The federal government continues to be rated highly for its COVID-19 response, as a plan to save the Northern Territory’s second seat proves to have a sting in the tail for the ACT.
The latest fortnightly Essential Research poll finds 67% rating the federal government’s COVID-19 response as good, unchanged on a fortnight ago, with the poor rating down two to 13% – its strongest net result in this regular series since June. The small sample state breakdowns find the South Australian government’s positive rating down six to 70%, which I believe is the lowest it has yet recorded, although it might not pay to read too much into that given the near double-digit margin of error. The results for the other four mainland state are all up by one point: to 76% for New South Wales, 60% for Victoria, 72% for Queensland and 83% for Western Australia.
Respondents were also asked about their level of interest in various news stories: 69% said they were closely following the COVID-19 outbreak in South Australia, against 31% for not closely; 66% likewise for COVID-19 vaccine trials, and 34% for not closely; 56% closely for Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his election defeat, with 44% for not closely; and 53% closely for war crimes allegations against Australian soliders, against 47% for not closely. The poll also found 37% felt the government spent too much on foreign aid, down four points since 2017, with spends too little steady on 16% and the right amount up four to 23%. Also featured was a series of detailed questions on climate change and coal-fired power plants, which you can read all about in the full report. The poll was conducted Wednesday to Monday from a sample of 1034.
In other news, Antony Green peruses the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters’ report recommending action to preserve the Northern Territory’s second House of Representatives seat, which otherwise stands to be lost based on the territory’s share of the national population. Significantly, he notes that the proposed removal of an existing tweak to the calculation that was added to help the Northern Territory get over the line back in 2004 now stands to cost the Australian Capital Territory the third seat it gained at the last election – perhaps explaining why the government has been so sanguine about preserving Labor-held seats in the Northern Territory.
The change in 2004 made use of the margin of error the Australian Bureau of Statistics provides for its population estimates for the territories, requiring that the figure at the top end of the range be used in making the determination. Whereas the most recent determination credited the ACT with 2.55 quotas, rounding up to three seats, it would have only have been 2.48 if the ABS’s straightforward estimate had been used. There is no suggestion of changing the existing determination to cost the ACT its third seat at the next election, but a significant growth in population would be needed if the third seat was to be preserved at the next election after.
Antony Green’s submission to the inquiry suggested that, in addition to giving the territories a minimum of two seats, the calculation be made not on the basis of the garden variety arithmetic mean, but on the harmonic mean, which would be less prone to rounding down for the territories and smaller states. This method has the virtue of producing “an allocation of seats with a population per member closer to the national quota than the arithmetic mean”. The committee – apparently including the four Labor and one Greens members as well as the five from the government, since there was no dissenting report – acknowledged the logic of this but cited “problems with the potential for public acceptance”
Mention should also be made of Saturday’s by-election in the regional Queensland seat of Groom, which did nothing to alter its complexion as a safe seat for the Coalition. The LNP candidate, Garth Hamilton, currently has 66.9% of the two-party preferred vote with only a handful of votes outstanding, representing a 3.6% swing to Labor Œ more or less the same size of the swing in the Longman by-election that did for Malcolm Turnbull in 2018, though on that occasion his critics could point to a 9.4% drop in the LNP vote as One Nation surged to 15.9%. The One Nation factor went untested on this occasion, since the party did not field a candidate, although the party’s performance in the recent state election suggested they would only have done a limited amount of damage.
Of perhaps more note than the result is the pattern of turnout in the second by-election held during COVID-19 (the first being in Eden-Monaro only July 4): election day turnout was down 21.3%, from 53,943 to 42,490; pre-poll voting centres were up 0.8% from 25,169 to 25,380; and there have so far been 11,966 postal votes counted, compared with 14,108 at the 2019 election. Voter fraud fans may care to note that the LNP did better on election day votes (a 2.7% swing to Labor) than pre-poll votes (a 4.0% swing) and, especially, postal votes (a 7.3% swing).