The Coalition’s downward odyssey in the BludgerTrack poll aggregate enters its sixth week, although the movement on voting intention is slight this time, since all three pollsters this week (Newspoll, Roy Morgan and Essential) essentially repeated the results of their previous polls. Nonetheless, the 0.2% shift has been enough to bag Labor gains on the seat projection in New South Wales and Queensland. There is even more encouragement for Labor from the leadership ratings, on which Malcolm Turnbull is tanking rapidly, albeit that his head remains above the waterline in positive net approval. Bill Shorten’s trendlines are pointing northward, although he still has a very long way to go. Kevin Bonham had the following to say about the Newspoll leadership ratings, a day before they were corroborated by Essential Research:
Turnbull is still far more popular than Bill Shorten, but he’s dropped 35 points in the four polls taken since last November. This loss of 35 points in three and a half months is exceeded only by Paul Keating in 1993 (43 points in just over three months), John Howard in 1996 (36 points in six weeks) and Howard again in 2001 (38 points in six weeks). The 1996 Howard example comes with a big asterisk too, because Howard was falling from the career-high +53 netsat he had jumped 24 points to reach in the immediate aftermath of the Port Arthur massacre. It is not at all normal then for a PM to lose this much popularity this fast, but then again it is not that normal for them to have it in the first place.
• Phillip Coorey of the Financial Review sees the two possibilities as the much-touted July 2 double dissolution, or a normal election in mid-August, either of which would leave time for a same-sex marriage plebiscite to be held by the end of the year. He also relates that the government is “exploring the logistics” of bringing down the budget on May 3, rather than the scheduled date of May 10, which is one day before the deadline for calling a double dissolution expires. Among other things, this would allow the government time to attempt to get its legislation reinstating the powers of the Australian Building and Construction Commission through the Senate. Its reject would confirm its currently contestable status as a double dissolution trigger, which the Greens sought to retain by having the government agree not to reintroduce it during the current session as part of its deal to legislate for Senate electoral reform.
• Amid talk of a possible early state election, Queenslanders go to the polls next Saturday to vote on a referendum proposal that would render such a thing impossible, by introducing fixed four-year terms with elections set for the last week in October. The referendum has been timed to coincide with local government elections, which also means that the big partisan prize of the Brisbane lord mayoralty is up for grabs. According to a Galaxy poll of 540 voters conducted for the Nine Network, Liberal National Party incumbent Graham Quirk holds a 53-47 two-party lead over Labor’s Tim Harding. This compares with his winning margin of 68.3-31.7 at the 2012 election, which was held a few weeks after Anna Bligh’s government had been decimated at the polls. The Galaxy poll also found Brisbane voters favouring the referendum proposal by 48% to 35%, but Steven Wardill of the Courier-Mail, offers that “regional Queenslanders are expected to be much more sceptical towards the proposal”.
• The Liberal preselection to anoint a successor to Victorian Senator Michael Ronaldson has produced a surprise winner in James Paterson, the 28-year-old deputy executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs. Paterson will shortly fill the casual vacancy to be created by Ronaldson’s imminent retirement, and will head the party’s ticket in the event of a normal half-Senate election. It had been generally expected that the position would go to Jane Hume, a superannuation policy adviser who had the influential backing of Michael Kroger, president of the party’s state branch. Hume had earlier won preselection for the number three position on a Coalition ticket that allocates second place to the Nationals. Also in the race was Amanda Millar, who filled a casual vacancy for Northern Victoria region in the state upper house in August 2013 but failed to win re-election in November 2014; and Karina Okotel, a legal aid lawyer.
• Labor’s preselection in Fremantle will be conducted over two days on Sunday, when a ballot of local members determining 25% of the total result will be held, and Monday, when the rest is to be determined at a meeting of state executive. The two nominees are Josh Wilson, chief-of-staff to outgoing member Melissa Parke and the local deputy mayor, and Chris Brown, a Maritime Union of Australia organiser and former wharfie. Observers say that Wilson will dominate the local party ballot, but factional arrangements are likely to tip the balance in Brown’s favour at state executive. The winner will face recently preselected Greens candidate Kate Davis, solicitor for tenants’ rights organisation Tenancy WA.
• Tim Hammond has been preselected without opposition to succeed Alannah MacTiernan as Labor’s candidate in Perth. Hammond is a barrister specialising in representing asbestos disease victims, one of the party’s national vice-presidents, and a member of the Right. It appears that the Brand preselection will go the same way, with no other contenders standing in the way of Madeleine King, chief operating officer of the international policy think tank Perth USAsia Centre. Other confirmed Labor candidates in winnable seats are Matt Keogh in Burt, a commercial lawyer and president of the WA Law Society, who ran unsuccessfully at the Canning by-election in September; Anne Azza Aly in Cowan, a counter-terrorism expert at Curtin University and founder of People Against Violent Extremism (as seen here last week in Seat of the Week); Tammy Solonec in Swan, an indigenous lawyer; and Bill Leadbetter in Hasluck, executive director of an obstetric practice and occasional history academic. Aly and Solonec both have a past with the Greens, Aly having been endorsed as a candidate for the 2007 federal election before withdrawing from the race, and Solonec having held an unwinnable spot on an upper house ticket at the 2013 state election.
• The New South Wales Liberals are preparing to determine their Parramatta preselection through a trial plebiscite of local party members of more than two years’ standing. A push to make such ballots the norm was rejected at the party’s state conference in October, to the chagrin of the religious Right faction in particular, but a compromise deal backed by Mike Baird has allowed for trials to be held in a small number of federal and state electorates over the coming years. Kylie Adoranti of the Parramatta Advertiser reports 278 local members are eligible to participate, together with the members of the state executive and further representatives of the state council and the Prime Minister, collectively accounting for 28 votes. Nominees include current Parramatta councillor Jean Pierre Abood; former Parramatta councillor Andrew Bide; Charles Camenzuli, a structural engineer and building consultant who was the party’s candidate in 2010, and also sought preselection unsuccessfully in 2013; and Felicity Finlay, who also contested preselection in 2013, and appears to be a school teacher.
• Labor’s national executive has taken over the preselection process in the New South Wales seats of Barton and Hunter, initiating a process that will be resolved on Friday. The beneficiary in Barton will be the state’s outgoing Deputy Opposition Leader, Linda Burney. National executive will also determine her successor in the state seat of Canterbury, where a by-election now looms. In Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon is to be confirmed as candidate for a seat that effectively merges his existing seat of Hunter with Charlton, which has been decommissioned in the redistribution. The intervention enforces a deal in which Hunter remains secure for the Right, who have been frozen out in Barton by the endorsement of the Left-aligned Burney.
• Labor in New South Wales also has normal preselection processes in train for ten other seats, including two in the Hunter region: Shortland, where Jill Hall is retiring, and Paterson, which the redistribution has transformed from Liberal to marginal Labor. Shortland looks set to be the new home for Pat Conroy, whose existing seat of Charlton has, as noted above, been rolled together with Joel Fitzgibbon’s seat of Hunter. Conroy says he insisted on facing a rank-and-file ballot. Nominees in Paterson include Meryl Swanson, a local radio presenter, and Robert Roseworne, decribed by the ABC as a “Port Stephens community campaigner”. Both preselections are scheduled to be resolved the weekend after next.
• Nationals MP John Cobb has announced he will not contest the next election, having been member for Parkes from 2001 to 2007, and Calare henceforth. The front-runner to succeed him as Nationals candidate in Calare appears to be Andrew Gee, member for the state seat of Orange, although media reports suggest opponents may include Wellington councillor Alison Conn, Bathurst businessman Sam Farraway, Orange councillor Scott Munro, Bathurst mayor Gary Rush, Lithgow councillor Peter Pilbeam and Bathurst region farmer Paul Blanch, who was the Liberal candidate in 2004.