Grattan on Friday: Hanson’s ‘outsider’ politics a challenge for Turnbull as he sits in ‘sensible centre’



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Malcolm Turnbull has reasserted this week that the Liberal Party needs to be in the ‘sensible centre’.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Now that the Liberals and commentators have overdosed on a debate about where the party’s founder stood on the centre-right spectrum, could someone go to a shopping centre and ask a dozen people under 40 who Robert Menzies was?

How many would know? And if the mall happened to be in multicultural western Sydney, what chance “Ming” would have any recognition?

This week’s argument may have meaning for the Liberal tribe, and in the context of Malcolm Turnbull’s fightback against the conservatives who are making his life hell. But to many families in the suburbs and the regions, it would likely come across as just irrelevant “insider” stuff.

While a lot of people just shrug impatiently at insider politics, a substantial number have turned to “outsider” players. The challenge to the Coalition vote from the confronting “outsider” Pauline Hanson brand was clear in polls out this week.

Newspoll had Pauline Hanson’s One Nation on 11% for the second poll running. This was ahead of the Greens, who were at 10% in the latest poll, and 9% in the previous one.

ReachTEL polling commissioned by The Australia Institute, a progressive think-tank, and done on June 8 in the seats of six ministers and the prime minister, shows very diverse but some substantial results for One Nation. The figures are: Cook (Scott Morrison) 16.7%; Curtin (Julie Bishop) 4.3%; Dickson (Peter Dutton) 14.1%; Flinders (Greg Hunt) 8.9%; Kooyong (Josh Frydenberg) 3.6%; Sturt (Christopher Pyne) 3.8%; and Wentworth (Turnbull) 8.1%. If the “undecideds” were distributed, the figures would be higher.

According to polling analyst John Stirton: “In 27 separate polls this year (from Newspoll, ReachTEL, Essential and YouGov 50 Acres) One Nation has averaged 9% of the primary vote, although there is some polarisation with Newspoll and ReachTEL tending to be above average (10-11%) while Essential and YouGov have been below average (7-8%).”

Although it’s unclear how much of the One Nation vote would hold at an election, the Newspoll level should be of concern to the Coalition, especially as the minor party has had a lot of bad publicity recently from internal scandals.

It’s a national figure for a party whose support is lumpy. We know it is particularly strong in regional Queensland. How strong will be tested in the coming state election, when the Liberal National Party (LNP) will be looking to harvest One Nation preferences, formally or informally.

Unlike the situation with the Greens and Labor, where the ALP can rely on receiving the overwhelming bulk of Green preferences, the One Nation flow on to the LNP will be less disciplined. Some One Nation voters would be former Labor supporters.

The test major parties face from “outsider” players is explored in a new book by respected British political commentator Steve Richards, The Rise of the Outsiders: How Mainstream Politics Lost its Way. He looks at the phenomenon across national boundaries, including a modest reference to Hanson and the Australian experience.

In an era of globalisation and rapid change, the answer to the question “who rules?” can be unclear. Richards notes that insiders’ power is less than it looks. “Elections, opinion polls, the media, constitutional checks and balances and the near-impossibility of managing a party’s internal tensions mean that elected power is fragile and often fleeting,” he writes.

“Most leaders or governments in democracies rule precariously, partly because they pay so much attention to the voters.

“Yet voters regard the democratically elected as out of touch, part of a lofty, arrogant elite. The opposite is closer to the truth.

”… Elected leaders rule in an era of extreme mistrust. If they do not do x, y or z, the instinct of some voters is to assume that those they elected are liars … At the very least some voters feel ignored and overlooked … The instinct to mistrust elected leaders is fuelled by some media outlets …”

The outsiders offer simplicity and clarity, albeit their messages are simplistic. They are fancy-free and so can be self-contradictory in the positions they take – although things become more complicated if, as with Donald Trump, they win power and become the new insiders. (Hanson has a lot of Senate power, but it doesn’t seem to have affected the view of her as an outsider.)

Richards argues that one inadvertently positive contribution the outsiders have made “is to trigger constructive questions from mainstream parties about what form the centre ground takes, and tentative questions about the role of government in a globalised economy”.

In the Australian context, this week Turnbull has reasserted that the Liberal Party needs to be in the “sensible centre”. We have recently also had the Coalition embrace a more active role for government than the Liberals would have advocated three or four years ago – such as a stated willingness to invest in a coal-fired power station, and the use of export controls to ensure a bigger supply of gas for the local market.

It seems obvious that the best place for the Coalition to pitch its tent is the “sensible centre”. That, we know – or believe – is where elections are decided. Turnbull is competing for swinging votes that could go to either him or Bill Shorten.

Many of these voters are pragmatic, uninterested in ideological wars, or in what Menzies might say if he were alive now. They just want things done – about power prices, health, education, whatever.

But that 11% is a different kettle of fish, or maybe it contains several kettles. They are deeply cynical about today’s political process and major parties; the siren call of Hanson, and some in the media, picks up on that.

These people, like some in the Liberal base – and they are overlapping cohorts – will be more drawn to Tony Abbott’s manifesto than Turnbull’s sensible centre.

The Turnbull government has genuflected to them by playing gesture politics in immigration, revamping foreign worker arrangements, and proposing the English test for potential citizens be ridiculously tough. It will have a careful eye to the demands of the coal lobby as it tries to land its clean energy target.

But those attracted to “outsider” politics would prefer the Abbott-style bald negativity toward immigrants and renewables.

The ConversationThe Liberals enjoy pointing to the two core constituencies Labor has to juggle – lower- and middle-income workers, and affluent inner-city progressives. But the Coalition has its own dual constituencies – the mainstreamers, and the punishers on the right whose power is a protest vote.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/b9kr9-6cf745?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Turnbull is right to link the Liberals with the centre – but is the centre where it used to be?


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Malcolm Turnbull’s speech reminded his Liberal colleagues that he has not stolen the party and his leadership is legitimately Liberal.
Reuters/Hannah Mckay

Carol Johnson, University of Adelaide

It is a sign of how serious the divisions have become in the Liberal Party that speaking the truth about Robert Menzies is now depicted as making a provocative attack on the Liberal right.

Yet that is the situation in which Malcolm Turnbull found himself after giving his Disraeli Prize speech in London. As Turnbull pointed out in that speech, Menzies intentionally avoided calling the new party “conservative” in case that gave rise to misconceptions. Rather, Turnbull cites Menzies’ statement that they:

… took the name “Liberal” because we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary but believing in the individual, his right and his enterprise, and rejecting the socialist panacea.

As the leading academic expert on Robert Menzies, Judith Brett, has pointed out, Menzies recognised when the party was founded in 1944 that there was a strong public sentiment in favour of building a progressive, new post-war society that was far better than the old.

In other words, it was a party that pledged to reject socialism, but wouldn’t necessarily stand in the path of social progress.

In short, Turnbull is attempting to reclaim both Menzies and the Liberal Party he played a key role in founding, for a centrist rather than reactionary position. He is gently taking issue with Tony Abbott and those conservatives in the party who have focused on undermining, rather than working with him, regardless of the damage this might do to the party’s electoral prospects.

I say gently because, as even the arch-conservative Eric Abetz acknowledges, Turnbull also cites Tony Abbott’s earlier phrase that the “sensible centre” is the place to be. Nonetheless, Turnbull is reminding such conservatives that he has not stolen the party, and his leadership is legitimately Liberal.

There is a long tradition of attempting to appeal to the centre in Australian politics, not least in the hope that centrist politicians will be able to harvest votes from both major parties. Turnbull can legitimately argue that many of the “small-l” liberal positions he is associated with (despite his more recent concessions to the right) are in line with popular opinion. Same-sex marriage is an obvious case in point.

There was also a vibrant small-l liberal tradition on issues such as homosexuality in the party in the 1970s, prior to John Howard’s conservative ascendancy.

Nonetheless, there were some elephants in the room in London when Turnbull gave his speech.

It is open to debate what a modern “Menzian” position would be in regard to issues such as same-sex marriage or racial equality. After all, Menzies, like Labor prime ministers John Curtin and Ben Chifley before him, continued to support the White Australia Policy. Male homosexuality was illegal under state law for all of Menzies’ prime ministership.

Turnbull refers to Menzies’ “forgotten people”. However, the famous speech in which Menzies articulated that concept assumed (as Curtin and Chifley also did) that employees would continue to be predominantly male, and women would largely be in the home.

Turnbull clearly assumes that a modern “sensible centre” position would have kept pace with changing social attitudes. But at least on some issues, other Liberals will disagree.

The bigger elephant in the room is the issue of Menzies’ economic beliefs at the time the Liberal Party was founded, and what a modern day centrist position on economic policy would be. After all, contemporary Australian voters seem to be concerned about their economic futures, the power of big business, and cuts to social services.

Turnbull does briefly acknowledge in his speech that, by modern standards, Menzies:

… was hardly an economic liberal. He believed in a highly regulated economy with high tariffs, a fixed exchange rate, centralised wage fixing and generally much more Government involvement in the economy than we would be comfortable with.

Indeed, Menzies was more of a Keynesian economically, not a market liberal like Turnbull.

Furthermore, Menzies characterised the middle class as the “forgotten people” partly because he believed that unskilled workers were not forgotten but were already well-protected by unions and had “their wages and conditions safeguarded by popular law”. Meanwhile, the rich were “able to protect themselves”.

While strongly supporting individual endeavour, he argued that the new politics should not “return to the old and selfish notions of laissez-faire”. Rather, “our social and industrial laws will be increased. There will be more law, not less; more control, not less.”

Menzies was strongly anti-communist and anti-socialist, but he was not a neoliberal.

Voters could be forgiven for thinking that at least some of Menzies’ words sound more like those of the contemporary Labor Party than the modern-day Liberal Party. The Liberal Party itself acknowledges that a belief in “social equality” was one of the principles on which the party was founded.

However, despite some concessions in this year’s budget, Turnbull may have his work cut out trying to convince centrist voters that his economic liberalism can adequately address today’s scourge of rising inequality. Keynesian-influenced solutions are on the rise again in the wake of the global financial crisis.

The ConversationTurnbull argued in his speech that the terms “left” and “right” had begun to lose all meaning. However, there is another, more unpalatable truth that he may need to face. It may be more that “left” and “right” are moving conceptually, because the “centre” has shifted too.

Carol Johnson, Professor of Politics, University of Adelaide

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

Turnbull loses 15th successive Newspoll, 53-47. UK Labour doubles support in YouGov since April


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted 6-9 July from a sample of 1600, gave Labor its fourth consecutive 53-47 lead. Primary votes were 36% Labor (down 1 from three weeks ago), 35% Coalition (down 1), 11% One Nation (steady) and 10% Greens (up 1). Primary vote shifts suggests some movement to Labor after preferences, but not enough to change the headline figure.

32% were satisfied with Turnbull’s performance (steady) and 56% were dissatisfied (up 1), for a net approval of -24. Shorten’s net approval was -20, up three points.

Over the last three months, Turnbull has been more centrist, alienating the right wing of his party. Since Newspoll uses the previous election’s results for its preference flows, it may be overstating Labor’s lead. As I wrote here, respondent allocated polling from ReachTEL and YouGov implies that the hard right voters who have left the Coalition will return after preferences.

This is the 15th consecutive Newspoll loss for the Coalition under Turnbull, so he is halfway to Tony Abbott’s 30 successive losses when he was dumped. If the string of Newspoll losses continues, Turnbull is likely to be dumped before the end of the year.

If Turnbull is replaced by a more right-wing Liberal leader before the next election, hard right voters would return to the Coalition, but they would lose some centrist voters, and preferences would probably be more favourable to Labor.

Since the dispute between NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon and the rest of her parliamentary party, the Greens have gained a point in both Newspoll and Essential. The Greens could be attracting some Labor voters who would prefer a genuine socialist.

In an additional Newspoll question, 46% favoured a plebiscite to resolve the same sex marriage issue, and 39% favoured a parliamentary vote. The results have been compared with a September 2016 poll (48-39 in favour of the parliamentary vote). However, this comparison is misleading since the previous poll asked about a plebiscite in February 2017, which some might object to even if they supported a plebiscite.

Kevin Bonham has written about the large differences between the pollsters on whether same sex marriage should be decided by a plebiscite or a parliamentary vote. He concludes that all polling on this issue has problems.

According to Kevin Bonham, this year there have been six 3-week breaks between Newspolls, and two 2-week breaks. In previous years that did not have an election, Newspoll was usually published once a fortnight. In general, there has been a pullback in media-commissioned polling this year, with just two Fairfax Ipsos polls and one Channel 7 ReachTEL, although two Sky News ReachTELs have been released.

Essential at 54-46 to Labor

In this week’s Essential, Labor led by 54-46, a one point gain for Labor since last week and a two point gain since last fortnight. Primary votes were 36% Labor, 36% Coalition, 11% Greens, 7% One Nation and 3% Nick Xenophon Team; the Coalition has lost three points since last fortnight. Essential used a two-week sample of 1830, with additional questions based on one week.

Turnbull’s net approval was -12, down three points since June. Shorten’s net approval was -8, up one point.

64% had at least some trust in security agencies to store personal data, while 32% had little or no trust. For the government, this was 52-43 in favour of little trust, and for telecommunications companies 67-29.

ReachTEL polls of ministers’ seats

The left-wing Australia Institute commissioned ReachTEL polls of seven Federal ministers’ seats on 8 June, with samples of 620-700 per seat. Results and swings from the last election can be seen on GhostWhoVotes’ Twitter feed.

Overall, these are good results for Labor with 2-7 point swings against the government in five of the seven seats. The exceptions are Christopher Pyne’s Sturt (no swing) and Peter Dutton’s Dickson (a four point swing to the Coalition). Individual seat polling has been far less accurate than national or state polling at recent elections.

In seats where One Nation had a high vote, respondent allocated preferences favoured the Coalition. In Scott Morrison’s Cook (One Nation at 18%), minor party preferences favoured Morrison 64-36. In Dickson, One Nation had 15.7% and minor party preferences favoured Labor by just 52-48 despite the Greens holding 10.5%.

In April, UK Labour had 23%, now they have 46% according to YouGov

In mid-April, just before PM Theresa May called the 8 June election, the Conservatives led Labour by 44-23 in YouGov. After the election was announced, the Conservative lead stretched to 48-24.

A YouGov poll taken last week gave Labour a 46-38 lead, representing a doubling of Labour’s vote share since April. Labour’s 46% share is its highest in YouGov’s history, which started its voting intention surveys in 2003.

The ConversationOther polls are not so strong for Labour as YouGov, but Labour has led in most polls conducted since the election. By being reduced to a minority government, the Conservatives have lost much authority, and their deal with the Democratic Unionist Party will not go down well with the UK outside Northern Ireland. Divisions within the Conservatives over austerity and Brexit are unlikely to help.

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’s dilemma: we don’t need a homeland security portfolio but Dutton wants a bone


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There is a political need for Malcolm Turnbull to enhance the position of Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.
Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Between his meetings and public appearances while overseas, Malcolm Turnbull has been mulling over some domestic questions in the security area, notably whether to set up a so-called home office or homeland security super ministry.

It’s an exquisite conundrum.

There appears to be no serious, disinterested push for such a new arrangement, because there is not an existing problem. Federal agencies are working well together, and change can be a distraction from the more pressing tasks at hand.

But there is a political need for Turnbull to enhance the position of Immigration Minister Peter Dutton – a senior conservative whose continued support is vital for the embattled Turnbull.

Such a mega-portfolio, based around Dutton’s present immigration and border protection job, would see ASIO transferred from the attorney-general to come under the new umbrella portfolio, while the Australian Federal Police would be moved from the justice minister. Both of these agencies are independent entities and would remain so.

When this issue arose before, in 2014 – in those days it was Scott Morrison with the sharp elbows – the ministers who’d lose parts of their empires, Attorney-General George Brandis and Justice Minister Michael Keenan, as well as the agencies affected, didn’t want change. There’s no reason to think they have altered their opinions. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was also opposed, and remains so.

Turnbull now has the report from the review of the Australian intelligence community by former officials Michael L’Estrange and Stephen Merchant. He has asked for a summary to be prepared by next week, so the public release of its findings may be close.

It is believed the L’Estrange/Merchant report does not make any recommendation for a super-portfolio.

While in London this week, Turnbull has the chance to hear about the operation of the British home office. The British model would be more relevant than the American version if Australia went down this route.

In a 2014 Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) paper, the cases for and against change were presented by David Connery, then a senior analyst at ASPI (now in the defence department), and ASPI director Peter Jennings.

Connery argued that having one minister responsible for the domestic security and law enforcement agencies would be superior in terms of accountability, coherence and co-ordination.

Jennings replied that “governments should apply a stringent test: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it … Australia’s counter-terrorism machinery is competent, well funded, clearly closely managed by government and able to take necessary steps when immediate problems are identified.”

Turnbull doesn’t buy the “ain’t broke” point. He said in his June national security parliamentary statement: “We will not take an ‘if it ain’t broke we won’t fix it’ mentality. This government does not simply set and forget. We are at the forefront of efforts to address future threats.”

While Turnbull would maintain this is about getting ahead of an ever-more difficult challenge, it also reflects the desire to be seen to be doing something.

The issue of a home office/homeland security portfolio has usually been talked about in the same breath as a ministerial reshuffle. Yet Turnbull, on all indications, is delaying the reshuffle until late in the year, complicating any change to the scope of Dutton’s portfolio. It would clearly be easier, for example, to take ASIO out of the attorney-general’s area when there was a change of attorney-general than while Brandis is there to kick up a row.

But Turnbull can’t wait for months to provide a response to the security report, given the emphasis the government has put on the threat. And, in his difficult political situation, he would presumably want to throw at least a small bone to Dutton sooner rather than later.

An option, if Turnbull wants to boost Dutton without a wholesale shake up of the architecture, would be to give him a co-ordinating role on counter-terrorism. This was suggested by Jennings in an article on ASPI’s website The Strategist in January. He also floated the idea of a counter-terrorism subcommittee of cabinet’s existing national security committee.

A matter that certainly shouldn’t wait is the appointment of a new secretary of the defence department to replace the well-respected Dennis Richardson, who retired in May. While there is an acting secretary, it is impossible to justify leaving this position open much longer. This is especially so in light of the current high level of international strategic uncertainty.

It is said the defence job is down to a two- or possibly three-horse race, between Dutton’s departmental secretary, Mike Pezzullo, Jennings, and perhaps Martin Bowles (who heads the health department).

Jennings is a former very senior defence department official; ASPI was involved in the drafting of the 2016 Defence White Paper.

The ConversationPezzullo is an aggressive bureaucratic player who was central to the Rudd government’s defence white paper. Moving to defence would not only fulfil his long-time ambition but enable him to leave behind some of the animosity that the immigration post has brought him.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/smqzz-6c8fdc?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.

Explainer: is a High Court challenge about to bring down the Turnbull government?



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Labor will argue David Gillespie ineligible to be an MP based on Section 44(v) of the Constitution.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Lorraine Finlay, Murdoch University

Labor is set to launch a High Court challenge over the eligibility of Assistant Health Minister David Gillespie to sit in federal parliament. The case has been brought by Peter Alley, the ALP candidate who ran against Gillespie in Lyne at the 2016 federal election.

The action is based on Gillespie, a Nationals MP, owning a small shopping centre in Port Macquarie that contains an Australian Post outlet. As Australia Post is a government-owned corporation, Labor claims this results in Gillespie having an indirect pecuniary interest contrary to Section 44(v) of the Constitution.

If the High Court agrees, Gillespie would be ineligible to sit as an MP.

What does the Constitution say?

Section 44 of the Constitution sets out several grounds of disqualification from holding parliamentary office.

Under Section 44(v), someone “shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives” if they have:

… any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the Public Service of the Commonwealth otherwise than as a member and in common with the other members of an incorporated company consisting of more than 25 persons.

Before this year, the High Court had only considered this section on one occasion, in 1975.

In that case, Chief Justice Garfield Barwick took an extremely narrow interpretation of the provision, based on a finding that its historic purpose was to protect parliament’s freedom and independence from the influence of the Crown.

An “indirect pecuniary influence” would only be disqualifying where it involved a legal or equitable interest in a contract with ongoing obligations, and where the possibility of financial gain by the agreement’s existence or performance could conceivably allow the Crown to influence an MP in relation to parliamentary affairs.

Under this narrow interpretation – which had been subject to considerable criticism – Gillespie would not be considered ineligible based on his interest in the shopping centre.

The Bob Day case

The High Court revisited the meaning of “indirect pecuniary interest” in April this year. It unanimously held that former Family First Senator Bob Day had an “indirect pecuniary interest” at the time of the 2016 federal election, and was therefore ineligible to be a senator.

Day had already resigned from the Senate before this ruling. But the High Court’s decision was significant for two key reasons.

  • The first was its immediate importance in deciding how a replacement senator was to be selected.

  • The second, which will now be critical when considering Gillespie’s future, was its reconsideration of what constitutes an “indirect pecuniary interest” under Section 44(v).

The Day case concerned a lease agreement between the Commonwealth and Fullarton Investments Pty Ltd for premises Day used as his electorate office. There were a variety of ways in which Day was connected to both the company and property. However, a fact the court found to be particularly significant was that in February 2016, Fullarton Investments directed that rental payments be made into a Day-owned bank account.

The High Court declined to follow the 1975 precedent and adopted a broader interpretation of Section 44(v). Importantly, it found the section had a wider purpose than solely protecting parliament’s independence from executive influence. It was also intended as an anti-corruption provision, designed to protect against potential conflicts of interest by ensuring the public duties of MPs are kept separate from their personal interests.

Under this broader view, an individual would be disqualified where there was an expectation of financial gain if the agreement in question was performed. The court would look at the agreement’s practical effect when making this assessment.

High Court justice Patrick Keane observed:

It is enough that the person’s pockets were or might be affected.

However, it was noted there will be no relevant interest:

… if the agreement in question is one ordinarily made between government and a citizen.

The case against Gillespie

So, is Gillespie ineligible based upon this new, broader interpretation of Section 44(v)?

There is no question of a direct financial interest in this case. Rather, the information currently available suggest that a company owned by Gillespie and his wife leases space in a shopping centre it owns to an Australia Post licensee.

The possible financial interest in this case certainly seems to be more remote than in Day’s case. However, there is still sufficient uncertainty surrounding the outer limits of section 44(v) for this case to be of real concern to the Turnbull government.

What happens now?

If the High Court finds Gillespie is incapable of sitting as an MP under Section 44(v) there would necessarily be a by-election in Lyne.

Given the Turnbull government only has a one-seat majority, the immediate stakes are as high as they could possibly be.

There is also a broader issue worth considering. Gillespie is the third member of the 45th parliament – after Day and Rod Culleton – to have their constitutional eligibility challenged before the courts. In Day’s case, High Court Justice Stephen Gageler emphasised the importance of certainty in this area, so candidates and MPs know where they stand.

The ConversationGiven recent controversies, it would seem an opportune time to review Section 44 to make sure the disqualification provisions in our Constitution are clear, fair, and reflect voters’ real concerns.

Lorraine Finlay, Lecturer in Law, Murdoch University

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

Grattan on Friday: Everything’s going Bill Shorten’s way



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The fight over penalty rates is an issue made for Bill Shorten’s skill set.
Paul Miller/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Bill Shorten has been on holidays this week. Probably just as well. The “energizer bunny” would have felt the need to be out every day, as usual. His absence left more room for the fractured Liberals.

Shorten’s extraordinary political luck continues, as Tony Abbott rampages, to the despair or fury of frustrated colleagues.

But it is not just his opponents that have been raining political gifts on Labor. Last weekend saw the start of the phase-in of the Fair Work Commission’s decision to cut Sunday penalty rates for retail, hospitality, fast-food and pharmacy workers.

Admittedly this isn’t WorkChoices. But for Shorten it could become a pale version of it. Hundreds of thousands of employees stand to lose, very many of whom are low-income earners. And it’s not just those directly affected. Think of parents who have kids doing some Sunday shifts. And consider the potential for a scare campaign about other sectors.

Shorten has a clear-cut policy to sell. A Labor government would legislate to reverse the commission’s decision and prevent a repeat.

This is an issue made for Shorten’s skill set. As a former union leader, he’s effective at rallies and at home in workplace conversations. He can mesh his campaign with that of the union movement, which has plenty of feet on the ground. There can be photo opportunities at businesses that decide not to cut their employees’ rates.

The opposition will potentially lose support among those in small business who favour the rates cut. But Shorten can reckon that most of them would be voting Coalition anyway.

There is a social logic and an economic rationale for lowering Sunday penalty rates. You can say that these days Sunday is little different from Saturday, for which penalty rates have been less. The economic argument is that businesses will be inclined to put on extra workers, or in some cases open on Sundays, if rates are not as high.

But there is a disconnect between the economics and the politics.

What would make sense if setting rates from scratch is political poison when it is a matter of changing the status quo. It’s the same difficulty a government has when removing or reducing access to a benefit.

Also, even assuming there’ll be a gain in employment – which some dispute – it is unlikely to show up quickly, given the phase-in.

The pain will be felt before any gain. Anyway, that gain will be difficult to separate from other factors affecting employment. Those suffering a cut in wages will be able to identify its cause; people getting jobs that mightn’t have been there before won’t usually make a direct link.

The government knows penalty rates is dangerous ground for it. While it makes the economic case in a desultory way, it is more likely to emphasise that it was the umpire’s decision.

On both sides of politics there’s now a feeling the next election is Shorten’s to lose. But that in itself is a reason for a few Labor jitters. There could be nearly two years before the election; the favourite doesn’t always win the race; the sour mood in voterland carries its risks for both sides (though mostly for the government); Shorten lacks charisma and always lags behind Malcolm Turnbull as preferred prime minister.

Shorten is something of a prisoner of his success. With Labor in a sustained lead in two-party terms, he needs to maintain that advantage. If the Coalition hauled up to equal, the climate would quickly change, fuelled by the media, sections of which are feral.

While it’s extremely unlikely Shorten would be replaced before the election, any serious revival of the Coalition in the polls would trigger a rash of speculation about the ambitions of Anthony Albanese.

A taste of what Shorten can expect as the election draws closer came with Daily Telegraph’s Wednesday front page fake news story reporting a Shorten government’s first 100 days. Under the heading “NOW HERE’S YOUR BILL”, it read: “Workers laid off. Record tax rates. Rents hit new high.”

In the Shorten office they had a good laugh. They can take comfort in the fact the Tele’s clout in Sydney’s west isn’t what it used to be.

Much of the political risk Shorten faces revolves around tax. Labor’s policy is to reimpose the deficit levy on higher-income earners (it expired on June 30). So if there were a change of government these people would face two extra taxes – that levy and the budget’s increase in the Medicare levy, proposed to kick in from 2019. They would have a marginal tax rate of 49.5%.

Labor opposes the government’s proposal for tax cuts for big companies but has yet to say what it would do about the already-legislated tax cuts for small and medium-sized businesses, phased in over coming years. While it will keep the cut for small businesses (up to A$2 million or perhaps $10 million turnover), the medium-sized businesses (up to $50 million turnover) are likely to take a hit.

If that turns out to be the decision (expected before the end of this year) it will cause Shorten grief with the business sector – more than his stand on penalty rates will. What to do about these legislated company tax cuts looms as one of the most important policy judgements Labor has to make in coming months.

Shorten’s opponents are still struggling to find the right negative with which to hit him.

There was an unfulfilled expectation he’d be much damaged by the trade union royal commission. Turnbull has tried to cast him as the friend of billionaires.

Recently, Shorten was hammered not just by the government but in the media for his nay-saying response to the budget, including opposing the Medicare levy hike for those on incomes under $87,000. While the Labor frontbench was divided over the levy stand, it did fit squarely into the wider Shorten narrative of protecting lower-income earners.

Labor also came under fire for its opposition to the government’s Gonski 2.0 package – its stance on this seemed to me much more dubious in policy terms than its attitude on the Medicare levy.

So far, the criticisms of its policy positions haven’t harmed the opposition in the polls.

The ConversationOne reason Labor is proving hard for the Coalition to dent is because of what the public are not saying about Shorten’s team. People aren’t saying it is divided and fighting internally. That stark contrast with the other side is a boon for an aspiring prime minister.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Leaky Liberals spill the beans again


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Another leaked recording – this time of Tony Abbott – has the Liberal Party under pressure.
Brendan Esposito/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

For the second time in a little over a week, the Liberal Party has been embarrassed by leaked audio of frank comments from a private event – this time Tony Abbott’s blunt assessment of the party’s position.

Abbott on Monday told a Liberal branch meeting in the Deakin electorate of Michael Sukkar, assistant minister to the treasurer, that “just at the moment … we’re at a bit of a low ebb”.

Last week some Liberals went into a meltdown after the leak of cabinet minister Christopher Pyne’s triumphalist observation to a factional function about the power of the moderates and his suggestion that same-sex marriage could be delivered earlier than expected.

The latest leak has put Sukkar – one of the ambitious younger conservatives often touted for promotion – on the spot. Not only did he have Abbott in his electorate but before the audio came out, he had said he didn’t think “there was anything that was a particularly tough critique” in what the former prime minister said.

The audio was leaked to Fairfax Media, which posted some of it online on Wednesday.

In his remarks, Abbott said: “Just at the moment, I’m not always the person that every Liberal wants to associate with”. But, he said, Sukkar “knows who his friends are and sticks by them through thick and thin”.

He said one reason he was speaking out was not because there needed to be a change in personnel but “because I think we’ve got to just move the direction a little bit”.

“If we can’t because of the Senate entirely change the direction, at least don’t lose the sense of what the bloody direction should be, for god’s sake.

“I mean, you can’t always determine the speed of the advance, but by god we should be able to determine the direction of the advance. We shouldn’t let the Senate go the wrong way even if it is trying to stop us from going very far in the right direction.”

Abbott said that if “you listen to senior members of the government”, the reality of the Senate meant “we have had to bring forward a budget which is second-best. A taxing and spending budget, not because we believe in these things, but because the Senate made us do it.”

“Well, a party that has to do what’s second best because the Senate made us do it is a party which needs some help.”

This was not the first time Abbott had referred to the budget as second-best. In May, he said publicly: “The reason why the other week we had a second-best, rather than a first-best budget, is effectively because the 2014 [budget] couldn’t get through the Senate.”

Treasurer Scott Morrison brushed off Abbott’s critique as background noise.

The ConversationSenate crossbencher Nick Xenophon said Abbott was “being a huge pain in the arse right now”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Liberal Party reform becomes the next proxy battle in Abbott versus Turnbull



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The end game of Tony Abbott’s policy pitches is unknown, but in the interim they seem to be destabilising the party.
Brendan Esposito/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

For his own good, Malcolm Turnbull can’t get out of the country quickly enough. He’s off on Wednesday to the G20 in Germany and, if he has any sense, while he’s abroad he’ll try to avoid being drawn on local Liberal shenanigans.

As it is, one year from his narrow election win, he’s been talking his way into trouble.

There was the interview with the Sunday News Corp papers in which he said “when I cease to be prime minister, I will cease to be a member of parliament”. While he might have had his mind on how Tony Abbott should behave, inevitably this came to be interpreted as Turnbull threatening a by-election if he were rolled.

Then on Monday he told reporters: “Look, I intend to be prime minister for a very long time. I know you may think that at 62 I am too old – I can assure you I’m going to be prime minister for a very long time. I will be running at the 2019 election and will win.”

This wasn’t as provocative as when Bob Hawke, riled by Paul Keating’s “Placido Domingo” speech, told journalists he would be prime minister for the following five years (only to be deposed a year later). But it was bad on two grounds.

“A very long time” manages to sound simultaneously presumptuous and defensive. And why would a leader who feels totally secure choose to assert, rather than have it taken for granted, that he would be running at the next election?

Abbott’s ultimate objective is to see Turnbull leave the leadership. It’s unclear what will be the outcome of that story. But if he has an intermediate goal – of distraction and destabilisation – he is achieving that. Turnbull is talking about himself – unhelpfully – while his ministers are having to defend him and comment on Abbott, and the message to voters is of a party divided.

The rather plaintive if obvious statement from Industry Minister Arthur Sinodinos – “I can’t control Tony Abbott” – goes for them all. Abbott has disproportionate negative power, in the sense that his public contributions, whether speeches or radio interviews, routinely gain maximum attention and become reference points for the media.

Abbott is operating on two fronts. One is a populist pitch to the voters on the right. The other is an appeal to disgruntled members of the Liberal Party, both broadly but especially in his home state of New South Wales.

He is picking up on issues of concern to ordinary people and throwing out prescriptions – for example proposing a freeze on subsidies for wind farms to help ease pressure on power prices, and urging a cut in immigration to assist with housing pressures.

For the conservatives among the party faithful, he has become the voice of tradition. For the NSW rank and file, he is the vanguard in the fight for internal democracy.

While his policy pitches, to voters generally and those within the party, are simplistic, unconvincing and often at odds with what he did while prime minister, his stand on party reform in his home state highlights serious flaws in the NSW party organisation.

Party reform – more often something that has bugged federal Labor leaders than Liberal ones – is also emerging as a serious front on which Turnbull will have to manage the “Abbott factor”.

In 2014, in a report commissioned by Abbott, John Howard outlined the NSW Liberal division’s problems, including its entrenched factionalism, and recommended changes, one of which was a system of preselection plebiscites for lower house seats, in which branch members of two years’ standing would be able to vote.

Howard has acknowledged that reform in the NSW division will only come if the party’s federal and state leaders get behind it.

Last year, as Abbott promoted the issue, Turnbull and then-premier Mike Baird backed a broad motion on reform but kicked the issue down the road to a party convention, which will be held on July 22-23.

Abbott is pushing a radical plan, with rank-and file-votes for preselections for all seats and for all organisational positions including for the party president. He told Alan Jones on Monday: “The best way to liberate our party from factional control, the best way to liberate our party from the lobbyists is to give every single member a vote because it’s much harder to control 500 members than it is to control 50.”

Once again, Turnbull and the state leader, Premier Gladys Berejiklian, will have to take a stand.

To say it’s difficult for Turnbull is an understatement. His moderate faction (together with a “soft right” subsection of the right) controls the NSW division, including its preselections, tightly and with an iron fist.

The power of lobbyists over what happens and who is selected is notorious. Abbott’s attempt when prime minister to break their clout did not succeed.

Genuine reform would weaken the present factional control, although to what degree and over what time frame is not clear. The whole power structure could be transformed.

This is the last thing the moderates want. Moderates express doubts about going too far because of the dangers of branch stacking, which is what they say has happened in Victoria. Their opponents call this “branch building”.

There are counter proposals that include a longer qualifying time to vote in preselection plebiscites, and a test that would reward people for their activities in the party.

The outcome of the convention is not binding on the party hierarchy but would be hard to defy.

Turnbull is caught between his nemesis, who has wrapped himself tightly and conspicuously in the flag of party reform, and his faction, which doesn’t want to give away more than absolutely necessary.

The expectation is that Turnbull will back changes but they will be hedged and qualified. One would think the party would support the Turnbull position, given the stakes.

The ConversationThe wider point is that Turnbull, with all his other problems, does not need a battle over Liberal “internals” as another distraction.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/smqzz-6c8fdc?from=yiiadmin&skin=1&btn-skin=107&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0&rtl=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

ReachTEL: One Nation voters prefer Abbott to Turnbull by over 3:1


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

A ReachTEL poll for Sky News, conducted Thursday from a sample of 2390, has Labor leading by 52-48, a one point gain for the Coalition since the previous Sky News ReachTEL, just after the May budget. Assuming the 7.1% undecided are excluded, primary votes are 36.5% Coalition (down 1.3), 35.6% Labor (up 1.4), 10.3% Greens (steady) and 9.8% One Nation (down 0.4).

The primary vote changes suggest Labor should have gained after preferences, but ReachTEL is using respondent allocated preferences. According to Kevin Bonham, using previous election preferences, Labor leads by 52.8-47.2, a 1.3 point gain for Labor since the previous ReachTEL.

At the 2016 election, One Nation preferences split almost 50-50 between the two major parties. However, this poll has evidence that One Nation is now attracting the hard right of the Coalition, and thus that their preferences will be more Coalition-friendly at the next election.

Turnbull is preferred as Liberal leader to Tony Abbott by 68-32, with Coalition voters favouring Turnbull 73-27. However, One Nation voters prefer Abbott by a massive 77-23. It appears that as Turnbull has become more centrist over the last two months, the hard right has moved towards One Nation.

In ReachTEL’s forced choice better PM question, Turnbull leads by 54-46, a two point gain for Turnbull since the May Channel 7 ReachTEL. Same sex marriage is supported by 62-26, with 59% in favour of a plebiscite to decide the issue, while 41% prefer a parliamentary vote. 64% thought penalty rates should be higher on Sunday than Saturday.

Essential 52-48 to Labor, YouGov 51-49 to Labor

In this week’s Essential, primary votes were 39% Coalition, 36% Labor, 10% Greens, 7% One Nation and 3% Nick Xenophon Team. After surging to 9% last week, One Nation’s vote has fallen back. This poll was conducted over the last two weeks from a sample of 1790. Additional questions are based on one week’s sample.

Turnbull’s attributes were relatively unchanged since February, while Shorten’s were a little worse. Turnbull had double digit leads over Shorten on “intelligent”, “capable leader” and “good in a crisis”, but also on “out of touch” and “arrogant”.

By 79-6, voters supported the proposition that politicians should publicly disclose meetings with lobbyists, and by 78-5 they supported continuous reporting of political donations. Over 60% were in favour of bans on foreign donations, donations of over $5,000 and company and union donations. However by 46-30, voters opposed a complete ban on donations, with all political campaigning taxpayer-funded.

UK pollster YouGov has entered the Australian market. Polling will be conducted every fortnight from Thursday to Tuesday by online methods with a sample over 1000. The first YouGov poll, conducted from 22 to 27 June from a sample of 1125, has Labor leading by 51-49. Primary votes are 34% Labor, 33% Coalition, 12% Greens, 7% One Nation, 4% Christian parties and 3% NIck Xenophon Team.

Labor’s narrow two party lead was obtained using respondent-allocated preferences. Using the previous election method, Labor would lead 54-46. Christian parties are not included in the readout in any other poll, and it is likely that most of them are Liberals.

Victoria and ACT to gain seats, while SA loses a seat

On 31 August, the Electoral Commission will determine the number of House seats each state and territory is entitled to, based on the latest population figures.

The 2016 Census was released on 27 June. As a result, according to the parliamentary library, SA’s seats will be reduced by one to 10, while Victoria and the ACT will both gain one seat, to 38 and 3 seats respectively. Other states are unchanged, with NSW entitled to 47 seats, Queensland 30, WA 16, Tasmania 5 and the NT 2. Overall, the House will have 151 members after the next Federal election, up from the current 150.

Labor easily won both ACT seats at the 2016 election, so the creation of a third seat is good news for them. The political effect of redistributions in Victoria and SA will not be known until draft boundaries are released.

If an election is called before the redistributions are finalised, special arrangements are used to create or merge seats. These arrangements have never been used.

Tasmania should have only three House seats, but is entitled to five as this is the minimum entitlement for any of the six original states. As Tasmania has tended to give better results for Labor than the mainland, this malapportionment favours Labor.

More UK post-election analysis

The Guardian has analysis of a post-election study from pollster Ipsos Mori. In terms of swing from the 2015 election, the Conservatives performed best among demographics where the UK Independence Party (UKIP) had its highest vote shares in 2015: these demographics included those aged over 65 and lower social classes.

The Conservatives have adopted UKIP’s populist agenda regarding Brexit, and right-wing populism explains some of the swing to the Conservatives among demographics that were most likely to vote for UKIP and Leave at the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Labour performed best in swing terms among voters aged 18-44 and higher social classes. UKIP had low 2015 vote shares among these demographics. Although Jeremy Corbyn’s radical left-wing policies were also important in winning over young people, Labour’s unexpectedly strong performance can be seen as a rejection of right-wing populism among demographics that voted Remain at the Brexit referendum.

The swing to Labour in higher social classes, and the swing to the Conservatives in lower classes, has meant that the Conservatives narrowly won the top three classes, and Labour narrowly won the fourth class. At previous elections, there has been a far greater difference in party support by class.

On 26 June, the Conservatives committed to spend an additional £1 billion (about $AU 1.7 billion) on Northern Ireland (NI) in return for support on important Commons votes from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

The ConversationDuring the election campaign, PM Theresa May told a nurse who had had no wage increases for eight years, “There isn’t a magic money tree we can shake”. Every time the Conservatives now say there is no money for schools, hospitals, public sector wage increases, etc, people will remember the £1 billion “magic money tree” for NI.

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

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

Grattan on Friday: It’s a year since Turnbull won his first election, but what about a second?



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Malcolm Turnbull broke out his leather jacket this week and tried to shrug off the tensions consuming his party.
Jennifer Rajca/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

An admission. When I heard people raising the “transaction costs” after Tony Abbott was deposed by Malcolm Turnbull, I thought they were exaggerating. Surely these couldn’t be too high, given the relative popularity levels of the two.

Nearly two years on, when the Coalition is lagging badly in the polls and many Liberals – albeit way out from an election – already see opposition looming, those costs are there in spades, in the form of a deeply vengeful Abbott, bent on wrecking his successor; a party at war internally, and speculation being fanned about whether its leader will last to the election.

It’s just a year on Sunday since Turnbull narrowly won the election, but the fear of defeat is strong.

Former Queensland premier Campbell Newman, who spectacularly lost office in one term from a massive majority, has a credibility problem in commenting on what leaders should do. Nevertheless, his call this week for Turnbull to stand down is just another unhelpful piece of flotsam for the Liberals.

“He can’t be deposed – we can’t have another execution,” Newman said. But Turnbull was “dividing the Liberal Party”, what he’d tried wasn’t working, and he should “do the right thing” and quit.

Like most other people in the community, politicians are more impatient than they used to be. So parties are even less willing than once to contemplate losing office.

A period out of power would be painful, no question. The Liberals would soul-search to define the identity of the party they wanted to go into the 2020s.

A new generation would take over, replacing top players of the last decade – Turnbull, Abbott and Julie Bishop. The Nationals might possibly break out of a coalition relationship with the Liberals.

For a Liberal Party that thinks office is its natural home, this would be like facing a nasty spell in hospital to repair severely broken bones. One comfort, perhaps, would be that the febrile nature of today’s politics means government is never too far away. Kevin Rudd won handsomely in 2007; Abbott almost became prime minister at the following election. Abbott swept into power in 2013; Turnbull nearly lost in 2016.

As this year ebbs away, Turnbull’s hold on the leadership will become more precarious if there is no lift in those relentless Newspolls.

But a problem for the party and an insurance for Turnbull is that of the possible alternatives – Bishop, Peter Dutton, Scott Morrison, a resurrected Abbott – there is no one who’d obviously do any better. And given that we may be talking about “saving the furniture”, like Rudd did in 2013, who would want to be the one to lead to a loss?

Just say Turnbull, facing a rout, did decide (much later) to do what Newman says he should do now. Who’d benefit by getting a poisoned chalice?

Bishop? To end a sparkling career by leading to a likely defeat?

Dutton? In recent times, especially since Morrison’s sheen disappeared, Dutton has been talked up as a future leader. But lose an election, perhaps in a landslide, and it would be hard to hang onto the leadership in opposition.

The same applies to Morrison, even if he could get the party room numbers.

That leaves Abbott. Peta Credlin, his confidant and former chief-of-staff, said this week he “actually doesn’t want the job of prime minister”. Unlikely as this seems, that assessment is corroborated by another source.

The thing about Abbott, however, is that he can take one view one day and the opposite the next. If there was half a chance to put on the boxing gloves, he wouldn’t care too much about facing defeat. He’d feel vindicated, and relish the fight.

Don’t lay any money on such a scenario. It’s just one of many long shots in an unfolding story.

Meanwhile, Abbott is said to be in good spirits, as he’s been a centre of attention this week, with a speech articulating his broad agenda, followed by one calling for Australia to consider acquiring nuclear-powered submarines.

Once again, as is his wont, he went back on a position he took in government. “Not more robustly challenging the nuclear no-go mindset is probably the biggest regret I have from my time as PM,” he said.

The submarine speech saw him wading into the portfolio of Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne, who has had a nightmare week.

As the dust settles, one legacy question will be how much damage Pyne has done himself with his foolish boasting about the moderates’ power and the prospects for the earlier-than-expected delivery of same-sex marriage – comments which, when leaked, sparked such a damaging furore.

Pyne traditionally has had a heavy coating of teflon. His ministerial performance during this government has been lacklustre: in education, he failed to deliver his tertiary package; he was in and out of the innovation job in a flash, and the most talked-about feature of his period so far in his present post has been his covetous eye on the Defence job held by fellow moderate Marise Payne.

As he said in last Friday’s speech to the “Black Hand” moderates’ function, he’s always voted for Turnbull. But he managed to crack Abbott’s inner circle, before climbing on board with the Turnbull coup.

Pyne’s ambition is the deputy leadership – which would allow him to move into foreign affairs.

The ConversationBefore this week, he might have thought himself well placed, for example, to be deputy to Dutton in opposition. Now he has suffered a lot of reputational damage. But he has considerable powers of regeneration, and the thickest of skins. When some years ago he was featured in a Good Weekend profile with the cover asking “Is this the most annoying man in Australia?”, he was reportedly delighted.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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