Beware the Ides of March (or May)

Odds shorten on a May federal election; Morrison threatens a nuclear option for preselections in New South Wales; plus news on state by-elections, actual or potential.

Yesterday’s tabling of a proposed parliamentary schedule for new year resulted in another spin of the election date speculation wheel, the consensus being that it will be held on either May 7 and 14. The government has, as they say, pencilled in March 29 as the date for the budget, although “sources close to Mr Morrison” tell The Australian he may make use of his eraser if his polling improves over summer, such that March is “still a live option” for the election. That would presumably lead to South Australian Premier Steven Marshall exercising his option to delay the March 19 state election by up to three weeks in the event of a March federal election, a matter Scott Morrison denies having discussed with him.

Other election news, federal and state:

• Scott Morrison told the Liberal federal executive he was considering asking it to exercise powers to override state divisions in preselections to impose his preferred candidates in key New South Wales seats, including state MPs Andrew Constance in Gilmore and Melanie Gibbons in Hughes (Alexandra Smith of the Sydney Morning Herald reports state Police Minister David Elliott is resisting entreaties to run in Greenway). Such a move would be “seen as a declaration of war by key members of the NSW state division”, specifically its conservatives and moderates.

Sarah Martin of The Guardian reports Natalie Baini, who until recently was a cultural diversity manager at the Australian Football League, has withdrawn her preselection challenge against Liberal MP Fiona Martin in Reid and will instead run as an independent, complaining the party had failed to act on her complaint against “inappropriate conduct of some senior members of the party and the government”.

Alexandra Smith of the Sydney Morning Herald reports Labor will yield to the insistence of local party branches and field a candidate in John Barilaro’s seat of Monaro, despite Labor leader Chris Minns rating it an “impossible task”.

John Ferguson of The Australian reported last week on “intense speculation” that a Victorian state by-election could be on the cards in Kew, whose embattled Liberal member, Tim Smith, had been “linked with potential job prospects in Britain, where he once lived”. Sunday Herald Sun columnist “Backroom Baz” rates that Smith will linger until the election if the preselection goes to his ally David Davis, the Shadow Treasurer and Opposition Leader in the Legislative Council, but would be disposed to inflict the by-election on the party if it instead goes to Jess Wilson, a former staffer to Josh Frydenberg and current policy director at the Business Council of Australia. Also in the field are Lucas Moon, former soldier and commercial manager of construction company Winslow, who has been endorsed by Tim Costello; Monica Clark, a family lawyer; Felicity Sinfield, a police officer and Boroondara councillor; and Michael Sabljak, a former electorate officer to federal MP Michael Sukkar.

Morgan: 55.5-44.5 to Labor

Roy Morgan’s fortnightly poll gives the Coalition further cause for alarm, although the headline figure may have been juiced a little by an excessive preference flow to Labor.

The latest fortnightly federal poll from Roy Morgan records Labor’s lead increasing from 54-46 in the previous poll to 55.5-44.5, from primary votes of 35.5% of both the Coalition (down one) and Labor (up one), 12% for the Greens (up half) and 3.5% for One Nation (steady). It has been noted that the two-party result, which is based on respondent-allocated preferences, credits Labor with nearly 70% of all minor party and independent preferences compared with 60% at the 2019 election. This has to some extent been a feature of Morgan’s polling throughout the current term, though never quite to this degree before. Given the size of the non-major party vote in the poll, the effect of such distinctions is considerable, adding around two-and-a-half points to Labor’s two-party result compared with the 2019 election and more than one point compared with the previous poll a fortnight ago.

State breakdowns credit Labor with two-party leads in all six states, a first for the sixteen Morgan polls published this term (the first of which was in July last year). Labor’s two-party results are 55.5% in New South Wales (up two points on last time for a swing of nearly 8%), 58% in Victoria (up three, a swing of about 5%), 51.5-48.5 in Queensland (up four-and-a-half points, a swing of around 10%), 53.5% in Western Australia (steady, a swing of around 9%), 55.5% in South Australia (down two, a swing of around 5%) and 53% from the particularly small sample size in Tasmania (down five, a 3% swing to the Liberals). The poll was conducted over the previous two weekends from a sample of 2795.

Also, it’s been pointed out to me that the new Essential Research website includes the voting intention numbers from the last two polls, although it seems the existing policy of unloading these results once a quarter will otherwise be maintained. After excluding the 7% undecided, the latest result is Coalition 39.4%, Labor 38.3%, Greens 10.6%, One Nation 4.3% and United Australia Party 2.1%. The pollster’s “2PP+” measure has it at Labor 48, Coalition 45 and undecided 7; applying 2019 preference flows, I make it around 52-48 to Labor.

The display also features a lot of previously unavailable results from early last year, plus results throughout the term for the United Australia Party (whose much-touted recent surge doesn’t amount to much if this pollster is to be believed). This provides a lot of new grist for the BludgerTrack poll aggregate, which you can peruse here. The changes recorded in the “since previous” column show the effect of the three voting intention polls since Newspoll, which included a relatively strong result for the Coalition from Resolve Strategic, a slightly above par one from Essential Research, and a weak one from Roy Morgan.

Resolve Strategic NSW poll and Morgan Victorian poll

Two new polls suggest recent events have done little harm to state governments in New South Wales and, especially, Victoria.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports the latest bi-monthly New South Wales state poll from Resolve Strategic suggests the change of Premier has made next to no difference to voting intention, with the Coalition steady on 41%, Labor up one to 31%, the Greens down one to 10% and Shooters Fishers and Farmers steady on 2%. Dominic Perrottet scores a 34-23 lead over Chris Minns in his first result as preferred premier, compared with Gladys Berejiklian’s lead of 48-21 in her final survey.

Resolve Strategic’s state polls combined the results of two monthly surveys, both having been conducted since Perrottet succeeded Berejiklian on October 5. The more recent round was conducted from Wednesday to Sunday while the earlier round was four weeks previous, each having gauged between 500 and 600 respondents. Alexandra Smith of the Sydney Morning Herald offers sketchy detail on further results from the poll, indicating that Gladys Berejiklian is still held in high regard — more so now indeed than in the final days of her premiership — but that 47% nonetheless feel the Independent Commission Against Corruption “has done important work and should not have its powers reduced”.

Also out overnight was a second Roy Morgan SMS poll in fortnight showing Labor with a crushing lead in Victoria, in this case of 59.5-40.5 on two-party preferred, compared with 58-42 in both the previous Morgan poll and last week’s Newspoll, and 57.3-42.7 at the 2018 election. The primary votes are Labor 45% (up two on the last poll and from 42.9% at the election), the Coalition on 29% (down two and from 35.2% at the election) the Greens on 10.5% (down half and hardly changed from 10.7% at the election) and the United Australia Party on 4% (up one). As Kevin Bonham observes, these primary votes would give Labor an even bigger two-party lead if preference flows from the previous election were applied, of around 61-39.

The poll also credits Daniel Andrews with a 63.5-36.5 approval-disapproval split, compared with 60.5-39.5 a fortnight ago, and finds a 76-24 split in favour of vaccine mandates in the workplace. The poll was conducted yesterday from a sample of 1105.

Resolve Strategic: Coalition 39, Labor 32, Greens 11

Resolve Strategic continues to be the odd pollster out in suggesting a tight race on two-party preferred, with the Coalition if anything slightly in front.

The latest monthly Resolve Strategic federal poll for the Age/Herald marks a return to this series’ lean to the Coalition relative to other pollsters, with a two-point increase in their primary vote to 39% and a corresponding drop in Labor’s to 32%. The Greens, One Nation and other parties are steady at 11%, 3% and 5% respectively, with the low collective major party vote reflected in a likewise steady 9% for the pollster’s “independents” measure. The latter is a contentious feature of the poll, as it is unclear how or if the pollster deals with uncertainty as to where independents might run, as nothing is publicly known about how its questionnaire is structured.

Resolve Strategic doesn’t provide two-party preferred numbers, but I estimate a 51-49 break in favour of the Coalition on two-party preferred based on 2019 preference flows, reversing the result from last month. Breakdowns for the large states suggest the Coalition leads 53-47 in New South Wales, compared with 50-50 last time, and a swing of a bit over 1% in their favour compared with 2019; Labor leads 53-47 in Victoria, little changed on either the last poll or the 2019 election; and the Coalition leads 56-44 in Queensland, compared with 51-49 last time, for a swing to Labor of about 2.5%. Despite the voting intention numbers, the poll finds Scott Morrison has taken a solid hit on his personal ratings, consistent with the finding of other polls over the past month, with his approval rating down seven points to 40% and disapproval up to 49%. Anthony Albanese is respectively up one to 31% and four to 45%, and he has narrowed his deficit on preferred prime minister from to 44-26 to 40-29.

Full results from the poll, which was conducted Wednesday to Sunday from a sample of 1606, can be viewed here. Further results from the poll concerning the economic outlook (most expect it to improve) and immigration (most believe there should be less of it than pre-pandemic) can be viewed here. The pollster’s bi-monthly New South Wales state voting intention result will presumably be along this evening.

Also out yesterday was the regular fortnightly poll from Essential Research, which now comes with a flash new display, though I personally will miss the PDF that brought it all together in one easily stored file. This release features neither the monthly leadership ratings nor the quarterly dump of voting intention numbers. What it does include is the regular question on COVID-19 response by the federal government, whose good rating is down three to 45% with poor steady on 29%, and the state governments, with New South Wales’ good rating steady on 57%, Victoria’s down six to 50% and Queensland’s down two to 60%.

A question on best party to manage the economy does not follow the usual form for this issue in favouring the Coalition: instead, Labor and Liberal are tied on 34%. Furthermore, Labor leads 40-29 as the better party to “ensure the economy works in the interests of everyday Australians”, and 37-23 as best party to manage household expenses. Perhaps relatedly, fully 62% wanted the government to play a more active role in managing the economy, with only 16% wanting it to be less active and 22% thinking it has it about right. Further questions relate to government help for businesses to recover from the pandemic (respondents overwhelmingly in favour), an emissions target for 2030 (respondents believe it should be more ambitious) and freedom of speech (respondents actually aren’t all that keen on it). The poll was conducted Wednesday to Sunday from a sample of 1095.

Finally, Sky News has a curious set of figures from a poll of 4010 respondents conducted way back in September by unheralded outfit Ergo Strategy, described as “News Corp’s final exclusive survey”, though I can’t find any record of anything earlier. No voting intention figures are provided, but we are told how voters for each party in 2019 intend to vote this time. Eleven per cent of Coalition voters said they were switching to Labor compared with 5% vice-versa, suggesting a shift of around 3% in favour of Labor.

Laying down the law

The latest on voter identification law and other electoral legislation, plus reams of federal preselection news.

This week should see the fortnightly federal voting intention poll from Roy Morgan, the regular fortnightly Essential Research poll which is scheduled to feature neither voting intention numbers nor leadership ratings, and possibly the more-or-less monthly Resolve Strategic poll from the Age/Herald. Until then:

Tom McIlroy of the Financial Review reports the Centre Alliance will push for an inquiry into the government’s voter identification bill when it comes before the Senate, to which it will presumably progress swiftly after coming before the House of Representatives today. Three further electoral bills come before the House on Tuesday: to reduce the thresholds beyond which those who spend money on their own election campaigning are required to lodge annual disclosures; to provide for measures deemed desirable under emergency conditions such as pandemics, including greater flexibility with postal and pre-poll voting; and to require security assessments and such like for the computer systems and software used to conduct the Senate count. Two notable bits of detail include bringing forward the deadline for receipt of postal vote applications from the Wednesday before the election to the Tuesday, and requiring the Australian Electoral Commission to publish the Senate vote data files within seven days of the return of the writs, having presumably been allowed to play it by ear in the past.

• A preselection vote on Saturday to determine the successor to Victorian Liberal Senator Scott Ryan, both in respect to the vacancy arising from his imminent retirement and the third position on the Coalition ticket at the election, was won by Greg Mirabella, Wangaratta farmer and husband of Sophie Mirabella. James Campbell of the Herald Sun reports Mirabella won the final round by 165 votes to 141 over Simon Frost, staffer to Josh Frydenberg and former state party director. Incumbent Sarah Henderson comfortably won the ballot for the top position, with the second reserved for Bridget Mackenzie of the Nationals. Other unsuccessful candidates were Emanuele Cicchiello, former Knox mayor and deputy principal at Lighthouse Christian College, and Ranjana Srivastava, an oncologist who also contested the preselection for Casey.

• A dispute within the New South Wales Liberal Party affecting preselections for Warringah, Hughes, Gilmore, Eden-Monaro, Dobell and Parramatta reached a new pitch at a meeting of its state executive on Friday night, which resolved to close nominations on December 3 with plebiscites likely to follow in February. However, James Massola of the Sydney Morning Herald reports the issue could be settled next week by a deal between Scott Morrison and Dominic Perrottet, potentially through the federal executive choosing candidates with plebiscites. Broadly speaking, the dispute pits centre right powerbroker Alex Hawke against the combined forces of the moderates and the hard right, with the former wanting candidates to be promptly installed by the state council and the latter wanting party plebiscites at the cost of delaying the process until February. One aspect of this is that Scott Morrison, who is close to Hawke, is backing state MPs (specifically Holsworthy MP Melanie Gibbons run in Hughes and Parramatta MP Geoff Lee’s for the federal seat of the same name) for preselection in federal seats while Dominic Perrottet, from the hard right, would sooner avoid the resulting state by-elections.

• Dominic Perrottet’s concerns apparently do not extend to the done deal of Bega MP Andrew Constance contesting preselection for Gilmore. However, Constance’s field of competition has now expanded to include Jemma Tribe, a charity operator and former Shoalhaven councillor, and Stephen Hayes, a former RAAF officer and staffer to Christopher Pyne. They join Shoalhaven Heads lawyer Paul Ell, who by all accounts has strong support in local branches, while Constance is favoured by Alex Hawke and the centre right.

• Sharon Bird, who has held the Illawarra seat of Cunningham for Labor since 2004, has announced she will retire at the election. With the seat seemingly the preserve of the Right faction, candidates to succeed her reportedly include Misha Zelinsky, Fulbright scholar and assistant national secretary of the Right faction Australian Workers Union, who aborted a planned challenge to Bird’s preselection before the 2016 election; Alison Byrnes, an adviser to Bird; and Tania Brown, Wollongong councillor and an administrator at the University of Wollongong.

• Labor’s candidate for north coast New South Wales seat of Page, which was held by Labor through the Rudd-Gillard period but now has a Nationals margin of 9.4%, is Patrick Deegan, who works for a domestic violence support service and also ran in 2019.

Newspoll: 58-42 to Labor in Victoria

A new state poll from Victoria finds the Andrews government matching the heights of its 2018 election landslide.

The Australian reports a Newspoll survey of state voting intention in Victoria credits Daniel Andrews’ government with a thumping lead of 58-42 on two-party preferred, matching the 57.3-42.7 result in the 2018 election landslide. The primary vote were similarly closely matched to the election result, with Labor at 44% (compared with 42.9%), the Coalition at 36% (compared with 35.2%), the Greens at 11% (compared with 10.7%) and others at 9% (compared with 11.2%, and in defiance of an apparent recent trend of minor parties profiting from anti-lockdown sentiment).

Daniel Andrews is credited with an approval rating of 56% and a 42% disapproval rating, while Matthew Guy manages only 34% and 42% two-and-a-half months after returning to the Liberal leadership. Andrews holds a 54-33 lead as preferred premier. Sixty per cent rate that Andrews has handled the pandemic well compared with 39% for poor, with Andrews performing notably better among women (65% and 34%, compared with 55% and 43% among men) and younger age cohorts. A distinctive feature of the poll is low uncommitted ratings: only 2% neither approved nor disapproved of Andrews, with 1% declining a view as to how well Andrews had handled the pandemic.

The poll was conducted Thursday to Wednesday from a sample of 1029.

Who’s the fairest

Newspoll results on attitudes to the leaders find both performing poorly eve by the grim standards of recent history.

The Australian had follow-up results from the weekend Newspoll on Tuesday showing how the two leaders compared on nine attributes, with accompanying tables neatly comparing the results to 14 earlier following the same template going back go 2008. It is characteristic of such results to move in lock step with a leader’s overall approval rating, and these are no exception, with Scott Morrison’s position deteriorating by between eight (arrogant up from 52% to 60%) and sixteen (likeable down from 63% to 47%) points since April, while Anthony Albanese’s movements ranged from positive two (arrogant from 40% to 38%) to negative four (trustworthy from 48% to 44% and experienced from 64% to 60%).

The result is that both leaders are at or near the weakest results yet recorded on a range of measures. Scott Morrison had the worst results yet recorded for either a Prime Minister or Opposition Leader on “understands the major issues” (52%) and “cares for people” (50%) and the worst for a Prime Minister on trustworthy (42%). However, he has the consolation that Anthony Albanese’s results were hardly better at 54%, 56% and 44% respectively. Both also scored poorly on being in touch with voters, at 41% for Morrison and 46% for Albanese, while landing well clear of the 33% Tony Abbott recorded a few weeks after the Prince Phillip knighthood. Conversely, Albanese’s arrogant rating of 38% is the lowest yet recorded, comparing with a middling 60% for Morrison.

Other news:

• A Liberal preselection vote on the weekend for the eastern Melbourne fringe seat of Casey, which will be vacated with the retirement of Tony Smith, was won by Aaron Violi, executive with a company that provides online ordering services to restaurants and a former staffer to Senator James Patterson. The Age reports Violi won the last round of the ballot by 152 votes to 101 ahead of Andrew Asten, principal of Boston Consulting Group and former ministerial chief-of-staff to Alan Tudge, with the last candidate excluded being Melbourne City councillor Roshena Campbell. Earlier reports suggested Campbell and Violi to be aligned with state Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien and party president Robert Clark, while Asten is in the rival Josh Frydenberg/Michael Sukkar camp.

• A Roy Morgan poll, using its somewhat dubious SMS survey method, produced very strong results for the Labor government in Victoria, which was credited with a 58-42 lead on two-party preferred, compared with 57.3-42.7 at the 2018 election. The primary votes were Labor 43%, Coalition 31% and Greens 11%. A forced response question on Daniel Andrews found 60.5% approving and 39.5% disapproving. The poll was conducted last Thursday from a sample of 1357.

Newspoll: 53-47 to Labor

Slight improvement in the Coalition’s voting intention numbers, but Scott Morrison’s personal ratings continue to track down.

The Australian reports the latest Newspoll has Labor leading 53-47, in from 54-46 three weeks ago. The primary votes are Coalition 37% (up two), Labor 38% (steady), Greens 11% (steady) and One Nation 2% (down one). Scott Morrison is down two on approval to 44% and up two on disapproval to 52%, while Anthony Albanese is respectively steady on 37% and up two to 48%. Morrison’s lead as preferred prime minister has been cut from 48-34 to 46-38. The poll was conducted Wednesday to Saturday from a sample of 1524.