Retirement possibly saving Turnbull

8 April 2018


The closeness of the last Federal election doesn’t really need repeating.  Having taken power in 2013 with a healthy majority, the Liberal-National Coalition got there in no small part due to leadership squabbles within the Labor Party over the previous few years.  But the Labor squabblers left politics, and Labor became popular with voters again.  The Coalition, led by Tony Abbott, hadn’t been popular under his leadership, and looked certain of election defeat until Malcolm Turnbull rolled Abbott in a shock coup in 2015.  Turnbull was initially popular, but his popularity didn’t stay very high for long, and when election time came in 2016, he almost lost.

Winning a Federal election requires 76 seats.  As counting of the votes from the 2016 election took place, it initially looked like neither the Coalition nor Labor would win the election outright.  Parliament looked like it’d be hung – as it’d been two elections earlier, in 2010.  That hung election in 2010 was the first in Australia, at a national level, since the 1940s.  And the period between elections in 2010 and 2013 was very nasty, as 2010 loser Abbott tried whatever he could to force the country back to the polls.  Election night in 2016 looked like seeing in a return of those unpleasant years after 2010.  In the end, the Coalition only just got to 76 seats, without having to deal with crossbench MPs, so a hung result was narrowly averted.

Since that close result in 2016, Turnbull hasn’t exactly enjoyed the smoothest of runs as Prime Minister.  Being a seat away from losing his majority and needing support from crossbenchers, he’s looked nothing like the leader that people were expecting him to be.  It wouldn’t have helped to have Abbott still around, perceived as lurking behind and awaiting any possibility of regaining the leadership.

Some people see Abbott’s mere presence in Parliament as distracting for Turnbull, even if Abbott’s not actually seeking to regain the leadership.  Of course, within the Coalition there are many MPs who want Turnbull gone.  And they’re unlikely to be going anywhere soon, no matter how much their critics wish for that.  The thought might be that the retirement of some, if not all, of those critics would give Turnbull clear air and the freedom to be the leader that everyone has long seen him as.

There’s not much truth in the notion of a few retirements saving Turnbull, because his critics aren’t exactly small in number.  However, perhaps ironically, there’s one retirement possibly having been a factor in saving Turnbull.

The retirement in question took place at the last election.  In another case of irony, the retirement was that of a Labor MP, whose seat the Coalition won.

I refer to Anna Burke, a Labor MP from eastern Melbourne.  Since 1998, she’d held the seat of Chisholm, which she’d won from the Liberal Party.  The seat had changed hands a few times previously.  As such, when the 2016 election came, by which time Burke had announced her retirement, I’d tipped the Liberals to win her seat, because I felt that Labor couldn’t hold it without her.  As it turned out, my prediction for that seat was correct, and the Liberals won it.  And it arguably enabled Turnbull to come out of the election with the minimum number of seats needed to win the election.

Created ahead of a general election in 1949, Chisholm was a Liberal seat for decades, falling to Labor for the first time in 1983.  This was when Labor was winning seats right across the country, under the leadership of the hugely popular Bob Hawke.

The Liberals regained Chisholm in 1987.  It was one of only two seats lost by Labor that year – the other seat was Lowe, in inner western Sydney.  The successful Liberal candidate in Chisholm was Michael Wooldridge, who would go on to hold the seat for over a decade and would serve as Health Minister in the Howard Government.

There was a swing against the Liberals in 1993, but Wooldridge was able to retain Chisholm, as were other Liberals who’d won seats from Labor in eastern Melbourne in 1990.  These Liberals were generally effective as local members.

In 1998, when the Howard Government proposed a major tax reform, Wooldridge left Chisholm to stand for a safer seat in outer Melbourne.  It was perhaps fortunate for him, as Chisholm fell to Labor.  And the Labor candidate was Burke.

There were swings against Labor a few times over the years.  But Burke was very effective at keeping Chisholm in Labor hands.  When she retired, even though there was an overall swing to Labor, her seat became vulnerable.

Her retirement made it possible for the Liberals to win her seat, and they managed to win it.  This one win arguably saved Turnbull from defeat.  This probably showed the power of incumbency.  But there would be irony in that a Labor MP’s retirement could’ve saved the Coalition from losing in 2016.



Hodgman surviving with White close

26 March 2018


The Tasmanian election of 2018 has come and gone, with few surprises.  As predicted, the Liberal Party has won a second term in office, after being elected in 2014, but its margin has shrunk to only one seat, while the Labor Party has made inroads.

Few believed that the Liberals, led by Will Hodgman, would lose.  The Liberals managed the Tasmanian economy quite well, despite some problems in key areas like education and health, so they had a useful advantage in that respect.  They also had a respectable parliamentary majority, holding fifteen of twenty-five available seats.  What also helped the Liberals was the fact that, before their election to office in 2014, Labor had governed in an uneasy alliance with the Greens, who held the balance of power at that time, and because such minority governments in the past hadn’t exactly bred much confidence within the state, voters might well have been concerned about the prospect of another alliance of sorts – sticking with the Liberals might’ve been what voters saw as avoiding another alliance like before.  So the Liberals had plenty of advantages.

The numbers weren’t with Labor before the election.  Labor had gone into the election holding only seven seats, and needed to virtually double its tally in order to win, which was always a long shot.  Although Labor leader Rebecca White was coming across as quite popular, she had a big mountain to climb.  She deserves some credit for giving Hodgman a run for his money, in terms of who voters preferred as Premier.

Nonetheless, the Liberals were expected to lose seats at the election this month, which they did.  They lost a seat apiece in the electorates of Braddon and Franklin, to finish with thirteen seats.  But the tally of thirteen was enough for them to win.

They were always going to lose a seat in Braddon, a rural electorate in the state’s west, where they’d won four out of five seats in 2014 – an incredible result.  In the end, Joan Rylah was the unlucky Liberal MP to be defeated, with Labor gaining her seat.

It was also expected that the Liberals would lose a seat in the state capital of Hobart, which is split between the electorates of Denison and Franklin.  The Liberals had won two out of five seats in Denison and three out of five seats in Franklin, so it was more likely that they’d lose one of their seats in Franklin.  And indeed that was how it turned out, with Liberal MP Nic Street defeated.  Perhaps ironically, the Premier himself holds one of the Liberal seats in Franklin, and his personal vote there was considerably higher than any other candidate’s personal vote in any other electorate, so it would’ve probably hurt him to see that his personal vote ultimately didn’t save his “neighbour”.  The lost Liberal seat in Franklin went to Labor.

As for Labor and the Opposition Leader, they gained three seats, to finish with ten seats in all.  Apart from the two seats won from the Liberals in Braddon and Franklin, they also gained a seat from the Greens in Bass, in the state’s north-east.  The Greens held three seats going into the election, specifically one seat each in Bass and Denison and Franklin, and they finished with two.  Although the Greens had become less popular during previous years, their Bass loss was something of a surprise, because they often poll better in Bass than in other rural electorates, whereas their vote in and around Hobart has always been quite strong.

As for my predictions for the election, I got the Liberal tally right, and the Labor gains from the Liberals right.  But I didn’t tip Labor’s gaining of a seat from the Greens.

In my mind, the other surprise of the election was in Denison.  Going into the election, the Liberals held two of five seats, as did Labor, while the Greens held one seat.  This split didn’t change.  But one Labor candidate, Ella Haddad, gained a seat at the expense of a sitting Labor MP, Madeleine Ogilvie.  Mind you, this kind of result has often been common in Tasmanian elections, where parties have candidates running against sitting MPs, in a kind of mate-against-mate situation.  It was also interesting that, while Labor MP Shane Broad was returned in Braddon, Labor candidate Anita Dow was actually elected ahead of him.  Again, this has long been typical in Tasmanian elections.

Summing up, this month’s Tasmanian election has seen Premier Hodgman surviving narrowly with Opposition Leader White coming close to some extent.  Although White wasn’t tipped to win, she’s put Labor in a stronger position for the next election, which will probably come in 2022.

The Liberals now hold thirteen seats out of twenty-five, so they’ll be on their toes for sure.  With Labor holding ten seats, there’s a better prospect for Labor to come, while holding two seats are the Greens.  The Liberals can’t afford to be complacent because their narrow majority will keep them honest.


South Australia votes at circus time

17 March 2018


Voters in South Australia must be hoping that, with a general election happening in their state today, they’ll be able to bring what’s really been a circus to an end.  This might be the case once the votes are all counted.  But it’ll take time to become clear.

At first glance, this election should be a walkover.  The Labor Party has governed in South Australia for sixteen years, after taking power, with crossbench support, back in 2002.  A comfortable election win followed in 2006, and then came a few narrow wins in 2010 and 2014.  Labor arguably should’ve lost that last election in 2014, but survived with crossbench support, and then narrowly won a by-election for a seat left vacant by the death of an Independent MP, which gave Labor a majority.  Now Labor looks stale after sixteen years in office, with the economy in unhealthy shape, and several major electricity blackouts during recent years raise doubts about the reliability of South Australia’s electricity grid.  Yet Labor doesn’t look gone.

Despite Labor’s troubles, there’s a real shortage of enthusiasm for the Liberal Party, led by Steven Marshall.  He’s been less than inspirational as Opposition Leader since taking the job prior to the 2014 election, and opinion polls have suggested that voters like him less than Premier Jay Weatherill.  On top of this, internal squabbling within Liberal ranks in South Australia has been a problem for over forty years, with only three elections going the Liberals’ way during that time, the last of them in 1997.

To be fair to Marshall and the Liberals, they won considerably more votes in 2014 than Labor did, but they didn’t win enough of them in marginal seats, where Labor was more effective.  A marginal seat is one in which only a small number of voters would need to switch from one party to another, therefore making the seat change hands.  Labor was particularly effective here in 2014 and in previous elections, and this has been a key factor in Labor’s ability to win difficult elections and hold office for so long.  That 2014 win also said something about Weatherill and his capability as Labor leader, and perhaps it’s no wonder that, even now, he outpolls Marshall among voters as the preferred Premier.

At the end of the day, though, you’d think that voters were still keen to throw Labor out after so long and put the Liberals in.  But another unpredictable factor is at play.

That unpredictable factor is Nick Xenophon, a former State MP who later went into Federal politics and is now coming back to contest today’s election.

Xenophon is a very popular politician, to whom South Australians have often turned when they can’t abide Labor or the Liberals.  At previous Federal elections, he’s won somewhere between a quarter and a seventh of the vote across the entire statewide, even outpolling Labor at one election.  Having formed his own political party, and with candidates contesting many seats, he’ll take votes off Labor and the Liberals.

But I tip Xenophon to lose today.  He’s challenging the Liberals in the seat of Hartley, in suburban Adelaide, and it’ll be difficult.  Despite his great popularity among South Australians overall, it’s not solid enough within any concentrated area, like a group of city suburbs or rural townships.  To win that kind of seat, a candidate really needs 35-40 per cent of the vote across a concentrated area – I’ve seen nothing suggesting that kind of local support for Xenophon.  And if the other candidates in Hartley gang up and encourage voters to direct their preferences away from him, he’ll need about 45-50 per cent of the vote, which he probably won’t get.

Mind you, I’m not writing Xenophon off.  He’s surprised everybody countless times through his career, and he could surprise again.  I won’t be totally surprised should he win today, but I just don’t think that he’ll do it.

Anyway, with Xenophon entering the fray of an election in which voters probably want Labor out but seem ambivalent about the Liberals, perhaps it’s little wonder that some describe today’s election in South Australia as a circus.

It’ll be hard to predict, if Xenophon and his candidates poll well, leaving us to guess where their preferences go – hence the idea that South Australia votes today at what seems more like circus time than simple election time.

However, my tip is for the Liberals to win, although it’ll take time to finalise.  Labor seats from 2014 which I mark as Liberal gains today are Colton, Elder, Lee, Mawson, Newland, and Wright.  I’m also tipping the Liberals to win the new seats of Badcoe, King, and Hurtle Vale.  They’ll regain some seats from Liberal-turned-Independent MPs.  And they’ll fend off Xenophon in Hartley.

Labor might only regain Florey, from a Labor MP now running as an Independent, while another Independent MP, Geoff Brock, should hold his seat of Frome.

In the Upper House, there’ll be a mix of Labor and Liberal seats, with minor players, including Xenophon’s party and the Greens, also winning seats.

The result in South Australia’s election will take time to come.  It’s been like a circus, and it’s not over yet.  But the Liberals will probably end up switching off the power on Labor’s sixteen years in office.


McCormack’s seat once in Labor hands

12 March 2018


The leadership of the Nationals has gone south.  At least that’s the case in a geographical context, although some people would argue that there’s more to it than just geography.

Revelations of an affair with a staffer might’ve effectively finished off the political career of Barnaby Joyce, who was leader of the Nationals, and with that Deputy Prime Minister, until recently.  He’s long been immensely popular, although probably more so before he led the Nationals, and he’s also been quite vocal.  For these reasons, the news of his affair would’ve been a shock.  In any case, he resigned as leader and Deputy PM when news of that affair broke, and it remains to be seen how long his career lasts.  I’ve heard nothing to suggest that he’ll retire from politics at the next election, and I suspect that, despite his indiscretion, he might stay on – he’s too popular in regional Australia to just walk way.

Nonetheless, following the downfall of Joyce, the Nationals elected Michael McCormack as leader.  With Federal election wins for the Liberal-National Coalition usually resulting in a Liberal becoming Prime Minister and a National becoming Deputy Prime Minister, McCormack naturally took the second-highest job here.

In terms of going south, some might argue that this applies to the Nationals with the loss of Joyce, who’s clearly been their most popular and vocal leader in many years.  Nothing suggests that McCormack has the fire or the popularity of Joyce, so his leadership might well reflect that.  Mind you, I reckon that Joyce was more popular as a politician before he led the Nationals.  He’d long been known as a rogue, willing to speak his mind, even when it was at odds with his colleagues and Coalition leaders, but once he’d come onto the Coalition frontbench, long before obtaining the leadership of the Nationals, he found himself in a team largely made up of Liberals with little or no understanding of regional Australia’s needs, and he couldn’t be the rogue that everybody knew him to be.

There’s no evidence of McCormack, on the other hand, having a maverick streak similar to what Joyce has.  As such, he mightn’t push the boundaries of the relationship between the Nationals and the Liberals like Joyce might’ve pushed them.

But irrespective of how McCormack performs as leader of the Nationals, the leadership has gone south in a geographical sense.  The reason is that the Nationals have a leader based in southern New South Wales, with McCormack holding the seat of Riverina, while his predecessor holds the seat of New England, in the state’s north.

McCormack has been in Parliament since 2010, when he succeeded Kay Hull in the seat of Riverina.  Hull had held it since 1998.  Her predecessor, Noel Hicks, had held it since winning it from the Labor Party in 1980.

You read it right – McCormack’s seat was once in Labor hands, but almost four decades have passed since then.

In fact, when Hicks first won Riverina, he ran under a different banner.  When you look at the Nationals in historical context, you find their banner name changing a few times.

Until about two decades ago, the politicians calling themselves Nationals would’ve been referring to their mob as the National Party – this name had been used since the 1980s.

Before the 1980s, the National Party had been known for about a decade as the National Country Party.  Prior to that, the name had been the Country Party.

Formed a few decades before the Liberal Party emerged, the Country Party came into being about a century ago.  The two governed together for over two decades from 1949, until losing office in 1972.  The rural party’s name had its changes after that.

As for Riverina, it was in Labor hands for much of the 1970s.  The highly controversial politician Al Grassby won it for Labor in 1969, and after Gough Whitlam led Labor into office in 1972, Grassby became a minister.  In 1974, Grassby lost his seat to the Country Party – he was the Whitlam Government’s biggest election casualty that year.  In 1977, Labor regained the seat, but lost it to Hicks in 1980.  Labor hasn’t held it since then.

There seems little prospect of Labor winning Riverina from McCormack when the next election comes around.  No sensible person would argue that.  But it shows how seats change over time, as attitudes change.  The biggest change likely to come, though, would be in the leadership of McCormack, which will differ from Joyce in no small measure.


Courageous Xenophon’s toughest test

10 March 2018


Lots of political enthusiasts would remember a immensely popular television comedy called YES, MINISTER.  They’d remember the politician Jim Hacker becoming a minister and discovering how how easily public servants could manipulate him.

There were many memorable moments and quotes from that TV show.  However, one memorable moment in an early episode surrounded describing ideas as “controversial” or “courageous” – at least when an election wasn’t too far away.

Calling an idea controversial was like saying, “This will lose you votes.”  Similarly, calling it courageous was like saying, “This will lose you the election.”

Somehow, that political description of courageous came into my head when I first heard about popular South Australian politician Nick Xenophon leaving Federal Parliament and running for a seat at an election in South Australia, which happens this month.

You might find it strange, but I really believe that Xenophon is being courageous with this move.  When I first heard that he was making it, I doubted that it’d work, and this remains my view at the moment.

After two decades in parliamentary chambers where his statewide support was what enabled him to win seats, he’s now running for a chamber where he needs a massive chunk of popular support across a small group of suburbs in order to win a seat, and right now I don’t believe that he has that much support.

Federal Parliament has two chambers, namely the House of Representatives and the Senate, but people are elected to these chambers in different ways.  The House of Reps consists of single-member electorates, where candidates need to win a majority of votes in order to win seats, while the Senate consists of multi-member electorates, covering each state and territory, with people elected on the basis of their vote across the entire state or territory.  The South Australian Parliament is structured similarly, with two chambers having members elected with either a majority of the vote in concentrated areas or a certain proportion of the vote across the entire state.

Xenophon has spent about a decade in the Senate, where the strength of his vote across South Australia, his home state, has enabled him to win a seat and hold it.  When elected to the Senate in 2007, he won about one in every seven votes cast across the state, which was enough for him to win a seat.  When he next faced the voters, in 2013, he managed to win about one in every four votes – he actually won more votes than the Labor Party, which lost office that year.  At the last election that he faced, in 2016, he won something like one in every five votes and held his seat again.

Now he’s running for a seat in the Lower House of State Parliament, which is structured in the same way as the House of Reps in Federal Parliament, where members are only elected if they win a majority of the vote in a concentrated area, such as a few suburbs next to each other in a big city or a large region full of small towns.

Despite having long been a popular politician among South Australians, I don’t believe that Xenophon has the support necessary to win a Lower House seat.  Generally, people need about 35-40 per cent of the vote in a concentrated area to have a chance of winning a Lower House seat.  But in the case of Xenophon, who’s disliked by the major political parties and some minor parties, he probably needs about 45-50 per cent of the vote.

He might be popular across the state, but he’s probably not that popular at any local level.  I don’t know if he polled 35-40 per cent of the vote previously in any areas beside one another.  Without this, no Lower House candidate can hope to win.

That’s why I consider Xenophon’s move to be courageous – in YES, MINISTER language.

There’s no doubt that both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party aren’t overly popular with South Australian voters at the moment.  But the courageous Xenophon’s toughest test in his career to date will happen at the next election.  It’s not enough for Xenophon to just say to voters, “I’m neither the Labor Party nor the Liberal Party.”

Labor has governed for sixteen years and really should lose, with the state’s economy hardly in good shape and with blackouts over the past eighteen months leaving doubts about the reliability of electricity supplies statewide.  But there’s not much enthusiasm for the Liberals.  Nonetheless, if I had to toss a coin ahead of the election, I’d tip a Liberal win over Labor, with Opposition Leader Steven Marshall beating Premier Jay Weatherill.

But writing off Xenophon would be foolish.  He’s surprised people throughout his career, and he can surprise again.  If anyone can prove an exception to the rule in the political sphere, it’s Xenophon.  Although he’ll never be Premier, and he’s already said as much, he could still win a seat in the Lower House, albeit probably with the help of preferences from other candidates.  How he goes in trying to win enough votes in a small area really will be worth watching, and his popularity will be tested like never before.


Liberal survival likely in Tasmania

3 March 2018


Tasmanians will have gone to the polls today for a general election which looks unlikely to bring change.  Having strongly voted for the Liberal Party at the last election, in 2014, they look like returning the Liberals, albeit by less than before.

Very few opinion polls are generally taken regarding politics in Tasmania, perhaps because its population is quite small.  There are only several hundred thousand people living in this island state.  But the few polls to be taken ahead of the election today point to a Liberal win.

In 2014, voters elected the Liberals to power for the first time in many years.  The Liberals had last won an election in 1996, and after losing office in 1998, they were in the wilderness for well over a decade.  The Liberal win in 2014 was very large, with fifteen seats going to the Liberals, out of twenty-five available.

The Labor Party, which took power in 1998 and governed comfortably until being forced into an alliance with the Greens in 2010, came away from the 2014 election with only seven seats, while the Greens won three.

The share of the vote in 2014, in percentage terms, was about 51-27-14 to the Liberals and Labor and the Greens, in that order.  This was a very big win for the Liberals.

Going into today’s election, the few opinion polls taken suggest a swing of something like 5-6 per cent against the Liberals, mostly going to Labor.

I should point out that the two-party-preferred vote isn’t calculated in Tasmanian elections, because the twenty-five seats available are spread across five electorates, with candidates winning seats on the basis of their share of the vote in whatever electorate they contest, so nobody needs a majority of the vote.  This is different from most general elections around the country.

As far as what a swing of 5-6 per cent against the Liberals means, the likely result will be the loss of two seats, probably to Labor.

Tasmania has five electorates – Bass, Braddon, Denison, Franklin, and Lyons.  Each electorate has five seats – hence twenty-seats on offer overall.

Bass covers the state’s north-east, and includes Launceston, its second-largest city.

Braddon covers the state’s north-west and its western coast.

Denison covers much of the state’s capital and largest city, Hobart, as well as some nearby areas outside it.

Franklin covers the remainder of Hobart, and some areas to both the east and west of the capital, in the state’s south.  Premier Will Hodgman is one of its MPs.

Lyons covers the state’s central region and much of its eastern coast.  Opposition Leader Rebecca White is one of its MPs.

Hodgman hasn’t always been popular as Liberal leader and Premier.  But he seems to have done a good job as far as managing the Tasmanian economy is concerned, because it wasn’t in the best of shape when he was elected, and now it’s in pretty good shape.  However, like with most elections, there are issues relating to housing and health and education.  Of late, there have also been concerns relating to deals that the Liberals have allegedly done with the poker machine and gambling sector.

But despite these issues, the odds are still against Labor, led by White.  Although she’s been on the front foot in terms of wanting to deal with these issues, Labor needs to virtually double its current tally of seven seats to win the election, noting that thirteen seats are needed for victory.  This looks impossible.

The only way in which Labor could possibly hope to win is through another alliance with the Greens, like what happened from 2010 to 2014.  Despite lasting for four years, it wasn’t exactly popular with voters, and the Liberals have frequently raised this alliance to arguably scare voters away from Labor and the Greens and others.

The question of this election might be what bothers voters more – anger about what the Liberals have done and are doing, or fear about another governmental alliance between Labor and the Greens or other minor players who might win seats.

With these things in mind, and with the polls appearing to predict a swing of around 5-6 per cent against the Liberals, I’m tipping the Liberals to lose two seats, leaving them with thirteen, which would be enough for them to win the election.  The result therefore looks like a Liberal survival.

They’ll lose a seat in Braddon, where they hold four out of five – an incredible result from 2014.  They’ll also lose a seat in Franklin, where in 2014 they won three seats.

Both likely Liberal losses will probably be Labor gains.  After Labor’s heavy election loss in 2014, there was always likely to be a swing its way at the next election, with many unhappy voters from the last election returning to the fold.  Nine seats look like going Labor’s way today.

The Greens will probably hold their three seats, in Bass and Denison and Franklin, but if they should lose any of them, it’ll probably be their seat in Bass.  With Denison and Franklin both in and around Hobart, where their vote remains strong, it’s very unlikely that they’ll lose either seat there.

The result likely in Tasmania today will be the Liberals holding office, albeit rather narrowly.  But they haven’t won many elections in Tasmania over time, so the result today might be theirs to savour.


Swan swimming away with Lilley hardly gilded

25 February 2018


Retirements invariably stir up memories of events past.  Such is indeed the case with Wayne Swan having announced that he’ll retire from Federal politics at the next election, due within the next year or so.

A stalwart of the Labor Party in Queensland, Swan has been in and out of Federal Parliament for over twenty years.  I say “in and out” because he’s served separate terms there, having lost his seat at one election before winning it back at the next.

He entered Parliament in 1993, when he succeeded Elaine Darling in the seat of Lilley, in Brisbane’s north-east.  He lost the seat in 1996, at an election which saw dozens of Labor MPs all over the country defeated, but he won it back at the next election, in 1998, and he’s held it since then.  He went on to become Treasurer in the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments, from 2007 to 2013.

For election enthusiasts, the memories stirred up regarding Swan relate to when he was among many Labor casualties at the 1996 election.  Here Labor was voted out comprehensively after thirteen years in office.  Voters had strongly disliked Paul Keating, who’d been Labor leader and Prime Minister since 1991, although he’d managed to win an election in 1993 despite his unpopularity.  By 1996, the voters were desperate to vote out Labor and Keating, and they did so when the election came, with the Liberal-National Coalition under John Howard returning to power for the first time since 1983.

Keating ended up losing eight of his ministers, with Attorney-General Michael Lavarch the most senior of them.

Queensland alone saw a massive Labor toll at that election, with ten Labor MPs losing their seats, including Swan.  There were three ministers among the Labor casualties in Queensland – Lavarch was one of the ministerial casualties, with Gary Johns and Con Sciacca being the others.

Another seat lost by Labor in Queensland was Griffith, which was vacant with former minister Ben Humphreys retiring.  While the Labor candidate contesting Griffith was defeated at that time, he went on to win it in 1998 and became Prime Minister many years later.  His name was Kevin Rudd – the rest we know!

At the same time that Rudd was entering Parliament, Swan was making it back, as he won back Lilley, which he’d lost in 1996.

I might add that I hadn’t heard the expression of “gilding the lily”, or spoiling something which already looks beautiful, until I heard Rudd say it.  This makes me wonder if Swan might’ve “gilded” his seat of Lilley, which he’ll soon “swim” away from with his retirement!

But both Swan and Rudd, apart from being among the dozens of Labor people defeated at the 1996 Federal election, had another blow of sorts weeks earlier.

They were close to Wayne Goss, who was removed as Queensland Premier after losing a by-election in February 1996, a month before Labor’s big Federal election loss.  Goss had led Labor to an election win in Queensland in 1989, which marked the first Labor win in that state since the 1950s, and had long been popular.  But he almost lost an election during 1995, and when a by-election took place in one of Labor’s seats just months later, Labor ended up losing that by-election – this cost Labor its parliamentary majority and gave the balance of power to a single Independent MP, who sided with the Coalition and tipped Goss out of office.  For Swan and Rudd, who’d fall out spectacularly in later years, they’d have both felt sickened at the removal of Goss, and this was just before they were both defeated at the Federal election which was traumatic for Labor.

With Swan now about to retire from politics, the question now surrounds what might happen to his seat of Lilley.  This has largely been a Labor seat for the past four decades.  Apart from when Swan lost it in 1996 before winning back in 1998, it’s been in Labor’s hands since 1980.

Before 1980, Lilley had changed hands a few times over previous years.  Holding it for many years was Kevin Cairns, who won it for the Liberal Party in the 1960s and lost it later before winning it back.  He lost it in 1980 to Darling.

The departure of Swan, now swimming away, makes Lilley vulnerable with the next election coming.  His time in the seat is long enough to make it harder for Labor to hold, even if it’s hardly gilded.  The seat will be worth watching.


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.