Essential Research: robodebt, protests and coronavirus latest

The weekly Essential poll finds considerable displeasure at the government’s handling of the robodebt affair, even as Newspoll finds the electoral damage to be limited at best.

Together with the usual suite of questions on coronavirus, the latest weekly Essential Research survey offers findings on the government’s robodebt the recent disturbances in the United States. The former make grim reading for the government, or might do if Newspoll hadn’t suggested the debacle had made no difference on voting intention: 74% say the government should apologise to those negatively impacted, with only 11% disagreeing; 66% support interest and damages for those who wrongly repaid money, with 13% disagreeing; 55% supported a royal commission, with 23% disagreeing; and only 32% agreed the automated notifications were a good idea “even if it was poorly implemented”, with 43% disagreeing.

Regarding the protests in the United States, the propositions that “protesters are right to demand better protection and treatment of African Americans in society” and that “the protesters want to loot and cause property damage, more than they want social change” both received majority support, though far more emphatically in the former case, with 80% agreeing and 11% disagreeing, compared with 54% and 33% for the latter. There were likewise large majorities in favour of the notions that “authorities in America have been unwilling to deal with institutional racism” (78% to 10%) and that the death of George Floyd pointed to “wider discrimination against minority cultures in society” (72% to 16%), while only 33% considered Floyd’s death isolated and not illustrative of institutional police racism, compared with 54% who disagreed.

As for coronavirus, the number who are “very concerned” maintains a steady decline, down five to 27%, with quite concerned down one to 48%, not that concerned up six to 21% and not at all concerned up one to 5%. Approval of the government’s handling of the matter is little changed, with 70% rating it good (up two) and 12% poor (steady). Small-sample state breakdowns provide a further increment of support for the notion that the Western Australian government has done best out of the crisis, with the good rating at 84% and poor at 6%, with other states ranging from 67% to 79% on good and 8% to 13% on poor. Queensland respondents were most likely to say their government was moving too slowly in easing restrictions, although even here the result was only 23% compared with 63% for “about the right speed”. The poll was conducted online from Thursday to Sunday from a sample of 1073.

Elsewhere, yesterday’s declaration of candidates and ballot paper draw for the July 4 Eden-Monaro by-election revealed a field of 14 candidates. Along with Labor candidate Kristy McBain and Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs, there are starters for the Nationals (Trevor Hicks, who won a preselection vote on Saturday), the Greens, Shooters Fishers and Farmers, the Liberal Democrats, the Christian Democrats, Help End Marijuana Prohibition, the Science Party, Sustainable Australia, something called the Australian Federation Party and three independents.

Darwinian selection

Labor moves to save the Northern Territory’s second House of Representatives seat ahead of next month’s determination of state and territory seat entitlements.

The post below this one features Adrian Beaumont’s latest updates on the polling situation in the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Back on home turf, I have two updates to relate.

The first involves the calculation of the states’ and territories’ House of Representatives seat entitlements for the next parliament, which will be determined next month on the basis of yet-to-be published quarterly population figures from December. Barring a sudden change in population trends in the last quarter of last year, this will cause Victoria to gain a seat for the second term in a row, boosting it to 39 seats — a return to where it was when the parliament was enlarged in 1984, before a lean period for the state reduced it to 37 in 1996. It is even more clear that Western Australia will lose the sixteenth seat it has had for the past two terms, reflecting the waxing and waning of the mining and resources boom.

Relatedly — and to get to my main point — the Northern Territory is also set to lose a seat, unless something comes of Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy’s announcement last week that she will introduce a bill to guarantee the territory its existing two seats. The territory just scraped over the line with 1.502 population quotas at the last determination in 2017, rounding up to an entitlement of two seats, and has since experienced a continuation of relative decline since the resource boom halcyon days of 2009 — and even then its population only amounted to 1.54 quotas.

The Northern Territory was first divided into its current two seats of Solomon and Lingiari in 2001, but its claim to a second seat has been consistently precarious. It would have reverted to one seat in 2004 if not for a legislative fix to change definitions in a way that put it over the threshold, which received bipartisan support partly because both major parties imagined at that time that they could win both seats. This proved a forlorn hope in the Coalition’s case, with Lingiari having remained with Labor at all times and Solomon having fallen their way in both 2016 and 2019.

As a result, Solomon and Lingiari have consistently had the lowest enrolments in the country, at a shade below 70,000 at the time of the 2019 federal election, compared with an average of 110,755 in the mainland states, 98,644 in the Australian Capital Territory (which gained a third seat last year) and 77,215 in Tasmania (which maintains the constitutionally mandated minimum of five seats for the six original states). Conversely, a single Northern Territory seat would have an enrolment far greater than any other, with the unfortunate effect of under-representing its indigenous population, which accounts for more than a quarter of the total.

My other update relates to the July 4 Eden-Monaro by-election, for which nominations close on Tuesday. The Daily Telegraph ($) reports four candidates have nominated for the Nationals’ Eden-Monaro preselection, to be held on Sunday: Trevor Hicks, deputy mayor of Queanbeyan-Palerang; Fleur Flanery, owner of Australian Landscape Conference; Mareeta Grundy, a dietician; and Michael Green, a farmer from Nimmitabel. The Greens announced on the weekend that their candidate will be Cathy Griff, a Bega Valley Shire councillor.

Leadership polling, Eden-Monaro latest, yet more on COVID-19

Scott Morrison settles in at a lofty approval rating perch, as hordes of candidates descend upon Eden-Monaro.

Firstly, as per the above post, don’t forget to give generously to the Poll Bludger’s bi-monthly donation drive. Now to an assembly of recent events in the worlds of polling and Eden-Monaro:

• The Guardian reports the latest Essential Research poll includes the pollster’s monthly leadership ratings, which find Scott Morrison’s approval up a point to a new high of 65% and disapproval down a point to a new low of 26%, reflecting continuous improvement since a nadir of 39% and 52% in February. Morrison’s lead as preferred prime minister is 53-23, compared with 50-25 last time. Albanese stands at 43% approval, up one, and 30% disapproval, up three. These numbers have been used to update the BludgerTrack trends, which can be see on the sidebar or in detail here, showing Morrison now at a plateau after his recent ascent.

• The Essential poll also finds 41% saying Jobkeeper reporting bungle reflected negatively on the federal government, compared with 43% saying it did not. “A third” wanted Jobkeeper broadened in response, along with another 20% who wanted the eligibility criteria broadened, while 45% preferred that it go to reducing the debt. The poll also featured a semi-regular suite of questions on the leaders’ attributes, which have become more favourable for both leaders across the board since January. This is especially so in the case of Morrison, and still more especially in the case of his ratings for good in a crisis (66%), leadership capability (70%) and trustworthiness (66%), which have yo-yoed between the bushfire and coronavirus crises. These ratings will be available to review in detail when the full report is published later day. UPDATE: Full report here.

• A poll by the Australia Institute finds 77% support across the country for state border closures. Labor and Greens supporters are somewhat more in favour, One Nation supporters somewhat less so. The poll was conducted online on May 27 and 28 from a sample of 1005. Small-sample state breakdowns suggested Western Australians were particularly supportive, at 88%, a finding consistent with …

The West Australian ($) had a poll yesterday that recorded a remarkable 89% in favour of keeping the state’s borders closed, with which the state government is persisting in the face of criticism from the federal government and New South Wales government. Presumably the poll had more to it than that, but that’s all there is in the report. The poll was conducted online by Painted Dog Research on Thursday from a sample of 1000.

Eden-Monaro latest:

• With a week still to go before the closure of nominations, the ABC by-election guide records ten candidates and counting, including Cathy Griff for the Greens, Matthew Stadtmiller for Shooters Fishers and Farmers, sundry candidates for the Liberal Democrats, Science Party, Christian Democrats and Sustainable Australia, and two independents. The Nationals have also opened nominations, although they have not traditionally polled strongly in the seat. The deluge has prompted Antony Green to argue that all candidates should be required to produce 100 locally enrolled nominators. This burden is currently imposed only on independents, exemption being a perk of party registration.

• The Australian Electoral Commission has announced its service plan for the by-election, detailing special measures arising from COVID-19. A familiar set of social distancing rules will apply at polling booths, and mobile polling will not be conducted as normal at hospitals and aged care facilities, where “support teams” will instead assist with postal and telephone voting (the latter still only available to the visually impaired).

Eden-Monaro by-election: July 4

A date set for the Eden-Monaro by-election, as the Liberals confirm their candidate and a GetUp! poll suggests local concern about climate changes remains at a high in the wake of the summer bushfires.

Eden-Monaro will be celebrating American independence this year with a July 4 by-election, as announced yesterday by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tony Smith. The timeline for the by-election is as follows:

Issue of writ: Thursday, May 28
Close of rolls: Thursday, June 4
Close of nominations: Tuesday, June 9
Declaration of nominations: Wednesday, June 10
Date of polling: Saturday, July 4

Clearly there will be nothing radically different about the way the polling is conducted on account of coronavirus, as Smith noted that the Australian Electoral Commission unusually favoured a date at the start of school holidays, as it would allow ample time for sanitising to be conducted at schools used as polling booths.

The Liberals conducted their preselection on Saturday, and as expected chose Fiona Kotvojs, a beef farmer who narrowly failed to win the seat when she ran at last year’s federal election. Kotvojs reportedly won a 106-27 victory in the party ballot over Mark Schweikert, a Department of Defence official and deputy mayor of Queanbeyan-Palerang. According to Niki Savva in The Australian ($), “there is speculation, not denied, that the Liberals, with their formidable state and federal apparatuses, are prepared to spend up to $1m to win the seat, money Labor says it doesn’t have”.

The Guardian reports GetUp! commissioned uComms to conduct a poll of 879 respondents in the seat last Wednesday, but it seems they are being reticent with voting intention figures. However, we are told the poll found 59% holding that the government was not doing enough to address climate change, including 48% who strongly agreed, with only 27% disagreeing, 12% strongly. However, the government apparently scored better on its bushfire response, on which respondents were reportedly “evenly divided”.

Eden-Monaro opinion poll and other happenings

A poll by the Australia Institute finds next to nothing in it in Eden-Monaro. Also featured: still more coronavirus polling, and the status quo preserved in a Greens plebiscite on how the party leader should be chosen.

With regard to the American presidential horse race, Adrian Beaumont offers all the latest in the post below. Closer to hand:

Tom McIlroy of the Financial Review ($) reports Labor is credited with a statistically insignificant lead in poll of Eden-Monaro conducted by the Australia Institute. Based on response options that listed only party names, the poll reportedly had Labor leading 51.1-48.8 based on preference flows from 2019. No primary votes are provided in the report, but I expect to have that and other detail for you later today. A question on the most importat issue drew modest responses for both coronavirus (7.3%) and bushfire recovery (8.6%), with the agenda dominated by the economy (28.9%), climate change (23.4%) and health (14.0%). UPDATE: After exclusion of the 9.0% undecided, the primary votes are Labor 39.8%, Liberal 34.3%, Nationals 7.3%, Greens 6.7% and One Nation 6.5%. The polling was conducted by uComms.

• The Lowy Institute has a poll on the strategic implications of coronavirus, which records a general expectation that the crisis will tilt the international balance to China (37% more powerful, 36% just as powerful, 27% less powerful) at the expense of the United States (6% more powerful, 41% just as powerful, 53% less powerful) and Europe (5%, 46% and 48%). Respondents were asked if Australia and various other countries had handled the crisis well and poorly, and with the qualification that the uncommitted responses seem implausibly low, Australians consider their own country’s response (43% good, 50% fairly good, 6% fairly bad, 1% very bad) to have been well superior even to that of Singapore (23%, 56%, 15% and 3%), never mind China (6%, 25%, 25% and 44%), the United Kingdom (3%, 27%, 49% and 21%), Italy (2%, 13%, 44% and 40%) or, God forbid, the United States (2%, 8%, 27% and 63%). Respondents were slightly less favourable to the concept of globalisation than they were in a similar survey a year ago, with 70% rating it mostly good for Australia (down two) and 29% mostly bad (up five). The survey was conducted online and by telephone from April 14 to 27, from a sample of 3036.

• The results of a Greens internal referendum on giving the party membership a way in electing party leaders landed in the awkward zone between clear majority support and the two-thirds super-majority required for change. Members were presented with three head-to-head questions between each combination of two out of three options: the status quo of decision by the party room; the “one member, one vote” approach of having the matter determined entirely by the membership; and a Labor-style model where members provided half the vote and the party room the other half. The two questions inclusive of the status quo produced very similar results, with 62.0% favouring one-member one vote (3721 to 2281) and 62.6% favouring the Labor model (3510 to 2101). The Labor model recorded a narrow 3014 (50.95%) to 2902 (49.05%) win over one-member one-vote, but this would only have been operative if the favoured model recorded two-thirds support in head-to-head comparison with the status quo. According to Rob Harris of the Age/Herald, the response rate was 46% out of the party’s 13,143 eligible members.

Preselection news x 2

Eden-Monaro Liberals get the preselection ballot they wanted, and the Victorian Greens confirm candidates to fill Richard Di Natale’s Senate vacancy.

There are two situations vacant currently in the federal parliament: member for Eden-Monaro, with Mike Kelly’s successor to be chosen at a by-election on a date to be determined, and Victorian Greens Senator, with Richard Di Natale’s vacancy to be filled by a party membership ballot following a timeline I’m not privy to. The latest developments on these fronts are as follows:

• With Andrew Constance now in the rear mirror, the Liberals are going through a preselection process that has brought them to the closure of nominations, with the candidates not yet formally announced. David Crowe of the Sydney Morning Herald reported three likely starters: the presumed front-runner, Fiona Kotvojs, who ran in 2019 and remains popular in local branches; Jerry Nockles, an international relations expert and former Navy seaman; and Pru Gordon, a manager at the National Farmers Federation. Canberra news magazine CityNews reported that names being tested in Liberal polling included Nichole Overall, a Queanbeyan freelance journalist. Please note that there’s a dedicated Eden-Monaro by-election thread below this one.

• The Victorian Greens have attracted nine nominees to fill Richard Di Natale’s Senate vacancy, and helpfully laid them out on their website. The highest profile is human rights lawyer Julian Burnside, who ran unsuccessfully for the party in the seat of Cooper at last year’s federal election. However, Noel Towell of The Age reported in March that Lidia Thorpe, who won Northcote in a by-election in November 2017 but failed to retain it at the general election a year later, is also rated highly. The report said the same of Huong Truong, who held an upper house seat in Western Metropolitan region in the nine months before the election, but she is not among the nominees.