Sins of commission

Kooyong and Chisholm legal challenge latest; by-election rumblings in Isaacs; Jim Molan strikes back; and the Victorian Liberals gearing up already for federal preselections.

Possible (or possibly not) federal by-election news:

• The Australian Electoral Commission has petitioned the Federal Court to reject challenges against the federal election results in Chisholm and Kooyong. The challenges relate to Chinese-language Liberal Party signage that appeared to mimic the AEC’s branding, and advised voters that giving a first preference to the Liberal candidates was “the correct voting method”. As reported by The Guardian, the AEC argues that “the petition fails to set out at all, let alone with sufficient particularity, any facts or matters on the basis of which it might be concluded that it was likely that on polling day, electors able to read Chinese characters, upon seeing and reading the corflute, cast their vote in a manner different from what they had previously intended”. This seems rather puzzling to my mind, unless it should be taken to mean that no individuals have been identified who are ready to confirm that they were indeed so deceived. Academic electoral law expert Graeme Orr argued on Twitter that the AEC had “no need to intervene on the substance of a case where partisan litigants are well represented”.

• Talk of a by-election elsewhere in Melbourne was stimulated by Monday’s column ($) from acerbic Financial Review columnist Joe Aston, which related “positively feverish speculation” that Labor’s Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, would shortly quit his Melbourne bayside seat of Isaacs with an eye to a position on Victoria’s Court of Appeal. Aston further reported that Dreyfus hoped to be succeeded by Fiona McLeod, the prominent barrister who gained a 6.1% swing as Labor’s candidate for Higgins in May. Dreyfus emphatically rejected such “ridiculous suggestions” in late August, saying he was “absolutely committed to serving out this term of parliament”, and again took to Twitter on Monday to say he would be “staying and fighting the next election”. Aston remains unconvinced, writing in Tuesday’s column ($) that the suggestions derived from “high-level discussions Dreyfus has held on Spring Street with everyone from Premier Daniel Andrews, former Attorney-General Martin Pakula, his successor Jill Hennessy and his caucus colleagues”, along with his “indiscreet utterances around the traps”.

Federal preselection news:

• Jim Molan has won the endorsement of both Scott Morrison and the conservative faction of the New South Wales Liberal Party to fill the Senate vacancy created by Arthur Sinodinos’s departure to become ambassador to the United States. However, the Sydney Morning Herald reports this is not dissuading rival nominee Richard Shields, former deputy state party director and Insurance Council of Australia manager, and the runner-up to Dave Sharma in last year’s keenly fought Wentworth preselection. Shields’ backers are said to include Helen Coonan, former Senator and Howard government minister, and Mark Neeham, a former state party director. Earlier reports suggested the moderate faction had been reconciled to Molan’s ascendancy by a pledge that he would only serve out the remainder of Sinodinos’s two-year term, and would not seek re-election in 2022.

Rob Harris of The Age reports the Victorian Liberals are considering a plan to complete their preselections for the 2022 election much earlier than usual – and especially soon for Liberal-held seats. The idea in the latter case is for challengers to incumbents to declare their hands by January 15, with the matter to be wrapped up by late February or early March. This comes after the party’s administrative committee warded off threats to members ahead of the last election, most notably factional conservative Kevin Andrews in Menzies, by rubber-stamping the preselections of all incumbents, much to the displeasure of party members. Other preselections are to be held from April through to October. Also proposed is a toughening of candidate vetting procedures, after no fewer than seven candidates in Labor-held seats were disendorsed during the period of the campaign.

Self-promotion corner:

• I had a paywalled piece in Crikey yesterday which noted the stances adopted of late by James McGrath, ideological warror extraordinaire and scourge of the cockatoo, in his capacity as chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, which is presently conducting its broad-ranging inquiry into the May federal election. These include the end of proportional representation in the Senate, the notion that parliamentarians who quit their parties should be required to forfeit their seats, and — more plausibly — the need to curtail pre-poll voting.

Brexit, Portugal and elsewhere

With a Brexit deal unlikely, will there be an extension or a no-deal Brexit? Also: the left scores a rare victory in Portugal. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at The University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

On October 2, Boris Johnson submitted a proposed Brexit deal to the European Union, but that proposal was dismissed. The EU summit on October 17-18 is the last chance to do a deal before the October 31 Brexit date.

A deal is now unlikely, and it is probable that the proposed deal was designed so Johnson could blame the EU when rejected. As I wrote in mid-September, Johnson would be attacked by Nigel Farage for a genuine attempt at a deal, and such a deal would be unlikely to pass the Commons, which three times easily rejected Theresa May’s deal.

If Brexit is to happen by October 31, Johnson will probably need to attempt a no-deal Brexit. The question is whether he can defy the legislation parliament passed in early September requiring a Brexit extension request by October 19 if there is not a deal (the Benn Act). On October 4, government documents to a Scottish court said Johnson would obey the Benn Act, but Johnson tweeted shortly after: “New deal or no deal – but no delay #LeaveOct31”.

The government may believe there is a loophole in the Benn Act that will allow Johnson to obey the letter of the law, but break its spirit. Johnson has called this legislation the “Surrender Act”, and it would be bad for him politically if he was perceived as meekly surrendering to the “Surrender Act”. He needs to be seen as being dragged kicking and screaming to an extension if he cannot avoid it.

Jeremy Corbyn has said Labour will vote for an election once an extension is in place. Four polls taken in the last week gave the Conservatives leads of between five and 15 points.

Ex-Conservative MP Dominic Grieve suggested that, if Johnson failed to implement the Benn Act, the Queen would sack him. In my opinion, the responsibility to discipline Johnson for disobeying parliament’s laws is not the Queen’s, but the parliament’s. If the Commons is dissatisfied with Johnson, the Commons can vote no-confidence in him, and then vote confidence in a new PM. There is no agreement among Johnson’s opponents on who that new PM should be, but that is parliament’s problem, not the Queen’s.

Parliament was prorogued on Tuesday until the Queen’s speech on October 14; a short prorogation was permitted by the Supreme Court. Parliament has done nothing notable in the two weeks since it was recalled.

Left wins in Portugal 

I previously previewed the October 6 Portuguese election and other elections. Portugal uses proportional representation at the regional level, which assists bigger parties. With four seats from outside Portugal to be attributed, the Socialists won 106 of the 230 seats (up 21 since the October 2015 election), the conservative parties 82 (down 22), the Left Bloc 19 (steady), the Communists and Greens (CDU) 12 (down five), an animal welfare party four (up three) and there are three others. Popular votes were 36.7% Socialists (up 4.3%), 32.2% conservatives (down 6.4%), 8.7% Left Bloc (down 0.5%), 6.5% CDU (down 1.8%) and 3.3% Animals (up 1.9%).

The Socialists will be able to govern with the support of either the Left Bloc or the CDU; in the previous parliament they needed both parties. With this decisive victory for the left, Portugal bucked the trend to the right in much of the democratic world.

Election updates in Austria, Poland, Canada and the US 

  • Final results of the September 29 Austrian election gave the conservative ÖVP 71 of the 182 seats (up nine since October 2017), the centre-left SPÖ 40 (down 12), the far-right FPÖ 31 (down 20), the Greens 26 (up 26) and the liberal NEOS 15 (up five).
  • The Law and Justice party is still likely to win the October 13 Polish election with a majority.
  • For the October 21 Canadian election, the Liberals have 34.3% in the CBC Poll Tracker, the Conservatives 33.8%, the NDP 14.5%, the Greens 8.9% and the Quebec Bloc 5.5% – this is the first Liberal lead since February. Seat expectations are Liberals 153 of 338, Conservatives 139, Bloc 21, NDP 20 and Greens four.
  • Donald Trump’s net approval is -12.2% with all polls in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate, down 1.8% since last week’s article. I will have a Conversation article by Thursday on impeachment polling.

Call of the board: South-East Queensland

How good was Queensland? The Poll Bludger reports – you decide.

The Poll Bludger’s popular Call of the Board series, in which results for each individual electorate at the May 18 federal election are being broken down region by region, underwent a bit of a hiatus over the past month or so after a laptop theft deprived me of my collection of geospatial files. However, it now returns in fine style by reviewing the business end of the state which, once again, proved to be the crucible of the entire election. Earlier instalments covered Sydney, here and here; regional New South Wales; Melbourne; and regional Victoria.

First up, the colour-coded maps below show the pattern of the two-party swing by allocating to each polling booth a geographic catchment area through a method that was described here (click for enlarged images). The first focuses on metropolitan Brisbane, while the second zooms out to further include the seats of the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast. As was the case in Sydney and Melbourne, these maps show a clear pattern in which Labor had its best results (in swing terms) in wealthy inner urban areas (for which I will henceforth use the shorthand of the “inner urban effect”, occasionally contrasted with an “outer urban effect” that went the other way). However, they are also bluer overall, reflecting Labor’s generally poor show across Queensland (albeit not as poor in the south-east as in central Queensland).

The seat-by-seat analysis is guided by comparison of the actual results with those estimated by two alternative metrics, which are laid out in the table below (using the two-party measure for Labor). The first of these, which I employ here for the first time, is a two-party estimate based on Senate rather than House of Representatives results. This is achieved using party vote totals for the Senate and allocating Greens, One Nation and “others” preferences using the flows recorded for the House. These results are of particular value in identifying the extent to which results reflected the popularity or otherwise of the sitting member.

The other metric consists of estimates derived from a linear regression model, in which relationships were measured between booths results and a range of demographic and geographic variables. This allows for observation of the extent to which results differed from what might have been expected of a given electorate based on its demography. Such a model was previously employed in the previous Call of the Board posts for Sydney and Melbourne. However, it may be less robust on this occasion as its estimates consistently landed on the high side for Labor. I have dealt with this by applying an across-the-board adjustment to bring the overall average in line with the actual results. Results for the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast seats are not shown, owing to the difficulty involved in classifying them as metropolitan or regional (and I have found the model to be of limited value in regional electorates). The coefficients underlying the model can be viewed here.

And now to review each seat in turn:

Continue reading “Call of the board: South-East Queensland”

Essential Research: US visit, economic conditions, Middle East intervention

A new poll records a broadly favourable response to Scott Morrison’s US visit, mixed feelings about the state of the economy, and support for Australia’s new commitment in the Middle East.

Essential Research has released its fortnightly poll, once again without voting intention results. It includes a series of questions on Scott Morrison’s visit to the United States, with results generally more favourable than I personally would have expected. For example, the most negative finding is that 32% agreed that Donald Trump’s presidency has been good for Australia, compared with 49% who disagreed. By way of comparison, a Lowy Institute survey in March found 66% believed Trump had weakened the alliance, and only 25% had either a lot of or some confidence in him.

Only 38% agreed that a good relationship between Scott Morrison and Donald Trump reflected badly on Australia, compared with 48% who disagreed. Other results were probably too influenced by question wording to be of much value. Fifty-seven percent felt Morrison had shown “good diplomacy skills” during the visit, a quality that might be attributed to anyone who maintains a straight face in the President’s presence. The statement that Morrison “should have attended the UN Climate Summit, alongside other world leaders” is compromised by the words in italics (which are my own), but for what it’s worth, 70% agreed and 20% disagreed.

A question on the state of the economy likewise produces a result less bad than the government might have feared, with 32% rating it good and 33% poor. Fifty-one per cent supported Australian military involvement in the Middle East, after it was put to them that Australia had “agreed to provide military support to their allies in the Middle East to protect shipping and trade in the region”, with 35% opposed.

Essential has not yet published the full report on its website, so the precise sample size cannot be identified, but it will assuredly have been between 1000 and 1100. The poll was conducted online from Thursday to Sunday.

Donation drive

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Brexit, Austria and elsewhere

Polls conducted after Boris Johnson’s court defeat show the Conservatives maintaining the edge in Britain, as the centre-right recovers power in Austria. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at The University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

On September 24, the UK Supreme Court – the highest UK court – ruled the prorogation of parliament was illegal. The Commons resumed sitting the next day. Had parliament still been prorogued, the Commons would not have sat until October 14.

I previously thought Boris Johnson could defy parliament and refuse an extension, but this path seems increasingly difficult given hostility from both parliament and the courts.  On the other hand, the crux of Johnson’s public appeal is his promise to deliver Brexit by October 31 “come what may”.

If he fails, Leave voters are likely to be terribly disillusioned, and Conservative support will drop. ComRes polling shows this, and a Survation poll found no-deal favoured over a Brexit extension by 49% to 43% if a deal could not be reached. The five polls taken since the Supreme Court decision are between a tie and a 12-point Conservative lead.

The surest way for the Commons to prevent no-deal is to vote no-confidence in Johnson, then confidence in someone else. There are suggestions a vote could occur this week, but, as I wrote in August, this is unlikely to work. A Brexit deal appears unlikely, and would have to pass the Commons.  The European Union summit will be on October 17-18, and the legislation requires Johnson to extend Brexit by October 19 if no deal is reached.

I believe Labour’s policy of not explicitly backing Remain is correct, although it is complicated by Britain’s stupid first-past-the-post system, where votes lost on one flank do not return. In this September 26 Conversation article mainly about US politics, I theorised that the Brexit referendum result, Trump’s victory and the Australian Coalition’s triumph are partly explained by the perception that opponents were too close to “inner city elites”. By having a pro-Brexit position (contrary to elite opinion) at the June 2017 election, UK Labour performed far better than expected.

Right-wing parties win Austrian election, but can they work together?

Two weeks ago, I previewed the September 29 Austrian election and three other upcoming elections.  Austria uses proportional representation with a 4% threshold.  The conservative ÖVP won 73 of the 182 seats (up 11 since October 2017), the centre-left SPÖ 41  (down 11), the far-right FPÖ 32 (down 19), the Greens 23 (re-entering parliament after a disastrous split) and the liberal NEOS 14 (up four).  It was a record vote share for the Greens and NEOS, but worst for the SPÖ.  These figures do not include left-leaning declaration votes.

To form a majority, the ÖVP will need one of the FPÖ, SPÖ or Greens to join in a coalition.  A single-member system would have produced an ÖVP landslide.

Election updates: Israel, Portugal, Poland, Canada and the US

This section gives Israeli government (non)formation updates, and poll updates for the other four countries.  Information is current at Monday afternoon.

Final September 17 Israeli election results gave the left-leaning Blue & White (B&W) 33 of 120 Knesset seats, right-wing PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud 32, the Arab Joint List 13, other right and religious parties 23, other left parties 11 and Yisrael Beiteinu 8.  Three from the Joint List did not support B&W leader Benny Gantz, so Netanyahu had a 55-54 lead, and was given the first chance to form government by the Israeli president on September 25.  With talks stalled, Netanyahu may return this mandate this week.

Right-wing parties have gained ground for the October 6 Portuguese election, but are still far behind the combined vote for left-wing parties.

The economically left-wing, but socially conservative and anti-immigrant Law and Justice party is still likely to win a second successive majority at the October 13 Polish election.

For the October 21 Canadian election, the CBC Poll Tracker gives the Conservatives a 34.0% to 33.6% lead over the Liberals, with 13.7% NDP, 10.4% Greens and 4.8% Quebec Bloc.  The Liberals lead on seats with 162 of 338, to 139 Conservative, 16 NDP, 16 Bloc and four Greens.  There was little impact from Justin Trudeau’s “brownface” scandal.

Trump’s net approval is -10.4% with all polls in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate, a small drop from -9.9% in my Conversation article.  There have not been many polls taken since the Ukraine revelations.  Trump’s approval had increased due to the economy.