Idle Speculation: budget bounce edition

The following should be old news for the type of person who visits this site, but I will reiterate it for the record. The post-budget Newspoll has produced a surprise 2 per cent two-party shift in Labor’s favour, despite strong support for the budget itself, while another post-budget poll from Galaxy has Labor leading 57-43. There is slightly better news for the Coalition from a Galaxy poll of 800 voters in the Prime Minister’s electorate of Bennelong, which puts Labor’s lead at a not-insurmountable 52-48. Other developments of the past week:

• Gerard McManus of the Herald Sun gives some background to ALP state secretary Mark Arbib’s bid for Senate preselection in New South Wales:

Arbib reportedly wants to take over from Victorian senator Stephen Conroy as Labor’s Senate deputy leader – a contest that will cause serious internal ructions. However, under the original plan Arbib was to have taken the place of Michael Forshaw, a senator since 1994, who had himself taken the spot of another Labor head office chief, Graham Richardson. Senator Forshaw is not up for re-election and therefore his resignation would have created a casual vacancy for Arbib to step in. The problem was Senator Forshaw refused to go, demanding a promise in writing that he would be “looked after” in a similar way to the way Senator Amanda Vanstone was recently taken care of when she quit the Senate. But when the NSW powerbrokers declined to oblige, Forshaw decided to stay put, forcing the party to tip another woman, Senator Ursula Stevens (sic – should be Stephens – PB), down to the precarious third spot on the Senate ticket at the coming election. Senator Stevens is a former party president and possibly the only Labor senator who did not come straight from a union or an MP’s office into parliament.

• Don Farrell, the powerful state secretary of the Right faction Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, has announced he will run for Labor Senate preselection in South Australia. It would appear that he is set to take the faction’s reserved position from incumbent Linda Kirk, who fell from favour after backing Kevin Rudd’s leadership bid in December and defying the conservative union’s opposition to the RU486 abortion pill. Farrell had earlier denied having designs on the seat, leading to a consensus that Kirk would be replaced by Adelaide lawyer Tim Stanley. According to Greg Kelton of The Advertiser, “Mr Farrell last ran for Parliament 20 years ago in the seat of Adelaide but was defeated after a particularly vicious campaign with racist overtones”. This refers to a 1988 by-election held upon the resignation of Chris Hurford, at which Labor lost a seat it had held since 1943; perhaps this site’s South Australian readers can provide further detail on the nature of the campaign.

• John Watson, a Tasmanian Liberal Senator since 1977, was dumped from the party ticket in Saturday’s preselection vote. The ticket will be headed by incumbent Richard Colbeck, followed by two political staffers, David Bushby and Don Morris.

• Colourful Melbourne libertarian Prodos Marinakis, whose endorsement as Liberal candidate for the state seat of Richmond was overturned by the party on the grounds that he was too interesting, has withdrawn his nomination for the Melbourne preselection citing “personal reasons&#148.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

262 comments on “Idle Speculation: budget bounce edition”

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  1. I think they did an extra one to judge the impact of changes to WorkChoices.

    I wonder if this other News story helps explain why the Government is doing so badly. Apparently Australians think the following people are least trusted:

    10.Barnaby Joyce
    9. Malcolm Turnbull
    8. Paul Keating
    7. Peter Costello
    6. Tony Abbott
    5. Shane Warne
    4. Sol Trujillo
    3. Anthony Mundine
    2. David Hicks
    1. Sheik Taj al-Din al-Hilali

    Yes, that’s right, four members of the Government, and three of the executive in the top 10.

    See here:,23599,21769970-2,00.html

  2. Oakeshott

    Re the house continuing to sit after Kurr dismissed Gough.
    Gough notes in his writings that he was shocked by people’s reaction to the dismissal after his speech on the steps and was worried about going too far in inflaming them.
    Gough did not want to spark a confrontation and went ahead with the dissolution for this reason.

  3. Greetings from Paris, mes petits, my favourite city in all the world and still the glorious capital of western civilisation, no matter how obtuse their philosophers or disreputable their politicians. As I type I am looking out over the Place de la Bastille at sunset. *sighs deeply*

    Anyway it is three or four days since I checked in here and I see that the conversation is just going round and round in slow circles – denunciations of the perfidy of the ALP in actually trying to win an election, wild claims that various impossible outcomes will happen in the Senate, endless debates about what “left” and “right” mean in the year 2007 (answer: rien), pointless chewing over what various commentators have said in various media outlets…

    William, where is Seat of the Week so we have something new to talk about?

  4. oakeshott country: whether “democratic” or not, the situation in ’75 happened because the Senate, structurally, has the power to not pass supply bills. If supply bills are needed to run govt then yes, the Senate can effectively toss a government out. I wouldn’t mind the constitution being amended so that supply bills don’t need to be passed by the Senate before coming into effect (perhaps after a fixed period of time – say 60 days).

  5. “…would Kerr and his cur have used the armed forces to close the place down?”

    And who knows what might have happened if Whitlam had bothered to inform the Labor Leader in the Senate, Ken Wriedt, that the Government had been dismissed?

    In complete ignorance of what had happened, Wriedt put up the Bills again, which of course were passed, thus securing supply for the Fraser caretaker Government.

    So a huge bargaining chip was thrown away.

  6. Sacha, I agree that this is a fundamental flaw in the constitution. Such a form of resolution is found in the NSW constitution and the UK.

    However, my reading of the constitutional conventions of the 1890s is that the power of the senate was a major sticking point. The Founding Fathers ( either sober or not) not being able to solve the problem left a timebomb in the constitution. The result, S53 is not clear cut- while the senate, specifically, cannot propose or amend supply – it can apparently block it. As a result democratic government is at the mercy of an unrepresentative swill.

  7. Newspoll out again today, returning things to where they were 3 weeks ago. No bounce.

    It’s interesting….. I floated the idea on Bludger that Newspoll may have got themselves deliberately out of fortnightly synch back in January, so that they could time a “scheduled” fortnightly poll for the weekend after the budget. This might represent a hiccup to get them back in step.

    My…… hasn’t the mood change since last Tuesday!!?? Even Dennis is hypothesising that the voters have stopped listening to Howard and everything Howard does just inevitably makes it worse. And did you read Matt Price this morning? Methinks Rupert might have stuck his gilded hoof into the soup???

    On the question of other indicators, below are some numbers for the last 4 elections (incl. 2007) showing the situation 6 months out from the election for:

    “Preferred PM” (sparse, or no longer findable, data)

    “Think the ALP will win” (only from Morgan 2004-2007, but the bookies reckon this is the best guide)

    1998 2001 2004 2007

    ALP better PM 45.8% 51.0% 41.5% 56.0%

    Think ALP will win ?? ?? 38.0% 55.6%

    All of these numbers have been massaged to expunge the “don’t knows”. They are means from up to 3 pollsters.

    Not very illuminating, but at least it looks better than 2004 for the ALP.

  8. I love the fact that ABC weatherman Mike Bailey is running for the ALP in North Sydney against Joe Hockey. Joe might have to campaign in his own seat a bit more and dilute his campaigning for WorkChoices (sorry, dont mention the war!!).

  9. An idea that might be fun

    perhaps someone at the ABC might consider running for the Liberals,

    (perhaps the craziest thing ever written at this site)

  10. I note that the link from Black Jack regarding the Constitution and 1975 answers Blackburnpseph’s earlier question about the triggers for the 1983 double dissolution. They were: “Sales Tax Amendment Bills (Nos. 1A to 9A) 1981, Social Services Amendment Bill (No. 3) 1981, States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1981, Australian National University Amendment Bill (No. 3) 1981, Canberra College of Advanced Education Bill 1981”. Which was probably everything the Democrats had blocked since they obtained the balance of power in mid-1981.

  11. I thought that the Senate’s powers are pretty clear – especially from the last sentence of S53.

    53. Proposed laws appropriating revenue or moneys, or imposing taxation, shall not originate in the Senate. But a proposed law shall not be taken to appropriate revenue or moneys, or to impose taxation, by reason only of its containing provisions for the imposition or appropriation of fines or other pecuniary penalties, or for the demand or payment or appropriation of fees for licences, or fees for services under the proposed law.

    The Senate may not amend proposed laws imposing taxation, or proposed laws appropriating revenue or moneys for the ordinary annual services of the Government.

    The Senate may not amend any proposed law so as to increase any proposed charge or burden on the people.

    The Senate may at any stage return to the House of Representatives any proposed law which the Senate may not amend, requesting, by message, the omission or amendment of any items or provisions therein. And the House of Representatives may, if it thinks fit, make any of such omissions or amendments, with or without modifications.

    Except as provided in this section, the Senate shall have equal power with the House of Representatives in respect of all proposed laws.

  12. # Andrew Says: An idea that might be fun perhaps someone at the ABC might consider running for the Liberals, (perhaps the craziest thing ever written at this site).

    Err…. Prue Goward, perhaps?….. or did I miss the sarcasm roadsign?

  13. Cheryl Kernot’s Liberal opponent in Dickson in 1998 was Rod Henshaw, a very well-known ABC newsperson in Brisbane. Also, I remember that the Liberal candidate in Redcliffe in a Qld state election in the early-mid 90s was a well-known female ABC announcer (I can’t remember her name nor find it on the net).

  14. I am in Adelaide (home of Alexander Downer, Cardigan-wearing and Bill Weller) on business for the next three weeks and thus will be much less active in this forum.

  15. Oh, and the results of the Waverley Council byelection is that the Liberals won by about 50 votes from the ALP. I will pass on the final results a bit later when I get them in detail. However, I would add that this is not what I suspect the ALP (and George Newhouse himself) would have hoped for in the lead up to the federal election. Certainly Mayor Newhouse was associated with the campaign (his face was all over the material being handed out), but maybe it wasn’t a factor at all?

    And Adam: hope Paris is treating you well – staying for the French parliamentary elections? Hopefully the Socialists (and others on the left) will do better – non? And I note Bremen wasn’t too shabby for the SPD & Greens (although maybe some vote shifting between SPD & PDS), with the CDU vote falling away – and the Greens back into a Land government

  16. Does anyone here have ideas on why a few Liberal MPs have remarked that the poll results are not being reflected in what they hear in their electorates? Assuming they’re being truthful of course.

    They seem to have lost support from a significant constituency, or constituencies more likely, but don’t know it. Could be the Howard battlers, who would be outside their social circles, but is something more going on?

    Consider, for instance, Rudd’s promise to reduce red tape. Sounds small and boring. But could it be a dog-whistle to small business?

    I heard an accountant the other day complain about a new arrogance and inflexibility on the part of the regulators, “Too bad about the accident with the nail gun, mate, but if the BAS is late it’s $550 penalty just for starters”.

  17. The Greens and Left Party were the winners in the Bremen state election.
    The Greens got a Tasmania-esque 16.4% (German Record) of the vote getting them 16.9% of the Seats (0.9% more that the Tasmanian House of Assembly).
    The Left Party passed the 5% barrier getting them seats in a west german parliament for the first time.
    Both the biggest parties` votes and number of seats fell (they were in a Grand Coalition).

  18. If the Libs won the Waverley by-election, that’s a kind-of replacement for the Liberal council who vacated position led to the by-election.

  19. Sasha: It is, but the combined ALP-Green vote was over 50%, but the preferences didn’t flow strongly enough (optional preferential meant that about 40% of Green voters exhausted after #1, even though they were recommended to continue numbering). The Lib primary of 37% was enough to keep them ahead of the ALP (with a few Indies preferences thrown in, although they also didn’t flow strongly). This may of course have serious consequences for the ALP come the next state election, especially if this sort of voting pattern is repeated in a number of marginals (or even non-marginals), and may lead the state ALP to reconsider its support for optional preferential.

  20. Sorry for my last garbled comment.

    Thanks Stewart J. I found a press release on the Waverley Greens website saying that, on the night, it looked as if the preference flow from Labor voters would have been strong enough to elect the Greens councillor if the Greens had come second (the press release mentioned that they came third by about 50 votes). If this is true, the Labor voters made their preferences flow strongly but the Greens voters didn’t. Interesting.

    Isn’t OPV in the NSW constitution and a referendum is required to change it?

  21. Black Jack, let me venture a theory, one the Liberals would dread. Howard has been dogmatic over a number of issues, basically implying “we are staying the course so don’t bother complaining.” In fact he has made a virtue of sticking by his guns even though “the course” was unpopular. The problem for him in adopting that stance is that people have decided not to bother complaining and just vote him out instead. So no baseball bats but a determination to see him gone. This is worse than if the baseball bats were on show because it means people have not only stopped listening but stopped talking as well. The classic calm before the storm.

  22. OPV is an embedded provision of the NSW Constitution Act and can only be amended by referendum. However, this only applies for voting at state elections. The electoral provisions for local government are in the Local Government Act and related regulations and can be amended by normal legislation.

  23. Thanks Antony – and I don’t think electors would want to change from OPV either, as it certainly gives people the option of not voting for candidates they really don’t like. As a person who has previously favoured OPV, I find myself in the position of defending a system that is more democratic, but might yield less democratic outcomes. I certainly would be concerned if OPV become a defacto First Past the Post system as parties continue to advocate “Just vote ‘1’”

    From memory, it was the ALP who introduced OPV (Wran in 1980?) along with changes to the Leg Council. As I say, I think their support for it was based more on what electoral favours it could bring (by diluting the conservative vote between Libs/Nats) but with the emergence first of the Democrats and now the Greens this may become a two-edged sword (as it did in QLD in 1995)

  24. There have been some disagreements about whether or not our current system recognises Australians like a strong two party system, or whether the system doesn’t really give them a choice. Surely OPV gives that choice, how could its results be undemocratic, I don’t understand.

  25. Sacha.. I expect Antony to jump on me, but there were at least a couple of LC seats in the Victorian election where the result may well have been different if people had realised that by not fully elaborating their vote that it would exhaust and not contribute to the determination of the eventual winner.
    My preferred approach was outlined in Pollbludger which abolishes GVTs but retains CPV, whilst hopefully minimising the informal vote.

  26. Sascha, Does S53 actually make sense to you? I read it that the senate may not amend an appropriation bill but can send it back to the HOR requesting an amendment. What if the House says no, can the senate then amend it anyway or does it mean the original bill does not require senate approval?

  27. My understanding of the Senate powers is that they can not actually “block” the Budget (ie, actively vote against it). What happened in 1975 was that the Coalition voted to defer voting on it at all. This obviously amounts to much the same thing, but is probably on safer legal ground.

    This raises the interesting prospect of a Coalition Senate voting against Swan’s first Budget, which would be a constitutional crisis to beat even 1975. However, surely even they wouldn’t be that stupid!

    However, should Labor win later this year, I think we can expect the Coalition to misbehave in the first half of next year (even even longer if they keep control of the Senate, which I think is quite possible, given the maths involved), especially when Labor moves to repeal WorkChoices. The Libs will still be in shock at having lost (and from a Lib’s point of view, an election loss this year will seem to have come out of nowhere, a la Kennett), and, as I think I’ve mused previously, would probably think they were voted out as a protest vote. Plus, parties get used to being in government, and long-term governments (especially ones under a single leader) find the transition to Opposition particularly difficult. They will be doing everything possible to get back into office asap.

    But it won’t do them any good. Predictions are always a big risk this far out from an election, but the government looks gone. Labor will win this year, and again in a Double Dissolution in late 2008/ early 2009.

    I really hope those words don’t come back to haunt me….

  28. True Ray, but under compulsory preferential voting in some of those very very close Victorian seats, the result would then probably have been heavily influenced by people being forced to fill in preferences they did not have, just to have their vote count for the candidates for whom they did have preferences.

    Some of those exhausted preferences you refer to were not deliberate exhausted, but in fact votes where the sequence of preferences was broken. Those ballots would have had a high probability of being informal under compulsory preferential voting.

    I don’t accept that full preferential voting is any more democratic than optional preferential voting. Sure, it produces an absolute majority, but only by forcing people to express preferences for candidates beyond the point where they actually have preferences. It is a legislatively constructed majority produced by requiring people to vote for candidates they don’t want to vote for, just to have their vote count for the candidates they do want.

    You can mount a civics argument for compulsory voter registration and compulsory voting, but not for compulsory preferences, which forces a voter to express a preference they don’t have. At least for those who have no preference or an equal distate for all candidates, they have the option of informal voting.

  29. Hugo, the Senate can block supply, but that becomes a rather final statement as the bill could not be re-considered. In 1975, the government had interim supply, which from memory was due to run out at the end of November 1975. Blocking supply would not have forced Whitlam to the polls any earlier, as he would simply have started the process of sending the bills through again. If the bills kept being rejected, by the time he was forced to the polls, an new interim supply bill would have been required. Given such a bill would have needed to come from the House, that would have ruled out what Sir John Kerr did on November 11 as a method of getting an early election.

    There were instances in Victoria in the 1940s and 1950s of governments being appointed simply to get supply bills through the upper house, those governments then promptly being defeated and replaced in the lower house. Dunstan’s final Country Party government was defeated in 1946 after supply was denied in the lower house, but he intially refused to budge from office. The Governor eventual engineered a compromise where Dunstan resigned as Premier and an interim ministry consisting entirely of retiring MPs was formed to cover the campaign period. Between the dismissals of Lang and Whitlam, the Dunstan resignation was the nearest a Governor ever came to using reserve powers to dismiss a head of government.

  30. Chris, Vienna is beautiful to be sure, but it is a museum, a great baroque monument to a dynasty and an empire which no longer exist. Paris is alive, a booming metropolis (and wonderfully multi-culti too), and thus muchly more fun. And Vienna does not have les grandes boulevardes.

    Stewart, the polls here show that the left will be absolutely thrashed in the legislatives. This is partly a honeymoon effect for Sarkozy and a feeling that since he is there he ought to be given a chance with a friendly legislature. Also his cabinet choices were very shrewd, especially Kouchner and Rachida Dati, which sent appeasing messages to centrist voters.

    In Germany the SPD is in a dreadful mess and is considering dumping Kurt Beck after only a year as leader and replacing him with Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the foreign minister, a former career civil servant, who is currently being parachuted into a safe Bundestag seat.

    Re the polls. Well, it is nearly the end of May and Labor is still well ahead. Soon I will have to fulfil my previous promise and become officially “excited.” But my heart still isn’t quite in it. Logic says that Howard cannot get out of this one, but instinct is still reluctant to believe it.

  31. The double dissolution power was a very clever compromise that met three conflicting objectives, granting powers to small states to block the popularly elected lower house, by giving the larger states access to a double dissolution and joint sitting to break that block, and also dealing with liberal versus conservative arguments over the powers of an uper house.

    Small states were given power by the Senate being strong and containing equal representation for each state and essentially co-equal powers with the House. However, the popular House was also given power by a double dissolution allowing the obstructive Senate to also be disolved, something that was only provided for in the South Australian constitution.

    Four significant changes were made to the draft constitution at NSW Premier George Reid’s insistence after the first Federation referendum was defeated in NSW. The trivial one was that the capital be in NSW more than 150 miles from Sydney. The important one, a 10 year limit on section 87 that specified 75% of Federal revenues be handed back to the states. (i.e. NSW wasn’t going to join a weak Commonwealth controlled by the smaller states, it wanted a strong Commonwealth). The other two changes fitted into this NSW insistence on being able to overcome the smaller states. The joint sitting that followed a DD was modified so that a simple majority was required rather than 60%, and a referendum bill only needed to pass one chamber to be submitted.

    Some conservatives did not want a popularly elected Senate. Remember that the US Senate did not become fully popularly elected until a 1913 constitutional amendment. No Australian state upper house had equal franchise with the lower house in 1901, so the adoption of equal franchise in both chambers of the Australian parliament was a radical departure, and one of the reasons liberals were in the end prepared to accept a powerful upper house. And conservatives were not too concerned, as land laws were still the preserve of the states.

    One problem overlooked in 1901 was that blocking supply couldn’t bring on a double dissolution, as a government would generally run out of supply before the constitutional requirements could be met. One solution would be to amend the constitution to allow a DD if supply was denied, perhaps by trading off the ability to defer supply. On other words, the Senate would retain the power to block supply, but it would force a DD following a strict timetable. Of course, the other option is to remove the power.

  32. Of course, you’d want your money’s worth by accepting a senate that could block supply. I reckon entrenching proportional representation for the Senate would almost be worth it. After all, no future Governor General would ever be able to surprise a Prime Minster as occurred in 1975.

  33. Is there any evidence that compulsory preferential voting ensures greater stability by making election out comes more clear cut?

    If there was optional preferential, would this increase the chance of minor party wins in the lower house, which could them make it harder for one of the major parties to form a government?

    I am just speculating that perhaps we need compulsory preferential at a federal level to ensure that one of the majors wins, or at least gets close enough so they can govern with the support of as few independents as possible.

  34. For simple mathematical reasons, optional preferential voting makes it easier for the candidate with the highest primary to win compared to other candidates in the contest. Every vote has a number ‘1’, preference, a smaller number have a ‘2’, a smaller number again a ‘3’. Under compulsory preferential voting, every prefernce in the count has the same number of instances, so assuming the leading candidate has failed to achieve 50%, they receive no weighting advantage from the exhausting of preferences. Simply having the highest count is of assistance, elections are about winners rather than a sharing of the spoils, but it is mathematically easier to win from second place in compulsory preferential voting than under optional.

    Which is one problem Independents face under optional preferential voting. Very few ever lead on the primary votes at their first contest, though many later build huge majorities. At the recent NSW election, Independent Greg Piper clawed his way to victory in Lake Macquarie despite the exhausted vote. But in Newcastle, despite a very low Labor vote, a huge exhaustion rate prevented Independent John Tate from overhauling Labor.

  35. Anyway, enough of OPV and DD’s. It’s way off the poll bludger’s topic, and it is only distracting me from my task for tonight, sorting out the party affiliations for the 1907 NSW election.

  36. Antony,

    Entrenching PR for the Senate was exactly what I suggested to Frank McManus in 1974 as a way of getting the DLP to support the Whitlam Government’s proposed constitutional amendment to equalise electorates, though I meant the latter to be equal numbers of voters not equal numbers of people, as the equality of population would have distorted the boundaries in the ALP’s favour. He didn’t accept my suggestion, just as the ALP doesn’t accept some of my suggestions today.

  37. 1907 NSW election !! That was done and dusted 100 years ago!
    Maybe that is why you are so competent with a dead language .. Latin!

    Keep up the good work. I’m sure somebody somewhere will benefit from your endeavour.

  38. Yes, but try and find an accurate set of the results. If you want to know why Labor is so dominant in NSW state politics today, understand how the party grew from the state’s third party in 1901 to forming government for the first time in 1910. I’m two years into a project documenting the state’s electoral history, not as sexy as political commentary on the state of current opinion polls, but I think more worthwhile in terms of adding to the sum total of human knowledge.

  39. The Cabinet papers on the rejection of supply in 1975 have been digitalised and are available at the national archives web site. Reference (I hope that comes out). There was considerable debate in cabinet on the senate’s ability to delay, amend or reject supply (198 pages of legal opinion infact). However, I guess the precedent of 1975 may make much of this discussion irrelevant. I would hope the rejection of supply no longer becomes an issue.

  40. Hugo, I defer to any lawyer in regards to the powers of the Senate, but my reading of section 53 is that the Senate can certainly reject any bill (including supply) – the last sentence makes that clear. In any event, refusing to consider a supply bill means that it does not get passed and so cannot become law.

    Essentially, the Senate cannot initiate nor amend supply bills – but it can ask the HOR to make amendments – and the HOR may or may not do this.

    If the Senate’s power to block supply is retained, a mandatory DD election is attractive.

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