John Alexander easily retains Bennelong, and how the LNP saved Labor’s Jackie Trad in Queensland



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The Bennelong byelection result will boost Malcolm Turnbull’s standing in the Coalition.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

Liberal John Alexander defeated Labor’s Kristina Keneally in the Bennelong byelection by a 54.2-45.8 margin, a swing to Labor of 5.6 points since the 2016 election. Primary votes were 44.1% Alexander (down 6.3), 36.3% Keneally (up 7.8), 6.9% Greens (down 2.2), 4.5% for the Australian Conservatives, and 3.2% Christian Democrats (down 3.2).

Up to 16,000 postals are still to be counted, and these will further increase Alexander’s vote, probably pushing his lead out to 55-45.

The easy win for Alexander restores the Coalition’s 76 seats in the lower house, returning it to a two-seat majority (76 Coalition vs 74 for all others).

In Bennelong, Newspoll and Galaxy had Alexander respectively at 50% and 51% two-party-preferred in polls conducted in the final week, while ReachTEL gave Alexander a 53-47 lead. In this case, ReachTEL was better than Newspoll and Galaxy.

Before the byelection, I said that, given the inaccuracy of seat polls, Labor could win, or there could be a thumping Liberal victory. Unlike the Alabama Senate byelection, this time the vote of the right-wing candidate was understated.

In New England, there was a large swing to Barnaby Joyce following a Section 44 disqualification, so Labor’s consolation in Bennelong is that it received a swing that would have easily won it a general election. Nevertheless, given the polling that suggested a close contest, this is a disappointing result for Labor, and will boost Malcolm Turnbull’s standing within the Coalition.

At the 2016 election, the Christian Democrats won 6.4%, so the overall vote for the Christian right (Australian Conservatives and Christian Democrats) was 7.7%, up 1.3 points.

Bennelong voted marginally against same-sex marriage (50.2-49.8), but this result does not suggest a massive number of same-sex marriage opponents are turning to the Christian right. Alexander had supported same-sex marriage.

Queensland poll critique, preference flows, and how the LNP saved Jackie Trad

The table below shows the final three Queensland election polls, and how they compare with the election results.

Kevin Bonham estimated Labor won 51.2% of the two-party vote, virtually unchanged on 2015. A poll result within one point of the actual outcome is in bold.

Queensland election polls vs results.

ReachTEL asked for statewide One Nation support, while Newspoll and Galaxy only asked in the 61 (out of 93) seats One Nation contested. ReachTEL may have been close had One Nation contested all seats. Newspoll was very close on all primary votes, while Galaxy was a little high on the major parties, and a little low on the Greens and One Nation.

Tim Colebatch wrote in Inside Story that One Nation preferences flowed to the LNP at a 65% rate, while Greens preferences went to Labor at a 76% rate.

This data is based on the distribution of preferences, which includes preferences from other candidates in the One Nation and Greens totals. It is likely the flow from One Nation primary votes to the LNP was higher than 65%, and the flow from Greens primary votes to Labor was higher than 76%.

I believe Newspoll and Galaxy expected a One Nation flow to the LNP of about 60%, while ReachTEL used respondent-allocated preferences. The final ReachTEL poll was thus better than Newspoll or Galaxy on two-party-preferred terms. However, earlier ReachTEL polls consistently had the LNP ahead by 52-48, before the final poll became more in line with Newspoll and Galaxy.

31% of overall votes were won by parties other than the big two, but Colebatch says One Nation and Greens preferences effectively cancelled each other out.

84 of the 93 seats went to the primary vote leader. Of the other nine, Labor lost three it led on primary votes, but won four it trailed on. The LNP lost two seats to the Greens and Katter’s Australian Party that it led on primary votes.

Labor’s left-wing deputy premier, Jackie Trad, became treasurer after the election. She would almost certainly have lost her South Brisbane seat had the LNP recommended preferences to the Greens ahead of Trad.

Primary votes in South Brisbane were 36% Trad, 34% Greens, 24% LNP. Trad won 62% of LNP preferences, giving her a 53.6-46.4 win over the Greens. Had the LNP put the Greens ahead of Trad on its how-to-vote cards, rather than the reverse, the Greens would have very probably defeated Trad.

Belated Western Australian election poll critique

I was expecting a statewide two-party count in all Western Australian seats for the March 11 election, but this has not occurred.

Antony Green estimated Labor won 55.5% of the two-party vote, a swing to Labor of almost 13 points since the 2013 election. I have used this estimate in the table below.

Western Australian election polls vs results.

All polls asked for One Nation support statewide, when One Nation did not contest many seats. This error led to the change in Queensland for Galaxy and Newspoll.

In WA, all polls underestimated Labor and the Greens, overstated One Nation, and had the combined Liberal and National vote about right. Labor performed better after preferences than expected.

The ConversationAs in Queensland, ReachTEL’s earlier polls in WA were worse for Labor, before its final poll fell into line with Newspoll and Galaxy.

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

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Alexander holds Bennelong, Turnbull holds majority



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Malcolm Turnbull and John Alexander celebrate victory in the Bennelong byelection.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Liberals’ John Alexander has comfortably won the crucial Bennelong byelection, preserving the Coalition’s parliamentary majority and giving Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull a significant boost going into 2018.

Alexander, who faced the high-profile Labor candidate Kristina Keneally, a former New South Wales premier, has a two-party swing against him of about 5.6% on counting so far. This gives Alexander a 54-46% two-party vote.

Addressing the party faithful, Alexander told Turnbull: “This is a renaissance of your leadership”. The Bennelong win follows the strong government victory in the recent New England byelection.

An exuberant Turnbull said: “Thankyou Bennelong”. He declared that Alexander, a former tennis champion, was “winning yet another great title”.

Turnbull told Liberal supporters Alexander had said to Bennelong voters, “I have been your champion, now let me be your champion again”, and they had said: “Yes, John Alexander, you are Bennelong’s champion just as you have been Australia’s champion”.

The Liberals have had a swing against them of about 6.3% on primary votes; the swing to Labor on primaries has been around 7.6%.

The result – with a swing around the average for byelections – is a major relief for Turnbull, who would have faced deep trouble if the seat had been lost.

Alexander said: “This is an extraordinary moment for us. … It’s been a real battle”.

In the last days of the campaign, Labor said it did not expect to win the seat, which had a 9.7% margin, but it hoped to run the government closer than it has.

On Saturday night, Labor was making the most of the swing by translating it to a national election result.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told Labor supporters the voters of Bennelong had given Labor “an election-winning swing at the next election”.

“This was not an ordinary byelection,” he said. “Normally in a byelection the former member does not run again.” Given Alexander’s personal vote, the entire swing was “attributable to Malcolm Turnbull and his rotten policies for this country”.

If Labor could replicate this swing at the election, “24-28 government seats will fall”, Shorten said. “Labor finishes 2017 with the most remarkable wind in its sails.”

He said in 2018, Labor “will be courageous and we will stand up and put people first”.

Keneally told the Labor campaign workers this had been “an extraordinary result”.

She said unfortunately she was not there to claim victory but “I am here tonight to claim success for the Labor movement”.

Turnbull “owns this result”, Keneally said. “The verdict is in, the message is clear, we have had enough of your lousy leadership.” Thousands of people who had previously voted for the Liberals had rejected the government, and Labor had been “energised” by the result, she said.

Labor was texting journalists saying such a swing would take out cabinet ministers Peter Dutton and Christian Porter.

Leader of the House Christopher Pyne said of the Shorten and Keneally speeches: “The level of delusion was epic”. He said the result would improve when the prepolls and postals were counted.

The byelection was sparked by Alexander resigning in the citizenship crisis.

Both Turnbull and Shorten had campaigned hard in the electorate.

In a seat with a very high proportion of Chinese voters, the byelection campaign was particularly bitter.

Labor accused Turnbull of “Chinaphobia” in the wake of the government’s attacks on Labor’s Sam Dastyari and its move to crack down on foreign interference in Australian politics.

Dastyari, under pressure for his closeness to a Chinese benefactor and for promoting Chinese interests, announced earlier this week that he would resign from parliament. Keneally has not ruled out seeking to fill the Dastyari vacancy in the Senate.

The government resurrected Keneally’s history as NSW premier, seeking to link her to disgraced Labor figures Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald, both of whom are in jail.

Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives, in its first electoral outing, had a vote of about 4.5%, with preferences flowing strongly to Alexander.

The government will now have the numbers to refer the citizenship of several Labor MPs to the High Court, while successfully resisting having any of its own MPs referred.

Pyne said Shorten faced a potential four byelections next year.

The ConversationThe minister for international development and the Pacific, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, said this was a good win for Turnbull and urged an end to the backgrounding against him.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: The ‘China factor’ is an unknown in Bennelong but a big issue for Australia


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The stakes in Saturday’s Bennelong byelection could hardly be higher. While both Liberal and Labor camps predict John Alexander will hold on against the ALP’s Kristina Keneally, a government defeat would be calamitous for Malcolm Turnbull, leaving the Coalition with a minority on the floor of the House of Representatives.

In the event of a very narrow win by Alexander – who has a handy 9.7% margin – how the result was interpreted would become important in whether Turnbull lost serious skin.

The byelection is certainly not risk-free for Bill Shorten – after several bad weeks, he needs a strong Labor performance if he’s to end the year with some momentum.

A Fairfax Media-ReachTEL poll done on Tuesday in Bennelong had the Liberals leading 53-47% on a two-party basis; a weekend Newspoll had a 50-50% result. Turnbull describes it as “a very tight contest”.

The likely impact of the “China factor” has been been much talked about in the byelection lead-up because the seat has a high proportion of voters with a Chinese background. About 21% of the Bennelong population have Chinese heritage (compared with 5.2% in New South Wales generally), and around 16% of the voters. Bennelong is the top electoral division for percentage of Chinese-Australian voters, based on the 2016 Census.

The “China factor” is a potent cocktail of issues: the behaviour of Labor’s Sam Dastyari, who has now announced he is quitting parliament; the government’s legislation cracking down on foreign (notably Chinese) interference in Australian politics; and the ALP’s shrill byelection rhetoric about “Chinaphobia”.

It is not clear how these issues will have gone down with the Bennelong Chinese, diverse in themselves, or how they’ll rate compared with other drivers of their votes, including Alexander’s earlier efforts at sandbagging his support among members of the Chinese community.

And then there is the question of what impact these debates have on the rest of the seat’s voters.

The Fairfax poll found two-thirds of the electors supported the move against foreign interference.

Given the timing and the government’s ruthless exploitation of the Dastyari affair, it is easy to cast what is happening to counter foreign interference just in a short-term political context.

In fact, it represents a much bigger, more fundamental change in concerns about and policy towards Chinese influence in Australia.

As strategic expert Hugh White, from ANU, writes in his Quarterly Essay, published in late November, “Without America: Australia in the New Asia”: “Suddenly the Chinese seem to be everywhere [in Australia]. Areas of concern include espionage and cyber-infiltration, the vulnerability of major infrastructure, influence over Australia’s Chinese-language press, and surveillance and intimidation of Chinese nationals in Australia, including students.”

As well, of course, as the allegations “of attempts to buy influence over Australian politicians”.

White, it should be noted, draws a distinction between China’s capability and what it has actually done. Speaking to The Conversation this week, he said: “While it is wise to take precautions against China or other countries seeking to influence our politics in illegitimate ways, the government has so far not provided any clear evidence that Beijing is actively seeking to do so at the moment”.

The rise in government concern has manifested itself quite recently.
It was only in 2015 that the Port of Darwin was leased for 99 years to the Chinese company Landbridge. It was a decision by the Northern Territory government, but it was okayed and later strongly defended by the defence department’s officialdom.

It seemed then, and still seems, an extraordinary decision – and one that probably wouldn’t be made today.

The controversy around that decision served as something of a wake-up call, leading to moves to ensure more scrutiny of Chinese investment in infrastructure.

The government’s legislation, introduced last week, to counter covert foreign interference in Australian politics, ban foreign political donations, and set up a register of those lobbying for foreign interests has been driven to a substantial degree by rising concern from the security agencies.

China predictably has responded angrily, with harsh words and by calling in Australia’s ambassador in Beijing.

As White reminds, China will impose “costs” when there is pushback to its interests and behaviour. Currently, its reactions have been through diplomatic and media channels.

More tangible retribution, in the form of various irritants in the relationship, may be on the cards as the foreign interference legislation is considered – the only constraint being China not wishing to harm its own interests.

Obviously Australia doesn’t want to incur whatever costs China might eventually impose. But the price of avoiding costs, by not giving offence, has become too high to tolerate.

The effort to combat Chinese covert interference is not “Chinaphobia” despite Keneally likening it to the old “reds under the bed” scare. Nor is it an attack on our local Chinese community – some of whom are subjected to attempted Beijing influence – though in the heat of political combat it is being portrayed as that.

Turnbull has faced criticism even from his own side of politics, with former trade minister Andrew Robb lashing out after the government flagged he’d need to be on the proposed register of those working for foreign governments or companies.

Robb’s situation is contentious in itself. He went to work for Landbridge, lessee of the Darwin port, immediately after retiring from parliament at the 2016 election.

Robb says he does nothing for Landbridge within Australia, but is “employed to influence and to work with and to advise about doing deals in other countries”. He has bitterly condemned what he sees as “an attempt to use me as a convenient means of running a scare campaign against China”.

Despite Robb’s fury and his defence of his position, there was shock and unease among some former colleagues at such a rapid move to Landbridge, which would value highly his recent ministerial role and his networks.

His example points to the difficulty of identifying precisely what is appropriate or not appropriate for former politicians and bureaucrats in taking such jobs. Transparency is vital but beyond that there will be different views on where the line should be drawn.

The move to curb foreign interference and provide more scrutiny of activities on behalf of foreign interests is likely to stand as one of the most significant and indeed bold initiatives of the Turnbull government.

The legislation, which follows work Turnbull commissioned in August last year into foreign influence, interference and coercion, will be examined by the parliament’s Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security before being debated next year.

The ConversationIn June, Shorten urged Turnbull to act on foreign donations and foreign interference and advocated a foreign agents register. Labor will object to some of the detail of the government package but – after the noise of Bennelong has passed – it would seem likely the broad initiative will receive bipartisan support.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/xac9s-7e77c6?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Democrat Doug Jones wins Alabama Senate byelection in stunning upset; Bennelong is tied 50-50



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Democrat candidate Doug Jones has had an unlikely win in the hard-fought Alabama Senate ballot.
Reuters/ Marvin Gentry

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

With all election-day votes counted, Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore by a 49.9-48.4 margin to win the Alabama Senate byelection today. Once Jones is seated, Republicans will hold only a 51-49 Senate majority, down from their current 52-48.

Donald Trump crushed Hillary Clinton by a 62-34 margin in Alabama at the 2016 Presidential election, so in Australian terms, this result is a swing to the Democrats of 14.6%.

The massive swing was partly due to Moore’s faults. His extreme right-wing views probably made him a liability even in a state as conservative as Alabama. In November, I wrote that Moore’s alleged sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl, when he was 32, could damage him. Similar allegations against Moore were made by other women.

While Moore was a bad candidate, Trump and national Republicans can also be blamed for this result. According to exit polls, Trump’s approval with the Alabama electorate was split 48% approve, 48% disapprove, a large drop from his 2016 margin.

According to FiveThirtyEight’s poll aggregate, Trump’s national ratings are 37% approve, 57% disapprove, for a net of -20. Trump’s ratings have recently slipped back to near-record lows, probably as a result of the unpopular Republican tax plan.

This tax plan is unlikely to be derailed by Jones’ win. Different versions have already passed the House and Senate, and Republicans still have some time before Jones is seated to pass the same version through both chambers of Congress. The current Senate version was passed 51-49. Even if Jones is seated, there would be a 50-50 tie, which would be broken by Vice-President Mike Pence.

The last Democrat to win an Alabama Senate contest was Richard Shelby in 1992, and he became a Republican in 1994. Southern Democrats used to easily win Alabama and other conservative southern states, but these Democrats were nicknamed “Dixiecrats”, and were definitely not left-wing. Doug Jones may be the first genuinely left-wing Senator from Alabama.

The Alabama result will be a massive morale boost for Democrats, as many will think that if Democrats can win Alabama, they can win anywhere. This should allow Democrats to recruit strong candidates for the 2018 midterm elections.

According to the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Democrats lead in the race for Congress by 47.2-37.5. If Democrats win the national popular vote by this margin next November, they should easily gain control of the House.

The Alabama result will make it more difficult for Republicans to pass legislation and get conservative judges approved. It also puts the Senate in play in November 2018, as Jones will not be up for election until 2020. Democrats now need to gain two seats in 2018 to take control, rather than three.

One-third of the Senate is up for election every two years, and Democrats won the 33 Senate seats up next year by a 25-8 margin in 2012. Republicans will only be defending eight seats, while Democrats defend 25. In these circumstances, two Senate seats are far easier to gain than three.

Most Alabama polls gave Moore a three-to-seven-point lead over Jones, with one at a nine-point Moore lead. The Monmouth and Washington Post polls (respectively tied and Jones by three) were the most accurate. Ironically, the Fox News poll was the most pro-Jones, giving him a ten-point lead.

Bennelong Newspoll 50-50

The Bennelong byelection will be held on Saturday, December 16. A Bennelong Newspoll, conducted December 9-10 from a sample of 529, had a 50-50 tie, a ten-point swing to Labor from the 2016 election. Primary votes were 39% Liberal, 39% Labor, 9% Greens, 7% for Cory Bernardi’s Conservatives and 2% Christian Democrats.

Newspoll is assuming that Conservative and Christian Democrat preferences are as favourable to the Liberals as Greens preferences are for Labor.

At the start of the campaign, more than three weeks ago, Galaxy had a 50-50 tie, while ReachTEL gave the Liberals a 53-47 lead. This Newspoll is the first publicly released Bennelong poll since then, though The Australian reported last week that internal Liberal polling had them leading 54-46.

In past elections, individual seat polls have been inaccurate. There is some chance of a Labor win in Bennelong, but there is also some chance of a thumping Liberal win.

Newspoll asked about Labor candidate Kristina Keneally’s performance when she was NSW premier. 19% thought she was one of the worst premiers, 15% below average, 26% average, 23% better than average, and 10% one of the best. The Liberals have attacked Keneally on her record as premier, but this does not appear to have worked.

The national polls below indicate the media frenzy over Sam Dastyari has had little impact on voting intentions. Often issues that excite partisan voters have little resonance with the general public.

Essential 54-46 to federal Labor

The Coalition gained a point in this week’s Essential, but this was due to rounding. Labor led 54-46, from primary votes of 38% Labor, 35% Coalition, 10% Greens, 7% One Nation and 2% Nick Xenophon Team. Essential uses a two-week sample of about 1,800 for voting intentions. Additional questions use one week’s sample.

Despite Labor’s strong lead in voting intentions, Turnbull’s net approval improved from -12 in November to -3. Shorten’s net approval also improved from -13 to -9.

71% thought it is important that sexual harassment claims in the film and TV industry are exposed, while just 17% thought exposing these claims could unfairly harm reputations. 55% thought the current media attention on sexual harassment would bring about lasting change in the Australian workplace, while 30% thought it would soon be forgotten.

Considering energy policy, 37% said costs should be prioritised (up nine since June), 18% thought reliability should be prioritised (down three) and 15% carbon emissions (down four).

YouGov primary votes: 35% Labor, 34% Coalition, 11% Greens, 8% One Nation

This week’s YouGov, conducted December 7-10 from a sample of 1,032, had primary votes of 35% Labor (up 3 since last fortnight), 34% Coalition (up 2), 11% Greens (up 1) and 8% One Nation (down 3).

Although this poll would be about 54-46 to Labor by 2016 election preferences, YouGov’s respondent allocated preferences are tied 50-50, a three-point gain for the Coalition.

By 40-39, voters thought Turnbull should stand down as prime minister and let someone else take over, rather than remain prime minister. 28% said Turnbull’s decision to go ahead with the banking royal commission gave them a more positive view of him, 15% more negative and 52% said it made no difference.

The Conversation39% expected Labor to win the next federal election, 24% the Coalition, and 14% expected a hung parliament.

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

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Bennelong polls: Galaxy 50-50, ReachTEL 53-47 to Liberal



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Liberal candidate John Alexander has a fight on his hands to win the Sydney seat of Bennelong.
AAP/Gemma Najem

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The Bennelong byelection will be held in four weeks, on December 16. With Barnaby Joyce almost certain to retain New England, Bennelong will decide whether the Coalition regains its parliamentary majority. Labor’s candidate is former NSW premier Kristina Keneally, while John Alexander will recontest for the Liberals after the possibility that he held British citizenship was renounced yesterday.

A Galaxy poll, conducted on November 15 from a sample of 579, had a 50-50 tie, a ten-point swing to Labor from the 2016 result. The only primary votes released so far are 42% for Alexander and 39% for Keneally. 42% thought Keneally had done a bad job as premier, while 37% thought she had done a good job. As Keneally led a government that was smashed in 2011, this negative assessment is to be expected.

A ReachTEL poll, conducted 16 November from a sample of 864, gave Alexander a 53-47 lead, a seven-point swing to Labor since 2016. Primary votes were 41.6% Alexander, 34.5% Keneally, 5.9% Greens, 5.4% One Nation and 8.3% undecided. Undecided voters in ReachTEL polls can be pushed into saying which way they lean, but this information is usually omitted by media sources.

Alexander had a 51% favourable, 15% unfavourable rating, and Keneally a 42% favourable, 28% unfavourable rating. In the last ReachTEL national poll, in late October, Malcolm Turnbull had a 51-49 better prime minister lead over Bill Shorten. In Bennelong, Turnbull had a much larger 60-40 lead.

These polls vindicate Labor’s selection of Keneally. Although Keneally has a somewhat controversial past, she has a high profile. A lower-profile candidate would have had difficulty overcoming Alexander’s advantage as the sitting member. With Turnbull’s big lead over Shorten, Keneally is performing well to be six points behind in ReachTEL.

In past elections, individual seat polls have performed much worse in predicting results than using statewide or national polls. The ReachTEL One Nation vote of 5.4% in Bennelong appears too high, as One Nation won just 1.4% for Bennelong in the NSW Senate in 2016, compared with 4.1% for the whole state.

The national swing to Labor is currently about 4.5 percentage points since the last election. An average of ReachTEL and Galaxy would have Alexander ahead by 51.5-48.5, an eight-point swing to Labor, so the swing is larger in Bennelong than nationally. Swings against governments are usually larger at by-elections than general elections.

Given the inaccuracy of single seat polls, Labor could be ahead, or Alexander could have a larger lead than in ReachTEL.

Liberal senator-designate Hollie Hughes disqualified by High Court

Nationals Senator Fiona Nash was disqualified on October 27, as she was a British citizen. Liberal Hollie Hughes, next on the joint Coalition ticket in NSW, took up public service work following her failure at the 2016 election, and was disqualified on 15 November under Section 44(iv) of the Constitution. With Hughes disqualified, Liberal Jim Molan is next on the Coalition ticket. The High Court could also declare this seat a casual vacancy, to be filled by the party that previously held the seat.

The ConversationHughes had missed out in 2016, and the High Court could have shown leniency as she did not knowingly hold a public service job while contesting an election. This decision is a clear warning that the High Court will not tolerate any breach of Section 44.

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

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Shorten goes for broke in byelection with mega stakes for Turnbull


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Kristina Keneally’s entry into the Bennelong byelection has put more sizzle into a contest already up there as potentially one of the most significant byelections in recent years.

A decade ago Maxine McKew took the Sydney seat from John Howard, in the general election won by Labor.

If Keneally could wrest the electorate once again for Labor, the opposition would inflict a massive blow on the Coalition. Possibly one that would spell the end of Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership. A defeat would, in short, be catastrophic for the government.

On the other hand, if the swing against the Liberals was limited, that would help a besieged government and put some heart into its backbench.

Byelections can be seminal political moments. The Liberals’ loss of the Queensland seat of Ryan in 2001, with a 9.7% swing – the precise margin Bennelong is on – galvanised an embattled Howard. Retaining the Victorian seat of Aston a few months later (with a swing of only 3.7%) was seen as something of a turning point for the government.

In 2015, then prime minister Tony Abbott faced the Canning byelection in Western Australia, with the shadow of Malcolm Turnbull’s ambition hanging over him and warnings of dire consequences if the seat fell. When party polling suggested it would be saved, Turnbull pre-empted a positive result by launching his challenge before polling day.

John Alexander, 66, who fell foul of the dual citizenship crisis so creating this byelection, won Bennelong from McKew in 2010. The one-time tennis star hasn’t reached the frontbench and is rarely in the national news – though he did arc up on housing affordability.

But he is locally active and popular; in the difficult 2016 election he achieved a swing toward him. There had been speculation this might be his last term in parliament – he’d sold his home in the electorate – but now he’s committed to contesting the next election if he wins the byelection. He has said his move was downsizing and that he’s looking for an apartment in the seat.

Appearing with Bill Shorten on Tuesday, Keneally was careful to declare Alexander “a lovely guy”, though sloppy with his paperwork. He has to tie up his renunciation of British citizenship before nominating – presumably the UK bureaucrats are not dawdling.

In tapping Keneally to run, Shorten has both gone for the big hit and taken a gamble. The former NSW premier is well-known, media-savvy and campaign-hardened. She’s most recently worked for Sky; she’s in practice at talking a lot and thinking on the run. In political terms, she’s the quintessential star candidate.

But her background is from the bad times of NSW Labor politics, the days of Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald, both in jail, and Joe Tripodi. The Labor premier she displaced, Nathan Rees, said his successor would be a “puppet” of Obeid and Tripodi, to which she retorted “I am nobody’s puppet … I am nobody’s girl”.

The Coalition has an arsenal to use against her, and has immediately started to fire its bullets.

“Don’t let Kristina Keneally do to Bennelong what she did to New South Wales,” Turnbull said from the Philippines. “She is Bill Shorten’s handpicked candidate, so obviously Eddie Obeid and Bill Shorten have formed the same view about Kristina Keneally.” Ministers Greg Hunt and Scott Morrison had similar lines.

At this early stage no-one can be confident in predicting how this battle might go. There are more questions than answers.

To what extent can the Coalition exploit Keneally’s past if voters just want to lodge a protest against the Turnbull government? How far back will memories stretch, especially when there was no suggestion Keneally was corrupt?

Will state issues play into the campaign, and will the contest become more “local” as time goes on? How important will be the ethnic vote, in particular the big local Chinese community? Will voters sympathise with Alexander over his citizenship oversight, or will they mark him down for an unnecessary byelection?

The ABC’s election analyst Antony Green believes that despite the size of the margin “it’s a competitive contest given the polls and given the profile of Labor’s candidate”. As for Keneally’s past, “it’s the baggage of the current federal government that is the issue rather than the baggage of the state Labor government she led six years ago”.

Labor will run a well-resourced campaign. Shorten doesn’t have as much at stake as Turnbull, but once committed to a nationally known candidate and a high-profile campaign he would be burned by a poor Labor showing.

The December 16 Bennelong result will come after the December 2 New England byelection, which will return Barnaby Joyce, and the Queensland state election, where the outcome is uncertain. It will also follow the internal Coalition arm-wrestle over the detail of implementing same-sex marriage.

The ConversationEach will play into the government’s fortunes, but the Bennelong outcome might be the most important in how Turnbull goes into the new year.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/k3zus-7afe23?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Shorten recruits Keneally for Bennelong, as citizenship crisis claims Lambie


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Labor is running high-profile former New South Wales premier Kristina Keneally in the December 16 Bennelong byelection, upping the stakes for both Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten in the battle.

Shorten rang Keneally, who is a commentator and presenter on Sky, at the weekend to ask her to contest the seat, which is on a margin of nearly 10%. The byelection has been triggered by its Liberal member John Alexander, 66, a former tennis star, resigning in the dual citizenship crisis after it became obvious he had inherited his father’s British citizenship.

Meanwhile, that crisis has now captured its eighth victim, with Jacqui Lambie, a Tasmanian crossbench senator, announcing on Tuesday morning that she was resigning from parliament.

Lambie – who was originally part of the Palmer United Party before quitting it, forming her own group and being re-elected in 2016 – inherited UK citizenship.

An emotional Lambie, breaking the news in a Launceston radio interview, said she realised she had a problem after former Senate president Stephen Parry went public with his UK citizenship.

“I’m obviously doing my autobiography, I’ve gone back over dad’s stuff and straight away I just thought ‘oh my God’ …By Thursday last week I rang him and I said ‘Dad, I’m gone, aren’t I?’ and he said ‘you know what sweetheart? I think we’re gone’.”

Lambie said that if there was a byelection in the lower house federal seat of Braddon, where there is a question mark over the citizenship of Labor member Justine Keay, she would think about running. “I’d certainly have a good look at it, I just have to see what else is going on,” she said. She ruled out running in a state seat in the coming election.

Later she made a tearful statement to the Senate.

Jacqui Lambie, always a colourful character.
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Keneally, who lives just outside the Bennelong electorate but has a long association with the area, said: “I am not running in Bennelong because John Alexander is a dual citizen.

“That’s why we’re having this byelection but that is not why I am
running. I am running because this is a moment, this is an opportunity
for the community in which I live to stand up and say to Malcolm Turnbull, ‘Your government is awful’.”

Shorten said the byelection was “a great opportunity to send a message to Mr Turnbull to pull up your socks, lift your game, focus on the people and not yourself”.

Keneally, 48, was premier from December 2009 to March 2011 when the government was defeated at the election. After the announcement of her Bennelong candidature, federal Coalition members and commentators immediately started homing in on the NSW Labor scandals involving Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald, who were both eventually jailed.

Nathan Rees, the premier she replaced in a coup, described her as “puppet” of powerbrokers Obeid and Joe Tripodi, prompting her much-quoted reply: “I am nobody’s puppet, I am nobody’s protege, I am nobody’s girl”.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said: “You’ve got a comparison here. One, Kristina Keneally, fought for Eddie Obeid. The other, John Alexander, fought for Australia on the international [tennis] courts.”

Turnbull, who is in the Phillipines, was asked about Bennelong and said: “Don’t let Kristina Keneally do to Bennelong what she did to NSW”.

“She is Bill Shorten’s handpicked candidate, so obviously, Eddie Obeid
and Bill Shorten have formed the same view about Kristina Keneally.”

Labor defeated the then prime minister, John Howard, in Bennelong in 2007 with another high-profile candidate, TV personality Maxine McKew. But she lost the seat to Alexander after one term.

But former premiers inevitably carry the barrage of their earlier political years. In the 2013 election the ALP ran former Labor premier Peter Beattie in the Queensland seat of Forde but he failed to wrest it off the Liberal National Party.

The ConversationKeneally is American-born but long ago renounced her US citizenship.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/k3zus-7afe23?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.