The all important Bennelong by election was held on the weekend. In a result that I think both parties can claim to have had a win the Liberal Party were returned with a margin of 54.9 to 45.1 (1) which is a 2 party preferred swing of 4.9 percent to the Labor Party. Now the Liberal Party can claim victory because firstly they won the seat and most importantly polls throughout the campaign were anywhere between 50-50 to one rogue 54-46 poll that was released through internal Liberal polling. In that sense to limit the swing to under 5 percent when the average by election swing is about six percent away from government’s. By the same token the Labor Party can point to a 7.3% swing to Kristina Keneally on first preferences and the turning of a safe seat to a more marginal seat although I would question whether this swing would be repeated under a less publicised general election campaign where the focus is on 150 seats rather than just on one seat. I think the Labor point is reasonable however the polls suggested this seat would be line ball going into the final days of the campaign and so they would be disappointed they couldn’t have done slightly better on the night. I think the Sam Dastyari incident (2) took some shine off the Labor campaign because it meant the focus was more on the impact of foreign donations and the influence of China in Australian Politics than on Labor’s campaign which focussed on Health and Education even if some of the claims made by Kristina Keneally were found to be untruthful or misleading (3) (4).
There are other impacts on this by election win that I think will play out in the new year. I think this win ensuring that the Government have 75 votes out of 149 again plus the speaker means that the citizenship issue will be brought up again when Parliament returns. Now Labor proposed a tit for tat we’ll refer four of ours and an independent to the high court if you refer four of yours which the Liberal Party rebuffed and without John Alexander the vote went 74-74 with all 5 cross benchers voting with the Labor Party. With John Alexander back the Liberal Party will instead focus on referring the 3 Labor MP’s and Rebekah Sharkie as they would now theoretically win such motion 75-74 (It’s 3 Labor MP’s now as the member for Batman David Feeney was already referred to the High Court by Tony Burke as his case seems a lot more straight forward (5)). I think the majority returning gives the government a chance to become more disciplined in 2018 and possibly start building a case to win re-election in 2019, something that looks unlikely at this stage as the polls have stubbornly shown the Labor Party leading the Coalition 53-47. I would also be very surprised if Kristina Keneally doesn’t now end up in Federal Politics at some stage, for the most part her campaign was impressive and the Sam Dastyari Senate spot now being vacant would be an obvious landing spot for her.
The other big news to come from this week is the Cabinet Reshuffle by Malcolm Turnbull (6). The biggest change to come from the reshuffle was not surprising, it has been long thought George Brandis would take over from Alexander Downer as the High Commissioner to the UK. This meant the cabinet position of number 1 lawmaker Attorney General will go to Christian Porter, this is a logical step as Porter has already been Treasurer and Attorney General of Western Australia and for a future leader of the Party it made sense to move him to a more public role. This is particularly the case as Christian Porter is in a marginal seat and so he could lose his seat at the next election because the Liberal Party are particularly travelling badly in WA. Barnaby Joyce moves across to the Infrastructure Ministry which seems to be the cabinet position of choice for the Nationals leader. The role of Agriculture goes to unknown backbencher David Littleproud and the new National Deputy gets a raft of Regional ministries as well as sport. Peter Dutton who is the Conservative powerbroker in the Liberal Party and possible Opposition leader if the Liberal’s lose the next election becomes the Home Affairs Minister which is the big joining of some of our national security portfolio’s. Most of the other moves are shuffling the decks with some ministers moving around portfolio’s but as with all reshuffles there are losers. The big loser from the reshuffle is Darren Chester who goes from being a Minister who was doing a great job to the backbench. Now this move was not popular amongst the National’s and continues a bad end of the year for the National’s (7). While the official line of the decision to drop Darren Chester was because he is from Victoria and with Bridget Mackenzie joining cabinet from Victoria there needed to be a rebalance to ensure Queenslanders were represented more accurate to reflect the fact that there are more Nats MP’s and Senators from Queensland. This would be a bit more believable if Keith Pitt a Queensland MP wasn’t also demoted to the backbench and indeed there have already been some rumblings that he would join the cross bench (8). It would seem much more believable to believe the alternative line which is that their demotions are linked to Darren Chester and Keith Pitt backing Bridget Mackenzie for the role of Deputy Nationals leader over Barnaby Joyce’s choice which was Matt Canavan. The National’s really need to work on their discipline because they were the chief reason for the Royal Banking Commission backflip and they also had George Christiensen threaten to jump ship if Malcolm Turnbull wasn’t replaced as Prime Minister.
In last weeks blog I was rather scathing of the Labor and the Green Party, one week on and it’s the Liberal Party who have had a bad week. They say nothing good happens after drinking at midnight and Christopher Pyne may do well to heed that advice. Tony Abbott has been continuing to attack Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership openly and not so openly; and so Christopher Pyne’s late night admission that he wants to see marriage equality pass through the house sooner than later and that he never voted for Tony Abbott was just the opportunity Tony Abbott needed to come and attack the Liberal Party and it’s leadership under Turnbull again.
Earlier this year Scott Morrison would appear on Ray Hadley’s conservative radio program weekly to discuss politics however that appearance ended due to Scott Morrison appearing on a seperate ABC program to discuss the budget rather than to appear on his show. This opened up a slot for a Liberal MP to appear on the weekly spot and Tony Abbott happily accepted the opportunity to appear on the show. In a similar fashion to Kevin Rudd after the 2010 election Tony Abbott can now use that radio spot to advance his views on policy issues that are shaping the country and show how that differentiates from the leader, in this case Malcom Turnbull. The big difference between Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd is that Kevin Rudd held public support in the period between his first leadership loss and regaining the leadership whereas Tony Abbott has not had that public support. So when Tony Abbott came out this week with a new manifesto a lot of the political issues he raised are popular with his political base however they don’t have broad public support besides a tougher stance on national security and that already is a policy shift that Malcolm Turnbull has been making this year. You don’t fix national security issues however by getting up on a national platform surrounded by flags lecturing people, it requires a delicate nuanced approach.
One big claim by right wing commentators and Corey Bernadi/ Tony Abbott is that by moving to the centre on issues the Liberal Party have lost votes to the One Nation and Conservatives Party. As (1) shows this is a valid claim however it’s use is exaggerated in it’s impact on the Liberal Party vote share. I think it’s clear that Liberal are leaking votes to right wing parties like the One Nation Party and other conservative parties however if the Liberal’s move to far to the right then they risk losing votes to the Labor Party or the Greens particularly in more metropolitan seats. At first glance Wentworth, Bennelong, Higgins, Brisbane, Sturt and Reid are all potential greens targets longer term that the Liberal Party risk losing if they were to move to far too the right. The One Nation threat shouldn’t be an issue in a preferential voting system because most of the lost votes should come back to the Liberal Party through preferences, however this didn’t happen in 2016, the preferences split closer to 50-50 between the Liberal Party and the Labor Party. This is the real problem for the Liberal Party, that unlike the Labor Party who receive about 80 percent of Greens preferences when disenfranchised voters are voting away from the Liberal Party they aren’t getting those votes back. This means you can’t just assume that taking on a more right wing approach will get you all of these votes back, because you are essentially chasing protest votes and they don’t split as logically to one particular party. I think it’s important to look at the polls going into Tony Abbott’s demise as PM; The Liberal Party were anywhere from 55-45 to 58-42 behind in two party preferred votes and were in real danger of losing all South Australian seats to match the wipeout that eventuated in NT and Tasmania. With this in mind it’s a bit disingenuous of right wing commentators to attack Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership in the face of 53-47 polls because he won the 2016 election despite that looking impossible before the 2015 leadership spill and a lot of Malcolm Turnbull’s issues have come from needing to placate the party to avoid losing his leadership again. I know speaking to voters they say well Turnbull show just muscle up and show some leadership but this would then lead to captains calls and this was something that the public despised Tony Abbott for. There’s also no point taking a position on an issue that can’t pass the party room because all that will do is leave you without the leadership and with the issue then reversed to an even less favourable position. I also think the public share some blame for the paralysis on big policy issues. I remember when Mike Baird introduced the greyhound ban there was not much of a whimper from those who supported the decision but the opposition groups were very loud and manifested a strong opposition to the policy. As a result of this and an Orange By Election loss Mike Baird reversed his policy decision and only then did animal rights groups speak up about what a horrible decision this was from Mike Baird. Well if you had spoken up with your views earlier Mike Baird might of had a stronger position to defend his decision.
How do I think the latest Abbott vs Turnbull dispute will end. Well I think Malcolm Turnbull will continue to spin the line that he is only focussed on policy outcomes and not the distractions of the personal politics, this is evidenced by (2) however the last 7 years suggests that the media will continue to chase the sound bite and there are going to be a lot of these sound bites still to come. I don’t think Tony Abbott will return to the leadership, I think he only gets 10-15 votes now in a leadership spill however I don’t think this concerns Abbott. He has such a personal vengeance against Malcolm Turnbull that he would rather lose the next election than let Turnbull implement his chosen policy platform. The problem this has then is who leads the Liberal Party should they lose the next election, Malcolm Turnbull has pledged to leave Parliament if the Liberal Party lose the next election and Scott Morrison has lost a lot of his shine from his not so effective stint now as Treasurer. That leaves Peter Dutton who is a popular base candidate but who is very divisive in the public and holds a marginal seat, there is a possibility he loses his Queensland seat at the next election. After that your next candidates are probably still a few years off with Christian Porter probably the most likely to be the next Liberal Prime Minister when Liberal re take office.
Elsewhere in Politics the Greens have had another difficult internal week and would indeed be in some crisis if they were a major party with the increased media criticism. Senator Lee Rhiannon has been suspended from attending contentious party room meetings for the foreseeable future although has not been expelled from the Greens as some sources were expecting. This has led to an Insiders appearance by Lee Rhiannon this morning to reiterate her criticism on Richard Di Natale as party leader and an insistence that the Greens are a party for the members and not for the MPs. This statement is essentially why the Greens have split at the moment. As I have alluded to in previous posts Di Natale seeks to make the Greens more electable and be able to win seats from both the Labor and Liberals in metropolitan seats. This is opposed to Lee Rhiannon and the more left wing of the New South Wales division particularly who want to see the party reach it’s members and let policy be influenced by their base. This split became public when Lee Rhiannon supported the Greens Base members for their opposition to the Liberal’s Gonski policy while Di Natale and Sarah Hanson Young were working on amendments to support the governments policy. The fact that 9 MPs were in favour of this approach and 1 Senator opposing the deal stops any progress on the matter suggests to me that the Greens have some issues to deal with going forward.