View from The Hill: Morrison government accepts Victorian closure but won’t budge on High Court border challenges


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has repeatedly and vociferously championed keeping state borders open.

But on Monday, Morrison was forced to change course, agreeing, in a hook up with premiers Daniel Andrews and Gladys Berejiklian that the Victorian-NSW border should be closed.

In a somewhat Jesuitical distinction, Morrison said they had agreed “now is the time for Victoria to isolate itself from the rest of the country. What’s different here [is] this isn’t other states closing their borders to Victoria”.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd said later “the Commonwealth accepts the need for this action in response to containing spread of the virus”.

But, Kidd said, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee – the federal-state health advisory body so often invoked by Morrison – “was not involved in that decision”.

“The AHPCC does not provide advice on border closures,” Kidd added.

Borders have always been a strictly state matter.




Read more:
Here’s how the Victoria-NSW border closure will work – and how residents might be affected


Even during the high stage of the pandemic, NSW and Victoria kept their border open, unlike Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania.

Monday’s decision to close the border from Tuesday night underlines that we are staring at a dangerous new phase in the evolution of the COVID crisis.

The latest Victorian tally of 127 new cases was a record for the state. Kidd said: “The situation in Melbourne has come as a jolt, not just for the people of Melbourne but people right across Australia who may have thought that this was all behind us. It is not.

“The outbreak in Victoria is a national issue. We are all at risk from a resurgence of COVID-19.”

If the Victorian situation can’t be brought under control quickly – and conditions in Melbourne are complicated, even chaotic – the country could face a new bleak outlook on the health front, with a substantial risk of the virus ticking up elsewhere, regardless of other states keeping out Victorians, and an even deeper than anticipated recession.

Borders have been a source of division among governments from early on.

In particular Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk – now reopening her state’s borders from this Friday though excluding Victorians – found herself under attack from the federal government and also from NSW.




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Victoria is undeniably in a second wave of COVID-19. It’s time to plan for another statewide lockdown


As well, both Queensland and WA face challenges from Clive Palmer in the High Court over the constitutionality of their border closures. There’s also another case being brought by Queensland tourism operators.

The High Court has sent the three cases to the federal court to look at certain aspects. The WA matter will be before that court on July 13 and 14.

The constitution provides for free trade and intercourse between the states. The key issue is “proportionality” – whether keeping a border closed is reasonable on health grounds at a particular point of time.

The Morrison government, consistent with the Prime Minister’s argument from the get go, is intervening in the cases to argue the borders should have been opened.

WA premier Mark McGowan on Monday was quick to use the Victorian development to call on Morrison to pull out, saying that in light of the Victoria-NSW closure “I’ve asked the Prime Minister to formally withdraw [federal government] support from Clive Palmer’s High Court challenge.

“It does not make sense for the federal government to be supporting a border closure between NSW and Victoria but on the other hand challenging Western Australia’s border in the High Court.

“Quite frankly, the legal challenge, and especially the Commonwealth involvement in it, has now become completely ridiculous.”

But the federal government is refusing to take a step back.




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Attorney-General Christian Porter noted the challenges were not being brought by the Commonwealth, and said it was the right of any citizen to take legal action if they believed “their basic rights of freedom of interstate movement are being disproportionately taken from them”.

“The Commonwealth has intervened to put evidence and views on the situation … the Court would normally expect the Commonwealth to be involved, given the importance of the issues raised.”

Porter said the Commonwealth’s intervention was to provide its view on whether, constitutionally, border closures were permitted in certain circumstances and not others.

“Clearly the courts will be required to consider whether, in determining these specific cases, border restrictions were proportionate to the health crisis at specific points in time as Australia dealt with the immediate and longer-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Court would expect to hear from the Commonwealth on those types of significant constitutional questions.”

Whatever the legal logic, to be endorsing the Victorian closure but arguing against other states’ abundant caution may be a complicated proposition to defend in the court of public opinion.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison approval ratings reach highest level for PM in 10 years; Trump falls further behind Biden



Joel Carratt/AAP

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s approval ratings continue to soar thanks to his handling of the coronavirus crisis, reaching the highest level for any prime minister since the early years of the Rudd government in this week’s Newspoll.

Morrison’s approval rating was at 68%, up two points from the last Newspoll, while 27% of respondents were dissatisfied. His net approval rating was +41.

This is Morrison’s highest net approval, topping the +40 he achieved in a late April Newspoll. It is also the best net approval for any PM since Kevin Rudd had +43 in October 2009.

This week’s Newspoll, conducted June 24-27 from a sample of 1,520 people, gave the Coalition a 51-49% lead, unchanged on three weeks ago.

Primary votes were 42% Coalition (steady), 35% Labor (up one), 11% Greens (down one) and 3% One Nation (down one).




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Opposition leader Anthony Albanese had a net approval of +2, down one point. Morrison led Albanese as better PM by 58-26%.

Given Morrison’s stratospheric ratings, it is surprising the Coalition is not further ahead on voting intentions. This could be due to the fact the national cabinet has been in charge of coronavirus policy-making, and these decisions are seen as more bipartisan and do not boost the Coalition.

Labor leading in Eden-Monaro byelection polls

The Eden-Monaro byelection will be held on Saturday following the April resignation of Labor MP Mike Kelly. Labor won the seat by just a 50.9-49.1% margin at the 2019 election.

The Poll Bludger reported on two Eden-Monaro polls last week by the robo-pollster uComms, one for The Australia Institute and the other for the Australian Forest Products Association.




Read more:
Eden-Monaro byelection will be ‘very close’, according to participants in focus group research


The Australian Institute poll gave Labor a 53-47% lead by 2019 election preference flows, and a 54-46% lead by respondent allocated preferences. The AFPA poll gave Labor a 52-48% lead.

These two polls are much better for Labor than an internal party poll, reported on June 13, which showed the Liberals clearly positioned on primary votes to gain the seat.

Labor’s Kristy McBain has a slight edge over the Liberals’ Fiona Kotvojs in recent polling.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Biden further extends lead over Trump

US President Donald Trump’s approval ratings are at their worst since the US government shutdown in January 2019.

In the latest FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Trump’s ratings with all polls are 40.6% approve, 56.1% disapprove (net -15.5%). With polls of registered or likely voters, his ratings are 40.9% approve, 55.5% disapprove (net -14.6%).

With the presidential election now just over four months away, FiveThirtyEight has started tracking the presidential general election polls.

As there are far more national polls than state polls, the website adjusts state polls for the national trend. So, as former Vice President Joe Biden widens his national lead, FiveThirtyEight will adjust states in Biden’s favour where there hasn’t been recent polling.




Read more:
Trump is struggling against two invisible enemies: the coronavirus and Joe Biden


The latest national poll aggregate gives Biden a 50.7% to 41.4% lead over Trump. US polls usually include an undecided option, so the remaining voters are mostly undecided, not third party. Three weeks ago, Biden’s lead was 6.6 percentage points.

In 2016, four states – Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida – voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton by 1.2% or less. In the latest FiveThirtyEight aggregate, Biden leads in Florida by 7.2%, Pennsylvania by 8.0%, Wisconsin by 8.1% and Michigan by 10.6%.

Biden also leads in several states Trump won comfortably in 2016, such as Arizona (a 4.7% lead over Trump), Georgia (1.4% lead), North Carolina (2.9% lead) and Ohio (2.6% lead). Trump maintains an extremely narrow lead in Iowa (0.1%) and Texas (0.3%).

Trump is looking shaky in states he carried comfortably in the 2016 election.
Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

If the election were being held next week, there is little doubt Biden would win both the national popular vote and the Electoral College easily.

Can Trump recover before November 3? If Biden’s national lead is reduced to fewer than five points, the Electoral College could save Trump, as the Democrat’s lead is narrower in the pivotal battleground states.

Trump’s approval ratings have taken a hit due to his responses to the pandemic and the protests after the police killing of George Floyd.

Earlier this month, US coronavirus cases and deaths had fallen from their peaks in April, but there has been a surge in the last week. Over 45,000 new cases were recorded Friday, the highest single-day total since the pandemic began.

Political analyst Nate Silver says this increase is not caused by greater testing (as Trump claims), noting the positive test rate rose to 7.7% on June 24, from 4.9% a week earlier.

A genuine economic recovery is unlikely while coronavirus cases are still surging. Trump’s best chance of re-election is for the pandemic to have faded by November and the US to have made a strong economic recovery.

The US jobs report for May was much better than in April, but April was so terrible that a recovery still has a long way to go.

Can the Democrats retake Congress?

As well as the presidency, all 435 House of Representatives seats and one-third of the 100 senators are up for election in November.

Democrats gained control of the House in November 2018 and are very likely to retain control. They have a 7.9% lead in the FiveThirtyEight generic ballot tracker.

The Republicans currently have a 53-47 seat majority in the Senate, making it difficult for the Democrats to take control. The RealClearPolitics Senate map gives Democrats some chance of winning the Senate, projecting 48 Republican seats, 48 Democrats and four toss-ups.

In deeply conservative Alabama, Democrat Doug Jones unexpectedly won a December 2017 special election, but is unlikely to repeat his success.

House seats are allocated to each state on a population basis, but in the Senate, each state is guaranteed two seats regardless of population. As low-population states in the Midwest and West tend to be conservative, this makes it harder for Democrats to win the Senate.The Conversation

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

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Eden-Monaro byelection will be ‘very close’, according to participants in focus group research


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The July 4 byelection in the highly marginal NSW Labor seat of Eden-Monaro is shaping up to be “very close”, according to participants in focus group research conducted by the University of Canberra.

Climate change, job creation, the federal government’s response to the bushfires, and health care were most frequently nominated when people were asked to choose, from a list of 13, the issue that would be extremely or very important in informing how they would vote.

Climate change was nominated by six of the 16, with job creation chosen by three, followed by the government’s response on bushfires and health care (each nominated by two people). The government’s response to COVID-19, support for tourism and action on the high cost of living received one nomination each.




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Most participants believed the summer fires would have a negative impact for the Coalition, and that this might make a difference in a close election.

On Tuesday Scott Morrison campaigned in Bega, with a $86 million package for the forestry industry, wine producers and apple growers hit by the bushfires and the effects of COVID-19. While the money is not confined to Eden-Monaro, its target is winning votes there. Anthony Albanese visited the pre-poll booth in Queanbeyan.

The three online focus groups, totalling 16 participants, were conducted by Mark Evans and Max Halupka of the university’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis. People were drawn from various parts of what is a very diverse electorate. Two groups were done last week and the other on Monday. Participants included Coalition, Labor and Green supporters, with a mix of firmly aligned and swinging voters.

Participants were asked their voting intentions and their responses suggested a Labor victory. Swinging voters seemed to have moved to Labor but hard Coalition and Labor voters are remaining loyal.

But it should be stressed focus groups are not predictive of the result, but rather tap into attitudes at a point in the campaign.

Asked about management of the COVID-19 crisis, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian was seen as the best performer, followed by Morrison and the Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy, who were equally regarded.

Albanese – who has campaigned extensively in Eden-Monaro – was seen as having a low profile throughout the pandemic crisis. In the words of one Labor swinging voter this was attributable to “his lack of a platform”. As another participant observed, “Crises are a great advantage for government”. Participants were luke warm about how good a job Albanese was doing in holding Morrison to account over the management of the COVID-19 crisis.

When asked who they listened to most when looking for guidance on COVID-19, people pointed to Norman Swan and the ABC.

Participants’ trust in Morrison has marginally increased as a result of his handling of COVID-19, but from a low level following the bushfire crisis. One man, a strong Coalition supporter, said the PM “needed to learn and has learned”.

A female Coalition swinging voter attributed Morrison’s improvement to “the national cabinet. He was given some good lessons in leadership and the group kept his tendencies under control.”

Discussing issues, people thought the federal government’s handling of the bushfire crisis suffered from poor federal leadership, inadequate preparation, and insufficient collaboration between federal and state governments.

Critics of the Morrison government’s handling of the fires included most of the hard Coalition voters – although it was not enough to change their vote.

There was also a perception the federal government had lost interest in the bushfire recovery process. “It makes sense to tackle the problem in front of you and that’s the virus,” said a Coalition supporter.

In the discussion, most participants saw a link between the bushfire crisis and the need for action on climate, and said their views on the importance of the climate issue had sharpened significantly over the past six months. There were some exceptions: “Older people don’t go with the mantra of climate change, though they know something is going on,” said a middle aged male Coalition voter.

Coalition voters were more focused on local issues – economic issues, better infrastructure and improved access to health care, education and transport. “The Coalition has the track record to get the economy back on track,” said one man.

People generally thought Australia was more resilient than most other countries to bounce back from the COVID-19 crisis. But they were worried about Australia’s economic vulnerability, particularly its dependence on China.

Participants wanted politicians to be more collaborative and less adversarial in a post-COVID-19 world and for experts to have a greater say in decision making. An older female Labor supporter said, “We need politicians to behave better and take community issues more seriously”, while a male Coalition voter opined, “we need more adult politics as the national cabinet has shown us”.




Read more:
Coalition gains Newspoll lead as Labor ahead in Eden-Monaro; Trump’s ratings recover


There was some concern the old politics would resume. “[The national cabinet] started well but it already seems to be falling apart,” said a hard-Labor voter.

In a field of 14 candidates, this is a Labor-Liberal battle, and both major parties are running female candidates with good local credentials. The Liberals’ Fiona Kotvojs, who pushed the former MP Mike Kelly close at the 2019 election, has a background in teaching, science, farming and small business; Labor’s Kristy McBain has most recently been mayor of Bega.

The focus group participants thought the two women were strong on credentials but low on having high constituency-wide profiles, suggesting voters would be likely to vote on party lines rather than for personalities.

But some participants noted the Liberals were spending a lot on Kotvojs’ campaign and predicted this was likely to increase in the time remaining.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison commits another $1.5 billion for infrastructure


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison will announce a further $1.5 billion for an immediate start on small infrastructure projects in the government’s latest initiative to spur economic activity.

Of this, $1 billion will be provided to priority “shovel-ready” projects, with $500 million targeted specifically to road safety works.

The projects are nominated by the states and territories.

Addressing a Committee for Economic Development of Australia function on Monday Morrison will say this means the government will have brought forward or provided extra funding worth $9.3 billion in infrastructure investment in the past eight months.

“As we come out of the COVID crisis, infrastructure can give us the edge that many countries don’t have,” he will say.

Announcing a priority list of 15 major projects being fast tracked for approval under a federal-state bilateral model, he will say these projects and the 66,000 direct and indirect jobs they will support “will be brought to market earlier by targeting a 50% reduction in Commonwealth assessment and approval times for major projects, from an average of 3.5 years to 21 months”.

Anthony Albanese, also speaking to CEDA, will stress the need for “productivity renewal”.

“Our post-coronavirus actions must confront the weaknesses in our pre-coronavirus world,” he will say. “And here, productivity stands out”.

A Labor government would have a productivity renewal project to “lift business investment, lift investment in people and lift investment in critical infrastructure.

“Our goal will be to drive growth through productivity and to drive fairness through growth.”

Meanwhile a poll by the Australian National University has found the most popular COVID-specific measure to help fix Australia’s economic problems would be to spend more on trying to find a vaccine and treatment.

The poll, done in May of more than 3200 people, asked about four Covid-related policies: increasing spending on the search for a vaccine and treatment, opening up pubs, clubs and cafes, extending JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments beyond the current six months, and opening Australia’s borders to tourists and international students. (On Friday the national cabinet agreed to work “to return international students on a small, phased scale through a series of controlled pilots”.)

Asked how much they thought the various measures would help fix Australia’s economic problems, greater spending to pursue a vaccine received 75.6% support, followed by easing restrictions on pubs and the like (71.7%).

Some 57.6% said extending JobKeeper and JobSeeker would help, and nearly half believed unlocking the border would assist.

More money to find a vaccine had strongest support among older people, while extending the payments had the greatest backing among young people. Coalition voters were least likely to back extending JobKeeper and JobSeeker.

Asked about several economic policies that would help to fix Australia’s problems, 82.1% agreed more spending on domestic programs like healthcare, education and housing would do so, 76.7% nominated infrastructure, 59.1% said cutting taxes, and 55.9% backed putting more money into the hands of poor people.

The study concluded that “the strongest predictor of support for these policies … was anxiety and worry regarding COVID-19. Those who were anxious and worried were far less likely to support liberalisation measures (on borders and hospitality) but far more likely to support spending measures (on vaccines and the labour market).

This highlighted a tension.
“To maintain support for some of the physical distancing measures required to maintain low rates of infection, there needs to be some concern regarding COVID-19 and fear of infection if the virus once again gets out of hand.

“However, in order to implement some policies that will help support economic growth into the future, this concern and perceived risk may need to be reduced”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Matt Canavan says Australia doesn’t subsidise the fossil fuel industry, an expert says it does


Jeremy Moss, UNSW

Queensland Nationals Senator Matt Canavan on Monday night denied suggestions the government subsidises Australia’s fossil fuel industry. The comments prompted a swift response from some social media users, who cited evidence to the contrary.

Canavan was responding to a viewer question on ABC’s Q&A program. The questioner cited an International Monetary Fund (IMF) working paper from May last year that said Australia spends US$29 billion (A$47 billion) a year to prop up fossil fuel extraction and energy production.

The questioner also referred to media reports last year that Australia subsidised renewable energy to the tune of A$2.8 billion. He questioned the equity of the subsidy system.

Canavan disputed the figures and said there was “no subsidisation of Australia’s fossil fuel industries”. You can listen here:

Senator Matt Canavan on ABC Q&A.
ABC Q&A1.59 MB (download)

So let’s take a look at what the Australian government contributes to the fossil fuel industry, and whether this makes financial sense.

Do fossil fuels need government support more than renewable sources of energy?
Justin McKinney/Shutterstock

What does Australia contribute to the fossil fuel industry?

Canavan said the figures cited by the questioner didn’t accord with the view of the Productivity Commission.

The commission’s latest Trade and Assistance Review doesn’t specifically mention federal subsidies. But it describes “combined assistance” for petroleum, coal and chemicals in mining of about A$385 million for 2018-19.

Subsidies to fossil fuel companies and other products can be difficult to categorise. Often there is disagreement as to what counts and what doesn’t.

For example, the IMF paper includes subsidising the costs of fuels used to extract resources, accelerated depreciation for assets and funding for fossil fuel export projects.




Read more:
Morrison government dangles new carrots for industry but fails to fix bigger climate policy problem


Estimates by other organisations of the annual federal subsidies for the fossil fuel industry range from A$5 billion to A$12 billion a year.

So despite the disparities, it’s clear the fossil fuel industry receives substantial federal government subsidies. Earlier this month a leaked draft report by a taskforce advising the government’s own COVID-19 commission recommends support to a gas industry expansion.

Importantly, these subsidies benefit the fossil fuel industry relative to its competitors in the renewable sector.

Do these payments make sense?

The subsidies are also aimed at a sinking industry.

As Tim Buckley, of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, notes, COVID-19 and the falling cost of renewables are delivering a hit to the export fossil fuel industry in Australia from which it may never recover.

Fossil fuel companies such as Santos are also under extreme pressure from some super funds to adopt strict emissions targets.

Moreover, these subsidies produce very few direct jobs in fossil fuel extraction.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, coal, oil and gas extraction create just 64,300 direct jobs. Only around 10% of coal industry employees are women.

If we divide the IMF subsidy figure by the number of direct jobs, the governments of Australia spend A$730,000 each year for every direct job in the coal, oil and gas industry. That equates to A$1,832 for every Australian.

Where are the profits?

Setting aside the madness of this support for fossil fuels given the climate crisis, the subsidies make no financial sense.

With so much government support, you’d think the industry would be full of profitable companies filling the government’s coffers with taxes. But this is not the case.

Australian Taxation Office data for 2016-17 show eight of the ten largest fossil fuel producers in Australia paid no tax. That’s despite nine of these companies having revenue of about A$45 billion for that period.

Not all of these benefits go to these big producers, but many of them do.

If Prime Minister Scott Morrison really wants to lessen the impact of the coronavirus on Australians and save jobs, then this gross level of subsidies must be phased out.

Given the scale of the climate crisis, the Morrison government’s fossil fuel subsidies don’t make sense.
AAP

Money needed elsewhere

Subsidies paid each year to the fossil fuel industry could be used far better elsewhere.

It could help retrain or provide generous redundancy packages for the relatively small number of workers in fossil fuel industries and their communities.




Read more:
Yes, carbon emissions fell during COVID-19. But it’s the shift away from coal that really matters


The subsidies are unconscionable when you consider the resources so desperately needed now for health and the broader economy. The coronavirus must force us as a country to re-evaluate how we distribute taxpayer funds.

As International Energy Agency head Fatih Birol notes, we now have an “historic opportunity” to use stimulus to transition to clean energy.

Directing funds to companies that have had 30 years to prepare for their demise is simply throwing away public money. It could be put to so much better use.The Conversation

Jeremy Moss, Professor of Political Philosophy, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Polls latest: Labor trails federally and in Queensland; Biden increases lead over Trump



AAP/Mick Tsikas

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted June 3-6 from a sample of 1,510, gave the Coalition a 51-49 lead, unchanged from three weeks ago. Primary votes were 42% Coalition (down one), 34% Labor (down one), 12% Greens (up two) and 4% One Nation (up one).

Scott Morrison maintained his high coronavirus crisis ratings. 66% were satisfied with his performance (steady) and 29% dissatisfied (down one), for a net approval of +37. Anthony Albanese’s net approval dropped four points to +3; his ratings peaked at +11 in late April. Morrison led as better PM by 56-26 (56-29 three weeks ago).

This Newspoll maintains the situation where Morrison is very popular, but the Coalition is not benefiting from his popularity to the extent that would normally be expected. Six weeks ago, when Morrison’s net approval was +40, analyst Kevin Bonham said the Coalition’s expected two party vote was between 54% and 60%.

Respondents were asked whether various organisations had a positive, negative or neutral impact on the coronavirus pandemic around the world. The World Health Organisation was at 34% positive, 32% negative and the United Nations was at 23% positive, 21% negative. Coalition voters were most likely to give the WHO and UN poor marks.

Xi Jinping and the Chinese government was at just 6% positive, 72% negative. Donald Trump and the US government was at 9% positive, 79% negative.

Seventy-nine percent thought the Morrison government was doing the right thing by pushing for an independent inquiry into the origins and handling of coronavirus against Chinese objections. By 59-29, voters thought Australia should prioritise the US relationship over China. There was more support for China from Labor and Greens voters.

Queensland YouGov poll: 52-48 to LNP

The Queensland election will be held on October 31. A YouGov poll for The Sunday Mail, conducted last week from a sample of over 1,000, gave the LNP a 52-48 lead, a two-point gain for the LNP since the January YouGov. Primary votes were 38% LNP (up three), 32% Labor (down two), 12% One Nation (down three) and 12% Greens (up two). Figures from The Poll Bludger.

Despite Labor’s weak voting intentions, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s ratings surged. Her approval was up 20 points to 49% and her disapproval down 11 to 33%, for a net approval of +16, up 31 points. On net approval, Palaszczuk’s ratings are the same as in a late April premiers’ Newspoll. However, that Newspoll gave Palaszczuk a net approval far lower than for any of the other five premiers.




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Coalition gains Newspoll lead as Labor ahead in Eden-Monaro; Trump’s ratings recover


Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington’s ratings were 26% approve (up three) and 29% disapprove (down four), for a net approval of -3, up seven points. Palaszczuk led as better premier by 44-23 (34-22 in January).

Biden increases lead over Trump

This section is an updated version of an article I wrote for The Poll Bludger, published on Friday. The Poll Bludger article includes a section on the UK polls following the Dominic Cummings breach of quarantine scandal.

In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Donald Trump’s ratings with all polls are 41.7% approve, 53.9% disapprove (net -12.2%). With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s ratings are 42.3% approve, 54.1% disapprove (net -11.8%).

Since my article three weeks ago, Trump has lost about four points on net approval. His disapproval rating is at its highest since the early stages of the Ukraine scandal last November.

In the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, Joe Biden’s lead over Trump has widened to 7.2%, up from 4.5% three weeks ago. That is Biden’s biggest lead since December 2019. Biden has 49.6% now, close to a majority. If he holds that level of support, it will be very difficult for Trump to win.




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Trump has over 90% of the vote among Republicans, but just 3% among Democrats. CNN analyst Harry Enten says Trump’s strategy of appealing only to his base is poor, as he has already maximised support from that section. Enten implies Trump would do better if he appealed more to moderate voters.

In the key states that will decide the Electoral College and hence the presidency, it is less clear. National and state polls by Change Research gave Biden a seven-point lead nationally, but just a three-point lead in Florida, a two-point lead in Michigan and a one-point lead in North Carolina. In Wisconsin, Trump and Biden were tied, while Trump led by one in Arizona and four in Pennsylvania.

This relatively rosy state polling picture for Trump is contradicted by three Fox News polls. In these polls, Biden leads by nine points in Wisconsin, four points in Arizona and two points in Ohio. Trump won Ohio by eight points in 2016, and it was not thought to be in play.

Ironically, Change Research is a Democrat-associated pollster, while Fox News is very pro-Trump. Fieldwork for all these state polls was collected since May 29, when the George Floyd protests began.

Other state polls have also been worse for Trump than the Change Research polls. A Texas poll from Quinnipiac University had Trump leading by just one point. Trump won Texas by nine points in 2016. In Michigan, an EPIC-MRA poll has Biden leading by 12. In North Carolina, a PPP poll has Biden ahead by four.

Concerning the protests over the murder of George Floyd, in an Ipsos poll for Reuters conducted June 1-2, 64% said they sympathised with the protesters, while 27% did not. In another Ipsos poll, this time for the US ABC News, 66% disapproved of Trump’s reaction to the protests and just 32% approved.

US May jobs report much better than expected

The May US jobs report was released last Friday. 2.5 million jobs were added, and the unemployment rate fell 1.4% to 13.3%. Economists on average expected 8.3 million job losses and an unemployment rate of 19.5%. An unemployment rate of 13.3% is terrible by historical standards, but it is clear evidence the US economy is already recovering from the coronavirus hit.

The employment population ratio – the percentage of eligible Americans currently employed – rose 1.5% to 52.8%, but it is still far below the 58.2% lowest point during the global financial crisis.

US daily coronavirus cases and deaths are down from their peak, and stockmarkets anticipate a strong economic recovery. But it is likely that a greater amount of economic activity will allow the virus to resurge. A strong recovery from coronavirus would assist Trump, but unemployment is a lagging indicator that is likely to recover more slowly than the overall economy.

New Zealand Labour surges into high 50s in polls

I wrote for The Poll Bludger on May 22 that two New Zealand polls had the governing Labour party taking a massive lead over the opposition National, ahead of the September 19 election. New Zealand now has zero active (currently infected) coronavirus cases, and has had no new cases since May 22. It appears they have eliminated the virus.The Conversation

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

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison government toughens foreign investment scrutiny to protect ‘national security’


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Morrison government will significantly strengthen its scrutiny of foreign investment to protect sensitive national security technology and information and further ring fence the nation’s critical infrastructure.

It will insert a new “national security test” on bids, in a sweeping overhaul of the foreign investment regime.

The action follows mounting public concern about Chinese investment, although the government – already under harsh criticism from China – will seek to play down suggestions it relates to any one country, and point out it has been a long time in the pipeline.

Planned new legislation will also strengthen compliance provisions to ensure foreign investors follow conditions attached to approvals.

During the pandemic, all foreign investment bids are being scrutinised to ensure unfair advantage is not taken of distressed companies.

But in normal circumstances those under certain thresholds escape examination by the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB), the body that makes recommendations to the treasurer.

While all bids from foreign governments are screened, most private investments under $275 million – or $1.2 billion if the country has a free trade agreement with Australia, as China and a number of other major trading partners do – are not scrutinised.

The government is concerned investments in some very sensitive sectors are escaping screening even when there are national security concerns. Of particular worry is the vulnerability of small and medium sized companies that have specialised expertise, but fall below the threshold in value.

Under the new test, foreign investors will have to notify FIRB if they propose to start or acquire an interest – generally 10% or a position of control – in a “sensitive national security business”.

This will mean all foreign investments in sensitive national security businesses will be examined.

Businesses which raise sensitive national security concerns are those involved in critical infrastructure, including telecommunications, energy, ports and water, as well as those which service defence and national security organisations.

The national security test will also involve new powers.

The treasurer will be able to “call in” an investment before, during or after an acquisition for review if it raises risks which were not picked up earlier.

The treasurer will also have a new “last resort” power enabling them to apply or vary conditions or order disposal of an investment where national security concerns emerge after approval. This last resort power would not be retrospective – it would only apply to future approvals under the revised regime.

The government will release draft legislation next month for consultations. It wants it passed this year, to apply from January 1 next year.

It is estimated the new security arrangements will affect only a very small proportion of total foreign investment.

The tougher compliance measures follow complaints that some foreign investors ignore the conditions that are attached to approved bids. Recently fingers were pointed at Alinta for not implementing conditions about information storage. The company was told to comply.

Increasingly, conditions have been applied to allow bids to pass. In 2018-19, 4149 applications were approved with conditions attached. This was 47.6% of total approvals. By value, more than 80% of investment was approved subject to conditions.

The government says the monitoring and enforcement powers of Treasury and the Australian Taxation Office need expansion because of the extensive use of conditions and “emerging risks caused by global developments and rapid advances in technology”.

It notes that apart from residential property investments, the treasurer’s enforcement powers are limited to taking civil action or seeking a criminal prosecution. This inhibits the government’s ability to respond proportionately, for example to a minor breach.

Under the changes, the government will have a wider range of tools for enforcement, including access to premises to collect information and powers to give directions to investors in order to prevent or address suspected breaches.

While most of the announced changes are about toughening the scrutiny regime, the government will at the same time streamline the approval process for investments that do not raise national interest concerns.

Aware of the need to attract passive investment as part of the post COVID recovery, it will narrow the definition of a foreign government investor to exclude certain passive investments in funds where the investors have no influence over the investment or operational decisions of the entity.,

The government is committing $54 million over four years to step up compliance and monitoring capability. Funding will go to Treasury, the ATO and “relevant agencies such as the Department of Home Affairs”.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the changes were the most significant made to the foreign investment regime since it was introduced in 1975.

“The reforms will ensure that our foreign investment regime is able to respond to emerging risks and global developments,” he said.

“Through the introduction of a new national security test, stronger enforcement powers and enhanced compliance obligations, we will ensure that Australia can continue to benefit from foreign investment while safeguarding our national interest.”

The reforms were developed with the support of FIRB whose chairman David Irvine has a national security background, including as head of ASIO.

Irvine said the package “appropriately addresses increasing risks to the national interest whilst ensuring Australia remains welcoming and open to foreign investment”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Scott Morrison’s HomeBuilder scheme is classic retail politics but lousy economics



Easypads

Brendan Coates, Grattan Institute

Scott Morrison’s new housing stimulus package is straight-out retail politics.

HomeBuilder offers homeowners (including first home buyers) a grant of A$25,000 to build a new home worth less than $750,000 or to spend between $150,000 and $750,000 renovating an existing home.

The scheme is limited to owner-occupiers with reported incomes below $125,000 for singles and $200,000 for couples.

Giveaways to home buyers are wildly popular. And who wouldn’t want their house renovated on the public dime? The trouble is it’s bad economics.

Take the new grants for home owners wanting to renovate.

To be eligible, they have to sign a contract with a builder by the end of the year.

But renovations costing $150,000 or more take time to plan.




Read more:
Why the focus of stimulus plans has to be construction that puts social housing first


The plans need to be drawn up, finance approved, and any building and development approvals secured.

Which means that anyone who signs a contract with a builder today was already planning to renovate.

And chances are that many who sign contracts over the coming months have already planned to renovate.

The new grants will also encourage the in-demand tradies to raise their prices.

They’ll add up to a lot of spending for few jobs saved.

Not many more homes

The grants for buying new homes are more likely to support construction jobs. They will encouraging buyers to bring forward purchases.

It’s why in 2008, in response to the global financial crisis, the Rudd government tripled the first home buyer grant to $21,000 for new homes.

There’s no doubt the coronavirus crisis has hit construction hard: in the past three months almost 7% of the industry’s workforce have lost their jobs.

But most industry forecasters expect at least 110,000 homes to be built (and sold) in Australia anyway next fiscal year.

And most of those first home buyers will be eligible for the grants

About 83% who had recently bought their first home in 2018 paid less than $750,000 for it. Of those, about 90% would have satisfied the income tests for the new grants.

That’s a lot of homes that will have to be funded first before HomeBuilder funds the construction of any extra homes.




Read more:
Government to give $25,000 grants to people building or renovating homes


And stiff competition among prospective buyers of homes selling below the $750,000 price cap will force up the prices of those homes.

That’s a big win for developers selling house-and-land packages on the urban fringe.

Perhaps the best that can be said for the scheme is that it probably won’t cost much.

The grants are uncapped, but the government expects it to cost about $688 million for roughly 27,000 grants. And since many of those homes would have been built anyway the scheme won’t support many construction jobs either.

What’d be better

It’d be better to fund the states to build new social housing or refurbish existing homes, as the Rudd government did during the global financial crisis.

Many have forgotten about that scheme because it attracted so little controversy, unlike other of Rudd stimulus programs.

Public residential construction approvals spiked within months of the announcement, and more than half of the homes built went to tenants at risk or already homeless.

Building 30,000 new social housing units today would cost between $10 billion an $15 billion. it would support the building industry, and as important, would help many of the 116,000 Australians who are homeless on any given night.

It might not make for good retail politics, but it would help people who need it. And it would be good economics.The Conversation

Brendan Coates, Program Director, Household Finances, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Government to give $25,000 grants to people building or renovating homes



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Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Australian government will provide eligible owner-occupiers with a grant of $25,000 to build a new home or extensively renovate an existing one.

The scheme – estimated to cost up to $688 million – will not be limited to first home buyers.

Contracts must be entered into between now and the end of the year, with work to begin within three months of the contract date, to maximise the stimulus to an industry set to take a big hit from the pandemic crisis.

The means-tested HomeBuilder scheme will be available to individuals with income up to $125,000 and couples whose combined income is up to $200,000.

It will not be available to companies or trusts, those who are not Australian citizens or people under 18 years of age. Owner builders will not be eligible, nor can the scheme be used for investment properties.

New builds must be for a principal place of residence with a cap on the combined value of house and land of $750,000.

Those renovating their existing home as a principal place of residence will have to be making changes valued between $150,000 and $750,000, with the dwelling worth not more than $1.5 million before the renovation.

The renovation must be “to improve the accessibility, safety and liveability” of the home. It can include a combination of work, such as a kitchen and bathroom renovation.

It can’t be for unconnected additions, such as detached sheds or garages, or for swimming pools, tennis courts or outdoor spas and saunas.

It must be under the supervision of a registered or licensed builder.

Sensitive to comparisons with the Rudd government’s stimulus grants in the global financial crisis, notably the controversial pink batts scheme, the government has listed differences including the limited term of the program, tighter eligibility criteria and expert supervision.

The latest package comes as Wednesday’s national accounts showed the Australian economy went backwards by 0.3% in the March quarter. Annual growth was 1.4%.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg admitted Australia is already in recession, given the June quarter is expected to be horrendous. A common definition of a recession is two negative quarters.

Frydenberg also announced the government’s promised economic and fiscal update has been delayed, from June until July 23.

He said it would include the response to the review of JobKeeper, which is currently under way. He again flagged the government could cut the $1500 a fortnight payment for those earning less than that before COVID.

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said the delay was a disgrace in these uncertain times.

The government says the housing scheme will help support 140,000 direct jobs and another 1,000,000 related jobs in the residential construction sector.

The sector has lobbied for special assistance, saying it expects new dwelling starts to fall by half by the end of this year.

The government expects competition for work will keep prices contained.

Frydenberg said that “with dwelling investment expected to decline by around 20% through the June quarter, the HomeBuilder program will support residential construction activity and jobs across the industry at a time when the economy and the sector needs it most”.

The scheme will be implemented through the states and territories, which will monitor compliance. The grant will be paid to people when they make their first progress payment.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: “Our JobKeeper support has helped the construction sector weather the crisis, now we’re helping fire it up again.

“This is about targeted taxpayer support for a limited time using existing systems to ensure the money gets used how it should by families looking for that bit of extra help to make significant investments themselves.”

Housing Minister Michael Sukkar said “HomeBuilder will not only support the jobs of carpenters, plumbers, bricklayers and electricians on our building sites, it will also support the timber mill workers who produce the frames and trusses and the manufacturing workers who make the glass, brick and tiles for our homes”.

Some days ago, Labor’s housing spokesman Jason Clare said the housing industry was “expected to go off a cliff” and a stimulus package was urgently needed. Labor has also said stimulus should be given to social housing.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Vital Signs: Morrison’s industrial relations peace gambit is worth a shot. Even if it fails, it’s shrewd politics


Richard Holden, UNSW

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week announced plans for a potential “grand bargain” on industrial relations.

Speaking at the National Press Club, he framed the issue as one of boosting economic productivity:

We must enable our businesses to earn Australia’s way out of this crisis. And that means focusing on the things that can make their businesses go faster.

Rather than directly introducing legislation into the parliament, Morrison’s plan involves creating five “working groups” of union and business advocates to look at issues from simplifying awards and the enterprise bargaining system to the treatment of casual workers and “greenfields” agreements for new enterprises.




Read more:
Morrison government invites unions to dance, but employer groups call the tune


This is shrewd politics. If the working groups find agreement, the government can push the required legislation through parliament with a claim to a mandate. And claim the credit.

If it fails, Morrison can say nothing can happen without business and workers agreeing. So the government avoids blame.

But it may also be canny economics.

Going for broker

Perhaps Morrison has realised his real power is not as an advocate but a broker.

This process might have less in common with Australia’s prices and incomes accords of the 1980s, where unions agreed to limit wage claims, than with the Dayton Accords, the peace agreement that ended the Bosnian War in 1995.

The accords between the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Hawke and Keating governments between 1983 and 1991 were a response to the wage-price spirals that plagued advanced economies in the 1970s and early 1980s.

High inflation led to large wage claims, which further fuelled inflation. The 1983 accord broke this spiral by guaranteeing wage increases every six months tied to the consumer price index. As I’ve noted previously:

Once people knew that wages weren’t going to gallop ahead of prices, there was less of a reason to raise prices, which put less pressure on wages, and so on.

The Dayton Accords (officially the: General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina) were brokered by the US administration in Dayton, Ohio, in November 1995 between the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia.

Booking a room

The shadow minister for industrial relations, Tony Burke, reacted to Morrison’s announcement by saying:

Let’s be clear: all the government has done so far is book a room. This is not an IR agenda – it’s a series of meetings.

Burke meant this as a criticism, but in fact it might be a virtue. It’s hard to imagine a deal on industrial relations without representatives of employers and employees agreeing. That agreement may be better served by a government acting as a broker rather than pushing its own specific agenda.

There is an emerging school of thought in economics that coordinating beliefs plays a crucial role in reaching value-enhancing deals. Having the participants believe there can be a deal might be the heart of the issue.

That was arguably the role US chief negotiator Richard Holbrooke played in the Dayton Accords, and the role federal industrial relations minister Christian Porter will need to play in this rather different setting.

Very different starting points

That said, the parties don’t agree on all that much – at least as a starting point. ACTU secretary Sally McManus has emphasised that:

We can only secure a better, stronger Australia if working people have permanent, well-paid work and the entitlements that come with it.

The head of the Business Council of Australia (BCA), Jennifer Westacott, says the issue is needing:

… a system that delivers higher productivity, letting people work more effectively, produce more and find new and innovative ways to work.

Can permanence and job security be reconciled with effectiveness and innovation in the workplace? I’m an optimist. But we shall see.

Are the representatives representative?

This possible grand bargain needs to be between employers and employees. Those at the table will be representatives of those groups – namely unions and employer groups such as the BCA and Ai Group.

A crucial question is how representative these representatives are.

As Leigh Sales observed on the ABC’s 7:30 program this week:

The vast majority of Australians aren’t members of unions, only 14% of people are. In this process, shouldn’t workers be represented by other voices that more likely speak for them?

In the private sector, union membership is even lower – about 10%.




Read more:
Three charts on: the changing face of Australian union members


One should ask similar questions of the BCA and Ai Group. For instance, do they represent the views of smaller businesses as faithfully as they do the big ones?

This is crucial because it affects the credibility of any potential deal, and how any benefits are spread. A cosy deal between big business and unions on greenfield construction sites is one thing. A grand bargain that helps workers not in unions and employers across the economy is quite another.

Will it work?

Morrison did frame the issue adeptly in his address. He was clear about the inputs needed to increase the economic pie:

The skilled labour businesses need to draw on, the affordable and reliable energy they need, the research and technology they can draw on and utilise, the investment capital and finance that they can access, the markets they can connect to, the economic infrastructure that supports and connects them, the amount of government regulation they must comply with, and the amount and the efficiency of the taxes they must pay.

Given all that, Australia’s industrial relations system does arguably need reform. And it won’t happen without the key players agreeing to it themselves.

Morrison’s gambit may not work, but it is certainly worth a shot.The Conversation

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.