The fortnight before Christmas

Another pre-Christmas election theory, a court ruling brings some clarity to Labor’s preselection process in Victoria, and the latest on New South Wales’ looming bonanza of state by-elections.

Seemingly nothing doing on the polling front this week, though I would have thought we were due the monthly Resolve Strategic poll from the Age/Herald. That may yet come – perhaps even very shortly – given the publisher’s unpredictable past treatment of it. I need a new post sooner than that though, so here are some relevant recent developments:

• Anthony Albanese has reportedly told his party to be prepared for the possibility that Scott Morrison will call an election for December 11 after he returns from the Glasgow climate summit early next month. Andrew Clennell of Sky News describes this as a “ploy”, and says the genuine view within Labor is that the election will most likely be held in March. Kevin Bonham notes that the proximity of this date to Christmas and New Year would complicate the protracted process of Senate counting, and that it would not allow time for new laws requiring registered parties to have at least 1500 members to take effect.

• The Victorian Supreme Court has thrown out a legal challenge against the Labor national executive’s takeover of the Victorian branch’s federal preselection process. This had been pursued by the factional bloc of the Right associated with Bill Shorten, which The Age reports is considering an appeal. Assuming the ruling holds, it confirms the preselection of former state party secretary Sam Rae in the new seat of Hawke, and allows the party to proceed with other federal preselections that have so far been in limbo.

• The Sydney Morning Herald reports that candidates for Liberal preselection in Hughes are likely to include Jenny Ware, moderate-backed director of legal services at Georges River Council, and that there is also likely to be a factional conservative in the field. This complicates matters for Melanie Gibbons, who will quit her state seat of Holsworthy to run, and has the backing of Scott Morrison.

New South Wales by-election latest:

• There is now a fifth state by-election on the way in New South Wales, and the first in a Labor-held seat, after Jodi McKay announced her intention to resign five months after losing the leadership to Chris Minns. This will create a vacancy in her seat of Strathfield, which she held at the 2019 election by a 5.0% margin. Anton Rose of Inner West Courier reports potential preselection candidates include Sravya Abbineni, multiculturalism adviser at NSW Government Health and former staffer to McKay; John Faker, mayor of Burwood; and Jennifer Light, the party’s national assistant secretary.

• The Nationals have preselected Nichole Overall, a local historian, communications consultant and freelance writer, to succeed John Barilaro as the party’s candidate in Monaro.

• In addition to the previously noted Gail Giles-Gidney, the mayor of Willoughby, the Sydney Morning Herald reports candidates for the preselection to succeed Gladys Berejiklian in Willoughby will include Tim James, factional conservative and executive general manager of the Menzies Research Centre.

Morgan: 53-47 to Labor

The latest fortnightly federal poll from Morgan, plus updates on looming state by-elections in New South Wales, which could potentially be forfeited by Labor.

The latest fortnightly federal voting intention poll from Roy Morgan finds the series continuing to bounce around within a range of 52.5-47.5 to 54.5-45.5 in favour of Labor, as it has through seven polls since July. The result this time is 53-47, in from 54-46 last fortnight, from primary votes of Coalition 37.5% (up one-and-a-half points), Labor 36% (steady), Greens 11.5% (down one) and One Nation 3% (down half).

The state two-party breakdowns, which range from respectable sub-samples in the case of the large states to a tiny one in the case of Tasmania, have Labor leading 53.5-46.5 in New South Wales (unchanged on the last poll, a swing of about 5.5%), 56-44 in Victoria (unchanged, a swing of about 3%), 55-45 in Western Australia (out from 54.5-45.5, a swing of about 10.5%), 54.5-45.5 in South Australia (in from 58.5-41.5, a swing of around 4%) and 53-47 in Tasmania (out from 52-48, a swing to the Liberals of about 3%). In Queensland, the Coalition is credited with a lead of 55-45 (out from 52.5-47.5, a swing to Labor of about 3.5%). The poll was conducted over the past two weekends from a sample of 2794.

Also of note, particularly in relation to state politics in New South Wales:

• There is now a fourth by-election on the way, following yesterday’s announcement by Holsworthy MP Melanie Gibbons that she will seek preselection for the federal seat of Hughes, where former Liberal incumbent Craig Kelly has defected to Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party. Holsworthy is far the most marginal of the four seats that will be vacated, having been retained by Gibbons in 2019 by 3.2%. However, the Sydney Morning Herald reports that Labor leader Chris Minns has said Labor “needs to consider whether to run in Holsworthy”, having “already suggested to his shadow cabinet that they should not run a candidate in Monaro or Bega”.

• The Sydney Morning Herald further reports that Willoughby mayor Gail Giles-Gidney is the front-runner for Liberal preselection in Gladys Berejiklian’s particularly safe seat of Willoughby. Based on the comments from Chris Minns noted above, it can presumably be taken as read that Labor will not run.

• As for Melanie Gibbons’ hopes for Hughes, both the Sydney Morning Herald and Daily Telegraph today report a view among senior Liberals that she would, in the words of the latter, “face difficulty securing preselection in a vote of party members”.

• If my thoughts on the federal election landscape are of interest to you, I have lately been providing material to CGM Communications’ state-by-state analyses, which have recently covered New South Wales and Victoria, and was interrogated for an election preview that aired on Nine News over the weekend.

New South Wales leadership vote and by-election bonanza

As the New South Wales Liberal prepare to anoint a new Premier, the state faces three by-elections with expectations of more to follow.

Developments aplenty in New South Wales, starting with today’s Liberal party room vote to choose a successor to Gladys Berejiklian as party leader and Premier. This will pit red-hot favourite Dominic Perrottet, a conservative, against dark horse Rob Stokes, a moderate. However, Yoni Bashan of The Australian reports concern among Perrottet supporters that Stokes “could conceivably gather a bloc of votes by making promises for coveted cabinet positions”, despite “a pact brokered between conservative and moderate factions of the Liberal Party over the weekend to shore up Mr Perrottet as leader”. The Sydney Morning Herald reports Perrottet’s moderate backers include ubiquitous factional powerbroker Michael Photios.

A conservative leader would go against the state Liberals’ usual practice, but former adviser Peter Shmigel offers some insight into the party’s tactical thinking in the Sydney Morning Herald: Perrottet, it is argued, would win back support that is seemingly being lost in western and south-western Sydney, where many swinging voters will be receptive to his religious faith and determination to move out of lockdown, and to the fact that he “personifies economic management”. The emphasis on Sydney is further enhanced by the addition of Penrith MP Stuart Ayres to the Perrottet ticket as candidate for deputy, displacing arch-moderate Matt Kean, who it was thought wouldn’t play well there.

It seems that the new leader, whoever he might be, will face a “Super Saturday” of by-elections arising from a rash of parliamentary resignations running at three so far, with suggestions of others to follow. It is anticipated these will be held on December 4, coinciding with local government elections that have twice been delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This could potentially further weaken the Coalition’s position in the lower house, in which it presently governs in minority with 46 seats out of 93, political difficulties having forced two Liberals elected in 2019 to the cross bench. To start with the known knowns:

Willoughby (Liberal 21.0%): Gladys Berejiklian’s lower north shore seat has existed in name for all but one term since the end of the state’s multi-member regions experiment in 1927, being won by Labor only with Neville Wran’s once-in-a-lifetime landslide in 1978. Berejiklian’s margin over Labor in 2019 was 21.0%, though there was a 3.4% swing against her, unusually for a member at their first election as Premier. James O’Doherty of the Daily Telegraph reports “strategists” fear the seat will be lost to an as-yet-unspecified independent.

Monaro (Nationals 11.6%): The retirement of Nationals leader John Barilaro means a by-election for Monaro, which has traditionally been a marginal seat by virtue of balancing Labor-voting Queanbeyan against conservative rural and small town territory further south. Barilaro’s margin blew out by 9.1%, much of which is reckoned to be personal vote that now stands to be lost.

Bega (Liberal 6.9%): Liberal member Andrew Constance will resign from state politics to run for federal preselection in the corresponding seat of Gilmore, which Labor gained with a 3.3% swing against the trend in 2019 and holds by a margin of 2.6%.

James O’Doherty of the Daily Telegraph reports Liberal concerns that they could be shortly joined by Rob Stokes, member for Pittwater (Liberal 20.8% versus Greens), in the seemingly likely event that he is not elected leader; Melanie Gibbons, member for Holsworthy (Liberal 3.3%), who has been “touted for the federal seat of Hughes”; Health Minister Brad Hazzard, member for Wakehurst (Liberal 21.0%); and Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock, member for South Coast (Liberal 10.6%).

Gladys Berejiklian resigns

Situations vacant: Premier of New South Wales and, shortly, member for Willoughby.

Gladys Berejiklian announced her resignation today after a few months shy of five years as Premier of New South Wales, after the state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption announced it would investigate her in relation to the activities of former MP Daryl Maguire. This makes her the third Liberal Premier to have fallen foul of ICAC since it was established by Nick Greiner’s government in 1989, after Nick Greiner himself in 1992 and Barry O’Farrell in 2014.

There will now be a Liberal leadership contest to determine who replaces her as Premier, which the Sydney Morning Herald reports is likely to be between Treasurer Dominic Perrottet and Planning Minister Rob Stokes. She will also shortly quit parliament, which will mean a by-election for her safe Liberal seat of Willoughby.

Resolve Strategic: Coalition 41, Labor 30, Greens 11 in NSW

The Berejiklian government retains an edge in the latest NSW state poll, despite a narrowing over the past two months.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports the bi-monthly Resolve Strategic state voting intention result for New South Wales credits the Coalition with a primary vote of 41%, down two points from two months ago, with Labor up two to 30% and the Greens down one to 11%. This suggests a slight swing against Labor on two-party preferred compared with the 2019 election result, at which the Coalition recorded 52.0%. Gladys Berejiklian records a lead of 48-21 over Chris Minns as preferred premier, narrowing from 55-16 last time. The poll also finds 65% support for easing COVID-19 restrictions in mid-October with 70% vaccination rates, including 34% strong support, with only 17% opposed, including 9% strongly opposed.

As I understand it, the poll combines results from this month and last month’s national surveys, although the accompanying report refers to a “survey of 1606 voters between September 15 and 19” – which would seem to be a confusing reference to the entire national sample of this week’s poll. In any case, both survey periods produced federal numbers that were a lot stronger for the Coalition than rival pollsters. The two survey periods of the previous poll included one from before the COVID-19 outbreak and Labor leadership, and one from after it. The survey periods for this poll were August 17 to 21 and September 15 to 19, i.e. Wednesday to Sunday. Next month will be the turn of the bi-monthly Victorian poll.

Essential Research: leadership ratings and COVID management

Downward motion for Anthony Albanese and the Berejiklian goverment in the latest Essential poll.

First up, note that below this post is a review of recent happenings in the United States, United Kingdom and Germany by Adrian Beaumont.

Now to the fortnightly Essential Research poll, which includes the pollster’s monthly leadership ratings. Scott Morrison’s position has not further declined since last month, with his approval down one to 50% and disapproval steady on 40%. However, Anthony Albanese, who has long done relatively well out of this pollster in consistently recording net positive ratings, has taken a seven-point tumble on approval to 34%, while his disapproval is up three to 38%. The change on preferred prime minister is more modest, with Morrison’s lead out from 46-28 to 45-26. The effects of all this on the BludgerTrack trends can be observed here.

The stabilisation in Morrison’s personal ratings are not matched in the regular question on the government’s response to COVID-19, which has approached net negative territory for the first time with an eight-point drop in good to 38% and a four-point rise in poor to 35%. The Berejiklian government’s good rating of 47% is down seven points on what was already its worst result last month; the Victorian government is up five to 54%; and the Queensland government is down two to 60%. The Western Australian and South Australian ratings of 82% and 73% are off unreliably small samples, but both are well in line with their long-term averages.

Respondents in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia were asked about the lockdowns in their states, the survey period having begun before the Queensland lockdown. Fifty per cent of New South Wales respondents felt the government had not locked down hard enough, compared with 11% for too hard and 39% for about right. By contrast, 71% of Victorian and 85% of South Australian respondents felt their governments had it about right. However, there is some evidence of a shift in attitudes in Victoria in that more felt the lockdown too harsh (23%) than not harsh enough (6%). The respective results in South Australia were 6% and 9%, a difference well within the margin of error.

The poll sample had two bob each way on lockdown support: 47% believed the federal government was doing enough compared with 37% for not enough and 6% for too much, yet 66% supported the return of JobKeeper with only 11% opposed. The lockdown protests of the weekend before last had 18% support with 67% opposed (which is at least more favourable than the numbers reported from New South Wales by Utting Research). The poll was conducted Wednesday to Sunday from a sample of 1057.

Family First the second

Fragmentation on the right continues apace, with even former Labor folk now joining in. Also: a new poll records a big thumbs-down for the weekend’s lockdown protests.

Miscellaneous developments of the week so far:

• Former South Australian state Labor MPs Tom Kenyon and Jack Snelling have quit their former party over “moves to restrict religious freedom” and announced their intention to reactivate the Family First party and field candidates at the state election next March. The original Family First was folded into Australian Conservatives when Cory Bernardi joined it in 2016 and wound up at his behest after its failure at the 2019 federal election. Kenyon and Snelling have long been associated with the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association sub-faction of the Right, which is in turn associated with Catholicism and social conservatism, and includes among its number the party’s state leader, Peter Malinauskas. Paul Starick of The Advertiser reports this has the approval of party co-founder Andrew Evans; presumably this explains it obtaining the old party’s database of 6000 supporters, as reported by David Penberthy of The Australian. Whereas the old party consistently directed preferences to the Liberals, Snelling has ruled out preference deals with either major party.

• In other party split news, Peta Credlin writes in The Australian that Ross Cameron, who held Parramatta for the Liberals from 1996 to 2004 but is these days noted as a staple of Sky News after dark, “could head the Liberal Democrats’ NSW Senate ticket”. Earlier reportage on the matter said only that Cameron was involved with the party’s strategy and candidate recruitment.

Tom Richardson of InDaily reports Matt Burnell, an official with the Right faction Transport Workers Union, has been confirmed as Labor’s candidate for its safe northern Adelaide seat of Spence, which will be vacated with Nick Champion’s move to state politics. Burnell reportedly scored 88 union delegate votes and 68 state conference delegate votes, each amounting to a third of the total, to just two and seven respectively for rival candidate Alice Dawkins, daughter of Keating government Treasurer John Dawkins. The rank-and-file membership ballot that made up the remaining third went 140-42 to Burnell.

Peter Law of The West Australian reports that first-term Liberal MP Vince Connelly, whose seat of Stirling is being abolished, “looks certain to contest Cowan, which is held by Labor’s Anne Aly”. By my reckoning, the seat has a post-redistribution margin of 1.5%, making it a seemingly unlikely prospect for the Liberals at a time when polls are pointing to a Labor swing in the state upwards of 10%.

Phillip Coorey of the Financial Review reports a poll conducted on Monday by Utting Research from 1600 respondents in New South Wales found only 7% supported Saturday’s lockdown protests, with fully 83% opposed. The poll also suggested Scott Morrison’s standing is continuing to tumble, with 37% satisfied and 57% dissatisfied (the state breakdown in last fortnight’s Resolve Strategic poll had it at 46% apiece). By contrast, Gladys Berejiklian maintained 56% approval and 33% disapproval, while the state’s chief health officer, Kerry Chant, recorded 70% approval.

• Emma Dawson, the executive director of the Per Capita think tank who appeared set to ran as Labor’s candidate against Adam Bandt in Melbourne, has announced her withdrawal. Dawson said this was for “personal and professional reasons”, although it followed shortly upon her criticism of Labor’s announcement that it would not rescind tax cuts for high income earners if elected.

• Craig Emerson on election timing in the Financial Review:

The December quarter national accounts are scheduled for release on March 2, 2022. Morrison might feel confident that the economy will bounce back in the December quarter from the September quarter’s negative result. But would it be wise to take a chance on a double-dip recession being announced during a federal election campaign? That would be a catastrophe for the Morrison government: marked down for its refusal to accept responsibility for quarantine, presiding over the slowest vaccine rollout in the Western world, and forfeiting any claim to be superior economic managers … But an April or May election would face the same risks, since the March quarter national accounts would not be released until after the election must be held … A late-February election might be the best bet, though the federal campaign would overlap with that of the South Australian state election scheduled for March 19.

Resolve Strategic: Coalition 43, Labor 28, Greens 12 in NSW

A new poll brings an encouraging set of numbers for the Berejiklian government, all things considered.

The Sydney Morning Herald today brings us the bi-monthly reading of state voting intention in New South Wales from Resolve Strategic, which combines results for the state from its two monthly national surveys to produce a sample of 1100. Keeping in mind that this means half the poll was conducted before the recent COVID-19 outbreak and lockdown, the results suggest support for the Berejiklian government is holding up: its primary vote is down only one point to 43%, while Labor and the Greens are both unchanged on 28% and 12% respectively. The poll has Shooters Fishers and Farmers down from 4% and 1%, with most of the slack taken up by independents and others, although this may not be all that meaningful.

Despite the fact that Labor has traded in Jodi McKay for Chris Minns since the last poll, Gladys Berejiklian’s lead as preferred premier is all but unchanged at 55-16, compared with 57-17 against McKay two months ago. The 550 respondents of last week’s survey were asked various questions of the rollout, which found 56% believed Sydney had been too slow to go into lockdown, but that 46% nonetheless agreed or strongly agreed that the outbreak had been well handled.

The two survey periods for the poll were June 8 to 12 and July 13 to 17, i.e. last Tuesday to Saturday.