Sins of commission

Kooyong and Chisholm legal challenge latest; by-election rumblings in Isaacs; Jim Molan strikes back; and the Victorian Liberals gearing up already for federal preselections.

Possible (or possibly not) federal by-election news:

• The Australian Electoral Commission has petitioned the Federal Court to reject challenges against the federal election results in Chisholm and Kooyong. The challenges relate to Chinese-language Liberal Party signage that appeared to mimic the AEC’s branding, and advised voters that giving a first preference to the Liberal candidates was “the correct voting method”. As reported by The Guardian, the AEC argues that “the petition fails to set out at all, let alone with sufficient particularity, any facts or matters on the basis of which it might be concluded that it was likely that on polling day, electors able to read Chinese characters, upon seeing and reading the corflute, cast their vote in a manner different from what they had previously intended”. This seems rather puzzling to my mind, unless it should be taken to mean that no individuals have been identified who are ready to confirm that they were indeed so deceived. Academic electoral law expert Graeme Orr argued on Twitter that the AEC had “no need to intervene on the substance of a case where partisan litigants are well represented”.

• Talk of a by-election elsewhere in Melbourne was stimulated by Monday’s column ($) from acerbic Financial Review columnist Joe Aston, which related “positively feverish speculation” that Labor’s Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, would shortly quit his Melbourne bayside seat of Isaacs with an eye to a position on Victoria’s Court of Appeal. Aston further reported that Dreyfus hoped to be succeeded by Fiona McLeod, the prominent barrister who gained a 6.1% swing as Labor’s candidate for Higgins in May. Dreyfus emphatically rejected such “ridiculous suggestions” in late August, saying he was “absolutely committed to serving out this term of parliament”, and again took to Twitter on Monday to say he would be “staying and fighting the next election”. Aston remains unconvinced, writing in Tuesday’s column ($) that the suggestions derived from “high-level discussions Dreyfus has held on Spring Street with everyone from Premier Daniel Andrews, former Attorney-General Martin Pakula, his successor Jill Hennessy and his caucus colleagues”, along with his “indiscreet utterances around the traps”.

Federal preselection news:

• Jim Molan has won the endorsement of both Scott Morrison and the conservative faction of the New South Wales Liberal Party to fill the Senate vacancy created by Arthur Sinodinos’s departure to become ambassador to the United States. However, the Sydney Morning Herald reports this is not dissuading rival nominee Richard Shields, former deputy state party director and Insurance Council of Australia manager, and the runner-up to Dave Sharma in last year’s keenly fought Wentworth preselection. Shields’ backers are said to include Helen Coonan, former Senator and Howard government minister, and Mark Neeham, a former state party director. Earlier reports suggested the moderate faction had been reconciled to Molan’s ascendancy by a pledge that he would only serve out the remainder of Sinodinos’s two-year term, and would not seek re-election in 2022.

Rob Harris of The Age reports the Victorian Liberals are considering a plan to complete their preselections for the 2022 election much earlier than usual – and especially soon for Liberal-held seats. The idea in the latter case is for challengers to incumbents to declare their hands by January 15, with the matter to be wrapped up by late February or early March. This comes after the party’s administrative committee warded off threats to members ahead of the last election, most notably factional conservative Kevin Andrews in Menzies, by rubber-stamping the preselections of all incumbents, much to the displeasure of party members. Other preselections are to be held from April through to October. Also proposed is a toughening of candidate vetting procedures, after no fewer than seven candidates in Labor-held seats were disendorsed during the period of the campaign.

Self-promotion corner:

• I had a paywalled piece in Crikey yesterday which noted the stances adopted of late by James McGrath, ideological warror extraordinaire and scourge of the cockatoo, in his capacity as chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, which is presently conducting its broad-ranging inquiry into the May federal election. These include the end of proportional representation in the Senate, the notion that parliamentarians who quit their parties should be required to forfeit their seats, and — more plausibly — the need to curtail pre-poll voting.

Essential Research: US visit, economic conditions, Middle East intervention

A new poll records a broadly favourable response to Scott Morrison’s US visit, mixed feelings about the state of the economy, and support for Australia’s new commitment in the Middle East.

Essential Research has released its fortnightly poll, once again without voting intention results. It includes a series of questions on Scott Morrison’s visit to the United States, with results generally more favourable than I personally would have expected. For example, the most negative finding is that 32% agreed that Donald Trump’s presidency has been good for Australia, compared with 49% who disagreed. By way of comparison, a Lowy Institute survey in March found 66% believed Trump had weakened the alliance, and only 25% had either a lot of or some confidence in him.

Only 38% agreed that a good relationship between Scott Morrison and Donald Trump reflected badly on Australia, compared with 48% who disagreed. Other results were probably too influenced by question wording to be of much value. Fifty-seven percent felt Morrison had shown “good diplomacy skills” during the visit, a quality that might be attributed to anyone who maintains a straight face in the President’s presence. The statement that Morrison “should have attended the UN Climate Summit, alongside other world leaders” is compromised by the words in italics (which are my own), but for what it’s worth, 70% agreed and 20% disagreed.

A question on the state of the economy likewise produces a result less bad than the government might have feared, with 32% rating it good and 33% poor. Fifty-one per cent supported Australian military involvement in the Middle East, after it was put to them that Australia had “agreed to provide military support to their allies in the Middle East to protect shipping and trade in the region”, with 35% opposed.

Essential has not yet published the full report on its website, so the precise sample size cannot be identified, but it will assuredly have been between 1000 and 1100. The poll was conducted online from Thursday to Sunday.

Newspoll: 51-49 to Coalition

The fourth Newspoll since its wrong call at the election continues to credit the Coalition with only a modest lead on two-party preferred, with the minor parties continue to lift and Scott Morrison recording the opposite of a US visit bounce.

The fourth Newspoll since the federal election credits the Coalition with a 51-49 two-party lead, unchanged on the last poll three weeks ago, with both major parties down on the primary vote – the Coalition by one to 42%, and Labor by two to 33%. The Greens and One Nation are both up a point, the former to 13% – their best result from Newspoll since 2015 – and the latter to 6%.

Scott Morrison’s personal ratings have deteriorated, either despite or because of his activities in the United States last week, his approval down two to 47% and disapproval up four to 43%. Anthony Albanese has bounced back four on approval to 39% after a six-point drop last time, but the report in The Australian does not relate his disapproval rating (UPDATE: Steady at 40%). Morrison’s preferred prime minister reading goes from 48-28 to 50-31, as respondents apparently becoming more inclined to pick a side.

The poll was presumably conducted as usual from Thursday to Sunday – no sample size is provided, but the norm is around 1600. More to follow.

UPDATE: The sample was 1658, of which 900 came from online surveys and 758 from automated phone polling. Also featured is a question on which relationship Australia should prioritise out of the United States and China, who came in at 56% and 25% respectively. The split was 70-18 among Coalition supporters, 46-32 for Labor, 60-24 among men and 51-26 among women.

Forever blowing bubbles

More reform talk, this time involving suggestions MPs should be prevented from defecting from the parties for which they were elected.

Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters chair James McGrath has floated another reform bubble, this time proposing that parliamentarians should be prevented from resigning from their parties under pain of either facing a by-election or being replaced by the nominee of the party for which they were elected. The Australian helpfully summarises recent situations where this would have applied: “Jacqui Lambie and Glenn Lazarus from the Palmer United Party, Cory Bernardi and Julia Banks from the Liberal Party, Fraser Anning and Rod Culleton from One Nation and Steve Martin from the Jacqui Lambie Network”. University of New South Wales constitutional law expert George Williams is quoted noting potential constitutional issues, particularly in relation to the lower house.

The proposal brings to mind the passage in New Zealand last year of what is colloquially known as the “waka jumping bill”, insisted upon by Winston Peters of New Zealand First as part of his coalition agreement with Labour after the 2017 election. This requires a constituency MP who quits their party to face a by-election, while party list MPs must vacate their seats and have them filled by the next candidate along from the list at the election. The move was poorly received by academics and the country’s Human Rights Commissioner, as it effectively gives party leaders the ability to dispense with troublemakers. It was also noted that Peters himself broke away from the National Party to form New Zealand First in 1990, but changed his tune after a split in his own party in 1998. However, the McGrath proposal would seem to be quite a lot less pernicious in that it would only apply to those who leave their parties of their own volition.

In other news, I had a paywalled article in Crikey on Tuesday regarding the YouGov methodological overhaul that was discussed here on Sunday, which said things like this:

Of course, transparency alone will not be sufficient for the industry to recover the strong reputation it held until quite recently. That will require runs on the board in the form of more-or-less accurate pre-election polls, for which no opportunity will emerge until the Queensland state election still over a year away. It’s far from certain that YouGov will prove able to get better results by dropping the telephone component of its polling, notwithstanding that phone polling is less conducive to the kind of detailed demographic parsing that it apparently has in mind. Nonetheless, the movements the pollster records over time within demographic and geographic sub-samples will almost certainly offer insights into the shifting sands of public opinion, even if skepticism will remain as to how it sees the numbers combining in aggregate.

I’m not sure when exactly we will see the fruits of YouGov’s approach, but we’re due some sort of Newspoll result on Sunday or Monday, and the fortnightly Essential Research falls due on Tuesday – we’re still waiting for the latter to resume voting intention, but I was told a little while ago it would happen soon.

Slicing and dicing

Hope at last that some good might come out of the Australian polling industry’s chastening experience at the May federal election.

Hopes that the Australian polling industry might again have something to offer soon have been been raised by YouGov’s announcement on Thursday that it is overhauling its polling methodology, and pursuing the establishment of a local industry body along the lines of the British Polling Council.

On the first point, the pollster says it will “transition to the standard YouGov methodology for national and statewide polling”. This means an end to the mix of online and automated phone polling associated with Galaxy Research, the established local outfit that has been conducting Newspoll since 2015, and which YouGov bought out at the end of 2017. In line with its modus operandi internationally, YouGov will move entirely to online polling, enabling it to adopt a more detailed scheme of demographic weightings that will encompass variables “such as education and more sophisticated regional segments”.

We may already have received a taste of this with the recent YouGov Galaxy poll from Queensland, which was conducted entirely online and supplemented the traditional weighting model of “age interlocked with gender and region” with variables for education and voting at the previous election. This looks much like the pollster’s approach with its British polling, but with education taking the place of a “social grade” variable that holds those with managerial or supervisory jobs distinct from the rest of the workforce.

The notion of an Australian Polling Council offers the exciting prospect of industry standards that will require the publication of sample weightings and full demographic and regional breakdowns from each poll, such as can be seen in this recent YouGov poll of voting intention in Britain. The YouGov announcement says that “several other companies have agreed in principle to establish this council and an announcement will be made in due course”.

Also of note recently:

• The first batch of submissions to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters inquiry into the recent federal election has been published. This does not include the Labor submission, but The Guardian reports it calls for the committee to investigate the impact on election campaigning of social media platforms, its specific concern being with the widespread circulation of claims through Facebook that it had “secret plans to introduce a death tax”.

The Australian reports the Nationals federal council has endorsed a proposal floated a fortnight ago to all but purge the Senate of minor parties by breaking each state into six provinces that would each return a single Senator at a normal half-Seante election.

• The challenges to the election results in the Melbourne seats of Chisholm and Kooyong have been referred for trial in the Federal Court, which will likely take about three months to reach a determination.

Essential Research leadership ratings

The latest Essential poll finds Scott Morrison’s approval rating edging up to a new high, with most respondents supporting a tough line on offshore detention of asylum seekers – but not so tough that they support the repeal of medical evacuation laws.

Another fortnight, another Essential Research poll that baulks on publishing voting intention numbers. We do, however, get the monthly leadership ratings, which find Scott Morrison at a new peak of 49% approval, up one on a fortnight ago, with disapproval down one to 36%. Anthony Albanese is down two on approval to 36% and up two on disapproval to 31%. Morrison also records the strongest preferred prime minister lead out of the four such results published by Essential since the election, at 46-25, out from 44-28 last month.

The poll also finds strong support for indefinite offshore detention for asylum seekers, with 52% supportive and 32% opposed. However, only 21% accept the government’s position that the medical evacuation legislation “will weaken our borders and result in boats arriving in Australia as they have in the past”, with 41% saying it strikes an appropriate balance and 23% saying it does not go far enough.

A series of questions on Friday’s climate strikes finds 56% in favour and 30% opposed, although only 35% said they were aware of them in response to an initial question, with 54% saying they were unaware. The New South Wales-based respondents to the survey, of which there were 352, were asked a further question on a mooted relaxation of the state’s lockout laws, which 58% supported and 30% opposed.

The poll was conducted Thursday to Sunday from an online panel of 1093 respondents.