Attorney-General George Brandis will become Australia’s high commissioner to London in a ministerial reshuffle set to be announced on Tuesday.
Brandis’ appointment opens the way for Malcolm Turnbull to elevate deputy Senate leader Mathias Cormann to Senate leader, and gives the Turnbull government a cabinet vacancy.
But it leaves Turnbull with the problem of being seen to have adequate representation from Queensland in the cabinet. A Queenslander will have to be elevated, but the choice is limited and there is no standout candidate.
Queensland is a vital state for the Coalition at the next election.
While Brandis is a Liberal, the Nationals have been agitated for months about the need to boost Queensland’s representation in the ministry – and Brandis’ departure complicates the issue further.
Favourite to get Brandis’ portfolio of attorney-general is Social Services Minister Christian Porter, who was attorney-general in the Western Australian government before he moved to federal politics.
The Nationals, who appear confident of holding their five cabinet spots despite losing a parliamentary seat to the Liberals, now find themselves with an excess of Victorians in cabinet.
Their new deputy, Bridget McKenzie, is from Victoria, as is existing cabinet member Darren Chester. The party has only four federal MPs from that state.
It is speculated that Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, who is agriculture minister, will move to Chester’s infrastructure portfolio in the changes.
The reshuffle also is likely to see the return of former health minister Sussan Ley, who resigned after allegations of the misuse of travel entitlements, which she denied. Turnbull wants to promote women and personally likes Ley.
The reshuffle comes as the government is behind Labor in the 25th consecutive Newspoll. The ALP leads 53-47% on a two-party basis, unchanged from the previous poll.
Turnbull said recently he regretted referring to Tony Abbott losing 30 consecutive Newspolls when he launched his 2015 challenge against the former prime minister.
Abbott replied that he will respond to this Turnbull statement of regret, but he wanted to leave it until after Saturday’s Bennelong byelection.
Sometimes Malcolm Turnbull is as transparent as a child. In Bennelong on Saturday night, he was like the four-year-old welcoming Santa. He was full of excitement – fuelled by relief – at a result that, if it had come out badly, could have shaken his leadership to its core.
Over at the Labor gathering, Bill Shorten’s response was carefully calculated. This was a poor outcome for the ALP, given the government’s problems, Labor’s “star” candidate, and the effort Shorten had put into campaigning. But the ALP had readied itself, even before people cast their votes, to translate whatever swing was achieved into the number of seats it would yield if replicated in a national election.
This is the longest of bows, as Labor knows. There can be no meaningful projection, especially when the average swing in byelections is around 5% and, on latest figures, this one is about that.
In terms of the outcome and context, the Bennelong result resembles the 2001 byelection in the Victorian seat of Aston, where an embattled Howard government held onto a seat at a crucial time. The win gave that government a much-needed boost.
Saturday was a big fillip for Turnbull. More so than the New England byelection (where he also looked like the kid for whom Christmas had come), because the result in Barnaby Joyce’s seat was never in doubt.
In tangible terms, the Bennelong outcome means the government is back to majority rule. The most worrying immediate consequence for Labor is that the Coalition can refer to the High Court those Labor MPs it has targeted over their citizenship – and it can prevent its own being sent to judges who have proved punishing.
Also important is that the result takes some pressure off Turnbull’s leadership. He ends the year on as much of a high as possible for a leader who has lost 24 consecutive Newspolls.
In the last few weeks, things have gone Turnbull’s way, just as they’ve gone against Shorten, not least with the Sam Dastyari fiasco.
Same-sex marriage is dealt with as an issue and hailed by Turnbull as his achievement – even if it took a backbench rebellion to get it done, and there is still the religious freedom debate bubbling.
Progress is being made on energy policy, although that has a long way to go.
Monday’s budget update is set to be positive, including gross debt now projected to be A$23 billion less by the end of the forward estimates than was estimated in May. Even the pressure for a royal commission on banks has been responded to, albeit only thanks to another backbench revolt.
Shorten won’t be fooling himself with his own spin. The early part of 2018 could be a nightmare for Labor if it faces byelections. This is likely in Batman in Victoria at least, and perhaps in several seats.
Batman could well be lost to the Greens, which would be a disaster for the ALP; a byelection in the Queensland seat of Longman could also be problematic for Labor.
Those in the opposition who are critical of Shorten can note that it would have been better if he had let the positions of ALP MPs be clarified this year rather than next.
It is undeniable from polling and focus groups that Shorten will not go into the election, due in 2019, on a wave of personal popularity. If he wins – and he’s favourite at this moment, Bennelong notwithstanding – it would be on the basis of the government’s unpopularity and disunity, and Labor’s strong policy pitch and relative cohesion.
Whether the “unity” factor will continue to be as bad for the government and as good for Labor in 2018 remains to be seen. There will be, or should be, pressure on the Coalition conservatives and disruptors to behave better after the marriage result and, for that matter, the Bennelong showing. But they often put ideology, and in some cases bloody-mindedness about Turnbull, ahead of the good of the government, so there is no guarantee.
On the other side, Labor’s unity partly depends on the political dynamics going well for it.
From the government’s point of view, while it can look to Bennelong as a modern Aston, it can’t carry the comparison with 2001 too far. Though some would dispute this, I believe that while Aston became a symbol of the Howard government’s resurrection, it would not have won the 2001 election if it had not been for the extraordinary circumstances of the Tampa affair and the September 11 attacks in the US.
In Turnbull’s case, if history is to see Bennelong as some sort of turning point, his government will have to make it so by its performance over the next year. Bennelong has brought Turnbull a crucial Christmas Lego piece – he still has to assemble the set.
Turnbull’s next political challenge is his ministerial reshuffle, both an opportunity and a risk because there will be winners and losers.
He wants to freshen the team, promote younger talent, and hand out some rewards.
Peter Dutton is already set to step into the new mega home affairs portfolio. Turnbull would also like to promote the very competent finance minister Mathias Cormann to Senate leader, and hence wants the incumbent, Attorney-General George Brandis, to become high commissioner in London.
Brandis, who earlier was one of the more accident-prone ministers, has recently done well and would be going out on a high. He played a significant role in the same-sex marriage issue and has brought to fruition legislation to combat foreign interference in Australian politics.
One who’d not be unhappy to see him leave would be Dutton – Brandis lost ASIO to Dutton but retained some checks for the attorney-general.
Brandis is understood to be concerned that his departure would significantly diminish the voice and clout of the moderates, while also reducing the influence of Queensland – a state that will be vital to the Coalition at the election – in the highest levels of the government. On the basis of merit, there is no obvious Queensland replacement for promotion into cabinet.
As well, the government has yet to shepherd the foreign interference legislation through, which is not without its own controversy.
Of course, Turnbull will have the last word on Brandis. If he were wise, he’d leave him where he is.
The Liberals’ John Alexander has comfortably won the crucial Bennelong byelection, preserving the Coalition’s parliamentary majority and giving Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull a significant boost going into 2018.
Alexander, who faced the high-profile Labor candidate Kristina Keneally, a former New South Wales premier, has a two-party swing against him of about 5.6% on counting so far. This gives Alexander a 54-46% two-party vote.
Addressing the party faithful, Alexander told Turnbull: “This is a renaissance of your leadership”. The Bennelong win follows the strong government victory in the recent New England byelection.
An exuberant Turnbull said: “Thankyou Bennelong”. He declared that Alexander, a former tennis champion, was “winning yet another great title”.
Turnbull told Liberal supporters Alexander had said to Bennelong voters, “I have been your champion, now let me be your champion again”, and they had said: “Yes, John Alexander, you are Bennelong’s champion just as you have been Australia’s champion”.
The Liberals have had a swing against them of about 6.3% on primary votes; the swing to Labor on primaries has been around 7.6%.
The result – with a swing around the average for byelections – is a major relief for Turnbull, who would have faced deep trouble if the seat had been lost.
Alexander said: “This is an extraordinary moment for us. … It’s been a real battle”.
In the last days of the campaign, Labor said it did not expect to win the seat, which had a 9.7% margin, but it hoped to run the government closer than it has.
On Saturday night, Labor was making the most of the swing by translating it to a national election result.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told Labor supporters the voters of Bennelong had given Labor “an election-winning swing at the next election”.
“This was not an ordinary byelection,” he said. “Normally in a byelection the former member does not run again.” Given Alexander’s personal vote, the entire swing was “attributable to Malcolm Turnbull and his rotten policies for this country”.
If Labor could replicate this swing at the election, “24-28 government seats will fall”, Shorten said. “Labor finishes 2017 with the most remarkable wind in its sails.”
He said in 2018, Labor “will be courageous and we will stand up and put people first”.
Keneally told the Labor campaign workers this had been “an extraordinary result”.
She said unfortunately she was not there to claim victory but “I am here tonight to claim success for the Labor movement”.
Turnbull “owns this result”, Keneally said. “The verdict is in, the message is clear, we have had enough of your lousy leadership.” Thousands of people who had previously voted for the Liberals had rejected the government, and Labor had been “energised” by the result, she said.
Labor was texting journalists saying such a swing would take out cabinet ministers Peter Dutton and Christian Porter.
Leader of the House Christopher Pyne said of the Shorten and Keneally speeches: “The level of delusion was epic”. He said the result would improve when the prepolls and postals were counted.
The byelection was sparked by Alexander resigning in the citizenship crisis.
Both Turnbull and Shorten had campaigned hard in the electorate.
In a seat with a very high proportion of Chinese voters, the byelection campaign was particularly bitter.
Labor accused Turnbull of “Chinaphobia” in the wake of the government’s attacks on Labor’s Sam Dastyari and its move to crack down on foreign interference in Australian politics.
Dastyari, under pressure for his closeness to a Chinese benefactor and for promoting Chinese interests, announced earlier this week that he would resign from parliament. Keneally has not ruled out seeking to fill the Dastyari vacancy in the Senate.
The government resurrected Keneally’s history as NSW premier, seeking to link her to disgraced Labor figures Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald, both of whom are in jail.
Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives, in its first electoral outing, had a vote of about 4.5%, with preferences flowing strongly to Alexander.
The government will now have the numbers to refer the citizenship of several Labor MPs to the High Court, while successfully resisting having any of its own MPs referred.
Pyne said Shorten faced a potential four byelections next year.
The minister for international development and the Pacific, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, said this was a good win for Turnbull and urged an end to the backgrounding against him.
With all election-day votes counted, Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore by a 49.9-48.4 margin to win the Alabama Senate byelection today. Once Jones is seated, Republicans will hold only a 51-49 Senate majority, down from their current 52-48.
Donald Trump crushed Hillary Clinton by a 62-34 margin in Alabama at the 2016 Presidential election, so in Australian terms, this result is a swing to the Democrats of 14.6%.
The massive swing was partly due to Moore’s faults. His extreme right-wing views probably made him a liability even in a state as conservative as Alabama. In November, I wrote that Moore’s alleged sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl, when he was 32, could damage him. Similar allegations against Moore were made by other women.
While Moore was a bad candidate, Trump and national Republicans can also be blamed for this result. According to exit polls, Trump’s approval with the Alabama electorate was split 48% approve, 48% disapprove, a large drop from his 2016 margin.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s poll aggregate, Trump’s national ratings are 37% approve, 57% disapprove, for a net of -20. Trump’s ratings have recently slipped back to near-record lows, probably as a result of the unpopular Republican tax plan.
This tax plan is unlikely to be derailed by Jones’ win. Different versions have already passed the House and Senate, and Republicans still have some time before Jones is seated to pass the same version through both chambers of Congress. The current Senate version was passed 51-49. Even if Jones is seated, there would be a 50-50 tie, which would be broken by Vice-President Mike Pence.
The last Democrat to win an Alabama Senate contest was Richard Shelby in 1992, and he became a Republican in 1994. Southern Democrats used to easily win Alabama and other conservative southern states, but these Democrats were nicknamed “Dixiecrats”, and were definitely not left-wing. Doug Jones may be the first genuinely left-wing Senator from Alabama.
The Alabama result will be a massive morale boost for Democrats, as many will think that if Democrats can win Alabama, they can win anywhere. This should allow Democrats to recruit strong candidates for the 2018 midterm elections.
According to the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Democrats lead in the race for Congress by 47.2-37.5. If Democrats win the national popular vote by this margin next November, they should easily gain control of the House.
The Alabama result will make it more difficult for Republicans to pass legislation and get conservative judges approved. It also puts the Senate in play in November 2018, as Jones will not be up for election until 2020. Democrats now need to gain two seats in 2018 to take control, rather than three.
One-third of the Senate is up for election every two years, and Democrats won the 33 Senate seats up next year by a 25-8 margin in 2012. Republicans will only be defending eight seats, while Democrats defend 25. In these circumstances, two Senate seats are far easier to gain than three.
Most Alabama polls gave Moore a three-to-seven-point lead over Jones, with one at a nine-point Moore lead. The Monmouth and Washington Post polls (respectively tied and Jones by three) were the most accurate. Ironically, the Fox News poll was the most pro-Jones, giving him a ten-point lead.
Bennelong Newspoll 50-50
The Bennelong byelection will be held on Saturday, December 16. A Bennelong Newspoll, conducted December 9-10 from a sample of 529, had a 50-50 tie, a ten-point swing to Labor from the 2016 election. Primary votes were 39% Liberal, 39% Labor, 9% Greens, 7% for Cory Bernardi’s Conservatives and 2% Christian Democrats.
Newspoll is assuming that Conservative and Christian Democrat preferences are as favourable to the Liberals as Greens preferences are for Labor.
At the start of the campaign, more than three weeks ago, Galaxy had a 50-50 tie, while ReachTEL gave the Liberals a 53-47 lead. This Newspoll is the first publicly released Bennelong poll since then, though The Australian reported last week that internal Liberal polling had them leading 54-46.
In past elections, individual seat polls have been inaccurate. There is some chance of a Labor win in Bennelong, but there is also some chance of a thumping Liberal win.
Newspoll asked about Labor candidate Kristina Keneally’s performance when she was NSW premier. 19% thought she was one of the worst premiers, 15% below average, 26% average, 23% better than average, and 10% one of the best. The Liberals have attacked Keneally on her record as premier, but this does not appear to have worked.
The national polls below indicate the media frenzy over Sam Dastyari has had little impact on voting intentions. Often issues that excite partisan voters have little resonance with the general public.
Essential 54-46 to federal Labor
The Coalition gained a point in this week’s Essential, but this was due to rounding. Labor led 54-46, from primary votes of 38% Labor, 35% Coalition, 10% Greens, 7% One Nation and 2% Nick Xenophon Team. Essential uses a two-week sample of about 1,800 for voting intentions. Additional questions use one week’s sample.
Despite Labor’s strong lead in voting intentions, Turnbull’s net approval improved from -12 in November to -3. Shorten’s net approval also improved from -13 to -9.
71% thought it is important that sexual harassment claims in the film and TV industry are exposed, while just 17% thought exposing these claims could unfairly harm reputations. 55% thought the current media attention on sexual harassment would bring about lasting change in the Australian workplace, while 30% thought it would soon be forgotten.
Considering energy policy, 37% said costs should be prioritised (up nine since June), 18% thought reliability should be prioritised (down three) and 15% carbon emissions (down four).
This week’s YouGov, conducted December 7-10 from a sample of 1,032, had primary votes of 35% Labor (up 3 since last fortnight), 34% Coalition (up 2), 11% Greens (up 1) and 8% One Nation (down 3).
Although this poll would be about 54-46 to Labor by 2016 election preferences, YouGov’s respondent allocated preferences are tied 50-50, a three-point gain for the Coalition.
By 40-39, voters thought Turnbull should stand down as prime minister and let someone else take over, rather than remain prime minister. 28% said Turnbull’s decision to go ahead with the banking royal commission gave them a more positive view of him, 15% more negative and 52% said it made no difference.
39% expected Labor to win the next federal election, 24% the Coalition, and 14% expected a hung parliament.
Conservatives are currently obsessed with identity politics.
Almost every issue of The Australian comes with a fusillade against the ways identity politics threaten civic discourse. And a Financial Review editorial in September warned:
… thoughts, expression and questioning are now more likely to be silenced in the excess of identity politics, where race, gender, sexuality and group-think declarations have replaced class as the key political dividers.
Yet one of the worst examples of identity politics came from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in his Q&A appearance on December 11. In opposing the idea of an elected Indigenous Advisory Council, he claimed that politicians such as Ken Wyatt and Linda Burney represent Indigenous Australians. In fact, they represent the electors of Hasluck and Barton – few of whom are Indigenous.
It is great that there are Indigenous politicians in parliament (Turnbull somehow forgot the two Labor senators, Pat Dodson and Malarndirri McCarthy). But they are not there to “represent” Indigenous Australians any more than Mathias Cormann is there to represent Belgian-Australians.
Political party identities
The primary identity of politicians in our system is their political party. Sometimes other identities will seem more important, as in the case of the four openly gay Liberal MPs who pushed their party toward a free vote on marriage equality, or Michael Danby’s support for Israel – which goes far beyond the views of his party.
What these cases suggest is the complex and overlapping nature of identities, and the trap of defining anyone by only one identity. Nor does belonging to a particular group, whether through race, ethnicity or gender, mean one automatically speaks “for” that group. Margaret Thatcher or Bronwyn Bishop never sought to speak “for women”.
Identity politics, as we understand them, are often assumed to have emerged from the women’s, black and gay movements in the early 1970s. There is an earlier history, linked to the development of nationalist movements in 19th-century Europe, and the growth of anti-colonial movements across European empires.
Identity politics are born when people feel excluded because of something important to their sense of self – whether it be race, gender, sexuality or language. But they are also thrust upon people, as in the tragic case of those Jews who believed themselves to be 100% German until the Nazis came to power.
A sense of a shared history is crucial to empowering people who have been oppressed, and sometimes made invisible. When I was a schoolboy in Hobart we were taught that there were no Tasmanian Aborigines, who had effectively been wiped out by settlement. Today more than 4% of the state’s population identify as Indigenous.
Not necessarily born this way
Conservatives are particularly disturbed by the idea that gender identities might be fluid, which seemed their central concern in the marriage equality debate.
Ironically many of those who defend ideas of gender fluidity also believe their sexual identity is, in Lady Gaga’s words, “born this way”. In both cases the rhetoric ignores the evidence of both history and anthropology.
Identity politics are neither inherently left nor right. Some Marxists denounced the new social movements as threatening class unity, in terms rather like those who now see identity politics as fracturing a common polity.
One of the common criticisms of Hillary Clinton’s US presidential campaign was that she spoke too often to specific groups, rather than in the language of inclusion. This is an odd argument given Donald Trump’s blatant attacks on Hispanics and Muslims, which were clearly an appeal to white Americans who felt their identities were under threat.
Most critics of identity politics speak as if they were above identity, when in practice their identities are those of the dominant group. Pauline Hanson excludes Aborigines, Asians and Muslims from her view of Australian identity, cloaked in the language of patriotism.
Like Hanson, those who attack identity politics are often most zealous in defending their own versions of identity. Current proposed changes to citizenship requirements are supported by an emphasis on “Australian values”, as if these are both self-evident and distinguishable from more universal values of political and civil rights.
On the same Q0&A program Turnbull defined Australian values as based upon “multiculturalism”, which acknowledges that contemporary society is a mosaic of different and overlapping identities and communities. It is possible to argue that respect for cultural diversity is a national value, while ignoring the question whether Australian law treats all cultural values equally.
In practice, cultural diversity is clearly subordinate to a legal and political system heavily based on British precedents. A genuine multicultural identity might start by extending the term “ethnic” to include people of British ancestry, as much an “ethnicity” as any other.
Identity as a means of exclusion
Identity politics threaten democratic debate when they become a means of shutting down any comment that does not grow entirely out of experience.
Writers have been criticised for creating characters who do not share their author’s race or gender; speakers shunned for expressing views that are deemed “insensitive”.
Writer Germaine Greer may have views on transgender issues that should be opposed. But they should be met with rebuttal, not a refusal to listen. Critics of identity politics are right that zealousness in protecting identities can itself become repressive.
Identity politics become dangerous when they become an argument for exclusion.
Unfortunately, the most dangerous examples of exclusion come from those who clam to speak for “the people”, a term which itself depends upon a certain version of identity. The populists who attack identity politics do so while creating their own, limited image of national identity.
This week’s Newspoll, conducted between November 30 and December 3 from a sample of 1,560, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a two-point gain for the Coalition from three weeks ago. Primary votes were 37% Labor (down one), 36% Coalition (up two), 10% Greens (up one) and 8% One Nation (down two). This is Malcolm Turnbull’s 24th consecutive Newspoll loss, six short of Tony Abbott’s 30.
32% were satisfied with Turnbull’s performance (up three) and 57% were dissatisfied (down one), for a net approval of minus 25. Bill Shorten’s net approval was minus 21, down two points. Turnbull extended his better prime minister lead over Shorten from 36-34 to 39-33, but this is still Turnbull’s second-worst better prime minister lead.
The two-party shift in Newspoll is overstated because the left-wing parties (Labor and the Greens) are stable on 47%, and the right-wing parties (the Coalition and One Nation) are also stable on 44%.
It is clear from the Queensland election seat results that One Nation preferences assisted the LNP. I think pollsters should stop giving the Coalition just the 50% of One Nation preferences that it received at the 2016 election, and instead assume the Coalition will receive 60% of One Nation preferences. This is consistent with the recent Queensland and Western Australian state elections.
On four of six leader attributes, Turnbull’s ratings fell since May, though this included the negative attribute of arrogant. Shorten only had a clear lead on being in touch with the voters (51-42).
Three weeks ago, Newspoll asked a best Liberal leader question with options for Turnbull, Julie Bishop and Peter Dutton. Bishop led Turnbull 40-27, with 11% for Dutton. This week, Newspoll also included Abbott, and Bishop led Turnbull 30-25, with 16% for Abbott and 7% Dutton. Among Coalition voters, Turnbull led Bishop 39-28. Abbott had 32% and Dutton 12% among One Nation voters.
Ipsos 53-47 to Labor
The first Ipsos poll since September, conducted between November 29 and December 2 from a sample of 1,400, gave Labor an unchanged 53-47 lead.
Primary votes were 34% Coalition (down one), 33% Labor (down one), 13% Greens (down one), 7% One Nation (not asked before), 4% Nick Xenophon Team, and 10% for all “others”. As usual in Ipsos polls, the Greens are higher than in other polls.
On respondent-allocated preferences Labor had a narrower 52-48 lead. This is another indication that One Nation is assisting the Coalition more than at the 2016 election.
Ipsos gives milder leader ratings than Newspoll, particularly for Turnbull. Turnbull’s ratings were 49% disapprove (up two), 42% approve (steady). Shorten’s net approval was minus 14, up two points. Turnbull led Shorten by an unchanged 48-31 as better prime minister.
Ipsos’ best Liberal leader question included the same people as Newspoll, plus Scott Morrison. Bishop led Turnbull 32-29, with 14% for Abbott, 5% Dutton, and 4% Morrison. Among Coalition voters, Turnbull led Bishop 35-29, with 18% for Abbott.
Ipsos also asked about the best Labor leader with three options: Shorten, Tanya Plibersek and Anthony Albanese. Shorten led Plibersek 25-23, with 20% for Albanese. Among Labor voters, Shorten led Plibersek 38-24, with 17% for Albanese. Greens voters favoured Plibersek 35-21 over Shorten, with 15% for Albanese.
By 49-47, voters supported changing the Constitution to allow MPs to be dual citizens. By 71-19, they supported a royal commission into the banks. 71% thought the party leader should be allowed to lead for the full term of the government, while only 25% thought the governing party should change leaders mid-term.
ReachTEL 53-47 to Labor
A Sky News ReachTEL poll, presumably conducted on November 28 from a sample of more than 2,000, gave Labor a 53-47 lead by respondent-allocated preferences, unchanged since October. Primary votes were 36% Labor (up one), 33% Coalition (down one), 10% Greens (up one) and 9% One Nation (steady).
These vote shares may not include a small percentage of undecideds, who can be pushed into saying which way they lean. Using 2016 election preference flows, Kevin Bonham estimates this poll was 54.7-45.3 to Labor.
In ReachTEL’s forced choice better prime minister question, Turnbull had a 52-48 lead over Shorten (51-49 to Turnbull in October). Turnbull’s better prime minister leads in ReachTEL have usually been narrower than in Newspoll, which allows an undecided option.
By 69-12, voters favoured a royal commission into the banking sector. By 44-43, they favoured allowing dual citizens to serve in federal parliament. By 56-31, voters thought businesses should not be able to refuse services for same-sex couples.
Barnaby Joyce’s crushing victory at New England byelection
At the New England byelection held on December 2, Barnaby Joyce thrashed Labor by 73.9-26.1 after preferences. This was a 7.4-point swing to Joyce since the 2016 election.
Joyce won an overwhelming 64.9% of the primary vote (up 12.6), to 11.2% for Labor (up 4.2), 6.8% for independent Rob Taber (up 4.0), and 4.3% for the Greens (up 1.3). The 13 other candidates all won well under 4%, and forfeited their deposit. In 2016, Tony Windsor won 29.2%, but Labor and the Greens were only able to take 5.5 points of his vote.
While Joyce is detested by urban lefties, he is evidently very popular in New England.
The massive victory can be partly explained by the lack of competition. Unlike Windsor, none of Joyce’s opponents had the resources to run a strong campaign.
I believe that Joyce also benefited from the circumstances of the byelection. Many voters would have thought he was disqualified on a technicality, and so he received a sympathy vote. While lefties would like an early election, it is unlikely that most Australians want one. Re-electing Joyce made an early election less likely.
The above two factors also apply to the Bennelong byelection on December 16. Given the double-digit primary vote swing to Joyce, I am more sceptical of Labor’s chances in Bennelong.
Joyce’s big win had little to do with recent political developments. Booth results show he had large swings towards him on both election day and pre-poll booths, and also postal votes.
Queensland election late counting: Greens set to win Maiwar
Tuesday is the last day for postal votes to be returned for the Queensland election, and we will probably know the final seat count by the end of this week.
In Maiwar, with 86.5% of enrolled voters counted, the Greens have taken a 51-vote lead over Labor in the race for second. Preferences from a minor candidate will benefit the Greens, so their real lead is about 200 votes. If this holds Labor will be excluded, and the Greens will defeat Shadow Treasurer Scott Emerson on Labor preferences.
A Maiwar win would give the Greens their first elected Queensland MP; they briefly held a seat as a result of a defection from Labor.
While still in doubt, Labor is looking more likely to win Townsville. The ABC gives it a 52-vote two-candidate lead over the LNP, and I believe the ABC’s estimate is understating Labor. Unfortunately, we currently have no official two candidate counts from the Electoral Commission of Queensland. If Labor wins Townsville, it will probably have 48 of the 93 seats: a three-seat majority.
The Coalition trails 47-53% in the latest Newspoll and the Fairfax-Ipsos poll, but the government goes into the parliamentary week heartened by Barnaby Joyce’s landslide win in Saturday’s New England byelection.
Newspoll published in Monday’s Australian shows the government clawing back from the massive 45-55% two-party gap of three weeks ago, and Malcolm Turnbull improving his net satisfaction rating and widening his lead as better prime minister.
But while the government improved compared with the previous poll, this is the 24th consecutive Newspoll the Coalition has lost in two-party terms.
Interviewed on Sky on Sunday, Turnbull said “I don’t run the government based on the Newspoll”, although in 2015 he cited 30 bad Newspolls as one of the reasons Tony Abbott should be deposed.
The Coalition hopes the decisive New England outcome – where Barnaby Joyce has nearly 65% of the primary vote, representing a swing of about 12.5% – means the result could be officially declared in time to have him back in the House of Representatives by the end of the week or even mid-week.
Turnbull signalled the government will take an aggressive approach to Labor in the parliamentary week – expected to be the last of the year. It will move to have certain ALP MPs referred to the High Court over their citizenship, and pursue Bill Shorten over senator Sam Dastyari’s behaviour in relation to a Chinese donor.
In Newspoll, the government’s primary vote is up two points to 36%; Labor’s is down one point to 37%. One Nation has fallen two points to 8%; the Greens are up one point to 10%.
Turnbull’s net satisfaction has improved from minus 29 points to minus 25; Shorten’s net satisfaction has worsened from minus 19 to minus 21. Turnbull’s lead as better prime minister has widened to 39-33%, compared with only a two-point advantage in the last poll.
Turnbull said he had “every confidence that I will lead the Coalition to the next election in 2019 and we will win it”.
The Fairfax-Ipsos poll showed Turnbull well ahead of Shorten as preferred prime minister (48% to 31%).
In that poll, Julie Bishop is the preferred Liberal leader (32%), over Turnbull (29%). Tony Abbott trails on 14%, followed by Peter Dutton on 5% and Scott Morrison on 4%. Liberal voters, however, prefer Turnbull (35%) over Bishop (29%) and Abbott (18%).
But voters overwhelmingly oppose a government changing leaders between elections (71% to 25% who approve). The strength of the opposition indicates the high transactional costs the Liberals would incur if they switched from Turnbull before the election.
On preferred Labor leader, people were relatively evenly split between Shorten (25%), Tanya Plibersek (23%) and Anthony Albanese (20%). Shorten had a clear lead (38%) among Labor voters over Plibersek (24%) and Albanese (17%).
The parliamentary week will be dominated by same-sex marriage and MPs’ citizenship. The government will also introduce a suite of legislation targeting foreign interference and espionage.
In his wide-ranging interview, Turnbull talked up his plan to make personal income tax cuts a focus of his pitch for the election, saying “our intention is to introduce them before the next election”.
“That’s our intention but of course you’ve got to stick to your commitment, our commitment to keep getting the budget back into balance by 2021,” he said. It remains unclear whether the cuts would be simply announced pre-election or their delivery would start then.
Turnbull indicated that in the same-sex marriage debate he will support amendments that were moved unsuccessfully in the Senate by Attorney-General George Brandis, the most important of which would allow celebrants to refuse to perform a marriage.
Whatever the fate of the Brandis amendments, the extra safeguards and restrictions unsuccessfully pushed by hardline conservatives in the Senate last week are expected to be defeated in the lower house as well.
Ahead of the release of MPs’ citizenship declarations, both sides claim the other has MPs who should be referred to the High Court.
Turnbull said he was satisfied, on the basis of the reports from Coalition MPs, “that there are none of our members that are ineligible”.
He said there were plainly a number on the Labor side whose status should be determined by the court, and if Labor would not refer them, the government would do so. This was an “acid test” of Shorten’s integrity, Turnbull said.
But Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke described the government’s proposed action as appalling. He said it was adopting “a protection racket for their own members” while planning to refer Labor MPs.
Noting that currently referrals could only be moved by a minister, Burke said that on Monday he would seek to rectify this, so referrals could be moved by either side.
Turnbull continued the government’s attack over Dastyari who, it was revealed last week, in 2016 told a Chinese donor who is of interest to Australian security agencies that his phone was likely tapped.
Turnbull said Dastyari “has betrayed Australia’s interests” and repeated that he “must go” from parliament.
He hinted the Dastyari affair was being investigated by the authorities but said: “This is a political matter and I do not give directions to our police or our security agencies on operational matters”.
But there were “a number of facts in the public domain and it’s a matter for the relevant agencies to look into”, Turnbull said.
If Shorten didn’t act on Dastyari it meant the opposition leader was putting his factional survival ahead of Australia’s national security, Turnbull said.
“It’s time for Bill Shorten to show that he’s really on Australia’s side and boot Dastyari out,” he said.
Shorten is standing by Dastyari although he has been demoted; anyway, while it could expel him from the party, Labor has no power to remove him from parliament.
The government’s legislation targeting foreign interference will strengthen and modernise offences including espionage, sabotage and treason, and introduce new offences targeting foreign interference and economic espionage.
Among the new offences, there will be ones that criminalise covert and deceptive activities of foreign actors that fall short of espionage but are intended to interfere with Australia’s democratic system and processes or support the intelligence activities of a foreign actor.
New provisions will criminalise support for foreign intelligence agencies, modelled on offences banning support for terrorist organisations.
There will be a reformed secrecy regime to criminalise disclosing information such as classified documents. This will replace old offences in the Crimes Act.
A new transparency scheme will be established to inform the public and decisionmakers of instances of foreign influence on the governmental and political processes. Those who act on behalf of or in the interests of foreign principals will have to register that fact.
Malcolm Turnbull has faced an extraordinary attack from the New South Wales Deputy Premier and Nationals leader John Barilaro, who has called on Turnbull to give people a “Christmas gift” by quitting immediately.
Barilaro’s scathing denunciation of Turnbull’s leadership came on the eve of the weekend New England byelection, where Nationals federal leader Barnaby Joyce is seeking to re-enter parliament after being disqualified by the High Court.
It is part of the rippling fallout from last Saturday’s Queensland election, where the Liberal National Party was defeated and the Nationals were left spooked by a big One Nation vote in regional areas.
Barilaro was furious that Turnbull denied federal factors affected the Queensland loss. “That is just a joke,” he told Alan Jones on 2GB, saying Turnbull was “completely out of touch”.
“You’ve got a party in disarray, a Coalition government in disarray and the community is not unified. And that is all at the feet of the prime minister of Australia.”
Turnbull should have apologised to the Queensland LNP and the people of Queensland “because the shenanigans and the circus that is the federal government today is the reason that we saw the shellacking” of the opposition in that state, Barilaro said.
He said he had just spent four days travelling in the southern part of NSW, where he was confronted by people from all sides of politics who kept talking about the lack of leadership federally.
If Turnbull, who could not win an election, did not leave the leadership he would be stabbed in the back in coming months, Barilaro said.
“Turnbull is the problem, the prime minister is the problem. He should step down, allow for a clean out of what the leadership looks like federally,” he said. “What we want to see federally is a reset if the Liberals and Nationals have got a chance of winning the next federal election.”
He said Turnbull had delivered very little since becoming leader. “My view is Turnbull should give Australians a Christmas gift and go before Christmas.”
The comments follow the exposure of Turnbull’s political weakness in Canberra this week, when the government was forced into announcing a royal commission on banking after a revolt by rebel federal Nationals.
The royal commission will be led by firner High Court Judge Kenneth Hayne and will be asked to deliver a final report by February 1, 2019, with an interim report before that. The terms of reference ARE tight: “it’s not going to be an inquiry into capitalism”, Turnbull said.
The Barilaro intervention will fuel more talk about the leadership, although there are not believed to be any active moves to replace Turnbull at this point.
Turnbull reacted dismissively, saying he thought Barilaro was “just trying to ingratiate himself with Alan and telling him what he wants to hear”.
He said Barilaro had “never raised these matters with me personally”.
“If that was a serious view he held, you would think that he would speak to me directly wouldn’t you?” Turnbull said on 3AW.
Turnbull said nobody had come to him to suggest his time as leader was running out.
Federal ministers rallied around Turnbull, while NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian rejected what she described as Barilaro’s “personal view”, with which she disagreed. She said she looked forward to continuing to work with the Turnbull government.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann all hit back at Barilaro.
Fifield targeted Barilaro in personal terms. “To get a run by whacking your own side requires no political skill. It’s weak. And it’s lazy. And it lacks character.” He said Turnbull “is doing an excellent job as the leader of the nation”.
This coming parliamentary week, expected to be the last for the year, is likely to be challenging for Turnbull.
A Newspoll is due, the MPs’ citizenship declarations will be considered – which also could be difficult for Labor – and the ALP will be out to put pressure on the government over penalty rate cuts and other issues in the run-up to the Bennelong byelection on December 16.
The mood of the week will be affected by the vote in New England. While Joyce is regarded as certain to win, there is a huge field and the size of his primary vote will be carefully watched.
Only a few months ago Bill Shorten would have thought that if he won the election he’d be delivering same-sex marriage and a royal commission into the banks early in his government.
Now Malcolm Turnbull is bringing us both – in each case, his hand forced by a (different) group of rebel backbenchers.
The marriage bill, which will go through the House of Representatives next week, has some disgruntled conservatives arcing up after the Senate rejected their amendments, but Turnbull will mark it down as one of the achievements of his prime ministership.
It’s another matter with the banking royal commission. Seldom is a government’s impotence and frustration as much on display as it was when Turnbull finally capitulated and announced on Thursday that the government would establish the inquiry it has so long resisted and denounced.
For quite a time political hardheads had been arguing the government should accept the inevitable and “own” an inquiry. Well, now it does – and what a reluctant owner it is, miserable and bitter.
Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison lamented that setting up the royal commission, which covers superannuation and insurance providers as well as banking, was “regrettable but necessary”, driven by the political circumstances in which they found themselves.
In the end, there wasn’t a choice.
The bad result for the Liberal National Party in Saturday’s Queensland election strengthened the hand and determination of the rebel federal Nationals, intent on pushing Barry O’Sullivan’s private senator’s bill for parliament to set up a commission of inquiry.
Two lower house Nationals, George Christensen and Llew O’Brien, were willing to cross the floor to give the bill the numbers there. In the background Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, on the New England campaign trail, was not resisting the flow. Joyce judged that if the issue reached the Nationals’ partyroom, the commission would get support.
The Nationals also knew an inquiry had strong public backing, a point underlined by an Essential poll this week showing 64% wanted a royal commission. That included 62% of Coalition voters.
The banks themselves came to accept that opposition had become too costly. In their Thursday letter to the government (flagged late Wednesday) advocating “a properly constituted inquiry”, the chairmen and chief executives of the four major banks said it was “in the national interest for the political uncertainty to end.
“It is hurting confidence in our financial services system, including in offshore markets, and has diminished trust and respect for our sector and people,” they wrote.
As Australian Bankers’ Association chief executive Anna Bligh, a former Queensland Labor premier, put it bluntly, it was too a big a risk to have a inquiry where the terms of reference and choice of commissioner were in “the hands of minor parties and fringe elements of the parliament”.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, O’Sullivan, Turnbull and senior ministers sparred over the issue. O’Sullivan, a tough ex-cop from Queensland, says the government didn’t try to get him to drop his bill. Rather, it was attempting to “manage time”. He knew it was working on something, though he didn’t know what.
The ministers wanted to find out when his bill would be ready for the Senate. Some say O’Sullivan put it on pause. He denies this, saying his negotiations with the Greens and others and the preparation and printing processes pushed it back to early Thursday, which helped the government.
Cabinet met first thing that morning – Turnbull’s announcement was at a 9am news conference. The bill had done its job without having to make an actual appearance in parliament.
The government’s perennial arguments – until Thursday – against a royal commission have included that it would undermine international investor confidence in Australia’s banks and that an inevitably prolonged inquiry would have delayed the reforms the government has introduced or proposed.
The first proposition will be tested now that the inquiry is to proceed. It is doubtful, however, that overseas investors are as easily frightened as the government has been suggesting. They’re surely sophisticated enough to understand the fundamentals of our banking system, and those are sound.
The government has maintained its measures are adequate to address the issues but O’Sullivan and other proponents of an inquiry insisted they would not deal with the dimension of “culture”. The banks’ “profit before people” attitude, as Nationals senator John Williams puts it.
A circuit-breaker is needed to restore public confidence in banks. But the material to emerge during the inquiry may lower that confidence further before there is any sign of its restoration.
The royal commission will be led by a former or serving judicial figure and will be asked to deliver a final report by February 1, 2019, with an interim report before that. The terms of reference will be tight: “it’s not going to be an inquiry into capitalism”, Turnbull said.
The Nationals’ brutal power play may deepen tensions between Liberals and the junior Coalition partner. Not that the Nationals care that much.
Christensen didn’t hesitate to rub salt into Turnbull’s open wound. “I just don’t understand why it took a number of National Party backbenchers to drag the prime minister kicking and screaming to this decision,” he said, in a cutting but pertinent observation.
O’Sullivan was more diplomatic, speaking of Turnbull “making his own journey”. A journey, it might be said, under armed escort.
Meanwhile, the Nationals were relishing shades of the 1937 royal commission into the banking system. As a Senate report of a few years ago recounted:
“At the 1935 election the Country Party (and the Labor Party) had promised an inquiry and when the conservative government led by Joseph Lyons was forced to form a coalition with the Country Party, he agreed to establish an inquiry”.
If it had responded much earlier to the pressure for an inquiry the government could have hoped to reap credit for appreciating the depth of public complaints and concerns.
As it is, with its grudging decision through gritted teeth, it doesn’t seem to be looking for plaudits.
But the political reality is that by establishing the royal commission it has neutralised one of Shorten’s issues.
For all that, it could be a Shorten government that deals with the commission’s ultimate recommendations. By the time the final report rolls round, an election will be imminent, assuming the royal commission runs on time and the government runs full term.
Malcolm Turnbull and senator Barry O’Sullivan have discussed the rebel National’s private senator’s bill for a commission of inquiry into the banks and other financial institutions.
As the stand-off continues over an inquiry, Turnbull on Tuesday publicly reaffirmed that “we are not going to establish a royal commission”.
But behind the scenes Turnbull appears to be seeking some resolution of the impasse, which could lead to his hand being forced.
It is believed he is due to have a further discussion with O’Sullivan after the bill is printed.
O’Sullivan refused to confirm Tuesday’s meeting.
The bill is now considered to have the numbers to pass not just in the Senate but in the House of Representatives as well. Two lower house Nationals, George Christensen and Llew O’Brien, are supporters, although O’Brien has cast his backing in terms of being “quite likely” to vote for it.
Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, who is fighting a byelection in New England to get back into parliament, has indicated he is very willing to have the bank inquiry issue considered by the Nationals’ partyroom, and has signalled he is relaxed about the outcome. The O’Sullivan bill will be discussed there on Monday.
If the Nationals as a party moved to support an inquiry, Turnbull would be deeply embarrassed.
O’Sullivan was inundated with suggestions for fine-tuning after circulating his draft bill, and it has taken some time for these to be dealt with and a final version to be sent to the parliamentary draftsman.
Turnbull, campaigning in Bennelong for the byelection in that seat, said the government had been concentrating on “positive steps, real reforms right now”.
“We have put more money into the regulators to give them stronger teeth and more effective powers. And of course we are setting up the one-stop shop, the Australian Financial Complaints Authority, which will mean that people will have one place to go to for help and assistance with complaints and concerns with their financial service providers.
“We are constantly working to ensure that the cultural change in the banks occurs and we are getting strong support for that,” he said.
“Our focus is on results. It is on action. That is why we have not supported a royal commission.”
Turnbull argues that a royal commission would take a very long time and delay getting results.
But O’Sullivan has maintained that what is fundamental is achieving cultural change and this won’t happen without a bright light being shone on the way banks and other institution have operated.
The commission proposed in the O’Sullivan bill is one that would be set up by parliament and report back to parliament. A royal commission is set up by the executive and reports to the executive.
Essential Media, in a poll published on Tuesday, reported 64% supported holding a royal commission into banking and the financial services industry and 12% opposed. Support among Labor voters was 72% – among Coalition voters it was 62%.