Frydenberg is setting his budget ambition dangerously low


Brendan Coates, Grattan Institute and Matthew Cowgill, Grattan Institute

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s announcement that he’ll prioritise reducing unemployment ahead of reducing government debt is welcome news.

The government is required by the Charter of Budget Honesty to develop and publish a fiscal strategy to be used in each budget.

The one that it has been using doesn’t mention unemployment at all and instead talks about offsetting new spending “by reductions in spending elsewhere” and commits it to “achieve budget surpluses, on average, over the course of the economic cycle” – something that’s not going to happen for a long time.

A realistic fiscal strategy is a good idea. A lot of behaviour is driven by expectations. If consumers and businesses think the government is going to slash and burn its way to a surplus, any stimulus in the meantime will be less effective.

People are more likely to save, and businesses less likely to hire, if they think tax hikes and spending cuts are around the corner.

A clear statement that is not the case will help.

But the Treasurer’s pledge to keep running deficits “until the unemployment rate is comfortably back under 6%” is nowhere near ambitious enough.

Former US Federal Reserve Chairman William McChesney Martin Jr. once famously said that the central bank’s role is “to take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going”.

Tightening budget policy – raising taxes or cutting spending – when unemployment crosses the 6% mark would be packing away the booze when many of the guests haven’t even arrived.

In the 15 years before COVID-19 struck, Australia’s unemployment rate had been above 6% only briefly, between mid 2014 and early 2016.


Unemployment rate, 2015 – 2019

Seasonally adjusted.
ABS Labour Force, Australia

The unemployment rate was well below 6% before the pandemic struck, yet the labour market was clearly running below its potential.

Before the pandemic, the Reserve Bank revised down its estimate of the unemployment speed limit – the unemployment rate at which inflation and wages would accelerate – from 5% to around 4.5%.

The Treasurer should wait until we’re closer to that speed limit before reaching for the brakes. The difference between 6% and 4.5% unemployment might not sound like much, but it amounts to an extra 200,000 people or so in work.

And it affects the rest of us too. Most Australians won’t get anything more than modest pay rises until the labour market tightens.

The danger is declaring victory too soon

The government handled the acute phase of this crisis well, although not perfectly. It deserves credit for moving very quickly to support the economy. But the danger now is that it turns too soon to budget tightening, stunting a nascent recovery.

This is the mistake many governments and central banks made after the global financial crisis – acting commendably to shore up activity in the crisis phase, but then pulling away support before enough of the damage had been repaired.

With interest rates so low, the government has a lot of capacity to run deficits without the debt-to-GDP ratio getting out of control.

As Frydenberg noted, “with historically low interest rates, it is not necessary to run budget surpluses to stabilise and reduce debt as a share of GDP — provided the economy is growing steadily”.




Read more:
COVID will leave Australia with smaller economy and older population: Frydenberg


It’s a point made by former IMF Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard in one of the most influential recent papers in economics – his 2019 presidential address to the American Economics Association.

Blanchard noted that when the interest rate on government debt is less than the nominal growth rate of the economy, “public debt may have no fiscal cost”.

We’ve access to money for nothing

The Australian government can borrow for 10 years at a fixed interest rate of about 0.9%. It recently issued 30-year fixed-rate bonds for less than 2%.

Both are less than the Reserve Bank’s inflation target, suggesting that over time in real terms the money will cost nothing.

Over the past five years, Australia’s nominal growth rate has averaged 4%. The most recent Intergenerational Report projected average nominal growth of 5.25% a year for 40 years.

Even if economic growth falls well short of that projection it is hard to imagine it going below the rate at which the government can borrow for very long.

That means debt is likely to remain manageable relative to the size of the economy, and debt servicing costs will be modest, particularly compared to the benefits of stimulus.




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Now we’ll need $100-$120 billion. Why the budget has to spend big to avoid scarring


Over the medium-term the government will need to ensure its debt is sustainable and does not continue to rise as a share of the economy.

But rushing too quickly to “repair” the budget position would be an economic ‘own goal’ – hampering job creation, economic growth, and ultimately the bottom line it sought to protect.

Reserve Bank Deputy Governor Guy Debelle said this week that “absent the fiscal stimulus, the economy would be significantly weaker and debt levels even higher”.

He is right. Taking the foot off the economic accelerator when unemployment is at 6% would condemn Australia to a long and slow recovery. It’s not in the Treasurer’s interest, and it’s not in ours.The Conversation

Brendan Coates, Program Director, Household Finances, Grattan Institute and Matthew Cowgill, Senior Associate, Grattan Institute

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

Coalition regains Newspoll lead; time running out for Trump



AAP/Dean Lewins

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted September 16-19 from a sample of 2,068, gave the Coalition a 51-49 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since the previous Newspoll, three weeks ago.

Primary votes were 43% Coalition (up two), 34% Labor (down two), 12% Greens (up one) and 3% One Nation (steady) – all figures from The Poll Bludger.

65% were satisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance (up one), and 31% were dissatisfied (down one), for a net approval of +34. Anthony Albanese’s ratings fell into negative territory: his net approval was -1, down three points. Morrison led Albanese as better PM by 59-27 (58-29 last time).

The last Newspoll had the Coalition’s lead dropping from 52-48 to a 50-50 tie, while Morrison’s net approval was down seven points. This Newspoll implies movements in the previous Newspoll may have been exaggerated.

It is also possible the federal Coalition is benefiting from restrictions to fight coronavirus becoming less popular in Victoria. A Morgan Victorian state poll (see below) gave Labor a narrow lead, but that lead was well down on the November 2018 election result. In other state polls, there was a clear surge to the incumbent government.

Australian state polls: Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania

A Victorian SMS Morgan poll, conducted September 15-17 from a sample of 1,150, gave Labor a 51.5-48.5 lead over the Coalition, a six-point gain for the Coalition since the November 2018 state election. Primary votes were 38.5% Coalition, 37% Labor and 12% Greens. Morgan’s SMS polls have been unreliable in the past.

A South Australian YouGov poll, conducted September 10-16 from a sample of 810, gave the Liberals a 53-47 lead over Labor, a six-point gain for the Liberals since March, likely due to the state’s handling of coronavirus. Primary votes were 46% Liberals (up seven), 35% Labor (down three) and 10% Greens (down one).

Liberal Premier Steven Marshall had a massive surge in net approval, to +52 from -4 in March. Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas had a +22 net approval.

A Tasmanian EMRS poll, conducted August 18-24 from a sample of 1,000, gave the Liberals 54% (up 11 since the last publicly released EMRS poll in March), Labor 24% (down ten) and the Greens 12% (steady). Liberal Premier Peter Gutwein led Opposition Leader Rebecca White by 70-23 as better premier (41-39 to White in March).

Time running out for Trump

This section is an updated version of an article I had published for The Poll Bludger last Thursday.

Six weeks before the November 3 election, FiveThirtyEight’s national aggregate gives Joe Biden a 6.8% lead over Donald Trump (50.3% to 43.5%). This is an improvement for Trump from three weeks ago, when he trailed by 8.2%. In the key states, Biden leads by 7.6% in Michigan, 6.6% in Wisconsin, 4.6% in Pennsylvania, 4.5% in Arizona and 2.0% in Florida.

In my article three weeks ago, the difference in Trump’s favour between the Electoral College tipping-point state and the national vote had widened to three points, but this difference has fallen back to about two points, with Arizona and Pennsylvania currently two points more favourable to Trump than national polls.

If Biden wins all the states carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016, plus Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona, he gets exactly 269 Electoral Votes, one short of the 270 required for a majority. Maine and Nebraska award one EV to the winner of each of their Congressional Districts, and two to the statewide winner. All other states award their EVs winner-takes-all.

Under this scenario, Biden would need one of either Nebraska’s or Maine’s second CDs for the 270 EVs required to win the Electoral College. Nebraska’s second is a more likely win for Biden as it is an urban district.

The US economy has rebounded strongly from the coronavirus nadir in April. Owing to this, the FiveThirtyEight forecast expects some narrowing as the election approaches. Every day that passes without evidence of narrowing in the tipping-point states is bad news for Trump. Biden’s chances of winning in the forecast have increased from a low of 67% on August 31 to 77% now.

While Trump has improved slightly in national polls, some state polls have been very good for Biden. Recently, Biden has had leads of 16 points in Minnesota, 21 points in Maine, 10 in Wisconsin and 10 in Arizona.

Trump’s ratings with all polls in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate are currently 43.2% approve, 52.7% disapprove (net -9.5%). With polls of likely or registered voters, his ratings are 44.0% approve, 52.8% disapprove (net -8.8%). In the last three weeks, Trump has gained about two points on net approval, continuing a recovery from July lows.

The RealClearPolitics Senate map has 47 expected Republican seats, 46 Democratic seats and seven toss-ups. If toss-ups are assigned to the current leader, Democrats lead by 51-49, unchanged from three weeks ago.

Coronavirus and the US economy

The US has just passed the grim milestone of over 200,000 deaths attributable to coronavirus. However, daily new cases have dropped into the 30,000 to 50,000 range from a peak of over 70,000 in July. Less media attention on the coronavirus crisis assists Trump.

In the US August jobs report, 1.4 million jobs were created and the unemployment rate fell 1.8% to 8.4%. The unemployment rate has greatly improved from its April high of 14.7%.

The headline jobs gained or lost are from the establishment survey, while the household survey is used for the unemployment rate. In August, the household survey numbers were much better than the establishment survey, with almost 3.8 million jobs added.

It is probably fortunate for Biden that the September jobs report, to be released in early October, will be the last voters see before the election. The October report will be released November 6, three days after the election.

I believe Trump should focus on the surging economy in the lead-up to the election, and ignore other issues like the Kenosha violence and culture war issues. Particularly given the Supreme Court vacancy, Biden should focus on Trump and Republicans’ plans to gut Obamacare.

Implications of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death

On Friday, left-wing US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. While Democrats control the House of Representatives, only the Senate gets a vote on judicial appointments, and Republicans control that chamber by 53-47.

Even if Democrats were to win control of both the Senate and presidency at the November 3 election, the Senate transition is not until January 3, with the presidential transition on January 20.

There is plenty of time for Trump to nominate a right-wing replacement for Ginsburg, and for the Senate to approve that choice. That will give conservative appointees a 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court.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’s foreign relations bill should not pass parliament. Here’s why


Melissa Conley Tyler, University of Melbourne

The Morrison government wants sweeping new powers to cancel international arrangements by universities, councils and state governments.
After announcing its intentions in August, it introduced a bill to parliament last week.

The government argues the bill is needed to “ensure a consistent and strategic approach to Australia’s international engagement”. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said Australia must “speak with one voice”.

But the bill should not pass parliament.

Not only has the government failed to identify any specific problem with the status quo, the bill rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of modern diplomacy.




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Modern diplomacy is about multiple voices

For decades, Australia has had international agreements beyond the federal level. A huge number of actors interact internationally and affect how Australia is viewed. This can’t be exclusively managed from Canberra.

Over the past year, I’ve been researching new diplomatic actors – including sister cities, think tanks, sports diplomacy, international education, student mobility and corporate diplomacy.




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Explainer: can the federal government control the ability of states to sign deals with foreign governments?


There are 87 state trade and investment offices overseas and 500 sister cities, including more than 100 with China. Each university would have hundreds of international agreements, including for students to study abroad for a semester and for research collaboration.

The proposed legislation mistakenly rests on the idea that speaking with “one voice” in foreign policy is a positive thing, when the modern idea of diplomacy emphasises broad engagement.

Australia benefits when multiple actors across society engage internationally to balance the ups and downs in official relations. As American author Parag Khanna memorably described it, “diplomacy is no longer the stiff waltz of elites but the jazzy dance of the masses”.

This bill overreaches

The legislation badly overreaches by seeking to regulate activities across education, culture, research and trade.

For example, it treats a visual artist exchange between Victoria and Jiangsu or a library agreement between the City of Sydney and Guangzhou as issues of foreign policy.

Including universities is also a step too far. It was originally thought the legislation would only cover arrangements between universities and foreign agencies, but it also covers universities that do not have institutional autonomy, which is a large number of foreign universities. This vastly increases the scope of regulation.




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Explainer: what are Confucius Institutes and do they teach Chinese propaganda?


Meanwhile, the test for vetoing a foreign arrangement is far too wide. The foreign minister can declare an arrangement invalid if it is likely to adversely affect Australia’s foreign relations (undefined) or be inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy (defined as whatever the minister says it is, whether or not written or publicly available). “Arrangements” include anything in writing, whether or not legally binding.

We don’t actually need this bill

In sounding the alarm, the government has failed to pinpoint a real problem.

For example, there is zero evidence that a non-binding, symbolic memorandum of understanding between Victoria and China on to the Belt and Road Initiative has hampered the Commonwealth in pursuing Australia’s foreign policy.




Read more:
Why is there so much furore over China’s Belt and Road Initiative?


It is important to note Australia already has the ability to protect itself, with existing laws on espionage, foreign interference and foreign investment and a University Foreign Interference Taskforce. We made it through the Cold War without needing this type of legislation.

What will happen if the bill passes?

Apart from being unnecessary over-regulation, the bill will also create problems for Australia if passed.

Firstly, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will have to divert resources to this new function when its funding is the lowest in history.

This means diplomats, who could be pro-actively working to promote the national interest, must check potentially tens of thousands of overwhelmingly non-controversial arrangements like the City of Warrnambool’s local export bureau with Changchun or the City of Darwin’s student English language competition in Haikou.

Secondly, the bill is likely to reduce international linkages due to uncertainty about what will be approved. Educational or cultural exchanges are the most at risk.

State and local governments will continue to promote trade, but they will waste time filling in the prescribed form to take, say, a delegation of Australian start-ups to pitch to investors in Nanjing.

Beyond this, the legislation sends exactly the wrong message to the wider community: to be uneasy about international engagement.

And all of this at a time of economic recession, when we need to find new avenues for growth. Sister cities have been shown to have measurable direct economic benefits, while state government export and investment promotion brings local jobs.

What could we do instead?

There are better solutions: more information-sharing between different levels of government; a one-page bill banning state governments from the Belt and Road Initiative.

Even giving the foreign affairs minister the power to request information on, and then cancel, any specific arrangement would be better than the overkill regulatory burden proposed.

And if, as many believe, the bill is directed at China, the irony is that fighting the Chinese Community Party seems to bring out the Australian government’s authoritarian tendencies.

Speaking with one state-approved voice is not what a open democracy like Australia should aim to achieve.The Conversation

Melissa Conley Tyler, Research Fellow, Asia Institute, University of Melbourne

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

View from The Hill: Barilaro keeps Nationals in the tent; koalas stay in limbo


Dean Lewins/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Several premiers presently find themselves at war with the federal government. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, by contrast, suddenly found herself locked in battle with her deputy premier, John Barilaro, and his bolshie band of Nationals.

The junior partner in the NSW coalition chose this week to pull on a stoush over a new regime the state government launched months ago to protect koalas, which have been devastated and displaced by fires and drought.

That a row over koalas could shake the Berejiklian government to its core during a pandemic is startling, at the least. The Nationals justify this by saying they’d long been told their concerns would be considered, and they hadn’t been.

They insist they’re not anti-koala — they’d like to see the population doubled, they say — but claim the new regime is too burdensome, including by extending the definition of core koala habitat and increasing the number of koala tree species.




Read more:
The NSW koala wars showed one thing: the Nationals appear ill-equipped to help rural Australia


The Nationals are under pressure from farmers and, at a political level, from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party, which is always nipping at their heels.

Within the Nationals, pressure built with first one, then two, and several more MPs in revolt — and quickly the whole party. Efforts to get a special meeting to deal with the koala issue were unsuccessful – the premier had other things on her plate.

By Thursday, the Nationals had resolved that until the koala row was addressed they’d no longer attend joint party room or parliamentary leadership meetings and would abstain from voting on government bills. (They reserved the right to support bills and motions important to regional areas.)

“This effectively puts the entire party on the crossbench,” the party said in a statement.

Barilaro insisted the Nationals could take this stand while their ministers remained in cabinet.

This would have made them sort of “virtual” crossbenchers – a very strange notion indeed under the Westminster system.

A frustrated Berejiklian issued an ultimatum. “It is not possible to be the deputy premier or a minister of the Crown and sit on the crossbench,” she said in a statement.

She said she’d told Barilaro that he and his Nationals cabinet colleagues had until 9am Friday “to indicate to me whether they wish to remain in my Cabinet or else sit on the crossbench”.

By Friday morning, Barilaro had stepped his party back from the brink. After a meeting with Berejiklian, the two leaders said in the briefest of statements the coalition remained “in place”, as did “cabinet conventions and processes”.




Read more:
Nationals have long valued stable leadership and being strong Coalition partners – this shouldn’t change now


Meanwhile, koalas were to be dealt with at a coming cabinet meeting. The extraordinary upheaval may be over for now, but it leaves scars, questions, uncertainty and tension.

Most obviously, the substantive issue is still unresolved. If the Nationals don’t get their way on changes to the koala regime, there could easily be another explosion. If they do, many Liberals will be angry.

The Nationals’ constituency will be behind the party’s stand. But for numerous Liberal supporters, compromise on as emotive an issue as koalas will be an electoral no-no.

This week’s events have again brought into question Barilaro’s judgement.

He was caught between the strong feelings within his party and the need to maintain the coalition. He laid himself open to criticism of firstly overreaching and then failing to carry through his threat.

This is against the background of his behaviour before the Eden-Monaro byelection, when he as good as said he would run for the seat and then said he wouldn’t.




Read more:
Eden-Monaro opens wounds in Nationals, with Barilaro attack on McCormack


Even some Nationals shake their heads, while the Liberals resent what Berejiklian has to put up with.

At one stage on Thursday, Barilaro asked his parliamentary party if they thought someone else would be better to lead them. The idea was dismissed. Nevertheless, the past few days have fanned doubts about his style of leadership.

Most serious in the immediate term, the trust between Berejiklian and Barilaro has been further eroded, after taking a knock from his conduct over Eden-Monaro. The NSW coalition remains intact, but no one can miss the crack that has been repaired by superglue. It is not as robust as it once was.

And Berejiklian has less patience with her volatile partner than she used to have.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.

The NSW koala wars showed one thing: the Nationals appear ill-equipped to help rural Australia



JoelCarrett/AAP

Tanya M Howard, University of New England

This morning, NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro capitulated on a threat to tear apart the state government over new koala protections. For now, the government remains intact. However the Nats’ campaign to loosen environmental protections that affect farmers will continue to destabilise the Coalition in the longer term.

The dramatic events of the past 24 hours have cast doubt on whether such a blustering, short-sighted political party has what it takes to lead rural Australia. The NSW Nationals have been entrusted with seven ministerial portfolios – from agriculture to trade and early childhood. But they were willing to throw it away over the fine print of a single planning policy.

There’s no doubt many people in the bush, including farmers, are doing it tough. And many farmers feel environmental protections are hurting their livelihood.

But it’s in everyone’s interests – including farmers’ – to ensure our environment stays healthy. And the extreme summer bushfires shone new light on how close we are to losing vulnerable species such as koalas. It’s hard to understand what the National Party thought it had to gain from this damaging display of brinkmanship.

A koala in a tree
The Nationals objected to changes to koala protections that curtail their land management.
Joel Carrett/AAP

A long history of tension

Nationals MPs had been demanding the government change a state environmental planning policy that aims to make it easier to identify and protect koala habitat. The policy changed the way koala habitat is identified by increasing the number of protected tree species from ten to 65.

Barilaro branded the change a “land lockup policy”. He described the number of protected tree species as “excessive” and said farmers would be forced to conduct time-consuming and expensive surveys before any new development or farming on their land.




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NSW Liberal Planning Minister Rob Stokes rejected Barilaro’s claims that farmers can’t build a feed shed or a driveway without a koala study, and that noxious weeds are listed as core koala habitat.

Development pressures on the NSW north coast have likely fuelled this latest stoush. There, a move to different, more lucrative crops such as blueberries and the demand by “sea-changers” for residential real estate is prompting agricultural land to be sub-divided and sold. The new koala rules might slow this down.

Murdered compliance officer Glen Turner.
Supplied by family

Land clearing policy has always been a flashpoint for conflict in regional and rural NSW. Tensions tragically came to a head in 2014 when environment compliance officer Glen Turner was murdered by a disgruntled landholder found guilty of breaking native vegetation laws. In the days afterwards, rural politicians said Turner’s death was “brought about by bad legislation” on land clearing.

Since then the NSW government has relaxed native vegetation laws. As a result, land clearing in the state has risen almost 60%, according to government data.

And in August last year the government announced it would no longer investigate or prosecute those who cleared land illegally under the old laws.

A chain used for land clearing is dragged over a pile of burning wood on a rural property.
Dan Peled/AAP

The city-bush divide

The issue of environmental protection plays into a historical city-country divide that has long been an easy wedge for rural politicians.

This tension came to the fore over the koalas issue. Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis said this week:

I was elected to Parliament to represent my community and I get really annoyed when city-centric people preach to us, especially when people in Sydney have done nothing for their koalas.

But it’s worth remembering northwest NSW has some of the highest land clearing rates in the world. It has been identified as a deforestation hotspot, on par with Brazil and the palm oil plantations of Indonesia.

And environmental degradation is not just a concern for city people. Biodiversity underpins our agricultural systems; insects, birds and soil microbes all contribute to food security and regional prosperity.

Separately and just as importantly, in all this talk of what regional communities want, the National Party is virtually silent on the views of Indigenous Australians.

A tractor plowing a field.
Biodiversity underpins farming systems.
Shutterstock

Farmers have bigger problems than koalas

Barilaro and his MPs suggested the amendment was the final “nail in the coffin” of rural and regional Australia. But the fact is, the rapidly dwindling NSW koala population already has one foot in the grave.

A recent NSW inquiry predicted the extinction of the species by 2050 unless protections and rehabilitation efforts were radically ramped up. And a World Wildlife Fund report this week found a 71% decline in koala numbers across bushfire-affected areas of northern NSW.

Koala protections are far from being the biggest threats to rural prosperity. Escalating tensions with China have led to recent bans on barley and beef. The rural community has been hit hard by the extreme drought, and there is growing discontent with the mismanagement of water in the Murray Darling Basin.




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Australia’s farmers want more climate action – and they’re starting in their own (huge) backyards


What’s more, recent expansion of gas exploration and development in the state’s northwest has left locals worried about water contamination and over-extraction.

There is no doubt life in regional and rural Australia is different to the life lived in the city. In some areas there are poor internet connections, worse roads and great distances to travel for basic health services.

But these problems, like land clearing, are complex. And it seems the NSW Nationals are ill-equipped to deal with these challenges. This week’s display suggests the party only deals in wedge politics and blunt solutions – and with that approach, we all stand to lose.The Conversation

Tanya M Howard, Senior Research Fellow, University of New England

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

Coalition and Morrison’s ratings dip in Newspoll; Trump improves in crucial battleground state polls



Lukas Coch/AAP

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll showed the Coalition and Labor in a 50-50 tie on a two-party preferred basis, a two-point gain for Labor since the previous Newspoll three weeks ago.

This is Labor’s best result in Newspoll since late April.

Primary votes were 41% Coalition (down two points), 36% Labor (up three), 11% Greens (steady) and 3% One Nation (down one). (The figures are from The Poll Bludger.)

Nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) were satisfied with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s performance (down four points) and 32% were dissatisfied (up three), for a net approval of +32, down seven points. While Morrison’s ratings are still very good by historical standards, this is his worst net-approval since early April.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese’s net approval, meanwhile, dipped one point to +2. Morrison led Albanese as better PM by 58-29% (compared to 60-25% three weeks ago).

In late July and early August, new coronavirus cases peaked in Victoria, reaching more than 700 per day. Since then, new cases have dropped back to just 73 today. While the Victorian Labor government was blamed for its initial handling of the outbreak, it is likely now receiving credit for controlling it.




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While coronavirus deaths have not slowed, the vast majority of these are connected with aged care, which is a federal government responsibility. Conservative attacks on the Victorian government also likely appear partisan to many voters, and this may have further contributed to the Coalition’s slide.

In an additional question, 80% of respondents thought premiers should have the authority to close their borders or restrict the entry of Australians who live in other states, while just 18% disagreed. Support for this was over 90% in Western Australia and South Australia.

Labor wins NT election with at least 13 of 25 seats

Analyst Kevin Bonham has followed the late vote counting after the recent Northern Territory election. Labor has now won 13 of the 25 seats, the Country Liberal Party (CLP) six and independents two, with four seats still in some doubt.

If doubtful seats are assigned to the current leader, the result would be 15 Labor (down three since the 2016 election), seven CLP (up five), two independents (down three) and one Territory Alliance.

Electoral College may save Trump

This section is an updated version of an article I had published for The Poll Bludger last week.

In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, President Donald Trump’s ratings with all polls are 42.0% approve, 54.2% disapprove (net -12.2%).

In polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s ratings are 42.9% approve, 53.4% disapprove (net -10.5%). Since my article three weeks ago, Trump’s net approval has improved about one percentage point, continuing a recovery from July lows.

Just over two months from the November 3 election, FiveThirtyEight’s national polling aggregate has Democratic challenger Joe Biden’s lead over Trump slightly increasing to a 50.4% to 42.2% margin, from a 50.0% to 42.5% margin three weeks ago.

In the key battleground states, Biden leads by 6.9% in Michigan, 5.9% in Wisconsin, 5.4% in Pennsylvania, 5.3% in Florida and 3.9% in Arizona. FiveThirtyEight adjusts state polls to the current national vote trends.




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


On current polling, Pennsylvania and Florida are the most likely “tipping-point” states — that is, these states are most likely to give Trump or Biden the magic 270 electoral votes needed to win the Electoral College and the election.

So, if Biden wins either of those states (and all the other states more favourable for him), he become president.

Trump, however, can win the election by capturing Pennsylvania, Florida and all of the more reliably Republican states.

Joe Biden still leads in crucial states like Pennsylvania and Florida, but a key election model shows his chances of winning down to 69%.
Paul Vernon/AP

The problem for Biden is the gap between his national polling advantage and his lead in those two tipping-point states has widened from three weeks ago. Biden leads Trump by 8.2% nationally, but only by 5.4% in Pennsylvania and 5.3% in Florida.

This makes the scenario where Trump loses the popular vote, but sneaks a win in the Electoral College more realistic.

In 2016, Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by 2.1%, but won the tipping-point state by just 0.8% — giving him the election.

FiveThirtyEight now has a model forecasting the presidential election result, which currently gives Biden a 69% chance to win, down from about 72-73% a week ago.




Read more:
How is the American President elected?


Biden has received virtually no bounce from the Democratic national convention two weeks ago, while Trump could get some bounce from the more elaborately staged Republican convention that concluded last week.

Why has Biden’s advantage in tipping-point states shrunk recently? One possible reason is that the Midwestern states have a higher percentage of non-university-educated whites than nationally. Trump’s general behaviour has offended better-educated voters, and they are likely to vote for Biden.

This tweet by Cook Political analyst Dave Wasserman shows whites without a university education made up over half the 2016 vote in most battleground states, but only 44% nationally.

Whites without a university education may have moved slightly back to Trump because new coronavirus cases are slowing and the economy is improving.

On the economy, there is a clear downward trend in new jobless claims since their peak in April, and also a downtrend in continuing jobless claims.

If the jobs situation continues to improve, and there is no resurgence in coronavirus cases, Trump could win another term in the same way he won his first term — by exploiting the greater share of whites without university education in the electoral battlegrounds than nationally.

In the RealClearPolitics Senate map, meanwhile, Republicans currently lead Democrats by 46 seats to 44, with ten toss-ups. If toss-ups are assigned to the current leader, Democrats lead by 51 to 49, unchanged from three weeks ago.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.

Coalition maintains Newspoll lead federally and in Queensland; Biden’s lead over Trump narrows



AAP/Lukas Coch

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s federal Newspoll, conducted August 5-8 from a sample of 1,509, gave the Coalition a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for Labor since the last Newspoll, three weeks ago. Primary votes were 43% Coalition (down one), 33% Labor (down one), 11% Greens (up one) and 4% One Nation (steady). Figures from The Poll Bludger.

68% (steady) were satisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance, and 29% (up two) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of +39, just off Morrison’s record +41 in the last two Newspolls.

Anthony Albanese’s net approval improved two points to +3. Despite these slight movements against Morrison and favouring Albanese, Morrison’s better PM lead widened to 60-25 from 59-26 three weeks ago.

So far the Victorian Labor government is taking the blame for the coronavirus crisis. Three weeks ago, Newspoll polled the ratings of NSW Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews. 57% were satisfied with Andrews and 37% were dissatisfied for a net approval of +20, down 20 points since late June. Berejiklian’s net approval also slid eight points to +34, with 64% satisfied and 30% dissatisfied.

As long as the Victorian government is blamed for the new coronavirus surge, while the federal government escapes blame, it is likely the federal Coalition will maintain its poll lead.

Rex Patrick’s resignation from Centre Alliance makes Senate easier for Coalition

On Sunday, SA Senator Rex Patrick announced he was leaving Centre Alliance and would continue in the Senate as an independent.

After the 2019 election, the Coalition held 35 of the 76 senators, Labor 26, the Greens nine, One Nation two, Centre Alliance two and Cory Bernardi and Jacqui Lambie one each. In January, Bernardi resigned from the Senate, and his seat reverted to the Liberals.

Before Patrick left Centre Alliance, the Coalition’s easiest path to the 39 votes required to pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens was to win support from One Nation and one of Centre Alliance or Lambie.

Now the Coalition has an extra option if they win One Nation’s support, needing just one out of Lambie, Patrick or Centre Alliance.

Queensland Newspoll: 51-49 to LNP

The Queensland election will be held on October 31. A Newspoll, conducted July 23-29 from a sample of 1,000, gave the LNP a 51-49 lead. Primary votes were 38% LNP, 34% Labor, 12% Greens and 11% One Nation.

This poll was branded as Newspoll, but Newspoll is conducted by YouGov. A YouGov poll in early June gave the LNP a 52-48 lead from primary votes of 38% LNP, 32% Labor, 12% Greens and 12% One Nation.

Despite the LNP lead on voting intentions, Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s ratings improved from the late June premiers’ Newspoll. 64% (up five) were satisfied with her performance, and 29% (down six) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of +35. Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington was at 34% satisfied, 42% dissatisfied. Palaszczuk led as better premier by 57-26.

Both Palaszczuk and Morrison had great results on handling coronavirus, with Palaszczuk at 81% well, 14% badly and Morrison at 80% well, 17% badly.

Biden’s lead over Trump narrows

This section is an updated version of an article I had published for The Poll Bludger last Friday.

In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Donald Trump’s ratings with all polls are 41.4% approve, 54.7% disapprove (net -13.3%). With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s ratings are 42.0% approve, 54.4% disapprove (net -12.4%). Since my article three weeks ago, Trump’s net approval has improved about two points.

Less than three months before the November 3 election, FiveThirtyEight’s national aggregate has Joe Biden’s lead narrowing to a 49.9% to 42.1% margin over Trump, from a 50.3% to 41.2% margin three weeks ago.

In the key states, Biden leads by 7.8% in Michigan, 7.3% in Wisconsin, 6.0% in Pennsylvania, 5.2% in Florida and 3.6% in Arizona.

On current polling, Pennsylvania is the tipping-point state. If Trump wins all states more favourable for him than Pennsylvania, and Biden wins Pennsylvania and other states that are better for him, Biden wins the Electoral College by 278 Electoral Votes to 260. But the issue for Biden is that Pennsylvania is currently 1.8% more pro-Trump than the national average.

Trump’s gains come despite a coronavirus death toll that has trended up to over 1,000 daily deaths on most days. There have been over 160,000 US coronavirus deaths. However, the daily new cases have dropped into the 50,000’s from a peak of over 78,000 on July 24.

I believe Trump has gained owing to memories of George Floyd’s murder fading, and thus race relations becoming less important to voters. An improving economic outlook could also explain the poll movement.

Despite the coronavirus’ effect on the US economy, Trump’s economic approval is close to a net zero rating according to the RealClearPolitics average. Analyst Nate Silver says real disposable personal income increased sharply in April, contrary to what occurs in most recessions. This increase was due to the coronavirus stimulus, and explains Trump’s better economic ratings.

In the RealClearPolitics Senate map, Republicans lead in 46 races, Democrats lead in 45 and there are nine toss-ups. If toss-up races are assigned to the current leader, Democrats lead by 51 to 49. If Trump’s numbers continue to improve, Republicans are likely to be boosted in congressional races.

Danger for Democrats in mail voting

Owing to coronavirus, much of the US election will be conducted by mail voting. Trump has been castigating mail voting, and this could depress Republican mail turnout. But there is a danger for Biden and Democrats in Trump’s attacks.

As Cook Political Report analyst Dave Wasserman says, mail votes can be rejected owing to voter error. Also, while there are some states that conduct elections mostly by mail, the US as a whole does not. This means there could be errors such as voters not being sent their ballot papers in time.

If Republicans mostly vote in person, while Democrats mostly vote by mail, it is likely to distort the election night results as mail votes usually take longer to count. Furthermore, mail errors, whether by election officials or voters, are likely to cost Democrats in close races.

If Trump could get within five points in national polls, his advantage in the Electoral College and the mail issue could see him sneak another win.

Another good US jobs report

After the terrible US April jobs report, the last three have indicated a clear recovery trend from coronavirus. In July, 1.8 million jobs were created and the unemployment rate fell 0.9% to 10.2%. The unemployment rate is still high by historical standards, but much better than the 14.7% in April.

Job gains in July slowed from 4.8 million in June and 2.7 million in May. The employment population ratio – the percentage of eligible Americans employed – increased 0.5% in July to 55.1%, but is still over 3% below the 58.2% low reached in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

NZ Labour has huge poll lead ahead of September 19 election

On July 28, I wrote for The Poll Bludger that a New Zealand Reid Research poll gave Labour a thumping 61% to 25% lead over the opposition National. A Colmar Brunton poll, released after the Poll Bludger article was published, gave Labour a 53% to 32% lead.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.

HomeBuilder only makes sense as a nod to Morrison’s home-owning voter base


Lisa Adkins, University of Sydney; Gareth Bryant, University of Sydney, and Martijn Konings, University of Sydney

HomeBuilder grants of A$25,000 are being offered to build or renovate a home as part of the Australian government’s emergency economic response to the coronavirus pandemic. Critics note that the program, framed as stimulus for residential construction, benefits already well-off households. It ignores the realities of the housing market, especially the affordability crisis, with housing stress affecting precarious renters, the homeless and those struggling with bloated mortgage payments.

Homebuilder appears to be a bewildering policy. It’s likely to support construction work that would have occurred anyway while failing to meet real housing needs.

However, to criticise HomeBuilder simply as bad policy made on the run is to miss a broader picture. HomeBuilder begins to make a lot more sense when understood as a response to the role of housing assets in shaping both economic inequality and electoral politics.




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


The rise of the ‘asset economy’

We describe this dynamic as the “asset economy”: our socio-economic positions are defined less and less by employment income and more and more by our holdings of wealth-generating assets, especially housing.

The government has touted HomeBuilder as boosting construction jobs through a “tradie-led” recovery. House-price inflation has made the economy particularly dependent on construction jobs. Construction is the third-biggest employer in Australia and the only industry outside the services sector to have had significant job growth in recent years.

However, the government could have boosted construction jobs at least as much, if not more, by investing in social housing or energy-efficient housing. Why then did it choose to make the already well-off even better off by paying owners to add value to their homes?




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


A long history of looking after home owners

It’s no coincidence that, beyond the initial emergency responses to support household and business incomes, the first substantive stimulus the Coalition government announced went to residential property owners.

The rise of the asset economy has occurred in parallel with a shift in voting patterns. The 2019 Australian Election Study observed a move “away from occupation-based voting and towards asset-based voting”. Voters who own housing – owner-occupiers and investors – strongly favour the Liberal and National parties.

Our research on the asset economy reveals the long-term drivers of Australia’s asset-based politics. HomeBuilder is the latest in a long line of Australian government policies over the past four decades to encourage, prop up and reward residential property ownership. These policies have included selling off public housing, tax incentives (especially negative gearing and capital gains tax exemption for the family home) and promoting home ownership as an alternative to welfare programs such as public pensions.




Read more:
Fall in ageing Australians’ home-ownership rates looms as seismic shock for housing policy


These policies have not simply encouraged home ownership – they have transformed it. Nowadays the home is a financial asset, an investment financed by growing debt that is supposed to generate capital gains.

Property price increases, driven by the liberalisation of credit and low interest rates, came to be seen as a key route to economic security for households in an economy with stagnant wages and precarious employment. Credit-driven home ownership expanded and property prices grew. Many property-owning households saw major gains in their wealth portfolios.




Read more:
HomeBuilder might be the most-complex least-equitable construction jobs program ever devised


Housing is now a driver of inequality

Credit-driven home purchases pushed prices to heights where it became increasingly difficult for people to enter the market. In Australia as well as in other Anglo-capitalist countries ― including the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada ― rates of home ownership show the same pattern from 1980 to 2020: increases followed by decreases.

In large cities such as Sydney and Melbourne price inflation over time has made it virtually impossible to buy a house on the basis of an average wage alone. As a result, private rental markets have expanded, rents have soared and new modes of occupancy have emerged, including multigenerational and shared living. These renters are not simply locked out of home ownership but also out of the wealth it generates.

Graph showing changes in rates of home ownership and rental by households from 1994-95 to 2017-18

Source: AIHW. Data: ABS 2019, CC BY

These trends have opened up a rift between those with and without housing assets. This entails not just major differences in levels and patterns of wealth accumulation, but also in life chances. The asset economy has fundamentally reworked the social structure, or what sociologists study as patterns of “class” or “stratification”.

This means even when people have similar jobs or earn the same wages, deep inequalities can exist between those who own assets and those who do not.

These trends are particularly notable among younger generations, giving rise to stark new forms of inequality. Those who are set to inherit housing assets or whose access to parental wealth offers a route into home ownership have a distinct advantage. They can benefit from property-based asset inflation and capital gains.




Read more:
The housing boom propelled inequality, but a coronavirus housing bust will skyrocket it


Shoring up the base in a crisis

HomeBuilder is a product of the electoral politics that emerged out of this asset economy. Asset owners vote with their feet and resist any changes that would jeopardise the long-lived advantages that asset ownership gives them. The result of the 2019 federal election, when Labor’s policy was to reduce the benefits available from negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount, showed this.

The government knows as long as it keeps in place the advantages that flow to home owners, residential property investors and the “bank of mum and dad”, they form a powerful core of the Coalition’s electoral base. It’s offering a stimulus measure directed specifically at this constituency, adding yet more value to their assets at a time of economic uncertainty. HomeBuilder is an asset owner’s policy aimed at appeasing and shoring up the Liberal-National party’s electoral base.

As home ownership rates decline and asset-based inequalities increase, just how long such tactics can produce electoral success remains a critical question.The Conversation

Lisa Adkins, Professor of Sociology and Head of School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Sydney; Gareth Bryant, Senior Lecturer in Political Economy, University of Sydney, and Martijn Konings, Professor of Political Economy and Social Theory, University of Sydney

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

Coalition’s lead increases in Newspoll; Biden maintains clear lead over Trump




Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted July 15-18 from a sample of 1,850, gave the Coalition a 53-47 lead, a two-point gain for the Coalition since the previous Newspoll, three weeks ago. This is the Coalition’s largest lead since the first Newspoll of the current parliamentary term in July 2019.

Primary votes were 44% Coalition (up two), 34% Labor (down one), 10% Greens (down one) and 4% One Nation (up one). Figures from The Poll Bludger.

Scott Morrison’s ratings were steady at 68% satisfied, 27% dissatisfied (net +41). He maintains the highest net approval for a prime minister since Kevin Rudd in October 2009. Anthony Albanese’s net approval dropped one point to +1. Morrison led Albanese as better PM by 59-26 (58-26 three weeks ago).

In the past weeks, there has been a major surge in Victorian coronavirus cases, reaching a peak so far of 428 new cases on Friday. Newspoll last polled the premiers’ ratings three weeks ago, when Victoria’s new coronavirus crisis was beginning. That poll had Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews dropping 18 points on net approval to +40.




Read more:
Labor set to win Eden-Monaro; Andrews’s ratings fall in Victoria


In an Essential poll last week, state breakdowns had the Victorian government’s response to coronavirus slumping to a net +23 from +52 in late June. As the coronavirus situation in Victoria has worsened, voters appear to be blaming the state government far more than the federal government.

I have previously written that, with Morrison’s net approval at about +40 since late April, the Coalition should have been far further ahead than the 51-49 leads they previously held. The “national cabinet”, which involved Labor premiers, held the Coalition back.

But with Andrews being blamed for Victoria’s coronavirus crisis, the Coalition has increased its lead. As long as the virus does not become more widespread across Australia, the federal Coalition is likely to perform well in the polls.

Eden-Monaro byelection final result

Labor’s Kristy McBain won the July 4 Eden-Monaro byelection by a 50.4-49.6 margin over the Liberals’ Fiona Kotvojs; this was a swing of 0.4% to the Liberals since the 2019 election. Primary votes were 38.3% Liberal (up 1.3%), 35.9% Labor (down 3.3%), 6.4% Nationals (down 0.6%), 5.7% Greens (down 3.1%), 5.3% Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, and 2.3% Help End Marijuana Prohibition.

Biden maintains clear lead over Trump

This section is an updated version of an article I had published at The Poll Bludger on Thursday.

In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Donald Trump’s ratings with all polls are 40.5% approve, 55.5% disapprove (net -15.0%). With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s ratings are 41.1% approve, 55.4% disapprove (net -14.3%). Since my article three weeks ago, Trump has lost about one point on net approval. While Trump’s approval has continued to drop, his disapproval has fallen a point from a peak ten days ago.

The latest FiveThirtyEight national poll aggregate gives Joe Biden a 50.4% to 41.6% lead over Trump. Most polls at this stage give voting intentions based on registered voters, but Republican-supporting demographics have historically been more likely to vote, hence FiveThirtyEight adjusts registered voter polls a little in Trump’s favour. Three weeks ago, Biden’s lead was 9.6%.

Where there have been few recent polls of a state, FiveThirtyEight adjusts that state’s polls for the national trend. In the key states that are likely to decide the Electoral College, Biden remains well ahead. He leads by 9.0% in Michigan, 7.7% in Pennsylvania, 7.5% in Wisconsin and 6.8% in Florida.

If Biden wins all the states carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016 (232 Electoral Votes), he needs another 38 EVs to reach the 270 needed to win. If Biden wins Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin (46 total EVs), he wins the election with at least 278 EVs.

The issue for Biden is that the tipping-point state in the Electoral College is still about 1.5% better for Trump than the national polls. In 2016, the tipping-point state was 2.9% better for Trump than the national popular vote. If Trump were able to hold Biden’s national vote margin to under five points, and make bigger gains in the Midwestern swing states, he could still win the Electoral College.

Trump’s general behaviour offends well-educated voters, and they were always likely to vote for an alternative. To compensate, Trump needed the support of voters without high educational attainment. Had the coronavirus faded well before the November 3 election, and an economic rebound was on track, such an outcome would have been plausible.

However, the last few weeks have seen records set in numbers of daily cases, then exceeded a short time later. On four days since July 10, over 70,000 new US coronavirus cases were recorded.

Despite the surge in cases, daily coronavirus deaths had generally been decreasing until about two weeks ago. But it takes time for patients to go from showing symptoms to death, and it also takes time for states to process the paperwork. US daily coronavirus deaths are rising again, with just over 1,000 recorded last Wednesday. It is likely they will increase further.

With coronavirus such a huge crisis, the candidate seen as best able to handle it is likely to win, and at the moment, that’s Biden. In a terrible Quinnipiac poll for Trump, in which he trailed Biden by 15 and had a -24 net approval, Biden led on the coronavirus by 59-35, and Trump’s net approval of handling of coronavirus was -27. By 67-30, voters said they did not trust information about the coronavirus provided by Trump, while by 65-26 they trusted information provided by Dr Anthony Fauci. Picking a fight with Fauci appears to be dumb.

As I wrote recently, the June US jobs report was good, but there’s still a long way to go to reach employment levels that would normally be considered poor. The coronavirus surge is likely to derail any economic recovery.

In the battle for the Senate, the RealClearPolitics Senate map currently shows 47 seats where Republicans are ahead, 46 with Democrats leading and 7 toss-ups.

Polish and Croatian elections

Owing to lack of elections, last Wednesday’s article about the recent Polish and Croatian elections is the first I’ve published on my personal website since February. In the Polish presidential election, the candidate aligned with the economically left but socially conservative Law and Justice party won narrowly. In Croatia, the conservatives won easily in a disappointing result for the left.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.

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.




Read more:
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.




Read more:
Nine Melbourne tower blocks put into ‘hard lockdown’ – what does it mean, and will it work?


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.