Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Poll Roundup: Shorten's Latest Shocker - Or Was It?

2PP Aggregate: 53.8 to Coalition (updated to 53.4 on 1 February)
Coalition would win election "held now", probably with increased majority.
(Newspoll update added at bottom 1 February)

Pollsters are gradually emerging from their summer hibernation and over the next few weeks we will get a clearer picture of how the Turnbull Coalition government is placed as it kicks off the election year.  I am not sure exactly when Newspoll will emerge but enough data have come out in the last few weeks to make some quick comments about the overall state of play.  The 2PP estimate above will be updated and any further comments added tomorrow night following Essential, but it never alters the picture all that much.

So far this year we've had two Morgans, one Essential and one ReachTEL.  Morgan and Essential were the most strangely behaving polls late last year, with Morgan showing a massive swing to the Coalition immediately following the replacement of Tony Abbott with Malcolm Turnbull, but Essential showing a much more modest change that other posters soon stopped replicating.  Anyway the first Morgan was 55.5% two-party preferred to the Coalition by last-election preferences while the second was 54% (the closest since just after Turnbull was installed - and this off primaries that would normally have been good for only 53%).  Last week's Essential reading was just 51% to Coalition.  The Morgan had a 15% primary for the Greens, which I'm certainly not taking seriously.

I have been regarding Morgan as skewing to the Coalition and Essential as skewing to Labor compared with other polls in the Turnbull era (while Abbott was PM, Morgan skewed to Labor) and after considering the primaries I counted the Morgans as 53.8 and 52.3 to Coalition and the Essential as 52.7.  As Mark the Ballot notes, it is possible Morgan is coming back to the field, but there is no such sign so far for Essential.   However another pollster with a less clear record of skew to either side came out with a thumping result for the government (a 55:45 from ReachTEL, which I counted at 55.1) and this latter result has driven my estimate of the government's standing to new highs.  Last week it ended the week at 54.3 to Coalition, my highest figure for the government this term.

These early figures are not based on a lot of data, and it's possible that when Newspoll and Ipsos fire up the lead will moderate.  Here's the smoothed tracking graph:


There's no sign yet that the government's travails over summer (the resignation of Jamie Briggs and the standing-aside of Mal Brough) have done it the slightest harm.

Morgan reported that they have the Nick Xenophon Team (which they now include in the readout/textout, polling 2% nationwide) on 22.5% and ahead of Labor in South Australia.  It remains to be seen whether this holds up at an election when voters are voting for actual NXT candidates rather than Xenophon himself, but at this stage the result suggests NXT is more or less a purely South Australian factor, with below 1% support in the rest of the country.

Leaderships

Last week's Essential came out with unsurprising leadership figures.  Malcolm Turnbull's net approval was down from +33 (56-23) to +26 (51-25) while Bill Shorten's was unchanged at -20 (27-47).  Turnbull led Shorten as better Prime Minister by 33 points (51-18) down from 39 (54-15) a month before.  In the context of a poll recording more Labor-friendly readings than others, these were still very good figures for the PM.

ReachTEL, however, delivered atrocious results for the Opposition Leader despite showing little net change on voting intention.  (Don't read anything into that alone - Opposition Leader ratings have little to do with voting intention.)  Shorten's net personal rating crashed to a terrible -43.6 (13.8% good/very good, 28.8% satisfactory, 57.4% poor/very poor) compared to a previous worst for him of -29.8.  Likewise the Better Prime Minister forced-choice answer saw Turnbull jump to an enormous 80.8 to 19.2% lead (as if the previous 71.3% to 28.7% lead hadn't been massive enough.)

But are these new shock results correct?  PollBludger member Doyley compared the by-party breakdowns in the November and January ReachTELs and made the following innocent but interesting observation:

"More labor ( + 0. 7 ) and greens ( + 2.7 ) voters prefer Shorten as PM in this poll than in the November poll with a rise of 1.8% in coalition voters supporting Turnbull.

For what, if anything that is worth."

Doyley was not suggesting any error here, but it soon occurred to me that for such a massive shift to have happened in the overall preferred-PM result with such a small shift in preferred-PM scores by party, then something truly amazing must have happened with the preferences of Others voters.

ReachTEL usually don't publish the percentage of Others voters preferring either leader as PM but an estimate of it can be derived from the primary vote totals and the breakdowns for Coalition, Labor and Green voters.  Furthermore, because the pollster publishes figures to one decimal place, the impact of rounding errors on these derived estimates should be relatively small.

Here's what I get for ReachTEL national polls since May 2015:


The figures in grey on the right are my derived estimates of the proportion of Others voters who preferred the PM to the Opposition Leader.  We can see that while Tony Abbott was PM, Others voters apparently preferred Bill Shorten to Abbott, with Abbott's preferred-PM share languishing in the mid-high 30s on my estimates.  (In the one case in which the share of Others voters provided was published, it is fairly close to my estimate, with a difference of 6.3 points).  After Turnbull takes over, the Others voters swing increasingly to the Coalition's side, with nearly two-thirds preferring Turnbull to Shorten in both October and November.

All this makes perfect sense, but then based on the January data the same method projects a mathematically impossible 166% of Others voters preferring Turnbull to Shorten.  (Another way of putting it is that the published figures for Coalition, Labor and Greens suggest Shorten should be on at least 25% even if Others voters all prefer Turnbull.)

Now, there might well be more to ReachTEL's methods than I am aware of, and some unpublished change might have happened - there might be unpublished excluded "undecided" voters on one question or both (though this isn't consistent with what I understand of their methods so far), there might be different scaling methods applied to the totals as to the raw party figures (though I am unsure why anyone would do this) or there might be something else strange I hadn't thought of.

But basically there is this: when Others voters are just 9% of the total, if Shorten's preferred-PM ratings among Coalition, ALP and Greens voters are barely changing, and if the overall primaries are not changing much, then there is just no way changes among Others voters will cause a loss in support of 9.5%.  It appears that either the 80.8%-19.2% total, or one or more of the party breakdowns for preferred PM, is incorrect.  (It's also in theory possible that the primary votes are incorrect, but I would really prefer not to go there!)

When we look at Shorten's leadership ratings the same issue emerges.  If Shorten is considered to be going well by 37.3% of the 31.8% who vote Labor, 6.1% of the 48.5% who vote Coalition, and 16.4% of the 10.8% who like the Greens, that should mean that at least 16.6% (give or take a bit for rounding) of the overall sample rate his performance as Good or Very Good, even if Others voters uniformly agree that he should never have been leader in a million years.  So 13.8% of all voters seems too low.  And if 57.4% think Shorten is a dud, but this includes only 69.4% of Coalition supporters, 23.8% of Labor supporters and 43.6% of Greens supporters, then Shorten would have to be getting the thumbs down from about 126% of Others.  That's a bit high, even for Bill Shorten.

I find the same issues again with the supposed net rating rise for Malcolm Turnbull from +33.4 to +41.1 - this also seems too high given the published breakdowns of Coalition, Labor and Greens supporters.  For example his Good/Very Good rating is supposedly up from 48.2 to 53.6 despite being down among Coalition supporters (67.1 to 66.1), Labor supporters (31.3 to 25.7) and Greens supporters (33.7 to 27.3). This doesn't make sense, and it's not consistent with the run of other polling either.

On this basis I'm really doubtful about all the leadership totals in the January ReachTEL specifically - I don't doubt Shorten's doing badly, but I'm unsure it's that badly.  These doubts don't extend to any other poll by this pollster. There may be some innocent explanation and I will very happily publish anything I find out on this that I am at liberty to reveal, so please check back for updates later.

A Problem With Australian Polling - Lack Of Public Oversight

Let's assume that this is actually an error.  If that is so then I don't want to pick on one pollster specifically, since I suspect calculation errors in published Australian polls may not be super-rare, but that some pollsters are easier to check on than others.   In ReachTEL's case it is relatively easy to spot dubious figures because of the amount of data they release and because they release it to one decimal place (greatly reducing the impact of rounding), yet this is the first time I've seen something of this sort in their figures.  Other pollsters (and I'm looking especially at Newspoll here) do not release nearly enough data  with enough precision for the public to detect possible calculation errors should they exist. Often, the evidence for an error (if there was one) would be lost in their rounding.  Polling is a mathematically complex job with often tight turnarounds between the receipt of data and the need to present results to a commissioning media source for publication.  Programming or data entry mistakes are bound to happen in a small minority of cases.

Let's compare with the sort of thing that pollsters release overseas (at least, some of them).  Suppose one thought that Public Policy Polling had an error in their recent poll of US Presidential voting intentions in North Carolina.  Well, one could go to PPP's website and download an 87-page PDF with crosstabs for everything under the sun. (Admittedly they're not to one decimal place, but they're frequently exhaustive, unlike those released by Australian pollsters).   This is also common in the UK polling industry, not that it saved a lot of UK polls from being hooey at the recent election.  For Australia, publishing breakdowns to the nearest whole number for just Coalition, Labor and Greens supporters (as many pollsters are doing) and leaving readers to derive a ropey estimate for Others if they want to check for mistakes is just not good enough.  All pollsters should release crosstabs that include Others voters, or at least a combined Greens/Others. Ideally, all pollsters should follow ReachTEL in releasing figures to one decimal place, even if this is not done in the initial public release of figures.

With the clear potential for polling figures to make or unmake political careers, I don't think the current scanty level of supporting data release from Australian pollsters generally is good enough.

Other Polls

I feel some hesitation in running through other polling results after all that because I'd like to know I'm reporting facts about samples of public opinion, but for all I know for sure I might be reporting somebody's spreadsheet glitch.  Anyway Galaxy attracted a lot of attention with a seat poll of Fairfax showing incumbent Clive Palmer on an embarrassing 2% of the vote, and with a net personal rating in the electorate of -76 (7% approving).  This comes on the heels of revelations that Palmer's nickel refinery donated money to Palmer's political party shortly before sacking workers, which might be the explanation for the dire result.

It's long been expected that Palmer's 26.5% primary from the last election would collapse to something like 10-12% at the election leading to him losing his seat back to the LNP, but these claims that his support has sunk to statistical-blip level are new.  (The LNP have wasted no time claiming their internal polls have Palmer even lower.)  Seat polling being what it is, and the sample size being modest, it might be that Palmer is really on several percent of the vote, but this year I will be modelling Fairfax as a vacant LNP seat off its last-election 2PP of 61.7% to Coalition, and ignoring the incumbent.

Essential provided some findings on the US Presidential election, showing that Australian voters overwhelmingly prefer Hilary Clinton, with the exception of Greens voters who also like Bernie Sanders, and Others voters who are less keen on Clinton and about equally keen on Donald Trump.  The interesting thing is that results for Liberal and Labor supporters are nearly identical but this isn't new; Australian Liberals do not identify strongly with US Republicans and also strongly supported the election of Barack Obama.

ReachTEL released some results about support or opposition for the Turnbull government's decision to decline a US request for additional military support for Iraq and Syria (strong support from all parties except Others), and support for increasing the GST to 15% to "provide more funding for services" (31.6% in favour, 52.5% against, with non-Coalition voters heavily against.)  In these cases they did provide full breakdowns including Others, but I have the same issues with the overall figures  for both questions not squaring with the primaries and breakdowns as I did for the leadership questions.  I have checked some results for the November poll issues questions which also provided full breakdowns, and in that case there is no such problem.

Redistribution

The federal redistribution is effectively done and you can see a new notional pendulum at Antony Green's site.  Some of these figures will change slightly, and I am waiting for the late February release of full demographic transfer figures before I fire up my seat-prediction model and assessment of the 2PP vote Labor needs for a 50-50 chance of winning.

What I do want to draw attention to right away is that while Labor makes a net notional gain of two seats, it also starts with a greater proportion of close seats (eleven under 2% compared to five under 2% for the Coalition).  Also a lot of the Coalition's close seats are double-sophomore seats which it won from Labor at the last election and therefore should expect an advantage based on the change of sitting member.  A notable exception here is Solomon (NT).  What all this means is that if the swing between the parties is relatively small, the Coalition should do better relevant to the swing than uniform-swing based projections expect.  This is one reason why, though I don't rule out Labor being surprisingly competitive at the election based on the polls now, I am very pessimistic of their chances of actually winning.

Essential Update (Jan 27):  Essential came out with a 52:48 this week, but the primaries were still on the 51 side.  After considering Essential's recent behaviour and the primaries I aggregated it at 53.2, which had no impact on the bottom line.

Essential found that its respondents have a negligibly improved view of the state of the Australian economy compared to in September (28% good 31% poor cf. 26-32) but that the proportion believing it to be heading in the right direction has dropped from 34% to 30%.  The drop comes from Coalition voters, and goes to the unsure camp rather than the pessimistic one.  Essential finds no real change in its question on trust to handle the economy with Don'tKnow on 55% streets ahead of ScoMo on 26 and ChriBo on 19.

Essential also finds a big flip in attitudes towards increasing military involvement in Syria and Iraq.  Previously increase led decrease 32-19 but now decrease leads increase 34-18.  Essential also shows that voters for both major parties strongly regard Australia Day as a source of national pride and that it is mainly Invasion Day for Greens voters (even then, not overwhelmingly).

Non-Update (Jan 28, 9:30 am): At this stage there is no further word on the ReachTEL issues, nor have the figures on their site been amended.

Newspoll Update (1 Feb):  

Normally I start a new piece when there's a Newspoll out but in this case time is short because of work commitments, which may also result in reduced attention to this site for the next week and a bit.  The first Newspoll of the new year is similar to the last one of last year, with a fourth consecutive 53:47 2PP, which I've aggregated as 52.8 after accounting for the primaries.   Malcolm Turnbull's netsat is unchanged at +22, Bill Shorten is up three to a still miserable -35, and the biggest change is a shift in the Better Prime Minister readings from 60:14 to Turnbull in early December to 59:20 in Turnbull's favour now.  This is Shorten's second best reading since Turnbull became PM, and suggests that something (maybe making noises about the GST) might be moving some voters who dislike both leaders off the fence in Shorten's favour.  All up, no massive surprises here, and nothing of the calamity implied by the ReachTEL figures.

My aggregate has come down to 53.4 now, though it's rather Newspoll-heavy at the moment with all the other data a week and a half old, and Newspoll does seem to lean slightly to the ALP.


Friday, January 22, 2016

Lapoinya Scrapes The Barrel Of Tasmania's Forests Conflict

Tasmania has seen some big environmental contests down the years.  Lake Pedder, the Franklin dam, Farmhouse Creek, Wesley Vale, the Bell Bay pulp mirage, Ralphs Bay.  The latest flashpoint, Lapoinya, isn't one of them.  To many veterans on either side it must be astonishing that we now have a barney over the logging of forty-nine hectares of regrowth - that anyone would bother protesting it, let alone getting arrested over it, or on the other hand that anyone would bother with the logging or arresting.  To put it into perspective, bushfires in Tasmania have burnt almost 900 Lapoinya-coupes worth of native vegetation in the past fortnight alone.

The Lapoinya argument seems like nothing more than a vintage example of Sayre's Law (the contest is so bitter precisely because the stakes are so small).  Behind what has become a comically petty contest in the context of the battles of the past, however, are some players with a bigger game to play.  But before I get onto specifics of Lapoinya (then all that), I'd like to look at how we got here.

The Forest Peace Deal

The previous Tasmanian parliament (2010-2014) was the third in which the Greens have held the balance of power.  The previous two such parliaments (the Field Labor-Green "Accord" government of 1989-1992 and the Rundle minority Liberal government 1996-8) were both unstable, with forestry differences a constant source of tension in both arrangements and the explicit cause of the collapse of the former. This instability arises from the major parties both having similar pro-forestry positions, to which the Greens are opposed.  While forestry does not employ that many people directly, it is politically important to a class of swinging voters who jump between the major parties to avoid hung parliaments in the state.  For this reason, a major party that moves away from forestry bipartisanship seals its electoral fate.

Labor Premier David Bartlett, upon losing his majority in 2010, decided to try something different and brought the Greens into Cabinet in a Labor-Green coalition.  This government more or less lasted its term (apart from a highly staged "divorce" right near the end) but caused great damage to the standing of both parties, which between them shed over 17% of the vote and five of their fifteen seats at the 2014 election.  But before then, the government needed a way of reducing tensions between the governing parties, and the near-collapse of the forestry industry in the face of bad market conditions provided an ideal window for a process to try to solve Tasmania's endless forest conflicts.

As discussed in my article on the peace/surrender deal at the time, a shambolic process saw areas passed off as "high conservation value" by conservation ENGOs (Environmental Non Government Organisations) on the basis of a shoddy self-assessment against a beefed-up version of the Forest Stewardship Council's HCV criteria.  Most of these were then held to have some (not necessarily high) conservation value by a rushed scientific review process of uneven quality, and then those that had got this far (over 500,000 hectares) were reserved.

The obvious problem with all this was that while certain environmental groups were agreeing to abide by the outcome and not protest the logging of areas outside the reserved area, there was nothing to stop their members from forming new groups not thus bound.  The Legislative Council put some teeth into the agreement by making the deal conditional on an absence of substantive protest.  By the time the deal was passed in watered-down form it had done its thing and the government's time was almost up.

The new Liberal Government, with a clear mandate to do so, ripped up as much of the deal as it could, transferring many of the reserves thus created to a new deferred status called Future Potential Production Forest (Crown); the intention is that these be available for logging again from 2020.  However, it couldn't do anything about those areas that had already been added to the World Heritage Area, not even the ones that look like this:

Freshly logged newly minted premium Tassie World Heritage! 
So on we go.  With the deal revoked, anti-logging forces have made permanent gains with the WHA extensions and can now protest against whatever they like. The purists who sat outside the peace deal tent give the pragmatists far too little credit for this.

Lapoinya and the Peace Deal

There has been quite a lot said about the Lapoinya coupe scheduled for imminent logging (FD053A) and its relationship to the peace deal.  Proponents of logging say that the Greens and ENGOs  signed off on the peace deal without this coupe being included (although it is slightly more complex than that, since one Green, Kim Booth, voted for the original version of the deal but against the final amended version.)  As Braddon Liberal MP Joan Rylah puts it "All parties to the so-called forest peace deal, including the Wilderness Society, Australian Conservation Foundation, Environment Tasmania, and the Greens, voted for it to remain production forest."

Rylah's claim and others like it have been validly if somewhat sluggishly countered by the argument that since a vote for any portion of the peace deal was conditional on the deal as a whole staying intact, and since it didn't stay intact, all concessions made in the deal are off.  But FD053A is not some trumpeted gem of High Conservation Value forest that green groups proposed for retention and then decided to sacrifice.  Rather it was never even proposed as an inclusion in the deal. By anyone!

The following maps show this.  First a map of the coupe area (click for larger version) showing the scheduled harvesting in the coupe (the small darkly shaded area) directly west of the pale area that is the Flowerdale River Regional Reserve.


Second, a map of land tenure in the area (c/- Tasmania's fabulous list mapping system), showing in connection to the above that the coupe is on green (State Forest) and not FPPF (hatched): (This time the reserve is brown).


Third, a section of a map of ENGO claim polygons (poor resolution is the original's, alas - again, click for larger version), showing that the claimed areas near Lapoinya (polygons 249 and 254) are the same as the two hatched FPPF abolished reserves:


Of course, the coupe's omission from the ENGOs' want list doesn't mean they thought it was worthless.  But it does mean that by definition from the ENGOs' scoping report, the coupe was not among the "areas of high conservation value forest that are considered most important to
local, state and national conservation organisations for immediate protection."

The obvious reason for this is that the coupe has been rather heavily logged before, as part of a working forest landscape that also includes a pine plantation, and is objectively inferior in conservation value to other forest areas close at hand  Some opponents of logging have received Monty Python style ridicule ("every tree is sacred!") on social media by seeking to turn this to their advantage, passing off their charge as "a juvenile forest", "a most beautiful baby" and so on.

Of course all this concedes exactly what the industry has been saying all along - that you can log forests and forests will grow back from what Bob Brown calls "utter destruction", and may develop aesthetic values within a few decades.  Opponents then counter that clearfell, burn and sow silvicultural regeneration creates communities so skewed towards eucalypts that they may as well be plantations, and some have then slipped from this questionable claim (native plantations?) to even asserting that the coupe will become a plantation, although this isn't true (broadscale conversion to plantations ended years ago.)

The Magic Coupe Game

Some of the opponents of logging near Lapoinya are local residents and some of these have just been taking the traditional NIMBY "this is my patch, leave it alone" approach to arguing for the area.  As much as that might be derided, at least it's honest, and there is probably some kind of valid psychological sense of place argument in some such cases.  Much of the other propaganda surrounding FD053A shows the inverted logic typical of Tasmanian green activists.  My colleague Dr Simon Grove already noted the back-to-front nature of the ENGO reserve-picking process in the forest peace deal, and it is much the same thing when it comes to saving forestry coupes.  While a scientific process for deciding which coupes to protect would start by asking what should be protected, and then look for areas matching it, the activist process consists of deciding a coupe should be protected (just because) and then looking for arguments that can be used.

These arguments typically consist of claims about threatened species present in the coupe, and by the time the activists are done with their exaggeration process it would be believed that any scrap of bush one cares to mention stands alone between some species and extinction.  Getting in a bunch of well-known but known to be green-friendly scientists to do surveys helps with the process too; put enough scientists on a coupe and someone will find something vaguely interesting.  But in fact the same game can be played more or less anywhere, and it's only a matter of time before we see it played not just for regrowth forests, but even for plantations.  Yes, even though when the fight was mainly about old growth, it was supposed that logging those forests would "destroy" their conservation values forever.

Certain listed threatened species are especially useful for the magic coupe game because they are everywhere, and hence inevitably present on or near such coupes.  I call these the "landscape threatened species".  Tasmanian devils, at often overstated risk from a dramatic facial tumour disease that is yet to cause even local extinctions after 20 years, are especially handy.  In reality, if the disease attacking devils has the ability to wipe them out from the whole state then the logging of this or that scrap of forest is unlikely to make the slightest difference to whether that happens or not (and if it does make a difference, could do so in either direction).

Another cause celebre in the Lapoinya conflict is the Giant Freshwater Crayfish, which in fact occurs in most river systems flowing into Bass Strait on the northern coast excluding the Tamar (though it is certainly doing better in the north-west than the north-east, and in some catchments in the north-west than others).  Whether the precautions taken to protect this species in the coupe in question are completely adequate is a debate I leave to those expert in it, but from the hysteria about the impact of logging this one coupe on the species ("deliberate extinction of vital habitats", Bob?) one would think none had been taken whatsoever.

And others ... masked owls, grey goshawks, wedge-tailed eagles and spotted-tailed quolls are also very widespread in wet forest in low numbers (so their presence or possible presence can be claimed in virtually any such coupe), swift parrots don't breed in the area but might now and then pass through almost anywhere, and so on.  The (often fleeting) presence of such species in an area doesn't mean it's impossible in a conservation sense to log it; it just means there are certain requirements in forest planning, which are attended to through the Forest Practices system.  (An official response to these issues is here).  If there was a very localised or very rare threatened species on the coupe that would be interesting, but nobody so far has named one.

There have also been some red herrings along the way: false claims of the presence of a threatened tree fern Cyathea cunninghamii (based on misidentification of the common and widespread C. australis), beatups about the tree Eucalyptus brookeriana (the tree species itself is not threatened, but substantial community areas dominated by it are - small areas found within the coupe and not classed as substantial communities were voluntarily removed from the logging area), and unfounded claims that the listed orchid Caladenia pusilla occurs on the coupe (at this stage it hasn't been found, despite surveying.)

Far from being an "extraordinary high conservation" coupe, this is a coupe that is apparently lacking in unusual and special scientific values, and perhaps even scientifically boring, but that is being made to sound special by a dedicated focus on it amplified by constant exaggeration.

(And yes, I've been there, albeit not this exact coupe.  In 1999 I did a major survey in the north-west surveying the invertebrates of matching native forest and plantation sites.  The native forest site in the Lapoinya block was so dull it is one of just a handful that I cannot still remember what it looked like.)

The Case For Logging?

Examples of logging supporters pointing out contradictions, errors and hypocrisies in the arguments of opponents have been frequent, and no wonder since there is so much fine material to work with.  The case for logging has been more difficult to find, beyond a claim by Minister Harriss that the coupe is needed to "meet the legislated wood supply allocation".  It has also been asserted that the coupe will be cash-profitable.  Opponents particularly cite the work of economist John Lawrence (note that the "Brooker's Gum" comments are inaccurate as noted above), updated following the coupe expansion here, which gives some idea of the complexities involved in debates about what it really means for a coupe to be profitable at all, let alone whether this coupe is a cash-profit.  The Lawrence estimates have been dismissed by Forestry Tasmania (largely on the basis of their use of averages rather than specifics presumably not available to Lawrence) but there has been no specific detail in the public domain on these items that I currently know of.

I'm not qualified to assess the economic arguments, but I do note that Lawrence's second post refers to the loss of a potential $14/tonne in carbon credits as an economic/social cost of logging the coupe.  If that is to be included, then the calculation should include economic/social costs (health and welfare, primarily) of not logging the coupe arising from the lack of employment for those who would be employed logging it, unless there is evidence that they would find alternative work at the same pay rates just as easily without in turn taking it from anyone else.  I have never seen this kind of social cost of not logging factored into any such economic analysis.  While no-one doubts the industry has struggled terribly in recent years, I'm yet to see a full and fair analysis of the industry's economic costs and benefits to back the widespread green-left view that the whole thing is both an economic and an environmental loss.

Lapoinya as a Test Case

When it is so easy to say that the same wood could easily have been sourced from many other coupes elsewhere (though perhaps not as cheaply) there have been suspicions that the Government's determination on Lapoinya comes from desire to use it as a test case.  What would be tested would be the government's laws against obstructive protests.  The initial version of the government's new laws had numerous problems, but the version finally passed into law is much more flexible.  While lacking the mandatory sentencing provisions of the original, it does provide for harsh maximum penalties, including potentially large fines and long jail terms for protestors who receive repeat convictions for obstructing logging within exclusion zones after being given notice to desist, or who damage or threaten to damage logging equipment.

It's highly unlikely courts would use the more serious penalties except for the most extreme or repeat offenders, but even so there have been concerns raised that the laws may be inconsistent with Australia's implied constitutional protection of free political speech.  I actually hope that the laws survive any High Court challenge, which is not to say I agree with the nebulous nature of some of the penalties available.  Rather, I think that if a law does not prevent someone from expressing a dissenting viewpoint, then the fact that it prevents them from expressing it in an especially disruptive or obstructive (but supposedly more effective) way is neither here nor there as far as "free speech" is concerned.  If protestors are determined to avoidably inconvenience others to make their points (mainly because this gets more media attention), they should be willing to risk a heavy legal price, as many past heroes of civil disobedience did for what they believed in.  I think the proper court for judgement of such laws is the next election.

Lapoinya As Oxygen For The Greens

As usual in these sorts of disputes I don't doubt the primary motives of local residents who have seen their own patch under "threat" and set out to "save" it, even if in the process they have sadly got sucked into the usual game of claiming this is really all about threatened species.  However the Lapoinya bandwagon has attracted plenty of higher-profile passengers, and the purposes behind the claims by the Bob Brown Foundation especially seem rather transparent to me.  The massive exaggeration of the scientific impact of logging a more or less random northern Tasmanian coupe is designed to create a sense that the Hodgman Government is perpetrating some great outrage.  The whipping up of the conflict by those more radical ENGOs not compromised by involvement in the "peace deal" serves to encourage more people to protest and make the issue still more prominent and polarised.  The end goal is not saving this scrap of unimportant forest, but reignition of the forest wars as political oxygen for the Greens (sure, there are strained relations at state level, but it works federally as well).  On the other side, the uncompromising rhetoric of Resources Minister Paul Harriss, and Joan Rylah's prominence in counter-protests, serves much the same purpose for the Liberals.

The first casualty of any Tasmanian outbreak of Ritual Forest Conflict is generally the scientific facts.  In this one the second may well be the stocks of the struggling Tasmanian ALP.  It is very difficult for Labor to raise a peep in this debate without the Government reminding voters of Labor's complicity in the "peace deal".

The other aspect of this conflict I want to mention is that the logging of near-rural coupes like Lapoinya is a natural result of the green movement's obsession with wilderness and remoteness.  More remote forestry areas have increasingly been reserved whether their removal from the working forest estate was scientifically justified or simply a result of shallow politics.  This has intensified pressure to take wood resource from coupes closer to where people live, and NIMBY flashpoints like Lapoinya are likely to be increasingly common as a result.

That should more than do this for now.  Updates, edits and clarifications will be added as I feel the need, and the usual suspects are directed to the disclosure statement.

Update (Jan 25): Bob Brown Arrested

Yesterday Bob Brown did his most to increase the already high hype to reality ratio surrounding this coupe by getting himself arrested.  Video of the arrest has been released; panned by one site as "the most boring video of someone getting arrested that you'll ever see".  An initial impression that the policeman may be exasperated by Brown's rhetoric is dispelled later in the video: he is merely swatting flies.

This attracted many reactions, including this one from a Tasmanian Liberal MHA:


Ferguson's tweet in turn attracted blowback (including from people questioning any connection between the issues) but this much at least is true: if someone's biggest hero in the Tasmanian bush in the moment is someone who is getting themselves arrested over 49 hectares of regrowth, then they have their priorities wrong.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

What Scientists Do: More On That Penalty Rates Poll

In Monday's Crikey subscriber email, Ben Oquist of The Australia Institute (paywalled) took issue with some comments I made about TAI's recent polling in a piece entitled Polling And Penalty Rates.  While I could have just added my reply as an update to the original article, some of Oquist's comments are too cheeky by half - in a way that typifies the general rottenness of commissioned-poll-spruiking in Australia - and I think that dealing with these issues deserves a fresh article.  Peter Brent has also replied and my reply is quite similar.

Oquist's comments concern objections I raised about the use of forced-answer methods in an issue poll conducted by robopolling rather than allowing a don't-know option.   That said, of the two statements he says that I "confidently state", one (“a ‘don’t know’ option would certainly have changed the numbers considerably’’.) was in fact stated by Brent!

It is true that my initial response (on Twitter) that most voters who went for the "stay the same" option would actually have no opinion was overconfident and probably incorrect, but I'd already said that in my article which Oquist links to, so here Oquist is flogging a horse that has already run away, which must be convenient for him. Oh, except that anyone with enough attention span to read my article that he links to will see that this is so!  The problem remains that some substantial number of respondents would have had no actual view, and that these were forced to give an answer (or hang up) and then claimed (by TAI) as supporters of the existing system.  I add that when questions like this have an available "meh!" option ("stay the same"), it is likely some voters would take it when they really had no clue, even with an undecided option included.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Site Review

That's another calendar year done for a site that's now a little over three years old.  Federal elections and Tasmanian state elections are this site's biggest events, so with neither of these in 2015 it's no surprise traffic here was down 43% on 2014 and down about 10% on 2013.  Still, with two state elections and the dumping of a sitting Prime Minister, the year was not exactly quiet.

The pattern for the year (the units are sessions per week) looks like this:


The two big spikes on the left are the Queensland and the New South Wales elections, and the Queensland one would have been bigger had my efforts not been limited by a major field trip.  On the right, interest fell sharply once the Canning by-election was out of the way.  The major difference between the Turnbull readings and even the quietest Abbott readings suggests to me that a lot of left-wing readers are more interested in reading about good polling for their side than bad.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Polling And Penalty Rates

(Note: this piece now has a follow-up.  See What Scientists Do)

Penalty rates have been on the political radar lately. A poll on the subject released by The Australia Institute on Sunday has attracted a fair amount of interest.  Many Coalition MPs support cuts to current penalty rates (which are required extra loadings on pay for certain occupations for weekend, evening or public holiday work) and the Labor Opposition is currently campaigning against such cuts.  This will probably be a significant philosophical divide between the parties at the 2016 election.

If we are to believe the poll's sponsor and reporting of the poll by the SMH yesterday, the government will face a massive backlash, including from its own voters, if Sunday penalty rates in the retail sector are reduced as recommended by the Productivity Commission.  The reality is that the views of Coalition supporters on the proposed change are rather less clear.

Friday, December 25, 2015

2015 Ehrlich Awards For Wrong Predictions

Secular seasons' greetings and best wishes for 2016 to all.  Since this site started a few years ago, I've developed a strange habit of posting something every Christmas Day. As I may be too busy playing chess badly in early January to post all that much around then, I've taken the risk of going early with this year's prize for the unwise, the Ehrlich Awards for the wrongest predictions in a field of interest to this site made in or concerning the year 2015.  The Ehrlichs are named for Paul Ehrlich, the ecological don of doom whose failed resources bet with Julian Simon and poor excuses for losing it (and litany of other false "scenarios") have given heart to those who snort derisively at the claim the world is rooned ever since.  For previous instalments, and to see the groundrules, just click on the Ehrlich Awards tab at the bottom.

As usual we briefly glaze over hard-to-quantify bogus puffery from politicians of all varieties, spearheaded this year by Bill Shorten's commitment to the National Press Club "that Labor will be defined in 2015 by the power of our ideas." In fact, Labor was largely defined as a mirror of the government it opposed: popular by default while Tony Abbott clung to power then deeply unfashionable once he was given the boot.  A few Labor policies attracted public attention (emissions targets, voting age, smoking excise) but it was not always the right kind of attention, and some of these were pilfered from the Greens.  Labor has been releasing policies but none are especially original and so far hardly anyone has noticed.  Mostly they smack of a strategy tried without success against John Howard: when you have nothing just trot out the usual, cover it with a sudden interest in technology and science and say you've discovered something new.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Poll Roundup: 2015 Year In Review

2PP Aggregate: 53.5 to Coalition (+0.1)
Coalition would win election held now with unchanged to slightly increased majority

It's just about the end of another year in federal polling; should any unexpected late polls appear I will edit this article to add them in.  After an update for this week's polling I'll launch into an annual review along similar lines to last year's.  From here on in the pollsters tend to go into summer recess with Morgan and Essential returning in mid-January and the heavy hitters coming back in late January and early February.

This week's polls

This week we have had readings from Morgan and Essential, which continue to sit at opposite ends of the Turnbull-era spectrum, this week returning 56-44 and 52-48 respectively.  The former was Morgan's highest reading for the Coalition this term, and the respondent-preferences reading was even higher (57.5%).  Essential has had the Labor primary at 35-36 in the last four weeks while Morgan has had it at 28.5 then 27.  Either both are wrong or one is very, very wrong.

Although both pollsters showed an uptick to the Coalition, this was tempered by the Ipsos from a few weeks ago falling out of sample, so the net result is just a 0.1 point gain, for the Coalition, after everything, to finish the year in exactly their 2013 election result position.  At least, that's my take; as usual recently, others may well be higher.  (Edit: Yep; Bludgertrack 54.1 Mark the Ballot 55 and Phantom Trend 55.2.  MtB assumes zero-sum and includes Morgan but not Essential, and Phantom Trend treats Morgan as having the same sorts of house effects it's had for decades, so those points explain why the latter two are so high.)