Turnbull set to make it home

2 July 2016


Busy days and a twisty campaign for the 2016 Federal election have kept me away from commenting on it of late.  And today the campaign has come to its end, with Australians voting whether to continue with the Liberal-National Coalition Government or change direction.

Having looked at the last opinion polls ahead of voting, I’m predicting a swing of 3-4 per cent against the Coalition nationwide, but it looks like Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will lead the Coalition to a narrow win in the House of Representatives.  Swings aren’t always uniform at election time, meaning that some seats within the range of a uniform swing don’t necessarily fall, and some such seats unlikely to fall.  That’s why I believe that Turnbull is set to make it narrowly home.

The last election, in 2013, saw the 150-seat House fall comfortably to the Coalition over the Labor Party, with a 90-55 win, while a quintet of crossbenchers won the other seats.

Since the 2013 election, there have been electoral redistributions in several places, which have changed the numbers there.  Brought about by population changes, with the aim of giving as near as possible to an even number of voters in every seat in selected states or territories, the redistributions have notionally given the Coalition a new seat in Western Australia, notionally given Labor a trio of Coalition-held seats in New South Wales, and taken away one Labor-held seat.  As a result, the House now shows the Coalition 88-57 ahead of Labor.  This has reduced Labor’s task of a 21-seat target to a 19-seat target.

While this year was always going to be an election year, three years on from the last election, the last year has been been full of twists and turns.  The Coalition had won the last election largely off the back of massive voter dissatisfaction with Labor, but voters themselves didn’t like Tony Abbott, who was then the Coalition leader, and they only voted for because they were fed up with Labor.  It only took a few months for their dissatisfaction with Abbott to really show in the polls, and for month after month one poll after another showed voters ready to throw the Coalition out of office, after a single term there.  This brought about a leadership challenge in September last year, with Abbott dumped in favour of Turnbull.  But after enjoying much bigger approval ratings among voters for several months, Turnbull also lost favour with them, and in the first six months of this year he’s nosedived from looking unbeatable to looking vulnerable.

The amazing thing is that many people, myself included, didn’t expect Labor to be in with a shout after its 2013 election loss.  Even though voters hated Abbott, it seemed hard to believe that they could want to go back to Labor after throwing Labor out in a big way in 2013.  The switch from Abbott to Turnbull initially sent Labor’s stocks into freefall, but Labor has come back in a big way, and now looks to be in with a chance.

The trouble, as I see it, is that the Coalition has upset many people with its policy agenda, particularly when it comes to reducing public spending and a massive budget deficit that Labor had left behind.  Voters didn’t like Labor’s deficit, but they’ve been uneasy about how the Coalition intends to deal with it.  They’re afraid that spending cuts will leave them worse off and unable to spend more, and they’re afraid that the Coalition might try to return to a deregulated system of employment laws, which cost countless people a good chunk of their income and left them worried about of losing their jobs to people willing to accept less pay for work.  I could sum up their thoughts as saying, “We don’t like Labor’s clumsiness, but we also don’t like the Coalition’s stinginess.”

Those circumstances make the 2016 election interesting.  My prediction is for an overall swing of 3-4 per cent against the Coalition, but not all Coalition seats within that range will be lost, because of differing attitudes across different states and territories.  So my seat tips are as follows, albeit not without some close calls.

The Coalition will end up losing the seats of Petrie, Capricornia, Lyons, Solomon, Hindmarsh, Eden-Monaro, Lindsay, Robertson, Page, Reid, Macarthur, Bonner, Brisbane, and Cowan to Labor – 14 seats in all.  But on the other hand, the Coalition will end up winning McEwen and Chisholm and Bruce from Labor – a trio of Victorian seats.  Also, the Coalition will win back Fairfax in Queensland, with the departure from politics of mining tycoon Clive Palmer.  This points to a result of 78-68 to the Coalition over Labor, with a quartet of Independents holding the remaining seats.

I tip the Coalition to hold the seats of Braddon, Banks, Deakin, Gilmore, Corangamite, La Trobe, Bass, Forde, and Macquarie in the face of challenges.  Most of these seats are within the uniform swing range, with some above, but I think that the Coalition will hold them.

As for the Senate, it’ll be a lottery.  I won’t predict numbers, but I’m predicting the Coalition to face having to deal with balance-of-power crossbenchers in the Senate, just like previously.

This election will probably see Turnbull make it home.  But few would’ve tipped him to struggle before now.



Big states developing electoral hit lists

17 January 2016


Hardly any Australian needs reminding that a Federal election will happen during the course of this year.  Based on the results of the last election, in 2013, it looks like the Australian Labor Party needs a swing of about 4.3 per cent to defeat the Liberal-National Coalition Government.  But the size of the needed swing could potentially change, depending on how electoral redistributions pan out in a few states.

A redistribution means a redrawing of boundaries of electorates within a given state or territory, to reflect population changes.  Naturally, the population grows in some areas and declines in others over time.  Therefore, a redistribution is necessary to give each electorate, or parliamentary seat, as near as possible to the same number of voters.  These redistributions usually happen every 5-10 years or so, but not necessarily in every state or territory at the same time.

Since the 2013 election, electoral redistributions have occurred in a few states, as well as in the Australian Capital Territory.  At the moment, these are yet to be finalised, but it looks as though the number of seats in New South Wales will fall from 48 to 47, and the number in Western Australia will rise from 15 to 16.

The redistribution in NSW looks like including a new seat named after the late Gough Whitlam, who was Prime Minister in the 1970s.  Seats are duly created for every former PM after death, when the opportunity arises.  This honour has yet to come for Whitlam, who died in late 2014.  And it’ll come in due course for another former PM, Malcolm Fraser, who died only a few months after Whitlam died.  These honours will be in NSW for Whitlam and Victoria for Fraser, because their seats were in those respective states.

These honours won’t apply to their successors until after they’ve passed away.  This is why there aren’t yet seats named after Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, or Tony Abbott.  But they’ll come in due course.  I note that Hawke and Gillard held seats in Victoria, Rudd held a seat in Queensland, and the rest were in NSW.

However, the hard part for future electoral redistributions might be the question of which seats should be abolished, especially after any former PM passes away.  This is certainly the case in NSW, which has seen its number of seats fall from 51 a few decades ago to 48 now, due to population shifts over time.  If the voting population in NSW shifts to the point where the number of seats has to fall, there might be arguments over which seats to abolish.  Victoria might have a similar problem, as its number of seats has fallen from 39 to 37 over the last few decades.

Most seats in Federal Parliament, specifically in the House of Representatives, are named after significant people or localities.  Mind you, I’m not sure how many Australians know what made famous most of the individuals after whom seats are named.

When electoral redistributions happen, efforts are usually made to preserve seats which have existed since 1901, when Parliament first opened.  They’re also made to preserve any seat named after a former PM.

NSW has many seats set to be preserved in any future redistribution for the reasons noted above.  Existing continuously since 1901 are Cowper, Eden-Monaro, Hume, Hunter, Macquarie, New England, Newcastle, North Sydney, Parramatta, Richmond, Robertson, Wentworth, and Werriwa.  The seats of Barton, Chifley, Hughes, McMahon, Page, Reid, and Watson are named after men who served as PM.  There are 20 seats in all.  I’d add the seats of Riverina and Cook to this tally – Riverina was created in 1901 and abolished in 1984 and restored in some form in 1993, but during its non-existence there was a seat named Riverina-Darling, and indeed MP Noel Hicks held Riverina when it was abolished before holding Riverina-Darling and then Riverina again, while Cook is actually named after a great explorer whose surname is shared with a former PM.

The other seats are named after artists, explorers, pioneers, writers, or other people of note.  There are also some seats named after localities.  In due course, some of these seats will have to be abolished.  But there’ll be some public resistance to their abolition.

I remember a campaign against the abolition of the rural seat of Gwydir ahead of an election in 2007, as Gwydir had existed since 1901, but it had experienced significant population decline.  I also remember some resistance to the abolition of the suburban seat of Lowe, named after an individual, ahead of an election in 2010.  Both seats were ultimately abolished, but some people remained attached to them.

There might be a chance of the big states developing electoral hit lists, as some seats will be abolished amid population shifts.  From time to time, such seats simply have to go.

Liberal squabble aborted by ill health

30 August 2015

Few things might annoy politicians like electoral redistributions.  Necessary because of population change, these can leave politicians’ hitherto-safe seats suddenly more vulnerable to their rivals, or they can abolish seats altogether.  When these things happen, politicians sometimes play a game of musical chairs to find another seat, and sometimes they’re forced to retire prematurely.

In one redistribution of Federal electorates in the Australian Capital Territory during the 1990s, the Labor Party found itself in such trouble.  Population change in the ACT had led from the number of electorates there rising from two to three before a Federal election in 1996, at which Labor won all three electorates.  But with more change, the third electorate was subsequently abolished ahead of the next election, in 1998, and one Labor MP had to retire after being left stranded.

Another redistribution almost pitted two Liberal politicians against each other in a preselection battle ahead of a Federal election in 2001.  This came into my head when I heard about the recent death of Alby Schultz, who represented the Liberal Party in the New South Wales Parliament and then Federal Parliament.  But this particular redistribution almost made Schultz’s stint in Federal Parliament very brief.

What’s an electoral redistribution?  In political terms, it means a redrawing, or changing, of the boundaries of electorates within any given state, so as to given electorates as near as possible to an equal number of voters.  Redistributions often happen every 5-10 years.  Naturally, over time populations grow in some areas and shrink in others – right around Australia, it’s long been a case of city populations growing and rural populations shrinking.  Population change often leaves some electorates with thousands more voters than the rest, and some electorates with thousands less voters than the rest.  As a result, an electoral redistribution needs to be undertaken to correct the imbalances and ensure that all electorates have roughly the same number of voters, based not just on actual population change over time but also on predicted population change in the near future.

As an example, there was a redistribution of state electorates in New South Wales ahead of an election in March this year.  Major population growth in inner Sydney over a number of years resulted, more or less, in one urban electorate being divided into two – the existing electorate of Marrickville was abolished, and within its locality two new electorates were created, namely Newtown and Summer Hill.  On the other hand, population decline across rural NSW resulted in the three westernmost electorates in the state dropping from three to two.  The most westerly electorate, Murray-Darling, was abolished, as was neighbouring Murrumbidgee.  Another neighbouring electorate, Barwon, was enlarged to take in the northern half of the former Murray-Darling electorate, whose southern half was merged with much of the former Murrumbidgee electorate to create a new electorate named Murray.  The Nationals held all three of those former electorates, so one of them ended up running for a seat in the Upper House of Parliament at the next election, leaving the other two Nationals, both ministers, to contest Barwon and Murray.  This gives you an idea of what electoral redistributions can do to politicians.

Going back to Schultz, a redistribution almost saw him out of Federal Parliament soon after he got there.  He was first elected to State Parliament in NSW in 1988, winning the southern rural seat of Burrinjuck, and held it until 1998, when he resigned to run for Federal Parliament and won the seat of Hume, which he held until retiring in 2013.  But because of a redistribution after 1998, he was almost pitted in a fight for Liberal preselection with John Fahey.

Formerly Premier of NSW from 1992 to 1995 and in State Parliament since 1984, Fahey had left for Federal Parliament in 1996, winning the seat of Macarthur, and he became a senior minister in the Howard Government.  The redistribution after 1998 saw Macarthur lose much of its Liberal-leaning voter base to neighbouring Hume and take in many Labor-leaning areas, to the point of making it notionally a Labor-held seat. Indeed Fahey’s own home in the Southern Highlands was also moved into Hume.

So Fahey sought to leave Macarthur and run for Hume, which Schultz had won not long ago, leaving the Liberal Party with trouble over preselection.  In political terms, preselection means the choice of a person by a political party to represent it in a general election.  As a minister, Fahey had more seniority than Schultz, but Schultz wasn’t willing to make way, and he even considered leaving the Liberals.

In the end, ill health ended this preselection squabble.  Because of cancer, Fahey announced his retirement from politics in mid-2001, so the squabble with Schultz never eventuated.  With Fahey gone, Schultz went on to hold Hume for another fifteen years.

The passing of Schultz thus reminds political followers of this Liberal squabble brought about by an electoral redistribution, and only aborted by ill health.  How quaint the winds of fate must seem, as Fahey remains alive and well and doing other work away from politics.