Beware the Ides of March (or May)

Odds shorten on a May federal election; Morrison threatens a nuclear option for preselections in New South Wales; plus news on state by-elections, actual or potential.

Yesterday’s tabling of a proposed parliamentary schedule for new year resulted in another spin of the election date speculation wheel, the consensus being that it will be held on either May 7 and 14. The government has, as they say, pencilled in March 29 as the date for the budget, although “sources close to Mr Morrison” tell The Australian he may make use of his eraser if his polling improves over summer, such that March is “still a live option” for the election. That would presumably lead to South Australian Premier Steven Marshall exercising his option to delay the March 19 state election by up to three weeks in the event of a March federal election, a matter Scott Morrison denies having discussed with him.

Other election news, federal and state:

• Scott Morrison told the Liberal federal executive he was considering asking it to exercise powers to override state divisions in preselections to impose his preferred candidates in key New South Wales seats, including state MPs Andrew Constance in Gilmore and Melanie Gibbons in Hughes (Alexandra Smith of the Sydney Morning Herald reports state Police Minister David Elliott is resisting entreaties to run in Greenway). Such a move would be “seen as a declaration of war by key members of the NSW state division”, specifically its conservatives and moderates.

Sarah Martin of The Guardian reports Natalie Baini, who until recently was a cultural diversity manager at the Australian Football League, has withdrawn her preselection challenge against Liberal MP Fiona Martin in Reid and will instead run as an independent, complaining the party had failed to act on her complaint against “inappropriate conduct of some senior members of the party and the government”.

Alexandra Smith of the Sydney Morning Herald reports Labor will yield to the insistence of local party branches and field a candidate in John Barilaro’s seat of Monaro, despite Labor leader Chris Minns rating it an “impossible task”.

John Ferguson of The Australian reported last week on “intense speculation” that a Victorian state by-election could be on the cards in Kew, whose embattled Liberal member, Tim Smith, had been “linked with potential job prospects in Britain, where he once lived”. Sunday Herald Sun columnist “Backroom Baz” rates that Smith will linger until the election if the preselection goes to his ally David Davis, the Shadow Treasurer and Opposition Leader in the Legislative Council, but would be disposed to inflict the by-election on the party if it instead goes to Jess Wilson, a former staffer to Josh Frydenberg and current policy director at the Business Council of Australia. Also in the field are Lucas Moon, former soldier and commercial manager of construction company Winslow, who has been endorsed by Tim Costello; Monica Clark, a family lawyer; Felicity Sinfield, a police officer and Boroondara councillor; and Michael Sabljak, a former electorate officer to federal MP Michael Sukkar.

Resolve Strategic NSW poll and Morgan Victorian poll

Two new polls suggest recent events have done little harm to state governments in New South Wales and, especially, Victoria.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports the latest bi-monthly New South Wales state poll from Resolve Strategic suggests the change of Premier has made next to no difference to voting intention, with the Coalition steady on 41%, Labor up one to 31%, the Greens down one to 10% and Shooters Fishers and Farmers steady on 2%. Dominic Perrottet scores a 34-23 lead over Chris Minns in his first result as preferred premier, compared with Gladys Berejiklian’s lead of 48-21 in her final survey.

Resolve Strategic’s state polls combined the results of two monthly surveys, both having been conducted since Perrottet succeeded Berejiklian on October 5. The more recent round was conducted from Wednesday to Sunday while the earlier round was four weeks previous, each having gauged between 500 and 600 respondents. Alexandra Smith of the Sydney Morning Herald offers sketchy detail on further results from the poll, indicating that Gladys Berejiklian is still held in high regard — more so now indeed than in the final days of her premiership — but that 47% nonetheless feel the Independent Commission Against Corruption “has done important work and should not have its powers reduced”.

Also out overnight was a second Roy Morgan SMS poll in fortnight showing Labor with a crushing lead in Victoria, in this case of 59.5-40.5 on two-party preferred, compared with 58-42 in both the previous Morgan poll and last week’s Newspoll, and 57.3-42.7 at the 2018 election. The primary votes are Labor 45% (up two on the last poll and from 42.9% at the election), the Coalition on 29% (down two and from 35.2% at the election) the Greens on 10.5% (down half and hardly changed from 10.7% at the election) and the United Australia Party on 4% (up one). As Kevin Bonham observes, these primary votes would give Labor an even bigger two-party lead if preference flows from the previous election were applied, of around 61-39.

The poll also credits Daniel Andrews with a 63.5-36.5 approval-disapproval split, compared with 60.5-39.5 a fortnight ago, and finds a 76-24 split in favour of vaccine mandates in the workplace. The poll was conducted yesterday from a sample of 1105.

Save the date

Confusion surrounding the likely date of the New South Wales state by-elections, to add to that we already have about the federal election.

This coming Monday is the last date on which an election can be called for this year, specifically for the December 11 date spruiked recently by Anthony Albanese, which few if any still expect. The parlour game thus seems likely to move on now to the alternative scenarios of March and May. A complication in the former case is a South Australian state election set in the normal course of events for the third Saturday in March, i.e. March 19. If I understand the situation correctly, the South Australian government will have the discretion to delay the election by up to three weeks if a federal election is called before February 19 for a date in March.

Here’s what we do know:

Max Maddison of The Australian reports grumbling within the New South Wales Liberal Party over its failure to have finalised candidates in the important seats of Dobell, Warringah and Gilmore. The report cites Liberal sources, no doubt with an interest in the matter, accusing Alex Hawke of using his clout on state executive to delay proceedings to the advantage of candidates of his centre right faction. “Other senior Liberal sources” contend the problem is “a lack of quality candidates and impending local government elections”. Prospective nominees for Dobell include former test cricketer Nathan Bracken, along with Michael Feneley, a cardiologist who has twice run unsuccessfully in Kingsford Smith, and Jemima Gleeson, owner of a chain of coffee shops.

• Further on Gilmore, the ever-readable Niki Savva reported in her Age/Herald column a fortnight ago that “speculation is rife” that Andrew Constance will not in fact proceed with his bid for preselection, just as he withdrew from contention Eden-Monaro ahead of last year’s by-election. If so, that would seemingly leave the path clear for Shoalhaven Heads lawyer Paul Ell, who is reckoned a formidable opponent to Constance in any case.

• Labor has not been breaking its back to get candidates in place in New South Wales either, with still no sign of progress in the crucial western Sydney fringe seat of Lindsay. However, candidates have recently been confirmed in two Liberal marginals: Zhi Soon, an education policy adviser and former diplomat, in Banks, and Sally Sitou, a University of Sydney doctoral candidate and one-time ministerial staffer, in Reid.

• In Victoria, Labor’s candidate in La Trobe will be Abhimanyu Kumar, owner of a local home building company.

• In an article by Jason Campbell of the Herald Sun, JWS Research says rising poll numbers for Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party are being driven by “skilled labourers and lower-end middle-management”, supplementing an existing support base that had largely been limited to people over 65. Maleness and low education remain common threads.

• An article on the voter identification laws by Graeme Orr of the University of Queensland in The Conversation makes a point I had not previously heard noted: that those who lodge a declaration vote in lieu of providing identification will have no way of knowing if their vote was ultimately admitted to the count. This stands in contrast to some American states, where those who cast the equivalent of postal or absent votes can track their progress online.

New South Wales by-election latest:

• It is now clear that the by-elections will not be held simultaneously with the December 4 local government elections as initially anticipated. The Guardian reports that the state’s electoral commissioner, John Schmidt, told a parliamentary committee hearing yesterday that “it wouldn’t be possible or sensible to try and aim earlier than the middle of February”, in part because the government’s “piecemeal funding” of his agency had left it with inadequate cybersecurity standards.

• Labor has announced it will field a candidate in Bega, making it the only one of the five looming by-elections in which the Coalition and Labor are both confirmed starters. James O’Doherty of the Daily Telegraph (who I hope got paid extra for pointing out that “Labor has chosen to contest the seat despite Leader Chris Minns last month criticising the looming by-election as expensive and unnecessary”) reports nominees for Liberal preselection will include Eurobodalla Shire mayor Liz Innes and, possibly, Bega Valley Shire councillor Mitchell Nadin.

Anton Rose of Inner West Courier reports Liberal hopes in Jodi McKay’s seat of Strathfield are not high, particularly if Burwood mayor John Faker emerges as the Labor candidate, and that the party would “not be mounting a vigorous campaign”. One prospective Liberal nominee is said to be Natalie Baini, a sports administrator who was said earlier in the year to planning a preselection against Fiona Martin in the federal seat of Reid.

Poll news:

• A Redbridge Group poll conducted for Simon Holmes a Court’s Climate 200 non-profit group records Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s primary vote as having slumped from 49.4% in his blue-ribbon Melbourne seat of Kooyong to 38%. With the Greens on 15%, well short of the heights achieved with Julian Burnside as candidate in 2019, such a result would put Frydenberg under pressure from Labor on 31%. Around half of the balance is attributed to the United Australia Party, which seems doubtful in an electorate such as Kooyong. The objective of the poll was to test the waters for a Zali Steggall-like independent challenge, and responses to some rather leading questions indicated that such a candidate would indeed be competitive or better. The survey was conducted from October 16 to 18 by automated phone polling from a sample of 1017.

• Liberal-aligned think tank the Blueprint Institute has results from a YouGov poll on attitudes towards carbon emissions policy, conducted in nine regional electorates from September 28 to October 12 with samples of around 415 each. In spite of everything, these show large majorities in favour of both halving emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050 even in such electorates as Hunter and Capricornia. Even among coal workers (sub-sample size unclear), the results are 63% and 64% respectively.

• The Australia Institute has published its annual Climate of the Nation survey, based on a poll of 2626 respondents conducted by YouGov in August.

• It took me a while to update BludgerTrack with last week’s Resolve Strategic and Roy Morgan results, but now that it’s done, I can exclusively reveal that they made very little difference. Labor is currently credited with a two-party lead of 53.8-46.2.


• Antony Green has published his analysis of the finalised Victorian state redistribution.

Morgan poll, Essential Research voting intention and more

Two more weak sets of voting intention numbers for the government, plus the latest on voter identification and looming New South Wales state by-elections.

Two new bits of federal polling news:

• Roy Morgan’s fortnightly poll has Labor’s two-party lead out from 53-47 to 54-46, from primary votes of Coalition 36.5% (down one), Labor 35% (down one), Greens 13.5% (up two) and One Nation 3.5% (up half). The state breakdowns have Labor leading in New South Wales with 55.5% of the two-party vote (up two on the last poll for a swing of about 7.5% compared with the 2019 election), in Victoria with 56.5% (up half a point for a swing of about 3.5%), in Western Australia with 55% (steady, a swing of about 10.5%) and in Tasmania from a very small sample with 58% (up five, a swing of about 2%). The Coalition leads with 51.5% in both Queensland (down three-and-a-half points, a swing to Labor of about 7%) and, anomalously, South Australia (up six, a swing to the Coalition of about 2%). The poll was conducted over the past two weeks from a sample of 2778.

• Essential Research has at last come good with its occasional dump of voting intention data, providing results from its last nine fortnightly surveys. If the 6% undecided are removed from the equation, and the results are rounded to the nearest half a point, the primary votes convert to Coalition 39.5%, Labor 38.5%, Greens 10.5% and One Nation 3%. If preference flows from 2019 are used, this comes out at around 52-48 in favour of Labor. The pollster’s “2PP+” measure has Labor on 49% and 45%, without allocating the 6% undecided. These numbers are Labor’s strongest over the period covered by the release, which goes back to the start of July.

I’ll finally get around to adding all of this, together with this week’s Resolve Strategic poll, to the BludgerTrack aggregate later today. Also:

• The new voter identification bill was introduced to parliament yesterday and can be viewed here. The Guardian reports Centre Alliance Senator Stirling Griff is “generally supportive”, which could give the government the vote it needs to get it through the Senate together with those of the two One Nation Senators. The report also says Pauline Hanson is claiming credit for the measure, saying she had made it a condition for her party’s support for government legislation lowering the threshold for political campaigners to lodge financial statements conditional. Antony Green’s account of the issue is naturally definitive; Peter Brent also offers his thoughts at Inside Story.

• Julie Owens, who has held the seat of Parramatta for Labor since 2004, has announced she will retire at the election. Joanne Vella of the Parramatta Advertiser reports that Julia Finn, who holds the state seat of Granville, is not ruling out seeking the nomination, potentially setting up yet another state by-election. Durga Owen, criminal lawyer and Western Sydney University lecturer, has confirmed her intention to run.

• Vince Connelly, Liberal member for the soon-to-be-abolished seat of Stirling and unsuccessful preselection candidate for the safe seat of Moore, has confirmed his intention to run for the far less attractive prospect of Cowan, held for Labor by Anne Aly on a post-redistribution margin of 0.9%.

• The Victorian state redistribution has been finalised, and you can read all about it here. I haven’t had time to look at it in any depth, but you can join in a discussion about it on the Victorian Resolve Strategic poll thread that went up yesterday.

New South Wales by-election latest:

• Andrew Constance has announced he will not resign from his New South Wales state seat of Bega until November 26, which, as Antony Green notes, means the by-election for the seat is unlikely to be held this year, and certainly not on December 4, which has been mooted as the date for a “super Saturday” of by-elections coinciding with the state’s local government elections. Indeed, it does not seem that any of the members who have announced their imminent departures has actually formally resigned yet.

• A third contender has emerged for the Liberal preselection in Willoughby to succeed Gladys Berejiklian in Kellie Sloane, former host of the Today Show and Seven Sunrise. The other two contenders are Willoughby mayor Gail Giles-Gidney and Menzies Research Centre executive general manager Tim James, although a senior Liberal quoted by James O’Doherty of the Daily Telegraph describes the latter as “not a viable option” since he could potentially lose the seat.

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.