Affairs of state

One finely crafted electoral news item for every state (and territory) that is or might ever conceivably have been part of our great nation.

A bone for every dog in the federation kennel:

New South Wales

Gladys Berejiklian has backed a move for the Liberal Party to desist from endorsing or financially supporting candidates in local government elections, reportedly to distance the state government from adverse findings arising from Independent Commission Against Corruption investigations into a number of councils. Many in the party are displeased with the idea, including a source cited by Linda Silmalis of the Daily Telegraph, who predicted “world war three” because many MPs relied on councillors to organise their numbers at preselections.

Victoria

The second biggest story in the politics of Victoria over the past fortnight has been the expose of the activities of Liberal Party operator Marcus Bastiaan by the Nine newspaper-and-television news complex, a neat counterpoint to its similar revelations involving Labor powerbroker Adem Somyurek in June. The revelations have been embarrassing or worse for federal MPs Michael Sukkar and Kevin Andrews, with the former appearing to have directed the latter’s electorate office staff to spend work time on party factional activities.

Together with then state party president Michael Kroger, Bastiaan was instrumental in establishing a conservative ascendancy with help from Bastiaan’s recruitment of members from Mormon churches and the Indian community. Having installed ally Nick Demiris as campaign director, Bastiaan’s fingerprints were on the party’s stridently conservative campaign at the 2018 state election, which yielded the loss of 11 lower house Coalition seats. Religious conservatives led by Karina Okotel, now a federal party vice-president, then split from the Bastiaan network, complaining their numbers had been used to buttress more secular conservatives.

The Age’s report noted that “in the days leading up to the publication of this investigation, News Corporation mastheads have run stories attacking factional opponents of Mr Bastiaan and Mr Sukkar”. Presumably related to this was a report on Okotel’s own party activities in The Australian last weekend, which was long on emotive adjectives but short on tangible allegations of wrongdoing, beyond her having formed an alliance with factional moderates after the split.

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Preselections, defections and state elections

Jockeying begins in earnest for Liberal preselections in Warringah and for the Tasmanian Senate ticket, and a new milestone in the decomposition of Nick Xenophon’s party.

There probably won’t be any polls this week, with the fortnightly Essential Research and tri-weekly Newspoll having dropped last week. But there will of course be a Northern Territory election on Saturday, which is the subject of its own thread here.

Other news:

Sue Bailey of the Launceston Examiner reports that Eric Abetz is expected to retain the top position on the Tasmanian Liberals’ Senate ticket at the next election, contrary to earlier reports that Jonathan Duniam was planning to topple him, after the two “kissed and made up”. However, the report further says that “another senior Liberal” is doing the numbers for the third candidate who will be seeking re-election, Wendy Askew, who filled the Senate vacancy created last year when her brother, David Bushby, took up a diplomatic post in the United States. Also: “It is believed Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants the pre-selection delayed until next year so as not to be a distraction during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Michael Koziol of the Age/Herald has a story on the willing Liberal preselection contest in Warringah, which Tony Abbott lost to independent Zali Steggall at last year’s election. Abbott loyalists are said to be advancing the claim of Sacha Grebe, a former Scott Morrison staffer and employee of lobbying firm DPG Advisory, whose principal is David Gazard, a Morrison ally and candidate for Eden-Monaro in 2010. Grebe backer and local party activist Walter Villatora is engaged in a seemingly forlorn bid to have the preselection held as soon as possible. Others said to be in the hunt are “state MP Natalie Ward, state executive member Alex Dore and Menzies Research Centre manager Tim James”.

• There has been a change in the party balance of the Senate with Rex Patrick’s resignation from the Centre Alliance to sit as an independent. The Advertiser ($) has also reported the party’s two remaining members, Stirling Griff in the Senate and Mayo MP Rebekha Sharkie, are the subject of approaches from Liberals to defect to the party, although the notion is meeting bitter resistance from conservatives.

• The results of Tasmania’s recent upper house elections have been finalised, and as expected have resulted in the election of Labor’s Bastian Seidel in the seat of Huon south of Hobart, and of Liberal candidate Jo Palmer in Rosevears. The former was achieved over independent incumbent Robert Armstrong by the comfortable margin of 7.3% at the final count (12,284 votes to 9,152), but the latter proved a close run thing, with Jo Palmer landing 260 votes clear of independent candidate Janie Finlay, 11,492 votes (50.6%) or 11,232 (49.4%).

Tasmanian upper house elections: Huon and Rosevears

A look at the two contests to be decided on Saturday for seats in Tasmania’s Legislative Council.

Live commentary

Final for night. Labor’s Bastian Seidel appears headed for a comfortable win over independent incumbent Robert Armstrong in Huon, who he has outpolled 31.4% to 19.0%, with the Greens on 17.2% and conservative independent Dean Harriss on 16.3%. According to Kevin Bonham in comments, preferences from the Greens are flowing to Labor with such force that preferences overall are likely to increase rather than reduce Seidel’s existing margin. Conversely, Rosevears, which is being vacated by a retiring independent, might be won either by Liberal candidate Jo Palmer, on 41.4%, or independent Janie Finlay, on 30.8%. Labor’s candidate made no impression, polling 9.1%, with the Greens on 7.3% and the remainder divided between two independents.

9.25pm. The postals are in from Huon, and independent incumbent Robert Armstrong has moved to second place with 19.0%, with the Greens on 17.2% and Dean Harriss on 16.3%, but Labor’s Bastian Seidel still well in the lead on 31.4%. Presumably that will mean a final count between Seidel and Armstrong, with the former’s lead still looking insurmountable.

9.19pm. That pretty much is all the pre-polls actually, except out-of-division ones, which will be negligible.

9.13pm. The promised batch of around 5000 postals has been added in Rosevears, and both seats have had pre-polls added, though I’m presuming not all of them. These have only slightly improved Liberal candidate Jo Palmer’s lead over independent Janie Finlay in Rosevears, which is now at 41.4% to 30.8%. Voters in these elections can number as few as three boxes, so around 10% of preferences exhaust. That leaves Finlay needing a bit more than 70% of allocated preferences, which seems doable, although Palmer may be more popular with minor party voters than the average Liberal. The pre-polls in Huon haven’t changed the situation much.

8.00pm. All booths now in from Rosevears, Palmer’s lead at 30.0% to 16.4%.

7.52pm. Kevin Bonham, who follows all this a lot more closely than I do, says around 5000 postals will be added in each seat later tonight, which should add around a third to the vote totals when they happen. Postals tend to favour major parties, so Jo Palmer (Rosevears) and especially Bastian Seidel (Huon) should still be rated the front-runners. Still one more booth to report from Rosevears.

7.43pm. All but one booth now in from Rosevears — my contention that the Launceston booths might favour Janie Finlay isn’t being borne out, with Jo Palmer now leading 40.3% to 30.7%.

7.38pm. All booths are now in from Huon, and the situation is much as per my last update, except that Labor are back above 30% now. A point I’ve been failing to emphasise throughout this is that there has been a big increase in postal and pre-poll voting. I can’t see that changing the dynamic in Huon, but Rosevears remains up in the air.

7.33pm. Only Blackmans Bay remain to be added in Huon. Labor’s vote is now inside 30% at 29.4%, and the Greens are inside 20% at 19.7%, while little separates incumbent Robert Armstrong and conservative independent Dean Harriss, both a bit below 17%. I would guess that one of the latter two will make it to second place on the other’s preferences, but Greens preferences would then have to behave very strangely to deny Labor a win.

7.30pm. Eleven booths in now from Rosevears, with another two to come (both in Launceston and probably quite big), and Palmer’s lead has actually widened to 41.8% to 30.7%.

7.28pm. Sixteen out of 19 booths in from Huon, situation there much as before.

7.21pm. Now eight booths in from Rosevears, and there has been a significant break in favour of Liberal candidate Jo Palmer, who leads independent Janie Finlay 40.2% to 32.3%. However, the outstanding booths are mostly in Launceston, which is Finlay’s council turf. Too close to call.

7.11pm. A fifth booth in from Rosevears brings a slight narrowing in Jo Palmer’s lead, now at 37.3% to Janie Finlay’s 36.1%, meaning the latter still looks a likely winner to me.

7.04pm. Fourteen booths out of 19 now in from Huon, Greens now down to 19.7% but otherwise only small changes.

7.00pm. With 10 booths in out of 19, the order in Huon is now Labor (30.7%), Greens (21.2%), Armstrong (16.2%), Harriss (14.8%). It may be that Armstrong is appreciating as the urban end of the electorate comes in, but it’s still hard to see how he overcomes the combination of Labor and any normal-looking preference flow from the Greens.

6.56pm. Four booths in from Rosevears, which is very much a two-horse race between Liberal candidate Jo Palmer on 39.6% and independent Janie Finlay on 37.1%. Palmer would need the gap to be wider than that to hold out what will presumably be a strong flow of preferences to Finlay.

6.52pm. Seven booths in now from Huon, and Labor has softened to 30.1%. Greens candidate Pat Caruana doing well with 23.7%, though presumably not well enough. My guess is that there will be reasonably tight preferences between Robert Armstrong and Dean Harriss, both of whom are a bit below 15%, such that one or the other will finish second, but that Greens preferences will ultimately decide the contest for Labor. However, there will be a lot of variables in play requiring local knowledge that I’m not on top of.

6.46pm. First results from Huon are no less surprising, and in this case far happier for Labor. With five booths in, independent incumbent Robert Armstrong is running fourth on 14.9%, and the Labor candidate is well in the lead with 35.4%. Pat Caruana of the Greens is second on 16.5%, Liberal-friendly independent Dean Harriss third on 15.4%.

6.43pm. Two booths in from Rosevears (Kelso and Prospect), showing remarkably weak results for Labor, who are on all of 9.0%. This looks like a contest between the Liberal candidate, Jo Palmer, and independent Janie Finlay, who are on 40.5% and 36.0% respectively.

6.08pm. Make that 45 minutes, because the TEC advises that COVID-19 measures should delay results by around 15 minutes.

6pm. Polls have closed. I guess we’ll get results from some of the smaller booths in Rosevears in about half an hour — this is the more interesting of the two contests for mine, as in the absence of any reason to think differently, I would expect Robert Armstrong to win comfortably in Huon. I’ve got a spreadsheet set up to calculate projections in Rosevears by comparing booth results with equivalents from the federal election, inclusive of a two-party projection, assuming the Labor and Liberal candidates are indeed the ones that make it to the final count.

Overview

The periodical elections for Tasmania’s Legislative Council, normally scheduled for early May but held off on this occasion due to COVID-19, will finally be held on Saturday. The members of the 15-seat chamber are elected annually two or three seats at a time over a six-year cycle. A related feature of the chamber is that it is dominated by independents, with elections often having more of the character of local government elections than highly charged partisan affairs. The Liberals have generally been more relaxed about this state of affairs — as Kevin Bonham puts it, the party “doesn’t run against incumbents who don’t annoy it”. Labor currently holds four seats in the chamber, all of them in and around Hobart, and the Liberals hold two regional seats.

The two seats up for election tomorrow are both held by independents, one of whom is seeking re-election and the other is retiring. Both major parties are contesting the vacant seat, but the Liberals are leaving the field free to the incumbent in the other.

Huon

Candidates in ballot paper order: Debbie Louise Armstrong (Independent); Robert Armstrong (Independent); Garrick Cameron (Shooters Fishers Farmers); Pat Caruana (Greens); Dean Harriss (Independent); Bastian Seidel (Labor).

Huon covers the southernmost parts of Tasmania including Blackmans Bay and Margate on Hobart’s southern outskirts, small towns to the south including Huonville and Cygnet, and the unpopulated southern part of the World Heritage area in the state‚Äôs south-west. Seeking re-election is independent Robert Armstrong, who came to the seat at the previous election in May 2014 after being mayor of Huon Valley since 2001.

The seat was vacated in 2014 after Peter Harriss, who had held the seat since 1996 as an independent, was elected as a Liberal for the lower house division of Franklin at the state election the previous March. The highest profile candidate in 2014 was the endorsed Liberal, Peter Hodgman, the 67-year-old uncle of Will Hodgman and the younger brother of his father, the late Michael Hodgman. Hodgman led the primary vote from a field of seven candidates with 26.1%, but preferences flowed to Armstrong with sufficient strength to give him a 6.9% winning margin at the final count, off a primary vote base of 20.4%.

Kevin Bonham’s monitoring of parliamentary votes leads him to conclude that Armstrong is a “conservative independent who usually votes with the Liberal Party”, which no doubt explains the party’s decision not to field a candidate. This leaves Armstrong facing Bastian Seidel of Labor, a general practitioner; Pat Caruana of the Greens, a former journalist and current staffer to Senator Nick McKim; Garrick Cameron of Shooters Fishers Farmers, a rough-as-guts social media celebrity; and two rival independents. The latter are Dean Harriss, a Huonville builder and the son of Paul Harriss, and Debbie Armstrong, a Huonville hairdresser and distant relative of the incumbent.

Rosevears

Candidates in ballot paper order: Jack Davenport (Greens); Janie Finlay (Independent); David Fry (Independent); Vivienne Gale (Independent); Jess Greene (Labor); Jo Palmer (Liberal).

Rosevears includes the western suburbs of Launceston, which provide about 60% of its voters, and extends north-westwards to the coast through rural territory on the western bank of the Tamar River, encompassing the mining town of Beaconsfield and nearby Beauty Point. It will be vacated at the election with the retirement of Kerry Finch, who came to the seat in 2002 after building a high profile in 24 years as a local ABC Radio presenter. The 2014 election was a two-horse race between Finch and Liberal candidate Don Morris, but the latter’s attempt to portray Finch as being “just like the Greens” failed to prevent Finch winning re-election with 60.3% of the vote.

In Finch’s absence, each of the three main players in Tasmanian party politics are in the field: Jo Palmer, former Seven Network newsreader, for the Liberals; Jess Greene, West Tamar councillor and Community and Public Sector organiser, for Labor; and Jack Davenport, a social worker, for the Greens. There are three independents: Janie Finlay, who has been on Launceston City Council since 2000, and was mayor from 2002 to 2005; David Fry, a Cricket Tasmania administrator who held a lower house seat in Bass as a Liberal from 2000 to 2002; and Vivienne Gale, a self-storage business owner with conservative political views.

Newspoll state leaders and coronavirus polling

Persistent high ratings all round for state Premiers and the Prime Minister amid the coronavirus crisis, but signs the current Victorian outbreak may have cost Daniel Andrews some shine.

Courtesy of The Australian, Newspoll offers a repeat of an exercise conducted two months ago in which a large national sample is polled to produce state-level results on the popularity of premiers as well as the Prime Minister, both generally and in their dealings with the coronavirus. While the results are positive all round, they find Daniel Andrews falling from a top tier that continues to include Peter Gutwein, Mark McGowan and Steven Marshall, bringing him about level with Gladys Berejiklian but still clear of Annastacia Palaszczuk.

Andrews was down eight on approval to 67% and up ten on disapproval to 27%, while Berejiklian was down one to 68% and up three to 26%. Allowing for small sample sizes in the smaller states, Peter Gutwein took the lead (up six on approval to 90% and down three on disapproval to 8%) from Mark McGowan (down one to 88% and up three on 9%). Despite continuing to trail the pack, Palaszczuk recorded the best improvement with a four point increase in approval to 59% and a four point drop on disapproval to 35%.

However, Palaszczuk remains the only Premier with a weaker net approval rating in their state than Scott Morrison, who according to the poll has strengthened in Queensland (by five on approval to 72%, and down four on disapproval to 24%) but weakened everywhere else (approval down six to 61% and disapproval up five to 35% in New South Wales; down seven to 65% and up four to 30% in Victoria; down three to 67% and up two to 29% in South Australia; down three to 70% and up three to 26% in Western Australia; down four to 60% and up six to 37% in Tasmania).

Andrews’ deterioration on approval is more than matched on the question of handling of coronavirus, on which he now trails out of the Premiers with 72% for well (down 13 points) and 25% for badly (up 14). This pushes him behind Berejiklian (up two to 79% and down two to 16%), Palaszczuk (up four to 76% and down one to 22%) and Marshall (up five to 87% and down two to 9%). Still clear of the field are McGowan and Gutwein, who are tied at 93% well (down one for McGowan, up four for Gutwein) and 5% badly (up one and down three). Scott Morrison’s ratings on this score are little changed, and remarkably consistent from state to state — Queensland and South Australia are his best with 84% well and 14% poorly apiece, but his weakest result, in New South Wales, is still 79% well and 18% badly.

The poll was conducted from a national sample of 2949, ranging from 526 in Victoria to 309 in Tasmania.

The week that was

Party turmoil in Victoria and Queensland, state and territory seat entitlements for the next federal parliament determined, and more polling on attitudes to demonstrations in the United States.

After a particularly eventful week, a whole bunch of electorally relevant news to report:

• The last official population updates have confirmed next month’s official determination of how many seats each state and territory will be entitled to in the next parliament will cause the abolition of seats in Western Australia and the Northern Territory, and the creation of a new one in Victoria for the second consecutive term. Antony Green offers detailed consideration of how the redistributions might look, suggesting Victoria’s will most likely result in the creation of another safe Labor seat in Melbourne’s outer north-west, while Western Australia’s could either mash together Hasluck and Burt in eastern Perth, or abolish the safe Liberal south-of-the-river seat of Tangney, with knock-on effects that would weaken Labor’s position in Fremantle and/or Burt.

• In the wake of the 60 Minutes/The Age expose on Adem Somyurek’s branch stacking activities on Sunday, Labor’s national executive has taken control of all the Victorian branch’s federal and state preselections for the next three years. Steve Bracks and Jenny Macklin have been brought in to serve as administrators until January, and an audit of the branch’s 16,000 members will be conducted to ensure that are genuine consenting members and paid their own fees.

• Ipsos has published polling on the recent demonstrations in the United States from fifteen countries, which found Australians to be supportive of what were specified as “peaceful protests in the US” and disapproving of Donald Trump’s handling of them, although perhaps in slightly lesser degree than other more liberal democracies. Two outliers were India and Russia, which produced some seemingly anomalous results: the former had a strangely high rating for Trump and the latter relatively low support for the protests, yet both were uniquely favourable towards the notion that “more violent protests are an appropriate response”.

• The Tasmanian government has announced the periodical Legislative Council elections for the seats of Huon and Rosevears will be held on August 1, having been delayed from their normally allotted time of the first Tuesday in May.

In Queensland, where the next election is a little over four months away:

• After floating the possibility of an election conducted entirely by post, the Queensland government announced this week that the October 31 state election will be conducted in a more-or-less normal fashion. However, pre-poll voting is being all but actively encouraged, to the extent that Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath says there will be an “election period” rather than an election day. This will mean “more pre-poll locations, longer pre-poll hours, and more pre-poll voting days in the two weeks prior to the election”.

• The Liberal National Party opposition was thrown into turmoil last week after the Courier-Mail ($) received internal polling showing Labor leading 51-49 in Redlands, 52-48 in Gaven, 55-45 in Mansfield and 58-42 in inner urban Mount Ommaney. The parties were tied in the Sunshine Coast hinterland seat of Glass House, while the LNP led by 52-48 in the Gold Coast seat of Currumbin, which it recently retained by a similar margin at a by-election. Frecklington’s supporters pointed the finger at the state branch president, Dave Hutchinson, who was reportedly told by Frecklington that his position was untenable after Clive Palmer hired him as a property consultant in January. The party room unanimously affirmed its support for Frecklington on Monday, as mooted rival David Crisafulli ruled out a challenge ahead of the election.

• The Queensland parliament this week passed an array of electoral law changes including campaign spending caps of $92,000 per candidate and limitations on signage at polling places. The changes have been criticised ($) by the Liberal National Party and Katter’s Australian Party, who complain that union advertising will now dominate at polling booths, and that the laws was pushed through with indecent haste on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Newspoll state leadership polling and Essential Research coronavirus latest

State-level polling finds the coronavirus tide lifting all boats — but none so far as Mark McGowan in WA, whose numbers may be without precedent.

The Australian ($) today provides Newspoll findings on state leaders’ handling of the coronavirus, from samples of around 520 for each mainland state plus 309 for Tasmania. The poll finds all concerned riding high, including three who strongly outperformed Scott Morrison’s ballyhooed 68% approval and 28% disapproval on the weekend. These are WA Labor Premier Mark McGowan, at 89% approval and 6% disapproval; Tasmanian Liberal Premier Peter Gutwein, at 84% approval and 11% disapproval after three months in the job; and Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews, at 75% approval and 17% disapproval.

Morrison was also matched on approval and bettered on net approval by NSW Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian (69% approval and 23% disapproval) and SA Liberal Premier Steven Marshall (68% approval and 21% disapproval). Only Queensland Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who faces an election in October, was below the prime ministerial par (55% approval and 39% disapproval). With due allowance for small samples, I believe McGowan’s ratings may be a record for Newspoll, or indeed for any other Australian pollster, and that Gutwein’s might have been too if not for McGowan’s.

The leaders record even stronger ratings on the specific question of handling the coronavirus outbreak: 77% rate Berejiklian as having done well, compared with 18% for badly; Andrews is at 85% and 11%; Palaszczuk is at 72% and 23%; McGowan is at 94% and 4%; Marshall is at 82% and 11%; and Gutwein is at 89% and 8%. Equivalent results are also provided for the Prime Minister, and here too Western Australians are most positive, at 73% approval and 23% disapproval, with 85% rating Morrison had handled coronavirus well compared with 14% for badly. In New South Wales, Morrison scored 67% approval and 30% disapproval, and 82% well and 16% badly for coronavirus; in Victoria, 72% approval and 26% disapproval, 83% well and 14% badly; in Queensland, 67% approval and 28% disapproval, 81% well and 17% badly; in South Australia, 70% approval and 27% disapproval, 83% well and 15% badly; and in Tasmania, 64% approval and 31% disapproval, 81% well and 18% badly.

As reported in The Guardian, the weekly Essential Research coronavirus poll provides us with a third set of small-sample findings on mainland state governments’ handling of the crisis, ranging from about 80 respondents in South Australia to 320 in New South Wales. The latest results produce combined very good and good ratings of 77% for the Victorian and South Australian governments, 76% for Western Australia, 67% for Queensland and 63% for New South Wales. The table below records the progress of this series over its three weeks, together with an averaged result which again shows Western Australia highest at 77%, followed by 74% for Victoria, 72% for South Australia, 61% for Queensland and 60% for New South Wales.

Essential Research also finds confidence in the federal government’s handling of the crisis continuing to rise, with 70% rating it good or very good, a measure that earlier progressed from 45% in late March to 65% last week. Seventy-three per cent now say they consider themselves unlikely to catch the virus, compared with 57% at the peak of concern at the end of March. In response to a list of options for budget repair, 64% supported preventing companies in offshore tax havens from receiving goverment support, but only 32% favoured removing franking credits and negative gearing, and 18% supported death duties.

On the COVIDSafe app, the weekend’s Newspoll found 21% saying they would definitely take it up, 33% that they would probably do so, 21% that they would probably not, and 18% that they would definitely not. Apart from the lower uncommitted rating, this is broadly in line with an Australia Institute poll of 1011 respondents on Thursday and Friday which had 45% saying they would and 28% that they wouldn’t. Essential Research also weighed in on the question, and found 53% saying it would limit the spread of the virus, and 46% that it would speed removal of distancing restrictions. A full set of results from Essential Research should be with us later today.

UPDATE: Full Essential Research report here.