Advertiser: 56-44 to Labor in SA

The Adelaide Advertiser has published a poll on South Australian state voting intention from a sample of 522, showing Labor leading the Liberals 56-44 on two-party preferred. After distribution of the 12 per cent undecided, Labor leads 43 per cent to 37 per cent on the primary vote. Breakdowns between city and country show Labor leading 57-43 outside Adelaide. However, the previous Advertiser poll published last September had the Liberals leading in the country 58-42, pointing to a scarcely credible 15 point turn-around – although the earlier poll had a total sample of just 365. Martin Hamilton-Smith is far ahead of his party rivals as preferred Liberal leader.

Morgan: 57-43

The latest weekly Morgan face-to-face survey of 883 voters shows Labor’s two-party lead down from 60.5-39.5 to 57-43. Labor’s primary vote is down two points to 48.5 per cent, the Coalition’s is up substantially from 34.5 per cent to 39 per cent, and the Greens are down two to 6 per cent. Between Morgan, Newspoll and Essential Research, there is now significant evidence that some of the gloss has come off the extraordinary spike Labor enjoyed from its response to the global financial crisis.

Elsewhere:

• The Geelong Advertiser reports on the federal Liberal preselection for Corangamite. Prospective nominees: former Kennett government minister Ian Smith, “considering his position”; Graham Harris, head of the party’s Corangamite electorate council; Victorian Farmers Federation president Simon Ramsay; “Moriac district resident” Rod Nockles; Simon Price, unsuccessful Colac Otway Shire Council candidate and former electorate officer Stewart McArthur who lost the seat in 2007.

• Mark Kenny of The Advertiser reports that “pressure is mounting inside the Liberal Party to dump its candidate for the state seat of Newland, Trish Draper”. Draper was federal member for Makin from 1996 to 2007, when she forestalled what seemed to be very likely defeat by retiring. Draper is seen to have been damaged by reports an ex-boyfriend has been identified as a suspect in a murder investigation, which is currently the subject of a defamation case. A Liberal source quoted by Kenny says Right faction powerbroker Senator Nick Minchin has told Opposition Leader Martin Hamilton-Smith to dump her.

• The ABC reports “speculation” that Premier David Bartlett is “planning to visit Tasmania’s Governor on Monday and send Tasmania to the polls as early as April 18”, resulting from the government’s failure to table long-promised legislation to enact fixed four-year terms. Bartlett denies this, and he would have to be pretty silly to ignore the still-accumulating evidence that unnecessary early elections are a bad idea.

• The ABC reports that Labor is courting Beaconsfield mine disaster survivor Brant Webb as a possible state election candidate for Bass.

• An interim report by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters recommends an end to trials of electronic voting for the vision-impaired and overseas defence personnel on the grounds it is too expensive. The report said the 850 votes cast electronically in 2007 cost $2597 each, compared with $8.36 for each non-electronic vote. A dissenting report by Bob Brown argues the government should pursue electronic voting to assist disadvantaged voters, and investigate its use in the Australian Capital Territory and overseas.

• The Australian Parliamentary Library has published papers on women parliamentarians in Australia and the possibility of dedicated indigenous representation, a la the Maori seats in New Zealand.

Morgan: 60.5-39.5

Morgan’s latest polling release covers 955 respondents from last weekend’s face-to-face surveys, and shows Labor’s two-party lead down from 61.5-38.5 to 60.5-39.5. Labor’s primary vote is down a point to 50.5 per cent, and the Coalition’s is up 1.5 per cent to 34.5 per cent. On top of which:

• Silly Steve Fielding joined with the Coalition on Wednesday to vote down government electoral reforms that would tie public funding for election candidates to their electoral expenditure, lower the threshold for disclosure of donations to $1000 from $10,000 (which the Howard government used its Senate majority to jack it up to), ban foreign donations and anonymous donations of over $50, and require parties to disclose donations every six months rather than annually. The sticking point is Fielding’s insistence that the government also arbitrarily cap public funding to political parties at $10 million. The bill was reintroduced to the House yesterday.

Submissions have been published in response to the federal government’s green paper on donations, funding and expenditure.

• Responding to mounting speculation she will take on Don Randall in Canning at the next federal election, senior Gallop/Carpenter government minister Alannah MacTiernan tells The West Australian: “It’s something that I’d consider but it’s far too early. The election is a long way away and it’s not something a decision can be made on until early next year.”

• The South Australian Liberals have picked a new candidate for the state seat of Mawson to replace former Kingston MHR Kym Richardson, who was charged in December with attempting to pervert the course of justice by impersonating a police officer. Matthew Donovan, described by the local Southern Times Messenger newspaper as a “self-employed importer and property developer”, won preselection ahead of Heidi Harris, adviser to Shadow Transport Minister Duncan McFetridge and unsuccessful candidate for federal preselection in Mayo; Heidi Greaves, public servant, former Onkaparinga councillor and unsuccessful candidate for Elder; and Alana Sparrow, Housing Industry Association lawyer and former media adviser to Richardson.

• The Daily Telegraph reports that NSW Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell “will hire a team of constitutional lawyers to explore recall provisions to end fixed four-year terms for incompetent governments”. This would involve provisions for the Governor to “sack a corrupt or useless government” if called on to do so by public petitions, presumably in a fashion similar to that which brought Arnold Schwarzenegger to power in California. UPDATE: More from a skeptical Imre Salusinszky at The Australian.

• Chris Back this week took his place in the Senate, filling the vacancy created by the departure of Western Australian Liberal Chris Ellison.

Morgan: 59.5-40.5

Not exactly hot off the presses with this one, but Friday’s poll from Roy Morgan (who seem to have returned to their weekly polling habits of old) has Labor’s two-party lead at 59.5-40.5 compared with 60-40 the previous week. The primary vote movements are bigger than you would expect from this: Labor is down 2.5 per cent to 49 per cent, and the Coalition is up 1 per cent to 36.5 per cent. The slack is taken up by “independent/others”, up from 3.5 per cent to 6 per cent. Perhaps South Australians are telling survey takers they’ll vote for Nick Xenophon. Elsewhere:

• Speculation continues to mount that former WA Health Minister and Attorney-General Jim McGinty (left) will shortly be calling it a day, initiating a by-election in Fremantle to coincide with the state’s May 16 daylight saving referendum. On ABC television news, Peter Kennedy reported that rumoured preselection contender Peter Tagliaferri (right) met with McGinty and ALP state secretary Simon Mead to “discuss the possible vacancy”. However, Alan Carpenter is offering point-blank denials to speculation he might also vacate his seat of Willagee, which puts the prospect of a dangerous preselection stoush between Tagliaferri and LHMWU state secretary Dave Kelly back on the agenda. Steve Grant of the Fremantle Herald reports:

Alan Carpenter says he will remain in state parliament till the next election. He ruled out the possibility of a by-election for his safe Labor seat of Willagee … He shrugged off speculation that he and Fremantle MP Jim McGinty were contemplating mid-term retirement to make way for new Labor blood, “you might not believe me, but often I’m the last person to hear about these things”. It seems Jandakot Liberal MP Joe Francis could be more tuned in to Labor machinations than the former premier, becoming the third person to tell the Herald that LHMWU secretary Dave Kelly was being groomed to take over a Labor seat.

• What’s more, Robert Taylor of The West Australian has mused on the possibility of star Gallop/Carpenter government minister Alannah MacTiernan moving to federal politics by taking on Don Randall in Canning, where redistribution has shaved the Liberal margin from 5.6 per cent to 4.3 per cent.

• Staying in WA, the Liberal Party is having an interesting time dealing with jockeying ahead of preselection for the safe southern suburbs seat of Tangney. Sitting member Dennis Jensen (left) lost the preselection vote ahead of the last election to Matt Brown, former chief-of-staff to Defence Minister Robert Hill, but the result was overturned by prime ministerial fiat. As Robert Taylor puts it, “this time there’s no John Howard and Dr Jensen looks decidedly shaky”. Against this backdrop, local Liberal branches have been inundated with membership applications from “Muslim men”, who are believed – certainly by the Brown camp – to be enthusiasts for the incumbent. A compromise reached at the state executive saw admission granted to half the applicants, who can apparently thank Julie Bishop for arguing that “many of her east coast colleagues with big Muslim populations in their electorates were nervous about the outcome”. Taylor says a Brown supporter told him “the new members were associated with ‘strident anti-Israel statements’ from the Australian National Imams Council”.

• With independent MP Rory McEwen to call it a day, the Liberals would be pencilling in his seat of Mount Gambier as a soft target at next year’s state election. However, the Border Watch reports Liberal candidate Steve Perryman, the mayor of Mount Gambier, might face an independent challenge from Don Pegler, the mayor of Grant District Council, who has perhaps been inspired by Geoff Brock’s boilover in Frome. Grant covers the electorate’s extensive rural areas outside of the City of Mount Gambier, although the latter accounts for three times as many voters.

Andrew Landeryou at VexNews offers a colourful and detailed account of the gruelling Liberal preselection jockeying in Kooyong.

• Landeryou also notes conflicting reports on the prospect of a Right-backed preselection challenge by Noel McCoy against Phillip Ruddock in Berowra.

• Andrew Leigh and Mark McLeish have published a paper at Australian Policy Online which asks a most timely question: Are State Elections Affected by the National Economy? Using data from 191 state elections, they find a positive correlation between low unemployment and success for the incumbent, “with each additional percentage point of unemployment (or each percentage point increase over the cycle) reducing the incumbent’s re-election probability by 3-5 percentage points”. Furthermore, “what matters most is not the performance of the state economy relative to the national economy, but the state economy itself”. That being so, it seems voters “systematically commit attribution errors – giving state leaders too much blame when their economy is in recession, and too much credit when it is booming”.

• The Parliamentary Library has published a note on the redistribution of WA’s federal electorates.

Essential Research: 61-39

Newspoll seems to have taken the week off, but there’s always Essential Research, which has Labor’s lead up to 61-39 from 60-40 last week. Also featured are questions on becoming a republic within the next few years (52 per cent support, 24 per cent oppose – the latter sounds a bit low), whether Australia should agree to allow Japan to conduct whaling if it limits its activities to the northern hemisphere (10 per cent agree, 81 per cent disagree), “how would you rate your loyalty to your employer” and “how would you rate your employer’s loyalty to staff”. Furthermore:

• The silly season endeth – Kerry O’Brien and Lateline are back, and parliaments federal, Victorian and South Australian resume today.

• The Australian Workers Union has released a comprehensive survey of workers’ attitudes to the global financial crisis, derived from 1016 interviews conducted by Auspoll. The headline finding is that 40 per cent fear losing their jobs in the next year.

• Parties’ disclosures of receipts, expenditure and debts are available for perusal at the Australian Electoral Commission, at least so far as donations of over $10,500 are concerned. Siobhain Ryan and Imre Salusinszky of The Australian and Bernard Keane of Crikey sift through the evidence; the latter also opens fire on the Coalition over its obstruction of legislation reversing the 2005 disclosure threshold hike. Keane notes that one travesty can’t be pinned on the previous government: that we have had to wait until February 2009 to find out what went on at an election held in November 2007. Anyone who imagines this has something to do with logistics should consider the practice in New York City, where donations have to be declared before election day and “made public immediately on a searchable, online database”.

• Antony Green returns from a fortnight in the wilderness (literally) with a belated post-mortem on the Liberals’ defeat in South Australia’s Frome by-election. As I suspected, independent Geoff Brock owes his win to a peculiarity of the state’s electoral system that saves ballot papers with incomplete preferences by assigning them the preferences officially lodged by their favoured candidate. Without this provision, 258 ballots that were thus admitted the day after polling day would have been informal, leaving Brock 38 votes behind Labor at the second last count rather than 30 votes ahead. Another issue has been brought to my attention by Kevin Bonham, who points to the fact that a certain number of Liberal voters harmed their candidate’s chances by voting Liberal rather than Labor. If 31 such voters had tactically switched to Labor, Brock would have been excluded and the distribution of his preferences would have given victory to Liberal candidate Terry Boylan. Public choice theorists call this flaw in preferential voting “non-monotonicity”, which is elaborated upon here (although Bonham reckons “some of their worked examples are wrong”).

• Antony also gets in early with a preview of Western Australia’s May 18 daylight saving referendum, which combines customary psephological insight with a keen eye for the state’s lifestyle peculiarities.

• Former Labor MLA Kathryn Hay will run as an independent for the Tasmanian upper house division of Windermere (extending from the outskirts of Launceston north to the proposed site of Gunns’ Bell Bay pulp mill), challenging independent incumbent Ivan Dean at the poll likely to be held on May 2. Peter Tucker at Tasmanian Politics reports that one of the the other two seats up for election, the Devonport-based division of Mersey, looms as a clash between Latrobe mayor Mike Gaffney and Devonport mayor Lyn Laycock. Mersey is being vacated by retiring independent Norma Jamieson.

• Staying in Tasmania, a recount has confirmed that the last remaining Labor candidate in Franklin from the 2006 election, Daniel Hulme, will assume the lower house seat vacated by former Tourism Minister Paula Wriedt.

• Mining magnate and former National Party director Clive Palmer is making himself visible as the Queensland state election approaches, having been profiled last week on The 7.30 Report and in a cover story for The Weekend Australian Magazine. The latest salvo in Palmer’s charm offensive is a demand of $1 million in damages for defamation from Anna Bligh, who said there was “something just not right about one billionaire owning their own political party” (the annual financial disclosures discussed previously list $600,000 in donations from Palmer to the Liberal and National parties). Sean Parnell’s Weekend Australian piece describes Palmer as a “notorious litigant”, who “once listed it as a hobby in his Who’s Who entry”. Palmer’s 18-year-old son Michael has been preselected as the Liberal National Party candidate for the safe Labor seat of Nudgee.

Rick Wallace of The Australian reports that Nationals-turned-Liberal Senator Julian McGauran will face a number of challengers in his bid for one of the two safe seats on the Victorian Senate ticket, with other incumbent Michael Ronaldson “widely expected to claim top spot”. The field includes prominent Peter Costello supporter Ross Fox, barrister Caroline Kenny and solicitor Cate Dealehr. Other names mentioned by Andrew Landeryou’s VexNews are Terry Barnes, a “former Tony Abbott adviser”, and Owen Lysaght, who ran as an independent in Chisholm in 2004.

Essential Research: 60-40

This week’s Essential Research survey has Labor’s lead at 60-40, up from 59-41 last week. Also featured are interesting findings on development of nuclear power plants for electricity generation (43 per cent support, 35 per cent oppose) and whether Australia has an obligation to dispose of nuclear waste from countries it exports uranium to (26 per cent agree, 53 per cent disagree), along with perceptions of the Australian-US relationship and a quiz question on Australia Day (which makes me wonder how many answered without recourse to Google). Other news:

• The South Australian Liberals have suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of independent Geoff Brock in the Frome by-election following Saturday’s distribution of preferences. Crikey subscribers can read my post-mortem here, and a still lively discussion is raging on my live coverage post. The Advertiser reports that Brock’s success might give other potential independent candidates ideas, including “ALP stalwarts such as Rod Sawford and Murray Delaine”, who were respectively Labor members for the federal seat of Port Adelaide and the state seat of Cheltenham. Liberal leader Martin Hamilton-Smith says he is “ready to make deals with any independent candidate who ran next year in safe Labor seats such as Port Adelaide, Croydon, Lee and Colton”.

• Speculation about an early Queensland election continues to stop and start. Mark Bahnisch of Larvatus Prodeo says the Courier-Mail has damaged its credibility with its repeated wolf-crying on the subject, while The Australian’s D. D. McNicoll contends that “the whisper in Queensland political circles is Premier Anna Bligh will call the state election on February 28, a date that ensures bumper superannuation payouts for all the surviving members of the ALP’s ‘Class of 2001’ who were never expected to serve more than one term in parliament.” “Former Howard government senior adviser” David Moore surveys the landscape in The Australian.

• The NSW Nationals’ plans to select a candidate in a winnable seat for the 2011 state election by holding an open primary has caught the attention of blogger Tim Andrews, who is “unsure why this proposal hasn’t received more attention, as it has the potential to revolutionise Australian politics”. Ben Raue at The Tally Room reckons the idea is “at least a good gimmick”. The Nationals’ briefing paper on the subject can be read here.

• Western Australia’s daylight saving referendum will be held on May 16. Daylight saving was previously voted down in 1975 (53.66 per cent against), 1984 (54.35 per cent) and 1992 (53.14 per cent).

Newspoll: 54-46 to Labor in SA

Mike Rann’s South Australian government has joined in on the end-of-year Newspoll fun, bouncing back in the latest quarterly survey to the 54-46 lead it enjoyed in April-June before slumping to 50-50 in July-September. However, it owes the recovery to preferences from the Greens, who have soared five points to 13 per cent directly at the expense of the Liberals, who have slumped to 35 per cent (UPDATE: Hair-splitters in comments resent the implication that Liberal votes have gone to the Greens. This is obviously not so). Labor’s primary vote is up one to 39 per cent. Rann’s approval rating is up three points to 44 per cent, while his disapproval is down six to 39 per cent. Liberal leader Martin Hamilton-Smith’s ratings are 43 per cent (steady) and 26 per cent (down five), but he is down four points as preferred premier to 26 per cent, with Rann up two to 50 per cent.

UPDATE: The following charts track Labor’s two-party vote and the various leaders’ approval ratings since the federal election. Western Australia has been excluded partly due to incomplete data, but mostly because of the complication of the change of government.

As I’ve noted previously, federal Labor’s vote has very closely tracked Kevin Rudd’s approval rating except since Malcolm Turnbull became Liberal leader, since which time it has increased less sharply (the most recent poll notwithstanding). This can be chalked up as a win of sorts for Turnbull. The other thing the data strongly suggests is that the end-of-year boom in the federal government’s popularity has pulled up the various state governments, whose improved performances bear no relation to their leaders’ approval ratings. I would infer from this that the governments in question shouldn’t get too comfortable.

Sunday Mail: Labor “holding firm” in SA marginals

Adelaide’s Sunday Mail newspaper has conducted a poll of 1600 voters across the state seats of Mawson, Adelaide and Light, which shows much more encouraging results for Labor than recent surveys from Newspoll and The Advertiser. Labor is reportedly set to increase its 2.2 per cent margin in Mawson to 6 per cent and its 2.4 per cent margin in Light to 5 per cent, while in Adelaide its margin is set to be cut only from 10.2 per cent to 9 per cent.