Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Questions To The ABS Re Marriage Law Postal Survey

(Admin note: I have just made a change to the comments screening on this site.  If you have problems submitting comments but haven't had problems in the past please email me at k_bonham@tassie.net.au .  Where people have trouble submitting comments I am happy to accept them by email provided it is clear which article they are to be posted to and that they are for public posting.)



I have just sent the ABS the email below regarding the upcoming (unless the High Court decides otherwise) same-sex marriage postal survey. It raises various questions about quality assurance.  The email is exactly as sent except that I have removed my telephone number.  (I am happy for journalists who have or can find my number to call me at any reasonable time, but I do not want phone calls from time-wasting randoms.)

Also see Michael Maley's consolidated compendium of plebisurvey issues.  The entertaining issue of 16-17 year olds voting has now, alas, been knocked on the head by a fresh directive from Minister Cormann.

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Dear ABS,

I was given this email address via the phone information line (1800 572 113).  Please forward this inquiry to the most appropriate people involved in the design of the Marriage Law Postal Survey.

I am an electoral analyst, political commentator and (at times) electoral design consultant who writes about elections and related processes both on my own website (kevinbonham.blogspot.com.au) and on Twitter, and who also frequently comments about electoral and political matters in the press, especially within Tasmania.

On the assumption that the High Court finds the MLPS to be legal and it proceeds, I am interested over time in receiving more detailed and preferably on the record information about quality assurance processes that will be in place, and the extent to which those might (or might not) resemble those available for federal elections and referenda.

I am well aware that things are very early in the design process for the survey and that many of my questions may not be answerable immediately.  I would be happy to receive information at a later date especially if there is some prior indication of when such information might be available.  I am also well aware that some of the matters I discuss could in theory be addressed by legislation or regulation, and that there may well be public statements about many of these these matters as more of the details are finalised.

I have also copied this enquiry to the Minister for Finance Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann as the now responsible Minister for the MLPS, and I am publishing this email on my website, and will report any responses I receive unless designated as off-record.

The list of questions is below.

Thank you very much for your time with what I am well aware is an unusually complex and detailed set of requests.

Yours sincerely, Dr Kevin Bonham
(phone [..])

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1. Will, as appears to be the case, survey responses be being processed and counted while the time window for submitting responses is still open?

2. If yes to 1, what will happen if a respondent reports that their survey has been stolen (or that they did not receive a survey) after their vote has already been received and processed

3. Will automatic character recognition be used to count survey responses?

4. If yes to 3, will there be manual verification (eg by checking images on a computer screen as done in the 2016 Senate election) that every survey response has been scanned correctly?

5. To what extent will the observers appointed by Members of Parliament be allowed to observe the counting process in respect of each specific survey form?

6. Will every Member of Parliament, or failing that at least every party represented in the Parliament and every independent MP, be entitled to nominate their own observers?

7. Will there be a process for observers to challenge any apparent errors they may observe, as scrutineers may do in an election, and to what level will it be possible to escalate such challenges?

8. Will clear and detailed validity guidelines on what will be interpreted as a valid survey response be posted online prior to the mailing of any survey forms?

9. Will the survey form require the respondent to write a word or to tick a box?

10. If observers have the ability to observe counts being made before the window for survey responses has closed, will there be any prevention on them publishing, or causing to be published, comments about evidence they have gained in the process about the likely outcomes of the survey (without disclosing sensitive information in the process) and if not how will such behaviour (including via “leaks” to anonymous third parties) be prevented?

11. What will be the design of the envelope system used to return survey forms?  It has been mentioned that a scannable code will appear on the survey forms.  Aside from this what components (including outer envelopes) will contain identifying information, if any, whether coded or not?

12. Will there be a requirement for a respondent to sign any part of the returned material (such as a detachable flap on an internal envelope as used in Tasmanian local government elections) that can be used to determine whether a response was submitted by the voter or not?

13. Will there be any pre-defined provision for a request for a recount in the event that the outcome is especially close?

14. It is stated that the Australian Statistician will publish a statement on the quality and integrity of the survey on 15 November 2017.  However this comes only eight days after the last date for receipt of responses.  It is possible – as is frequently the case with results by booth in federal elections - that concerns about the validity of some results might only be apparent once figures are released.  Will there be provision for investigating and officially responding to any quality concerns raised after 15 Nov?  In the event that errors in the final figures are identified, will there be provision for a revised result to be released?

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(email to ABS ends)

Update (Thursday 17 Aug): While I have not personally received any answers, some of these questions have been covered by senior ABS staff in today's Senate inquiry hearing.

Answers appear (in summary) to be as follows, though I did not manage to hear the entire hearing and will be awaiting a transcript to fill them in in more detail:

3. Responses will be scanned.
9. Mark a box.
11. It sounds like just a reply-paid envelope with a form with a scannable code.
12. No requirement to sign anything.

12 is unfortunate.  A signature requirement can be very useful in identifying whether multiple submission is a result of survey theft as opposed to a result of the respondent being either forgetful or fraudulent.

Of concern to me was a discussion in which the ABS representative talked about forms sent to the wrong address because an elector was incorrectly enrolled.  In this case they could ask for another form and the code on the old form would be cancelled.  However, when asked what would happen in this case regarding the original vote not being counted, there was the answer that it was "a question of which is returned first".

I can't think of any other interpretation than this: that if someone gets a vote for someone else and uses it before the other person realises they were incorrectly enrolled, then the misused vote will count while the voter will be disenfranchised.  This might well apply to cases of vote theft too.

It seems unsatisfactory given that there are better solutions in place for postal elections, and shows the extent to which this is a rush job.

The other concerning aspect was a nonsensical passage in which the survey was claimed to be something the ABS could do in ways the AEC couldn't.  The only evidence offered for this claim concerned assistance for blind or similarly impaired respondents to have their survey completed by a third party.  In fact such assistance exists at AEC elections too.



Saturday, August 12, 2017

Will "Hate Speech" Be Illegal In The "Plebiscite"?

Things are moving fast in the Government's attempt to conduct a national voluntary postal vote on same-sex marriage.  Although we won't get to the High Court challenge against the "survey" until September 5-6 - meaning we might be a month away from knowing if the thing is on at all - a lot of questions are being raised and in cases answered about how exactly the plebiscite will be conducted, if it does proceed.  A major problem with the exercise has been that since it is not an Australian Electoral Commission process authorised by an act of Parliament, normal election requirements (authorisation, fraud and vote-buying protections and challenges) do not exist unless separately provided for.  In Thursday's instalment (Electoral Process, But Not As We Know It: Postal Plebiscite V2) I mentioned that at least regulation would be needed to get around these problems.  However the regulations available under legislation concerning the ABS are very limited concerning penalties.

In a welcome move, acting Special Minister of State Mathias Cormann has flagged the stronger possibility of special legislation to impose AEC-election-like conditions for the, er, whatever it's called.  This would create the really strange situation of the Senate approving laws governing a postal vote that the Senate had itself not approved and would have blocked if asked to approve it.  Such laws might themselves be subject to challenge.  The most important aspect of this debate for me, though, is the incorrect impressions of the impact of such possible laws that we are seeing in the media.  The SMH and ABC have referred to them as "ground rules for a fair and respectful debate on same-sex marriage", rules that would "stop hateful advertising material being distributed" and as protections against "malicious publications".  It isn't so.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

EMRS: White Lead Is A Big Problem For Liberals

EMRS August Lib 37 ALP 34 Green 16 Ind 6 JLN 5 Other 1
Interpretation Lib 39 ALP 38 Green 13 Others 10
Modelled seat result based on this poll if election held now: Liberal 11-12 seats Labor 10 Green 3-4 
Warning: Polls are snapshots, not forecasts
Preferred Premier Rebecca White leads Will Hodgman 48-37

A new EMRS poll of state voting intentions is out.  Also see the trend tracker. The party breakdown shows scarcely any change from the May result but the startling outcome is that Rebecca White leads Will Hodgman as preferred premier by the thumping margin of 48% to 37%.

Let's put that in the historic context drawn from other states.  It's very simple: preferred premier is an indicator that usually strongly favours incumbents.  When established state premiers trail as preferred leader in Newspoll (never mind by eleven points), they either lose the next election or are removed by their own party.  EMRS is not Newspoll, and it's possible its continued devotion to landline polling (which I strongly believe to be not fully randomised) has meant its results have become total rubbish.  But if that's not the case, the government should be rather worried.  The suggestion is that so far negative attacks on the new Opposition Leader have either not worked at all or even backfired.  

Opposition Leaders don't lead by eleven points just because people like them.  Historically this sort of imbalance happens when governments are in deep trouble or their leaders are unpopular, or both. Federal governments sometimes recover from it; state governments historically don't. The large lead for Rebecca White is probably also a sign that among the voters who EMRS flags as undecided, or as intending to vote for a minor candidate, there are probably a lot who are leaning towards Labor or likely to direct preferences Labor's way.  It should be noted, for contrast and a bit of sobrietry, that the recent ReachTEL had only a small White lead from a format that doesn't skew to incumbents, so perhaps this EMRS is an outlier.  I am also aware of an unpublished commissioned poll showing Hodgman with a small lead using similar question design to EMRS.

Electoral Process, But Not As We Know It: Postal Plebsicite V2

An article I wrote about the serious defects of a postal plebiscite (back on the annual day reserved for silly jokes) has for some unfathomable reason more than doubled its hit tally in the last 24 hours.  Now that a postal plebiscite (but run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, not the Australian Electoral Commission) has been announced by the government, it's time to update certain aspects of my commentary.

What it appears we will have (unless it is disallowed by the courts) is something so bizarre that it was not anticipated in any of the many polls about a plebiscite.  Effectively, it is a national vote on whether the government will allow a conscience vote to be brought on in the parliament.  (If the plebiscite proceeds and the "no" side wins, then the government will block a conscience vote, presumably ending any prospects for same-sex marriage for so long as the Coalition stays in power.  This rather heavy-handed approach appears to be an attempt to prevent a mass boycott from working.)

Is it constitutional?

I don't know, but we'll probably find out soon enough.  At least two sets of campaigners against the proposed plebiscite are filing for injunctions against it.  Section 83 of the Constitution requires that appropriations must be supported by law, and no law has been passed for this plebiscite.  However there are various standing general-purpose appropriations that governments have flexibility to use for the ordinary running of government, and also in emergencies.  The question will be whether an appropriation for this purpose is valid.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

More Section 44 Cases In Spotlight

A very long time ago now two Greens Senators resigned after discovering they were dual citizens.  The Senate will refer their cases to the Court of Disputed Returns (typically the High Court) which will determine whether they were eligible to have been elected in the first place and, assuming that they weren't, will initiate a "special count" to fill their places.  In the weeks since then, however, many more MPs have come under the spotlight of the dual citizenship rule in Section 44 of the Constitution, and it's unlikely it has claimed its final victim yet.

The Constitution is very black and white about dual citizenships - section 44 says that if you are a citizen of another country, you are not eligible to be chosen or to sit in Parliament.  It doesn't seem to allow any ifs or buts about all that.  However, the High Court in Sykes v Cleary [1992] found that the Constitution was unrealistic and had to be "read down".  After all, if it were that straightforward then another nation could maliciously impose citizenship on Australian MPs and refuse to withdraw it.  Alternatively, for a given citizen of a given nation, procedures for getting rid of an unwanted citizenship might be unrealistically expensive, time-consuming, slow, dangerous, unreliable or unreasonable.

The Sykes v Cleary judgement is a difficult one to apply to the many examples now being discussed because there are five separate statements of decision (one by three judges and four individual statements).  Basically, all the judges agreed that there was a need to "read down" the Section 44 requirement, but they did not all agree on how far to go.  Two of the seven considered that a statement under Australian law renouncing all other allegiances (eg during a naturalisation ceremony) was potentially enough by itself (with various qualifiers); the other five disagreed.  The other five went for various versions of "reasonable steps" or "all reasonable steps" to renounce citizenship by application to the overseas country as the test.

Those applying some version of a "reasonable steps" test (beyond naturalisation oaths) did not spell out the minimum conditions for the test to be met.  They merely made it clear that if someone had taken all reasonable steps to renounce citizenship before contesting,  then that person did not need to have succeeded in that attempt to have passed the test.

There are so many MPs who were either born overseas or may have inherited dual citizenship that it isn't practical to comment here upon them all.  Many cases may appear suspicious, but it may simply be that the MP has well and truly renounced and has yet to publish proof.  At this stage there are three cases that have been referred and two that realistically could be.  I may add to the list below as and when more facts come out about others.

Senators Scott Ludlam (Green, WA) and Larissa Waters (Green, Qld)

Status: Resigned and referred

These Senators have already resigned and it is expected that the High Court will find them to have not been validly elected in the first place, and therefore order special counts (see the earlier article).  The High Court in Sykes v Cleary showed little if any sign of caring whether or not an MP knew they were a dual citizen, with the taking of steps to remove dual citizenship being seen as the key test.  Neither Ludlam or Waters took any steps, so it appears they are in exactly the same boat as Phil Cleary's two ineligible opponents in his disallowed by-election win.  The High Court would have to substantially revisit Sykes v Cleary to allow the Greens to fill either of these positions by casual vacancy.

Electoral ramifications were covered in the earlier article.

Senator Matt Canavan (LNP, Qld)

Status: Referred, resigned from Cabinet, not voting

Canavan has resigned from Cabinet and his case will be referred.  Canavan was born in Australia but is recorded as an Italian citizen, according to him through an application made by his mother without his knowledge or consent.

On the surface, Canavan is in very serious trouble because he also took no steps to renounce.  If the leading judgement in Sykes v Cleary is followed, then his diminished connection to Italy compared to someone born there could mean the "reasonable steps" required are less onerous, but it doesn't remove the requirement to do something.  So Canavan is relying on something like the following happening:

* The High Court creates a new exception for cases where a person acquires citizenship of another country without their knowledge.
* The High Court rules that "reasonable steps" are not required for citizens by descent who passively acquire citizenship but have made no actual use of it.
* There is some determination that the application in Canavan's name to be an Italian citizen was invalid in the first place and hence that he was actually never a citizen.

In the event that Canavan is disqualified, his special count instead elects recent former Senator Joanna Lindgren (see Grahame Bowland's simulations).  This situation raises similar Section 282 problems (earlier article, again - and see discussion in comments) to the Scott Ludlam countback in that Lindgren would appear to get a six-year term, despite being lower on the original ballot than Senators Macdonald and O'Sullivan (who each got three year terms.)

If Canavan is found to have been validly elected, he will be free to continue his career and may well be restored to Cabinet.

Senator Malcolm Roberts (One Nation, Qld)

Status: Referred

Warning: this section has been rated Wonk Factor 4/5 on the grounds of containing discussion of obscure points of electoral law.

At the time of writing Roberts has not yet been referred to the High Court although referral looks likely (UPDATE 9/8: Roberts has now been referred) given that it has sufficient crossbench support that only one major party would need to support the referral for it to pass.  Roberts' situation based on material in the public domain so far (some of it only his own claims) appears to be:

* he appears to have been a British citizen by descent because his father was born in Wales
* he contacted the British consulate enquiring as to whether he was a British citizen from May 1 2016
* he contacted the British consulate on June 6 2016 (three days before the close of nominations) advising that if he was a citizen of Britain, then he renounced it
* after further correspondent - the nature of which is unclear - he received confirmation of renunciation in December 2016, five months after the election.

Roberts has displayed a very strange attitude to legal correspondence before so it should not be assumed that things are necessarily as they seem.  His position might be much stronger or much weaker than he makes out.  The large number of contradictory statements he has so far made suggests the latter, but we'll see.

If the above is all accurate then Roberts did at least take steps to renounce before the election (unlike Canavan), but the court would have to consider whether these steps were sufficient to count as "reasonable".  In particular, does Roberts' June 6 contact even count as a formal attempt to renounce (there is no indication it was on the proper form)?  Assuming the steps that Roberts took were adequate in isolation, does taking all reasonable steps to renounce citizenship also entail that those reasonable steps are taken far enough in advance of the election to succeed before nominations close?  Or does this place too much of a burden on candidates in terms of how far ahead of an election they need to commit themselves to running?

If Roberts is found to have been ineligibly elected, his seat at a special count would, all else being equal, won by third One Nation Queensland candidate Fraser Anning.  The fact that Anning polled a massive nineteen primaries (second-last on the entire Queensland ballot) is irrelevant as in this case Anning would get Pauline Hanson's surplus.  An Anning victory, however, creates further complications because, as discovered by @swearyanthony on Twitter (which somehow qualifies as a Fairfax "exclusive"), Anning is currently facing bankruptcy proceedings (with a hearing as soon as August 22).  If Anning becomes bankrupt, he will lose the right to sit in the Senate while that is the situation.

Depending on the pace of the various cases, one possibility would be Anning winning the special count, serving for a short period, and then creating a casual vacancy to be filled by the party (including potentially by Roberts ... or for that matter James Ashby) The murkier prospect is if Anning becomes bankrupt before the HCA has finished with the Roberts matter.  Antony Green has said that a vacancy for Anning in this case would be treated as a casual vacancy (Section 15), and certainly this seems most intuitively consistent with what would normally happen with a mid-term vacancy.  However in this case Anning's position would be vacant not during his term of service but before it commenced.  Stephen Murray has written a very detailed piece giving many reasons why the Court could decide to exclude an ineligible candidate from a special count.

The transcripts of the Day case concerning Lucy Gichuhi may also be of some interest here.  Mr Kirk (appearing for Anne McEwen (ALP)) argued that if the High Court does seat an ineligible Senator as a result of a special count, then the decision appears to be final and beyond challenge; therefore, the court should assess challenges to ineligible prospective Senators before allowing them to win special counts.  Justice Nettle acknowledged that this was a possible issue, before disallowing the challenge to Gichuhi's eligibility from the McEwen team on the grounds that the challenge had been made too slowly and in any case appeared to have no prospect of success.

It's clear that a candidate who is not eligible at the original election is also not eligible for special counts  arising from it - indeed if they were, then in theory Rod Culleton could patch up his eligibility and have himself returned to the Senate on the special count for Scott Ludlam.   What is less clear is whether a candidate who has become ineligible in the meantime can contest a special count when they are not even eligible to sit in the Senate - and whether the High Court should treat it as analogous to a casual vacancy case or by special count if they cannot.  I think that remedying it as if a casual vacancy for the ineligible special count winner would be fairest in terms of respecting the will of the voters in the original election based on their view of the candidates who were then eligible to stand.

Simulations by Grahame Bowland have confirmed that even if the special count process leads to a countback that is minus four (!) candidates, One Nation's last line of defense Judy Smith would win Roberts' seat.  An oddity of the simulation is that although candidates Roberts and Anning polled only 96 below the line votes between them, removing both makes Smith's final position a whopping 2877 votes' weaker than Roberts'.  Moreover, this isn't just a case of voters marking Roberts' box and then stopping or making a mistake rather than following on to Anning and Smith - most of these lost votes are "leaking" to candidates outside the One Nation list before, in most cases, exhausting.  This is also happening on preferences arriving with Roberts from across the board - and mostly not One Nation votes.  I would not be too surprised if there is some form of geometric proximity-preferencing at work here, such that voters voting below the line who vote across parties for known names are more likely to stay high in the party lists rather than preferencing those well down them.  There may also be some horizontal "donkeying" at work.

Barnaby Joyce MHR (Nat, New England)

Status: Referred

Nationals leader and Deputy Premier Barnaby Joyce's father was born in New Zealand and preliminary advice is that he "may be" (ie probably is) a citizen of New Zealand by descent.  There is no indication he was aware of this or has taken any steps to either register that citizenship or renounce it.  Joyce has been referred by the House of Representatives to the High Court although the Government claims to be confident that he will retain his position.  On what basis they are so confident I am not sure.  If Joyce is declared ineligible, there will be a by-election for his seat, in which he fairly comfortably defeated independent former MP Tony Windsor last time.

Update: Contrary to advice from the earliest media enquiries, Joyce was found to be a citizen of New Zealand, though he has now renounced.  He will be reliant on the High Court creating some new exception, possibly following the Deane minority judgement precedent.

Senator Fiona Nash (Nat, NSW)

Status: To be referred

Nash's position appears to be similar to Joyce in that she has a Scottish father and therefore appears to be a UK citizen by descent.  Nash, like Joyce, is refusing to stand aside from the ministry but it will be interesting to see how that flies in the Senate where the Coalition doesn't have the numbers.

If Nash is ineligible, her countback will elect Liberal Hollie Hughes.  Nash was third on the Liberal-National combined ticket and has been elected for a six-year term.  If Nash is forced to vacate her seat, then if Hughes served out her term that would mean the Nationals lost a seat to the Liberals, who would gain a six-year seat (well, what's left of it) in the process.  The same would also apply if a revised order of election were preferred, except in this case Concetta Fierravanti-Wells would be upgraded.

Senator Nick Xenophon (NXT, SA)

Status: To be referred

Xenophon's father was born in Cyprus while it was a British colony and travelled to Australia on a British passport.  His mother was born in Greece and Xenophon has renounced Greek and Cypriot citizenship but not British, as he was not aware he had it.  If he is found ineligible his six-year term (absent of any rearrangement by the Senate) would go to the NXT number four candidate Tim Storer.  It is in theory possible given Xenophon's large below-the-line vote that this recount could unelect Lucy Gichuhi. I'm confident it doesn't, but a full simulation would confirm that it doesn't.

Xenophon's overseas citizenship is according to him "useless" in terms of actual benefits conferred that are not already available as an Australian citizen.  That Xenophon's father was apparently fleeing British control but doing so on a British passport makes the case especially bizarre.

Justine Keay MHR (ALP, Braddon)

Status: Not yet referred

At the time of writing Keay has not been referred to the High Court and no discussion of intention to refer her (which the Government could do alone using its numbers in the lower house) has been seen.  Based on material made public on Wednesday, Keay's situation appears to be:

* she appears to have been born with British citizenship through her late father
* she sent the appropriate renunciation form and passport on 13 May, it was delivered on 23 May and officially receipted on 31 May (all 2016)
* however the UK did not register the renunciation of citizenship until 11 July (apparently meaning she was still a dual citizen at the time of the election)

Keay's position appears to be much stronger than Roberts' in terms of having completed her end of formalities properly well prior to the close of nominations.  The only, but perhaps serious, question remaining in her situation (if the facts are as stated) is whether the Court might still rule that a candidate must take all reasonable steps to renounce their citizenship in time, and that this includes applying in enough advance to allow for normal processing time at the other end.

If any MHR is declared ineligible subject to Section 44, this triggers a by-election for their seat, which they can recontest if they are eligible.  It is received wisdom that electors disapprove of by-elections based on technical grounds and respond by returning the disqualified MP.  However, this has not been tested often, and the best-known test (Jackie Kelly) came at a time when the new government was riding well above its election result in the polls.  It is extremely improbable that Labor would lose any by-election to the government in such a case, but independent raids could be another matter.

Julia Banks MHR (Lib, Chisholm)

Status: Not yet referred

Previously I hadn't given Banks a section alongside the above yet, because in those cases we know there is an arguable case of ineligibility - how strong or weak it might be being beside the point. However as Barnaby Joyce has now been referred in vaguely similar circumstances there may be renewed focus on Banks.

 In Banks' case, there is still some speculation that the facts may support a technical case for ineligibility, but there is less detail.  Banks was born in Australia but her father was born in Greece.  People in this circumstance acquire Greek nationality (though at one point it is translated as citizenship) but have to apply for registration as citizens to become a "Greek Citizen".  The language is all rather baffling - it seems one can be a Greek Citizen who hasn't exercised a Right to Citizenship.

The Banks matter seemed to have been defused by a Liberal Party statement that the Greek embassy had said "that according to records, Julia Banks is not registered as a Greek citizen and also is not entitled as a Greek citizen".  However the language "entitled as a" is a bit odd and the statement has led to Labor questions about whether/when Banks renounced her supposed entitlement.  Also, all language used in these matters is being scrutinised for what it doesn't say more than for what it does - the statement doesn't establish that Banks has never been a Greek citizen or entitled to be one, only that she isn't one now.

The entitlement part comes from Section 44 including the words "entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power", raising questions of whether someone is "entitled" to those rights if they would need to go through a process to activate them but, as apparently in Banks' case, haven't done so.  There is also the question of whether one can renounce an entitlement that isn't active (and what happens if one later wants it back).  These questions are outside my expertise.

MPs The Coalition Has Threatened To Refer

On Monday 14 August, Prime Minister Turnbull asked Opposition Leader Bill Shorten if he was willing to cooperate for the sake of convenience by referring any Labor MPs over whom doubts exist, allowing the High Court to hear all cases together.  Shorten refused, and during Question Time Labor moved that Barnaby Joyce not be heard and then also moved that standing orders be suspended to deal with the matter of Joyce not standing aside from cabinet.  (Both motions failed.)

As well as Keay, Leader of the House Christopher Pyne has now threatened that the government could refer other Labor MPs to the High Court if Labor continues trying to exploit the Joyce situation.  Those named are:

* Susan Lamb (Longman, Qld) - British father
* Tony Zappia (Makin, SA) - Born in Italy
* Maria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Vic) - Born in Greece
* Brendan O'Connor (Gorton, Vic) - Born in UK

No positive evidence that any of these MPs could be ineligible is known to me, however they have also not proved that they renounced dual citizenships.  (See statement from Zappia.)

A note re Senator Nick McKim (Greens, Tas)

Senator Nick McKim (Greens, Tasmania) will presumably be taken off all reasonable suspects lists because he has presented evidence that his form was received by the Home Office in August 2015. He has not revealed exactly when his citizenship was formally cancelled, but even if the Home Office somehow then took most of a year to process the form, it could hardly be said he had not taken all reasonable steps to be available for the 2016 election.  In fact, McKim undertook these steps in preparation to serving a casual vacancy created by the retirement of Christine Milne, and his form was received five days before he commenced serving in the Senate.  All that is irrelevant now since it is only his place in the Senate as a result of winning in the last election that can still be referred.

McKim's eligibility is scarcely surprising, but will nonetheless be a relief to the Greens who could ill afford to lose any more Senators, but particularly not this one.  Because of the high rate of below-the-line voting in the Tasmanian Senate and the extremely close final seat result, it is very likely (although this hasn't been confirmed by testing) that a special count for either of the two Tasmanian Green Senators would see a seat lost to One Nation.  Indeed, the Greens would have reason to be nervous about any eligibility issues involving non-Green Senators elected in Tasmania, because it is in theory possible that a special count for some other Tasmanian Senator could "unelect" McKim.  (What the High Court would make of that is anyone's guess).  However, it does not currently appear (the huffing and puffing of an army of wishful "Abetz birthers" notwithstanding) that any Tasmanian Senators have eligibility issues.

A note about the government's majority

One of the government's MPs, David Gillespie (Nat, Lyne), is already facing challenge under another part of section 44 relating to conflicts of interest.  This, together with fleeting speculation about the citizenship of Julia Banks (Lib, Chisholm) (edit: and now Joyce) has led to more and more references to the government being at risk of collapsing should it lose a seat in the Reps.

In fact, such an event would be embarrassing, but almost certainly not fatal by itself.  In the days after the last election, the government received understandings on confidence and supply from three of the five crossbenchers - Bob Katter, Cathy McGowan and Andrew Wilkie.  Even if these assurances were withdrawn (Update 14 Aug: Katter's has now been withdrawn, for Wilkie see below), it seems unlikely the crossbench would unanimously decide to bring down the government and force an election. Such an election would see a landslide Labor win would consign the crossbench to irrelevance (quite aside from the ramifications for some of their own seats).

(Note: Wilkie's assurance on confidence and supply was qualified - he said he would not vote against confidence and supply unless "clearly warranted").

Moreover, looking at the voting record of the crossbench thus far, there would be relatively few issues of substance on which the loss of one seat would cause the government to lose the vote.  In theory, a crossbench gangup might see a bill pass through the House of Representatives and Senate against the government's wishes, most likely on banking reform, but if this only happened because the Speaker did not have a vote then there would be some case for advising the Governor-General not to sign the bill anyway.

There is, however, potential for the crossbench to exert pressure to bring about Joyce and Nash standing aside from the ministry until their status is resolved.

Section 44 Suspects (Other Than Citizenship)

Status: Gillespie being sued by "common informer"

I mentioned Gillespie above - he is being sued by his Labor opponent as a "common informer", which if successful entitles the plaintiff to a princely $200 for each day the ineligible member sits.  There is some unclarity about whether success necessarily unseats that member.  A by-election in Lyne could be unpleasant as it is in theory a safe seat but was formerly held by independent Rob Oakeshott.

Senator Barry O'Sullivan (Queensland) has also been the subject of media reports concerning business investments that may breach conflict of interest provisions, especially following the Day case and its unwinding of the Webster case from the 1970s.  If Canavan and O'Sullivan were both scratched, LNP number 7 out of 8, lawyer Dan Ryan, would step up to the plate.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Poll Roundup: Are Malcolm's Newspolls Worse Than Tony's?

2PP Aggregate: 53.2 to ALP (-0.2 since last week)
ALP would easily win election "held now"

Five weeks since the last Poll Roundup, things have not improved for the Turnbull government in opinion-poll horse-racing land. If anything, things have got worse.  We've had twin 53-47s to Labor from Newspoll and an Essential run of 52-53-54-54-53.  Closer 2PP readings from ReachTEL (52 then 51 for ALP) have arisen only because of the use of respondent preferences, and new entrant YouGov has produced a 49-51 followed by a 52-48 lead by a new respondent preferencing method off primaries that offer the government no more joy than the others.  (More on that later).  I'm not aggregating YouGov until later this week after its third poll has arrived, but my overall read of the others comes out at 53.2 to Labor this week.  Here's the smoothed aggregate:


The rot looks increasingly set in, with no large or lasting movement away from 53-47 since the start of the year.  As with the Gillard government, voters so far do not give this government credit for passing legislation or policy announcements. In polling terms, everything the government sends out comes back dead.  History doesn't say this position can't be won from, but it will probably need something large and unexpected to rebound in the government's favour.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Reachtel: It's All About Lyons

Mercury ReachTEL Lib 43 ALP 32.9 Green 13.4 Other 10.7 (after redistributing "undecided")
Interpretation Lib 43 ALP 36.7 Green 10.7 Other 9.8
Most likely result right now based on this poll would be hung parliament (12-10-3) closely followed by narrow Liberal majority (13-10-2)
New aggregate of all polling: Liberal majority (13-10-2) with hung parliament (12-10-3) next most likely.

A Mercury ReachTEL of state voting intention is now out with a sample size of a whopping 2817 voters.  My initial comments on it will be very brief because I am playing in a chess tournament this weekend and also so that the Mercury get good commercial value for their polling data, which I expect can be found in full in the Sunday Tasmanian.  More detailed comments may be posted on Sunday night.  There was also a commissioned poll of Lyons this week - see Fishy Prospects In The Seat Of Lyons.

This new poll again presents a story that I have repeated so many times in state polling coverage over the last two years that presumably something entirely different will happen and it will all be wrong!  The overall picture of polling for some time has shown the Hodgman Government's majority hanging by a thread, given the virtually certain loss of a seat in Braddon and the likely loss of another in Franklin.  With the Greens struggling to hold their seat in Bass, the key question then is whether the Greens (or somebody) can knock off one of the three Liberal MPs in Lyons.  If that happens the majority goes, and it could be that the government goes with it.  There are a number of possible fourth-party/independent wildcards, but at this stage none of them are known to have their acts together.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Fishy Prospects In The Seat Of Lyons

ReachTEL Lyons: Lib 42 Labor 30.4 Green 12.4 Lambie Network 10 SF+F 2.7 Others 2.5
ReachTEL polls in Tasmania have in the past skewed against Labor and to the Greens
Seats that would be won based on this poll: Liberal 3 Labor 2 (status quo)

The Australia Institute has released a large-sample ReachTEL of the state seat of Lyons.  Lyons has long looked like the most crucial seat in determining whether the Hodgman Government can maintain a majority at the next state election, as on a more or less uniform swing to Labor, the third Lyons seat is the third to fall.  Polling has long appeared touch-and-go as to whether the party is likely to hold three seats there or lose one to the Greens or maybe someone else.

The commissioned ReachTEL also covers fish farms, which are seen as a significant environmental issue in the leadup to the next election.  I am satisfied that the poll has not been selectively released and also that ReachTEL have a good record in not letting commissioning sources tweak the primary vote polling design.  So while all commissioned polls are to be treated with some caution, and all seat polls always require special care, I'll have a look at what the data from this poll suggest.

As usual with ReachTEL the data require a lot of unpacking.  ReachTEL use a different format to most other polls, by initially giving voters a set of options that includes "undecided", and then allowing those who are "undecided" to say which party they are leaning to.  However the "undecided" in ReachTEL polls would be included in other polls' headline figures, while the truly undecided voters (those not even leaning to any party) are excluded, as they are by other pollsters.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Scott Ludlam Mess Scores Four Bob Days Out Of Five

Well here we go again.  After the departures of Senators-who-sort-of-never-were Rod Culleton and Bob Day we've lost another one.  After nine years in the Senate, one of the sharper minds in the place, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, has suddenly realised he has been a dual New Zealand citizen all along and was never validly elected in the first place.  That sound you heard all afternoon was at least 200,000 Greens supporters banging their heads on the nearest available tree in disbelief.  As for me, I was so distracted by this situation that I needlessly got off a bus in the middle of Hobart city, forgetting it continued past a common stopping point to much closer to home.  No problem though, since I then managed to beat the bus to its next stop on foot and catch the same bus again.  Ludlam's path to getting his seat back, should he want to, would be rather less straightforward.

For the most part this one is a familiar situation.  Although Ludlam has resigned, the fact that he has raised eligibility issues as his reason for doing so should prompt an immediate referral to the Court of Disputed Returns (the High Court in theory though it may well get kicked downstairs to the Federal Court if there are no new legal issues) to determine whether Ludlam was validly elected in the first place (to which the answer is evidently no) and to supervise the filling of the vacancy.  The vacancy will be filled by a recount (called a "special count") as with the vacancies for Day and Culleton.  The Greens won two seats in the original election and in the Culleton recount, beating the WA Nationals' Kado Muir by 25175 votes in both cases.  The recount could shave a few thousand off this (about 2800 personal votes for Ludlam leak out of the Greens ticket based on the original counts) but there's no doubt the Greens would keep two seats.  One of these will be their other existing Senator, Rachel Siewert, and the other will be the third candidate on the original ticket, Jordon Steele-John.

However this recount does raise some new ground. Firstly it's the first time a state will have had to be recounted for two disqualifications from the same election, meaning that the new count will be without both Culleton and Ludlam. Secondly and more interestingly, it creates previously unseen complications with the original allocation of three and six year terms. Scott Ludlam was elected third in 2016 with Rachel Siewert elected 12th.  In the special count to replace Ludlam, Siewert will be elected third and Steele-John will be elected 12th.  So if Steele-John replaces Ludlam and serves out Ludlam's term, then this will create a bizarre situation of the candidate second on the Greens ticket being a Senator for three years while the third candidate on the ticket is a Senator for the balance of six, clearly not the preference of the party's voters.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

How Often Are Federal Newspolls Released?

A humble little subject, but I just thought I'd put up a resource piece about how often federal Newspolls are released and have been released over time.

The timing of federal Newspolls is frequently a subject of discussion, much of it clueless or biased.  One fairly prominent claim links the switch to federal Newspolls in the early 1990s with the frequent turnover of major party leaders, although there is actually no evidence that this is true at all.  On social media, Newspolls are eagerly awaited and considered "due" every second Sunday, mostly by one-eyed Labor supporters.  If Newspoll fails to appear this is claimed to be evidence that it is being "hidden" because the results are bad for the Coalition.  If this were actually the case, Newspoll would skew towards the Coalition compared to other polls (it doesn't), Newspoll would have gone AWOL during obvious Coalition low points like the Hockey budget, the Prince Philip knighthood and even the collapse of Malcolm Turnbull's "utegate" attack on Kevin Rudd (it didn't), and Newspoll conspiracy cranks would be able to post reliable advance predictions of when Newspoll would come out (they don't.)  But those tweeting these nonsense never let the facts get in the way of their inane barracking.

This week I saw a new strain of the viral dumbness that is Newspoll truthism - a claim that Newspoll was becoming less frequent in order to string out the time it would take for the Coalition to lose 30 consecutive Newspolls on Malcolm Turnbull's watch.  (Turnbull has lost 14 in nine months, while Abbott's 30 spanned sixteen months, making Newspolls 17% more widely spaced so far during Turnbull's losing streak.)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

All Polling On The Plebiscite Has Problems

In the last few weeks we've seen some new polling results concerning the Coalition's proposed plebiscite on legalising same-sex marriage (or as it is more accurately described, marriage equality).  It is extremely well-established in polling that a clear majority of voters support legalising same-sex marriage, but whether voters support deciding the matter by plebiscite or parliamentary vote has been less obvious.  The very inconsistent results from various polls on this subject are causing a fair degree of interest and confusion.

In this article I suggest that the range of results we are seeing on the question of a plebiscite vs a parliamentary vote is largely a result of differences in design between different polls.  Which poll is right and which poll is wrong?  My view is that all of them are suspect.   The question is a difficult one to poll and none of the polls offered thus far have even got close to a design that accurately reflects the choices the parliament, voters and activists face.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Will The Future See An Even Bigger Senate Crossbench?

It's a long way from the next Senate election to be talking about the future of the Senate, and also a strange time to be doing it with most observers far more fixated on the goings-on downstairs.  But someone is talking about it, so I thought I'd have a detailed look at what they are finding.  The Australia Institute has released a report that attempts to use polling to predict what the Senate might look like in 2019 and 2022.  (There's also a report in AFR, which was originally paywalled but at the moment I can access it OK.)

That another double dissolution "held now" would so flood the Senate with new crossbench Senators as to make the 2016 result look tame is really not worth contesting, and I'm not going to bother with double-dissolution projections off the current numbers.   What is of interest is that the report claims that even if the next two elections were half-Senate elections, on current polling the size of the non-Green portion of the crossbench would increase.  The report's headline projection for 2019 is an extra two non-Green crossbench Senators, and for 2022 after two half-Senate elections, an extra four.  Based on the averageing of two poll results, the report suggests that after two half-Senate elections, there could be a non-Greens crossbench of fourteen Senators, dominated by One Nation with six.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Poll Roundup: Few Signs Of Life For Turnbull Government

2PP Aggregate: 52.8 to Labor (+0.1 since last week)
Labor would comfortably win election "held now"

Firstly, my congratulations to Antony Green, AO!

In our last exciting episode, the Coalition government had launched a Budget widely seen as a blatant attempt to get a polling bounce, and received no immediate return.  So the theory that the Budget would restore the government's standing retreated to the idea that it would take a little while.  Another five weeks down the track the Budget hasn't changed a thing, and nor, in fact, has anything else.

After the rush of polls around Budget time we have since been back to our usual watery diet of weekly Essentials and a Newspoll every two or three weeks.  The last two Newspolls came in at 53:47 to Labor, while Essential's recent run has gone 54-53-52-52-52.  After taking into account the primary votes, I aggregated the recent Newspolls at 53.1 followed by 53.2 to Labor, and the three most recent Essentials as two 52.2s followed by a 51.8.   Overall with all the other pollsters now out of the aggregate again, I get a reading of 52.8 to Labor.  Here's the smoothed tracking graph:

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The UK And Australian Elections Weren't That Similar

Last week the UK had its second straight surprising election result.  In 2015 an expected cliffhanger turned into an easy win for the Conservatives while in 2017 an expected landslide turned into a cliffhanger.  The government went to the polls three years early (that's a whole term over here), supposedly in search of a strong mandate for its position on Brexit, yet came away with fewer seats than it went in with.  The real motive seemed to be to turn a big lead in the polls into a bigger majority, and if that was the aim then it backfired spectacularly.

In the wake of this result the Australian commentariat have put out several articles that seek to stress parallels with Australian politics.  The primary themes of these articles are as follows: that Malcolm Turnbull is Theresa May and that Anthony Albanese is Jeremy Corbyn.

Let's start with the Turnbull-May comparison.  Turnbull has no hope of winning the battle of perceptions on this one, because it's the kind of analogy many of those who consume political chatter will congratulate themselves on having thought of first.  But on a factual basis, the comparison is twaddle.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Modelling The Queensland Election Off The Senate Election And Polling

For most aspects of the Queensland state election, we can use the usual modelling tools: the pendulum, two-party preferred polling, seat win probabilities based on expected margins and so on.  Whoever wins the two-party preferred vote by a substantial margin should win the election, while if the 2PP vote is very close there might be a hung parliament, but won't necessarily be.

The difficult modelling task is to try to work out what seat share the high One Nation vote in recent state polling converts to.  If the One Nation vote share keeps falling, this will soon be a non-issue.  But for the time being, let's assume it doesn't.  It's also worth having a look at whether the Greens have any chance of winning seats in a state where they have yet to win a state seat in their own right.

In the previous instalment, I reckoned that Pauline Hanson's One Nation's current level of polled state-election support in Queensland (17%) probably wouldn't be good for all that many seats.  I suggested that if the current primary vote levels were applied to the seats as they stood in 2001 (ie as swings from the 1998 election, One Nation's last big success), 17% would only have been good for about three or four seats.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Queensland: One Nation Have Peaked, So Now What?

I last looked at Queensland state polling back in February, when a rampant One Nation were polling 23% in state voting intention and threatening to win something like 15 seats at the next state election.  A lot has happened in the few months since.  In the Western Australian state election, both the party itself and the Liberals' preference deal with it got found out in the heat of the campaign. What benefit on preferences accrued from the deal was drowned out by its distraction factor and damage to primary vote support for all involved.

As One Nation 2.0 comes under further scrutiny, it is under attack on two major fronts.  Firstly there's the suggestion that the party is simply corrupt, as seen in the current scandals surrounding the undeclared provision of a plane by a property developer and the recording of a meeting in which James Ashby seems to have seriously suggested a blatant electoral expenses rort.  Secondly, the party sends mixed messages about whether it is a purist party of revolt against existing politics, or an active inside player that wants to supplant the Nationals on the Coalition side.  This is making it harder for it to take votes away from Labor.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Poll Roundup: Are Budget Bounces Ever Real?

Aggregate: 52.7 to Labor (+0.2 in two weeks since last completely pre-Budget reading)
Labor would easily win election "held now"
Voter budget ratings are historically about average

Commentary around the 2017 federal budget has been even more focused than normal on one of the Australian beltway polling obsessions, the idea of a "budget bounce".  The Coalition's moves on the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the announcement of a bank levy, in particular, were seen as bold moves to seize the middle ground from Labor in an attempt to make the Government popular again.  Some even saw this as a threat to Bill Shorten's leadership of the Labor Opposition.

That at least a temporary bounce was widely anticipated (and also widely seen as the aim of the game) is one thing, but another has been the common blight of house-poll myopia in which commentators from particular stables obsess over the single-poll-to-single-poll changes in the poll their network commissions, while ignoring both the aggregated cross-poll trend and even the longer history of their own poll.  In the case of Newspoll, it didn't help the Government that their previous result (48-52) was a shade on the friendly side of the recent run of polling, thus setting a pretty high benchmark for any budget bounce to be assessed by News Ltd scribes from.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Legislative Council 2017: Launceston, Murchison and Rumney live

Launceston: Armitage (IND) has retained, narrowly defeating Ellis (IND)
Murchison: CALLED (6:53 pm) Ruth Forrest (Ind) re-elected.
Rumney: Lovell (ALP) defeats Mulder (Ind) after preferences

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Introduction:

Welcome to my thread for tonight's Legislative Council action, where three independents of various political persuasions will attempt to hold their positions against some high profile and/or party-endorsed challengers.  The Legislative Council is finely balanced (here's the maths) and if things go badly for the Hodgman Government tonight then it could be facing trouble upstairs lasting years.  You can see my previews here:  Rumney, Murchison, Launceston.

Comments will follow below the dotted line, scrolling from the earliest upwards. All the seats will be covered together.  I'm leaving some text here at the top in a probably vain attempt to prevent a repeat of last year's purple text fiasco.

Friday, May 5, 2017

EMRS: Both Majors Rebuild Following Labor Leader Change

EMRS: Lib 39 ALP 34 Green 15 Ind 7 PHON 3 Others 2
Interpretation: Lib 41 ALP 37 Green 12 PHON 3 all others 7
Liberals would probably just retain majority based on this poll

A very brief preliminary report on the EMRS state poll just released (http://www.emrs.com.au/pdfs/EMRS%20State%20Voting%20Intentions%20Report%20-%20May%202017.pdf)  See also the trend tracker at http://emrs.com.au/.

The poll shows a noticeable recovery by both major parties (the Liberals up four points and Labor up five) at the expense of the Greens, One Nation and the supposed "independent" vote (all down three), following both Labor's shift to Rebecca White and a tanking in the national One Nation vote. In other states, points that have come off One Nation have generally gone straight back to Labor, so the Liberals will be relieved if that turns out not to be the case down here.

The Greens' result may look OK, since it is higher than their 2014 election outcome, but EMRS has a long history of overestimating their vote by a few points, so they would probably go backwards in an election held "right now".  This isn't any surprise really - they were always going to struggle when Labor shifted to a young, female and relatively left-wing leader.  While the salmon farming issue may yet play out in the party's favour, they sorely lack both experienced MPs and the shiny new thing factor and may even have a fight on their hands in Franklin come election day.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Poll Roundup: Recovery, Or Just Turbulence?

2PP Aggregate: 52.4 to ALP (-1.1 since last week)
Closest reading of 2017 so far
Labor would win election "held now" with a moderate seat margin

Five weeks since the previous edition, it's time for another roundup of the state of federal polling.  After some really bad readings from Newspoll in February and Essential in March, things seem to have settled down a little for the Turnbull government.  This week the government gained a 2PP point on both Newspoll (47 to 48) and Essential (46 to 47).  I aggregated the Newspoll at 47.8% and the Essential at 47.1%.  With a bit of help from the March Ipsos and (temporarily) last week's Essential falling out of the sample, these polls have improved the government's position on my aggregate by 1.1 points in a week, to 47.6% 2PP.

I normally show just the smoothed tracking graph of rolling averages, but here's the "spiky" graph of one-week end-of-week figures, because it has a story to tell.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Wonk Central: Why We Don't Use The Hare Quota In Hare-Clark (Or The Senate)




For this exciting episode of Wonk Central I turn to the question of the Hare Quota, and why it is deservedly extinct in Single Transferable Vote multi-member electoral systems like the ACT and Tasmanian parliaments, and also the federal Senate and various state upper houses.  A warning that as usual for Wonk Central articles, this piece is especially mathsy.  A more important warning: I strongly advise readers with the slightest interest in the merits of different quotas for STV to stay well away from Wikipedia coverage of the matter.  It is so bad that I can't work out where to start in attempting to improve it.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Legislative Council 2017: Launceston

This is my third of three preview articles for the three Legislative Council seats up for grabs next month.  Rumney has already been posted here and Murchison is here. There will be a live coverage thread for all seats on the night of Saturday 6 May.  There may also be other threads on Launceston if a campaign issue warrants them.  For more about the current political makeup of the Legislative Council see my assessment of voting patterns.

This piece will be edited through the campaign from time to time for updates or changed assessments.

Seat Profile

To the surprise, I would suspect, of nobody, Launceston is based in the city of Launceston. It takes in certain central, southern and inner suburbs of the city and the satellite town of Hadspen.  It includes outer-suburban booths that are notoriously swingy at federal elections, as a result of which the federal Bass electorate habitually dumps sitting members.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Legislative Council 2017: Murchison

This is my second preview article for the three Legislative Council seats up for grabs next month.  Rumney has already been posted here and Launceston will follow. There will be a live coverage thread for all seats on the night of Saturday 6 May.  There may also be other threads on Murchison if a campaign issue warrants them.  For more about the current political makeup of the Legislative Council see my assessment of voting patterns.

This piece will be edited through the campaign from time to time for updates or changed assessments.

Seat Profile

Murchison is a large regional/rural/remote electorate on the west coast of Tasmania.  It contains the north-western centres of Smithton, Wynyard and Stanley, the West Coast mining towns of Queenstown, Rosebery and Zeehan and the tourism and fishing hub of Strahan.  It also includes King Island and the far western suburbs of the small city of Burnie.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Legislative Council 2017: Rumney

With about a month to go until the Legislative Council elections it's time to roll out some preview coverage of the three seats up for election.  I've decided to start with Rumney because it is the one where the Hodgman Government faces the biggest peril to its ability to get bills through the Upper House.  It's also the closest thing to a normal two-party contest and hence the one on which there is the most available data to crunch.  And, at this stage, it's the one with the most candidates.

There will be a live coverage thread for all seats on the night of Saturday 6 May.  There may also be other threads on Rumney if a campaign issue warrants them.  For more about the current political makeup of the Legislative Council see my assessment of voting patterns.

This piece will be edited through the campaign from time to time for updates or changed assessments.

Guides for Murchison and Launceston are also now up.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Legislative Council Voting Patterns 2013-7

(Note: for updates on the Braddon recount go here)



Advance Summary:

1. This article presents a revised analysis of voting patterns in the Legislative Council (the upper house of Tasmanian Parliament) based on contested divisions in the last four years.

2. Although there is a degree of independence in all Legislative Council voting, the Council continues to have a clearly defined "left wing" consisting of Craig Farrell and Josh Willie (Labor), and independents Mike Gaffney, Ruth Forrest, Kerry Finch and Rob Valentine.

3. Excepting Rosemary Armitage and Tania Rattray (and Jim Wilkinson, who does not vote) the remaining MLCs (independents Ivan Dean, Robert Armstrong, Greg Hall, independent Liberal Tony Mulder and endorsed Liberals Vanessa Goodwin and Leonie Hiscutt) can all be clearly placed on the "right wing" side.

4. A possible left-to-right sort of the Council could be Valentine, Forrest, Gaffney, Farrell and Willie, Finch, Armitage, Rattray, Hall, Armstrong, Dean, Goodwin, Mulder, Hiscutt.  However most of the exact positions in this list are debatable.

5. Voting in the Legislative Council was again not very party-polarised in 2016.

6. The Legislative Council is finely balanced going into the 2017 elections.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Postal Plebiscite: Australia's Biggest Bad Elector Survey

(Note added Aug 2017: This article from April has received much interest lately.  For new comments go to Electoral Process, But Not As We Know It: Postal Plebiscite V2).

The federal Coalition went to the 2016 federal election with a commitment to hold a national non-binding plebiscite on marriage equality (aka "same-sex marriage") prior to any further parliamentary vote on the issue.  The plebiscite was, as noted here before, a bad idea in policy terms, though it was mostly successful in neutralising marriage equality as a campaign issue.  The plebiscite plan was voted down in the Senate, leaving the whole issue apparently unable to progress within this term.

The option of simply changing the law seems impossible because religious reactionaries within and supporting the Coalition won't allow it.  (They're the ones who don't understand why people keep talking about marriage equality, but would bring down the Prime Minister and/or destroy their own party even in a failed attempt to stop it.) Leaving the issue as a festering distraction til the next election isn't too attractive either, so along comes Peter Dutton with a proposal to have the plebiscite anyway, but to do it by post.  Voting would be optional.

The idea of holding a voluntary ballot that does not need the approval of parliament is not new; this option of a "fee-for-service" ballot under Section 7A of the Electoral Act was discussed in the Senate plebiscite report. The option was not costed at the time because there was no proposed legislation to implement it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Poll Roundup: Attack Of The Poll-Shaped Objects

2PP Aggregate: 52.8 to Labor (-0.8 since last week)
Labor would comfortably win election "held right now"

This week has been a confusing week for many poll-watchers, and an amusing week for those of us who watch the antics of the poll-watching partisans.  Newspoll was eagerly anticipated following its 55:45 to Labor three weeks ago, and widely expected to come out with more of the same if not then some, but pulled up at only 52:48.  Oh well, the line went, maybe it was never 55:45 to begin with, after all Essential had only got out to 53s and the odd 54.  But then Essential jumped to 55:45, so two polls not usually noted for volatility had delivered it not just in spades but also in opposite directions.  At the moment we don't have a third opinion, since the others are very inactive lately.

In trying to decide between these competing figures, it is worth bearing in mind that Newspoll is now administered by Galaxy.  Galaxy was the best pollster of the 2013 election, and the Galaxy/Newspoll stable triumphed again in 2016.  Essential was poor in 2013, and while its final poll in 2016 was very good, its tracking performance suggests it was probably lucky or herding.  So my aggregate comes down more on the side of Newspoll, crediting Labor with 52.8% 2PP.

Anyway, that is a recovery of sorts, but we have seen false dawns before.  Here's the smoothed tracking graph:


For anyone with an interest in my input values, this Newspoll went in at 45.1% for the Coalition after considering the primaries, and the last three Essentials have been 46.9 (published 47), 46.7 (47) and 45.2 (45).

Friday, March 17, 2017

White New Labor Leader, But Who Will Take Green's Seat?

Recount Update 3 April: The recount has started (see figures here).  Shane Broad leads Brenton Best by 1044 votes with 2540 preferences to throw, meaning Brenton Best would need to get 70.6% of preferences if none exhausted, but probably a few will so he will need a higher share of those that do not.  Making things harder for Best are that, for instance, a vote that was Bessell-Broad-Green will still come back to Broad, but a vote that was Bessell-Best-Green is not in the recount, so the bug continues to advantage Broad on the remaining votes.  Furthermore among the remaining votes there is quite a slab from Paul O'Halloran (Greens) and Best annoyed many Greens voters in the last parliament.   I cannot see how Best can possibly win this.

4 April: Broad has extended his lead by seven votes on the first two exclusions and Best now needs 74.4% of preferences if none exhaust.  It may already be mathematically impossible.

11:30: The ABC has reported Broad is over the line.

12:20: Broad has won by a massive 1989 votes.  On that basis even without all the benefits of the recount bug he probably still would have got over the line by 100-200 votes or so.  The blowout in the margin was largely because preferences from Darryl Bessell flowed heavily to Broad in the recount, unlike preferences from Bessell in the election which had flowed heavily to Best.  So voters who voted Bessell-Green or Green-Bessell (ignoring non-contesting candidates) saw the choice between Broad and Best completely differently to those who voted for Bessell then went straight to Broad or Best.

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It's been a huge day in Tasmanian state politics with the resignation of Labor leader Bryan Green and his unopposed (at least within the PLP) replacement by Rebecca White.  White is the youngest ever Tasmanian Labor leader and will be the youngest Premier by a few to several months if she wins the next state election.  (She is not, however, the youngest Labor leader nationally - Chris Watson, later to be PM, was probably one day younger when he became the first federal Labor leader.  There may have been other younger Labor leaders in other states; I haven't checked.  She is also not the youngest Tasmanian major party leader - Liberal Geoff Pearsall was 32 in 1979.)

Bryan Green is the second long-term Labor leader after Neil Batt (leader 1986-88) to not contest an election.  While Green was  uncompetitive in head-to-head matchups with Will Hodgman (even after allowing for the edge to the incumbent on such measures) he oversaw a time in which the parliamentary party was almost always unified in public and bloodletting following a massive loss in 2014 was contained.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

WA Washup: Another One Bites The Dust

It's a familiar script.  Five conservative state and territory governments have sought re-election since the Coalition took power federally and only one of the five (NSW) has survived.  Western Australia joins Queensland, the Northern Territory and (less emphatically) Victoria as jurisdictions where Coalition incumbents have been given the boot in the last few years.

The outcome in WA has been on the cards for years, and the fact that the Barnett government lost breaks no new ground by itself.  Defeat could be predicted as probable based on a combination of what I call federal drag (being of the same party as in power federally), the age of the state government, and the federal government's poor polling.  Indeed even Colin Barnett's poor personal ratings alone suggested he was already likely to lose this election less than a year out from his very strong 2013 result.  There's a strong case that Barnett should have been removed at least a year ago. Those who failed to do so look quite silly now, but they are geniuses compared to those who wanted to replace Mark McGowan with someone not even in the parliament because McGowan was thought to be too boring to win the election!

Monday, March 6, 2017

EMRS: Liberals Crash, But Hodgman Still Clobbering Green

EMRS Feb 2017: Lib 35 ALP 29 Greens 19 Ind/Other 11 One Nation 6 
On these numbers a hung parliament would be inevitable (approx 11 Liberal, 10 Labor, 4 Green, though one more Liberal seat might fall to One Nation or the Greens)

EMRS Nov 2016: Lib 40 ALP 28 Green 18 Ind/Other 13 (One Nation not in readout)
On these numbers most likely result would have been a hung parliament (approx 12 Liberal, 10 Labor, 3 Green)

Current seat aggregate of all polls: Lib 12 ALP 10 Greens 3

Note: EMRS tends to skew to Greens and Others and against ALP.  No evidence on skew for or against One Nation is known.

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Once again, Tasmanian phone pollster EMRS has released two of its quarterly polls, for November and February, in a single release.  See also the trend tracker, which shows that the Liberal vote has been falling for four years now.

For the first time, One Nation has been included in the readout, and immediately the Hodgman Government has lost five points to 35%, its worst position of the term.  Even the Roy Morgan series, which was obviously skewed against the Government (and hasn't been seen since October) never had it below 37.

Patchy Polling In WA As The Final Week Begins

Going into the final week of the WA campaign, not much has changed from where it started a month ago.  The relatively scant and yet surprisingly diverse nature of polling data available leaves poll-watchers free to choose their own adventure, from a comprehensive win for Mark McGowan's Labor opposition to a very close and messy race in which Colin Barnett's Liberals might even cling on in minority by the skin of their teeth.  About the only thing the statewide polls agree on is this: following a shambolic and confused campaign, One Nation may have tanked.

The following table gives all the statewide polling known to me.  The poll marked as "Essential" is known to me only from a Poll Bludger exclusive that describes it as Greens-commissioned Essential robopoll.  That description places it at least two degrees of separation from anything we can place verified trust in but I mention it all the same.  I've also given an average and a time-weighted (but not performance-weighted) aggregate, in each case excluding the Essential.


In this case though, I don't place that much confidence in aggregation methods. There is a major house-effect difference between the ReachTELs and the Galaxy/Newspoll stable, worth at least four points on each major party's primaries, and coming out at two or three on the 2PP only because ReachTEL use respondent preferences (which have been skewing massively to Labor).  There's a pretty good chance here that someone's right and someone's wrong.  We're not just seeing margin of error issues here - there would not be such large and consistent differences in the major party primaries by pollster if we were.  (And no, voting intention doesn't bounce around this much in reality through a campaign either.)

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Groundhog Day: Group Ticket Nonsense Returns To WA

Glenn Druery will not say exactly what he's been paid to help micro-parties use preference-harvesting to win Upper House seats they don't deserve at the WA State Election. If it was only $5,000 per party plus a $50K win bonus as claimed (and denied), then his services have come pretty cheap.  The game is the same as it ever was: to give parties with very little support a chance at winning they don't deserve, by exploiting inflexible voting systems to create preference flows that have nothing to do with the intention of voters.  Druery trollishly describes this as an "outbreak of democracy".  I will bet that he can scarcely believe his luck to still be in this business.

After the debacle that was the 2013 Senate election in WA, one would have thought WA would be the last place on earth that would let Druery still ply his trade.  Alas, it looks like it will instead be the last place on earth that ever stops him.  It was in WA in 2013 that Wayne Dropulich of the Australian Sports Party (whatever that was) surfed from 0.2% of the vote to a Senate seat as a result of preference-harvesting, only for his election to be annulled because the loss of some ballot papers caused an irrelevant tipping point to become irresolvable. (This, in turn, was a product of the group ticket system.)  And it was then WA where the whole state's Senate election had to be rerun from scratch in 2014 at immense cost.

It seems quite a damning indictment on the Barnett government that it has had three and a half years since the 2013 debacle to clean up the state's similar Legislative Council voting system and hasn't even introduced a bill to that effect.  By comparison, the model being considered in South Australia is pretty bad, but at least South Australia's government is trying.  Whether WA's has just had too many other problems to care about democracy, or else has kept the system to deliberately salt the earth for its successor, I don't know.

WA's upper house has the worst state electoral system in the nation.  It is badly malapportioned in favour of rural electorates, it has Group Ticket voting, and it has a ridiculous lack of savings provisions for votes that stray off the narrow path of exact formality.  What we will see in the WA Upper House next weekend is barely even fit to be considered an election.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Poll Roundup: One Nation Soars As Liberals Squabble

2PP Aggregate: 53.8 (+1) to ALP
Labor would easily win election "held now"
Coalition's worst position of the current term so far
On current polling One Nation could win at least three lower house seats

Normally I go a couple of Newspolls between poll roundups these days, but this week's has been one of those Newspolls.  Following a conveniently timed "Newspoll bomb" by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the Turnbull government has recorded a new worst set of figures, and leadership speculation is rife.  This comes on top of a Fair Work Commission decision to cut penalty rates, which is seen as bad news for the government although the process was set in train and, until its outcome, supported by Labor.

We are still getting very little federal polling apart from the weekly Essential readings and the slightly less than fortnightly Newspolls.  The latest Newspoll came in at 55-45 to Labor, the highest reading for the Opposition since March 2015.  (In total during the Abbott Prime Ministership Labor recorded four 55s and one 57.)  I've aggregated it at 54.8 after processing the primaries.  The last few Essentials were more restrained (typically for Essential) at 52, 52 and 53 for Labor, which I aggregated at 52.4, 52,2 and 53.0.  Overall, largely on the back of the recent Newspoll, my aggregate has for now gone to 53.8% in Labor's favour.  This is the first time in this term that it has exceeded the 53.6 at which Tony Abbott was disposed of in the term before.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Not-A-Poll Results: Best And Worst Tasmanian Ministers

For amusement and interest, in the last couple of months I have been running two reader Not-A-Polls in the sidebar concerning Tasmania's current Liberal ministry.  As the usual disclaimer goes, these not-a-polls are completely unscientific and represent only the opinions of those site readers (or random ring-ins) who may have chosen to participate.  Polldaddy has more advanced protections against multiple voting than the native polls on the Blogger site that I used to use, but I suspect they could be routed around if anyone was truly determined.  Also, this kind of exercise is especially prone to a word-of-mouth stack, where someone tells a bunch of their friends who would not normally read this site to vote on it.

Indeed there seemed to be something of that sort going on in the final week when there were sudden large gains for both Will Hodgman as best and Guy Barnett as worst.

Anyway, the following are the results for the Best Minister poll (in order), the Worst Minister poll (in reverse order) and a final ranking based on net scores (best minus worst) with position difference (best minus worst, 9 points for best on each scale to 1 for worst) used as a tiebreaker.  Had I used position difference to rank the results with net scores as the tiebreaker, the final order would have been the same.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Queensland Galaxy Says Game On For PHON Balance Of Power

Queensland Galaxy: Labor 31 LNP 33 PHON 23 Green 8 KAP 3 Other 2

A Queensland state poll by Galaxy, published in the Courier-Mail, tells a story that should have both major parties quite concerned.  If this poll is correct and typical, it is 1998 all over again and a bit more.  Perhaps the current One Nation polling bubble will burst before an election that is possibly still most of a year away.  If it doesn't, then a weakened minority government facing an unpopular opposition presents a dream scenario for Australia's number one nineties nostalgia party to break through at state level and obtain some serious power there.  Whether it would manage to remain remotely united this time if it did, nobody knows. 

 The high One Nation vote should be considered no surprise following polls showing the party at 16% in Western Australia, 16.3% in NSW and 9.4% in Victoria.  Queensland always was the party's strongest state.  It's possible even that the figure is an underestimate, but I am not that convinced that One Nation voters are all that shy anymore.

Sample size issues aside (and I haven't seen the sample size for this poll yet) there is one big reason to treat this poll with unusual caution.  It comes during a lousy news cycle for the government following the resignation of Transport Minister Stirling Hinchcliffe in response to a damning report on the failings of Queensland Rail.  I would expect that event to be deflating Labor's primary vote, and everything I say below should be taken with that caveat.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Sir David's Snail Is Not A New Species

Yes and no!
This is only slightly related to politics - in the sense that it is a good example of how media coverage often misreports and sensationalises environmental stories - but I thought I should just correct the record on the prominent announcement of a "new" Tasmanian snail.  It isn't a new species and it wasn't discovered in December 2016 as many sources are claiming.  What has happened is that an existing species has been moved into a new genus.

Sometime in the late 19th century, pioneering Tasmanian land snail expert William Frederick Petterd collected some snail specimens near Eaglehawk Neck.  Doubtless noting that some of them were much larger than a species considered  widespread through the state, Petterd left an enigmatic (and for me at least illegible) note with the specimens, but did nothing further with them.  Live specimens of the snail were first collected in the early 1970s resulting in the description of the new species Helicarion rubicundus by Dartnall and Kershaw in 1978.  At the time this was treated as a fresh discovery of a new species, Petterd's earlier specimens having not been noticed.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Poll Roundup: Feeble In February

2PP Aggregate: 53.5 to Labor (+1.1 since last 2016 reading)
Labor would comfortably win an election "held now"

It is one of nature's most amazing seasonal events.  As wildebeest migrate in vast numbers, as salmon throw themselves up rivers then spawn and die, so each February on the continent of Australia, a federal government disintegrates.  At least it seems this way, with polling for the incumbent government of the time having gone pearshape around this time in six of the last seven years.  Usually the causes for the downturn have been extremely obvious.

In the longer term this hasn't been such a thing, with average 2PP polling in February since 1986 (49.4% for the government) being only a point worse than those polls taken in January (50.4%) and no worse than polls taken in June and September.  But just in recent years there is something about the annual reopening of Parliament that tends to bring with it the smell of chaos.  What is happening with the current government is not (yet) as bad as the Week From Hell experienced by the Gillard government in 2013, but yet again we find a government under assault on multiple issues at once.

Friday, February 3, 2017

WA: Grim Newspoll For The Barnett Campaign

By any normal measure the Colin Barnett Liberal government in Western Australia is in its final weeks.  A weak economy, long incumbency, federal drag (and from an unpopular federal government at that), disunity, a disliked Premier and bad 2PP polling would together spell "GAME OVER".  It's actually not easy to find electoral precedents for a government with quite so many things against it all at once.

The close nature of some recent 2PP polling, however, has given some (but not all) Liberals serious hope that they can sandbag their way back into power, especially if they can get One Nation preferences.  The latest Newspoll has, for now, pretty much pulled that rug out from underneath their feet.  It's much too early to say that it's all over, but things do not look good.