Trump was able to garner massive support in segments of the American population, whereas Palmer’s UAP only managed 3.43% of first preference votes in the lower house at the 2019 federal election.
American-style populism does not resonate with large numbers of Australians. Australian political traditions are quite different to those of America especially in terms of welfare and health provision. Those who seek to take the populist route find it a hard road.
The last 12 months has demonstrated the significance of “quarantine culture” in Australia, a term first coined by cultural historian John Williams in the 1990s.
The natural instinct of Australians is to close borders against outside threats, be they national or state. The only partial exception to this rule at the moment is New South Wales — the one part of Australia that had a vigorous free trade (or internationalist) political culture in the 19th century.
In late 19th century and early 20th century Australia, writers such as WG Spence and magazines like The Bulletin talked about a desire to “protect” Australia against a harsh outside world and, if possible, limit the operation of international finance. The ideal was an Australia not dependent on the rest of the world.
In this regard, it is also worth recalling that one of the arguments often given for restricting Chinese immigration at the time was they were seen as carrying diseases into Australia.
This was a form of populism — but one quite different to the American version. It sought to protect Australia and Australians from the outside world, not to assert their right to liberty.
The COVID pandemic seems to have reignited this desire to protect Australians from an outside threat. The most remarkable aspect of this development has been the way in which this desire for protection has devolved to the state level.
Moves to close borders and institute quite draconian measures to halt the spread of the virus have been generally popular. Australians, it would seem, are more interested in being protected than they are in asserting their rights to do as they please.
What does this mean for Palmer?
This makes life quite difficult for someone such as Palmer, who has pushed for freedoms and border openings.
No wonder he has decided not to contest the WA state election. He is not in tune with the popular mood, which has strongly backed Labor Premier Mark McGowan’s hard border approach. It is not the time for libertarian populism.
It is difficult to know how long this protectionist attitude will last. One suspects the current situation with China has also fed into it. The mood is one of a threatening world.
… and for Morrison?
From here, two comments are worth making.
The first is political. Prime Minister Scott Morrison will need to cultivate this threatening mood if he is to succeed at the next federal election, which could be held as early as August. He will need to convince Australians he is the leader who will protect them most effectively. This means going slowly, slowly on things such as opening the international border.
The second is economic. Even in the 1890s, the Australian economy depended on international trade through the sale of wool. The idea Australia could operate independently of other countries was a fantasy.
The same is true today. The borders will need to re-open and students and tourists let in.
Morrison will have to perform a juggling act. He must appear to be providing protection even as he appreciates protection can only go so far.
In the meantime, the prospects look grim for populists such as Palmer and Hanson.
The prime minister and his coalition have the opportunity to steal many of their supporters. The pandemic shows that to be successful in Australian politics, leaders needs to pose as the protector of the people, not promise more freedom and more openness.
At the May 18 election, the size of the lower house was expanded from 150 to 151 seats. The Coalition parties won 77 seats (up one since the 2016 election), Labor 68 (down one) and the crossbench six (up one). The Coalition government holds a three-seat majority.
Owing to redistributions and the loss of Wentworth to independent Kerryn Phelps at an October 2018 byelection, the Coalition notionally had 73 seats before the election, a one-seat advantage over Labor. Using this measure, the Coalition gained a net four seats in the election.
The Coalition gained the Queensland seats of Herbert and Longman, the Tasmanian seats of Braddon and Bass, and the New South Wales seat of Lindsay. Labor’s only offsetting gain was the NSW seat of Gilmore. Corangamite and Dunkley are not counted as Labor gains as they were redistributed into notional Labor seats.
Four of the six pre-election crossbenchers easily held their seats – Adam Bandt (Melbourne), Andrew Wilkie (Clark), Rebekha Sharkie (Mayo) and Bob Katter (Kennedy). The Liberals narrowly regained Wentworth from Phelps, but independent Zali Steggall thrashed Tony Abbott 57%-43% in Warringah. In Indi, independent Helen Haines succeeded retiring independent Cathy McGowan, defeating the Liberals by 51.4%-48.6%.
The Coalition easily defeated independent challengers in Cowper and Farrer.
While Bandt was re-elected, the Greens went backwards in their other inner-Melbourne target seats of Wills and Cooper. Only in Kooyong did the Greens manage to beat Labor into second.
The final primary votes were 41.4% Coalition (down 0.6%), 33.3% Labor (down 1.4%), 10.4% Greens (up 0.2%), 3.4% United Australia Party (UAP) and 3.1% One Nation (up 1.8%).
The final two-party vote was 51.5% for the Coalition to 48.5% for Labor, a 1.2% swing in the Coalition’s favour from the 2016 election. It is the first pro-government swing since the 2004 election.
It was expected the Coalition would do better once the 15 “non-classic” seats were included; these are seats where the final two candidates were not Coalition and Labor. However, 11 of these seats swung to Labor, including a 9.0% swing in Warringah and a 7.9% swing in Wentworth. Eight non-classics were inner-city electorates that tended to swing to Labor.
The table below shows the number of seats in each state and territory, the Coalition’s number of seats, the Coalition’s percentage of seats, the gains for the Coalition compared to the redistribution, the Coalition’s two-party vote, the swing to the Coalition in two-party terms, and the number of Labor seats.
Four of the six states recorded swings to the Coalition in the range from 0.9% to 1.6%. Victoria was the only state that swung to Labor, by 1.3%. Queensland had a 4.3% swing to the Coalition, far larger than any other state. Labor did well to win a majority of NSW seats despite losing the two-party vote convincingly.
Official turnout in the election was 91.9%, up 0.9% from 2016. Analyst Ben Raue says 96.8% of eligible voters were enrolled, the highest ever. That means effective turnout was 89.0% of the population, up 2.6%.
Education divide explains Coalition’s win
Not only did Steggall thump Abbott in Warringah, the electorate’s 9.0% swing to Labor on a two-party basis was the largest swing to Labor in the country. Abbott’s two-party vote percentage of 52.1% was by far the lowest for a conservative candidate against Labor since Warringah’s creation in 1922; the next lowest was 59.5% in 2007.
While Abbott did badly, other divisive Coalition MPs performed well. Barnaby Joyce won 54.8% of the primary vote in New England and gained a 1.2% two-party swing against Labor. Peter Dutton had a 3.0% two-party swing to him in Dickson, and George Christensen had a massive 11.2% two-party swing to him in Dawson, the second-largest for the Coalition nationally.
According to the 2016 census, 42% of those aged 16 and over in Warringah had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 22% in Australia overall. Just 13.5% had at least a bachelor’s degree in New England, 19% in Dickson and 12% in Dawson.
In Victoria, which swung to Labor, 24.3% of the population had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2016, the highest of any state in the nation.
The Grattan Institute has charted swings to Labor and the Coalition, taking into account wealth and tertiary education. Only polling booths in the top-income quintile swung to Labor; the other four income quintiles swung to the Coalition.
Areas with low levels of tertiary education swung strongly to the Coalition in NSW and Queensland, but less so in Victoria. There were solid swings to Labor in areas with high levels of tertiary education.
Some of the swings are explained by contrary swings in 2016, when the Coalition under Malcolm Turnbull performed relatively worse in lower-educated areas and better in higher-educated areas. However, Queensland’s 58.4% two-party vote for the Coalition was 1.4% better than at the 2013 election, even though the national result is 2.0% worse. The large swings to the Coalition in regional Queensland are probably partly due to the Adani coal mine issue.
Morrison’s appeal to lower-educated voters
Since becoming prime minister, Scott Morrison’s Newspoll ratings have been roughly neutral, with about as many people saying they are satisfied with him as those dissatisfied. After Morrison became leader, I suggested on my personal website that the Coalition would struggle with educated voters, and this occurred in the election. However, Morrison’s appeal to those with a lower level of education more than compensated.
In my opinion, the most important reason for the Coalition’s upset victory was that Morrison was both liked and trusted by lower-educated voters, while they neither liked nor trusted Labor leader Bill Shorten.
Earlier this month, The Guardian published a long report on the social media “death tax” scare campaign. While this and other Coalition scare campaigns may have had an impact on the result, they did so by playing into lower-educated voters’ distrust of Shorten. Had these voters trusted Shorten, such scare campaigns would have had less influence.
Labor also ran scare campaign ads attacking Morrison for deals with Clive Palmer and Pauline Hanson. But I believe these ads failed to resonate because lower-educated voters liked Morrison better.
I think Morrison won support from the lower-educated because they are sceptical of “inner-city elites”. The Coalition leader emphasised his non-elite attributes during the campaign, such as by playing sport and going to church. Turnbull was perceived as a member of the elite, which could explain swings to Labor in lower-educated areas in 2016.
Parallels can be drawn to the 2017 election in the UK. Labour performed far better than expected in the election, reducing the Conservatives to a minority government when they were expected to win easily. Labour had adopted a pro-Brexit position, which may have sent a message to lower-educated voters that they could support the party.
This offers an option for Australian Labor to try to win back support from lower-educated voters: adopt a hardline immigration policy. Votes that Labor would lose to the Greens by doing this would likely be returned as preferences.
See also my similar article on how Donald Trump won the US 2016 presidential election.
The problem with the polls
The table below shows all national polls released in the final week compared to the election result. A poll estimate within 1% of the actual result is in bold.
The polls did well on the One Nation and UAP votes, and were a little low on the Greens. The major source of error was that Labor’s vote was overstated and the Coalition’s was understated. Only Ipsos had Labor’s vote right, but it overstated the Greens vote by about three points – a common occurrence for Ipsos.
No poll since July 2018 had given the Coalition a primary vote of at least 40%. In the election, the Coalition parties received 41.4% of the vote.
Seat polls during the campaign were almost all from YouGov Galaxy, which conducts Newspoll. The Poll Bludger says these polls were, like the national polls, biased against the Coalition.
Analyst Peter Brent has calculated the two-party vote for all election-day and early votes. The gap between election day and early votes increased to 5.0% in 2019 from 4.6% in 2016. This does not imply that polls missed because of a dramatic late swing to the Coalition in the final days; it is much more likely the polls have been wrong for a long time.
Boris Johnson very likely to be Britain’s next PM, and left wins Danish election
I wrote for The Poll Bludger on June 14 that, after winning the support of 114 of the 313 Conservative MPs in the first round of voting, Boris Johnson is virtually assured of becoming the next British PM. Polls suggest he will boost the Conservative vote.
I also wrote on my personal website on June 6 about the left’s win in the Danish election. Also covered: a new Israeli election, the German Greens’ surge, and the left gaining a seat in the May 4 Tasmanian upper house periodical elections.
Can billionaires buy elections in Australia? In the 2019 election, Clive Palmer demonstrated they can certainly flood the print media, airwaves, social media and billboards with advertising and have an impact on the results through their preferences and negative advertising.
Apart from United Australia Party hype about how it was going to win government, most of the high-profile advertising in the 2019 campaign was negative. There is a longstanding 48-hour ban on political advertising in radio and broadcast media prior to polling day, but advertising on social media is not covered. The very useful Facebook Ad Library showed the kind of horrors being broadcast during the 48-hour blackout.
The Coalition was running many “death tax” ads on the Thursday and Friday. These were ads cut to show one Labor frontbencher after another saying the words “death tax”, when in fact they were denying a rumour about such a tax. Negativity, or even sheer invention, proved very effective.
By comparison, Labor ads on issues such as childcare or the gender pay gap – as well as its own negative ads aimed at the Coalition’s disunity and climate change policies – appeared to have little impact.
Lack of regulations at federal level
How have we arrived at a place where our elections are awash with paid advertising? Believe it or not, this has been a relatively recent phenomenon.
Elaborate precautions exist to prevent wealthy men practically purchasing seats: the expenditure of a senatorial candidate is limited to £250 and of a candidate for the other House to £100.
These expenditure limits became increasingly obsolete and were not enforced. They were discarded at the federal level after 1980, following a successful challenge to the election of three candidates in the Tasmanian seat of Denison for each having spent more than A$1,500 in the 1979 state election.
From that time, Australia has been notable for the laxity of its regulation of political finance. At the federal level, there are no restrictions on the size or source of donations to political parties, apart from the recent ban on foreign donations. And there are no limits on campaign expenditure or paid advertising, apart from the requirement for authorisation.
As a result, industry bodies wishing to fend off government regulation of guns or poker machines or financial advice are free to spend as much as they like on political donations and advertising.
There is also no “truth in advertising” requirement at the federal level, and the Australian Electoral Commission does not have the authority to approve electoral communications for publication. The only requirement in the Commonwealth Electoral Act is for authorisation, including of electronic advertising. Ultimately, it is up to the courts to enforce this, on a case by case basis.
This differs greatly from many countries in Europe, including the UK, Ireland and the Scandinavian countries, which have never allowed such paid political advertising. Two-thirds of European countries limit the amount a candidate can spend on a campaign, including advertising, and 43% limit the amount a party can spend.
This decision put a dampener on reform at the federal level. It is only recently the High Court has changed course to find that burdens on free speech can be legitimate if they serve another democratic purpose, such as political equality.
The constitutionality of regulating political donations was reaffirmed by the High Court in April 2019.
The government had passed amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act to enable Commonwealth law to override the tighter regulation of political donations at the state or territory level. This provision was overturned by the High Court and Queensland’s ban on developer donations was upheld. This was despite an attempt by the plaintiff, former LNP Queensland President Gary Spence, to argue it restricted freedom of political communication.
These High Court decisions open the way to possible future caps on expenditure and donations at the federal level, which could reduce the torrent of negative political advertising democracy is currently drowning in.
Impacts of unlimited spending on democracy
The lack of restrictions on political expenditure or donations at the federal level has contributed to perceptions that government is run primarily for the benefit of the big end of town. In 2016, 56% of respondents to the Australian Election Study believed this.
In addition, negative advertising further erodes the public’s faith in government. American political scientist Joseph Nye observed more than 20 years ago a relationship between negative advertising and loss of trust in political parties and government. In the Democracy 2025 survey conducted in Australia last year, respondents were asked about possible reforms to rebuild trust in government. It revealed strongest support for limits on political donations and campaign expenditure.
The laxity of political finance regulation at the federal level also creates loopholes at the state or territory level, where genuine progress has been made in limiting political expenditure by parties, candidates and lobbying groups.
It is equally important that allowing paid political advertising in electronic media drives up the costs of political campaigns and increases dependence on wealthy donors.
Australia could rein in the ever-increasing role of private money in its federal elections. Labor and the Greens are committed to greater transparency for political donations and spending caps on federal campaign expenditure, while the High Court has shown it is now unlikely to strike down reasonable (“proportionate”) regulation of political finance.
Democracy should be about political equality, not about the deep pockets of billionaires.
As head of the United Australia Party, Clive Palmer is no classic right-winger nor crotchety conservative. He is no angel either. He is often wrongly lumped in with Pauline Hanson and One Nation, and maybe even with the more recent retreads like Fraser Anning and Cory Bernardi.
But he is not like them. He is a big-spending, eccentric, brusque businessman espousing a strange mixture of populist musings. He is also eager to end the strangulation the major parties exert over policy options. On some issues he is more progressive than Labor (asylum seekers); on others he is more adventurous than the Coalition (taxation) – he is a protectionist nationalist without the xenophobic baggage.
So, just what is Palmer up to in this election campaign? After a fairly desultory campaign in 2013 when he won a single lower house seat and initially three senators, he sat out the 2016 federal election. Now, he’s back in full force, spending upwards of A$55 million before the election comes to an end. He’s standing candidates in every electorate and running a team in every senate constituency. Polling is showing him “influential” in many swing seats with support running into the mid-teens in some electorates.
Why is he spending so much of his own money on what looks like a pyrrhic campaign, even if he is elected to the Senate for Queensland?
Many people say Palmer has no policies, he stands for nothing except himself, and is just fanning a protest vote.
It’s true that Palmer tends to campaign with hackneyed slogans: “Make Australia Great”, “Aussies aren’t going to cop it any more” and “Let’s get something done for a change”, being the main three. He also authorises crass advertising – his prominent billboards and full-page poster-style advertisements feature himself, curtained in canary yellow, with the implicit message that the Liberals and Labor “don’t fight for you”. He is partial to hyperbole, and in the media often lives in a world of denial.
At the 2013 federal election, Palmer’s United Party released a slender raft of policy proposals. He opposed the carbon tax and supported tax reductions, but he also proposed a more compassionate policy towards asylum seekers, a conscience vote on same-sex marriage, free university places for residents, tax relief for mortgagees, regional wealth retention, and smaller government. Many of his 2013 policies reappear in recycled form in 2019.
He claims as his achievements to have stopped many of the “zombie” measures Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey tried to impose in the 2014 budget. These include: stopping GP co-payments of $7 per visit, opposing cuts to universities, preventing more social security cuts, opposing an increase in the eligible age for the age pension to 70 years, supporting climate change and renewable energy proposals, and supporting a ban on lobbyists and the removal of boat-arrival children from offshore detention. He also claimed credit for supporting the abolition of the carbon tax and the mining tax, and for bringing down Campbell Newman’s LNP government in Queensland.
This election, the UAP is proposing to increase pensions by 20% immediately (or $4,000 a year for each pensioner). It is advocating an extra $80 billion spending on health and a further $20 billion for education over the next parliament. Palmer continues to support mining development (with more onshore processing of commodities) and a zonal taxation system, with wealth generated in regions remaining in regions. He wants immediate investment in very fast trains.
The UAP is also fiercely criticising other mainstream party policies. For instance, Palmer opposes the “sell-off” of agricultural land to foreign buyers, targeting in particular Chinese government-owned companies for their aggressive purchasing strategies. His position is not xenophobic: he detests Chinese Communist Party business practices because of first-hand experience, but he is not against people of Chinese descent coming here or doing well.
He opposes the ALP’s tax policy, regarding it as insufficient and mostly deferred until after 2024. He wants all income tax rates reduced by 15% now, and for companies and small businesses to pay their tax bill at the end of the financial year once their earnings are finalised (thus abolishing the pernicious provisional tax paid quarterly in advance).
He also wants mortgagees to be able to get a tax offset for the first $10,000 of repayments to help first-home buyers. Furthermore, the UAP is campaigning for the abolition of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and ending the public profligacy of water buy-backs. Palmer claims that spending on the national broadband network has “wasted” $55 billion “and it still doesn’t work”.
Palmer’s revival in his electoral stocks has occurred despite him being embroiled in many controversies and untrustworthy business practices. These include the debacle over the Coolum Resort, which closed under his management, costing 600 jobs and leaving over 300 investors without their assets.
Many commentators who highlight Palmer’s record believe the preference deal with the Liberals and LNP could perhaps damage the Coalition vote. But although Labor will whinge to the closing of the polls on May 18, I expect the cross-preferencing arrangement to benefit both the LNP and the UAP.
Palmer may not win any lower house seats, but his preferences might determine who does in up to 20 seats. If his electoral support continues to grow, he may well secure two or three senate positions, almost back to where he was in 2013.
But he is coming under widespread attack as an illegitimate player by many commentators and media outlets as well as his political opponents. Most of the major papers and TV news outlets regularly slam his antics (Google “Clive Palmer’s Criticism”).
The key perhaps to understanding Palmer’s gravity-defying electoral support is that he is a “positive populist” rather than a largely negative populist along the lines of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, who has based her own protectionist stance much more explicitly on race and xenophobia. Indeed, Palmer eschews the racist policies and dog-whistling his rival right-of-centre competitors have delivered, including One Nation and Fraser Anning’s Conservatives.
Palmer carefully tailors his positive populist messages to appreciative audiences: his line that “something must be done” has resonated.
Certainly, some of Palmer’s electoral support at the ballot box will be simply a protest vote (and he will be aware of that). But perhaps some greater proportion will be voting for more genuine diversity from what the cartelised major parties are offering. Australia seems ripe for a more serious positive populism offered by Palmer and his UAP. The ultimate question will be whether the wheels will again fall of the wagon.
And what after the election? Palmer’s boast that he will form government is fanciful. He has long been anti-Labor and in this election is not directing preferences their way, so he may be well and truly ostracised by Labor if it wins office.
Alternatively, if the Coalition scrapes back in it will be partly obligated to his preferences and will have to accommodate whoever the UAP manages to get into parliament.
The last time Palmer held this power his influence quickly waned as his “team” mostly abandoned him. We will soon see if he has learnt from bitter experience.
This article is adapted from an earlier piece published in The Machinery of Government.
This year’s election will be the first in Australia where the parties will be advertising more on social and digital platforms than traditional media (TV, radio, newspapers and magazines).
There are a few key reasons for this. First, cost-wise, social media is far cheaper, sometimes as low as a few cents per click. Unlike heritage media, digital and social is extremely targeted, and can be done in the “dark,” so your opponents may not even be aware of the message you are pushing out.
Digital and social advertising can also be shared or even created by users themselves, further increasing the reach of a party’s messaging. This gets around the Australian Electoral Commission rules on advertising – technically they are not ads since no party is paying for them to be shared on people’s feeds.
Throw into the mix laws on political advertising – which allow parties to advertise up to and on election day on social media, but not traditional media – and we are likely seeing the first largely digitally driven election campaign in Australian political history.
From a campaign perspective, Palmer is ticking many of the right boxes: a mix of different platforms on digital and social; heritage media ads for mass market awareness featuring candidates selected from the middle; the use of memes and user-generated content; and even text messaging.
Despite the ubiquity of his ads, though, Palmer is still struggling to connect with most voters. This demonstrates a very important aspect to any advertising campaign: the actual brand still needs to be seen as offering real value to voters.
The UAP has used text messaging like this one below, for example, to try to change its negative perception with voters by delivering positive campaign promises.
The ‘Grim Reaper’ strategy and micro-targeting
One of the most effective ads ever done in Australia was the “Grim Reaper” AIDS awareness campaign in 1987, which showed how well “scare campaigns” and negative messaging can work, given the right context and framing. The ad’s micro-messaging was another aspect that worked so well: it personalised the issue and made it tangible to anyone sexually active.
Basically, negative messaging works on the theory that what you fear, you will avoid – or the “fight or flight response”. Negative political ads highlight the level of risk and consequence of a certain party’s policies – and then emphasise how to avoid this by not voting for them.
Trouble is, most ads on TV are losing their potency. As attitudes towards political messaging and brands become increasingly negative, voters are less likely to watch ads in their entirety. Many people also don’t see them as being personally relevant.
Social media, though, provides an excellent delivery mechanism for these types of messages. Digital ads can be personalised and focused on issues that voters have already expressed an interest in and therefore find relevant to their lives.
Social media ads can also be altered to be even more targeted as the campaign goes on, based on voter responses. And their speed of production – only taking a matter of hours to produce and place online – allows digital advertising to do what heritage no longer can and provide a more fluid, grassroots dynamic to campaigning.
That said, even on social media, negative advertising is not as effective if it just comes from the party itself. But when combined with information from third-party sources, such as from the media, this can increase the effectiveness. For example, the Liberal Party used the 10 Network image in this ad to support its claims on Labor’s tax policies.
The major parties are aware of this and are creating ads specifically targeting this demographic on Snapchat, WhatsApp and Instagram. Some of these are “dark social” ads (meaning they can only be seen by the target market) or are user-made so not to be subject to disclosure rules.
For more general audiences, Labor has created ads like this one on Facebook that highlight issues young voters are concerned about, such as wage increases and penalty rates. Ads like this also attempt to engage with these voters by asking them to sign petitions – a form of experiential marketing that’s proved highly effective with young audiences, as seen through platforms such as Change.org.
Groups like the Australian Youth Climate Coalition are tapping into experiential marketing by combining online advertising with a call for offline action on issues that appeal to young voters, such as climate change. Part-rock concert, part-protest, these events might remind some of the rallies that proved so popular during the Gough Whitlam era.
The increasing influence of lobbying groups
One of the more interesting developments of this election so far is the increasing sophistication, knowledge and strategies of political lobbying groups, or Australia’s equivalent to America’s PACs.
GetUp! is one such group, collecting A$12.8 million in donations in the last 12 months alone. Among the group’s tactics are direct phone calls to voters, partly achieved through “phone parties” where volunteers freely offer their time, phones and other resources to call people in targeted electorates. GetUp! has a goal of making 1 million phone calls in the lead-up to the election.
Other well-funded groups, such as the right-aligned Advance Australia, are also seeking to influence the narrative in the election, particularly in electorates like Warringah, where it has released ads against Tony Abbott’s challenger, Zali Steggall.
In part to counter the influence of lobbying groups, the Australian Council of Trade Unions has launched its own advertising campaign featuring working Australians describing how hard it is to make ends meet.
The rise of these groups in Australian politics opens a Pandora’s Box on just who can influence elections without even standing a single candidate – an issue that’s becoming part of politics now in many Western democracies. As many in politics would know, where there is money, there is power, and where there is power, there are those who are seeking to influence it.
With 19 days to go until election day, this week’s Newspoll, conducted April 26-28 from a sample of 2,140, gave Labor just a 51-49 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (down one), 37% Labor (down two), 9% Greens (steady), 5% for Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP) and 4% One Nation (steady).
Three weeks before the election, the UAP has been included in the party readout for the first time. Prior to this change, the tables show that the UAP had 2% support in the post-budget Newspoll and 3% last fortnight – they were previously published as Others. According to pollster David Briggs (paywalled), both UAP and One Nation preferences are assumed to flow at 60% to the Coalition.
Given results at the WA and Queensland 2017 elections and at the Longman 2018 federal byelection, where One Nation preferences flowed at over 60% to the Coalition, this assumption is justified for One Nation, and was the standard assumption from early 2018.
However, the UAP has no electoral record. At the 2013 election that Palmer contested under the Palmer United Party, PUP preferences split 53.7-46.3 to the Coalition. At that election, PUP recommended preferences to the Coalition in all House seats, the same situation as now, and the Labor government was on the nose.
45% were satisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance (steady) and 46% were dissatisfied (up two), for a net approval of -1. Bill Shorten’s net approval was up two points to -12, his best net approval since May 2016. Morrison led Shorten by 45-37 as better PM (46-35 last fortnight).
Morrison was trusted to keep campaign promises over Shorten by 41-38. In some evidence for UAP preferences splitting to the Coalition, UAP voters favoured Morrison on this question by 53-13, though this is from a subsample of about 100 UAP voters.
The change in party readout and the preference assumptions for UAP explain the narrowing in this poll from 52-48 to 51-49. But there has been a clear overall narrowing trend this year from the last three Newspolls of 2018, which were all 55-45 to Labor. Morrison’s relatively good ratings and greater distance from the events of last August are assisting the Coalition.
The Poll Bludger’s BludgerTrack currently has Labor winning 87 of the 151 seats on a 52.4-47.6 two party vote. The Coalition’s primary vote in Newspoll is 4% down from 2016, but preference changes since 2016 could assist the Coalition, and that is reflected in Newspoll. However, Ipsos polls have shown no difference between last election and respondent allocated preferences since Morrison became PM.
In economic news, the ABS reported on April 24 that there was zero inflation in the March quarter. While this was bad for the overall economy, it is good for consumers worried about the cost of living. Lower oil prices in late 2018 meant petrol prices fell in January, but have since increased.
YouGov Galaxy poll: 52-48 to Labor
A YouGov Galaxy poll for the Sunday News Ltd tabloids, conducted April 23-25 from a sample of 1,012, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since late March. Primary votes were 37% Coalition (up two), 37% Labor (steady), 9% Greens (down one), 4% One Nation (down four), 4% UAP (steady) and 9% for all Others (up three). YouGov Galaxy also conducts Newspoll.
Voters were asked if they were impressed or unimpressed with the campaign performances of six party leaders, and all performed poorly. Morrison was the best with a 54-38 unimpressed score, Shorten had a 60-31 rating, Nationals leader Michael McCormack a 38-8 rating, Greens leader Richard Di Natale had a 44-13 unimpressed score, Pauline Hanson a 67-20 rating and Clive Palmer a horrible 69-17 unimpressed rating.
The many don’t knows for Di Natale and McCormack reflect that most people don’t know very much about them. While ratings for Morrison and Shorten would be based to some extent on their campaign performance, those for Hanson and Palmer are much more likely based on voters’ opinions of them before the campaign.
Palmer’s preference deal with the Coalition
Under a preference deal between Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP) and the Coalition, Palmer would direct preferences to the Coalition in House seats in return for Coalition preferences in the Senate. It is important to note that voters make the choices in both houses now, and can ignore preference recommendations.
In 2013, Palmer recommended preferences to the Coalition in all seats, and they flowed to the Coalition by a 53.7-46.3 margin; his party won 5.5% of the national vote in the House. While this split was not more pro-Coalition, analyst Peter Brent suggests that Palmer voters were more inclined to preference Labor, and the preference recommendations had some impact.
If the UAP won 4% of the national vote and their preference recommendations convinced 10% of their voters who would otherwise preference Labor to preference the Coalition, the Coalition’s national two party vote would by 0.4% higher than otherwise.
However, this analysis ignores the risk of doing a deal with someone as disliked by the general public as Palmer. In a January Herbert seat Newspoll, 65% had a negative view of Palmer, and just 24% a positive view.
So while a preference deal with Palmer could earn the Coalition some more preferences, it could also damage their overall primary vote, hurting them more than helping. Labor will attack Palmer over the sacked Queensland Nickel workers, and that could impact the Coalition’s support among people with a lower level of educational attainment.
Does early voting make a difference to the results?
Pre-poll voting booths for the election are open from today. Under Australia’s compulsory voting, people are required to vote, and those who vote early are unlikely to have voted differently if they voted on election day unless there was a dramatic late-campaign development. So there is likely to be little overall impact of early voting on the results. In voluntary voting systems like the US, early voting gives people who need to work on election day a greater opportunity to vote.
If one party was trending up in the polls as election day approached, early voters will decide their vote earlier, and so the trend will also be reflected in early votes.
While early voting overall has little impact, the types of people who vote early can differ markedly from the election day vote. Big pre-poll booths will not report until very late on election night, and the results could change significantly depending on those booths – as happened in the October Wentworth byelection.
With 23 days to go until the May 18 election, Newspoll had seat polls of Herbert, Lindsay, Deakin and Pearce. All four polls were conducted April 20 from samples of 500-620. Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP) had the support of 5% in Deakin, 7% in Lindsay, 8% in Pearce and 14% in Herbert.
Seat polls are notoriously unreliable. In addition, the UAP has clearly been added to the party readout in these seats. Pollsters regularly ask for Labor, the Coalition, the Greens and One Nation. All other voters are grouped as “Others”, although a follow-up question can be asked – if Other, which other?
The strongest indication that UAP support is overstated in these seat polls is that the all Others vote is unrealistically low in three of the four seats polled. In Herbert, Pearce and Deakin, all Others are at just 2%, while they are 8% in Lindsay. It is likely that many of those who will vote for Others at the election said they would vote for the UAP as that party was in the readout.
Herbert was tied at 59-50, unchanged from the 2016 election. In Lindsay, Labor was ahead by 51-49, also unchanged. The Liberals led by 51-49 in Deakin, but this was a solid swing to Labor from 56.4-43.6 to the Liberals at the 2016 election. In Pearce, there was a 50-50 tie (53.6-46.4 to Liberals at the 2016 election).
Primary votes in Herbert were 31% LNP, 29% Labor, 14% UAP, 10% Katter’s Australian Party, 9% One Nation and 5% Greens. In Deakin, primary votes were 46% Liberals, 39% Labor, 8% Greens and 5% UAP. In Pearce, primary votes were 40% Liberals, 36% Labor, 8% Greens, 8% UAP and 6% One Nation. In Lindsay, primary votes were 41% Liberals, 40% Labor, 7% UAP and 4% Greens.
Relative to the national swing, Labor is expected to struggle in the Townsville-based seat of Herbert due to the Adani coal mine issue. In Lindsay, the retirement of Labor MP Emma Husar in controversial circumstances may have made it vulnerable.
Bad ReachTEL seat polls for Labor in Bass and Corangamite
There were two ReachTEL seat polls conducted last week from samples of 780-850. In the Labor-held Tasmanian seat of Bass, the Liberals had a 54-46 lead. In the Victorian seat of Corangamite, which is on no margin following a redistribution, the Liberals led by 52-48. The Bass poll was conducted for the Australian Forest Products Association, and the Corangamite poll for The Geelong Advertiser.
Bass and Tasmania have an older demographic than Australia overall. I wrote last week that, according to Newspoll data, those aged 50 or over are best for the Coalition. Corangamite also has an older demographic than the country overall.
Labor won Bass by 56.1-43.9 at the 2016 election, a 10.1% swing to Labor. But at the 2013 election, Bass was the best of the five Tasmanian seats for the Liberals, and this also occurred at the March 2018 state election. Labor’s big 2016 swing may have been caused by the unpopularity of hard-right Liberal MP Andrew Nikolic. In the July 2018 federal byelections, Labor had an underwhelming victory in Bass’s neigbouring seat, Braddon.
While seat polls are unreliable, the Corangamite and Bass polls are evidence that, as reported by The Poll Bludger originally from The Australian Financial Review, Scott Morrison appears to have a greater appeal to blue-collar and outer suburban voters than Malcolm Turnbull, and this has helped the Coalition in seats like Bass and Corangamite.
One Nation to contest 59 of the 151 House seats
Nominations for the election were declared this week. Labor, the Coalition, the Greens and the UAP will contest all 151 House seats. One Nation will contest 59 seats, with Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party running in 48 seats, Animal Justice in 46 and the Christian Democrats in 42.
Until now, national pollsters have assumed One Nation was running in all seats for their polls. With One Nation only running in 39% of seats, most pollsters will reduce their national vote. This reduction may assist the Coalition on primary votes.
In the Senate, a quota for election is one-seventh of the vote, or 14.3%. Labor, the Greens and the Coalition are likely to be in the mix for the final seats in every state. It is possible that the small right-wing parties, such as Anning’s party, the UAP, the Australian Conservatives and Christian Democrats, could cause seats that should go to the right to go to the left instead if they do not tightly preference each other, One Nation and the Coalition.
Voters are told to number six boxes above the line for a formal vote, though only one number is actually required. At the NSW state election, left-wing micro-party voters preferenced more than right-wing micro-party voters, resulting in Animal Justice easily winning the final upper house seat.
At the federal election, it will be clear that left-wing micro-party supporters need to preference Labor and the Greens in their top six. It will be clear for right-wing micro supporters to preference the Coalition in the top six, but it is not likely to be clear which other right-wing party to preference.
Ahead of the first pre-pollers voting on Monday – and then switching off from the campaign noise – Labor will dangle more big bait – this time on child care.
Bill Shorten flagged the initiative on Friday, saying that “in the very near future, we’ll be announcing new plans to cut the cost of long day child care. And we will announce … a new national push for pay equity, starting with early childhood educators”.
The policy is both pitching to parents, and forming part of the ALP commitment to finding ways to lift wages, especially for the low paid.
Labor mapped out its early campaign weeks to focus on issues of very specific concern to voters. It started with health, featuring its big cancer package, and moved to wages. It will broaden into cost of living, and building for the future on various policy fronts.
While the ALP has handled the presentation of its issues in a very ordered fashion, the same can’t be said of its approach to one of the campaign’s formalities – the leaders’ debates.
The debate over debates
Shorten gave the impression of being dragged to the two now bedded down – in Perth on Monday (sponsored by the West Australian) and Brisbane on Friday (sponsored by News Corp outlets).
Morrison agitated for more; with Shorten pushed on Friday, Labor proposed a third be hosted by the National Press Club.
Morrison is confident on his feet and feels he has nothing to lose by multiple encounters. Shorten should have set out a debates’ proposal early on, rather than appearing to be on the defensive.
One might have expected the Labor leader to be enthusiastic for debates – he prides himself on all those town hall meetings. But he’s now risk averse and, as election favourite, knows debates potentially hold more pain than gain for him.
More broadly, in recent years leaders’ debates have lost a lot of their significance, falling victim to competitive pressure between media outlets. As has been often argued, we should have a “debates commission” to ensure at least two face offs are run as major set piece occasions, not owned by any media organisation.
The deal that’s “no deal”
Apart from the debate about debates, Friday’s campaign argy bargy centred on the Liberals’ preference deal with Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party, due to be announced by Palmer on Monday.
Morrison displays his usual chutzpah over this rather tawdry trade.
On the murky matter of preferences, the Prime Minister would prefer to hide behind the party organisation, an unconvincing line blown apart when he issued his edict about the Liberals putting One Nation behind Labor.
In particularly awkward timing, Morrison was in Townsville – where Palmer’s nickel workers were dudded in 2016 – when he had to field questions about the preference deal.
As one questioner succinctly put it: “Nowhere in the country knows better than Townsville the devastation and how that can be wrought by Clive Palmer. How can you look voters in this city in the eye and say they should direct their preferences to him, especially in the Senate?”
That is a question to which there is no answer that can sound half way good.
Morrison’s message for the locals was “Vote for Phil Thompson, the LNP candidate. That’s where you should put your vote and that’s the vote I’m interested in.”
Never mind that this ignores the point that voters must allocate preferences and the Liberals are saying allocate them in Palmer’s direction.
Morrison insisted there were “no policy deals that were being done with minor parties” in preference talks.
It was really all a matter of Palmer believing “Labor’s tax policy would be devastating for the Australian economy.”
As far as Morrison was concerned, “ I’m interested in forming a government on the other side of this election. I’m going make sure I do everything I possibly can to ensure that we’re able to form that government”.
He was dismissive of a warning from former Western Australian premier Colin Barnett (still stung by his preference deal with One Nation) that preferencing a discredited Palmer could alienate soft voters, as well as the Chinese.
Both sides now
The preference issue seemed easy pickings for Labor, except it had had a dalliance itself with the big man.
Shorten said there had been “no formal negotiations”, but Anthony Albanese unwisely went further. “Not once have we been talking to Clive Palmer about preferences because we understand it’s a recipe for chaos”.
Palmer immediately blew the whistle on that, revealing Queensland senator Anthony Chisholm had put out feelers. Chisholm, as a former Queensland ALP state secretary, would know quite a lot about such things.
It took the gloss off Labor’s attack on a deal it wanted to cast, in the colourful wording of Penny Wong, as “a marriage of convenience between an ad man and a con man”.
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.
This election is acquiring quite a few back-to-the-future touches.
There’s John Howard, in robust campaign mode. One of those he’s spruiking for is the embattled Tony Abbott, with a letter to Warringah voters, a video and a planned street walk.
Then there’s a prospect that independent Rob Oakeshott might be set for resurrection. Oakeshott, remembered for that 17-minute speech when he (finally) announced he’d support the Gillard government, could strip the Nationals of the northern NSW seat of Cowper.
And bizarrely, there’s Clive Palmer, becoming a player to be reckoned with.
Only last June Morrison said of Palmer’s renewed political push that he thought Australians would say “the circus doesn’t need another sideshow.”
Well, the sideshow’s here and the Liberals are grabbing a prize from its spinning wheel, with an in-principle preference deal with Palmer’s United Australia Party (still to be formally announced by the UAP on Monday).
With Morrison, preferences are a matter of cost-versus-benefit.
That assessment led him to declare recently the Liberals would place One Nation behind Labor. Given the expose of One Nation’s cavorting with the US gun lobby, and how vulnerable the Liberals are in Victoria, Morrison needed to make a gesture.
Anyway, the One Nation preference issue is most relevant to the Nationals, and the edict didn’t apply to them.
Indeed on Thursday, Nationals’ senator Steve Martin announced the Tasmanian Nationals Senate how-to-vote card will have One Nation third, behind the Liberals (and ahead of Labor) after an agreement between the two parties. “One Nation is less objectionable than the Labor/Greens cohort,” Martin said.
A cost-benefit analysis leads Morrison to turn a blind eye to the times Palmer stymied the Coalition government when he had the power to do so, let alone his business practices, including leaving his nickel refinery workers in the lurch. As is his style, Morrison simply throws a blanket over such inconvenient history.
Preference deals are all very well but if Palmer’s comeback takes more votes off the Coalition than from Labor it’s damaging for the government. They won’t all be returned via preferences. Of course Pauline Hanson also has a lot to worry about from any Palmer surge.
The Australia Institute, releasing its latest round of Senate polling in a report out on Friday, notes a “striking rise in support” for the UAP over its last four polls – from 0.8% in August last year to 3.1% earlier this month.
The current figures wouldn’t get the UAP a Senate seat, the report says. “But if the party’s vote continues to grow sharply, it will be an outside chance in Queensland and (surprisingly) Victoria.”
Victoria sounds far-fetched but in the Senate polling the UAP in that state was on 4.7%. Last week, Newspoll surveys in four marginal seats across the country had the UAP polling an average 8%, and 14% in the Queensland seat of Herbert.
With two weeks gone in the campaign, there’s a good deal of confusion about the state of play. The holidays have broken the flow, and while the parties have their data, we’re lacking public evidence about whether Labor’s 52-48% Newspoll lead of around a fortnight ago has been maintained.
But a couple of points seem clear. First, Morrison so far has more than held his own on the campaign trail; Bill Shorten has under-performed. Second, the Liberals’ relentlessly negative campaign looks dangerous for Labor. This is especially so as Shorten is facing the full weight of News Corp’s hostility.
Labor entered the campaign in a good position. Its challenge is to limit the extent to which its initial advantage is eroded by its opponents’ scare tactics.
Although Morrison is battling for the survival of the government, it can be argued Shorten has more at stake personally.
That sounds counter-intuitive, but think of it this way.
Morrison has been leader well short of a year. The government has been generally written off. If the Coalition’s loss was small, many Liberals would see Morrison as having done a good job.
It would be another matter with a big defeat, but the blame for a relatively narrow one would likely (and rightly) be rammed home less to him, and more to the disgraceful shambles of the whole Coalition outfit.
But a Shorten loss, against the odds and after years of polling in Labor’s favour, would see the blame heaped on him (and shadow treasurer Chris Bowen, a driver of much of Labor’s ambitious policy).
Shorten would be criticised not just for his campaign – more fundamentally, he’d be condemned for adopting the big target strategy, so open to scare attacks.
And he’d be blamed for being who he is, a leader with an X factor when X stands for some hard-to-identify (and seemingly impossible to rectify) political gene that makes voters wary of him.
For two terms, Shorten’s government enemies and critics on his own side have underestimated him.
The Liberals thought he could be slain at the royal commission into trade unions that Tony Abbott set up. Malcolm Turnbull did not grasp how tough an opponent he’d be in 2016. Anthony Albanese was ready for him to stumble at the Super Saturday byelections.
Once again, facing this ultimate test, watchers are wondering whether Shorten has the goods.
Nonetheless, he and others in Labor appear confident of the numbers, even if in the melee it’s not just Coalition seats up for change, but some held by Labor and independents too.
Labor is encouraged that health, its signature issue and at the centre of Shorten’s first-week campaigning, is coming through strongly in its research, and climate change has been climbing up the issues scale.
Now the holidays are over, the campaign will ramp up quickly, with a new Newspoll, increasing voter tune-in, and prepolling beginning on Monday.
Also on Monday, Morrison and Shorten meet in Perth for a debate sponsored by the West Australian newspaper, an encounter where body language might be as revealing as content.
On Friday next week, they’ll be at a “people’s forum” in Brisbane. By then, with only a fortnight left, the trajectory of the campaign may be clearer.