What’s behind Trump’s refusal to concede? For Republicans, the end game is Georgia and control of the Senate



BRANDEN CAMP/EPA

Markus Wagner, University of Wollongong

The world may have expected the chaos and uncertainty of the US presidential election to end when Joe Biden was declared the winner last weekend. But these are not normal times and Donald Trump is not a conventional president.

Concessions that used to be a part of the political process have been replaced by baseless allegations of voter fraud and election stealing, loud, all-caps shouting on Twitter and plans for a “Million MAGA March” on Washington.

The courts are the proper venue for candidates to challenge the results of elections. But a legal process requires evidence of illegality — and as of yet, the Trump campaign has produced very little.

So, then, how long can Trump string things out — and, more importantly, what’s the end game?

More lawsuits are filed, with little chance of success

Lawsuits can be filed for a number of reasons after an election: violations of state law by local election officials, discrimination against voters, political manipulation of the outcome or irregularities in the ballot counting process.

The Trump campaign has filed numerous lawsuits in both state and federal courts. Some challenges in Georgia and Michigan were quickly dismissed.




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In one case filed in Pennsylvania, Republicans sought to stop the vote count in Philadelphia on the grounds Trump campaign officials were not allowed to be close enough to the ballot-counting process.

Under questioning from the judge, the Trump campaign lawyers were forced to admit a “non-zero number” of Republican observers were present. The judge, clearly exasperated, responded by asking, “I’m sorry, then what’s your problem?”

Trump supporters demonstrate near the Pennsylvania state Capitol last weekend.
Julio Cortez/AP

In another filing before a federal court in Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign alleges voting by mail runs afoul of the Constitution’s equal protection clause, a claim bound to fail.

The most interesting – and perhaps most viable – case concerns whether a state court can extend the time limit for mail-in ballots to arrive.

In this case, the Trump campaign challenged a decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to allow mail-in votes received up to three days after election day to be counted.




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The US Supreme Court twice declined to halt the counting of these votes, but did order the ballots to be segregated, leaving the door open to a challenge after the election.

A group of Republican attorneys-general filed a brief at the US Supreme Court this week urging it to take up the case.

Amy Coney Barrett, the newly appointed Supreme Court justice, did not participate in the earlier decisions, and it remains to be seen if her vote would change the outcome should the case reach the court.

Hoever, this may all be a moot point, as there are likely not enough late-arriving ballots for Trump to make up the sizeable gap to Biden in the state.

Even with a conservative majority, the US Supreme Court is unlikely to play a role in the election outcome.
Patrick Semansky/AP

Attorney-general steps into the fray

Attorney-General William Barr has also inserted the Department of Justice into the post-election drama, authorising investigations by US attorneys into alleged voter fraud across the country. The move outraged the top official in charge of voter fraud investigations, prompting him to resign.

The Department of Justice has historically stayed out of elections, a policy Barr criticised in his memo, saying

such a passive and delayed enforcement approach can result in situations in which election misconduct cannot realistically be rectified.

The department’s about-face is important for several reasons. It changes long-standing practice, as Barr himself admits. The general practice, he wrote, had been to counsel that

overt investigative steps ordinarily should not be taken until the election in question has been concluded, its results certified, and all recounts and election contests concluded.

Of course, Barr has ingratiated himself with Trump before, most notably in his 2018 memo to the Justice Department expressing concerns over the Mueller investigation.

Many had wondered why Barr had remained unusually quiet for so long on the election. It appears he is back, and willing to support Trump and the Republican cause.

The end game: Georgia and the US Senate

Given Trump and Republicans have very little chance of overturning the result through these tactics, the question remains: what is the goal?

Yes, this all could be explained simply as Trump not liking to lose. But setting such indulgences aside, the reason for this obstruction appears to be two upcoming US Senate runoff elections scheduled for January 5.

Georgia state Rep. Vernon Jones speaks at a Trump rally in Atlanta this week.
Mike Stewart/AP

Under Georgia law, a runoff is required between the two candidates that came out on top if neither wins 50% of the vote in the state election.

The Republicans currently hold a 50-to-48-seat edge in the Senate, meaning control of the chamber now comes down to who wins the two Georgia runoffs.

The positions taken by Republican senators in recent days are telling — they have stood firmly behind Trump’s challenges and gone out of their way not to congratulate Biden on his victory. Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota put it bluntly,

We need [Trump’s] voters […] we want him helping in Georgia.

The Senate plays a crucial role for the Biden presidency. If it remains in Republican hands, this could leave Biden with few avenues to implement his favoured policies on the economy, climate change or health care and would deny Democrats the ability to expand the Supreme Court.

Already, it’s clear the focus of the GOP is shifting toward Georgia. The two Republican Senate candidates this week called for the resignation of the secretary of state, a fellow Republican, repeating Trump’s baseless claims over voter fraud in Georgia.




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According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, this was done to appease Trump

lest he tweet a negative word about them and risk divorcing them from his base ahead of the consequential runoff.

Is democracy at stake?

It appears all these efforts are aimed at one goal: energising the Trumpian base for the Georgia run-off elections by delegitimising not only Biden, but the election process itself.

The long-term implications are momentous. The US is already bitterly divided, as demonstrated by the large voter turnout on both sides in the election. This division will only deepen the more Trump presses his claims and signals he won’t go away silently.

This continued fracturing of the US would prevent Biden from achieving one of the main goals he set out in his victory speech: bringing Republicans and Democrats together.

If half the country buys into his claims of a stolen election, the real danger is the erosion of democracy in the US as we know it.The Conversation

Markus Wagner, Associate Professor of Law, University of Wollongong

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

Simon Birmingham to become finance minister and Senate leader as Australia nominates Cormann for OECD


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, a leader of the Liberal moderates, will become Senate leader and finance minister following the imminent retirement of Mathias Cormann.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Australia will nominate Cormann as its candidate for secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).




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Cormann indicated in July he planned to leave parliament late this year. He has been Finance Minister throughout the Coalition government and a central figure in the preparation of its seven budgets.

Morrison said Birmingham would be sworn in as finance minister at the end of the month when Cormann retired. He would continue as minister for trade, tourism and investment.

“I am not planning on making other ministerial changes at that time,” Morrison said.

But there will be a reshuffle at the end of the year. With the current COVID-19 restrictions on international travel, Birmingham will be able to juggle his trade and extra responsibilities for a time, and he has trade negotiations in train.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash will become deputy Senate leader, a position Birmingham has held since 2018.

Birmingham has served in the Senate since 2007 and was education minister between 2015 and 2018.

Cormann, who came to Australia from Belgium in the 1990s, demonstrated his multilingual skills at a Thursday news conference with Morrison, giving short speeches in French and German.

His election to the OECD job is not certain, but Australia will campaign hard for him.

Morrison said this was “the most important Australian nomination for a major international body in decades”.

“Senator Cormann has already been an influential contributor in regional and global institutions, having attended every G20 Leaders’ meeting since 2014 and numerous G20 finance ministers, IMF and World Bank meetings over the period,” Morrison said.

“Over the last seven years, Senator Cormann has worked with many OECD leaders, and dozens of treasury, finance, and trade minister counterparts from developed and developing countries.”

Cormann will step down from the ministry and the Senate on October 30, before he is formally nominated for the OECD role. Nominations close at the end of October, with interviews and consultations beginning after that and an outcome expected in the first part of next year.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Winning the presidency won’t be enough: Biden needs the Senate too


Dennis Altman, La Trobe University

On November 3, Americans will vote not only for president, but for all members of the House of Representatives, a third of the Senate and a long list of state and local positions.

While the names of Donald Trump, Joe Biden and presumably others appear on the ballot paper, voters actually vote for a list of electors in each state, known as the Electoral College. Their composition is based on the total number of members of Congress from each state: so, California has 55 votes, and seven states plus the District of Columbia have three.

Hillary Clinton’s problem in 2016 was that she won huge majorities in several large states but lost most of the smaller states, which the system slightly favours.




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The electors meet in each state capital and their votes are tallied and reported to a joint sitting of Congress. Members of the college are expected to vote for the candidate on whose list they appear. The Supreme Court has recently ruled to make this mandatory.

Australia borrowed the names of our two parliamentary chambers from the United States. But the crucial difference is that government here is determined by control of the House of Representatives. In the United States, with a separately elected president, Congress is less powerful, and within Congress the Senate is the more significant.

While the representatives are apportioned according to population, each state has two senators who serve for six years. With the power to block legislation and senior executive and judicial appointments, a hostile Senate can make a president impotent in many areas of domestic policy.

In the 1994 mid-term elections, two years into the presidency of Bill Clinton, the Republicans captured both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years. In the past three decades, there have only been eight years in which the same party has held the presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives.




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This is not an usual pattern in American politics and, as long as the two parties straddled a wide range of positions, it did not prevent effective government. Members of Congress were expected to vote according to the demands of their constituency, not the party. On crucial issues, such as civil rights legislation or the impeachment of Richard Nixon, they were willing to cross the floor.

However, over the past 30 years, party allegiances have hardened as the centre of gravity in the two parties has polarised. The once-solid Democratic South has become Republican heartland, strengthening an ever-growing right-wing base. Meanwhile, a reaction against the centrist policies of Clinton and Obama has led to a shift to the left by Democrats, causing problems for Democrats from conservative states, such as Senator Doug Jones from Alabama.

Jones is likely to lose a seat he won in a special election because his opponent was an alleged serial sex offender, so the Democrats need to gain five Senate seats to reverse the Republican majority. If the two parties tie, the vice president has a casting vote, which was the case when George W. Bush was elected in 2000. That election marked the start of the “red” versus “blue” state terminology, which in American fashion reversed the usual assumption that blue was the colour of conservatives, red of radicals.

No other Democrat up for re-election looks vulnerable, but there are a number of states where the Republican candidate could lose. The tightest contests are in states that are not solidly red nor blue: Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine and North Carolina.

Donald Trump at the Republican convention.
The stakes are high in North Carolina, which is why the Republicans held their convention there.
Evan Vucci/AP/AAP

The stakes are high: in North Carolina almost US$50 million (A$70 million) has been raised so far for the two candidates from the main parties. North Carolina is also a key state for the presidency, which is why the truncated Republican Convention was based there. Like Arizona, it has largely voted Republican over the past 30 years, but rapid population growth is changing party allegiances. It might join Virginia as a former Confederate state now moving back to the Democrats.

The Republicans would need to win 18 seats in the house to regain a majority, which seems unlikely. Individual candidates matter a great deal, but few observers expect more than a handful of seats to change after the Democrats’ mid-term success in 2018.

The greatest problem facing Democrats in November is the systematic way in which Republican state governments have made it more difficult for their opponents to vote. Republican state legislatures have limited the availability of polling stations, made registration more difficult and tightened ID restrictions: in Texas a gun licence is acceptable, but student ID is not. The president is constantly casting doubt over the election, aiming at postal votes in particular.

Few democratic societies have as low a turnout to vote as the United States. The Republicans believe this works in their favour and will do all it takes to keep the figures low.

The Conversation

Dennis Altman, Professorial Fellow in Human Security, La Trobe University

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

Speaker and Senate president agree to chair working group on pandemic-safe parliament


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Federal parliament’s Speaker Tony Smith and Senate President Scott Ryan have agreed to chair a proposed bipartisan working group on how parliament can meet safely during the pandemic.

Labor put forward the working group plan after Scott Morrison cancelled the two-week sitting that was due to start August 4.

The group would comprise the leader of the house and manager of opposition business and their Senate counterparts. The ALP suggested including the chief federal and ACT medical officers but Smith and Ryan said they should be called on as needed.

The group would not decide whether the next sitting, scheduled to begin August 24, goes ahead. The government determines the House sittings, and the Senate (where the government is in a minority) is in charge of its own meetings.

Smith and Ryan said in a letter to Labor: “At the outset, we believe the six parliamentarians should receive a joint briefing from the Commonwealth and ACT Chief Medical Officers regarding the discussions to date, and risks that need to be mitigated.

“Following this briefing, we will be in possession of all relevant facts, and in a position to discuss specific options.

“We will call upon the resources of the chamber departments and the Department of Parliamentary Services as necessary to address issues raised.”

The presiding officers pointed out they had previously engaged with the opposition about the operation of parliament during COVID.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

View from The Hill: Senate committees are one of the few bright spots in the battle to hold government to account


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

It mightn’t sound much, but it had big consequences. Fifty years ago this week, the Senate voted to set up a system of committees to scrutinise government legislation, activity and spending.

As it has evolved, this network has given teeth to a parliament that in many other ways has declined, even atrophied over the decades.

Question time in the House of Representatives has become a charade (at least, thanks to COVID-19, MPs are now behaving somewhat better during it).

It rarely extracts information. Occasionally – but less often than in earlier years – an opposition can apply the heat to the feet of a minister in trouble. We saw this with the pressure on energy minister Angus Taylor over his use of an apparently doctored document, though he stonewalled and has avoided telling the full story.

The idea that misleading parliament matters has gone out the window long ago.

Outside parliament itself, holding government to account has become more difficult. Freedom of information legislation is of only limited help, with officials and ministers often obstructing rather than fulfilling its spirit. The government has an army of “spinners”, paid for by the taxpayers to manage messages and act as “gatekeepers”. They have bred prolifically.

Public servants, who once were much more accessible to assist journalists on a “background”, non-attributable basis to understand complicated policy, have been locked away from the media by governments anxious to centralise control.

The media itself says more but arguably informs less, despite the 24-hour news cycle. And with the ever-squeezed business models of news organisations as well as around-the-clock filing, journalistic specialisation in particular policy areas has declined while overall work has increased.

While there are significant committees with representation from both houses – the joint committee on intelligence and security is the most important example – in the main it’s the Senate committees that are the real parliamentary watchdogs.

They are where the bureaucrats are regularly grilled, with officials sometimes finding themselves asked to account for what they told their Senate inquisitors previously.

Treasury has just had a particularly searing experience of this. A day after it informed the committee looking at the government’s COVID response that more than six million people were on JobKeeper, it and the Tax Office publicly confessed to a huge error. The latest estimates indicated JobKeeper would only have some 3.5 million recipients and its cost would be $70 billion not $130 billion.

The existence of the COVID committee meant Treasury could be quickly called back for a please explain.

This committee is ranging widely and seeking to interview the main players across the health and economic responses. Predictably, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg declined its invitation – following the convention for lower house ministers – but Finance Minister Mathias Cormann fronted.

The COVID committee has questioned government officials on topics such as fraud being perpetrated on people’s superannuation accounts through the early access to super scheme, the working of the COVIDSafe App, the Ruby Princess debacle, the future of JobKeeper, and much else.

Its presence was especially useful given that at one stage, the parliament was sitting only for the odd single day.

The Senate committees vary in type: permanent or set up to investigate a specific matter, focused on legislation or dealing with more general references in a broad policy area, “estimates” hearings to look at spending.

Estimates hearings, held three times a year, give an opportunity to probe public servants about budgetary items and numbers. A great deal of information, trivial or important, some of it embarrassing to the government of the day, is extracted.

The effectiveness of the estimates committees is reflected in the “estimates test” some public servants are said to apply to their actions: “if we do this, how will it play out at estimates?”

But it’s a two-way game. The government and officials are, according to Labor, pushing back, with public servants increasingly asking to take questions on notice, to be answered later. This gains, at the least, breathing space.

Many public servants look a little jelly-like as they face their senator questioners, but a few mandarins enjoy the challenge. The appearances of the secretary of Home Affairs, Mike Pezzullo, who seems to relish matching wits with the senators, are always keenly anticipated.

Some hearings can be fiery, clashes among senators at times spectacular and unseemly, and reports from inquiries simply statements of partisan positions. But other times, the work can be constructive and cooperative, especially behind the scenes, and the outcomes influential in highlighting wrongs and leading to policy change.

Senate president Scott Ryan this week said Senate committees had produced some 120 reports in the 69 years before the new system and more than 5500 in the 50 years since. Public hearings increased from 500 before the change to more than 7000 since.

Good interrogators make reputations at Senate committees that are remembered long after they leave the parliament. Former Labor senators John Faulkner and Robert Ray operated as a tag team that put the fear of god into witnesses from the public service.

Occasionally a senator can effect more lasting reform through committee work than many of their ministerial colleagues do. Former Nationals senator John “Wacka” Williams pursued malfeasance by the banks and other financial institutions with unrelenting tenacity, and was a major player in having these institutions brought to account.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

View from The Hill: Senate decides Pyne and Bishop have a few more parliamentary questions to answer


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Martin Parkinson, secretary of the Prime Minister’s department, has cleared Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop of breaching the government’s code of ministerial standards with their post-politics jobs. But it’s doubtful the average voter would take such a literal or generous view of their conduct.

Scott Morrison had flicked to Parkinson the row over the part-time positions the two high flyers have taken that clearly overlap their previous portfolios, when the rules provide for a longer separation period.

Pyne, former defence minister, is advising EY, which operates in the defence area. Bishop, former foreign minister, is joining the board of Palladium, a global group working in aid and development.

The code says:

Ministers are required to undertake that, for an eighteen month period after ceasing to be a Minister, they will not lobby, advocate or have business meetings with members of the government, parliament, public service or defence force on any matters on which they have had official dealings as Minister in their last eighteen months in office.

Ministers are also required to undertake that, on leaving office, they will not take personal advantage of information to which they have had access as a Minister, where that information is not generally available to the public.

The government on Monday was quick to gag an embarrassing opposition move in the lower House calling for Parkinson to probe further into the circumstances of Bishop, who told him she didn’t have any contact with Palladium while foreign minister. A video had been posted by the company, labelled “Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, commends Shared Value and Palladium’s Business Partnership Platform”. (Government sources said later that the video – in which Bishop did not use Palladium’s name – was a congratulatory one about a Foreign Affairs initiative.)

In the Senate, the government lacked the numbers to prevent the conduct of Pyne and Bishop being referred to a committee. The motion from Centre Alliance’s Rex Patrick won support from Labor, Greens and non-Greens crossbenchers, passing 35 to 29. The committee has three opposition members, two government senators and a One Nation representative. Pyne and Bishop will be invited to appear and could be required to do so.

The greyest area of the post-ministerial employment provision is the stipulation not to take advantage of private information acquired as a minister.

Parkinson says in his report to Morrison: “a distinction should be drawn between experience gained through being a minister and specific knowledge they acquire through performing the role. It is the latter which is pertinent to the Standards”.




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In practice, however, this can fade into a distinction without a difference. As Parkinson also says: “It is not reasonable to think that former Ministers can or will ‘forget’ all information or knowledge gained by them in the course of their ministerial roles”.

Pyne initially said he would be “providing strategic advice to EY, as the firm looks to expand its footprint in the Defence Industry”. EY initially talked up his role but then quickly qualified it in the face of the controversy.

Parkinson spoke to both Pyne (who had already issued a long public written explanation) and Bishop.

In Parkinson’s account, Pyne seems to have done a lot of talking with EY about what he can’t do. EY is paying, of course, for what he can do.

Parkinson says he considers Pyne “has put in place mechanisms to ensure that, whilst his engagement with EY will appropriately draw on his 26 year experience as a parliamentarian, he will not impart direct or specific knowledge known to him only by virtue of his ministerial position”.

Bishop, who will have been out of the ministry for a year next month, has said little publicly about her non-executive directorship. She told Parkinson she had yet to attend a board meeting and that “Palladium does not expect her to engage on any Australian based projects”.

Patrick suggested the terms of reference given to Parkinson were limited – designed to fix a “political problem”.




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Grattan on Friday: A kinder, gentler Senate – at least for now


This is not new ground. Former trade minister Andrew Robb took up employment (annual remuneration of $880,000) with the Chinese Landbridge Group soon after he was trade minister. He has strongly rejected criticism of his action (and since left the group).

Two former ministers with responsibility for resources, the Liberals’ Ian Macfarlane and Labor’s Martin Ferguson quickly accepted positions with the sector. Stephen Conroy, a former communications minister overseeing online gambling laws, came under fire on becoming a lobbyist for the gambling industry – he points out this was three years after he was a minister.

Going back further (when the ministerial code of conduct did not include a post-separation provision) Peter Reith segued from the defence portfolio into advising defence contractor Tenix.

The Senate inquiry, reporting by September 10, will look at “action taken by the Prime Minister and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to ensure full compliance by former Ministers” with the relevant section of the ministerial standards.

At the end of his letter to Morrison, Parkinson highlights the impotence of a PM once members of his team are out in the wide world.

“While there are certain actions available to you when considering the conduct of a current serving Minister, and a possible breach of the Standards, there are no specific actions that can be taken by you in relation to former Ministers once they have left the Parliament”.

Either some way should be found to make the code enforceable or, if that is too hard, let’s skip the hypocrisy and admit it is no more than an exhortation to departees to act properly – complying with not just its letter but its spirit.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Grattan on Friday: A kinder, gentler Senate – at least for now


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

This first week of the new parliament has been bitter sweet for Senate leader Mathias Cormann.

With journalist Niki Savva’s book Plots and Prayers out on Monday, Cormann that morning faced yet another barrage of questioning over his role in last year’s coup against Malcolm Turnbull.

His spectacular desertion of the then prime minister has much tarnished Cormann, and it is certainly not pleasant to be asked in a radio interview about being seen as a “political Judas”.

But while Cormann’s personal reputation has taken a big knock from the events of August, his reputation as a Senate wrangler has been retrieved with the Thursday passage of the government’s $158 billion three stage tax plan. Cormann had failed last year to get the then crossbench to pass the tax cuts for big business, which he persuaded Turnbull to hang onto for far too long, costing the government votes in the Longman byelection of Super-Saturday.

Despite Cormann’s insistence there would be “no deals” to secure the income tax package, agreements there were, although there’s some lack of clarity around the edges. Centre Alliance extracted undertakings on gas policy. Jackie Lambie, the last crucial vote, has been promised help for Tasmania on the housing front. There may be debate about what constitutes a “deal” but the government would fail to live up to its word at its peril.




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There will also probably be plenty of such deals ahead, even if Cormann declines to acknowledge them as such.

This initial parliamentary week has vindicated the observation that the Senate non-Green crossbench, smaller than the last, is set to be easier for the government to cope with.

Notably, the two Centre Alliance (formerly called the Nick Xenophon Team) senators have a consultative arrangement with Lambie (back in parliament after her time out because of her citizenship problem). This is not an alliance, and they and she are very different politically. (Centre Alliance has shades of the old Australian Democrats, with which the Howard government struck important agreements over legislation, especially on tax and industrial relations.)

But the Centre Alliance-Lambie arrangement to talk on issues should work to the government’s advantage, not least because it will mean the very volatile Lambie won’t be so isolated, and thus angry and alienated, as often in the past. The Centre Alliance senators, Stirling Griff and Rex Patrick, showed her respect by going to Devonport after the election – and Lambie craves respect.

Whenever the government can work with Centre Alliance and Lambie, it won’t require One Nation’s two votes, something that will infuriate Pauline Hanson, who needs relevance.

The government was desperate to get the tax cuts through this week, despite time being tight due to the ceremonial commitments with the opening of parliament and the tributes to the late Bob Hawke. It wanted the first stage to be available for payment as quickly as possible after the due date of July 1. The money will be flowing in a week or so.

Labor was always going to be placed in a difficult position over the tax package. It felt it could not drop its argument of the election campaign that the third stage, paid from 2024-25 and costing $95 billion, was irresponsible given economic circumstances can’t be known so far ahead.

But to be voting against tax relief on which the re-elected government could be considered to have a clear mandate (if campaign promises mean anything) would leave Labor open to continued attacks.

The opposition’s contortions have been understandable but awkward, making the early days of new leader Anthony Albanese messy.

Inevitably, Labor’s final position, announced shortly before the Senate vote, was that if it couldn’t get its way with amendments it would not oppose the package.

But it also said it would “review” the third stage closer to the election, due in 2022. This sounds unrealistic – would a Labor government be able to roll back legislated cuts anyway? And it is politically counter-productive, keeping the argument alive.




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There are some hints of changed dynamics in this parliament compared with the last. While Scott Morrison pours out the harsh rhetoric at his opponent (“this is a Labor Party which has more in common with Jeremy Corbyn than Paul Keating” he told parliament), the Prime Minister invited Albanese to his office on Wednesday to canvass areas of potential bipartisanship, especially Indigenous reconciliation and recognition.

Talk of bipartisanship is an easy gesture at the start of a term and mightn’t last. There have been such suggestions in previous parliaments. But equally it might be another pointer to Morrison’s pragmatic style. He may want to carve out some battle-free areas.

The new parliament’s first question time, which was on Thursday. also gave a hint of the Albanese approach. The opposition questions were framed tightly, without waffly preambles, designed to stop answers being just a rant. It’s a tactic that forces ministers, and the Prime Minister, into greater relevance.

It is to be hoped the opposition and the Speaker Tony Smith can hold the government to the point in answers this term. It has got away with far too much.

The cloud over the government’s political success this week was the delivery of yet another worrying message about the economy, with the Reserve Bank cutting interest rates for the second consecutive month and a fresh exhortation from Bank Governor Philip Lowe for further government action, beyond the tax cuts.

The bank wants unemployment and underemployment down and the spare capacity in the economy taken up. Australia is exposed to the risks in the international economy. Historically-low interest rates could be pushed down further. Lowe pointed to the need for more infrastructure spending and structural reforms that “support firms expanding, investing, innovating and employing people”.




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Back-to-back Reserve Bank cuts take interest rates to new low of 1%


The only certainty about the Australian economy in the months and years ahead is uncertainty.

Presumably the government sooner or later will have to respond to Lowe’s high-end hectoring, which will require some challenging decisions that can’t be delivered by deals, however characterised.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Morrison’s $158 billion tax plan set to sail through Senate after deals with crossbenchers


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Morrison government will finish the first week of the new parliament with its election centrepiece – the $158 billion, three-stage tax package – passed into law.

The first stage of the tax relief – in the form of an offset for low- and middle-income earners when people submit their returns – will be available as soon as the Tax Office makes the necessary arrangements over the next few days. Getting the legislation through this week means there is only minimal slippage from the July 1 start date that was promised in the budget.

The numbers fell into place with Tasmanian crossbench senator Jacqui Lambie declaring she would vote for the package. She had negotiated with the government on her demand that it forgive the $157 million social housing debt her state owes the Commonwealth. This would save Tasmania $15 million a year, which Lambie wants used to deal with issues of homelessness and social housing.

Lambie said: “The good will is there and they know that we’ve got housing problems down there.”




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While Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who had said there would be no horse-trading over the package, was publicly coy about the deal, Lambie is confident it will be delivered.

She said some details still had to be sorted out.

What I don’t want to be doing is rushing out saying here’s the money and that’s it. We want to make sure that that money is targeted […] we’re still dealing on good faith. And I look very forward to that over the next four to six weeks.

Cormann told Sky News: “Senator Lambie has been a very forceful advocate.

She has raised issues with us. We are very happy to work through these issues with her. When we are in a position to make further announcements down the track we will.




Read more:
Stages 1 and 2 of the tax cuts should pass. But Stage 3 would return us to the 1950s


The other crossbench votes needed for the package come from independent Cory Bernardi and the two Centre Alliance senators.

Centre Alliance extracted a deal over action on gas prices.

It said in a Thursday statement that it had “worked with the government on both short- and long-term reforms to deal with gas market concerns.”

The government would announce the full package in coming weeks, it said.

It would include

changes to the Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism (ADGSM) to deal with current pricing, market transparency measures, measures to deal with the monopoly nature of East Coast gas pipelines and longer term measures to ensure future gas projects deliver surplus supply to the Australian market.

The gas agreement, canvassed publicly in recent days, has caused some blow-back from the industry.

Faced with the inevitability of the tax package passing, Labor said it would continue to pursue its attempt to split the package and then consider its options.

It is likely not to oppose in the final vote.




Read more:
Lambie’s vote key if government wants to have medevac repealed


Eyes are now on Lambie’s position on the government’s bid to repeal the medevac act. Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton on Thursday introduced legislation for the repeal. Lambie said she was still making up her mind on how she will vote when the legislation arrives in the Senate. She is set to be the crucial vote.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

View from The Hill: Jacqui Lambie plays the Harradine game


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

In an intervention that would resonate with the late Brian Harradine, who was legendary for extracting concessions for Tasmania in return for his Senate vote, Jacqui Lambie has demanded the federal government forgive the state’s housing debt.

The Tasmanian senator – who has returned to the parliament after being disqualified in the citizenship crisis – is the last vital vote if the government is to rely on the crossbench, rather than Labor, to pass its tax package intact on Thursday.

Lambie refused to be drawn publicly until this week, although she’s had plenty of attention. For example the two Centre Alliance senators, Stirling Griff and Rex Patrick, journeyed to Devonport to see her. She and they agreed to keep in touch as issues came up.

In the last couple of days, sources have been sure Lambie was in the government’s tax cart.

But on the eve of the vote, she issued a strong statement and video, saying she had “yet to arrive at a final position”. (She supports the first and second stage of the package but is arguing over the final one, delivered years on.)

She condemned homelessness in Tasmania, linking it to the $157 million the state owes the federal government in social housing debt (involving payments of some $15 million a year).




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Councils’ help with affordable housing shows how local government can make a difference


These debts are from funds borrowed by the states and territories from the federal government between 1945 and 1989 to build new housing, maintain existing stock and provide housing assistance.

“Tasmania is paying 50c in every dollar of our state housing budget back to the federal government in interest and debt repayments. That means we are building half as many homes, helping half as many people,” Lambie said.

“This debt is holding Tasmania back and denying shelter to thousands of Tasmanian families. The Commonwealth coffers don’t need $15 million a year from the Tasmanian budget,” she said.

“It’s only by having the balance of power for Tasmania in the Senate that real debt relief is going to happen and that’s what I am here to fight for.

“There is no way in good conscience I can vote for substantial tax cuts without making sure that the people who so desperately need a roof over their heads aren’t left to go without.”

The Tasmanian Liberal government has been pressing the federal government to forgive the debt, although Tasmanian Liberal senator Eric Abetz has opposed that, saying it would lead to demands from other states.

The Morrison government has claimed it won’t do any deals in its push to get the tax package through. In fact, this has not been true – Centre Alliance is confident, following detailed negotiations, there will be measures on gas policy to help smooth the way for its votes.

But Lambie’s demand is a very direct quid pro quo.

Senate leader Mathias Cormann, the government’s negotiator on the tax package, declared on Wednesday: “We are always happy to engage with senators in relation to issues of concern to them and their constituents”.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Those tax cuts test Albanese and provoke Hanson


There is a general expectation the tax package with its three stages intact will be passed this week. It’s just a matter of who is blinking.

Does the government throw some money at Lambie, not just to secure her support on this measure but to keep her on side for the future?

Would Lambie retreat from her stand if she was not accommodated and still vote with the government on the package – or would she have a long-lasting hissy fit?

According to some sources, a fix was likely already in with Lambie on Wednesday.

Anyway, Labor is there as a fallback. Despite its objections to stage three, it can’t afford to be endlessly blamed for blocking tax relief.

Regardless, it was clear that every which way Pauline Hanson’s One Nation had been left out in the cold.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Difficult for Labor to win in 2022 using new pendulum, plus Senate and House preference flows



Unless Labor improves markedly with the lower-educated, they risk losing the seat count while winning the popular vote at the next election.
AAP/Dan Peled

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

Australian elections have been won in outer metropolitan and regional electorates, but Labor did badly in swing terms in those types of seats at the May 18 election. In inner metropolitan areas, where Labor had swings in its favour, most seats are safe for one side or the other.

You can see this particularly in Queensland. The provincial seat of Capricornia blew out from a 0.6% LNP margin to 12.4%, the outer metropolitan seat of Forde from 0.6% to 8.6% and the rural seat of Flynn from 1.0% to 8.7%.

In NSW, the rural seat of Page went from a 2.3% to a 9.5% Nationals margin, and the provincial seat of Robertson from a 1.1% to 4.2% Liberal margin. Even in Victoria, the only state to swing to Labor in two party terms, the outer metropolitan seat of La Trobe, went from a 3.5% to a 4.5% Liberal margin.

Ignoring seats with strong independent challengers like Warringah and Wentworth, the biggest swings to Labor occurred in seats already held by Labor, or safe conservative seats. There was a 6.4% swing to Labor in Julie Bishop’s old seat of Curtin, but the Liberals still hold it by a 14.3% margin. The Liberals hold Higgins by a 3.9% margin despite a 6.1% swing to Labor.

After the election, the Coalition holds 77 of the 151 seats and Labor 68. Assuming there is no net change in the six crossbenchers, Labor will require a swing of 0.6% to gain the two seats needed to deprive the Coalition of a majority (Bass and Chisholm). To win more seats than the Coalition, Labor needs to gain five seats, a 3.1% swing. To win a majority (76 seats), Labor needs to gain eight seats, a 3.9% swing.

As Labor won 48.5% of the two-party vote at the election, it needs 49.1% to deprive the Coalition of a majority, 51.6% to win more seats than the Coalition, and 52.4% for a Labor majority. Mayo and Warringah were not counted in swings required as they are held by crossbenchers. Warringah is likely to be better for the Liberals in 2022 without Tony Abbott running.

It will be a bit harder for Labor than the 0.6% swing notionally needed to cost the Coalition a majority, as the Liberals now have a sitting member in Chisholm and defeated a Labor member in Bass. The Liberals will thus gain from personal vote effects in both seats.

There will be redistributions before the next election, which are likely to affect margins. But unless Labor improves markedly with the lower-educated, they risk losing the seat count while winning the popular vote at the next election.

Had the polls for this election been about right and Labor had won by 51.0-49.0 (2.5% better than their actual vote), they would have added just three seats – Bass, Chisholm and Boothby – and the Coalition would have had a 74-71 seat lead.




Read more:
Final 2019 election results: education divide explains the Coalition’s upset victory


House preference flows

The Electoral Commission will eventually release details of how every minor party’s preferences flowed between Labor and the Coalition nationally and for each state, but this data is not available yet. However, we can make some deductions.

Nationally, Labor won 60.0% of all minor party preferences, down from 64.2% in 2016. This partly reflects the Greens share of all others falling from 44.0% in 2016 to 41.2%, but it also reflects more right-wing preference sources like One Nation and the United Australia Party (UAP). Had preferences from all parties flowed as they did in 2016, Labor would have won 49.2% of the two party vote, 0.7% higher than their actual vote.

In Queensland, Labor’s preference share dropped dramatically from 57.9% in 2016 to just 50.2%, even though the Greens share of all others rose slightly to 34.8% from 34.1% in 2016. Of the 29.6% who voted for a minor party in Queensland, the Greens won 10.3%, One Nation 8.9%, the UAP 3.5%, Katter’s Australian Party 2.5% and Fraser Anning’s party 1.8%. The flow of these right-wing preferences to the LNP almost compensated for Greens preferences to Labor.

Parties like One Nation and the UAP would have attracted most of their support from lower-educated voters who despised Labor and Bill Shorten. As I wrote in my previous article, there was a swing to the Coalition with lower-educated voters.

Final Senate results: Coalition has strong position

In the Senate that sits from July 1, the Coalition will hold 35 of the 76 senators, Labor 26, the Greens nine, One Nation two, Centre Alliance two, and one each for Cory Bernardi and Jacqui Lambie. The final Senate results were the same as in my June 3 preview of the likely Senate outcome.




Read more:
Coalition likely to have strong Senate position as their Senate vote jumps 3%


The table below gives the senators elected for each state at this half-Senate election. A total of 40 of the 76 senators were up for election. The one “Other” senator is Jacqui Lambie in Tasmania. The table has been augmented with a percentage of seats won and a percentage of national Senate votes won at the election.

Final Senate results by state in 2019.

There was a small swing in late counting against the Coalition. When I wrote my previous Senate article, they had 38.3% of the national Senate vote (up 3.1%). They ended with 38.0% (up 2.8%).

The Senate results are not very proportional, but this is mostly a consequence of electing six senators per state. If all 40 senators were elected nationally, the outcome would be far more proportional to vote share.

The Coalition and Greens benefitted from having large fractions of quotas on primary votes, which Labor and One Nation did not have in most states. Lambie was the only “Other” to poll a large fraction of a quota, and so she is the only Other to win.

Changes in Senate seats since the pre-election parliament were Coalition up four, Lambie up one, Labor, Greens and One Nation steady, and the Liberal Democrats, Brian Burston, Derryn Hinch, Tim Storer and Fraser Anning all lost their seats.

Ignoring Bernardi’s defection from the Coalition, changes since the 2016 double-dissolution election were Coalition up six, Labor and Greens steady, One Nation down two, and Family First, Liberal Democrats, Hinch and Centre Alliance all down one.

Senate preference flows for each state

In the Senate, voters are asked to number six boxes above the line or 12 below, though only one above or six below is required for a formal vote. All preferences are now voter-directed.

With six senators to be elected in each state, a quota was one-seventh of the vote, or 14.3%. In no state was there a narrow margin between the sixth elected senator and the next closest candidate. Preference information is sourced from The Poll Bludger for Queensland, Victoria, WA and SA here, for NSW here and for Tasmania here.

In NSW, the Coalition had 2.69 quotas on primary votes, Labor 2.08, the Greens 0.61 and One Nation 0.34. Jim Molan won 2.9% or 0.20 quotas from fourth on the Coalition ticket on below the line votes, but was excluded a long way from the end. The Greens and third Coalition candidate each got almost a quota with One Nation trailing well behind.

In Victoria, the Coalition had 2.51 quotas, Labor 2.17, the Greens 0.74 and One Nation and Hinch both 0.19. Hinch finished seventh ahead of One Nation, but was unable to close on the Coalition, with the third Coalition candidate elected just short of a quota. The Greens crossed quota earlier on Labor preferences.

In Queensland, the LNP had 2.72 quotas, Labor 1.57, One Nation 0.71 and the Greens 0.69. One Nation and the LNP’s third candidate, in that order, crossed quota, and the Greens extended their lead over Labor’s second candidate from 1.8% to 2.7% after preferences.

In WA, the Liberals had 2.86 quotas, Labor 1.93, the Greens 0.82 and One Nation 0.41. The third Liberal, second Labor and Greens passed quota in that order with One Nation well behind. The Liberals beat Labor to quota on Nationals and Shooters preferences.

In SA, the Liberals had 2.64 quotas, Labor 2.12, the Greens 0.76 and One Nation 0.34. The Greens and third Liberal, in that order, reached quota well ahead of One Nation.

In Tasmania, the Liberals had 2.20 quotas, Labor 2.14, the Greens 0.87, Lambie 0.62 and One Nation 0.24. Lisa Singh, who won from sixth on Labor’s ticket on below the line votes in 2016, had 5.7% or 0.40 quotas this time in below the line votes. On her exclusion, Labor’s second candidate and Lambie were elected with quotas, well ahead of One Nation; the Greens had crossed quota earlier.

Analyst Kevin Bonham has a detailed review of the Senate system’s performance at this election, after it was introduced before the 2016 election. One thing that should be improved is the issue of preferences for “empty box” groups above the line. Such boxes without a name beside them confused voters, and these groups received far fewer preferences than they would have done with a name.

UK Conservative leadership: Johnson vs Hunt

On June 20, UK Conservative MPs finished winnowing the field of ten leadership candidates down to two. In the final round, Boris Johnson won 160 of the 313 Conservative MPs, Jeremy Hunt 77 and Michael Gove was eliminated with 75 votes.

Johnson and Hunt will now go to the full Conservative membership in a postal ballot expected to conclude by mid-July. Johnson is the heavy favourite to win, and become the next British PM. I will have a fuller report for The Poll Bludger by tomorrow.The Conversation

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

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