Institutional investors would receive long-term subsidies to build new dwellings – on condition they rented them out below market rates – under an affordable housing program Bill Shorten is announcing on the first day of Labor’s national conference in Adelaide.
A Labor government would offer 15-year subsidies – $8,500 a year – for investors building new homes provided they charged rent at 20% under the market rate.
The program would cost A$102 million over the forward estimates to 2021-22 and A$6.6 billion over the decade to 2028-29. The costing was done by the Parliamentary Budget Office.
In his Sunday announcement, Shorten says that the ALP’s ten-year plan to build 250,000 houses and units would be Australia’s “biggest ever investment in affordable housing”. The plan includes 20,000 dwellings in the first term of a Labor government.
“This is a cost-of-living plan, a jobs plan and a housing plan. It will give working families a fair go to put a roof over their head now – and save for their own home in the future.”
He says these dwellings would be available to renters on “low and moderate incomes”. A family paying the average national rent of $462 a week could save $92 a week.
Labor would work with community housing providers, the residential construction sector and institutional investors.
“Labor’s plan will provide investors with certainty to build – knowing that they will have long-term government support and guarantees beyond the decade.”
Shorten says access to housing is one of the biggest challenges to dealing with intergenerational inequality, as an increasing “wealth gap” locks people out of the housing market.
“Increasing the supply of affordable housing is critical to addressing pressures on disposable income and, in turn, addressing inequality.
“Labor’s plan will deliver affordable, environmentally sustainable housing that helps to reduce energy consumption and cost-of-living pressures on Australian families.”
Shorten says the existing rental scheme – the National Rental Affordability Scheme – has attracted private investment of about A$12.9 billion, delivering 37,000 dwellings in a decade.
“Despite this success, the Liberals have abandoned affordable housing and axed the subsidies that encourage affordable housing. There is a severe shortage of affordable rental housing in Australia and many families are struggling to find and keep a roof over their heads. The number of Australians experiencing rental and mortgage stress is at record levels.”
The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute estimates a shortfall of more than 525,000 affordable rental properties, Shorten says.
Overseas students, temporary foreign workers and other non-residents would not be eligible to rent under the Labor scheme.
Shorten says the plan would support the ALP’s reforms to negative gearing, “which direct concessions to newly built premises and encourage housing construction”.
Labor hopes that the three-day conference will end the year on a high note for the opposition, after its strong two-party performance in polling during 2018. Maximum effort has been made to ensure that internal policy differences are managed to avoid damaging public divisions.
Shorten told a press conference on Saturday that he hoped to see “energetic, enthusiastic debate” at the conference.
He said “perhaps the most valuable proposition that Labor presents the Australian people at the federal election within the next five months – it’s a united team, it’s energetic and it’s a team with vision”.
Shorten defended his undertaking that Newstart would be reviewed ahead of an ALP government considering an increase.
“I think Newstart is too low. I don’t think anyone who says that it needs to increase is wrong.
“But what we’ll need to do from government is review the level and understand the implications of increasing Newstart, along with the impact on all of our other taxes and payment systems.
“We have to look at what we can afford as a nation. But we’re not reviewing Newstart to decrease it.”
On the sensitive issue of asylum-seeker policy, Shorten told his press conference a Labor government would put whatever resources were needed into stopping boats.
It would also support regional and offshore processing. It would take refugees into Australia – “properly, not via people smugglers”.
“We want to be a good international citizen – we also recognise, however, that we’ve got to make sure that whatever policy we adopt we can afford, and that it meets our combined goals of not keeping people in indefinite detention on Manus and Nauru but also keeping our borders strong, so we never again see the people-smuggling trade start up.”
Bill Shorten has promised Labor will commit $500 million over five years to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in a policy designed simultaneously to reassure voters and satisfy the party on the politically sensitive issue of border protection.
This was among proposed new measures on asylum seeker policy the opposition leader announced to the ALP national conference on Monday morning, preempting a debate later in the day, to ensure internal party differences were minimised.
He said the $500 million would directly improve orderly regional processing and resettlement in the region and countries closer to where refugees originally came from. The funding would “speed up legitimate settlement pathways – it will deny people smugglers a product to sell”.
Portraying Labor as tough on borders, but humanitarian on refugees, Shorten said that if he became prime minister, he would take immediate advice from the chief of the Australian Defence Force, the Home Affairs Department, ASIO and other agencies about Australia’s state of preparedness to disrupt people smuggling operations before people departed.
Labor would triple the number of Australian Federal Police working overseas to stop people smugglers and prevent people even contemplating getting on boats.
An ALP government would expand the existing community sponsored refugee program from the current number of 1,000 to 5,000.
“This means state and local governments, community organisations, businesses and unions and faith-based institutions will be able to sponsor humanitarian entrants into Australia and support the economic and social integration of refugees into communities,” Shorten said.
He said the expansion would be in addition to Australia’s existing humanitarian intake, so a Labor government would take more refugees overall as part of its migration mix.
Shorten reaffirmed Labor’s commitment to turnbacks and offshore processing, saying “it is not a crime to want to come to this country. But it is a crime to exploit vulnerable people to put them in dangerous and unsafe vessels and have them drown at sea”.
“We cannot, we must not, and we will not permit the reopening of their
trade in human desperation and the drownings and the irreplaceable loss of life that it brings.”
This required pursuing regional resettlement, turning back boats when it was safe to do so and maintaining offshore processing.
“But also … we understand that keeping our borders secure, and keeping people smugglers out of business should and never has meant leaving women and children to languish for years and years in indefinite detention in sub-standard facilities and unacceptable conditions”
“It has never meant allowing peoples’ mental and physical health to deteriorate whilst under direct or indirect Australian care. It has never meant fighting every step of the way against medical advice which says that more needs to be done to treat people”
“I believe that Australia can meet our international humanitarian and legal responsibilities without compromising our national security for a commitment to strong border protection,” Shorten said.
A Labor government would take up New Zealand’s offer to resettle refugees from Manus and Nauru by immediately negotiating an agreement on similar terms to the current deal with the United States.
In a counter attack against the Coalition, which is running hard on the ALP being soft on borders, Shorten accused the government of “telling lies about Labor” and thereby “doing the dirty work of the people smugglers.
“The Liberals are acting as spruikers for the criminal syndicates. Every time they get up and say that there will be a change in terms of border security, they are signalling criminal syndicates to try their hand again.
“They should be ashamed, they know what they do and they still do it.”
Despite recent falls in the housing market, housing costs and indebtedness bite deeply into household budgets, especially at Christmas time. Just over 433,000 households confront housing stress and homelessness every day across Australia. They represent the current shortfall of social housing.
If Christmas offers a moment for reflection, ask yourself what should our resolutions be for the housing market? What should we expect our governments to do about it?
In this article, we look at this week’s major statement on housing policy from a key contender to lead Australia’s next government – made by Bill Shorten at the ALP national conference.
We applaud the principle of fairness and the ambition of the ALP policy. We are less supportive of the reliance on for-profit investors, market rent mechanisms and land grabs. Our research shows direct government investment in social housing is ultimately far more efficient and effective than subsidising investors in the long term.
Shorten’s announcement also pledges reform of tax concessions that are driving inequality between households and investors. However, Labor recognises that this might not be enough to tilt the balance in favour of low-income households, and directing the savings from these changes into housing programs is a welcome move.
Labor proposes to subsidise investors in affordable rental housing, much like the Rudd government’s National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS). Labor would offer an $8,500-a-year subsidy over 15 years to investors who build new homes for low-income and middle-income households to rent at an “affordable” rate – 20% below market rent.
Starting modestly, the program aims to produce 20,000 affordable units over three years, building to a much larger target of 250,000 dwellings over ten years.
State governments would also be required to get on board through partnership agreements, as they have done in the past, providing land and other forms of co-investment. Hefty stamp duty revenues in recent years should make this easier for the states.
While Labor’s targets appear high by recent standards, Commonwealth and state governments directly funded the building of 9,000 public housing dwellings each year for the better half of the 20th century – until 1996. Annual production is now down to 3,000 dwellings. That’s not even enough to maintain the existing public share of housing.
Since the mid-1990s, a preference for outsourcing social responsibility through private rental providers and indirect rental support payments has dominated public policy. The ALP’s subsidy-based policy continues this trend.
The proposal centres on maintaining returns to investors at levels that encourage investment. As our previous research has shown, over the longer term this increases cost per dwelling. The question remains, as it did under the NRAS: who are we trying to subsidise here, the investors or the tenants, and is it really equitable and effective?
What are the alternatives?
Previous work has shown that NRAS-type schemes offer most benefit to new affordable housing developments when the funds are directed to not for profit organisations, rather than “leaking” out to the for-profit private sector. The advantages of this approach include:
subsidies are retained within the affordable housing system
benefits are directed to regulated not-for-profit developers with a social purpose
the benefit is stretched out over a longer time, meaning government investment does not expire after a set time.
In the UK, a lack of direct conditional investment and weak definitions of affordability led to an 80% decline in social housing production. Without public equity, recurrent operating subsidies have no influence on design quality or ongoing impact after the expiry of providers’ obligations – or their cancellation. Yes, they can be switched on and off like a tap – as happened in 2014 with the NRAS.
With good design, a new scheme could overcome some of these deficiencies. Labor promises to provide lower annual subsidies than NRAS but for longer – 15 rather than 10 years – adding up to at least $127,500 from the Commonwealth for a tenancy to be offered at below market rents. It’s a substantial commitment.
Yet if this level of support was invested up front to build dwellings, rather than provided as an annual operating subsidy, it would make a substantial and enduring contribution to Australia’s housing needs. This is not only socially responsible, it can drive green innovation and is also more financially responsible too.
The only thing that stands in the way is the narrow public accounting doctrine that privileges day-to-day expenditure over long-term investments. This is something that, in the UK, even the Treasury and the National Audit Office are learning to overcome after the painful experience of the Private Finance Initiative.
How much more cost-effective is direct investment?
If equity and fairness are to be the yardsticks of policy, age pensioners, people with disabilities and low-paid workers should be the focus of our deepest support. Our AHURI research has established the level, type and location of investment required to meet the needs of 433,000 low-income households in housing stress or homeless across Australia. The current market offers no affordable or secure options for them.
Our research also compared the cost of subsidising investors versus direct investment by government. Our modelling of costs and review of international experience provide evidence that direct investment is far more efficient and effective in the medium and long term.
Thus, we argue for more direct investment in social housing, strategic use of efficient mission-driven financing and retained investment via public equity and public land leases.
Recognition of the need for national leadership and policy reform is growing. After backpedalling, the Coalition government moved forward in 2018 to establish, with cross-party support, the National Housing Finance Corporation. This mission focused public corporation will soon channel lower-cost financing towards regulated not-for-profit housing. Of course, financing is debt and not quite the same as funding.
The Australian Greens have yet to announce their policy but an outline suggests a commitment to invest in social housing and establish a federal housing trust.
The ALP’s proposals are framed in line with the laudable principle of fairness and are a work in progress – rather than mission accomplished. Overcoming the shortfall of affordable and secure housing will require purposeful Commonwealth and state government funding, mission driven financing as well as land policies to make housing markets fairer for all.
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has used an address to the Labor national conference to deliver a fresh swingeing attack on the Murdoch media, declaring “it is not a news organisation, it is a political party”.
Rudd said for Labor and for Bill Shorten, “dealing with the Murdoch mafia is kind of like dealing with a daily evisceration”
“It ain’t fair, it never will be and as soon as we acknowledge that fact, the better we will be in our response.”
Rudd and his wife, Therese Rein, were receiving ALP life memberships at the conference. Life memberships were also bestowed on two other former Labor prime ministers, Paul Keating and Julia Gillard, who were not present.
Attacks on the Murdoch media come frequently from Rudd, with a notable one in the 2013 election campaign.
Rudd told the conference the Coalition had “a very robust” partner in the “Murdoch party”, which had an ideology.
“Our movement has the audacity of hope to stand up and say ‘we don’t accept your ideology and your commercial interests. We actually will fight against it’. That’s why they hate us so much.”
“That’s why they hooked into Bill, that’s why they hooked into Julia, that’s why they hooked into me, that’s why they hooked into Paul, that’s why they hooked into Bob – because we represent a threat to their core commercial and ideological interests.”
He contrasted the treatment of Labor meted out by the “Murdoch party” with that accorded to “Saint John” Howard.
Rudd said he had a simple message for Rupert Murdoch: “you don’t own Australia. Murdoch doesn’t have Australia as his own personal belonging. This country belongs to the working men and women who build Australia.”
Shorten, introducing Rudd, paid tribute to his performance in the 2013 election, saying while that election was lost, “your campaigning skills … ensured that we entered opposition as a strong, viable electoral fighting force”.
Party sources said the opposition leader regarded it as important to pay tribute to the former prime ministers at this conference as a gesture of unity. Earlier conferences bestowed life membership on Bob Hawke and Gough Whitlam.
Shorten said in his tributes that Keating was a “hero of the true believers” and Gillard was a “continuing inspiration for women and girls”.
He said there had been a lot of pain but it was “time for healing to make peace with our past in the same way we are united about our future”.
“At our best, we are a movement focused on the future – but as Australia’s oldest continuous political party we have always revered our traditions and we take inspiration from our struggles in the past.
“And we are better, we are stronger, we are more confident and more complete when we extend to our former leaders and legends the respect they deserve, the gratitude they have earned.
“Labor can do more, indeed Australia can do more, to recognise the contribution of our past leaders – and to call upon their wisdom, their talents and their capacities in the continued service of our country.”
In his address, Rudd attacked Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton as a reminder of “that whole generation of Queensland coppers in the days of Bjelke-Petersen” and denounced the government’s recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as “a lunatic decision”.
If anyone needs further evidence of the self-defeating weird places
the Liberals seem to find themselves in, consider what happened on
Malcolm Turnbull made another intervention in the political debate,
this time talking about the National Energy Guarantee, when he spoke
at an energy conference on Tuesday morning.
“I’ve strongly encouraged my colleagues to work together to revive the
National Energy Guarantee. It was a vital piece of economic policy and
had strong support, and none stronger I might say, than that of the
current Prime Minister and the current Treasurer,” he said.
This and the rest of Turnbull’s observations on energy policy provided
abundant material for a question time attack by a Labor party bloated
from dining on the unending manna that’s been flowing its way from
some political heaven.
As Scott Morrison sought to counter this latest attack by concentrating on
Labor’s substantial emissions reduction target (45% on 2005 levels by
2030), suddenly a tweet appeared from Turnbull.
“I have not endorsed “Labor’s energy policy”. They have adopted the
NEG mechanism,“ Turnbull said – adding a tick of approval – “but have
not demonstrated that their 45% emissions reduction target will not
push up prices. I encouraged all parties to stick with Coalition’s NEG
which retains wide community support.”
Here was the former PM effectively inserting himself into Question
Time – in real time.
Morrison quickly quoted from the tweet, but it couldn’t repair the
damage done by Turnbull’s earlier comments.
All round, it was another difficult day for the government on the energy front.
The Coalition parties meeting discussed its controversial plan
providing for divestiture when energy companies misuse market power,
with conduct that is “fraudulent, dishonest or in bad faith” in the wholesale market.
The government has put more constraints on its plan than originally
envisaged. Notably, rather than a divestiture decision resting with
the treasurer, it would lie with the federal court (although precisely what this would mean is somewhat unclear).
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told a news conference: “This power will be on the advice
of the ACCC [the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission] to
the Treasurer, and then the Treasurer will make a referral to the
Federal Court. The Federal Court will then be empowered to make that
There had already been backbench criticisms of the divestiture proposal expressed to Frydenberg last week; the changes dealt with some of these.
But the plan is still leaving some in Coalition ranks uneasy.
According to the official government version, in the party room 18
speakers had a say, with 14 supporting (though a couple of them were
concerned about the interventionism involved) and four expressing
varying degrees of reservation. No one threatened to cross the floor.
Backbench sources said the strongest critics were Jason Falinski,
Russell Broadbent, Tim Wilson and former deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop,
while milder criticisms came from Craig Laundy, Scott Ryan and Jane
There were two main worries about the measure – the potential negative
impact on business investment and its inconsistency with Liberal party
free market principles.
Bishop – who, it might be recalled, was recently saying there should
be a bipartisan deal with Labor on the NEG – highlighted the
investment implications and the issue of sovereign risk.
She said: “This is not orthodox Liberal policy. We need to do more
consultation with the industry and we need to be cautious of
unintended consequences of forced divestiture”.
Addressing the concerns, Morrison told the party room that a variety
of principles were at play.
The energy sector was not “a free market nirvana” but rather “a
bastardised market,” he said. The law was targeted at situations where
sweetheart deals came at the expense of consumers.
Energy minister Angus Taylor said governments of the centre-right,
including the Menzies and the Thatcher governments, had acted to
ensure markets operated for consumers.
Taylor invoked an example of the beer drinkers against the brewers,
when Thatcher had been on the side of the beers drinkers.
Frydenberg produced a quote from Menzies’ “Forgotten People”
broadcasts about the need to balance the requirements of industry with
The legislation, which is opposed by Labor even with the changes, is
being introduced this week. But there is no guarantee that it can be
passed by the time of the election – not least because there are so
few sitting days next year.
So the most controversial part of the government’s “big stick”, which
has caused so much angst with business, may never become a reality.
In the topsy turvy Liberal universe, just when the right is trying to
tighten its grip on the throat of the party, the government is haring
off to the left, with this week’s legislation to allow it to break up
recalcitrant energy companies.
As former deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop – who as a backbencher
has become very forthright – said in the Coalition party room on
Tuesday, “this is not orthodox Liberal policy”. Bishop canvassed the
danger of sovereign risk.
To find a rationale for a frolic into what in other circumstances the
Liberals would no doubt denounce as “socialism”, one might see it as
driven by the veto of the so-called conservatives.
Those on the right (led by Tony Abbott and his band) have long stopped
the government putting forward a sound energy policy, despite the
strong pleas from stakeholders across the board.
Instead, trying to respond to the pressing electoral issue of high
electricity prices, the government has reached for its “big stick”
including the threat of divestiture – a policy that’s being attacked
by Labor as well as business.
Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen was correct on Thursday when he said:
“this is what we see when a government’s policy agenda falls apart”.
Having to defend this draconian policy, first from critical Coalition
backbenchers (who won some changes) and then in parliament, the
government found itself tied in knots.
Given this is such a radical proposal, it was also in an enormous rush with the legislation, introducing it on Wednesday and wanting the House of Representatives to pass it by Thursday.
But that timetable was stymied by Labor. Passage through the House
will have to wait until February.
Meanwhile there will be a Senate inquiry, reporting in March. This
puts off a Senate vote until budget week in April – ensuring a lot
of noise about this controversial measure just when the government
will want all the attention on a budget crafted to appeal to voters
for a May election.
Even if the divestiture legislation gets through the Senate next year,
a likely Labor election victory would mean we’ll probably never see
this particular “big stick” wielded. It’s highly doubtful the threat
will have been worth the angst, or the trashing of Liberal principles.
The final parliamentary fortnight of 2018 coincided with the first
fortnight of the hung parliament.
For Scott Morrison, it has been an excruciating two weeks, with the
backlash from the Liberals’ trouncing in Victoria, Julia Banks’
defection to the crossbench, Malcolm Turnbull’s provocative
interventions, and an impasse with Labor over the plan to protect LGBT
The government’s stress culminated in Thursday’s extraordinary battle
to prevent a defeat on the floor of the House.
This test of strength was over amendments, based on a proposal
originally coming from new Wentworth member Kerryn Phelps, that would
make it easier to transfer people needing medical treatment from Nauru
and Manus to Australia.
As both sides played the tactics, a remarkable thing happened in the
House of Representatives. Behaviour improved one hundred percent, with
none of the usual screaming and exchanges of insults. This pleasing
development was, unsurprisingly, driven by self-interest – neither
government nor opposition could afford to have anyone thrown out ahead
of the possible crucial vote.
Earlier, Morrison had shown anything but restraint when at his news
conference he described Bill Shorten as “a clear and present threat to
Australia’s safety”. Once that would have been taken as a serious
claim, which a prime minister would have been called on to justify. In
these days, it’s seen as a passing comment.
In what was a highly aggressive performance, Morrison gave us another
foretaste of what he’ll be like on the hustings.
In the end, by its delaying tactics in the Senate, the government
prevented the amendments reaching the House before it adjourned, and
so avoided a test of the numbers.
Defeat in the House would not have equalled a no confidence vote, but
it would have been a serious blow for Morrison. Looking for a
precedent, the House of Representatives’ clerks office went back to
votes lost in 1929 (which led to an election) and on the 1941 budget
(which brought down the Fadden government).
But the government may have just put off, rather than prevented, the
reckoning. Phelps said on Sky, “I am sad that we didn’t get this
through today … because I believe it would have gone through on the numbers … But you know if we have to wait until February, at least I believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Dodging this vote meant that legislation to give authorities better
access to encrypted messages to help in the fight against terrorism
looked like it would be delayed. Once the House had adjourned, any
Labor amendments the Senate might pass couldn’t go back there until
The government had declared the encryption measure was urgent, and the
blame game started in anticipation of a hold up. Then, mid-debate in
the Senate, Labor abandoned its attempt to amend the bill, which
glided through. In an agreement which may mean something or nothing,
the government undertook to consider the ALP amendments in the new
Shorten didn’t want to be open to the government’s accusations of impeding legislation the security agencies said would help prevent terrorist
acts. “I couldn’t go home and leave Australians over Christmas without
some of the protections which we all agree are necessary,” he said.
The events of this week show why the government decided to have
the minimum of sitting days before the election next year.
The new parliamentary session will open with a deadlock on the
protection of gay students, the divestiture plan up in the air, and
the Nauru-Manus vote hanging over the government.
And by that time Scott Morrison will have had his first and probably
his last Christmas at Kirribilli.
While it is possible that two seats could change, Labor appears to have won 56 of the 88 seats in the Victorian lower house, up nine seats since the 2014 election, the Coalition won 26 seats (down 12), the Greens three seats (up one) and independents three seats (up two).
These results reflect changes since the 2014 election, and do not account for Labor’s loss of Northcote to the Greens at a byelection, which Labor regained at the general. Party defections are also ignored.
Labor’s unexpectedly crushing victory was capped by triumphs in Hawthorn (50.4-49.6) and Nepean (50.9-49.1). Labor had not won Hawthorn since 1952, and Nepean (formerly known as Dromana) since 1982. It also came close to winning Caulfield (a 50.3-49.7 loss), which has never been Labor-held since its creation in 1927.
The 8-10 point swings to Labor in Hawthorn, Nepean and other affluent Liberal heartland seats such as Brighton and Malvern appear to demonstrate well-educated voters’ anger with the Liberals’ law and order campaign, and the federal Liberals’ ousting of Malcolm Turnbull.
Labor was assisted in Victoria by a strong state economy, and an unpopular federal Coalition government. The national economy is currently good, and this could assist the federal government if they could stop fighting among themselves.
While Labor had massive wins in Melbourne and its outskirts, and increased its margins in regional cities, it did not perform well by comparison in country areas. Labor only gained one country seat, Ripon, and that was by just 31 votes on a swing under 1%; there could be a recount in Ripon.
The Greens held Melbourne and Prahran, and gained Brunswick from Labor. In Prahran, Green Sam Hibbins was third on primaries, trailing Labor by 0.8%. On preferences of left-wing micros, he overtook Labor by 0.7%, and easily defeated the Liberals on Labor preferences. This is the second consecutive election in which Hibbins has come from third on primary votes to win Prahran.
Russell Northe, who defected from the Nationals in the last parliament, retained Morwell as an independent. Ali Cupper, who had contested Mildura in 2010 as a Labor candidate, gained it as an independent from the Nationals. Independent Suzanna Sheed retained Shepparton, a seat she gained from the Nationals in 2014.
Near-final statewide primary votes were 42.8% Labor (up 4.7% since the 2014 election), 35.2% Coalition (down 6.7%) and 10.7% Greens (down 0.8%). It is unlikely we will have an official Labor vs Coalition statewide two party count until next week, but The Poll Bludger estimates Labor won this count by 57.4-42.6, a 5.5% swing to Labor.
Final pre-election polls greatly overstated the Coalition and understated Labor, as shown by the table below. The only poll that came close to the result was a ReachTEL poll for a left-wing organisation, taken 11 days before the election, that gave Labor a 56-44 lead.
Bold numbers in the table indicate a poll estimate that was within 1% of the results. All polls had the Greens right, but missed on Labor and the Coalition.
Micro parties still likely to win ten upper house seats
The ABC calculator currently gives Labor 18 of the 40 upper house seats, the Coalition 11, the Greens just one, and ten for all others. Others include four Derryn Hinch Justice, two Transport Matters, one Animal Justice, one Liberal Democrat, one Aussie Battler and one Sustainable Australia.
The upper house has eight regions that each elect five members. The three country regions are very close to completion of their counts, while the city regions lag. In Northern Victoria, Labor will win two seats, the Coalition one, Hinch Justice one and Liberal Democrats one. In Western Victoria, Labor will win two, the Coalition one, Animal Justice one and Hinch Justice one.
In Eastern Victoria, the calculator has Labor and the Coalition each winning two seats with one for Aussie Battler. However, Kevin Bonham says that Aussie Battler is ahead of Hinch Justice at a critical point by just 0.11%, and this lead will be overturned with below-the-line votes. The Shooters will win the final Eastern Victoria seat.
In Eastern Metro, with the count at 87.2%, there will be two Labor, two Liberals and Transport Matters wins the final seat from just 0.6% (0.04 quotas). In Southern Metro, two Labor and two Liberals win. The Greens, with 0.79 of a quota, are easily beaten to the last seat by Sustainable Australia, with just 1.3% or 0.08 quotas.
While the figure used by the ABC is the rechecked percentage counted, the electoral commission has been providing actual primary counts in Word files, which are ahead of the rechecked count in Metro regions.
In South-Eastern Metro, Labor will win three seats and the Liberals one. Bonham says Transport Matters could be excluded at a critical point, and fail to take the final seat, in which case it goes to the Liberal Democrats, who had an even lower vote than Transport Matters in that region (1.2% vs 0.8%).
In Western Metro, Labor will win three seats and the Liberals one. The last seat is likely to go to Hinch Justice, which won 6.9% in that region. However, the Shooters, with just 1.9%, could win the final seat.
In Northern Metro, two Labor and one Green are certain winners. In Bonham’s more up-to-date figures, the Liberals win one seat, and the final seat is probably a contest between Hinch Justice and Fiona Patten.
Labor and the Coalition are likely to win the 18 and 11 seats respectively that the calculator currently gives them. The ten micros could be a little different from the ABC’s current projection.
The group voting tickets are excessively complex, and it would be far easier to call these seats with a more sensible system.
NSW Galaxy: 52-48 to Labor, ReachTEL: 51-49
The New South Wales election will be held on March 23, 2019. A YouGov Galaxy poll for The Daily Telegraph, conducted November 29-30 from a sample of 903, gave Labor a 52-48 lead; this is the first NSW Galaxy poll since the 2015 election. A ReachTEL poll for The Sydney Morning Herald, conducted November 29 from a sample of 1,560, gave Labor a 51-49 lead, a one-point gain for Labor since a September ReachTEL poll.
Primary votes in the Galaxy poll were 39% Labor, 37% Coalition, 9% Greens and 8% One Nation. In ReachTEL, primary votes, after excluding 3.1% undecided, were 37.7% Coalition, 35.2% Labor, 9.9% Greens and 7.7% One Nation. Labor’s primary vote is four points lower in ReachTEL than Galaxy.
After replacing Luke Foley as Labor leader, Michael Daley appears to be benefiting from a honeymoon. He trails incumbent Gladys Berejiklian 33-31 in Galaxy, and leads her 54.2-45.8 in ReachTEL as better Premier. ReachTEL’s forced choice better PM/Premier questions usually benefit opposition leaders.
State parties tend to do better when the opposite party is in power federally, and the current federal government is unpopular. It appears that the federal election will be held in May 2019, and this is bad news for the NSW Coalition, which has to face voters first. In ReachTEL, voters said by 50-36 that federal politics would play a role in their state election decision.
By 58-36, voters in ReachTEL opposed the NSW government’s stadium policy, which includes knocking down and rebuilding stadiums.
Newspoll: 55-45 to federal Labor, but Morrison’s ratings recover
Last week’s federal Newspoll, conducted November 22-25 – the same weekend as the Victorian election – from a sample of 1,720, gave Labor a 55-45 lead, unchanged since three weeks ago. Primary votes were 40% Labor (steady), 34% Coalition (down one), 9% Greens (steady) and 8% One Nation (up two).
43% were satisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance (up four), and 42% were dissatisfied (down five), for a net approval of +1, up nine points. Bill Shorten’s net approval was up two points to -13. Morrison led Shorten by 46-34 as better PM (42-36 three weeks ago).
By 40-34, voters opposed moving the Australian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. After being told that Indonesia and Malaysia had raised concerns about the embassy move, voters thought by 46-34 that Morrison should announce the move will not take place, rather than ignore those countries’ concerns.
Newspoll was three points better for Labor than two polls last fortnight, which both had Labor leading by just 52-48. The PM’s ratings are usually a good guide to voting intentions, so the hope for the Coalition is that Morrison’s lift could soon lift the Coalition. This poll was taken before last week’s parliamentary session.
UK Brexit deal vote on December 11
The UK House of Commons will decide whether to reject or approve PM Theresa May’s Brexit deal with the European Union on December 11.
Indications are that the deal will be rejected by a large margin, with about 100 Conservative MPs set to vote against the deal. You can read my article on the probable consequences of a “no-deal” Brexit on my personal website.
The Government opposes it. Labor has opposed such proposals in the past. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said he would like to increase payments, but they would be ones of his choosing – he would lift the pension before lifting Newstart.
But the pension is already much higher than Newstart, and other benefits have fallen behind by more.
In a report on Australia it suggested that not only it might be insufficient to live on, it also might be insufficient to enable those on it to look for work.
The relatively low net replacement rate in the first year of the unemployment spell raises issues about its effectiveness in providing sufficient support for those experiencing a job loss, or enabling someone to look for a suitable job.
The main reason why it is inadequate is that it hasn’t increased by much more than inflation since 1994. General living standards have soared during those two and a half decades, as has the pension which is linked to them by being set as proportion of male wages, and which was increased substantially in 2009.
Newstart is now only A$275.20 per week. The pension is A$417.20 per week (A$458.15 with the pension supplement and energy supplement).
Unless it is better indexed, Newstart will slide even further relative to other payments and living standards.
The relative decline in Newstart was the result of neglect. It was left indexed to the consumer price index when, over the long term, it should have been indexed to a measure that moves with community living standards.
But in other cases, governments under five prime ministers over the past twelve years have made explicit decisions to cut assistance, most severely for low income single parents.
In 2006 the Howard government made substantial changes to the Parenting Payment Single (PPS) and the Parenting Payment – Partnered (PPP) as part of what it called a welfare to work program.
Single parents claiming the PPS after July 1, 2006 would lose it when their youngest child turned eight. They would go onto the much lower Newstart unemployment benefit, and be expected to look for work.
Partnered parents claiming the PPP would lose it when their youngest child turned six, but for them it made little difference because their parenting payment and Newstart were about the same.
These changes have shrunk Family Tax Benefit payments per child from 16.6% – 21.6% of the married pension rate to 14.5% – 18.9%, a difference now of $13 per week for each younger child and $17 per week for each older child – with more shrinkage to come.
After a tough time in the Senate, several of his measures finally passed, under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2016 and 2017.
Family Tax Benefit B has been closed to couple families with children aged 13 years or older and the Family Tax Benefit B income test tightened, the size of the payments to large families has been wound back, the Family Tax benefit A end of year supplement has been withdrawn from families earning over A$80,000 per annum and rates have pay have been temporarily frozen, so that they don’t even increase with inflation.
What’s been the total of cuts since 2006?
The cumulative effects of the policy choices since 2006 on the disposable incomes of single parent families are substantial.
We have compared how much low-income parents currently receive, compared to what they would be receiving if these changes had not been made.
Our calculations are conservative.
We have ignored a number of changes including payments that have come and gone such as the Schoolkid’s Bonus and the Energy Supplement or changes that affect high income families. Nor have we taken into account the loss of payments to families with with four or more children due to the phasing out of the Large Family Supplement from July 2016.
Single parents still on Parenting Payment Single with two younger children have lost nearly $85 per fortnight; about 6% of their disposable incomes. For families with older children, the loss is about $271 per fortnight; a cut in disposable income of nearly 19%.
In total there are around 360,000 families with children, Australia’s poorest, who are getting considerably less financial support.
It has happened as a result of actions by both sides of politics under prime ministers Howard, Rudd, Gillard, Abbott and Turnbull.
As with the decision to link Newstart to the consumer price index rather than wages, the effects of their decisions will widen over time. The poorest families, and their children, will increasingly fall behind the rest of the population.
And the proportion of single parents employed went backwards during the global financial crisis, sliding to 53% and only recovering to 55% in 2017, despite the move of families from Parenting Payment Single to Newstart.
It’s time for a proper review
The “root and branch review” promised by Bill Shorten and the ongoing commission proposed by crossbenchers are not mutually exclusive.
An immediate review could be used to increase payments in the shorter term, while an ongoing commission could examine longer-term priorities.
A comprehensive review of Australia’s social security system, undertaken in an integrated fashion and including tax as well as payments (including those for childcare and to support people who study and work) is overdue.
We need such a review to consider the design of our safety net in the light of economic, demographic, technological and social changes, and those to come.
It ought to be a key priority of Australia’s next government.
It ought to set up our support systems for the future.
Many voters mightn’t thank Scott Morrison for confirming he plans to
run the election date out to May. Given Canberra politics is so
dysfunctional, it feels like prolonging the agony.
With the widespread assumption that the Coalition can’t recover, the
early months of 2019 will be something of a hiatus – various
stakeholders will put decisions on hold because they expect a change of
Morrison’s strategy is clear. Play on the best thing he has going for
him – a strong economy, which is flowing through to government
revenue. Release a budget update on December 17 that shows a healthy
bottom line, and probably contains some substantive decisions. Then
the April 2 budget can be loaded with voter bait, and contain the long-awaited surplus, opening the way for the poll on May 11 or 18.
The budget update will come out during the ALP’s national conference.
Usually the Coalition would have avoided a clash, expecting that
conference, which determines a supposedly-binding platform, would see
Labor divisions on display.
But while issues like refugees, Palestine, industrial relations and
trade may stir vigorous debate, the Liberals know they won’t get much
grist for their purposes. As one Labor man says, the “government”
faction at the conference will be large – those with eyes firmly on
seeing Bill Shorten reach The Lodge.
By setting out his timetable this week, Morrison has given away the
option of a March poll. Unwise to abandon the flexibility, one might say. But March had always been unpopular with the Feds because they didn’t want to be the first government on whom NSW voters vent their rage (the
state election is late March).
Morrison is no doubt also operating on the basis that the longer he
waits the greater the possibility of something turning up.
The government hopes that with maximum time it can turn the political
debate onto the economic argument, as well as looking to its fear
campaign against Labor to have more impact.
But governments can’t rely on being rewarded for favourable numbers. Voters expect them to deliver on the economy. Even with a bright macro
picture, they are out of sorts because of low wage growth, cost of
living pressures and the general disgruntlement that permeates the
Making the budget the election launch pad has its risks. The 2016
precedent is not encouraging, even if Turnbull’s bad campaigning has
to take a good deal of blame. A budget can contain unanticipated land
mines, and it is awkward if they explode during the campaign – which
of course next time will be much shorter than Turnbull’s marathon.
Now in minority government, the Coalition is minimising its
parliamentary exposure, proposing only some 10 days of sitting next year
before the election. When the houses aren’t in session the Senate
can’t cause trouble and the newly-empowered lower house crossbenchers
lose their clout.
But the Senate this week made sure that it will have time for estimate
committees to scrutinise (albeit briefly) budget measures, by voting
to alter the sitting timetable. Labor recalls that just before the
2016 election it extracted, via the estimates process, the long term costing for the government’s company tax cut plan.
With the arrival of Kerryn Phelps in parliament on Monday, and then
Tuesday’s defection of Julia Banks, the House of Representatives crossbench has become the centre of attention. We’re yet to see just what tangible results this will produce for Labor or for the crossbenchers themselves.
Labor is trying to muster the numbers to refer Home Affairs Minister
Peter Dutton’s eligibility to the High Court but hasn’t locked them in
so far. Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie on Thursday suggested he’d
like to see several referrals together.
The crossbenchers have agendas, including the push for an
anti-corruption body and Phelps’ bill facilitating medical transfers
from Nauru and Manus Island. It’s a matter of what they can “land”
with the opportunities and time available.
Government legislation such as that giving itself the power to break
up recalcitrant energy companies (to be introduced next week) will
both test the House crossbenchers and give them openings to pursue
When on Thursday Labor tried to suspend standing orders to move a
motion condemning the government on multiple fronts, the crossbenchers
went in all directions.
Wilkie and the Greens’ Adam Bandt supported Labor; Bob Katter voted
with the government; the women – Cathy McGowan, Rebekha Sharkie,
Phelps and Banks – abstained. The vote was lost 66-68.
Within the expanded crossbench, the four women have formed a defacto
mutually-supportive subgroup. Phelps has confirmed she counselled
Banks before she defected. “Julia reached out to me for some consultation about what that process might look and feel like, and I indicated that I would be there to support her in that transition,” Phelps said.
While the Liberals are losing out politically because of their low female representation and their inability to properly address that problem, on the House crossbench the women are now standouts (and a majority).
On Thursday they came to Morrison’s rescue. If three of the four had
voted with the opposition, the Labor motion would have received a
It would not have achieved the absolute majority needed to suspend
standing orders, but losing on the straight numbers would have been
very embarrassing for the Prime Minister, a symbol of his government’s
new, diminished status.
Sharkie later explained that “we abstain on what we see as party
political games”, though adding that she wasn’t disputing there were
facts in some of the points in the motion.
Labor believed the four had missed an opportunity to deliver a soft
blow to the government. Looked at another way, the women may have
banked some credit with the government for other things.
As he left for his weekend at the G20 in Argentina, the action – or
inaction – of the four female crossbenchers gave Morrison a small
salve to apply to the black eye he received earlier in the week from
one of their number.
Whatever it does, the Morrison government seems to find itself caught
on the sticky fly paper. As if it didn’t have trouble enough with
trying to decide about the embassy in Israel and the religious freedom
report, on Monday it became messily entangled in the issue of a
national integrity commission.
On the first day of formal minority government, the crossbench flexed
its muscle and the government bowed to the new reality.
Well, not quite bowed – but bought time by taking a line of least resistance.
After the independent member for Indi, Cathy McGowan, introduced her
private member’s bill for a national integrity commission, the House
of Representatives considered a motion from the Senate which called on
“the federal government to establish a national anti-corruption
The government didn’t oppose the motion, which went through on the voices.
It was claimed that Attorney-General Christian Porter wanted to set out
the government’s objections to the McGowan bill, which he couldn’t do
in private members’ time.
The real reason was the government didn’t want to test its numbers on
the floor when there could be a defector or two from its own ranks.
Porter embarked on something of a lawyer’s frolic as he pointed to
dangers in the bill.
He warned that any public official who, it could be argued, had
breached public trust or impaired confidence in public administration
“would be liable to a finding of corruption”, even for a trivial
The ABC would come under the proposed body. So Porter conjured up the
scenario of ABC political editor Andrew Probyn (who, it will be
recalled, former ABC chairman Justin Milne wanted shot) being caught
under the bill.
On Porter’s account, that would be because Probyn was found in breach
of the ABC code of practice’s provision on impartiality for saying
Tony Abbott was the “most destructive politician of his generation”.
“Under this bill before the House—no ifs, ands or buts—Andrew Probyn
would be found to have committed corruption,” Porter declared.
He didn’t sound as if he were joking but maybe the Attorney has a very
dry sense of humour.
Not that McGowan is claiming her bill has the detail right. What she
and other crossbenchers are trying to do is force the government’s
How far they’ll succeed is not clear – they’ll get something but not
the full monty.
The government’s preference would be to do nothing. But that’s no
longer politically viable. Labor is committed to a new anti-corruption
body (once it didn’t believe in one), and the level of public distrust
of the political system makes this an issue that resonates in the
The government now finds itself in the rather bizarre situation of
having voted for a “national anti-corruption commission” without
committing itself to one.
In fact, such a commission is the least likely to get a tick of the
three options before the government. Porter has all but written it
The other options, according to Porter, are expanding one of the
existing 13 bodies that presently deal with integrity and corruption
(probably the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity),
or merging some of them to eliminate overlap.
Ideally the way forward would be by a bipartisan approach. The issues
are indeed complex and state experience suggests the need for careful
balances and protections. But bipartisanship not the way of things
before an election.
Attacking Shorten, Scott Morrison accused him of being preoccupied
with a “fringe issue”.
Morrison said the matter would be dealt with “through a normal Cabinet
process”. Porter says this process is well underway. Indeed a lot of
it happened under Malcolm Turnbull – Porter says he has been working
on it since he became attorney-general nearly a year ago.
Both the embassy question and the religious freedom report are in
“processes” at the moment.
The government received another prod on the latter when on Monday a
Labor-chaired Senate committee recommended in its majority report that
a ban on religious schools discriminating against gay teachers should
This goes much further than the government’s plan – bogged down in
negotiations with Labor – for legislation to prevent discrimination
against gay students. The opposition is expected on Tuesday to push the
government to act immediately on its promise to protect students.
As the Liberals took in the devastating Victorian result, there was
the feeling that the Morrison government was just holding things
Senate president and Victorian Liberal Scott Ryan, who rarely enters controversies given his position as a presiding officer, unleashed a restrained but pointed assault against the right of the party (and rightwing commentators).
Victorian Liberal backbencher Tim Wilson delivered a sharp message to the coal lovers. “If anybody thinks that there’s this great public sentiment out there that people really deep down hate renewables and they’re hugging something like coal, I say again — get real”.
That immediately encouraged a rerun of Morrison’s coal hugging in parliament.
In question time the Prime Minister was decidedly shouty and aggressive.
And, despite the crossbenchers now looming large in his world, he
didn’t make time to sit in the chamber for Kerryn Phelps’ maiden
speech. He had other engagements, his office said.