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 The byelections for the state seats of Currumbin and Bundamba could also theoretically be called off if the speaker rescinded the writs.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. Thinking about it, the shire is probably the only area in Sydney you could realistically blockade.
    Some suburbs maybe.
    That brings back memories of a drunken conversation in the dim, very dim and distant past at a shire watering hole that went along the lines of something causing the area to be cut off then it was essentially self contained. Water from Woronora Dam. Sewage treatment works. Westfield Miranda Fair. What more could you ask for.

  2. I am coming to a much better understanding of the pacing of this exercise, and thank those contributing, esp EGT and OC.

    The Bondi episode seems like it was an opportune time to foreshadow a coming escalation in state control and what it might look like.

  3. OC
    If the lack of response is to get people used to the idea that action us required, why the attempt to belittle Norman Swan. For such an outcome don’t you need people out and about pushing fro more action?

    There seems to be a little inconsistency in your position.

  4. Since Tasmania virtually banned people from entering, they’re a fair way towards becoming a foreign country. I propose we cut off all foreign aid to them right now.

  5. I haven’t heard the Hillsong rumour (except here) but I will say no one comes from the US just to visit the Barossa Valley. They must have been elsewhere in Australia.

  6. Diogenes @ #3287 Saturday, March 21st, 2020 – 9:06 pm

    Letting them loose means the epidemic curve goes up exponentially even more.

    Can anyone running the curve shed some light on what difference it makes if the numbers for tonight are ~1100 vs. ~1150 (assuming about 50 known cases on the cruise ships?)? Particularly in terms of how long it takes to reach ~5 million cases (20% of the population)?

  7. I haven’t seen any posts here about how much superannuation has been clobbered. Mrs T1 and I have lost about $100k in two weeks. We are recent self funded retirees and moved what ever we could to cash but we are still losing funds quickly. Assuming we survive cv 19 its likely we wont live long enough to claw it back. Bugger….. shouldn’t have worked so hard and foregone so much when young and went on more holidays.

  8. Boerwar @ #3080 Saturday, March 21st, 2020 – 6:19 pm

    We sat out on the deck for dinner this evening. Classic autumn evening. Hint of crispness. Clear skies. Still some latent warmth about. Beautiful dinner. Desultory but pleasant conversation with OH.
    I squashed a mosquito, smearing some of my blood on the back of my hand as I did so.
    Momentary frisson of alarm.
    Aha. Wrong virus. Wrong epidemic. Wrong place.
    No need to worry at all.

    The Milky Way directly overhead by 10 pm incredibly beautiful and awe inspiring.

  9. ItzaDream @ #3305 Saturday, March 21st, 2020 – 9:11 pm

    I am coming to a much better understanding of the pacing of this exercise, and thank those contributing, esp EGT and OC.

    The Bondi episode seems like it was an opportune time to foreshadow a coming escalation in state control and what it might look like.

    Well it will apply to the plebs.

    If connected, not so much.

    And voters put up with such crap!

  10. The Diamond Princess was an obvious serious mistake from day one.

    Take the people off the ship, segregate them, and quarantine them.
    Same should have happened in Australia until everyone gets tested, and retested 2-3 days later.

  11. So, any theories on why famous people seem to only get mild cases.

    “The presenter Fiona Phillips has tested positive for the coronavirus.

    fiona phillips
    I am in bed with #coronvirusuk It’s not a very pleasant bedfellow, but nothing more than sore throat, dry cough, headache & tiredness. As long as it stays that way….DON’T panic!”

    There’s a conspiracy theory there.

  12. I seem to recall that we used to have some sort of place to quarantine people in Sydney. I wonder what it was called and whatever became of it?


  13. a r

    The official figures are around 1,000, but the true number of cases could be 10x this figure (or more). This is based on the experience in China where the true number of cases could only be inferred after the fact.

    Even if you take the official figures, the doubling rate is 3.5 days. Quadruple in a week. 16 times in two weeks. You get to 5 million in 43 days – 3rd May

    On the other hand if you think the real number of cases is already at 10,000 that changes it to 22nd April.

  14. I remember driving the 100 or so kms from Kingscote to Flinders Nat Park wondering when a kangaroo would jump in front of the car.

  15. Ar
    That would be entirely dependent on the behaviour of those with the disease. If they all self isolate in a room with no one around them it won’t make much difference. If they infect the people they are staying with, it’s bad. If they keep travelling, it’s really bad.
    Self isolation in Australia is basically unpoliced and effectively voluntary.

  16. I remember when my dad tried his hand at bread making starting with a sack of wheat and an old hand cranked grinder.

    He made some nice bricks 🙂

  17. I looked at the Hillsong website at the time and they were advertising the full conference next July at Olympic Park in Sydney. However they were also advertising a women’s conference this time next year. So it was possibly a women’s conference. It would be interesting to know if the Barossa mob are men or women (although males may have come here for a holiday anyway).

    Their website is still taking bookings for the July conference – must be expecting some sort of miracle or perhaps getting the money ($379 p.p.) from the faithful or gullible.

  18. Diogenes:

    New research in The Lancet showing coronavirus can continue to shed in faeces for five weeks after respiratory symptoms resolve.

    – Presumably with stool/faeces shedding there is risk of virus becoming airborne if flushed with the seat up (so don’t do that!)

    I think an earlier article reporting detection of shedding in faeces speculated that transit through the gut may render the shedded virus “ineffective”:
    – Is there news on this (and why is it difficult to discriminate between still effective and rendered ineffective shed virus?)
    – Are chemo patients with colon stomas and variable transit times consequent from chemo more like to shed effective virus? (I would assume yes, which seems a safe assumption even if wrong)

  19. Dio

    And the actual behaviour of people (to what extent they isolate etc) has an awful lot to do with the messages being fed to them from the Federal government. And sadly the message being sent to them so far is “carry on as usual, just wash your hands and stay a few feet away from the next person”.

    The government just isn’t putting the fear of death into people, grim reaper style – and it should be.

  20. Quarantine near North Head.

    They used to do ghost tours there which were genuinely scary until you climbed the ridge and could see the illuminated lights of the SCG towers.

  21. EGT
    The tests for coronavirus use RT-PCR which just tests for intact RNA sequences. It wouldn’t tell you the infectivity of the virus.

  22. ar

    “ Letting the people off is the only humane option. ”

    True but as it was a ‘plague ship’ it should be -off the boat and into buses taking them to a temporary quarantine camp for 2 weeks.

  23. cc
    Prof Bowtell is one of the leading critics of our half hearted, sluggish response and he was integral in the grim reaper style response to AIDS in Australia.

  24. Simon Katich:

    On a brighter note… it is a stunner of an evening here on KI. The calm before the storm.

    Have you cased the COVID19 test point in Kingscote?

  25. a r, it’s essentially a wash. The difference in the projections is a bit more than 24 hours. Exponential curves climb fast. Another way to think about it is that the 1100 have a huge head start on the recent 50. But at this stage, the answer is sometime in the last week in April.

    But the point of the projections is not predictive. It is to measure current rates against a potential future outcome, if nothing changes. So far this car is still accelerating.

  26. citizen @ #3277 Saturday, March 21st, 2020 – 7:54 pm

    If those yanks holed up in the Barossa did attend Hillsong, it wouldn’t be much good Morrison or Houston trying to hush it up.There would be enough Hillsong attendees who encountered the yanks to be worried about their own health and try to get testing that the story would eventually come out.

    The biggest issue is that “border security” has been applied selectively by this government, according to who you are and where you come from.

    What goes on in hillsong stays in hillsong.

  27. “If I had my opportunity to have my two bob’s worth, with the benefit of what we now know about those … people I’d have said yeah, maybe we should hold them on the ship,” he said.

    Well, so next time we have a pandemic, Hazzard will do a better job. Reassuring.

  28. shellbell @ #3333 Saturday, March 21st, 2020 – 9:30 pm

    Quarantine near North Head.

    They used to do ghost tours there which were genuinely scary until you climbed the ridge and could see the illuminated lights of the SCG towers.

    Yep. Australia was the only place that avoided *major* epidemic from the 1918 Flu – because of our geographical isolation and quarantine in places like South Head. Returning troops spread some infection but no where near elsewhere.

    Also the Flu at that stage had mutated to something less virilant. It weakened itself by mutation more then anything science, medicine in those days could do.

    The only thing that worked was isolation.

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