Liberal scare over stability

18 February 2018


Tasmania hasn’t been kind to the Liberal Party in electoral terms.  Since the party was founded in the 1940s, only six Tasmanian elections have gone its way, and the first of these didn’t come until 1969.

Of course, you’d be forgiven for doubting this, given that the most recent general election in Tasmania, in March 2014, resulted in a comfortable Liberal win.

But that Liberal win in 2014 was the first since the 1990s.  Indeed the only Liberal wins in Tasmania have been in 1969, 1982, 1986, 1992, 1996, and 2014.

With the Labor Party having won most elections in Tasmania over many decades, and with the long periods between its time in and out of office, it’d be reasonable to consider Tasmania something of a natural Labor state.

However, in 2014 Labor suffered a big loss, and was out of office for the first time since 1998.  It won a comfortable majority in 1998, and maintained it at elections in both 2002 and 2006, before losing that majority in 2010.

The loss of that majority left the parliamentary balance of power with the Greens, whose support enabled Labor to hold office.  This was something of an awkward alliance, and countless Tasmanian voters didn’t like it, but somehow it held until time came for Tasmanians to go to the polls, in 2014.

The instability of the alliance between Labor and the Greens played into the hands of the Liberals, who won the 2014 election comfortably.  Indeed over preceding years, in various parts of Australia, the Liberals and other non-Labor parties had used minority governments, as well as some bad Labor governments, to terrify voters into rejecting not just Labor but also Independents and minor parties, with a message being that only voting for the Liberals, or their equivalents, would bring majority governments and therefore stable governments.

Whatever the merits of the argument about majorities bringing stability, the tactic repeatedly worked for the Liberals and their equivalents at various election, and there was no exception in Tasmania.

With twenty-five seats up for grabs in Tasmania in 2014, the Liberals came away with a decent tally of fifteen.  Labor won seven, and the Greens won three.

The seats were spread across five electorates, each with five seats.  The Liberals won, on average, three of five seats available in each electorate.  In fact they won four seats out of five in one rural electorate, Braddon, but they only won two out of five in the state’s most urban electorate, Denison, while coming away with three seats apiece in the other electorates, Bass and Franklin and Lyons.

Labor came away with two seats in both Denison and one rural electorate, Lyons, but could only manage one seat in each of the other three electorates.  The Greens, who’d held one seat in each electorate before the election, ended up holding seats in Bass and Denison and Franklin.

Now Tasmania is due to go to the polls, and will do so next month.  Already the Liberals, led by Will Hodgman, look like trying to scare voters into sticking with them at this coming election.

With fifteen seats, the Liberals can only afford to lose two seats.  The loss of three seats or more will cost the Liberals their majority, and leave the balance of power in the hands of minor players, such as the Greens.

Already Hodgman has apparently made it clear that he won’t do deals with minor players to retain power.  He’s suggesting that he won’t remain Premier if forced into dealing with crossbenchers.

Indeed one former Liberal leader, Ray Groom, had a majority going into a general election in 1996, but he lost it at that election.  In the aftermath of this, he resigned as Liberal leader and therefore Premier, with Tony Rundle taking over.  Hodgman and the Liberals will undoubtedly remember this.

Although Opposition Leader Rebecca White has said similar things to Hodgman regarding the possibility of dealing with minor players, I’m not so sure that her position will be so firm, because Labor and the Greens share a bit in common.

The prospect of a Liberal scare over stability looks inevitable at the election next month.  The question remains as to whether or not Tasmanians will believe that scare.  The few opinion polls taken in Tasmania of late point to a hung election result, so the scare might weigh on the minds of voters.



Melbourne stoush better ignored

5 February 2018


The Liberal Party enabled the Greens to enter the House of Representatives.  This might sound strange, but it’s pretty accurate if you ask me.

The Greens first entered the House of Reps via a by-election for what’d been a safe seat for the Labor Party, in late 2002.  With the Liberals opting against running in that by-election, it should’ve been a non-event.  But the Greens ended up winning.

Would the Greens have won that by-election if the Liberals had run?  I suspect not, but at the time I didn’t believe that the Greens could win it, with or without a Liberal rival.  Having followed politics and elections for only a handful of years back then, I’d have been less aware of what can happen when major parties skip by-elections.

Nonetheless, with the Liberals skipping that 2002 by-election, Liberal voters there would’ve been looking for someone else to support.  The question was where their support would go, whether to Labor or some other candidate.  And that by-election had plenty of candidates.  As it turned out, the votes ended up flowing to the Greens, albeit via preferences, because more people had Labor as their first choice than the Greens, who ultimately won the seat.

But the triumph didn’t last too long.  When the next Federal election came, in 2004. Labor regained the seat.

Presumably, Liberal voters in that seat disliked Labor, but they were more or less resigned to the idea of their local MP being a Labor person.

Meanwhile, the Greens didn’t win another seat in the House of Representatives until a general election in 2010, when they won another safe Labor seat.  With sitting MP Lindsay Tanner retiring after holding the seat for seventeen years, it would’ve been more vulnerable for Labor – albeit not to the Liberals, whose vote hadn’t been that strong there.  The seat in question was Melbourne, right in the heart of the big city of the same name.  This was a Labor-held seat for most of its existence, dating back to 1901.  But over time, as the area became more gentrified, with wealthier residents enjoying lives comfortable enough to pay more attention to social issues like identity and environmentalism and so on, the Greens became attractive to such people.  And because Liberal voters in that region simply disliked Labor, their preferences ended up flowing to the Greens, who took the seat on the back of those preferences.

The Green who ended up winning that seat in 2010, Adam Bandt, is still there today.

He might’ve been on some sort of probation after his win.  When MPs are elected care of other candidates’ preferences, after trailing someone else on primary votes, there’s sometimes a question about the legitimacy of their wins.  Of course, the wins are perfectly legal, but they still have some sort of stigma about them.  As such, the 2010 win for Bandt had more than one element of luck in it.

However, when voters next went to the polls in 2013, Bandt topped the primary vote count in his seat, before holding it on preferences.  You couldn’t have expected him to do more than that.  And he did it again at the next election, in 2016.  I reckon that he’ll hold it for as long as he likes.

Over the years, support for the Greens has grown in inner Melbourne, well beyond just Bandt’s seat.  Indeed they won a few inner Melbourne seats at a Victorian State election in 2014.  More recently, they won another inner Melbourne seat in State Parliament at a by-election last year, following the death of a Labor MP.  The region was once really strong for Labor, but now the Greens are threatening Labor.

Now another Melbourne stoush looms in a safe Labor seat, following the resignation of Federal MP David Feeney, over dual citizenship.  A by-election for his former seat of Batman, in Melbourne’s inner north, will soon happen.

The power of the Greens in inner Melbourne makes me think that the Liberals will ignore the Batman by-election.  And frankly, for them, it’s a stoush better ignored, because the Greens will almost certainly win more votes than them if they run.

The Liberals should leave Labor and the Greens to fight over Batman.  They’d make a wise choice if they do so, leaving them more resources to fight a general election where their chances of winning look less than the best.  Going into battle in Batman won’t help them much.


Mate against mate in Tasmania

3 February 2018


Queenslanders will probably remember Glenn Lazarus for two things – a short career in Federal Parliament and a long career in football.

Before being elected to Federal Parliament in 2013 and representing Queensland in the Senate for a couple of years, Lazarus was a legendary footballer.  He made the big time while playing in Canberra, and went on to represent Australia at international level, as well as New South Wales in an annual three-match series against Queensland.

But in 1992 he moved to Brisbane, and joined a team full of Queenslanders.  Being a New South Welshman, he regularly lined up against his own teammates in that highly popular interstate series.  Over time, in this series there have been countless instances of players taking on teammates with whom they’d play together in club football every week.  And often they’d brutally tackle their own teammates – sometimes they’d even trade blows with them!  Not for nothing did this series attract a brand of “mate against mate”.

At first glance, you might wonder what this interstate football clash between NSW and Queensland would have in common with politics in another state.  The answer is that concept of mate against mate.

This concept accurately describes elections in Tasmania.  Here political parties regularly have several candidates running against each other in the same electorate – and sitting MPs are included.  Candidates freely run against sitting MPs, trying to win seats.  Often political parties have new candidates elected at the expense of sitting MPs.

I remember seeing this while in Tasmania to follow a general election in 2010.  I heard stories of energetic candidates campaigning against sitting MPs, with promises of new and better things if they won.  And one such candidate managing to win a seat in that election was Rebecca White – currently the Tasmanian Opposition Leader, who’s seeking to beat Premier Will Hodgman and take the Labor Party back to office after it lost office at the last election, in 2014.

Voting for State MPs in Tasmania has similarities with voting for Senators in a Federal election.  There are five electorates, with five seats apiece – hence a chamber of twenty-five seats.  Candidates are elected on the basis of how much of the vote they win in the electorates that they run in.

But I stress that candidates are elected.  Here you vote for actual candidates, rather than political parties or groups.  This is different from the Senate, where you choose whether to vote for parties as a whole or individual candidates – the size of a party’s vote across any given state determines how many, if any, of its candidates win seats.  With elections in Tasmania, overall party support in any electorate is, at least in theory, irrelevant.

Notwithstanding the fact that the popularity of a political party and its leader regularly sways voters, in Tasmania you have to choose a candidate from your preferred political party or group, and then mark preferences for every other candidate.  You’d likely cast your vote and early preferences for every candidate from your choice of party.  The key point is that parties can’t just choose their preferred candidates in any electorate, and bank on voters to give them their support as a whole – like they do with the Senate.

To some extent, this keeps political parties honest.  They have to choose candidates who, from what they can gather, have enough local popularity to win seats.

In terms of what happens in the environment of mate against mate in Tasmania, I come back to what happened there in 2010.  Labor was then governing, and had several new MPs elected, including White.  She won a seat in Lyons, a rural electorate.  But in that electorate, two existing Labor MPs, including one minister, lost their seats.  Similarly, another new Labor MP, Scott Bacon, won a seat in Denison, an urban electorate around central Hobart, but two ministers in that electorate were defeated.

In that same election in 2010, the Liberal Party had a similar thing happen.  In a rural electorate, Braddon, one sitting Liberal MP was defeated, but a new one was elected.

This demonstrates how vulnerable State MPs can be in Tasmania when elections come around.  Fending off candidates from other parties is one thing, but fending off people from your own party running directly against you is something else.  The notion of mate against mate, familiar to football fans in NSW and Queensland as well as that footballer-turned-politician Lazarus, takes on another meaning when Tasmanians go to vote.


NSW Labor’s girl goes to Canberra

28 January 2018


Frequently politicians walk away from their parliamentary careers with little warning beforehand.  These departures can follow scandals or dramas of other kinds.  At times, they walk away once something controversial happens, though often they walk away reluctantly because coverage of any controversy involving them simply won’t die down while they’re still around.

In Australia there’s been an instance of a Federal MP from New South Wales suddenly calling it quits, and the former MP’s seat goes to a person who’s previously served as Premier of New South Wales.

You’re probably thinking that I’m describing the recent resignation of the controversial Sam Dastyari, to make way for Kristina Keneally, a Federal by-election candidate from last year who was NSW Premier for a few years previously – but you’re wrong!

This description applies to when Mark Arbib suddenly quit the Senate in 2012, and his old seat went to Bob Carr, who’s served as NSW Premier longer than anyone else.

Formerly a powerful figure behind the scenes in the Labor Party in NSW, serving for years as NSW Labor secretary, Arbib was elected to the Senate in 2007, with his term scheduled to end in 2014.  But in early 2012, in the aftermath of Prime Minister Julia Gillard surviving a leadership challenge from Kevin Rudd, Arbib suddenly announced his resignation from the Senate.  He’d long been perceived as a “machine man”, or just someone who counted numbers among MPs or people behind the scenes for the purpose of internal power, and indeed he’d been involved in leadership rumbling within Labor over recent years – which really annoyed him.  So he walked away.

The challenge to Gillard from Rudd, who was then Foreign Minister and had previously been PM himself until a sudden leadership coup in favour of Gillard in 2010, also saw Rudd resign from his ministerial posting.  Gillard now needed a new person for Foreign Minister, and one of her existing ministers would’ve almost certainly been good enough for the role.  However, with both a vacancy in that role of Foreign Minister and a vacant seat in the Senate, the latter of which could be filled quickly with Labor simply choosing someone within its ranks to fill it, in came Carr.

This was arguably what Carr had long sought.  Back in 1988, after Labor had been voted out of office at an election in NSW, Carr had been made Labor leader there, even though he apparently hadn’t been keen.  Labor’s machine men saw him as the most credible person as leader after that election loss.  Carr had really hoped to go to Canberra and serve as Foreign Minister, but even when a Federal seat in Sydney became vacant within the following year or so, it went to one of his former colleagues, Laurie Brereton.

Despite being a reluctant leader, Carr ended up taking Labor to an election win in NSW in March 1995, and would go on to serve as Premier for ten years, before he suddenly called it quits in the middle of 2005.  When he left, there was talk that he might consider going into Federal Parliament, but he wouldn’t commit to that.  At the time, I considered that a possibility, given what politics could throw up.

Seven years after quitting NSW politics, Carr entered the Senate and landed the job of Foreign Minister – achieving what he’d long sought.  But Labor arguably imploded in NSW after he left.  And it was Keneally who ended up as Premier shortly before Labor suffered a massive election loss in 2011.  She quit NSW politics after that.

Now, several years after ex-Premier Carr replaced Arbib in the Senate, history looks like repeating, with ex-Premier Keneally almost assured of replacing Dastyari in the Senate, and it’s worth noting that Dastyari was also formerly NSW Labor secretary, like Arbib.

Of course, it’s not beyond question that Keneally will replace Dastyari, but it looks very likely.  This is especially as Dastyari announced his resignation just days before Keneally faced a by-election test.  Something of a shock choice as Labor candidate for a by-election for a fairly safe Coalition seat in Sydney’s north, she wasn’t really thought likely to win that by-election, but invariably the departure of Dastyari meant that Keneally could end up in Canberra anyway.

Keneally then lost the by-election, and wouldn’t rule out going to the Senate.  But I think that, while there was a fair swing to Labor in the by-election, it would’ve been smaller without Keneally, who’s considered quite popular with voters despite her poor record.

Now, long perceived as NSW Labor’s girl because of massive support for her within the Labor ranks, she looks Canberra-bound.  This is especially after she’d been left holding something of a poisoned chalice in leading a decrepit Labor to an election in NSW which it couldn’t ever win.

This might be premature to predict, but not that much time will pass before Keneally goes to Canberra, in a move typical of what can happen when politicians suddenly depart the scene.


Polls to a turning point

22 January 2018


Due elections around Australia in 2018 make me think of turning points for the time being.  The reason is that three states will hold general elections this year, with their last elections all being in 2014, and that year might’ve been a turning point, at least as far as the major parties were concerned.

Although there doesn’t have to be a Federal election until around the middle of next year at the latest, there’s been speculation that it could happen in the second half of this year.  But even if that election doesn’t come this year, the state elections coming up will attract some attention.  The results of those elections will invariable trigger some discussion about the message for Federal politicians.

Those states with elections taking place this year are South Australia, Tasmania, and Victoria.  Because both South Australia and Victoria have fixed parliamentary terms, their election dates are also fixed, for March and November respectively.  Tasmania doesn’t have fixed terms, but its election is due in the first half of the year, and might well come around March – the month when its last three elections took place in 2014 and 2010 and 2006.

Back in 2014, the Liberal Party won its first election in Tasmania since the 1990s, but fell just short of winning in South Australia, while the Labor Party returned to office in Victoria after just one term out.

The thought of turning points, though, comes from how the political scene looked in 2014.  To understand this, I go back to this time ten years ago – the beginning of 2008.

Back then, Australia had wall-to-wall Labor governments – meaning that Labor was governing in every state and territory, as well as at Federal level.

Actually, Labor by that stage had been in office in every state and territory since the first half of 2002.  But it wasn’t until about the end of 2007, when Labor won its first Federal election since 1993, that Labor had wall-to-wall governance.

During 2008, however, one of the Labor governments fell, in Western Australia.  The next of them to fall go in Victoria in late 2010, followed by New South Wales in early 2011.  Both Queensland and the Northern Territory voted Labor out in 2012.

And then came 2013, when Labor lost a Federal election after three fraught years of leadership squabbles and governing with crossbench support.  The triumph of 2007, when Kevin Rudd became the first Labor leader since Bob Hawke in 1983 to switch from Opposition Leader to Prime Minister, seemed so remote.  Rudd had long been immensely popular with voters, but when his popularity began to drop away during 2010, Labor MPs suddenly dumped him in a surprise coup, and installed Julia Gillard as PM.  Labor lost its majority at an election just months later, and was only just able to hold office with crossbench support.  Tony Abbott, who was unbelievably vicious as Opposition Leader, rejected the legitimacy of his close election loss, and tried hard to force the country back to the polls over the course of the next three years.  During 2013, after simmering over that 2010 leadership coup, Rudd managed to convince Labor MPs to dump Gillard and make him leader again.  But voters had likely made their minds up already to throw Labor out, and Abbott became PM.  Although Abbott won the election comfortably, Labor was so offended at Abbott’s behaviour during his time as Opposition Leader that it copied his tactics whenever possible.

In the first half of 2014, Labor lost office in Tasmania, but only just managed to hold office in South Australia, despite a major swing away from it.  By then, seven Labor governments across Australia had lost office since 2008.  If Labor had lost in South Australia, only the Australian Capital Territory would’ve been in Labor hands.

This left the Liberals, and other non-Labor forces, two governments short of having wall-to-wall non-Labor governments for the first time since 1970.  It’s worth noting that, while the Liberals normally team up with the Nationals, to form the Liberal-National Coalition, this doesn’t exist everywhere.  It exists in NSW and Victoria, as well as at Federal level, but not really elsewhere except Queensland, where the Liberals and Nationals actually merged to form the Liberal National Party, while the Northern Territory has the Country Liberal Party.

By the end of 2014, Labor had returned to office in Victoria, after only a single term out.  It turned out that this might’ve been a turning point for Labor.

In 2015, Labor regained office in Queensland, again after only a single term out, and the same thing happened in the Northern Territory in 2016.

Between these wins, however, Labor only just failed to win a Federal election in July 2016.  Before then, Malcolm Turnbull had become PM after the hugely unpopular Abbott was dumped in a leadership coup.

Since then, Labor has regained office in WA, to govern in four states and two territories.

The coming polls in South Australia and Tasmania and Victoria, together, might well lead to, or represent, a kind of turning point for the major political parties.  The results might vary in each state.  But much interest, as well as possible implications for their Federal leaders, will be in them.


Turnbull’s majority still tiny but safe

31 December 2017


The Bennelong by-election earlier this month has bought Malcolm Turnbull some time, with a Federal election possible in the coming year.

Defeat in that by-election would’ve cost Turnbull his parliamentary majority, of a single seat.  With that, it could’ve even ended his time as Prime Minister, but maybe not at once.

To be fair, the by-election wasn’t too easy for Turnbull and the Liberal-National Coalition to lose.  Although their popularity among voters has nosedived since Turnbull became Prime Minister in September 2015, albeit after initially rising with Turnbull’s rise to the top job and then falling, there hasn’t exactly been a massive jump in support for their opponents in the Labor Party.  Bennelong was relatively safe for the Coalition, with John Alexander holding the seat by almost a double-digit percentage margin.  And by-elections don’t often result in huge swings against governments, at least if the Bennelong margin before the by-election was anything to go by.  On top of that, Alexander was relatively popular as a local member.

In the end, the by-election result in Bennelong, in Sydney’s inner north-west, was a swing of around 4-5 per cent against the Coalition overall.  Labor needed to gain a swing twice as big in order to win, and that didn’t happen.

The by-election came about after Alexander resigned from Parliament, because of some suspicion that he might’ve been a dual citizen.  He’s among several Federal politicians forced out of Parliament amid a saga surrounding dual citizenshop.  It all began when the Greens lost one of their people, Scott Ludlam, from the Senate in July, after he was found to be a citizen of another country besides Australia, making him ineligible for Parliament.  Before long, other politicians were suspected of the same thing, and they either resigned or were disqualified by court rulings.

After Alexander’s resignation triggered the Bennelong by-election, Labor chose a high-profile candidate in Kristina Keneally, who’d previously served as Premier of New South Wales.  This might’ve been a masterstroke or a dud move.

As Premier, Keneally had led Labor to a massive election defeat in NSW in 2011.  While she was relatively popular as a person, and someone whom you could like, her problem was leading Labor after it’d been in office for well over a decade and showing obvious signs of not just incompetence but also corruption.  When she’d become Labor leader and thus Premier, voters were itching to throw Labor out.  In fact, they’d really wanted to vote Labor out in 2007, but they’d found the Coalition almost as bad, and after Labor won unexpectedly in 2007, it gradually imploded, with Keneally put in the top job purely to make voters less inclined to revolt.  Ultimately, it didn’t work.

Keneally also had the trouble of the company that she’d kept.  Her rise to the job of NSW Premier arguably couldn’t have happened without the influence of controversial Labor figures like Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi, whose names were odious in NSW.

After losing office in 2011, Keneally left NSW Parliament, and her time politics seemed over.  But that was until Labor saw fit to choose her to contest the Bennelong by-election.

It didn’t take long for the Coalition to bring up “dirt” regarding Keneally.  Her connections to the likes of Obeid and Tripodi, the former of whom later went to prison on misconduct charges, were brought up in the campaign.  Rightly or wrongly, Keneally was somehow painted as a figure of factional powerbrokers – people who often work behind the scenes in political parties and can scare parliamentarians or candidates into doing what seems best for the parties’ special supporters instead of greater public good.

Another such powerbroker to be used as a weapon against Keneally was controversial Labor Senator Sam Dastyari, who was frequently seen to be doing deals for contentious supporters of Labor, especially foreign businesspeople.  Just days before the Bennelong by-election, Dastyari announced his resignation from the Senate, arguing that his mere presence was distracting Labor and Keneally, and making it very hard to keep pressure on Turnbull and the Coalition with their one-seat majority.  But with Dastyari still very much in the headlines, Keneally couldn’t shake her image of somebody’s “girl”.

Alexander, though, wasn’t without problems.  Having Turnbull campaigning with him mightn’t have always helped, because Turnbull’s less popular than before.  But having former PM Tony Abbott campaigning with him wouldn’t have helped, because Abbott was immensely unpopular.  Indeed Abbott’s massive unpopularity was in part what triggered a revolt that put Turnbull in the top job.

But the by-election probably just came and went, given that a much closer result had been predicted.  With Alexander holding the seat for the Coalition, he therefore kept Turnbull’s majority as it was – still tiny but safe.  It’s bought Turnbull time, because rumblings over his leadership aren’t going away and some Coalition MPs still agitate over this.  The next Federal election might happen in the coming year, so Turnbull potentially keeps his critics at bay for a bit longer.


Palaszczuk’s second election win

24 December 2017


Going back three years, to December 2014, probably few Queenslanders would’ve heard of Annastacia Palaszczuk in those days.  She was leader of the Labor Party, which then had few seats in Queensland Parliament after a huge election loss to the Liberal National Party in March 2012.  Although Queenslanders had come to really dislike the LNP and Premier Campbell Newman, their 2012 election win was so big that hardly anybody felt that they could lose the next election that they faced when it came.  Therefore few were paying attention to Labor and Palaszczuk.

Queensland had been due to go to the polls in early 2015.  The election ended up coming in late January, which was earlier than expected.  There was talk that Newman, who held a marginal seat in inner Brisbane, could lose his own seat, but most people expected the LNP to win the election overall, although someone else would end up as Premier.

To the surprise of most observers, the election result was a deadlock, with neither the LNP nor Labor winning enough seats to govern without support from crossbenchers.

Newman lost his seat, as predicted.  But in the end, Palaszczuk was able to take power with crossbench support, and Labor was back in office less than three years after being comprehensively voted out.

Little was known of Palaszczuk until the course of election night, when incoming results were gradually making a Labor win look possible.  Indeed few people knew her name, and fewer could say it, let alone spell it!

The name is pronounced “Pala-shay”.  And, as somebody said on television when Labor looked able to win that election, the name is spelt “P-A-L-A-Sydney-Zoo-Canberra-Zoo-U-K”, which is quite amusing!

Less than three years on from that election in 2015, it’s perhaps difficult to believe that Palaszczuk was relatively unknown to Queenslanders not so long ago.  Now, after calling an election for last month, although it wasn’t due until early next year, Palaszczuk has become a two-time election winner, with a parliamentary majority in her own right.

Before this election, Labor was widely tipped to hold power, but only with crossbench support rather than a majority of seats.  However, though Palaszczuk’s first election win in 2015 was something of a shock, her second election win has been less of one, and her authority looks enhanced because of winning a majority of seats.

I actually predicted Labor to win a majority – this proved correct, but I didn’t make this prediction with the greatest of confidence and I got plenty of seats wrong!

The state of Queensland’s economy, coalmining, and electricity prices might well have been the issues of this election.  They weren’t helpful for Labor.  But Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls and the LNP didn’t really trouble Labor, as voters came to dislike them.

Also helping Labor was the presence of Pauline Hanson and her political party.  Labor has always been intolerant of Hanson, while the LNP has been in two minds regarding her, and this would’ve annoyed voters into supporting Labor, especially in urban areas.

Labor didn’t really give voters a reason to give it another term in office.  But the LNP didn’t really appeal to them, and Labor won as a result.

As I’d tipped, the LNP won Bundaberg from Labor and gained Nicklin from a retiring Independent and regained Buderim from a defector to Hanson’s party.  But I hadn’t tipped the LNP to win Pumicestone, won by Labor in 2015.

I’d correctly tipped Labor to gain Gaven, Mansfield, Mount Ommaney, and Redlands from the LNP.  But five other seats stayed with the LNP when I’d tipped Labor to gain them – Burdekin, Chatsworth, Everton, Glass House, and Whitsunday.

LNP frontbencher Scott Emerson was a surprise casualty, beaten by the Greens, who weren’t expected to win a seat in Parliament.  I felt that their support wasn’t strong enough for them in any small area to win, but they got in.

The LNP lost three other seats that I hadn’t tipped it to lose – namely Aspley to Labor, Noosa to an Independent, and Hinchinbrook to the party of Federal MP Bob Katter.

I’d tipped Hanson’s party to win the seats of Lockyer from the LNP and Maryborough from Labor.  Neither of them fell, but Hanson’s party managed to win Mirani, around Mackay, from Labor.  Meanwhile, as well as gaining Hinchinbrook, Katter’s party also had two sitting MPs returned.

Labor also regained Cairns and Cook, from MPs who’d left it after the 2015 election.

In the end, Labor ended up with forty-eight seats out of ninety-three, giving it a small majority, but a clear one at that.  The LNP had thirty-nine, and six went elsewhere.

This result gives Palaszczuk two election wins and a great deal of authority.  But that authority hadn’t always been around, especially when few knew her for so long.


Inner Melbourne’s electoral lesson

4 December 2017


The Liberal Party generally has little chance of winning seats in places like inner Melbourne.  This area has long been strong for the Labor Party, notwithstanding some occasional Liberal wins over time.

But a by-election for a Labor seat in inner Melbourne, which the Liberals didn’t contest, arguably showed that Liberal voters in that area would rather vote for the Greens than Labor, or at least give the Greens their preferences over Labor.  This area is perhaps one where voters either love or loathe Labor.

Actually I’m being cheeky here – this isn’t strictly a reference to a recent by-election in the Labor-held seat of Northcote, which the Greens ended up winning.

Instead I refer to a by-election in another inner Melbourne seat, Albert Park, which occurred around this time ten years ago, in late 2007.

That Albert Park by-election followed the surprise departure of Victorian Deputy Premier John Thwaites.  Because Albert Park was safe for Labor, the Liberals opted against contesting the by-election.  In the end, although Labor held the seat without much trouble, the Greens came second by a smaller margin than the Liberals had come at previous general elections.

Thwaites actually resigned from Parliament together with Premier Steve Bracks, who’d been in the top job since a surprise election win in late 1999.  Elected Labor leader just months earlier, Bracks wasn’t rated much of a chance of winning when Premier Jeff Kennett called the election.  But a surprise backlash against Kennett across rural Victoria ended up tipping him out, and Bracks became Premier.  He’d held another Melbourne seat, Williamstown, for a few years before his rise to first the Labor leadership and then the top job.

Albert Park and Williamstown actually sit beside each other.  Between them is the Yarra River, where it flows into Port Phillip.  And with Thwaites and Bracks both resigning together, by-elections for their old seats were held at the same time, with the Liberals opting against contesting either by-election.  The Greens also did better in Williamstown in the absence of the Liberals, but they didn’t get as close to Labor as they got in Albert Park, with Labor’s Williamstown margin much bigger.

If there were lessons to learn from these by-elections, the most apparent would’ve been of Liberal voters liking the Greens more than they liked Labor.

Ten years on, these by-elections, particularly in Albert Park, came back to me after the recent Northcote by-election, which Labor lost to the Greens.  That by-election followed the untimely death of Labor MP Fiona Richardson.  Notwithstanding the rise in the popularity of the Greens across inner Melbourne over time, I was sure that Labor would hold Northcote, because the by-election came about under tragic circumstances, and not many by-elections following deaths have resulted in seats changing hands.  Needless to say, I was wrong.

The rise of the Greens in inner Melbourne is beyond question.  After coming closer to Labor in various inner Melbourne seats than the Liberals over the years, the Greens have won seats, both at state level and nationally.  They’re now stronger in numerous seats than the Liberals.  Mind you, while the Greens have mostly taken seats off Labor, they also won a Liberal-held seat in inner Melbourne in 2014.

And because the Liberals didn’t contest the by-election in Northcote, Liberal voters there were required to direct their support elsewhere.  Clearly many of them, if not most of them, opted for the Greens ahead of Labor.

The by-election was thus a double-tragedy for Labor.  It lost a popular member and then lost that member’s old seat.  What could be sadder than that?

The Albert Park by-election ten years ago, together with the Northcote by-election just weeks ago, might well have taught us inner Melbourne’s electoral lesson – Liberal voters around there prefer the Greens to Labor, even though across much of the country the opposite applies.  That said, this mightn’t just apply to inner Melbourne, as the Greens have also overtaken the Liberals in terms of threatening Labor in inner Sydney.

How the Liberals react to this will be interesting.  They might forget about telling their supporters in inner Melbourne to direct preferences, to Labor or the Greens, leaving those players to fight it out there.  Such a tactic would let them direct their resources elsewhere in general elections, especially in defending their marginal seats.  Given that Labor and Greens appear to enjoy additional support from lots of activist groups, the Liberals might think twice about contesting seats where their support is weak.  But they might as well leave the battles for places like inner Melbourne to Labor and the Greens, because they seem irrelevant there now.


By-elections should see Turnbull through

2 December 2017


Little more needs to be said or written regarding the trouble afflicting Malcolm Turnbull since he led the Liberal-National Coalition to a narrow election win last year.  After he became leader of the Liberal Party, and thereby Prime Minister, in a surprise challenge to incumbent Tony Abbott in September 2015, he was initially much more popular than his predecessor.  But that popularity dropped away, and when Australians went to the polls in July 2016, he finished up with a one-seat majority.  Since then, he’s endured all sorts of dramas.

Basically, many within the Liberal ranks can’t abide him.  He’s long been a man with principles, but they’re different from what many Liberals support, and he can’t act upon them.  This makes him look weak, and questions continually loom over his leadership.

One of the dramas afflicting him, however, looks like ending today, with a by-election happening in the seat of New England, in rural New South Wales.  Barnaby Joyce held the seat until October, when a court ruling disqualified him and four other people from Federal Parliament.  By-elections usually allow voters to show governments, and indeed their opponents as well, what they think of them, so as to send a message of sorts ahead of general elections.  But Joyce looks like winning today’s by-election.  This should give Turnbull some breathing space.

This whole drama started a few months ago, when the Greens lost Senator Scott Ludlam, who resigned after learning that he was a dual citizen.  By law, members of Parliament cannot be citizens of countries other than Australia.  Ludlam had been born overseas and came to Australia as a child, but despite becoming an Australian citizen, he was found to retained citizenship of another country, so he resigned from the Senate.

The Greens then lost another Senator under similar circumstances, and word got out about numerous other politicians being in trouble because of dual citizenship.  In some cases, by virtue of having parents born overseas, politicians had been citizens of other countries, without their own knowledge.  And one of those caught up in the drama was Joyce, who was leader of the Nationals and Deputy Prime Minister when it all began.

Seven politicians had their citizenship status, and thereby their eligibility for Federal Parliament, examined in court.  Joyce was among the seven.  In October, the court ruled that five of them, including Joyce, were dual citizens, and they were disqualified from Parliament as a result.

It turned out that more politicians had citizenship clouds having over their heads, but the allegations surrounding them didn’t surface all at once.  This was why not all of them had their citizenship status examined in court.  Since then, all Federal MPs have been required to verify their citizenship, and the whole saga won’t end for some time yet.

In the meantime, although Joyce wasn’t the only politician disqualified in that October court ruling, he was the only member of the House of Representatives to be disqualified, so only his seat would have a by-election.  The other disqualified people were Senators, so the Senate results from the 2016 election were simply recounted, and new candidates were subsequently elected.

That said, another by-election will be held later this month for similar reasons to those affecting Joyce.  It’ll be in Bennelong, in northern Sydney, from which sitting Liberal MP John Alexander resigned after suspecting that he too had dual citizenship.  He actually resigned before he could be referred to court.  But this by-election isn’t happening today because he resigned long after the start of the drama in which Joyce was caught up.

Naturally, both Joyce and Alexander sorted out issues regarding their citizenship, so they were free to run as candidates for the by-elections.  In the case of Joyce, the New England by-election taking place today should be settled easily.

He first won New England in 2013, upon the retirement of popular Independent MP Tony Windsor, who’d won it in 2001.  Normally it’d be a safe seat for the Nationals.

Windsor won it from Stuart St Clair, a first-term National who’d entered Parliament in place of the long-serving Ian Sinclair in 1998.  Sinclair had held the seat since 1963, after a few years in the State Parliament of NSW.  He became leader of the Nationals in early 1984, and was dumped from the leadership in 1989.  He retired after losing preselection to St Clair.  But Windsor ended St Clair’s brief career in 2001.

New England is a rural seat where the Labor Party is usually an irrelevancy, although Sinclair came close to losing the seat a few times.  Notwithstanding Sinclair’s close calls, many voters here don’t see Labor as caring about them, although Labor’s vote is often inflated as voters who hate the Nationals end up voting for Labor.  Over recent decades, other voters have become unhappy with the Nationals, but they couldn’t vote for Labor either.  When Windsor ran, he won the votes of those unhappy with both the Nationals and Labor.  When he retired, he left Joyce an easy path to victory.

Major disillusionment with the Coalition probably won’t cost Joyce today’s New England by-election.  There’s no appealing alternative out there.  The Bennelong by-election will be closer, but I suspect that Alexander will win.  The two by-elections should therefore see Turnbull through for a period of time.


Queensland sending Labor back in

25 November 2017


The Labor Party looks like getting home in a close election in Queensland today.

Polls have predicted something like a 52-48 split after preferences in Labor’s favour, which would be slightly higher than what happened at the last election, in early 2015, when Labor unexpectedly won.  Although Labor hasn’t looked like it deserved to win back then, and probably doesn’t appear deserving of a win now, it’ll end up winning again.  But the result will be close.

The Liberal National Party, which lost office in 2015 after a single term in it, isn’t really inspiring voters.  Its loss in 2015 came after a huge election win in 2012.  Since then, voters haven’t warmed to it, and indeed its vote looks to have slipped away.

Back in 2012, Queenslanders voted overwhelmingly for the LNP, putting Labor out of office for the first time since 1998 – and in fact reducing Labor to just seven of eighty-nine seats in State Parliament.  By any measure, this was a drubbing.  But the LNP in general, and Premier Campbell Newman in particular, went on to upset Queenslanders everywhere on many issues.

As such, when they went to the polls in 2015, they turned on the LNP to the point of wiping out its parliamentary majority, and Newman lost his own seat.

To be fair, back then Newman’s seat was marginal, and the LNP was actually tipped to win narrowly, though a new leader would be sought to replace Newman.  But with the LNP losing its majority, Labor managed to take power with crossbench support, and the new Premier was Labor leader Annastasia Palaszczuk – a person whom arguably few voters had even heard of pre-election, and whose name fewer could either say or spell!

Since the election, Palaszczuk has survived the loss of a few MPs who, for one reason or another, went to the crossbench.  Looking back, it seems that she’s done little more than survive, because not too many voters can say what she’s achieve in terms of policy.

Labor and Palaszczuk are fortunate that the LNP, led by Tim Nicholls, has hardly looked like troubling them.  Indeed voters seem to have come to really dislike the LNP and Nicholls.  And few credible alternatives seem to exist.

You shouldn’t be fooled by the rise of minor players like Pauline Hanson or the Greens, because their support generally isn’t strong enough to win seats.  Queensland elections don’t involve proportional representation, where your share of the vote across a given jurisdiction can win you a seat within that jurisdiction.  Instead, there are only single-member seats, where you need at least 40-45 per cent of the vote within a seat to really have a chance of winning it.  Minor parties and Independents don’t often achieve that level of concentrated support.

Admittedly, I think that there’s enough support concentrated in a few areas for Hanson’s party to winning.  I see Hanson’s party winning both Lockyer and Maryborough.  The former, west of Brisbane, is currently-LNP held, while the latter, near the coastal region where Fraser Island lies, is Labor-held.  However, the party will lose Buderim, held by LNP defector Steve Dickson.  But I don’t see the Greens winning anywhere.

It’s worth noting that an electoral redistribution took place ahead of this election, which increased the number of parliamentary seats from eighty-nine to ninety-three.  This makes forty-seven the number for a parliamentary majority.

Despite the volatility of the Queensland electorate, and predictions of a hung election result, with nobody winning a majority, I’m tipping Labor to actually win a majority.

This sounds like a bold call, but I can’t see Labor losing more than two seats.  Apart from Maryborough, I tip Labor to lose regional Bundaberg to the LNP.  I tip Labor to pick up various seats, especially in Queensland’s urbanised south-east.

This election might well have been about the state economy, which isn’t in good shape, and about coalmining, which has polarised the state to some degree, with regional voters arguably in favour of new mines and urban voters against them on environmental grounds.  Some regional opposition exists to the idea of mining on prime farmland, especially on the Darling Downs around Toowoomba, though opponents of mining in that area seemingly have nowhere to go.  And with Labor proposing to reduce reliance on coal for electricity generation, in favour of solar and wind sources, there’s been talk of higher electricity prices – an issue causing massive anger across the country.

But Hanson’s presence in the campaign might override other issues.  Labor has always been intolerant of Hanson, whereas the LNP has been ambivalent, and with urban voters also largely anti-Hanson, Labor might use Hanson to attract urban voters who’d usually support the LNP.  This helped Labor in past elections, and might help Labor again.

I tip Labor to regain several seats lost through the defection of MPs.  Labor should also gain Burdekin, Chatsworth, Everton, Gaven, Glass House, Mansfield, Mount Ommaney, Redlands, and Whitsunday – all LNP wins in 2015.  The LNP, despite losing Lockyer, will regain Buderim from Dickson and gain Nicklin from a retiring Independent, as well as winning Bundaberg from Labor.

Voters in Queensland look like sending Labor back in for a second term.  Although close, I’m tipping a Labor majority.  Neither side really inspires, but Labor looks like doing enough to get home.