The national plan is based on modelling that relies on a range of assumptions. In its advice, the Doherty Institute stated:
Ongoing situational assessment of measured transmission potential and circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants in the Australian population over coming months will allow benchmarking of these hypothetical scenarios to guide real time policy decision making about the transition to phase B of the national plan.
In other words, there will have to be ongoing assessment of the facts to help decide when to move to phase B. For example, the breadth of coverage of vaccinations would have to be considered, to ensure there are no under-vaccinated groups, such as Indigenous communities. The emergence of any new variants would have to be assessed to see how they respond to the vaccine.
Whether a State’s health system was coping with existing numbers of infections and its “test, trace, isolate, quarantine” capacity was running effectively or swamped would also need to be considered.
The national plan expressly says at the bottom:
The plan is based on the current situation and is subject to change if required.
So, the national plan is not set in stone. It was always intended to be adjusted to take into account changed facts.
What does the national plan say about border closures?
The national plan does not say anything about state border closures. It does refer to lockdowns being less likely to occur in phase B – but lockdowns are different from border closures. States that close their borders primarily do so to keep the disease out so they don’t need to impose lockdowns.
Phase B also refers to the easing of restrictions on vaccinated residents, but it does not make clear what they are.
As for borders, phase B only explicitly refers to international border caps, including increasing caps for inbound travellers, allowing capped entry of students and economic visa holders and introducing reduced quarantine arrangements for vaccinated residents. This is primarily a federal matter, as the Commonwealth has power over entry to Australia, even though the states have been managing hotel quarantine for incoming passengers.
Phase C does not refer to state border closures either. But it does refer to exempting vaccinated residents from all domestic restrictions. This could be interpreted as exempting vaccinated Australians from border restrictions, but does not seem to deal with the unvaccinated.
If national cabinet makes a law, don’t all the states have to comply with it?
The national cabinet does not make laws. It has no legal powers at all. It is simply an intergovernmental body whose members discuss and agree on matters. As with any inter-governmental agreement, the national plan is not legally enforceable.
The members of the national cabinet – the prime minister, state premiers and chief ministers – are each responsible to their own parliament and, through it, their own people. The decisions of the national cabinet can only be implemented by each jurisdiction in accordance with its own laws. If a state government and parliament object to something agreed on by national cabinet, then it can choose not to implement it.
The National Cabinet does not derogate from the sovereign authority and powers of the Commonwealth or any State or Territory government. The Commonwealth and the States and Territories, as appropriate, remain responsible for the implementation of responses to the Coronavirus.
The prime minister also recognised this in a press conference on May 5 2020. He said:
We’re a federation and, at the end of the day, states have sovereignty over decisions that fall specifically within their domain […] At the end of the day, every Premier, every Chief Minister has to stand in front of their state and justify the decisions that they’re taking in terms of the extent of the restrictions that are in place […] I respect the fact that they’ve each got to make their own call, just like I do, and they’ve got to explain it to the people who live in their state and they’ve got to justify it. And I think that’s the appropriate transparency and accountability.
Isn’t the Commonwealth boss in the federation? Can’t it just override state laws?
For example, the Commonwealth parliament could rely on its external affairs power to enact a law that guarantees freedom of movement, which could override a state law. But this could be difficult while the Commonwealth is restricting movement in and out of Australia.
Alternatively, the Commonwealth parliament could enact a comprehensive quarantine law that covers the whole field of quarantine and associated restriction on movement, to the exclusion of any state law. But the Commonwealth has chosen not to do so. It has left the states to deal with quarantine and public health measures, as they have greater competence and public health facilities to manage the situation.
What about the Constitution? Doesn’t reaching 80% vaccination mean a state can no longer block my right to cross state borders?
Section 92 of the Constitution protects freedom of movement among the states. But the High Court has long accepted there may be exceptions if a law is reasonably necessary and proportionate to achieving another legitimate purpose, such as the protection of public health.
In the Palmer case, it upheld the validity of the Western Australian law that empowered the closure of state borders. In doing so, the Justices noted the restrictions on movement were severe, but were amply justified by the importance of protecting public health.
If it became the case that border restrictions were no longer reasonably necessary and proportionate to protect public health, a challenge might well be successful.
But a court would be likely to take into account all the relevant facts at the time, rather than simply whether a particular percentage of the population has been vaccinated. By the time such a challenge was heard, there would be new evidence to inform the assumptions on which the Doherty Institute relied and a court would be able to take this new evidence into account in making a more informed assessment.
If you live in the northern part of Sydney’s Northern Beaches, the epicentre of one of two current COVID outbreaks in New South Wales, you can’t currently cross any state borders. Instead, you’re confined to the local area for all but essential reasons.
But sadly, that’s pretty much where the consistency ends when it comes to Australia’s COVID-related border closures. Everyone else faces a confusing and inconsistent mishmash of hastily implemented travel restrictions, some of which may even make COVID cases harder to track between states.
Summarising such a complex situation is hard to do concisely, but here goes.
If you were in Greater Sydney (which typically includes Wollongong, the Central Coast and the Blue Mountains) any time on or after December 21, you cannot enter the ACT, South Australia, Western Australia or Victoria. You are also banned from Queensland, but only if you were in the Greater Sydney hotspot during the previous 14 days.
Tasmania, meanwhile, rates Sydney and Wollongong only as “medium risk”, so people who have visited these areas can enter the island state but must quarantine for 14 days. Tasmania has no restrictions on arrivals from the Central Coast or Blue Mountains.
Victorians can still travel to NSW, the ACT, the Northern Territory, SA and Queensland, but not WA.
Queensland has asked everyone who has recently been in Victoria to get tested, and barred them from visiting health facilities and aged-care or disability homes.
Tasmania allows anyone in from Victoria unless they have visited particular high-risk venues (although when I checked, Victoria’s own list of “close contact” exposure sites was more up-to-date).
Why is it all so confusing?
Clearly, the inconsistency is partly explained by different states’ varying tolerance of COVID risk. But are hard border closures really warranted at all?
All NSW cases, and the vast majority of exposure sites, have been confined to Greater Sydney and surrounding areas, which fulfil the Commonwealth definition of COVID hotspots: a rolling three-day average of ten locally acquired cases per day, or 30 cases in three consecutive days.
Instead of hard border closures, a more sophisticated approach would be to focus travel restrictions on these known hotspots, and be prepared to mobilise contact-tracing efforts if a case travels before they are identified.
Of course, state governments may still be tempted to close borders if cases are reported that are not linked to existing clusters, as this raises the possibility of wider undetected community transmission.
Yet it appears from NSW media releases that more than 90% of cases in Sydney’s outbreak were linked to known clusters at the time of report, and this percentage only rises with subsequent contact tracing and investigation.
In Victoria, all 27 locally acquired cases have been directly linked to one cluster, but there are also many exposure sites. As in NSW, measures have been appropriately reintroduced to reduce transmission risk, and therefore the number of potential secondary cases, through limits on gatherings, venues and mandated masks indoors. This buys precious time for health authorities to suppress these clusters, and reduces the likelihood that transmission chains will be missed.
Border closures are a blunt tool
Restricting movement in and out of designated hotspot areas is clearly a good tactic to contain clusters. But the wholesale closure of state borders does not seem proportionate to the current risk. What’s more, sudden border closures could even be counterproductive.
Consider, for example, an interstate traveller who has visited the Sydney hotspot and is now prevented from leaving NSW because the border is closed. They may instead find themselves stuck in regional NSW, rather than being able to go home where self-isolation would be easier.
Allowing the progressive return of travellers or visitors across borders would have allowed thorough scrutiny of permits, and possibly even testing, at the border. Instead, Victoria’s sudden closure of the border with NSW resulted in 62,000 people crowding the checkpoints during a chaotic day and a half until midnight on January 1. This may even have allowed people who had recently been in hotspots to pass through, as permits were not always checked.
Time to work together
No matter how firm our international border closure, we have to be ready to respond to domestic COVID outbreaks, and work collaboratively across states to manage them. Open borders do not necessarily mean more cases, but they can mean more dispersed cases, so every state has to be ready to step up.
A rigorous, nationally coordinated network of contact tracing and quarantine is surely preferable to border closures and the social and economic disruptions that follow.
If Victoria had tested at the border with NSW, maybe they would have detected “case zero” who brought the virus back into Melbourne. Not one of the thousands of returned travellers from NSW since has tested positive, yet demanding that those who returned at New Year be tested within 24 hours flooded testing sites, delaying or preventing Victorians who had actually been at local exposure sites from being tested.
In the worst-case scenario, border closures can conceivably inflame the situation within the state that’s trying to raise the drawbridge.
The federal government, under pressure to expand and accelerate the return of stranded Australians, has pre-empted national cabinet by announcing the “cap” on these arrivals will be expanded from about 4,000 up to 6,000 a week.
After the announcement Western Australia immediately hit out, saying the national cabinet process was being flouted.
More than 25,000 people are presently registered as having expressed a wish to return, and there have been numerous hardship cases in the media and in representations to MPs offices.
The government says the new weekly caps will be: NSW 2,950 (present cap is 2,450), Queensland 1,000 (500), South Australia 600 (500), and Western 1,025 (525). Victoria, struggling out of its second wave, will not have any arrivals.
This adds up to only 5,575 but the government hopes the other jurisdictions will take some people, although there are not commercial airline services into the ACT, the Northern Territory or Tasmania.
The government wants the higher numbers operating by late this month.
The caps were imposed at the request of states, which were concerned at pressure on their quarantine facilities, in particular when Victoria, where there was a quarantine breakdown triggering the second wave crisis, stopped taking any returnees.
People wanting to come home are not just facing the problem of the cap but the difficulty of securing flights, and at reasonable prices.
Unveiling the higher cap Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, who has responsibility for aviation, said he had written to premiers and territory leaders to tell them the caps for international flights based on quarantine levels.
“Not every Australian will be able to come home by Christmas, I accept that. But we want to get as many of those who need to come home, want to come home, paid for a ticket to come home, to be able to do so”, McCormack said.
The federal government says it has constitutional power over quarantine, and so does not need the states’ approval. But it will take the new quotas to Friday’s national cabinet.
Under the existing deal the states make the quarantine arrangements and carry the cost – although they are now charging returnees.
The opposition has called for the government to use RAAF planes to return some people. But the government says there are thousands of unused commercial seats, and the VIP fleet has only very small capacity. It also rejects calls for the use of federal facilities for some of the returnees, saying they are not available or suitable.
Attorney-General Christian Porter, asked on Perth radio whether WA had agreed, said he did not know but “we very much hope they will”.
WA premier Mark McGowan said he had not known about the announcement beforehand and described it as “very directly outside the spirit of the national cabinet”.
“I don’t really like the fact that this has been sprung via a press conference without a discussion with the people actually required to implement it,” McGowan said.
He warned of the risks of putting pressure on hotel quarantine and said using Commonwealth facilities should be looked at.
The federal government says it would consider ADF assistance with more quarantine, noting ADF personnel have been helping WA with hotel quarantine for weeks.
WA Health Minister Roger Cook said it was extraordinary the matter was being dealt with through a letter from McCormack and said Scott Morrison should call “his dogs off” and work with the premiers.
NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said that after a request from the prime minister “I consulted my relevant ministers and the police commissioner, who is in charge of quarantine, and everybody said they could take on that extra load”. Her agreement was on the basis other states agreed.
Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk also indicated her government was willing to take more people.
While COVID-19 restrictions were initially announced by the federal government and implemented across Australia in March, since then the states and territories have devised their own strategies to manage the virus. This approach acknowledges different areas will be affected in different ways and at varying times.
But as a result, it can be hard to keep track of the mass of information around changing restrictions, particularly with different rules scattered around lengthy government website pages.
So we’ve compiled some of the key restrictions in each state and territory.
These restrictions are correct at the time of publication and are subject to change.
Australians have taken a special interest in section 92 since mid-March. Debating the constitutionality of state border closures in response to COVID-19 seemed to be trending with everyone staying home to help flatten the curve.
Legal challenges on border closures are already underway in the High Court, with arguments of its constitutionality.
Now, this interest in section 92 is being rekindled with the partial re-opening of borders between South Australia, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Tasmania.
With Australia being one country, it was hard enough to accept it is constitutional for states to close their borders, but now South Australia seems to be offering travellers from these states and the territory special treatment.
West Australian Premier Mark McGowan has more recently suggested the partial opening of borders may be unconstitutional. Is it?
The issue is not the partial opening of borders. It is the rationale for these actions.
When South Australia announced this partial re-opening, it also indicated it plans to open its borders to all remaining states by July 20. The issue then is whether South Australia’s discrimination against New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland can be justified by efforts to prevent a second wave of COVID-19 deaths.
Since 1988, the High Court has interpreted section 92 as prohibiting discrimination of a protectionist kind – that is to say, the section prevents states from passing legislation to restrict trade. In the 1988 case of Cole v Whitfield, the High Court, in a unanimous decision, upheld Tasmanian regulations prohibiting a person from taking, buying or selling crayfish of less than a prescribed size, whether or not taken in Tasmanian waters.
In the course of his interstate trade, David Whitfield brought crayfish from South Australia to Tasmania for the purpose of sale to mainland and overseas markets. The crayfish were less than the prescribed size under the Tasmanian regulations, though above the prescribed size under comparable regulations in South Australia. The court explained in the decision that the legislation was not protectionist in nature. It was intended to help protect Tasmanian crayfish rather than restrict trade. The court elaborated in the following terms:
[D]iscrimination commonly involves the notion of a departure from equality of treatment. It does not follow that every departure from equality of treatment imposes a burden or would infringe a constitutional guarantee of the freedom of interstate trade and commerce from discriminatory burdens […]
As was the case when all states decided to close their borders, the legal issue is whether the purpose of the closures is to restrict trade or to help protect the citizens of each state from becoming infected with COVID-19.
The orthodox view among Australian constitutional jurists is that section 92 does not allow for a balancing exercise between the competing interests of free trade and combating a pandemic. This might well be a question for the High Court to elaborate on when deciding the legal challenges brought against the Queensland government.
At a different analytical scale, the issue is not the interpretation of section 92, but rather the effect of crises on the interpretation of our constitution.
This interpretation is not impervious to pandemics or other crises. We see this in what are known as purposive powers, such as the defence power in section 51. In times of war, the core of this power will expand to equip the Commonwealth with the type of intervention necessary to keep Australia safe. There is no reason this rationale would not extend to pandemics.
Enter the principle of subsidiarity. Elsewhere, I have argued the Commonwealth Constitution is superior to the Canadian and US constitutions, because it is more efficient. It allows for a wider area of concurrent powers. Our federal model is more agile, in the spirit of true subsidiarity, with its rules of assistance, non-interference and helping states acquire more competencies over time.
It is this principle of subsidiarity that holds the key to understanding the constitutionality of border closures and partial re-opening in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The states are best positioned to judge what intervention will work best in their case.
This week, we’ve seen state governments in heated debate over the question of reopening borders between Australian states and territories.
New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian is arguing for the reopening of interstate travel, which will be important for Australia’s economic recovery from the pandemic.
Others, including Western Australian premier Mark McGowan and Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, have opposed reopening borders at this stage, on the basis the move risks new cases crossing state lines.
From an epidemiological perspective, I would argue the safest option is to wait until two states have achieved disease elimination before opening the borders between them.
During a pandemic, it’s important we have disease control strategies in place at different levels: from individual and family to community, state and national.
Some states and territories have closed their borders to interstate travel in an attempt to reduce disease transmission.
The exceptions are NSW, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory (though these states have still urged people to defer non-essential travel).
Jurisdictions that have closed their borders enforce their own exemptions and regulations, such as requiring entrants to self-quarantine for 14 days on arrival.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently announced a three-step roadmap to recovery for Australia. This set out the possibility of recreational interstate travel as part of step 2, but left it to each state and territory to decide the timing.
All states and territories except Western Australia remain in stage 1, and are unlikely to progress to stage 2 until June.
So, if we follow the three-step plan, states and territories pushing for interstate travel may be getting a bit ahead of themselves.
Elimination should be the green light
For disease elimination, there must be zero new cases of the disease in a defined geographic area.
There is no defined time period this needs to be sustained for – it usually depends on the incubation period of the disease (the time between being exposed to the virus and the onset of symptoms).
Since the incubation period for COVID-19 ranges from 1-14 days, it could be argued a state or territory has eliminated COVID-19 if there are no new cases over a 14-day period.
However, research has shown there’s a small chance (1%) someone could develop symptoms and become infectious beyond 14 days of quarantine. So to be completely safe, it would be prudent to extend this period.
A sensible approach might be to define the elimination of COVID-19 as a 28-day period of no new cases in any state or territory – double the incubation period. Any state or territory that achieves disease elimination could then reopen its borders with any other state or territory that has also achieved this.
Queensland chief health officer Jeanette Young has advocated for this kind of approach.
What might happen if states that have not achieved elimination allow interstate travel? The risk is an infectious person crosses into a state or territory that has achieved disease elimination and reseeds a new epidemic. The risk might be small, but the consequences could be severe.
These data do differ slightly depending on the source, but by my definition, no state or territory has, to date, eliminated COVID-19. And as such, we’re not yet at the point we should be relaxing current border restrictions.
There’s no question Australia is doing well. But we must remain vigilant, particularly with the current easing of restrictions, which might lead to a few clusters of new cases.
We’ll need safeguards in place
Establishing a threshold for when it’s safe for states to open their borders – namely 28 days with no new cases – will minimise the risk of transmission of new infections. It could also serve to stop the quarrelling between leaders over this question.
Even when we do move to open borders, we’ll need to tread carefully. Disease elimination is not the same as disease eradication; there’s still the possibility of the rare community-acquired case being out there. And unless every person in Australia is tested and quarantined if necessary, there’s still a chance of the epidemic restarting.
A sensible approach might therefore be to test anyone crossing a border and asking them to self-isolate for 24 hours until their test results are ready. This would also help eliminate the unlikely chance of the person carrying the virus on their clothes or possessions.
A suite of new measures aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 have been announced by federal and state governments in the last 24 hours.
We’ve collated the regulations in an infographic below – but it’s important to remember the situation is rapidly changing.
The regulations clearly proscribe some activities but are silent on others. So we asked two infectious disease researchers to reflect on some common scenarios.
They stressed the basics apply in any situation – wash your hands regularly with soap and water, practice good cough and sneeze etiquette, stay away from others if you’re unwell and try to reduce contact with others. Where contact is required, we should stay at least 1.5 metres apart from other people (one researcher, Ian M. Mackay said 2 metres would be better).
However, there’s often no single correct answer. All we can do is make the best decision we can in line with the medical evidence, the directions from government, and our own abilities and priorities. Difficult choices lie ahead for all of us.
Ian M. Mackay, researcher on rare viral threats to public and environmental health: Walking the dog should be fine. If you were to walk past someone who was actually sick, you’d be classed as a “casual contact” just by going past them. If you had a face-to-face conversation within 2 metres of them, you’d be classed as a “close contact” just because you have had that face-to-face conversation. So really, the advice is: just keep walking, don’t stop or chat.
Sanjaya Senanayake, infectious diseases physician: Yes, that wouldn’t be a problem. Just try to avoid very crowded areas and keep your distance from other people by staying at least 1.5 metres apart. I think, in this climate, to have some physical outdoor exercise, if you can, is a good idea. If it’s a dog park with lots of dogs running around while their owners stand around and chat, just be careful to stay at least 1.5 metres apart from the other owners.
Can I have a friend over?
Ian M. Mackay, researcher on rare viral threats to public and environmental health: It’s better not to. When we are sharing the same room for two hours or more you can increase your risk, even if you are 2 metres apart. Prolonged time in the same room is a real risk so it’s better not to be spending a long time together.
If you decide to do it, you need to be 2 metres apart, your house needs to be really clean, don’t share any utensils, wash your hands a lot.
It’s better, though, if you can put that off and have the conversation by phone or Zoom, FaceTime or Skype.
Sanjaya Senanayake, infectious diseases physician: If you’re aiming for true social isolation, there’s a risk with every encounter you have. But if it’s just one friend and you are both well and you practice good hand hygiene and stay at least 1.5 metres apart when chatting, it could be okay. There’s a risk but you can reduce the risk.
You could possibly avoid food that has been touched by other people. Maybe bring your own food and drink.
Should I have my child’s tutor over?
Ian M. Mackay, researcher on rare viral threats to public and environmental health: It would be better not to have that happen. Even if they are more than 2 metres, it’s prolonged exposure in an enclosed room and that tutor may have visited many other houses or travelled by public transport. The tutor and the child are both at risk – as well as anyone they subsequently encounter. Remember, people can be infected but still look well.
It would be better if that could be done remotely.
Sanjaya Senanayake, infectious diseases physician: I think it’s probably OK, as long as the tutor is well and the child and tutor can work together without sitting too close. The same principles apply – good hand hygiene and stay at least 1.5 metres apart if anyone is unwell.
Should my child have a playdate?
Ian M. Mackay, researcher on rare viral threats to public and environmental health: For now, at least until we know more, that should stop as well.
Not even if both the kids and their families have been mostly staying home. Social distancing means keeping away. Kids have close contact relationships – they don’t keep their distance from each other – and they are random and, in this context, unreliable. It would be better to stop playdates and look for other ways our kids can interact with their friends. But watch the type and amount of social media use.
We have to be serious about this stuff and that means doing as much as we can to break any chains of transmission.
Sanjaya Senanayake, infectious diseases physician: With kids, it depends greatly on the age of the kids.
For very young kids, I would say no. Younger kids are more likely to have close contact and may not be so good with hand hygiene. You just can’t trust young kids to follow the rules of good hygiene and distancing. It’s mostly about minimising the contact and trying to use other options as much as possible, such as FaceTime, Skype and Zoom. For older kids, they are likely to rely on their social media networks and that’s probably for the best.
Can my kid play at the park with a friend?
Ian M. Mackay, researcher on rare viral threats to public and environmental health: There’s risk. It’s better to be out in the open air than in a room, because you have lot of air, often moving air, to dilute any droplets that may come from coughing or spitting when you talk and shout. But when you start doing stuff together – especially in areas with shared shiny surfaces like a public barbecue or play equipment – it gets risky. Steer clear of play equipment and water fountains, for example.
It’s better if you are keeping apart at a distance outside. But the risk isn’t zero.
Sanjaya Senanayake, infectious diseases physician: If they are young kids, they are still likely to have close contact with each other so I’d approach with caution.
Can I have in-home visit by a service provider, for example a health worker who assists a person with a disability?
Ian M. Mackay, researcher on rare viral threats to public and environmental health: That is a tough one. The health care worker should probably wear a mask as they are at higher risk of acquiring an infection because they are visiting so many people. A health care worker would be more aware of infection control than most people but they would need to be able to keep themselves and the people they visit safe.
If you do have an in-home visit you need to clean the house as much as possible, wash hands and do whatever you can to reduce the risk.
Sanjaya Senanayake, infectious diseases physician: That is a difficult one. That will need to be looked at by health authorities.
A health care worker should not come to your house if they are unwell. If they are coming, they should call ahead and make sure the person they are visiting is also well before they arrive to provide care.
There will have to be exceptions, of course, because otherwise people who need to have dressings changed and so on they will need to come to hospital and that’s not ideal.
Health care workers are being heavily educated about when they should be tested, because they are at risk of COVID-19. If there’s a lot of COVID-19 transmission in that particular community, the health care worker should wear appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment) even if the person they are visiting is not obviously sick.
Can the cleaners come over?
Ian M. Mackay, researcher on rare viral threats to public and environmental health: No. Clean your own house. They may be professional cleaners but they are not professionals at infection control.
And cleaning may need to be more frequent than usual. You may need to be cleaning your house more than once a week so just get used to that idea.
Sanjaya Senanayake, infectious diseases physician: Yes, I think the cleaners can come over. But if you have cleaners in your house, you should try to go out while the cleaners are there and let them do their work. Go for a walk outside, while staying at least 1.5 metres away from others.
What about sending kids to school?
Ian M. Mackay, researcher on rare viral threats to public and environmental health: Many states are doing slightly different things with regards to schools.
I am very conscious we don’t want to drain essential workforces because some would need to stay home. So I think what NSW is doing – where parents are advised to keep kids home if they can and only send kids to school if they have no other option – is probably the best option for now.
We’ve heard there’s no reason to believe children are transmitting the virus – but there’s also no reason to believe they won’t be. If we are serious about flattening the curve, schools need to be in the picture, and we need to reduce the number of kids at school.
The risks are then to the teachers who are going to be repeatedly exposed to children who may more become infected in greater numbers as time goes on. That’s a real concern for them and for the fact they may then inadvertently be spreading virus in the community. There is no easy answer on schools which is why the issue is being constantly reassessed as we learn more.
Sanjaya Senanayake, infectious diseases physician: I still don’t think we really understand the epidemiology of infection of kids. The downside of broadscale school closures is people will have to stay home with their kids, especially for health workers. And if that’s unnecessary then it’s not ideal. I don’t know the right thing to do. It’s a tough one.
Can I go for a walk with a friend or friends?
Ian M. Mackay, researcher on rare viral threats to public and environmental health: I would advise against that. We know asymptomatic transmission happens. It may happen from spitting while talking. If you are walking alongside someone and having a chat, then there is risk. If you are out in the open moving air, that reduces your risk but it’s really better to pick up the phone. You can even be on the phone and going for a walk together in separate places, or on other sides of the road and wave to each other. It is really hard but we need to get creative right now. It’s time to get very serious about doing everything you can to reduce transmission.
Testing has been limited so we may in fact have a lot more community spread than we realise right now.
Sanjaya Senanayake, infectious diseases physician: If you are outside, you have a lot of air currents to make things more safe for you. I stood at least 1.5 metres from someone and walked with them and I think that’s feasible. Just try to stay at least 1.5 metres apart.
Or go to a neighbour’s house and knock on the door but then stay at least 1.5 metres apart from them while you chat.
Should I get takeaway?
Ian M. Mackay, researcher on rare viral threats to public and environmental health: Takeaway is a good idea because it supports small business, is a treat in tough times and it takes the stress off having to cook and find food. The issue, of course, is the risk of contaminated surfaces.
The best idea is once you have got the food in the house, put the bag down and open it up. Then go away and wash your hands properly before you handle the food. Then come back and take out the food with clean hands, and then get rid of the bag. Then wash your hands again. Then away you go.
That’s not 100% foolproof because there’s still some risk, but you reduce the risk with each step.
And the social distancing rules apply all the time, whatever you are doing – whether its waiting for food or walking the dog – stay 2 metres away from other people.
Sanjaya Senanayake, infectious diseases physician: It’s a hard one. I have been wondering this, too. It’s not just getting the takeaway, its about congregating while you wait for the food to be ready. Try to maintain at least 1.5 metres distance from anyone else. If you are less than 1.5 metre from anyone but you’re there for less than 15 minutes it doesn’t count as a “close contact”.
You have to wonder: is the food contaminated with virus particles? You have to hope the staff at the restaurant aren’t working while sick and they are practising good hygiene. You and I can’t police that.
Whatever choices you make on these issues, remember it’s about risk mitigation. Hardly anything is ever zero risk. And sometimes these choices are hard.
This is a significant development. While the Commonwealth government embarks on another round of important yet time-consuming consultations over a potential First Nations Voice to Parliament, the states and territories are taking the lead on treaties.
Queensland’s ‘track to treaty’
Queensland’s announcement reflects a shift in debate on Indigenous constitutional recognition at the state and territory level. Only a few year ago, the states and territories debated whether to include a reference to Indigenous Australians in their constitutions. Now, they are contemplating negotiating treaties.
Treaties have been accepted globally as the means of reaching a settlement between Indigenous peoples and those who have colonised their lands. They are formal agreements, reached via respectful negotiation in which both sides accept a series of responsibilities.
Treaties acknowledge Indigenous peoples were prior owners and occupiers of the land and, as such, retain a right to self-government. At a minimum, they recognise or establish structures of culturally appropriate governance and means of decision-making and control.
The Queensland treaty process is still in its early stages and negotiations will not begin for several years. This is sensible, because it is important that both the state and First Nations are ready to start negotiations.
For First Nations, this means having a clear sense of what a treaty might mean for their communities, as well as a broad consensus on their negotiating position. Preparing for treaty negotiations can also enable First Nations to engage in nation-(re)building, consistent with their values and aspirations, which is valuable regardless of the content, or even the completion, of a treaty.
For the state, it is equally important that non-Indigenous Queenslanders understand what a treaty is and what it might result in.
Their responsibility is to provide leadership and engage with key stakeholders across the state. A treaty working group will also be established soon to lead consultations with First Nations, allowing them to discuss and reach agreement on what a treaty might contain.
In Victoria, the Andrews government committed to entering treaty negotiations in 2016. An Aboriginal Treaty Working Group was established to lead two rounds of community consultations, which resulted in the creation of a First Peoples’ Assembly. The assembly will not negotiate treaties itself, but will work with the state to develop a treaty framework through which the state and First Nations can negotiate.
The process in the Northern Territory is following this pattern. In June 2018, the government signed a memorandum of understanding with representatives of the four Indigenous land councils, committing to exploring a treaty.
Earlier this year, Mick Dodson, the former director of the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at the Australian National University, was appointed NT treaty commissioner. He is currently leading consultations with Aboriginal Territorians.
Why a lack of federal involvement is a problem
These are promising developments, but there are several challenges ahead.
First, treaties are political agreements. As such, they are vulnerable to political fluctuations.
In Queensland, the Liberal National Party opposition wants to look at the government’s announcement in more detail, but has already suggested it would adopt different priorities. If the LNP wins the 2020 state election, it could abandon the process before negotiations even commence.
We have already seen this play out in South Australia. In 2017, the state Labor government formally started treaty negotiations. But within a year, a newly-elected Coalition government stepped away from this commitment.
Second, the federal government’s position is problematic. Ken Wyatt, the new minister for Indigenous Australians, has said the federal government will leave treaty processes to the states and territories.
Federal government involvement is not legally necessary. Queensland has the legal authority to sign and implement a treaty with Indigenous peoples.
However, the Commonwealth parliament has the power to overrule any state or territory treaty. For this reason, it is preferable that the Commonwealth play a role in these processes. The Uluru Statement from the Heart offers an avenue to do so.
A constitutionally enshrined national representative body to advise the federal parliament (known as a “Voice” to parliament); and
A Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about Australia’s history.
As constitutional lawyer Megan Davis has explained, these reforms are “deliberately sequenced.” The value of starting with a First Nations Voice and Makarrata Commission is that they can oversee developments across the country. Without these bodies, state and territory treaty processes may diverge and result in wildly different settlement terms.
Finally, the support of Indigenous peoples is not assured.
Increasingly, First Nations are resisting agreement-making with governments that act inconsistently with their values and aspirations.
For instance, the Djab Wurrung Embassy, a group of traditional owners protesting VicRoads’ plan to cut down sacred trees, has launched a “No Trees, No Treaty” campaign to highlight the state government’s refusal to listen to their views.
as a trip wire and only a pathway to assimilation.
Consensus cannot be assumed, and will become more complex as First Nations articulate their objectives and objections to possible treaties.
Notwithstanding these challenges, Queensland’s announcement is historic.
It confirms that progress on Indigenous constitutional recognition is being led by the states and territories. It also directs more attention to the federal government’s approach to this issue.
It is hoped that the Commonwealth reflects on Queensland’s announcement and commits to establishing a Makarrata Commission. And that commission should be designed by Indigenous representatives serving on a constitutionally enshrined First Nations Voice.
Our “state of the states” series takes stock of the key issues, seats and policies affecting the vote in each of Australia’s states.
We’ll check in with our expert political analysts around the country every week of the campaign for updates on how it is playing out.
New South Wales
Chris Aulich, Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra
There is a clear fault line in the Coalition between conservatives and moderates, reflected in the number of centre-right women challenging more conservative members.
Some sitting moderates have chosen not to renominate – Ann Sudmalis in NSW won’t recontest, while Julia Banks in Victoria has resigned from the Coalition to challenge Greg Hunt in Flinders. Other moderate women are standing as independents (Kerryn Phelps and Zali Steggall in NSW, and Helen Haines in Victoria) or as candidates for other centre-right parties (Rebekha Sharkie in SA).
What typically unites these women is a rejection of conservative social policies – and perhaps also a rejection of the alleged culture of bullying within the Coalition parties. These candidates are modernists in that they support progressive policy issues. As independents they can also sidestep the Coalition’s internal fracas about quotas and targets for women.
In NSW, independent Zali Steggall is challenging Tony Abbott in Warringah. Front and centre of her campaign is action on climate change, refugee policy and foreign aid. Her views on marriage equality contrast dramatically with Abbott’s in an electorate that overwhelmingly voted “yes” in the marriage equality postal vote.
Similarly, independent MP Kerryn Phelps, contesting Wentworth, was a significant player in the marriage equality debates and has argued forcibly for a more humane treatment of asylum seekers.
Both Steggall and Phelps have complained about “dirty tricks” and the negative campaigns being mounted against them. Billboards linking Steggall to Labor, allegations that she is receiving funds from GetUp! (she is not), the renting of premises next to her office that were then plastered with anti-Steggall advertising, and the sexualising of Steggall posters all appear to be an attempt to intimidate and demean her.
A number of articles critical of Steggall have been published by the Daily Telegraph, with free copies delivered to residents who are not subscribers to the paper. This includes a front page story in which Steggall’s ex-husband and his current wife described her as “opportunistic” and “lacking the temperament of a leader”. The couple have since declared that the Telegraph article does not reflect how they feel about Steggall’s candidature.
Kerryn Phelps says dirty tricks were behind the removal of hundreds of her election posters in her campaign to retain the seat of Wentworth. Labor’s Tim Murray has also complained that his posters had been removed and replaced by Liberal posters. Liberal challenger, Dave Sharma, rejects any allegation that this activity has been sanctioned by him or the Liberal Party. Today it was reported that Sharma’s posters have also been defaced.
The seats of Wentworth and Warringah are critical to the reelection of the Morrison government and it’s clear that some supporters of the conservative wing of the Coalition have “taken off the gloves”. We can only speculate if it’s because the independents are women or because they are moderates.
Maxine Newlands, Senior Lecturer in Political Science at James Cook University
Labor leader Bill Shorten’s first hustings in Herbert coincided with reports of a deal that the Coalition will preference Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP) over other populist parties.
UAP’s candidate, former NRL player Greg Dowling, will run for the lower house, while Palmer has his sights on the Senate. Palmer’s big cash splash announcement may cause more of a ripple than a bounce, considering former Queensland Nickel workers will have to wait until after the election to get their money back.
With One Nation and Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party (FACN) also throwing their hats into the ring, there’s now four right-leaning minor parties vying for votes.
Herbert’s 2019 election is shaping up to be a rerun of 2013. Six years ago, preferences played a huge role in deciding 97 of the 150 seats nationally. 40% of Queensland seats were decided on preference votes in 2013.
The latest polling shows UAP at 14% – almost the same as 2013 after preferences (15.52%), but this was before Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (PHON) confirmed their candidate. In 2016, One Nation preferences helped push the incumbent, Labor’s Cathy O’Toole, over the line. With a preference deal between LNP and UAP, Palmer’s chance of a seat in the Senate is a good bet, but it’s now a four-way spilt for the lower house.
UAP and Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) will be the benefactors in the Herbert electorate, placed ahead of Liberals and Labor on the how-to-vote cards. In a battle between UAP, PHON and FACN, it’s the Greens that could benefit the most.
With UAP aligned with LNP, the Greens candidate Sam Blackadder has a chance of picking up protest votes against Labor. The Greens could also take votes from latecomers, the Animal Justice Party, thanks to its clear policy on climate change – something that has eluded the major parties.
There’s a similar picture in Dickson, with One Nation, Fraser Anning and the Animal Justice Party all putting up candidates. Plus there’s former Palmer United Party, now independent candidate, Thor Prohaska running on a democracy ticket.
Like Herbert, PHON and FACN will have to fight for votes from UAP in Dickson. In 2013, Palmer’s party polled 9.8% of the vote in Dickson. With UAP favouring LNP over ALP like it did in 2013, it could help Dutton to retain his marginal seat this time around.
Ian Cook, Senior Lecturer of Australian Politics at Murdoch University
Attention was on Bill Shorten and Clive Palmer in WA election news this week.
Bill Shorten came under scrutiny when it was revealed that three WA Labor candidates had been forced to include him in their election advertising after they were found distributing pamphlets that made no reference to the Labor leader.
Polls consistently show that Australian voters prefer Scott Morrison to Bill Shorten as prime minister. But Shorten is a bigger problem for Labor in WA than he is elsewhere – although it’s not clear by how much.
A poll last month by Crosby Textor showed that Shorten had a minus 26 favourability in the Perth seat of Cowan, which is held by Labor’s Anne Aly by a margin of just 0.7%. That makes Shorten more unpopular in Cowan than he is in other marginal seats across the country. And it’s the reason that candidates would rather put Premier Mark McGowan in their campaign material.
Like the rest of Australia, many West Australians will vote Labor even though they don’t particularly like or trust Bill Shorten. So, we can expect more ads attacking Shorten as the Liberals look to capitalise on one of the few positives (or should that be negatives) they have to work with in WA.
Clive Palmer was in WA news for the same reason he was in everyone’s news: the Newspoll that showed that his United Australia Party would change the result in some marginal seats. That includes one of one of ours: Pearce.
Pearce is held by Christian Porter and this election is a big moment for him. Porter was Attorney-General in Scott Morrison’s government, and he has a high profile in WA. He was also on the way to becoming premier when he took a detour into federal politics. Porter undoubtedly has ambitions and is one of the bright young(ish) things in the WA Liberal Party, so his future is important to his party’s fate in the West.
After One Nation’s disastrous campaign in the last state election, WA voters are obviously looking elsewhere and Palmer has spent a lot of money on the UAP campaign. Christian Porter and the WA Liberals will be hoping that it isn’t enough to make the difference in Pearce.
Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer in Politics and Public Policy at Flinders University
It would be ironic, to say the least, if former Labor state Premier Jay Weatherill’s legacy will be to have delivered the final nail in the coffin of the Turnbull-Morrison governments.
Last week, water policy dominated the political and campaign agenda, with the issue of water buybacks causing significant problems for the Coalition, and the Nationals in particular. Yet the groundwork for this poisonous issue was laid when the Weatherill government set up a state royal commission into alleged water theft by the upstream states.
Since then, the issue has been a lingering problem, exacerbated by the dead fish in the Menindee. Since the revelations of the water buybacks story, this has proved a problematic issue, culminating with a remarkable interview on the ABC with the former Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Barnaby Joyce.
While elections are rarely ever decided in key marginal South Australian seats, this issue could be the exception. It’s striking how it has unified South Australians. When the original allegations of water fraud were revealed by the ABC, there was a press conference with all key South Australian senators, including Sarah Hanson-Young, Cory Bernadi, Nick Xenophon and Penny Wong. Commonwealth governments rarely benefit from this issue in the state where the Murray ends.
The Nationals have no presence in South Australia, and the electoral damage is likely to be limited to the Liberals in the seat of Mayo, where Centre Alliance MP Rebekah Sharkie has been strong on water policy. But this issue, so close to South Australian politics, could prove problematic on the national stage.
Michael Lester, researcher and PhD student at the Institute for the Study of Social Change
The Tasmanian North West Coast seat of Braddon is sitting on a knife-edge. Braddon is notoriously fickle, having changed hands five times since 1998, and margins are always tight.
Labor’s Justine Keay won the seat from the Liberal’s Brett Whitely in 2016. She retained the seat after having to resign and recontest it in the July 2018 citizenship byelections, but failed to make any electoral gains. She is now defending a very slim 1.7% margin.
In 2018, Keay had seven opponents. This election she is up against eight:
Karen Wendy Spaulding from the United Australia Party
independents Craig Brakey and Brett Michael Smith
Shane Allan from Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party
Liberal Gavin Pearce
The National’s Sally Milbourne
Phill Parsons from The Greens
Graham Gallaher from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.
Braddon is hard to call. In the absence of polling, local commentators are looking to the betting odds which presently place Keay as clear favourite at $1.45, with Pearce at $2.65. Despite that, some see Braddon as Liberal Party’s best chance of winning a seat in Tasmania – especially since an electoral boundary redistribution in 2017 added the more affluent Port Sorell area.
There is no single electorate-wide issue here. Braddon is a diverse mix of regional centres and agricultural districts extending from Devonport and Latrobe in the east, through Ulverstone, Burnie, Wynyard, Stanley, Smithton and Waratah, then down the west coast to the mining towns of Rosebery, Zeehan, Queenstown and the tourism and fishing village of Strahan. It also includes King Island in Bass Strait.
Tasmania’s recent economic renaissance has been slow to reach many areas of this electorate. So, candidates are aiming their promises at people’s concerns over economic development, jobs, youth training, health services and education. And both major parties have been careful to match almost anything the other side offers up.
Labor’s commitment of a A$25 million grant to support a Tasmanian AFL team has emerged as one big point of difference in the strongly pro-football Braddon, while the Liberals run a campaign on what better uses that money could be put to.
We’ll be back with an update on Victoria next week.
Our “state of the states” series takes stock of the key issues, seats and policies affecting the vote in each of Australia’s states.
We’ll check in with our expert political analysts around the country every week of the campaign for updates on how it is playing out.
Nick Economou, Senior Lecturer in the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash University
The first week of the 2019 election campaign is complete. So far the contest is looking like a dour football match between two defensive teams. Both Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Prime Minister Scott Morrison have campaigned in marginal seats in the famed “western Sydney”, where – according to legend – national elections are won or lost.
By midweek, both leaders had made it to Victoria, where there might not be many genuinely marginal seats, but the Victorian Liberal party is really anxious about the number of mid-range seats like Deakin, Flinders and even Higgins, which might be lost if an anti-Liberal swing commensurate with the state election should be repeated on May 18.
The two major party leaders have sought to reinforce the themes that underpinned the budget and budget-in-reply. The government hopes swinging voters will be enticed to vote Liberal with promises of tax cuts and warnings about Labor’s fiscal profligacy. Labor seeks to appeal to voters on health policy with grand commitments to addressing the challenges of cancer. These policy espousals occur against a backdrop of visits to marginal electorates where traps await for even the most experienced politicians.
In the seat of Reid, with its significant Chinese community, Morrison greets someone in Mandarin only to discover they are Korean. Shorten, meanwhile, meets someone suffering from cancer and who wants to know (for the benefit of the television crews, no doubt) why state Labor has done so little after promising to boost health funding at the last two state elections.
The early loss of some major party candidates has been the only really interesting thing to happen so far. Labor has lost its candidate for Curtin, Melissa Parke, following revelations that she had criticised Israel in a speech she had previously made on Middle Eastern politics. Criticising Israel is hardly the thing Labor wants to be known for when it is seeking to defend marginal seats such as Macnamara in Victoria.
The Liberal party has lost two candidates as well. In a reminder of the ongoing section 44 debacle, Liberal candidates for the Labor-held seats of Lalor and Wills, Kate Oski and Vaishali Gosch, have had to withdraw. Apparently doubts about their citizenship status arose from questionnaires they filled in for the Australian Electoral Commission as part of the nomination process.
Given that the parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters figured that up to 50% of Australians have been potentially disqualified from being candidates thanks to the High Court, something like this was bound to happen.
New South Wales
Chris Aulich, Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra
At this stage of the campaign, Labor appears likely to hold about the same number of NSW seats as it did in 2016. A possible Labor loss in the city seat of Lindsay, where Labor’s Emma Husar isn’t recontesting, could be offset by wins in Gilmore or Reid, where sitting Liberal members Ann Sudmalis and Craig Laundy aren’t recontesting either. A small swing of less than 2.5% against the Coalition is needed for Labor to win Robertson, Banks and Page, but currently, the swing isn’t anticipated to be enough for the seats to change hands.
The Coalition has the advantage of the recent strong win at state level in NSW, although its win was marred by a backlash against the Nationals in many regional seats. The Coalition now faces the risk of losing regional seats to several strong independent candidates, such as Rob Oakeshott in Cowper and, less likely, Kevin Mack in Farrer.
In the city seat of Warringah, Liberal Party polling reveals a swing of about 12% against Tony Abbott, who is facing a serious challenge from independent Zali Steggall. If that swing were realised at the election, Steggall would win the seat from Abbott. While Steggall will gain some advantage from GetUp’s targeting of Abbott, the former prime minister has support from the Advance Australia lobby, which has already claimed that Steggall is a “fake” independent.
The battlelines are drawn between traditional and modern conservatives in this seat, with the focus on issues like climate change adaptation, refugee policy and foreign aid. After a feisty first candidates’ debate last month, and recent complaints by Steggall that Advance Australia has “sexualised” her advertising hoardings, this seat promises a close and bare-knuckle contest.
The loss of any of these seats would make Scott Morrison’s task of winning government more difficult. With redistributions since the 2016 elections, the Coalition notionally holds 73 seats in the new 151-member house and cannot afford to lose any seats.
This week we also include seats in the ACT. Redistribution has added a third seat to the ACT, and all seats now have new boundaries. The notional swings needed by the Coalition vary from 9% to 13%, suggesting comfortable wins to Labor. But the Greens are hopeful their candidate in central Canberra, environmentalist and musician Tim Hollo, may be able to capture sufficient votes from the young, urban dwellers in the electorate to win.
In the Senate, the status quo of one seat for Labor and one for the Coalition is likely to remain with Labor’s Katy Gallagher, who is expected to be returned after losing her seat over dual citizenship. Liberal Zed Seselja only needs 33% of the two-party preferred vote to secure a quota and hold his seat.
Maxine Newlands, Senior Lecturer in Political Science at James Cook University
The federal government’s final go-ahead for Adani’s groundwater management plan has sparked a large scale grassroots campaign pushing back against the two major parties in Herbert.
The LNP, ALP, and Katter’s Australia Party all support the mega mine. Herbert incumbent ALP’s Cathy O’Toole is on record saying:
If this project has gone through the processes and the regulatory requirements and it’s passed, as it appears it has, it will go ahead, and it will be good for jobs in this city.
The Greens are running on a Stop Adani ticket. Millennials and the undecided voters will play an important role in this election as climate change and mining jobs become key election issues.
An Australia Institute report this week shows that 68% of Queenslanders want strong government action on climate change, 50% want no new coal mines, and 64% are looking for a rapid transition to 100% renewable energy. Leichhardt in far north Queensland, one of the eight LNP electorates on a majority of less than 4%, sees climate change as a major issue.
Last federal election, preference votes from minor parties – mainly One Nation – helped get Labor over the line in Herbert. With One Nation yet to declare a candidate in Herbert, Labor’s early seeming rejection of a preference deal with Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP) could backfire.
Labor assumed that Palmer would still owe A$70 million dollars to the Herbert community. That all changed on Monday with Palmer’s announcement he will repay wages owed to Queensland Nickel workers.
Palmer has announced he will run for the Senate, and he has nominated local rugby league star Greg Dowling as his candidate for Herbert. With no sign of a One Nation putting up candidates in Herbert, it could come down to a tight race between LNP, ALP, the Greens and the minor parties of UAP and Katter’s Australia Party. Rejecting a preference deal with UAP could be harmful to Labor, if Palmer’s payback bounce and recruiting of local sports star wins him votes come May 18.
Down south and Liberal incumbent Peter Dutton is facing a different challenge. Dutton’s role in Malcolm Turnbull’s undoing is still fresh in the minds of Dickson voters. As Michelle Grattan has pointed out:
Nationally, Peter Dutton will have a big footprint in the campaign. It won’t be a helpful one for Morrison.
Dickson is one of the eight marginal LNP seats with a majority of less than 4%. The campaigning there is already getting down to personality politics. Labor has taken the lead with a social media campaign weaponising Dutton’s role in the spill. Comments Dutton made about Labor candidate’s Ali France’s disability will not help shore up support.
Ian Cook, Senior Lecturer of Australian Politics at Murdoch University
Scott Morrison has his work cut out for him when it comes to convincing West Australians to accept his core message to voters: that they should reelect the Liberal-National Coalition government because they’re better economic managers than Labor.
He has two main problems. First, voters in Western Australia threw Colin Barnett’s Liberal-National Coalition government out in 2017, in part, because of its economic record. Second, many West Australians felt that their quality of life declined during the mining boom, so they know that lots of good economic data doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone’s lives will improve.
Economic management wasn’t the only issue that resulted in the Barnett government’s loss. Tension between the Coalition parties and the preference deal with One Nation didn’t help. But Labor focused part of their campaign on the Coalition government’s economic mismanagement during that election. And voters responded.
The evidence that conservative governments are just naturally better at managing an economy is thin, and there is just as much evidence that the reverse it true, as economics professor James Morley has pointed out. But the idea won’t go away as long as the economic orthodoxy is that governments shouldn’t interfere in the economy. And Australians believes that Coalition governments don’t interfere. Both views are open to question.
While other Australians may not question these assumptions about economic management, their recent experience with a Coalition government means that many West Australians will question them, and they’ll need convincing that they shouldn’t.
We had a two-speed economy shoved in our faces and one takeaway from this was that everyone doing well is not just about the economy doing well. The prime minister will get a chance to explain how I’ve gotten things terribly wrong when he appears in the first of the Leaders’ Debate in Perth on April 29.
Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer in Politics and Public Policy at Flinders University
Political memories can be short. At the last federal election, perhaps the single biggest factor shaping voting patterns was the impact of Nick Xenophon’s Centre Alliance. For many years, Xenophon was a mainstay of South Australian politics, with a canny knack for finding appeal. The ubiquitous politician was both a longstanding member of the SA parliament, first elected in 1997, and then a federal senator from 2008 to 2017. Xenophon, at one stage touted as a future premier for South Australia, left Canberra to try and make a splash at the 2018 state election.
Three years ago, at the national level, the Centre Alliance were poised to become a third force in South Australian politics, and a key disruptor to the major parties. In 2013, Xenophon’s team picked up a remarkable 24.9% of the vote, and in 2016 this was a still an impressive 21.3% of the vote. Last time out, the Centre Alliance had one member of the House of Representatives – Rebekha Sharkie picking off Liberal Jamie Briggs in Mayo, and three Senate positions. In terms of vote share, just over 250,000 South Australians voted for the the Centre Alliance.
But what now? With the charismatic Xenophon off the stage, it remains unclear what will happen to their vote share. While Sharkie is likely to hold off the challenge from Georgina Downer again, and it’s unclear how much impact the Centre Alliance will have. They are running three candidates, including Sharkie, for the lower house. Skye Kakoschke-Moore will be their lead Senate candidate.
At best, they seem to be angling to play a key kingmaker role in the Senate, making noises about limiting a potential Labor government’s franking credits and negative gearing policies. Yet, this seems a reactive campaign, and lacks Xenophon’s ability to pick key outlier issues. Moreover, where will moderate liberal and conservative voters find their voice?
Richard Eccleston, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institute for the Study of Social Change at the University of Tasmania
Labor now holds four of the five House of Representatives seats on the Apple Isle. With popular independent Andrew Wilkie’s vice-like grip on Tasmania’s fifth seat, the recently renamed electorate of Clark (formerly Denison), the chance of a Coalition upset next month seems remote.
But Tasmanian voters have ignored national trends, and delivered more than their fair share of upsets in recent elections, so there must be an outside chance that the Coalition could claw back a seat against the national tide.
Labor’s Ross Hart holds Bass, which takes in Launceston and much of North East Tasmania, by a reasonably comfortable 5.4%. But history suggests Labor shouldn’t be complacent given the electorate has been a graveyard for political careers in recent years. The last time a sitting member was returned for a second term was back in 2001, with the last five elections delivering big swings and unprecedented volatility.
The Liberals will be pinning their hopes on Bridget Archer, the mayor of the working class town of George Town, near Launceston. Archer may be the circuit breaker the Liberals need. She has a high profile in a community traditionally dominated by Labor, and, unlike the vocal conservative Andrew Nikolic who lost the seat in 2016, she won’t have to run the gauntlet of a national GetUp! campaign.
Scott Morrison has visited Bass twice in recent weeks, and a new poll commissioned by a forest industry group put the Liberals in front on a two-party preferred basis. But this result may have been skewed by the design of the poll and its focus on the future of forestry, an industry long championed by the Liberals in Tasmania.
On the other side of the ledger, Labor’s commitment to more funding for health and education, and greater tax relief for lower income households, is more likely to resonate with the electors of Bass than the Coalition’s emphasis on smaller government, and retaining concessions for property investors and self-funded retirees.
While the smart money is on Labor’s Ross Hart holding Bass, history suggests that we shouldn’t rule out an upset on election night.