Matters related thereto

Roy Morgan has spared the government a new set of poll results this week, presumably holding over last weekend’s face-to-face results for a combined two weeks’ result to be published next week. So here’s some stuff that has accumulated during my recent period of indolence:

• The federal parliament’s Joint Standing Committee of Electoral Matters brought down its report into the 2010 federal election a fortnight ago. One noteworthy innovation is a less pompous report title, “The 2010 Federal Election: Report on the conduct of the election and related matters” replacing the traditional formulation of “Report on the conduct of the (insert year) federal election and matters related thereto”. Antony Green summarises its recommendations here; now that my holidays are over I’ll shortly get around to reviewing it and will have more to say after I’ve fully absorbed it.

• One of the majority report’s recommendations was that the federal government follow the example of New South Wales and Victoria in allowing government records such as drivers licences, vehicle registration and Year 12 school enrolments to be used to automatically update the electoral roll. However, this is opposed in the dissenting JSCEM report from the committee’s Coalition members, for reasons I do not find persuasive. Antony Green has reviewed the impact of such measures in New South Wales since their introduction last year, observing that only 12 per cent of the 70,000 people whose enrolments have been added or updated have taken the trouble to enrol the old-fashioned way for the federal electoral roll. His conclusion: “On the evidence so far, by the time of the next commonwealth election in the second half of 2013, there could be as many as 200,000 voters enrolled for NSW elections and eligible to vote at commonwealth elections who will be missing from the commonwealth roll or be enrolled at the wrong address.”

• Draft electoral redistribution boundaries have recently been published for both our nation’s territory parliaments. Antony Green surveys the results for the Northern Territory here and the Australian Capital Territory here. An ACT redistribution would normally be of minor interest, as the territory is only divided into three electorates for purposes of a regionally based system of proportional representation, but Antony asserts that in this case the changes are radical enough to be of substantial interest, and in particular to put at risk the fourth seat the Greens won at the 2008 election. For the Northern Territory, Antony has calculated new margins for each of the 25 seats, with the caveat that the enormous sitting member factors which result from pocket-sized electorates of 4000 to 5000 voters make party-based margins less reliable than usual.

• There has been much talk lately about the possibility of an incoming Coalition government calling an early double dissolution election should it meet Senate resistance from its efforts to abolish a carbon tax. Tony Abbott’s argument to those concerned about the resulting uncertainty and expense is that opposing its repeal in the Senate would be politically suicidal for a defeated Labor Party, a case pursued by Queensland legal academic James Allan in The Australian.

There was a fair bit of material I had been compiling on Western Australian matters to coincide with a looming quarterly state Newspoll, but I was caught on the hop when it was published a month earlier than I’d anticipated.

• Legislation to fix election dates for the second Saturday in every March has passed through the Legislative Council and currently awaits the rubber stamp of the lower house. The bill allows some flexibility: automatic postponement if clashing with a federal election or a week either side of Easter Saturday, or a later date under “exceptional circumstances” as agreed to by the Premier and Opposition Leader. Despite the federal election provision, the date could still cause problems for future federal governments wishing to avoid clashes federal and state campaigns, early March having been a traditionally popular time for elections (most recently in 1990, 1993 and 1996). The parliament may still be dissolved at any time up to four months prior to the scheduled election date, but any government that does so will be exposing itself to a separate Legislative Council election held on the usual day. Barring such exceptional circumstances, the next election will be held on Saturday, March 9. This will result in the current parliamentary term being the longest of any federal or state parliament in Australian history, a legacy of Labor Premier Alan Carpenter’s decision to disturb the normal electoral cycle by calling for September 6, 2008 an election that was not due until February or March of 2009.

• There have been widespread suggestions that former Channel Nine newsreader Dixie Marshall will run as the Liberal candidate for Churchlands at the next election. Marshall has recently taken up a position as the government’s chief media strategist, and her father Arthur Marshall was a Liberal member for the seats of Murray and Murray-Wellington from 1989 to 2005. Churchlands will be vacated by the retirement of independent Liz Constable, an ally of Premier Colin Barnett who has served as Education Minister in his government since its came to office. Ben Harvey of The West Australian (see below) says other names in the mix include “cricket legend Justin Langer, hospitality tsarina Kate Lamont, media personality Adrian Barich and Australian Hotels Association (WA) boss Bradley Woods”.

Ben Harvey of The West Australian offers a further review of preselection rumours doing the rounds. This appeared in the paper’s gossip-style Inside Cover section, prompting Harvey to qualify: “If they turn out to be wrong, then please discount this column as light-hearted fluff. But if any of them are right, then remember what you are about to read is an example of world-class forensic journalism.” The most interesting suggestion contained is that Deirdre Willmott, former Chamber of Commerce and Industry director and current business manager for Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group who won preselection before the 2008 election to succeed Colin Barnett in Cottesloe but then had to hand it back to him when he secured the party leadership, might run in the naturally conservative seat of Alfred Cove against sitting independent Janet Woollard, whose nine electoral lives are probably due to run out. Another suggestion with quite a few ifs attached is that Labor state secretary Simon Mead might succeed Eric Ripper in Belmont should Ripper lose the leadership and decide to bow out of politics. Still more qualified is an assertion that Alannah MacTiernan might be parachuted back in to assume the party leadership and stave off electoral disaster, the plausibility of which is indicated by the fact that no seat is nominated as a vehicle for her return. Harvey’s suggestion that MacTiernan might succeed Lisa Scaffidi as lord mayor and Scaffidi take over the seat of Perth was subsequently given short shrift by Scaffidi herself, who has dealt similarly with other such suggestions in the past. The rumour on which I would put the least money is that Troy Buswell will face a preselection challenge in Vasse from his wife Margaret, the former having taken up residence with the Greens-turned-independent Fremantle MP Adele Carles.

Nielsen: 61-39 to Coalition

GhostWhoVotes tweets that the first post-carbon tax announcement poll from Nielsen, presumably conducted between Thursday to Saturday from a sample of 1400, has the Coalition’s lead out from 59-41 to 61-39. Further comment superfluous, but primary votes and leadership figures, and presumably also some attitudinal stuff, to follow.

UPDATE: After falling a point short of overtaking Julia Gillard in last month’s poll, Tony Abbott has rocketed to an 11-point lead as preferred prime minister, up five points to 51 per cent with Gillard down six to 40 per cent.

UPDATE 2: Labor primary vote down a point to 26 per cent …

UPDATE 3: Michelle Grattan in the Sydney Morning Herald:

In results that will send waves of fear through the government, approval for Ms Gillard’s performance has tumbled another 3 points to 34 per cent, while her disapproval rating has jumped 3 to 62 per cent. The carbon plan has been given an unequivocal thumbs down, with 56 per cent of respondents opposed to a carbon price, 52 per cent rejecting the government’s carbon price and compensation package, and 53 per cent believing it will leave them worse off. More than half (56 per cent) say Ms Gillard has no mandate for her plan, and the same proportion want an early poll before the plan is introduced. Nearly half (47 per cent) think Bob Brown and the Greens are mainly responsible for the government’s package. More than half (52 per cent) say an Abbott government should repeal the package while 43 per cent believe it should be left in place under a new government. Ms Gillard yesterday denied she had been ringing around to gauge backbench support for her failing leadership.

The Coalition’s primary vote is up 2 points to 51 per cent, while the Greens’ is down 1 point to 11 per cent. Approval of Mr Abbott has risen a point to 47 per cent. His disapproval is down 2 points to 48 per cent … Ms Gillard’s approval rating is her worst so far and the lowest for a PM since Paul Keating’s 34 per cent in March 1995.

UPDATE (18/7/2011): Essential Research is kinder for the government, showing a slight improvement from last week’s worst-ever result for them: the Coalition’s lead is down from 57-43 to 56-44, with the Coalition down a point to 49 per cent, Labor up one to 31 per cent and the Greens steady on 11 per cent. Essential being a two-week rolling average, this was half conducted immediately before and half immediately after the carbon tax announcement, with the latter evidently having provided the better figures. I have noted in the past that, for whatever reason, Essential seems to get more favourable results for the carbon tax than phone pollsters: as well as being consistent with the voting intention findings (albeit not to the extent of statistical significance), the Essential survey also finds direct support for the carbon tax has increased since the announcement, with approval up four points to 39 per cent and disapproval down four to 49 per cent.

This raises at least the possibility that the phone polling methodology behind the recent Morgan and Nielsen results, as well as next week’s Newspoll, is skewed somewhat against the carbon tax – unless of course the internet-based Essential (or perhaps some other aspect of Essential’s methodology) is skewed in its favour. It should also be noted that Essential’s recovery only returns support to the level it was at in the June 14 survey, before a dive on July 11. For all that, respondents are just as pessimistic about their own prospects under the tax as were Morgan’s: 10 per cent say they will be better off against 69 per cent worse off, and 46 per cent believe it will be bad for Australia against 34 per cent good. Further questions inquire about respondent’s self-perceived level of knowledge about the tax, and their reactions about a range of responses to it.

Newspoll: 55-45 to LNP in Ashgrove (Queensland)

With all indicators pointing to a landslide defeat for Anna Bligh’s Labor government in Queensland at the state election due early next year, it seemed to me that one question mark remained: the Liberal National Party’s risky plan to parachute its extra-parliamentary leader, Campbell Newman, into the seat of Ashgrove, held by popular Labor member Kate Jones on a margin of no less than 7.3 per cent. Should any indications emerge during the campaign that Newman might not get over the line, there would emerge the electorally ruinous question of who would lead the party in his absence.

However, GhostWhoVotes relates that a Newspoll survey to be published in The Australian tomorrow shows the toxicity of the Labor brand is such that this is unlikely to be a problem. The poll shows Newman with a 55-45 two-candidate preferred lead over Jones, from primary votes of 50 per cent for Newman, 37 per cent for Jones and 11 per cent for the Greens. It also finds 57 per cent of voters in the electorate approve of Newman against only 27 per cent who disapprove. I will be interested to see the sample size, but this being Newspoll it can be taken for granted it was fairly substantial.

UPDATE: GhostWhoVotes relates the sample size was 504, putting the margin of error a bit north of 4 per cent.

Morgan phone poll: 60-40 to Coalition

The first poll of federal voting intention conducted since the carbon tax announcement finds the government’s carbon tax announcement bounce going in the wrong direction. A Roy Morgan phone poll of 1083 voters conducted on Wednesday and Thursday, it is in fact the worst result the government has recorded, with a Coalition two-party lead of 60-40 on the more generally reliable measure that allocates minor party preferences as per the previous election (although Morgan as usual headlines with the respondent-allocated result, which has it at 60.5-39.5). The Coalition’s primary vote is approaching double Labor’s – 52.5 per cent to 27.5 per cent – with the Greens on 10.5 per cent.

Morgan has also simultaneously published its latest face-to-face polling results, which actually show a slight improvement in Labor’s standing: primary vote up two points to 33.5 per cent, Coalition down one to 48 per cent, Greens steady on 11.5 per cent, Coalition two-party lead down from 56.5-43.5 to 54.5-45.5 (58.5-41.5 to 56-44 on the respondent-allocated measure). However, since this was conducted on the weekend and the carbon tax announcement was made on Sunday, this offers the government no consolation whatsoever when taken together with the phone poll.

UPDATE: Roy Morgan has published further results on the carbon tax, which add further to the government’s misery: 37 per cent support the government’s legislation, steady on six weeks ago, while opposition has risen five points to 58 per cent. Skepticism about climate change itself has scaled new heights: 37 per cent of “all people aged 14+” now believe concerns are exaggerated, which is up five points on six weeks ago and compares with just 13 per cent when the question was first asked in April 2006. Support for Tony Abbott’s policy of overturning the tax in government is up three points to 48 per cent and opposition is steady on 45 per cent. As in Morgan’s last such poll, some of the subsequent questions have a very strong whiff of push-polling about them.

Newspoll: 58-42 to Coalition

GhostWhoVotes reports the latest Newspoll has the Coalition with a 58-42 lead on two-party preferred, compared with 55-45 a fortnight ago. The primary votes are 27 per cent for Labor (down -3), 49 per cent for the Coalition (up +3) and 12 per cent for the Greens (up +1). More to follow, though probably not until tomorrow.

UPDATE (13/7/11): Very bad news for the government from a Galaxy survey of 500 respondents conducted on Monday night, which finds essentially no change in opinion on the carbon tax: only 29 per cent say that, “based on what you have seen or heard about the carbon tax”, they are supportive; fully 60 per cent are opposed. Galaxy has again pointlessly asked respondents if they think Gillard has a mandate for the tax or should instead call an election, a false dichotomy I railed against when they asked it six weeks ago, but since they have also asked the more sensible question it’s not such a problem. Terrifyingly for the government, only 10 per cent believe they will be better off under the carbon tax against 68 per cent worse off, despite what the Treasury modelling has to say on the subject.

UPDATE 2 (14/7/11): Essential Research has also published results for a question on the exclusion of fuel from the carbon tax, conducted for the Ten Network. I presume this formed part of last week’s survey, and was thus conducted before Sunday’s announcement. It has 30 per cent declaring themselves more likely to support the tax on the basis of the exclusion of fuel, 11 per cent less likely and 52 per cent saying it will make no difference.

Morgan: 56.5-43.5 to Coalition

Another day (week, anyway), another near-record bad poll for Labor. This time it’s a face-to-face Morgan poll, which used to be the most favourable series going for Labor but has ceased to be so since the recent nosedive in their polling fortunes. The latest result combines the last two weekends of surveying and has the Labor primary vote plunging further from 35 per cent to 31.5 per cent – either a record low for Morgan face-to-face, or something very close to it – with the Coalition up from 46.5 per cent to 49 per cent. The Greens are steady on 11.5 per cent. In keeping with the recent trend, there is a wide gap between the two-party score as measured by respondent allocation (58.5-41.5, up from 54.5 to 45.5 a fortnight ago) and the results of the previous election (56.5-43.5, up from 53.5-46.5).

UPDATE (11/7): The latest Essential Research poll shows – guess what – its worst result for Labor ever. The Coalition lead is now 57-43, up from 56-44 last time, with primary votes of 50 per cent for the Coalition (up one), 30 per cent for Labor (down two) and 11 per cent for the Greens (steady). The monthly reading of leaders’ personal ratings concurs with Newspoll in having Julia Gillard on 29 per cent approval (down five) and 62 per cent disapproval (up eight), and Tony Abbott leading Gillard as preferred prime minister 39 per cent to 37 per cent. Abbott’s ratings are 39 per cent approval (up one) and 49 per cent disapproval (up one). Support for carbon pricing has further deteriorated, with support down three to 35 per cent and opposition up four to 53 per cent. This of course was conducted entirely before yesterday’s policy announcement. Most intriguingly for election buffs, there is a question on the preferred voting system – though they’ve squibbed it in my opinion by not including proportional representation. It is found that 44 per cent would prefer first past the post, which some will no doubt dishonestly interpret as representing majority support for that system. However, the two kinds of preferential voting on offer collectively accounted for 48 per cent – 22 per cent for the compulsory preferential system we have at federal level, and 26 per cent for the optional preferential system which they have for New South Wales and Victorian state elections, and which Britain recently voted against in its “AV” referendum. Eighty-two per cent say they would or probably would vote if voting were voluntary; unfortunately, respondents were not asked if they thought compulsory vote a good idea. There’s also some stuff there on the foreign aid budget.