Newspoll: 54-46

The first Newspoll survey after the end-of-year break shows the Coalition recovering to 54-46 after the shock 59-41 result of December 9. The Australian spruiks this as the Coalition clawing back support, but a more likely explanation is that the previous poll was a rogue. Kevin Rudd’s lead as preferred prime minister is down from 66-19 to 60-22.

UPDATE: Graphic here. Rudd’s approval is down seven points to 63 per cent; Turnbull’s is down two to 45 per cent, his weakest result to date.

Elsewhere:

• Essential Research’s weekly survey has produced a status quo 59-41 result, along with a 56-20 preferred prime minister lead for Kevin Rudd that marks little shift from the previous time the question was asked in late November. Also featured are questions on expectations of the year ahead economically and for the Barack Obama presidency. Most interestingly, respondents were also asked to name their favourite prime minister since World War II, which produced a win for John Howard on 28 per cent. This is largely because those supporting Liberals (45 per cent of the total) showed no interest for contenders other than Howard and Bob Menzies (11 per cent), whereas the Labor loyalist vote was split between Kevin Rudd (20 per cent), Bob Hawke (12 per cent), Gough Whitlam (9 per cent) and Paul Keating (8 per cent).

• Former Tasmanian Tourism Minister Paula Wreidt has retired from politics, creating a vacancy in the electorate of Franklin that will be filled by a countback on February 2. This provides a clear entry to parliament for Daniel Hulme, the only remaining unelected Labor candidate from the 2006 election. My election guide entry tells me Hulme was an “Australian Taxation Office worker and former Young Labor president described by Sue Neales of The Mercury as a ‘right-wing pro-development campaigner’”. Hulme was the last man standing after Paul Lennon’s exit in the middle of last year resulted in the election of Ross Butler – who, according to Peter Tucker at Tasmanian Politics, has raised eyebrows with his performance. If Hulme declines to nominate, or if any further Labor vacancies arise in Franklin before the next election, we might see the unprecedented activation of the clause which would allow Labor to initiate a by-election rather than have the seat go to another party. Still more from Peter Tucker.

• More casual vacancy news: the last remaining Australian Democrats MP, South Australia’s Sandra Kanck, has been replaced following her retirement from her upper house seat by David Winderlich. More from Andrew Bartlett.

• The NSW Nationals have intriguingly announced they will preselect a candidate for a yet-to-be-determined winnable seat at the 2011 state election by conducting an American-style primary, open to all voters enrolled in the electorate. Peter van Onselen notes in The Australian that “parties in countries such as Britain and Italy have increasingly embraced primary contests, more often than not with electoral success to follow”. The most likely electorates for the trial are said to be Dubbo, Port Macquarie and Tamworth, each traditionally Nationals seats currently held by independents.

• Counting continues in South Australia’s Frome by-election, on which I have written an overview in today’s Crikey. Read about and comment on the progress of the count in the post below.

Morgan: 60-40

Like Essential Media before it, Roy Morgan‘s first poll of the year shows no significant change from the last polls of 2008. The face-to-face survey has Labor’s two-party lead steady at 60-40 and their primary vote down one point to 51.5 per cent, while the Coalition’s is down half a point to 35 per cent. The Greens have recovered two points from the curious slump they suffered in the first poll after the government’s emissions trading scheme announcement, which brought them down from 10.5 per cent to 6 per cent. What’s more:

• South Australia’s first state by-election since 1994 will be held tomorrow in Frome. Read and comment about it here, and tune in to this site for live coverage of the count from about 6.30pm local time.

• It appears a contest is on to fill Petro Georgiou’s Liberal preselection vacancy in Kooyong, with reports emerging that merchant banker Josh Frydenburg is not the shoo-in many had assumed. Frydenburg pursued a membership recruitment drive before the last election in an unsuccessful bid to topple Georgiou, but sources quoted by Andrew Landeryou at VexNews say two-thirds of these memberships have lapsed. This leaves Frydenberg vulnerable to opposition from Institute of Public Affairs director John Roskam, previously an unsuccessful candidate for Senate preselection (and more recently mentioned as a successor to Peter Costello in Higgins), who stands poised to garner support from Georgiou and the locally powerful Ted Baillieu/David Davis faction. Also mentioned is John Pesutto, described by Melissa Fyfe of The Age as “an industrial relations lawyer who led a rewrite of the Victorian Liberal Party’s constitution last year”.

• Liberal Senator Judith Troeth has announced she will retire when her current term ends in mid-2011, adding a new dimension to the Victorian Senate preselection contest for the next election. The Nationals are likely to secure an extension of the agreement that will give them second place on a joint Coalition ticket, leaving the Liberals with the safe first position and the dangerous third. Michael Ronaldson is presumably likely to retain pole position from the 2004 election; Troeth’s departure enhances Nationals renegade Julian McGauran’s chances of taking number three.

Marc Moncrief of The Age on the race to fill Evan Thornley’s vacancy in the Victorian upper house region of South Metropolitan:

Labor’s factions are also in a battle over how to fill the vacancy in the upper house created by Mr Thornley’s departure, with confusion over whether the Southern Metropolitan seat will be delivered to Labor’s right-wing Unity faction or to the Socialist Left. Unity faction powerbroker Michael Danby, the federal member for Melbourne Ports, is believed to have collected a number of names including Julia Mason, former candidate for the federal seat of Goldstein. However, one member of the Right faction said the Left was more likely to have a claim to the post, as Unity now holds all three of the top positions in Parliament – Premier, Deputy Premier and Treasurer. If the Left is given the nod, it will have to ensure the choice is a member who can keep the relatively conservative seat at the next election.

• Other ructions in the Victorian ALP: forces of the Right associated with Bill Shorten and Stephen Conroy have formed an alliance with the Socialist Left, freezing out what The Australian’s Rick Wallace describes as “the portion of the Right aligned with state frontbenchers Tim Holding and Martin Pakula and the shop assistants’ union”. More commentary plus an intermittently interesting comments thread at VexNews.

• Large parts of the media remain convinced that Anna Bligh will shortly be calling a Queensland state election. Mark Bahnisch at Larvatus Prodeo/Crikey isn’t so sure, while fellow local Possum deems Lawrence Springborg to be no better equipped to pitch to Brisbane as leader of the Liberal National Party than he was as head of a fractious coalition.

• The silly season news cycle has been awash with talk of Barnaby Joyce seeking a berth in the lower house to assume leadership of the Nationals, at the urging of John Howard. Joyce himself has mentioned Labor’s 2007 gains of Leichhardt, Dawson and Flynn. More intriguing has been talk of a move south of the border to take on independent Tony Windsor in New England, which locals quoted by Matthew Clayfield of The Australian had no trouble recognising as a most courageous proposition. Possum notes that any such move might cost the Nationals Joyce’s Queensland Senate seat in the event that the Liberal National Party disintegrates following a state election defeat.

Peter Tucker at Tasmanian Politics gets in early on this year’s Tasmanian Legislative Council periodic election action. This year is the turn of Derwent, a Hobart seat held for Labor by Treasurer Michael Aird; Windermere, which extends from outer Launceston up the eastern bank of the Tamar River to the sea, and is held by independent Ivan Dean; and Devonport-based Mersey, held by independent Norma Jamieson. Jamieson’s retirement after one six-year term sets the scene for an unpredictable contest likely to attract a Melbourne Cup field. Aird and Dean are almost certain to be re-elected, potentially without opposition in Dean’s case.

• The indefatigable Ben Raue at The Tally Room has moved to his own domain.

Morgan: 59.5-40.5

The latest Morgan face-to-face poll has Labor’s lead at 59.5-40.5, up from 58.5-41.5 a fortnight ago. Primary votes are Labor 50.5 per cent (up 1.5), Coalition 35.5 (down 0.5) and Greens 7.5 (down 1). Elsewhere:

• The redistribution of Tasmania’s electoral boundaries has been finalised. Several amendments have been made from the original proposal, which you can read about here. Antony Green calculates the new boundaries have increased Labor’s margin in Braddon from 1.4 per cent to 2.5 per cent, while reducing it in Denison from 15.6 per cent to 15.3 per cent, Franklin from 4.5 per cent to 3.7 per cent and Lyons from 8.8 per cent to 8.4 per cent. Bass remains at 1.0 per cent.

• A bill to introduce fixed terms was introduced to the Northern Territory parliament on Wednesday. David Bartlett says similar legislation will be introduced in Tasmania next year, confirming the next election will be held on March 20, 2010 and setting up an ongoing clash with South Australia’s elections (to Antony Green‘s dismay). I’ll have much more to say on fixed four-year terms next week.

• Tomorrow is Victorian local government election day, which in most cases means today is the last day for submission of postal votes. Read and comment about it here. Ben Raue at The Tally Room has council and ward map files for viewing in Google Earth.

• In Queensland, poll-driven decisions on water policy are being seen as a harbinger of an early election.

EMRS: Labor 40, Liberal 35 in Tasmania

Tasmanian polling firm EMRS has published its latest survey of 1000 respondents on state voting intention, as it does every two or three months. It gives Labor one of its better state polling results of recent times: they have held steady on 40 per cent while the Liberals have dropped three points to 35 per cent, with the Greens up four to a formidable 23 per cent (remembering that the Tasmanian Greens often over-perform in polls). Like all EMRS polling of the current term, this points to Labor losing its majority and the Greens holding the balance of power. Preferred premier ratings are 37 per cent for David Bartlett (down three), 29 per cent for Opposition Leader Will Hodgman (down four) and 15 per cent for Greens leader Nick McKim (up three).

EMRS: 40-38 to Labor in Tasmania

The latest EMRS survey of Tasmanian state voting intention shows a recovery for Labor following the disastrous poll in May which immediately preceded Paul Lennon’s resignation as Premier. Excluding the considerable 14 per cent undecided from the sample of 1000, the poll shows Labor on 40 per cent, Liberal on 38 per cent and the Greens on 19 per cent – respectively up 7 per cent, down 4 per cent and down 2 per cent. New Premier David Bartlett leads Opposition Leader Will Hodgman 40 per cent to 33 per cent as preferred leader, respectively down 6 per cent and up 1 per cent since a poll conducted in June which canvassed leadership preference only. New Greens leader Nick McKim was favoured by 12 per cent of respondents.

UPDATE: Peter Tucker weighs in on the poll and Antony Green discusses moves towards four-year terms, which as currently proposed might entrench a permanent quadrennial clash with South Australian elections on the third Saturday in March. Both also discuss talk of an early Tasmanian election.

EMRS: Liberals lead 42-33 in Tasmania

Tasmanian pollsters EMRS have produced a survey of state voting intention from 1002 respondents which provides all kinds of bad news for Premier Paul Lennon. Support for Labor is down to 33 per cent from 39 per cent at the previous survey in March (and from 49.6 per cent at the March 2006 election), while the Liberals are up to 42 per cent from 37 per cent (31.9 per cent at the election). The Greens are steady on 22 per cent (16.2 per cent at the election). Worse still, a question on preferred premier has Liberal leader Will Hodgman on 39 per cent against 17 per cent for Paul Lennon, who is barely ahead of Greens leader Peg Putt (14 per cent). The agency has gone against its usual practice in failing to break the results down by electorate. Apple isle pundit Peter Tucker has more.

UPDATE (26/5/08): Lennon quits.