Explainer: power station ‘trips’ are normal, but blackouts are not


Hugh Saddler, Australian National University

Tens of thousands of Victorians were left without power over the long weekend as the distribution network struggled with blistering temperatures, reigniting fears about the stability of our energy system.

It comes on the heels of a summer of “trips”, when power stations temporarily shut down for a variety of reasons. This variability has also been used to attack renewable energy such as wind and solar, which naturally fluctuate depending on weather conditions.

The reality is that blackouts, trips and intermittency are three very different issues, which should not be conflated. As most of Australia returns to school and work in February, and summer temperatures continue to rise, the risk of further blackouts make it essential to understand the cause of the blackouts, what a power station “trip” really is, and how intermittent renewable energy can be integrated into a national system.




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Blackouts

Initial reports indicate recent blackouts in Victoria were caused by multiple small failures in the electricity distribution system across the state, affecting all but one of the five separately owned and managed systems that supply Victorians.

Across the whole of mainland Australia, very hot weather causes peak levels of electricity consumption. Unfortunately, for reasons of basic physics, electricity distribution systems do not work well when it is very hot, so the combination of extreme heat and high demand is very challenging. It appears that significant parts of the Victorian electricity distribution system were unable to meet the challenge, leading to uncontrolled blackouts.

Parenthetically, electricity distribution systems are vulnerable to other types of uncontrollable extreme environmental events, including high winds, lightning, and bushfires. Sometimes blackouts last only a few seconds, sometimes for days, depending on the nature and extent of the damage to the system.




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These blackouts are very different from those caused by power station “trips”, although they have the same effect on consumers. When electricity is insufficient to meet demand, certain sections of the grid have to be startegically blacked out to restore the balance (this is known as “load shedding”).

It is the possibility of blackouts of this second type which has excited so much commentary in recent months, and has been linked to power station “trips”.

What is a ‘trip’ and how significant is it?

“Trip” simply means disconnect; it is used to describe the ultra-fast operation of the circuit breakers used as switching devices in high-voltage electricity transmission systems. When a generator trips, it means that it is suddenly, and usually unexpectedly, disconnected from the transmission network, and thus stops supplying electricity to consumers.

The key words here are suddenly and unexpectedly. Consider what happened in Victoria on January 18 this year. It was a very hot day and all three brown coal power stations in the state were generating at near full capacity, supplying in total about 4,200 megawatts towards the end of the afternoon, as total state demand climbed rapidly past 8,000MW (excluding rooftop solar generation).

Suddenly, at 4:35pm, one of the two 500MW units at Loy Yang B, Victoria’s newest (or, more precisely, least old) coal-fired power station tripped. At the time this unit was supplying 490MW, equal to about 6% of total state demand.

The system, under the operational control of the Australia Energy Market Operator (AEMO), responded just as it was meant to. There was considerable spare gas generation capacity, some of which was immediately made available, as was some of the more limited spare hydro capacity. There was also a large increase in imports from New South Wales, and a smaller reduction in net exports to South Australia.

By the time Loy Yang B Unit 1 was fully back on line, three hours later, Victoria had passed its highest daily peak demand for nearly two years. There was no load shedding: all electricity consumers were supplied with as much electricity as they required. However, spot wholesale prices for electricity reached very high levels during the three hours, and it appears that some large consumers, whose supply contracts exposed them to wholesale prices, made short-term reductions in discretionary demand.




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This (relatively) happy outcome on January 18 was made possible by the application of the system reliability rules and procedures, specified in the National Electricity Rules.

These require AEMO to ensure that at all times, in each of the five state regions of the NEM, available spare generation capacity exceeds the combined capacity of the two largest units operating at any time.

In other words, spare capacity must be sufficient to allow demand to continue to be reliably supplied if both of the two largest units generating should suddenly disconnect.

Forecasting

AEMO forecasts energy demand, and issues market notices alerting generators about reliability, demand and potential supply issues. On a busy day, like January 18, market notices may be issued at a rate of several per hour.

These forecasts allowed generators to respond to the loss of Loy Yang B without causing regional blackouts.

What is not publicly known, and may never be known, is why Loy Yang Unit B1 tripped. AEMO examines and reports in detail on what are called “unusual power system events”, which in practice means major disruptions, such as blackouts. There are usually only a few of these each year, whereas generator trips that don’t cause blackouts are much more frequent (as are similar transmission line trips).

It has been widely speculated that, as Australia’s coal fired generators age, they are becoming less reliable, but that could only be confirmed by a systematic and detailed examination of all such events.

Managing variable generation

Finally, and most importantly, the events described above bear almost no relationship to the challenges to reliable system operation presented by the growth of wind and solar generation.

With traditional thermal generation, the problems are caused by unpredictability of sudden failures, and the large unit size, especially of coal generators, which means that a single failure can challenge total system reliability. Individual wind generators may fail unpredictably, but each machine is so small that the loss of one or two has a negligible effect on reliability.

The challenge with wind and solar is not reliability but the variability of their output, caused by variations in weather. This challenge is being addressed by continuous improvement of short term wind forecasting. As day-ahead and hour-ahead forecasts get better, the market advice AEMO provides will give a more accurate estimate of how much other generation will be needed to meet demand at all times.




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Of course, AEMO, and the generation industry, do still get caught out by sudden and unexpected drops in wind speed, but even the fastest drop in wind speed takes much longer than the milliseconds needed for a circuit breaker in a power station switchyard to trip out.

The ConversationAt the same time, as the share of variable renewable generation grows, the complementary need for a greater share of fast response generators and energy storage technologies will also grow, while the value to the system of large, inflexible coal-fired generators will shrink.

Hugh Saddler, Honorary Associate Professor, Centre for Climate Economics and Policy, Australian National University

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

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Will elections in 2018 see 2017’s left-wing revival continue?



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NZ Labour had been polling in the mid-20s before Jacinda Ardern became its leader and eventually won the 2017 election.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

In 2018 there will be elections in the Australian states of Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, as well as in Italy, the US and Mexico.

Essential has released polling for the five mainland Australian states, conducted from October to December. Figures are given by month for the three eastern seaboard states.

In South Australia, Labor led 51-49 in October to December, a one-point gain for the Liberals since July to September. Primary votes were 34% Labor (down three), 31% Liberals (up one), 22% for Nick Xenophon’s SA-BEST (up four) and 8% Greens (up two). The South Australian election will be held on March 17.

Newspoll had SA-BEST at 32% from polling conducted in the same period as Essential. Essential is assuming SA-BEST preferences flow to the Liberals at a 60-40 rate, but at the 2016 federal election, these preferences flowed to Labor at a 60-40 rate. Essential’s justification is that the Liberals have lost far more primary votes than Labor since the 2014 state election.

In Victoria, the Coalition led 51-49 in December, a two-point gain for the Coalition since November. Primary votes were 46% Coalition (up three), 37% Labor (steady) and 9% Greens (down one). For the October to December period, Labor was just ahead, 51-49. The Victorian election will be held November 24.

The Age commissioned ReachTEL polls of the Labor-held Victorian seats of Tarneit and Cranbourne on January 5. On the primary votes, there is a substantial anti-Labor swing in Tarneit, but little swing in Cranbourne.

There were many questions in the ReachTEL polls on youth crime. About two-thirds in both seats said the main youth crime issue was African gangs, and more than 55% said they were less likely to go out at night. A positive for Labor was that Premier Daniel Andrews had a large lead over Opposition Leader Matthew Guy on dealing with crime.

In the New South Wales Essential poll, Labor led 52-48 in December, a three-point gain for Labor since November. Primary votes were 40% Coalition (down three), 40% Labor (up three) and 9% Greens (steady). For October to December, Labor led 51-49.

I believe this is the first time Labor has led in a NSW state poll since shortly after the 2007 state election. The next NSW election will be held in March 2019.

In Queensland, Labor led 55-45 in December, a four-point gain for Labor since the November election. In Western Australia, Labor led 57-43 in October to December, a three-point gain for Labor since July to September.

The Tasmanian election is likely to be held in March, and it appears Labor is ahead under its popular leader Rebecca White.

The Italian election will be held on March 4. 37% of seats in both chambers of the parliament will be elected using first-past-the-post voting, while the rest use proportional representation.

Polling gives the right-wing coalition about 37%, the left-wing coalition about 27%, and the left-wing populist Five Star Movement about 28%. As the left is more split than the right, the right will have an advantage in the first-past-the-post seats, though it will probably be short of an overall majority.

The Mexican election will be held on July 1. The president is elected by first-past-the-post, and the left-wing candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is currently ahead. By antagonising Mexicans, US President Donald Trump could cause the election of a left-winger who would strongly oppose the proposed border wall.

The FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate currently gives Democrats a 11-point lead over Republicans in the race for the US Congress. Midterm elections will be held in early November, in which all 435 House of Representatives members and one-third of the 100 Senators are up for election. The Senate seats up this year went to Democrats by 25-8 in 2012, and a few Democrats will be defending states Trump won easily in 2016.

Even though Republicans only have a 51-49 Senate majority, the House of Representatives is more likely to switch party control than the Senate.

Left-wing parties performed better than expected in 2017 elections

In 2016, Trump was elected US president, and the UK voted to leave the European Union. Trump and Brexit were triumphs for the populist right, and it was expected that the left would also struggle in 2017. However, in both Australian and overseas elections held in 2017, the left generally performed better than expected.

At the March 2017 Western Australian election, Labor won a landslide, with 41 of the 59 lower house seats.

At the November Queensland election, Labor won a majority, and One Nation won just one seat. There had been much speculation that One Nation would win many seats and hold the balance of power.

A year after Trump’s victory, US Democrats easily won the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections. In the Alabama Senate byelection, Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore by a 50.0-48.3 margin, overturning Trump’s 62-34 Alabama margin over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Jones was sworn in as a US senator on January 3, replacing Luther Strange, who had been appointed by the Alabama governor after Jeff Sessions resigned to become attorney-general. Republicans now have a 51-49 majority in the US Senate, down from 52-48.

In an April article published after Theresa May called the June 8 UK general election, I said a Conservative landslide was likely – a widely held view. Under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s vote instead increased almost ten points from 2015, and the Conservatives failed to win a majority – though they clung to power with support from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party.

In the May French presidential election run-off, Emmanuel Macron crushed Marine Le Pen 66-34. While Macron is a centrist and not a left-winger, he is clearly preferable to a conservative or Le Pen from a left perspective.

In October, Labour won the New Zealand election (which was held in September) after securing a coalition agreement with NZ First. Labour had been polling in the mid-20s before Jacinda Ardern became its leader in August.

While 2017 was generally a good year for the left, there were two poor results. At the October Austrian election, a conservative/far-right government was formed after more than a decade of coalition governments between the major left and right-wing parties.

At the German election in September, the far-right achieved its highest vote share since the second world war (12.6%). The major parties had formed a grand coalition, and both slumped, with the Social Democrats falling to their lowest vote (20.5%) since 1932. Despite this terrible result, it appears likely there will be another grand coalition government led by Angela Merkel.

Where there has been a clear difference between the major left and right-wing parties (the UK, the US and New Zealand), the left-wing party has performed strongly. The dismal results for the left in Germany and Austria have occurred in left/right coalitions, where there was perceived to be little difference between the left and right.

Furthermore, embracing a left-wing agenda neutralises some of the far-right’s appeal. The UK Independence Party won just 1.8% of the vote at the 2017 election, down almost 11 points from 2015, though some of this fall was caused by the Conservatives’ support for Brexit. Macron vigorously attacked Le Pen’s policies, and thrashed her by a bigger than expected margin.

The ConversationThe far-right tends to perform best when voters perceive little difference between the major left- and right-wing parties.

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

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

Labor wins a majority in Queensland as polling in Victoria shows a tie



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Annastacia Palasczuk will be able to form majority government after the final results of the Queensland election were announced.
AAP/Jono Searle

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

At the Queensland election, held on November 25, the size of parliament was increased from 89 seats to 93. Comparing this result with 2015, Labor officially won 48 of the 93 seats (up four), the Liberal National Party 39 (down three), Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) three (up one), and One Nation, the Greens and an independent won one seat each.

With 45 seats held by parties other than Labor, Labor has won a three-seat majority.

Adjusted for the new boundaries and excluding defections, the 2015 results gave Labor 48 seats and the LNP 43. Using this interpretation, there was no net change for Labor, while the LNP lost four seats.

Labor gains from the LNP in Gaven, Aspley and Redlands were countered by losses in Bundaberg, Burdekin and Mirani (to One Nation). The LNP also lost Maiwar (to the Greens), Hinchinbrook (to KAP) and Noosa (to an independent). This is the first Greens elected MP in Queensland.

Townsville was expected to be very close, but Labor won it by 214 votes (50.4-49.6), clinching its 48th seat.

The LNP’s decision to recommend preferences to One Nation in 50 of the 61 seats it contested gave One Nation a win in Mirani, but cost independent candidate Margaret Strelow in Rockhampton. Had LNP preferences in Rockhampton flowed to Strelow instead of One Nation, Labor would have very probably lost, instead of retaining it 55-45 against One Nation.

Final primary votes were 35.4% Labor (down 2.1 since 2015), 33.7% LNP (down 7.6), 13.7% One Nation (up 12.8), 10.0% Greens (up 1.6), and 2.3% KAP. This is the Greens’ highest primary vote in a Queensland election.

One Nation contested 61 of the 93 seats, and won 13.7% of the statewide vote. Had it contested all seats, it would probably have won about 18%. Only the single member system stopped One Nation from winning much more than its one seat.

If the Queensland result were replicated at a half-Senate federal election, in which six senators are up for election, Labor would win two seats, the LNP two, One Nation one, and the last seat would probably go to the Greens.

Pauline Hanson received a long Senate term, which does not expire until June 2022. If Malcolm Roberts is the top One Nation candidate on its Queensland Senate ticket at the next federal election, he will probably win a six-year term starting July 2019.

Turnout was 87.5%, down 2.4 points since 2015. Automatic electoral enrolment has increased the size of the electoral roll, but many of those who are now enrolled do not vote, so the turnout falls.

The informal rate was 4.3%, up from 2.1% in 2015, owing to the change to compulsory preferential voting from optional preferential. The informal rate was below Queensland’s informal rate (4.7%) at the 2016 federal election.

Victorian Galaxy: 50-50 tie

A Victorian Galaxy poll for the Herald Sun (paywalled link), conducted on December 6 from a sample of 828, had a 50-50 tie, a three-point gain for Labor since a Galaxy in June for an unidentified source.

Primary votes were 41% Coalition (down three), 36% Labor (up three), 10% Greens (up two) and 6% One Nation (up one).

Premier Daniel Andrews had a 49% dissatisfied, 35% satisfied rating. Opposition Leader Matthew Guy had a 48% dissatisfied rating, with no satisfied rating given. Andrews led Guy 41-25 as better premier (41-29 in June).

By 58-20, voters favoured building the East West Link, and by 57-30, they thought the decision to cancel it was bad rather than good. The Liberals were thought better to manage the economy by 48-33 over Labor – an area of perceived Coalition strength.

77% of regional voters believed they are being dudded in favour of Melbourne on government spending.

Tasmanian EMRS: 34% Liberal, 34% Labor, 17% Greens, 8% Lambie Network

A Tasmanian EMRS poll, conducted between December 1 and December 5 from a sample of 1,000, gave the Liberals 34% (down three since August), Labor 34% (steady), the Greens 17% (up one) and the Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN) 8% (up three). The next Tasmanian election is likely to be held in March 2018.

As EMRS is skewed to the Greens and against Labor, Kevin Bonham interprets this poll as 37.5% Labor, 35.5% Liberal, 14% Greens and 8% JLN. The most likely seat outcome under Tasmania’s Hare-Clark system would be ten Labor, ten Liberals, four Greens and one JLN, out of 25 total seats.

Labor’s Rebecca White led incumbent Will Hodgman as better premier 48-35 in this poll (48-37 in August). White had a net +40 favourable rating, Hodgman a net +13, and Greens leader Casey O’Connor a net negative five.

Essential 55-45 to federal Labor

This week’s Essential moved a point to Labor, in contrast to Newspoll. Labor led 55-45, from primary votes of 38% Labor, 35% Coalition, 9% Greens, 8% One Nation and 2% Nick Xenophon Team. Essential uses a two-week sample of about 1,800, with additional questions based on one week.

64% thought there was a lot or some sexism in the media, 60% in both politics and advertising, 57% in workplaces, 56% in sport, and 48% in schools. Since January 2016, there have been one-to-four point falls in perception of sexism in politics, advertising, workplaces and sport, but a six-to-eight point increase in media and schools.

By 51-24, voters thought that MPs who defect from the party they were elected to represent should be forced to resign from parliament. By 54-25, voters preferred a government where one party has an overall majority to a coalition arrangement.

By 38-34, voters thought the Liberal and National parties should continue in coalition, rather than separate and become more independent; however, Coalition voters preferred the Coalition arrangement 73-13.

Essential’s Liberal leadership question had six choices: Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott, Julie Bishop, Christopher Pyne, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton. Turnbull had 21% (down four since August), Bishop 19% (down one), Abbott 10% (steady), Dutton 4% (up one) and Pyne and Morrison each had 2%.

Among Coalition voters Turnbull led Bishop 40-20, with 13% for Abbott.

Alabama Senate byelection next Wednesday (Melbourne time)

In February, Jeff Sessions resigned from the US Senate to become Donald Trump’s attorney-general, and the Alabama governor appointed Luther Strange to the Senate until the election was held. The election will be held on December 12, with results from 12 noon on December 13 Melbourne time.

I previously wrote about Republican candidate Roy Moore’s alleged sexual encounter with a 14 year-old girl when he was 32.

After this and other similar allegations were made, Democratic candidate Doug Jones took a poll lead. However, Moore appears to have recovered, and analyst Harry Enten says he leads by about three points. If the polls are overstating Moore by a modest margin, he could lose.

The ConversationAlabama is a very conservative state that Trump won by 28 points at the 2016 election. That this contest appears competitive is surprising.

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

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

Contradictory polls in Queensland, while the Greens storm Northcote in Victoria



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Hi-vis time: Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk greets voters on the hustings.
AAP/Dan Peled

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

The Queensland election will be held in five days, on November 25. There has been no statewide polling from either Galaxy or Newspoll since an early November Galaxy. These two pollsters have given Labor higher primary votes than ReachTEL, and assume One Nation preferences will not favour the LNP as strongly as ReachTEL, which uses respondent-allocated preferences. As a result, Labor has led by about 52-48 in Galaxy and Newspoll, while they have been behind 52-48 in ReachTEL.

A Queensland ReachTEL poll for the parent advocacy group The Parenthood, which was conducted on November 13 from a sample of 1,130, gave the LNP a 52-48 lead by respondent preferences. This is unchanged from a late September media-commissioned ReachTEL. Primary votes were 32.7% Labor (down 2.1), 32.2% LNP (down 1.0), 17.7% One Nation (down 1.9) and 9.5% Greens (up 1.4).

A second ReachTEL poll, for the left-wing Australia Institute, which was also conducted on November 13 from a sample of almost 2,200, gave the LNP a 52-48 lead from primary votes of 34.0% Labor, 32.3% LNP, 17.9% One Nation and 8.3% Greens.

These two polls show One Nation in decline since the September ReachTEL, but this decline has gone to “Others” instead of the major parties.

Despite being a little behind Labor on primary votes, the LNP leads by 52-48 in both polls. Respondent preferences from non-major party voters flowed to the LNP over Labor at a 56-59% rate. If Greens preferences are going to Labor at a 75% rate, preferences of One Nation and Other voters are favouring the LNP at a near 70% rate.

At the March Western Australian election, One Nation preferences flowed to the Liberals at a 60% rate, according to the ABC’s Antony Green. In that case, there was a preference deal between One Nation and the Liberals, whereas in Queensland One Nation is putting most sitting members second last ahead of the Greens, irrespective of party.

If ReachTEL’s strong preferences from One Nation to the LNP occur at the Queensland election, it would be bad news not just for state Labor, but also federal Labor. Most federal polls assume One Nation preferences split evenly, as they did in 2016.

In an additional poll question released November 18, presumably from the early November Galaxy, voters opposed the proposed A$1 billion Commonwealth loan for Adani by a 55-28 margin.

Seat polling

Newspoll conducted six seat polls on November 15-16 from samples of 500-700 per seat. The seats surveyed were Mansfield, Whitsunday, Gaven, Ipswich West, Bundaberg and Thuringowa. There was a large swing against Labor in Thuringowa, with One Nation leading 54-46. In Bundaberg, the LNP led by 53-47, after Labor won by 0.5% in 2015.

In the other seats, Labor’s vote was holding up better, with small swings to Labor in Whitsunday, Mansfield and Gaven. A ReachTEL poll in Maiwar for GetUp! had a 50-50 tie, a three-point swing to Labor.

According to Kevin Bonham, the average of 11 Galaxy/Newspoll seat polls in Labor vs LNP contests is a 0.9 point swing to the LNP. However, seat polling has not been accurate in past elections.

Where the election will be won or lost

After being reduced to just seven seats at the 2012 election, Labor won 44 of the 89 seats at the 2015 election, forming government with the support of independent Peter Wellington. For most of the last term, Labor relied on the support of Labor defector Billy Gordon, who had won Cook. Labor’s Cairns MP Rob Pyne also defected in 2016.

After a redistribution, there will be 93 seats at this election. From the ABC’s pendulum, Labor would win 47 seats on 2015 results, the LNP 41, the Katter party 2 and there would be three defectors – two from Labor and one LNP. If the defectors are assigned to the party that would win the seat on 2015 results, Labor has 48 seats and the LNP 43. Labor can afford to lose one net seat without losing its majority.

At this election, One Nation’s vote is likely to be in the high teens, and they will do better in regional Queensland than in south-east Queensland. Galaxy seat polling indicates that regional Queensland is swinging against Labor, but polls of Glass House and Bonney, both in southeast Queensland, recorded small swings to Labor.

Labor is likely to have trouble holding regional seats such as Bundaberg (Labor by 0.5%), Maryborough (1.1%), Burdekin (1.4%) and Mundingburra (1.8%). The question is whether they can make up for any losses in regional Queensland by winning south-east Queensland seats such as Everton (LNP by 2.0%), Bonney (2.2%), Maiwar (3.0%) and Aspley (3.2%).

Labor could gain these LNP-held southeastern seats on a backlash against the LNP’s preference recommendations favouring One Nation in 50 of the 61 seats it is contesting. The last time One Nation was a force was at the 1998 and 2001 elections, before the LNP was formed. In 1998, the Liberals lost five seats, all to Labor, to fall to nine. In 2001, the Liberals were reduced to just three seats.

Galaxy and Newspoll seat polls have only shown One Nation winning Thuringowa, and in contention to win Logan, but the LNP’s how-to-vote cards are favouring Labor in Logan. Pauline Hanson almost won Lockyer at the 2015 election, so it is a prime target for One Nation. In 1998, One Nation won 11 seats on 22.7% of the statewide vote, but current polling has them well short of 1998, and they are unlikely to win more than a few seats.

Greens gain Vic seat of Northcote from Labor at byelection

A byelection in the Victorian seat of Northcote was held on the weekend, due to the death of Labor incumbent Fiona Richardson. The Greens’ Lidia Thorpe defeated Labor’s Clare Burns by a thumping 55.6-44.4 margin, a swing of 11.7 points to the Greens since the 2014 state election. Primary votes were 45.3% Greens (up 9.0) and 35.4% Labor (down 5.6). The Liberals did not contest, and the Liberal Democrats won only 4.1%, well below the 16.5% the Liberals had won in 2014.

Labor put in a strong effort to retain Northcote, yet they were still thrashed, losing a seat they had held at every election since it was created in 1927. The inner-Melbourne seats are trending towards the Greens, and Labor should probably focus their resources on the conservative parties, rather than spend money in seats that are likely to be lost anyway.

The ConversationA ReachTEL poll, conducted for the CFMEU on November 9, had a 54-46 Labor lead – a large miss. This is not the first time ReachTEL has grossly underestimated the Greens in an inner city seat. At the 2015 NSW state election, ReachTEL gave Labor a 56.5-43.5 lead in Newtown, which the Greens won by a crushing 59.3-40.7.

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

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

Victoria gets serious on its political donations rules – now it’s the federal government’s turn



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The Andrews government’s proposed reforms will significantly improve Victoria’s donations system.
AAP/Mal Fairclough

Yee-Fui Ng, RMIT University

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced a suite of reforms to the state’s political donations system. It includes:

  • a cap on donations by individuals, unions and corporations of A$4,000 over a four-year parliamentary term;

  • public disclosure of donations above $1,000;

  • a ban on foreign donations; and

  • real-time disclosure of donations.

Harsh penalties will be imposed on those who breach the rules, with fines of up to $44,000 and two years in jail.

These proposals follow several dubious events, including Liberal Party fundraiser Barrie Macmillan allegedly seeking to funnel donations from a mafia boss to the party after Opposition Leader Matthew Guy enjoyed a lobster dinner with the mafia leader.

According to Andrews, these changes are intended to:

… help put an end to individuals and corporations attempting to buy influence in Victorian politics.

Are these reforms good?

The proposed reforms will significantly improve Victoria’s donations system.

The caps on donations will level the playing field and reduce the risk of corruption in the state’s political system. It will prevent rich donors from exerting greater influence over politicians than those who lack the means to do so. Parties will no longer be able to rely on these wealthy donors to fund their election campaigns.

The caps equally target individuals, unions and corporations, meaning that money cannot be channelled through shady corporate structures to evade the rules. However, donations can still be channelled through the federal level, where there are no caps.

Real-time disclosures, which have already been introduced in Queensland, will improve the timeliness of disclosures. Combined with the lower disclosure threshold of $1,000, these are commendable steps towards enhancing transparency.

The move to ban foreign donations may face constitutional issues.

The tough penalties may deter people from breaching the rules. But proper enforcement by the Victorian Electoral Commission is still essential for the laws to be effective.


Further reading: Banning foreign political donations won’t fix all that ails our system


How will elections be funded?

Election campaigns are currently funded by a mix of public funding and private donations. As there will be caps on private donations, public funding of Victorian elections from taxpayers’ pockets will need to increase.

There will be debate as to the level of public funding that should be given. Public funding should adequately compensate parties, but not be overly generous or allow them to rort the system.

Detractors may argue that, in the age of social media, there may be cheaper ways for political parties to get their messages across, so less public funding would be needed.

It is tricky to work out how to allocate public funding between established political parties, minor parties and new parties. There is also a question of whether public funding should cover activities such as policy development and party administration.

But public funding is already part of Australia’s system. In the 2016 federal election, $62.8 million of public funding was provided, which is about half of federal campaign costs.

Victoria’s move toward more public funding is not unprecedented. New South Wales already has caps on political donations of $5,800 per party and $2,500 for candidates, as well as a ban on donations from property developers and those in the tobacco, liquor and gambling industries. This was accompanied by an increase in public funding of elections, amounting to about 80% of campaign costs.


Further reading: NSW is introducing full public funding of major political parties – by stealth


In Europe and Canada, there are high levels of public funding: between 50% and 90% of costs.

Another worry is that enterprising people and businesses might still circumvent the rules through creative means.

In the US, super PACs (political action committees) are special interest groups involved in fundraising and campaigning that are not officially affiliated with political parties. These groups can raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, and then spend this money to overtly advocate for or against political candidates.

If this possibility is not regulated in Australian jurisdictions, then our system will remain broken.

How can we improve our national system?

Australia’s political donations system remains fragmented. Ideally, we would have a uniform system with tough rules at both the federal and state levels, so that donors cannot easily evade the rules by channelling their money through more lax jurisdictions.


Further reading: Explainer: how does our political donations system work – and is it any good?


The time is ripe for reform. A federal parliamentary committee is looking into how to improve the federal donations rules. The committee will issue its report by December 2017.

The ConversationVictoria has thrown down the gauntlet – and it’s now time for the federal government to take heed.

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

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

Victoria may soon have assisted dying laws for terminally ill patients


Ben White, Queensland University of Technology and Lindy Willmott, Queensland University of Technology

An independent group of experts set up by the Victorian government has today delivered its final report outlining 66 recommendations for how voluntary assisted dying would work in the state.

Chaired by former head of the Australian Medical Association, Brian Owler, the Ministerial Advisory Panel’s role was to work out how legislation should be drafted to allow terminally ill people to receive assistance to die. The panel based its report on the recommendations of the Parliamentary committee’s Inquiry into end of life choices in December 2016.

Legislation giving effect to the report is likely to be tabled in the Victorian Parliament within a month.

Who does the law cover?

At the heart of debates about assisted dying are eligibility criteria – who can get assistance to die and who cannot. The panel’s recommendations are broadly consistent with the report of the parliamentary committee. Access is allowed for an adult who can make their own decisions, is terminally ill and their suffering cannot be relieved. They must also be a resident of Victoria.

But the panel widens the committee’s earlier recommendation that a person must be “at the end of life (final weeks or months of life)” to be granted their request. Instead, the current report states the “incurable disease, illness or medical condition” must be expected to cause death in no later than 12 months.

While we agree eligibility should be based on a terminal illness, we don’t favour time limits as they are arbitrary and difficult to accurately predict. They can also lead to people taking harmful steps to fall inside them, such as starving themselves.

But the panel’s recommendation to extend the time to 12 months is still a better approach than the committee’s, as it is likely forming a clinical view about prognosis will be more manageable in that time. Providing a set time frame also avoids the uncertainty of the vague use of the phrase “at the end of life”.

Former AMA president, Professor Brian Owler, chaired the Ministerial Advisory Panel.

Also of note is that the panel specifically stated mental illness alone and disability alone will not satisfy eligibility requirements; but nor will they exclude access to voluntary assisted dying.

What assistance can be provided?

This is primarily a physician-assisted dying model, which means the patient is expected to take the lethal dose of medication themselves. This is a narrow approach to assisted dying as it is the person themselves who takes the final step to end life, not the doctor.

The panel’s approach is consistent with the committee’s report – both are broadly along the lines of the US assisted dying model such as the one in Oregon.

There are downsides to this and we favour a more inclusive model (like in Canada or under the European model) that permits assistance to die being directly provided by a doctor as well. This choice better reflects the autonomy that underpins these laws.

But the panel (and the committee) did recommend an exception where the person is physically unable to take the medication or digest it themselves. This may not be used often but helps address potential discrimination, for example on the grounds of physical disability which prevents someone taking the medication themselves.

What safeguards are there?

The panel has proposed a very rigorous process – comprised of 68 safeguards – that involves three separate requests for voluntary assisted dying (one which is witnessed by two independent witnesses) and two independent medical assessments.

A patient seeking assistance to die must be provided with a range of information including about diagnosis and prognosis, treatment options available, palliative care, and the expected outcome and risks of taking the lethal dose of medication. Doctors involved will have to receive special training about the law and how it operates.

Other safeguards are at the systems level, with a Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board recommended to examine each case and also to report on how the scheme as a whole is operating. The panel has also proposed a range of new offences specifically about voluntary assisted dying to deter conduct outside the scope of the regime, such as an offence against inducing someone to request assisted dying.

Will these recommendations become law?

Strong public opinion, shifting views in the health and medical professions and international trends towards allowing assisted dying mean it will become lawful in Australia at some point. But will it be in Victoria, and soon?

The politics of assisted dying are notoriously fickle and this is the latest of over 50 bills in Australian parliaments addressing this issue over the past two decades.

But as we have argued in the past, features of this law reform effort suggest it could happen. The process of examining the issue has been very careful, inclusive and thoughtful with multiple reports and engagement with expert opinion and national and international evidence.

The ConversationThis is a narrow assisted dying model with a lot of safeguards. There is also high level and public support of senior politicians on both sides of politics. But as always, the ultimate test is what happens on the floor of parliament.

Ben White, Professor of Law and Director, Australian Centre for Health Law Research, Queensland University of Technology and Lindy Willmott, Professor of Law, Queensland University of Technology

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

Social mix in housing? One size doesn’t fit all, as new projects show


Kate Shaw, University of Melbourne

A recent suggestion that new housing on inner-city public land should start from a presumption of 100% social housing prompted indignation in government circles. “We can’t condemn another generation of Victorians to live in housing poverty,” huffed the housing minister, Martin Foley.

It’s curious, then, that we heard barely a peep about the latest government announcement that the height of an apartment tower associated with the Queen Victoria Market makeover will be reduced by removing the original affordable housing component to a separate, smaller development.

It is tempting to conclude that both responses accord, naturally, with the interests of the developers of private housing. But that would be to over-simplify the complex issue of social mix. It is increasingly clear there is no one-size-fits-all.

The principle of social mix now routinely drives public housing estate renewals and new housing builds on surplus public land. This is usually expressed in a 50:50 mix of social (public and community) and private housing, though the social component is often much smaller. As the stock of public land is ever diminishing, and affordable housing is in such short supply, this is problematic.

I have argued before that government commitments to social mix are often disingenuous. They are more likely to be driven by an ideological imperative to privatise public assets, or at best to secure upgrades to public housing without having to fund them directly.

What does the evidence tell us?

Soon-to-be-published research by Abdullahi Jama and I on the Carlton public housing estate redevelopment supports these conclusions.

Our findings show that public and private residents on the new estate are not mixed. They are divided into separate buildings with separate gardens, explicitly with a view to increasing the value of the private apartments.

The case that normally follows from such a finding is that public and private households should be “salt and peppered” through new apartment buildings to encourage social mixing. While Abdullahi and I agree this is a necessary precondition for social mixing, this is not the entirety of our argument. We question the very basics of the policy orthodoxy on social mix.

The rationale for building upmarket private housing in low-income areas draws on the neighbourhood effects thesis, which says that concentrations of poverty exacerbate its effects.

This might be the case in large areas of disadvantage, such as the US Rust Belt cities, parts of the UK and even some outer suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne. But it doesn’t stand up in highly resourced, gentrified inner cities where community facilities and opportunities for interaction are plentiful.

Paul Watt talks about neighbourhood effects, the disputed idea that poor communities benefit from social mix in urban renewal projects.

Even where poverty is widespread, studies from Toronto, Vancouver, Amsterdam and London show that imposed social mix disrupts support networks and social structures. Involuntary displacement from a neighbourhood often has serious effects on physical and mental health.

Ranjan Balakumaran and Kam Sandhu discuss the displacement of poorer communities by ‘redevelopment’.

Minority communities may benefit from concentration in terms of safety and maintaining their cultural heritage. A substantial body of research shows that social mix policies do not replace the social capital they displace.

So, are there good reasons to introduce social mix?

The strongest argument is the reduction of stigma that for some people comes with public housing. If the public housing is indistinguishable from private housing, the public tenants’ wellbeing is considered to be improved.

It’s not entirely clear, however, whether this is due as much to the housing being new and decent as to having private residents as neighbours. Also unresolved is the question of whether stigma is felt as keenly on estates in gentrified cities, which are islands of public housing in seas of inner-city privilege, as it may be in widely disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

There is certainly evidence that, for some people, being thrust among others from different class and socio-economic groups can increase feelings of inadequacy, discomfort and sometimes hostility.

So how do we provide affordable housing?

These issues vary across place, time and individuals. What is clear is that different responses are needed accordingly.

It is also clear that, with dire shortages of affordable housing in so many cities, all opportunities should be seized to build as much affordable housing as possible. That’s not just public and community housing, but “key worker” housing, “below market rent” housing, co-op housing and community land trusts. Models for all these exist and should be encouraged and explored.

A diversity of housing types must include diverse sources of funding, with a range of support programs. Involving future residents in design and ensuring they know what they’re moving into, and enabling people to organise their own housing, are far more effective ways of building social harmony than enforcing a rigid notion of mix.

The ConversationSeparate buildings for social tenants and private residents next to the Vic Market might be a perfectly reasonable response. But it should come from nuanced public policy and optimal use of public resources, rather than the developers and their sales people.

Kate Shaw, Future Fellow, University of Melbourne

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