Democracy in the time of COVID-19

Queensland council elections and state by-elections to proceed in spite of everything; two polls on attitudes to coronavirus; and Josh Frydenberg off the Section 44 hook.

I had a paywalled article in Crikey yesterday considering the implications of coronavirus for the electoral process. For what it’s worth, the New York Times today reports that research finds no evidence that elections act as vectors for disease. Apropos next Saturday’s local government elections and state by-elections in Queensland, my article had this to say:

According to Graeme Orr, University of Queensland law professor and a noted authority on electoral law, it is still within the power of Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe to postpone the council elections. The byelections for the state seats of Currumbin and Bundamba could also theoretically be called off if the speaker rescinded the writs. Since a state election will be held in October in any case, it might well be argued that filling the latter vacancies for a few months is not worth the bother. However, the official position is that neither pre-poll nor election day booths will experience activity amounting to a gathering of more than 500 people, as per the latest advice of the chief medical officer — advice that will surely be showing its age well before next Saturday.

In other by-election news, the Liberal National Party has put Labor last on its how-to-vote cards in Currumbin and Bundamba, and thus behind One Nation, a move that has evidently lost its taboo since the issue of One Nation preferences tore the state’s Coalition parties apart around the turn of the century. This could potentially be consequential in Bundamba, where it is conceivable that One Nation could outpoll the LNP and defeat Labor with their preferences.

Elsewhere:

• The Federal Court has dismissed a Section 44 challenge against Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s eligibility to sit in parliament on grounds of dual Hungarian citizenship, to which he was allegedly entitled via his Hungarian-born mother. The petitioner, Michael Staindl, initially pointed to Australian documentation suggesting her family arrived in Australia in 1950 with Hungarian passports, having fled the country the previous year as the post-war communist regime tightened its grip. However, it was established that this arose from loose definitions used at the time by the Australian authorities, and that what the family actually had was “a form of single use emigrant exit passport”. This led Staindl to twice reformulate his argument, eventually settling on the contention that Frydenberg’s mother was left with the “shell” of a citizenship that had been emptied only by the communist regime’s arbitrary and capricious “pseudo-law”, a factor that ceased to apply with its demise in 1989. This did not impress the court, which dismissed the petition and ordered Staindl to pay costs.

• The Age/Herald has polling results from Newgate Research on which aspects of coronavirus are of greatest public concern. The results are reasonably consistent across the board, but top of the list is “the overall economic impact”, with which 41% express themselves extremely concerned, 36% quite concerned, 19% slightly concerned and 4% not at all concerned. “Regular health services not being available” produces similar results of 35%, 32%, 25% and 8%. There are slightly more moderate results for other questions on health impacts and “shortages of food, toilet paper and other essentials”, although in all cases the combination for extremely concerned and quite concerned is well above 50%. The poll is an “online tracking study of more than 1000 Australians, taken between Wednesday and Saturday last week”.

The West Australian ($) also has a WA-only coronavirus poll, which finds 66% supporting cancellation of large sporting events, 45% for night venues, 35% for cinemas and theatres, 34% for gyms and leisure centres, 29% for schools, 28% for universities, 22% for shopping centres and 16% apiece for restaurants and cafes and public transport. Fifty-one per cent of respondents agreed the government had been fully open and honest about the risks and implications of the virus, with 25% disagreeing. The poll was conducted Friday and Saturday by Painted Dog Research from a sample of 890.

• The count for the Northern Territory’s Johnston by-election was finalised on Friday, with Labor’s Joel Bowden winning at the final count over Steven Klose of the Territory Alliance by 1731 votes (52.6%) to (47.4%), in the absence of any surprises in the full preference count. With no candidate polling more than 29.9% on the primary vote, the latter was always an abstract possibility, but the result after the previous exclusion was not particularly close, with Bowden on 1275 (38.7%), Klose on 1110 (33.7%) and Greens candidate Aiya Goodrich Carttling on 907 (27.6%). It seems unlikely that preferences would have favoured the Greens even if it had been otherwise. My live results facility now records the final numbers – there will be more where this came from on this site with the Queensland elections on Saturday week, certainly with the state by-elections, and perhaps also for the Brisbane City Council elections, depending on how things go.

Note also two new posts below this one, one dealing with a new poll of state voting intention in Tasmania, the other being Adrian Beaumont’s latest contribution on the Democratic primaries in the United States.

Two things

Some rare insights into how preferences behave in unusual circumstances courtesy of the Johnston by-election, and yet more data on issue salience, this time from JWS Research.

Two things:

• At Antony Green’s prompting, the Northern Territory Electoral Commission has published breakdowns of the various candidates’ preferences flows at Saturday’s Johnston by-election, providing measures of the impact of highly unusual preferencing behaviour by the Greens and the Country Labor Party — remembering that the Northern Territory prohibits dissemination of how-to-vote cards is the immediate vicinity of polling booths. Having done the unthinkable and put Labor last, the Greens’ preferences split 56.9-43.1 between Labor and the Territory Alliance, compared with my own rule of thumb that Labor gets 80% of Greens preferences when they are so directed and 75% when no recommendation is made. Note that this is the Territory Alliance rather than the Country Liberal Party, and that Labor’s flow would presumably have been somewhat stronger had it been otherwise. The CLP no less unusually put Labor second, and their preferences went 52.9-47.1 in favour of the Territory Alliance.

• JWS Research has released its latest quarterly True Issues report, confirming the impression of other similar polling that the salience of the environment and climate chnage spiked over summer. Respondents were separately asked to name three issues off the tops of their heads and to pick the five most important issues out of a list of twenty, with confusingly different results – environment reigned supreme in the first case, but in the second it trailed cost of living (which ranked low when unprompted) and health (second in both cases). Perhaps the most revealing point is that environment increased in the prompted question from 33% a year ago to 42%, while immigration and border security fell from 36% to 25%. The federal government was reckoned to be performing well by 28% of respondents, down two since the November survey, and poorly by 35%, up two. The survey was conducted online from a sample of 1000 from February 20-24.

Johnston by-election live

Live coverage of counting for the Northern Territory’s Johnston by-election.

Click here for full display of results.

Summary

Labor’s Joel Bowden finished the evening with a lead of 170 votes (2.6%) over Steven Klose of the Territory Alliance on the preference count, with probably only a few dozen votes outstanding. The Country Liberal Party humiliatingly finished in fourth place, with the Greens doing well to maintain their 17% share of the vote despite the expansion of the field from three candidates to seven. Together with the 21.4% slump in the Labor primary vote, the result is another illustration of the pronounced appetite voters have developed for minor parties when given a sufficient range of options. Another candidate, Braedon Earley, polled 10.4% on an anti-fracking platform, presumably benefiting from a considerable constituency hostile to both fracking and the Greens.

Labor was clearly buoyed by the strength of its candidate, a former Richmond AFL player and general secretary of Unions NT. While the Greens’ preference recommendation may have cut as much as 4% from the Labor margin, this was negated by the CLP’s equally curious decision to put Labor second, reflected in a near 50-50 split of their preferences (going off scrutineering figures obtained by Antony Green). A more normal CLP preference split would almost certainly have delivered the seat to the Territory Alliance — a result that perhaps scared the CLP more than a Labor win, potentially threatening their status as the main conservative party.

The result makes it very hard to determine how the August election might look. For all the strength of the Territory Alliance’s performance, its challenge in actually winning seats remains formidable — though perhaps not insurmountable if their near-success at the by-election inspires a bandwagon effect. The other notably strong performer, the Greens, do not enjoy the localised critical mass of support needed to win seats. However, it is clear both that voters are willing to turn away from the government, and that a CLP that can boast only two members of parliament is not seen as a credible alternative. The likeliest possibilities are either a bare Labor majority or a hung parliament with the Territory Alliance and independents as kingmakers or perhaps even coalition partners.

Live commentary

8.14pm. Eighty postal votes have been added — a bit more than Antony figured — on both the primary and two-party vote, breaking 47-33 to Labor.

8.11pm. My probability estimate assumes 304 outstanding votes, which is somewhat arbitrary. To the extent that that’s an overstatement, the remaining 1.9% probability of a Labor defeat disappears.

8.05pm. Rapid Creek EVC now in on two-party preferred, paring back my projection of Labor’s winning margin to 2.0%. They have a raw lead of 156 votes, with only 50 votes outstanding plus whatever the Darwin area mobile team will amount to, which probably isn’t much (and which I don’t expect will be favourable to conservatives).

7.57pm. Possible wild card: anti-fracking independent Braedon Earley’s preferences flowing heavily to the Greens, putting them ahead of the Territory Alliance, and after that who knows. But a long shot on both counts.

7.53pm. On Twitter, Antony relates there will only be about 50 postals, and a Northern Territory News reports Labor is about to claim victory.

7.47pm. Antony Green and I are of one mind: “I have three different methods for predicting the Johnston by-election result, and all three are predicting Labor to win with 52.6% after preferences.”

7.46pm. Rapid Creek EVC primary vote in, resulting in little change to the overall picture.

7.39pm. Moil booth has reported on two-party, behaving as my model expected to, leaving the Labor winning margin all but unchanged on 2.3%. Labor win probability now up to 98%, with the Rapid Creek EVC the only substantial unreported booth. However, this is a new booth that I’ve dealt with by dividing the results of the Casuarina EVC between the two, and it can’t be ruled out that its behaviour won’t quite be the same.

7.25pm. Millner two-party result in, with a slightly weaker preference flow from elsewhere bringing the projected Labor margin back from 3.0% to 2.4%. But because there are fewer votes outstanding now, this hasn’t changed my model’s estimation of a Labor win probability around 95%.

7.19pm. Moil booth added on the primary vote, and while it has the biggest primary vote swing against Labor so far, it hasn’t fundamentally changed the situation, projecting a 3.0% Labor winning margin. But for what it’s worth, the Labor win probability is back inside 95%.

7.00pm. The Casuarina pre-poll booth is in, on primary and two-party, and it’s firming up as a Labor-versus-Territory Alliance contest with the CLP still in fourth place. These numbers haven’t rocked my preference projection too hard, which is to say that Labor looks to be retaining a solid flow of Greens preferences despite the how-to-vote card. My model says Labor are very likely to win, with a projected 3.5% winning margin, but I’d still be conservative about interpreting it.

6.55pm. With that said, the Greens are doing well — their vote is up despite the fact they were the only minor party option in the field in 2016, compared with five this time, and they’re actually ahead of the CLP. So that slump in the Labor primary vote could partly be votes going to the Greens and coming back to them on preferences.

6.52pm. The Millner booth is now in — Territory Alliance continues to outpoll the CLP, while Labor’s primary vote has slumped by 20.7%. My projections remain rosy for Labor, but that assumes they will get 56% of preferences which I’m pretty sure won’t happen, because that’s calculated off a Darwin EVC result that had the CLP on 7.6%, whereas the Millner result is twice as much. So treat it with a grain of salt until we get the Millner two-party count.

6.49pm. Sorry, I had that the wrong way around — it’s Labor leading 40-26. And I think by results display is working now, and while it’s almost giving it to Labor, obviously you would want more numbers. Part of the equation here is that Labor got 16 minor party and independent preferences and the Territory Alliance got 11, which needless to say isn’t much to go on.

6.40pm. The two-party count for Darwin ECV bodes well for the Territory Alliance, who lead 40-26 — but not for my results display, which has tanked under the pressure of having the parties other than I expected them to be. Will see if I can fix.

6.28pm. The NTEC’s results are on display now here, and we have 66 votes from the Darwin pre-poll centre. Obviously that’s not much to go on, but it’s interesting that the Territory Alliance has 15 votes to the CLP’s five. So far so good for my own results display — I’m projecting a 36.6% primary vote for Labor, which suggests they’re in trouble in less preferences behave in an unanticipated fashion.

6.20pm. Hopefully the plan is for the NTEC results display to come to life when there is actually a result to report. I will try to just swap Territory Alliance for CLP in my two-party calculations, so the latter’s historic results are used to calculate the swing for the former, but I don’t know how smoothly that’s going to run. That’s assuming that the NTEC is planning on publishing anything …

6.16pm. Still no sign of any results facility on the NTEC site, and no media feed in operation. I asked Antony Green on Twitter where he would be getting his results from, and his answer was “I don’t know yet”.

6pm. And they’re off. Antony Green relates on Twitter that the Northern Territory Electoral Commission have surprisingly decided to make their indicative count between Labor and the Territory Alliance, which means I won’t be able to calculate two-party swings. There’s also no sign of any results display on their website.

Preview

Today is the day of the Northern Territory’s Johnston by-election, which also happens to the first election of any kind in Australia above local government level since the federal election last May. Labor holds the northern Darwin seat by a margin of 14.7%, but the seat is less secure for them than this makes it appear owing to the scale of the Labor landslide in 2016 and the importance of local and candidate factors in the territory’s boutique electorates, which have only around 5000 voters.

A very substantial swing against Labor can be anticipated due to the departure of sitting member of Ken Vowles and his estrangement from the party, together with the general difficulties that have beset Michael Gunner’s Labor government since it came to power in 2016. There is also the fact that the Greens are instructing voters to put Labor last in protest over the government’s lifting of a moratorium on gas fracking exploration, although the effect of this is limited by a prohibition on disseminating how-to-vote cards near polling places.

All of this bodes well for the opposition Country Liberal Party, although they face opposition for the conservative vote from Territory Alliance, a new party founded by former CLP Chief Minister and now independent MP Terry Mills which is making its electoral debut. For what’s it’s worth, the latter’s candidate is the $1.70 favourite at Sportsbet, which is offering $1.90 for Labor and $2.75 for the CLP.

Live coverage will follow here upon the closure of polling at 6pm, encompassing analysis on this post and a detailed display of results that is ready to go here. Naturally though, in an electorate this small there are only so many results to follow – two election day polling booths plus two pre-poll booths, with the latter accounting for an ever increasing share of the action.

An institute you can disparage

A poll for the Institute of Public Affairs shows mixed views on the ABC, but it may be showing its age. Also featured: updates on by-elections in the Northern Territory and Queensland.

Way back between December 6 and 8, an online poll of 1016 respondents was conducted by Dynata for the Institute of Public Affairs covering myriad issues, results of which have been apportioned out piecemeal ever since. The latest serving seeks to counter the consistent finding of other pollsters that the nation’s most trusted news organisation is the ABC. The results have naturally been received with skepticism in some quarters, although asking respondents if they feel the ABC “does not represent the views of ordinary Australians” only seems dubious in that it’s framed in the negative for no clear reason. The poll found 30% in agreement with the proposition versus 32% who disagreed, leaving 38% on the fence.

The result has been elevated to a vote of no confidence in the organisation by Coalition Senator James McGrath (who I suspect might be surprised if he learned how many of its critics are on the left), while a News Corp report seizes on the result for the 18-24 age cohort to suggest the ABC has lost the esteem of the young. The latter overlooks a sub-sample size that would imply an error margin upwards of 10%. The survey period also predated the worst of the bushfires, which have presumably been good for the broadcaster’s public image. Previous results from the survey have covered the date for Australia Day, local councils making political statements and the powers of unelected bureaucrats and removing references to race from the Constitution.

Some news on state (and territory) affairs, including updates on two of the three by-election campaigns currently in progress, guides to which can be accessed on the sidebar:

• The Northern Territory by-election for the northern Darwin seat of Johnston will be held on February 29, an unwelcome development for Michael Gunner’s struggling Labor government ahead an election on August 22. Much attention was focused on the Greens’ decision to put Labor last on its how-to-vote cards, but it may also prove consequential that the Country Liberals have Labor ahead of the Territory Alliance, the new party formed by former CLP Chief Minister Terry Mills. The party’s candidate, Steven Klose, has been boosted by suggestions the party could emerge as the official opposition if it wins the seat, since it would have three seats to the Country Liberals’ two if Mills is joined by Klose and Jeff Collins, an ex-Labor independent who says he is a “50-50 chance” of joining the party. Tune in to the blog on Saturday for live results reporting with more bells and whistles than you might think the occasion properly demands.

• Labor’s candidate for Queensland’s Bundamba by-election will be Lance McCallum, a former Electrical Trades Union official and current executive director of the Just Transition Group, a government body to help energy workers whose jobs might be lost amid the transition to renewables. Michael McKenna of The Australian ($) reports McCallum was nominated unopposed after winning the endorsement of the Left, to which the seat is reserved under factional arrangements. A rival candidate for the Left faction’s ballot, Nick Thompson, had the backing of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, whose state secretary Michael Ravbar has disputed the legitimacy of the result. The only other known candidate is Sharon Bell of One Nation, who was the party’s federal candidate in Blair last year. No word on a Liberal National Party candidate, but The Australian reports the party is “expected to run”, despite the 21.6% Labor margin. Nominations close on Tuesday.

• A Tasmanian parliamentary committee report has recommended restoring the state’s House of Assembly to 35 seats, from which it was cut to 25 in 1998. Each of the state’s five electoral divisions have returned five members under the Hare-Clark proportional representation system, compared with seven seats previously. An all-party agreement was previously in place to do this in 2010 and 2011, before the then Liberal opposition under Will Hodgman withdrew support as a riposte to government budget cuts. No recommendations have been made in relation to the Legislative Council, which was cut from 19 to 15 in 1998, except insofar as the committee considered the possibility of it have dedicated indigenous seats.

Also, note below this one the latest guest post from Adrian Beaumont, covering recent developments involving the nationalist Sinn Finn party in Ireland and the far right Alternative fur Deutschland in Germany, along with yet another election in Israel.

Bundambarama

A second by-election now looms in Queensland, in which One Nation may cause trouble in a traditionally Labor-voting working class seat. Elsewhere, Josh Frydenberg faces a contentious Section 44 challenge, and a Victorian Liberal aspirant regrets not paying his train fare.

At the top of the sidebar are links to guides I have up for three by-election campaigns currently in progress, including yesterday’s new addition:

• Queensland’s festival of democracy on March 28 looks set to receive a new attraction after Jo-Ann Miller’s announcement to parliament yesterday that she is resigning as member of the eastern Ipswich seat of Bundamba, effective immediately. After two decades as Labor member, Miller has grown increasingly estranged from her party over time, a particularly interesting manifestation of which was an appearance alongside Pauline Hanson on the campaign trail two days before the December 2017 state election. One Nation did not field a candidate against Miller in 2017, but has been quick to announce it has a candidate ready to go for the by-election, who will be announced on the weekend. Since Ipswich was the birthplace of the Hanson phenomenon, this could yet make the by-election more interesting than the 21.6% two-party margin suggests. Tony Moore of the Brisbane Times reports Steve Axe, Miller’s electorate officer, will contest the preselection, but Sarah Elks of The Australian reports the front runners are two candidates of the Left: Nick Thompson and Lance McCallum, who are respectively aligned with the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union and the Electrical Trades Union. I have a provisional by-election guide up and running which takes it for granted it will be held on March 28, though this is yet to be officially confirmed. Also on that day will be the Currumbin by-election and council elections, including for the big prizes of the Brisbane city council and lord mayoralty.

• Further on the by-election front, I had a paywalled piece in Crikey yesterday on the Greens preferences imbroglio in Johnston.

Legal matters:

• The Federal Court is hearing a Section 44 challenge against Josh Frydenberg relating to his Hungarian-born mother, which complainant Michael Staindl argues makes him a dual citizen. Frydenberg’s mother and her family fled the country in 1949 as its post-war communist regime tightened its grip on power, describing themselves as stateless on arrival in Australia. Staindl maintains that the whole family’s Hungarian citizenship rights were restored with the collapse of communism in 1949. Staindl is also pursuing defamation action against Scott Morrison over the latter’s claim that his action was motivated by anti-Semitism. The Australian ($) reports a decision is expected “within weeks”.

• In further legal obscurantism news, Emanuele Cicchiello has withdrawn from the race to fill Mary Wooldridge’s vacancy in the Victorian Legislative Council on the grounds that he once pleaded guilty to an offence carrying a prison term of more than five years – for improperly claiming a concessional train fare when he was 19. The Australian ($) reports that those remaining in the field are Asher Judah, former Property Council deputy director and Master Builders policy manager, and Matthew Bach, deputy director of Ivanhoe Girls Grammar.

Return of the frack

A contentious preference recommendation by the Greens brings a Northern Territory by-election to life, while the closure of nominations yields only a small field of candidates for the Queensland seat of Currumbin.

No Newspoll this week, owing to The Australian’s enthusiasm for unleashing them at the start of parliamentary sitting weeks, requiring a three week break rather than the usual two. However, we do have a extensive new poll on the bushfire crisis from the Australian National University’s Centre for Social Research and Methods and the Social Research Centre. It finds that fully 78.6% of the population reports being affected by the fires in one way or another, 14.4% severely or directly. Half the sample of 3000 respondents was asked how Scott Morrison had handled the bushfires, of whom 64.5% disapproved; for the other half the question was framed in terms of the government, with 59.4% disapproving.

Beyond that, there’s the two state/territory by-election campaigns currently in progress:

• I have posted a guide to next Saturday’s by-election in the Northern Territory seat of Johnston, which has suddenly became of more than marginal interest owing to the Greens decision to put Labor last on their how-to-vote cards (albeit that local electoral laws prevent these being distributed within close proximity of polling booths). This has been done to protest the decision by Michael Gunner’s Labor government to lift a moratorium on gas fracking exploration. The party has not taken such a step in any jurisdiction since the Queensland state election of July 1995, when it sought to punish Wayne Goss’s government in the seat of Springwood over a planned motorway through a koala habitat. This made a minor contribution to its loss of the seat, and hence to its eventual removal from office after a by-election defeat the following February. There’s acres of useful information on all this on Antony Green’s new blog, which he is publishing independently due to the ABC’s cavalier treatment of the invaluable blog he had there in happier times. There will also be a piece by me on the Greens’ decision in Crikey today, God willing.

• The other by-election in progress at the moment is for the Queensland seat of Currumbin on March 28, for which my guide can be found guide can be found here. With the closure of nominations last week, only two candidates emerged additional to Laura Gerber of the Liberal National Party and Kaylee Campradt of Labor: Sally Spain of the Greens, a perennial candidate for the party in federal and state Gold Coast seats; and Nicholas Bettany of One Nation, about whom the only thing I can tell you is that he recently deleted his Twitter account (what’s preserved of it on the Google cache reveals nothing particularly outrageous).