GhostWhoVotes reports the latest Newspoll has the Coalition with a 52-48 lead, unchanged on a fortnight ago. More to follow.
UPDATE: The Australian reports Julia Gillard’s preferred prime minister rating is at an equal low of 49 per cent, down four points on last time, while Tony Abbott is up two to 34 per cent.
UPDATE 2: Graphic here. Labor is up a point on the primary vote to 34 per cent, the Coalition is steady on 43 per cent and the Greens are down a point to 13 per cent. Gillard’s personal ratings are now worse than Abbott’s: she is at at 41 per cent on both approval (down three) and disapproval (up four), while Tony Abbott is up three on approval to 44 per cent and down four on disapproval to 42 per cent.
Other matters of note:
The Prime Minister has announced a panel will be established to consider a referendum question on constitutional recognition of Aborigines. The panel is to report by December next year, and it is currently suggested a referendum will follow at some point within three years. While logic might dictate that it be held simultaneously with the next election, the possibility that election day referendums might act as a drag on the vote of the incumbent has been noted by Peter Brent at Mumble. The panel will have to consider whether the recognition should involve a largely symbolic preamble, or substantive change to the body of the constitution. A 2008 parliamentary inquiry report identified two expressly discriminatory provisions that should be reviewed with any consideration of a preamble. One was the redundant section 25, which requires that population figures used to determine the states’ House of Representatives seat allocations exclude any races disqualified from voting under state law something now forbidden under the Racial Discrimination Act. The other is section 51(xxvi), empowering the federal government to make laws for the people of any race for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws from which the words other than the aboriginal race in any state were excised by the 1967 referendum. This came under the microscope during the Hindmarsh Island Bridge case of 1998, when the federal government argued that it was not for the High Court to distinguish between permissible positive laws under the section and impermissible negative ones. The court was unable to reach a majority ruling, and constitutional law expert Anne Twomey argues the distinction would likely prove highly vexed in any case. A number of options were canvassed for replacing the existing provision with a new legislative power in Indigenous affairs subject to the rule of non-discrimination on the grounds of race, none of which strike me as being terribly promising from an electoral point of view. The same goes for any number of more radical suggestions for constitutional recognition, such as George Williams’ call for constitutional recognition of agreements reached between indigenous people and the various tiers of government, or Professor Kim Rubenstein’s special Indigenous executive council empowered to seek explanations from parliament regarding legislation that did not meet its approval.
Mal Brough has declared an interest in Liberal National Party endorsement for the Sunshine Coast seat of Fisher, incumbent Peter Slipper having most likely signed his political death warrant by accepting Labor’s backing for the deputy speaker position. Brough, who lost his seat of Longman at the 2007 election (Wyatt Roy recovered it for the LNP on August 21), turned his back on the LNP after unsuccessfully resisting the merger as state president of the Liberal Party, believing the terms to have been unduly favourable to the Nationals.
Some subjects for further investigation, courtesy of events in the mother country. Firstly, Britain’s High Court has overturned the election of Brown government Immigration Minister Phil Woolas for falsely claiming that his narrowly unsuccessful Liberal Democrat opponent had been courting Islamic extremists. Woolas also faces possible criminal charges, and has been barred from standing for public office for three years. Andrew Bolt reproduces one of the offending publications, and argues rightly in my view that the presence or otherwise of Woolas in parliament should be decided by voters rather than courts. The episode stands in stark contrast to Australian practice, where the only substantial sanctions on misleading publications in election campaigns require that the deception be in relation to the casting of a vote for example, through the distribution of misleading how-to-vote cards. The Labor-Greens agreement reached after the August 21 election obliged the government to seek to address this by establishing a truth in advertising offence in the Electoral Act.
Secondly, the Court of European Rights has ruled Britain must grant the right to vote to prisoners, who have been denied it since the Reform Act of 1867. Parliament must now decide whether to thumb its nose at the court. There are echoes here of our own High Court’s 2007 ruling that overturned a Howard government move to extend the existing ban on prisoners serving terms of longer than three years to all prisoners regardless.
Some Christmas gift ideas for the election wonk in your life. Courtesy of the Federation Press comes Professor Graeme Orr’s The Law of Politics: Elections, Parties and Money in Australia, the first dedicated monograph on the law on democratic politics in Australia. And from the Cambridge University Press comes Sally Young’s How Australia Decides: Election Reporting and the Media, a four-year empirical study offering the only systematic, historical and in-depth analysis of Australian election reporting.