Lyne up for scrutiny once more

23 July 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Joyless memories for Coalition MPs

14 July 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Western allies trying to avoid Hansonites

25 June 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hard Senate contest for minor players

17 June 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By-election results lead to nothing

28 May 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dutton has more bullets to dodge

14 May 2017

Delusions of grandeur probably enabled Michael Lavarch to enter Federal Parliament thirty years ago.  Back then, in July 1987, Bob Hawke was Prime Minister and leading the Labor Party to its third straight election win under his leadership since it went his way in early 1983 – never before had Labor won three Federal elections in a row.  But it wasn’t Lavarch having delusions of grandeur at that time.

Instead, having delusions, albeit in the year or so leading up to that July 1987 election, was Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the long-serving Premier of Queensland.  Believing neither Labor nor the Liberal-National Coalition to be capable of leading Australia to a better future, Bjelke-Petersen had fantasies about running for Federal Parliament, achieving an election win, and taking over the country.  In the end, his fanciful push did nothing but split the Coalition.  Although the Coalition had its own problems before he entered the fray, he had more than a small part in the Coalition’s loss of that 1987 election.  Months after that election, he resigned as Premier, and was lucky to avoid imprisonment over corruption exposed from the time of his premiership.

The 1987 election saw Labor win four seats from the Coalition in Queensland, as well as two seats elsewhere in Australia, although it lost two seats to the Coalition in New South Wales and Victoria.  And one of the new Labor MPs from Queensland was Lavarch.

Gaining the seat of Fisher from the Coalition in 1987, Lavarch held it at the next election, in 1990.  But with electoral redistributions occurring in Queensland and other states, ahead of the next election, which came in 1993, Lavarch chose to run for the newly-created seat of Dickson.  He ended up winning it.

By now, Hawke had left, after Paul Keating defeated him in a Labor leadership ballot and become Prime Minister in late 1991.  Although hugely unpopular among voters, Keating managed to lead Labor to an unlikely election victory in 1993.

But at the next election, in 1996, Labor lost office to the Coalition in a landslide.  Among many Labor MPs to lose their seats were thirteen people in the Keating ministry.  And among those highly-ranked casualties was Lavarch, who was then Attorney-General.

As for Dickson, which Lavarch lost to the Coalition, it went back to Labor in 1998, but the Coalition regained it in 2001.  The successful Coalition candidate was Peter Dutton, who’s held it ever since.  He became a minister several years later, remained a frontbencher between when the Coalition lost office in 2007 and returned to office in 2013, and is nowadays the Immigration Minister.

Mind you, Dickson hasn’t been easy for Dutton to hold since he won it.  For about a decade after its creation, it was a political graveyard, switching between Labor and the Coalition.  In fact, holding Dickson has been like dodging bullets for Dutton, who was a policeman before entering Parliament.

He dodged his first bullet when he held Dickson in 2004, making him the first person to hold that seat since its creation.

He dodged his second bullet at the next election, in 2007, when he narrowly held Dickson in the face of a large swing to Labor, especially in Queensland, the home state of Kevin Rudd, who’d become Labor leader a year earlier.  Rudd became very popular among voters all over the country.  And because Queenslanders liked the idea of one of their own potentially becoming Prime Minister, Labor won many seats in Queensland as Rudd led Labor to its first win since 1993.

An electoral redistribution in Queensland ahead of the next election, which was due in 2010, made Dickson harder for Dutton to hold.  In fact, he tried to leave the seat, seeking preselection for another seat, which he lost – he ended up contesting Dickson again.

But then came June 2010, when Rudd was suddenly dumped in a leadership coup.  His popularity had begun falling earlier that year, although he was still quite popular with voters.  However, many Labor MPs hated him, and they used his declining popularity as an excuse to dump him as Labor leader, in favour of Julia Gillard.

Queenslanders in particular hated the dumping of Rudd, and Labor almost lost an election later that year.  Many of Labor’s Queensland gains from 2007 were lost.  This might’ve saved Dutton, as I think that he’d have lost his seat if not for the dumping of Rudd – hence the third bullet that Dutton dodged.

After narrowing losing that 2010 election, the Coalition comfortably won the next election, in 2013.  Dutton, therefore, had nothing to worry about.

But the next election, in 2016, saw the Coalition almost lose office.  As for Dutton, he almost lost his seat – this was the fourth bullet that he dodged.

In terms of the next election, due in 2019, opinion polls suggest a swing against the Coalition, with Dutton struggling to hold his seat.  But an electoral redistribution is also due in Queensland soon, so Dutton’s seat could be different in terms of what areas it covers when the next election comes.

Dodging bullets probably doesn’t faze Dutton, as an ex-cop.  But current polling trends and a pending redistribution suggest that, politically, he still has more bullets to dodge yet.  History shows him successfully dodging many bullets, as both a cop and a politician, but his future might look clouded.


Bernardi looks like a new Hall

6 May 2017

The last Federal election in mid-2016 began with eighteen crossbenchers, meaning from neither the Liberal-National Coalition nor the Labor Party, in the Senate.  The result of the election, which the Coalition only just won, was a rise in the number of Senate crossbenchers, to twenty.  Now another face is on that crossbench, namely Cory Bernardi of South Australia, who recently quit the Coalition and formed his own political party.

How Bernardi’s defection affects the Coalition remains to be seen.  Even before that, the Coalition needed the support of a decent number of Senate crossbenchers to get any legislation passed.  Bernardi will probably vote with the Coalition on most issues, as I haven’t noticed any issues likely to make him vote with Labor against the Coalition.

The question is whether any Coalition people in the House of Representatives, where the Coalition has a tiny majority, will see fit to defect to Bernardi’s party.  There’s been some speculation of defections within the Reps, but I don’t see any coming in the near future.

However, I’d be interested to see how Bernardi’s defection affects his home state of South Australia, where a general election comes next year.  Even if no MPs join Bernardi’s party there, its very presence might be troubling, in a state where Liberal fortunes haven’t been good for more than four decades.

Indeed I wonder if Bernardi might become a modern-day version of a controversial South Australian politician – Steele Hall, who was State Premier from 1968 to 1970 and later served in Federal Parliament.

Suggesting that Bernardi looks like a new Hall might be a stretch.  But the state of Liberal politics in South Australia over many years makes me rate the comparison appropriate, in a broader context.

It was during the 1940s that the Liberal Party of Australia, as we know it today, first emerged.  But while it didn’t take too long to win elections, in various states as well as nationally, it didn’t have representation, at least officially, in the State Parliament of South Australia until the mid-1970s.  That representation came from MPs formerly with another political party – the Liberal and Country League, or the LCL for short.

After gaining office in South Australia during the 1930s, the LCL governed continuously for the next three decades.  It lost office at an election in 1965, but returned to office after the next election, in 1968.  By then, Hall had become LCL leader, after the defeat of the long-serving Sir Thomas Playford at that 1965 election.  Hall was Premier for two years, but lost office at an election in 1970.  As a result of differing opinions, Hall formed his own little group within the LCL, in March 1972.

The group was called the Liberal Movement, or the LM for short.  Among LCL MPs with Hall in the LM were David Tonkin and Dean Brown – both of whom would later have terms as Premier.

Later, the LM became a political party in its own right, after the LCL declared it a separate body.  Hall went out of the LCL as a result, but only a few supporters went with him.  Most LM people, including Tonkin and Brown, chose to stay with the LCL.

A few years after this split, the LCL and the LM settled their differences, and came back together.  Some LM people didn’t return, but Hall was among those who did.

By that stage, they could all be described as members of the Liberal Party.

However, since this split in the 1970s, the Liberals have seldom won elections in South Australia.  Indeed they’ve arguably been in a state of semi-permanent civil war.  To be fair, it wouldn’t have helped to be facing popular Labor leaders like Don Dunstan and John Bannon and Mike Rann, each of whom served for many years as Premier.

Tonkin led the Liberals to an election win in 1979, but lost the next election, in 1982.  The Liberals lost elections in 1985 and 1989, before winning in 1993, under Brown.  But he was rolled in a surprise leadership coup in 1996, and John Olsen became Liberal leader and Premier as a result.  Olsen almost lost the next election, in 1997, and resigned in 2001 after a scandal engulfed him.  The new Liberal leader and Premier, Rob Kerin, narrowly lost an election in 2002.  The Liberals have been out of office ever since.

Even before winning office in 1993, the Liberals had problems.  Labor had begun to unravel amid major financial scandals after its 1989 election win, but voters weren’t flocking to the Liberals.  Indeed Brown was out of Parliament as Labor began to unravel, having lost his seat to a former colleague who’d stood against him as an Independent in 1985.  He only returned when another former colleague suddenly quit Parliament in 1992, much to the behest of Olsen, who was a fierce rival and hadn’t sided with Hall.

Coupled with various leaders and leadership challenges since Kerin’s 2002 defeat, you can see how fiercely the South Australian Liberals have fought each other for so long.

How the Liberals do at the next South Australian election seemingly matters little with their internal squabbles, even though they should win, because Labor looks stale after almost sixteen years of governance.  The defection of Bernardi might unsettle the Liberals now, just as Hall and his group unsettled them in the past.


Tasmanian seats out of Lambie’s reach

23 April 2017


There have been numerous times when political parties have emerged with names built around the politicians who founded them.  In Australia we’ve seen the likes of Pauline Hanson and Bob Katter and others go down this path during the past two decades.  While they’ve enjoyed success at times, their success hasn’t necessarily been long-lasting or widespread, or both.

Formerly with the Liberal Party until being dumped for some controversial comments on various issues, Hanson won much support across the country during the 1990s, and she saw fit to set up a political party bearing her own name.  Although her party went on to win sets in various parliaments, most of the people who won them ended up falling out with the party, for one reason or another, and went in their own directions.  Hanson herself lost her seat in Federal Parliament soon after setting up her party, while support for her party dropped.  She then contested many elections over the following years, and ultimately won a seat at a Federal election in 2016.  Now that she’s back in Parliament, support for her party has grown again.

Katter went down a similar path after falling out with the Nationals in 2001.  Formerly a State MP and minister in Queensland before entering Federal Parliament in 1993, he set up his own party after going to the crossbench.  His party won a few seats in Queensland Parliament, but support for his party seems confined to Queensland’s far north and west.

And then there’s the case of mining tycoon and billionaire Clive Palmer, who set up his own political party ahead of a Federal election in 2013.  Arguably due in no small part to Palmer’s use of his wealth to run election advertisements on television, a luxury which minor parties can’t really afford at election time, the tycoon’s party won enough votes to pick up several seats in Parliament.  But the party didn’t take long to implode, with two MPs walking away soon after entering Parliament.  Palmer himself, having been elected only narrowly, quit Parliament at the 2016 election, amid problems afflicting his business interests, and his party’s seats were all lost.

Interestingly, one of the politicians to leave Palmer’s party back then is still in Parliament now, having set up another political party and won a seat in 2016.  That person is Senator Jacqui Lambie, from Tasmania.

A former soldier who was injured and spent some time on welfare before entering the Senate, Lambie wouldn’t have made it there if she hadn’t been with Palmer’s party.  But after going her own way, she managed to hold her seat in her own right.  Needing to win about 7.7 per cent of the statewide vote to hold her seat, she and her party won about 8.3 per cent of the vote, which was more than enough.  She might’ve appeared to be on some sort of probation after walking away from Palmer’s party, but after holding her seat with more than enough votes at the next election that she faced, she couldn’t have done more.

I suspect that if Tasmanian voters can’t abide the Labor Party or the Liberal-National Coalition or the Greens, they might turn to Lambie.  She’s become a feisty figure who’s not afraid to speak her mind on various issues, which makes her controversial.

However, I’m not convinced that Lambie’s party will have that big an impact on the next general election in Tasmania, which comes early next year.  The reason is how seats are won in elections there.

There are twenty-five seats, spread across five electorates up for grabs in the Tasmanian Parliament – hence five seats per electorate.  Being multi-seat electorates, they look easier for minor parties to win seats in.  Candidates are elected if they win roughly a sixth of the vote in any electorate.  The reason for a sixth being the “magic” proportion is that, when working out roughly how many votes you need in order to win a seat within an electorate, you need to divide the total vote by a number which is one more than the number of seats up for grabs in that electorate – hence the need for roughly a sixth of the vote in order to win one of five seats in each Tasmanian electorate.

But people actually vote for candidates, rather than for parties.  It doesn’t matter how much of the vote goes to political parties as a whole – it’s up to their candidates to win seats on their own steam, even if they get elected with other candidates’ preferences.

This is what arguably puts Tasmanian seats, as far as the next Tasmanian election is concerned, out of Lambie’s reach.  Voters may like Lambie herself, but they’d be voting for people standing under her umbrella, if I could put it that way.  Unless Lambie has candidates who share most of her views on various issues, and are trusted across large parts of Tasmania, they’ll probably struggle to win seats in their own right.

Few wouldn’t regard Lambie as a breath of fresh air in politics.  She’s got a rawness about her which appeals to many.  But her party might struggle to win seats in her home state when people can’t vote for her personally.


McGowan victorious as Liberals go west

9 April 2017


Probably few people outside Western Australia would’ve heard of Mark McGowan until last month.  Although now State Premier, he was State Opposition Leader for a number of years, and questions had loomed over whether he was up to the job of governing the state – let alone whether people knew who he was.  But at a general election last month, WA voters were so fed up with the Barnett Liberal Government that they put aside any doubts about the Labor Party, led by McGowan, and turned to Labor in a big way.

After more than eight years in office, the Liberal Party suffered a massive election defeat, winning only thirteen seats out of fifty-nine in the Lower House.  The previous election, in 2013, had seen the Liberals emerge with more than thirty seats – the tally last month was halved from what it’d been before.  Meanwhile, Labor went from twenty-one seats in 2013 to forty-one last month, meaning that it’d almost doubled its 2013 tally.

The Liberals had taken office in 2008 with the help of an alliance with the Nationals, and in 2013 they won enough seats to govern alone, but they maintained the alliance.  As for the Nationals, they fell from seven seats in 2013 to five seats last month.  And one of the casualties of the election was Brendan Grylls, the leader of the Nationals, who lost his seat of Pilbara to Labor.

The result was always tipped to see a big swing against the Liberals, in part to reverse a big swing to the Liberals in 2013, when Labor was really unpopular in the state.  Indeed McGowan himself was Labor leader at the time.  But over time this unpopularity for Labor reversed, especially as the WA economy hit bad times with the end of a big mining boom, after which big budget deficits and high unemployment resulted.  As for Premier Colin Barnett, who’d led the Liberals to victory in 2008, albeit after reversing plans to retire from politics back then, he went from being immensely popular to the opposite, and by last month, voters were angry and almost desperate to see the back of him.

These sentiments saw Labor and McGowan emerge victorious, as predicted in opinion polls.  By election day, there were predictions of a swing of around 10-11 per cent against the Liberals, and indeed they suffered a big swing.  Labor won by a bigger margin than expected as voters massively turned against the Liberals.  I’d argue that the election saw the Liberals go west – if you’ll pardon the pun.

Before the election, I’d tipped Labor to win thirteen seats from the Liberals, two of which actually had Labor members but were notionally in Liberals hands after an electoral redistribution, which saw seat boundaries change to reflect population change between elections.  My tips had been for Balcatta, Belmont, Collie-Preston, Forrestfield, Joondalup, Kalamunda, Morley, Mount Lawley, Perth, Southern River, Swan Hills, Wanneroo, and West Swan to go from the Liberals to Labor.  In the meantime, I’d also tipped the Liberals to regain Hillarys from an Independent who’d quit the Liberals last year.  These tips all came to pass.

The redistribution also created a new seat called Baldivis, which was notionally in Labor hands before the election.  There was no reason to doubt that Labor would hold this new seat, and it did so.

However, as usual, there were results that I didn’t tip.  Labor also won Bunbury, Darling Range, Jandakot, Kingsley, and Murray-Wellington from the Liberals.  Two new seats notionally in Liberal hands following the redistribution, Bicton and Burns Beach, were also Labor gains.  The gaining of Pilbara by Labor from the Nationals was another result that I didn’t tip.  And apart from Pilbara, the Nationals also lost Kalgoorlie, which went to the Liberals.

As for the Upper House, the results there could’ve gone in any direction.  The Liberals had won seventeen seats out of thirty-six in 2013, but last month they won nine.  Labor went from eleven seats in 2013 to fourteen last month, but it fell well short of a majority, meaning that it needs crossbench support to pass legislation.  The Nationals fell from five seats to four, and the Greens also finished with four after losing one of two existing seats but gaining three seats in other areas, while the remaining seats went to other minor players.  I’d tipped one seat to go to the party of the controversial Pauline Hanson – her party ended up with three seats, one of them in Perth and the other two outside Perth.

The result in WA came about because of voter dissatisfaction with the Liberals and with Barnett, but they probably had doubts about Labor beforehand.  Labor has quite a job ahead in convincing voters that it can govern after much doubt had loomed for so long.


By-elections say nothing of Labor

26 March 2017


The shock resignation in January of Mike Baird as Premier of New South Wales, and from State Parliament altogether, triggered a by-election for his old seat.  In the wake of his exit, one of his long-serving ministers, Jillian Skinner, also resigned from Parliament, amid speculation that she’d be dumped from the ministry, thus bringing about another by-election.  Now both by-elections will held in the coming month, in the northern Sydney seats of Manly and North Shore.

A third by-election will be held at the same time, in the seat of Gosford, to the north of Sydney.  It follows the resignation of Kathy Smith, who only entered Parliament at the last election, in March 2015, but is now battling ill health.

People argue that these by-elections will give voters a chance to state what they think of the Liberal-National Coalition, which won office in a big way in March 2011 but has since lost much of its gloss.  The Coalition then lost many seats when voters went to the polls in 2015, but it still had a comfortable majority.  However, some controversial decisions have upset voters in many parts of NSW, and late last year the Coalition lost one of its safe seats in a by-election in regional NSW as a result.  And it’s been suggested that the Coalition could face trouble as far as both Manly and North Shore are concerned.

It’s worth noting that the Labor Party, which lost office in 2011 after years of scandal but then won back a lot of lost seats in 2015, isn’t running candidates in either Manly or North Shore.  On the other hand, Labor will defend Gosford, which Smith won from the Coalition in 2015 after it’d been lost in 2011.  There’ll be a Liberal candidate in Gosford, but nobody expects that candidate to win.

When you consider the absence of Labor candidates in Manly and North Shore, and the fact that Gosford is a Labor-held seat, you can’t really see these by-elections as indicating where Labor stands with the public in NSW.  Although they’ll give a section of the public to express any anger with the Coalition in general and the Liberals in particular, they’ll say virtually nothing of the public view of Labor.

Although Manly and North Shore are considered safe for the Liberals, at least as far as running against Labor is concerned, both seats have fallen to Independents at one time or another over previous decades.  There are Independents and minor parties running in both seats, as well as in Gosford, but there doesn’t appear to be any outstanding candidate for whom people in those seats would vote if they’re unhappy with the Liberals.  Had there been any such obvious candidates, I’d rate the Liberals vulnerable.  That said, given the by-election loss last year, which was something of a surprise, I’m not totally writing off the idea of a non-Liberal win in either Manly or North Shore as such.

Mind you, it’s hard to see what a non-Liberal win in either of those seats would mean for Labor.  The presence of minor players in Parliament actually makes it harder for Labor to win the next election, which comes in 2019, although the paradox is that their presence will make it easier for the Coalition to lose.

A loss of less than ten seats would cost the Coalition its parliamentary majority at the next election, and force it to rely on crossbenchers to govern.  But Labor needs to gain almost twice as many seats in order to win a majority.

At the last election, the Coalition scored a 54-34 win over Labor in the 93-seat Lower House.  The remaining seats went to a trio of Greens and a pair of Independents.

The result meant that the Coalition would lose its majority if it lost eight seats.  But it left Labor needing to gain thirteen seats to win a majority.

So far, Labor hasn’t shown much to indicate that voters are really warming to it generally, or to Labor leader Luke Foley in particular.  The Coalition might be unpopular, but Labor isn’t really winning over unhappy voters.

This story has played out quite frequently in politics across Australia.  Voters have been unhappy with governments, but they haven’t really found inspiring alternatives who can be trusted to govern.  Two years remain before NSW voters can inspire stick with or dump the Coalition.  But there seems to be little inspiration for Labor, so any change at the next election might result from voters simply wanting any alternative to what they have at the present time.