Thursday, November 20, 2014

Comments On The Lambie/PUP Split

This is what Jacqui Lambie's Facebook page looked like before she joined PUP (image: @AutumnalMonk)
In recent weeks the always edgy relationship between the Palmer "United" Party and its Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie has spiralled out of control.  Lambie is now effectively an independent.  The party no longer has any influence on her Senate votes, she no longer has any influence on its Senate votes (and is currently banned from the party room), and there at present appears little prospect she'll be preselected for it again (if PUP even exists in 2019 or whenever else Lambie's seat next comes up.) Her photo has been removed from PUP's website, she has removed its branding from hers, and Lambie and party founder Clive Palmer are insulting each other publicly with no discernable restraint.  PUP is a strange party so one would not be too firm in predicting anything here, but this sure looks like an ex-relationship. 

Last week we saw the bizarre expulsion from PUP of Lambie's Chief of Staff Rob Messenger, for allegedly making misleading statements about PUP senators.  The only such statement identified was several weeks old, and was actually Messenger relaying something Lambie said she had heard Palmer say about Dio Wang.  In the bizarre world of media PUPcorn, it seems that Messenger was actually expelled to blame him for comments much more recently made by Lambie. 

How might it all end?

Lambie may no longer be in PUP very soon, but there are reasons why this situation of her being only tokenly a PUP Senator has dragged on as long as it has.  Last week I noted on Twitter that Lambie is still in the party because she wants the martyr points that come with being sacked, while Palmer would prefer that she resigned.  An additional issue (see three sections down) is the possibility that Palmer will sue her.  This dynamic is discussed in greater length by Paula Matthewson. However, even by PUP standards, keeping a Senator who you call a liar and accuse of undermining you in your party would become farcical if it went on for too long, so more likely than not, something will break and the party will have to throw her out pretty soon if she hasn't already quit.

If face-saving is really that big an issue in bringing all this to its natural conclusion then there is a third path: Lambie could be deemed to have triggered various PUP rules that allow her to be deemed to have ceased to be a member of the party, even if she hasn't resigned from it.  This can happen in the PUP constitution if Lambie, for instance:

* actively assists a candidate running against PUP in an election (there's one next weekend if she wants to try her luck) or
* becomes a member of another party deemed to be opposed to PUP's objectives

Whatever way it all ends, there are a number of themes I'd like to deal with here:

The source of the problem: lax screening

A party is responsible for thoroughly screening the candidates it offers to the people. All parties have their problems in this area and now and then have to disendorse a candidate, but Palmer United seem more happy-go-lucky about preselections and more trouble-prone than any other party I can recall, including even the Victorian Liberals.  In the case of Lambie, claims that her Facebook page contained strident anti-Islamic material were on the public record on Twitter, and even if the page was scrubbed of such material before she applied for preselection (rather than after) it would likely have been retrievable by cache.  See the Did Lambie Have Form From The Start? section of a previous article for more on this. Additionally, that Lambie disagreed with PUP asylum seeker policy was known well before her endorsement was confirmed.

Either the party had no idea what they were getting themselves into with this candidate, in which case they hadn't done their homework, or else they knew full well.  In any case, the party's present problems with this Senator are self-inflicted and similar problems will keep happening on a routine basis until the party gets serious about pre-screening.  Until it does, it's my view that voters should not vote for PUP, nor parties preference them above the line (Victorian Greens, I'm looking at you), because you never know what sort of candidate you're getting and whether they will actually stay in the party if elected.  The latest farce in which PUP tried to remove an ineligible candidate from the top of a Victorian Legislative Council ticket, shows that the party maintains a lax approach to preselection screening and hasn't learned. 

Post-PUP options

It is a very long time til the next election so there is no particular hurry for Lambie to resolve the present situation.  However, given that she will not be preselected by PUP again as things stand and given that PUP will probably be a dead duck by the time Lambie's slate comes up for re-election anyway, it's extremely likely Lambie will be going to the next election as something other than a PUP candidate.

Options available to Lambie include becoming an Independent, joining an existing well-known party, joining an existing fledgling party and starting a new party.  Of the existing well-known parties, two that have been discussed are Rise Up Australia and Pauline Hanson's One Nation.  While Lambie has unfortunately displayed close philosophical similarities with both these parties, neither would be a good fit for her.  Rise Up Australia members have been trying to recruit Lambie via Facebook but RUA is a religious-fundamentalist party in which her lusts for rich well-hung men who don't have anything to say wouldn't go down very well.

PHON meanwhile is an even deader duck than PUP is likely to become, and by joining it Lambie would be painting herself as nothing but a junior acolyte of Pauline Hanson, who these days is just a serial celebrity candidate with very little support.  (Media sources that reported Hanson's recent "return" to the party and "comeback" have hopelessly short memories given that Hanson ran as the endorsed NSW lead One Nation Senate candidate last September).

Yesterday, Lambie posted a Facebook link to a fledgling political party called the Australian Defence Veterans Party, without any useful comment.  The significance of this move - whether it's a sounding, a provocation, or a statement of intent - is unclear at present, but it resulted in Palmer calling Lambie a liar and suggesting (without providing any evidence) that she had been plotting to join a different party all along.  The ADVP appears to have attempted to form shortly after the 2013 federal election, if not before (I have found references to it from late October 2013).  Writing this August, a poster on the OzPolitics forum referred to ADVP at the time as a "still born" party "that seems to have died in a flaming wreck of personality clashes and is trying to resurrect itself."  It would be thoroughly resurrected (and indeed exempt from membership number requirements for registration) if it had an instant Senator.

I can see a lot of potential for complications if a very controversial Senator is parachuted into an already existing party (even if its main platform is one she strongly agrees with).  Things might be easier for all concerned if Lambie is an Independent or starts a completely new "party".  On the latter front, it has long surprised me that attempts to form a Bloc Québécois-style Tasmania-centred party dedicated to exploiting Tasmania's disproportionate share of Senate power have never before gone anywhere.  I don't credit Lambie with the skill and restraint to run such a party without it turning into a One Nation style legal shambles, so I think Independence would be safer.

The prospect of a court case

One of the reasons Lambie may be keen to provoke Palmer into sacking her from the party is the prospect that if she leaves voluntarily, PUP may take legal action to attempt to reclaim her seat.  This follows news of similar legal action being attempted by the DLP against John Madigan.  Legal experts have been reported as giving the Madigan case a "low probability of success", which is code for the case being absolute bulldust but no-one wishing to pre-empt the High Court.

I am very confident that the High Court will not find in the DLP's favour, assuming that the case is even heard at all, and would also not find in PUP's favour concerning Lambie. Section 15 of the Australian constitution clearly and explicitly concerns the filling of a casual vacancy created when a Senator resigns from the Senate.  If a Senator resigns or is expelled from their party but continues to sit in the Senate, there is no vacancy.  Quite aside from S15 clearly not saying what the DLP wants it to say, the consequences of the DLP's claim being upheld would include that a party can preselect a Senate candidate who might be popular, drive them to resign from the party or expel them from it, and immediately replace that Senator with someone who had never faced election.

Nonetheless Lambie has only been drawing a Senator salary for less than half a year and might struggle to assemble the resources to defend such a case effectively.

Does Palmer have the power to sack Lambie?

Last week Clive Palmer claimed he could not throw Lambie out of the party, saying "I haven't got the power to sack anyone from anything."  As far as I can tell, this claim is incorrect.  The PUP constitution (Section D26) empowers the majority of the Foundation members of PUP to declare that a member of PUP has ceased to be a member.  The Foundation members are Clive Palmer, his wife Anna Palmer, his son Michael Palmer, and his nephews Clive Mesink,  Blair Brewster and Martin Brewster.  These six are also the Interim Executive Committee of PUP as stated in section W2.

Section W1 states that the Interim Executive Committee currently exercises all powers of the Executive and all other bodies set out in the PUP Constitution.  Section W3 states that the Chairman (Clive Palmer) is "fully authorised to exercise all powers" of the Interim Executive Committee.  My view is that Palmer can kick Lambie out of the party whenever he likes, the only alternative being that he might need the support of three of the listed five family members.

Would Lambie have won on her own?

In recent days Lambie has claimed that she regrets running with PUP and wishes she had run as an independent.  She can make that wish a reality any time she likes by resigning from the Senate since without PUP she would almost certainly not have got anywhere near winning.  As it was, PUP polled 6.58% of the primary vote in Tasmania but Lambie was elected very narrowly, escaping exclusion at one point by 1276 votes, or 0.38% of Tasmania's Senate primary vote.

Although Lambie said she had been campaigning for ten months, it seems doubtful she had been doing so effectively or prominently.  Yes, she had a Facebook page, but her campaign as an independent candidate for the Senate was otherwise so obscure that I have been able to find not one single Google reference relating to it during that time, while the only Twitter references were those by @AutumnalMonk calling her out on Islamophobic material on her page.

As an indie, Lambie would only have been able to buy a ticket to the preference-dealing game if she had been able to register a group ticket in time.  Even had she done this, Lambie would have faced several disadvantages compared to PUP.  She would not have been able to benefit from PUP's deal with the Greens, she would not have benefited from PUP's rare ability as a party to attract below-the-line preferences from left and right, and I doubt she would have been able to afford Glenn Druery's fees to try to get a better preference flow.  Any belief that Lambie was close to winning and was just pushed over the line by PUP support is just delusional.  On her own, she wouldn't have got a thousand votes.

Lambie and personal vote

Yesterday PUP sent out the following email (image from Bevan Shields' Twitter feed):


PUP frequently dabble in pseudo-psephology and this email is no exception.  The fact is that a vote for a party in the 1 box is in effect a 1 vote for the number one candidate, just as a vote for the candidate below the line is.  Thus nearly all the votes for PUP were credited to Jacqui Lambie.

It is true that most PUP voters voted above the line, as with any other party, but that does not prove they would have voted for the party no matter who its candidate was.  Senate results cannot be so easily used to detect the personal vote of the lead Senate candidate.  For instance Green lead candidates persistently get high percentages of their votes as below-the-lines compared to ALP or Liberal lead candidates, but this doesn't mean those Greens candidates have high personal support bases.

On the other hand, if we consider the proportion of Nick Xenophon Group voters who vote 1 for their party below the line (9.5%), that massively underestimates the share of NXG votes that the group gets when Xenophon is running and because he is running.  The NXG's vote in the South Australian upper house election without him on the ticket was barely half their vote in the Senate election with him.

Also, just because a voter votes below the line does not mean they are voting personally for the lead candidate.  A voter could do it because they supported the party whoever it endorsed, but wanted to order their own preferences differently to how the party had done so.  This is especially likely with Tasmanian PUP supporters, who are very likely to prefer major parties to the Greens.

Trying to determine what share of a party's Senate vote is down to the party and what to its lead candidate is actually a very difficult and messy problem.  Generally PUP polled more weakly in the Senate than the House of Reps (4.91% compared to 5.49%) because there were more parties running in the Senate in any given electorate.  In Tasmania it was the other way around (6.58% compared to 6.06%) but there wasn't much in it, and a big part of the difference was in Denison, where the PUP Reps vote was deflated by competition from Andrew Wilkie.  In other electorates, PUP did better in the Senate than the Reps by 0.70 points in Bass, 0.79 in Lyons and 0.54 in Braddon, but worse by 1.19 points in Franklin, where they had a fairly high-profile Reps candidate, Marti Zucco.

If there was any personal vote effect for Lambie it can't have been all that large, but it's irrelevant now anyway.  Lambie's profile has grown overwhelmingly since her election and trying to use anything to do with the last election to answer the question of the impact of losing Lambie on the state PUP vote is pointless.

What chance Lambie as a free agent?

Quite a few observers believe that, for all her gaffes and stupid comments, Lambie has connected with a demographic out there in Tasmania that might be called "battlers"; roughly, the same people who vote for UKIP in the UK.  Some believe she will be widely seen as a "straight shooter" and hence an antidote to politics as usual.  There's also the view that she will be a new Harradine and will be able to get re-elected by being seen to stand up for Tasmania and use her share of the balance of power effectively (something that won't happen while she is more interested in obstructing the Government over defence force pay than dealing for state outcomes.) 

I think that none of this is automatically true and we need to see polling data, preferably taken once Lambie's political identity is clearer.  It might be that Lambie has significant support or it might be that pretty much everyone, other than anti-Islamic voters and some voters interested in her chosen defence issues, regards her as a lunatic.  We need well designed Senate-specific polling to have much of an idea on that.  

In any case at this stage we don't know for sure what electoral system the next Senate election will be held under and what sort of vote Lambie might need to win.  If it is the sort of system foreshadowed in the first JSCEM interim report (semi-optional preferential with group ticket preferencing banned) then she'd likely need at least 10%, but if it's the current system it might not be that much.

But I do think that while Lambie's career thus far has been almost a total mess, if it is really five years til her seat comes up, then that's a very long time to learn and reinvent herself.   As Georgie Burgess and Pat Caruana suggest, more Harradine, less Hanson.

There may well be a final resolution to this saga by early next week.  Or failing that there could be yet more media PUPcorn.  Joy!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Poll Roundup: G20 No Help To Government

2PP Aggregate: 53.1 to ALP (+0.8 since last week, +2.1 in five weeks, highest in four months)
ALP would easily win election "held right now"

A fairly quick update as I have a lot of other work to do, which may sometime over the weekend or so include putting this piece of pseudo-scientific garbage in its place.  This week the federal government hosted the G20 meeting in Brisbane.  This would have been expected to at least allow the government to dominate the media cycle and demonstrate its international credibility.  However, things haven't been that simple.  Climate change was seen to dominate the agenda (probably to a greater extent than it actually did), and the isolation of Vladimir Putin by various Anglosphere leaders was still an anticlimax compared to the threatened "shirtfronting".  Even when Australia signed a generally well-received (if probably not well understood) free trade agreement with China, the Prime Minister still ran into Parrot problems.

But doubtless the worst moment of the conference for the Coalition was the PM's widely slammed address in which he was seen as not only rabbiting on to world leaders about irrelevant domestic issues, but also doing so in a way that whinged about the known unpopularity of government measures such as GP co-payments.  It was a free hit for the Opposition and it was duly and effectively taken.

None of this is to say that the issues surrounding the G20 are necessarily the cause of what we have seen in polling this week, or even that we have conclusive evidence that things are worse for the government than they were two weeks ago. Also, it might be that aspects of Australia's stance that were criticised in the last few weeks look better down the track.  At least, however, if the Government was hoping for even a modest quick bounce in its favour from hosting this major event, it hasn't arrived.

This week's polls

This week saw no change from Essential Research (52:48 for the third week in a row.) Morgan's last-election result was 54:46 to Labor, an increase of just half a point, and equivalent to a 52.5 from anyone else (the respondent-allocated figure was 55.5).  The big result was Newspoll, which put out a 55:45.  Although this was only a one-point shift in the released 2PP from the previous fortnight, in this case the primaries (39-36 to Labor) implied that it was really 55, not a 54 that looked like a 53.  Indeed, neither Newspoll nor Morgan this week have showed the primary-vs-2PP discrepancy I talked about in the previous episode.

The Newspoll was also a surprise as it was a shift up for Labor from an already above-trend figure.  It's possible that this is just a randomly friendly run for the ALP from Newspoll or even that Newspoll is on a bit of an off-track excursion, (See my recent concerns about Newspoll's high Green/Others vote figures.)  For the time being, my aggregate isn't fully buying the strength for Labor of the recent Newspolls, but has still gone to 53.1 for Labor, the highest reading for four months.


The smoothed tracking graph now shows 2.1 points of blowout in Labor's lead over the last five weeks.  This is looking more and more like a government that is intrinsically unpopular rather than only unpopular in response to specific events.

The Newspoll was the third 55:45 to Labor for this term, the previous two coming in May and June during the budget blowout.  The ALP's primary lead of three points was greater than in any of the blowout polling, and was the party's best since a single poll in July 2010, when Julia Gillard had just been installed as Prime Minister.  Prior to that, Labor had held similar leads under Kevin Rudd until March 2010.

While the voting intention figures are similar to the blowout phase, Prime Minister Tony Abbott's net satisfaction rating is "only" -19 (36-55) and not so bad as the  ratings he recorded in May through to early July (which bottomed out at -31).  Bill Shorten polled his best netsat for nearly three months (-2 (39-41)) and Shorten's six-point better-PM lead (43-37) was his highest since late June.

Last week's Essential figures also saw Abbott's personal ratings worsening slightly (down three points to net -11) while Shorten was steady at -1. Essential had Abbott "leading" as Better PM, but only by two points, which is not enough for an incumbent.

G20 and China FTA Polling

The most interesting attitudinal polling this week was Essential's series on the G20 and the China free trade deal.  The FTA with China was asserted by shockjock Alan Jones to be failing "the pub test", but it passes the Essential panel test with 44% approving and 18% against.  Support was strongest from Coalition supporters (58-9) and reasonably good from ALP supporters (44-21) with Greens (31-27) and Others including PUP (34-35) equivocal.

The deal was seen as skewed in China's favour overall (35-12) with the Australian government (52%) nominated as the party most likely to benefit in Australia (hmmm) and Australian workers least (25%).  Predictably voters want to have their cake and eat it too, supporting greater access to Chinese markets (61-12) but opposing reduced restrictions on Chinese investment (52-23).  It seems that voters ideally want an FTA with China in which we trade freely, but they don't, and that despite their lukewarm support for the FTA signed, most voters are missing the point of what an FTA actually is.  Voters were generally sceptical (62-16) that the G20 was anything but an "expensive talkfest".

Essential also had some useful stuff on refugee intake, showing that major party supporters are most likely to overestimate Australia's current intake while Greens supporters are more likely to underestimate it.

Any new polling over the coming weekend will be added in updates to this article.  I expect this series to be back in a fortnight and I already have a title: Poll Roundup: Deeply Unpopular By December.

Friday ReachTEL Update
A new federal ReachTEL has been released with a 53:47 to Labor 2PP; I model it as 52.7% to Labor off the decimal primaries; either way, it makes no difference to my current aggregate, and also no difference when I apply the weekly reset.  The leadership ratings see Abbott record his worst "Very Poor" rating (36.1) since June, although the 2.9 point increase there comes partly off "Poor", which is down by 1.8.  All up I convert Abbott's ratings to about -15 on the Newspoll scale.

Bill Shorten's combined "poor" rating (37.7) is at its lowest level since February (when he was still quite new to the job), though the gain was entirely made by Satisfactory, with Shorten's "meh!" factor as high as it has been since March.  All up I convert Shorten's ratings to about -3 on the Newspoll scale.

ReachTEL's G20 ratings reveal that the number of voters rating Tony Abbott's performance at the G20 poor or very poor (41.7%) is massively higher than the proportion who believe the summit did not produce positive outcomes for Australia (22.2%).  Also of interest is a question on Jacqui Lambie leaving the Palmer United Party - PUP supporters think she shouldn't, but Labor, Liberal and Green (especially Liberal) supporters tend to believe that she should. 


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Victorian Poll Roundup And Seat Betting Watch: Sandbelt Edition

2PP aggregate of recent Victorian state polling:  ALP leads 53.2-46.8
"Nowcast" seat estimate based on this 2PP: ALP 49 Coalition 39

It's taken a while for enough polling to build up to justify another Victorian pre-election roundup to follow last fortnight's, but that point has been reached with the belated release of results for the Fairfax-Ipsos poll taken last weekend.  Why it has taken the Age until Friday to get this data out there is anyone's guess, but at least we have it now.

If you followed the media comments about the unreliable mutterings of both parties about internal polling and the like, you'd have seen claims from both sides that things have tightened up through this week.  These claims always need to be treated with caution, since the side in the lead has an incentive to make them to discourage complacency, while the side trailing has an incentive to make them to discourage despair.   They might turn out to be true, but with no data fresher than Monday, we'll need to wait for more polling to be sure.

Based on where things stood early this week, there would have to be a lot of improvement to make a serious difference to the picture of a very likely change of government.  At that stage the gap was, if anything, widening slightly, but the broader picture is a lack of any major change for quite a while. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Poll Roundup: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

2PP Aggregate: 52.2 to ALP (+0.2 since last week, +1.2 in three weeks, highest in twelve weeks)
ALP would probably narrowly win election "held now" outright

Four weeks ago I declared the Abbott government's budget blowout "over", their aggregate position having come back to 49% 2PP, which was about where it had been back in April.  It had taken almost half a year to get back to that point, but assuming that the Coalition was now going to poll competitively for a while, it was easy to believe that they were on the track to re-election.

What's happened since may bring just a little smile to ALP supporters, since no sooner did the government finally get back to effective parity than its ratings turned around and started heading down again.  As the Abbott government approaches the first anniversary of losing the lead, this small shift back adds a little more interest to the question of when and under what circumstances they might actually get it back.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Victorian State Election: Late October Polls And Seat Model

2PP aggregate of recent Victorian state polling:  ALP leads 52.6-47.4
"Nowcast" seat estimate based on this 2PP: ALP 48 Coalition 40

After a week buried deep in the Hobart City Council count I've finally found time to get stuck into the Victorian state election.  This thread starts with a roundup of recent polling, then goes into the early version of a seat-probability model similar to my one that picked 93% of seats correctly at the 2013 federal election.  The federal election version was whipped up very quickly in the shadows of the post; I have much more time to work on this one so it will probably do much worse.

The new polls

Six polls have been released in the last week or so, by a range of methods.  Two of them have had suspiciously high Green votes.  For the Morgan SMS poll it also had a suspiciously high Green vote in late September, so I'll assume this is systematic.  The Ipsos poll is the first of its kind, and their federal poll published today hasn't shown any skew to the Greens, so I'm assuming for now that their methods are no more prone to green skew than the four more established pollsters.  Anyway in aggregating these six polls at the bottom I've pinged the Greens 0.9 of a point in every poll except Morgan SMS, for which I've applied a very lenient deduction of four.  For more information on this decision see my new blog header.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hobart City Council Count (Includes Some Coverage Of Other Councils)

Wrapup (Saturday Nov 1):  

With the pressing of the final button in Launceston a few hours ago it's pretty much time to bring a close to my coverage of the Hobart and other Tasmanian local government elections and turn my attention to the deluge of Victorian and other state polls that I've neglected while this has been on.   If there are any post-count resignations then I will put up separate threads for the recounts to fill them.

Interest levels have been tremendous with both this page and the Hobart guide logging nearly 8,000 pageviews so far, each from nearly 3,000 unique visitors. Unique pageviews on Tuesday and Wednesday were at levels comparable to the busiest days of the federal election campaign.  I think this all says something against the idea that people are not interested in local government.  I'd like to thank readers for their interest, especially those who threw in a few hundred dollars in donations between them, which I definitely felt like I'd earned after 13 hours working more or less flat out on Tuesday.  It would be great to provide this level of coverage for more councils in 2018, but to do that there need to be more of me!

So what have we found out, especially from Hobart but also from the other results?

Monday, October 27, 2014

What Would Happen If Jacqui Lambie Resigned From The Senate?

This piece is brought to you by the Department of Absurd Hypotheticals, but there are a couple of reasons for it.

Firstly, as the Palmer United Party Senator for Tasmania now seems to be embarrassing her country, her state and (to the limited extent possible) herself and her party on a more or less weekly basis, quite a few voters wish she would quit.  Lambie has recently called for the resignation of Defence Minister David Johnston, and a natural response for many was to call for Lambie to get out of politics instead.  

It's no more at this stage than wishful thinking.  Lambie comes from a difficult financial background and a likely six years as a Senator will set her up nicely for the rest of her life.  There are also some issues she seems to care about (for better or worse, varying by case) and she probably thinks she can make a difference to them in her role.  So I definitely don't think she's going anywhere - though whether she stays under the PUP umbrella remains to be seen. 

However, those who are thinking of calling for Lambie to quit the office to which she is so unsuited may want to know: if she did resign from the Senate, what would happen?