Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Can-ning of Worms

Regardless of the result, the Canning by-election on 19 September is shaping as a catalyst for an early trip to the polls for the rest of Australia’s voters.


Brought about by the untimely and unfortunate death of the personally popular Liberal member Don Randall, the 19 September poll is both a leadership test for Prime Minister Abbott and a potential stop gap for a disaster-prone coalition government.


Early Newspoll results in the apparently safe Western Australian Liberal seat (currently held on a margin of 11.8%) are, however, broadly in line with national polling and show that a swing against the Liberals in the region of 11% is possible.


Whilst this is not an by-election-winning prediction for the Opposition it does make the contest in Canning far more interesting than perhaps it should be.


Canning has gone with the Government in 21 of the last 26 elections and was last held in a Labor Government way back in 1993 in the days of the 2nd term Keating Government. Canning was also held from 1998 – 2001 by Labor’s Jane Gerick who won the seat with a resounding 53.5% of the two party preferred vote during the near miss re-election of the 2nd term Howard Government. Gerick lost the seat in a contra-landslide to Randall as part of Howard’s 3rd term Government in 2001. (Ominously for the 19 September by-election candidates, Gerick also died prematurely from a brain haemorrhage on Christmas day 2003.)


Perhaps on the proven success of the national security and counter-terrorism agenda that has played so well for Abbott from time-to-time during this Government, Former Special Air Service Captain Andrew Hastie has been endorsed as the Liberal candidate for the seat. Look out for media appearances with senior ministers in the national security space replete with a phalanx of national flags.


The Barnett Liberal Government in Western Australia has arguably lost control of the political high ground in the State and WA Liberal fortunes have traditionally been reflected in Canning’s federal polling. None of this bodes well for a decisive victory for Liberal’s Andrew Hastie.


The only other confirmed candidate at the time of writing is the curiously aptly named Teresa Van Lieshout whose pedigree is from the conservative side of the fence with former links to One Nation, the Palmer United Party and the religious right.


Should Canning be returned to the Liberals against this State trend, it will be viewed by a nervous Federal Coalition party room as something of an endorsement of the general direction of the Abbott Government and will provide the Prime Minister with just the fillip he needs to maintain his tenuous hold on the prime ministership. The opportunity to deliver a coup-de-grĂ¢ce on the struggling but improving fortunes of the Labor leader on the back of an inevitable poll lift would be difficult to resist and an early Federal election would be a great temptation.


A loss in Canning, particularly to an as yet unnamed Labor candidate, would undoubtedly sound the death knell on the Abbott prime ministership and would inevitably herald the return of Malcolm Turnbull to the Federal Liberal Leadership.


Turnbull has recently polled as high as 57% as preferred Liberal leader(SMH 18 August) and, despite being roundly despised by many of his colleagues, offers the Coalition their best hope of avoiding a complete routing at the next Federal election.


The inevitable “sugar shock” in the polls that the re-emergence of Malcolm Turnbull would almost certainly provide will prove too much to withstand and it would not be long before he was knocking on the door of Government House in Canberra. 


Either way you cut it, the Canning by-election on 19 September is a landmark moment in the Australian political calendar and will prove most interesting viewing for those interested in the political future of the current government.


Make sure you’ve got Antony Green’s* blog in your favourites and don’t touch that dial.


*ABC Election analyst whose blog appears here:


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

ScoMo - A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

In the wash up from Tuesday’s coalition-party room decision denying a free vote to Coalition Ministers on same sex marriage, a number of Coalition protagonists, most notably the Prime Minister, have come out in support of either a plebiscite or referendum to decide the issue once and for all.


This seems somewhat at odds with the Prime Minister’s formerly stated position, following the unprecedented Irish referendum, that this should be a matter for the party room.


If the motivation behind this is to differentiate themselves from the Labor party, whose majority (but not unanimous) position is to allow a free vote, at least until 2019, it seems a curios tactic.


The cost to the taxpayer of a plebiscite or referendum notwithstanding, the reactionaries within Coalition ranks are falling in behind the Prime Minister touting the party line that the Coalition will let the people decide but Labor want the politicians to decide. 

The Coalition, therefore, has made this an election issue despite the fact that the Prime Minister explicitly stated that the plebiscite or referendum would not happen concurrently with the next federal election.


This could prove notoriously poor judgement. In the next three years there will be a general election, a referendum on constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders and, either a plebiscite or a referendum on same sex marriage. 


Current voter disengagement with politics will be exacerbated by voter fatigue and resentment at the additional cost. And, as Malcolm Turnbull points out, the same sex marriage debate remains live until the plebiscite or referendum “resolves” the issue. 


The issue will remain live until after the election and, quite possibly, until after the constitutional recognition referendum. It threatens to stay unresolved for many years to come. Given the apparent appetite for change in the community on this issue, that can’t be good for the Coalition.


Referendums and Plebiscites

As ABC election analyst Anthony Green explains: “[A] ‘referendum' is generally reserved for votes to amend the Australian Constitution…” whereas “a] ‘plebiscite' is … used to mean a simple national vote”. One requires majority support in a majority of states to change the Constitution; the other is merely a decisive indicator of public opinion. The former is notoriously difficult to achieve; the latter, well, it’s merely a decisive indicator of public opinion.


Social Services Minister and Member for the federal electorate of Cook in Sydney’s south, Scott Morrison, is one right faction Liberal minister who favours a referendum.


Morrison outlined his position on Wednesday evening’s 7.30 program, and, while ostensibly falling in behind his leader on this issue, is positioning himself in the party for the long game and for a more self-serving outcome.


Morrison’s stated preference for a referendum to change Section 51 (xxi) of the constitution is designed to fail.


Section 51 outlines the Commonwealth’s powers and clause (xxi) simply says “marriage”. Morrison’s proposal to include “opposite and same-sex” into this clause is both unnecessary and disingenuous.


Section 51 is gender-unspecific so “marriage” in this context neither implicitly nor explicitly excludes same-sex marriage. A change is simply unnecessary. It is disingenuous because Morrison knows, as John Howard ably demonstrated in the November 1999 Australian republic referendum, a tricksy wording of the proposal will almost certainly cause it to fail regardless of the weight of public opinion.


A failed referendum cements Morrison’s reactionary views and his position as a leadership front runner for the LNP’s right faction. A position that he hopes will catapult him into the Liberal leadership.


However, it might be enlightening to commission a poll in Kurnell, Cronulla or Kirrawee (suburbs in Morrison’s electorate of Cook in Sydney’s south) to gauge support on the ground for same sex marriage. If results follow the national trend of 60 – 75% support, Morrison’s 3.69% margin might not be as strong as he thinks. 


As same sex marriage becomes a defining electoral issue for both parties Labor’s National Secretary, George Wright, might just be commissioning that poll in the Shire very soon.