Eminent Victorians

Victorian state preselection news from both sides of the aisle, following Labor’s recent talent exodus and a number of challengers to Liberal incumbents in the upper house.

State polling being not what it used to be, I have resolved to make an effort in future to do occasional posts updating electorally relevant affairs in each state. Presumably we will see some polling from New South Wales and Victoria in the not too distant future, but it does not appear we will continue to get regular bi-monthly polling from Resolve Strategic now that it has wrapped up its monthly polling for Nine Newspapers.

There is much to report right now from Victoria, whose state election will be held on November 26. Four cabinet ministers announced their resignations from cabinet on Friday effective immediately, to be followed by their retirements at the November election: Deputy Premier James Merlino, Health Minister Martin Foley, Police Minister Lisa Neville and Industry Minister Martin Pakula. This has resulted in a reshuffle that has resulted in Jacinta Allan succeeding Merlino as deputy, and brought into cabinet Pascoe Vale MP Lizzie Blandthorn, Bundoora MP Colin Brooks, Oakleigh MP Steve Dimopoulos, Eastern Victoria MLC Harriet Shing and Carrum MP Sonya Kilkenny.

The retirements raise the stakes on Daniel Andrews’ request earlier in the month for Labor’s national executive to maintain its control over the state branch, which was established in the wake of the Adem Somyurek branch-stacking scandal and resulted in it determining preselections at the federal election without reference to the party rank-and-file. Reports at the time suggested most in the party expected the request would be granted.

Vacancies are now available in Merlino’s seat of Monbulk on Melbourne’s eastern fringe, held on a post-redistribution margin of 8.4%; Neville’s seat of Bellarine outside Geelong, with a margin of 11.4%; and Foley’s seat of Albert Park to the south of central Melbourne, with a margin of 12.9%; but not in Pakula’s seat of Keysborough, which has been abolished. Despite these seemingly comfortable margins, Monbulk and Bellarine in particular would be considered marginal seats in the context of a competitive election. Albert Park is of interest because it has been brought on to the Greens’ radar by the result of the federal election, at which the party came within a hair’s breadth of poaching the corresponding seat of Macnamara.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Party have an eventful round of upper house preselections to contend with. Of the seven members elected to the chamber amid the party’s disastrous result in 2018, two are retiring, one (Bernie Finn) was recently expelled from the party and three are facing preselection challengers, with only Matt Bach set for a smooth passage to the next parliament as the lead candidate for what will become the North Eastern Metropolitan region (now Eastern Metropolitan). One of the nominees for the second position in that region is Gladys Liu, the recently defeated federal member for Chisholm. Others are Ranjana Srivastava, an oncologist and Fulbright scholar who has the backing of outgoing member Bruce Atkinson; Shilpa Hedge, a software consultant; and Monica Clark, a family lawyer.

Rachel Baxendale in The Australian reports that nominees to replace Bernie Finn in Western Metropolitan, where the Liberals usually only win one seat, include Tamsin Lawrence, deputy director of workplace relations at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Mark Briers, a senior adviser in the Morrison government senior adviser, Fred Ackerman, an education consultant, and Jenny Matic, a staffer to Shadow Treasurer David Davis; and Fred Ackerman, an education consultant.

The party’s sole member for Northern Metropolitan region, Craig Ondarchie, is rated by Baxendale’s sources as likely to lose to one of three challengers: Evan Mulholland, communications director at the Institute of Public Affairs; Catriona Rafael, Leukemia Foundation advocate; and Owen Guest, the party’s state treasurer. In Eastern Victoria, Cathrine Burnett-Wake is being challenged by chiropractor Renee Heath; in South Metropolitan, Colleen Harkin, who was the party’s federal candidate for Macnamara, has challenged both David Davis and Georgie Crozier by nominating for all three positions at the top of the ticket. Baxendale reports this has “put noses out of joint” in the party; Harkin earlier challenged James Newbury in the lower house seat of Brighton, but found little support.

Potential new elements at the election include Climate 200, which according to The Guardian is “understood to be considering the Liberal-held marginal seats of Brighton and Kew and Labor-held Hawthorn”, and the newly established Victorians Party, launched on the back of anti-lockdown sentiment by Small Business Australia executive director Bill Lang, which if nothing else is receiving heavy publicity in the Herald-Sun.

Resolve Strategic: Labor 37, Coalition 33, Greens 10 in Victoria

Resolve Strategic records a dip in support for the Andrews government, though only half of it has gone to the Coalition.

The Age brings us the bi-monthly Resolve Strategic poll of state voting intention in Victoria, combining results from the Victorian respondents out of this month’s and last month’s national polls (next month will be the turn of New South Wales). The poll records a significant drop in support for Labor compared with the previous poll, down four to 37%, with the Coalition up two to 33%. With the Greens down one to 10%, the difference is made up by two-point increases for independents to 12% and others to 9%.

Resolve Strategic does not publish two-party results, but I would guess this to be around 53-47 in favour of Labor, although the combined 21% for independents and others makes it a difficult call. Despite the movement on voting intention, there is little change to Daniel Andrews’ lead as preferred premier, which goes from 47-30 to 48-31. The poll has a sample of around 1000, the most recent batch of 500 having been surveyed from Wednesday to Sunday.

Federal preselection and electoral law developments

Federal preselection news from New South Wales, not all of it about the Liberals, plus plans to lower the voting age to 16 in the ACT and much else.

The mercurial Roy Morgan organisation put out a newsletter this week saying its fortnightly poll had Labor leading 56.5-43.5 and would be published in full within 48 hours, but nothing more was heard. However, there is no shortage of other electoral news to relate, even without getting too deep into the developing situation of the New South Wales Liberals’ federal preselection tangle, which was covered in depth here. Note that I also have a separate post dealing with the imminent Super Saturday of four New South Wales state by-elections.

• The Liberals in New South Wales have at least resolved their dispute to the extent of proceeding with plans for a preselection ballot for Bennelong, which David Crowe of The Age reports is likely to be held in March. The candidates are Gisele Kapterian, former chief-of-staff to Michaelia Cash and current executive at software company Salesforce; Craig Chung, a City of Sydney councillor; and Simon Kennedy, a former partner at McKinsey.

• Labor also has a few loose ends in New South Wales, having yet to choose candidates to succeed retiring members Sharon Bird and Julie Ovens in Cunningham and Parramatta. A membership ballot for Cunningham will be held on February 19 between Misha Zelinsky, Australian Workers Union assistant national secretary and former criminal defence lawyer, and Alison Byrnes-Scully, staffer to Sharon Bird (and wife of state Wollongong MP Paul Scully). Zelinsky has been in the news over social media posts and an e-book he co-authored nearly a decade ago which featured jokes denigrating women. The Guardian reports that Labor is struggling to find a candidate in Parramatta that the party hierarchy considers up to standard, having lately been rebuffed by Cameron Murphy, prominent barrister and son of Lionel Murphy.

• Northern Territory Senator Sam McMahon, a Country Liberals member who sat with the Nationals in Canberra, resigned from the party last week and is leaving open the possibility of contesting the election either for a different party or as an independent. McMahon lost her preselection last June to Alice Springs deputy mayor and conservative media identity Jacinta Price.

Noteworthy matters of electoral law and administration at state and territory level:

• A headache looms in South Australia ahead of its March 19 state election, with no contingency in place for voters put in COVID-19 isolation who are unable to meet the deadline for a postal vote application. A bill to allow for voting to be conducted over the phone in this circumstance was passed by the lower house and amended in the upper, and the lower house had not considered the amendments when it rose in early December. The Advertiser reports that Labor says it would be a simple matter for the house to reconvene and agree to the amended bill, but Premier Steven Marshall says there is not enough time to pass legislation before the government enters caretaker mode ahead of the election. Marshall blames Labor for supporting the amendments, but it appears to me that the government chose to sit on the bill for the last three days of the session.

• The Canberra Times reports Labor has “indicated a willingness” to support a Greens bill to make voting compulsory for 16 and 17 year olds in ACT elections, notwithstanding the local electoral commission’s evident horror at the resulting administrative burden.

Remy Varga of The Australian reports the Victorian government is taking a stand against the pernicious practice of political parties handling postal vote applications so they can harvest data from them.

Resolve Strategic: Labor 41, Coalition 31, Greens 11 in Victoria

A new poll finds Labor in Victoria steaming to another commanding victory, albeit that it mixes signals from November and last week.

The Age has published the latest state voting intention result for Victoria, which as usual combines results for the latest poll and the previous, a little awkwardly in this case since there was no monthly poll in December. It’s a strong result for the Andrews government, with Labor up three on the primary vote to 41%, the Coalition down three to 31% and the Greens up one to 11%. Resolve Strategic does not publish two-party results, but based on a typical preference flow this would come out at around 56.5-43.5 to Labor, a swing of barely 1% compared with Labor’s landslide win of 2018. Daniel Andrews’ lead over Matthew Guy as preferred premier has widened from 45-32 to 47-30.

The poll also features some incomplete detail on the various leaders’ handling of pandemic management. I’m unclear if this combines the results of multiple polls, but I believe the question was posed for Scott Morrison and the premiers of the three largest states and not limited to respondents from the relevant jurisdictions. Unfortunately, the report does not provide the negative result on this occasion, which makes it hard to say exactly how bad the positive results are for Dominic Perrottet in particular, who as a newcomer presumably has a high undecided rating. For what it’s worth, Daniel Andrews had a positive rating of 46%, down from 57% in August; Annastacia Palaszczuk had 45%, down from 51%; Scott Morrison had 35%, down from 38%; and Dominic Perrottet had 31%, which compares with Gladys Berejiklian’s 26%.

The Victorian results come from a sample of 1039 combined from polling in November and January, the latter of which was conducted Tuesday to Sunday.

Morgan: 56.5-43.5 to Labor

The last Morgan poll for the year maintains its recent form with a huge lead for Labor. Also: the fortnightly Essential Research and more Victorian state polling.

What is presumably the last Morgan federal voting intention poll for the year maintains the recent trend of this series in favour of Labor with a 56.5-43.5 lead on two-party preferred, out further from 55.5-44.5 last time. Also as per usual with this series, this credits Labor with what seems an improbably strong flow of preferences, the primary votes being Coalition 34.5% (down one), Labor 36% (up half), Greens 12.5% (up half) and One Nation 3.5% (steady). A result is provided for the United Australia Party for the first time, and it’s all of 1%.

The state-level two-party preferred breakdowns include a number of eyebrow-raisers, with Labor leading 55.5-44.5 in New South Wales (unchanged on the last poll, for a swing to Labor of around 8% compared with the 2019 election; 58.5-41.5 in Victoria (out from 58-42, a swing of around 5.5%); 54.5-45.5 in Queensland (out from 51.5-45.5, a swing of 13%); 50.5-49.5 in Western Australia (in from 53.5-46.5, a swing of around 6% and 64.5-35.5 in South Australia (out from 55.5-44.5, a swing of 14%). The Tasmanian result, from a particularly meagre sample, lands well off the path at 51.5-48.5 in favour of the Liberals, a swing in their favour of around 7.5%. The poll was conducted over the past two weekends from an online and phone sample of 2805.

Also out this week was the fortnightly Essential Research survey, on this occasion offering neither voting intention nor leadership approval. The regular question on COVID-19 management found the federal government’s good rating up two to 47% and bad down four to 25%, its best result since July. The New South Wales government’s good rating was down one to 56%, Victoria’s was up one to 51%, Queensland’s was down four to 56%, South Australia’s was up nine to 60% and Western Australia’s was down five to 74%, small sample sizes being the order of the day in the case of the last few.

The poll also finds 34% agreeing with Scott Morrison’s attack on ICAC over Gladys Berejiklian’s resignation with 31% disagreeing and 36% on the fence. However, 53% supported the establishment of a federal commission, with no indication of how many were actively opposed. Other questions find 61% in favour of compulsory vaccination for all adults without a medical exemption, with only 20% opposed, and 28% support for the proposition that governments should on no account impose lockdowns, with 48% opposed. Forty-nine per cent want more evidence on omicron before changing requirements and restrictions, compared with 34% who want proactive tightening and 16% no change regardless. The poll was conducted Wednesday to Sunday from a sample of 1094.

Also out this week was a Redbridge Group poll Victorian state poll for the Herald Sun that targeted eight marginal seats: Eureka (formerly Wendouree), Eltham, Brighton, Bentleigh, Evelyn, Carrum, Kalkallo (formerly Yuroke) and Melton. This was rather less good for Labor than other recent polling, with primary votes of Labor 36% (down 9.5% from the results in these seats at the 2018 election, adjusted as appropriate for the new redistribution), Liberal 28.8% (down 2.3%), the Greens 8% (down 0.7%) and, strikingly 8% for the United Australia Party and 5% for One Nation, neither of whom contested last time, quite apart from an unchanged 11% for independents and other minor parties. The latter development makes preference projections particularly uncertain, but a result is provided of 54-46 to Labor, a swing against them of around 4%. The poll was conducted November 26 to 28 from a sample of 2442.

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.

Newspoll: 58-42 to Labor in Victoria

A new state poll from Victoria finds the Andrews government matching the heights of its 2018 election landslide.

The Australian reports a Newspoll survey of state voting intention in Victoria credits Daniel Andrews’ government with a thumping lead of 58-42 on two-party preferred, matching the 57.3-42.7 result in the 2018 election landslide. The primary vote were similarly closely matched to the election result, with Labor at 44% (compared with 42.9%), the Coalition at 36% (compared with 35.2%), the Greens at 11% (compared with 10.7%) and others at 9% (compared with 11.2%, and in defiance of an apparent recent trend of minor parties profiting from anti-lockdown sentiment).

Daniel Andrews is credited with an approval rating of 56% and a 42% disapproval rating, while Matthew Guy manages only 34% and 42% two-and-a-half months after returning to the Liberal leadership. Andrews holds a 54-33 lead as preferred premier. Sixty per cent rate that Andrews has handled the pandemic well compared with 39% for poor, with Andrews performing notably better among women (65% and 34%, compared with 55% and 43% among men) and younger age cohorts. A distinctive feature of the poll is low uncommitted ratings: only 2% neither approved nor disapproved of Andrews, with 1% declining a view as to how well Andrews had handled the pandemic.

The poll was conducted Thursday to Wednesday from a sample of 1029.