Miscellaneous Liberal leadership latest:
• Roy Morgan has conducted an SMS poll of 1288 respondents with two rounds of preferred prime minister question: Malcolm Turnbull versus Bill Shorten, and Peter Dutton versus Bill Shorten. The former credits Turnbull with a lead of 52% to 44.5%, while the latter has Shorten leading 59% to 36.5%. Morgan’s SMS polling doesn’t have a brilliant track record, and it has been noted in comments that the party breakdown figures suggest a sample with an excess of “others” voters, which includes One Nation. Even so, the poll is unlikely to be so flawed that Dutton’s poor showing should be dismissed outright. The demographic breakdowns are of interest in that Shorten leads Dutton by about 45% among respondents under 35, but Dutton has a slight lead among those 65 and over, which illustrates that Dutton’s constituency closely reflects that of the Liberal Party as a whole. Dutton also does particularly badly in Victoria, but better in Queensland.
• The government has referred the question of Peter Dutton’s potential Section 44 ineligibility to the Solicitor-General, Stephen Donaghue, as Labor circulates advice that a “reasonable prospect” exists that the High Court would disqualify him, given the chance. Malcolm Turnbull’s equivocal comments about the matter in Question Time yesterday angered Dutton’s supporters, given the matter can very easily be swept aside by making no move to refer it to the High Court. The prohibition on parliamentarians with a “direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the Public Service of the Commonwealth” was interpreted with extreme narrowness by Chief Justice Garfield Barwick in 1975, then far more broadly by a majority of the court in the Bob Day case last year. It seems a case can be made either way as to whether Peter Dutton lands on the wrong side of the new line, by reason of a family trust that owns two childcare centres in receipt of government subsidies. Anne Twomey in The Conversation notes the government could face a welter of litigation arising over any action taken by Dutton as minister while ineligible, which would apply from three months after the time he became subject to the pecuniary interest.
• Antony Green lays out the case against an early election. On top of anything else, it is noted that the Liberals simply aren’t ready for one, financially or in terms of candidate selection. He also comes down hard on the notion that Malcolm Turnbull could forestall a leadership defeat by going to an early election (which may owe its popularity to the end of season three of The Thick of It), on the grounds that it is so obviously self-defeating as to be unworthy of consideration.
• Nonetheless, the potential for a dissolution to be requested by a tottering leader raises intriguing constitutional questions. In her book The Veiled Sceptre: Reserve Powers of Heads of State in Westminster Systems, Anne Twomey cites somewhat contrary views from Robert Blackburn, who suggests a Governor-General would be “duty-bound to reject any request by a Prime Minister for dissolution during a leadership contest”, and George Winterton, who argues a chief minister should be required to demonstrate his or her support on the floor of parliament where the matter is in doubt. Blackburn’s quote raises the question of what constitutes a leadership contest, which is distinctly different in the British context he was addressing as compared with Australian practice. Winterton’s point arose in a piece on Australian state Governors, and well describes the attitude taken by Queensland Governor Walter Campbell in 1987, when Joh Bjelke-Petersen was setting the current record for intransigence by a leader in the process of being ousted by his party.