Nasty battle awaits Brock

16 October 2017

 

The Liberal Party hasn’t won a general election in South Australia in twenty years.  You have to go back to this time in late 1997 to find the last Liberal election win in that state.

Even then, that 1997 win only came with crossbench support, as the election result was a deadlock.  The Liberals, having won office outright four years earlier, in December 1993, ended up losing their majority in 1997.  Crossbenchers finished up with the balance of power, and the Liberals managed to survive.

Dean Brown led the Liberals to victory in 1993.  This was in fact their first election win since 1979, as they’d gone on to lose office at an election in 1982.

But the Liberals in SA have been in a state of virtual civil war for decades.  Even winning office in 1993 wasn’t enough to keep their internal battles in check, let alone bring them to an end.  As a result, Brown was suddenly dumped in a leadership coup in 1996.  Not even the prestige of being Premier saved him.  The coup saw John Olsen become Liberal leader and Premier.

Olsen would go on to lead the Liberals to their near-defeat at the 1997 election.  He resigned in late 2001 as a result of a scandal, and Rob Kerin succeeded him.

The next election in SA came in early 2002, by which time Kerin had been Premier for only a matter of months.  Ironically, that 2002 election produced another deadlock, but this time Kerin was unable to get crossbench support to continue governing, and the Labor Party, led by Mike Rann, took power.

Kerin remained Liberal leader after that 2002 loss.  He led the Liberals to a big defeat at the next election, in 2006, with Labor obtaining a clear majority.  Labor held on with a smaller majority after the next election, in 2010.

By then, Kerin was gone.  He’d quit Parliament after his 2006 election defeat, triggering a by-election in his old seat of Frome, to the north of Adelaide.  Winning that by-election was Independent candidate Geoff Brock.

Having taken power with crossbench support in 2002, Labor had outright election wins in both 2006 and 2010.  But of course, the years of governing took their toll.  When the next election came in March 2014, the result was another deadlock, with Labor losing its majority.  By then, Rann had departed as Labor leader and Premier, and Jay Weatherill had succeeded him.

This election left the balance of power in the hands of two Independents – one of whom was Brock, the Independent in what would’ve otherwise been a safe Liberal seat.  Having been just a mere MP for years, Brock suddenly found himself in the spotlight.

The other Independent holding the balance of power along with Brock was Bob Such, a former Liberal from suburban Adelaide.

But this situation didn’t last long.  Shortly after the election, with the results still yet to be declared, Such fell ill.  The onus was now on Brock to support one side or the other.

Probably because of Labor having fallen a seat short of a majority, Brock chose to give his support to Labor.  As a result, Labor narrowly survived.

But it didn’t end there.  Weatherill saw fit to offer Brock a place in his ministry, which Brock accepted.  Not long after, a Liberal MP defected to the crossbench, and also went into Weatherill’s ministry.

This might’ve surprised many people.  But Weatherill’s predecessor, Rann, had done the same thing during his first term in office, when Labor didn’t have the numbers to govern alone.  Rann saw fit to offer places in his ministry to non-Labor MPs after taking office, and even after his big election in 2006 made him no longer reliant on the non-Labor MPs serving in his ministry, he kept them on.  To have dumped them, because of no longer needing them, wouldn’t have been a good look.  Undoubtedly Weatherill would’ve noted Rann’s actions before he offered ministerial places to non-Labor MPs in 2014.

As a footnote, Such died shortly after falling ill in the aftermath of that 2014 election, and Labor narrowly won a by-election for his old seat.  Labor hadn’t held that particular seat, Fisher, since 1989, when Such had won it, as a Liberal candidate, before later falling out with the Liberals.

Since then, age and other problems have worn the Labor Government down.  The most obvious problems relate to electricity and power shortages, including when a massive storm caused a massive blackout across the state around this time last year.  You’d think that Labor should lose the next election, which comes next March, but with the Liberals failing to really inspire voters, doubts still linger.

As for Brock, he’ll probably face a nasty battle in his seat.  The Liberals have consistently run vicious election campaigns against Independents who’ve sided with Labor after ending up with the balance of power in various parliaments around the country.  With Brock holding what’d otherwise be a safe Liberal seat, the Liberals will probably try to paint him as a “Labor Independent”, dishonest though that is.

Independents don’t back governments of the wrong “colour” lightly.  I’ve seen them do so in the past, and sometimes they’ve survived, though not always.

The next election in SA will almost certainly include a nasty battle which awaits Brock in his seat.  The challenge for him to withstand such nastiness will test him greatly.

 

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By-elections don’t show threats

25 September 2017

 

 

The New South Wales Parliament recently lost two members, who’d actually been elected to it at the same time.  And for their side of politics, the time of their election was dark.

I refer to two Nationals, Katrina Hodgkinson and Adrian Piccoli, both former ministers in the Liberal-National Coalition Government in power in NSW since 2011.  They entered Parliament together, at an election in 1999, when the Coalition suffered one of its worst defeats in memory.  Recently they both resigned from Parliament, and by-elections will soon be held in their old seats, Cootamundra and Murray respectively.

The 1999 election was really bad for the Coalition.  Having narrowly lost to the Labor Party at the previous election, in 1995, the Coalition had a big loss in 1999.  It came away with only 33 seats out of 93, whereas Labor won 55.  At later elections, in 2003 and 2007, the Coalition only picked up a handful of seats.  Labor began to implode, amid scandals and incompetence, not much more than twelve months after its 2007 win.  By the time of the 2011 election, Labor had become so decrepit that the Coalition only had to stand up straight and it’d win easily – the Coalition’s margin was a huge 69-20 over Labor.  Both Hodgkinson and Piccoli became ministers after that win.  Now they’ve both left.

But it’s hard to judge what the resulting by-elections might show, in relation to what the Coalition’s prospects might be at the next general election, which comes in 2019.  Labor isn’t that popular across rural NSW, including in the south-west of the state, where both Cootamundra and Murray lie.  However, given that the Coalition lost one of its safest rural seats in a by-election late last year, there’s been talk of potential losses in either or both of these coming by-elections.  Admittedly, the Coalition’s by-election loss last year was to a non-Labor candidate, and both Cootamundra and Murray look like seats where non-Labor candidates might pose more of a threat to the Coalition than Labor, but any loss might look like a boost for Labor – even though it shouldn’t do so.

Although by-elections normally see swings against incumbents, and sometimes result in seats changing hands, they don’t always serve as guides as to what might happen when general elections come around.  The lack of enthusiasm for Labor across rural NSW means that these coming by-elections don’t show obvious threats for the Coalition.

The Coalition’s by-election loss last year was in Orange, in central NSW.  The winner of that by-election was a candidate from a party representing shooters and fishers and farmers – the sort of people who’d normally vote for the Nationals.  However, over time they’ve come to regard the Nationals as less than representative of them.

Perhaps this is no surprise.  The Liberal Party has long dominated within the Coalition, being predominantly city-based but also tending to win many rural and regional seats over the years.  Indeed in the south-west of NSW, the Liberals hold the seats of Albury and Wagga Wagga, which actually extend beyond the reach of the cities after which they’re named, while the Nationals hold Cootamundra and Murray.  Rightly or wrongly, many rural voters see the Nationals as frequently opting against pushing the Liberals on issues where they don’t see eye to eye – hence a drop in support for the Nationals.

As such, when I heard about the coming by-elections, I heard some speculation that the Nationals could possibly lose either Cootamundra or Murray, if not both.  But for the reasons above, I’m not convinced that the Nationals will lose either seat, although I also wouldn’t be surprised if they lost, especially given what happened in Orange last year.

For the record, there’ll also be a by-election in Blacktown, in western Sydney, following the resignation of Labor MP John Robertson.  I expect Labor to hold that seat, simply because the Coalition isn’t that popular out there, despite winning numerous seats in western Sydney amid a huge plunge in Labor’s popularity in 2011.

The coming by-elections mightn’t say too much about the next general election.  The Coalition’s popularity has dropped off, but there’s not much enthusiasm for Labor, especially in rural NSW.  The by-elections might just come and go, with few people wiser about what the future holds for either political side.

 

Fixed state terms limit Federal options

23 September 2017

 

March has evolved as close to an annual election month in Australian politics.  In three of every four years, at least one state election is fixed for that month, though there can be more if some state’s Premier sees fit to send voters to the polls.

But this wasn’t always the case.  Four of six Australian states have fixed parliamentary terms, so we know when voters will go to the polls in those states.  It used to be that they could go to the polls at a time of their Premier’s choosing.  This remains the case in both Queensland and Tasmania, but the other states began fixing their parliamentary terms about two decades ago.

New South Wales went to fixed parliamentary terms during the 1990s.  Since then, fixed terms have come to South Australia and Victoria and Western Australia.  Also with fixed terms now are the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.  In each of these states and territories, parliamentary terms last four years.

As far as the month of March is concerned, it happens that only in leap years – when the prior month of February has twenty-nine days instead of twenty-eight – is there no fixed election date during March.  This was the case last year, which was a leap year.

In March this year, Western Australia went to the polls.  That state had last gone to the polls in March 2013, and will next go to the polls in March 2021.  Next year, March will be the election month in South Australia, which last went to the polls in March 2014, while March 2019 will be the election month in New South Wales, four years after its last poll in March 2015.

The other state with fixed terms, Victoria, next goes to the polls in November next year, with its last election having taken place in November 2014.  As for the two territories, their voters both went to the polls last year, and will next go to the polls in 2020.

At the moment, three states are due to hold elections in the next six months or so.  They are Queensland and South Australia and Tasmania.

While we know that South Australia will go to the polls in March next year, the Premiers of Queensland and Tasmania can call their state’s elections when they see fit.  It’s likely that Queenslanders will go to the polls first, as their state’s parliamentary terms last only three years and they last went to the polls in January 2015.  But there’s been speculation that they might go to the polls before the end of this year.  Tasmanians might well go to the polls in March next year, as their state’s parliamentary terms last four years, and indeed since 2006 they’ve gone to the polls on the same day as South Australians.

On a personal note, I pray that the Tasmanian Premier, Will Hodgman, somehow sees fit to send his state’s voters to the polls on a different date from when South Australians go to the polls – as an election tragic, it’s really annoying when two different states go to the polls on the same day, because you can’t be in two states at once!

In a sense, the many fixed state terms might have some sort of bearing on the next Federal election.  Although it’s not unprecedented for general election campaigns to take place at both state and national level at the same time, it doesn’t happen much.  And perhaps political leaders prefer to avoid such clashes.  The preference to avoid these clashes might therefore limit Federal options in terms of election dates.

The next Federal election is due before July 2019.  But the election date itself isn’t fixed, so when it comes is the Prime Minister’s call.  However, my feeling at this point is that the election will happen either between August and October next year, or around April and May in 2019.  These periods are outside any state election campaign periods, so there won’t be too much of a national-state clash, if there is one.

Although the popularity of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition has been low since the last election, I’m not sure what effect this has on the election date.  I think that, even if the Coalition continues to lag in the polls, Turnbull won’t lose his job before the election.  He’s clearly not the popular figure that he’d long been before, but there’s no clear alternative to him waiting in the wings.

In that respect, I can’t believe that some people keep talking about bringing back Tony Abbott, whom Turnbull defeated in a leadership challenge around this time two years ago.  Abbott might’ve led the Coalition to an election win in 2013, but he was never popular, winning largely due to the unpopularity of the Labor Party, and as Prime Minister he annoyed and scared the voters immensely.

Although Turnbull narrowly won the last election, in 2016, I suspect that if Abbott had still been leading after September 2015, Labor would’ve won.  Voters won’t tolerate an Abbott return under any circumstances.

The next Federal election might well happen around this time next year, if not six or seven months after that time.  The potential clash of state campaigns makes those options for a Federal poll look more realistic.

 

Bernardi’s crossbench recruits

28 August 2017

 

Disillusionment with Australia’s political establishment arguably goes back decades, rather than just years.  There were minor parties winning seats at times long ago, which would’ve been a sign of some disillusionment, both in Federal Parliament and in its state counterparts.  But I suspect that the 1990s were when the disillusionment really became entrenched, with minor players popping up in parliamentary chambers everywhere.

The arrival of Pauline Hanson in Federal Parliament in 1996 probably illustrates the disillusionment best.  Although she was only there for two years before losing her seat, she kept fighting again and again to win seats at election time.  But after arriving on the political scene and saying things which resonated with perhaps millions of people while annoying the established politicians, she saw fit to start her own political party, and even though she and her party imploded after some successes, they never went away.

Now there are plenty of anti-establishment politicians around.  Hanson is one of them, and so is Nick Xenophon, both of whom started political movements bearing their own names.  To date, both have enjoyed some level of success, but they have also endured some bad moments.  Bob Katter is another anti-establishment politician to have started his own political party, but he and his party haven’t enjoyed anywhere near the level of success that Hanson and Xenophon have enjoyed.

Some would consider the Greens to be anti-establishment.  After all, their people went into politics following time as activists on environmental issues – although not always those.  But in recent years, they’ve come to be seen as part of the establishment.  When Federal Parliament became deadlocked after a general election in 2010, and the Greens ended up with one seat in the House of Representatives and enough seats to hold the balance of power in the Senate, they had power to make deals and, to some extend, dictate what governments could or couldn’t do.  Although they’re not as powerful in Federal Parliament as they used to be, with their support having declined a bit in recent years, they can still be powerful players at times.

Earlier this year, Cory Bernardi appeared to join the anti-establishment ranks.  He quit the Liberal Party, which he’d represented in the Senate since 2006, to form his own political party.  But while Hanson and Xenophon and Katter started parties bearing their names, Bernardi didn’t do this.  He’s formed a conservative movement, whose aim is to win over conservative voters who might otherwise vote for the Liberals but can’t abide Malcolm Turnbull – whom Bernardi himself is strongly at odds with on various issues.

It didn’t take too long for Bernardi’s party to attract sitting politicians.  Already three have joined, from South Australia and Victoria.  But little has happened since.

When you look at Bernardi’s party now, you only see crossbench recruits.  And all are Upper House members, who win seats on the basis of statewide support, rather than through a strong concentration of support within small areas.

After Bernardi formed his party, he was able to recruit two people from his home state of South Australia.  Two members of the Upper House of State Parliament there joined him, after the winding up of the Family First Party, which they’d been with.  Family First was wound up following the downfall of Bob Day, who resigned from the Senate following problems with both a former business empire, among other things.  Because Family First was considered conservative, the party’s two State MPs in South Australian went over to Bernardi.  Joining Bernardi’s party a bit later was a crossbench member of the Upper House of State Parliament in Victoria.

But because Bernardi’s three “colleagues” were crossbenchers when they joined his party, their impact remains to be seen.  Bernardi hasn’t attracted anybody from the ranks of the Liberals or the Nationals, many of whom share his conservative values.

Had a major party politician defected to Bernardi’s party, there’d have been more than just a ripple.  But nobody has done so yet.  It’s true that anything can happen in politics, and I wouldn’t write off the prospect of a major party defection, but I’m not seeing any evidence of a defection coming.

Bernardi himself lacks the charisma to make people snap to attention whenever they hear him.  Some politicians have that.  You can’t recognise his voice at once when you turn on a radio or television or whatever.  He’s quite articulate in his views, but he doesn’t have a huge degree of appeal.  Time will tell if he can attract disillusioned voters both inside and outside his home state, particularly if they distrust the likes of Hanson and Xenophon as much as the political establishment.

 

NSW Coalition exodus looms

26 August 2017

 

The Labor Party played a bit of parliamentary switcheroo in New South Wales as a result of last year’s Federal election.  This saw Linda Burney switch from State Parliament to Federal Parliament, Sophie Cotsis switch between chambers in State Parliament, and John Graham enter State Parliament.  It also showed how new faces come to Parliament.

During last year, Burney resigned from her seat of Canterbury in the Lower House of State Parliament, in order to run for Federal Parliament, to which she was subsequently elected.  This triggered a by-election in Canterbury, in the inner west of Sydney.  Labor chose Cotsis, then a member of the Upper House of State Parliament, as its candidate for the Canterbury by-election.  She had to resign from the Upper House to contest that by-election, and she won it.

When members of the Lower House die or resign before completing their terms, there are usually by-elections held to fill their seats.  Lower House seats only cover specific areas of the state, which can be big or small, depending on the population.  Seats in big cities can be quite small in area, whereas seats in rural areas can be huge because they cover small towns with relatively few people living in them.

The Upper House, by contrast, acts like one large electorate representing the entire state as a whole.  You can be elected to this chamber regardless of whether you live in Ballina or Bathurst or Bondi.  When Upper House members die or resign before completing their terms, their parties simply choose new people to replace them for the rest of their terms.

Therefore, when Cotsis resigned from the Upper House, Labor had to choose one of its rank and file members to fill her seat.  The person chosen was Graham.  He’ll be in the Upper House until 2023, unless he dies or departs for some other reason – he actually won’t face NSW voters when they next go to the polls, in 2019.

It’s important to note that the NSW Upper House has forty-two seats, with half of them going up for grabs at each election – twenty-one in number – on a rotating basis.  The last NSW election was in 2015, and the one prior was in 2011.  The next two NSW elections will be in 2019 and 2023.  As such, those people elected to the Upper House at the last election, in 2015, won’t face the voters until 2023.  This applies also to Graham, because his predecessor Cotsis was among those elected in 2015.

The same goes for another replacement in the Upper House, namely Justin Field of the Greens.  He entered the Upper House when the Greens chose him to fill a vacant seat following the death of John Kaye, who was elected in 2015.

The Upper House members facing the voters in 2019 will be those elected in 2011, or their replacements.  And because I refer to the 2011 election, things get interesting.

The 2011 election saw the Liberal-National Coalition smash Labor.  In the Lower House, made up of ninety-three seats, Labor won only twenty of them, while the Coalition won sixty-nine.  A similar drubbing occurred in the Upper House, where Labor won a mere five seats out of twenty-one and the Coalition won eleven – in other words, the Coalition actually won a majority of available Upper House seats.  You rarely see that at elections!

This drubbing will, to some extent, trouble the Coalition.  While the Coalition will lose seats in either parliamentary chamber at the next election, its likely losses in the Upper House will be bigger than usual, simply because of its big win in 2011.

It’s true that every election triggers an exodus of sorts.  But the likely NSW Coalition exodus at the next election, in 2019, won’t exactly be small – at least as far as the Upper House in concerned.  I suspect that a bigger exodus looms within the Coalition’s Upper House ranks in 2019.

Normally, the Coalition and Labor can be expected to win sixteen or seventeen Upper House seats at election time, out of a possible twenty-one.  The overall election winner would probably take about nine seats, with the biggest loser probably taking seven or eight seats.  Of course, these numbers might be larger unless voters are so unhappy with the Coalition and Labor that they term to minor players.

The Coalition’s eleven Upper House seats from 2011 will fall in number in 2019, without question.  But by how much will depend on how popular the Coalition is at election time.

The Coalition’s popularity has fallen over the years, and it’ll lose plenty of seats, although the lack of enthusiasm among voters for Labor might make a difference to the likely losses.  I personally think that the Coalition will lose at least three or four Upper House seats in 2019.  Many Coalition people in the Upper House might choose to head for the exit doors, rather than endure the indignity of losing their seats, which they arguably won off the back of a previous election drubbing unlikely to recur at any stage in future.

 

Lyne up for scrutiny once more

23 July 2017

 

The humble post office has changed a lot over time, like most other things.  Whereas once it might’ve been the size of a small cottage, and often standing separately from other shops, it’s nowadays much smaller and likely to be the size of other shops.  As postal services like delivery of letters and parcels have changed, the space needed for post offices to operate within has shrunk.

I can still remember where I saw post offices in numerous suburbs across Sydney many years ago.  Hardly any still look the same from back them.  I could go to plenty of suburbs and point to where I first saw post offices.  Often the buildings housing them back then are still there, but they now house other businesses.  In some cases, the post offices are still in the buildings where they’ve long been housed, but the size of the post offices are half as big as before.  The buildings now house both the post office and another business.

Perhaps the only thing about Australian post offices not to have changed over time has been the name identifying them – Australia Post.

You might wonder what Australia Post has to do with politics.  Well, in the context of Federal Parliament, where the Liberal-National Coalition governs with a majority of only one seat, it happens to have a connection.

This brings us to David Gillespie, a National who entered Federal Parliament in 2013 and is now in the Coalition ministry.  His problem relates to a shopping centre which he owns, in the Port Macquarie area in northern New South Wales.

The problem is that one of the shops within that shopping centre is an Australia Post outlet.  Because Australia Post is a governmental body, the existence of that outlet within the shopping centre means that Gillespie, as the centre owner, makes money through leasing a shop to a governmental body while also making money from his job as a politician.  This can be seen as conflict of interest.

During the past year, another politician has been found to have a conflict of interest under similar circumstances.  The politician in question was Bob Day, who resigned from the Senate months ago.  His problem surrounded his electorate office – noting that electorate offices are the places where politicians work when they don’t attend parliamentary sitting periods.  In the case of Day, his electorate office was located in a building that he owned, so he was making money through leasing an office for governmental purposes.

The trouble affecting Day has naturally led to questions about Gillespie, and whether or not he’s allowed to sit in Federal Parliament.

Because the Coalition has a majority of a single seat in the House of Representatives, it only takes one resignation or death, or change of mind, for the chamber to become deadlocked – this in turn leads to the notion of the Coalition losing the confidence of the chamber, and possibly being tipped out of office, almost this looks unlikely.

The other thing worth noting about Gillespie is that he holds the seat of Lyne, in northern NSW.  And he won that seat in 2013, upon the retirement of Independent MP Rob Oakeshott.

The mention of Oakeshott makes the Nationals – and many Coalition MPs – go cold, because he was among several Independents who held the balance of power in Federal Parliament from 2010 to 2013, and chose to enable the Labor Party to govern, despite the unpopularity of Labor nationwide and the fact that seats like Lyne tend to favour the Coalition more than Labor.

The balance of power put much attention on Lyne, and Oakeshott’s decision to support Labor caused much anger across the area.

If Oakeshott hadn’t retired, he’d almost certainly have lost his seat to the Nationals.

To be fair, Lyne is very safe for the Nationals in a contest against Labor.  Only an Independent like Oakeshott could trouble the Nationals.  But the experience of 2010-2013 could probably scare voters in Lyne out of electing another Independent, and for some time at that.  However, because of this problem surrounding a politician and a post office, we might be kept posted or in line for any updates – if you’ll pardon the puns!

The closeness of the Coalition’s majority in Federal Parliament puts Lyne up for scrutiny once more, after news having emerged of Gillespie’s trouble.  The Coalition would probably win a by-election if Gillespie had to quit Parliament, but this just makes the majority even more vulnerable.

 

Joyless memories for Coalition MPs

14 July 2017

 

Hardly any Liberal-National Coalition MPs would have the best of memories at this time, given what they’ve been through.

Actually, this sentiment doesn’t apply only to this month marking one year since a very narrow win in a Federal election – it could also apply to a Federal election that possibly got away from the Coalition around this time thirty years ago, in July 1987.

Back then, Bob Hawke had been Prime Minister for four years, having led the Labor Party to an election win in March 1983, just a month after he’d obtained the Labor leadership.  Although he’d long been immensely popular across Australia both before and during his time as PM, his popularity was dropping off to some extent when he called that 1987 election.

Facing him in that election was John Howard, who’d accidentally become leader of the Liberal Party – and also the Coalition Opposition – about two years earlier.  His rise to the leadership was accidental because of ridiculous circumstances.  Before then, he’d been deputy leader, under the popular Andrew Peacock, but because he was seen as a better performer in Parliament than Peacock and having stronger convictions on many issues, Peacock became flustered, to the point where he tried to persuade the Liberals to vote in a different person as deputy leader – this attempt failed, and he resigned as leader.  Howard then became leader, but lots of Liberals didn’t like how he got there.

Despite being virtually a stone’s throw away from becoming PM, Howard didn’t seem as good as Opposition Leader as he’d been a just an Opposition frontbencher.

Worse for Howard, Queensland Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen saw fit to campaign for the job of PM, being keen to see Labor lose office but severely doubting that the Coalition could win under Howard.  The Queensland Premier, a National, was having delusions of grandeur, but had strong support from some quarters, although ultimately nobody was really interested in running for his mob at the Federal election.  When the election came, he’d done nothing more than split the Coalition, with the Nationals leaving the Liberals.

To be fair, even if the Coalition hadn’t split, most people don’t believe that it would’ve beaten Labor in that 1987 election, because the Liberals had problems over policy as well as some of their own infighting.  Labor ended up increasing its majority at the election, while the Coalition parties came back together.

History shows that Howard lost the Liberal leadership two years after that election, and then won it nearly six years later.  He won an election and became Prime Minister in 1996, and governed for eleven years before losing office at an election in 2007.

Led in 2007 by Kevin Rudd, Labor defeated the Coalition comfortably.  But Labor lost its majority at an election three years later, in 2010, and could only govern with the support of crossbench MPs.  By then, Labor MPs had dumped Rudd in a surprise leadership coup, with Julia Gillard taking over.

Tony Abbott had led the Coalition to that 2010 election, and after failing to convince the crossbenchers to support him instead of Gillard, he spent three years trying anything and everything to bring on a new election.  He’d made his name as an attack dog in Parliament during his time as a minister in the Howard Government.  As Opposition Leader, he was constantly attacking and opposing, with constant negativity.

While Labor had problems over policy and governance, it was largely consumed with infighting, as Rudd kept trying to regain the leadership that he’d lost to Gillard so suddenly.  He got it back in June 2013, but lost an election just months later, and Abbott became PM, winning a healthy majority.

But Abbott had never been popular with voters, and even as PM, he still seemed to behave like an attack dog, which voters hated.  He was totally incapable of taking voters with him, as far as policy and other issues went.  Less than two years after he became PM, there was an attempt to dump him from the leadership, with a large proportion of Liberal MPs – but not a majority – wanting him out.  The numbers weren’t quite there to dump him then, but months later, in September 2015, Malcolm Turnbull challenged him for the leadership, and beat him.

After initially seeming very popular among voters as PM, Turnbull saw his popularity suddenly drop off.  His problem was that he’d long been known as a man with principles, but he couldn’t act upon them because so many Liberals disagreed with them – some more strongly than others.  Somehow, the PM looked fake.

Frustrated with an inability to get support for key policies and pieces of legislation, Turnbull saw fit to call an election in July 2016.  And he almost lost.  In the end, the Coalition came away with a two-seat majority over Labor and various crossbenchers.

At this point, a swing of around 0.7 per cent to Labor will cost the Coalition its majority, although the presence of the crossbenchers – five in all – means that Labor needs a bigger swing to win an election outright.

The close result of the last election, a year ago this month, comes amid joyless memories at this time for Coalition MPs.  Polls now point to defeat at the next election.  How they respond will keep many observers interested.

 

Western allies trying to avoid Hansonites

25 June 2017

 

Queensland has always been the strongest state for Pauline Hanson.  Ever since she was elected to Federal Parliament more than twenty years ago, winning a seat in Queensland, support for her has been stronger there than in any other state.  Although she lost her seat less than three years after winning it, and then tried numerous times to win seats in elections, she eventually made it back in 2016.

Public support for her early in her parliamentary career prompted her to start her own political party, which won a number of seats in a state election in Queensland not long after.  And it was there that her party won a Senate seat at a Federal election in 1998.

Outside Queensland, support for Hanson and her party has probably been strongest in Western Australia.  It was there in early 2001 that Hanson’s party won a few seats in a state election, after polling strongly there at the 1998 Federal election, and where the party won a Senate seat in 2016.  Although the party also won a seat in a state election in New South Wales in 1999, as well as a Senate seat there in 2016, it’s fair to consider WA the second-strongest state for the party.

Earlier this year, at a state election in WA, Hanson’s party ended up winning three seats in the Upper House there.  Although failing to win a seat in the Lower House, where governments are formed, the party still had clout with those Upper House seats, because the Upper House had crossbenchers holding the balance of power.

The Labor Party won that election in WA easily – at least in the Lower House – but didn’t win enough seats to obtain a majority in the Upper House.  This meant that Labor would need the support of crossbenchers to get legislation through the Upper House.

The very presence of people from Hanson’s party – often referred to as Hansonites – in any parliamentary chamber has long been offensive to Labor, which has always denied the legitimacy of Hanson’s presence in politics.  Having derided Hanson as ill-informed and racist, in relation to immigration and indigenous affairs, Labor has done whatever it could to keep her and her party at bay.

Now, with Hansonites in the Upper House of State Parliament in Western Australia, Labor can only pray that it’ll have enough support from other crossbenchers to avoid needing the votes of the Hansonites.  And that mightn’t be easy.

Labor holds fourteen of thirty-six seats in the Upper House, meaning the need for five crossbench votes to get legislation through there.

Already, you’d expect Labor to have the support of the Greens, who increased their overall numbers at the election from two Upper House seats to four, because they’ve traditionally supported Labor on most issues.  The Greens actually gained three seats, but one MP, Lynn LacLaren, lost her seat.  However, even with the support of the Greens, Labor would still be one vote short.

Labor would therefore be trying to court the votes of other crossbenchers.  But in seeking to avoid the support of the Hansonites, the options are limited.

Western allies, if you’ll pardon the pun in relation to Australia’s westernmost state, might well emerge in this situation.  Labor and the Greens mightn’t agree on everything, but in trying to avoid the Hansonites, Labor might end up forming strange alliances from time to time, because the other crossbenchers seem at odds with the Greens on many issues.

One of the other Upper House crossbenchers is Rick Mazza.  He won a seat for the Shooters and Fishers in 2013, and he made it back this year.  Now fighting for farmers as well as shooters and fishers, all of whom you wouldn’t consider environmentally friendly in the eyes of the Greens and environmental activists, might it seem unlikely for Mazza to vote with Labor and the Greens?

Another of the crossbenchers is Aaron Stonehouse, who won a seat for the Liberal Democrats this year.  The Liberal Democrats fight for smaller governments and bureaucracies, and less regulation and laws, as well as for people to marry same-sex partnerse and own guns and take drugs currently deemed illegal.  Although Labor and the Greens seem to share this liberal approach on same-sex marriage and drugs, they’re not as likely to support reduced regulation or laws, because they don’t trust people or businesses to act ethically or avoid exploiting others for their own gains.  Would Labor and the Greens tolerate the Liberal Democrats as such?

As for the Liberals and the Nationals, who traditionally govern together, they’re free to cross the floor and vote against their colleagues if they see fit.  What’s the chance that any of them would cross the floor to support Labor on any issue?

Labor has always sought to avoid needing the support of Hanson and her party, and nothing looks like changing now.  The preference for avoiding the Hansonites might lead Labor into doing deals which might seem different from normal.

 

Hard Senate contest for minor players

17 June 2017

 

Frustration with one thing or another led to Federal Parliament becoming what it looks like today.  Although a Federal election was always expected last year, a few different things would’ve made Parliament a little different.  Mind you, the frustration could’ve also produced a different result.

Last year’s election was a rare double-dissolution, meaning a complete dissolution of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.  There haven’t been that many double-dissolution elections since Federal Parliament was established in 1901.  Normally, Federal elections would involve a complete dissolution of the House of Reps, but not of the Senate.  However, because the Liberal-National Coalition became increasingly frustrated with being unable to get legislation through the Senate over time, as well as other reasons, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull saw fit to call a double-dissolution.

Had the election last year been like most other elections before it, there’d have been six out of twelve Senators from each state facing the voters – hence the term “half-Senate election”.  But the Senators up for election wouldn’t have been those who won seats at the previous election, in 2013.  Instead, the Senators winning seats at the election before it, in 2010, would’ve been up for election last year, while the Senators winning seats in 2013 would’ve been due to face the voters at the next election, due in 2019.

When the Coalition won office in 2013, it ended up having to deal with a large number of crossbenchers who held the balance of power in the Senate.  There were eighteen Senate crossbenchers, and the Greens made up the bulk of this bunch – ten in all.  The other eight included of three people from a political party set up by billionaire Clive Palmer, as well as individuals from other parties.  Most of these people were elected in 2013, so they wouldn’t have been facing the voters again until 2019.  Had there been only a half-Senate election instead of a double-dissolution last year, the Coalition would’ve found itself still having to deal with many of those crossbenchers after the election.

This would’ve frustrated the Coalition, and was probably one of the reasons why a double-dissolution was called.  Because many of those Senate crossbenchers won their seats on other people’s preferences instead of their own popular votes, it was thought that some of them could lose their seats, especially as the Coalition was able to get enough support in the Senate to reform Senate voting.  But instead, the double-dissolution produced a larger crossbench in the Senate, with controversial figures Pauline Hanson and Derryn Hinch among those elected, although some of those Senators elected in 2013 ended up losing their seats.  In that sense, the double-dissolution arguably backfired for the Coalition.

The reform to Senate voting meant that voters could direct preferences to their choice of parties, rather than just candidates.  It used to be that, as a voter, you’d have two choices with the Senate – you could choose one party and vote for only it in a box above a thick black line on a ballot paper, or you could vote for every candidate from every party and group below that thick black line.  When people voted above the line, parties decided where votes went after candidates were elected or eliminated.  This meant that parties could direct votes to their choice of other parties, or away from those that they disliked, regardless of whether voters liked those choices or not.  In 2013, many minor parties decided to direct preferences amongst each other, so that votes wouldn’t reach the major parties – this led to minor players, such as Ricky Muir, winning seats with minuscule shares of the popular vote.  By reforming Senate voting, it was thought that this kind of event couldn’t happen again, unless voters themselves indicated that they wanted it.

Whatever the merits of reforming Senate voting, I suspect that the major parties wouldn’t have been too thrilled to see a larger Senate crossbench, especially with the likes of Hanson and Hinch there.

The next election, regardless of frustrations in dealing with Senate crossbenchers, will likely involve a half-Senate election.  With more votes therefore needed to win Senate seats, it’ll mean a harder Senate contest for minor players, unless their vote in any state is really strong.

To win a seat in a half-Senate election, you need about 14.3 per cent of the vote in one of the states.  Looking at the last election results, only the party of popular Senator Nick Xenophon would’ve won a seat on popular votes alone, with about 21.7 per cent of the vote in South Australia.

The Greens probably would’ve won enough votes in some states to have Senators elected on preferences.  They won about 11.2 per cent of the vote in Tasmania, 10.9 per cent in Victoria, and 10.5 per cent in Western Australia.

Similarly, Hanson probably would’ve won enough votes to get elected on preferences, with about 9.2 per cent of the vote in Queensland.

To win Senate seats at the next election, you’d be needing huge votes.  For example, in New South Wales you’re looking at well over 600,000 votes.  Getting that many votes won’t come easy for minor players in particular.

The hard challenge thus looms for minor players at the next election.  How or whether they obtain a bigger vote remains something to watch.

 

By-election results lead to nothing

28 May 2017

 

Few people outside northern Sydney’s Pittwater region will probably have heard of Alex McTaggart.  A popular local mayor, he was in the New South Wales Parliament for fifteen months – a period of time almost short enough for you to fail to even notice that he was there.  He entered after a by-election in late 2005, but lost his seat in early 2007.

The circumstances behind that 2005 by-election were dramatic.  McTaggart ran as an Independent in that by-election, for the seat of Pittwater, and won it from the Liberal Party, in whose hands it’d been since its creation.  The by-election followed the sudden downfall of Liberal leader John Brogden.  Elected to Pittwater in 1996, Brogden gained the Liberal leadership in 2002, lost a general election in 2003, and was thought likely to win the next election, in 2007, until revelations broke of him behaving badly while in a drunken state at a function.  He was in a bad mental condition after resigning as Liberal leader in August 2005, and he left Parliament soon after.

Pittwater voters believed that the Liberals themselves were behind Brogden’s downfall, as many Liberal MPs and officials disagreed with his aims for the future.  Because his seat was really safe for the Liberals, the Labor Party didn’t contest the by-election.  Some people believe that Labor’s absence made victory possibly for McTaggart, because Labor voters in Pittwater would’ve been looking elsewhere, and the Liberals would’ve lost much support in the area because of Brogden’s departure.  Being a popular mayor, McTaggart would’ve been a known quantity, and he ended up winning the by-election.

But in March 2007. when the next general election came, McTaggart’s career ended, with the Liberals regaining his seat.  As Labor ran here, like in every other seat, lots of voters supporting McTaggart in 2005 returned to Labor, so his vote dropped off.  And the Liberal candidate beating McTaggart was Rob Stokes, who became a minister in 2011.

The rise and fall of McTaggart jolted my memory earlier this year, when I heard about the sudden departures of Mike Baird and Jillian Skinner.  There was widespread surprise when Baird resigned as State Premier in January, although the exit of Skinner, the long-serving Health Minister who’d been tipped to lose her job after many years in it, surprised people less.  Both Baird and Skinner held safe seats in northern Sydney, which Labor had no chance of winning.  Therefore, I tipped no surprises in the by-elections to come in Manly and North Shore, the former seats of Baird and Skinner respectively, while Labor, unsurprisingly, didn’t contest either by-election.

Over time, I’ve seen the major parties lose by-elections to unconventional candidates, when their traditional rivals haven’t run, in seats considered safe – at least from their traditional rivals.  It’s like voters in those seats simply support or oppose the major parties holding them.  Apart from when the Liberals lost Pittwater to McTaggart after Labor opted against running, I remember when Labor lost a by-election for a safe seat to the Greens in the Wollongong area outside Sydney, which the Liberals skipped.

I’ve even seen the major parties lose those safe seats in general elections as well as by-elections, and with their traditional rivals running.  A by-election for Orange last year serves as a good example – this seat was safe for the Nationals, but at the by-election it fell to a candidate standing on behalf of shooters and fishers and farmers, even though Labor also ran.  And I remember how Tony Windsor won a safe seat from the Nationals at a Federal election in 2001, with the Labor vote collapsing in that seat.  Clearly Windsor won over voters who’d previously supported Labor more out of disliking the Nationals than actually liking Labor, as well as those who’d supported the Nationals only because they didn’t like Labor.  These circumstances have at times seen Independents like Ted Mack and Cathy McGowan elected to Parliament.

Going back to the seats of Manly and North Shore, when by-elections came for them last month, the Liberals won both.  There were big swings against the Liberals, but not big enough for them to lose, and they didn’t take long to claim victory.  For the record, Labor held one of its seats in another by-election at the same time.

I’d expected those by-election results in Manly and North Shore to lead to nothing, and they did.  As Labor skipped them, Independents unsurprisingly came second after preferences.  But even if any of them had won, I’d now be tipping any such winner to lose at the next general election, due in 2019.  The rise of fall of McTaggart, who lost his seat in a general election less than two years after winning it in a by-election, is typical.

I also remember an Independent coming second in a by-election for the Federal seat of North Sydney in late 2015.  With this a safe seat for the Liberals, Labor skipped that by-election.  But at a general election the following year, with Labor running this time, the second-placed Independent from 2015 lost support and finished well behind.

Voter dissatisfaction often puts Independents in Parliament at by-elections, especially when major parties don’t run.  But Independents must really stand out to win over voters at election time.  The lack of outstanding Independents lets the major parties keep power that they should really lose.