The resignation of Luke Foley as Labor opposition leader in New South Wales is a disaster for the party as it faces a March 23 general election – but it isn’t necessarily great news for the ailing Berejiklian government either.
To form a judgement about the impact of Foley’s resignation on Labor’s electoral chances, just take a look at the state of play about a month ago.
First, we need to look at how the government and opposition were travelling before Corrections Minister David Elliott accused Foley of sexual misconduct under parliamentary privilege on October 18, effectively setting off Labor’s leadership crisis.
Virtually all media attention was on the performance of the Berejiklian government and on the premier herself. Foley was little known and little regarded. However, he was steering the ship with some skill, albeit with occasional problems.
It says a great deal about the low political esteem in which the government was held that, even without a popular opposition leader, the Coalition was seen to be in electoral difficulty. Not that a wager on a Labor victory would have been a safe bet back then, either. Still, the Coalition was likely to lose seats and quite likely to lose majority status in parliament at the upcoming elections.
Nothing has changed on that side of politics. Berejiklian still faces discontent about her hasty policy decisions and frequent backtracking; uncompleted grand projects like the new tram network and WestConnex remain problems rather than achievements.
Add to that the difficulties over electoral support for the Coalition – especially for the National Party in regional New South Wales, and there is a flow-on from the disastrous performance of both Coalition parties at the federal level.
The unhappy picture only gets worse with the prospect of factional warfare in the Liberal Party as conservatives, led by Tony Abbott, attempt to take control of pre-selections and the state party machinery in the next few months.
Maybe the present crisis in the Labor Party will also have a negative effect on the Coalition, since David Elliott’s intervention smacks of the worst kind of “bear pit” politics that brings party politics into disrepute.
A mea culpa from Foley might have helped
Still, the Foley resignation is a disaster for the prospects of the Labor Party. Perhaps a quick transfer of power to a new leader, and apologies all round, might have left the party with a chance of winning the election. But Foley’s stated determination to fight the accusation with defamation proceedings makes the situation worse.
Foley can hope to remedy his plight only if he can prove that the allegations against him are false. As the likely new leader of the party, deputy leader Michael Daley, has pointed out, it is not politically (or ethically) acceptable for a political leader to blame his alleged victim.
Daley is also the shadow planning minister, and served as a former roads and police minister before Labor lost government. After Foley stood down, Daley quickly emerged as the most likely successor.
He was Foley’s main rival in the wake of the resignation of former Labor leader John Robertson in 2014.
Foley’s likely successor urges Foley to leave parliament
Presuming that Daley is the new leader, he will have little time to assert his authority and impress the electorate. He has ministerial experience, but that was in the disastrous last Labor administration, which was thrown out of office for the corruption that resulted in two of his ministerial colleagues going to prison.
His reputation in the party is of experience and competence, but he can expect to be reminded of his friends and colleagues, Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald. That is a lot of baggage to carry.
Sulawesi’s recent tsunami is a striking reminder of the devastating, deadly effects that the sudden arrival of a large volume of water can have.
Published today, our new research shows what might happen if a tsunami hit Sydney Harbour. A large tsunami could cause significant flooding in Manly. Even very small waves might result in dangerous currents in the entrance of the Harbour and in narrow channels such as at the Spit Bridge.
Beyond Sydney, large areas of the east coast of Australia would also be affected.
Our study considered a range of tsunamis, with heights ranging from just 5cm to nearly 1.5m when measured outside the Heads of Sydney Harbour. These wave heights sound small, but because the wavelengths of tsunami are so long (tens to hundreds of kilometres), these waves contain a very large mass of water and can be incredibly powerful and destructive. Wave heights also increase as the tsunami encounters shallower water.
How a tsunami might happen
Most tsunamis are caused by earthquakes at sea, where a shift in the sea floor creates the sudden movement of a large volume of water.
Our study approach involved modelling the likely effects of different-sized tsunamis generated by earthquakes on the New Hebrides trench to the northeast (in line with the Vanuatu islands) and the Puysegur trench (south of New Zealand).
For each event we assigned Average Recurrence Intervals (ARI), which provide an average indication of how often tsunamis of different sizes are likely to occur.
The tsunamis we studied range from an ARI of 25 years to 4,700 years. The tsunami with an ARI of 4,700 had a wave height of 1.4m outside the Heads and is the largest tsunami we could reasonably expect in Sydney Harbour. An event with an ARI of 4,700 can also be considered as an event with a 1.5% chance of occurring over a 70-year lifetime.
What would the tsunami look like?
The tsunamis we’d expect to see in Sydney Harbour would be a sequence of waves with about 15-40 minutes on average between each peak. Some waves might break, and others might appear as a rapid rising and falling of the water level.
The highest water levels would depend on the tide and the size of the event – the largest events could raise the water level up to several metres higher than the predicted tide levels.
The visualisation below represents a tsunami in a fictional location, and shows the rise and fall of water levels (with time sped up).
What area is at highest risk?
A tsunami is not just one single wave, but generally a sequence of waves, lasting hours to days. Within the Harbour, larger waves are most likely to breach land, and high tide increases the risk.
The narrow part of Manly – where The Corso part-pedestrian mall is located – is one of the most exposed locations. The largest tsunamis we could expect may flood the entire stretch of The Corso between the open ocean and the Harbour.
The low-lying bays on the southern side of the Harbour could also be affected. A tsunami large enough to flood right across Manly is estimated to have a minimum ARI of 550 years, or at most a 12% chance of occurring over an average lifetime.
Examining these worst-case scenarios over time shows how this flooding across Manly may occur from both the ocean side and the harbour side, isolating North Head.
Even though the smaller tsunamis may not flood the land, they could be very destructive within the Harbour itself. Our modelling shows the current speeds caused by smaller tsunamis have the potential to be both damaging and dangerous.
The map below shows the maximum tsunami current speeds that could occur within the Harbour for the largest event we could reasonably expect.
Areas exposed to the open ocean and locations with a narrow, shallow channel – such as those near the Spit Bridge or Anzac Bridge – would experience the fastest current speeds. A closer look at the area around the Spit Bridge, shows how even smaller tsunamis could cause high current speeds.
The animation below shows a comparison between the current speeds experienced during a regular spring high tide and those that may occur if a tsunami generated by a 8.5 magnitude earthquake on the New Hebrides trench coincided with a spring high tide. A tsunami of this size (0.5m when outside the Harbour) has been estimated to occur once, on average, every 110 years (a 47% chance of occurring over a lifetime).
This video below shows similar current speeds (7m/s based on video analysis) when the Japanese tsunami of 2011 arrived in the marina in Santa Cruz, California, and caused US$28 million of damage.
Historical records show us what happened when a tsunami generated by an earthquake off Chile reached Sydney Harbour in 1960. We didn’t have any instruments measuring current speeds then, but we have witness accounts and we know that many ships were ripped from their moorings.
A whirlpool and significant erosion was also reported in the Spit Bridge area. Photographs from the time show just how much sand was washed away at Clontarf Beach.
How to stay safe
A large tsunami affecting Australia is unlikely but possible. Remember that tsunamis are a sequence of waves that may occur over hours to days, and the biggest wave in the sequence could occur at any time.
The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre (JATWC), jointly operated by Geoscience Australian and the Bureau of Meteorology, provides a tsunami warning system for all of Australia.
The Morrison government has been thrown into a parliamentary minority after a crushing defeat in the traditional Liberal seat of Wentworth, which has been captured by high profile independent Kerryn Phelps.
The anti-government swing in Malcolm Turnbull’s former seat of about 20% is one of the biggest for a federal byelection in modern history.
As of late Saturday night, Phelps had achieved a 52-48% two-candidate lead over the Liberals Dave Sharma. Sharma had about 42% of the primary vote; Phelps has polled about 30%.
Labor, which ran dead in the campaign to give the maximum chance of Phelps defeating the Liberals, was on 11%, down nearly 7 percentage points.
Turnbull had a 17.7% margin at the 2016 election, with 62% of the primary vote.
The byelection fiasco will re-open fractures in the government and threatens a damaging burst of infighting between Liberal conservatives and moderates.
It is not clear how it will affect the instability wracking the Nationals, where there is a push on from Barnaby Joyce to try to regain the leadership.
The government is not in danger of falling on the floor of the House because it has enough crossbench support on the matter of confidence. But to pass legislation, it will need the support of one of the now six crossbenchers.
The thumping in Wentworth, although there were special circumstances and it is not a typical seat, will be devastating for government morale and is another major fillip for Labor.
The tearing down of Turnbull in a coup initiated by the conservatives and their candidate Petter Dutton was clearly the key factor in the huge backlash. But also climate change – where the conservatives have pushed for a weakening of policy – was a major issue in the campaign, and the treatment of refugees was also prominent.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s frantic efforts to shore up the vote, including by a major change of the government’s Middle East policy in the campaign’s final week, failed to have an impact.
Phelps told a jubilant election party: “We have made history tonight. This is a great moment for Australian democracy.”
She sent a message to “any young people, any women, any aspiring Independents out there – if you are thinking of running for parliament or running for public office: yes, it can be tough, yes, the road can be hard, but it is so worthwhile that we have the right people stepping up to represent Australia.”
She told the ABC: “People have been concerned about the direction of government for a very long time and we’ve seen a lack of decency, a lack of integrity and we have to look at what the House of Representatives is about. It is about representing the people and the people have spoken loud and clear.”
Morrison left the Invictus Games to appear at the Liberal gathering. “I know this is a tough day, but leadership requires you to turn up on the tough days and the good days, and that’s what you will always get from me as the leader of the Liberal party.”
Morrison admitted: “The Liberal party has paid a big price tonight for the events of several months ago”.
“What’s happened here in Wentworth is not unexpected. Liberals are angry,” he said.
“Tonight is a night when we listen, learn and accept the blows.
In remarks also aimed at rallying his humiliated party, Morrison declared “the bell hasn’t rung” on the bigger fight for the next election.
He defaulted to his stump speech, saying “we believe in a fair go for those who have a go. …we believe it is every Australian’s duty to make a contribution and not take a contribution….My message to Bill Shorten is you will never lead a country that you want to divide.”
Morrison has to quickly recalibrate his pre-election message about the threat of instability if the seat were lost. This was a point he stressed at the end of the campaign, warning: “If an independent is elected at the Wentworth by-election, that will throw us into a hung Parliament and a lot of uncertainty, at a time when the country doesn’t need it.”
Morrison stressed the generally-acknowledged point that Sharma was a quality candidate. “The result today is on us, the Liberals, not on Dave Sharma. When you attract the crystal quality of the man like Dave Sharma, you know your party is heading in the right direction.”
In a gracious speech paying tribute to Phelps and other candidates, Sharma admitted the campaign had been “a little bruising”, and said “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to earn the trust of the voters of Wentworth tonight”.
While some Liberals want Sharma to contest Wentworth at the election, it will be hard to dislodge Phelps, and there will also be pressure to keep him for a more winnable seat.
Former minister Craig Laundy, a strong Turnbull supporter, appearing on Sky, lashed out at right wing commentators, urging colleagues who listened to them to realise they “do not shift votes”.
NSW Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman, who was on the ABC panel, said the result was “not a distinctly Wentworth message” and the Liberals had to heed the lesson. Zimmerman said Liberal research showed that the two biggest things working against the Liberals were the removal of Turnbull as prime minister and concern about climate change.
“I think what we’re seeing tonight is a reflection of the anger in the broader community, but particularly in his own seat … on what happened on that mad week two months ago,” Zimmerman said.
NSW Labor MP Linda Burney said Morrison should consider calling an election.
Turnbull’s son Alex, who urged a vote against the Liberals, tweeted: “Incredible result and proud of the people of Wentworth. A hearty congratulations to @drkerrynphelps who fought a great campaign. A great day for Australian democracy”.
The vote has raised speculation that Tony Abbott could face a threat at the election from an independent in his seat Warringah.
There had been speculation the result could be close, but it was obvious from nearly the start of counting – ABC analyst Antony Green called the result at 7:18pm.
There were 16 candidates in the field.
*This story has been corrected to say one of the biggest swings rather than a record swing.
Fittingly, given the perennial instability of federal politics, the
Wentworth byelection looked clearcut on Saturday night only to become
very murky on Sunday morning.
But as things stand, although a lot of postals are still outstanding,
independent Kerryn Phelps is expected to take the seat and the
Coalition is poised to go into minority government, and potentially to
descend into yet more infighting on the way to seemingly inevitable
defeat next year.
In Wentworth Phelps’ support appears to have strengthened late. She
improved her messaging, while the government’s shambles last week
reinforced in voters’ mind why it needed a walloping.
Regardless of the narrowing in the count, the top line message is that
these voters shouted their outrage at the political assassination of
Malcolm Turnbull. They also strongly signalled they care about climate
change and are not satisfied at the government’s policy response; as
well, they want something done about the offshore refugees who have
been treated inhumanely for so long.
Defenders of the leadership switch will say Wentworth isn’t Australia,
voters elsewhere won’t feel so strongly, and Scott Morrison cuts
through better than Turnbull.
But a large number of Australians are disgusted with the expedient
coup culture that has overtaken our politics. As Liberal candidate
Dave Sharma told Sky on Sunday, “Australians are sick of this
[instability]”. The Coalition can’t avoid paying a price for that at
the election – the question is only how high a one.
To think that the Nationals could be even remotely contemplating a
coup by Barnaby Joyce against Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack
shows that some politicians find it hard to learn the most basic
McCormack is lacklustre but cutting him down would be simply to court
danger. Not least, some rural women are so against Joyce that the
party might face active opposition from them. Yet, Nationals sources
still don’t rule out a move before Christmas.
As for Morrison, as much as bringing him new problems, Wentworth has
put up in lights the ones that were already there.
Even if those in other electorates are not as agitated about climate
change as Wentworthians, that issue is more important to the broad
Australian community than it is to the government.
Morrison may have held the line against the right wing Liberals
arguing for quitting the Paris agreement but he errs by
brushing away people’s concerns about climate change with his
singleminded focus on power prices. Many voters won’t see that
approach as adequate.
Morrison remains wedged between his Liberal right wing ideologues and
mainstream voters. The right claims to speak for the “mainstream” on
climate (and other things) but it doesn’t.
Morrison needs a way out – to show that he understands a more
sophisticated policy is required – but none is in sight.
Liberal deputy leader Josh Frydenberg was holding firmly to present
policies on Sunday, even though he has previously admitted his bitter
disappointment at the death of the National Energy Guarantee, which in
its totality integrated energy and climate policy.
The story is a little more positive on the refugees. Finally, the
government shows a willingness to settle some in New Zealand, but it
demands that Labor pass the legislation to close the “back door” to
stop these people (and boat people settled elsewhere) ever setting
foot in Australia. Labor says such a ban is too wide but the pressure
is on for a deal. One “push” factor is that progress on a New Zealand
solution, albeit partial, would take some weight off Bill Shorten at
Labor’s December national conference.
A hung parliament, assuming it happens, will make everything harder for the government, including building a platform for the election. To pass any
controversial legislation, it would have to get the support of at least one of six crossbenchers. The crossbenchers will exploit their enhanced importance.
Generally, risks will be higher. The possibility of a successful no
confidence motion is remote. But Home Affairs Minister Peter
Dutton might be a little more nervous about the chances of his eligibility to sit in parliament being referred to the High Court.
The government’s worsened situation may impose more discipline on its backbenchers – or it may encourage backbench grandstanding in the pursuit of survival.
Coming up on the policy front is the issue of the response to the religious freedom report. Here Morrison is on a hiding to nothing. His right wing wants
more religions protections to be legislated. But in the run up to
Wentworth he had to promise legislation to remove the existing right
of religious schools to discriminate against gay students – and he is
resisting calls to do the same for teachers. The religious freedom
debate is going in quite another direction to that foreseen by the
right and Morrison himself.
Morrison would do better to simply bury the (still unreleased) report.
But the right won’t allow that.
Then there is the Middle East policy U-turn Morrison put on the table
in the campaign’s last week – to consider shifting the Australian
embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. A decision is due by year’s end.
Is Morrison going to stick to this controversial path – or make an
ungainly retreat? Either way, there’ll be a fresh argument.
After the Wentworth debacle Turnbull’s critics predictably are
intensifying their attack on him – firstly for jumping ship ahead of
the election and secondly for his failure to intervene to help Sharma.
Both Morrison and Sharma appealed personally to Turnbull to come to
the aid of the party.
Turnbull can say he made it clear he would quit parliament if rolled,
and that ex-PMs shouldn’t hang about. The former prime minister can
argue that weighing into the campaign would have been viewed cynically
and thus counterproductive.
If, however, Sharma misses out by a relatively modest margin, the
question will hang in the air: might Turnbull have swung a few votes?
His decisions will seen even by some of his supporters on the
negative side of his legacy ledger.
Independent Kerryn Phelps was more than 1600 votes ahead on Sunday night and still on track to win Wentworth, after a dramatic narrowing of the margin earlier brought Liberal candidate Dave Sharma back into the race.
Phelps received a fillip during the day after a recount found some errors in preference tallies in the Bondi Beach and Bellevue Hill booths.
Phelps’ margin had begun to shrink at the end of Saturday night in the count of prepoll votes. Her lead was then pushed down at the start of Sunday with the count of some postal votes.
There are still several thousand postal votes outstanding, which can come in up to 13 days after the poll.
On a two-candidate basis Phelps is now leading the Liberals Dave Sharma 51.1% to 48.9%.
ABC electoral analyst Antony Green said on Sunday night that Phelps looked to have enough votes to survive a trend against her in postal voting.
Green said Phelps’ campaign peaked on polling day. “She won clearly on polling day, but the votes cast ahead of polling day were not nearly as strong for her.”
Sharma, speaking on Sky on Sunday night, conceded it would be hard for him to make up the gap.
The expected loss of Wentworth throws the Coalition into minority government.
While the government currently has pledges of confidence from some crossbenchers, they would be in a strong position to demand concessions in a hung parliament.
Phelps has said she prefers governments to run full term but has left in qualifiers, when pressed on the issue of whether she would give confidence.
She said on Sunday: “The government and all governments should go full term unless there are exceptional circumstances, and the next election is due in May next year and that’s time enough”.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was in touch with Phelps on Sunday.
He repeated at a news conference his Saturday night message that the result demonstrated the great anger over the leadership coup.
Morrison also said he and Sharma had unsuccessfully asked Malcolm Turnbull to intervene in the campaign. What impact such an intervention would have had “ultimately is for others to judge,” Morrison said.
He reiterated the government’s intention to serve its full term. There was no reason why it couldn’t serve in minority, he said.“That is not an uncommon circumstance”.
“What I will continue to do is be working closely with the crossbenchers, as I have been doing,” he said, noting the government had not had a majority during the byelection period, and hadn’t lost one vote in that time.
With parliament sitting this week Centre Alliance crossbencher Rebekha Sharkie said she and independent Cathy McGowan would seek a meeting with Morrison on Monday to discuss issues – including the instability
in the Nationals.
Sharkie, who had guaranteed the government confidence until after the byelection, said she wanted to hear how Morrison was going to deal with the children on Nauru. As well, there needed to be an action plan for tackling climate change, she said – although the government on Sunday signalled there would be no change in its climate policy.
Sharkie said: “I don’t want to hold the government to ransom but I want to hold them to account”.
She said that the issue of Barnaby Joyce seeking to return to the Nationals’ leadership was about stability.“Do we need another deputy prime minister change?”
“The instability has to stop. I hope the government will knuckle down and deliver good governance.” Her electorate of Mayo, and the rest of the country, did not want to go to an early election.
Sharkie said she was not sure, from Morrison’s Saturday night speech, that he had got the message from Wentworth, but hoped he had thought it through overnight. “I’m not sure we have an understanding of what is the vision of the Prime Minister and his team,” she said, pointing to the chaos of last week.
The government was “all over the place” on the Middle East, she said. She also expressed amazement that government senators had voted by mistake for the Pauline Hanson “It is OK to be white motion”. “I don’t buy that argument. We in the Centre Alliance go through all these motions, make notes on the notice paper and the senators keep up with what they are voting on”.
The row over shock jock Alan Jones and what will be displayed on the Sydney Opera House sails about The Everest horse race involves two sets of issues.
One is around whether it is appropriate to use this Sydney icon as an advertising hoarding.
The other is the appalling, but typical, behaviour of Jones and the weak, but probably not surprising, capitulation of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to the pressure of the racing industry, which had its arm strengthened by this bullying presenter from 2GB.
The details of the row are now familiar. Racing NSW wanted a full ad for The Everest’s Tuesday barrier draw on the lit-up sails; the Opera House resisted, saying it would only show the jockeys’ colours; Jones abused Opera House CEO Louise Herron on air on Friday; the Premier later that day overrode Herron and gave Racing NSW and Jones most of what was being demanded.
The broad question of ads on the Opera House seems to me less important than Jones’ behaviour and the state government’s abject falling into line with the demands made by Racing NSW.
Some people have no problem with the Opera House being used for advertising. They don’t subscribe to the view that it’s low rent to turn this World Heritage structure to commercial purposes, nor do they comprehend the fuss about having it as part of the promotion of a particular (mega rich) horse race – as distinct, say, from an Australian national team.
Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese said on Friday that “people should chill out a bit. The fact is that this race is beamed around the world. People do associate Sydney with the Sydney Opera House”.
On a unity ticket with “Albo”, “ScoMo” doesn’t understand “why people are getting so precious about it”. For the man remembered for the “So where the bloody hell are you?” campaign, this is “just common sense”.
“This is one of the biggest events of the year,” Morrison said on Sunday. “Why not put it on the biggest billboard Sydney has? These events generate massive economic opportunities for the state, for the city.”
There may be room for argument about the promotional issue but not about Jones’ interview.
Jones, with close personal connections to the racing industry, injected into it maximum nastiness and minimum civility. Herron probably should have told him to call back when he’d found his manners and hung up. But she didn’t.
It was of course Jones displaying one aspect of his trademark. He and others of his ilk use insult and aggression as part of their “brand”, whether in interviews or in commentary.
Over the years, Jones has got away with an extraordinary amount –
although recently a court caught up with him when he and 2GB lost a
huge defamation case over claims he made about the Wagner family being responsible for deaths in the 2011 Grantham floods.
Imre Salusinszky, who was press secretary to former NSW premier Mike Baird, has written about how the shock jocks and the tabloid media wield their power at NSW state level.
The Howard government felt it had to manage Jones as best it could (as does the present NSW government). There was a Howard staffer whose remit included dealing with the Jones demands and complaints.
I recall a minister who’d been in that government later telling me how he’d given in to Jones on a certain matter just to get him off his back (after checking with advisers that to do so wouldn’t create any harm).
Jones insulted Malcolm Turnbull when the latter was communication minister, but Turnbull fought back and then refused to go on air with him. Until the 2016 election campaign, that is – when then prime minister Turnbull felt he had to have a brief rapprochement with his bete noire.
By her action on Friday, Berejiklian reinforced the perception that the politicians are scared of a bully who rages from his studio pulpit.
But according to social researcher Rebecca Huntley, they have less to fear than often thought. “15 years of research and I haven’t found Alan Jones to be that much more influential with voters than ABC radio or the SMH. He is only powerful because politicians think he is, ” she tweeted.
Berejiklian on Sunday defended the outcome, saying it was “at the back end of the decision-making process” – Racing NSW had earlier reportedly wanted to drape banners from the Harbour Bridge – and a “good compromise”.
The NSW government claims that Friday’s decision was not a reaction to Jones’ diatribe but the culmination of negotiations that had been underway for some while.
Nevertheless, it represented the premier’s cave-in to Racing NSW and came across as a victory for Jones’ bullying.
Now that a discussion of “bullying” in various situations is the flavour of public debate, isn’t it time that the media who run Jones’ programs (2GB is majority owned by Fairfax) imposed some standards and the politicians who listen to him grew some spine?
The Wentworth byelection will be held on October 20. A ReachTEL poll for independent Licia Heath’s campaign, conducted September 27 from a sample of 727, gave the Liberals’ Dave Sharma 40.6% of the primary vote, Labor’s Tim Murray 19.5%, independent Kerryn Phelps 16.9%, Heath 9.4%, the Greens 6.2%, all Others 1.8% and 5.6% were undecided.
According to The Poll Bludger, if undecided voters were excluded, primary votes would be 43.0% Sharma, 20.7% Murray, 17.9% Phelps, 10.0% Heath and 6.6% Greens. Compared to a September 17 ReachTEL poll for GetUp!, which you can read about on my personal website, primary vote changes were Sharma up 3.7%, Murray up 3.3%, Phelps down 4.8%, Heath up 5.6% and Greens down 6.0%. Phelps fell from second behind Sharma to third behind Murray and Sharma.
Between the two ReachTEL polls, Phelps announced on September 21 that she would recommend preferences to the Liberals ahead of Labor, backflipping on her previous position of putting the Liberals last. It is likely this caused her slump.
While more likely/less likely to vote a certain way questions always overstate the impact of an issue, it is nevertheless bad for Phelps that 50% of her own voters said they were less likely to vote for her as a result of the preference decision.
This ReachTEL poll was released by the Heath campaign as it showed her gaining ground. Heath appears to have gained from the Greens, and the endorsement of Sydney Mayor Clover Moore could further benefit her.
Despite the primary vote gain for Sharma, he led Murray by just 51-49 on a two candidate basis, a one-point gain for Murray since the September 17 ReachTEL. The Poll Bludger estimated Murray would need over three-quarters of all independent and minor party preferences to come this close to Sharma.
At the 2016 election, Malcolm Turnbull won 62.3% of the primary vote in Wentworth. While the Liberals’ primary vote in this poll is about 19% below Turnbull, it is recovering to a winning position.
Trump, Republicans gain in fight over Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation
On July 9, Trump nominated hard-right judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace the retiring centre-right judge Anthony Kennedy. The right currently has a 5-4 Supreme Court majority, but Kennedy and John Roberts have occasionally voted with the left. If Kavanaugh is confirmed by the Senate, it will give the right a clearer Supreme Court majority. Supreme Court judges are lifetime appointments.
Although Kavanaugh is a polarising figure, he looked very likely to be confirmed by the narrow 51-49 Republican majority Senate until recent sexual assault allegations occurred. Since September 16, three women have publicly accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when he was a high school or university student.
On September 27, both Kavanaugh and his first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. On September 28, without calling additional accusers, the Committee favourably reported Kavanaugh by an 11-10 majority, with all 11 Republicans – all men – voting in favour.
However, after pressure from two Republican senators, the full Senate confirmation vote was delayed for a week to allow an FBI investigation. The Senate received the FBI’s findings on Thursday, and the investigation did not corroborate Ford. Democrats have labelled the report a “whitewash”, but it appears to have satisfied the doubting Republican senators, and Kavanaugh is very likely to be confirmed.
Since the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh began, Trump’s ratings in the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate have recovered to about a 42% approval rating, from 40% in mid-September. Democrats’ position in the race for Congress has deteriorated to a 7.7 point lead, down from 9.1 points in mid-September.
Midterm elections for all of the US House and 35 of the 100 Senators will be held on November 6. Owing to natural clustering of Democratic votes and Republican gerrymandering, Democrats probably need to win the House popular vote by six to seven points to take control.
While the House map is difficult for Democrats, the Senate is far worse. Democrats are defending 26 Senate seats and Republicans just nine, Five of the states Democrats are defending voted for Trump in 2016 by at least 18 points. Two polls this week in one of those big Trump states, North Dakota, gave Republicans double digit leads over the Democratic incumbent.
The FiveThirtyEight forecast models give Democrats a 74% chance of gaining control of the House, but just a 22% chance in the Senate.
Republican gains in the polls are likely due to polarisation over Kavanaugh. In a recent Quinnipiac University national poll, voters did not think Kavanaugh should be confirmed – by a net six-point margin – but Trump’s handling of Kavanaugh was at -7 net approval. Democrats led Republicans by seven points, and Trump’s overall net approval was -12. Kavanaugh was more unpopular than in the previous Quinnipiac poll, but Trump and Republicans were more popular.
The hope for Democrats is that once the Kavanaugh issue is resolved, they can refocus attention on issues such as healthcare and the Robert Mueller investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia. However, the strong US economy assists Trump and the Republicans.
In brief: contest between left and far right in Brazil, conservative breakthrough win in Quebec, Canada
The Brazil presidential election will be held in two rounds, on October 7 and 28. If no candidate wins over 50% in the October 7 first round, the top two proceed to a runoff.
The left-wing Workers’ Party has won the last four presidential elections from 2002 to 2014, but incumbent President Dilma Rousseff was impeached in August 2016, and replaced by conservative Vice President Michel Temer.
Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad and far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro are virtually certain to advance to the runoff. Bolsonaro has made sympathetic comments about Brazil’s 1964-85 military dictatorship. Runoff polling shows a close contest.
In the Canadian province of Quebec, a conservative party won an election for the first time since 1966.
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.
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.
This translates to a financial return of 34 cents for every dollar spent.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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%.
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.
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.
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.