Essential Research coronavirus latest

Support rising for an easing of coronavirus restrictions, and strong backing for Kristina Keneally’s contentious call for migration cuts.

The usual weekly Essential Research coronavirus poll finds “only a quarter” of respondents now consider it too soon to be easing coronavirus restrictions, down from a peak of 49% in mid-April. There was also strong support for a range of fresh restrictions being imposed if there is a new surge of cases, but not for making the coronavirus app compulsory, which only 38% supported. Only 45% were confident the government would be able to adequately protect data from the app, and 44% were confident the government itself would not misuse it. Kristina Keneally’s call for a reduction in temporary migration after the pandemic had the support of 67% of respondents. All this detail is derived from The Guardian, which also tells us that the number of respondents who are “quite concerned” about the virus is up three points since last week to 49%, but without the “very concerned” figure it’s hard to know what if anything to make of that. The full report from the pollster should be published later today.

UPDATE: Full report here. The government reaches new heights on the eighth weekly iteration of the question as to how well it is handling the crisis, with good up five points to 71% and poor down one to 13%. The goodwill extends to state governments, who are collectively up three on good to 73% and steady on poor at 12%. The poll was conducted Thursday to Sunday from a sample of 1067.

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.

Eden-Monaro by-election

Despite the constraints of coronavirus, the looming by-election in Eden-Monaro looks set to proceed in a more-or-less normal fashion, with the entry of state Nationals leader John Barilaro setting up a hotly contested three-cornered contest.

Mike Kelly confirmed what everyone knew already when he officially announced his resignation as member for Eden-Monaro yesterday, thereby initiating the first federal by-election of the current term, the last having been the Wentworth by-election in October 2018. Kelly cited medical issues deriving from his overseas service while in the army, which required surgery for kidney and gallbladder failure in October.

The immediate question is how a by-election might be held amidst the coronavirus crisis, but it would seem radical solutions such as all-postal elections can be ruled out. These would require a fairly radical legislative overhaul, and David Crowe in the Age/Herald reports Speaker Tony Smith has “asked the Australian Electoral Commission for its advice on how to ensure polling stations comply with social distancing and whether to encourage more postal votes”. The current schedule in New South Wales is for existing lockdown measures to remain in place until June 29, so it may well be thought prudent to hold off for the time being, particularly given that parliament will not resume in any case until August 11.

It is already clear that the by-election will be a three-cornered contest, with state Nationals leader John Barilaro confirming his long-anticipated decision to gamble on a run for the seat and making no effort to deny ambitions to depose Michael McCormack as federal party leader. According to Geoff Chambers of The Australian, the Nationals claim recently conducted internal polling has Barilaro in a “winning position”.

Suggestions that the Liberals would vacate the field have already been scotched, with The Australian reporting it plans to hold an online plebisicite of around 200 members on May 22 to 23. Senator Jim Molan has said he is keeping his options open, and The Australian reports that the candidate from last year, local farmer and businesswoman Fiona Kotvojs, might also be a starter. The only name mentioned so far for Labor preselection has been Bega Valley Shire Mayor Kristy McBain.

I have a preliminary by-election guide in action that features a 2019 election booth results map and various charts and tables laying out demographic indicators and the seat’s electoral history. I also had a piece anticipating the by-election announcement for Crikey on Wednesday that emphasised the risks entailed by Barilaro’s mooted candidacy:

Barilaro also has formidable historical hurdles to clear: the seat has never been held by the National/Country Party through a history going back to federation, and a victory would make him the first government party candidate in a century to take a seat off the opposition at a byelection.

While he might hope to be boosted by the positive response to the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, it should be noted that the weekend’s Newspoll result found Scott Morrison to be enjoying a largely voteless recovery, with booming approval ratings matched by only muted improvement on voting intention.

Furthermore, the summer bushfires that have been relegated to distant memory for most of the country are certainly not forgotten in Eden-Monaro, which encompasses some of the worst-affected areas — notably the town of Cobargo, where Morrison’s post-Hawaii attempt to ingratiate himself with the locals marked the lowest ebb of his prime ministership.