Nationals president urges party: don’t act hastily on Joyce


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Nationals’ federal president, Larry Anthony, has appealed to the party to give Barnaby Joyce “time”, as Joyce’s future sits on a knife-edge.

Anthony, who flew to Canberra for talks on the crisis late Tuesday, said afterwards: “It’s been an extraordinarily difficult time for the National Party, and clearly for Barnaby Joyce and his family, and for the government.

“It’s important people think very carefully about making any significant decisions. You are never wise to make decisions in the heat of the moment. Barnaby should be given time.”

With speculation on Tuesday about whether he’d last the week, Joyce’s greatest protection in the short term remained the absence of a strong alternative. The atmosphere in Coalition ranks was fevered, with the pressure all the greater because Joyce is due to become acting prime minister next week, a prospect that appals many Liberals. No-one knows what the next media story might bring.

Joyce on Tuesday morning issued multiple apologies, as he desperately tried to contain the damage of his affair with former staffer Vikki Campion, who is expecting his child.

He was “deeply sorry” for the hurt he’d caused his wife and daughters, and “deeply sorry” Campion had been dragged into the controversy. The message to supporters and his electorate was that he was “deeply sorry” a personal issue had gone into the public arena.

Later there was a further apology in the Coalition partyroom, essentially for the trouble he’s caused.

“Every political career has a time of trial,” Joyce told the meeting, adding he was determined to work through his situation. He thanked colleagues for their solidarity.

To the extent there was solidarity, it was driven by necessity.

Angry Liberals are powerless – they have no say in who is Nationals leader.

A report that Malcolm Turnbull was ringing around senior Nationals was denied – Turnbull is said to have returned a call from a National who called him. A Liberal leader wading into a Nationals leadership matter would be as risky as jumping into crocodile waters.

The Nationals’ situation is perfectly described by the “rock-and-hard-place” cliché.

They have a diminished leader, discredited among their conservative base. But the alternatives are less than optimal for a small party that needs strong leadership to extract more for the bush than its numbers would justify.

Resources Minister Matt Canavan is a senator and so not an option. Darren Chester, whom Joyce dumped from cabinet in December, is a Victorian (and a social moderate) – if he were elevated, Bridget McKenzie would have to go from the deputyship because a party with its heartland further north couldn’t have two Victorians at the top.

That leaves Michael McCormack, from New South Wales, solid but not popular enough with his colleagues even to win the deputyship in recent ballots.

On anything to do with the Joyce issue Turnbull’s approach – in the partyroom, in parliament and in the media – is, figuratively, to hold his nose and point his finger at the culprit.

Turnbull on Tuesday again had to answer a batch of questions in parliament including about the definition of a “partner” for the purposes of the ministerial code.

That code bans “partners” working in ministerial offices. Joyce said on Tuesday that Campion was “without a shadow of doubt” his partner now but she wasn’t when she was on his staff.

“Partner is not defined in the relevant ministerial standards,” Turnbull said, directing attention to the definition used by the Department of Human Services.

The Human Services website says:

To determine if you’re a member of a couple … we’ll consider the following factors: financial aspects of your relationship; nature of your household; social aspects of your relationship; if you have a sexual relationship; nature of your commitment to each other.

Turnbull told parliament that “Centrelink considers a person to be in a de facto relationship from the time they commence living with another person as a member of a couple.”

The Joyce issue, however, has now gone beyond the detail of the arrangements made for Campion to move offices, and the like. As one journalist put it, it’s become “the vibe”. In many minds, a question of character.

Joyce’s present imbroglio is bringing out allegations of past tacky behaviour. A woman contacted the ABC on Tuesday recounting a strange incident that allegedly occurred at an early-evening cocktail party, hosted by the Collections Council (a peak body for galleries, libraries etc), in Parliament House in 2009 or 2010.

Joyce, then a senator, was one of the few politicians there. The woman, a senior academic and a director of the (now-defunct) council, says she chatted to him – he was charming and merry but not drunk. He gave her his card. When they parted “he grabbed my buttock and squeezed it,” the woman, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Conversation.

She said that before Tuesday she’d only related the incident to her family. A story in the Murdoch papers about alleged bottom-pinching elsewhere – totally denied by Joyce – prompted her to speak out. Joyce’s office said of her claim that it was “being asked to comment on an anonymous person who has never made a complaint”.

The ConversationJoyce, for all his campaigning strengths, has always been unpredictable, a potential time-bomb. He steadied and focused as he concentrated on pursuing the leadership and then in his earlier days in it. Now the time-bomb has exploded and the Nationals are in a deep funk, not knowing what to do.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

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Queensland Nationals Barry O’Sullivan’s advice on the Joyce affair: ‘don’t shoot your best horse’


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Outspoken Queensland Nationals senator Barry O’Sullivan has declared Barnaby Joyce a “once-in-a-generation type of politician” who remains a big asset to the Nationals despite the sharp grassroots reaction to his affair with his former staffer.

With some Nationals reeling from the backlash to the revelations amid speculation about Joyce’s future, O’Sullivan went on the front foot on Monday night.

“We’ve not seen any government that has done more for the bush than this one, with Barnaby Joyce as deputy prime minister,” he told The Conversation.

“I don’t want to lose one of the best politicians we’ve had in my lifetime. Are you going to shoot your best horse because he jumped the fence and was found in the neighbour’s paddock?”

O’Sullivan’s strong defence came as Malcolm Turnbull was forced in parliament to express his confidence in Joyce.

When Opposition Leader Bill Shorten asked Turnbull whether Joyce would be acting prime minister when Turnbull visits the US next week, and whether he still retained confidence in Joyce, Turnbull kept his answer as brief as possible.

“Yes in response to both questions,” he said.

Turnbull is known to be furious with Joyce, whose affair with Vikki Campion, now expecting his child, has dominated headlines and distracted the government since the story broke in the Daily Telegraph mid-last week.

Turnbull and his office struggled on Monday to avoid being ensnared, as questions were put about the movement of Campion, who was shifted to the office of Resources Minister Matt Canavan after her relationship with Joyce started to cause problems in his office. Later she took up a position in the office of then Nationals whip Damian Drum. She left government at the end of last year.

Under the ministerial code of conduct, a minister’s “close relatives and partners are not to be appointed to positions in their ministerial or electorate offices and must not be employed in the offices of other members of the executive government without the prime minister’s express approval”.

The opposition asked whether Turnbull or his office was involved in creating a new position last year in either Canavan’s or Drum’s office.

Turnbull said he was advised the Nationals were provided with a number of personal staff positions as a share of the government’s overall staffing pool. “The distribution of those staff members between Nationals’ offices is a matter for the National Party,” he said.

“I’m further advised that at no time did the Nationals fill all vacant staffing positions.”

The government is arguing that Turnbull was never officially informed that Campion was the partner of Joyce – who remained married to Natalie Joyce – and so the question of prime ministerial approval did not arise.

O’Sullivan said the Nationals base had expressed disappointment and frustration at Joyce’s behaviour.

“But no-one is challenging his ability to do the great job he has done,” O’Sullivan said. “Do we want to chip away at him until he’s gone?”

O’Sullivan, who said he was not personally close to Joyce, has a reputation as a straight talker. Last year he spearheaded the backbench Nationals move that led to the government capitulating to pressure for a royal commission into the banks, which commenced on Monday. He was critical of Joyce’s demotion of fellow Queenslander Keith Pitt in the December reshuffle.

Treasurer Scott Morrison told the ABC on Monday night: “There’s no-one I know in the parliament who is a stronger advocate for rural and regional Australia.

“While events regarding Barnaby’s private life … are disappointing, most importantly to his family and others, that doesn’t change the fact that Barnaby, over a long period of time in his public life, has dedicated himself to public service and the people he represents.”

The ConversationAsked about the code’s provision about partners not being employed without prime ministerial approval, Morrison said Joyce “can’t have two partners at the same time and he was obviously still married”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

George Brandis warns Liberals against rise of populist right


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Former attorney-general George Brandis has warned of the challenge that right-wing populism poses to the Liberal Party, in his valedictory speech to the Senate ahead of taking up the post of high commissioner in London.

Brandis, a Liberal moderate, also strongly cautioned the Coalition against listening to those who said it should use national security as a political weapon against Labor, and criticised attacks on the judiciary from his own side.

With Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull looking on, Brandis told the Senate that classical liberal values were under “greater challenge than at any time in my memory”.

“Increasingly, in recent years, powerful elements of right-wing politics have abandoned both liberalism’s concern for the rights of the individual and conservatism’s respect for institutions, in favour of a belligerent, intolerant populism which shows no respect for either the rights of individual citizens or the traditional institutions which protect them.”

Brandis was attorney-general throughout the Abbott and Turnbull governments, leaving the ministry in the December reshuffle.

He became increasingly outspoken as a voice of the moderate strand of the Liberal Party toward the end of his time in parliament. Within the government, he was critical of the hardline conservative Peter Dutton, now the home affairs minister.

In his speech Brandis targeted “right-wing postmodernism”. “A set of attitudes which had its origin in the authoritarian mind of the left has been translated right across the political spectrum,” he said.

“This presents a threat both to liberalism and conservatism, and a profound challenge to the Liberal Party as the custodian of these philosophic traditions.”

Brandis – who once set off a political storm by declaring that people had the right to be bigots – said being a liberal wasn’t easy.

“It means respecting the right of people to make choices which we ourselves would not make and of which may disapprove.

“It means respecting the right of people to express their opinions, even though others may find those opinions offensive.

“It means respecting the right of people to practice their religion, even though others may find the tenets of that religion irrational.

“It means, in a nation of many cultures, respecting the right of people to live according to their culture, even though, to others, that culture may seem alien.

“It means respecting the right of everyone to marry the person they love, even though others may find their understanding of marriage confronting.”

Brandis was a prominent figure pushing for same-sex marriage, which was legislated late last year.

In a pointed reference including some (unnamed) ministers who have criticised the judiciary, Brandis said he had not disguised his concerns at attacks on the institutions of the law – the courts and those who practised in them.

“To attack those institutions is to attack the rule of law itself. And it is for the attorney-general always to defend the rule of law – sometimes from political colleagues who fail to understand it, or are impatient of the limitations it may impose upon executive power – because although the attorney-general is a political official, as the first law officer he has a higher duty – a duty to the law itself.

“It is a duty which, as my cabinet colleagues know, on several robust occasions, I have always placed above political advantage.”

Brandis also was blunt in his rejection of those who want to see the government seek to inject more partisanship into national security.

He observed that eight tranches of national security legislation he had overseen were passed with opposition support after parliamentary committee scrutiny.

“It was a fine example of government and parliament working hand-in-hand to protect the national interest.

“I have heard some powerful voices argue that the Coalition should open a political front against the Labor Party on the issue of domestic national security.

“I could not disagree more strongly.

“One of the main reasons why the government has earned the confidence of the public on national security policy is that there has never been a credible suggestion that political motives have intruded.

“Were it to do so, confidence not just in the government’s handling of national security, but in the agencies themselves, would be damaged and their capacity to do their work compromised.

The Conversation“Nothing could be more irresponsible than to hazard the safety of the public by creating a confected dispute for political advantage. To his credit, the prime minister has always resisted such entreaties.”

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/99z29-862eb3?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Turnbull and the Coalition begin the year on a positive polling note – but it’s still all about the economy



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Malcolm Turnbull makes a point in Question Time.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The first Newspoll of 2018, conducted February 1-4 from a sample of 1,616, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since the final Newspoll of 2017 in mid-December. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (up two), 37% Labor (steady), 10% Greens (steady) and 5% One Nation (down two).

While this Newspoll is Malcolm Turnbull’s 26th consecutive loss (four short of Tony Abbott’s streak), it is the Coalition’s best position since April 2017. This is the Coalition’s highest primary vote, and One Nation’s lowest Newspoll vote, since December 2016, before Newspoll started asking for One Nation as part of the party read-out.

As the Coalition’s primary vote gains have come at the expense of another right-wing party, the overall left/right balance is unchanged at 47-43. The two-party vote changes are exaggerated by Newspoll’s assumption, based on the 2016 election, that the Coalition will win only half of One Nation’s preferences.




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


At the recent Queensland election, about 65% of One Nation preferences flowed to the LNP. It is likely that previous Newspolls, which had high One Nation votes, overstated Labor’s lead after preferences.

Turnbull’s approval rating bumped up to 37% (up five), and 50% were dissatisfied (down seven), for a net approval of -13, up 12 points. Bill Shorten’s net approval also improved six points to -18, and both leaders are at their highest net approval since August. Turnbull led Shorten by 45-31 as better prime minister (41-34 in December); this is Turnbull’s biggest margin since September.

Voters were given four options for best Liberal leader: Turnbull, Julie Bishop, Abbott and Peter Dutton. Turnbull had 30% support (up five since early December), Bishop 26% (down four), Abbott 13% (down three) and Dutton 7% (steady). Among Coalition voters, Turnbull had 48%, Bishop 19%, Abbott 16% and Dutton 6%. Abbott and Dutton performed best with One Nation voters.

Voters were given three choices for best Labor leader: Shorten, Tanya Plibersek and Anthony Albanese. Plibersek had 25% support, Albanese 24% and Shorten 22%. Among Labor voters, Shorten had 37%, Plibersek 27% and Albanese 23%. Plibersek was the clear favourite among Greens voters (43%).

Both leaders appear to have benefited from the lack of any major controversies over the summer holidays. Turnbull has done better, perhaps due to the absence of hard-right Coalition backbenchers from the media environment.

Shorten’s ratings as preferred Labor leader are so low because conservatives detest him for strongly opposing much that the Coalition is proposing or has done, while many on the left do not regard him as a genuine leftie. Turnbull is helped as best Liberal leader by Abbott and Dutton being more right-wing.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: For Bill Shorten, it will be a matter of eyes left and centre


The most important factor regarding the next federal election, due by early 2019, is likely to be the performance of the economy. Greg Jericho wrote in The Guardian recently that the strong employment growth in 2017 was consistent with the government being re-elected.

The government is inhibited by the continued low wages growth. If wages growth lifts this year, the Coalition would be far more likely to be re-elected. The strong US economy has benefited Donald Trump.

65% supported leaving Australia Day as it is, while just 29% supported referendums on Indigenous recognition and the republic proposed by Albanese.

The ConversationEssential will now appear fortnightly rather than weekly, so there was no Essential poll this week. You can read about last week’s Essential here.

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

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

Encouragement for Turnbull in Newspoll as parliamentary year starts


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The first Newspoll for 2018 brings encouraging figures for the Coalition, although it continues to trail Labor – for the 26th consecutive time.

Malcolm Turnbull has extended his lead over Bill Shorten as better prime minister, and the Coalition primary vote has risen two points to 38%, compared with late December.

The Coalition now trails 48-52% on the two-party vote – the best result for it since April last year – compared with 47-53% before Christmas.

The poll comes as parliament resumes on Monday, with the dual citizenship issue still front and centre, together with the debate over the cost of living and the government’s attempt to get the rest of its company tax package legislated.

The poll is in line with the general feeling in political circles that Turnbull has picked up his game and Shorten is under pressure, especially as a result of the citizenship issue, with a byelection fight with the Greens in the Labor seat of Batman and the threat of more byelections in ALP seats.

But the Coalition is still on track to losing 30 consecutive polls – the number Turnbull highlighted when challenging for the prime ministership in 2015.

Turnbull leads Shorten as preferred prime minister by 45% (up four points) to 31% (down three points). This is the biggest lead Turnbull has had since August.

Labor’s primary vote remains on 37%, and the Greens are unchanged on 10% but there has been a further fall in the One Nation vote, which is now on 5%, compared with 10% in mid-November. The Coalition is benefiting from the One Nation decline in support.

In the citizenship battle, the government is continuing to push for Susan Lamb, Labor member in the marginal Queensland seat of Longman, to resign – as David Feeney did in Batman last week – because she is a dual British citizen. The government has threatened to refer her, as well as two other Labor MPs, to the High Court.

Following his criticism last week of rising health insurance premiums, Shorten on Sunday announced a Labor government would freeze premium increases to 2% in each of its first two years in office. The opposition says this would leave a family who paid the national average premium A$340 better off in total over the two years. The average premium for a family, including obstetrics, is $4,731 a year.

Shorten said Labor would also have a Productivity Commission inquiry “to look at serious reform of the private health insurance sector”.

Labor wanted to ensure that small, not-for-profit private health insurers remained competitive and able to grow “in what is becoming an increasingly uncompetitive market,” he said.

As MPs return they will be met by a big demonstration outside parliament on Monday against the controversial proposed Adani mine. An assistant minister, Karen Andrews, who is from Queensland, told Sky on Sunday there would now not be federal funding for the rail line for the mine.

She said funding from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility would need support from the Queensland Labor government. But Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced during the state election campaign her government would veto any such funding.

“So the advice that I’ve been given from the resources minister [Matt Canavan] is that the financing will not proceed,” Andrews said.

Labor is under pressure over Adani in the Batman byelection and on Friday Shorten moved closer to opposing the project.

Labor’s infrastructure spokesman Anthony Albanese told Sky on Sunday he had never seen the economics of the project stacking up.

Albanese and Shorten differed in their assessments of Batman, where Labor faces a huge threat from the Greens, with Albanese raising expectations and Shorten lowering them. Albanese said Labor “should win the seat”, pointing out that Feeney had had a bad campaign in 2016 (he had neglected to declare a house worth more than $2 million). Shorten, speaking on the ABC, said it would be “difficult” to win the seat.

Meanwhile, Turnbull said heads should roll in the farcical affair of the trove of confidential documents that turned up in two filing cabinets sold by a Canberra second-hand shop. The cabinets have been traced to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Turnbull told the ABC: “The idea that public servants, entrusted with highly confidential documents, would put them in a safe, lock the safe, lose the keys, and then sell the safe without checking what was in it ––it beggars belief.

The Conversation“If you put it in a episode of Utopia … I imagine an editor or producer would have said, ‘no, that stretches credulity. Take it out,’” Turnbull said.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/99z29-862eb3?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Shorten puts pressure on Turnbull over anti-corruption body


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has pledged a Labor government would set up a National Integrity Commission in its first year – not because of any known corrupt conduct, but to restore people’s trust in the political system.

Shorten said the body – which has been canvassed for years without being adopted by either major party – would operate “as a standing royal commission into serious and systematic corruption”.

The remit of the commission, with extensive powers and costing an estimated A$58.7 million over the forward estimates, would cover MPs and their staffs, the Commonwealth judiciary, the governor-general, Commonwealth public servants and statutory office holders, and businesses and people who transact with the Commonwealth.

Its commissioner and two deputies would each have fixed five-year non-renewable terms, and be appointed by parliament on a bipartisan basis, with the body overseen by a parliamentary committee.

Shorten said: “I’m not putting this policy forward because I’m aware of any corrupt conduct – if I was, I would report it. I’m doing this because I want to restore people’s faith in their representatives and the system.”

“I want the National Integrity Commission to be a clear, concrete and impartial mechanism to restore trust, accountability and transparency in the public sector.”

The commission was announced in Shorten’s Tuesday National Press Club address, in which he also put private health funds and employers on notice and made cost of living a central theme.

He said Labor was looking at “options” to contain health premiums, including better monitoring of the increasing range of exclusions from coverage that was “turning health insurance into a con”. “Business as usual is not cutting it,” he told the funds, especially the big ones.

In Tuesday’s Essential poll, more than eight in ten people agreed with the proposition that “the government should do more to keep private health insurance affordable”.

He said the minimum wage was “no longer a living wage”, and enterprise bargaining was “on life support”. “It’s never been easier for business to take the drastic option, nuclear option, detonate negotiations, terminate agreements and threaten to send workers back to award minimums unless they accept a cut to their wages and conditions,” he said.

“We need to revisit the living wage”, and Labor would “put the bargaining back into enterprise bargaining”. For example, companies should not be allowed to unilaterally terminate agreements.

Shorten declined to state what Labor would do about the tax cuts legislated for companies with turnovers up to $50 million, beyond reiterating that it would not disturb those for firms with up to $2 million turnover.

Shorten’s embrace of an integrity commission puts pressure on Malcolm Turnbull over the issue. Speaking in anticipation of Shorten’s formal announcement, the prime minister said the government was reviewing the recent report from a Senate committee on such a body. “We haven’t ruled it out” but “it isn’t something to embark on in a rushed or ill-considered way”, he said.

The Senate committee, chaired by Labor and reporting in September, said the national integrity framework should be strengthened “to make it more coherent, comprehensive and accessible”. It suggested the government consider establishing an agency “with broad scope and jurisdiction to address integrity and corruption matters”.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who was dismissive of the need for a new body on Sunday, remained critical on Tuesday. “Why it concerns me is this: when you make a decision that your department doesn’t agree with, such as maybe investing in a country road, you end up before ICAC and if that’s the case you just take away the capacity for a government to govern.

“You’ll be terrified to make a decision that’s different to your department,” he said.

“If you’re corrupt you’re going to get busted, you’re going to get caught and you’re going to go to jail. We found out Sam Dastyari without ICAC.”

The ConversationThe Greens welcomed the integrity commission promise but stressed the need to also reform the political donations regime – a point Shorten also made.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Tasmanian election likely to be close, while Labor continues to lead federally



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If the Greens hold the sole balance of power after the Tasmanian election, the next parliamentary term could be a messy business for Labor’s Rebecca White or the Liberals’ Will Hodgman.
AAP/The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

On Sunday, Premier Will Hodgman called the Tasmanian election for March 3. Tasmania uses the Hare Clark system for its lower house, with five electorates, each with five members. The electorates use the same names and boundaries as the five federal Tasmanian electorates of Bass, Braddon, Franklin, Denison and Lyons. A quota for election is one-sixth of the vote, or 16.7%.

At the March 2014 election, the Liberals won in a landslide, with 15 of the 25 seats, while seven went to Labor and three to the Greens. The Liberals won 51.2% of the vote, to 27.3% for Labor and 13.8% for the Greens. The Liberals won four of the five Braddon seats, three each in Bass, Franklin and Lyons, and two in Denison.

With all polls showing a substantial swing against the Liberals, they are likely to lose their fourth Braddon seat and third Franklin seat. If the Liberals lost another seat, they would lose their majority.

Psephologist Kevin Bonham expects the pivot seat to be the Liberals’ third Lyons seat. If the Liberals lose this seat, they are likely to lose their majority. If they win it, they will probably retain their majority.

Other than the established parties, the populist Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN) has a realistic chance of winning seats – its main chance would be in Braddon.




Read more:
Tasmania the first test in an election-laden year


Both Hodgman and Labor leader Rebecca White have ruled out governing with the Greens’ support. A large bloc of Tasmanians detests the Greens, and the three previous governments that involved the Greens have had major problems. If Hodgman and White stick to their promise after the election, and the Greens hold the sole balance of power, the next parliamentary term could be messy.

In most polls, the Liberals are leading Labor. The people who detest the Greens have in the past swung towards the major party most likely to win a majority. If this behaviour is repeated at this election, the Liberals could get home. On the other hand, the unpopularity of the federal Coalition government should help Labor.

In December, White announced that a Labor government would remove poker machines from pubs and clubs within five years. I think this is good politics, as it differentiates Labor from the Liberals on an issue that neither major party had tackled in the past. I previously wrote that left-wing parties that differentiated themselves from conservative parties performed better in 2017 elections.

The Tasmanian upper house will not be up for election on March 3. The 15 upper house members have rotating six-year terms; every May, two or three electorates are up for election. Labor and left-wing independents currently have an upper house majority following a November byelection win by Labor.

The last three Tasmanian elections have been held on the same day as the South Australian election (March 17 this year). So, the election date is good news for people interested in elections, as it avoids a clash.

Xenophon’s party leading in Galaxy polls of three South Australian seats

There is no sign of any drop in support for Nick Xenophon’s SA-BEST. According to Galaxy polls conducted January 11-14 for the corporate sector, SA-BEST had 37% in Liberal-held Hartley, which Xenophon will contest, followed by the Liberals with 32% and Labor with 21%; Xenophon led 57-43 after preferences.

In Labor-held Mawson, SA-BEST had 38%, the Liberals 25% and Labor 22%. In Labor-held Hurtle Vale, SA-BEST had 33%, Labor 29% and the Liberals 23%.

Galaxy also polled the federal South Australian seat of Mayo, where SA-BEST member Rebekha Sharkie could be disqualified over the dual citizenship issue. Sharkie would easily retain by a 59-41 margin against the Liberals, from primary votes of 37% Sharkie, 33% Liberal and 18% Labor.

ReachTEL 52-48 to federal Labor

A ReachTEL poll for Sky News, conducted January 25 from a sample of presumably about 2,300, gave Labor a 52-48 lead by respondent-allocated preferences, a one-point gain for the Coalition since a late November ReachTEL.

Primary votes were 36% Labor (steady), 34% Coalition (up one), 10% Greens (steady) and 8% One Nation (down one). The remaining 12% very likely included some undecided voters who were prompted to show which way they lean. As usual, media sources have not given full primary votes. Bonham says this poll would be about 54-46 to Labor by 2016 preference flows.

Malcolm Turnbull’s ratings improved; 30% gave him a good rating (up six), 37% an average (up two) and 32% a poor rating (down eight). Bill Shorten’s ratings were 31% good (up one), 32% average (down four) and 36% poor (up three). Turnbull led Shorten by 54-46 as better prime minister, up from 52-48 in November. ReachTEL’s forced-choice “better prime minister” question usually gives opposition leaders better ratings than other polls.

I think Turnbull’s ratings have improved in parliament’s absence because the public is less exposed to the hard-right Coalition backbenchers.

By 44-32, voters opposed cutting the company tax rate for businesses with a turnover of more than A$50 million. By 39-20, voters thought trade deals were good for employment. However by 49-20, voters thought Labor should oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership if it did not protect jobs.

Essential 54-46 to Labor

In this week’s Essential, conducted January 26-28 from a sample of 1,028, Labor led by 54-46, a one-point gain for Labor since last fortnight.

Primary votes were 36% Labor (down two), 35% Coalition (down two), 10% Greens (up one) and 8% One Nation (up two). As noted last Friday, Essential will appear fortnightly instead of weekly this year.

Essential asked whether the Liberals or Labor would be better at handling various issues. Labor’s position improved on economic management (from Liberals by 15 in June 2017 to Liberals by ten), interest rates (Liberals by ten to Liberals by four) and political leadership (Liberals by eight to Labor by two). The Liberals improved on water supply (Labor by five to Liberals by one).




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


48% (up four since November) thought Australia’s political and economic system is fundamentally sound, but needs refining, while 32% (steady) thought it should be fundamentally changed, and 8% (down two) thought the system was already working well.

There were large, favourable changes in perceptions of how the economy and unemployment have performed over the last year, compared to February 2016. There was relatively little movement on other economic issues.

51% (down two since August) thought their income had fallen behind the cost of living, 28% stayed even (up three) and 14% gone up more (down one). Private health insurance continued to be very negatively perceived, with the questions last asked in September.

Essential asked whether sports were exciting or boring to watch. Tennis was easily the best with a net +13 rating, followed by swimming at a net +3 and AFL football at a net +2. Twenty20 cricket had a net -7 rating, rugby league and soccer both had a net -15, Test cricket a net -24, rugby union a net -32, and golf was at the bottom on a net -54.

Far-right Czech Republic president re-elected

In the a presidential election runoff held January 26-27 in the Czech Republic, the far-right incumbent, Miloš Zeman, defeated his opponent, Jiří Drahoš, by a 51.4-48.6 margin.

The ConversationAfter a generally good year for the left in 2017 elections, this was a bad start to 2018.

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

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

Turnbull has politicked himself into irrelevance on energy and climate in 2018



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Marcella Cheng/The Conversation

Alan Pears, RMIT University

As we approach the end of the year, it’s useful to look back and forward. Now is an auspicious time, as two major energy-related reports have been released this week: the federal government’s review of their climate change policies, and a discussion paper from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) on future energy paths.

The difference between the two is striking. The AEMO paper is practical, direct and realistic. On the other hand, the climate policy review relies essentially on Australia buying lots of international carbon permits to meet our Paris target (and, implicitly, on state governments taking up the challenge their Canberra colleagues have largely abanondoned).

It’s amusing to read a document that plays with numbers in such creative ways. But it is a fairy story, and it’s no way to drive national climate policy.


Read more: The federal Climate Policy Review: a recipe for business as usual


I almost feel as though I could just change the dates and reprint my article reviewing prospects for energy in 2017:

2017 is the year when many long-festering energy policy problems must be addressed. Our outdated energy market model is falling apart. The gas industry is lining its pockets at the expense of Australian industry. Climate policy is urgent, but controversial among key decision-makers. Our fossil fuel exports are under threat from global forces.

But things have in fact shifted a long way – the revolution is accelerating and unstoppable. The federal government is almost irrelevant; the public statements and policies it presents are simply aimed at getting “something” through the Coalition party room, or trying to throw blame on others. It’s very sad.

The real games are being played out within state governments; in battles between energy policy agencies and regulators; by emerging industry players who do not even have formal roles in energy legisation; and by business and the community as they defend themselves from the failures around them by implementing “behind the meter” solutions and working together.

The real heavy lifters

Medals of Valour should be awarded to Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, AEMO chief executive Audrey Zibelman, and South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill.

The government’s response to this year’s Finkel Review showed that no amount of compromise would allow a sensible energy and climate policy to pass through the minefield of the Coalition party room. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg, both of whom know what they need to do, simply have too little political capital within that place to drive realistic energy policy.

But the Finkel Review also successfully recommended many changes that will help to fix the physical operation of the grid. Innovation and the laws of physics have finally begun to triumph over market politics and ideology.


Read more: The Finkel Review at a glance


AEMO worked out a way to get around the glacial and obstructive tactics of the Australian Energy Market Commission on demand-side action by setting up a “pilot project” to drive demand response. It has been clear for decades that this is a very cost-effective tool. Zibelman has been a voice of practical reality and clear understanding of the future of energy, including the demand side, and AEMO’s future energy paths reflects that.

Weatherill has weathered a storm of abuse over his state’s innovative energy strategy. His government has shown how a diversified approach can transform an energy system in little more than a year. But he needs to put more effort into long term energy efficiency and energy productivity improvement measures integrated with renewables and storage, to reduce pressure on electricity systems over time. For example, home cooling comprises a third of South Australia’s peak electricity demand, but could be slashed by efficient buildings and cooling equipment.

What lies ahead

Looking forward, the coming year will be shaped by some key issues, some of which are already playing out at a frenetic pace. Consider a small sample of many recent events:

  • As mentioned, AEMO has released a discussion paper framing a very different electricity future, and including a low-carbon scenario.

  • The new battery in South Australia has delivered remarkable outcomes, helping to stabilise the grid in ways that few imagined.


Read more: Yes, SA’s battery is a massive battery, but it can do much more besides


  • The Victorian Essential Services Commission has proposed a new “time of day” feed-in price for rooftop solar that reaches 29 cents per kilowatt-hour in afternoons and evenings. If approved, this will be a game-changer, as adding battery storage to rooftop solar will become far more attractive.

  • The Energy Networks Association, not the gas industry, has released a zero emission gas strategy at last.

  • The annual report on the National Energy Productivity Plan (remember that?) shows we’re falling behind even the government’s weak target: not surprising given the miniscule resources allocated.

Meanwhile the federal government has released energy modelling to underpin ongoing negotiation on the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) that is simply irrelevant and embarrassing. The Energy Security Board’s involvement in this has undermined perceptions of its independence, especially when it is contrasted with the vision AEMO is discussing in its paper.

While the states have agreed to continue discussion on the NEG in April, there are some major hurdles. Primarily, states must be allowed to set and achieve their own energy targets: the federal energy minister has put the blame for problems on the states, and they now have to be seen by their voters to act.

Second, the design must ensure it does not give the dominant energy companies even more power to distort markets. Some members of the Energy Security Board seem to understand the challenges, and are optimistic they can be overcome. Time will tell.

The ConversationAs Turnbull has said, we live in exciting times.

Alan Pears, Senior Industry Fellow, RMIT University

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

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



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Nick Xenophon won 46% of the preferred South Australian premier vote in a recent Newspoll.
AAP/Morgan Sette

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The next South Australian election will be held in three months, on March 17, 2018. A South Australian Newspoll, conducted October to December from a sample of 800, had primary votes of 32% for Nick Xenophon’s SA-BEST party, 29% Liberal, 27% Labor, and 6% Greens.

On the better premier measure, Nick Xenophon had 46% of the vote, followed by incumbent Jay Weatherill on 22% and Opposition Leader Steven Marshall on 19%.

Xenophon’s strong performance is partly explained by the dire ratings of both Weatherill and Marshall. Weatherill had 53% dissatisfied, 34% satisfied, for a net approval of minus 19. Marshall had 50% dissatisfied, 27% satisfied, for a net approval of minus 23.

The previous South Australian Newspoll was taken in late 2015. A Galaxy poll taken for the Australian Bankers’ Association in early October gave the Liberals 31% of the primary vote, SA-BEST 30%, and Labor 26%. The better premier measure in that poll had 41% Xenophon, with Weatherill and Marshall both on 21%.

If the primary votes in Newspoll were replicated at the March 2018 election, SA-BEST would probably win a clear majority of lower house seats. Both major parties’ supporters dislike the other major party, so most Labor voters will preference SA-BEST ahead of the Liberals, and vice versa.

There are still three months until the election, and SA-BEST will be attacked ferociously in the coming weeks. However, the disdain for both major parties, and Xenophon’s popularity, gives SA-BEST a real opportunity to end the major party duopoly in South Australia.

The total vote for all “others” in Newspoll is 6%. At the 2014 state election, Family First won 6%. This poll does not suggest the Australian Conservatives, formed by Cory Bernardi, are surging.

Turnbull loses his 25th successive Newspoll, 53-47

This week’s Newspoll, conducted December 14-17 from a sample of 1,670, gave federal Labor a 53-47 lead, unchanged from last fortnight. Primary votes were 37% Labor (steady), 36% Coalition (steady), 10% Greens (steady), and 7% One Nation (down one).

This is Malcolm Turnbull’s 25th successive Newspoll loss. Tony Abbott lost 30 in a row before he was dumped.

Turnbull’s ratings were unchanged at 57% dissatisfied, 32% satisfied, for a net approval of minus 25. Bill Shorten’s net approval fell three points to minus 24. Turnbull led by 41-34 as better prime minister (39-33 last fortnight).

The 7% for One Nation is its lowest support in Newspoll since December 2016, before One Nation was included in the party readout. On the overall vote for left- and right-wing parties, the left leads by 47-43 in this Newspoll (47-44 last fortnight). This is the first change in the overall left/right balance since October.

The passage of same-sex marriage legislation through parliament and the media furore over Sam Dastyari do not appear to have improved the Coalition’s position. Most voters realise that the large “yes” vote in the plebiscite forced the Coalition to act. It is likely that only partisans are interested in Dastyari.

Newspoll (paywalled) asked who was better at handling the economy, national security, asylum seekers, cost of living, and tax cuts. Turnbull had more than 20-point leads over Shorten on the first three issues, and a 40-33 lead on tax cuts. Shorten led by 43-41 on cost of living.

These questions are biased in favour of Turnbull, as they appeal to the Coalition’s perceived strength on the economy, national security and asylum seekers. There were no questions regarding issues like health, education and climate change, where Labor is perceived to be better than the Coalition.

Incumbent prime ministers tend to outperform their party, so Labor would probably have obtained more favourable results had Newspoll asked Coalition vs Labor, not Turnbull vs Shorten.

Essential 53-47 to Labor

In this week’s Essential, the Coalition gained two points since last fortnight, reducing Labor’s lead to 53-47. Primary votes were 38% Labor, 37% Coalition, 9% Greens and 7% One Nation. Essential uses a two-week sample of about 1,800, with additional questions based on one week’s sample.

All proposed reforms of political donations were very popular, with the exception of banning donations and making all political party spending taxpayer-funded (50-30 opposed).

Respondents were asked whether the last 12 months had been good or bad for various items. The economy had a net +11 rating, large companies a net +22, your workplace a net +34, and you and your family a net +27. The planet had a net -22 rating and Australian politics a net -36.

Respondents were also asked about their expectations for 2018, though Essential apparently thought the next year is 2017.

By 54-29, voters disapproved of the proposed A$50 billion in company tax cuts to medium and large businesses (50-30 in October). By 47-8, voters thought personal income tax cuts were more important than business tax cuts, with 33% for both being equally important.

37% thought interference in Australian politics by foreign countries is a major problem, 36% a minor problem, and 12% did not think it was a problem at all.

Bennelong preference flows

With virtually all votes counted in Saturday’s Bennelong byelection, Liberal John Alexander defeated Labor’s Kristina Keneally by 54.9-45.1, a 4.9-point swing to Labor since the 2016 election. Primary votes were 45.1% Alexander, 35.8% Keneally, 6.7% Greens, 4.3% Australian Conservatives, and 3.1% Christian Democrats.

The informal rate of 8.1% is far too high, and indicates savings provisions should be introduced so that votes can still be counted even if voters do not number every square. There is confusion in New South Wales because state elections use optional preferential voting.

I have information about preference flows from one booth in Bennelong from a Labor scrutineer. At this booth, Keneally won 88% of Greens preferences, but Alexander won 85% of Australian Conservatives’ preferences and 77% of Christian Democrat preferences.

Preferences of other candidates split evenly between Keneally and Alexander. This booth may not be representative of the whole electorate, but these preference flows seem reasonable.

The ConversationWhile Newspoll and Galaxy understated Alexander by four-to-five points, these polls were of one seat. Australian pollsters have been bad with seat polling, but very good with national and state polls. The error in Bennelong does not affect the trustworthiness of Newspoll’s national polls.

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

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

A reshuffle that’s come with plenty of pain and questionable gain



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Malcolm Turnbull pressed Attorney-General George Brandis to take the London high commissioner job.
AAP/Daniel Munoz

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

There is not a great deal to be said for Malcolm Turnbull’s reshuffle, and quite a lot to be said against it.

The immediate concentration has been on the angst it’s caused – and that is due to Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who has the right to nominate his party’s ministers.

Joyce’s decision to axe Victorian National Darren Chester from his cabinet line-up in favour of a first-term Queenslander, David Littleproud, trashes the notion of merit and calls into question the Nationals leader’s judgement, to say nothing of his loyalty to colleagues.

A competent minister who came through as a measured voice for the Nationals when Joyce was away on his byelection trail, Chester has been unceremoniously pushed out on the ground that his retention would make for one Victorian National too many in the cabinet.

To an extent, Chester invited his own execution. He successfully advocated fellow Victorian Bridget McKenzie for deputy leader, believing – as he put it after his demotion – that “our party needs to connect more with younger voters, with female voters, and Bridget speaks in a way on issues that perhaps not all National Party members speak about”.

Joyce would have preferred Queensland senator and fellow cabinet member Matt Canavan as deputy, although sources say he didn’t canvass in the contest. Joyce and Canavan are close – Canavan previously was his chief-of-staff. Canavan is also deeply conservative on social issues, and he and Chester were on opposite sides of the marriage debate.

Only Joyce can know whether these factors counted against Chester as well as his being from Victoria – he’s certainly not going to admit they did.

If Joyce wanted to deal with his Victorian excess in a much less disruptive way he could have swapped Chester with Michael McCormack. McCormack is a member of the outer ministry and from New South Wales, as was Fiona Nash, the previous Nationals deputy who was turfed from parliament by the High Court. That would have retained the old state balances.

But Joyce felt he had a Queensland problem – the Nationals from the north have been vociferous about wanting to boost their presence in the higher reaches of the government.

The intention was to demote Chester to an assistant ministry, opening a vacancy for him by sacking Queenslander Keith Pitt, with whom Joyce doesn’t get on.

But Chester declined the assistant minister offer. Meanwhile, Pitt – who believed he should be promoted – was furious. When an assistant ministry was offered back to him, he said no. The position went to Damian Drum – a Victorian.

Littleproud, who holds the outback Queensland seat of Maranoa, is spoken well of as a future talent. But he’s been in Canberra for the parliamentary equivalent of five minutes, and has had no frontbench role before now.

A cabinet minister has not just their own portfolio to think about, but they need to be strong contributors across government, which requires time to acquire skills and knowledge. Disgruntled Nationals say Pitt would have been a more obvious choice if it hadn’t been for the serious personality clash between Joyce and him.

So Joyce can boast that he has delivered a Queensland National into cabinet, but the cost has been creating resentment in his ranks and a bad vibe around the reshuffle generally. Turnbull appeared dismayed, distancing himself from the decision, describing Chester as an “outstanding” minister, and regretting his loss.

It is not just the axing of Chester that is a problem in this reshuffle.

Turnbull pressed Attorney-General George Brandis to take the London high commissioner job, despite Brandis recently warning Turnbull that his departure would diminish the Liberal voice from Brisbane. As it happens, Brandis’ Liberal replacement in cabinet, John McVeigh, represents Groom, based on Toowoomba.

Losing Brandis from cabinet will also weaken the voice of the moderates at the senior level of the government.

It will likely mean there will be less of a check on Peter Dutton and his new home affairs super-portfolio.

Incoming attorney-general Christian Porter has plenty of qualifications for the job – he was attorney-general in Western Australia. But he will probably be less inclined to be a tough watchdog on home affairs and its highly assertive minister than Brandis would have been.

The move is a prestigious one for Porter. But for a man who has been seen as a possible future leadership contender, it is one that takes him into something of a political cul-de-sac. It is not a portfolio that gives its occupant the exposure or sort of experience useful for climbing the greasy pole.

Brandis’ replacement as Senate leader, Mathias Cormann, is one of the most competent ministers, and a skilled negotiator with the crossbench. He will do a good job.

Michaelia Cash, who has been under criticism for the way she and her office handled what was a political pursuit of Bill Shorten’s union past, has been given expanded responsibilities.

Several changes are deck-shuffling, or unremarkable steps up.

The ConversationAnd notably, the reshuffle has not increased the number of women in cabinet. All that’s happened on this front is one woman Nationals deputy has slid into the place of another.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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