Here’s why the Coalition favours optional preferential voting: it would devastate Labor


Benjamin Reilly, University of Western AustraliaCould a change be afoot in the way Australians vote in federal elections?

The Coalition government may be eyeing a shift to optional preferential voting — as used in New South Wales — which allows voters to simply vote “1” or allocate only a partial list of preferences on their ballot, instead of a full ordering of preferences for every candidate.

The proposal was included in a series of potentially revolutionary changes to our electoral system that were quietly released by a parliamentary committee in December, when few people were paying attention.

The joint standing committee on electoral matters claimed a shift to optional preferential voting would help address rising rates of “informal voting” in NSW caused by the differences between the state and federal systems. The reason: a valid vote at the state level with less than a full list of preferences would be invalid if repeated at a federal election.

What the committee did not say is that based on current voting patterns, a shift to optional preferencing could also cement the Coalition in government.

As a follow-up to a newly published study, we have modelled how recent federal elections would have changed if an optional preferential system had been used. We found the results would have been devastating for Labor.




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Labor supported by Greens preferences

The reason the Coalition would benefit from an optional preferential voting system is simple.

In recent decades, Labor’s primary vote has slumped in federal elections, but full preferential voting has kept its two-party preferred vote high.

This is because Labor benefits from consistent preference flows from parties to the left, in particular the Greens. Approximately 80% of Greens preferences at federal elections go to the ALP at present.

A significant proportion of this preference flow is the result of Greens voters being forced to choose between Labor and the Coalition at some point – even in their final preference markings on the ballot – so their votes are valid.

Labor and the Greens oppose changing the current voting system, but the proposal from the joint standing committee reportedly has support from some Senate cross-benchers.




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With One Nation on the march, a change to compulsory voting might backfire on Labor


How Labor would have fared under optional preferences

Data collected by the ABC’s election analyst, Antony Green, at the 2015 NSW election shows the rate of Greens preferences transferring to Labor declines precipitously from 82.7% under full preferential voting to just 37.4% under optional preferential voting.

In our study, we extrapolated how past election outcomes would have been affected if this was repeated nationally. We were conscious of the challenges that come with generalising in this way, and comparing one state’s data to the country as a whole.

We found that in most seats, switching to optional preferential voting would have partisan effects that are sharply skewed to the right.

This is best illustrated by looking at the seats Labor has won in recent elections by overtaking the Coalition after trailing on first preferences. These would be the seats most affected by a shift from full to optional preferential voting.

These “come-from-behind” victories would become much rarer under optional preferential voting. By our calculations, Labor would have won somewhere between five and eight fewer seats at each recent federal election, as the graph below shows.



Author provided

This means Labor would have lost the 2010 election outright and suffered heavier defeats in the 2013, 2016 and 2019 elections if optional preferences had been in use. Labor would also have lost the byelections in 2018 and 2020.

In 2010, the fragile Labor minority government would have likely won independent Andrew Wilkie’s and The Greens’ Adam Bandt’s seats under optional preferential voting, but would have lost four others to the Liberals, including Treasurer Wayne Swan’s seat of Lilley. Labor would not have had enough seats to form government.

Labor won a total of 36 come-from-behind seats in the 2013, 2016 and 2019 elections. Our analysis suggests Labor would have won less than half (17) of these seats under optional preferencing.

Minor parties and independents would also be shut out

Our model also suggests minor parties and independents would struggle to win under optional preferential voting.

As mentioned before, Labor would have won the seats of Melbourne and Dension from Bandt and Wilkie in 2010.

And the Liberals would have triumphed over Cathy McGowan (independent), Clive Palmer (Palmer United Party) and Bob Katter (Katter’s Australian Party) in 2013; Rebekha Sharkie (Nick Xenophon Team/Centre Alliance) in 2016 and 2019; Kerryn Phelps (independent) in 2018 and Helen Haines (independent) in 2019.

Our modelling suggests Independent MP Cathy McGowan would have lost the 2019 election for the seat of Indi under optional preferential voting.
Lukas Coch/AAP

With fewer independents and minor parties, the House of Representatives would be a less diverse and colourful place, and the crossbench less politically influential.

Given this, it is striking that both Centre Alliance and One Nation will reportedly back the government in the Senate if it decides to push for a change to optional preferential voting.




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Explainer: how does preferential voting work in the House of Representatives?


Whether the government pursues reform before the next election probably comes down to the Senate numbers, given Labor and the Greens will bitterly oppose any change.

It will also depend on internal Coalition management considerations, with the National Party traditionally opposed to optional preferences, and the government’s more precarious numbers in the House since Craig Kelly’s move to the crossbench.

The government response to the joint standing committee’s report is currently being prepared by the assistant minister for electoral matters, Ben Morton, a former party secretary.

While tightly guarded, we can say with confidence that the reason advanced by the committee for the change – that it will reduce informal voting – is unlikely to feature highly in his calculations. Instead, raw political calculations must make this a highly tempting reform for the government.


Jack Stewart, a Bachelor of Philosophy (Hons) student at the University of Western Australia, compiled the data for this study.The Conversation

Benjamin Reilly, Professor, University of Western Australia

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

With the government on the ropes, Anthony Albanese has a fighting chance


Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Frank Bongiorno, Australian National UniversitySome promising polling for Labor in recent weeks has inevitably raised that perennial question for a party whose national triumphs since Federation 120 years ago have been rare: can it win the next election? And in the manner of modern elections, the question soon becomes a more personal one: can it win under its present leader, Anthony Albanese?

My punditry in such matters is likely to be no better or worse than anyone else’s. Apart from polling, the limitations of which have become all too well known, there’s little for most of us to go on.

One place we might look is the quality of an opposition leader’s performance. They really have two jobs, which is one of the reasons no one much likes being opposition leader.

First, they need to keep government accountable, scrutinising its behaviour using parliament, committees such as Senate Estimates, and the media to draw attention to government failings or worse.

Their other job is to make themselves look like an alternative government. They do so by preparing policies, crafting an attractive image, and attending to problems such as weaknesses in the party organisation.

Taking these two roles into account, how well has Labor been doing this under Albanese?




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In the aftermath of the 2019 election, as is usually the case after an election defeat, it’s hard for an opposition to get a hearing. The government will usually have an agenda that it pursues aggressively in the flush of an election victory. Few wish to listen to the leader of a party only recently repudiated at the polls.

The months that followed the 2019 election had some of these features. The government pursued massive tax cuts, which Labor supported. But given Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s lack of an agenda – his policy at the 2019 election was to win the 2019 election – there was little for Albanese and Labor to get their teeth into.

That soon changed. Summer is usually a quiet time for both government and opposition. It was on this basis, that Morrison, “Jen and the girls” headed for Hawaii. But the Black Summer bushfires provided Albanese and the Labor opposition with their first chance to lay a glove on Morrison.

While Morrison’s performance was so poor that Albanese needed to do little to look good by comparison, the crisis did damage the government sufficiently to raise Labor’s hopes that the shine gained from “Morrison’s miracle” was wearing off.

Morrison’s absence for a Hawaiian holiday during the Black Summer of 2019-20 provoked community outrage, and an opportunity for Albanese.
AAP/Instagram/Scott Marsh

Then came sports rorts. This scandal provided Labor with opportunities to build an argument that this was a mean and tricky government that put winning elections ahead of integrity or fairness. It claimed a ministerial scalp.

Sports rorts was soon overwhelmed by the pandemic. This was very bad news for Labor. Parliamentary sittings were reduced. Worried citizens attended to their private affairs. National cabinet provided a sense of Labor state governments being drawn into the tent with Morrison, while the federal Labor opposition was rendered irrelevant. Morrison even courted the unions with some success.

Governments almost invariably benefit from major crises because they are seen as doers. There are strong pressures to place an increasing range of issues “beyond politics”, a boon for those intent on looting the treasury and bad for public accountability.

The government’s massive spending stimulus made Labor seem particularly irrelevant. There can be no doubt that if a Labor government had tried anything similar, it would have been subjected to the mother of all campaigns by right-wing media.

So, if Albanese and much of his front bench seemed invisible during this period, this is not a matter for which they can be much criticised. And to be fair, several Labor shadow ministers used this period productively to explore what a post-pandemic order might look like.

We complain about our politicians spending too little time reading and thinking. We should notice when they do. This was Labor performing the second of those functions of opposition: crafting an alternative government.

With the pandemic largely under control, Albanese has a better chance to present himself as an alternative prime minister.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

The gods have been kinder to Labor during 2021. The government has been mired in crisis, scandal and sleaze. Labor, meanwhile, has benefited from its slow and steady achievement of greater gender equity during decades in which the Coalition’s performance in this area has deteriorated.




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Labor has admittedly had to do little to keep the government accountable in these matters – Morrison’s ineptness and an enterprising group of mainly female journalists have done its job for it – but the party has benefited enormously from having capable women in leadership positions. Albanese has been able to avoid looking like another well-meaning mansplainer when the issues of sexual assault and harassment are in the spotlight.

The blatant failures of the vaccination program have provided new opportunities for the Labor Party to criticise a government that likes to present itself as the saviour of the Australian people in its hour of need – as Psalm 46 would have it, “a very present help in trouble”.

Electors seem less certain. They have returned two state Labor governments in Queensland and Western Australia widely perceived to have kept their populations safe. Other state governments remain popular, even that of Daniel Andrews, despite Victoria’s ordeal of a second wave of infections.

It is not clear how much credit the Morrison government will be able to claim. Dealing competently with the Global Financial Crisis in 2008-9 appeared to win the Rudd government limited credit among voters in the medium term. It was persecuted for a few failures instead.

Albanese’s place in these considerations remains an ambiguous one. Tanya Plibersek seems to have emerged as the most likely alternative and, if Albanese were to falter at the next election, his successor.

The rules adopted by the Labor Party during the second Rudd prime ministership in 2013 make it difficult to remove a leader between elections unless he or she agrees to go. In any case, and leaving aside the party’s split under Billy Hughes in 1916 and the interim leadership of Frank Forde in 1945, Labor has still only once removed a leader without giving him the opportunity to fight an election: Simon Crean in 2003.

Tanya Plibersek is the most logical alternative Labor leader.
AAP/Dean Lewins

As the son of a single mother raised in public housing, Albanese has a backstory that might be attractive to may voters, if they only knew it. He is a consummate political professional in an age of political professionals, admired for his management of parliamentary business during the challenging minority government of Julia Gillard.

Albanese would not have been among the front rank of ministers in the best Labor governments of the modern era — those of Bob Hawke in the 1980s. But that probably isn’t a large mark against him. After all, the general quality of our political leaders has deteriorated since then, too.

At the very least, the turn of the political dial seems to give Labor, and Albanese, a fighting chance.The Conversation

Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

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

Labor’s plan for $15 billion ‘reconstruction fund’ to promote post-pandemic manufacturing economy


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraA Labor government would set up a $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund to promote manufacturing in Australia’s post pandemic economy.

The fund, to be announced on Tuesday as Labor begins its national conference, would partner with private investors and superannuation funds, which have access to large reserves of capital.

It would be aimed at helping build new industries and boosting existing ones. The $15 billion would be provided through a combination of loans, equity, co-investment and guarantees.

In a statement on the plan, Anthony Albanese and shadow minister for national reconstruction. Richard Marles, say the pandemic has highlighted the serious deficiencies Australia has in its manufacturing capabilities and its ability to be globally competitive in innovation and technology.

“If there is anything that COVID has taught us, it is the need for Australia to be a place which makes things – to have our own industrial and manufacturing capabilities, our own sovereign capabilities,” they say.

“From commercialising our historic capacity in science and innovation to boosting the development of medical devices and pharmaceuticals, through to reviving our capability to make cars, trains and ships, today’s announcement will support the businesses in these industries to secure the capital and investment to grow and prosper,” Albanese and Marles say.

The fund would concentrate on a range of strategic industries. These would include resources value adding; food and beverage processing; transport; medical science; renewables and low emission technologies; defence capability, and enabling capabilities across engineering, data science and software development.

Objectives of the fund would be to:

  • reduce the risk of investment in innovation
  • help firms grow by support for new investment especially in regional areas
  • strengthen self-sufficiency and industrial diversity in Australia by assisting businesses build national sovereignty and decrease the risks in their supply chains
  • support regional developoment by enhancing private sector investment in industries of the future.

Labor would model the fund on entities such as the successful Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which was set up by the Labor government. It has invested billions to promote the transition to renewable energy, energy efficiency and low emissions technologies.

Labor’s proposed fund would have an independent board.

Assistance it provided would need to return rates above the government borrowing rate.

The $15 billion capital provided would be off-budget.

Labor points out that according to the OECD Australia ranks last in manufacturing self-sufficiency among industrialised countries. It produces just over two thirds of what it uses.

The pandemic as well as the deepening Australia-China tensions have increased debate over the past year about the need for greater self-sufficiency especially in certain key areas, such as medical supplies. The pandemic led to supply chain problems which are still being experienced for some products.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Morrison’s ratings take a hit in Newspoll as Coalition notionally loses a seat in redistribution


AAP/James Gourley

Adrian Beaumont, The University of MelbourneThis week’s Newspoll, conducted March 24-27 from a sample of 1,517, gave Labor a 52-48 two party lead, unchanged from last fortnight’s Newspoll. Primary votes were 40% Coalition (up one), 38% Labor (down one), 11% Greens (up one) and 2% One Nation (down one).

While voting intentions moved slightly towards the Coalition, Scott Morrison’s ratings fell to their lowest point since the COVID crisis began. 55% were satisfied with his performance (down seven) and 40% were dissatisfied (up six), for a net approval of +15, down 13 points.

Anthony Albanese’s net approval was up one point to +2, and Morrison led as better PM by 52-32 (56-30 last fortnight). Figures are from The Poll Bludger.

The last Newspoll was taken during the final few days of the WA election campaign. It’s plausible, given Morrison’s ratings slump without any impact on voting intentions, that Labor’s federal WA vote in the last Newspoll was inflated by the state election.

While Morrison’s ratings are his worst since the pandemic began, they are still strong by historical standards. So far, Morrison has only lost people who were likely to switch to disapproving at the first major scandal. Voting intentions imply that many who approved of Morrison were not voting Coalition anyway.

This poll would not have reflected the latest scandals about LNP Bowman MP Andrew Laming, who was revealed on Saturday night to have taken an upskirting picture in 2019. But are sexual misbehaviour scandals getting as much voter opprobrium as they used to?

In last fortnight’s article I cited two recent US examples of alleged sexual misconduct. Donald Trump was elected president in November 2016 despite the release of the Access Hollywood tape a month earlier. And New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, is still in office despite multiple sexual harassment allegations against his female employees.

According to Morning Consult polling of New York state, Cuomo’s ratings have stabilised recently after a large drop, and he still has a +10 net approval. That’s because he has a 75% approval rating from Democratic voters.

In the FiveThirtyEight aggregate of 2016 US national polls, Hillary Clinton gained only about a point in the week after the October 7 Access Hollywood tape was released, to have a six-point lead, up from five. Trump won that election in the Electoral College despite losing the national popular vote by 2.1%.

Draft federal redistributions for Victoria and WA

As a result of population growth trends, Victoria will gain an additional House of Representatives seat before the next election, while WA loses one. On March 19, the Electoral Commission published draft boundaries for both states.

In WA, the Liberal seat of Stirling was axed, while in Victoria the seat of Hawke was created in Melbourne’s northwestern growth area. The Poll Bludger estimated Hawke will have a Labor margin of 9.8%.

There are no major knock-on effects that would shift any other seat into another party’s column based on 2019 election results. So the impact is Labor gaining a Victorian seat as the Coalition loses a WA seat. Christian Porter’s margin in Pearce has been reduced slightly from 6.7% to 5.5%.

Ignoring the defection of Craig Kelly from the Liberals, the Coalition will start the next federal election with a notional 76 of the 151 seats, down one from the 2019 results. Labor will notionally have 69 seats, up one.

Early Tasmanian election announced for May 1

On March 26, Tasmanian Liberal Premier Peter Gutwein announced the Tasmanian election would be held on May 1, about ten months before the four-year anniversary of the March 2018 election.

The Liberals expect to capitalise on a COVID boost that could fade if the election were held as expected in early 2022. The last Tasmanian poll, conducted by EMRS in February, gave the Liberals 52%, Labor 27% and the Greens 14%. Tasmania uses the Hare-Clark method of proportional representation with five electorates that each return five members.

WA election final lower house results

At the March 13 Western Australian election, Labor won 53 of the 59 lower house seats, gaining 12 seats from what was already a thumping victory in 2017. The Liberals won just two seats (down 11) and the Nationals four (down one). Labor will have almost 90% of lower house seats.

Primary votes were 59.9% Labor (up 17.7% since 2017), 21.3% Liberals (down 9.9%), 4.0% Nationals (down 1.4%), 6.9% Greens (down 2.0%) and just 1.3% One Nation (down 3.7%).

Labor’s primary vote was higher than the 59.0% the combined Nationals and Liberals won at the 1974 Queensland election. The 1941 Tasmanian election, when Labor won 62.6%, is likely the only prior occasion in Australia of a single party winning a higher vote share than WA Labor.

The Poll Bludger estimates the two party vote as 69.2-30.8 to Labor, a 13.7% swing since 2017. The upper house has yet to be finalised, but Labor will win at least 22 of the 36 seats.

Israeli, UK local, German and Dutch elections

I wrote for The Poll Bludger on March 21 about the March 23 Israeli election and the May 6 UK local elections that also include Scottish and Welsh parliamentary elections. Israel’s right-wing PM Benjamin Netanyahu failed to win a majority for a right coalition, with that coalition winning 59 of the 120 Knesset seats. UK Labour is struggling in the polls.

I wrote for my personal website on March 19 about two German state elections that the combined left parties nearly won outright. The German federal election is expected on September 26, and the incumbent conservative CDU has slumped from its COVID heights, so the combined left could win the next German election. However, the left performed dismally at the March 17 Dutch election.The Conversation

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

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

Morrison takes big personal hit in Newspoll after missteps on women’s issue


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraScott Morrison’s approval has taken a sizeable hit in a Newspoll showing Labor maintaining its 52-48% two-party lead.

As Morrison prepares to unveil his cabinet reshuffle the poll, published in Monday’s Australian, found his satisfaction rating fell from 62% to 55% in two weeks.

The fortnight was dominated by shocking revelations of lewd behaviour among staffers on the Coalition side, a botched attempted “reset” on gender issues when Morrison lashed out at a news conference, and a scandal around a Liberal backbencher.

In the poll, taken March 24-27, Morrison’s dissatisfaction rating jumped from 34% to 40%.

The “better PM” gap also narrowed – Morrison now leads Anthony Albanese 52% (down 4 points) to 32% (up 2 points). This the narrowest margin since March last year. In February Morrison had a 35-point margin.

The Coalition’s primary vote rose a point to 40% while Labor’s fell a point to 38%.

The Australian reports that it is the first time in more than a year that Morrison’s approval ratings haven’t been in the 60s. His net satisfaction is plus 15.

Albanese’s satisfaction increased one point. He has a net satisfaction of plus 2.

The reshuffle is set to move Christian Porter out of the attorney-general’s portfolio and Linda Reynolds out of defence, but keep both in cabinet.

The government is now confronting a major row over Queensland Liberal MP Andrew Laming who trolled two local women on Facebook and took an inappropriate photo of another woman.

Laming announced at the weekend he would not seek to run at the next election but he remains in the Liberal National Party. He is now on leave but has indicated he aims to be back for the budget session, after he has had counselling on “empathy and appropriate communications”.

Albanese said Laming was not a fit and proper person to be in parliament and should go. He said there were various measures available to the Labor Party to take against him when parliament resumed.

Morrison will be anxious to see a woman preselected for Laming’s seat of Bowman.

As the government’s crisis continues Liberal women are increasingly speaking out, with Victorian federal backbenchers Sarah Henderson and Katie Allen suggesting on the ABC’s Insiders that parliamentarians should be subject to drug and alcohol testing.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Morrison still enjoys strong ratings in separate polls, indicating Labor’s gains may be short-lived


Adrian Beaumont, The University of MelbourneThis week’s federal Newspoll, conducted March 10-13 from a sample of 1,521 people, gave Labor a 52-48% lead on a two-party preferred basis, a two-point gain for Labor since the previous Newspoll three weeks ago.

Primary votes were 39% Coalition (down three), 39% Labor (up two), 10% Greens (steady) and 3% One Nation (steady).

In addition, 62% were satisfied with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s performance (down two) and 34% were dissatisfied, for a net approval of +28. Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s net approval jumped eight points to +1.

Morrison, meanwhile, led as better PM by 56-30%, well down from his 61-26% lead three weeks ago.

On voting intentions, this is Labor’s best showing in the poll since last February, immediately after the bushfire crisis but before the COVID-19 pandemic spread to Australia. It is Morrison’s narrowest better PM margin since April.

Before COVID, we would have expected the party of a prime minister with a +28 net approval to have a large lead on voting intentions. The relationship between voting intentions and Morrison’s net approval has clearly broken down in the past year since the pandemic began.

The Morrison government’s response to two separate rape allegations against a minister in the cabinet and a staffer in another minister’s office has also likely played a role in Labor’s improvement in the poll.




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The Poll Bludger reports that Newspoll aggregated its last two polls to determine if the Coalition’s slump was driven mostly by women respondents.

However, this does not appear to be the case. As compared with the Newspoll aggregate data from October to December, the Coalition’s primary vote is down two points among both men and women, while Labor’s primary vote is up three points with men and up two with women.

The Essential poll out today corroborates Newspoll in still giving Morrison strong ratings — his net approval is +33, down only slightly from +37 in February.

While Newspoll had Albanese gaining much ground on the better prime minister question, Essential has Morrison ahead by 52-26% on this measure, down only slightly from 52-24% in February.

Essential gave the federal government a 70% good to 12% poor rating on handling of COVID, up from 62-14% last fortnight. This was behind the state governments’ handling of the pandemic, with the exception of Victoria, which only garnered a 62% good rating.




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Could the Morrison government’s response to sexual assault claims cost it the next election?


It appears, then, the slow roll-out of Australia’s vaccination program is not yet hurting the government’s approval ratings.

I am sceptical that the rape allegations can be a lasting driver of gains for Labor in the polls. The infamous Access Hollywood tape, in which Donald Trump spoke in vulgar terms about women, emerged about a month before the 2016 US election, yet it didn’t prevent Trump from defeating Hillary Clinton to win the presidency.

Recently, Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York state, has been accused of sexual harassment of his female employees. But a New York Siena poll had 50% of respondents saying Cuomo should not resign immediately, while 35% said he should. Women were more favourable to Cuomo than men on this question, too.

WA election late counting

With 63% of enrolled voters counted in Saturday’s Western Australia election, the ABC is now calling 50 Labor seats, two Liberals and four Nationals, with three still in doubt. In the doubtful seats, Labor currently leads in Nedlands and Warren-Blackwood, but trails in Churchlands.

We would normally expect a decline in Labor’s primary vote as postal votes are added, as these tend to be Labor’s worst vote category. But Labor’s statewide primary vote has instead increased to 59.9% from 59.1% on election night.

Labor’s massive primary vote explains why they will win control of the upper house for the first time. Labor’s upper house vote share (60.1%) is currently slightly better than in the lower house.

On the ABC’s upper house calculators, Labor is winning 22 of its 23 seats on raw quotas, without requiring preferences.

Labor could win five of the six seats in the Eastern Metropolitan region on a massive primary vote of 67.4%, or 4.72 quotas. The most ridiculous result is in the Mining and Pastoral region, where the Daylight Saving party is winning a seat off just 0.2% of the vote (0.01 quotas).

This result shows that group voting tickets should be abolished and replaced by the Senate’s voter-directed preference system. With its big majority in both chambers of the state parliament, the re-elected Labor government should pursue both this reform and an end to the heavy rural malapportionment in the upper house.The Conversation

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

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

View from The Hill: Labor surges to 52-48% Newspoll lead, as women’s voices set to roar across the country


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Labor has hit the front in Newspoll, with a 52-48% two-party lead, as the separate crises engulfing ministers Christian Porter and Linda Reynolds take a toll of the Morrison government.

As the parliament’s fortnight sitting begins, with a big national women’s protest set for Monday, Newspoll has Labor and the Coalition equal on primary votes – 39% each – for the first time this electoral cycle.

The government fell 3 points on primaries, while Labor rose 2 points.

Labor has surged ahead on the two-party vote from the 50-50 results of the last two polls, in January and February.

Scott Morrison has taken a knock in his personal ratings. He fell 5 points on the “better PM” measure, to 56%; Anthony Albanese improved 4 points to 30%.

Satisfaction with Morrison’s performance was down 2 points to 62%; his dissatisfaction rating was up 2 to 34%, for a net approval of plus 28%.

Satisfaction with Albanese rose 4 points to 42%; dissatisfaction with him was down 4 points to 41%. His net satisfaction rating is plus 1.

Publicity around the slow early start to the vaccine rollout may have also fed into the poll.

Handling the March4Justice is fraught for the government given the strength of feelings around the rape allegations, which have morphed into the wider issue of women’s voices being heard.

The Newspoll reverse puts extra pressure on Morrison as he and “March4Justice” organisers on Sunday night were in a face off.

Morrison on Sunday said he would not go outside Parliament House to meet the protesters, but march organisers were waiting until Monday to confirm whether they’d accept his invitation to meet a delegation in his office.

It’s expected they will do so after making their point. The delegation would likely include Brittany Higgins, whose allegation she was raped by a colleague in the office of then defence industry minister Reynolds sparked the series of events that have culminated in Monday’s march.

The Newspoll comes as the Western Australian Liberals suffered a massive rout in the state election, being reduced to two or possibly three seats in the 59-seat lower house.

The Nationals are expected to get four seats, entitling them to become the official opposition. Liberal leader Zak Kirkup lost his seat.




Read more:
Labor obliterates Liberals in historic WA election; will win control of upper house for first time


On counting to date, the McGowan government polled nearly 60% primary vote, achieving a two-party swing of nearly 14%. The result is the latest, and most dramatic, evidence of voters rewarding leaders for their successful handling of the pandemic.

Morrison – whose government initially supported Clive Palmer’s challenge to the WA hard border but later backed off for political reasons – said Labor’s victory was “a resounding endorsement of Mark McGowan’s leadership, which I didn’t find surprising”.

The PM pointed to the distinction voters make between federal and state elections, citing 2001 when the WA Coalition government received a drubbing but John Howard won federally.

While it’s true voters distinguish, Howard’s victory came after he made significant policy changes and following the Tampa affair and the September 11 attacks in the United States.

Albanese said many people had voted Labor for the first time. “It shows they’re open to voting Labor and I take great encouragement from it.”

Morrison again indicated the election will be next year.

Though the direct federal implications are limited Saturday’s result leaves the WA Liberals with reduced on-the-ground resources and funding for the federal election, in a state which has been important in holding up the Morrison government’s majority. The Liberals currently have 11 of the 16 federal seats.




Read more:
Labor’s thumping win in Western Australia carries risks for both sides


The federal Liberals in WA are presently mired in problems, with the uncertain futures of Porter and Reynolds who are both from that state.

The Liberals might also lose a seat in the WA redistribution, which threatens Porter’s electorate of Pearce.

The crisis over Porter is worsening for Morrison, who has ruled out an independent inquiry to determine whether he is a fit and proper person to be attorney-general after a deceased woman’s allegation he raped her in 1988, which he strongly denies.

Agitation for an inquiry continues to mount. On Friday a former boyfriend of the woman, business executive James Hooke, said he had had discussions with both the woman and Porter that were relevant. He supported an inquiry and said he was willing to testify if one was set up.

Morrison will face questions this week about Porter, who is on mental health leave. The PM will also have to release the results of an inquiry into who knew what when in his office about Higgins’ allegation.

The March4Justice protest is expected to number more than 100,000 nationally. The organisers anticipate more than 5,000 in Canberra. March4Justice was established “to protest the Australian Parliament’s ongoing abuse and discrimination of women in Australia”, but now has a broad agenda of demands.

Ministers generally are refusing to go outside the building to meet the women. Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack told the ABC he would be too busy.

The demonstrators will hand over a petition to Labor’s Tanya Plibersek and the Greens’ Larissa Waters at the protest, which starts at noon.

They invited Marise Payne, who is Minister for Women. Payne’s office on Friday said the women should email the petition. By Sunday she was offering a meeting before the march, but the organisers refused.

A spokesperson said on Sunday night Morrison’s offer of a meeting was being considered.

“Given that so many have come to the steps of Parliament to make their voices heard, the question is, why can’t the Prime Minister take the last few steps through the front door and hear them directly?”

Morrison said, “I haven’t had a habit of going out to do any marches when they’ve come to Canberra, because as Prime Minister, when you’re in Canberra, it’s a very busy day.

“But I’m very happy to receive a delegation and I’ll respectfully receive that, as I’m sure they will respectfully engage with me.”

UPDATE – Monday Morning

Organisers of March4Justice have declined to meet the Prime Minister.

Janine Hendry tweeted early Monday:

At the weekend, Scott Morrison had invited the protesters to send a small delegation to meet him after the demonstrations. He refused to go outside parliament house to see them in person, as they requested.

Some Liberal women parliamentarians are set to be present, but the Minister for Women, Marise Payne, has refused.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.

Labor’s thumping win in Western Australia carries risks for both sides



AAP/Richard Wainwright

Martin Drum, University of Notre Dame Australia

Liberal fears of a wipeout in the Western Australia state election have been realised, with the Labor party winning about 52 seats in the 59-member Legislative Assembly.

This represents the biggest electoral win in any Australian jurisdiction since the stabilisation of the two-party system over 70 years ago. There is no doubt that the immense popularity of Labor Premier Mark McGowan was a decisive factor in the result. McGowan enjoys rock-star-like status in the state, and this was noted by his political opponents during the count.

For the Liberals it has been a devastating loss: not only have they almost been obliterated from the parliament, but their leader has gone and they are no longer the official opposition – that now goes to the National Party.

One of the earliest seats to call was the seat of Dawesville, held by 34 year old Liberal leader Zak Kirkup. He had already conceded that he could not win the election before a vote had been cast, and his subsequent focus had been on retaining as many Liberal seats as possible.

Another high profile casualty was former Liberal leader Liza Harvey, who lost her seat of Scarborough. Harvey was blamed by some in Liberal circles for the defeat. As opposition leader in 2020 she had called for WA’s hard border to come down, which was followed immediately by the COVID-19 outbreak in Victoria.

At this stage, it looks like the extraordinary support for Labor will translate into an upper house majority for the first time for Labor. It is worth noting that Liberal-National governments in WA have regularly controlled both houses of parliament while in government. While the Nationals occasionally voted differently from the Liberals, being in cabinet meant this was a rarity. Control of both houses should mean government bills will pass into law with little resistance.




Read more:
Labor obliterates Liberals in historic WA election; will win control of upper house for first time


Is WA a one-party state?

While there will be at least six Liberal or National MPs in the 59 seat lower house, and a much higher number of non-government MPs in the upper house, there is no doubt the McGowan government will dominate proceedings in parliament.

Such is the imbalance, though, that it raises questions of accountability. Parliament is the principal body of accountability for governments in our democratic system, and it is critical parliamentary processes that typically hold government to account are maintained. Opposition parties need resources to research contentious issues, investigate complaints, and develop alternative policies.

It is critical oppositions are able to ask questions without notice in question time, put detailed questions on notice to the government in the Legislative Council, and have a presence on parliamentary committees that investigate issues arising in government and in the broader community. Most importantly, they need the resources to scrutinise bills which are introduced into either house.




Read more:
Meet Mark McGowan: the WA leader with a staggering 88% personal approval rating


There are dangers for the government itself in having a large majority. Some Labor members may struggle to have their voices heard in such a large party room. There will be increased competition for all manner of roles in government, starting with positions in the new Labor ministry, and disappointment may lead to discontent and in-fighting within the partyroom.

Governments that control both houses run the risk of passing poorly-structured legislation. Parliamentary scrutiny leads to better governance, a factor that in the long run helps governments as much as oppositions. One factor in the demise of the long-running Howard government was the passage of its “workchoices” legislation, achieved during a rare incidence of government controlling both houses of the federal parliament.

WA Liberals have been all but obliterated in the state election, with leader Zak Kirkup among those who lost their seats.
AAP/Richard Wainwright

Federal implications

There will no doubt be some pundits who draw federal implications from Labor’s stunning victory, but it is worth remembering that neither Scott Morrison nor Anthony Albanese featured in the campaigns of either party. Albanese did visit WA during the campaign period, but did not join McGowan on the campaign trail.

Western Australia has long been a traditional heartland for the federal Liberals, and they currently hold 11 of the 16 seats here. Federal Liberals from WA have been punching well above their weight in the federal government. But Morrison has not visited Western Australia since October 2019, and two of his senior ministers from WA are both on leave with their futures under a cloud.

Any suggestion of trying to overlay these results onto federal seats is a fraught exercise. But there is one thing we know for sure: there will be a lot fewer people in WA working for the Liberal party in paid positions than there were before the election. This will affect the ability of Liberals to strategise, and organise on the ground.

The organisational structure of the party has come under scrutiny in recent times, amid fears that the WA branch is dominated by a small group of powerbrokers. Maintaining robust structures for campaigning will be crucial with a federal election due within the next year.

But there are a few positives that the federal government may take out of the campaign. First, WA voters have consistently voted differently at state and federal level. And Morrison, while not enjoying the popularity of McGowan, is more popular than his opponent. The WA election also marks the fourth straight state or territory election during COVID-19 where the incumbent government has been returned. It is clear incumbency and competent management are distinct advantages during a pandemic.The Conversation

Martin Drum, Lecturer Politics and International Relations, University of Notre Dame Australia

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

Labor obliterates Liberals in historic WA election; will win control of upper house for first time



AAP/Richard Wainwright

Adrian Beaumont, The University of Melbourne

With 43% of enrolled voters counted in yesterday’s Western Australian election, the ABC was calling Labor wins in 49 of the 59 lower house seats, to just two for the Liberals and three for the Nationals. Five seats remained in doubt.

The current final outcome prediction is 52 Labor, three Liberals and four Nationals. Since the 2017 election, this would be an 11-seat gain for Labor and a 10-seat loss for the Liberals. Liberal casualties included current leader Zak Kirkup’s seat of Dawesville, and former leader Liza Harvey’s Scarborough.

Statewide primary vote shares were a massive 59.1% for Labor (up 16.9% since 2017), 21.3% Liberals (down 9.9%), 4.5% National (down 0.9%), 7.1% Greens (down 1.8%) and just 1.3% for One Nation (down 3.7%). The Poll Bludger’s statewide two party projection is 69.2-30.8 to Labor, a 13.7% swing to Labor.

With 30.8% of the upper house vote counted, the ABC’s group ticket voting calculators are giving Labor 22 of the 36 seats (up eight), the Liberals six (down three), the Nationals four (steady), Legalise Cannabis two (up two), the Shooters and Fishers one (steady) and the Greens one (down three).

Current results show Labor winning 20 of its 22 seats on raw quotas without requiring preferences. They need a small amount of preferences to win three seats in Agricultural region and four in North Metropolitan. Labor is set to win the heavily malapportioned upper house for the first time in its history.




Read more:
Whopping lead for Labor ahead of WA election, but federal Newspoll deadlocked at 50-50


Why this result occurred

As I wrote recently, the current 69-31 two party result is probably the most lopsided ever in Australian electoral history for any state or federally. Labor’s primary vote may drop back as more votes are counted, but will be at least roughly level with the combined National and Liberal vote at the Queensland 1974 election.

With the opposite party in power federally, and campaigning for its second term, Labor was likely to win unless they had major stuff-ups. But Premier Mark McGowan’s handling of COVID created this record landslide.

Imposing hard borders to stop the spread was very popular, and with relatively few cases in WA, life remained relatively normal with the exception of a five-day lockdown in early February. In the final pre-election Newspoll, McGowan’s ratings were 88% satisfied and just 10% dissatisfied.

I do not think there are federal implications from this massive Labor victory at the state level. While not at McGowan’s levels, Scott Morrison was still very popular by historical standards at 64% satisfied, 32% dissatisfied in the last federal Newspoll.

If being perceived as dealing well with COVID is a criterion for a successful re-election, the federal Coalition would be likely to win now.

In February 2001, Peter Beattie led Queensland Labor to 66 of the 89 lower house seats, to just 15 for the Coalition parties. But in November 2001, the federal Coalition under John Howard was re-elected, with the Coalition winning 19 of the 27 federal Queeensland seats.

Many people did not believe the 68-32 Newspoll three weeks ago, and the final pre-election Newspoll (66-34) was also hard to believe. But Labor has exceeded both these Newspolls. A YouGov poll of Dawesville had Labor winning by 60-40; it’s currently 64.5-35.5. Expecting outcomes to be narrower than polls indicate can be a big mistake.

Biden’s $US 1.9 trillion stimulus becomes law

To revive the US economy from its COVID-induced recession, President Joe Biden proposed a $US 1.9 trillion stimulus. On March 6, this stimulus passed the US Senate on a 50-49 vote, with all 50 Democrats in support and all Republicans opposed; one Republican missed the vote.

Had the vote been tied at 50-50, Vice President Kamala Harris would have broken the tie. This stimulus vote shows how important the two narrow Democratic wins in the January 5 Georgia Senate runoffs were.

Without those victories, there is no possibility this stimulus would have become law, and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell would still control the Senate’s agenda, enabling him to deny votes on items he disliked.

On Wednesday the House of Representatives, which had earlier passed its own version of the stimulus, agreed to the Senate’s amendments by a 220-211 margin. Biden signed the stimulus into law on Thursday. All Republicans who voted in either chamber of Congress opposed the stimulus.The Conversation

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

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

Meet Mark McGowan: the WA leader with a staggering 88% personal approval rating



Richard Wainwright/ AAP

John Phillimore, Curtin University

Last March, Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan donned an AC/DC t-shirt to pay tribute to Bon Scott, the late lead singer of the legendary band.

He joined some 150,000 fans who gathered along Perth’s Canning Highway to hear bands covering “Highway to Hell” and other AC/DC classics.

In the 12 months since, the world has certainly been to hell and back. Politically, however, for McGowan the year may feel more like a stairway to heaven. With the state election due on March 13, polls suggest he will win easily, and even increase Labor’s already record majority. His personal approval rating sits at a staggering 88%.




Read more:
Whopping lead for Labor ahead of WA election, but federal Newspoll deadlocked at 50-50


But polling is one thing, celebrity status is another. And McGowan’s popularity is bordering on rock star status in some quarters.

In recent weeks, a voter has willingly tattooed a likeness of McGowan’s face on their body, a local comedian has written a song of devotion to him, a wedding party hauled him on stage to speak to 300 cheering guests, and a video of the Premier’s dance moves at the Perth Fringe has gone viral on TikTok.

Who is McGowan, and why is the 53-year-old enjoying such a huge poll lead? And what lies in store on the other side of the election?

From the navy to state politics

Originally from regional New South Wales, McGowan joined the navy as a lawyer. In 1991 he was posted to HMAS Stirling near Rockingham, 50 kilometres south of Perth. In 1995, he won a bravery commendation for rescuing a man from a burning car.

WA Premier Mark McGowan and his wife Sarah casting their votes at a pre-polling booth.
WA Premier Mark McGowan and his wife Sarah cast their votes last week at a pre-polling booth.
Richard Wainwright/ AAP

He has been Rockingham’s local MP since 1996 — the second longest-serving MP in state parliament. He entered Geoff Gallop’s cabinet in 2005 and is seen to have chalked up solid achievements in environment, education and perhaps most notably in loosening regulations to encourage small bars.

With Labor in opposition, he took over as leader in 2012, only to see his party go backwards at the 2013 election. He then resisted a far-fetched leadership challenge from former federal minister Stephen Smith before finally winning a record victory in 2017 against Colin Barnett and the Liberal Party.

The WA factor

Most Australian political leaders saw their popularity grow during COVID-19, with trust in governments rising as Australia performed well, minimising health and economic impacts.

But WA provides particularly fertile ground for a leader. The state has always had a strongly independent streak, distant from “the eastern states”. It also firmly believes its mining and gas resources are the basis for Australia’s economic prosperity and that the proceeds have not — until a recent GST deal — flowed back to the state.

McGowan played this situation adroitly, declaring in early April 2020 that WA would become an “island within an island” by closing its borders. He took a firm line on international cruise ships. His public image was ubiquitous with daily media briefings, and softened by his spontaneous response to a media query about buying a kebab, of all things, which also went viral.

He successfully fended off a High Court challenge to WA’s hard border from businessman Clive Palmer as well as the mining magnate’s claim the state owes him A$30 billion.




Read more:
Clive Palmer just lost his WA border challenge — but the legality of state closures is still uncertain


Meanwhile, McGowan worked with the mining industry to keep production going by transferring interstate fly-in fly-out workers to WA. He was rewarded as iron ore prices skyrocketed and the state’s finances grew. Regional tourism has revived and the state’s economy recovered more quickly than interstate counterparts.

Since mid-2020 daily life in WA has been largely normal again, despite a blip in January when a short lockdown was imposed, due to a hotel quarantine breach.

Of course, it’s not all bouquets. The Western Australian Council of Social Service has called on the McGowan government to do more to address child poverty, improve housing affordability and reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal young people in out-of-home care and juvenile justice. Critics have described his government’s efforts to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for its greenhouse gas emissions as “limp”. Plenty outside the state have condemned some of the WA government’s snap decisions on COVID border closures.

Despite all that, McGowan’s government remains enormously popular where it counts: among WA voters.

What’s next?

Assuming he wins — and wins big — on 13 March, what are the challenges and opportunities facing McGowan and his government?

Economically, WA appears in a strong position, and Labor’s election campaign has focused on more job creation. But the state is always subject to international commodity cycles, while tensions in Australia’s relationship with China — the main customer of WA iron ore — add a new element of risk.

Portraits of Zak Kirkup and Mark McGowan.
Liberal leader Zak Kirkup has already conceded he cannot win the election.
Richard Wainwright/ AAP

Socially, dealing with homelessness and rising house prices and rents will be on the agenda, after several years of relative stagnation in the property market.

Politically, despite Liberal warnings of Labor gaining “total control” of parliament, it is highly unlikely McGowan can secure an outright majority in the upper house, given the high levels of rural malapportionment. But there is a chance that Labor and the Greens combined could win an upper house majority for the first time.

This could put pressure around issues such as carbon emission reductions, where WA Labor has generally been happy to let Canberra take the lead. More prosaically, the prospect of a big win means McGowan will have to find ways of managing a large backbench that will inevitably include restive MPs with thwarted cabinet ambitions.




Read more:
The Liberals face electoral wipeout in WA, but have 3 good reasons to keep campaigning


However, the prime concern will be to avoid complacency and overreach, especially if the opposition is weak. WA governments tend to win two terms. A big win for McGowan may make a third term seem inevitable, but upsets like the Liberal National Party’s 2015 loss in Queensland show elections can’t be taken for granted.

But for now, the WA Liberals, under leader Zak Kirkup, appear to be on a road to nowhere. For Mark McGowan, it’s been a long way to the top. He is in no hurry to come down.The Conversation

John Phillimore, Executive Director, John Curtin Institute of Public Policy, Curtin University

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