View from The Hill: Tony Abbott tries some climate adaptation for the winds of Warringah



File 20190308 150683 rfeju5.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Tony Abbott is being challenged in Warringah by Zali Steggall, who has climate policy at the centre of her platform.
AAP/Peter Rae

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Tony Abbott pulled the panic lever on Friday, and Malcolm Turnbull pushed the revenge button.

The gainers from these spectacular plays were Zali Steggall, the independent candidate who is trying to oust Abbott in Warringah, and Bill Shorten, who is handed another break in his campaign to defeat the government.

Years ago, in a much earlier round of the climate and emissions wars, Abbott referred to himself as a “weather vane.” That accurate self-assessment invited ridicule, but his latest change of direction is beyond absurd.

For months, Abbott was calling for Australia to exit Paris, like the Americans. It was part of his unremitting campaign against Turnbull, and the then PM’s drive for a national energy guarantee.

But Abbott’s new view is that leaving Paris is unnecessary.“I’m not calling for us to pull out now,” he told a Warringah candidates’ debate on Friday.

“We had an emissions obsession that needed to be broken and it’s now changed”, with a new prime minister and a new energy minister, he said.

“We can meet our Paris targets without substantial policy change and without significant additional costs on the economy.”

Abbott’s beef with the Paris agreement – for which his government set Australia’s targets – was tied to his jihad against his successor.

What’s mostly changed, though, is Abbott’s own circumstances. He faces what’s for him an existential threat – the risk of being driven out of parliamentary life. Steggall has climate change at the centre of her campaign.

But can Abbott really think his local voters are so naïve that they’ll be convinced by such an obviously expedient shift of position? They know him too well for that.

University of Canberra research has shown they are critical of him, especially over his opposition to same-sex marriage and his wrecking behaviour.

Isn’t his risk that they could simply become more cynical, concluding he’s taking them for mugs, and he could worsen rather than improve his position?

And apart from how Warringah will read his latest shift, what about his vocal right-wing supporters? You’d expect they would be shocked by this backflip.

Abbott didn’t do a full conversion, however – he remains a coal advocate, suggesting the Snowy Hydro Corporation could invest in it.

“Coal-fired power remains the cheapest form of baseload power,” he declared.

That was enough to bring in Turnbull, who slapped down his nemesis from afar. Oceans and time zones mean nothing when your anger burns hot and Twitter’s at hand.

“But it isn’t, ” Turnbull tweeted from London in response to Abbott’s
claim about cheapness. “Today the cheapest form of new dispatchable or
base load energy is renewables plus storage.

“We are now able to have lower emissions and lower prices but we need
to plan it using engineering & economics rather than ideology and
innumerate idiocy”.

In another tweet Turnbull continued, “The reason the fossil fuel lobby and their apologists rail against Snowy Hydro 2.0, and have tried to stop it, is because it delivers the massive storage which does make renewables reliable and this enable our progress to lower emissions and lower energy prices”.

Turnbull was already fired up, having in a BBC interview (recorded on Wednesday London time) once again canvassed the circumstances of his political demise in that “peculiarly Australian form of madness” of last August. Unloading on those who’d brought him down, he contended that “you could argue, that their concern was not that I would lose the election but rather that I would win it”.

If it isn’t enough for a government, weeks out from the announcement of the election, to have two former PMs refighting the climate/energy wars, the Nationals are parading their own obsessions and divisions.

A letter this week from half a dozen Queensland Nationals called for the government to underwrite a new power generation project in regional Queensland (they refrained from specifying coal but that’s what they were thinking). They also said the government should put its “big stick” legislation to discipline power companies to a parliamentary vote – despite the fact it would be amended unacceptably
and so get nowhere.

This was followed on Friday by a Courier Mail report that some Nationals, discontented with Michael McCormack’s leadership, were pushing to have him replaced by Barnaby Joyce before the election.

The agitation is driven particularly by the situation in Queensland, where several Nationals’ seats are at risk – notably Capricornia, Flynn and Dawson.

Joyce did nothing to calm things on Friday when he told the Northern Daily Leader he was “not driving the process”, but if a spill were called “of course I would stand”.

McCormack is not cutting through electorally and critics are unhappy he does not stand up enough to the Liberals.

He’s considered certain to lose his leadership post-election, assuming the loss of Nationals seats.

But any attempt at moving him before the election would be madness – and most Nationals do appear to accept that.

Consider how it would look, in budget week (the only time the parliamentary party is scheduled to be in town before the election) if the Nationals were to roll the Deputy Prime Minister, or make a move to do so.

Anyway, Joyce is now a highly controversial figure within and outside the party. He might win some votes in Queensland, but he might well lose some for the government elsewhere.

With a battle for the “women’s vote” so live at this election, and Labor going all out to exploit Coalition weaknesses in this area, it would be lunacy to think of bringing back someone whose exit from the leadership was partly triggered by allegations (denied) of sexual harassment.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Grattan on Friday: Warringah Votes – Abbott’s challenger has yet to ‘penetrate the streets’


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Zali Steggall is a poster person for a batch of high-profile
centre-right independents contesting seats in the May election.

Her bid to oust Tony Abbott from his Liberal heartland Sydney seat of Warringah is receiving national attention and the former prime minister is clearly feeling under pressure.

But, according to qualitative research in the seat this week, Steggall – former Olympian, lawyer, local – is yet to embed herself in the minds of those voters who are potentially willing to turn against Abbott.

The focus groups, sponsored by the University of Canberra’s Democracy 2025 project and conducted by Landscape Research, found mixed feelings about Abbott, who has held the northern beaches seat since 1994, but uncertainty about alternatives.

The four groups, each of seven to nine “soft” voters (who haven’t made up their minds) drawn from across the electorate, were held on Monday and Tuesday. This research is not predictive but taps into general attitudes.

Federal politics isn’t top of mind for these Warringah residents, many of whom display conservative views on economics while being socially progressive (for example, disdaining the use of border security as a political weapon).




Read more:
Politics with Michelle Grattan: Tony Abbott and Zali Steggall on Warringah votes


Their concerns focus more on infrastructure, particularly roads and traffic congestion, population growth, environmental concerns on the northern beaches and housing affordability for their children.

Older voters are more engaged, more readily able to discuss current issues in federal politics and more concerned with the impact on their area. Younger voters have largely tuned out, feeling powerless.

Interestingly, in view of Steggall’s very strong pitch on climate change, that issue barely rates a mention, with people’s environmental concerns more on the loss of farmland to mining, the decline of the Murray Darling Basin, and the impact on the local beaches of population growth in the longer term.

Older Warringah voters trust Scott Morrison more than Bill Shorten to run the country. But for quite a few this is grudging. Morrison is the “least worst” option – they don’t trust him that much, but they trust Shorten less.

Younger people are divided as to which leader they trust more. Shorten is regarded as having the more progressive and inclusive policy agenda. Those younger voters who trust Morrison more see him as more likeable and sympathetic and a “straight shooter” as well as having stronger economic credentials.

But there is some concern among both older and younger voters about Morrison’s religious beliefs, and their possible influence on policy and pushing the Liberal Party to the right. “Morrison’s too much of a radical Christian, a bit of a loose cannon,” an older woman says.

Some voters see Shorten’s leadership position as more stable than
Morrison’s (suggesting they haven’t tuned into the Liberals’ new rule that a Liberal PM winning an election would see out the term).




Read more:
Event: your Q&A with Michelle Grattan in Melbourne


A positive for the prime minister is the Liberals’ historical
reputation as better economic managers. Shorten’s union background and character are cited as negatives for him.

While a few younger voters support Labor’s policies on capital gains tax, negative gearing and franking credits as being more equitable, many older voters are highly critical of the policies. A 66-year-old woman admin officer laments: “I will be a self-funded retiree when I retire, and my whole life is stuffed up, because everything I’ve worked for is about to go arse-up.”

Stability – or lack of it – is a recurring theme among Warringah soft voters. They see politicians from both sides as focussed on themselves, and the leadership coups as evidence they are more preoccupied with power than “doing the right thing by the people”.

For his critics in these groups, Abbott’s trenchant stand against
same-sex marriage is clear evidence of being out of touch. Three
quarters of Warringah electors voted yes in the 2017 plebiscite.

A younger female says Abbott “has lost a lot of trust over his whole attitude towards women, and the same sex marriage issue”. A female nurse from Curl Curl declares he’s “past it and hasn’t got his finger on the pulse. He’s very old school, very set in his ways, bit of a misogynist. He’s very 1950s in his thinking”.

On the other hand, for some participants Abbott’s sticking to his
beliefs has been a plus, a sign of strength of character and
convictions.

There was passing reference to Abbott as a climate change sceptic, but his stance on same-sex marriage, which people cite repeatedly to illustrate his being out of touch with the electorate, aggravates them far more than his views on climate change.

Some voters who might disagree with him on issues see him as tenacious and committed to a life of public service. “He’s one of the most principled politicians I’ve ever seen,” says a 59-year old male musician from Dee Why.

Running in Abbott’s favour is his local activism. His lifesaving,
firefighting and general community engagement are well known. But his long tenure of itself can work against him. A 47-year old mother of two from Allambie Heights says: “I don’t dislike Tony Abbott. I just think he’s been in the job too long”.

Others regard him as untrustworthy and bitter. A female retiree from Mosman says it is clear he “has spent a lot of time in the parliament getting revenge and caused the most enormous amount of damage to the party”.

But the challenge for Steggall is to turn discontent with the incumbent into support for her.

As the researcher’s summary of the findings puts it: “What might appear to be a high-profile candidature to those looking in from outside the peninsula, does not yet appear to have penetrated the streets of Warringah.

“Some participants had never heard of Steggall. Some had only heard her name and knew nothing else about her, while a few knew she was an Olympian and/or a lawyer, and that she has children and has been married twice; certainly their knowledge of her at this time is not enough to make her an obvious alternative vote choice to Abbott.

“The dilemma for Steggall’s campaign is that neither the former
Liberal-voting Abbott defectors nor the ‘anyone-but-Abbott’ voters are automatically falling her way,” the report says.

“The very fact of deciding (definitely or probably) not to vote for Abbott causes these Warringah electors to consider their vote more carefully, to ponder the issues and weigh up their options on candidates (seriously for the first time in more than two decades).

“Some are aware that there is a ‘strong Indigenous female candidate’ (Susan Moylan-Coombs) and while her name is not top of mind for them, ‘she looks interesting’. The Labor candidate did not rate a mention across all four groups. Minor parties such as the Greens and the Liberal Democrats, as well as potential other independent candidates, are also under consideration by some”.

Older voters are more aware of Steggall, her legal career and her
father’s local legal practice. The fact she’s been an Olympian is a plus for some, indicating discipline; they see her legal qualification as indicating intelligence. A couple of the participants have received direct marketing information from her, making them feel more positive towards her. A 40-year old male from Freshwater who’s been getting “a lot” of Steggall material says: “She’s an independent, she’s moderate. Perfect.”

The assessment from a male business development manager from Balgowlah reflects the ambivalence in some voters’ minds: “There is something exciting about her, and she’s different, but you can’t have that trust in her because there’s no track record there, so you’re really just taking a leap of faith”.

As the researcher sums up from the group discussions, at this stage Steggall “is a local by geography but has yet to prove her mettle as a worthy community advocate.”

But this contest has a long way to run.

Postcript: Listen to interviews with Abbott and Steggall on The Conversation’s Politics with Michelle Grattan podcastThe Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Poll wrap: Labor maintains Newspoll lead but Morrison’s ratings up, and Abbott behind in Warringah


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While Scott Morrison remains preferred PM, Labor maintains an election-winning two-party preferred lead in the latest Newspoll.
AAP/Ellen Smith

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted February 7-10 from a sample of 1,570, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, unchanged from last fortnight. Primary votes were 39% Labor (up one), 37% Coalition (steady), 9% Greens (steady) and 5% One Nation (down one) – One Nation’s lowest Newspoll vote since February 2018.

43% were satisfied with Scott Morrison (up three), and 45% were dissatisfied (down two), for a net approval of -2, up five points. Bill Shorten’s net approval was down two points to -15. Morrison led Shorten by 44-35 as better PM (43-36 last fortnight).

There has been much debate in the last fortnight about Labor’s proposal to abolish franking credit cash refunds. Voters were opposed by 44-35, but this is down from 48-30 opposition in December. Opposition was strongest among those aged over 65 (59-28 opposed).




Read more:
Words that matter. What’s a franking credit? What’s dividend imputation? And what’s ‘retiree tax’?


Voters supported reducing investor tax breaks, such as negative gearing and capital gains tax deductions, by a 51-32 margin (47-33 in November).

It has been over five months since Morrison replaced Malcolm Turnbull as PM in late August 2018. In nine Newspolls, his net approval has been in the single digits, positive or negative.

The last three Newspolls of 2018 were all 55-45 to Labor, while the first two of 2019 have been 53-47. I believe the Coalition has been assisted by Morrison’s relative popularity and a greater distance from the events of last August.

In Turnbull’s last four Newspolls as PM, the Coalition trailed by just 51-49, but Turnbull’s ratings were weaker than Morrison’s, with a peak net approval of -6. However, Turnbull’s ratings would have been better if not for the hard right’s hatred of him; it is plausible that 10% of the electorate disliked him from the right. Morrison has no problem with his right flank.

The Coalition is perceived as too close to big business (see Essential below), and Greg Jericho wrote in The Guardian that the latest data are not good for the Australian economy. A key question is whether Morrison’s ratings eventually fall due to the unpopularity of most Coalition policies. Economic credibility is likely to be important if the economy slows.

Essential poll: 52-48 to Labor

Last week’s Essential poll, conducted January 23-31 from a sample of 1,650, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since Essential’s mid-January poll. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (steady), 36% Labor (down two), 10% Greens (steady) and 7% One Nation (steady).

The fieldwork period and the sample size were both larger than usual for Essential – normally Essential is conducted over four days with a sample a bit over 1,000.

By 47-41, voters agreed that one of the reasons why there are relatively few female MPs is that women choose not to get involved with politics. By 46-39, they disagreed with the proposition that voters preferred to elect men, rather than women. By 72-20, they disagreed with women being less capable politicians. Gender quotas were supported 46-40, but Coalition voters were opposed 50-37.

37% supported a separate national day to recognise Indigenous Australians alongside Australia Day, 15% thought Australia Day should be replaced, and 40% did not support a separate day.

At least 50% thought that private health insurance companies, big banks, mining companies and big business wanted the Coalition to win the next election. Labor had a lead on this question with pensioners and people with a disability, and at least 50% with families with young children and the unemployed.

Seat polls of Warringah, Stirling and Pearce

A ReachTEL poll of the NSW seat of Warringah for GetUp, from a sample of 622, gave independent Zali Steggall a 54-46 lead over incumbent Tony Abbott. Primary votes and fieldwork dates were not included in the media report. In 2016, Abbott won Warringah by 61.6-38.4 against the Greens, and 61.1-38.9 against Labor.

60% thought Abbott’s performance as a local member poor, and 60% said they were more likely to vote for a candidate who would tackle climate change – 78% among those who had defected from Abbott.

A Labor internal poll of the WA seat of Stirling, conducted after Michael Keenan announced his retirement from a sample of 950, gave Labor a 1.5% lead after preferences. In 2016, Keenan won Stirling by a 6.1% margin. Labor and the Liberals were tied at 36% each on primary votes with 6.8% undecided.

A GetUp ReachTEL poll of the WA seat of Pearce, conducted January 16 from a sample of 674, gave the Liberals a 52-48 lead over Labor (53.6-46.4 at the 2016 election).

Seat polls are very unreliable, but Stirling and Warringah are inner metropolitan seats, while Pearce is outer metropolitan. I believe the Coalition will struggle most in better-educated inner metropolitan seats.

The three seat polls were commissioned by left-aligned groups. However, ReachTEL asks for voting intentions first. Media-commissioned polls are superior to polls from political interest groups, but seat polls are unreliable in any case.

SA byelections and NSW pill testing Newspoll

Byelections occurred on Saturday in the South Australian state seats of Cheltenham and Enfield, following the resignations of Labor’s Jay Weatherill and John Rau respectively. Labor retained both seats easily, with primary vote swings to Labor of 6.6% in both Cheltenham and Enfield since the March 2018 election. The Liberals did not contest either seat.

In an additional question conducted with last fortnight’s NSW Newspoll that had a 50-50 tie, voters were in favour of the NSW government providing a pill testing service at music festivals by a 56-35 margin. Over 70% of Labor and Greens voters supported pill testing, while Coalition voters were narrowly opposed 49-45.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Coalition gains in first Newspoll of 2019, but big swings to Labor in Victorian seats; NSW is tied


US government shutdown aftermath

On January 25, the US government shutdown ended when President Donald Trump accepted a bill that would reopen the government until February 15 without funding for the southern border wall he had demanded. The 35-day shutdown was the longest, beating the previous record of 21 days from 1995-96. Trump has suggested declaring a national emergency if Congress cannot agree to fund the wall by February 15.

In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Trump’s ratings fell to 39.3% approve, 56.0% disapprove on January 26. Since then, his ratings have recovered to 40.2% approve, 55.1% disapprove. However, Trump’s ratings among Republicans are well over 80% approve.




Read more:
Record US government shutdown harms Trump’s ratings, plus Brexit chaos and Australian Essential poll


A second shutdown could occur after talks between Democratic and Republican members of Congress broke down. To avert a shutdown, new funding must be passed by Friday (Saturday Melbourne time).

Given strong opposition to Trump in the polls, he needs the US economy to stay strong to have a reasonable chance of re-election in 2020. Despite the January shutdown, the economy added 304,000 jobs in that month.The Conversation

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

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

Could Tony Abbott lose to an independent? If the zeitgeist is any guide, he’s on thin ice


Mark Kenny, Australian National University

Strangely enough, there’s a link between “Kevin07” as an electoral phenomenon and the recent successes of independents such as Kerryn Phelps (Wentworth), Cathy McGowan (Indi), and Rebekha Sharkie (Mayo). All three now hold once safe Coalition seats.

And the link is one that may prove influential in 2019, particularly for Zali Steggall, who is challenging Tony Abbott in Warringah.

As in the case of Kevin07, the formerly Coalition-friendly independents, which is also how Steggall positions herself, found a way of giving life-long centre-right voters permission to break ranks without feeling like they were being disloyal.

The aim is to present as essentially similar to the incumbent conservative, but better. Modernised. Updated.

The implicit message to voters was that it was their party that had left them, not the other way around.

Such a sentiment may be ripe for expression in Warringah which, while economically conservative, has emerged as demonstrably more progressive than its long-time MP, Abbott. The blue-ribbon jewel was among the most pro-equality electorates in the country in the 2017 postal survey.

Beaten only by Wentworth, the two inner-Sydney electorates were the leading Liberal-held “yes” seats in NSW.

And it is to these voters that new and fresh quasi-independent candidates like Steggall seek to speak – voters whose Liberal loyalties have been tested by Abbott’s blunt antipathy for social reform and particularly his denial of tough Australian action against global warming.




Read more:
Liberals trounced in huge Wentworth swing, bringing a hung parliament


Labor’s unusual ‘07 campaign

The trick is to be close, but not the same, and it has a record of working in conservative-minded electorates.

Underpinning Kevin Rudd’s defeat of John Howard in 2007 was a carefully calibrated reassurance that Howard’s Australia – in which political correctness had been demonised and social reform moved at a glacial pace – would continue even with a change to a Labor government.

Labor’s plan was to strip the election of the usual contrast between parties, reducing the choice before voters to John Howard or a kind of John Howard 2.0.

In a number of ways, Rudd presented as a prime ministerial simulacrum, updated but only where required to: prioritise “working families”, take faster action on climate change, and offer an exciting public investment bridge to the digital future (the NBN).

So successful was this unusual proposition, it tended to minimise other policy differences between the parties and neutralise the usual fear of change itself among cautious voters.

From a marketing perspective, it was daring given Rudd was in fact the leader of the opposing Labor Party.




Read more:
Democracy is dead, long live political marketing


Crucially, it sought simultaneously to share in the government’s credit for economic stewardship – moderate inflation, strong employment, and a healthy budget surplus again – while outflanking Howard on his right.

Of course there was more to the 2007 changeover than mere campaigning, not least being Howard’s odious industrial relations laws (WorkChoices), an inconvenient mid-campaign cash rate hike (to 6.75%), and simple fatigue after a dozen years of Coalition rule.

Even so, there’s no denying that with his lay-preacher persona, non-union background, and claim to be fiscally conservative, Rudd deftly positioned himself as the safe choice for those voters considering change but still concerned with budget discipline and creeping permissiveness.

Similar to Labor’s 2007 strategy, Phelps, McGowan and Sharkie have offered the tribally conservative voter a reduced-risk alternative to the status quo. Or, as some have coined it, “continuity through change”.




Read more:
Politics Podcast: Cathy McGowan and Rebekha Sharkie on the role of community candidates


But there are also key differences. While Rudd promised measured economic modernisation in a socially-conservative manifesto – opposing same-sex marriage, for example – the new breed of once-were-Liberals flip that around.

They tend to emphasise the low tax, pro-business instincts of conservatives, but are more left-leaning on social policy and the environment. This turns out to reflect much of the electorate also – including many Liberal voters.

Can Steggall do the same in Warringah?

It’s a formula with a particular piquancy now given 2019 marks ten years since Tony Abbott rolled Malcolm Turnbull for the Liberal leadership over emissions trading.

An acrimonious decade on, and with no government climate or energy policy to speak of, voters’ patience has been strained to breaking point. The endless point-scoring and division has nudged moderately inclined Liberals within the grasp of new independents.

Fittingly, these events are coming to a head most threateningly for the government in Abbott’s own stronghold of Warringah.

Abbott’s vulnerability turns on three things: the standing of the Morrison government come polling day (which may or may not have improved), the campaign prowess of the Steggall operation (unknown), and the extent of declining loyalty by once solid supporters in his electorate. All are in flux.

Steggall’s threshold objective must be to drive Abbott’s primary vote south of 45%. That will not be easy. In 2016, his primary vote tanked by some 9% but he still managed to hold the seat without need for second preferences at 51.65%.

Still, if the zeitgeist is any guide, Steggall’s presentation as “the Liberal for the future against the Liberal for the past” will be appealing to those voters peeved at Abbott’s undermining of Turnbull and specifically the right-wing insurgency against the government’s National Energy Guarantee.

It could also resonate strongly with Liberal backers who were appalled at Abbott’s starring, if roundly ineffective, campaign against marriage equality.

Despite its unwavering support for Abbott through nine elections, Warringah voted “yes” to legalising same-sex marriage at the rate of 75% compared to the national rate of 62%. It even exceeded support in the most progressive jurisdiction – the ACT.

Steggall’s backers believe Abbott’s famous resistance to a reform his constituents found uncontroversial will prove it is his failure to move with the times that will force them to move their votes.The Conversation

Mark Kenny, Senior Fellow, Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University

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

Abbott scores big win on party reform as Coalition continues to trail in Newspoll


File 20170723 28512 q4o25i
Tony Abbott’s ‘Warringah motion’ for party reform was passed by 748 votes to 476.
Daniel Munoz/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Abbott forces are seeking to drive home their sweeping Sunday victory in winning rank-and-file endorsement for reforming the New South Wales Liberal Party by putting a three-month deadline on the changes being ratified.

A special convention of party members voted overwhelmingly for motions from the former prime minister’s Warringah federal electorate conference (FEC) backing plebiscites for preselecting all candidates and direct election by the party members of those who run the party organisation.

This comes as the latest Newspoll, published in The Australian, shows the Coalition continuing to trail Labor 47-53% in two-party terms. This is the 16th consecutive Newspoll in which the government has been behind.

The Coalition’s primary vote rose one point to 36%, while Labor also rose one point, to 37%. One Nation slipped from 11% to 9%; the Greens fell from 10% to 9% since the last poll a fortnight ago.

Malcolm Turnbull’s net satisfaction improved four points to minus 20; Bill Shorten’s net satisfaction was static on minus 20. Turnbull widened his lead as better prime minister from eight points to 11 points.

At the convention of NSW Liberal Party members, the plebiscite motion was passed by 748 votes to 476, and the accompanying motion by a two-to-one margin.

The endorsement of the “Warringah” model is a huge challenge to the factional grip of the state division held by the moderates and soft right.

The changes would likely see the division move to the right, in line with the political colour of its rank-and-file, and make it harder for moderates to win preselections.

But the reforms have to be approved by the state council before they take effect. Given the majorities on the key votes were so decisive, and backing crossed factional lines, it would be hard for the current powerbrokers to resist the general thrust. But there could be a struggle ahead over timing and detail.

Walter Villatora, president of the Warringah FEC, said after the two-day meeting: “These reforms now need to be ratified, which I expect will happen within three months.”

“Somewhere up above in Liberal Party heaven Robert Menzies is looking down and smiling. The party membership have clearly spoken. The era of brutal factionalism is over,” he said. “The NSW Liberal Party is now the most democratic division in Australia.”

But a statement by state president Kent Johns suggested there would not be any rush. “The convention result reflected the members’ desire to reform some of our organisation’s internal processes, and serves as a clear demonstration of participation by our membership,” he said.

“Members showed their support for introducing a plebiscite model to ensure that the NSW Liberal Party continues to preselect the best candidates …

“Discussions at the convention will inform the development of the party’s modernisation plan, which will be prepared by me and the state director, Chris Stone. Constitutional amendments will be prepared over the coming months by our constitutional committee, and proceed to the party’s governing body – state council.”

Turnbull positioned himself carefully in his address to the convention on Saturday so as not to be caught in the firing line if the Abbott push won.

He stressed his support for plebiscites, saying every member should have a say in selecting candidates. It was widely believed, however, that he would have preferred a more circumscribed model.

But the convention voted down or didn’t reach motions attempting to impose some restrictions. These included having a longer eligibility period and an “activity test” before members could vote, and the grandfathering of electorates with sitting members.

In the Warringah model the only condition on party members voting in the plebiscites would be that they must have been a member for two years.

The present preselection system has candidates chosen by panels comprising local delegates and non-local members.

Neither Turnbull nor premier Gladys Berejiklian were at the convention when the vote was taken.

Later a spokeswoman for Turnbull said that as the prime minister had said at the convention: “He has long supported that all Liberal Party members have a direct say in preselections. The PM wants to ensure that every member of the party knows that their voice is heard and respected.

“The PM made it clear yesterday that plebiscites for preselections are a good idea, but hardly a new one. Every other Liberal party division has adopted them,” she said.

Abbott emailed members in his electorate: “This is a great advance for our party – and it would not have happened without the hard work of the Warringah conference led by our president, Walter Villatora.

“There’s more to do, of course. Democratisation now has to run the gauntlet of state council; but this is potentially a wonderful new start for our party. A revitalised, less factionalised party will be really important to winning the next election.

The Conversation“This is a big ‘thank you’ to all Warringah Liberals. Let’s now do our best to build on this success.”

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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