Tony Abbott says government’s challenge is ‘to be worth voting for’


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Tony Abbott has laid out his policy alternatives to make the next election “winnable” for the Coalition, in a provocative speech that again highlights his differences with Malcolm Turnbull. The Conversation

The former prime minister said the government should say to the people of Australia that it would cut the renewable energy target, reduce immigration, scrap the Human Rights Commission, stop all new spending, and reform the Senate via a referendum held with the next election.

Launching Making Australia Right, a book of essays by conservatives edited by James Allan, Abbott brought together several proposals he has previously argued for.

He took aim at the government’s current signals about the future direction of its energy policy, and attacked its preservation of the 23% Renewable Energy Target (RET), which was negotiated in his time as prime minister.

“The government is now talking about using the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to subsidise a new coal-fired power station – creating, if you like, a base-load target to supplement the renewable target,” he said.

“We subsidise wind to make coal uneconomic so now we are proposing to subsidise coal to keep the lights on. Go figure.”

“Wouldn’t it be better to abolish subsidies for new renewable generation and let ordinary market forces do the rest?”

“Of course that would trigger the mother of all brawls in the Senate, but what better way to let voters know that the Coalition wants your power bill down, while Labor wants it up?”

Abbott said the government’s challenge was “to be worth voting for” and to “win back the people who are giving up on us”.

“In or out of government, political parties need a purpose. Our politics can’t be just a contest of toxic egos or someone’s vanity project.”

The next election was “winnable”, he said, outlining the pitches he saw as needed to secure that win.

“If we stop pandering to climate change theology and freeze the RET, we can take the pressure off power prices.”

“If we end the ‘big is best’ thinking of the federal Treasury, and scaled
back immigration – at least until housing starts and infrastructure have caught up – we can take the pressure off home prices.”

“If we can take our own rhetoric about budget repair seriously and avoid all new spending and cut out all frivolous spending, we will start to get the deficit down.”

“If we refuse to be the ATM for the states, there might finally be some microeconomic reform of our public education and public health systems.”

“If we stopped funding the Human Rights Commission and leave protecting our liberties to the parliament, the courts and a free press where they belong, we might start to look like the defenders of western civilisation that we aspire to be.”

Speaking on Sky, Abbott said that “plainly there are lots of people concerned about our direction” and warned “the risk is we will drift to defeat if we don’t lift our game”.

He also criticised Turnbull’s decision to stay in his own home in Sydney.

“I think it would be a better look if the prime minister did live in Kirribilli House,” he said. He understood Turnbull not wanting to be a burden on the taxpayer but “by trying to avoid being a burden to the taxpayer, in the end, you end up costing the taxpayer more”.

When he was prime minister Abbott was reluctant to move from his own home to Kirribilli but was persuaded to do so.

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Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Grattan on Friday: Penalty rates – Shorten’s own goal becomes Turnbull’s political problem


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The latest reflection on just how appalling things are in federal politics came this week from former Treasury head Ken Henry, who’s now chairman of NAB. The Conversation

“Our politicians have dug themselves into deep trenches from which they fire insults designed merely to cause political embarrassment. Populism supplies the munitions,” Henry told a conference in Canberra. “The country that Australians want cannot even be imagined from these trenches,” he said.

A senior player in reforms under Hawke-Keating Labor and the Howard government, Henry contrasted the current dysfunction “to earlier periods of policy success – where politics was adversarial, every bit as partisan – but when the tribal tensions within parties were generally well-managed and the political contest appeared to energise policy, not kill it”.

Henry may be slightly romanticising the past, as often happens when people look back to that period of policy-rich achievement. There were more than a few unedifying times in the fights of those years. But his general point is right.

He and his fellow heavyweights in the banking industry have just had a close-up view of the Coalition’s ugly tribalism with Treasurer Scott Morrison’s tantrum over former Labor premier Anna Bligh’s appointment to the Australian Bankers Association. It was short-sighted, counter-productive behaviour.

The fact that some in the Coalition saw Bligh’s appointment as the banks writing off the government was revealing. Given the volatility of politics, the bankers would hardly be predicting the next election’s outcome now – the interpretation suggests more about the mindset of alarm in Liberal circles.

When governments are flagging there is always talk of a “reset”. We’ve been hearing it this year, just as we did in the Gillard days.

But looking to a “reset” is more often than not to be staring at a mirage. It’s true that in 2001 the Howard government had a spectacular “reset”. It changed some decisions and crafted a canny budget, but the biggest factors in cementing its turnaround were Tampa’s arrival and September 11.

Some Coalition MPs believe Malcolm Turnbull’s burst of aggression – over Bill-and-the-billionaires and Labor and renewables – will give the government its “reset”. It’s doubtful. People don’t like abuse. And in the energy debate, this week’s Essential poll suggested the government is struggling.

So, looking ahead, there are no quick fixes, or answers based in a superficial change of style. The government faces the toughest slog, as it contemplates a budget that’s difficult to put together and the challenge of delivering an energy policy.

There will be pressure to spend in the budget to gain credibility on health, which cost the Coalition votes last July. Stories are already appearing about ending the freeze on the Medicare rebate. But where will offsetting cuts be found?

And, given the Senate gridlock on savings, can the government produce a budget that doesn’t alienate voters but keeps the ratings agencies at bay and Australia’s AAA rating intact?

As for energy security, the government’s “clean coal” frolic is genuinely hard to understand – beyond fears about regional seats and pressure from the Nationals – given that the word from the sector is that investors won’t go there. Eventually hyper rhetoric will have to give way to concrete measures that can fly.

High electricity prices are a politically sensitive cost-of-living issue and the government is trying to pin the blame for them, and for blackouts, on Labor’s commitment to renewables.

But suddenly there is a new cost-of-living issue, with the Fair Work Commission decision on Thursday to cut Sunday and public holiday penalty rates for those working under the hospitality, fast-food, retail and pharmacy awards.

This is not the government’s decision – the commission is independent and the government didn’t even put a submission to its inquiry.

And, in an ironic twist, Bill Shorten when workplace relations minister paved the way for this decision, with amendments requiring the review of industrial awards to cover the area of “additional remuneration” for employees working on weekends, public holidays, shifts and the like.

The Gillard government thought it was writing protection of penalty rates into the award system. Julia Gillard, addressing an Australian Council of Trade Unions summit, said: “We will make it clear in law that there needs to be additional renumeration for employees who work shift work, unsocial, irregular, unpredictable hours or on weekends and public holidays.”

Labor says it never envisaged the commission would reduce rates. Let alone when the bench members are overwhelmingly ALP appointees.

Although it did not make it, the decision is in line with general government thinking for industrial relations reform. But the government finds itself caught between its base, that will applaud the cut, and many voters whose hip pockets will be hit.

It argues the decision will boost employment, as the commission says. However, the job increases – which neither the commission nor employers can quantify – are likely to be longer in coming and less visible than the pay losses.

Shorten has potential to make hay with the decision, helped by the unions. Those facing smaller pay packets are unlikely to be diverted by the government highlighting his role in getting the review of penalties rolling.

Labor says it will intervene when the commission on March 24 considers transition arrangements; it also is looking to some parliamentary initiative. If (as seems likely) these paths come to dead ends, it is promising legislation if it wins the next election to clip the wings of the commission.

The government faces a dilemma as to whether it intervenes to put a view on how long the transition should be.

There is a parallel here with the problem the government is facing with its omnibus bill which reforms child care while shaving family tax benefits. In each case, people stand to lose something.

The big difference is that with the penalty rates the government isn’t the body making the decision and can say the judgement of the independent umpire should prevail. But if Labor can make the Coalition wear some of the odium for low-paid workers losing dollars, this will be another burden for Turnbull.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/j795u-67fef0?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Dutton blows Turnbull’s credibility – for now and perhaps for later


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s explicit linking of the arrangements to send Australia’s offshore refugees to the US and to accept some from Costa Rica presents not just an immediate credibility problem for Malcolm Turnbull but, potentially, a more serious longer-term one. The Conversation

It contradicts the prime minister’s flat – if unconvincing – denial of such a link. It also raises the question, why would people believe Turnbull on anything remotely related to this issue in the future?

And that could be important if the Trump administration were to ask Australia to boost its military commitment in the Middle East.

Turnbull says any such request would be considered on its merits.

If there was a request and Australia were to agree, he would deny that the acquiescence had anything to do with his managing to twist Donald Trump’s arm to accept the deal Australia did with the Obama administration to take people from Nauru and Manus Island.

But that denial – always likely to be questioned – would be an even harder sell now.

In September, after the Costa Rica arrangement was announced, Turnbull was asked whether it had any material impact on the government’s ability to find homes for people on Nauru and Manus Island.

“It is not linked to any other resettlement discussions,” he said. “The announcement today is not connected to any other arrangements.”

This became the mantra, including after the deal about Nauru and Manus Island was announced following the presidential election. Dutton said on November 14: “The Costa Rica arrangement had nothing to do with this deal and it’s not a people swap.”

On Tuesday’s Bolt program on Sky, Dutton predicted the first offshore refugees would move in the next couple of months. Asked then when the first people from Costa Rica would arrive, Dutton said: “Well, we wouldn’t take anyone until we had assurances that people were going to go off Nauru and Manus … We want an outcome in relation to Nauru and Manus.”

“One of the lessons we’ve learnt from past arrangements, say the Malaysian deal for example that Julia Gillard entered into, we accepted all the people from Malaysia, not one person went from Australia. So we’re not going to be sucked into that sort of silly outcome.”

It should be said this is more than a bit rich. The people didn’t go because the Coalition opposition blocked the “swap”.

Bolt pressed Dutton on the arrangements with the US. “So it was a deal? It was, we’ll take yours if you take ours.”

Dutton said it wasn’t a “people-swap deal” but added: “I don’t have any problem with that characterisation if people want to put that”.

It’s always defied common sense to think there was no link between the Costa Rica and Nauru/Manus Island deals, and the government was taking the public for mugs to try to argue that. Now it is paying the price.

It remains unclear what the Americans honouring the deal will amount to, given it is up to them how many of the people they finally accept after Trump’s “extreme vetting” process.

Dutton’s proposition that the refugees from Costa Rica can’t come until he’s sure some of the offshore people are going suggests he feels the need to take out insurance.

Fairfax’s Michael Gordon has suggested Dutton could have handed Trump an excuse to junk the Manus/Nauru deal if he was so minded.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, in Washington for wide-ranging talks with the Trump administration, said on Wednesday: “The agreement is progressing and our officials are working together with United States officials to vet the applicants for settlement in the United States.” She wouldn’t be drawn on detail.

Asked whether she would characterise it as a swap deal, Bishop said: “That’s not the way I would categorise it.”

The government continues to fall victim of its own spin.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/tm592-67b71d?from=yiiadmin

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/e2my3-67bf00?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

WA state election: Liberals’ deal with One Nation may come back to bite them


Narelle Miragliotta, Monash University

Elections are colourful affairs, and the March 11 state election in Western Australia is no exception. What is bringing particular clamour to this election is the resurgence of One Nation.

Pauline Hanson’s party has certainly made its presence felt. The party is contesting 35 of the state’s 59 Legislative Assembly seats, and fielding 17 candidates across the six upper house regions. According to the polls, it is also the third-largest party in electoral terms. The most recent Newspoll has One Nation’s primary vote at 13%, well ahead of the Nationals (5%) and the Greens (9%).

It is little wonder, then, that the Liberals finally ended speculation by announcing a preference deal with One Nation. The Liberals will direct preferences to One Nation upper house candidates in regional seats. In exchange, One Nation will direct lower house preferences to Liberal candidates ahead of Labor candidates.

While the Liberals’ preference deal with One Nation is the first of its kind since John Howard took the decision as prime minister to place One Nation last on the Liberal how-to-vote card at the 2001 federal election, it is not likely to be the last. Over the past six months or so, the Liberals’ anti-One Nation resolve has been fraying.

In spite of catastrophising in some quarters, the preference deal is important for the Liberal-led government’s chances of re-election. The party’s first preference vote is at 30% and its two party preferred vote is 46%. ABC election analyst Antony Green estimates that “a swing of between 2.2% and 10% against the Liberals would produce a minority government”. In the face of a resurgent Labor Party, such a swing is possible.

The Liberals’ partners in government, the WA Nationals, are the most grievously affected by this deal. Some commentators estimate it could cost them their five upper house seats.

But the Nationals can hardly be surprised by the Liberals’ decision. Although the relationship between the two parties is often civilised, it also has a long history of strife.

In recent years, tensions between the parties were re-ignited when, prior to the 2008 WA election, the Nationals declared they would not be seeking a coalition but a partnership with the Liberals.

The Nationals leveraged the fact that neither major party had attained a parliamentary majority to negotiate a deal that provided for 25% of all state royalty payments to be set aside for re-investment into a royalties for the regions program. While the Nationals eventually agreed to support the Liberals, there was no doubt that the Nationals were seriously entertaining the prospects of doing a parliamentary deal with Labor.

A more traditional coalition arrangement was resumed following the 2013 state election, but the relationship between the two parties showed signs of strain by August 2016. The return of Brendan Grylls – the architect of the 2008 parliamentary agreement – to the Nationals’ leadership, and the unpopularity of the Barnett government, marked the return of a more assertive Nationals party.

Under Grylls’ leadership, the Nationals have been less than willing to commit to a new alliance with the Liberals. Grylls has indicated that support for any minority government would be contingent on the Liberals agreeing to support an increase in the lease rental fee on BHP and Rio Tinto from 25c to $5 a tonne on Pilbara iron ore production. The Liberals oppose this.

Consequences of the deal for the Liberals

The preference agreement carries some risk for the Liberals.

It is not entirely clear whether One Nation preferences will flow in a manner consistent with the party’s how-to-vote card. In part this is a question of whether One Nation has the infrastructure to deliver on the agreement.

A successful how-to-vote card strategy requires a party presence at polling booths on election day. The major parties struggle to cover all of their polling booths, so One Nation is likely to struggle too.

There is also a question mark over whether One Nation supporters will actually follow the party’s how-to-vote card recommendations, even if given one.

If the party’s voter base is anything like some of One Nation’s candidates, there is no reason to think that the preference deal will be widely supported. Already one of the party’s highest-profile candidates, Margaret Dodds, has rejected the deal on the basis of policy differences with the Liberals and concerns about the lack of consultation over the agreement.

Even if a significant proportion of One Nation preferences help to secure the Liberals’ return to government, the deal will cost the Liberals when the incoming upper house members take their seats in May.

While lower house preference deals are difficult for parties to impose on their supporters, there is greater certainty on preference flows for the upper house. Proportional representation, combined with above-the-line voting, makes it highly likely that most of the Liberal surplus preferences will find their way to One Nation’s upper house candidates.

This greatly increases One Nation’s prospects of holding the balance of power in the Legislative Council. Should this happen, the Liberals’ plans to partially privatise the state’s electricity utility in order to pay down soaring debt will not be realised. One Nation is staunchly opposed to the privatisation.

So while the Liberals’ decision is “pragmatic and sensible” in the short term, it might seriously compromise the party’s legislative agenda should it be returned to office.

The Conversation

Narelle Miragliotta, Senior Lecturer in Australian Politics, Monash University

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

One Nation has now been ‘normalised’ in the Liberals’ firmament of political players


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The decision by the Western Australian Liberals to do a preference deal with One Nation will bring some ripples for Malcolm Turnbull.

The WA Liberals have their backs against the wall – for them it’s a matter of the Barnett government desperately trying to survive against the Labor tide.

The embattled premier, Colin Barnett, said the move was “unusual, but it is a practical, pragmatic decision by the Liberal Party, because what we’re out to do is to retain government”.

And as Liberal senator Linda Reynolds told Sky: “One Nation has got a lot of support here in Western Australia”.

But inevitably, not just because of One Nation’s policies but because of the history of the Liberals’ attitude to the controversial party, the WA embrace will be challenging for Turnbull to handle. When he campaigns in the state poll, he’ll have to deal with questions about it.

The deal harms the WA Nationals who, though a different beast to their eastern cousins, and in an alliance rather than a coalition with the state Liberals, are nevertheless definitely part of the Nationals’ “family”.

Under the deal, as reported by the WA Sunday Times, the Liberals would preference One Nation above the Nationals in the upper house regional seats, in return for One Nation preferencing against Labor in the lower house. This could cost the Nationals seats and help One Nation to win the balance of power in the upper house.

Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce observed cryptically on Sunday that: “Always as times grow cold … new friends are silver but old friends are gold”. It’s a fair bet it won’t be his last word on the subject. In response to earlier talk of the plan he predicted it would bring “another blue in WA”.

The WA deal will only be the start of the story. In Queensland the latest Galaxy poll has One Nation on 23% at state level, with an election likely later this year.

Federally, the Liberals are running the line that Hanson and her party are different these days.

Cabinet minister Arthur Sinodinos told the ABC on Sunday: “They are a lot more sophisticated; they have clearly resonated with a lot of people. Our job is to treat them as any other party.

“That doesn’t mean we have to agree with their policies. When it comes to preferencing, we have to make decisions – in this case a state decision, not a federal decision – based on the local circumstances.”

Compare the tone to Turnbull’s attitude before the federal election when he was asked whether he’d agree Pauline Hanson was a “known quantity in Australian politics” and “can you rule out negotiating or horse-trading with her”.

“Pauline Hanson is, as far as we are concerned, not a welcome presence on the Australian political scene. You’ve got to remember she was chucked out of the Liberal Party,” he said.

As soon as Hanson arrived in parliament with her Senate team Turnbull changed his tune. They had talks. Hanson was chuffed. When Turnbull was recently asked about the mooted WA preference deal he dodged the questioning but did note that federally: “We respect every single member and senator”.

One also has to remember that thanks to Turnbull running a double dissolution, Hanson won four Senate seats and a significant slice of the upper house balance of power.

In an ordinary Senate election she would have ended up with just her own seat. Turnbull would argue the double dissolution has made it easier to get legislation through – even though it is a tortuous process that will bring its failures – but in terms of boosting Hanson’s clout and profile the cost has been significant.

Even if she had had only one Senate seat One Nation might have surged in WA and Queensland, but her federal weight has helped – regardless of the antics of her now ex-WA senator Rod Culleton, who has been tossed out of the parliament.

One Nation, because of its power, has now been “normalised” in the Liberals’ firmament of political players, something likely to stick in the craw of their more “small-l” supporters. The Liberals are afraid of the populist party, but the days of denouncing it holus-bolus are gone.

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https://www.podbean.com/media/player/zf38q-677342?from=yiiadmin

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Bernardi should have resigned his Senate seat: here’s why


Narelle Miragliotta, Monash University

Senator Cory Bernardi’s decision to quit the Liberal Party comes as no surprise to most political observers. For quite some time, and certainly since Malcolm Turnbull’s elevation to the Liberal leadership, Bernardi’s resignation from the party was always a distinct possibility.

However, his decision to quit the party without resigning from the Senate has sparked (the inevitable) condemnation from his former party colleagues. While he might well be feeling “reluctant and relieved”, many Coalition MPs are savage about this decision.

The perils of ratting out the party

Parties have little mercy for those in their ranks who quit the party but continue to occupy their seat in parliament. Such persons are often decried as “deserters” or “rats”.

In this case, the displeasure with Bernardi runs even deeper. From the Liberal Party’s perspective, it believed it had gone to some lengths to accommodate some of the senator’s policy concerns. Yet the efforts to appease Bernardi ultimately proved insufficient to prevent him from tendering his resignation only seven months after the federal election that granted him a six-year Senate term.

On a more practical level, Bernardi’s resignation makes an already complex Senate even more so for the Turnbull government. Once the vacancies triggered by Rod Culleton and Bob Day are filled, Bernardi will be among a 21-strong cross bench. The Turnbull government’s numbers have been reduced to 29 senators, 10 votes short of the 39 it needs to transact most business in the chamber.

High-profile, senior Liberal Party ministers, such as George Brandis and Christopher Pyne, have argued that Bernardi should resign as senator to give rise to a casual vacancy. This would enable the party to select a replacement senator.

The problem for the Liberals is that Bernardi does not believe he is under any particular obligation to do this. For Bernardi, the decision to resign from the Liberal Party is a matter of principle, and therefore justified and imperative.

In constitutional terms, Bernardi is not obliged to quit the Senate just because he has resigned from the Liberal Party. The party can do little to force his hand, except to hope that he might eventually fall foul of the Constitution’s various eligibility requirements to serve in the federal parliament. This would be unlikely.

Should Bernardi resign on ethical grounds?

While there is no constitutional basis for Bernardi to resign from the chamber, there is a compelling ethical case for him to do so.

Before I outline my reasons, I must clarify the scope of my claim. First, the argument is not directed exclusively at Bernardi. This is an argument that should apply to any senator who quits his or her party, short of reasons of their party imploding, or being fired by the party.

Secondly, this argument is not one that I would extend to members of the House of Representatives who resign from their party. It is particular only to party defections when the member was elected in a seat through proportional representation.

My argument is essentially tied to two particular features of the Senate electoral system: the statewide basis of that system and group ticket voting. In combination, these elements greatly heighten the importance of the party label to the electoral success of major party candidates.

The statewide basis of the electoral system creates a geographical obstacle for all but a rarefied group of candidates to build a sufficiently strong personal mandate to secure a Senate quota. For this reason most independent candidates choose to contest lower house electorates rather than nominate for the Senate, where campaigning is conducted over a much wider, often more diverse electoral terrain.

Group ticket voting has further elevated the importance of the party label to the election of Senate candidates. Known colloquially as “above the line” voting, it allows parties to predetermine their preferred order of election of their candidates. While voters are permitted to vote for any candidate in any order that they wish, most do not. Only a very small proportion of voters cast their vote within the party list.

The combination of these features of the Senate electoral system means that most major party senators would struggle to make a convincing case that they were elected on the basis of personal appeal and support.

If we use Bernardi as the case in point, of the 345,767 votes cast for the South Australian Liberals at the 2016 election, he attracted just 2,043 of the first preference vote. Bernardi’s re-election had almost nothing to do with his personal vote and almost everything to do with the Liberal Party label and the favourable number two Senate spot that South Australian party officials awarded him on the party’s ticket.

Established parties can legitimately claim, therefore, that the single most decisive factor that accounts for the election of their senators is the power of the party label. For this reason, senators who quit their party under the current rules should feel compelled on ethical grounds to resign their vacancy, so that the democratic will of the party’s supporters is fulfilled.

The Conversation

Narelle Miragliotta, Senior Lecturer in Australian Politics, Monash University

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

Coalition slump in Newspoll gives Labor 54-46 lead


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The first Newspoll of 2017 has Labor leading by 54-46, a 2 point gain for Labor since the final 2016 Newspoll, conducted in early December. Primary votes are 36% for Labor (steady), 35% for the Coalition (down 4), 10% for the Greens (steady) and a high 19% for all Others (up 4). It is Labor’s first primary vote Newspoll lead since Abbott was PM. This poll was conducted Thursday to Sunday from a sample of 1730.

We are told that One Nation had 8%, but this is not reported in the tables. Newspoll is still asking for voter choice between Coalition, Labor, Greens and Others, and then questioning Other voters further. In the past, this method has underestimated the support of significant minor parties, and One Nation is probably in at least the double digits.

Last Friday’s WA Newspoll, on the other hand, asked about One Nation support in the initial readout, finding 13% support for One Nation.

Turnbull’s satisfied rating was up one point to 33%, and his dissatisfied rating down one point to 54%, for a net approval of -21. Shorten’s net approval was -22, down 5 points.

An additional Newspoll question asked whether Australia should adopt a similar policy to the US in “making it harder” for those in 7 Muslim countries to immigrate, finding 44% in favour and 45% opposed. This question wording is somewhat deceptive, as Trump is not “making it harder”, he is outright banning.

In the months after Turnbull deposed Abbott, the Coalition had a large lead over Labor. As Turnbull’s policies became more right wing, the Coalition’s lead diminished, and they only barely won last year’s election. Since the election, Turnbull, at the urging of the hard right of his party, has abandoned positions that once made him appealing to mainstream voters. There is no evidence from the polling under either Turnbull or Abbott that Australians want a hard right government.

Essential at 53-47 to Labor

In this week’s Essential, primary votes were 37% Labor, 36% Coalition, 10% One Nation, 8% Greens and 3% Nick Xenophon Team. Voting intentions used a two-week sample of 1785, with other questions using one week’s sample.

49% disapproved of Trump’s immigrant ban, with 36% approving; the strongest support came from Other voters (mainly One Nation), who approved 66-25. When asked whether Australia should institute a similar ban to the US, 46% were opposed, and 41% in favour. 53% agreed with Turnbull’s response to the US ban, while 36% disagreed.

50% thought technological change was making people’s lives better, and 25% thought it was making people’s lives worse; in November 2015, it was 56-22 in favour of better.

Bernardi resigns from Liberals

Cory Bernardi has left the Liberals, and will form an Australian Conservative party. Bernardi was No. 2 on the Liberals’ SA Senate ticket, and thus received a six year term. His term will not expire until June 2022, barring a double dissolution.

Bernardi’s exit will not change the Senate situation much, as he will seldom vote with Labor against the Coalition. I do not expect Bernardi to perform well, as he does not have a high profile with the general public, and will be competing in much the same ideological space as One Nation.

Trump’s US ratings, and why impeachment is very unlikely

According to the Gallup daily tracking poll, 42% of Americans approve of Donald Trump’s performance as President, and 52% disapprove. Trump has made no effect to be bipartisan, and so those who voted against him disapprove, while the 46% who voted for him are satisfied with his performance.

Those who voted for Trump mostly did so because they approved of his efforts to shake up the system, including his 90-day ban on immigrants from seven Middle Eastern countries. Unless Trump does something that angers his support base, his ratings are likely to remain roughly where they are. Much will depend on whether Trump’s economic policies displease the white working class voters.

Impeachment of a President requires a majority of the House and a 2/3 majority of the Senate. The Republicans hold a 241-194 majority in the House, and a 52-48 Senate majority. Assuming all Democrats voted for impeachment, 24 House Republicans and 19 Republican Senators would need to vote for impeachment.

Most of Trump’s policies, such as anti-abortion measures and removing regulations on big business, are strongly supported by establishment Republicans. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, satisfies the conservative base of his party. The Senate confirmed Trump’s controversial Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, by a 56-43 margin, indicating that Republicans are in no mood to impeach Trump.

Impeachment is a drawn-out process where the Senate effectively tries the President with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presiding. Trump would rally his fervent supporters against any serious move to impeach him, putting pressure on Republicans that supported impeachment.

Midterm elections will be held in November 2018, and these give the Democrats a chance to take control of the House and Senate. However, the Democrats are defending 25 Senate seats in 2018, while Republicans defend just 8, so the Democrats appear likely to go backwards.

Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution allows a majority of the Cabinet and the Vice President to remove the President. If the President protests, a 2/3 majority in both the House and Senate is required to remove him. This runs into the same problem as impeachment: Republicans generally will not remove Trump, and his hand-picked Cabinet is even less likely to remove him.

If Trump does something so dreadful that even Republicans rush to impeach him, it may already be too late.

The Conversation

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

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

Newspoll shows Coalition trailing 46-54% at start of new parliamentary session


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

With parliament resuming this week, the first Newspoll of 2017 has the government trailing Labor 46-54% on the two-party vote and the Coalition’s primary vote falling four points to 35%.

This is the seventh consecutive Newspoll with the ALP ahead and the worst for the Coalition under Malcolm Turnbull’s prime ministership.

In results that will send fresh tremors through Coalition members who had hoped to start the new year on a better footing, the government’s primary vote is seven points lower than at the election, which the government only just won. It last was this low when the first move was made against Tony Abbott’s leadership, two years ago.

The poll, published in Monday’s Australian, reflects the general trend of disillusioned voters looking for avenues to reflect their protests. It shows a surge in support for independents and minor parties, which have gone from 15% to 19%.

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, soon to be tested at the Western Australian election, is polling 8% nationally.

Labor remains on 36% primary vote, unchanged since early December; the Greens remain on 10%.

Turnbull’s net satisfaction has marginally improved from minus 23 to minus 21, while Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s has worsened, from minus 17 to minus 22. Turnbull leads Shorten as better prime minister – 42% (up one) to 30% (down two points).

The government, beset with an expense scandal and the loss of a minister, anger over pension changes and other problems, got no clear air over the summer break. Now parliament resumes amid the fallout from the Trump-Turnbull contretemps over the refugee deal, a push from some Liberal MPs to have same-sex marriage determined by a free vote in parliament, and the prospect of South Australian Liberal senator Cory Bernardi defecting to lead his own conservative party.

Even Turnbull’s own issue of choice for the start of the year – energy policy – is not going as well as he hoped because of a lack of enthusiasm from energy companies and the financial sector for his advocacy of new “clean coal” power stations to be constructed.

In an interview with Network Nine on Sunday, Turnbull repeated he had “stood up for Australia” in dealing with Donald Trump, and said Trump had “absolutely not” asked for anything in return for saying he would honour the Obama administration’s deal to take refugees from Nauru and Manus Island.

Asked about any future military request that might be made, Turnbull said: “We assess all requests for military assistance on their merits, and there is no linkage, no linkage at all, between an arrangement relating to refugee settlement and any other matters.”

Turnbull was again cautious about the telephone call in which Trump was very aggressive.

“I’ve only said three things about the phone call with the president: firstly that it was frank and forthright; secondly that he gave a commitment that he would honour the refugee resettlement deal entered into by President Obama and thirdly that he did not hang up. The call ended courteously.

“Now I’ve got nothing more to say about the content of the phone call than that. It’s very important for me to be disciplined, to be calm and to pursue – in a very focused way – Australia’s national interests, and that’s what I do as Australia’s prime minister.”

On same-sex marriage Turnbull slapped down the new push for a free vote. “I’ve got no doubt that all of these matters will be discussed in the party room but I’m the prime minister, the government’s position is that which we took to the election, which is that this issue should be determined by a vote of every Australian in a plebiscite.”

A serious renewal of the same-sex marriage debate within the Liberal Party would be dangerous for Turnbull because it is a signature battle for the conservatives.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott at the weekend cast it in terms of Turnbull keeping his word. He told Fairfax Media: “Malcolm Turnbull made a clear election commitment that the marriage law would only change by way of people’s plebiscite, not free vote of the parliament. I’m sure he’ll honour that commitment. This isn’t about same-sex marriage, it’s about keeping faith with the people.”

Cabinet minister Christopher Pyne said on Sunday that there was no bill before the parliament to address marriage equality at this stage. “What happens down the track is a matter for the prime minister, for the cabinet, for the party room.”

In the Nine interview Turnbull, who gave the Liberals A$1.75 million for the campaign, made the startling revelation that when Tony Nutt became Liberal federal director at the end of 2015, “the party had so little money he had to work for several months without pay”.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Major rebuff to Malcolm Turnbull as poll result hovers on knife edge


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The federal election result is on a knife-edge, with the outcome between a majority Turnbull government and a hung parliament.

Malcolm Turnbull has been delivered a major rebuff and left potentially embattled, with bitter recriminations breaking out in conservative ranks. Even if the Coalition ends up with a majority, Turnbull will have an uphill struggle to manage a party that includes many who are his enemies.

There were immediate calls for a review of the superannuation policy that the government took to the election, which cut back concessions for high-income earners and deeply angered the Liberals’ base.

Liberal ministers blamed Labor’s Medicare scare campaign for turning voters against the Coalition.

Late in the night the swing against the government was 3.6%. The election has seen a high vote for small parties.

Turnbull waited until after midnight to address his supporters, declaring: “I can report that based on the advice I have from the party officials, we can have every confidence that we will form a Coalition majority government in the next parliament”. In his speech, he did not accept any blame for the bad result or suggest he would make any changes as a result.

Treasurer Scott Morrison said the Coalition was “on the cusp” of being able to claim the 76 seats needed to form majority government.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who spoke to supporters around 11:30PM, said the outcome might not be known for days but whatever happened one thing was sure: “the Labor Party is back”. He said the Liberals had “lost their mandate”.

Labor’s Senate leader, Penny Wong, said there was “too much on the table to call it tonight”.

The ABC said that with more than 70% of votes counted, the Coalition was on track to win 72 seats, and Labor set to claim 66, with five crossbenchers including one Green, and seven seats in doubt.

An unanticipated big swing in Tasmania has cost the Liberals Bass, Braddon and Lyons. Labor has won Eden-Monaro (NSW), Macarthur (NSW), and the notional Liberal seat of Burt in Western Australia.

In Queensland, Assistant Innovation Minister Wyatt Roy appears to have lost Longman and the Liberals may lose Herbert. The Sydney seat of Lindsay is likely to fall, as is Macquarie. In the Northern Territory, Solomon is set to fall.

Nick Xenophon’s Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) candidate Rebekha Sharkie has taken Mayo from former minister Jamie Briggs, who had to quit the frontbench after an incident in a Hong Kong bar. Briggs tweeted “After a tough fight tonight hasn’t been our night”.

The Liberals could win the Victorian Labor seat of Chisholm. The Labor-Green contest in Batman is neck and neck.

Despite Turnbull calling the double dissolution to clear out small players in the Senate, the new Senate will contain a plethora of micro players. They will include three South Australian senators from NXT. Pauline Hanson has been elected to a Senate seat in Queensland. Broadcaster Derryn Hinch has claimed a Victorian Senate seat. Independent Jacqui Lambie has been returned in Tasmania.

In his speech Turnbull took on criticism, already being aired, that he should not have called a double dissolution, saying this had not been a political tactic but had been driven by the “need to restore the rule of law to the construction industry”.

Even if Turnbull wins majority government he may not have the numbers to get the industrial relations bills, which were the trigger for the double dissolution, through a joint sitting.

The backlash in conservative ranks erupted immediately.

Senator Cory Bernardi said in a tweet to Liberal pollster Mark Textor:

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Broadcaster Alan Jones clashed with one of Turnbull’s numbers men, senator James McGrath, on the Network Seven panel. “There were a lot of bed-wetters in the Liberal Party and you seemed to be the captain of the bed-wetters,” Jones said. McGrath hit back, saying Jones was “not a friend” of the Coalition.

Tony Abbott’s former chief-of-staff Peta Credlin and Attorney-General George Brandis had a spat on the Sky panel over the government’s superannuation changes. Credlin said the changes would not go through the Coalition partyroom in their present form; Brandis retorted she was not in the partyroom.

Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz said there had been strident criticism in emails to his office of the superannuation changes. “I for one will be advocating we reconsider aspects of it.”

Victorian Liberal president Michael Kroger said the party’s base was “furious” with the superannuation policy. “I certainly hope the partyroom would look at this issue.”

Conservative commentator Andrew Bolt called for Turnbull to quit. “You have been a disaster. You betrayed Tony Abbott and then led the party to humiliation, stripped of both values and honour. Resign.”

Morrison, asked if Abbott could have won the election, replied “highly unlikely”.

Roy and Peter Hendy, member for Eden-Monaro, were both heavily involved in the Turnbull coup.

Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop said “undoubtedly” the Medicare scare campaign had been an important factor in the result. She said a number of people on election day had raised Medicare with her at polling booths.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said Labor’s Medicare’s scare was more effective than the government had thought during the campaign. “No doubt the absolute lie Labor was running on Medicare was effective.”

Turnbull lashed out over the Medicare scare, saying “the Labor Party ran some of the most systematic, well-funded lies ever peddled in Australia”.

He said that “no doubt” the police would investigate last minute text messages to voters that said they came from Medicare.

Abetz said the “three amigos” in Bass, Braddon and Lyons had been swamped by the Medicare campaign.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce held New England from independent challenger Tony Windsor. Independent Cathy McGowan retained Indi. The Nationals have taken Murray from the Liberals, and headed off a challenge in Cowper from independent Rob Oakeshott.

The poll has seen the first Indigenous woman elected to the House of Representatives – Linda Burney in the NSW seat of Barton.

The pre-poll count continued to 2AM. There will be no more counting until Tuesday.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Malcolm Turnbull sounded tone deaf to election message


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull’s speech to deflated supporters in the early hours of Sunday morning was extraordinarily lacking in self-awareness.

Turnbull had just brought his party a devastatingly bad election result. That’s true even if he manages to reach majority government, which remains far from clear despite his assertions. In the early hours of Sunday things got closer as more votes were counted. With 77.6% of the vote counted, the ABC tally had the Coalition and Labor on 67 seats each, five crossbenchers, and 11 seats in doubt.

Yet Turnbull showed not a scintilla of humility. He made no gesture of contrition, no promise that he had heard the message the people had delivered.

Instead he denounced Labor’s scare campaign – as if the Liberals themselves have not at times been masters of that dark art. And he made an unconvincing attempt to justify a double dissolution that has ended up producing a Senate as potentially difficult as the last one, with the added negative of including Pauline Hanson, so giving her a national platform.

There is now a bizarre parallel between Labor and the Liberals in turning triumph into disaster. Kevin Rudd won convincingly in 2007. He was then removed by his party and successor Julia Gillard came out of the subsequent election with a hung parliament. Tony Abbott had a strong win in 2013, was replaced – and now the Coalition will have a tiny majority or there will be another hung parliament, with the outcome depending on the crossbenchers.

Turnbull and his supporters can argue that if Abbott had still been leader the loss would have been greater, and that’s probably correct. But it is unlikely to be an argument that will do Turnbull much good in the days ahead when there won’t be a lot of Liberal love around.

Turnbull complains about Labor’s lies about Medicare’s future, but they were made more credible to the public because of the Coalition’s previous lies and actions. Did it think people would not remember Abbott’s 2013 promise of no cuts to health? Or the attempt in the 2014 budget to bring in a co-payment, unsuccessful though it was? Or the various subsequent moves for cuts and user pays measures?

Labor’s campaign might have been exaggerated and dishonest, but the Coalition itself had effectively given the ALP the building blocks for it.

Turnbull’s argument that he called a double dissolution not to change the nature of the Senate but because the lawlessness in the construction industry had to be confronted is facile. He did not even make the industrial relations legislation a central talking point in the campaign.

And in his speech he overlooked the point that even if he reaches majority government it is doubtful he would have the overall parliamentary numbers to get the bills through a joint sitting (although at this stage it is impossible to be definite about what the new senators might do).

In the wash-up, everything from the Coalition’s strategy for the past eight weeks – running almost entirely on a “plan” based on company tax cuts – to the mechanics of getting the case across, will be under internal criticism. It will be remembered that Turnbull’s pitch for leadership included his ability as an economic salesman. That, as it turned out, he over-hyped.

The Liberal conservatives will try to unravel policy. They started on election night with their bugbear – the superannuation changes. Assuming the Coalition survives in government, how will the ructions in the Liberals now play out for the same-sex marriage plebiscite?

Turnbull was looking for a mandate to allow him to be his own man. Instead of getting that, his government has been left struggling to survive.

If it does, the conservative forces will now take one of two views of him: as someone who must be forced to follow their will on core policies, or as someone who at a future date should be replaced. Or maybe they will adopt both views.

Turnbull’s enemies within his party have played this election craftily. Abbott was mostly quiet during the campaign, although in the final week he made clear that he thought the issues of budget repair, national security and border protection had been underdone. His former chief-of-staff Peta Credlin used her role as TV commentator to run an at times sharp critique of the Turnbull campaign. Now the conservatives will be full-throated.

Turnbull talks about the need for stability and unity. The Australian public is faced with instability. Whatever the result ends up being, there is no clear mandate and an extremely difficult Senate.

Turnbull, if he is still prime minister, would be confronted by the prospect of internal disunity plus a chaotic upper house that could likely make it nearly impossible to do much that is meaningful.

As happened when he was opposition leader, Turnbull is again in a situation where he didn’t read the danger signals. He thought he was more persuasive than Bill Shorten; he and his strategists (apparently) believed that whatever the national polls said, the marginal seats would stick. They said the election would be close but appeared confident it was in the bag.

Turnbull will pay a high price for his misjudgements, though it is unclear exactly how high.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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