Heed Hawke’s call – Australian federalism is an idea whose time has ended


Bede Harris, Charles Sturt University

Former prime minister Bob Hawke’s recent call for the state governments to be abolished is worthy of support.

Labor has historically been in favour of centralisation, while the Coalition has supported federalism. So, Hawke’s position is not surprising. But leaving aside party politics, there are good reasons why Australia should consider this change to its Constitution.

Solves no problem and confers no benefit

The reason Australia has a federal Constitution is a negative one. It was due to fear from the colonies of domination by each other or by the new national government.

Taken at its best, the adoption of federalism in preference to a unitary system was the necessary price of creating Australia as a nation. At its worst, it was a base compromise pandering to colonial jealousies, which now saddles Australia with an unnecessarily complex and expensive form of government.

Unlike in countries such as Nigeria, where federalism serves the purpose of providing for ethnic autonomy, Australian federalism solves no problem and confers no benefit.

The supposed major benefit of federalism is that it provides protection against tyranny by diffusing power. But federalism does not affect what governments can do to individuals, only which government may do them. Distributions of power are not as effective a protection of liberty as are restraints on power.

Federalism cannot provide an effective limit to what the state and Commonwealth parliaments can in combination do to the individual. Only a Bill of Rights can do that.

So, Australia is left with nine governments and 15 legislative chambers for a population of 24 million.

The costs of this are staggering. In 2002, the annual costs of federalism to the economy was estimated at A$40 billion – a figure that would be much higher today.

This covers costs such as running state and territory governments, costs to the Commonwealth of interacting with the states, and compliance costs to business. But it excludes intangible costs in the form of time and inconvenience: think of simple matters such as car registration or entry into a new school system experienced by anyone who has moved interstate.

Public opinion in favour

There is ample evidence that Australians, notoriously resistant to constitutional change, would support abolishing the states.

A 2014 survey by the Griffith Federalism Project found 71% of respondents favoured changing the current system. Among this majority, there were preferences for different allocations of power between national, regional and local governments.

The idea of replacing the states with regions defined along rational economic lines was an interesting feature of these results. But even more significant were the results of a 2014 survey commissioned by lobby group Beyond Federation, in which 78% of respondents supported the idea of Australia having a single set of laws for the country. So, it seems that constitutional reform to abolish the states would be well received by voters.

Making such a change would mean that, as in New Zealand and the UK, Australia would have a single (national) parliament with comprehensive lawmaking power. That parliament could delegate lawmaking authority to regions and/or local governments, in the same way as state parliaments currently delegate power to local authorities.

However, there would be no more disputes over which lawmaking power the national parliament had, and no doubt that national law overrode regional and local law. The legal system would be much simpler, and compliance costs to business and individuals radically reduced.

Australia would also have one department of education, one department of agriculture, one department of the environment and so on, instead of multiple agencies currently.

Disputes over shares of Commonwealth revenue allocated to the states is a constant feature of federal-state relations. All that would be a thing of the past. Expenditure could be determined according to the needs of people, irrespective of where they lived and without reference to artificial state boundaries.

The current focus on “reforming” the federation avoids the real issue: why have federalism at all? If we were writing a constitution from new, would we really recreate the current nine-government system? If the answer to that is “no”, there is a good reason to change it.

The Conversation

Bede Harris, Senior Lecturer in Law, Charles Sturt University

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

Ley goes, and Turnbull’s reforms pave way for fewer expenses scandals


Yee-Fui Ng, RMIT University

Sussan Ley has resigned as health minister following allegations she misused her travel entitlements and breached ministerial standards.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Ley judged resignation to be the appropriate course of action in the interests of the government. But Ley has maintained her claims were within the rules.

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In response to the scandal, Turnbull has announced major reforms to the parliamentary entitlements system. The changes are modelled on the UK’s system of vetting MPs’ expenses.

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What are the proposed reforms?

The main reform Turnbull announced is the introduction of an independent agency, modelled on the UK’s Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, for parliamentary entitlements. The Department of Finance administers Australia’s current system.

The independent authority will be staffed by a member experienced in auditing, a member experienced in remuneration matters, the president of the Remuneration Tribunal, a former judge and a former MP. This is a very strong board. It will have significant independence from the government.

MPs and senators will be able to get advice and rulings from the independent agency if they are unsure about a claim.

This means the administration of MPs’ entitlements will now be out of the hands of MPs themselves, who may be interested in a generous interpretation of claimable expenses. MPs’ expenses will now be overseen in a more robust and independent way.

The second reform is to have monthly disclosure of parliamentary expenses, rather than every six months. More frequent reporting will certainly improve the system’s transparency.

The government has also committed to implementing the recommendations of the independent review of parliamentary entitlements that followed then-Speaker Bronwyn Bishop’s 2015 “Choppergate” scandal.

As such, entitlement claims will be limited to those made for the dominant purpose of conducting parliamentary business. This excludes political party administration and management, and activities for the dominant purpose of party fundraising, pursuing commercial interests or obtaining personal benefit.

The legal enforcement of the system will be increased. Where MPs misuse entitlements, legislation will oblige them to repay the money – plus a 25% penalty.

The terminology of “entitlements” will be changed to “work expenses”. This is because MPs are given resources to perform their duties in exchange for acting in the public interest.

What happened in the UK?

In 2009, the UK had its own MP expenses scandal. UK MPs made inappropriate claims for a second residence allowance, alongside outrageous claims for moat cleaning, a ride-on lawn mower, jellied eels and a duck house.

The scandal led to the first resignation of a Speaker in the House of Commons for more than 300 years, and prompted the resignation of a dozen government ministers.

Following public outrage, legislation was introduced to set up the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. It was a strong reaction to a
situation that the then-British prime minister, Gordon Brown, called the “biggest parliamentary scandal for two centuries”.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority determines what MPs can claim, and administers and audits those claims. It is independent of government and has significant resources.

Will the reforms fix the system?

Turnbull’s reforms will significantly revamp the entitlements system. They introduce for the first time an independent agency to vet MP expenses. If the agency does its job well, it will ensure MPs do not abuse the system.

The reforms will also simplify the system, enhance transparency, tighten the rules, and introduce enforceable penalties.

When the system comes into effect, Australians will hopefully see fewer politicians flying around in helicopters and private jets while attending to their private affairs on public funds. The reforms are a great first step toward rebuilding public trust in our elected representatives.

The Conversation

Yee-Fui Ng, Lecturer, Graduate School of Business and Law, RMIT University

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

Expenses reform is easy and essential – the only thing lacking is politicians’ resolve to do it


Colleen Lewis, Monash University

What is it that too many politicians don’t get about the inappropriate use of taxpayer-funded expenses and the need to reform federal political donations laws and establish a federal anti-corruption body?

The answer to those questions may help explain why MPs continue to behave inappropriately in each area. This is important, as the impact of politicians’ inappropriate decisions on people’s trust is becoming alarming.

It is now evident that too many politicians appear to have misplaced their moral compass. When this happens in any one of the policy areas referred to above, people’s trust in their elected representatives is eroded. But when inappropriate actions and decisions span all three policy areas, trust is lost, sometimes permanently. If that happens, it is not only the reputation of politicians that suffer. Lack of trust extends to the democratic political system itself.

Public office is a public trust. Any MP who understands, accepts and acts on that principle will surely insist that the public interest be placed before personal and party interests.

The latest in a series of scandals relating to MPs’ inability to understand the difference between public and private interests involves federal Health Minister Sussan Ley.

The public reaction to it should send a strong message to all parliamentarians. The message is: voters are fed up with political scandals consuming elected representatives’ time and energy, especially when the country faces several social and economic challenges. MPs cannot find solutions to these important issues when they are constantly distracted by the behaviour of too many of their colleagues.

Perhaps parliamentarians need reminding that taxpayers do not pay them to take advantage of a totally inadequate parliamentary entitlements scheme with too many loopholes, through which many of them willingly jump.

Federal MPs also need to remember that people do not pay taxes so that they can deliver a political donations regime that is pathetically weak. For years, parliamentarians have turned a blind eye to evidence-based reports and the advice of experts in the political donations field. Both have said time and again that meaningful reform is urgently required.

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is due to bring down a report on political donations in March. It will be a test for the committee to come together and demonstrate that it has placed the public interest before party and personal interests. The nature of its recommendations and the speed with which they are implemented will reveal MPs’ commitment to cleaning up this neglected policy area.

Voters have made it clear that they want their elected representatives to be accountable for how they spend taxpayers’ money. One of the best ways to ensure this is through an independent, federal anti-corruption body. A division within such a body could also offer advice to parliamentarians unsure about whether an expense is directly and predominantly related to their role as parliamentarians, or is largely personal in nature.

The evidence clearly demonstrates that many parliamentarians have deliberately dragged their feet when it comes to reforming the “entitlements” scheme and overhauling the woefully inadequate federal political donations regime. They have also resisted the establishment of a federal anti-corruption body. Detailed explanations as to why they have acted in this way are required.

The delays are not only on reforms that affect serving members of parliament. It seems they are also looking after former colleagues. Despite promising to overhaul the entitlements system that still applies to many people who were once parliamentarians – some many years ago – nothing has happened in the past two years.

Why? Is it too difficult? Again, a detailed explanation is required and not one that says “we are looking into it” or “we will establish a committee to do so”. These excuses are becoming tiresome to everyone except MPs.

The very best new year’s resolution every MP could make is to promise to work toward restoring people’s trust, which is at a dangerously low level. An excellent place to start would be reforming, in a meaningful way, MPs’ entitlements and the political donations regime. Establishing a federal anti-corruption body would go a long way towards completing an integrity circle.

All these reforms are achievable this year. The only major obstacle to be overcome is parliamentarians’ lack of resolve to do so.

The Conversation

Colleen Lewis, Adjunct Professor, National Centre for Australian Studies, Monash University

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

Explainer: why has Rod Culleton been disqualified from the Senate?


Lorraine Finlay, Murdoch University

The ongoing legal controversies surrounding Western Australian senator Rod Culleton – described by a Federal Court judge as “something approaching a carnival, if not a circus” – took a new turn on Wednesday. Senate President Stephen Parry made the constitutional step of notifying the WA government of a Senate vacancy due to Culleton’s disqualification following a long saga over his eligibility to sit in the upper house.

Culleton’s disqualification comes after Parry received formal notification of Culleton’s status as an undischarged bankrupt.

Even before the 2016 election results were formally declared, questions were being asked over whether Culleton was actually eligible to be a senator. Since that time, two key constitutional issues have emerged.

The Court of Disputed Returns

The first issue relates to a larceny charge in New South Wales concerning a A$7.50 tow truck key. Culleton was convicted in March 2016. However, the conviction was annulled in August, meaning it “ceases to have effect”.

While Culleton later pleaded guilty at a rehearing in October, no conviction was ultimately recorded.

In November, the Senate referred this conviction’s constitutional impact to the High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns. The issue is whether Culleton’s election was valid under Section 44(ii) of the Constitution, which provides a person is incapable of being a senator if they have:

… been convicted and is under sentence, or subject to be sentenced, for any offence punishable under the law of the Commonwealth or of a state by imprisonment for one year or longer.

The larceny conviction falls squarely within this section’s scope. The critical question is whether Culleton had actually been convicted at the time of his election (and was therefore ineligible), given this was subsequently annulled.

The central issue concerns the word “annulment”. If the Court of Disputed Returns holds that the conviction never existed then this issue falls away. If, however, the effect of an annulment is not retrospective then Culleton was never eligible to be elected.

At the conclusion of hearings on December 7 the court reserved its decision. It is not scheduled to sit again until January 30.

There is no guarantee that a decision will be handed down at the next sittings, or before the Senate next meets on February 7. However, the court has previously recognised the public interest in this matter being resolved expeditiously.

Culleton’s bankruptcy proceedings

The second issue concerns bankruptcy proceedings filed against Culleton.

On December 23, 2016, a Federal Court judge ordered that Culleton’s estate be sequestrated (or seized to pay his debts). All proceedings under the order were stayed for 21 days; this stay was due to be lifted on January 13.

Culleton continues to assert he is not bankrupt, and is able to pay his debts. However, the Federal Court judge dismissed this. He noted that, despite assertions made before the court, there was “no material evidence” produced to support these claims. An appeal against the sequestration order was filed on January 11, but no date has yet been set for the appeal hearing.

The effect of a sequestration order is that the debtor becomes a bankrupt. In Culleton’s case, this then enlivens sections 44 and 45 of the Constitution. These provide that an undischarged bankrupt is incapable of sitting as a senator, and their Senate position becomes vacant.

Parry’s statement indicated he has received from the inspector-general in bankruptcy and the Federal Court registry documents recording Culleton’s status as an undischarged bankrupt. The necessary constitutional implication is that Culleton’s Senate position is vacant.

What happens next?

This saga still has some way to go before its conclusion. But it is almost certain that Culleton will not be able to continue as a senator.

Even if he successfully appeals the sequestration order and the Court of Disputed Returns rules in his favour, Culleton still faces further constitutional hurdles. Another creditor’s petition is yet to be heard by the Federal Court, and a stealing charge is listed for trial in Perth in September 2017. These could each result in Culleton being constitutionally precluded from sitting as a senator.

From a constitutional perspective, however, it is critical that the correct grounds for disqualification are established. This will affect how a replacement senator is chosen.

If the Court of Disputed Returns rules that Culleton was never eligible to be elected, then – based on precedent – the most-likely outcome is that the second-listed One Nation candidate from the 2016 election will be declared elected. This happens to be Culleton’s brother-in-law, Peter Georgiou.

If, however, Culleton was initially eligible but is subsequently disqualified as an undischarged bankrupt, then a casual vacancy would arise to be dealt with under Section 15 of the Constitution. In this case, One Nation would recommend a party member to fill the vacancy, and the WA parliament would formally appoint this replacement.

If the WA parliament is not in session – which is a distinct possibility given a state election will be held on March 11 – then the WA governor will make the appointment, which must then be confirmed at the next state parliamentary sittings. One Nation leader Pauline Hanson has already tweeted that she has selected a “great person” as a replacement if a casual vacancy is declared.

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Given these possibilities, it would be prudent to wait until both the existing bankruptcy appeal and the Court of Disputed Returns’ decision are finalised before taking any steps to fill the vacancy. This is far from ideal given both the close numbers in the Senate and that WA will be under-represented in the “states’ house” for as long as the position remains unfilled.

However, the removal of a senator who was duly elected by the people only six months ago is not something to be done lightly. And it is certainly not something to be done on anything other than conclusively determined constitutional grounds.

The Conversation

Lorraine Finlay, Lecturer in Law, Murdoch University

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

Newspoll: Labor gains to lead 53-47


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

Tuesday’s Newspoll, conducted 3-6 November from a sample of 1850, had Labor leading 53-47, a one point gain for Labor. Primary votes were 39% for the Coalition (steady), 38% for Labor (up 1) and 10% for the Greens (steady).

30% were satisfied with Turnbull’s performance (up 1), and 58% were dissatisfied (also up 1), for a net approval of -28. It is the first time since the election that Turnbull’s net approval has not declined in Newspoll. Shorten’s net approval was an unchanged -15.

To the extent that Donald Trump’s shock victory has an effect on Australian politics, it will probably help One Nation, the most Trump-like party in Australia. Most supporters of the three established parties will not change their votes, but One Nation could consolidate some of the Others vote.

Last week’s Essential, conducted over two weeks from a sample of 1800, also had Labor leading 53-47 from primary votes of Coalition 38%, Labor 37%, Greens 10%, One Nation 6% and Nick Xenophon Team 3%. Turnbull’s net approval was -8, down from -3 in October. Shorten’s net approval was -9, down from -3.

23% thought the Coalition government was too tough on asylum seekers, 24% too soft and 37% about right; in August, these percentages were respectively 21%, 29% and 31%. 56% approved of the government’s proposed legislation to ban asylum seekers from ever coming to Australia, and 29% disapproved.

59% would have supported Clinton if they could vote, with 19% supporting Trump. In June, respondents favoured Clinton 71-15; the 12 point drop for Clinton was driven mainly by Coalition and Other voters. Australian voters far preferred Clinton to handle important issues. 52% thought that US influence in the world is becoming weaker, with 19% for stronger.

An Ipsos online panel poll of 921 respondents, conducted Thursday and Friday, found that 66% of Australians opposed Trump’s election as US President. Similar percentages (58-63%) thought he would be bad for the US, the world economy, the Australian economy, world security and relations between the US and Australia. 45% thought the Coalition would be most capable of managing Australia’s relationship with the US under Trump, with 22% selecting Labor and 14% One Nation.

NSW by-elections: huge swing against Nats in Orange

Yesterday, by-elections were held in the NSW lower house seats of Orange (National-held), Wollongong (Labor-held) and Canterbury (Labor-held). In Orange and Canterbury, the sitting members successfully contested Federal seats at the recent election, while Noreen Hay resigned as Wollongong member after many scandals.

In Orange, the Nationals won 31.1%, down a massive 34.5 points from the 2015 election. Perhaps reflecting a Trump surge, the Shooters, Fishers & Farmers were second with 24.3%, followed by Labor at 18.6% (down 4.7). The rest of the vote mainly went to Independents with the Greens at 5.8%.

There is no preference count yet for the Nationals vs Shooters contest. NSW uses optional preferential voting, which will make it harder for the Shooters. However, unless the Nationals can greatly extend their lead on the remaining votes, the Shooters are likely to win their first ever single member electorate.

The Orange result has been blamed on the proposed greyhound racing ban that has now been withdrawn, and on forced council amalgamations.

The other two by-elections were less dramatic. In Wollongong, Labor defeated Independent Gordon Bradbery 58-42, a one point swing to the Independent who had contested the 2015 election. In Canterbury, Labor was opposed by only the Greens and Christian Democrats, and romped home with 66% of the primary vote.

WA Newspoll: 52-48 to Labor

The Western Australian election will be held in four months on 11 March 2017. A WA Newspoll, conducted from August to October with a sample of 860, has Labor leading by 52-48, a 2 point gain for the Liberal/Nationals since the March to May WA Newspoll.

Primary votes are 41% for Labor (down 1), 40% for the combined Liberals and Nationals (steady) and 9% for the Greens (down 2). These primary vote changes imply that the 2 point two party change is partly a result of rounding.

Despite the improvement on voting intentions, Premier Colin Barnett’s ratings slumped. His satisfied rating was down 3 to 28% and his dissatisfied rating up 3 to 61%, for a net approval of -33. Opposition leader Mark McGowan’s net approval fell 10 points, but he is still at a +13 net rating.

This poll is in agreement with a recent ReachTEL poll that also had Labor ahead 52-48. The ReachTEL poll was conducted on 27 October, so it is much more recent and useful than this Newspoll, conducted over three months.

Queensland Galaxy: 51-49 to Labor

A Queensland Galaxy poll has Labor leading by 51-49, a one point gain for Labor since August. Primary votes are 37% for the Liberal Nationals (down 1), 35% for Labor (up 2), 16% for One Nation (steady) and 8% for the Greens (steady). Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s approval was down two to 44% and her disapproval was up eight to 39%, for a net approval of +5. I expect this poll was conducted Wednesday and Thursday from a sample of about 900.

US Presidential election: Clinton won popular vote

Donald Trump will be the next US President after winning the decisive Electoral College by a likely 306-232 margin. However, according to Cook Political Report analyst David Wasserman, Hillary Clinton is currently leading in the national popular vote by 47.7% to 47.1%, and that lead is certain to increase as most of the remaining votes are from strong Democratic territory. Clinton is likely to win the popular vote by about 2%.

The popular vote/Electoral College discrepancy occurred because Clinton performed much worse in the swing states than overall. The swing states had a higher proportion of non-university educated whites than nationally, and this group was easily Trump’s best demographic. This will be the fifth time in US history that the popular vote winner has not won the Presidency; 2000 was the most recent occurrence.

My last two articles on the US election for Election Watch may help to understand why this result happened. This tweet below from New York Times analyst Nate Cohn shows how rural America swung big to Trump (red is the Republicans’ colour).

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The Conversation

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

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

Labor easily wins NT election


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

At the 2012 Northern Territory election, the Country Liberal Party (CLP) won 16 of 25 seats, to 8 for Labor and 1 Independent. During a chaotic term, 4 CLP and 1 Labor members defected to sit as Independents, so the pre-election parliamentary numbers were 12 CLP, 7 Labor and 6 Independents.

At yesterday’s NT election, the ABC is calling 15 of 25 seats for Labor, 1 for the CLP and 3 for Independents, with 6 in some doubt. The ABC’s prediction is 18 Labor, 3 CLP and 4 Independents. Even if Labor loses all doubtful seats, they would still have a clear majority.

Two of the doubtful seats – Blain and Nhulunbuy – are cases where the incorrect final two candidates were selected on election night. The electoral commission will need to redo the two candidate count in those seats. Former chief minister Terry Mills, who was deposed by Adam Giles in the last term, will need a strong flow of preferences from the CLP in Blain.

Giles himself is in trouble in his own seat of Braitling, trailing Labor by 21 votes on a swing of almost 20 points. Former Labor leader Delia Lawrie is likely to hold her seat of Karama as an Independent; she leads by 51.2-48.8.

Overall primary votes were 43.1% for Labor (up 6.6), 31.7% for the CLP (down 18.9), 3.5% for the new 1 Territory Party, 2.8% for the Greens (down 0.5) and 18.9% for all Others (up 9.3). The Others were mostly Independents. The Poll Bludger has a breakdown of the votes and seats for each region.

There are still some booths that have not yet been added to counts, particularly in remote seats. However, most electorates are reporting postal counts, so it is unlikely that the CLP’s position will improve post-election, in the way the Federal Coalition’s position improved. Counting will resume tomorrow morning.

At this election, the voting system was changed to optional preferential voting; previous NT elections used compulsory preferential voting. However, this change appears to have helped Labor. In Braitling, Labor trails by 10.4% on primary votes, but leads by 0.4% after preferences. It is likely that minor party voters who were hostile to the CLP put the CLP last, while those who were better disposed to the CLP followed the CLP’s advice, and just voted “1”.

Shock NSW ReachTEL has a 50-50 tie

At the March 2015 NSW election, the Coalition won 45.6% of the primary vote, with 34.1% for Labor and 10.3% for the Greens. The Coalition won the two party vote 54.3-45.7.

The first ReachTEL poll since the election, conducted Thursday night from a sample of 1610, has the Coalition and Labor tied at 50-50. Excluding the 8.1% undecided from the primary votes gives 42.9% for the Coalition (down 2.7 since the election), 38.0% for Labor (up 3.9) and 8.7% for the Greens (down 1.6).

Opposition leader Luke Foley led Premier Mike Baird 51-49 as better Premier, but ReachTEL’s forced choice better PM/Premier question removes the lean towards the incumbent that other polls exhibit. Despite the Coalition’s slump, voters approved of the ban on greyhound racing by a 51-31 margin.

Polls in most states are very scarce outside election campaigns. The last NSW poll by a credible pollster was the November-December 2015 Newspoll, which had the Coalition ahead by 56-44. This ReachTEL implies that the gloss has come off the Coalition since then.

The Conversation

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

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

Major rebuff to Malcolm Turnbull as poll result hovers on knife edge


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The federal election result is on a knife-edge, with the outcome between a majority Turnbull government and a hung parliament.

Malcolm Turnbull has been delivered a major rebuff and left potentially embattled, with bitter recriminations breaking out in conservative ranks. Even if the Coalition ends up with a majority, Turnbull will have an uphill struggle to manage a party that includes many who are his enemies.

There were immediate calls for a review of the superannuation policy that the government took to the election, which cut back concessions for high-income earners and deeply angered the Liberals’ base.

Liberal ministers blamed Labor’s Medicare scare campaign for turning voters against the Coalition.

Late in the night the swing against the government was 3.6%. The election has seen a high vote for small parties.

Turnbull waited until after midnight to address his supporters, declaring: “I can report that based on the advice I have from the party officials, we can have every confidence that we will form a Coalition majority government in the next parliament”. In his speech, he did not accept any blame for the bad result or suggest he would make any changes as a result.

Treasurer Scott Morrison said the Coalition was “on the cusp” of being able to claim the 76 seats needed to form majority government.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who spoke to supporters around 11:30PM, said the outcome might not be known for days but whatever happened one thing was sure: “the Labor Party is back”. He said the Liberals had “lost their mandate”.

Labor’s Senate leader, Penny Wong, said there was “too much on the table to call it tonight”.

The ABC said that with more than 70% of votes counted, the Coalition was on track to win 72 seats, and Labor set to claim 66, with five crossbenchers including one Green, and seven seats in doubt.

An unanticipated big swing in Tasmania has cost the Liberals Bass, Braddon and Lyons. Labor has won Eden-Monaro (NSW), Macarthur (NSW), and the notional Liberal seat of Burt in Western Australia.

In Queensland, Assistant Innovation Minister Wyatt Roy appears to have lost Longman and the Liberals may lose Herbert. The Sydney seat of Lindsay is likely to fall, as is Macquarie. In the Northern Territory, Solomon is set to fall.

Nick Xenophon’s Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) candidate Rebekha Sharkie has taken Mayo from former minister Jamie Briggs, who had to quit the frontbench after an incident in a Hong Kong bar. Briggs tweeted “After a tough fight tonight hasn’t been our night”.

The Liberals could win the Victorian Labor seat of Chisholm. The Labor-Green contest in Batman is neck and neck.

Despite Turnbull calling the double dissolution to clear out small players in the Senate, the new Senate will contain a plethora of micro players. They will include three South Australian senators from NXT. Pauline Hanson has been elected to a Senate seat in Queensland. Broadcaster Derryn Hinch has claimed a Victorian Senate seat. Independent Jacqui Lambie has been returned in Tasmania.

In his speech Turnbull took on criticism, already being aired, that he should not have called a double dissolution, saying this had not been a political tactic but had been driven by the “need to restore the rule of law to the construction industry”.

Even if Turnbull wins majority government he may not have the numbers to get the industrial relations bills, which were the trigger for the double dissolution, through a joint sitting.

The backlash in conservative ranks erupted immediately.

Senator Cory Bernardi said in a tweet to Liberal pollster Mark Textor:

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Broadcaster Alan Jones clashed with one of Turnbull’s numbers men, senator James McGrath, on the Network Seven panel. “There were a lot of bed-wetters in the Liberal Party and you seemed to be the captain of the bed-wetters,” Jones said. McGrath hit back, saying Jones was “not a friend” of the Coalition.

Tony Abbott’s former chief-of-staff Peta Credlin and Attorney-General George Brandis had a spat on the Sky panel over the government’s superannuation changes. Credlin said the changes would not go through the Coalition partyroom in their present form; Brandis retorted she was not in the partyroom.

Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz said there had been strident criticism in emails to his office of the superannuation changes. “I for one will be advocating we reconsider aspects of it.”

Victorian Liberal president Michael Kroger said the party’s base was “furious” with the superannuation policy. “I certainly hope the partyroom would look at this issue.”

Conservative commentator Andrew Bolt called for Turnbull to quit. “You have been a disaster. You betrayed Tony Abbott and then led the party to humiliation, stripped of both values and honour. Resign.”

Morrison, asked if Abbott could have won the election, replied “highly unlikely”.

Roy and Peter Hendy, member for Eden-Monaro, were both heavily involved in the Turnbull coup.

Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop said “undoubtedly” the Medicare scare campaign had been an important factor in the result. She said a number of people on election day had raised Medicare with her at polling booths.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said Labor’s Medicare’s scare was more effective than the government had thought during the campaign. “No doubt the absolute lie Labor was running on Medicare was effective.”

Turnbull lashed out over the Medicare scare, saying “the Labor Party ran some of the most systematic, well-funded lies ever peddled in Australia”.

He said that “no doubt” the police would investigate last minute text messages to voters that said they came from Medicare.

Abetz said the “three amigos” in Bass, Braddon and Lyons had been swamped by the Medicare campaign.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce held New England from independent challenger Tony Windsor. Independent Cathy McGowan retained Indi. The Nationals have taken Murray from the Liberals, and headed off a challenge in Cowper from independent Rob Oakeshott.

The poll has seen the first Indigenous woman elected to the House of Representatives – Linda Burney in the NSW seat of Barton.

The pre-poll count continued to 2AM. There will be no more counting until Tuesday.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Malcolm Turnbull sounded tone deaf to election message


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull’s speech to deflated supporters in the early hours of Sunday morning was extraordinarily lacking in self-awareness.

Turnbull had just brought his party a devastatingly bad election result. That’s true even if he manages to reach majority government, which remains far from clear despite his assertions. In the early hours of Sunday things got closer as more votes were counted. With 77.6% of the vote counted, the ABC tally had the Coalition and Labor on 67 seats each, five crossbenchers, and 11 seats in doubt.

Yet Turnbull showed not a scintilla of humility. He made no gesture of contrition, no promise that he had heard the message the people had delivered.

Instead he denounced Labor’s scare campaign – as if the Liberals themselves have not at times been masters of that dark art. And he made an unconvincing attempt to justify a double dissolution that has ended up producing a Senate as potentially difficult as the last one, with the added negative of including Pauline Hanson, so giving her a national platform.

There is now a bizarre parallel between Labor and the Liberals in turning triumph into disaster. Kevin Rudd won convincingly in 2007. He was then removed by his party and successor Julia Gillard came out of the subsequent election with a hung parliament. Tony Abbott had a strong win in 2013, was replaced – and now the Coalition will have a tiny majority or there will be another hung parliament, with the outcome depending on the crossbenchers.

Turnbull and his supporters can argue that if Abbott had still been leader the loss would have been greater, and that’s probably correct. But it is unlikely to be an argument that will do Turnbull much good in the days ahead when there won’t be a lot of Liberal love around.

Turnbull complains about Labor’s lies about Medicare’s future, but they were made more credible to the public because of the Coalition’s previous lies and actions. Did it think people would not remember Abbott’s 2013 promise of no cuts to health? Or the attempt in the 2014 budget to bring in a co-payment, unsuccessful though it was? Or the various subsequent moves for cuts and user pays measures?

Labor’s campaign might have been exaggerated and dishonest, but the Coalition itself had effectively given the ALP the building blocks for it.

Turnbull’s argument that he called a double dissolution not to change the nature of the Senate but because the lawlessness in the construction industry had to be confronted is facile. He did not even make the industrial relations legislation a central talking point in the campaign.

And in his speech he overlooked the point that even if he reaches majority government it is doubtful he would have the overall parliamentary numbers to get the bills through a joint sitting (although at this stage it is impossible to be definite about what the new senators might do).

In the wash-up, everything from the Coalition’s strategy for the past eight weeks – running almost entirely on a “plan” based on company tax cuts – to the mechanics of getting the case across, will be under internal criticism. It will be remembered that Turnbull’s pitch for leadership included his ability as an economic salesman. That, as it turned out, he over-hyped.

The Liberal conservatives will try to unravel policy. They started on election night with their bugbear – the superannuation changes. Assuming the Coalition survives in government, how will the ructions in the Liberals now play out for the same-sex marriage plebiscite?

Turnbull was looking for a mandate to allow him to be his own man. Instead of getting that, his government has been left struggling to survive.

If it does, the conservative forces will now take one of two views of him: as someone who must be forced to follow their will on core policies, or as someone who at a future date should be replaced. Or maybe they will adopt both views.

Turnbull’s enemies within his party have played this election craftily. Abbott was mostly quiet during the campaign, although in the final week he made clear that he thought the issues of budget repair, national security and border protection had been underdone. His former chief-of-staff Peta Credlin used her role as TV commentator to run an at times sharp critique of the Turnbull campaign. Now the conservatives will be full-throated.

Turnbull talks about the need for stability and unity. The Australian public is faced with instability. Whatever the result ends up being, there is no clear mandate and an extremely difficult Senate.

Turnbull, if he is still prime minister, would be confronted by the prospect of internal disunity plus a chaotic upper house that could likely make it nearly impossible to do much that is meaningful.

As happened when he was opposition leader, Turnbull is again in a situation where he didn’t read the danger signals. He thought he was more persuasive than Bill Shorten; he and his strategists (apparently) believed that whatever the national polls said, the marginal seats would stick. They said the election would be close but appeared confident it was in the bag.

Turnbull will pay a high price for his misjudgements, though it is unclear exactly how high.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

After messy night, Coalition more likely to form government – but Pauline Hanson is in the Senate


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

After counting into the early hours of Sunday morning, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) currently has Labor leading in 72 of the 150 lower house seats, with the Coalition ahead in 66.

There are seven not-yet-determined seats, where the AEC selected the wrong candidates to count on a two-party-preferred basis and now has to realign the count. The Coalition will win five of those seven seats, and Labor one, bringing the totals to 73 for Labor and 71 for the Coalition.

However, late counting, particularly of postal votes, favours the Coalition. The AEC lists five seats as close, and in three of those Labor is narrowly ahead. If the Coalition wins these three on late counting, the Coalition would lead the seat count 74-70. Other seats where Labor currently leads could also be won by the Coalition on late counting.

Current sitting crossbenchers Bob Katter, Andrew Wilkie, Cathy McGowan and Adam Bandt easily retained office, and will be joined by the Nick Xenophon Team’s (NXT) Rebekha Sharkie, who crushed Liberal Jamie Briggs in Mayo.

The NXT could win a second seat in Grey, one of the seven seats where the AEC needs to realign the count.

However, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott both lost their bids to return. The Greens are unlikely to win a second seat.

Labor gained all three Tasmanian seats that were previously held by the Coalition, and also gained Solomon in the Northern Territory. Labor gained seven seats in New South Wales, at least two in Queensland and at least one in Western Australia.

However, the Liberals have a good chance of gaining Chisholm from Labor in Victoria, perhaps owing to the state government’s dispute with the Country Fire Authority.

The current primary votes are 41.8% for the Coalition (down 3.7% on 2013 election figures), 35.3% for Labor (up 1.9%), and 10% for the Greens (up 1.3%). “Others” have a collective 12.9% (up 6%). In South Australia, the NXT won 21% of the vote. The Coalition and Greens are likely to gain a little at the expense of Labor in late counting.

Kevin Bonham says the current two-party swing against the Coalition in the 138 classic Coalition vs Labor seats is 3.3%, which will probably moderate to 3% when counting is finalised. The Coalition is thus likely to win the two-party count by about 50.5%-49.5%, but will lose many more seats than it should have based on sophomore effects. Perhaps Labor’s marginal seats campaign was strong enough to overcome sophomore effects.

Sitting members usually have small personal votes that are not associated with their parties. When one party wins a seat from another party’s sitting member, they should get an additional boost at the next election, but this didn’t appear to happen last night.

The final pre-election polls were very close to the overall primary and two-party figures, but single seat polls were poor. Yet again, national polls were much better than seat polls.

Though it is unlikely Labor will form the next government, this is a much better result for Labor and Bill Shorten than was expected, particularly when Malcolm Turnbull was riding high in the polls after deposing Tony Abbott.

For Turnbull and the Coalition, this was a bad result. However, it is clear that Turnbull’s popularity dropped between February and April as he abandoned his more “liberal” approaches to climate change, same-sex marriage and other issues. Had Turnbull been more progressive on some issues, it is likely he would have been comfortably re-elected.

Reformed system produces even messier Senate

Even if the Coalition scrapes out a lower house majority, it will have fewer senators than it currently has.

One of the newly elected senators will be Pauline Hanson. Here is the Senate table, based on results at the ABC. There are 76 total senators.

Senate make-up at the time of writing.

The three definite “Others” are Pauline Hanson in Queensland, Derryn Hinch in Victoria and Jacqui Lambie in Tasmania. Most of the undecided seats will be contested by micro parties, with One Nation in the race for other seats.

The Coalition had 33 seats in the old Senate, so this will be reduced. This will make it difficult to pass the industrial relations bills that were the reason a double-dissolution election was called, even with a joint sitting.

Normally only six senators for each state would be up for election, but as this election was a double dissolution all 12 were up. The quota for election was reduced from 14.3% to 7.7%, and this has benefited smaller parties.

Under the old Senate system, it would have been possible to calculate Senate seats using the group voting tickets. As preferences are now up to voters, it is unlikely we will know the outcome of some of the undecided Senate seats until the AEC has data entered all votes and pressed the “button” on its computer system, probably by late July or early August.

The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, PhD Student, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

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