Legal matters

Three Court of Disputed returns challenges target two Liberal election winners in Melbourne: Josh Frydenberg in the safe seat of Kooyong, and Gladys Liu in highly marginal Chisholm.

Hard up upon the deadline for legal challenges to results from the May 18 federal election, three petitions were lodged in the Court of Disputed Returns on Wednesday: two against Josh Frydenberg in Kooyong, and one against Liberal colleague Gladys Liu in the neighbouring seat of Chisholm. Both Frydenberg and Liu face claims arising from section 329 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, concerning the misleading of electors in relation to the casting of their votes. On top of that, Frydenberg faces a claim he is ineligible to sit in parliament under the citizenship requirements of Section 44.

The Section 44 action is based on the now familiar claim that Frydenberg is entitled to Hungarian citizenship. Since such a claim would be derived through a mother who fled that country in 1943 to escape the Holocaust, most have reckoned Frydenberg to be well at the undeserving end of those entangled in actual or potential complications under the section. The matter was widely canvassed amid the broader Section 44 furore last year, so voters in Kooyong were fully appraised of it when they re-elected him. Nonetheless, this is the only one of the two complaints that could plausibly lead to the seat being vacated, since the fact that Frydenberg won by a comfortable margin is not relevant to his qualification to be a member of parliament.

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Federal election plus two months

Western Australia and the Northern Territory set to lose seats in the House of Reps; Liberals jockey for Senate preselection; foul cried in Kooyong; and latest despatches from the great pollster crisis.

Quite a bit to report of late, starting out with federal redistribution prospects for the coming term:

• The Australian Parliamentary Library has published a research paper on the likely outcome of the state and territory seat entitlement determinations when they are calculated in the middle of the next year. The conclusion reached is as it was when I did something similar in January: that Western Australia is sure to lose the sixteenth seat it gained in 2016; that Victoria will sneak over the line to gain a thirty-ninth (and its second in consecutive electoral cycles, a prodigiousness once associated with Queensland); and the Northern Territory will fall below it and lose one of its two seats.

The West Australian reports Liberal and Labor will respectively be lobbying for Burt and Hasluck to be abolished, though given the two are neighbours, this is perhaps a fine distinction – the effect of either might be to put Matt Keogh and Ken Wyatt in competition for an effectively merged seat. The view seems to be that an eastern suburbs seat would be easiest to cut, as the core electorates of the metropolitan area are strongly defined by rivers and the sea, and three seats are needed to account for the state’s periphery. (There was also a new set of state boundaries for Western Australia published on Friday, which you can read all about here).

• The predicted outcome in the Northern Territory, whose population has taken a battering since the end of the resources construction boom, would leave its single electorate with an enrolment nearly 30% above the national norm – an awkward look for what would also be the country’s most heavily indigenous electorate. The Northern Territory has had two electorates since 1996, but came close to losing one in 2003 when its population fell just 295 below the entitlement threshold. This was averted through a light legislative tweak, but this time the population shortfall is projected to approach 5000.

Poll news:

• The word from Essential Research that its voting intention numbers will resume in “a month or two”. Curiously, its public line is that its reform efforts are focused on its “two-party preferred modelling”, when the pollsters’ critical failures came on the primary vote.

Kevin Bonham laments the crisis-what-crisis stance adopted by The Australian and YouGov Galaxy upon the return of Newspoll. My own coverage of the matter was featured in a paywalled Crikey article on Monday, which concluded thus:

In the past, YouGov Galaxy has felt able to justify the opaqueness of its methods on the grounds that its “track record speaks for itself”. That justification will be finding far fewer takers today than it did before the great shock of May 18.

• Liberal insiders have been spruiking their success in winning back the support of working mothers as the key to their election win, as related through an account of internal party research in the Age/Herald. However, Jill Sheppard at the Australian National University retorts that the numbers cited are quantitative data drawn from qualitative research (specifically focus groups), which is assuredly not the right idea.

Preselection news:

• There are six preselection nominees for Mitch Fifield’s Liberal Senate vacancy in Victoria: Sarah Henderson, until recently the member for the Corangamite, and generally reckoned the favourite; Greg Mirabella, former state party vice-president and the husband of Sophie Mirabella, whose prospects were talked up in The Australian last week; Chris Crewther, recently defeated member for Dunkley; state politics veteran and 2018 election casualty Inga Peulich; and, less familiarly, Kyle Hoppitt, John MacIsaac and Mimmie Watts.

• The Australian last week reported a timeline had yet to be set for the preselection to replace Arthur Sinodinos in New South Wales. The Sydney Morning Herald reports Liberal moderates might be planning on backing a candidate of the hard Right, rather than one of their own in James Brown, state RSL president and son-in-law of Malcolm Turnbull. The idea is apparently that the nominee will then go on to muscle aside factional colleague Connie Fierravanti-Wells at preselection for the next election. However, all that’s known of that potential candidate is that it won’t be Jim Molan, who is opposed by feared moderate operator Michael Photios.

• The Sydney Morning Herald report also relates that former Premier Mike Baird’s withdrawal from the race to become chief executive of the National Australia Bank has prompted suggestions he might have his eye on a federal berth in Warringah at the next election. Also said to be interested is state upper house MP Natalie Ward.

Electoral law news:

The Guardian reports that Oliver Yates, independent candidate for Kooyong, is challenging Josh Frydenberg’s win on the grounds that Chinese language signs demonstrating how to vote Liberal looked rather a lot like instructions from the Australian Electoral Commission. The complainant must establish that the communication was “likely to mislead or deceive an elector in relation to the casting of a vote”, which has provided a rich seem of unsuccessful litigation over the decades. It seems it is acknowledged that this is only the test case, in that it is not anticipated the court will overturn the result. Such might have been the case in Chisholm, which was the focal point of complaints about the signs, and where the result was much closer. However, Labor has opted not to press the issue, no doubt because it has little cause to think a by-election would go well for them. Yates’s challenge has been launched days prior to today’s expiry of the 40-day deadline for challenges before the Court of Disputed Returns.

• The difficulty of getting such actions to stick, together with the general tenor of election campaigning in recent years, have encouraged suggestions that a truth-in-advertising regime may be in order, such as operates at state level in South Australia. More from Mike Steketee in Inside Story.

Call of the board: regional New South Wales

The second in a series that leaves few stones unturned in its exploration of the May 18 election result.

The metropolitan episodes of this series will feature maps and analysis guided by a demographic model to predict seats’ two-party results, so that areas of over- or under-performance might be noted. However, results maps only really work for areas of concentrated population, and it turns out the model works a lot less well when you move away from the cities. In particular, it records historic Labor strongholds in the Hunter and Illawarra as marginal Liberal seats, which I’m guessing results their lack of ethnic diversity, which the model strongly associates with conservatism. This suggests the model needs to be refined with interaction variables to measure the difference in effects between cities and regions, which I’ll hopefully get around to at some point.

Now for the Call of the Board in non-metropolitan New South Wales, broken into four easy pieces.

Hunter region

Newcastle (Labor 13.8%; 0.0% swing to Liberal): The pattern of the capital cities was reflected in Newcastle, the urban core of which swung to Labor while the low density surrounds went the other way. The Newcastle electorate contained exactly as much of each as to cancel each other out, with both major parties down slightly on the primary vote to make way for United Australia and a lift for the Greens.

Shortland (Labor 4.4%; 5.5% swing to Liberal): In neighbouring Shortland, however, Labor emerged with its narrowest margin since the seat’s creation in 1949. There were traces of the inner urban effect at the northern end of the electorate, but the swings elsewhere were severe enough to take 10.0% out of Pat Conroy’s primary vote. Most of that was harvested by new minor party entrants, but the Liberals gained swings of 2.2% on the primary and 5.5% on two-party preferred.

Paterson (Labor 5.0%; 5.7% swing to Liberal): It was a similar story just north of Newcastle in Paterson, where Meryl Swanson, who should have been enjoying at least half a sophomore effect, copped a two-party swing of 5.7%. The primary vote swing of 5.0% was less severe than Shortland because the minor party market was more crowded here in 2016. In particular, this was one of two seats in New South Wales where One Nation ran in 2016, and the only one where they repeated the performance in 2019. Their vote was up from 13.0% to 14.2%, the second strongest of the six New South Wales seats they contested after Hunter.

Hunter (Labor 3.0%; 9.5% swing to Nationals): Labor’s single worst result of the election was Joel Fitzgibbon’s 14.2% primary vote and 9.5% two-party slump in Hunter, reducing his previously formidable margin to 3.0%. The last time Labor was run this close in a seat bearing the name of Hunter was in 1984, and the time before that was 1906. The coal industry effect was unmistakeable: the Newcastle end of the electorate swung about as heavily as the Shortland booths on the other side of Lake Macquarie, whereas the full force landed at Cessnock. The remarkable 21.6% primary vote for One Nation, more than in any seat in Queensland, was fairly uniformly spread geographically. This left them only slightly shy of the 23.5% vote for the Nationals (who, a little oddly in my view, have the right to contest the seat under the coalition agreement), but the gap failed to close on preferences. How close they would have come of overtaking Fitzgibbon at the final count had it been otherwise is a matter for conjecture.

Northern coast

Lyne (Nationals 15.2%; 3.2% swing to Nationals): David Gillespie held almost steady on the primary vote while Labor fell 2.5% and the Greens fell 2.9%, reducing the flow of preferences to Labor. Fact I hadn’t noticed before: the Liberal Democrats can score pretty well in Nationals seats with no Liberal running, in this case 5.8%.

Cowper (Nationals 11.9%; 0.7% swing to Labor): After all the hype about Rob Oakeshott’s prospects, the result was remarkably similar to his failed bid in 2016. Pat Conaghan, who replaces Luke Hartsuyker as the Nationals member, added 1.1% to the party’s vote, scoring 47.1%, while Oakeshott was down 1.8% to 24.5%. That still left him well clear of Labor, up 0.2% to 13.8%, and he landed 6.8% short after preferences, which was 2.2% more than in 2016. The Coalition-versus-Labor two-party count produced a 0.7% swing to Labor, perhaps reflecting Hartsuyker’s retirement.

Page (Nationals 9.4%; 7.1% swing to Nationals): Kevin Hogan, a Nationals member who vaguely kept his distance from the Coalition after the putsch against Turnbull, achieved the biggest margin ever recorded in a seat that has been an arm wrestle since its creation in 1984, the margin never previously exceeding 5%. Hogan was up 5.3% on the primary vote and 7.1% on two-party preferred, the latter being the biggest swing against Labor in New South Wales after Hunter. There were two areas where Labor held its ground: just outside Coffs Harbour at the electorate’s southern extremity, and behind the hemp curtain at Nimbin in the north.

Richmond (Labor 4.1%; 0.1% swing to Labor): As just noted, the area around Nimbin bucked the trend of a heavy swing against Labor in Page. This regional effect was even more pronounced at the Byron Bay end of Richmond, where a number of booths recorded double-digit swings to Labor. Many of these booths are in fact won by the Greens, who only succeeded in treading water overall in the face of competition from Sustainable Australia and Involuntary Medication Objectors (though the latter, critics of this region take note, only polled 1.2%). The Tweed Heads end of the electorate was and is a different kettle of fish, recording low support for the Greens and a two-party swing to the Nationals. With the two ends pulling in different directions, the distinctiveness of the Byron Bay region is further enhanced, as illustrated by the image below (which would naturally tell a similar story for the Greens primary vote).

South-eastern

Cunningham (Labor 13.4%; 0.1% swing to Labor): The size of the two-party swing typified a dull result, in which Labor fell slightly on the primary vote, the Liberals were up slightly and the Greens vote hardly changed. The primary vote difference presumably failed to translate into a Liberal two-party swing because the Christian Democrats vacated the field after recording 4.1% in 2016.

Whitlam (Labor 10.9%; 2.8% swing to Nationals): The Liberals made life hell for some of us by declining to field a candidate here and leaving the seat to the Nationals, so that a two-party swing could only be calculated by comparing Labor-Liberal to Labor-Nationals. This the AEC, for one, declined to do. By that measure, Labor’s Stephen Jones suffered a swing of 2.8%. In the Liberals’ absence, the combined Coalition primary vote was down from 32.7% to 25.5% as Liberals unwilling to plump for the Nationals opted for the United Australia Party, whose 8.8% was their second best result in the country after Riverina.

Hume (Liberal 13.0%; 2.8% swing to Liberal): Labor dropped 5.3% on the primary vote here, though it went to independent Huw Kingston and the United Australia Party rather than Liberal member Angus Taylor, who was down slightly.

Gilmore (LABOR GAIN 2.6%; 3.3% swing to Labor): One of the few seats that went to Labor’s this was Labor’s eighteenth biggest swing nationally, and the fifth biggest in a seat that can’t be described as inner urban. The primary vote for Labor’s Fiona Phillips was actually down 3.0%, as seven candidates took the field compared with four in 2016 – among whom was spurned Liberal independent Grant Schultz, who came in fifth with 7.0%. Katrina Hodgkinson failed to light up the scoreboard as Nationals candidate, scoring 12.5%. The drop in the Liberal vote exceeded this, so that the combined Coalition primary vote was down 3.6%, similar to Labor. That Labor nonetheless enjoyed a solid and decisive two-party swing suggests a reasonable share of Nationals votes leaked to them as preferences.

Eden-Monaro (Labor 0.8%; 2.1% swing to Liberal): Eden-Monaro’s fame as the bellwether seat was further buried as Mike Kelly held off a swing of 2.1% to hold on by 0.8%. The Nationals might have done better to have stayed out, polling only 7.0% and contributing to a 4.3% drop in the Liberal primary vote. Labor was down 2.7%, the Greens up 1.2%. There was maybe a slight tendency for Labor to hold up better in urbanised areas, but no clear geographic pattern overall.

Interior

New England (Nationals 17.6%; 1.2% swing to Nationals): Barnaby Joyce’s remarkably strong result at the November 2017 by-election was proved to be no fluke, as he gained in 2.5% on the primary and 1.2% on Coalition-versus-Labor two-party in the face of even greater adversity this time. The former accomplishment was no doubt assisted by the absence of Tony Windsor, who polled 29.2% in 2016, although another independent, Adam Blakester, polled 14.2% this time to take second place over Labor, landing 14.4% short after preferences.

Calare (Nationals 13.3%; 1.5% swing to Nationals): The only seat Shooters Fishers and Farmers contested in New South Wales after their state election triumph in March, they managed third place with 17.4% of the primary vote. Nationals member Andrew Gee, a sophomore, was down 2.9% to 44.7%, and Labor was down 4.9% to 22.1%.

Riverina (Nationals 19.5%; 3.0% swing to Nationals): The only seat in the country where the United Australia Party broke double figures, to which it owes a small field of four candidates that didn’t include a Liberal, leaving Palmer’s outfit as the only non-left alternative to the Nationals. Nationals leader Michael McCormack gained 2.7% on the primary and 3.0% on two-party.

Farrer (Liberal 10.9% versus Independent): Kevin Mack was one of a number of highly regarded independents who struck out on the night, managing 20.5% of the primary vote – not nearly enough to disturb Liberal incumbent Sussan Ley, who despite shedding 7.2% on the primary vote still ended up with a straight majority of 50.7%. Ley won by 10.9% after preferences, and suffered a 0.7% two-party swing against Labor.

Parkes (Nationals 16.9%; 1.8% swing to Nationals): Both major parties were well down on the primary vote, incumbent Mark Coulton shedding 7.9%, in the face of solid performances by the Liberal Democrats (8.1%, another example of the no-Liberal-candidate effect), independent Will Landers (7.2%) and the United Australia Party (an above-average 6.3%).

Call of the board: Sydney (part two)

A second, even closer look at the electoral lay of the land in the Sydney region at the May 18 federal election.

On reflection, my previous post, intended as the first in a series of “Call of the Board” posts reviewing in detail the result of the May 18 election, was deficient in two aspects. The first is that patterns in the results estimated by my demographic model were said to be “difficult to discern”, which can only have been because I didn’t look hard enough. In fact, the results provide evidence for remarkably strong incumbency effects. Of the 12 Liberals defending their seats in the Sydney area, all but Tony Abbott outperformed the modelled estimate of the Liberal two-party vote, by an average of 4.0%. Of the 15 Labor members, all but two (Julie Owens in Parramatta and Anne Stanley in Werriwa) outperformed the model, the average being 3.4%.

The other shortcoming of the post was that it did not, indeed, call the board – a now-abandoned ritual of election night broadcasting in which the results for each electorate were quickly reviewed in alphabetical order at the end of the night, so that nobody at home would feel left out. You can find this done for the Sydney seats over the fold, and it will be a feature of the Call of the Board series going forward.

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Preferences and preselections

More data on One Nation voters’ newly acquired and surprisingly forceful enthusiasm for preferencing the Coalition.

The Australian Electoral Commission quietly published the full distributions of lower house preferences earlier this week, shedding light on the election’s remaining known unknown: how close One Nation came to maybe pulling off a miracle in Hunter. Joel Fitzgibbon retained the seat for Labor with a margin of 2.98% over the Nationals, landing him on the wrong end of a 9.48% swing – the third biggest of the election after the central Queensland seats of Capricornia and Dawson, the politics of coal mining being the common thread between all three seats.

The wild card in the deck was that Hunter was also the seat where One Nation polled strongest, in what a dare say was a first for a non-Queensland seat – 21.59%, compared with 23.47% for the Nationals and 35.57% for Labor. That raised the question of how One Nation might have done in the final count if they emerged ahead of the Nationals on preferences. The answer is assuredly not-quite-well-enough, but we’ll never know for sure. As preferences from mostly left-leaning minor candidates were distributed, the gap between Nationals and One Nation barely moved, the Nationals gaining 4.81% to reach 28.28% at the final distribution, and One Nation gaining 4.79% to fall short with 26.38%. One Nation preferences then proceeded to flow to the Nationals with noteworthy force, with the final exclusion sending 19,120 votes (71.03%) to the Nationals and 28.97% to Labor.

Speaking of, the flow of minor party preferences between the Coalition and Labor is the one detail of the election result on which the AEC is still holding out. However, as a sequel to last week’s offering on Senate preferences, I offer the following comparison of flows in Queensland in 2016 and 2019. This is based on Senate ballot paper data, observing the number that placed one major party ahead of the either, or included neither major party in their preference order. In the case of the 2016 election, this is based on a sampling of one ballot paper in 50; the 2019 data is from the full set of results.

It has been widely noted that the Coalition enjoyed a greatly improved flow of One Nation preferences in the lower house, but the Senate results offer the interesting twist that Labor’s share hardly changed – evidently many One Nation voters who numbered neither major party in 2016 jumped off the fence and preferenced the Coalition this time. Also notable is that Labor received an even stronger share of Greens preferences than in 2016. If this was reflected nationally, it’s a phenomenon that has passed unnoticed, since the flow of One Nation and United Australia Party preferences was the larger and more telling story.

Other electorally relevant developments of the past week or so:

Laura Jayes of Sky News raises the prospect of the Nationals asserting a claim to the Liberal Senate vacancy created by Arthur Sinodinos’s appointment to Washington. The Nationals lost one of their two New South Wales seats when Fiona Nash fell foul of Section 44 in late 2017, resulting in a recount that delivered to the Liberals a seat that would otherwise have been held by the Nationals until 2022. Since that is also when Sinodinos’s term expires, giving the Nationals the seat would restore an order in which the Nationals held two out of the five Coalition seats.

• Fresh from her win over Tony Abbott in Warringah, The Australian reported on Tuesday that Zali Steggall was refusing to deny suggestions she might be persuaded to join the Liberal Party, although she subsequently complained the paper had twisted her words. A report in The Age today notes both “allies and opponents” believe Steggall will struggle to win re-election as an independent with Abbott out of the picture, and gives cause to doubt she would survive a preselection challenge as a Liberal.

• Labor is undergoing a personnel change in the Victorian Legislative Council after the resignation of Philip Dalidakis, who led the party’s ticket for Southern Metropolitan region at both the 2014 and 2018 elections. Preserving the claim of the Right faction Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, the national executive is set to anoint Enver Erdogan, a workplace lawyer for Maurice Blackburn, former Moreland councillor and member of the Kurdish community. The Australian reports former Melbourne Ports MP Michael Danby has joined the party’s Prahran and Brighton branches in registering displeasure that the national executive is circumventing a rank-and-file plebiscite. Particularly contentious is Erdogan’s record of criticism of Israel, a sore point in a region that encompasses Melbourne’s Jewish stronghold around Caulfield.

Foreign affairs and Senate preferences

A comprehensive new survey on attitudes to foreign affairs, and deeper-than-ever dive into Senate voting and the preference question.

We’re still yet to have a new poll of federal voting intention after the election, for whatever that may still be worth, but I would imagine Newspoll will be breaking its drought to mark next week’s resumption of parliament. We do, however, have one of the Lowy Institute’s occasional surveys on attitudes to foreign affairs, the results of which are attractively presented on the organisation’s website.

The headline topic of the poll is Sino-American relations, and the results point to a sharp decline in trust towards China, which a clear majority of respondents rated the “world’s leading economic power”. Even clearer majorities, of around three-quarters, believed China was pursuing regional domination, and that Australia should do more to resist its military activities even if it affected our too-close economic relationship.

However, the poll also finds a further decline in trust in the United States, to add to the body-blow it took when Donald Trump was elected. Of particular interest here are the age breakdowns. Whereas there was little to distinguish the age cohorts in their positive view of the US on Obama’s watch, respondents in their youth and early middle-age now take a substantially more negative view than older ones.

Relatedly, the highly negative and worsening view of Trump personally, while evident across all age cohorts, is most pronounced among the young. This carries through to a head-to-head question on whether respondents should prioritise strong relations with the United States or China, with a majority of those aged 18-30 favouring China, and a large majority of the 60-plus cohort favouring the United States.

Beyond that, the survey offers no end of interesting material:

• Respondents were asked about their satisfaction with democracy – which, one often reads, is in freefall throughout the western world, particularly among the young. However, the Lowy Institute’s yearly tracking of this question going back to 2012 doesn’t show any such thing. If anything, there seems to be a slight trend in favour of the response that “democracy is preferable to any other kind of government”, which is up three on last year at 65%. While the young are less sold on this notion than the old, there has been a solid improving trend among the 18-to-30 cohort, with this year’s result up six on last year’s to 55%, a new high over the course of the series.

• Evaluations were sought on a limited sample of foreign leaders, specifically concerning whether they could be trusted in world affairs. Donald Trump ranked down alongside Vladimir Putin, while Jacinda Ardern recorded near-unanimous acclaim, with 88% expressing either a lot of or some confidence. New Zealand was rated “Australia’s best friend” out of six available options by 59%, up from six since 2017.

• Brexit was rated a bad thing for the United Kingdom by 62%, a bad thing for the European Union by 70%, and a bad thing for the West in general by 58%. The UK’s rating on a “feelings thermometer” fell six points, to 76.

• Concern about climate change maintained an upward trajectory, with 61% favouring action “even if this involves significant costs”. The long-range trend on this question going back to 2006 suggests climate change is less of a problem when Labor are in office.

• Views on immigration were less negative than last year, after a significant hardening of opinion between 2014 and 2018. However, the immigration rate was still held to be too high by 48% of all respondents, and a very large majority of older ones.

The survey was conducted online and by telephone from March 12 to 25 from a sample of 2130.

The second part of today’s lesson relates to Senate preference flows, from which we can obtain no end of information thanks to the Australian Electoral Commission’s publication of the data files containing the preference order for every single ballot paper. By contrast, we’re still waiting on the two-party preference splits the AEC eventually publishes for each party in the House of Representatives. There will be a lot of analysis of this information here over the coming weeks, but for starters I offer the following:

This shows, from left to right, the rate of voters’ adherence to their favoured party’s how-to-vote-card; the rate at which minor party voters’ preference orders favoured Labor over the Coalition or vice-versa, or neither in the event that they did not number either party (“two-party”); and a similar three-way measure that throws the Greens into the mix (“three-party”).

This shows that United Australia Party voters heavily favoured the Coalition over Labor, but not because they were following the party’s how-to-vote cards, a course followed by around 0.1% of the total electorate. One Nation preferences were only slightly less favourable to the Coalition, and even fewer of the party’s voters followed the card. Since One Nation’s preferences in the lower house split almost evenly in 2016, out of the 15 seats where they ran, it seems safe to assume a shift in One Nation preferences accounted for a substantial chunk of the two-party swing to the Coalition. I will calculate Senate preference flows from 2016 for comparison over the next few days.