Grattan on Friday: Liberals plan for May election but Morrison might look better in March


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

While the Coalition took a hit in its two-party vote after the leadership change, the next few Newspolls will tell whether Scott Morrison – who’s started better than many anticipated – restores the government to the 49-51% position of Malcolm Turnbull’s last days.

That would still leave Labor election favourite, not least because the government has no fat in terms of seats and the redistribution works against it. Plus, of course, the voters’ sour mood.

But the narrowing would put Labor nerves on edge. It would judge that if, come election time, it goes into a campaign against Morrison with a lead around 51-49%, the fight could be tougher than if the margin were similar but the opponent had been Turnbull. Turnbull was a poor campaigner; Morrison shows the signs of a good one.

Labor has had plenty of luck, but it needs to keep up the momentum, to look the positive alternative, not just a fallback for disillusioned voters.

This week again saw Bill Shorten on the move. His proposed funding to extend subsidised pre-schooling to three-year-olds is playing to Labor’s policy strength in education.




Read more:
A Shorten government would subsidise pre-school for three year olds


His other initiative – roundtables to hear the stories of more victims of the banks and other financial institutions – exploits the potent politics of a scandal that has gripped most people’s attention. Labor’s research tells it the public are red hot with anger about what’s come out at the royal commission.

The government accuses the opposition of disrespecting the commission by launching its own listening tour.

But it’s unlikely too many voters will see it that way. And the sessions, especially those in regional areas, will build on another strength. As leader Shorten has held town hall meetings all over the country. Such grassroots gatherings are useful for establishing Labor’s presence on the ground.




Read more:
Labor to hold its own ‘hearings’ for bank victims


Between now and Christmas Shorten will be rolling out more policy. Meanwhile, the government continues working on removing negatives.

Morrison as treasurer had started on one of these when in July the government announced a new formula for distributing the GST revenue, rectifying Western Australia being disadvantaged under the existing one. To smooth the way, the Commonwealth threw in an extra $9 billion over a decade so no state or territory would be left worse off.

With several WA Liberal seats at risk, getting this sorted was urgent; the government decided not to haggle with the states for an agreement but to legislate the change.

But, despite the assurance there’ll be no losers, state treasurers on Wednesday conjured up possible adverse scenarios and insisted the “no worse off” guarantee must be in the legislation, a demand the federal government is resisting.

The legislation is expected to pass in the end, but only after more argy bargy. It is another example of how messy barnacle-removal can be.




Read more:
States want the GST guarantee set in legislative stone


Especially when it involves state governments that have elections pending: Victoria goes to the polls on November 24 and NSW on March 23. NSW treasurer Dominic Perrottet was particularly vocal on the GST guarantee.

The Berejiklian government has its elbows out more generally. It recently attacked the Morrison deal to give a pot of money to the Catholic (and other non-government) schools to buy peace. NSW complained this was unfair because it left out government schools and distorted the Gonski-based policy announced by Turnbull.

The Morrison and Berejiklian governments might be of the same stripe but, with both facing elections in the first half of 2019, their interests rub up against each other uncomfortably.

Each is on the nose. The thinking is that whichever goes to the people first could get a double hit, with NSW voters taking out their anger simultaneously against both administrations.

This is a big strike against a March federal poll in the eyes of federal Liberals, apart from the problem of partially overlapping campaigns. The NSW government would dearly like Morrison to run first but all the federal Liberal planning appears to be heading towards May.

“Morrison needs time,” is the mantra. Maybe. But there is a counter argument, even if it is not being run.

Morrison hasn’t received a honeymoon bounce in the two-party vote, but he has had good publicity. He’s been cast as a can-do guy. But will this fade as the months wear on?

By the time the government gets to the weeks before a May election, the arguments about policy will have deepened, and how will Morrison go then?

In particular, will the Coalition’s energy policy uncertainty be difficult to handle as the weather starts to chill and people look to another winter?

It is unlikely there will be serious good news on consumer prices. It’s early days but the new energy minister, Angus Taylor, has not at yet come across strongly or indeed been much in evidence. Will he be convincing when he’s put under pressure?

An election launched at the start of February for early March would come off a non-parliamentary period; one launched in April for May (with, incidentally, Easter falling awkwardly during the campaign) would come after parliamentary sittings, which often are difficult for the government.

One reason for the May timetable is that the government needs to fit in a pre-election economic statement (because there would not be a budget before the poll). But though a squeeze, it wouldn’t be too hard to have that statement early.

A factor in the government’s standing over the summer will be the October 20 Wentworth byelection – the outcome will affect its morale and subsequent media coverage.

The conventional wisdom is that a prime minister (who can choose the date, unlike a premier faced with a fixed date) will go when the evidence suggests they can win. This is trickier if a loss seems more probable than victory, whatever the date.

So the assessment becomes: when will the government be at its peak, whatever that peak might be?

Whether Morrison would be at his strongest in March or May is a moot point.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Privatising WestConnex is the biggest waste of public funds for corporate gain in Australian history



File 20180924 7728 p04ur8.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Gladys Berejiklian’s government will pay for much of WestConnex construction, give away other toll roads, guarantee annual toll increases and force motorists to use the toll road.
AAP Image/Joel Carrett

Christopher Standen, University of Sydney

The NSW government has confirmed it will sell 51% of WestConnex — the nation’s biggest road infrastructure project — to a consortium led by Transurban, the nation’s biggest toll road corporation.

NSW treasurer Dominic Perrottet described the A$9.3 billion sale to one of his party’s more generous donors as a “very strong result”.

I would describe it differently: the biggest misuse of public funds for corporate gain in Australia’s history.

Let’s examine how much public funding has been or will be sunk into WestConnex, a 33km toll road linking western Sydney with southwestern Sydney via the inner west.

Privatising Westconnex will return the NSW government 30 cents for every dollar of public money spent.
WestConnex Business Case Executive Summary

To date, the NSW and federal governments have provided grants of about $6 billion. Much of this was raised through selling revenue-generating public assets, including NSW’s electricity network.

Hiding privatisation by stealth

As well, the NSW government is bundling three publicly owned motorways into the sale: the M4 (between Parramatta and Homebush), the M5 East and the M5 Southwest (from 2026). Together, Credit Suisse values these public assets at A$9.2 billion. The government is privatising them by stealth. Leaked NSW cabinet documents suggest the Sydney Harbour Bridge will be next.

Then there is the A$1.5 billion bill for property acquisitions and the millions spent on planning, advertising, consultants, lawyers and bankers.

The government is funding extra road works to help prop up WestConnex toll revenue. It will increase the capacity of road corridors feeding into the interchanges. But it will reduce the number of traffic lanes on roads competing with WestConnex, such as Parramatta Road.




Read more:
Modelling for major road projects is at odds with driver behaviour


It will also pick up the bill for building a A$2.6 billion airport connection and the complex underground interchange at Rozelle. It will even pay compensation if the latter is not completed on schedule.

To further bolster toll revenue, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian introduced a vehicle registration cashback scheme for toll-road users.

Her government has also committed to continuing the M5 Southwest toll cashback scheme. The cost of these incentives to the public purse is likely to exceed A$2 billion every ten years.

In total, I estimate the NSW government is pumping more than A$23 billion worth of cash, public assets, enabling works and incentives into WestConnex — though efforts to shield the scheme from public scrutiny mean the figure could be much higher.

Finally, as part of the deal with Transurban, the government has agreed to plough A$5.3 billion of the sale proceeds back into WestConnex. It’s recouping just A$4 billion by selling majority ownership.

This translates to a financial return of 34 cents for every dollar spent.

Government expenses and receipts.

Of course, governments don’t always spend our money with the intention of making a profit. Usually there are broader social benefits that justify the expenditure. However, past experience shows inner-city motorways do more harm than good — which is why many cities around the world are demolishing them.

Given its proximity to residential areas, WestConnex will have serious impacts on Sydney’s population. Construction is already destroying communities, harming people’s health and disrupting sleep and travel — with years more to come.

Motorists who cannot afford the new tolls on the M4 ($2,300 a year) and M5 East ($3,100 a year) will have to switch to congested suburban roads. This will mean longer journey times — especially with the removal of traffic lanes on Parramatta Road.

New tolls on existing motorways.

Those who do opt to pay the new tolls may enjoy faster journeys for a few years — until the motorways fill up again.

Costs outweigh the benefits

But this benefit will be largely cancelled out by the tolls they have to pay — with low-income households in western Sydney bearing much of the pain. As such, the ultimate beneficiary will be a corporation that pays no company tax and employs very few people.

Traffic and congestion on roads around the interchanges will increase significantly. Moreover, with tolls for trucks three times those for cars, we can expect to see them switching to suburban and residential streets — especially between peak hours and at night.

The extra traffic created by WestConnex will lead to more road trauma, traffic noise and air pollution across the Sydney metropolitan area. With unfiltered smokestacks being built next to homes and schools, more people may be at risk of heart disease, lung disease and cancer in years to come.




Read more:
Big road projects don’t really save time or boost productivity


On any measure, the WestConnex sale is not in the public interest. The billions of dollars ploughed into the scheme would have been better spent on worthwhile infrastructure or services that improve people’s lives.

Is the WestConnex acquisition a good deal for Transurban? A$9.3 billion may sound like a high price, given the past financial collapses of other Australian toll roads.

However, with the Berejiklian government agreeing to fund most of the remaining construction, giving away the M4 and M5, guaranteeing annual toll increases of at least 4%, and bending over backwards to force motorists under the toll gantries, it can only be described as a “very strong result” for the consortium, though not for taxpayers.The Conversation

Christopher Standen, Transport Analyst, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Battle won. Our budget woes are behind us


Warren Hogan, University of Technology Sydney

The government’s final budget outcome for 2017-18 is a deficit of A$10.1 billion. That’s an extraordinary A$8.1 lower than the May estimate just months ago, and more than A$19 billion lower than when the 2017-18 budget was originally put together the previous May.

The deficit, a mere 0.6% of gross domestic product, is the smallest in the run of ten that began in the global financial crisis of 2008-09.

The result tells us something important about the Australian economy ten years on from the crisis.




Read more:
Budget deficit comes in at $10.1 billion, in boost for early
return to surplus



First, it’s performing better than expected.

Not only is it growing faster than most forecasters expected, it has been producing more jobs and less inflation than such growth would have produced in the past.

This has allowed much low interest rates than would have once been the case and supported investment across the economy.

Back to normal

So good is the government’s financial position that the heavy lifting has been all but been done.

A return to budget balance is entirely possible this financial year.

Indeed, for most purposes the budget is already balanced.

Federal government revenues and expenses are each about 25% of GDP. Given the complexity and natural variability of the budget and the economy, an outcome within 0.5% of GDP from balance is basically in balance.

The fact that two-thirds of the originally projected 2017-18 budget deficit has vanished due to “forecast error” makes the point.

Fiscal policy is effectively back to normal, with plenty of spending power in reserve should the economy deteriorate.

Better confidence, for now

Solid government finances will support confidence, not least among households that are used to worrying about large deficits boosting future tax burdens or eating away at government services.

That isn’t to say that everything is baked in.

The economy and government finances can go the other way. But the task of budget repair, which started years ago under Treasurer Wayne Swan, is virtually complete. Any further substantive budget tightening will produce growing surpluses rather than shrinking deficits.

More profits, less welfare

Over the past 15 months the big improvement in the government’s financial position has come in two phases.

The first surprise was a revenue windfall received last summer. This was mostly because of higher commodity prices and the boost this gave to corporate profits.

Corporate income tax receipts are 8.7% higher than originally projected, resulting in an almost A$7 billion windfall for the budget. This represents about a third of the A$19 billion budget improvement.




Read more:
Morrison’s return to surplus built on the back of higher tax – Parliamentary Budget Office


This was well known by the time of the May budget and was responsible for most of the improvement in the budget bottom line between May 2017 and May 2018.

The next phase was a substantial drop in government payments near the end of the financial year just concluded.

This was not factored into the May 2018 budget. Most of it is made up of lower welfare and social security payments, partly in response to the stronger economy, and partly due to much lower than anticipated spending on disability assistance.

Disability-related payments, both in terms of payments to states and National
Disability Insurance Scheme spending, are about A$3 billion lower than expected in May last year.

And improvement all around

The rest of the good news is spread across the board. Income tax receipts are higher due to stronger employment growth. The government has collected more duties and excise than it expected. Pension payments have been a little lower than expected, as have infrastructure-related payments to the states.

Because the presentation of the final budget outcomes does not come with any formal update of budget forecasts, the treasurer and his finance minister had very little to say about the government’s fiscal strategy other than to reinforce that its jobs, growth and budget repair strategy is on track.

They’ll say more in the midyear economic and fiscal update (also called MYEFO) in December.

Question time

Ministers Frydenberg and Cormann were asked a number of questions at their Tuesday press conference that they chose not to answer properly.

I thought I would take the liberty of doing it for them.

REPORTER: So does this outcome increase the likelihood that you will return to surplus sooner than predicted?

MY ANSWER: It most certainly it does. The better result is mainly due to a stronger-than-expected economy. At the time of the budget in May 2017 the government had forecast economic growth of 2.75% for the 2017-18 financial year. As it turned out, growth came in at 2.9% and we are taking strong momentum into 2018-19.

It won’t take much to nudge the budget into surplus this year, that is, a year earlier than forecast. Simply factoring in the better baseline performance of the budget from last year should produce a deficit for 2018-19 of around A$5-8 billion. If the recent trends of higher commodity prices, a lower Australian dollar and stronger domestic economic activity persist, as they appear to be doing, then we will easily get a surplus this year.

Complicating the picture is the political cycle. With a government well behind in the polls and an election due in the next six months or so, it will be hard to resist the temptation to spend some of this recent budget improvement.

It will become a political judgment for the new prime minister and his cabinet. Is the political benefit of presenting a budget surplus greater than the electoral impact of new spending measures?

REPORTER: And do you continue to adhere to the budget discipline that all new spending must be accompanied by savings in equal amount?

MY ANSWER: The government should be commended for keeping real spending growth to just 1.9%, the lowest in a generation. It is projecting it to fall even further, to around 1.6% over the next few years. With a tough election contest ahead, my guess is that we may see some slippage on government spending.

REPORTER: You are out by 40% to 45% on the deficit you published in May this year. That’s a wild variation in just 6 weeks. Should Treasury be doing better than that, basically?

MY ANSWER: Revenues total just under A$450 billion and expenses total just over $450 billion. The deficit figure is the result of the calculation of the small difference between those two big numbers.

Rather than thinking about an A$8 billion miss on a A$18 billion deficit we should be thinking about A$8 billion on the $450 billion revenue and expense base.

Instead of a 40% variation, the real variation is less than 2%.

Given that the Treasury only had the March quarter national accounts at its disposal when pulling together the May Budget forecasts and considering the propensity of the Bureau of Statistics to revise the national accounts, the fact that the misses are less than 2% is actually pretty amazing.

The economy is complex and ever changing.

Economic forecasting is hard. Understanding the relationship between government revenues and an economy experiencing significant industrial structural change is far from a perfect science.The Conversation

Warren Hogan, Industry Professor, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Poll wrap: Labor drops in Newspoll but still has large lead; NSW ReachTEL poll tied 50-50



File 20180925 149982 tcyya3.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Prime Minister Scott Morrison appears to be enjoying a honeymoon period, with the Coalition up two points on two-party preferred in the latest Newspoll.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted September 20-23 from a sample of 1,680, gave Labor a 54-46 lead, a two-point gain for the Coalition since last fortnight. Primary votes were 39% Labor (down three), 36% Coalition (up two), 10% Greens (steady) and 6% One Nation (steady).

This is the Coalition’s 41st successive Newspoll loss. In Malcolm Turnbull’s last four Newspolls as PM, the Coalition trailed Labor by just 51-49. In Scott Morrison’s first three as PM, Labor has had two 56-44 leads followed by a 54-46 lead. This Newspoll contrasts with last week’s Ipsos, which gave Labor just 31% of the primary vote and the Greens 15%.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Labor’s lead shrinks in federal Ipsos, but grows in Victorian Galaxy; Trump’s ratings slip


44% were satisfied with Morrison (up three) and 39% were dissatisfied (steady), for a net approval of +5. After rising ten points last fortnight, Bill Shorten’s net approval slumped eight points this week to -22. Morrison led Shorten as better PM by 45-32 (43-37 last fortnight). Morrison also led Shorten by 46-31 on who is the more “authentic” leader.

Morrison is currently benefiting from a personal ratings “honeymoon” effect, while Shorten’s honeymoon is long over. However, Morrison’s ratings are far worse than for Turnbull’s first two Newspolls as PM, with Turnbull’s net approval at +18 then +25, compared with Morrison’s +2 and +5. Honeymoon polling is not predictive of the PM’s long-term ratings.

On September 5, the ABS reported that the Australian economy grew by 0.9% in the June quarter for a 3.4% annual growth rate in the year to June. On September 13, the ABS reported that 44,000 jobs were created in August in seasonally-adjusted terms, with the unemployment rate remaining at 5.3%.

Greg Jericho wrote in The Guardian that these figures are very good for the government. The narrowing of Labor’s lead to 51-49 in Turnbull’s last four Newspolls as PM probably reflected good economic news as well as a period where the Coalition was relatively unified.

Given Morrison’s relatively good personal ratings and the economy, the Coalition is performing far worse than would be expected on voting intentions. In the US, Donald Trump’s ratings are far worse than they should be given the strength of the US economy. Perhaps being very right-wing is not a vote winner.




Read more:
Polls update: Trump’s ratings held up by US economy; Australian polls steady


Essential poll: 53-47 to Labor

This week’s Essential poll, conducted September 20-23 from a sample of 1,030, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since last fortnight. Primary votes were 37% Coalition (up one), 36% Labor (down one) 12% Greens (up two) and 5% One Nation (down three).

Essential is using 2016 election preferences for its two party estimates, while Newspoll assigns One Nation preferences about 60-40 to the Coalition. Essential has probably been rounded down to 53% to Labor this week, while Newspoll has been rounded up to 54%.

70% in Essential had at least some trust in the federal police, 67% in the state police, 61% in the High Court and 54% in the ABC. At the bottom, 28% had at least some trust in federal parliament and in religious organisations, 25% in trade unions and just 15% in political parties. Since October 2017, trust in local councils is up four points, but trust in political parties is down three.

By 61-21, voters would support the Liberals adopting quotas to increase the number of Liberal women in parliament. By 37-26, voters would support a new law enshrining religious freedoms, but most people would currently have no idea what this debate is about.

45% thought corruption was widespread in politics, with 36% saying the same about the banking and finance sector, 29% about unions and 25% about large corporations. The establishment of an independent federal corruption body was supported by an overwhelming 82-5.

By 78-14, voters agreed that there should be laws requiring equal pay for men and women in the same position. However, voters also agreed 47-44 that gender equality has come far enough already.

53% approve of constitutional amendment to separate government and religion

The NSW Rationalists commissioned YouGov Galaxy, which also does Newspoll, for a poll question about separation of government and religion. The survey was conducted from August 30 to September 3 from a national sample of 1,027.

The question asked was, “Australia has no formal recognition of separation of government and religion. Would you approve or disapprove of a constitutional amendment to formally separate government and religion?”

53% approved of such an amendment, just 14% disapproved and 32% were unsure. Morrison advocates new laws to protect religious freedom, but this poll question does not suggest there is any yearning within Australia for more religion. The same-sex marriage plebiscite, in which Yes to SSM won by 61.6% to 38.4%, was a huge defeat for social conservatism.

More results and analysis are on my personal website.

Phelps to preference Liberals in Wentworth

The Wentworth byelection will be held on October 20. On September 21, high-profile independent candidate Kerryn Phelps announced that she would recommend preferences to the Liberals. Just five days earlier, Phelps had said voters should put the Liberals last.

Until her preference decision, Phelps had appeared to be a left-wing independent candidate, but Wentworth is unlikely to be won from the left. This decision will cost Phelps left-wing support; the question is whether she wins over enough right-wing voters who dislike the Liberals or the Liberal candidate, Dave Sharma, to compensate for the loss of left-wing voters.

By backflipping on the “put the Liberals last” message, Phelps has made an issue of her preferences that may dog her for the rest of the campaign.

Phelps’ preferences will not be distributed if she finishes first or second, and Labor preferences will still assist her against the Liberals. If primary votes have Sharma well ahead, and Labor and Phelps in a close race for second, Phelps is now more likely to be excluded owing to Greens preferences. If the final two are the Liberals and Labor, Phelps’ preferences will help the Liberals, relative to her previous position of putting them last.

NSW ReachTEL poll: 50-50 tie

The New South Wales election will be held in March 2019. The first state poll in six months is a ReachTEL poll for The Sun-Herald, conducted September 20 from a sample of 1,630. The Coalition and Labor were tied at 50-50 by 2015 election preference flows, a two-point gain for Labor since a March ReachTEL.

Primary votes were 35.1% Coalition (down 6.8%), 31.5% Labor (down 1.0%), 10.2% Greens (up 0.8%), 6.1% Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, 4.2% One Nation (down 0.9%), 7.0% for all Others and 5.9% undecided. If undecided voters are excluded, primary votes become 37.3% Coalition, 33.5% Labor, 10.8% Greens, 6.5% Shooters and 4.5% One Nation.

Opposition Leader Luke Foley had a very narrow 50.2-49.8 lead over incumbent Gladys Berejiklian as better premier, a 2.5% gain for Foley since March. ReachTEL’s forced choice better PM/Premier questions usually give opposition leaders better results than polls that do not use a forced choice.

It is likely that the federal leadership crisis had some impact on NSW state polling, but we do not know how much, as the last NSW state poll was in March.

As I wrote last week, independent Joe McGirr defeated the Liberals in the September 8 Wagga Wagga byelection by a 59.6-40.4 margin. The Labor vs Liberal two party vote gave Labor a narrow 50.1-49.9 win, a 13.0% swing to Labor since the 2015 election.The Conversation

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

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Budget deficit comes in at $10.1 billion, in boost for early return to surplus


File 20180925 85755 up06mj.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Estimates out, but happy. Mathias Cormann and Josh Frydenberg announce the smallest deficit in a decade.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The budget outcome for 2017-18 shows a deficit of A$10.1 billion –
dramatically less than expected in May, and just 0.6% of GDP.

In this year’s May budget, a mere four months ago, the outcome for the last financial year was forecast to be just over A$18 billion, already revised well down on the more than A$29 billion estimate in the 2017 budget.

The drivers of the better-than-anticipated result were stronger
revenue and lower spending than earlier expected.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Finance Minister Mathias Corman said in
a statement: “At A$10.1 billion, just 0.6 per cent of gross domestic
product (GDP), the underlying cash deficit is the smallest in ten
years.

“Stronger economic growth and much stronger employment growth than
anticipated at the time of the 2017-18 budget have driven increases in
personal income tax and company tax receipts, with total receipts
$13.4 billion higher than expected at the time of the budget.

“Total payments were A$6.9 billion lower than forecast at budget time,
including as a result of lower welfare payments with more Australians
in paid work. Welfare dependency for working age Australians is now at
its lowest level in 25 years and in 2017-18, there were 90,000 fewer
working age Australians on welfare,” they said.

“Real GDP in 2017-18 was stronger than anticipated in the 2017-18 budget.”

Last week Standard & Poor’s ratings agency reaffirmed Australia’s
triple A credit
rating. Frydenberg said Australia was one of only 10 countries with a AAA
credit rating from the three major agencies.

He told a news conference that the budget outcome confirmed the budget
was on the path back to balance in 2019-20.

The mid-year budget update will come in December, with the revisions
at that time setting the scene for the run into the election a few
months later, with the government making economic and fiscal
management a key plank in its campaign.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said the final budget outcome “shows the
deficit came in almost four times worse than forecast in the Liberal
Party’s first budget. This is after the Liberal Party’s massive cuts
to schools, hospitals and the pension.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Labor leads 54-46% in Newspoll that shows slight improvement for government


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government would be trounced at an election held now, although the Coalition has clawed back slightly in the past fortnight and Scott Morrison has improved his lead as better prime minister, according to the latest Newspoll.

The Coalition trails 46-54% in the poll, published in Monday’s Australian, compared with 44-56% in the first two Newspolls after the change of leader. This is the government’s 41st Newspoll loss in a row.

The Coalition’s primary vote is up 2 points to 36%, while the ALP primary vote has fallen 3 points to 39%.

Morrison leads Bill Shorten as better PM 45-32%, compared with 42-36% two weeks ago.

Morrison’s net satisfaction was plus 5; Shorten’s net rating is minus 22. In the previous Newspoll, Morrison’s net satisfaction was plus 2, while Shorten was on minus 14.

The poll comes after Morrison’s burst of intense activity to get on the front foot, including last week announcing a royal commission into aged care, and a multi-billion dollar deal aimed at placating the Catholic education sector, as well as passing tough legislation through parliament in response to the strawberry contamination.




Read more:
VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on strawberries, Sudmalis, schools, and the au pair affair


But the Newspoll two party vote remains much worse than the last days of Malcolm Turnbull, and the controversy over his ousting continues.

In an interview on Nine on Sunday night former foreign minister Julie Bishop said she had had many calls from foreign ministers “asking why I’m no longer the foreign minister and what happened to the prime minister?

“They have been some rather unkind comments about Australia being the Italy of the South Pacific and the coup capital of the world,” she said.

Bishop said the change was perplexing “because Malcolm Turnbull was way ahead as preferred prime minister. We were coming back in the polls. It was quite close and there were no deep policy issues that divided the party”, because Turnbull had given way on a number of issues.

Bishop renewed her criticism of parliament’s Question Time, saying it “probably does more damage to the reputation of the political class than any other issue.”

“Question Time is only 70, 80 minutes a day, yet it’s what is televised. So people are concerned that that is what their well paid representatives are doing all day, every day in the parliament.

“They don’t see the thoughtful contributions and the more intelligent speeches that can be given in the Parliament because they’re not televised,” Bishop said.

“I’m afraid that not withstanding the best efforts of the Speaker and the standing orders, there’s far too much throwing of insults, and vicious behavior, name calling, and the like. And the public see that as no better than school children. In fact, not as well behaved as school children,” she said.

On the policy front, Labor at the weekend announced that if elected it would require Australian companies with more than 1000 employees to reveal how much they paid women compared with men.

“The gender gap is stubbornly high. On average, women working full time still get paid almost 15% less than men working full time. It is unacceptable that this has barely changed over the last two decades,” the opposition said.

“Companies already report their gender pay data to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. Labor will make it public”.

In response, Morrison warned of “setting up conflict in the workplace”, while saying he was not ruling out such an idea.

“We’re open to all suggestions but these things are already reported at a sector-wide level and at an economy-wide level.” he said.

Meanwhile Kerryn Phelps, high profile independent candidate in Wentworth, has sought to make the government’s push for religious freedom protections an issue in the byelection.

She challenged the Liberals to say whether the government would release the Ruddock report on the issue before the October 20 vote, pointing out it had been sitting on it for months.

Morrison has flagged he plans to strengthen the law but it is thought the government wants to keep the detail under wraps until after Wentworth. Phelps said she was strongly opposed to any watering down of the anti-discrimination legal provisions.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Morrison aims to make agility his prime ministerial trademark


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Strawberries and hay have provided unlikely lenses for an insight into how Scott Morrison will conduct his prime ministership from now to the election.

The needles-in-the-berries contamination has been alarming for consumers and devastating for the industry. Anyone involved deserves the full force of the quite heavy penalties available, and the public should be encouraged to eat (with due care) this delicious fruit.

But when the government rolls out the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, the Home Affairs Minister, the Australian Federal Police chief and the Border Force Commissioner, and then rushes new legislation through parliament in a single day – well, you know a political point is being made.

A serious crime was turned into a national crisis. MPs donned aprons, grabbed knives and started slicing.

The legislation naturally received bipartisan support, with little discussion of whether the changes are actually needed. Its extremely hasty passage was despite the fact it won’t apply retrospectively to this criminal action.

As the strawberry crisis gripped the parliament, we’re reminded how rapidly a government can escalate an issue. In this case, the worst that could be said is that it’s an over-reaction with a political vibe. But you don’t need much imagination to think how a similar drama could be concocted with darker motives.

As for the hay: this was an announcement of liberalised rules for carting fodder so more could be sent faster to drought-affected farmers. Normally you’d expect a ministerial press release. Morrison turned it into a prime ministerial occasion, on Thursday being photographed climbing into a truck somewhere outside Canberra.

Earlier in the week, he’d called a “drought summit” for next month. Dealing with the drought has been one of his central themes, from his first news conference, followed by his interview on Australia All Over, and his visit to see things on the ground in Queensland.

These examples – and the very important one of the weekend announcement of a royal commission into aged care – show Morrison’s style. He will pick up and run with whatever is around – issues he sees as resonating with ordinary people.

“Scott likes to move quickly”, says a colleague. He’s not – if he can help it – going to get caught having to respond to others’ agendas. The royal commission was announced a day before the ABC’s aged care expose.

Morrison is also clearing away irritants as rapidly as possible. Thursday’s $4.6 billion decade-long package for private schools drew a line under the damaging row between the government and the vociferous Catholic sector. Negotiations have been underway for some time, but the deal’s now landed.




Read more:
Government unfurls $4.6 billion private schools package, calming Catholic critics


Morrison won’t get bogged down in process. When he recently dumped the commitment to increasing the pension age to 70, he acted before the full cabinet had ratified what was a significant policy shift.

The new PM is tactically quicker than Malcolm Turnbull, just as in his messaging he can cut through with greater sharpness. He’s more attuned to the emotional and knee-jerk drivers of today’s politics, in the age of the continuous news cycle and social media. Malcolm liked to mull over moves.

He is also freer to act than his predecessor, who was hemmed in by enemies as well as allies of convenience, like Peter Dutton, who turned into enemies.

For the Liberals, Morrison is the end of the pre-election leadership line, and that gives him a good deal of latitude to set his own course. He might be displeasing the hard right Liberals by not exiting the Paris climate agreement, but he’s able to stare them down or fob them off. They know he’s in the seat until the election.

Defining your opponent can be critical in our semi-presidential contests. “The Prime Minister is a blank canvass”, says one Labor man. “Both sides are trying to fill in the colours”.

Morrison’s brush strokes on his own portrait are designed to create the image of a leader tuned to the voters’ concerns, rather than the “Canberra bubble”. If sometimes this makes him look more like the mayor of Albury than the prime minister of Australia – well, he just hopes it works. Like the latecomer desperately working the room, he knows he has practically no time.

In his one departure from pragmatism during these first prime ministerial weeks, Morrison has flagged he’s willing to stir the hornets’ nest of religious freedom. Although unclear about the problem, he told Sky on Monday “there’s nothing wrong with a bit of preventative regulation and legislation”. Especially given the time constraints, it’s hard to see that battle is worth the likely costs.

To highlight Morrison’s agility and hyper-activity is not to overlook the government’s parlous situation, with a sour electorate, a still-shocked backbench, divisions in the ranks, all sorts of trouble over the “women problem”, and the uncertainty of the Wentworth byelection.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Morrison’s challenge with women goes beyond simple numbers


It’s rather to say, the way the game’s being played has changed. Labor is alert to this, wondering, for instance, whether Morrison will appeal to some of its male “battler” type voters.

The PM said in question time on Thursday that Bill Shorten “isn’t looking as certain as he was two weeks ago.” Despite the political bonuses being handed almost daily to Labor, this is probably true. The opposition is still seeking to get its fix on its new opponent.

However Morrison goes over coming months, this week should give the Liberals cause to reflect that they had a lucky escape when Dutton failed to get the numbers in the coup he started.

The Senate inquiry into the au pair affair, which reported on Wednesday, was dominated by Labor and the Greens, so it was always set to produce a majority report very critical of Dutton. Even allowing for that, a couple of things are clear from the facts of the two cases the inquiry examined.

In assisting these women, Dutton did go above and beyond what would normally have been expected – all stops were pulled out. And he did mislead parliament when he denied any personal connections.

In the case of the woman who landed in Brisbane, he had a past acquaintanceship (via their mutual police service) with her prospective employer.




Read more:
Dutton back in spotlight after split Senate report on au pair affair


But misleading parliament is no longer taken seriously. Morrison’s certainly not going to worry that his Home Affairs Minister – who has oversight of the independent agencies of the Australian Federal Police and ASIO – did not tell parliament the truth. Canberra bubble and all that.

Anyway, Morrison has a lot to thank Dutton for. After all, Dutton delivered him the prime ministership.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Morrison’s challenge with women goes beyond simple numbers


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Mutual interest is a great bonding agent, so the bromance between 2GB shock jock Ray Hadley and Scott Morrison is on again.

Morrison will once more make regular appearances with Hadley, who dumped him unceremoniously last year, with a spurious excuse, because he considered him too boring.

As treasurer Morrison was “captive to cabinet solidarity”, Hadley said on Tuesday, explaining their “parting of the ways”. But as prime minister, he was the boss and “unharnessed”.

“Unharnessed” is also one way to describe the state of the government, as MPs kick over the traces, and the still-new prime minister struggles to get a hold on the reins.

The Senate on Monday and Tuesday (and last Thursday) found itself with little to do; Morrison cancelled an October meeting with the states because more work was needed on the matters to be discussed.

In the spooked team, you’d be hard pressed to find many who think the Coalition can turn things around in time for next year’s election.

The row over bullying and the separate but now intertwined question of the under-representation of women among Liberal MPs is continuing to rip through the Liberal party, unable to be contained.

Morrison is conflicted. It’s risky for him to play down the allegations of standover tactics, let alone fail to take seriously enough the party’s need for more female MPs.

But he is attempting to sideline the bullying issue by saying the problem isn’t with the parliamentarians – rather, it lies in the party organisation.

This week he ordered that organisation to set up a complaints mechanism.




Read more:
Morrison tells Liberal organisation to act on bullying after second woman flags she’ll quit


On female representation, Morrison has no answers. Yes, he says, he would like more Liberal women in parliament. But how to get them? Certainly not with quotas. And he just wants the best candidates.

Post election, Liberal women in the House of Representatives are likely to be an endangered species – perhaps around half a dozen. Currently there are 12 Liberal women in the House, and one National.

Two of the present women MPs, Ann Sudmalis, from NSW, and Julia Banks, from Victoria, have announced they’re quitting at the election, calling out bad behaviour (with Sudmalis naming a NSW state Liberal MP as her bete noire). Queensland’s Jane Prentice has lost preselection. Julie Bishop is unlikely to stand. Several women are on tight margins.

After Sudmalis’ lashing out on Monday, comments from Liberals on Tuesday sent unhelpful messages.

Minister Steve Ciobo tried to claim the Liberals really had done quite well on the women front; Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells invoked Harry S. Truman’s line about departing hot kitchens. Morrison said skirmishes “can happen in the local branches of a P&C”, adding “though I don’t think it probably gets as willing as what we see in politics”.

The government’s “women problem” goes beyond lack of women MPs and candidates.

In presenting its face to voters, especially female voters, Labor has two formidable female performers at the top of its team – deputy leader Tanya Plibersek and its Senate leader Penny Wong.

With Bishop’s departure from the deputyship, the Liberals have no female face in their leadership positions. Bridget McKenzie is the Nationals deputy leader, but obviously regionally focussed.

Kelly O’Dwyer, Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations and Minister for Women, doesn’t do a great deal of the government’s broad heavy lifting. New Foreign Minister Marise Payne does virtually none of it (although in this portfolio she’ll have to step up from her near invisibility while in defence). Michaelia Cash has a heap of her own political problems.

There is also the question of how Morrison will appeal to female voters.

So far, the public are still getting their heads around the fact of unexpectedly finding themselves with a new prime minister, about whom they knew little. Voters seem open-minded about Morrison: they have already put him ahead of Bill Shorten as preferred PM – probably as much a comment on their low opinion of Shorten as a definite statement about Morrison.

Women’s judgment of Morrison will take a while to shake out. He’s started by looking very blokey, with his frequent invoking of the term “mate”, his preoccupation with rugby league, and his penchant for getting around in a Cronulla Sharks cap.

But Morrison’s chameleon quality means that he may be able to modify the blokey approach if the focus groups suggest that’s required.

The Morrison persona will be tested in the Wentworth byelection. (One Labor-aligned voter from that wealthy electorate says cruelly, “The average Wentworthian would see Morrison as a bit of a hick from The Shire”.)




Read more:
View from The Hill: Morrison faces the challenge of community-based
candidate in Wentworth



As is well known, Morrison wanted a woman candidate for the seat, an effort that failed. Now he is faced with the political nightmare of fighting a high profile independent female in Kerryn Phelps.

Phelps is well placed to exploit the Liberals’ women problem. One would expect many of the women of Wentworth will be interested in whether Morrison during the coming weeks can produce any plans to improve the gender balance among Liberal MPs.

As the campaign progresses, the Liberal party’s focus groups will be carefully watched for whether there is a gender difference in how voters perceive the Prime Minister. Those results would help shape campaigning later.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Poll wrap: Labor’s lead shrinks in federal Ipsos, but grows in Victorian Galaxy; Trump’s ratings slip



File 20180917 96155 11ix7h7.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The latest Fairfax Ipsos poll gives Labor a 53-47 lead, a two-point gain for the Coalition since mid-August.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s federal Ipsos poll for the Fairfax papers, conducted September 12-15 from a sample of 1,200, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a two-point gain for the Coalition since mid-August. Primary votes were 34% Coalition (up one), 31% Labor (down four), 15% Greens (up two), 7% One Nation (steady) and 13% for all Others (up two). The respondent allocated preference figure was also 53-47 to Labor.

Newspoll and Essential last week respectively gave Labor 42% and 37% of the primary vote, with the Greens at 10% in both polls. At the 2016 election, Ipsos consistently had the Greens higher than other polls, and the election results were in line with the other polls, not Ipsos.




Read more:
Final House results and a polling critique


Ipsos is the only Australian pollster that still uses live phone interviews (mobile and landline) for its polls. All other pollsters now use either robopolling, online methods, or a combination of the two. However, live phone polling cannot be the only explanation for the high Greens vote, as Newspoll and Ipsos’ predecessor in Fairfax, Nielsen, once used live phone polling without a persistently high Greens’ vote.

While Ipsos’ primary votes are weird, the two party vote is more volatile than other pollsters, but it usually tracks other polling well. There may have been a decline for Labor because voters are no longer focused on the chaotic events leading to Malcolm Turnbull’s ousting as PM.

The last Ipsos poll (55-45 to Labor) was released on August 20, and four days later, Turnbull was gone. While this poll was not the reason for Turnbull’s downfall, it may have been the “straw that broke the camel’s back”. Two ReachTEL polls taken in the week of Turnbull’s ousting gave Labor a 51-49 and a 53-47 lead, so the 55-45 Ipsos lead was probably an outlier.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Coalition slumps to 55-45 deficit in Ipsos, and large swing to federal Labor in Queensland


Scott Morrison debuted in Ipsos with a 46% approve, 36% disapprove rating, for a net approval of +10. The August Ipsos gave Turnbull a net -2 approval, but the July poll gave him a net +17 approval. Shorten’s net approval rose seven points to -4. Morrison led Shorten by 47-37 as better PM (48-36 to Turnbull in August).

Wentworth candidate poll

We now know that Dave Sharma is the Liberal candidate for the October 20 Wentworth byelection, and that former AMA President Kerryn Phelps will stand as an independent. A ReachTEL poll conducted August 27 correctly listed Sharma as the Liberal candidate, and asked for two prominent independents, Phelps and Alex Greenwich; Greenwich is not running.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Labor retains big Newspoll lead; savage anti-Liberal swing in Wagga Wagga; Wentworth is tied


The results in this ReachTEL poll were 34.6% for the Liberals’ Sharma, 20.3% for Labor’s Tim Murray, 11.8% for Phelps, 11.2% for Greenwich, 8.9% Greens and 13.3% for all Others.

This poll was taken on the Monday after Turnbull was ousted, and the Coalition’s polling could improve by the byelection date. Sharma could also lift his profile before the byelection.

Victorian Galaxy poll: 53-47 to Labor

The Victorian election will be held on November 24. A state Galaxy poll for the bus industry gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a two-point gain for Labor since an early August Galaxy for The Herald Sun. No fieldwork dates, sample size or primary votes have been released yet.

Going back to April, there have been three successive Victorian polls with Labor just ahead by 51-49 from Newspoll, ReachTEL and Galaxy. It is likely Labor’s larger lead in this poll was due to a backlash over the dumping of Turnbull. On my personal website, an analysis suggested that the Coalition under Morrison was vulnerable among the well-educated, the young and in Victoria.

40% approved of Premier Daniel Andrews and 42% disapproved for a net approval of -2. Just 25% approved of Opposition Leader Matthew Guy and 44% disapproved for a net approval of -19.

In July I wrote that, unless legislation to abolish the group voting ticket system for the Victorian upper house passed both chambers by September 20, group voting would be used at the state election.




Read more:
Victorian ReachTEL poll: 51-49 to Labor, and time running out for upper house reform


With just three days until the final sitting date of parliament before the election, there is no proposal for upper house reform. It is very disappointing that a left-of-centre government has not even attempted to improve the upper house voting system.

Wagga Wagga final result: independent McGirr defeats Liberals 59.6-40.4

As I reported last week, a byelection in the NSW state seat of Wagga Wagga was held on September 8. The Liberals held Wagga Wagga continuously since 1957.

Primary votes were 25.5% Liberal (down 28.3% since the 2015 election), 25.4% for independent Joe McGirr, 23.7% Labor (down 4.4%), 10.6% for independent Paul Funnell (up 0.9%) and 9.9% Shooters. After preferences, McGirr defeated the Liberals by 59.6-40.4, a 22.5% swing against the Liberals. 47% of preferences from the other candidates flowed to McGirr, 15% to the Liberals and the rest exhausted under NSW’s optional preferential voting.

Trump’s approval rating falls from 42% to 40% since late August

In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Donald Trump’s approval rating has fallen from about 42% in late August to 40% now. Trump’s ratings are their lowest since February.

I wrote a detailed analysis on the November 6 US midterm elections for The Poll Bludger on Saturday. Trump’s ratings are highly correlated with Republican performance in the race for Congress, so worse ratings for Trump will result in larger Democratic leads in the race for Congress.The Conversation

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

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Morrison faces the challenge of community-based candidate in Wentworth


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Now that Kerryn Phelps has confirmed she’s running as an independent in Wentworth, the battle is set up as a fascinating test between the campaigning skills of a tyro prime minister and the attraction of a community-based candidate.

The backdrop is a disillusioned, sour electorate – in the seat itself and in the wider Australian voterland, with people fed up with politicians, especially those from the big parties.

Phelps enters the contest with a lot of advantages. She has a medical practice in Wentworth (she lived there for most of the past 20 years until the 2016 redistribution pushed her a stone’s throw outside the
boundary). She has strong brand recognition as a Sydney city councillor, a former president of the Australian Medical Association, and an activist in the marriage equality campaign.

Morrison has a well-qualified candidate in Dave Sharma, a former ambassador to Israel, but not the female candidate he’d have preferred, nor someone with local ties. There will be plenty of money behind the Liberal campaign. But Morrison faces voters who, even more
than the nation, are asking the “why?” question – why was Turnbull, their local member and their PM, tossed out?

For Phelps the byelection is obviously important but for Morrison, it is critical. If Wentworth is lost, there goes the Coalition’s majority. There could
be some paralysis and the fear in the ranks will increase enormously.

Morrison can talk down expectations all he likes – and he has learned from Turnbull’s failure to do so in Longman. But whatever dampener is applied, if this always-Liberal seat with a whopping 17.7% margin were to fall, it would be a devastating blow.

The contest will have a dress rehearsal aspect. Morrison’s style of campaigning and how well he goes over on the ground will be carefully watched for indications of his potential strengths or weaknesses come the main game next year.

In her first press conference Phelps stressed: “I’m not here as a destabilising influence. I’m here to bring integrity and stability to the political processes in Canberra.

“What I think is very important is that I say right from the outset – my intention is not to block supply.” (Though when asked by The Conversation about her attitude on the matter of confidence, she said that “depends on the government’s behaviour”.)

She told the news conference: “My intention is to give an independent voice to a lot of the concerns that the Australian people have, particularly about the policies that might come from the hard right of the Liberal party and the Coalition. What we need to hear is the voice of the people”.

Phelps is a version of the community candidates we have seen winning and retaining house seats in the last few years: Cathy McGowan (independent) in Indi, Rebekha Sharkie (Centre Alliance, formerly called the Nick Xenophon Team) in Mayo, and Andrew Wilkie
(independent) in Denison.

While there are differences among those MPs politically, their electorates have continued to embrace them because they are seen as effective voices for their communities, people to be trusted in an age of distrust.

Phelps on Sunday articulated grievances Wentworth voters will have and their likely policy priorities. They were angry about what happened to Turnbull, and sick of the revolving door of leadership, she said.

She called for more action on climate change, a fast tracking of renewables and a more humane treatment of asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru.

“We need to see the people’s voice represented and not politicians who are simply spouting a party line or a party slogan”.

While the Liberals are worried about Phelps, ABC electoral analyst Antony Green casts some doubt on her prospects. “She has to get aquarter of the vote to even be in the race, and end up above Labor,who has picked a strong candidate,” he says.

As the Wentworth campaign gets underway a Fairfax Ipsos poll published in Fairfax papers on Monday has Labor leading the Coalition nationally on the two-party vote by 53% (down 2 points since August, when the government was under Turnbull) to the Coalition’s 47% (up 2
points).

Morrison is preferred as PM by 47% (down a point since August, when it was Turnbull), compared with 37% who prefer Bill Shorten (up one point).

It’s the familiar story: the public is supporting Labor but when it
comes to the leaders, they prefer anyone but Shorten – whether it was Turnbull or is Morrison.

Morrison, operating in the most difficult of circumstances with a divided party, is trying to get on the front foot in relation to issues of community concern and where possible jump ahead of them.

On Sunday he announced a royal commission into aged care.

Let’s put aside that this came a day ahead of an ABC’s Four Corners expose, and despite his minister Ken Wyatt telling Four Corners he would rather spend the money on front line services than a royal commission.

The royal commission is overdue and fully justified. Some of the stories coming out of aged care facilities are horrific.

The terms of reference have yet to be worked out, but Morrison said the inquiry would run at least until the second half of next year.

Shorten told the ABC Labor would support the royal commission but it had to cover “everything”, including staffing, training, and funding.

The public will want the inquiry to be wide, and the politicking to be minimal.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.