The Greens have released year-by-year costings of the budget’s income tax cuts, which the government has previously declined to produce publicly.
The estimates have been prepared by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office, at the request of the Greens. The opposition has repeatedly sought annual figures, but the government resisted the demands.
Treasurer Scott Morrison said after the budget: “It is not the practice of any government to provide itemised year by year costs over the medium term, because they’re not reliable.”
Treasury secretary John Fraser told a Senate estimates hearing: “Our confidence in specific years is not such that we feel comfortable providing those figures.”
The government initially released only the cost over the forward estimates ($13.4 billion), and a total decade-long figure (2018-19 – 2028-29) of $140 billion.
Subsequent Treasury estimates were produced for the various stages of the plan: $16 billion for first stage, rising to $102 billion when the second stage is included, with the final figure for all three stages being $144 billion.
The PBO numbers will go to the Senate Economics Legislation Committee hearing on Wednesday. Labor also asked for PBO calculations.
The Greens said the PBO costings showed that stage 2 of the plan would lose $80 billion in revenue over the next ten years while stage 3 would lose $41.6 billion.
The party called on Bill Shorten and Labor to join the Greens “in ruling out support for Turnbull’s personal income tax cuts”.
Labor has said it supports stage one, is making up its mind about stage 2, and does not like stage 3. But it has not clarified what its position would be if the government sticks to its position that it won’t split the bill.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale: “It is beyond belief that the Labor Party is even considering supporting the second stage of Turnbull’s personal income tax cuts that will turbocharge economic inequality in Australia and lead to the loss of $80 billion in revenue for our schools, hospitals and essential services.
“Nearly $40 billion of this second stage will go to the wealthiest one-third of income earners.”
Di Natale said Labor was also floating the idea of passing the whole package through the Senate. “This would see Labor also support the third stage of the plan, which is worth $41.6 billion over five years, with the amount going to the wealthiest Australians compounding by an extra billion dollars each year.
“In the final year of the Turnbull’s tax cuts, almost 70% of the entire benefits flow to people earning over $90,000,” he said.
The Greens are standing out against the bipartisan consensus that tax cuts are needed for middle and lower income earners.
They are ruling out supporting all the budget’s tax relief, and say they are also opposed to the package of larger cuts the opposition has proposed, which would be confined to people in the lower and middle income ranges.
Instead, the funds should be spent on services, the Greens say.
The Coalition tax package will be a focus of this parliamentary fortnight, which sees the House of Representatives sitting and the Senate holding estimates hearings.
The legislation will be passed in the House, while estimates will be used by the opposition to seek the annual cost in the latter years of the seven-year plan, which the government has so far declined to provide. Treasury is before the estimates hearings next week; the Prime Minister’s department is up this week.
The opposition has submitted ahead of time a list of detailed questions about the tax package to try to prevent the delay of answers by officials asking for questions to be put on notice.
Labor supports the first stage of the three-part plan, is vague about the second stage, but has expressed opposition to the third stage, which flattens the tax scale and favours high income earners.
The government says it will not split the bill. It is not clear whether the opposition would vote against the legislation if the government holds firm, or whether the government would be flexible if pushed.
The shadow cabinet meets on Monday night, when the legislation is set to be discussed.
Labor’s alternative tax cuts, announced in Bill Shorten’s budget reply, would be confined to those on incomes up to about $125,000.
While the immediate concentration is on the future of the government’s legislation, the uncertainty of a post-election Senate also raises the issue for Labor of whether an ALP government could get its legislation through.
The Greens said in a statement that the government’s proposed income tax cuts were just a bribe to get the massive company tax cuts passed. People on the minimum wage wouldn’t even see $4 a week, while the wealthiest would benefit the most.
“Both parties’ plans will worsen inequality, and see us lose vital revenue for the essential services people rely upon,” the Greens said.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale said with inequality rising, reinvestment in public services should be the priority.
“For years, politicians have been telling Australians that the budget doesn’t have money to properly fund our public schools, build a world-class NBN, or take action on climate change,” Di Natale said.
“Yet when an election is rolling around both old parties are giving away cheques like a breakfast TV show trying to increase their ratings.”
“This reckless tax auction is nothing more than a distraction from the millions of dollars stripped from our schools, hospitals and social safety net over the past decade.
“While Turnbull is busy squabbling with Labor over how much they want to rip out of Australia’s institutions, the Greens are proud to stand up for Medicare, our public schools and hospitals and the environment”.
The Greens tax policy, released on Wednesday, would hit high income earners and target corporate tax avoidance.
The Greens plan would bring in “a Buffett rule” to ensure higher income earners paid their fair share of tax by limiting deductions made by those earning more than A$300,000.
“This will force high income earners to pay a minimum rate of tax and stop those on high incomes from deducting their taxable income to zero,” the policy says. The move would raise $9.5 billion over the forward estimates.
A Buffett rule – that would put a floor under the tax the very wealthy had to pay – has support within the left of Labor but is not ALP policy. It has been opposed by opposition leader Bill Shorten and shadow treasurer Chris Bowen but may be raised by the left at the July ALP national conference.
In the Greens policy, another $14.3 billion would come from targeting property investors, with the capital gains tax discount phased out over five years, and negative gearing scrapped for future purchases and phased out for multiple properties.
Trusts would be taxed as large corporations, at a 30% rate, raising $3.8 billion over the forward estimates.
The policy says: “Despite what the Liberals say, Australia is a low taxing nation. It is the 8th lowest-taxed among the 35 OECD nations. Australia’s combined tax-to-GDP ratio is 28.2% for all levels of government in 2015. The OECD average is 34%.
“If Australia collected the same amount of tax as the average OECD nation then we would need to collect an additional $94 billion per year”.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale said that Australia had a “tax avoidance system” rather than a “tax system”.
“Big corporations and the super-rich have rigged the rules for themselves, and the old parties are too frightened to do anything about it.
“Big corporate donations, vested interests and the revolving door between parliament and big business has made it so that the wealthier corporations and individuals get richer and richer, while inequality just gets worse”.
The Greens oppose the corporate tax cuts and advocate changes to the petroleum resource rent tax, ending fossil fuel subsidies, mainly paid to multinational mining companies, and the introduction of a mining super profits tax at a rate of 40%.
They put forward measures to target corporate tax avoidance, saying it is estimated corporations avoid about $8 billion of tax a year.
On “Super Saturday”, Bill Shorten dodged a political bullet, while Nick Xenophon took one. South Australian Liberal leader Steven Marshall got the result he should have secured four years ago. The Greens proved the old maxim that disunity is death.
The Batman byelection and the poll in South Australia threw up all sorts of interesting points – even though in other circumstances, contests in a heartland Labor seat and a state with a 16-year-old government might have been routine.
For Shorten, avoiding defeat in Batman was vital – for Labor’s current momentum, for confidence in his leadership and, given his gamble of announcing his latest tax move in the campaign’s last week, for holding the line on a controversial policy.
Many things contributed to Labor’s win, but if you were looking for one, I suspect it might have been that Ged Kearney wasn’t David Feeney. Kearney was the sort of candidate who encouraged Labor voters to be faithful, and not run away in fury.
As for the tax announcement, election watcher Tim Colebatch notes that the pro-Labor swing in the postals and pre-poll votes was much bigger than in the polling booths on the day, and suggests this may show the impact of Shorten unveiling his plan to scrap cash refunds for excess dividend imputation credits.
That the announcement didn’t stymie Labor in the byelection doesn’t mean Shorten has won the argument more widely. Labor will have much explaining to do in this complicated area. But if it had seriously backfired in Batman, that would have given ammunition to the Coalition and caused tensions in the opposition.
Labor was helped in the byelection by the Greens’ internal backbiting. The Greens’ failure to capitalise on a great chance reflects badly on their locals and on leader Richard Di Natale.
The party has deeper problems than its schisms in Batman. It lost a seat in the recent election in Tasmania, its heartland. Nationally, the citizenship crisis has taken its toll, costing it a couple of its strongest Senate performers in Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters. Batman suggests it may have stalled in its push for inner-city federal seats. The next federal election sees the Greens particularly exposed because of the number of senators the party has going out.
The South Australian result has presented something of a reality check on perceptions of the potency of so-called “insurgencies”. This is the third recent state poll in which a major party has won a majority. Late last year in Queensland, Labor secured a second term, as did the Liberals in Tasmania earlier this month.
In Tasmania, the Jacqui Lambie Network got nowhere. In Queensland, One Nation won votes but only one seat. And in South Australia, Xenophon’s SA-Best crashed after initial too-good-to-be-true polls, with Xenophon failing to win the seat he was seeking and SA-Best expected to have no lower house representation.
At state level, even when such parties achieve a respectable vote (SA-Best received about 14% of the statewide vote, as did One Nation in the Queensland election), the electoral system makes it hard for them to translate that into lower house seats.
Federally, the Senate’s proportional representation voting system has given small players a relatively easy passage to a very powerful place, although changes to the electoral arrangements will make that more difficult in future.
The “disruptors” are important, because the support they attract is a measure of the disillusionment and fragmentation in the contemporary political system. But South Australia reinforces the point that the major parties are still strong. For quite a few voters, the choice is between duelling desires – between sending an angry message or opting for stability.
Outgoing premier Jay Weatherill, gracious in defeat on Saturday night, didn’t look all that upset. Labor’s bidding for a fifth term in this day and age was an almost impossible ask; anyway, Labor won last time with only about 47% of the two-party vote, so it has been on borrowed time.
The huge loser in South Australia was Xenophon. In politics, as in business, you can be too greedy. Xenophon led a three-person Senate block that had a decisive share of the balance of power. It was capable of exerting much influence, and winning concessions in negotiating legislation. Then he decided he wanted to be kingmaker in South Australia – while still aspiring to be the absent master in Canberra.
His party is likely to end up with just a couple of upper house seats in South Australia. Meanwhile, the federal Senate team has been hit by the citizenship crisis as well as weakened by Xenophon’s departure.
Due to a fight with the party, Tim Storer, a replacement for Skye Kakoschke-Moore, a casualty of the citizenship debacle, will be sworn into the Senate on Monday as an independent. The Nick Xenophon Team has been reduced to two senators (and Rebekha Sharkie in the lower house, who could face a byelection in the citizenship saga).
Xenophon is in neither parliament, and the road ahead for his party is rocky. He now talks about SA-Best as a “start-up party” to gloss over its bad result, but it’s hard to see it as a “start-up” with an enduring future. Xenophon dismisses the prospect of a return to the Senate, but it remains to be seen whether his feet will become itchy.
Federal factors were not significant in the change in South Australia. But the outcome has positive implications for Malcolm Turnbull’s government. One of the big arguments between the federal and Weatherill governments was over energy policy, with Weatherill holding out against Canberra’s National Energy Guarantee (NEG). On Sunday, the federal government was welcoming the South Australian result as very good for the future of the NEG.
Another Liberal win at state level, coming after Tasmania, will also be a morale boost, albeit a limited one, for the embattled federal Liberals.
So, Super Saturday had positive spin-offs for both federal leaders, but substantially more for Shorten than Turnbull.
With 66% of enrolled voters counted in Saturday’s South Australian election, the ABC is calling 24 of the 47 lower house seats for the Liberals, 18 for Labor and three independents. Two seats – Adelaide and Mawson – are in doubt. Pre-poll, postal and absent votes will not start to be counted until Tuesday.
While the Liberals won the election, the biggest losers were Nick Xenophon and his SA-BEST party. SA-BEST does not appear to have won a single lower house seat, while the Liberals crushed Xenophon in Hartley 58.6-41.4. When preferences are distributed, Labor could eliminate Xenophon from the final two candidates on Greens’ preferences.
Statewide primary votes were 37.4% Liberals (down 7.4% since the 2014 election), 33.9% Labor (down 1.9%), 13.7% SA-BEST, 6.6% Greens (down 2.1%) and 3.1% Australian Conservatives (down 3.0% from Family First’s 2014 vote). When counting is complete, I would expect Labor to fall somewhat, with the Liberals and Greens gaining.
Family First merged into the Conservatives last year, but this was not successful in South Australia. In my opinion, Family First had a catchier name than the Australian Conservatives.
In an October-to-December Newspoll, SA-BEST had 32% of the South Australian primary vote, and it was plausible that Xenophon could be the next premier. In the lead-up to the election, Xenophon was attacked by all sides. I believe the biggest reason for Xenophon’s flop was that he lacked a clear agenda to distinguish his party from the major parties.
Labor had governed South Australia for 16 years, and the “it’s time” factor appears to have contributed to the result. But this election was not the disaster Labor suffered after 14 to 16 years in power in Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania at elections between 2011 and 2014.
According to the Poll Bludger, Labor achieved about a two-point swing in its favour in two-party terms from the 2014 election, but it needed a three-point swing to win after a hostile redistribution. In 2014, Labor clung to power, despite losing the two-party vote 53.0-47.0.
In the upper house, half of the 22 members were up for election using statewide proportional representation. With 11 to be elected, a quota is one-twelfth of the vote, or 8.3%. Currently, the Liberals have 3.78 quotas, Labor 3.56, SA-BEST 2.27, the Greens 0.72 and the Conservatives 0.42.
Optional above-the-line preferential voting was used at this election. The Liberals will win four seats, Labor three, SA-BEST two and the Greens one. Labor is currently well ahead of the Conservatives in the race for the last seat, but Labor’s vote will probably drop after election day. However, preferences from Dignity, Animal Justice and SA-BEST should help Labor against the Conservatives, with only Liberal Democrats’ preferences likely to flow the other way.
If Labor wins a fourth upper house seat, SA-BEST’s two seats would come at the expense of Dignity and the Conservatives. The overall upper house would then be eight Liberals, eight Labor, two Greens, two SA-BEST, one Advance SA (formerly SA-BEST) and one Conservative. The Liberals would need all of SA-BEST, Advance SA and Conservative to pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens.
The final polls for the South Australian election, from Newspoll and ReachTEL, gave the Liberals 34%, Labor 31% and SA-BEST 16-17%. The major parties, particularly the Liberals, performed better than expected, while SA-BEST performed worse.
Labor defeats the Greens 54.1-45.9 at the Batman byelection
With 74.5% of enrolled voters counted at Saturday’s Batman byelection, Labor’s Ged Kearney defeated the Greens’ Alex Bhathal by a 54.1-45.9 margin, a 3.1% swing to Labor since the 2016 election. Primary votes were 42.7% Kearney (up 7.4%), 40.3% Bhathal (up 4.1%), 6.4% Conservatives and 2.9% Animal Justice. The Liberals won 19.9% at the 2016 election, but did not contest the byelection.
In the Northcote West booth, Labor and the Greens’ two-party results are the wrong way round. The correction of this error will push Labor’s overall margin down to 53.8-46.2, but postals counted so far have strongly favoured Labor.
At byelections, there are no Greens-favouring absent votes, so Labor’s lead is likely to increase as more postals are counted.
Labor received large swings in its favour in the southern part of Batman, the more Greens-favouring part. Kearney was a far better fit for this part of the electorate than the right-aligned David Feeney. It is also possible there was a backlash against the Greens for courting Liberal votes over opposition to Labor’s plan to alter the tax treatment of franking credits.
For Bill Shorten and federal Labor, the Batman result will be a huge relief. If Labor had lost Batman, the media would have seen it as a backlash against Labor’s tax plan.
While Labor lost the South Australian election, it was not a disaster. Federal parties generally do better in states where the opposite party is in power, so Labor could do very well in South Australia at the next federal election.
Labor has held the Victorian seat of Batman, with the ALP’s Ged Kearney leading the Greens’ Alex Bhathal 52-48% on the two-party vote with almost two-thirds of the votes counted.
Hanging onto the seat, which is in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, is a big relief for Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, especially given his risky move of announcing in the last week of the byelection campaign his plan to scrap cash refunds for excess dividend imputation credits.
Shorten told jubilant Labor supporters: “Labor is back in Batman. From the bookmakers to the commentators – they wrote Labor off in Batman and you have proved them wrong.”
Kearney said: “This is a victory for true Labor values”, and “Labor is on its way to a Shorten government”.
Both Shorten and Kearney said they had heard the messages from the electorate.
The Batman result came as in the South Australian election, the Liberals won a majority in their own right, defeating the Labor government, which had held office for 16 years. The much-vaunted bid by former senator Nick Xenophon to gain the balance of power for his SA-Best party proved a fizzer.
As the campaign wound up, Labor robocalled voters in Batman to stress that most of those affected by the proposed tax change would be people on high incomes. The byelection result will to some extent be a counter to government’s fierce criticism of the policy.
The failure to wrest Batman is a big setback for the Greens, who were buoyed last year by their victory in the state electorate of Northcote, which is within the federal seat.
On the figures late on Saturday night, there was a two-party swing of more than 1% to Labor from the last election.
Kearney had more than 42% of the primary vote, while Bhathal was on a primary vote of about 41%. There were ten candidates in the field but the Liberals did not run.
The Greens nearly took Batman in 2016 from the ALP’s David Feeney, a right-winger who was very unpopular in the electorate and had a bad campaign. The byelection was caused by Feeney’s resignation in the citizenship crisis.
Kearney, former president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and from the left, was generally regarded as a very good candidate who was an appropriate fit for what is seen as a “progressive” seat. In the electorate during voting on Saturday, Shorten said Kearney “has done wonders to lift confidence in Labor in this electorate”.
Conceding defeat, Bhathal said: “I’ve always said regardless of the result we would have a strong woman member from a caring profession”.
Bhathal was making her sixth tilt at the seat, which had been moving toward the Greens previously, as its southern part gentrified. But the Greens campaign was marred by bitter internal controversy over Bhathal’s candidacy, with Greens dissidents lodging a formal protest about her, accusing her of bullying.
The Greens campaigned strongly on the proposed Queensland Adani mine, an issue Shorten struggled with as he sought to stop votes haemorrhaging to the Greens.
In an era of single-term governments and growing electoral volatility in Australia, the return of Will Hodgman’s Liberal government at Saturday’s Tasmanian election with more than 50% of the primary vote is significant – and will have national implications.
The Turnbull government will take comfort from a result that demonstrates voters – even in left-leaning Tasmania – are prepared to re-elect a competent Liberal government that has delivered strong economic and employment growth.
It was a strong result for the Liberals. However, the outcome was shaped as much by Tasmania’s distinctive political practices and local issues as it was by national trends.
Pokies, housing, hospitals, and – at the 11th hour – watering down gun laws might have been the specific issues that dominated the campaign, but the decisive factor was Tasmanians’ enduring apprehension about minority government.
The legacies of Labor-Green minority government of the early 1990s and between 2010 and 2014 cast a long shadow during the 2018 campaign. Both periods are associated with economic decline, rising unemployment, and budget cuts.
While there is little evidence to suggest minority government has been a cause of poor economic outcomes in Tasmania – it is more that these governments were unlucky and found themselves in charge after national downturns – the fact remains that Tasmanians have a strong preference for majority government.
Given this history, undecided Tasmanian voters tend to back the major party that’s most likely to form majority government. This was evident in both 2006 and 2014, and was always going to be a feature of the 2018 campaign given memories of the 2012-13 recession in Tasmania are still fresh in voters’ minds. And the Liberal government, which was elected in 2014, has delivered strong economic growth.
It is this bandwagon effect that helps explain why support for the government increased by ten points over the course of the campaign, rather than going to minor parties – as has been the case elsewhere.
The final result was an emphatic win for Hodgman. But it is also fair to say he lost a bit of skin along the way, due to the Liberals’ big-budget, brutally effective advertising campaign seeming to have been funded by gaming interests.
The reality is that Tasmania remains deeply divided on pokies and the means the gaming industry uses to protect its interests.
Tasmanians voted for political and economic stability on Saturday, but an overwhelming majority support Labor’s policy of phasing pokies out of pubs and clubs over a five-year period.
The pokies debate is far from over. Hodgman must commit to open and transparent government, and subject his gaming policies to full parliamentary scrutiny in an attempt to regain the electorate’s trust. Opposition parties also have a role to play, and must be willing to compromise to find some middle ground.
The election’s losers
The result wasn’t a disaster for Labor.
Rebecca White, after securing the Labor leadership only a year ago, performed strongly during the campaign and has consolidated her credentials as a future premier. That she will be leading a stronger opposition bolstered by handful of up-and-coming new MPs also bodes well for Labor’s future.
The real losers in the election were the Greens and Jacqui Lambie.
In contrast to their success in inner-Melbourne and Sydney, the Greens have been struggling in Tasmania in recent years. The explanation for their decline in their former heartland can be attributed to the legacies of the last government, the absence of a high-profile local environmental issue, and that Labor, under White, has championed many of their core progressive causes.
Lambie and her party could have been the wildcard of this election, but she has had a tough summer and will have to fight hard to salvage her political career. Had Lambie herself run as a candidate on Saturday, it’s likely she would have been elected – and could have held the balance of power in the lower house.
Strangely, given that personalities and name recognition are so important in Tasmanian elections, she ran a ticket of grassroots candidates under her Jacqui Lambie Network banner that, as expected, failed to secure any serious support.
Lessons for the future
As the dust settles, we can draw a few conclusions from the Tasmanian election result.
Above all else, Tasmanians are a pragmatic bunch and are prepared to reward a government that delivers political stability and good economic outcomes.
The campaign also highlighted the power of sectional interests – be they mining, gaming or other actors – in Australian politics. The collective health of our democracy depends on curbing the influence of these groups at both the state and federal level.
Given the distinctive dynamics of Tasmanian politics, not too much can be read into the swing away from minor and protest parties and back to the majors. Perhaps the real test of the national political mood will come in South Australia on Saturday week.
With 84% of votes counted at Saturday’s Tasmanian election, the ABC is calling 13 of the 25 seats (a majority) for the Liberals, eight for Labor, and one Green, with three in doubt.
Labor is very likely to win the final seat in Braddon, while the final seat in Bass is a Labor/Greens contest, and the final seat in Franklin is a Liberal/Greens contest.
Vote shares were 50.5% Liberals (down just 0.8% since the 2014 landslide), 32.8% Labor (up 5.4%), 10.0% Greens (down 3.8%), and 3.2% Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN) – which only contested three of the five electorates.
Tasmania uses the Hare Clark system for its lower house elections, with five five-member electorates. A quota is one-sixth of the vote, or 16.7%. For a vote to be formal, at least five candidates must be numbered. Unlike the federal Senate, there is no above-the-line party ticket box.
I will run through each electorate’s results from easiest to most complicated.
In Denison, Labor won 2.55 quotas, the Liberals 2.26, and the Greens 1.03. This is a clear two Labor, two Liberals, one Green result, unchanged from 2014.
In Lyons, the Liberals won 3.05 quotas, Labor 1.99, the Greens 0.38, and the JLN 0.32. This is a clear three Liberals, two Labor result, unchanged from 2014.
In Braddon, the Liberals won 3.38 quotas, Labor 1.64, the JLN 0.36, ungrouped candidates 0.26, and the Greens 0.20. Labor is well ahead of everyone else in the race for the last seat, and will benefit from Greens preferences. This will be a Labor gain from the Liberals.
In Bass, the Liberals won 3.53 quotas, Labor 1.59, the Greens 0.54, and the JLN 0.28. Labor is more exposed to within-ticket leakage than the Greens, but is likely to be helped by JLN preferences that do not exhaust.
There will be a crunch point where one candidate from the Liberals, Greens and Labor is left. If the Liberals are third at that point, their preferences probably exhaust. If either Labor or the Greens are third, their preferences should benefit the other left-wing candidate.
In Franklin, the Liberals won 2.91 quotas, Labor 2.07, the Greens 0.86, and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers 0.16. Premier Will Hodgman won 2.30 quotas, and some of his surplus will leak out of the Liberal ticket. However, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers ran just one candidate, so four further preferences were required for formal votes. These preferences are likely to assist the Liberals against the Greens.
Labor has gained a seat in Franklin at the expense of the loser of the Liberals/Greens contest.
I believe preferences will start to be distributed following the last day for receipt of postal votes, on March 13.
Why this result occurred
In December, an EMRS poll had the Liberals and Labor tied at 34%, the Greens on 17%, and the JLN on 8%. In the three months since that poll was taken, the Liberals went from a losing position to an emphatic victory – a bitterly disappointing outcome for Labor and the Greens.
EMRS does not usually provide favourable ratings for the leaders, but it did in its December poll. It found Labor leader Rebecca White at a net +40, and Hodgman at a net +13 rating.
There have been two recent state elections with first-term Coalition governments that won landslides at the preceding election, ending at least 14 years of continuous Labor government.
At the Queensland 2015 election, the Liberal National Party under Campbell Newman was defeated; Newman was very unpopular.
At the New South Wales 2015 election, the Coalition was comfortably re-elected; Premier Mike Baird was popular at the time.
Tasmania has now followed the NSW example. Labor was crushed in 2014 after 16 consecutive years in power, and the Liberals easily won Saturday’s election.
In Tasmania, White’s initial popularity may have inflated Labor’s position in the polls. However, people generally do not vote a certain way because they like the opposition leader; the premier’s performance is far more important. But popular opposition leaders can inflate their party’s vote until close to an election.
At the 2017 Western Australian election, which Labor won in a landslide, Opposition Leader Mark McGowan was popular, but Premier Colin Barnett was very unpopular. The perception of Barnett was probably far more important than that of McGowan.
The Tasmanian Liberals also benefited from anti-Greens sentiment. In the final week, ReachTEL gave the Liberals a 46-31 lead over Labor, and EMRS gave them a 46-34 lead. These polls may have pushed undecided voters into voting Liberal to ensure a majority government, and so they understated the Liberal vote.
It appears that, four years after one term of Labor/Greens minority government, Tasmanians do not want to return to the Greens holding the balance of power. In 2006, Labor easily won an election that was expected to be close because of the Greens factor.
Tasmanian analyst Kevin Bonham has written about why Labor’s anti-pokies policy was not a major vote winner.
On Friday, the last day of campaigning, the Liberals were embarrassed when it was revealed they had a policy to relax gun laws that had been hidden from the public. There have been other recent cases where issues that would be expected to have a last-minute impact on an election have fizzled. If the Liberals defeat the Greens on Shooters, Fishers and Farmers preferences in Franklin, the net impact will be positive for the Liberals.
At the 2016 federal election, Tasmania was easily Labor’s best state. On Saturday, Labor had its worst result in a state election since the 2014 Tasmanian election – federal and state results do not necessarily agree. A Liberal state government will probably help federal Labor retain its four Tasmanian federal seats.
The Greens’ pitch to voters at Saturday’s Tasmanian state election is not being couched in policy terms alone. It is also based on a vision of a more desirable governing context for Tasmania. But is minority government good for the Greens?
The likelihood of minority government
There is a high probability that the Greens will get their wish and a minority government will be returned at this election.
Tasmania elects its lower house using a form of proportional representation known as the Hare-Clark system, where parties are awarded seats roughly in accordance with their levels of support within the electorate. Unless a party can win an overall majority of votes, it will not attain the necessary majority of seats to form a government in its own right.
In recent decades, the two major parties have struggled to secure governing majorities. In the eight Tasmanian elections since 1989, majority governments have been elected on only five occasions.
There is general agreement among commentators that a majority government at this election is far from certain. The Liberal Party attained 51.22% of the vote in 2014, and lead Labor in most polls. However, according to analysis by Ben Raue, the Liberals polled above 40% in just one of five polls held in the last year. If these figures are translated into actual votes, minority government is inevitable.
One might think that the possibility of minority government would render the major parties open to working with the Greens to form government. Yet the incumbent premier, Will Hodgman, has already declared that the Liberals “will govern alone or not at all”.
Likewise, Labor leader Rebecca White has also confirmed that her party “will not govern in minority”.
Much of this talk should be taken seriously but not literally. The major parties will be under pressure to negotiate an agreement of some description in the likely event of a hung parliament.
Any party that seeks to govern without the support of opposition forces will be perpetually at risk of defeat on the floor of the lower house. This reality is likely to weaken the resolve of even the most stubborn party leader – even more so once Governor Kate Warner makes the necessary entreaties.
However, it is not certain that the Greens will be the only parliamentary grouping in the mix to form a minority government. The most recent polling data (based on a MediaReach internal poll commissioned by the Liberal Party) has the Greens’ statewide primary vote at under 13%, which may not prove sufficient to secure the all-important “hinge seat” in each of the five multi-member electorates.
One of the particular challenges the Greens are confronting in 2018 is Labor’s capacity to outmanoeuvre them. As psephologist Kevin Bonham has observed, the Greens are being squeezed by the appeal of Labor’s “left-wing leader”.
Labor has also stolen the Greens’ thunder on the pokies issue, and its energy policy – complete with 120% renewable energy target – is likely to find favour with environmentally concerned voters.
Adding to the uncertainty is the prospect – albeit faint given recent polling – of the Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN) electing one, possibly two candidates. The JLN might make more attractive legislative partners for the major parties than the Greens.
Is minority government good for the Greens?
There is a deeper question that the Greens must ask: whether it is prudent for them to enter into any kind of formal arrangement with either major party.
There are advantages in the short term, such as policy concessions and even the possibility of executive office. But the longer-term consequences are far less clear.
The Tasmanian Greens suffered swings against them following the three previous occasions that they entered into some form of agreement to support a minority government: -3.9% in 1992, -2.1% in 1996, and -7.8% in 2014.
Though there were unique circumstances surrounding each of these agreements, it is unclear if the benefits outweigh the costs for the Greens. One international study concluded that participation in government “is not necessarily bad for Green parties”, which falls well short of a ringing endorsement.
If, following this election, the Greens are needed to form a stable government, then the party will have to think strategically about the terms on which it does so. Is participation in executive office a higher prize than consistency of electoral performance?
If the Greens value the former, then securing a formal agreement is the best way forward. But if they value the latter, then a “confidence-and-supply agreement” is their best option. This would allow the Greens to demand additional parliamentary resources and to shape the fate of legislation, without having to shoulder responsibility for government failures at a critical time in the party’s development.
The Tasmanian election will be held on Saturday. A ReachTEL poll, conducted for The Mercury on February 22 from a large sample of more than 3,100, gave the Liberals 46.4% of the vote, Labor 31.1%, the Greens 12.1%, the Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN) 5.2%, others 2.0%, and 3.3% were undecided.
When undecideds are excluded, the Liberals have 48.0%, Labor 32.2%, the Greens 12.5%, and JLN 5.4%.
Tasmania uses the Hare-Clark system, with five five-member electorates. A quota is one-sixth of the vote, or 16.7%. Sample sizes for each electorate in ReachTEL were 620-650. The Liberals had well over 50% in Bass and Braddon, and 49.6% in Lyons, implying they would win three of the five seats in each.
In Franklin, the Liberals had 42.6%, easily enough for two seats. In Denison, the Liberals had 33.8%, just enough for two seats.
On the stated figures, the most likely overall seat outcome is 13 or 14 Liberals out of 25, eight-to-ten Labor, and two or three Greens. So, the Liberals should win a majority.
Like other Tasmanian polls, ReachTEL has in the past skewed to the Greens and against Labor. At the last two federal elections, ReachTEL skewed to the Liberals in Tasmania, though it skewed against the Liberals at the 2014 state election.
Adjusting for ReachTEL’s skew, Tasmanian analyst Kevin Bonham thinks the most likely outcome is 13 Liberals, ten Labor, and two Greens. The next two most likely outcomes are 13 Liberals, 11 Labor, one Green; and 12 Liberals, 11 Labor, two Greens.
I do not think opposition to Labor’s anti-pokies policy caused the swing to the Liberals during the campaign. The most important factor was probably that many Tasmanians detest the Greens, and will vote for the major party most likely to win a majority. In 2006, Labor easily won an election that had appeared likely to result in a hung parliament.
The Greens’ vote of 12.5% in this poll is below the 13.7% they won at the 2014 election, and it could be lower given ReachTEL’s pro-Greens skew. It is likely the Greens are doing badly because Labor, under Rebecca White’s leadership, has become more left-wing, so the Greens are having trouble differentiating themselves from Labor.
Incumbent Will Hodgman led White by 51.8-48.2 on ReachTEL’s forced choice better premier question. Labor’s pokies policy was supported against the Liberals’ policy by a 57-43 margin.
ReachTEL 54-46 to federal Labor
A Sky News ReachTEL, conducted February 22 – the day before Barnaby Joyce resigned – had federal Labor leading by 54-46, a two-point gain for Labor since late January. Primary votes were 37% Labor (up one), 33% Coalition (down one), 11% Greens (up one), and 7% One Nation (down one). The remaining 12% probably included some undecided voters.
ReachTEL is using respondent-allocated preferences, which have been better for the Coalition than previous election preferences, as One Nation preferences are flowing to the Coalition at a greater rate than the 50-50 flow at the 2016 election. By last election preferences, Bonham calculates this poll was about 55.5-44.5 to Labor. This makes it one of the worst polls for the Coalition this term.
Despite the blowout in the Labor margin, Malcolm Turnbull continued to lead Bill Shorten by 53-47 in ReachTEL’s forced choice better prime minister question (54-46 in January). Although the Joyce affair appears to have damaged the Coalition, Turnbull is not being blamed.
Last week’s Newspoll, conducted February 15-18 from a sample of 1,630, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a one-point gain for Labor. Primary votes were 37% Labor (steady), 36% Coalition (down two), 10% Greens (steady), and 8% One Nation (up three). This was Turnbull’s 27th successive Newspoll loss, three short of Tony Abbott.
The overall Labor/Green vote in this Newspoll was 47%; the left vote has been stuck at 47% in Newspoll since August. Despite the Joyce affair, the overall Coalition/One Nation vote was up one point to 44%.
Turnbull’s ratings were 34% satisfied, 54% dissatisfied (37-50 previously). Shorten’s ratings were the same as Turnbull’s, and Turnbull led Shorten 40-33 as better prime minister (45-31 previously).
A total of 65% thought Joyce should resign as deputy prime minister, while only 23% thought he should stay. By 64-25, voters supported a ban on politicians having sexual relations with their staff. By 57-32, voters supported Shorten’s policy to give Indigenous people a voice to federal parliament.
As long as Republicans hold Congress, no chance of real US gun control
After the recent Florida high school gun massacre, there has been a renewed push for US gun control. However, as I wrote following the Las Vegas massacre in October, meaningful gun control will not happen under Donald Trump and the current Republican-controlled Congress.
The Florida state legislature, which Republicans control 76-40, defeated a motion to debate a ban on assault weapons by 71-36, even as students from the affected school looked on. Instead, it passed a motion declaring pornography a public health risk.
Trump’s ratings are currently 39.1% approve, 55.6% disapprove, in the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate. Before the gun massacre, Trump’s approval had risen to 41.5% owing to perceptions of an improving US economy; for several weeks, Trump’s approval was at least 40%.
Democrats lead by 47.0-38.8 in the race for Congress. Before the massacre, the Democrats’ lead had fallen to 6.4 points. All 435 US House of Representatives seats will be up for election in November, and also one-third of the 100 senators. Democrats probably need a mid-to-high single-digit popular vote margin to win control of the House of Representatives.
The Italian election will be held on March 4. 37% of both chambers of the Italian parliament will be elected by first past the post, and the remainder by proportional representation.
Italy imposes a blackout on polling during the final two weeks of election campaigns. The last polls were published on or before February 16.
In the final pre-blackout polls, the centre-right coalition was in the high 30s, with the centre-left coalition and the populist left Five Star Movement trailing with about 27% each. A left-wing breakaway from the centre-left had about 6%.
Even though the overall left vote is about 60%, the right could win a majority owing to the first-past-the-post seats.
The centre-right coalition includes former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s old party (Forza Italia). Although Berlusconi is banned from contesting elections, he could be the power behind the throne if his coalition wins a majority in both chambers.