Strike two: the Bennelong by-election

Some recent historical perspective on another looming federal by-election.

Hot on the heels of Barnaby Joyce’s disqualification by the High Court, there is now a second Section-44 related by-election on the way following Saturday’s resignation announcement by John Alexander, the Liberal member for Bennelong. As in Joyce’s seat of New England, reports suggest the government will act quickly to get the by-election over and done with, which could mean writs being issued today for a pre-Christmas poll on December 16. Whereas the New England by-election looks like being nothing more than an expensive diversion that will shortly restore Joyce to his place in parliament, Bennelong is a loseable seat, as John Howard memorably discovered on the occasion of his government’s defeat in 2007.

As you can see on the sidebar, I now have guides up for both the New England and Bennelong, although the latter as yet has no detail to relate concerning candidates other than Alexander. For some perspective on how much danger the goverment is in, the chart below compares results in federal and state by-elections that were contested by both the Coalition and the Labor going back to the 1980s with the state of play in opinion polls at the relevant time. Results in both cases are conceived in terms of swings to the government party, which in the case of opinion polling is determined either through the most recent Newspoll or, where available, my own poll trend measurement.

The red line constitutes a line of best fit for the available data, which suggests that there is indeed a relationship between polling and by-election results, even if it’s far from ironclad. The Turnbull government has been looking at an adverse swing of around 3% in poll trend measures for some time now, which translates into a typical by-election swing of around 8% – not quite enough to erase Alexander’s margin in Bennelong of 9.7%. However, it today’s 55-45 result from Newspoll is more indicative of the government’s true form, the anticipated swing lands right on the mark. A comparable feat was achieved by Labor at the by-election for the Brisbane seat of Ryan in February 2001, at which a Liberal margin of 9.5% was barely accounted for by a swing of 9.7%.

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.

28 comments on “Strike two: the Bennelong by-election”

  1. Odd, yesterday when I loaded this site, the only thing that loaded as a super-sized version of that swing by-election vs polling plot chart. Seems to have been fixed today.

  2. So, considering the amount of time it took Sharkie’s resignation to take effect, and considering Alexander would only have resigned about, 10? days ago, can they even take the risk of having a by election this year? Too risky that Alexander’s revokation would not come through in time, putting him in exactly the same situation as Sharkie, about whom Turnbull said was so confident how the HC would so hold that she should resign without bothering the HC.

  3. That’s an interesting chart William

    The chart supports what also happens in general elections – “the bigger they come, the harder they fall”. Can you put the equation and correlation coefficient up on it [yes I know I could do it from the pop-up … but]? We could then get a better clue as to the limits of what might happen in Bennelong.
    One might say that there is a about a 55% chance that Alexander could lose it.

    Geoff Lambert

  4. VE
    The Alexander resignation is a strange one for timing.
    As you note he would have to ensure his revocation confirmation is received before he nominates (according to the mal-interpretation).

    But the timeline for this involves a fair bit of effort.

    Yocan’t revoke until you have confirmation you have a citizenship to revoke, which involves a separate timely application to confirm citizenship.
    Then need to gather all the required docs, (fathers proof of citizenship, your passport, birth certificate and or other proof showing you are your dads child, fill in application, get properly witnessed, fee for application, then registered post.)
    Send off, wait, with no time specified on response from UK.
    Renunciation date is from date of registration by UK after they have stamped all is in order, it is not the date of your application.
    Notification to applicant is an unspecified time after application received and after renunciation is registered.

    The only two ways I can see that Alexander can be confident he can stand in benelong is.

    1. He started the process a fair period of time before he resigned. Which appears to say he thought he was ineligible to be a MP but still sat as one drawing the salary.

    2. He disagrees with the mal-interpretation and considers the effective date of renunciation is when he has taken all reasonable steps to renounce. That is when he sent off all the required documentation

  5. I’m in the camp that the date of renunciation is the date when all reasonable steps have been taken to renounce. That is sending off all the required documentation, paying the fee etc.

    After this date there is nothing more the person can do, the timing is all in the hands of the relevant authorities and really is not too different to Sam’s situation in that he did all could and the outcome was out of his control.

    There is a good argument to say Sams was different in that obstacles were he faced for renunciation were greater and that he may never have been able to renounce.

    However for the others, you are then defining what is a reasonable amount of time for a candidate to renounce their status before nomination date. And what is that reasonable amount of time.

    Given nominations can close 10 days after the election is called is 10 days reasonable time.
    The efforts to renounce can be done in 10 days, but notification, unreasonable to expect so.

    Take a harder approach and says candidates should be prepared well before any potential election and done this beforehand.

    How long before had, 3 months, six months one year, how do you decide/ set what is a reasonable amount of time before an election that a candidate should do this.

    The UK process appears relatively straight forward, but there is one proviso that renunciations will be put on hold if the UK is at war.

    So do you say for the UK 3 months is a reasonable amount of time unless the UK is at war.
    Do you set time frames for each country and have regard to each clause in their legislation to make allowances for such variances.
    What if the country concerned changes its legislation, UK says will take a year minimum, Iran says you can now revoke if you send documents x,y and z.
    Will the HC have special sittings for each changing circumstance.

    No -one could make sense of Italy’s by descent legislation, so the HC gave benefit of the doubt.

    I think they will do so with all reasonable steps to renounce.
    The candidate completed all reasonable steps to renounce, what happened next was out of their control, the process was, or appeared to be irrevocable, a reasonable person could hold the view that therefore at the time of nomination the candidates was not a dual citizen.

    The alternative argument is, would it be unreasonable to believe that even though the candidate had completed all the requirements to renounce their citizenship in a process that they believed was irrevocable, that they should continue to be viewed as a dual citizen due to matters out of their control.

  6. barnaby appears to be in a similar situation to Alexander.

    Did he renounce his NZ citizenship, whilst still drawing a MP, misters, leader of the Nats and deputy PM salary?

    Isn’t there some kind of conflict, breach here?

  7. “One Nation will refuse to pass legislation over citizenship woes

    One Nation has declared it will not vote on contentious legislation until the citizenship status of everyone in parliament is known. That, obviously, would include the same-sex marriage bill. ”
    I’m not sure the Libs will be happy about the ONAists sitting on their hands doing nothing.

  8. One Nation has declared it will not vote on contentious legislation until the citizenship status of everyone in parliament is known. That, obviously, would include the same-sex marriage bill. ”

    And, of course, to maintain consistency with such a stance I take it that they will also refuse to draw a salary whilst they are refusing to vote ab.

  9. One difference between this by-election and most is that the incumbent is recontesting, which means there is not the loss of personal vote that is frequently a component of the by-election swing. All the same it is still loseable.

  10. Anton: “I’m not sure the Libs will be happy about the ONAists sitting on their hands doing nothing.”

    But what, precisely, will they be able to do about it?

  11. I doubt JA would have started the renunciation process in secret before his dual citizenship was outed in the media; I think you can exclude that as an option, Boris. Would it be possible the govt has reached out to the UK to try and expedite the process? That’s a more likely option in my opinion.

    Option 2 is pretty compelling too, of course. Clearly the worst case scenario for the Libs is losing Bennalong without JA’s personal vote, or any other seat that arises after the upcoming disclosures.

  12. I’m sure the renunciation process can be expedited if Malcolm gives a phone call to his good friend Theresa.

    Malcolm wouldn’t normally bother for some random candidate before an election, but JA’s case is much more important to Malcolm.

  13. Nice move by KK providing her renunciation for all to see before nomination date.
    Pressure now on JA to do the same.

    Maybe he will only be able to provide reasonable steps taken and rely on labors stance that this is enough, but the HC may not have ruled on this in time.

    I saw an article that mentioned JA had got some cafe owner to witness a stat dec in the week before he resigned, not sure if it was just rumour.
    But would be good if JA publicly released all his renunciation docs to see when they were dated.

  14. It took the Labor MPs before the election several weeks to receive their confirmation iirc. Assuming that timetable is the ordinary course of things, I would have expected a week before JA’s resignation to be insufficient time anyway.

  15. Alexander is against Marriage Equality, KK for it, may be an issue tho 56% of Benelong are in favour lot of chinese heritage voters who may be against. Vote is before by-election JA could still use it as an issue.
    wonder if they will drag the unflushable back out to support him.

    big query is JAs eligibility, wonder if the libs have a plan B, surely they do., they are adults, they have a plan.

    heart hopes for a KK win, head says JA

  16. Thanks cfox, my blue
    Google showed articles for him against but now see after checking further he was pushing for a free vote in aug 17, one of the 7 rebel libs

  17. Boris
    Maybe he will only be able to provide reasonable steps taken and rely on labors stance that this is enough, but the HC may not have ruled on this in time.

    I don’t think that would save him, nor the Labor members, but it might work in the campaign enough to get him elected before the HC throws him out for a second time (KK and Labor could hardly dispute it).

    P.S. Haven’t been here for a while and it’s all changed (again!). Don’t know how to log in, or even if I can any more.

  18. Something not in JA’s favour is the fact that he does absolutely nothing around here but turn up to the odd parade or commemoration. Other than that, stuff all.

  19. Hi Triton

    Log in on the side of the screen about half way down if on a desktop or at very bottom if on mobile.
    I think William said log in works if you had a log in from the Crikey days.

    Benelong voted against ME 50.2%, so probs not a factor as solid labor electorates also voted higher against ME, don’t know when JA changed his stance on ME whether it was before of after 2016 election.

    He may not want the rodent campaigning for him in Benelong, given their differences on ME and housing affordability.

  20. In addition to SSM he’s also been pretty vocal about housing affordability in the past while his colleagues were busy telling people to get jobs with above average wages. He got a decent swing *to* him in 2016 so I wouldn’t underestimate his personal vote Crocodile.

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