The expectation that the Prime Minister will call an election no later than Sunday for either May 14 or May 21 was complicated yesterday by the High Court’s decision to hear an application this afternoon seeking to invalidate a Liberal Party federal executive intervention that has determined preselection outcomes in twelve New South Wales seats. Should the court decline to proceed to a full appeal, Scott Morrison’s path will be clear. Otherwise, the early part of a campaign that commenced over the coming days would be complicated by a legal process requiring resolution before the closure of nominations ten days after the issue of the writs. But with May 21 being the last possible date for a normal election for the House of Representatives and half the Senate, and an imminent resumption of parliament to be avoided, he may not let that stop him.
The action is being pursued by Matt Camenzuli, a factional conservative whose bid to overturn the intervention was dismissed in the New South Wales Court of Appeal on Tuesday. The intervention empowered a committee consisting of Scott Morrison, Dominic Perrottet and former party president Christine McDiven to determine preselections including those of two cabinet ministers who would otherwise have faced challenges: Environment Minister Sussan Ley in Farrer and Immigration Minister Alex Hawke in Mitchell, both allies of Morrison. It also spared factional moderate back-bencher Trent Zimmerman in North Sydney, while further installing new candidates in Eden-Monaro, Parramatta, Hughes, Warringah, Fowler, Grayndler, Greenway, McMahon and Newcastle. For his efforts, Camenzuli was expelled from the party on Wednesday. The Age/Herald reports that lawyers for Scott Morrison argued in the High Court yesterday that Camenzuli’s newly acquired status of non-party member meant he did not have standing to pursue his appeal.
A parallel wrangle on the other side of the fence was resolved last week when the a takeover of Labor’s Victorian preselection process by the national executive was upheld by the High Court, dismissing a request for an appeal against an earlier finding by the Victorian Court of Appeal. Among other things, this process has confirmed the selection of Jana Stewart to succeed the late Kimberley Kitching in the Senate and Linda White to take the other position at the top of the party’s Victorian ticket at the expense of veteran incumbent Kim Carr. The process was imposed in response to the Adem Somyurek branch-stacking scandal and has been chased through the courts since by unions broadly associated with Bill Shorten on the Right and Kim Carr and the Left, who were excluded from a power-sharing arrangement in the Victorian branch and have duly done poorly out of the preselections that have ensued.
While head office interventions have been upheld by court rulings in both New South Wales and Victoria, Michael Bradley of Marque Lawyers noted in Crikey earlier this week that courts in the two states were sharply diverged on the important question of the justiciability of political parties’ internal affairs. Notwithstanding precedent going back to 1934 that parties are merely unincorporated associations whose internal affairs are purely “domestic”, the Victorian Court of Appeal found the matters had been changed by the modern Electoral Act’s requirement that parties must register and have written constitutions. However, the New South Wales Court of Appeal was expressly of the view that its Victorian counterpart had erred, and that these facts did not convert political parties into legal entities. Bradley’s conclusion: “We must hope that the NSW case goes to the High Court so it can resolve the issue of principle definitively.”
• An Utting Research poll for The West Australian found Celia Hammond, Liberal member for the blue-ribbon Perth seat of Curtin, was under serious pressure from independent challenger Kate Chaney, whom she led by just 51-49 after preferences. The poll credited Hammond with 42% of the primary vote (down from 54.0% on the AEC’s redistribution-adjusted result from 2019) and Chaney with 24%, with Labor on 20% (up from 18.6%), the Greens on 9% (down from 15.3%) and the United Australia Party on 2% (up from 1.3%). The poll was an automated phone poll conducted on Tuesday from a sample of 718.
• The Canberra Times reports two polls conducted for the Climate 200 (for which I am conducting work ahead of the federal election – note the disclosure notice in the sidebar) show Liberal Senator Zed Seselja well short of the 33.3% quota he will need to be assured of re-election in the Australian Capital Territory. Redbridge had Labor on 32.7%, Liberal on 22.7%, the Greens on 12.8%, independent David Pocock on 9.9%, independent Kim Rubenstein on 5.8%, the United Australia Party on 1.6% and others on 3.7%, with 10.8% undecided. Community Engagement was similar except that the United Australia Party appeared to be boosted by the absence of an “others” option: Labor 30.9%, Liberal 21.5%, Greens 13.0%, Pocock 11.7%, Rubenstein 5.3% and UAP 6.0%, with 11.5% undecided. With sufficiently strong flows of preferences between non-Liberal candidates, such numbers would put Seselja under pressure from Pocock or Tjanara Goreng Goreng of the Greens. The Redbridge poll was a live interview phone poll conducted on March 24 from a sample of 708; the Community Engagement poll was an automated phone poll conducted March 23 to 25 from a sample of 1331.
• The Financial Review reports a uComms poll for independent candidate Sophie Scamps’ campaign has her at 23.9% of the primary vote in Mackellar, with Liberal incumbent Jason Falinski on 35.2% (down from 53.0% in 2019) and Labor on 18.0% (up from 16.9%). Out of an unspecified undecided component, 28% said they were leaning to Falinski and 25% to Scamps. The poll also found Scott Morrison at 40% approval and 52% disapproval. Based on this incomplete information, the results seem to imply a lead of around 55-45 to Scamps if preferences flow as they did in nearby Warringah and Wentworth when independents squared off against Liberals in 2019. The automated phone poll was conducted on Tuesday from a sample of 833.
• Shortly after similar polls showing Labor ahead in Boothby and Sturt in South Australia, a uComms poll for the Australia Institute finds Labor leading 53-47 in the Liberal-held Tasmanian seat of Braddon, albeit that it was conducted two to three weeks ago. Combining results with the initial voting intention question and a forced response follow-up for the 3.9% undecided, the primary votes are Liberal 35.9%, Labor 34.0%, One Nation 7.3%, Jacqui Lambie Network 7.9%, Greens 5.5%, and independents and others 6.7%. The automated phone poll was conducted March 17 to 21 from a sample of 829.