It was noted here last week that the Liberals had opened nominations in eight of the nine federal seats they hold in New South Wales, making an exception for Scott Morrison’s seat of Cook so as not to put him in an awkward spot as the party gently persuades him to bring forward his retirement. The Guardian reports that challengers to incumbents have come forward in four of these seats, three of which have been gestating since before the last election. They were largely thwarted on that occasion by the designs of one of their targets, Mitchell MP Alex Hawke, who was able to clog up the process long enough to compel the party hierarchy to resolve the matter in favour of the incumbents just weeks before the onset of the campaign.
Hawke is a close ally of Scott Morrison and a leading figure in the centre right faction, which had been left marginalised by deals between moderates and conservatives, and was weakened still further by the election defeat. Relatedly, Hawke faces a conservative-driven motion before the party’s state council to expel him over his tactics before the election. A recurring theme of the current round of challenges is that conservatives who were thwarted last time are now hopeful that Hawke and his faction will be too weak to fend them off. The aspirant in Hawke’s own seat of Mitchell in Sydney’s north-west, then and now, is Michael Abrahams, a lieutenant-colonel in the Army Reserve.
Also under pressure are two senior front-benchers, including no less a figure than the deputy party leader, Sussan Ley. Ley had variously been associated with the moderate and centre right factions, and appeared to be under pressure in her rural seat of Farrer before the last election following a conservative recruitment drive in local party branches. On that occasion her prospective challenger was Christian Ellis, a public relations specialist noted locally as a campaigner for water rights, who like Abrahams was thwarted by the national executive intervention. This time she will reportedly be opposed by Jean Haynes, a Deniliquin school teacher who appeared to have a seat in the state upper house lined up in December after the party hierarchy intervened to dump three male incumbents and replace them with women. However, a revision to the plan saw her make way for Rachel Merton, in part due to moderate objections over her role in Ellis’s challenge to Ley.
The other senior figure who faces a rival nominee is Paul Fletcher, former Communications Minister and member for the northern Sydney seat of Bradfield, where he was run uncomfortably close at the election by unheralded teal independent Nicolette Boele. However, the challenge from Paul Nettelbeck, described by The Guardian as a “communications expert who previously worked for the Menzies Research Institute”, is understood to be “primarily a defensive manoeuvre to prevent Fletcher retiring and passing his seat uncontested to a NSW moderate”. In the wake of the Aston by-election defeat in April, Niki Savva of the Age/Herald related that both Ley and Fletcher, together with Dan Tehan and Angus Taylor, had been “openly displaying their wares” in anticipation of a possible move against Peter Dutton’s leadership.
Also facing a challenge is the centre right-aligned Melissa McIntosh, whose success in increasing her margin in the difficult seat of Lindsay last year has seemingly failed to mollify local conservatives. McIntosh is again opposed by Mark Davies, Penrith councillor and husband of state Mulgoa MP Tanya Davies, who called off his challenge before the last election under the terms of a factional deal.
• The Age/Herald has published results on the Indigenous Voice from this week’s Resolve Strategic poll, which found no leading 52-48 on a forced response question, compared with 51-49 a month ago. When an uncommitted option was included, 36% opted for yes (down six) and 42% no (up two). State breakdowns had no leading 51-49 in New South Wales, Western Australia and South Australia and 58-42 in Queensland, with yes leading 52-48 in Victoria and 54-46 in Tasmania (with caution due for small samples sizes particularly in the smaller states). The poll was conducted Wednesday to Saturday from a sample of 1610.
• Roy Morgan conducted one of its “snap SMS” polls this week in the wake of the Victorian government’s cancellation of the Commonwealth Games, which credited the state Labor government with a 53-47 lead on two-party preferred, compared with an implausible 61.5-38.5 at the last such poll in May. The primary votes were Labor 33% (down nine), Coalition 35.5% (up seven) and Greens 12.5% (steady). Forced response questions found Daniel Andrews with 45% approval and 55% disapproval, but leading John Pesutto as preferred premier by 52.5-47.5; and a 58-42 majority in favour of cancelling the games, leaving unanswered the question of whether it was a good idea to take them on in the first place. The poll was conducted Wednesday and Thursday from a sample of 1046.
• As for the weekly federal voting intention numbers from Roy Morgan, which I don’t focus on much due to the haphazard manner in which they are published, Labor holds an unusually narrow two-party lead of 53-47, in from 54.5-45.5 last time. However, the primary votes suggest the movement is largely down to preference flows, with Labor on 35.5%, the Coalition on 35% and the Greens on 12.5%, suggesting a 54-46 lead to Labor based on previous election preferences.
• Niki Savva’s column this week in the Age/Herald related that data collated from 2500 households during door-knocking of the Kooyong electorate by teal independent MP Monique Ryan and her supporters found 58.5% in favour of the Indigenous Voice, 45.1% strongly; 30.6% neutral or unsure; and only 11.3% opposed. Recent poll results hawked by Liberal Senator James Patterson showing no with its nose in front in Kooyong were credulously reported by Sky News.
• Simon Benson of The Australian reports JWS Research polling conducted for the Minerals Council of Australia initially found 46% in favour of the government’s “same job, same pay” industrial relations reforms, with 19% opposed — but many were said to have had misapprehensions that the reforms related to the gender pay gap. After being shown business lobby advertising attacking the reforms, the results were 26% supportive and 47% opposed. When further shown union advertising supporting the reforms, the result came out at 31% for and 34% against.
• As related in the previous post, draft new state boundaries for Western Australia proposing abolishing a Nationals-held regional seat, one of only six out of 59 not held by Labor, and the creation of a safe Labor seat in southern Perth. This has naturally infuriated the Nationals and supportive interests, coming as it does on the heels of upper house reforms that abolish a scheme that divides seats evenly between metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas, despite the former accounting for three-quarters of the state’s population. In other redistribution news, I am indebted to Ben Raue at the Tally Room for paying attention to the redistribution for the Northern Territory parliament, which has been passing beneath my radar. An initial set of draft boundaries that was published in May has been scrapped altogether due to a surge of enrolment in remote communities ahead of the Indigenous Voice referendum, driven by a push in the Australian Electoral Commission’s direct enrolment campaign.