upper house passed both chambers by September 20, group voting would be used at the state election.
With just three days until the final sitting date of parliament before the election, there is no proposal for upper house reform. It is very disappointing that a left-of-centre government has not even attempted to improve the upper house voting system.
Wagga Wagga final result: independent McGirr defeats Liberals 59.6-40.4
As I reported last week, a byelection in the NSW state seat of Wagga Wagga was held on September 8. The Liberals held Wagga Wagga continuously since 1957.
Primary votes were 25.5% Liberal (down 28.3% since the 2015 election), 25.4% for independent Joe McGirr, 23.7% Labor (down 4.4%), 10.6% for independent Paul Funnell (up 0.9%) and 9.9% Shooters. After preferences, McGirr defeated the Liberals by 59.6-40.4, a 22.5% swing against the Liberals. 47% of preferences from the other candidates flowed to McGirr, 15% to the Liberals and the rest exhausted under NSW’s optional preferential voting.
Trump’s approval rating falls from 42% to 40% since late August
In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Donald Trump’s approval rating has fallen from about 42% in late August to 40% now. Trump’s ratings are their lowest since February.
I wrote a detailed analysis on the November 6 US midterm elections for The Poll Bludger on Saturday. Trump’s ratings are highly correlated with Republican performance in the race for Congress, so worse ratings for Trump will result in larger Democratic leads in the race for Congress.
Now that Kerryn Phelps has confirmed she’s running as an independent in Wentworth, the battle is set up as a fascinating test between the campaigning skills of a tyro prime minister and the attraction of a community-based candidate.
The backdrop is a disillusioned, sour electorate – in the seat itself and in the wider Australian voterland, with people fed up with politicians, especially those from the big parties.
Phelps enters the contest with a lot of advantages. She has a medical practice in Wentworth (she lived there for most of the past 20 years until the 2016 redistribution pushed her a stone’s throw outside the
boundary). She has strong brand recognition as a Sydney city councillor, a former president of the Australian Medical Association, and an activist in the marriage equality campaign.
Morrison has a well-qualified candidate in Dave Sharma, a former ambassador to Israel, but not the female candidate he’d have preferred, nor someone with local ties. There will be plenty of money behind the Liberal campaign. But Morrison faces voters who, even more
than the nation, are asking the “why?” question – why was Turnbull, their local member and their PM, tossed out?
For Phelps the byelection is obviously important but for Morrison, it is critical. If Wentworth is lost, there goes the Coalition’s majority. There could
be some paralysis and the fear in the ranks will increase enormously.
Morrison can talk down expectations all he likes – and he has learned from Turnbull’s failure to do so in Longman. But whatever dampener is applied, if this always-Liberal seat with a whopping 17.7% margin were to fall, it would be a devastating blow.
The contest will have a dress rehearsal aspect. Morrison’s style of campaigning and how well he goes over on the ground will be carefully watched for indications of his potential strengths or weaknesses come the main game next year.
In her first press conference Phelps stressed: “I’m not here as a destabilising influence. I’m here to bring integrity and stability to the political processes in Canberra.
“What I think is very important is that I say right from the outset – my intention is not to block supply.” (Though when asked by The Conversation about her attitude on the matter of confidence, she said that “depends on the government’s behaviour”.)
She told the news conference: “My intention is to give an independent voice to a lot of the concerns that the Australian people have, particularly about the policies that might come from the hard right of the Liberal party and the Coalition. What we need to hear is the voice of the people”.
Phelps is a version of the community candidates we have seen winning and retaining house seats in the last few years: Cathy McGowan (independent) in Indi, Rebekha Sharkie (Centre Alliance, formerly called the Nick Xenophon Team) in Mayo, and Andrew Wilkie
(independent) in Denison.
While there are differences among those MPs politically, their electorates have continued to embrace them because they are seen as effective voices for their communities, people to be trusted in an age of distrust.
Phelps on Sunday articulated grievances Wentworth voters will have and their likely policy priorities. They were angry about what happened to Turnbull, and sick of the revolving door of leadership, she said.
She called for more action on climate change, a fast tracking of renewables and a more humane treatment of asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru.
“We need to see the people’s voice represented and not politicians who are simply spouting a party line or a party slogan”.
While the Liberals are worried about Phelps, ABC electoral analyst Antony Green casts some doubt on her prospects. “She has to get aquarter of the vote to even be in the race, and end up above Labor,who has picked a strong candidate,” he says.
As the Wentworth campaign gets underway a Fairfax Ipsos poll published in Fairfax papers on Monday has Labor leading the Coalition nationally on the two-party vote by 53% (down 2 points since August, when the government was under Turnbull) to the Coalition’s 47% (up 2
Morrison is preferred as PM by 47% (down a point since August, when it was Turnbull), compared with 37% who prefer Bill Shorten (up one point).
It’s the familiar story: the public is supporting Labor but when it
comes to the leaders, they prefer anyone but Shorten – whether it was Turnbull or is Morrison.
Morrison, operating in the most difficult of circumstances with a divided party, is trying to get on the front foot in relation to issues of community concern and where possible jump ahead of them.
On Sunday he announced a royal commission into aged care.
Let’s put aside that this came a day ahead of an ABC’s Four Corners expose, and despite his minister Ken Wyatt telling Four Corners he would rather spend the money on front line services than a royal commission.
The royal commission is overdue and fully justified. Some of the stories coming out of aged care facilities are horrific.
The terms of reference have yet to be worked out, but Morrison said the inquiry would run at least until the second half of next year.
Shorten told the ABC Labor would support the royal commission but it had to cover “everything”, including staffing, training, and funding.
The public will want the inquiry to be wide, and the politicking to be minimal.
High-profile activist Kerryn Phelps, who is considering whether to join the battle in the Wentworth byelection, has condemned federal parliament’s toxic political culture and called on all major party leaders to address it.
As the fallout from Liberal MP Julia Banks’ condemnation of bullying continues, Phelps told The Conversation: “Some of the behaviour in the Australian parliament of late would not be tolerated in any other workplace”, saying it seemed to have gotten worse. This made for an unhealthy workplace which was ill-suited to getting the best performances from MPs.
Phelps, a City of Sydney councillor who was very active in the same-sex marriage debate, practices as a GP in the Wentworth electorate, and could be expected to attract a substantial vote if she ran as an independent.
The seat, formerly held by Malcolm Turnbull, who had a strong personal vote, is on a 17.7% margin but the Liberals are worried about a big protest vote.
The fallout from the leadership coup is already being felt there with Turnbull’s son Alex encouraging people to donate to the campaign of Labor candidate Tim Murray.
The younger Turnbull tweeted: “Best bang for the buck you’ll get in political donations in your life. Tight race, tight margin for government, big incremental effect whatever happens. If you want a federal election now this is the means by which to achieve it.”
While the focus in the bullying debate last week was on women, Phelps said some men suffered equally and “don’t perhaps get recognised in terms of the emotional cost [to them].”
She said the “toxic nature of parliament as a workplace” needed to be addressed, and she rejected the message sent by some Liberal players that people should toughen up or, in the words of backbencher Craig Kelly, “roll with the punches”.
If any business leader said “just toughen up”, they wouldn’t be there for long, Phelps said.
She said that a quantitative improvement in the political culture had to be generated by the leaders of the large parties. “You have to have the leaders of the major parties draw a line in the sand,” and say that bad behaviour would not advance people’s careers. At present, the opposite seemed to be the case, she said.
Earlier on Sunday, Labor frontbencher Clare O’Neil said “there’s a level of aggression, of conflict, of egocentrism that dominate parliament house and I think that that is quite hard to handle”, in particular for women.
O’Neil, spokeswoman on financial services, told the ABC her experience as an MP was “that there’s increasingly a culture in Canberra and in parliament house that feels really toxic”.
Attention is coming on the Minister for Women Kelly O’Dwyer, who issued a general statement last week condemning bullying, to take a stronger stand. O’Dwyer is expected to say more this week.
Some current and even former Liberal MPs women are reluctant to speak out for fear of blowback.
Labor has had its own controversy centred on one of its female MPs: Emma Husar has said she will not run again, after allegations of her bullying staff and other misbehaviour. A Labor inquiry upheld some allegations but not others.
Labor’s spokesperson on women, Tanya Plibersek, said that while the way parliament worked was adversarial, debates should be conducted with decency and respect.
“A positive culture is critical, and each one of us has the duty to help foster that both within parties and across the parliament.
“I believe the closer the parliament reflects our community – a more equal representation of women and men, and a greater diversity of backgrounds – the better that culture will be.
“I actually think something that really helps is more people working on issues in a bipartisan way, for example on committees,” Plibersek said.
Meanwhile, Christine Forster, Tony Abbott’s sister, has dropped out of the race for Liberal pre-selection for the Wentworth byelection.
She said in a statement the commentary about her candidacy “has focused on the suggestion that it was a proxy for division within the Liberal party. That is not the case, but to avoid any such perception, I will be standing aside and giving my full support to the successful candidate.”
Forster had not been regarded a frontrunner in the contest, which is considered to be between a former ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, and Andrew Bragg, who was briefly acting Liberal federal director.
Australia’s “coup culture” has become so entrenched that it now holds serious dangers for our democracy. Not that the politicians seem to give a damn. For all the talk of “listening” and being “on your side” the voters have once again been treated as little more than a gullible audience for a low-grade reality show.
A decade or two ago, many commentators advocated four-year federal terms, to encourage better policymaking. Now we can’t even count on a prime minister lasting through the three-year parliamentary term after the election they win.
In less than a decade, we’ve had four prime ministerial coups: from Rudd to Gillard (2010); from Gillard to Rudd (2013); from Abbott to Turnbull (2015); and, last week, from Turnbull to Morrison.
A couple of these seemed politically savvy. I admit to thinking them so. In 2013, Kevin Rudd was reinstated to “save the furniture”, and he did. In 2015, Tony Abbott’s government appeared headed for certain oblivion. Malcolm Turnbull was installed as a better prospect; in the event, he won in 2016 by the skin of his teeth.
The Gillard coup, driven by a panic attack and colleagues’ frustration with Rudd’s style, was ill-conceived. The botched assault by Peter Dutton, that elevated Scott Morrison, was fuelled by a cocktail of revenge against Turnbull and a policy push to the right. We’ll see how it ends, but likely it won’t be well.
While a particular coup may have its justifications, when you look at a clutch of them, they’re bad for the country and for the political system.
Some will point to history for precedent – Paul Keating overthrew Bob Hawke in 1991. But we didn’t in those days have a “coup culture”.
We may chuckle on hearing Australia referred to abroad as the “coup capital” of the world. But it’s not a joke. Although this country will continue to be seen as a safe place to invest, a rolling prime ministership must eventually test the faith of outsiders.
The coup culture works against the sort of decision-making that requires serious policy bravery. Time frames shorten – ironically, just when governments fancifully cast programs as stretching over ten years.
Thinking for the future is difficult enough with continuous polling and the shrill media cycle. But if a prime minister can’t rely on their troops guaranteeing their leadership through tough patches, or standing up against guerrilla insurgencies, public policy is reduced to the lowest common denominator or falls victim to the worst of internal power struggles.
Ditching opposition leaders is different from tossing out prime ministers. It has its own problems, but doesn’t undermine the system the way assassinating a PM does. Voters feel (and are entitled to feel) they elect the prime minister; it’s not technically true but it is effectively so, as campaigns are so leader-focused.
Fundamental in this revolving door is the cost to trust. As in other democracies, Australians’ trust in their system and its players has been eroding over decades.
Research from the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis found fewer than 41% of Australians are currently satisfied with the way our democracy works. This compared with 78% in 1996.
Generation X is least satisfied (31%); the baby boomers most satisfied (50%). Women are generally less satisfied with democracy and more distrustful of politicians and political institutions.
According to this data – which preceded the leadership crisis – only 21% trust politicians and 28% trust journalists.
The yet-to-be-released research concludes: “Politicians, government ministers and political parties are deeply distrusted and media of all kinds and how they report Canberra politics are viewed as a key part of the problem.”
The research also found strong public support for reforms to ensure greater political accountability of MPs and to stimulate more public participation.
The coup culture further alienates an already disillusioned public, unable to comprehend the appalling behaviour they often witness from their politicians.
Recently I spoke to members of a community leadership program who’d come to Canberra for a couple of days of briefings from politicians and others. They’d been to Question Time a few hours before I met them.
To journalists, it was a pretty standard QT. For these people, what they witnessed was shocking. They had trouble getting their heads around how the goings on – the shouting, the insults – could be so dreadful. They’d looked over at the schoolchildren in another part of the public gallery and wondered what those youngsters were thinking.
They asked: why do our politicians act like this and what can be done? All 72 decided to write to their MPs to say this wasn’t the type of conduct they wanted to see from them.
My hunch is that this group of ordinary, well-educated, interested citizens would probably be even more put off by subsequent events.
One thing I suspect would have particularly disturbed them is the way the players in last week’s coup expect the public to just move right on. Everyone was back to work, they said.
Gillard in 2010 tried to explain and justify her deposing of Rudd by saying “I believed that a good government was losing its way”. It didn’t wash.
We know for ourselves the reasons for the latest coup – hatred of Turnbull and a desire to force a sharp turn to the right. But have the main coup-makers and their allies (as distinct from their noisy backers in the media), and the windfall beneficiaries, felt the need to properly account for their actions?
This hit-and-run attitude is contemptuous of the public.
The coup culture, especially in this instance, is also accompanied by an “anything goes” view of tactics. Again, it is a matter of degree – the extent to which the hardball, which we always see at such times, crosses a line.
For some of the Liberal women, it undoubtedly did last week.
Julia Banks, announcing on Wednesday that she’ll resign her Melbourne seat of Chisholm at the election, has cited bullying. Western Australian senator Linda Reynolds went to the lengths of telling the Senate: “I just hope that … the behaviours we have seen and the bullying and intimidation, which I do not recognise as Liberal in any way, shape or form, are brought to account.”
But Victorian Liberal president Michael Kroger saw it as par for the course, saying, in response to Banks: “This is politics. People do speak strongly to each other. You just need to look at Question Time. If you think Question Time is not full of bullying and intimidation then you’ve got another thing coming.”
Well, anyone who bullied or was fine with such conduct should do this: go to your local high school and explain to the kids why bullying shouldn’t be in their tool kit but is needed in yours.
Some Liberals flirt with the idea of rules to curb the coup culture, a path Labor has gone down.
It depends on the model: as with so much in politics, what looks good at first sight may hold dangers. Giving a party’s rank and file a say in electing the leader, as the ALP does, might eventually advantage those harder to sell to voters, because party memberships are small and unrepresentative.
A higher-than-50% threshold for a spill, which Labor also has embraced and Reynolds suggests, holds some merit. But when Anthony Albanese was stalking Bill Shorten before the Super Saturday byelections, Albanese’s supporters insisted the rule could be circumvented.
What’s really critical is the culture – in a party and in the political system generally. Once that’s been corroded, it’s a devil of a job to scrape the rust off.
There are no easy ways to rid ourselves of the coup culture, or to force tin-eared politicians to lift their game. But it wouldn’t hurt for more people to follow the example of those in the community leadership program and remind their MPs of their KPIs.
Australia received a new prime minister last week. Much ink has been spilled on the desirability, or otherwise, of this leadership change. But, how did the market respond?
Considerations when examining reaction
Looking at the market’s reaction to a leadership turnover is often fraught for several reasons. First, leadership changes are often anticipated, so it is not clear exactly when the market starts reacting to the leadership change. Second, other events can take over to drive returns.
For example, the market’s views on leaders could be dwarfed by concerns over trade with China, and Australia’s dealings with Huawei and ZTE. Third, sometimes leaders’ policies and cabinets take time to form and the market might need sometime to digest all this information.
But this time it is possible to examine the reaction. That’s because the market seemed to expect Peter Dutton to win, or at least expect the contest to be close. There was still some “surprise” when Scott Morrison won.
It is possible to examine the market’s reaction to Morrison’s selection, and to Morrision’s selection alone, in the hours immediately after the vote. All other events (such as Australia’s interactions with ZTE and Huawei) were already public knowledge and incorporated into prices.
With this in mind, we can look at how the market responded immediately after Morrison’s selection, and around the selection timeline on the day of the selection.
Before the spill: Leading up to his selection, the sharemarket was sliding, as indicated in line A in the above graph. This might have reflected the uncertainty surrounding the party’s leadership. It could also reflect the consensus view up until the challenge that Dutton would win. That would suggest that the market was apprehensive about a shift from Malcolm Turnbull and his policies.
Immediately after Morrison’s selection, the market climbed significantly (as indicated in line B in the graph). For example, the S&P 200 increased from 6238 to 6263 (a 0.4% increase) in the course of 30 minutes. This implies at least an initial positive reaction to Morrison.
By the end of trade on Friday, August 24, this was pared back to 6255, representing a 0.27% increase over the low immediately before the results were announced. Importantly, on the following Monday the All Ordinaries Index increased another 0.36%, suggesting that the market did not renege on its initial positive reaction.
What does it mean?
Well, it means several things. First, given that (a) the sharemarket was trending downwards before the spill when Dutton was expected to prevail, and (b) the market increased when Morrison prevailed, there is some (albeit weak) evidence that the market prefers Morrison to Dutton. Second, the overall market reaction has been reasonably muted around this leadership spill. This implies that the market expects economic policies to remain relatively steady. This is unsurprising given that Morrison was treasurer under Turnbull.
Put together, we can see that while there has been some disquiet about yet another leadership change, the market has not tanked, and business as usual is likely to continue.
The byelection for Wentworth, Malcolm Turnbull’s former seat, will be held on October 20.
The announcement by the Speaker, Tony Smith, came ahead of the Liberals choosing their candidate on Thursday. Rolls will close on September 24 and nominations will close September 27.
The byelection is crucial for Scott Morrison who will face a very difficult test in the initial days of his prime ministership. The outcome in the byelection will set the political tone for the rest of the year.
Morrison will encounter a lot of anger in the electorate at the removal of Turnbull as prime minister. Turnbull was very popular and had grown the Liberal vote substantially, to a 17.7% margin in 2016. On what is known of his arrangements, Turnbull would be back from New York in the final days of the byelection – whether he would campaign for the Liberal candidate is not known.
Labor’s candidate, Tim Murray, has already been campaigning, and high-profile Kerryn Phelps, who has a medical practice in the electorate, is set to run. Phelps could attract a strong vote from disaffected Liberal supporters.
In the Liberal preselection all eyes will be on whether a woman is selected, after one of the frontrunners, Andrew Bragg, pulled out, saying the candidate should be female.
The two leading women in the field are Katherine O’Regan, who has been a political staffer and is chair at Sydney East Business Chamber, and Mary-Lou Jarvis, a vice-president of the NSW Liberal Party.
Earlier this week Morrison, asked on 2GB – in the context of the push for a female candidate – whether he was “a merit person or not”, said: “I’m a merit person and the party members will decide our candidate in Wentworth.
“It’s [the preselectors’] choice … Just like it has to be, in every single seat in the country.”
Wentworth is a well-educated, well-off electorate.
In the 2016 census, of those aged 15 and over, nearly half (46.8%) had attained the level of bachelor degree or above, compared with 23.4% for NSW as a whole.
Professionals made up 40.7% (NSW, 23.6%) and managers 20.8% (13.5%, for NSW).
The median weekly income was $1,242 for a person ($664, for NSW); for a family it was $3,231 ($1780 for NSW).
This week’s Newspoll, conducted September 6-9 from a sample of 1,650 gave Labor a second consecutive landslide 56-44 lead. Primary votes were 42% Labor (up one), 34% Coalition (up one), 10% Greens (steady) and 6% One Nation (down one).
This is the Coalition’s 40th successive Newspoll loss. It is also Labor’s highest primary vote since Julia Gillard ousted Kevin Rudd as PM in June 2010. Labor and the Greens combined have had a majority of the primary vote in the last two Newspolls. Under Malcolm Turnbull, the highest Labor/Greens vote was 48%.
Scott Morrison’s first Newspoll ratings were 41% satisfied, 39% dissatisfied, for a net approval of +2. In his last Newspoll as PM four weeks ago, Turnbull’s net approval was -19, but in the poll before that his net approval was -6, his equal highest this term. Bill Shorten’s net approval jumped ten points to -14 since four weeks ago. Morrison led Shorten by 42-36 as better PM (39-33 to Shorten last fortnight).
The Coalition and Morrison led Labor and Shorten by 40-36 on maintaining energy supply and keeping power prices lower (37-36 four weeks ago). A question on pulling out of the Paris climate agreement is skewed right.
This question asks if pulling out “could result in lower electricity prices”, which is a dubious proposition. It also presents Donald Trump’s reasons for pulling out as a statement of fact. In last fortnight’s Essential, voters opposed withdrawing from Paris by 46-32, while in Newspoll’s skewed question, they favoured pulling out 46-40.
Morrison is currently relatively popular, but the Coalition is trailing badly. This indicates that perceptions of the Coalition have crashed since the leadership spill, and the last two weeks of claims about bullying have not helped.
In January to February 2010, new NSW Labor Premier Kristina Keneally had a +15 net approval in Newspoll, while her party trailed by 57-43. At the March 2011 state election, Labor was crushed by 64-36 on two party preferred votes. The key question is whether perceptions of the federal Coalition recover before the next election.
Morrison’s positive ratings are likely due to a honeymoon effect, with people giving him the benefit of the doubt. However, Morrison’s +2 net approval is weak compared to most new PMs in their first Newspoll ratings.
According to analyst Kevin Bonham, only Paul Keating (a -21 net approval) had a net approval much worse than Morrison. Rudd’s second stint as PM began with a net zero approval, and all other new PMs had a far better net approval than Morrison.
I have conducted analysis based on The Poll Bludger’s review of the 2016 election, and aggregated data from Turnbull’s final three Newspolls as PM. As explained on my personal website, the Coalition under Morrison appears most likely to lose support among the well-educated, the young and in Victoria.
The federal Coalition’s woes almost certainly contributed to bad results for the state Liberals in the Wagga Wagga byelection and in a Tasmanian state poll.
Over 28% primary vote swing against Liberals at Wagga Wagga byelection
A byelection was held on Saturday in the New South Wales state seat of Wagga Wagga, following the resignation of Liberal MP Daryl Maguire over allegations of corrupt behaviour. The Liberals have held Wagga Wagga since 1957.
Primary votes were 25.5% Liberal (down 28.2% since the 2015 election), 25.4% for independent Joe McGirr, 23.7% Labor (down 4.3%), 10.6% for independent Paul Funnell (up 0.9%) and 9.9% Shooters. McGirr will almost certainly win on preferences from all other candidates, but we do not yet have a two candidate count as the electoral commission selected Labor and the Liberals as its two candidates on election night.
The Labor vs Liberal election night two candidate count gave Labor a 51.4-48.6 lead, though not all votes were entered before it was pulled. So if the Liberals and Labor had been the final two candidates, Labor would have won on about a 14% swing. NSW uses optional preferential voting for its state elections, and the swing to Labor would be higher with compulsory preferential.
The NSW state election will be held in March 2019, but I have seen no NSW state polls since a March ReachTEL poll, which had the Coalition ahead by 52-48.
Wentworth ReachTEL: 50-50 tie
A byelection is likely to be held in Wentworth in October. A ReachTEL Wentworth poll for the left-wing Australia Institute, conducted August 27 from a sample of 886, had a 50-50 tie between the Liberals and Labor, an 18% swing to Labor since the 2016 election.
There were two primary vote scenarios. In the first, the Liberals had 41.9%, Labor 31.5%, the Greens 15.6% and One Nation 2.3%. The second scenario included two prominent independents, who each had 11-12%, with the Liberals on 34.6%, Labor 20.3% and the Greens 8.9%.
While seat polls are unreliable, the loss of Turnbull’s personal vote, and the anger of well-educated voters at his ousting, could make Wentworth close (see my previous article).
By 67-24, Wentworth voters thought the national energy guarantee should include an emissions reduction target. By 69-10, they thought Scott Morrison would do less to tackle climate change than Turnbull, rather than more.
National Essential: 54-46 to Labor
This week’s national Essential poll, conducted September 6-9 from a sample of 1,050, gave Labor a 54-46 lead, a one point gain for the Coalition since last fortnight. Primary votes were 37% Labor (down two), 36% Coalition (up one), 10% Greens (steady) and 8% One Nation (up one).
Essential still uses the 2016 election preference flows, where One Nation preferences split evenly, while Newspoll assigns One Nation preferences about 60-40 to the Coalition. If both pollsters used the same preferencing method, there would be a three point gap between Newspoll and Essential. The Labor primary vote is five points lower in Essential than in Newspoll.
Morrison’s initial ratings in Essential were 37% approve, 31% disapprove, for a net approval of +6; Turnbull had a net zero approval in August. Shorten’s net approval was up two points since August to -8. Morrison led Shorten by 39-27 as better PM (39-29 last fortnight).
By 47-35, voters disapproved of the change from Turnbull to Morrison (40-35 last fortnight). By 69-23, they thought it important that the government agree to a policy for reducing carbon emissions.
Over 57% agreed with four negative statements about the government, but voters disagreed by 41-34 with the proposition that Tony Abbott and his conservative supporters are really running the country now.
Over 2/3 of One Nation preferences went to LNP at Longman byelection
A political eternity ago, five byelections were held on July 28. On August 30, the electoral commission provided detailed preference flow data.
Labor won Longman by 54.5-45.5 against the LNP, a 3.7% swing to Labor. Primary votes were 39.8% Labor, 29.6% LNP, 15.9% One Nation, 4.8% Greens and 9.8% for all Others. 67.7% of One Nation voters preferenced the LNP ahead of Labor, a massive increase from 43.5% at the 2016 election.
Labor also had weaker flows from the Greens, winning 76.5% of their preferences, down from 80.7%. However, Labor won 59.0% of preferences from Other candidates, including 81% from the DLP.
At the 2016 election, One Nation recommended preferences to Labor ahead of the LNP in Longman; at the byelection, they reversed their recommendations. However, I believe the largest factor in the One Nation shift is that they were perceived as an anti-establishment party in 2016, but are now clearly a right-wing party.
One Nation’s preference flows in Longman vindicate Newspoll’s decision to assign about 60% of One Nation’s preferences to the Coalition, rather than the 50-50 split that occurred at the 2016 election.
Final results and preference flows for the other four July 28 byelection seats are available at my personal website. Overall, Labor had strong performances in Longman and Fremantle, but did not do very well in the other seats. The Greens failed to benefit from the Liberals’ absence in Perth and Fremantle.
A Tasmanian state EMRS poll, conducted August 29-31 from a sample of 1,000, gave the Liberals 36% of the vote (down 11 since May), Labor 34% (up four) and the Greens 16% (up two). Labor leader Rebecca White led incumbent Will Hodgman as better Premier by 46-38 (47-41 to Hodgman in May). This is the largest poll-to–poll drop for a party in EMRS history.
Bonham interpreted this poll as 39% Liberals, 36% Labor and 13% Greens. If the poll is correct, the Liberals are likely to lose their majority under Tasmania’s Hare Clark system.