In recent days, the prime ministers of the UK and Australia each declared they are working toward providing safe haven visas for Hong Kong residents. In the US, lawmakers passed a bill that would impose sanctions on businesses and individuals that support China’s efforts to restrict Hong Kong’s autonomy.
The prospect of a shift from rhetoric to action reveals just how dire the situation in China’s world city has become.
July 1 is usually associated with Hong Kong’s annual pro-democracy march. This year, it saw around 370 arrests as protesters clashed with police under the shadow of a brand new national security law.
What’s in the national security law and how it could be applied
The national security law had been unveiled just hours earlier, its details kept secret until this week. It was imposed on Hong Kong in unprecedented circumstances when Chief Executive Carrie Lam, Beijing’s appointed leader in the city, bypassed the local legislature and promulgated it directly.
The law creates four main offences: secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security.
Hong Kong law already contains some offences of this sort, including treason, a disused colonial relic, and terrorism, tightly defined by statute. The new national security offences are different beasts – procedurally unique and alarmingly broad.
Secession, for example, includes the acts of inciting, assisting, supporting, planning, organising or participating in the separation or change of status of any part of China, not necessarily by force. This is calculated to prevent even the discussion of independence or self-determination for Hong Kong.
Collusion includes making requests of or receiving instructions from foreign countries, institutions or organisations to disrupt laws or policies in or impose sanctions against Hong Kong or China.
This is aimed at barring Hong Kongers from lobbying foreign governments or making representations at the United Nations, which many protesters have done in the past year.
The law contains severe penalties: for serious cases, between ten years and life imprisonment. It also overrides other Hong Kong laws. The presumption in favour of bail, for instance, will not apply in national security cases, facilitating indefinite detention of accused persons.
Defendants can be tried in Hong Kong courts, but in a major departure from the city’s long-cherished judicial independence, the chief executive will personally appoint the judges for national security cases.
The chief executive also decides if a trial involves state secrets – a concept defined very broadly in China. In these cases, open justice is abandoned and trials will take place behind closed doors with no jury.
While Hong Kong courts can apply the new national security law, the power to interpret it lies with Beijing alone. And in the most serious cases, mainland Chinese courts can assume jurisdiction.
This raises the prospect of political prisoners being swallowed up by China’s legal system, which features no presumption of innocence and nominal human rights guarantees. China also leads the world in executions.
Much of the national security law’s content contradicts fundamental principles of Hong Kong’s common law legal system and the terms of its mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
In the typical style of mainland Chinese laws, the national security law is drafted in vague and general terms. This is designed to give maximum flexibility to law enforcement and prosecutors, while provoking maximum fear and compliance among the population.
A Beijing spokesman has said the charge of collusion to “provoke hatred” against the Hong Kong government could be used against people who spread rumours that police beat protesters to death in a notorious subway station clash last year, echoing the infamous mainland Chinese law against “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.
Despite the promise of autonomy for Hong Kong, enshrined in a pre-handover treaty with the UK that China claims is now irrelevant, the national security law has escalated the project to “harmonise” the upstart region by coercive means, rather than addressing the root causes of dissatisfaction.
Under the auspices of the new law, the Chinese government will openly establish a security agency, with agents unaccountable under local law, in Hong Kong for the first time. It has also authorised itself in the new law to extend its tendrils further into civil society, with mandates to manage the media, the internet, NGOs and school curricula.
Under the weight of this authoritarian agenda, dissent in any form becomes an extremely hazardous prospect. It is no doubt Beijing’s intention that it will one day be impossible – or better yet, something Hong Kongers would not even contemplate.
The aim of silencing all opposing voices – including those overseas – is clear from the purported extraterritorial operation of the law.
The international community has condemned Beijing’s actions, but its members have a responsibility to follow words with actions. The least that democratic countries like the US, UK, Australia and others can do is offer a realistic path to safety for the civic-minded Hong Kongers who have stood up to the world’s premier authoritarian power at grave personal risk.
Some 23 years after China achieved its long-held ambition of regaining Hong Kong, it has failed to win hearts and minds and has brought out the big stick. Its promises may have been hollow, but its threats are not.
Chinese activity in Papua New Guinea was not the only factor behind Australia’s Pacific “Step-Up”. As a former high commissioner to PNG, I know it followed serious deliberations about Australia’s overall strategic imperatives in the region.
But China’s engagement with our nearest neighbour was in the minds of many when Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the foreign policy initiative in November 2018, pledging to
take our engagement with the region to a new level.
Chinese President Xi Jinping was about to make a state visit to Port Moresby, before joining other world leaders at the APEC Summit there. China had been busy repairing roads and constructing an international conference centre in the PNG capital ahead of the meeting, along with a six-lane highway leading to the parliament.
A Chinese hospital ship had just conducted a well-publicised “humanitarian mission” to PNG. And Prime Minister Peter O’Neill had recently signed up to the Belt and Road Initiative, fuelling concern that PNG’s growing financial exposure to China might be converted to Beijing’s strategic advantage.
Several Papua New Guinean friends commented then that none of this activity would be of lasting benefit to the struggling developing country. But it certainly captured public attention, and suggested a renewed strategic intent on China’s behalf to boost its influence in the region.
Eighteen months later, China is still looking for ways to engage with PNG, motivated by interest in both its abundant natural resources and key strategic location. But these efforts sometimes seem uncoordinated, and Beijing has suffered some significant setbacks.
And this year, China has not sent any meaningful signal of solidarity to PNG since the onset of COVID-19 – just proforma PPE donations. Western institutions like the IMF are instead stepping in with emergency financial assistance but, so far at least, China has been nowhere to be seen.
Anti-Chinese sentiment flares up
The recent experience of China’s Zijin Mining Group points to another constraint – the anti-Chinese sentiment that sometimes lurks below the surface in PNG.
The PNG cabinet decided in April not to renew the gold mining lease held jointly by Zijin and Canada’s Barrick Gold at Porgera in the Highlands region. Prime Minister James Marape announced Porgera would instead transition to national ownership.
Zijin is not the first Chinese resource company to face difficulties in PNG. In 2004, China’s Metallurgical Construction Company (MCC) secured the agreement of then-Prime Minister Michael Somare to buy the Ramu nickel mine in Madang province.
The company learned quickly that an agreement with the head of government is not enough. MCC did not plan adequately for engagement with landowners, provincial authorities and environmentalists, and inflamed local tensions by using imported Chinese labour.
China has every right to pursue investments in the region, and PNG is entitled to diversify its external links. Beijing will likely make further advances, but on current form these will likely be more opportunistic than strategic.
Australia should engage China positively in PNG, consistent with its bilateral interests in both Port Moresby and Beijing. It should also build confidently on the advantages that flow from geographic proximity and a long, overall positive relationship with its friends across the Torres Strait.
At Saturday’s Eden-Monaro byelection, Labor’s Kristy McBain currently leads the Liberals’ Fiona Kotvojs by a 50.7-49.3 projected margin in The Poll Bludger’s Eden-Monaro election page. This page has all the numbers, including booth by booth results. The projected margin is an estimate of the margin once all votes are counted, not the current margin. McBain is given a 74% win probability.
Primary vote projections are currently 38.5% Liberal, 35.3% Labor, 6% National, 6% Greens and 14.2% for all Others. Had preference flows at the byelection been similar to the 2019 federal election, the Liberals would have won. But Labor currently has 50% of all preferences, a 10% swing on preference flows to Labor.
While the Greens lost vote share, much of it went to Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP), which won 2.5%. Labor also benefited from the “donkey vote” coming from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers. The Shooters were first on the ballot paper, with Labor ahead of the Liberals.
If Labor holds on in Eden-Monaro, it will be a huge relief for Anthony Albanese. Analyst Peter Brent wrote in Inside Story that, while no government has gained an opposition-held seat at a byelection in almost a century, the lack of a personal vote for the sitting MP in opposition-held seats means they are far more likely to swing to the government at a byelection than in a government-held seat.
In 2013, the Abbott government achieved a 1.2% two party swing in former PM Kevin Rudd’s seat of Griffith at a byelection. Had that swing occurred Saturday, the Liberals would have gained Eden-Monaro.
Premiers still have high ratings, but Andrews falls in Victoria
In late April, Newspoll polled the ratings of the six premiers, and this exercise was repeated last week. Samples were 500-550 for the mainland states, and 311 in Tasmania.
Tasmanian Liberal Premier Peter Gutwein had the best ratings in the June premiers’ Newspoll, at 90% satisfied, 8% dissatisfied (net +82). His satisfaction rating overtook WA Labor Premier Mark McGowan in April (89%) as the best ever for a premier or PM in Australian polling history.
Gutwein’s net approval was up nine points from April, while McGowan slid four points to a still very high 88% satisfied, 9% dissatisfied (net +79).
The biggest change in net approval was Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews. His net approval fell 18 points to +40, with 67% satisfied and 27% dissatisfied. Andrews’s fall appears to be related to the recent spike in Victorian coronavirus cases, not the Adem Somyurek branch stacking affair. His net ratings on handling coronavirus fell sharply from +74 to +47.
NSW Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian had a +42 net approval, down from +46, with 68% satisfied and 26% dissatisfied. SA Liberal Premier Steven Marshall had a +52 net approval, up from +47, with 72% satisfied and 20% dissatisfied.
Queensland Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk continued to trail with a +24 net approval, though that was up eight points. 59% were satisfied and 35% dissatisfied. The Queensland election will be held in late October.
Scott Morrison had a +41 net approval in last Monday’s federal Newspoll. Palaszczuk trails Morrison, Andrews and Berejiklian are about level, Marshall is above him, and McGowan and Gutwein are far ahead.
A good US jobs report, but there’s a long way to go
The June US jobs report was released Thursday. 4.8 million jobs were created and the unemployment rate dropped 2.2% to 11.1%. While the unemployment rate is far better than the 14.7% in April, it is far worse than during a normal economy.
The employment population ratio – the percentage of eligible Americans that are employed – rose 1.8% in June to 54.6%. But at the lowest point of the recovery from the global financial crisis, the employment ratio was 58.2%.
The surveys used for the jobs report were conducted in mid-June, before the recent spike in US coronavirus cases, which peaked at over 57,000 on Thursday. This new spike may derail an economic recovery.
Eden-Monaro voters are calling for a compassionate and empathetic recovery process as Australia emerges from the pandemic.
In focus group research conducted this week, ahead of Saturday’s byelection, the vast majority of participants favoured increasing the JobSeeker payment above the pre-COVID level, extending the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme, and providing targeted help for areas hit hard by the summer fires and the impact of the coronavirus.
More surprising, almost all participants were willing to pay more tax to assist the economic and social recovery effort. Many were concerned about leaving debt for future generations.
This was the second round of online research by the University of Canberra’s Mark Evans and Max Halupka. Two groups, with 10 and nine participants respectively, were held on Monday and Tuesday. All but three participants had taken part in the research’s first round. Drawn widely from the diverse electorate, participants included aligned and swinging voters.
Focus group research taps into voters’ attitudes rather than being predictive of the outcome.
Both Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese have been very active in the seat as voting day nears, although over the campaign as a whole Albanese has been on the ground much more than the PM. But the Liberals have invested heavily in an effort to wrest the seat – which is on a margin of under 1% – from Labor and increase the government’s parliamentary majority.
There was only marginal change in participants’ views on the key issues.
Top issues are: action on climate change, the federal government’s response to the bushfire crisis, job creation, better access to public health care, and addressing the high cost of living.
Climate change action continued to receive the greatest support when people were asked to nominate the one most important issue to them. Most participants saw a link between the bushfire crisis and the need for climate action.
People continued to be aggrieved at the Morrison government’s handling of the fire crisis, which they thought suffered from poor federal leadership, inadequate preparation and insufficient collaboration between federal and state government.
In the second round discussion, there was greater concern over economic recovery issues. “The economy looks weak so we will need good economic management and that tends to come from the Coalition,” a retired Coalition voter noted.
But there was some cynicism over the extra support the government has promised.
People saw Morrison’s announcement in Bega of a $86 million package for the forestry industry, wine producers and apple growers hit by the bushfires as “guilt money”. “It’s an obvious bribe – which might well work,” said a middle-aged hard Coalition supporter, while a female Greens voter described it as “a shameful example of logrolling”.
Most participants thought there would still be a bushfire backlash against the Coalition, despite Morrison’s announcement.
The government is hoping Morrison’s performance on the pandemic negates criticism of his handling of the fires.
Since their first discussion, people have cooled in their views of leaders’ management of the virus crisis. Morrison is now seen as the best performer, followed by NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian, a reversal from the first round.
Berejiklian’s poorer performance is attributed to general annoyance with the states and the perception they are acting “selfishly”. The vast majority of participants think Morrison “is handling the coronavirus outbreak competently and efficiently.” But people are worried by a second wave and cautious about re-opening too quickly.
Albanese is a distant third (the question about him was whether he was doing a good job holding the PM to account); his performance was rated more poorly in the second discussion compared with the first. He wasn’t impacting on the core political agenda: “he hasn’t got a plan,” said one participant.
The vast majority of participants, however, did not believe any party was offering a clear COVID-19 recovery plan and were surprised there hadn’t been a national conversation on the issue.
COVID-19 has constrained the usual forms of campaigning, and has led to a very high demand for postal votes. Participants perceived the Coalition had run a very traditional campaign using “old media”, while they thought Labor had run a “new media” campaign with more emphasis on social media platforms.
Both the major candidates are seen positively. Fiona Kotvojs (Liberal) was considered an “excellent” candidate even by Labor supporters. But several people suggested the intervention of senior Coalition figures in the campaign (Morrison and Payne) may have “reduced her community standing”. Labor’s Kristy McBain was considered a “really hard working” and a “very well liked” candidate by Coalition supporters.
But McBain was regarded as having run the better campaign.
When people were asked who they would vote for, the responses suggested a Labor victory and strong support for McBain. However there had been some attitudinal changes over the campaign.
There appeared to be a marginal increase in support for Cathy Griff (Greens) as the campaign neared its end and two independent candidates emerged from the woodwork – Narelle Storey (Christian Democratic Party) and Matthew Stadtmiller (Shooters, Fishers and Farmers) – during the discussion. That suggested the possibility certain soft Coalition voters might be exercising a protest vote against the government.
Some soft Coalition and Green voters might have moved to Labor and some soft Coalition voters to the Greens, but hard Coalition, Green and Labor voters looked to be remaining loyal.
Kotvojs’s well-resourced campaign appeared to be losing some momentum. But the participants continued to think the election – a straight Labor-Liberal battle despite a field of 14 candidates – would be very close.
This is a byelection where even seasoned watchers are wary of chancing their arm in advance of Saturday night.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s approval ratings continue to soar thanks to his handling of the coronavirus crisis, reaching the highest level for any prime minister since the early years of the Rudd government in this week’s Newspoll.
Morrison’s approval rating was at 68%, up two points from the last Newspoll, while 27% of respondents were dissatisfied. His net approval rating was +41.
This is Morrison’s highest net approval, topping the +40 he achieved in a late April Newspoll. It is also the best net approval for any PM since Kevin Rudd had +43 in October 2009.
This week’s Newspoll, conducted June 24-27 from a sample of 1,520 people, gave the Coalition a 51-49% lead, unchanged on three weeks ago.
Primary votes were 42% Coalition (steady), 35% Labor (up one), 11% Greens (down one) and 3% One Nation (down one).
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese had a net approval of +2, down one point. Morrison led Albanese as better PM by 58-26%.
Given Morrison’s stratospheric ratings, it is surprising the Coalition is not further ahead on voting intentions. This could be due to the fact the national cabinet has been in charge of coronavirus policy-making, and these decisions are seen as more bipartisan and do not boost the Coalition.
Labor leading in Eden-Monaro byelection polls
The Eden-Monaro byelection will be held on Saturday following the April resignation of Labor MP Mike Kelly. Labor won the seat by just a 50.9-49.1% margin at the 2019 election.
The Poll Bludger reported on two Eden-Monaro polls last week by the robo-pollster uComms, one for The Australia Institute and the other for the Australian Forest Products Association.
The Australian Institute poll gave Labor a 53-47% lead by 2019 election preference flows, and a 54-46% lead by respondent allocated preferences. The AFPA poll gave Labor a 52-48% lead.
These two polls are much better for Labor than an internal party poll, reported on June 13, which showed the Liberals clearly positioned on primary votes to gain the seat.
Biden further extends lead over Trump
US President Donald Trump’s approval ratings are at their worst since the US government shutdown in January 2019.
In the latest FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Trump’s ratings with all polls are 40.6% approve, 56.1% disapprove (net -15.5%). With polls of registered or likely voters, his ratings are 40.9% approve, 55.5% disapprove (net -14.6%).
With the presidential election now just over four months away, FiveThirtyEight has started tracking the presidential general election polls.
As there are far more national polls than state polls, the website adjusts state polls for the national trend. So, as former Vice President Joe Biden widens his national lead, FiveThirtyEight will adjust states in Biden’s favour where there hasn’t been recent polling.
The latest national poll aggregate gives Biden a 50.7% to 41.4% lead over Trump. US polls usually include an undecided option, so the remaining voters are mostly undecided, not third party. Three weeks ago, Biden’s lead was 6.6 percentage points.
In 2016, four states – Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida – voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton by 1.2% or less. In the latest FiveThirtyEight aggregate, Biden leads in Florida by 7.2%, Pennsylvania by 8.0%, Wisconsin by 8.1% and Michigan by 10.6%.
Biden also leads in several states Trump won comfortably in 2016, such as Arizona (a 4.7% lead over Trump), Georgia (1.4% lead), North Carolina (2.9% lead) and Ohio (2.6% lead). Trump maintains an extremely narrow lead in Iowa (0.1%) and Texas (0.3%).
If the election were being held next week, there is little doubt Biden would win both the national popular vote and the Electoral College easily.
Can Trump recover before November 3? If Biden’s national lead is reduced to fewer than five points, the Electoral College could save Trump, as the Democrat’s lead is narrower in the pivotal battleground states.
Trump’s approval ratings have taken a hit due to his responses to the pandemic and the protests after the police killing of George Floyd.
Earlier this month, US coronavirus cases and deaths had fallen from their peaks in April, but there has been a surge in the last week. Over 45,000 new cases were recorded Friday, the highest single-day total since the pandemic began.
Political analyst Nate Silver says this increase is not caused by greater testing (as Trump claims), noting the positive test rate rose to 7.7% on June 24, from 4.9% a week earlier.
A genuine economic recovery is unlikely while coronavirus cases are still surging. Trump’s best chance of re-election is for the pandemic to have faded by November and the US to have made a strong economic recovery.
The US jobs report for May was much better than in April, but April was so terrible that a recovery still has a long way to go.
Can the Democrats retake Congress?
As well as the presidency, all 435 House of Representatives seats and one-third of the 100 senators are up for election in November.
Democrats gained control of the House in November 2018 and are very likely to retain control. They have a 7.9% lead in the FiveThirtyEight generic ballot tracker.
The Republicans currently have a 53-47 seat majority in the Senate, making it difficult for the Democrats to take control. The RealClearPolitics Senate map gives Democrats some chance of winning the Senate, projecting 48 Republican seats, 48 Democrats and four toss-ups.
House seats are allocated to each state on a population basis, but in the Senate, each state is guaranteed two seats regardless of population. As low-population states in the Midwest and West tend to be conservative, this makes it harder for Democrats to win the Senate.
Boris Johnson has had a tricky time as UK prime minister of late. He faces criticism that he has mishandled the national response to the coronavirus crisis, leading to public confusion and a very high death toll.
I would argue that part of Johnson’s struggle stems from his political brand. He has been successful as a politician by projecting a certain image to the public. But now, in a moment of extreme pressure, that image does not provide the reassurances the public needs. Johnson has spent recent months attempting to pivot towards a new political brand, but he hasn’t made it all the way there. Now, what is left is a confusing mixture of brands – leaving the British public uncertain of what to expect from the prime minister, and perhaps even the prime minister himself uncertain of how to act.
Every politician has a political brand identity. They may not care to accept this proposition or agree with the terminology, but they do. For centuries, they have attempted to create, develop and manage a desired position that represents “what they stand for”. The hope is that this will then resonate with the electorate and win them office.
The Boris brand
The prime minister actually seems to have two “Boris” brands. Before taking the top job, “Boris” was positioned as “Boris the comic” – confident, humorous, entertaining, admirable. He was a maverick who often strayed from the party line and was, most importantly, relatable to a wide spectrum of voters. Dishevelled blonde hair, theatrical one-liners and optimistic energy were tools that set him apart from his rivals as a non-traditional politician. In many ways, “Boris the comic” was an example of a politician who built an identity around style over substance, focusing more on soundbites, photo opportunities, stunts and imagery.
The second Boris emerged just prior to Johnson’s elevation to Downing Street. He seemed to recognise that extra characteristics needed to be added to his brand at this point in his career. Johnson and his team attempted to position him as “Boris the commander” – a strong, decisive leader, eye-for-detail, in-touch, prime ministerial, honest and accountable.
However, these characteristics were, arguably, contradictory to the original “Boris the comic” brand. Indeed, “Boris the commander” seems paradoxical to “Boris the comic”. The aim now seems to be to build identity around substance over style.
But for the public, that leaves the crucial question: which is the real Boris? Johnson needs to be careful and take stock. Successful political brands need to be clear, consistent, authentic and believable otherwise they can alienate, confuse and disengage the voting public. If people lose trust, faith and respect with political brands, then loyalty can diminish and support can fade away.
While a general election in the UK is unlikely before 2024, it can be difficult to recover and regain trust and support once lost.
A different world
On the first day as prime minister, Boris proclaimed on the steps of Downing Street that the British people “have had enough of waiting” and his job was to was “get Brexit Done” – a slogan that defined his premiership campaign and the election that followed. Back then, it was clear that the team behind Johnson was in firm control of the brand.
Johnson has faced calls to sack his chief political adviser Dominic Cummings after he broke UK lockdown rules during the pandemic. Johnson’s government was also forced into a series of u-turns, such as the decision to end funding for free school meals for England’s poorest families over the summer holidays. And above all, people want to know why so many have died from COVID-19.
All this switching around, changes of mind, carelessness for the rules is more in line with the brand of Boris the joker. Johnson has become attached to this brand over the years – and it has been successful for him, so perhaps it’s no surprise to see the old brand seeping in. Unfortunately, though, this brand is wholly unsuited to this moment of global crisis, when the public is looking for a steady hand.
The last six months may have given the public first-hand experience of “Boris the commander” and it seems to have delivered him lower levels of approval and confidence. And yet the original Boris brand won’t work now either.
Team Johnson could still have time to reposition his political brand, address the confusion of two distinct identifies and could create a new identity for voters to fall in love with again. After all, Johnson is still perceived as “likeable” and “best placed to get things done”. This suggests the brand can be salvaged.
But a hybrid approach, blending joker with commander, would merely add to the confusion and chaos. Johnson needs to reflect on his current brand and vision for the nation. Johnson needs to commit to either the “comic”, “commander” or a completely new brand identity rather than flit between the two. And he must do this sooner rather than later. The longer the confusion festers, the longer it will damage his electablity.
The term “unprecedented” has been used widely to describetheseevents, but they are just the latest versions of the two oldest and biggest problems in American politics: government dysfunction and racial injustice.
The “winning” years
In 2016, Donald Trump presented appealingly easy solutions to these problems.
Untainted by government, he would “drain the swamp” of bureaucrats and his business acumen would fix problems that conventional politicians could not, from trade deficits to crumbling infrastructure. Harnessing racialresentment and a backlash against Black Lives Matter, Trump promised white Americans an end to the painful reckonings of the Obama years, instead offering them a fantasy of black gratitude for white success.
For three years, Trump crafted a re-election narrative around his “winning” approach, based mainly on an economy that was already booming by the time he became president. The partisan polarisation of the 2016 election continued into his presidency.
Trump’s approval rating has always been relatively low despite the strong economy, but it has also been resilient in the face of scandal. Trump faced few crises in this period not of his own making, although there was one that foreshadowed the disasters to come: Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017.
The federal government response to the hurricane was slow, uncoordinated and under-resourced. Trump showed little interest in it and took no responsibility for it. He briefly appeared on the island to congratulate himself and throw paper towels to residents. When the death toll was revealed to be nearly 3,000, revised up from initial reports of 64, Trump claimed Democrats made up most of the deaths “to make me look as bad as possible”.
The Puerto Rican tragedy was largely ignored and forgotten, but COVID-19 has replayed many of its themes on an even bigger scale.
Instead, public opinion has solidified in support of the large, multiracial protests. The protests have changed minds, including white minds, about the systemic nature of racism in the United States. Racist backlashes may be less potent when there is a polarising white president in power.
Biden is hard to paint as a radical. He has been quick to distance himself from proposals such as defunding police, and he has never supported “Medicare for all”, despite its popularity with the Democratic base and relevance during the pandemic. As president he would be unlikely to bring the kinds of lasting changes that most Democrats want to see.
This is why Trump and his allies cast Biden as “sleepy” and senile. They warn that he would easily be manipulated by radicals, and Trump is really running against the “far left”. So far, however, this approach has compelled Trump to talk a lot about his own physical and mental fitness.
And in a year when race is a defining election issue, Biden has a vast advantage with African American and Hispanic voters, despite parts of his legislative record and his cringeworthy “you ain’t black” interview. He also owes his nomination to African American voters. As Juan Williams put it bluntly, “Joe Biden would be retired if not for the black vote”.
The polls look bad for Trump, but the race remains unpredictable
Averages of national polls currently show Biden leading Trump by between nine and ten points. Even without the pandemic, Trump was never going to have an easy contest against Biden.
Polls still show Trump’s supporters are a lot more enthusiastic about voting for Trump than Biden’s supporters are about voting for Biden, which could be important if voting becomes a health risk.
But enthusiasm for the Democratic candidate may not matter. The 2018 midterm was effectively a referendum on Trump, and the 2020 election will be an even more focused one.
There is reason to believe the race could tighten, if only because no candidate has won a presidential election by more than 9% since 1984, and partisan divisions have become a lot sharper since then. Many conservative-leaning Americans who are undecided about the election may return to Trump. Closer to the election, many pollsters will restrict their samples to people who they believe are likely to vote, rather than just able to vote. These likely voter screens may reveal Trump’s standing is stronger than it currently looks.
Of course, the election isn’t decided by a national popularity contest. Democrats are haunted by the 2016 election, in which Hillary Clinton got 2.8 million more votes than Trump but still lost the state-based electoral college. Currently, The Economist’s election forecast gives that scenario about a 10% chance of happening again.
Polls show Biden leading in most of these contests, but these leads are smaller and more volatile than his national lead. The quality of many state polls has also been questionable, raising the possibility they will repeat the same mistakes as last time.
Biden is discouraging complacency. Referencing a recent NYT/Siena poll that showed him leading Trump nationally by 14%, Biden tweeted:
COVID-19 has sabotaged the usual election-year registration drives that bring millions of new voters into the electorate, which could disadvantage Democrats who traditionally benefit from younger voters.
These fraud claims have been repeatedlydebunked, and Twitter was so worried about Trump attacking the electoral process that, for the first time, it flagged two of his tweets as misleading.
Trump may believe, with reason, that Republicans could benefit from in-person voting disarray on election day. Minority voters are far more likely than white voters to have to wait for long periods in lines at polling places.
Trump’s resistance to the factual possibility that he could lose has raised fears he might not accept a defeat. Biden, noting that military leaders criticised Trump’s handling of Black Lives Matter protests, has fantasised that the military would escort him from the White House if he tried to “steal the election”.
Extensive lawsuits are a more likely scenario than military intervention, but there is also the danger Trump’s supporters would not accept the legitimacy of a Biden victory.
Given Trump has oftenwarned his supporters that their enemies will take away the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms), there is a possibility of a violent backlash, even if it only consists of isolated incidents.
At the same time, it is increasingly normal that large parts of the population dispute the legitimacy of the president. From Bill Clinton’s impeachment to George W. Bush’s contested victory; from Trump’s “birther” conspiracies about Obama to his own impeachment last year, refusals to accept the lawfulness of the presidency, on grounds real or imaginary, have become a standard part of America’s political repertoire.
A lot can happen in four months, as we’ve already seen this year. The outcome of this race is far from certain, but its ugliness is guaranteed.
At the height of the coronavirus emergency, and on the back of devastating bushfires, Australia’s much awarded and trusted national broadcaster has again been forced to make major cuts to staff, services and programs. It is doing so to offset the latest $84 million budget shortfall as a result of successive cuts from the Coalition government.
In the latest cuts, wrapped up as part of the national broadcaster’s five-year plan,
250 staff will lose their jobs
the major 7:45am news bulletin on local radio has been axed
ABC Life has lost staff but somehow expanded to become ABC Local
independent screen production has been cut by $5 million
ABC News Channel programming is still being reviewed.
Even the travel budget, which allows journalists and storytellers to get to places not accessible by others, has been cut by 25%.
These are just the latest in a long list of axed services, and come off the back of the federal government’s indexation freeze.
Announced in 2018, that freeze reduced the ABC budget by $84 million over three years and resulted in an ongoing reduction of $41 million per annum from 2022.
The indexation freeze is part of ongoing reductions to ABC funding that total $783 million since 2014. In an email to staff, Managing Director David Anderson said the cut to the ABC in real terms means operational funding will be more than 10% lower in 2021–22 than it was in 2013.
To be fair, the way in which the ABC executive has chosen to execute the latest cuts does make some sense, pivoting more towards digital and on-demand services. Right now, the commuting audience that has long listened to the 7:45am bulletin is clearly changing habits. However, with widespread closures of newspapers across the nation, the need for independent and trusted news in depth, that is not online has never been more important.
ABC Life is a particular loss. It has built an extremely diverse reporting team, reaching new audiences, and winning over many ABC supporters and others who were initially sceptical. The work they produced certainly wasn’t the type commercial operators would create.
Clearly the coronavirus pandemic has slashed Australia’s commercial media advertising revenues. But the problems in the media are a result of years of globalisation, platform convergence and audience fragmentation. In such a situation, Australia’s public broadcasters should be part of the solution for ensuring a diverse, vibrant media sector. Instead, it continues to be subject to ongoing budget cuts.
Moreover, at a time when the public really cannot afford to be getting their news from Facebook or other social media outlets, cutting 250 people who contribute to some of Australia’s most reliable and quality journalism and storytelling – and literally saving lives during the bushfires – appear to be hopelessly shortsighted.
The latest Digital News Report 2020 clearly showed the ABC is the media outlet Australians trust the most.
These latest cuts join a long list of axed services in the past seven years. They include
public interest journalism (Lateline and state-based 7.30) axed
While not everyone will miss every program or service that has gone, and even with its occasional missteps, there is no doubt the ABC is the envy of the liberal democracies that do not have publicly funded assets, particularly the United States.
Has the ABC’s budget been increased?
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has continued to suggest the funding cuts are not real, are sustainable without service reductions for Australians, and has claimed the ABC has received “increased funding”.
The minister’s comments are not consistent with data we published last year based on the government’s own annual budget statements and the reality of the ongoing situation for the ABC.
The government argues base or departmental funding is higher in 2020-21 than it was in 2013-14. The relevant budget papers do show that in 2013-14, the ABC was allocated $865 million for “general operational activities”. The most recent budget statement shows this has increased to $878 million in 2020-21.
So how can it be the ABC budget shows this increase when we have been arguing they are facing an overall cut?
First, we noted last year the complexity of the budget process, which means, for example, the reinstatement of short-term funding can be counted as extra funds, or the ending of such funds, while reducing an agency budget, will not appear as a reduction in allocation.
Second, the 2020-21 ABC budget reflects the inclusion of indexation for increases in CPI-related costs between 2013-14 and 2018-19. This is the funding that is being halted until at least 2021-22.
So despite statements to the contrary, nothing can change the fact the ABC has suffered massive cuts in recent years. The data published last year showed the reality of the ongoing situation for the ABC, with an annual cost to its budget in 2020-21 of $116 million. As the table below shows, taking into account actual budget allocations and adding the items cut, frozen or otherwise reduced, the ABC should have funding of approximately $1.181 billion in 2020-21, not the $1.065 billion it will receive.
It is against this background the latest funding freeze, due to a failure to meet the impact of inflation costs, occurs. While it doesn’t sound like a lot, the three year impact is $84 million, and has resulted in the cuts announced today.
But more importantly, these ongoing cuts represent an attack by the federal government on the broadcaster, its role in democracy, and in keeping Australians safe, informed and entertained.
The July 4 byelection in the highly marginal NSW Labor seat of Eden-Monaro is shaping up to be “very close”, according to participants in focus group research conducted by the University of Canberra.
Climate change, job creation, the federal government’s response to the bushfires, and health care were most frequently nominated when people were asked to choose, from a list of 13, the issue that would be extremely or very important in informing how they would vote.
Climate change was nominated by six of the 16, with job creation chosen by three, followed by the government’s response on bushfires and health care (each nominated by two people). The government’s response to COVID-19, support for tourism and action on the high cost of living received one nomination each.
Most participants believed the summer fires would have a negative impact for the Coalition, and that this might make a difference in a close election.
On Tuesday Scott Morrison campaigned in Bega, with a $86 million package for the forestry industry, wine producers and apple growers hit by the bushfires and the effects of COVID-19. While the money is not confined to Eden-Monaro, its target is winning votes there. Anthony Albanese visited the pre-poll booth in Queanbeyan.
The three online focus groups, totalling 16 participants, were conducted by Mark Evans and Max Halupka of the university’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis. People were drawn from various parts of what is a very diverse electorate. Two groups were done last week and the other on Monday. Participants included Coalition, Labor and Green supporters, with a mix of firmly aligned and swinging voters.
Participants were asked their voting intentions and their responses suggested a Labor victory. Swinging voters seemed to have moved to Labor but hard Coalition and Labor voters are remaining loyal.
But it should be stressed focus groups are not predictive of the result, but rather tap into attitudes at a point in the campaign.
Asked about management of the COVID-19 crisis, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian was seen as the best performer, followed by Morrison and the Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy, who were equally regarded.
Albanese – who has campaigned extensively in Eden-Monaro – was seen as having a low profile throughout the pandemic crisis. In the words of one Labor swinging voter this was attributable to “his lack of a platform”. As another participant observed, “Crises are a great advantage for government”. Participants were luke warm about how good a job Albanese was doing in holding Morrison to account over the management of the COVID-19 crisis.
When asked who they listened to most when looking for guidance on COVID-19, people pointed to Norman Swan and the ABC.
Participants’ trust in Morrison has marginally increased as a result of his handling of COVID-19, but from a low level following the bushfire crisis. One man, a strong Coalition supporter, said the PM “needed to learn and has learned”.
A female Coalition swinging voter attributed Morrison’s improvement to “the national cabinet. He was given some good lessons in leadership and the group kept his tendencies under control.”
Discussing issues, people thought the federal government’s handling of the bushfire crisis suffered from poor federal leadership, inadequate preparation, and insufficient collaboration between federal and state governments.
Critics of the Morrison government’s handling of the fires included most of the hard Coalition voters – although it was not enough to change their vote.
There was also a perception the federal government had lost interest in the bushfire recovery process. “It makes sense to tackle the problem in front of you and that’s the virus,” said a Coalition supporter.
In the discussion, most participants saw a link between the bushfire crisis and the need for action on climate, and said their views on the importance of the climate issue had sharpened significantly over the past six months. There were some exceptions: “Older people don’t go with the mantra of climate change, though they know something is going on,” said a middle aged male Coalition voter.
Coalition voters were more focused on local issues – economic issues, better infrastructure and improved access to health care, education and transport. “The Coalition has the track record to get the economy back on track,” said one man.
People generally thought Australia was more resilient than most other countries to bounce back from the COVID-19 crisis. But they were worried about Australia’s economic vulnerability, particularly its dependence on China.
Participants wanted politicians to be more collaborative and less adversarial in a post-COVID-19 world and for experts to have a greater say in decision making. An older female Labor supporter said, “We need politicians to behave better and take community issues more seriously”, while a male Coalition voter opined, “we need more adult politics as the national cabinet has shown us”.
There was some concern the old politics would resume. “[The national cabinet] started well but it already seems to be falling apart,” said a hard-Labor voter.
In a field of 14 candidates, this is a Labor-Liberal battle, and both major parties are running female candidates with good local credentials. The Liberals’ Fiona Kotvojs, who pushed the former MP Mike Kelly close at the 2019 election, has a background in teaching, science, farming and small business; Labor’s Kristy McBain has most recently been mayor of Bega.
The focus group participants thought the two women were strong on credentials but low on having high constituency-wide profiles, suggesting voters would be likely to vote on party lines rather than for personalities.
But some participants noted the Liberals were spending a lot on Kotvojs’ campaign and predicted this was likely to increase in the time remaining.