The pro-coal ‘Monash Forum’ may do little but blacken the name of a revered Australian


Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

The coal industry has a new voice in parliament, in the form of the so-called Monash Forum – an informal government faction featuring former prime minister Tony Abbott and backbench energy committee chair Craig Kelly.

The group, which also reportedly contains former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce alongside as many as 11 of his Nationals colleagues, is agitating for the government to go beyond its current energy policy and build a taxpayer-funded coal power station.

As several commentators have pointed out, the move is a calculated push by the usual backbench suspects to put pressure on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, two weeks ahead of crucial talks with state and territory leaders over the design of the National Energy Guarantee (NEG).




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Perversely, the Monash Forum’s members want the NEG to prove its “technology neutral” credentials by including coal as well as renewables. And let’s not forget that the NEG policy was cooked up when it became clear that Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s Clean Energy Target was unpalatable to Coalition MPs (but not economists).

What’s in a name?

In choosing to form a group like this, opponents of action on climate change are trying to give themselves gravitas, in three possible ways.

First and foremost, they are aiming for the “halo effect” of taking a known public figure and claiming some of his (and it’s usually a he) intellectual cachet. First and foremost here are groups named after scientific figures.

In 2000, a group of climate deniers, including the late Ray Evans and former Labor finance minister Peter Walsh, set up the grandly named Lavoisier Group to undermine progress towards Australian ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and a domestic emissions trading scheme. Economist John Quiggin probably said it best when he wrote that the group was “devoted to the proposition that basic principles of physics discovered by, among others, the famous French scientist Antoine Lavoisier, cease to apply when they come into conflict with the interests of the Australian coal industry”.

Then in 2011, opponents of Julia Gillard’s carbon pricing scheme created the Galileo Movement – casting themselves, like their Renaissance namesake, as heroic dissidents to an unthinking orthodoxy.

The second aim is to create a name that implies a stolid, no-nonsense approach to policy. One example is the now defunct Tasman Institute, which was an influential voice against climate action and in favour of electricity privatisation in the 1990s.

The third tactic takes this approach a step further, by creating a name that sounds impartial or even pro-environmental, thus obfuscating the group’s true intent, which is to stymie climate policy. Previous examples include the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network, the Global Climate Coalition, the Australian Climate Science Coalition, and the Australian Environment Foundation, launched in 2005 to the chagrin of the existing Australian Conservation Foundation.

The Monash Forum – with its implied connotations of nation-building and high-minded political debate – is perhaps trying to achieve all three of these goals, this time from within parliament itself rather than the surrounding policy development bubble.

Monash on the march

For the younger readers among us, John Monash was arguably Australia’s most revered soldier, described by British war historian AJP Taylor as “the only general of creative originality produced by the First World War”.

The Monash Forum’s founders also hark back to his role in helping kick-start the exploitation of Victoria’s enormous brown coal reserves in the 1920s.

But the Returned and Services League is not impressed that this former serviceman has been pressed into political service, declaring that “Monash’s name is sacrosanct and should be above this form of political posturing”.

What’s more, the name is bound to create confusion over whether it is affiliated in some way with Monash University (it isn’t), and there will doubtless be some unhappy faces at the Economic Society of Australia’s ESA Monash Forum (which is).

Will coal really make a comeback?

In seeking to deliver new coal-fired power stations, the new Monash Forum is attempting to mine a seam that has already been extensively excavated.

The Minerals Council of Australia, which [merged with the Australian Coal Association in 2013], has been trying for years to kickstart public support for coal. Who could forget the “Australians for Coal” and “Little Black Rock” campaigns, or last year’s “Coal: Making the future possible”?

But the council’s latest energy and climate policy statement refers to coal only once, prompting headlines that it has gone cold on coal. BHP has considered quitting the council over its pugnacious stance, while Rio Tinto is selling off Australian coal assets. The mining lobby may soon have to recalibrate its priorities – lithium, anyone?

The problem for coal’s proponents is that most Australians are keen to see the back of it. The promised global wave of “High Efficiency, Low Emission” coal plants has failed to materialise. And stunts such as Treasurer Scott Morrison waving a lump of coal in parliament are derided by a public who are far more energised by the prospect of renewables.




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When he was prime minister, Abbott tried to sabotage investment in large-scale renewables so as to keep the way clear for fossil fuels. But tellingly, he left subsidies for rooftop solar panels largely untouched, presumably realising that voters saw renewable energy as sensible and viable, on a small scale at least.

The problem for advocates of renewables, and climate action more broadly, is that winning slowly on climate change is the same as losing, as Bill McKibben noted last year.

The ConversationPerhaps that is the ultimate aim of the Monash Forum and those who share its goals. Renewable energy may win in the end, but it will win slowly enough that coal can earn one last payday.

Marc Hudson, PhD Candidate, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester

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

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Coalition trails 47-53% in 29th consecutive Newspoll loss



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It now appears inevitable the government will hit 30 consecutive negative Newspolls.
AAP/James Ross

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Labor retains a 53-47% unchanged two-party lead in the latest Newspoll, despite one in two voters opposing its recently announced policy to scrap cash refunds for dividend imputation.

In a status-quo poll, published in Monday’s Australian, the primary vote of the Coalition remained at 37%, while Labor increased one point to 39%. There was minimal change in the better prime minister ratings – Malcolm Turnbull has risen from 37% to 39%, while Bill Shorten is up from 35% to 36%.

This is the 29th consecutive Newspoll in which the Coalition has trailed. It now appears inevitable the government will hit 30 consecutive negative Newspolls – the number Turnbull invoked when launching his 2015 challenge against Tony Abbott. He has since admitted he regrets using Newspoll as one of the several reasons he gave for arguing the leadership should be changed.

When Newspoll asked voters about Shorten’s policy “to abolish franking credit cash refunds for retirees”, 50% said they opposed it. Only 33% were in favour.

The controversial policy was unveiled just before the Batman byelection, which Labor won well. Some Labor sources had predicted the policy would cause the opposition to take a hit in the polls but it obviously has not been a vote-changer in this one.

The poll comes as the government hopes to cut deals quickly with key crossbenchers to get its A$35 billion tax cut for large companies through the Senate this week. This is the last sitting week before the May budget.

The key outstanding crossbenchers are Derryn Hinch from Victoria and Tim Storer from South Australia. Storer was only sworn in last week; he replaced a Nick Xenophon Team senator but sits as an independent, having fallen out with the party before reaching the parliament.

Treasurer Scott Morrison dismissed the latest Newspoll result, reeling off improved budget and economic numbers and saying these were the numbers “Australians sweat on more than the Newspoll”.

The Conversation“These are the things that change people’s daily lives. Newspoll doesn’t,” he told the ABC.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

As the Libs claim South Australia, states are falling into line behind the National Energy Guarantee


Kate Griffiths, Grattan Institute

Former prime minister Paul Keating used to say that when you change the government, you change the country. On Saturday South Australians changed their government, and now the country’s energy policy could finally change – and for the better, if current policy uncertainty is put to bed.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull certainly seems to think it will. He is already claiming the SA election result as an endorsement of his National Energy Guarantee.




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Incoming Liberal Premier Steven Marshall has consistently supported a national approach to energy policy, and on his first day in office he pledged to end South Australia’s go-it-alone approach.

But while South Australia’s support is vital, the National Energy Guarantee – which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ensure reliability in Australia’s National Electricity Market – is not a done deal yet.

Designing the guarantee

The independent Energy Security Board recommended a National Energy Guarantee last October, and the Turnbull government quickly adopted it as policy.

In November, at a meeting of the COAG Energy Council, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania voted for work on a detailed design of the guarantee. South Australia and the ACT voted against (Queensland was absent).

The weekend’s election result seems to have brought South Australia into the tent; it certainly draws a line under the tensions between the outgoing premier, Jay Weatherill, and Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg, which bubbled over in a public stoush last year.

But the ACT government still has concerns about the guarantee, and all states will be holding out for more detail on the policy.

In February the ESB released a consultation paper on the design of the guarantee, which indicated that there is much work still to be done.

The design should not be rushed – getting the detail right is crucial if Australia is to tackle climate change and maintain a reliable electricity supply at lowest cost.

The guarantee is a means to an end, not the end itself. It is neither pro-coal nor pro-renewables. It is a mechanism to achieve national targets. The emissions target itself – a 26-28% cut in greenhouse gas emissions relative to 2005 levels by 2030 – remains a political choice of the federal government.

The design must be sufficiently robust to produce the desired outcomes, but should also be flexible enough to allow the emissions target and required level of reliability to change over time. People’s preferences change, new technologies are emerging, and current and future governments will almost certainly need to increase emissions targets under the Paris Agreement.

A design that is flexible in response to alternative political choices has a much better chance of getting unanimous support from the states and territories. A state or territory supporting the guarantee need not endorse the current target.

What next for renewables?

Weatherill famously declared South Australia’s election to be “a referendum on renewable energy”. His defeat almost certainly means that South Australia’s 50% renewable energy target, which Weatherill had pledged to extend to 75%, will be abolished.

But South Australia’s wind, solar and battery projects aren’t going anywhere. While there has been some concern about the future of individual projects, the change in policy won’t affect existing solar and wind farms. Marshall has promised to honour existing contracts. South Australia remains the location of choice for many projects under the federal Renewable Energy Target.

The National Energy Guarantee would not replace or preclude state targets for renewable energy. They achieve different things. A renewable energy target is aimed at guiding and shaping industry investment, rather than specifically reducing emissions (although states have used renewable energy targets in recent years to attempt to cut emissions in the absence of a credible federal scheme).




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Will the National Energy Guarantee hit pause on renewables?


South Australia is likely to continue to contribute strongly to a national emissions reduction target, with or without a local renewable energy target. High levels of intermittent renewable energy in the state will require backup generation and demand response to meet the reliability obligation.

Under the guarantee, states and territories can still choose to deliver greater emissions reductions than the federal target. They can do this through renewable energy targets or more direct emissions policies. But individual states that want to pursue these deeper cuts could end up doing the heavy lifting for the nation, unless states can collectively agree to beat the national target.

Unanimous support still needed

The COAG Energy Council will meet again on April 20 to discuss the future of the National Energy Guarantee. With South Australia’s support looking much more likely this time around, the policy can be expected to remain on the table. But all states and territories will no doubt reserve judgement until they have the final design, and that won’t be until the second half of 2018.

The ConversationAustralia is edging closer to finally having a national, integrated, energy and climate policy. We’ve been here before, and previously have let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Let’s not make that mistake again – let’s get a foundation in place to build on. So many politicians have fallen trying. But perhaps Weatherill will be the last.

Kate Griffiths, Senior Associate, Grattan Institute

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

Peter Dutton’s ‘fast track’ for white South African farmers is a throwback to a long, racist history



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Peter Dutton’s sympathy for white South Africans has long historical roots.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Jon Piccini, The University of Queensland

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s recent statements that Australia should open its arms to white farmers in South Africa facing “persecution” at the hands of a black majority government sparked national bemusement, international outrage, and rejection from members of his own government.

Dutton’s sympathy for white South Africans, who would “abide by our laws, integrate into our society, work hard [and] not lead a life on welfare”, has long historical roots.

This sense of mutual racial purpose in “white men’s countries” like Australia, South Africa and North America is located in a shared fondness for racial exclusion and segregation.

Proposed South African legislation that would allow the ruling African National Congress to expropriate land from white farmers without compensation to meet a modest target of 30% of farmland in black hands seems to have sparked Dutton’s benevolence.

Australia’s far-right has been reporting on white farmers being murdered in racially motivated attacks for some time, reprising a “white genocide” meme popular in alt-right circles abroad. Mainstream media outlets in Australia then adopted this narrative.

‘White men’s countries’

Australia’s colonial immigration restriction regimes, which originated during the 1850s gold rushes in Victoria, heavily influenced similar polices introduced in Natal, South Africa, in 1896.

And when Australia federalised colonial immigration laws in 1902, the notorious dictation test, which quizzed potential immigrants in any European language, was in turn borrowed from Natal.

Australians and “Boers” (South Africans of Dutch descent, also known as Afrikaners) forged a sort of racial fraternity across the battlefield in the Boer War between 1899 and 1902. Australian light horsemen sent to fight in South Africa found themselves not all that dissimilar to their enemy.

As Australian soldier J.H.M. Abbott put it in a book on his exploits:

The [Australian] bushman – the dweller in the country as opposed to the town-abiding folk – … is, to all practical purposes, of the same kind as the Boer. [I]n training, in conditions of living, in environment, and to some extent in ancestry, the [Australian] and the Boer have very much that is in common.

Such sympathy – and a hatred for black South Africans, mirroring sentiments toward Indigenous Australians – extended well into the 20th century. Some of the 5,000 Australians living in Johannesburg in the 1900s, either war veterans or economic migrants, were instrumental in forming white-only trade unions modelled on those back home.

Protecting the home front

Australia and South African governments worked together in the 1940s to ensure their restrictive racial policies were beyond the reach of new international organisations.

Jan Smuts, South Africa’s prime minister between 1939 and 1948, was responsible for the inclusion of the term “basic human rights” in the preamble to the UN Charter.

Along with “Doc” Evatt, Australia’s attorney-general and the key author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Smuts saw the idea of human rights not as “synonymous with political, social or racial equality” but as a protection of countries from the threat of further war and international encroachment.

The prominence of domestic jurisdiction became a central part of the UN Charter. This ensured human rights were not enforceable on – or even relevant to – individual countries.

Doc Evatt and UK Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden examine documents at a meeting in 1945.
United Nations

South African apartheid, the White Australia Policy, and treatment of Indigenous Australians became hot-button issues from the late 1950s onward.

Apartheid, introduced in 1948 and modelled on Queensland legislation, entered public consciousness after the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa in 1960.

Decolonising African and Asian countries soon moved to have South Africa excluded from the Commonwealth of Nations. Australia’s prime minister, Robert Menzies, rejected such moves, standing alone in refusing to condemn apartheid. Instead, Menzies and his conservative successors advocated a stance of “non-interference”. They were fearful Australia would be the anti-colonial campaigns’ next target.

Weathering decolonisation

The 1970s and 1980s saw increasing protests against apartheid in Australia – particularly around the Springbok rugby tours in 1971. This period was also marked by efforts from conservatives to blunt the edge of an international sanctions campaign against South Africa.

Coalition prime minister Malcolm Fraser and his Labor successor Bob Hawke were strong opponents of apartheid. But the Coalition under John Howard in the 1980s joined with US President Ronald Reagan and UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to do:

… everything it could to see that nothing was done to bring [apartheid] to an end.

A protester against the tour of the Springboks rugby team in 1971.
The Australian

The first arrival of what Dutton would now term “refugees” from southern Africa to Australia began in the 1980s. White farmers fled the democratic election of a black majority government in Zimbabwe in 1980, followed in the 1990s by a rush of South Africans “packing for Perth” after Nelson Mandela’s 1994 election and the abolition of apartheid.

Studies find these migrants feel victimised by the process of decolonisation and bad (read, black) government. Australia, which is yet to reconcile itself with the legacy of colonialism or offer meaningful participation in government to Indigenous people, must then appear to be an ideal destination.

The ConversationDutton’s call for “civilised nations” to rescue beleaguered white farmers draws explicitly on this long history of equating civilisation with a global white identity. This mental universe has dangerous ramifications for Australia in a world where the “global colour line” has disappeared.

Jon Piccini, UQ Research Fellow, School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry, The University of Queensland

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

Batman is a strong victory for Shorten, but he still has a selling job on tax move



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Ged Kearney and Bill Shorten pose for a photo at Preston Market.
AAP/Ellen Smith

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

On “Super Saturday”, Bill Shorten dodged a political bullet, while Nick Xenophon took one. South Australian Liberal leader Steven Marshall got the result he should have secured four years ago. The Greens proved the old maxim that disunity is death.

The Batman byelection and the poll in South Australia threw up all sorts of interesting points – even though in other circumstances, contests in a heartland Labor seat and a state with a 16-year-old government might have been routine.

For Shorten, avoiding defeat in Batman was vital – for Labor’s current momentum, for confidence in his leadership and, given his gamble of announcing his latest tax move in the campaign’s last week, for holding the line on a controversial policy.




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Many things contributed to Labor’s win, but if you were looking for one, I suspect it might have been that Ged Kearney wasn’t David Feeney. Kearney was the sort of candidate who encouraged Labor voters to be faithful, and not run away in fury.

As for the tax announcement, election watcher Tim Colebatch notes that the pro-Labor swing in the postals and pre-poll votes was much bigger than in the polling booths on the day, and suggests this may show the impact of Shorten unveiling his plan to scrap cash refunds for excess dividend imputation credits.

That the announcement didn’t stymie Labor in the byelection doesn’t mean Shorten has won the argument more widely. Labor will have much explaining to do in this complicated area. But if it had seriously backfired in Batman, that would have given ammunition to the Coalition and caused tensions in the opposition.

Labor was helped in the byelection by the Greens’ internal backbiting. The Greens’ failure to capitalise on a great chance reflects badly on their locals and on leader Richard Di Natale.

The party has deeper problems than its schisms in Batman. It lost a seat in the recent election in Tasmania, its heartland. Nationally, the citizenship crisis has taken its toll, costing it a couple of its strongest Senate performers in Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters. Batman suggests it may have stalled in its push for inner-city federal seats. The next federal election sees the Greens particularly exposed because of the number of senators the party has going out.

The South Australian result has presented something of a reality check on perceptions of the potency of so-called “insurgencies”. This is the third recent state poll in which a major party has won a majority. Late last year in Queensland, Labor secured a second term, as did the Liberals in Tasmania earlier this month.

In Tasmania, the Jacqui Lambie Network got nowhere. In Queensland, One Nation won votes but only one seat. And in South Australia, Xenophon’s SA-Best crashed after initial too-good-to-be-true polls, with Xenophon failing to win the seat he was seeking and SA-Best expected to have no lower house representation.




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Liberals win South Australian election as Xenophon crushed, while Labor stuns the Greens in Batman


At state level, even when such parties achieve a respectable vote (SA-Best received about 14% of the statewide vote, as did One Nation in the Queensland election), the electoral system makes it hard for them to translate that into lower house seats.

Federally, the Senate’s proportional representation voting system has given small players a relatively easy passage to a very powerful place, although changes to the electoral arrangements will make that more difficult in future.

The “disruptors” are important, because the support they attract is a measure of the disillusionment and fragmentation in the contemporary political system. But South Australia reinforces the point that the major parties are still strong. For quite a few voters, the choice is between duelling desires – between sending an angry message or opting for stability.

Outgoing premier Jay Weatherill, gracious in defeat on Saturday night, didn’t look all that upset. Labor’s bidding for a fifth term in this day and age was an almost impossible ask; anyway, Labor won last time with only about 47% of the two-party vote, so it has been on borrowed time.

The huge loser in South Australia was Xenophon. In politics, as in business, you can be too greedy. Xenophon led a three-person Senate block that had a decisive share of the balance of power. It was capable of exerting much influence, and winning concessions in negotiating legislation. Then he decided he wanted to be kingmaker in South Australia – while still aspiring to be the absent master in Canberra.

His party is likely to end up with just a couple of upper house seats in South Australia. Meanwhile, the federal Senate team has been hit by the citizenship crisis as well as weakened by Xenophon’s departure.

Due to a fight with the party, Tim Storer, a replacement for Skye Kakoschke-Moore, a casualty of the citizenship debacle, will be sworn into the Senate on Monday as an independent. The Nick Xenophon Team has been reduced to two senators (and Rebekha Sharkie in the lower house, who could face a byelection in the citizenship saga).

Xenophon is in neither parliament, and the road ahead for his party is rocky. He now talks about SA-Best as a “start-up party” to gloss over its bad result, but it’s hard to see it as a “start-up” with an enduring future. Xenophon dismisses the prospect of a return to the Senate, but it remains to be seen whether his feet will become itchy.

Federal factors were not significant in the change in South Australia. But the outcome has positive implications for Malcolm Turnbull’s government. One of the big arguments between the federal and Weatherill governments was over energy policy, with Weatherill holding out against Canberra’s National Energy Guarantee (NEG). On Sunday, the federal government was welcoming the South Australian result as very good for the future of the NEG.

Another Liberal win at state level, coming after Tasmania, will also be a morale boost, albeit a limited one, for the embattled federal Liberals.

The ConversationSo, Super Saturday had positive spin-offs for both federal leaders, but substantially more for Shorten than Turnbull.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

After 16 years, electoral dynamics finally caught up with Labor in South Australia



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Labor leader Jay Weatherill concedes defeat as South Australians opt to toss the party out after 16 years.
AAP/David Mariuz

Rob Manwaring, Flinders University

History, finally, caught up with Labor in South Australia. After 16 years in office, and seeking a record fifth term, Jay Weatherill’s Labor has conceded to the Liberals.

While the results have not been finalised, the current state of play has Steven Marshall’s Liberals securing a majority. In the projected seat tally, the Liberals have won 24, Labor 18, Independents three and two seats remain undecided. This is a remarkable and unexpected result for a range of reasons.

Elections, as Nick Xenophon is discovering, have a cold, hard way of clarifying the minds of the voters.

Only two days before the election, most of the major betting agencies had far more favourable odds for a Labor win. Betting odds are sometimes seen as better predictors of election results than polls.




Read more:
Liberals win South Australian election as Xenophon crushed, while Labor stuns the Greens in Batman


So, as we still pick over the results, what seemed to go right for the Liberals and so wrong for Nick Xenophon’s SA-Best team?

For the Liberals, while this was a win, it was not as resounding as, say, Mike Rann’s 2006 “Rann-slide”. Yet, it has been a result a long time coming, having won the popular vote in three of the past four state elections. Marshall’s campaign centred on him being a “safe” change-agent.

Marshall’s success lies in a range of incremental factors. First, he put to bed the historic divisions in the party. In a striking insight, he followed John Howard’s advice not to have votes at shadow cabinet meetings, but decide by consensus. New leadership, coupled with the misery of the long years in the wilderness, helped cement party unity.

Second, Marshall’s policy agenda has remained consistent and undramatic. When he launched his first 100 days in office, this was a smart relaunch of policies already well-known. It might have lacked a “wow” factor, but this has proven to be an asset. South Australians will now see cuts to household bills, a roll-out of a home battery scheme, and a push to deregulate working hours.

Third, the Liberals finally managed to make the most of the ammunition of Labor’s 16 years in office, especially the release of the Oakden report into abuse at the state-run mental health facility. The Liberals capitalised on this with a powerful campaign ad by the son of one of the victims, saying he “had enough” of Labor.

Yet, the story of the night was the deflation of the Xenophon SA-Best threat to the major parties. SA-Best looks set to secure just 13.7% of the vote, much lower than even lowered expectations.

The Xenophon vote fail to carry through – arguably for the following reasons.

First, there was overreach by Xenophon, perhaps mistakenly buoyed by the December Newspoll that not only suggested his party could hoover up a third of the vote, but also dangling the prospect of Xenophon as future premier.

Nick Xenophon and SA-Best may have been too ambitious at this election, with a disappointing result.
AAP/Kelly Barnes

Running 36 SA-Best candidates proved a stretch too far for South Australian voters.

Second, the SA-Best machine seemed ill-equipped and under-prepared for the campaign. Policy announcements came late in the campaign, giving the veneer of “policy on the run”.

In other key seats, some untested SA-Best candidates met difficult challenges. In Colton, Matt Cowdrey, the Liberal candidate and former paralympian, easily saw off the SA-Best candidate. In Mawson – a key SA-Best target, Leon Bignell the Labor (now former) minister ran a strong campaign to damage Xenophon hopes.

The thinness of the SA-Best “machine” might prove a factor, as candidates were recruited late in the piece, and some did not seem quite ready for the media scrutiny, nor have enough time to embed themselves as the SA-Best candidate in their seats.

Voters also seem to have pulled back from the unclear positioning of SA-Best. After the initial honeymoon, SA-Best shifted from its traditional “watchdog” role – previously held by the Democrats – to presenting as a “kingmaker”. This brought additional scrutiny and expectation, pushing Xenophon onto the back foot.




Read more:
As South Australia heads to the polls, the state is at a crossroads


In the final weeks of the campaign, Xenophon was playing to his familiar strength, gambling reform, but voters expected a more embracing policy agenda.

Finally, the Australian political system is undergoing change, but the institutional factors continue to suppress minor party challengers. The lower house, with its majoritarian electoral system, requires a strong performance by the next best-placed challenger. Three-into-two does not easily go.

It is notable too, that the election did not go as planned for other parties. The Australian Conservatives clearly failed to capitalise on their merger with Family First, with a drop in its vote share to 3.1%.

For Labor, the result is far from a disaster, and offers them the chance to rebuild, perhaps with a new leader in Peter Malinauskas.

The ConversationCritically, Australian democracy seems more accelerated, with Liberal governments in Victoria and Queensland ejected after just one term. Marshall will need to move quickly to ensure his new government does not follow this new trend.

Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer, Politics and Public Policy, Flinders University

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

Liberals win South Australian election as Xenophon crushed, while Labor stuns the Greens in Batman



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Steven Marshall will become the next South Australian premier after defeating Jay Weatherill’s Labor government.
AAP/Tracey Nearmy

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

With 66% of enrolled voters counted in Saturday’s South Australian election, the ABC is calling 24 of the 47 lower house seats for the Liberals, 18 for Labor and three independents. Two seats – Adelaide and Mawson – are in doubt. Pre-poll, postal and absent votes will not start to be counted until Tuesday.

While the Liberals won the election, the biggest losers were Nick Xenophon and his SA-BEST party. SA-BEST does not appear to have won a single lower house seat, while the Liberals crushed Xenophon in Hartley 58.6-41.4. When preferences are distributed, Labor could eliminate Xenophon from the final two candidates on Greens’ preferences.

Statewide primary votes were 37.4% Liberals (down 7.4% since the 2014 election), 33.9% Labor (down 1.9%), 13.7% SA-BEST, 6.6% Greens (down 2.1%) and 3.1% Australian Conservatives (down 3.0% from Family First’s 2014 vote). When counting is complete, I would expect Labor to fall somewhat, with the Liberals and Greens gaining.

Family First merged into the Conservatives last year, but this was not successful in South Australia. In my opinion, Family First had a catchier name than the Australian Conservatives.

In an October-to-December Newspoll, SA-BEST had 32% of the South Australian primary vote, and it was plausible that Xenophon could be the next premier. In the lead-up to the election, Xenophon was attacked by all sides. I believe the biggest reason for Xenophon’s flop was that he lacked a clear agenda to distinguish his party from the major parties.




Read more:
Nick Xenophon could be South Australia’s next premier, while Turnbull loses his 25th successive Newspoll


Labor had governed South Australia for 16 years, and the “it’s time” factor appears to have contributed to the result. But this election was not the disaster Labor suffered after 14 to 16 years in power in Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania at elections between 2011 and 2014.

According to the Poll Bludger, Labor achieved about a two-point swing in its favour in two-party terms from the 2014 election, but it needed a three-point swing to win after a hostile redistribution. In 2014, Labor clung to power, despite losing the two-party vote 53.0-47.0.

In the upper house, half of the 22 members were up for election using statewide proportional representation. With 11 to be elected, a quota is one-twelfth of the vote, or 8.3%. Currently, the Liberals have 3.78 quotas, Labor 3.56, SA-BEST 2.27, the Greens 0.72 and the Conservatives 0.42.




Read more:
Xenophon’s SA-BEST slumps in a South Australian Newspoll, while Turnbull’s better PM lead narrows


Optional above-the-line preferential voting was used at this election. The Liberals will win four seats, Labor three, SA-BEST two and the Greens one. Labor is currently well ahead of the Conservatives in the race for the last seat, but Labor’s vote will probably drop after election day. However, preferences from Dignity, Animal Justice and SA-BEST should help Labor against the Conservatives, with only Liberal Democrats’ preferences likely to flow the other way.

If Labor wins a fourth upper house seat, SA-BEST’s two seats would come at the expense of Dignity and the Conservatives. The overall upper house would then be eight Liberals, eight Labor, two Greens, two SA-BEST, one Advance SA (formerly SA-BEST) and one Conservative. The Liberals would need all of SA-BEST, Advance SA and Conservative to pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens.

The final polls for the South Australian election, from Newspoll and ReachTEL, gave the Liberals 34%, Labor 31% and SA-BEST 16-17%. The major parties, particularly the Liberals, performed better than expected, while SA-BEST performed worse.

Labor defeats the Greens 54.1-45.9 at the Batman byelection

With 74.5% of enrolled voters counted at Saturday’s Batman byelection, Labor’s Ged Kearney defeated the Greens’ Alex Bhathal by a 54.1-45.9 margin, a 3.1% swing to Labor since the 2016 election. Primary votes were 42.7% Kearney (up 7.4%), 40.3% Bhathal (up 4.1%), 6.4% Conservatives and 2.9% Animal Justice. The Liberals won 19.9% at the 2016 election, but did not contest the byelection.

Ged Kearney celebrates her win in Batman with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.
AAP/David Crosling

In the Northcote West booth, Labor and the Greens’ two-party results are the wrong way round. The correction of this error will push Labor’s overall margin down to 53.8-46.2, but postals counted so far have strongly favoured Labor.

At byelections, there are no Greens-favouring absent votes, so Labor’s lead is likely to increase as more postals are counted.

Labor received large swings in its favour in the southern part of Batman, the more Greens-favouring part. Kearney was a far better fit for this part of the electorate than the right-aligned David Feeney. It is also possible there was a backlash against the Greens for courting Liberal votes over opposition to Labor’s plan to alter the tax treatment of franking credits.




Read more:
With Feeney gone, Greens sniff a chance in Batman, and has Xenophon’s bubble burst in South Australia?


For Bill Shorten and federal Labor, the Batman result will be a huge relief. If Labor had lost Batman, the media would have seen it as a backlash against Labor’s tax plan.

The ConversationWhile Labor lost the South Australian election, it was not a disaster. Federal parties generally do better in states where the opposite party is in power, so Labor could do very well in South Australia at the next federal election.

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

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

South Australian ‘soft’ voters inclined to change their government but not impressed with the alternative



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Jay Weatherill was seen as the better performer during the campaign when compared with Steven Marshall.
Morgan Sette/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

An “old” government, an opposition leader many people find lacklustre, and a popular centrist player adept at exploiting discontent. That’s the confusing choice facing “soft” voters in next Saturday’s South Australian election.

It’s little wonder that observers are unwilling to predict the election’s outcome.

In focus group research last week, participants were divided over whether South Australia – which often sees itself as the poor relation among states – is headed in the right or wrong direction.

On the positive side they noted the technology industries, renewable energy, and defence contracts. But then there is the pain – the decline of manufacturing, lack of jobs, low wages, high cost of living, and many young people leaving the state.

Four groups of nine to ten “soft” voters – people still to decide how they will vote – were run on March 7-8, two each in Adelaide and Murray Bridge, a regional city of some 20,000 population. The work was done by Landscape Research for the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis.

There was a mix of gender, age and socioeconomic backgrounds. In Adelaide voters were drawn mainly from the marginal Liberal seat of Hartley (where SA-Best leader Nick Xenophon is running) and Dunstan (also marginal Liberal, held by Opposition Leader Steven Marshall). Both seats are within federal cabinet minister Christopher Pyne’s seat of Sturt.

Murray Bridge is within the state seat of Hammond (safe Liberal); it is located in the federal Liberal seat of Barker, which saw a strong Nick Xenophon Team vote in the 2016 federal election.

Among the election issues, health – including the cost and teething problems of the new Royal Adelaide Hospital – was a prominent concern for these soft voters, especially older ones.

The plight of the Murray River and the management of the Murray Darling Basin resonated in Adelaide as well as obviously in the river city. For the regional voters, inadequate public transport servicing Murray Bridge (cost and availability) was important.




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Across all groups, a common catch-cry was that “the government should do more to keep young people here” in South Australia.

Premier Jay Weatherill was seen as the better performer during the campaign, when compared with Marshall.

Weatherill, premier since 2011, was perceived as the stronger leader of the two; he has to a degree escaped the blame for South Australia’s decline that is directed at the 16-year-old government.

“He speaks with more authority than Marshall,” said an older Adelaide voter, while an older participant in Murray Bridge thought “the current mob have given us a clearer idea of where they want to take the state than the Liberals”. But there was as well a strand of criticism from the older cohort – that Weatherill is “weak” and “insipid”.

Among the soft voters there was also a compelling sense of “change for change’s sake”, as one participant put it. “Labor has been in power long enough,” said a retiree; another wanted “new faces”.

Going against Weatherill is that, while he was seen as the better political performer, many of these soft voters had no great regard for him or his record in government. “Weatherill is just coasting along on what he thinks he has achieved and bullying tactics,” was the view of one Adelaide participant.

While many soft voters didn’t think Labor deserved re-election, they were hesitant about the Liberals under Marshall.

“If you look at Marshall, how can you ever call him a leader?” said an Adelaide real estate agent, while a retiree said: “He hasn’t imploded yet but that could happen any day given past experience with the Liberal Party”.

Xenophon was regarded widely as standing up for South Australia – several of these voters could spontaneously bring to mind examples of this.

He was seen to have run a “positive” campaign, in contrast to the major parties – this adds to his appeal when soft voters are disappointed with the sniping of the big parties, with which they are deeply disillusioned anyway. People judged the major parties were worried about Xenophon by the fact they were attacking him. “Both parties are seeing him as a real threat and are putting the boot in,” said one participant.

Xenophon, who started his political career as an anti-pokies campaigner, has adopted a pragmatic approach on the issue at this election. Some of these voters regarded this as selling out and becoming “just like the rest”, but for others it was a sign he understood “the need for compromise”.

The Hotels Association campaign against Xenophon has penetrated people’s awareness but also to a degree appears to have backfired, with some of these voters taking the view this was a “big lobby with deep pockets” targeting him for their own nefarious ends.

Soft voters, reacting against the major parties, are attracted to the idea of Xenophon’s party having the balance of power as an antidote to their disillusionment. For those leaning toward voting for SA-Best, it represented a genuine alternative to the majors.

On the other hand, there was some disappointment with Xenophon. His hokey election advertising had not impressed the critics, and they viewed him as superficial. “He’s been exposed when he’s tried to be serious,” said one; another said: “People are beginning to understand Nick is just a showman”.

In Adelaide, SA-Best was seen largely as something of a one-man show, with not much in the way of policies, its attraction being as a vehicle for a protest vote rather than for what it represents in positive terms.

There was also the issue that while Xenophon was a household name, outside the seat of Hartley his supporters would be voting for candidates who were often unknown quantities. As a young Adelaide voter put it, voting for SA-Best was “an awesome gamble”.

In Murray Bridge, a relatively small community, SA-Best has fielded a candidate described in the discussion as a “strong young woman” and the competition appears fierce, with Liberal incumbent Adrian Pederick facing a serious threat.

Participants acknowledged upsides and downsides in the prospect that SA-Best might hold the balance of power. An older Murray Bridge voter said it would “take the arrogance out of decision-making”. But another feared it would mean “South Australia will be stuck in quicksand, no movement, mired”.

Unlike quantitative polling, focus group research has no statistical validity. But for interest, here is the vote-leaning breakdown of these soft voters, in the penultimate week of the campaign.

Of 38 participants in total, eight remained firmly undecided. Of those who could say to which party they were leaning, the Liberals and SA-Best were neck and neck on 11 and 12 respectively, with five leaning to Labor and two thinking of voting for an independent or party other than these three. The Liberals fare more strongly in Adelaide seats, while SA-Best is the frontrunner in Hammond.

The ConversationNotwithstanding their own leanings there was a feeling among some soft voters that Labor might win “by default” because Xenophon would split the Liberal vote and “people will forget the crap”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

‘Soft’ voters scathing about Turnbull’s handling of sex in politics: focus group research


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull handled the Barnaby Joyce affair badly and his ban on ministers having sex with members of their staff is risible, according to “soft voters” in focus groups held last week.

The research, done ahead of the South Australian election but canvassing views about the federal leaders as well as state issues, also found people critical of Bill Shorten, especially disdainful of what they saw as his “opportunistic” position on the Adani coal mine in Queensland.

Four focus groups each of nine or ten “soft” voters – those who had not decided who to vote for in next Saturday’s election – were conducted on March 7 and 8: two each in Adelaide and the regional city of Murray Bridge. The work was done by Landscape Research on behalf of the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis.

These soft voters, meeting on the heels of Turnbull’s Newspoll slump in the wake of the Joyce affair, believed Turnbull misjudged the public mood on the issue, didn’t handle it well, and let it drag on to become much more of a distraction than it should have been.

“I didn’t think it was even any of his business to be quite frank,” a 61-year-old male real estate agent said. “He wasn’t even in the same party.”

Many soft voters wonder why Turnbull didn’t simply get Joyce to keep his mouth shut.




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A retired man in Murray Bridge said that “publicly dissing Barnaby … was bad”, while a customer services manager from the town thought “he should have got rid of him quicker”.

As for the sex ban: “That rule about no bonking in parliament was an absolute joke,” an Adelaide male security office declared, while a social worker in Murray Bridge thought it “probably inflamed the situation”.

A young woman from retail was sceptical about implementation. “It’s going to happen. They can’t stop it.”

A retired female cook summed up the cynicism: “I mean, for goodness sake!”, while another woman said: “At the end of the day does it really matter? Just focus on what you need to focus on and stop focusing on people’s sex lives.”

When it comes to representing Australia on the world stage, these voters prefer Turnbull over Shorten. But more generally, many see Turnbull hamstrung by his party, weak and wishy-washy because he can’t free himself and be true to his own beliefs.

There is a strong sense that Turnbull’s perceived lack of leadership has let down many voters who expected big things from him.

“There’s no passion anymore,” said an Adelaide pensioner. A retired male teacher thought he was “not a conviction politician. You don’t feel he’s got a set of beliefs.”

An older Murray Bridge participant struggled with the gap between Turnbull’s words and actions, as shown by recent events.

“He comes across as a very decent sort of man. He made a statement at the beginning of the year about his aspiration for things to be better in parliament. And then we have Michaelia Cash getting out of her tree and he virtually starts making excuses for her, and then we’ve got Peter Dutton and a couple of other ministers being very, very personal about the marital affairs of others, and he lets all that happen in spite of what he’s already said.”

Given Turnbull is seen as still preferable to his opponent, soft voters would like him to improve and “act like a leader”, and especially to gag the voices behind him, who they regard as undermining him.

But there is doubt that he can break through. A young male factory worker thought “he’s had too many scandals in his party and it’s starting to take effect on how people see him. Like, he has no control over his party. And people are thinking, maybe he’s not cut out for the job.”

Shorten is seen as having sat back and gloated at the government’s troubles. But there was a surprisingly high unprompted awareness of his “opportunistic”, “two-faced” position on Adani. Shorten’s union association also lingers in people’s minds.

A young Adelaide bank worker observed: “Recently he went up to Queensland and said he was in favour of the Adani coal mine and then he was in Melbourne and said he was against the coal mine. Flip-flops.”

Another Adelaide voter parodied Shorten’s statements on the project: “Yeah but, yeah but … we won’t tear the contract up but …”

The ConversationFor both leaders, these soft voters have become an unforgiving lot – which in part explains the attraction of casting a protest vote.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Newspoll round-up: Labor leading in Victoria and tied in New South Wales; populists dominate in Italy



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Polls indicate a swing back in favour of the Andrews government in the lead-up to the November state election.
AAP/Joe Castro

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The Victorian election will be held on November 24, and the New South Wales election in March next year. Newspolls have been conducted in these states in February and early March from samples of 1,268 in Victoria and 1,526 in New South Wales. Labor led by 52-48 in Victoria, and was tied 50-50 in New South Wales, a one-point gain for Labor since February to March 2017.

In Victoria, primary votes were 39% Coalition, 37% Labor, 11% Greens and 6% One Nation. The last Victorian Newspoll was conducted in 2016, so it is not useful for comparison. However, Galaxy polling had Labor slumping to a 53-47 deficit in June 2017, before recovering to a 50-50 tie in December, so this Newspoll suggests a continuing trend to Labor.




Read more:
Labor wins a majority in Queensland as polling in Victoria shows a tie


Premier Daniel Andrews’ ratings were 46% satisfied, 41% dissatisfied. Opposition Leader Matthew Guy’s ratings were 36% satisfied, 37% dissatisfied. Andrews led Guy 41-30 as better premier.

Labor led the Liberals 44-34 on party best to maintain energy supply and keep power prices lower, while the Liberals led 42-37 on law and order. 65% thought the Andrews government should be doing more to reduce gang violence, while just 25% thought it was doing enough.

This poll will be a major disappointment for right-wing media that have campaigned strongly against Labor on the gang violence issue. Despite this campaign, the Liberals only have a five-point lead over Labor on law and order, a conservative-leaning issue. Other issues are likely to be helping Labor.

In New South Wales, primary votes were 38% Coalition (down two), 34% Labor (steady), 11% Greens (up one) and 8% One Nation (steady). This Newspoll is the first since early 2008 that has not had a Coalition lead after preferences.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s ratings were 45% satisfied (up one since February to March 2017), 35% dissatisfied (up 14). Opposition Leader Luke Foley’s ratings were 37% satisfied (up five), 35% dissatisfied (down one). Berejiklian led Foley 43-25 as better premier (43-21 previously).

New South Wales is the only state that now uses optional preferential voting for single-member electorates. All other state and national elections use compulsory preferential voting (Queensland changed to compulsory preferential during the last parliamentary term).

Populists dominate Italian election

At the Italian election on March 4, the centre-right coalition won 37.0% of the vote, the populist left Five Star Movement won 32.7% and the centre-left coalition 22.9%. Within the right coalition, the anti-immigrant populist League won 17.4%, while former PM Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia had just 14.0%.

37% of both chambers of the Italian Parliament were elected by “first past the post”, while the remainder used proportional representation. The right coalition’s narrow lead over the Five Star Movement did not allow them to win a large majority of the first past the post seats, and they were well short of an overall majority.

42-43% of both chambers went to the right coalition, 36% to the Five Star Movement and 18-19% to the left coalition. A governing coalition could be formed between Five Star and the Democratic Party, the main component of the left coalition. It is also possible that the League and Five Star could combine, or a new election may be needed.




Read more:
Will elections in 2018 see 2017’s left-wing revival continue?


More than five months after election, German government formed

On March 4, the Social Democrats’ members voted by 66-34 to join Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats in a grand coalition – the same right/left coalition that had governed Germany from 2013-17.

At the September 2017 election, the Social Democrats’ vote had fallen to 20.5% – its lowest in a free election since 1932. Since the election, their vote has fallen to about 17%. It is difficult for a centre-left party in coalition with conservatives to differentiate itself.




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NZ First to hold balance of power after election; far-right AfD wins 12.6% in Germany


By the next German election, due in 2021, it would be no surprise if the Social Democrats had fallen into single figures, and been overtaken by one or both of the more left-wing parties – the Greens and the Left.

Centre-left parties faltering in Europe, but UK Labour is performing much better

The German and Italian elections are examples of a Europe-wide problem for centre-left parties. The exception appears to be the UK, where Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour won 40% at the June 2017 election, and is now neck-and-neck with the Conservatives, with both parties in the 40’s.

I believe the most important cause of this disparity is that UK Labour has adopted many populist left policies, while European centre-left parties resist populist policies.

Putin set for crushing victory at March 18 Russian election

The ConversationIncumbent Russian President Vladimir Putin is polling over 60%, and will win the first round of the Russian Presidential election on March 18 with an outright majority, avoiding a runoff. The other candidates all have under 10% support.

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

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