Eden-Monaro by-election: July 4

A date set for the Eden-Monaro by-election, as the Liberals confirm their candidate and a GetUp! poll suggests local concern about climate changes remains at a high in the wake of the summer bushfires.

Eden-Monaro will be celebrating American independence this year with a July 4 by-election, as announced yesterday by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tony Smith. The timeline for the by-election is as follows:

Issue of writ: Thursday, May 28
Close of rolls: Thursday, June 4
Close of nominations: Tuesday, June 9
Declaration of nominations: Wednesday, June 10
Date of polling: Saturday, July 4

Clearly there will be nothing radically different about the way the polling is conducted on account of coronavirus, as Smith noted that the Australian Electoral Commission unusually favoured a date at the start of school holidays, as it would allow ample time for sanitising to be conducted at schools used as polling booths.

The Liberals conducted their preselection on Saturday, and as expected chose Fiona Kotvojs, a beef farmer who narrowly failed to win the seat when she ran at last year’s federal election. Kotvojs reportedly won a 106-27 victory in the party ballot over Mark Schweikert, a Department of Defence official and deputy mayor of Queanbeyan-Palerang. According to Niki Savva in The Australian ($), “there is speculation, not denied, that the Liberals, with their formidable state and federal apparatuses, are prepared to spend up to $1m to win the seat, money Labor says it doesn’t have”.

The Guardian reports GetUp! commissioned uComms to conduct a poll of 879 respondents in the seat last Wednesday, but it seems they are being reticent with voting intention figures. However, we are told the poll found 59% holding that the government was not doing enough to address climate change, including 48% who strongly agreed, with only 27% disagreeing, 12% strongly. However, the government apparently scored better on its bushfire response, on which respondents were reportedly “evenly divided”.

Eden-Monaro opinion poll and other happenings

A poll by the Australia Institute finds next to nothing in it in Eden-Monaro. Also featured: still more coronavirus polling, and the status quo preserved in a Greens plebiscite on how the party leader should be chosen.

With regard to the American presidential horse race, Adrian Beaumont offers all the latest in the post below. Closer to hand:

Tom McIlroy of the Financial Review ($) reports Labor is credited with a statistically insignificant lead in poll of Eden-Monaro conducted by the Australia Institute. Based on response options that listed only party names, the poll reportedly had Labor leading 51.1-48.8 based on preference flows from 2019. No primary votes are provided in the report, but I expect to have that and other detail for you later today. A question on the most importat issue drew modest responses for both coronavirus (7.3%) and bushfire recovery (8.6%), with the agenda dominated by the economy (28.9%), climate change (23.4%) and health (14.0%). UPDATE: After exclusion of the 9.0% undecided, the primary votes are Labor 39.8%, Liberal 34.3%, Nationals 7.3%, Greens 6.7% and One Nation 6.5%. The polling was conducted by uComms.

• The Lowy Institute has a poll on the strategic implications of coronavirus, which records a general expectation that the crisis will tilt the international balance to China (37% more powerful, 36% just as powerful, 27% less powerful) at the expense of the United States (6% more powerful, 41% just as powerful, 53% less powerful) and Europe (5%, 46% and 48%). Respondents were asked if Australia and various other countries had handled the crisis well and poorly, and with the qualification that the uncommitted responses seem implausibly low, Australians consider their own country’s response (43% good, 50% fairly good, 6% fairly bad, 1% very bad) to have been well superior even to that of Singapore (23%, 56%, 15% and 3%), never mind China (6%, 25%, 25% and 44%), the United Kingdom (3%, 27%, 49% and 21%), Italy (2%, 13%, 44% and 40%) or, God forbid, the United States (2%, 8%, 27% and 63%). Respondents were slightly less favourable to the concept of globalisation than they were in a similar survey a year ago, with 70% rating it mostly good for Australia (down two) and 29% mostly bad (up five). The survey was conducted online and by telephone from April 14 to 27, from a sample of 3036.

• The results of a Greens internal referendum on giving the party membership a way in electing party leaders landed in the awkward zone between clear majority support and the two-thirds super-majority required for change. Members were presented with three head-to-head questions between each combination of two out of three options: the status quo of decision by the party room; the “one member, one vote” approach of having the matter determined entirely by the membership; and a Labor-style model where members provided half the vote and the party room the other half. The two questions inclusive of the status quo produced very similar results, with 62.0% favouring one-member one vote (3721 to 2281) and 62.6% favouring the Labor model (3510 to 2101). The Labor model recorded a narrow 3014 (50.95%) to 2902 (49.05%) win over one-member one-vote, but this would only have been operative if the favoured model recorded two-thirds support in head-to-head comparison with the status quo. According to Rob Harris of the Age/Herald, the response rate was 46% out of the party’s 13,143 eligible members.

Preselection news x 2

Eden-Monaro Liberals get the preselection ballot they wanted, and the Victorian Greens confirm candidates to fill Richard Di Natale’s Senate vacancy.

There are two situations vacant currently in the federal parliament: member for Eden-Monaro, with Mike Kelly’s successor to be chosen at a by-election on a date to be determined, and Victorian Greens Senator, with Richard Di Natale’s vacancy to be filled by a party membership ballot following a timeline I’m not privy to. The latest developments on these fronts are as follows:

• With Andrew Constance now in the rear mirror, the Liberals are going through a preselection process that has brought them to the closure of nominations, with the candidates not yet formally announced. David Crowe of the Sydney Morning Herald reported three likely starters: the presumed front-runner, Fiona Kotvojs, who ran in 2019 and remains popular in local branches; Jerry Nockles, an international relations expert and former Navy seaman; and Pru Gordon, a manager at the National Farmers Federation. Canberra news magazine CityNews reported that names being tested in Liberal polling included Nichole Overall, a Queanbeyan freelance journalist. Please note that there’s a dedicated Eden-Monaro by-election thread below this one.

• The Victorian Greens have attracted nine nominees to fill Richard Di Natale’s Senate vacancy, and helpfully laid them out on their website. The highest profile is human rights lawyer Julian Burnside, who ran unsuccessfully for the party in the seat of Cooper at last year’s federal election. However, Noel Towell of The Age reported in March that Lidia Thorpe, who won Northcote in a by-election in November 2017 but failed to retain it at the general election a year later, is also rated highly. The report said the same of Huong Truong, who held an upper house seat in Western Metropolitan region in the nine months before the election, but she is not among the nominees.

Eden-Monaro developments

Chaos and acrimony engulfs the Coalition’s bid to snare Eden-Monaro from Labor after the shock withdrawal of mooted Liberal candidate Andrew Constance.

After another eventful day in the Eden-Monaro by-election campaign, the first indication of when it might be held courtesy of The Australian: in late June or early July, according to “senior Liberals”, pending advice from the Australian Electoral Commission. This follows Andrew Constance’s shock withdrawal as Liberal candidates two days before state Nationals leader John Barilaro likewise announced he would not run. Constance said his withdrawal was prompted by a Daily Telegraph report that Barilaro had described him to a parliamentary colleague as a “c**t*”. However, The Australian’s report disputes this, citing further Liberal sources saying Constance was “laughing” over the Barilaro development, and the real reason for his withdrawal was a backlash against his candidacy among local party branches. Among the consequences of this is that there will by no state by-election, at least for the time being, in Constance’s seat of Bega.

According to The Australian’s ever-reliable authority on Liberal internal affairs, Niki Savva, internal polling that separately recorded Barilaro winning 52-48 but Constance winning by 60-40 helped convince Scott Morrison to promote a clear run for Constance, in concert with factional powerbroker Alex Hawke. Savva reports that the former result was “rubbery at best, based on a robopoll which put him only slightly ahead even before Labor’s attack ads started”. However, it appeared that none had reckoned on local reaction within the party, where 2019 candidate Fiona Kotvojs remained widely favoured and feelings remained tender over the imposition of Warren Mundine as the candidate in neighbouring Gilmore. Kotjovs now looks the front-runner for a preselection “due to be held on May 22”, with the Nationals remaining undecided as to whether they will make the effort in Barilaro’s absence.

In further Eden-Monaro reading, a piece by Peter Brent in Inside Story features a chart showing Eden-Monaro’s evolution from bellwether to leaning Labor, which has occurred against the trend in New South Wales and in spite of redistributions that have consistently favoured the Liberals. When three decades of accumulated redistribution adjustments are applied to elections past, Labor loses the supposed bellwether seat throughout the period of the Hawke-Keating government. Much of this is down to the present configuration of the seat, which encompasses parts of the Riverina in defiance of the obvious natural boundary of the Snowy Mountains, while excluding the Batemans Bay area that was part of the seat for most of its history, but which now adds a modest degree of Labor ballast to Gilmore.

Essential Research leadership ratings and coronavirus polling

As the contours of the Eden-Monaro by-election start to take shape, a new poll finds respondents highly satisfied with antipodean governments’ handling of coronavirus, and mindful of the less happy situation elsewhere in the anglosphere.

The Guardian reports Essential Research’s latest weekly round of coronavirus polling includes the pollster’s monthly leadership ratings, which have Scott Morrison’s approval at 64%, gaining a further five points after his 18-point hike a month ago. Anthony Albanese is down two to 42% — we must await the full report later today to see their disapproval ratings. Morrison holds a 50-25 lead as preferred prime minister, out from 46-27 last time (UPDATE: Full report here; both are at 27% disapproval, which is a four point drop in Morrison’s case and a two point drop in Albanese’s).

The most interesting of the latest tranche of coronavirus questions relate to other countries’ handling of the crisis, with 79% rating New Zealand’s response very good or good, whereas (if I’m reading this correctly) the United States’ response is rated very poor or poor by 71%, and the United Kingdom is similarly rated by 48%. Another question finds 57% support for maintaining Newstart either at its current level “after the current crisis passes” or aligning it with the rate for single pensioners, with only 28% in favour of returning it to its earlier level.

The poll also finds growing appetite for easing restrictions, with 37% now saying it is too soon to do so, down from 49% a fortnight ago, and 36% wanting restrictions eased over the next month or two, but still only 10% wanting them gone as soon as possible. Respondents were also presented with a series of propositions about school closures, which found 45% sayig schools should reopen, “half” saying schools should teach students remotely until the outbreak passes, and 41% saying they would keep their children at home even if schools reopened.

The latest news on the by-election front is that NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro has announced he will not run in Eden-Monaro, and Senator Jim Molan has likewise withdrawn his intention to pursue Liberal preselection, with both allowing a clear run for Andrew Constance, NSW Transport Minister and member for the seat of Bega, most of which is within Eden-Monaro. The by-election now looms as a straightforward contest between Labor and Liberal, with the Nationals sure to be only a minor presence in Barilaro’s absence, if indeed they run at all.

Constance was the subject of sympathetic media attention after nearly losing his Malua Bay house in the summer bushfires, a particularly helpful asset given the federal goverment’s handling of the fires loomed as its main liability in the campaign. He revealed in March that he would be quitting politics when the bushfire recovery was complete, albeit without making clear when that might be. The by-election that will now be required in Bega will thus be less disruptive than one in Barilaro’s seat of Monaro would have been, and the seat is also at less risk of being lost by the government. No indication so far as I can see as to who might be in the running in Bega.

Three-cornered contestants

As candidates jockey for the early running in Eden-Monaro, the results of a reported Nationals internal poll, plus a couple of other things to be dubious about.

Bega Valley Shire mayor Kristy McBain has been anointed by Anthony Albanese as Labor’s candidate for the Eden-Monaro by-election, despite the fact that a designated nominations period had yet to expire. The Nationals have justified their optimism by providing The Australian ($) with an internal poll conducted immediately after Mike Kelly’s retirement announcement on Thursday, the paper’s report of which begins thus: “NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro would win the Eden-Monaro by-election if he chooses to stand” (UPDATE: See account of weekend developments at the bottom of the post). This fact turns out to have been established by a 52-48 lead over Kristy McBain, and primary votes that have Barilaro leading hypothetical Liberal candidate Jim Molan by 30% to 21%, with McBain on 35% and Greens candidate Patrick McGinlay on 8%.

However, a report by David Crowe of the Age/Herald ($) suggests state Transport Minister and Bega MP Andrew Constance has been responsive to colleagues’ suggestions he should seek Liberal preselection, and Barilaro has said he will not run if Constance does. Furthermore, “some state sources said there was still a chance both men would pull back from the contest”. In that case, it would seem Fiona Kotvojs, who ran at the election last year, would get another run for the Liberals, and the Nationals would presumably go back to being uncompetitive. Candidacies of either or both of Barilaro and Constance respectively raise the prospect of state by-elections for the seats of Monaro (Nationals margin 11.6%) and Bega (Liberal margin 6.9%), neither of which are unloseable by the recent historic standards of by-elections.

In other news, Roy Morgan has conducted its occasional exercise of publishing the latest results of its federal voting polling, which these days it keeps to itself except when it believes it has identified a newsworthy angle to the results. Onthis occasion its a forceful swing to the Coalition that was missed by Newspoll, such that it now leads 51.5-48.5 after trailing 53-47 in polling from mid-March (compared with 51-49 from the Newspoll of the time). On the primary vote, the Coalition was up seven to 43.5%, Labor down three to 33%, the Greens up half to 11.5% and One Nation down one to 3%. Among the unanswered questions are what impact an apparent chopping and changing of survey methods may have had, with this latest result said to combine phone and online polling for a sample of 2806 over the two weekends just past. Many others besides have been canvassed by Kevin Bonham.

Then there’s the latest effort from Dynata for the Institute of Public Affairs, this time concerning coronavirus restrictions, which I’m not going to say anything about except that it’s out there. Among the questions respondents were invited to agree or disagree with was the following: “There should be an immediate easing of petty restrictions with appropriate social distancing in place”. If I were completing such a survey, my reaction to this question would be to recognise that I was being manipulated and refuse to complete it, and I suspect I’m not alone.

UPDATE (4/5/20): Conflicting signals on the John Barilaro front this morning, courtesy of apparently separate sources both said to be close to him. The Sydney Morning Herald ($) reported overnight that Barilaro would formally announce his intention not to run this morning, but The Australian ($) has been told that this is wrong and that Barilaro is still considering his position. The Herald reports claims from Liberals that Crosby Textor internal polling shows Andrew Constance would win the seat in canter, and that the state Liberals consider Constance’s seat of Bega to be easier to defend at a by-election than Barilaro’s seat of Monaro, which might fall to Shooters Fishers and Farmers or such like. Barilaro and Constance are apparently both on the record saying they will drop out if the other runs rather than expose the state government to two by-elections, which merely raises the question of which claim takes precedence.