Departure lounge

The retirement of another senior Liberal in a loseable seat, and a poll suggesting Labor could pull off a boilover in Higgins.

The West Australian today reports that Human Services Minister Michael Keenan will be joining the exodus at the election, creating a vacancy in his northern suburbs Perth seat of Stirling. The seat was long highly marginal, but Keenan has held it on mostly comfortable margins since he gained the seat from Labor in 2004.

There is also a uComms/ReachTEL poll in The Australian from the scene of the week’s other big retirement announcements, the Melbourne seat of Higgins. Conducted on Thursday from a sample of 860 for interests who wish to bring about the return of Peter Costello, the poll finds Labor with a two-party lead of 52-48. This compares with a 10.7% margin for retiring Liberal member Kelly O’Dwyer in Liberals-versus-Labor terms, although it’s perfectly in line with how the electorate voted at the election. It was in fact the Greens who finished second in 2016, but the poll suggests that is unlikely to be repeated this time: after exclusion of the 8.4% undecided, the primary votes are Liberal 40.3%, Labor 27.1% and Greens 19.3%.

Midweek mélange

New fronts open in the Liberal Party’s internal warfare as it scrambles to prepare for an election looking increasingly to be in May.

As we wait for the 2019 polling machine to get cranking, a review of recent happenings:

• Indigenous leader Warren Mundine is to be installed as the new Liberal candidate for the marginal seat of Gilmore in southern New South Wales, supplanting the existing candidate, Grant Schultz, by decree of the party’s state executive acting at the behest of the Prime Minister. Schultz promptly quit the Liberal Party when the news broke yesterday and announced he would run as an independent. Schultz’s dumping was also blasted by Shelley Hancock, member for the corresponding state seat of South Coast, who spoke of “one of the darkest days of the Liberal Party”. A local real estate agent and son of the late Alby Schultz, former member for Hume, Schultz was preparing a challenge to the preselection of incumbent Ann Sudmalis last year, and was the only remaining nominee after she announced her retirement in September. Mundine was national president of the ALP in 2006 and 2007, but quit the party in 2012 and moved ever further into the conservative orbit thereafter. It is expected the seat will be contested for the Nationals by Katrina Hodgkinson, former state member for Burrinjuck and Cootamundra.

• Following Kelly O’Dwyer’s retirement announcement on the weekend, it appears accepted within the Liberal Party that it needs to pick a woman to succeed her. Katie Allen, a paediatrician and medical researcher who ran unsuccessfully in Prahran at the November state election, has confirmed she will nominate. Michael Koziol of The Age reports other names being discussed include Caroline Elliott, state party vice-president and daughter of businessman John Elliott, and Margaret Fitzherbert, who lost her upper house seat for Southern Metropolitan region at the state election. Senator Jane Hume has reportedly encouraged to put her name forward, but announced yesterday she would not do so.

• Anne Webster, founder of young mother support organisation Zoe Support, was chosen as the Nationals candidate for Mallee at a local preselection vote on Saturday. Webster will succeed one-term member Andrew Broad, who announced his impending retirement last month after he became embroiled in the “sugar baby” affair. Rachel Baxendale of The Australian reports Webster won in the second round of voting over Birchip accountant and farmer Bernadette Hogan and Mildura police domestic violence taskforce head Paul Matheson, with three other candidates excluded in the first round.

• Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie has announced she will not contest the lower house seat of Indi, contrary to expectations she would do so if independent incumbent Cathy McGowan announced her retirement, which she did last weekend.

• Two notable independents have emerged to challenge Tony Abbott in Warringah: Alice Thompson, a KPMG manager who worked in the Prime Minister’s Office under Malcolm Turnbull, and Susan Moylan-Coombs, founder and director of indigenous advocacy organisation the Gaimaragal Group.

BludgerTrack: 53.7-46.3 to Labor

BludgerTrack returns from hibernation, albeit with only one new poll result to play with.

The return of Essential Research provided the BludgerTrack mill with its first grist for the new year, but the model is at its least robust when it only has one data point to play with after a long gap. This means BludgerTrack strongly follows the lead of a poll that was less bad for the Coalition than their usual form, resulting in a substantial reduction in Labor’s still commanding lead on two-party preferred. Labor is also down six on the seat projection – one in each mainland state and two in Queensland. The Essential poll also included a new set of numbers for the leadership ratings, and these produced a weak result for Bill Shorten that has blunted his recent improving trend. Full results through the link below.

Essential Research: 53-47 to Labor

In the first new poll of the year, both major parties are up on the primary vote, yet their leaders’ disapproval ratings have shot upwards.

Essential Research is back in business, its first poll for the new year no change on Labor’s 53-47 lead in the final poll last year. Both major parties are on 38% on the primary votes, which is a two-point improvement for Labor and a one-point improvement for the Coalition. Minor party primary votes will have to wait for the publication of the full report later today. In a spirit of seasonal goodwill, monthly leadership ratings find both leaders well up on disapproval – by five points in Morrison’s case to 39%, and four in Shorten’s case to 47% – while Morrison is up one on approval to 42% and Shorten is unchanged on 35%.

As related by The Guardian, further questions mostly focused on the recent far right rally in St Kilda, the most interesting finding being that 48% thought Scott Morrison “demonstrated poor leadership by not immediately condemning the rally, and those who attended it, in stronger terms”, compared with 36% who disagreed. Only 22% thought it appropriate for Senator Fraser Anning to “use taxpayer money to attend the rally”, with 66% saying it was appropriate; 74% felt there was ”no place in Australian society for the use of racist and fascist symbols used by participants in the rally”, whereas 17% were apparently all in favour of them; and that 73% nonetheless felt that “Australians have the right to peacefully protest, no matter how extreme their views”, while 19% didn’t.

The poll also find 63% support for pill testing, although the question was very particular about the specifics, specifying circumstances in which “trained counsellors provide risk-reduction advice informed by on-site laboratory analysis of people’s drugs”.

UPDATE: Full report here. The Greens are down a point to 10%, and One Nation are steady on 7%.

The age of entitlement

Prospects for the states’ seat entitlements in the medium term, and the Coalition’s chances of having any left to their name in Victoria after the coming election.

Essential Research should be breaking the New Year polling drought this week. Until then, three things:

• I have taken a look at state population growth trends to ascertain what the states’ House of Representatives seat entitlements are likely to be when the matter is determined a year after the next election. The table below shows how the numbers looked at the determinations following the 2013 and 2016 elections, how they are right now, and where they are headed according to current trends. Note the exact size of the House of Representatives depends on the vagaries of how these numbers are rounded: it will increase to 151 at the next election, because the last round decreed extra seats for Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory while penalising only the ever-declining South Australia. Note also that Tasmania is constitutionally entitled to five seats come what may.

2013 2016 2018 2019
NSW 47.39 47.32 47.29 47.24
Victoria 36.78 37.89 38.25 38.57
Queensland 29.75 29.64 29.68 29.73
WA 16.21 15.58 15.37 15.21
SA 10.63 10.42 10.28 10.15
Tasmania 3.25 3.15 3.13 3.10
ACT 2.44 2.54 2.51 2.51
NT 1.56 1.50 1.47 1.44

It appears quite certain Western Australia will lose the sixteenth seat it gained in 2016; that Victoria could potentially gain a seat for the second electoral cycle in a row; that the Northern Territory is in big danger of reverting to one seat after eighteen years with two; and that it’s touch-and-go for the third seat the Australian Capital Territory will gain at the coming election. Western Australia was lucky not to lose a seat last time, and has since fallen well below threshold, while Victoria’s growth rate of 0.3 seats a year leaves it projected to just make it over the line. Northern Territory’s entitlement fell below two after the 2001 election, but parliament came up with a legislative fiddle to preserve its second seat. Its population then went through a period of growth on the back of the resources boom, which has lately been in reverse. The ACT’s numbers tend to wax with Labor governments and wane with Coalition ones, owing to the parties’ respective attitudes to the public service, so the result of the coming election may have a bearing here.

The Australian reports that Cathy McGowan, the independent member for Indi, “will make an announcement about her political future on Monday morning”. One senses the announcement will be that she is not seeking re-election, as the Voices for Indi group that was behind her successful campaigns in 2013 and 2016 has seen fit to anoint her successor: Helen Haines, a Wangaratta-based midwife and rural health researcher. However, McGowan’s position was that she would wait to see who the group chose before deciding, and Haines says she will happily leave the field clear for McGowan if she wants to continue. The unsuccessful candidates included McGowan’s sister, local lawyer Helen McGowan. It is anticipated that Senator Bridget McKenzie, who recently relocated her electorate office to Wodonga, will run for the Nationals if McGowan retires.

• The Nine Network reports Liberal internal polling shows it headed for a near total wipeout in Melbourne, with only Tim Wilson in Goldstein looking good to hang on. However, this was reportedly conducted at the time of the state election, which raises two issues: whether its proximity confused respondents, and why it whoever leaked it should be doing so now in particular.

Leadership ratings revisited

Picking apart personal approval and preferred prime minister ratings in the Morrison era.

BludgerTrack’s leadership approval and preferred prime ministership readings have been in limbo since last August’s leadership change, since it was necessary to accumulate a certain amount of data before Morrison-era trends could usefully be generated. I have now finally got around to doing something about this, the results of which can be found through the link below:

This exercise has to contend with the very substantial idiosyncrasies of the various pollsters, of which three produce data that can meaningfully be compared with each other: Newspoll, Essential and Ipsos (there are also a handful of small-sample Morgan results in the mix). This is done by calculating a trend exclusively from Newspoll, determining the other pollsters’ average deviations from that trend, and adjusting their results accordingly. For whatever reason, Newspoll appears to be a particularly tough marker, which means the other pollsters are adjusted very substantially downwards on approval and upwards on disapproval:

Ipsos Essential
PM approval -11.0% -3.1%
PM disapproval +8.9% +8.6%
OL approval -5.5% -1.0%
OL disapproval +2.4% +9.5%
PM preferred -4.8% -0.3%

“PM preferred” refers to the size of the Prime Minister’s lead over the Opposition Leader in preferred prime minister polling – so Ipsos, for example, records relatively large leads for the Prime Minister in comparison with Newspoll, and is adjusted accordingly.

The job of charting trendlines through the spread of results is complicated by some notable outliers at around the time of the leadership transition. Malcolm Turnbull’s critics on the right are very keen on an Ipsos poll conducted over the last week of his prime ministership, as it is the only evidence polling has to offer that the Coalition’s present dismal position is not entirely down to the avoidable disaster of Turnbull’s removal. After a period of fairly consistent 51-49 results from all pollsters, this poll found Labor’s lead blowing out to 55-45 – and Malcolm Turnbull down nine on approval and up ten on disapproval. However, the BludgerTrack trend is not overly responsive to single poll results, so it records no sudden decline at the end of Turnbull’s tenure – only the levelling off an improving trend going back to late 2017.

Immediately after the leadership change, two pollsters posed questions on preferred prime minister, though not leadership approval. These produced very different results – a 39-33 lead for Bill Shorten from Newspoll, and a 39-29 lead for Scott Morrison from Essential. Newspoll is given a heavier weighting than Essential, so the trend follows its lead in finding Shorten with a very short-lived lead immediately after the leadership change. However, none of the fifteen poll results have replicated a lead for Shorten, so it is entirely possible that the Newspoll result was an outlier and the lead never existed in the first place.

The bigger picture is that Scott Morrison started well on net approval, but has now settled in roughly where Malcolm Turnbull was in his final months; that he is under-performing Turnbull on preferred prime minister; and that Bill Shorten’s net rating, while still not great, has been on a steady upward path since the leadership change.