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.

 

July poll caused by mad-Tone disease

24 April 2016

 

Had the change of leadership last September led to the expected results, the next Federal election would’ve been held in about September or October this year.  Now the election looks likely to be a few months earlier, in July.  Although this shouldn’t really raise eyebrows, there’s more to this than meets the eye, at least at first glance.

Back in 2013, the Liberal-National Coalition had won an election off the back of major public satisfaction with the Labor Party, which had endured leadership problems and looked somewhat incompetent in office.  But despite the election win, the Coalition leader had always been unpopular with the voters, and this didn’t change when he became Prime Minister.  His unpopularity somehow gave Labor a chance of winning office back despite its troubles, and for many months one opinion poll after another confirmed it.  This scared the Liberal Party, and in September last year it led to a leadership challenge against the PM, which he lost.

People widely thought that a different person as PM would bring results, particularly with getting legislation through the Senate, where the Coalition lacked a majority and could only pass legislation with the support of crossbenchers.  Whereas the former PM was considered a combative type, with a take-it-or-leave-it approach to the Senate crossbenchers, the new PM was thought more likely to be able to persuade them to support legislation, and unpopular legislation at that.

But during months of initially high popularity with the voters, the new PM seems to have merely floated ideas, and dropped them at the first sign of unpopularity with voters.  This leaves voters unsure about what he seeks to do on various issues, including the hard job of reducing Federal budget deficits.  At the same time, people have long known where he stands on some issues, but they’re so at odds with where many Liberals stand that he’s unable to stand by his own principles.   And he also seems to have merely adapted the combative approach of his ousted predecessor.

The former PM and his cheer squad often ranted about the unhelpfulness of the Senate when he couldn’t get legislation through.  But his unpopularity meant that any election called with him in charge would see the Coalition defeated.  And the new PM, as well as seeing his initial popularity slip away, has gone from looking like a crossbench persuader to looking like a crossbench destroyer, which his predecessor probably sought to be.

Many people, myself included, didn’t expect the new PM to become as flustered and frustrated as this.  Indeed at first he was arguably accepting of the need to deal with the Senate crossbench, because that was how it was.  But he’s since moved to change how people win Senate seats at elections, making it harder for non-Coalition and non-Labor people to win Senate seats, and threatened an early election if the Senate crossbenchers didn’t support some other legislation.  With the Senate crossbenchers refusing to give in, the PM has carried out his threat, and now a July poll looks likely.

And here’s why I’ve been referring to both the former PM and the new PM by those terms, for the moment.  Given that men known as Tony sometimes go by the nickname “Tone”, I apply this contextually to the former PM, Tony Abbott, who was considered combative and sometimes mad, even if not always angry in the true sense of the word.  As for man who became PM last September, Malcolm Turnbull, he’s lately been replicating the combative approach of his predecessor – I call this “mad-Tone disease”.

It might sound crude, but I think that it sums up the approach of Turnbull’s predecessor, for reasons above.  And I didn’t believe that Turnbull would turn as nasty as he’s become in relation to the Senate crossbenchers.  But now Australia looks like having a July poll, unexpectedly caused by a case of mad-Tone disease, afflicting a leader thought least likely to catch it.

Normally, Federal elections see voters electing half of twelve Senators in each state.  But if the Senate repeatedly rejects certain pieces of legislation, the PM can move for a double-dissolution election, whereby all twelve Senators in each state face the voters.  The only danger for the major parties is that minor parties and Independents need fewer votes to win seats in double-dissolution elections, because in each state there are more available seats, which are won on a proportional basis, meaning how many votes parties and candidates win within their given state.  In the meantime, the territories have two Senators each, and they face the voters at every election.  And a double-dissolution now looks to be coming.

The coming election will have surprised people in terms of timing.  But what surprises more would be that the poll should result from mad-Tone disease, care of a former PM with a penchant for unwelcome combat.

 

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.

Hot air from anti-CSG candidates

20 March 2015

The notion of coal seam gas as an election issue seems like nothing more than hot air.  Nobody should tell you otherwise.  Recent history, albeit brief, doesn’t show any elections changing course because of coal seam gas, often referred to simply as CSG.

I’m not downplaying CSG as a public issue.  I don’t like the idea of this gas being extracted from underground, chemically or otherwise, in a manner which potentially releases hazardous chemicals onto surrounding land or into underground soils.  It poses major hazards to rivers and underground water catchments.  And it should be a firm no-no on lands considered perfect for farming, especially for growing crops and fresh produce.

My point is that, as an issue, CSG is yet to swing an election.  For several years, I’ve heard stories about the hazards of CSG extraction on prime farmland in particular, with parts of New South Wales and Queensland being mentioned a lot.  But in that time, there have been elections in those states, along with a Federal election in 2013, and while all have resulted in changes of government, little looks different in relation to whether or not CSG extraction in these areas has begun.  It hasn’t mattered whether the Labor Party or the Coalition parties were in power.  And it isn’t like there haven’t been chances for CSG opponents to make their concerns swing elections.

Realistically, CSG opponents shouldn’t believe a single bit of rhetoric from either Labor or the Coalition parties.  It’s true that when I first heard about CSG becoming an issue of public concern, Labor was in government in most states and nationally.  Certainly it would’ve been Labor giving extraction projects the go-ahead.  But even after governments have changed from Labor to the Coalition parties, the noises still prevalent to this day suggest no change on the issue.  Therefore CSG opponents should seem more inclined to vote for minor political players.

However, this is where problems regarding elections begin.  The Greens have naturally been critics of CSG extraction everywhere.  But they have little traction among voters outside the inner suburbs of state capitals like Sydney and Melbourne and Brisbane – if anything, they’ve often seen rural voters as environmental vandals killing trees and rivers, and rural voters largely hate them.  On the other hand, Federal MP Bob Katter has also been a CSG critic, but even though he set up his own political party a few years and has fielded candidates at several elections, they’ve seldom made any difference in areas where CSG has been an issue.

The recent state election in Queensland showed Katter’s party as almost meaningless.  With much anger surrounding CSG extraction on prime farmland in the Darling Downs region around Toowoomba, to the west of Brisbane, Katter’s party really should’ve won several seats there if voters were so angry about the issue.  But Katter’s party got nowhere in that area.

If unhappy with the major parties’ positions on CSG, voters in the regions would be more likely to vote for Independent candidates, should there be any of substance running around.  And some Independents either against or concerned about CSG are contesting the coming state election in NSW.  But they face the usual challenges faced by Independents at election time – needing to get themselves well known among many thousands of voters across relatively small areas, having personal beliefs that those voters will tolerate, or being able to cherry-pick what voters like and dislike about the major parties’ other policies.  Voters don’t always support candidates simply with the letters I-N-D in brackets after their names, unless they know them well beforehand, and generally they’re unlikely to support single-issue candidates.

Ironically, perhaps also hindering anti-CSG candidates is a vocal CSG industry critic, namely broadcaster Alan Jones.

Thought strongly supportive of the Coalition parties generally and of Prime Minister Tony Abbott in particular, Jones has been part of a long-running war against Independents.  This dates back to late 2010, when Abbott narrowly lost a Federal election to Labor leader Julia Gillard, who managed to govern in a hung parliament with the support of two Independents from Coalition-leaning electorates in the bush, despite the unpopularity of Labor at that time.  Filthy at this result, Abbott and the Coalition have repeatedly used the Independent-Gillard deal to scare voters into voting against Independents, painting votes for Independents as votes for Labor.  These tactics have been dishonest, but they’ve worked, costing many respected Independent MPs their seats.  And Jones has been among the Coalition’s media cheerleaders in that respect.

Coalition bias aside, Jones has been savagely critical of both mining and CSG extraction on prime farmland.  Indeed he’s from rural Queensland himself, and he’s spoken of how mining has desecrated the area where he comes from.  He was very vocal during the Queensland election.  But his words seemingly had no impact in areas where people had concerns about CSG.  In any case, given his leaning to the Coalition, how could he also support anti-CSG Independents?

There might be a first time for everything, of course.  As such, will anti-CSG candidates actually have enough support to win seats in the coming NSW election, or will they be merely letting off hot air?  The day draws closer when CSG will get hot or stay cold.