Essential Research: 59-41

The latest weekly Essential Research survey shows Labor’s two-party lead at a commanding 59-41, up from 57-43 last week and 56-44 the week before. Also featured are questions on whether the Liberals should support (51 per cent) or oppose (20 per cent) the government’s plans for an emissions trading scheme, whether the federal government should take over health services from the states (62 per cent support, 11 per cent oppose), whether they should take over all hospital services from the states (57 per cent support, 18 per cent oppose), how much support the government should provide for Australians who get into various kinds of trouble overseas, whether 16 and 17 year olds should be allowed to vote (13 per cent yes, 79 per cent no), and whether respondents feel like they’re being worked too hard (yes). Elsewhere:

• Mia Handshin has unexpectedly withdrawn from her bid to win Christopher Pyne’s Adelaide seat of Sturt, where she fell 0.9 per cent short in 2007. Brad Crouch of the Sunday Mail said the announcement came “within hours” of her being queried by the paper over her family’s involvement with the real estate group of former Entrepreneur of the Year Cathy Jayne Pearce, the collapse of which has cost investors more than $20 million. However, Michael Owen of The Australian reports Handshin’s withdrawal has “sparked speculation she will contest an eastern suburbs seat, Hartley, at the March state election, and the Hartley MP, Grace Portolesi, 41, will run in Sturt against Mr Pyne at the next federal election” (UPDATE: The ABC reports Portolesi denying she is interested in federal politics). A “Labor hardhead” quoted by Christian Kerr in the same paper described Handshin as “a potential premier”. Kerr said there had been earlier suggestions from the Labor camp that Handshin should replace perennial back-bencher Vini Ciccarello in the state seat of Norwood. However, with Ciccarello’s nomination confirmed this “seems out in the short term”, and former member Greg Crafter hopes to use his “clout in the branches” to eventually secure the seat for his son Sam, “an executive with gas giant Santos and a former adviser to Premier Mike Rann”. It should be noted that every seat named is none too safe for Labor: Sturt has been won by the party twice since its creation in 1949, most recently in 1969, Hartley was gained from the Liberals in the 2006 landslide, and Norwood was won narrowly when the Rann government came to power in 2002 and gave Labor its smallest swing in Adelaide in 2006.

Andrew Landeryou at VexNews provides complete lists of candidates for the contested Liberal preselections in Wannon, Higgins, Aston and the state seat of Sandringham. Higgins and Sandringham are two-horse races, the former between front-runner Kelly O’Dwyer and Andrew Abercrombie, the latter between incumbent Murray Thompson and challenger Margaret Fitzherbert. In Wannon, the previously discussed Daniel Tehan, Rod Nockles, Louise Staley, Stephen Mitchell, Hugh Koch, Matt Makin, Elizabeth Matuschka and Katrina Rainsford are joined by Simon Price (unsuccessful Colac Otway Shire Council candidate and former electorate officer to Stewart McArthur, previously mentioned as an aspirant for McArthur’s old seat of Corangamite) and one David Clark. In Aston, Nick McGowan, Sue McMillan, Darren Pearce and Alan Tudge are joined by proverbial bad penny Ken Aldred and a squadron of little-known contenders: Neil Angus, Terry Barnes, Michael Flynn, Michael Kabos and James Matheson.

Joe Spagnolo of the Sunday Times reports that former WA Police Union president Mike Dean has joined the Liberal Party, but will not as earlier rumoured contest the seat of Hasluck at the next federal election. Dean says he has decided not to proceed due to personal issues, but does not rule out a future career in state politics. Robert Taylor of The West Australian reported last month that state Labor MPs John Quigley and Ben Wyatt said Dean had asked them for support in winning Labor preselection for Swan. He told Spagnolo that some in the ALP had “wrongfully presumed he was one of them” and that he had “broken some hearts I didn’t expect to break”.

• The Sunday Times also reports that Gallop-Carpenter government minister Alannah MacTiernan “has delayed her decision on whether to join Kevin Rudd in Canberra”. It is open knowledge that the option of contesting Canning is available to her, but she is believed to be weighing up the option of staying in state politics with a view to assuming the leadership.

Michael Stedman of The Mercury reports that Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett has floated the possibility of publicly funded election campaigns and spending caps for state lower house elections. His comments were in response to complaints by Peter Whish-Wilson, Greens candidate for Windermere during the May periodical upper house elections, about the stringent spending cap of $12,000 which exists for upper house elections.

• Speaking of the Tasmanian Legislative Council, Liberal candidate Vanessa Goodwin pulled off a historic win for the party in Saturday’s Pembroke by-election, which you can read all about here.

Party games

No Morgan poll this week. Here’s some of the other mail:

• The Launceston Examiner reports that Brigadier Andrew Nikolic, veteran of numerous overseas postings and until recently the Australian Defence Force’s director-general of public affairs, has “confirmed that he is interested” in Liberal preselection for the federal seat of Bass. Also said to have his eye on the preselection is Senator Guy Barnett, who will otherwise have to settle for the slighly less appealing prospect of number three on the Liberal ticket.

Michelle Grattan reports on a “glowing reference” for Kooyong preselection aspirant Josh Frydenberg from John Howard. Another of Frydenberg’s backers is Andrew Peacock. His principal rival, industrial relations lawyer John Pesutto, is supported by Institute of Public Affairs executive director John Roskam, who was himself sniffing the breeze before deciding not to proceed. Former Liberal president and Fraser government minister Tony Staley has given his seal of approval to Peter Jonson, a 62-year-old former Reserve Bank official known to the web at large as Henry Thornton.

• The Townsville Bulletin reports there are rumours that prodigious McDonald’s franchiser George Colbran again hopes to run for Labor in Herbert, where he narrowly failed to unseat Peter Lindsay in 2007. Colbran reportedly says he “won’t commit either way”.

David Rood of The Age reports that John Brumby has “cleared the way” for Keilor MP George Seitz to be dumped at the next election, amid the fallout from the Ombudsman’s recent report into Brimbank City Council. The party’s administrative committee will decide this evening whether to take preselections for western suburbs seats out of the hands of local branches, in which Seitz and others remain powerful. Also affected will be Kororoit MP Marlene Kairouz, whose preselection ahead of last year’s by-election formed the backdrop of much of the shenanigans investigated by the Ombudsman, and Derrimut MP Telmo Languiller. Labor sources quoted in the article wonder why both Languiller and Western Metropolitan MLC Theo Theophanous aren’t equally being targeted along with Seitz, so it evidently should not be taken for granted that either Languiller or Kairouz are endangered.

• Taking his cue from Manmohan Singh’s assumption of the Indian prime ministership from the upper house, Malcolm Mackerras argues for an end to the convention that Australia’s party leaders must sit in the lower house, which he relates to the anachronistic presumption that it is the more democratic chamber.

• Final score from the Fremantle by-election: Carles 10,664, Tagliaferri 9,100. Margin: 3.96 per cent. I expected Labor would rein it in a little on late counting, but no.

• With the whiff of a dying government in the air, talk of electoral reform is very much in vogue in London this season, just as was when the scandal-ridden Major government was breathing its last. Conservative leader David Cameron opposes proportional representation but promises to “look seriously” at fixed terms. Health Secretary Alan Johnson – “still the favourite to lead Labour if Gordon Brown is removed from the top job“ – has suggested the government at last look seriously at the “Alternative Vote Plus” model which has been floating around since the 1998 report of the Jenkins commission, which was set up when Tony Blair came to power. It proposes a slightly watered down version of German/NZ style MMP, combining constituency members with party list members to produce a proportional result. Unlike Germany and NZ however, there would be a cap on the number of party list members which might make results less than fully proportional. The “Alternative Vote” part of the title refers to Australian-style preferential voting for the constituency seats, which the Jenkins commission appeared to be taken with as it had just helped defeat Pauline Hanson. From the Jenkins commission report, a “note of reservation by Lord Alexander”:

My colleagues also think that AV will contribute to a less confrontational style of politics because candidates will be inhibited from attacking rivals too strongly as they wish to gain their second votes. I do not see it as particularly desirable that candidates from different parties, who are different precisely because they do not agree on all issues, should be pulling their punches in order to seek approval from voters who support other parties. In any event, from my observation of Australia, which is the only single large country to use AV, their politicians tend to be, if anything, more blunt and outspoken than our own.

Morgan: 58-42/54.5-45.5

Unpredictable Roy Morgan has unloaded two very different sets of poll results: one using its usual face-to-face methodology, but based on one week’s sample rather than the recently more usual two, and the other a phone poll in which respondents were also asked about leadership preference, contrary to normal Morgan practice. The face-to-face poll is from 999 respondents, and shows Labor’s lead narrowing from 60-40 to 58-42. Labor’s primary vote is down 0.5 per cent to 49.5 per cent, while the Coalition is up a quite healthy 3.5 per cent to a still not-healthy 37.5 per cent. The Greens are down a point to 8 per cent.

However, the phone poll has Labor’s two-party lead at a more modest 54.5-45.5, from primary votes of 45 per cent Labor, 40.5 per cent Coalition and 7.5 per cent Greens. At present, a dedicated page for the phone poll result tells us only that Kevin Rudd leads Malcolm Turnbull as preferred prime minister 60.5 per cent to 26.5 per cent; that Rudd’s approval rating is 57.5 per cent; and that Turnbull’s approval rating is 43 per cent. Perhaps it will be fleshed out with more information at a later time.

Two other pieces of news:

• It seems Andrew Wilkie will run as an independent candidate for Denison at next year’s Tasmanian state election. Wilkie is the former Office of National Assessments analyst who quit over the Howard government’s actions before the Iraq war, and subsequently ran as a Greens candidate against John Howard in Bennelong in 2004 and as Bob Brown’s Tasmanian Senate running mate in 2007.

• A beleagured British Labour Party is considering sweeping electoral reforms, including an elected upper house. House of Commons reforms might presumably include some kind of preferential voting, which Britain’s three-plus party system badly needs, or more radically proportional representation, with which Britons have become familiar through elections for the Scottish and Welsh parliaments, its members of European Parliament, and local government.

Keeping it holy

… with some God-fearing Good Friday news nuggets to tide you over until the pubs re-open.

• Senate polls have consistently proved themselves to be pointless endeavours, but let the record note that Roy Morgan has produced one from their last three months of surveys. This might be of at least some use if Morgan gave South Australian respondents a chance to indicate support for Nick Xenophon, but they presumably don’t because he is not up for re-election next time (unless there’s a double dissolution of course). Nonetheless, South Australia shows an “others” result of 19.5 per cent compared with 8 per cent nationally.

• The Tasmanian Liberals have preselected three candidates for the Hobart electorate of Denison for next year’s state election, after earlier delaying the process due to concerns about a “lack of high-profile talent”. The nominees are 70-year-old incumbent Michael Hodgman; lawyer Elise Archer, who polled a solid 3.2 per cent at the 2006 election; and Matt Stevenson, state president of the Young Liberals. No sign of contentious Hobart alderman Marti Zucco, but two positions remain to be filled.

• Yesterday’s Crikey Daily Mail had a piece by Malcolm Mackerras noting the looming by-election in New Zealand for Helen Clark’s seat of Mount Albert, and the absurdity of such a thing in a supposedly proportional representation system. If it loses, Labour will be deprived of one of the seats entitled to it by its national vote share at last November’s election. New Zealand’s mixed-member proportional system is modelled on Germany’s, but departs from it in that vacated constituency seats in Germany are filled by unelected candidates from the party’s national lists – which New Zealand was obviously loath to do as it would randomly match members to electorates with which they had no connection.

• Mackerras also notes that the May 12 election in the Canadian province of British Columbia will be held in conjunction with a second referendum seeking to replace its first-past-the-post single-member constituency system with “BC-STV” (British Columbia-Single Transferable Vote). I take this to be identical in every respect to Hare-Clark as it operates in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory (complete with Robson rotation and optional preferential voting), except the number of members per region will range from two to seven. A referendum was also held at the previous election in 2005, but it received 57.7 per cent support while requiring 60 per cent to be binding. Get funky with the official website of British Columbians for BC-STV.

UPDATE (11/4/09): The West Australian carries a second Westpoll survey of 400 respondents on the May 16 daylight saving referendum, showing 47 per cent supporting and 51 per cent opposed compared with 42 per cent and 57 per cent at the poll last month. The West’s report says this means “community support for daylight saving has climbed steadily over the last month”, but I don’t need to tell you all what a load of bollocks that is. Taken together, the surveys suggest the proposal is most likely headed for defeat by the same narrow-ish margins as in 1975, 1984 and 1992.