Democracy in the time of COVID-19

Queensland council elections and state by-elections to proceed in spite of everything; two polls on attitudes to coronavirus; and Josh Frydenberg off the Section 44 hook.

I had a paywalled article in Crikey yesterday considering the implications of coronavirus for the electoral process. For what it’s worth, the New York Times today reports that research finds no evidence that elections act as vectors for disease. Apropos next Saturday’s local government elections and state by-elections in Queensland, my article had this to say:

According to Graeme Orr, University of Queensland law professor and a noted authority on electoral law, it is still within the power of Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe to postpone the council elections. The byelections for the state seats of Currumbin and Bundamba could also theoretically be called off if the speaker rescinded the writs. Since a state election will be held in October in any case, it might well be argued that filling the latter vacancies for a few months is not worth the bother. However, the official position is that neither pre-poll nor election day booths will experience activity amounting to a gathering of more than 500 people, as per the latest advice of the chief medical officer — advice that will surely be showing its age well before next Saturday.

In other by-election news, the Liberal National Party has put Labor last on its how-to-vote cards in Currumbin and Bundamba, and thus behind One Nation, a move that has evidently lost its taboo since the issue of One Nation preferences tore the state’s Coalition parties apart around the turn of the century. This could potentially be consequential in Bundamba, where it is conceivable that One Nation could outpoll the LNP and defeat Labor with their preferences.


• The Federal Court has dismissed a Section 44 challenge against Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s eligibility to sit in parliament on grounds of dual Hungarian citizenship, to which he was allegedly entitled via his Hungarian-born mother. The petitioner, Michael Staindl, initially pointed to Australian documentation suggesting her family arrived in Australia in 1950 with Hungarian passports, having fled the country the previous year as the post-war communist regime tightened its grip. However, it was established that this arose from loose definitions used at the time by the Australian authorities, and that what the family actually had was “a form of single use emigrant exit passport”. This led Staindl to twice reformulate his argument, eventually settling on the contention that Frydenberg’s mother was left with the “shell” of a citizenship that had been emptied only by the communist regime’s arbitrary and capricious “pseudo-law”, a factor that ceased to apply with its demise in 1989. This did not impress the court, which dismissed the petition and ordered Staindl to pay costs.

• The Age/Herald has polling results from Newgate Research on which aspects of coronavirus are of greatest public concern. The results are reasonably consistent across the board, but top of the list is “the overall economic impact”, with which 41% express themselves extremely concerned, 36% quite concerned, 19% slightly concerned and 4% not at all concerned. “Regular health services not being available” produces similar results of 35%, 32%, 25% and 8%. There are slightly more moderate results for other questions on health impacts and “shortages of food, toilet paper and other essentials”, although in all cases the combination for extremely concerned and quite concerned is well above 50%. The poll is an “online tracking study of more than 1000 Australians, taken between Wednesday and Saturday last week”.

The West Australian ($) also has a WA-only coronavirus poll, which finds 66% supporting cancellation of large sporting events, 45% for night venues, 35% for cinemas and theatres, 34% for gyms and leisure centres, 29% for schools, 28% for universities, 22% for shopping centres and 16% apiece for restaurants and cafes and public transport. Fifty-one per cent of respondents agreed the government had been fully open and honest about the risks and implications of the virus, with 25% disagreeing. The poll was conducted Friday and Saturday by Painted Dog Research from a sample of 890.

• The count for the Northern Territory’s Johnston by-election was finalised on Friday, with Labor’s Joel Bowden winning at the final count over Steven Klose of the Territory Alliance by 1731 votes (52.6%) to (47.4%), in the absence of any surprises in the full preference count. With no candidate polling more than 29.9% on the primary vote, the latter was always an abstract possibility, but the result after the previous exclusion was not particularly close, with Bowden on 1275 (38.7%), Klose on 1110 (33.7%) and Greens candidate Aiya Goodrich Carttling on 907 (27.6%). It seems unlikely that preferences would have favoured the Greens even if it had been otherwise. My live results facility now records the final numbers – there will be more where this came from on this site with the Queensland elections on Saturday week, certainly with the state by-elections, and perhaps also for the Brisbane City Council elections, depending on how things go.

Note also two new posts below this one, one dealing with a new poll of state voting intention in Tasmania, the other being Adrian Beaumont’s latest contribution on the Democratic primaries in the United States.

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.

3,538 comments on “Democracy in the time of COVID-19”

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  1. Trump’s delay in preparing for coronavirus might be the ‘costliest presidential bungle in history’: conservative columnist

    In an op-ed published at the Washington Post this Tuesday, Jennifer Rubin argues that despite the Trump administration’s best efforts to make inroads on the coronavirus outbreak after initially downplaying the threat, the damage has already been done — a miscalculation that will “likely increase the number of deaths and damage the long-term well-being of Americans” in what she says is the “costliest presidential bungle in history.”

    With the exception of Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Rubin contends that other health officials, like the current surgeon general, “do a grave disservice to the country by sucking up to Trump and lavishing praise on him. That conduct diminishes their own credibility, which is critical to conserve.”

    To sum up, “we tragically have one of the worst domestic disasters in our nation’s history at the time we have our worst president.”

  2. Morning all. Interesting to see from Spain what sort of measures are needed to prop the economy up in a time of pandemic shutdown.

    “ Following in the footsteps of Italy, the Spanish government has vowed to suspend mortgage payments for workers and self-employed affected by the coronavirus epidemic.

    The government will also prohibit the cutting off of basic utilities such as electricity, water, gas and telecommunications for vulnerable groups during the crisis.”

    Clearly it is far better to intervene against this virus early to prevent it reaching this point. Josh and Hunt take note.

  3. Matthew Knott reports that the Trump administration is preparing to unleash a massive US$1 trillion economic stimulus package in response to the coronavirus pandemic, including rapid cash transfers to most Americans, emergency business loans and a bail-out for the airline industry.

    Trump’s response is said to be based on a new report compiled by British researchers from Imperial College and shared with the Trump White House warns that, in the absence of drastic and coordinated government action, the novel coronavirus could kill as many as 2.2 million people in the United States alone.

    The report is here –

  4. Trump’s delay in preparing for coronavirus might be the ‘costliest presidential bungle in history’: conservative columnist

    Playing the game of politics hard can only get you so far. Ultimately, if you try to use politics against Life and Death, you will lose.

  5. Lizzie
    Its an odd kind of virus because in someways it is aggressive but in other ways it isn’t. It will be interesting to read studies on it.

  6. If my theory based on the past few days that Morrison simply mirrors whatever Trump does is right, then this will be next for us:

    The Trump administration wants to send direct cash payments to Americans in the next two weeks to help them cope with the economic ravages of the coronavirus, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday, part of a massive economic stimulus package taking shape between Congress and the White House.

    “We’re looking at sending checks to Americans immediately,” Mnuchin said Tuesday. “And I mean now, in the next two weeks.”

  7. lizzie

    The possibility that coronavirus may be less aggressive to those of Blood Group O is mildly comforting.
    Oh dear, if true, “O” will become the new hated Boomers!

  8. ‘fess,
    Reading Jennifer Rubin’s article in The Washington Post, it appears that Mitch McConnell is holding up the passage of the economic relief package in the Senate!

    He should just forget about playing politics. You can’t play politics with Life and Death! We’re all Keynesians now.

  9. I went to the 7 am Coles opening this morning, for the lame and indigent. There were almost no vegetables (a small pile of sweet potatoes looking very lonely in the centre of a bare 6 metre table) and absolutely no meat. I couldn’t find any dried peas, lentils etc.

    It is becoming like a market in Nazi occupied France!! No wonder people are becoming fearful.

    I so hope this coming mess destroys the power of the pillagers of our economy and polity. I dare say the “neo-liberals” will return under another new American marketing slogan.

  10. Morning all

    Thanks BK for your efforts today.

    It is a very sobering time.
    My kids are actually quite despondent about the state of affairs.
    They are analytical types and make observations from different perspectives.

  11. C@t:

    It might be an outdated piece with the swiftness with which things are moving. Latest posted half an hour ago:

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed Tuesday that the Senate would not recess before reaching bipartisan agreement on the stimulus bill, which would be the third coronavirus relief bill advanced on Capitol Hill in recent weeks..

    “We’re going to move here in warp speed for the Senate, which almost never does anything quickly,” McConnell said. “I think everyone on both sides of the aisle is seized with the urgency of moving on yet another bill, and we intend to do that.”

    McConnell also said the Senate would move as swiftly as possible to approve a $100-billion-plus House passed bill from last week that boosts paid sick leave, unemployment insurance and free coronavirus testing. That’s despite concerns a number of Senate Republicans have about how the sick leave provisions in the House bill are crafted.

  12. If the virus can survive “up to three days on plastic and up to 24 hours on cardboard”, any advice on the best ways of disinfecting credit card, driving licence and pension card that will not destroy their surfaces? The alternative, of course, is to try to use them only once a week.

  13. lizzie:

    If you get into the habit of washing or sanitising your hands after you go anywhere you shouldn’t need to sanitise things like credit cards which you are only handling on the odd occasion.

  14. The joys of the ‘free markets’ ?

    Wait a minute –

    CEOs urge bailouts, tax holidays, wage support

    Tax holidays, wage support, suspending super and even government bailouts are being urged to help business stay afloat and keep staff employed over the next six weeks.

    CEOs and business groups – who warn job losses are imminent – are calling for the federal government to bankroll the states to waive payroll tax for the rest of the financial year, to expand measures announced by NSW on Tuesday for businesses with payrolls up to $10 million.

    Graham Bradley, chairman of EnergyAustralia, GrainCorp, HSBC Bank Australia and Virgin Australia International, urged the federal government to consider wage support, such as the 50 per cent wage payments for low income workers deployed by Singapore during the global financial crisis.

    Businessman Tony Shepherd, who chaired Tony Abbott’s 2014 Commission of Audit, called for super contributions to be suspended for six months to give workers an immediate pay rise.

  15. Confessions @ #20 Wednesday, March 18th, 2020 – 8:00 am


    In news that should surprise nobody, Trump did it first.

    Americans should avoid gathering in groups of 10 or more, stop discretionary travel and stay out of restaurants and bars for at least the next 15 days, President Donald Trump said Monday, citing new guidelines issued by federal health officials.

    Fess – I think you are right – our mob are just copying what the US & UK are doing – as usual.

  16. dave
    Under the circumstances there could be a case for the government to work with business to get it through this period. The only bit I would reject is the calls to delay the next pay review.

  17. My local supermarket in Gisborne north of Melbourne has amended their opening hours and ops as follows

    0800 to 1000 – Seniors card holders, concession card holders etc

    1000 to midday – loyalty card holders

    Midday to 2100 – everyone else

    ID will be checked at the entrance

    This is in response to bus loads of people coming through the area and stripping the shelves bare in recent days

  18. dave
    Its been notable for a while that Morrison and Australian reactionaries worship the ground Trump walks on. In recent weeks Morrison has made a number of announcements that were within hours of Trump making similar announcements.

  19. lizzie:

    Sanitise your hands after handling your credit cards then. When you get home wash them. And don’t touch your nose, mouth, eyes or ears until you’ve washed your hands.

    Since all this began I’ve realised just how often we touch our faces. I’ve started scratching itches with my sleeve or using a tissue but it takes time to get into the habit of doing so.

  20. I often rub my eyes. I am developing the habit of “scratching” my eyes with the end of the ear piece on my glasses which i assume would be less likely to have picked up viruses.

  21. Got an email from Aldi – they have reduced trading hours to 9:30am – 7pm, to allow restocking & cleaning etc.

    So a reduction of 3.5 or 4 hours trading most days.

    They will re-evaluate the hours on a weekly basis.

    They had plenty of stock yesterday but I deliberately avoided them on the weekend.

  22. Rakali

    The other day I must have unconsciously touched the corner of one eye after using WHO prep on my hands. Foolish! Took me an hour or two to realise why the eye was itching and stinging!

  23. From the previous thread.
    Good morning Dawn Patrollers I will try to limit the focus on Covid-19 as it’s too depressing for me to trawl through it all. For some reason my mind goes back to the last line delivered in the seminal Australian crime series Blue Murder’s police character wo uttered, “The job’s f***ed!”.

    On that note Ross Gittins says that this crisis will turn our lives on their head for so much of this year that we’ll remember it for the rest of our lives and won’t fail to tell our kids about it in years to come.
    Matthew Knott reports that the Trump administration is preparing to unleash a massive US$1 trillion economic stimulus package in response to the coronavirus pandemic, including rapid cash transfers to most Americans, emergency business loans and a bail-out for the airline industry.
    The Australian Red Cross says it needs 14,000 donors before Easter to help ward off a blood shortage, as thousands of people confine themselves to their homes to curb the spread of coronavirus.
    The AFR says that the priority now is trying to hold things together.
    Alan Joyce is a canny operator. As the ravages of the coronavirus began to hit the airline hard, the Qantas boss announced he would take no salary for the rest of the year; no salary for the rest of the financial year that is. Who will the Government bail out? Michael West investigates Australia’s institutions that are Too Big To Fail.
    Simon Benson reports that a government rescue package to protect tens of thousands of businesses facing collapse will be targeted at saving jobs and propping up the aviation, tourism and hospitality sectors, which have been devastated by the COVID-19 economic fallout.
    If you really want to feel bad read this contribution from Chris Uhlmann.
    Paul Kelly writes, “This is a genuine crisis and genuine crises can only be countered­ by open-ended and high political­ declaration. It is important to follow the medical and economic advice. But officials are officials. They cannot change the course of history. That is the job of leaders acting with decisiveness.”
    According to Shane Wright the federal budget deficit could hit a record high $100 billion and public debt approach $1 trillion as the government lifts spending to fight a “coronavirus recession” while its revenue sources collapse and costs go up.
    The Treasurer has conscripted top officials of the RBA, big banks and power companies to work out plans to shield hundreds of thousands of businesses from bankruptcy writes Karen Maley who says Frydenberg is facing the fight of his life.
    Tony Walker explains how a lack of confidence in US leadership is adding to coronavirus panic.
    The Age editorial says that Australia needs to go hard and fast to tackle coronavirus.
    Sam Maiden Reports that Peter Dutton is suspected of passing on the coronavirus to a Sydney businessman at a Liberal fundraiser dinner attended by the Prime Minister and multiple cabinet ministers.
    Australians are more concerned about the economic consequences of the global coronavirus outbreak than their own personal health, new research has revealed, however two-thirds are increasingly worried about the availability of health services writes Rob Harris.
    The Morrison Government has announced a $17.6 billion economic stimulus package to stave off a looming recession but will this work? Alan Austin recalls lessons from the GFC ten years ago.,13696
    Coronavirus testing explained: Think you’ve got COVID-19? Here’s what you need to know.
    Psychologist Jill Newbie advises us how to manage our anxieties during this crisis.
    Funerals are being conducted virtually or downsized and mourners asked not to embrace as the industry gears up for a potential spike in deaths due to COVID-19. Funeral directors are preparing for a worst case scenario as they push for national guidelines on how to best handle the pandemic.
    Michelle Grattan with the latest on parliamentary arrangements for next week.
    A national organisation representing Australia’s welfare recipients has called on the government to suspend mutual obligations to prevent people having their payments suspended during the coronavirus crisis.
    The COVID-19 pandemic will only get worse and the situation has not been helped by weak political leadership but Dr Martin Hirst says he’s preparing, not panicking.,13694
    A team of Singapore-based scientists has uncovered the first glimmer of hope that the COVID-19 virus could be mutating into a less virulent strain after discovering key protein suspected to affect the virus’s transmission and severity has disappeared in some patients. Let’s hope this turns out to be so.
    Nick McKenzie and Chris Masters say that no Australian could now credibly deny that a small number of our special forces soldiers committed executions of Afghans, such was the power of a video obtained by Four Corners and broadcast on Monday night.
    As COVID-19 shuts down festivals and mass gatherings around the world, entertainment editor John Turnbull considers the impact of coronavirus on movies and the cinema industry.,13699
    Here’s how to live without toilet paper.
    Trump sees the coronavirus as a threat to his self-interest – not to people says Adam Gaffney.
    Pauline Hanson’s One Nation has come under fire for derogatory comments posted on its Facebook pages about women appearing at the federal Parliament’s family law inquiry. The Law Council of Australia (LCA) has written to the inquiry head, Liberal MP Kevin Andrews, saying it wants the inquiry to be “discontinued” because it was no longer confident it would be conducted in “a genuine, open-minded and respectful way”. It was bound to happen!
    The woman is a shocker – in every possible way!
    To finish on a light note (for some) . . .

    Cartoon Corner

    David Rowe

    Alan Moir

    Simon Letch

    John Shakespeare

    Dionne Gain

    Matt Golding

    Andrew Dyson


    From the US

  24. This will get the conspiracy theorists buzzing. Check out the date and watch the video and what they are discussing and predicting .
    Selected moments from the Event 201 pandemic tabletop exercise hosted by The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in partnership with the World Economic Forum and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on October 18, 2019, in New York, NY. The exercise illustrated the pandemic preparedness efforts needed to diminish the large-scale economic and societal consequences of a severe pandemic.
    Drawing from actual events, Event 201 identifies important policy issues and preparedness challenges that could be solved with sufficient political will and attention. These issues were designed in a narrative to engage and educate the participants and the audience.

  25. India Could be Next Virus Hotspot With an ‘Avalanche’ of Cases

    While growth in total numbers has been slow until now, “the number will be 10 times higher” by April 15, said Dr. T. Jacob John, the former head of the Indian Council for Medical Research’s Centre for Advanced Research in Virology, a government-funded institution.

    “They are not understanding that this is an avalanche,” said John, who was also chairman of the Indian Government Expert Advisory Group on Polio Eradication and chief of the National HIV/AIDS Reference Centre at the Christian Medical College in Vellore. “As every week passes, the avalanche is growing bigger and bigger.”

  26. Thanks BK. I too am finding the coronavirus coverage somewhat depressing. Or not so much the coverage of the virus but our government’s response to it!

  27. I’m headed into the CBD this morning.

    When is our dear leader going to be making announcements?

    Now that mango Mussolini has gotten with the program, and approving a huge stimulus, expect same from our PM.

  28. ‘fess, this is the Bill McConnell is dragging his feet over:

    McConnell also said the Senate would move as swiftly as possible to approve a $100-billion-plus House passed bill from last week that boosts paid sick leave, unemployment insurance and free coronavirus testing. That’s despite concerns a number of Senate Republicans have about how the sick leave provisions in the House bill are crafted.

    He should just pass it already!

  29. It is almost impossible to ignore the virus. Something that cant be seen,
    is impacting every single aspect of our lives.
    The irony of it all is not lost on me.

  30. C@T
    Assuming this is brought under control then it should only be for a short time and it is not something businesses caused unlike 2008 which was caused by the banks.

  31. The health minister Greg Hunt has spoken to ABC AM, to discuss increased testing, the decision to keep schools open and the national cabinet meeting last night which considered “additional safeguards” on mass gatherings and internal gatherings.

    Hunt confirms that Scott Morrison will make an announcement about “greater restrictions on internal gatherings shortly”. The PM is scheduled to speak at 9am.

    We know already that the leaders have discussed a ban on gatherings of 100 people or more in enclosed spaces, which would cause cinemas, theatres and the like to close.
    But Hunt won’t confirm that’s what’s about to be announced, claiming the prime minister and premiers still have to “finalise” their advice. Hunt said to also expect “tighter restrictions” on aged care homes.

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