Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Marriage Law Survey Turnout Is High ... But Not That High!

The first release of turnout estimates from the Australian Bureau of Statistics for the same-sex marriage postal survey has created some interest.  The ABS estimates that as of Friday 29 September, 9.2 million survey forms have already been received, 57.5% of all enrolled voters.

The ABS notes that this is an estimate only.  It may not represent the received yes/no vote as not every single one of the forms submitted will be valid (some small percentage may be posted back deliberately blank, for instance, or even with both boxes ticked.)  It is also unclear to me whether this estimate is based in some sense on a count of forms or on a count of envelopes, since there could well have been some cases of multiple forms being posted back in the same envelope, or of empty envelopes being posted (heck, I used to do this to junk-mailers who included a reply-paid all the time).  It also doesn't include anything that has been posted but was still on its way to ABS as of Friday.  So the figure is likely to be at least a few percent short of the number who have now voted.

This figure has attracted attention because of discrepancies with turnout figures in some of the polling.  Some early turnout estimates and projections were reported in a previous roundup, but we're now at the stage where almost everyone got their survey over a week ago.  Yes campaign internal polls have reported up to 77% of enrolled voters voting.  A Sky ReachTEL with a massive sample size reported 79% having already voted.  This contradicted a separate, unsourced ReachTEL with a smaller but still decent (1000) sample size that found 72% saying they had voted or definitely would vote, including c. 60.5% who had already voted.  (That other ReachTEL also had a much more normal Yes vote for this pollster - 61%).

If the Sky ReachTEL is to be believed as reported, then the postal vote is already over as a contest, with a massive 64% of enrolled voters already voting Yes, with Yes running at 80.5% among those who've already voted, and projected to finish at 76.8% including those who say they will vote.  That would be the second-highest Yes vote on a two-answer basis in any poll in the country on the issue.  If the other ReachTEL is closer to the mark then No is still mathematically in it if it can get some of those who aren't sure they will vote to do so - but even then it would need a very large majority of the remaining votes.

There aren't any polls yet that are giving No a sniff of actually winning, but even assuming Yes does win comfortably, the final turnout and the magnitude of the result are likely to be significant in terms of the pressure on government for a quick solution following the vote.  Especially, should there be more Yes votes than No votes, the condition for allowing a bill will have been activated and a bill of some sort should then pass. But if the total number of Yes votes is less than half all the enrolled voters, some mendacious goalpost-shifting MPs may seek to argue that that's not good enough and use this as an argument for voting against same-sex marriage or mucking about to attempt to delay legislation.  Or someone might say that, say, 66% is not enough, it should be 70%.  If you think nobody could possibly be that stupid, I've heard there was a lengthy discussion of this concept on Sky!

The higher the turnout, the higher the chance of the Yes vote exceeding one in every two enrolled voters and making things really clearcut for even the most evasive pollies, but the chances of this happening are unclear given the widely divergent turnout figures we are seeing.

So who is right and who is wrong?  The ABS count is bound to be a few points short of the current turnout, but the accuracy issues with its estimates shouldn't be enough to explain gaps of twenty points.  I think that some of the polls have turnout a little too high, and that the most likely reason for this is that they are undersampling politically apathetic voters, who will tend not to respond to this survey at all.  These voters might either not be opting into polling in the first place, or might be part of online panels but rarely online.

Anyway, we have at least another five of these updates for pollsters to calibrate their estimates against!

The SkyNews ReachTEL is so strong for the Yes vote that I am treating it with caution pending at least the release of full details of the poll.  It's very disappointing that for a poll of such a size we have not yet had a verbatim release of the questions asked and a publication of the original tables.  It's one of the largest polls conducted in Australian history and I cannot even use it in my voting intentions aggregate because no primary votes have been released! (Edit: some have now.)

But that said, it is clear that turnout for the survey will be at least reasonably high, perhaps very high - it could still at this rate get to, say, 75%.  It is higher than for other postal vote processes in Australia, which were never that comparable as they mostly involved more obscure issues.  We're also not seeing anything yet in the last week or so to suggest that the narrowing of support for Yes being found by some polls earlier on has continued, nor anything in the public debate to suggest that it should.

Perhaps the campaign doesn't matter all that much and people are just answering the question.  But assuming it does matter, I have found it difficult to judge the quality of the campaign because I view the entire No case as completely unjustifiable, and I have had to make severe adjustments to even try to account for this.  With a handicap larger than mine would be at golf applied, I thought that the No case had a good run of the media cycle early in the response phase, but has looked silly even by its own standards in the past several days, including being seen to contradict itself on free speech by whinging about Macklemore and being reduced to scouring social media to advertise evidence that it was being hated.  So if some of the move back to Yes implied by the Sky ReachTEL is real, it's not too hard to say where it might come from.

I'll update this article over the next several days with more comments on new polling as it comes out.  I've meant to also write about security issues in the process but I have been extremely busy lately and this isn't likely to change any time soon.  Comments on those remain very welcome!

Updates (Wednesday Oct 4): New today we have Essential (here, here, here) and this is the first attempt to cross-ask questions about in-principle support and actual voting.  The poll finds a 61-32 breakdown in in-principle support with a 66-30 breakdown among the (low if the ABS are correct) 47% who have already voted.  (The poll was taken from Wednesday to Sunday, so given postal delivery lag should ideally have had a slightly higher turnout than the ABS).  Those who voted reported voting Yes 64% No 30% "Prefer not to say" 6%.  There were actually more who opposed same-sex marriage but said they voted Yes than who supported same-sex marriage but said they voted No.  However, Yes lost more votes to "prefer not to say" (whatever that is).

There is also some fossilised internal poll stuff being spruiked by Miranda Devine - see comments.

Week Two Update

The week two ABS update estimates only another 5% have been received in the past week, bringing the total up to 62.5% as of Friday.  This will probably tail off further from this point, so I am still expecting something around the low to perhaps mid 70s.  Unless the ABS are making a serious error then this new figure confirms that the turnout figures in some of the polls were too high.

There is no new reliable polling (though more unsubstantiated Devine spruiking of No campaign internals has been sighted) with Essential this week not polling the question. I've just taken one for the team by watching 34 minutes of Q&A (aaaaaaaarrrrrrggggghhhhh!) to determine that Michele Levine of Roy Morgan said that according to their polling same-sex marriage had over 80% support prior to the debate surrounding the postal survey but that this had dropped to a level consistent with a Yes vote of 60% or more.  This should be treated with caution since Morgan's only published polling on this in the last few years was an SMS poll with an element of opt-in and even that only got a 76% Yes vote.

Added Oct 14: Some more details re Morgan polling here.  Note that it actually implies a Yes vote of higher than 61.5% given that 21% either didn't answer or aren't voting.  How much higher is a matter of speculation.

Week Three Update

The week three ABS estimate update adds another 5%, the same as last time, bringing the total up to 67.5% of all enrolled voters (10.8 million)  This hasn't tailed off in the way I expected, though it's always possible the tailing off has been lost in the rounding.  Because the number of surveys estimated to have been returned is rounded to the nearest hundred thousand, in theory there could have been just over 700,000 this week and just under 900,000 last week (or, less probably, the other way around).  Indeed, we don't know for sure whether these estimates are necessarily accurate to the closest or even second closest hundred thousand.

Hitting the turnout bullseye wasn't too difficult for YouGov which reported 67% of its sample had voted with 61% yes, 35% no.  Nothing new from Essential this week.

Newspoll has just come through reporting 65% of its sample had voted with 59% yes, 38% no. On the in-principle support-oppose question it has 56-37 for Yes (compared to 57-34 in its previous poll).  The 35 points that have not voted include 19 points claiming they definitely will and 6 points claiming they probably will, which would make a total 90% turnout.  Those who have not voted split 49-37 to Yes. 


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Legislative Council 2017: Pembroke By-Election

This is my preview article for the by-election for the Legislative Council seat of Pembroke.  Incumbent Vanessa Goodwin resigned the seat today, Monday 2 October, and already we have two declared candidates, one possible candidate and at least one party likely to endorse a candidate.  The by-election will be held on Saturday November 4, with nominations closing on October 12 and announced the next day.  The winner will have the seat for just 18 months before they will need to defend it.  (I am unsure yet if I will have live coverage of this by-election on the night, as it clashes with a field trip.)

My most recent piece about the voting balance in the Legislative Council was here, but since that was written, Labor's Sarah Lovell unseated "independent liberal" Tony Mulder in Rumney.  As a result, three Labor MLCs and four left-wing independents now have a blocking majority in the Legislative Council.  Throw in a couple of relatively centrist MLCs who only vote with the government a shade more often than not, and the government is having great trouble getting its most contentious legislation through.  It's not all doom, gloom and obstruction for them though, with a bill to speed up the kunanyi/Mt Wellington cable car assessment process recently sailing through with only one vote against.  

As Pembroke is a government seat, the best the government can do is hold station here.  The outcome could take on greater significance after the next state election should Labor manage to form government.  A win in Pembroke by a Labor or left-leaning candidate would give Labor a working majority on whatever bills appealed to the left independents, while a conservative win would still mean Labor needed to work with the centre or the right to pass its program.  The impact of this result is probably less if the Hodgman government manages to continue, since it doesn't have the numbers without working with the left side anyway.

Seat Profile

Pembroke is a small suburban seat that falls entirely within the City of Clarence on Hobart's eastern shore.  Population growth has seen the electorate shrink in the recent redistribution, losing its reddest booth Risdon Vale to adjacent Rumney, but the by-election will be held on the old boundaries.  The electorate stretches from Tranmere in the south to Risdon Vale and Otago in the north, but in future the northern boundary will be at Geilston Bay.  The suburb of Tranmere is wealthy and Liberal-leaning, Warrane as well as Risdon Vale is blue-collar and good for Labor, and the rest is all middle suburbia, with fairly high Green votes in Bellerive and Montague Bay.  In booth voting at the 2014 state election the Liberals scored 49.1% in Pembroke (51.2% statewide), Labor 32.9% (27.3%) and the Greens 13.2% (13.8).  These figures do not include postal votes, which lean Liberal. So while Pembroke is still just a little bit Labor-leaning by Tasmanian standards, it's really quite close to the average.

As befits this, Pembroke has been a swinging seat in recent decades.  Formerly held only by (sometimes notional) independents, Pembroke became a Liberal seat in 1991 when long-serving incumbent Peter McKay joined the Liberal Party.  On his retirement in 1999 it was won by conservative mayor Cathy Edwards, but Edwards was beaten by Labor's Allison Ritchie amid concern about her continuing to also hold a mayoral position.  Ritchie was a young Labor star who easily defended the seat once, but then resigned mid-term following health issues and a nepotism scandal.  Ritchie's later adventures included running (but not running for) the short-lived and bizarre "Tasmanian Nationals" outfit, which was a spectacular flop at the 2014 state election.  The Liberals then recovered the seat as discussed below.

Incumbent

Dr Vanessa Goodwin MLC, a highly qualified criminologist, won Pembroke easily in the 2009 by-election, polling 38.6% in a field of eight (more than three times her nearest rival). She easily defended the seat in 2013 with 51.1% to 36% for Ritchie (as an independent) and 12.9% for the Greens.  

Goodwin served as Attorney-General, Minister for Justice and Corrections and Minister for the Arts.  This combination of legal portfolios was sometimes considered to add up to a conflict of interest, but she was always one of the Government's most popular and capable and least controversial performers.  Not being up for election at the time, Goodwin also played a side-role in the government's 2014 campaign by helping expose the Palmer United Party in a sort of media tag-team with yours truly.  (We've never met.)

Very sadly, Dr Goodwin suddenly became very ill earlier this year and was diagnosed with multiple brain tumours from which she is not expected to recover.  She has been on leave of absence for several months and has now resigned the seat following the Cabinet reshuffle forced by the sudden retirement announcement of Matthew Groom.

In answer to a reader question, I determined that Goodwin is at least the 11th MLC whose LegCo career both commenced and ended with a by-election.  Pembroke has had more of these than any other seat, and the most recent prior to her was indeed Peter McKay.  

Declared Candidates

Vacancies often attract larger fields.  This one has attracted seven, of whom four are party-endorsed and three are independent.

As candidate of the incumbent Liberal Party, James Walker (Facebook, Twitter, Council page) gets to go first here, but he's certainly the underdog.  After polling competitively in two unsuccessful runs for Clarence Council in 2009 and 2011, Walker was elected to the Council in 2012 on a recount when Tony Mulder resigned his Council seat after being elected to the Legislative Council.  Walker was then re-elected ninth out of 12 successful candidates at the 2014 election, his vote almost holding at its previous level despite the field being twice as strong under the new all-in-all-out system.

Walker, a podiatrist, is known to me as a fellow online politics junkie.  I've found him to be politically moderate and his preselection as a Liberal certainly flew under my radar, and that of many others trying to guess who the party might endorse.  He adopts distinctive personal branding (such as the shaping of the A in his name into a pair of legs, probably as a more interesting alternative to endless Phantom or Texas Ranger jokes).  I haven't examined Walker's Clarence voting record in detail.

The first candidate to declare was Doug Chipman (Facebook, Twitter, another Twitter accountCouncil page). Chipman was elected to Council at what I think was the first attempt in 2000.  After two unsuccessful runs for Mayor he unseated former state MP Martin McManus for the Deputy Mayoralty in 2007.  Since then his results have been as outstanding as they've been consistent: re-elected Deputy in 2009 (52.6% primary, field of 4), elected Mayor 2011 (53.5%, in field of 4), returned as Mayor 2014 (53.5% in field of 5).  As a councillor he polled over three quotas in his own right in 2014, five and a half times his Liberal opponent's tally.   

Chipman is a former Liberal Party State President, and current chairman of the Local Government Association of Tasmania.  However he has chosen to run as an "independent", saying he "would not enjoy being constrained by party policy" and that with the prospect of a hung parliament at the next state election the Council needed "a steadying independent voice".  (Aren't 10 independents out of 15 "steadying" enough?). Chipman is considered pro-development and has been outspoken in defence of a controversial accommodation proposal at Kangaroo Bay.  However he has also opposed the government's TasWater takeover.

The endorsed Labor candidate is Joanna Siejka (candidacy announcementTwitter, Facebook).  Siejka is the CEO of the Youth Network of Tasmania (on leave), Chair of the National Youth Coalition for Housing, and from July 2016 until very recently a board member of TasTAFE.  Siejka is has a reasonably high profile, having several media mentions in the past 18 months.  I am not aware of any past electoral form.

The endorsed Greens candidate is Bill Harvey (Twitter, Facebook ). Harvey is an alderman on the Hobart City Council, which means he is from the other side of the river (Pembrokers don't much care for western-shore ring-ins), though he has some links to the eastern shore including involvement in beach cleanups.  Harvey has been on Hobart council since 2007, except for an 18-month hiatus in 2014-6 between unexpectedly losing his seat to fellow Green Anna Reynolds and getting it back when Suzy Cooper resigned.  His voting record showed him to be more moderate than other Greens councillors, anecdotally ruffling some feathers among the purists.  Harvey was the Greens' #2 Denison candidate in 2014 polling over 1500 votes. He is an English teacher, formerly involved in a Malaysian/Chinese business college in Beijing and a courier business delivering boutique wine, bookcases and antiques.  He has also sometimes acted as a compere for Legislative Council candidate debates.

The fifth candidate (there has to be a fifth candidate, so that votes can exhaust, and we can talk about votes exhausting being a thing) is independent Hans Willink (Tasmanian Times article).  This is Willink's ninth election according to the Mercury (mostly as an independent except for a Liberal run in the distant past and an unsuccessful Senate run with the Science Party).  In these he has got near winning once, in the 2014 Clarence Council race when he was 13th in the race for 12 seats. His most interesting tilt was for the LegCo seat of Nelson where he aroused the ire of his former party and was threatened by the same Sam McQuestin who this week implied the Liberals were being "bullied" over their pub closure claims.  A later Denison run with Wilkie-like branding attracted a slightly (but not much) less frosty reaction. A former army bomb disposal officer who has also worked for the police, the public service and the HEC, Willink was more recently Tasmania's first Uber driver. Willink's politics are fiscally conservative and socially liberal.

Two more candidates were revealed when nominations were announced.  Clarence councillor Richard James (Council page) has run in a lot more elections than Willink.  This is his sixth (!) tilt for the Pembroke seat in its last eight elections alone.  James finished second in 1989 and 1995, a distant third in 1999 when up against Lara Giddings and Cathy Edwards, and a distant second in 2007 and 2009 (in the latter case overtaking the Greens from third on primaries).  James was first elected to Clarence council from 1984 til 1989 and then from 1994 to the present day, and was in the extremely distant past a Liberal and a Democrat (I think in that order).  At the 2014 Clarence election James was second elected, polling a quota in his own right, but was no match for Chipman in the mayoral ballot getting just 17%.

The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers have endorsed council employee Carlo di Falco (announcement).  Di Falco hails from Forcett in the adjacent electorate of Rumney and his special subject, I'm sure you'll be surprised to learn, is guns.  He is a target shooter, hunter and gun collector.  His bio says he has "been involved in the State National Service Rifle discipline for 6 years hosting a National event in the position of discipline chair in 2013." He has written op eds in the Mercury arguing against gun control and to raise concerns about restrictions being placed on gun owners because of thefts.  He has also appeared on Tasmania Talks.


Not Running

As of 9 October, Tony Mulder, recently defeated MLC for the adjacent seat of Rumney and former Clarence City Councillor, announced he would not be running.  Previously there had been speculation, including by Mulder, that he might run either as an endorsed Liberal or as an independent, but the very speedy endorsement of James Walker cut the former off at the pass.  My view is that Mulder would probably have polled reasonably but would not have got close to winning.  Mulder has said he endorses the Liberal candidate "100%".

Allison Ritchie also said she wasn't running, and endorsed Chipman.

Campaign

Notes will be added on the campaign as time permits.

Campaign "issues" are things that candidates and observers talk about during the campaign.  It is often assumed that they impact on the result, but they don't necessarily do so.

The Government's proposed TasWater takeover is already a major issue - so much so that the by-election has delayed an Upper House vote on the issue.

On the second day of the campaign, the Liberals started labelling Chipman as the "TasWater candidate" and said he had "been embarrassingly forced to admit that water prices will be lower under the Liberal plan to take control of TasWater".  This claim was ambitiously based on a Chipman quote that started "What the Government's intending to do, is lower the price ..." and collapsed completely ("Pembroke Liberal candidate James Walker fires election shot over Doug Chipman's TasWater 'quote'") when it was revealed that the full quote had said the plan would lead to an increase.   The net result was an opportunity for Chipman to distance himself from the government, and a rap over the knuckles for the Liberals from the Electoral Commission.

Walker has since challenged Chipman to a 1-on-1 debate over TasWater to which Chipman responded "I am looking forward to debating the real issues for people in Pembroke on Mornings With @LeonCompton with all candidates".  We can take that as a no.

Poker machines are an issue, largely because Labor is still to release a settled policy on the issue going into the next state election.  Siejka has been critical of the ready availability of poker machines in her YNOT role.   The Liberals have claimed as a result that several hotels in the electorate will close if Labor wins, but this received a roasting in comments on Facebook and was disputed by one of the hoteliers.  That said, it does seem to be the view of hoteliers that withdrawing pokies from the electorate would have an impact, even if it is one that the Liberal campaign is exaggerating.

Walker has distanced himself from the creation of some of the Liberals' more contentious online meme creation attempts.

The Greens support banning pokies and are claiming that both the major parties are useless on the issue.  The established pattern of the campaign on this issue so far seems to be that Labor will be wedged senseless by the Liberals and Greens while Chipman's position will get far less scrutiny.

Siejka will seek to raise issues including health, housing affordability and education.  Both Labor and the Liberals have engaged in fast ferry politics, although Chipman has suggested ferries alone will not fix traffic congestion.  One advantage that parties have in a LegCo seat in the leadup to a state election is that they can porkbarrel, with Labor's promise to build a new child and family centre for the Warrane/Mornington area another example.

Generational factors may also be at play: Chipman at 71 is not that far short of the combined ages of Walker and Siejka combined, but has been keen to stress his experience and that he has the energy for the role.  If Chipman wins he will narrowly take Ivan Dean's record as the oldest candidate elected to the LegCo in the last 50 years, but that record exists mainly because older MLCs have tended to retire rather than seek re-election.

Some other possible factors include the general performance of the Hodgman Government going into an election and any possible blowback from the Kangaroo Bay development as a magnet for Green or anti-Chipman votes.  (The Greens may have some trouble telling a coherent story there because their alderman voted to approve the development - only Richard James voted against.)  Because of the overlap with Clarence City Council, the by-election is likely to have a municipal feel.  Chipman has raised traffic congestion, especially the Mornington roundabout (a staple of Pembroke elections past) as a concern.

Issues raised by Willink thus far have included protection for older workers, reducing poker machines and supporting small business.

Siejka's involvement with TasTAFE has attracted attention from some Liberals as the organisation is currently facing a nepotism and expenses scandal, in which Siejka is not personally involved. However, Siejka attracted praise from the government upon appointment to that role and states she was brought in to help bring about change.

The Liberals' preselection of Walker rather than Mulder is significant in itself as the preselection was announced at warp speed, reportedly without the usual formal process. My suspicion is that aside from the very tight timeframe for the by-election, the Government would have been keen to avoid a possible Mulder candidacy under the Liberal banner, or protracted discussion of it.  Mulder is a loose cannon anyway*, and is still smarting from the Rumney loss as shown for instance by his claim that running would be about "making sure Labor does not steal Pembroke, like it did in Rumney, on 34 per cent of the vote."  Mr Mulder himself won Rumney in 2011 with just 28% of the primary vote!  Mulder would be running on emotion given the sad circumstances of Goodwin's forced resignation, but the voters of Pembroke were brutally unsentimental when Honey Bacon tried to continue Jim Bacon's legacy in the seat in 2009.   This is to say nothing of any possible disdain for "recycled politicians".

(*He denies this.)

Early in the campaign Walker has the most (indeed the only) corflute visibility around the Tasman Bridge and Rosny Park, but I am yet to explore the full electorate.  Labor has had doorknocking teams out in force and both Labor and Chipman have corflutes up in various places based on social media.

Prospects

There are seven candidates, but I think that only Chipman, Siejka and Walker can actually win, and of these Walker is at pretty long odds.

Chipman is going to be a hard candidate to beat.  Local mayors who have dominated council elections, as he has done, are frequently elected as Legislative Councillors (sometimes causing the chamber to be derided as a boomer Mayor retirement home).  Chipman's choice to run as an "independent" and thereby escape blowback directed at the Hodgman Government is likely to prove a shrewd one, and his TasWater stance provides him with a plausible defence to being a "closet Liberal".  However it has forced him to take a position on an election issue, which is not a burden faced by most mayors who run for Legislative Council. An advantage Chipman may enjoy is that he probably only needs to be second or perhaps even third on primaries.  On preferences he would be likely to beat either the Liberal or Labor candidates on the preferences of the other.

Walker is well and truly up against it with such an opponent and given the frequent distrust of party politics upstairs (admittedly more of a thing in the north of the state than in the south), but will find the election to be a useful profile-booster for the future.  The by-election atmosphere and also the federal drag factor (which I think even affects LegCo elections) don't make this easy for the Liberals.

Labor must be considered a chance after displacing incumbents in Elwick and Rumney, and given their past history of pretty good performances in this seat.  I expect Siejka to at least make the final two, and especially given that she is the only female candidate (out of seven!) she may well top the poll on primary votes.  But I think this one is harder for Labor than Elwick and Rumney.  Three main reasons - (i) the party does not have the advantage of the long ground-game build-up it enjoyed in those two seats (indeed this is a very short campaign) (ii) the electorate is not quite as ALP-friendly as Rumney and much less so than Elwick (iii) both those victories were achieved against somewhat eccentric incumbents and taking on a currently serving mayor (for the whole electorate) is probably more difficult.

The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party polled abysmally in Pembroke booths at the Senate election breaking 1% at only three of them.  They only managed 7% in adjacent Rumney with a higher profile candidate and won't be hitting a lot of targets here.  However they are well organised for the state election compared to other similar parties and this is probably more about more publicity for the party statewide.

The Greens won't win this seat and tend to struggle in large fields full of independents.  Especially with a candidate from outside the electorate, I'm not sure they will break 10% here.

Of the minor indies, Richard James will struggle to compete on the same footing as mayor Chipman, but could still get into double figures.  Willink is unlikely (in this large field) to match his 8% in Nelson in 2013.  This is probably a profile run for him with a view to finally crossing the line when Clarence goes to the polls next year.

Mostly this election will serve as a testing ground for the major parties going into the next state election.  The Chipman factor will make it challenging to read too much into the results.

Irrelevant Footnote: Who Stole Rumney?

I should post Tony Mulder's tweeted reply to my tweeted comments re Rumney-theft (which were similar to my written comments above):


Exhaust can occur in Legislative Council elections when there are five or more candidates, because voters only have to vote 1 to 3.  However, it's extremely rare for exhaust to decide a seat through vote-splitting between similar candidates, or even at all.  In Rumney in 2011, 318 votes exhausted but the margin was 1278.  In 2017, 387 votes exhausted but the margin was 1004.  In neither case did exhaust determine the result. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Divergence In The Queensland Polls Is Caused By Preferences

Newspoll 53-47 to Labor, ReachTEL 52-48 to LNP - what gives?

A Queensland state election is coming soon, possibly very soon.  Electoral history tells us little of what to expect here. First-term state governments are usually returned, as are state governments that are of the opposite party to the party in power federally.  However, the former might not apply when the government was elected almost accidentally, and the latter is most at risk of falling over when a government has been a messy minority regime.  But if we turn to polling for the answers, whether the Palaszczuk government is cruising or crashing depends on which pollster you ask.

Through 2017 there has been a major divergence between the media-commissioned polls of ReachTEL and those by the Galaxy stable (sometimes branded as Galaxy, sometimes as Newspoll).  Three media ReachTEL polls have all shown the government trailing in the two-party-preferred contest (47% in February, 49% in June and 48% just now.)  Three Galaxys and a Newspoll have all shown the government ahead (51% February, 52% May, 51% August, 53% July-September quarterly).  On average, that's a 3.75-point two-party difference between the two stables, way too large over so many polls to be explained by chance or fluctuations from month to month in support.  Either the truth is somewhere in the middle and an election now would be extremely close, or somebody is right and someone's wrong.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Not-A-Poll: Best Prime Minister Of The Last 45 Years - Round 2

PRIMARY VOTE LEADER FROM ROUND 1: Whitlam
EXCLUDED IN ROUND 1: Turnbull, Fraser
Rudd continues only because of irregular voting patterns for Abbott

Round 2 voting open in sidebar til 6 pm AEDST, 31 October

A month ago I started a multi-round Not-A-Poll to determine this site's visitors' choice for the title of Best Prime Minister of the Last 45 Years.  The idea is that each month the Prime Minister in last place is eliminated and the rest continue until someone gets over 50% and wins.  There are rules permitting multiple exclusions in certain cases, to speed up the process a bit.  Each round runs for a month, so you can vote for different candidates from round to round if you want to. Multiple voting is in theory banned and adjustments may be made if I detect it, but there will probably be a lot of low-level multiple voting I can't detect or prevent. Comments about the merits of the contestants are welcome.

Technical note: If you wish to vote on a mobile, switch to "View web version" at the bottom of an article.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Poll Roundup: The Clock Strikes Twenty

2PP Aggregate: 53.6 to ALP (+0.2 since last week)
Labor would easily win election held "right now"

This will be a rather brief Poll Roundup by my standards, because apart from same-sex marriage polling (covered in a separate rolling post) there isn't all that much around to see!  We're five weeks on from my previous roundup, and in terms of the prospect of the government recovering before the next election, that's another five weeks down the drain.  Predictively, that doesn't mean a lot, but it is bad news for one particular member of the Coalition: the PM.  He edges another two Newspolls closer to matching the metric of 30 consecutive Newspoll 2PP losses that he used to justify the removal of Tony Abbott.  Just ten to go ...

Precisely what happens if these ten are all lost and the Coalition are still down the tube nobody knows.  Would the whole "thirty Newspolls" thing take on a life of its own in public perception of Turnbull's fate, contributing to even worse Newspolls, or would it only be of interest to the beltway and political junkies, and shrugged off as irrelevant by everyone else?  For it to be game over the very same week, while logical and fair, would seem too obvious, too artificial.  These bad polls seem so set in, and the Galaxy-run Newspoll so remorseless, that it's hard to see just what would end it.  A personal triumph on same-sex marriage? Worth some bounce surely, but enough for 50-50 after such weakness on the issue? War with North Korea? Maybe, though whether the more likely mechanism there is a rally round the flag or Newspoll being hit by an errant missile meant for Guam is not clear either.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Recent Polling On The Same-Sex Marriage Postal Survey

The national ABS postal "survey" on whether the law should be changed to allow same-sex marriage in Australia is now in its second week.  A number of pieces of polling have been published or alluded to since my last general polling update, but what do they really tell us about the outcome and how reliable are they?  At this stage there is still much that we do not know.  It is too early to be certain Yes has it in the bag, but the widespread narrative that support for Yes is crashing rapidly and that this is another Trump or Brexit coming is so far not that well supported by the evidence.

Public Polling: Ipsos

Firstly, the public polling.  Last week saw an Ipsos poll which buoyed some worried Yes supporters with a 70-26 Yes response, one of the highest Yes votes ever recorded in a poll in Australia.  Indeed, as far as I'm aware, this score has only been exceeded in a few commissioned polls and one Morgan-SMS (a suspect polling method) which did not use an undecided option.  The Ipsos also found a 70% Yes response among the 65% of voters who rated themselves as certain to vote, and found a gender gap with 72% of women and 59% of men saying they were certain to vote.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Free Speech Problem With Marriage Law Survey Safeguards

Advance Summary

1. This article raises concerns about specific "hate speech" prohibitions in the Government's Marriage Law Survey (Additional Safeguards) Bill 2017.

2. This article argues that Sections 15(1)(a) and (b) place unreasonable constraints on free speech by making political opinions attributes that are protected from "vilification", contrary to the normal practice of anti-vilification laws.

3.The ability to express strong criticism of people who present offensive or unfactual opinions serves as an important deterrent against expressing such opinions in the first place.

4. Many aspects of the proposed Sections and the limited exemptions available are insufficiently clear to a lay reader and involve a novel area of Australian anti-discrimination law.

5. Sections 15(1)(a) and (b) should be amended so that they apply only to intimidation and threats and not to "vilification". 

6. If this does not occur, then the debate surrounding the postal survey is not an adequately and clearly free and fair environment for the frank exchange of opinions and criticism.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Response From ABS to Marriage Law Postal Survey Questions

On 16 August I sent the ABS a list of fourteen questions regarding the conduct of the Marriage Law Postal Survey, in particular regarding count quality assurance issues.  Some of the questions were answered in subsequent public debate.  The response below was received today, September 11, from Michael Wilson of ABS and is reproduced in full.  My questions as sent are in italics.  My thanks to the ABS for their detailed responses at this busy time.

I have added some comments of my own below the responses, and may add more later.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Thylacine: Specimen Or It Didn't Happen

This week a group of Tasmanians (press conference hereclaimed to have seen and to have footage of a living thylacine, a species which has not been confirmed to exist since the last known specimen died in captivity on September 7, 1936.    No zoologist has yet accepted this extremely blurry footage as being of a thylacine, and many wildlife observers consider it is very likely to be a spotted-tailed quoll.

You can see a longer video here.  It contains unconvincing (compare actual accounts) "barking", the video above, something unidentifable nosing the camera, and a bunch of Where's Wally pics in which you can just make out what might be the eyes of something if you try very hard.  When I slow down the main video frame by frame I can see blurry paler patches on the animal consistent with the spotting on a spotted-tailed quoll.  The most interesting thing about the videos is actually the large number of lyrebirds (introduced to Tasmania) that they show.

I thought it might be of some interest to someone out there to outline my position regarding this poor animal the thylacine, and the intermittent circus of alleged "sightings", "photos" and "videos" surrounding it.  As usual, I am expressing my own view and not necessarily the view of any organisation I belong to or any employer I from time to time work for.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Not-A-Poll: Best Prime Minister Of The Last 45 Years

(Round 1 has closed.  For results see Round 2.)

Round 1

Now and then we see newspaper polls rating the best PMs of the last few decades, or in the case of one Essential poll last week, the best government of the last ten years.  John Howard is a persistent "winner" of the first class of polling, but I've always believed he has an unfair advantage.  He tends to get a very high share of the Liberal vote with other Liberal PMs hardly getting any, while the Labor vote tends to be split up more between Hawke, Keating, Whitlam, Rudd and Gillard.  For that reason it's not clear whether Howard would beat all the Labor PMs on a head-to-head basis, although it looks like he probably would.

I've decided to run a similar Not-A-Poll exercise here in the sidebar just for fun over a period of several months.  The basic rule is that we keep going eliminating one PM at a time (perhaps more) until someone has over 50% at the end of a month.  The more complicated rules are:

Thursday, August 24, 2017

ReachTEL: Bob Brown Foundation Peddles A Poll Porky

ReachTEL (commissioned) Liberal 41.2 Labor 33.3 Green 13.1 PHON 4.4 Ind/Other 8.0
Interpretation Liberal 41.2 Labor 37.1 Green 10.4 Other 11.3
Most likely seat result based on this poll 12-10-2 plus one seat undecided between the three main parties
Disclaimer: Polls are snapshots not predictions.

I may get taken off their media mailing list for saying it, but the Bob Brown Foundation have released a grossly deceptive claim concerning their current ReachTEL poll to the Tasmanian press.  Question two of their poll and its results are as follows:

The question design is a bit odd, but I think it is OK.  The results are 38.3% support, 44.7% oppose and 17.1% don't know/not sure.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Poll Roundup: Newspoll Moves! It Is Alive! (includes same-sex marriage polling)

2PP: 53.5 to Labor (+0.3 since last week)
Labor would win an election "held now" with a large majority

Time for another roundup of the state of play in federal polling.  This week's exciting development was that Newspoll, after a record six consecutive 2PPs of 53-47 to Labor, finally moved by a whole point to 54-46!  I am especially excited by this because had this week's result been another 53-47, I was going to lead off with a mock Death Certificate, and now I do not have to.

This briefly took my aggregate to an equal term high 53.8 to ALP (I tweeted this as 53.9 but later found a very small error) but then Essential moved back a point the other way after two 54s, and the primaries in YouGov didn't do a lot, so I currently have it at 53.5 to ALP. That was the Coalition's winning lead in the 2013 election, and also just shy of what Labor had when Tony Abbott was removed.  

The strange 2PP results of YouGov continue to baffle - this week it has the Coalition with a 51-49 lead off primaries that would normally imply something like 53.1% to Labor.  I discussed this issue last time, and the average difference between YouGov's 2PPs and the last-election 2PPs for their primaries is now running at a massive 2.9 points.  As noted last time, it's possible that the current last-election 2PPs are overstating Labor's lead, especially because of One Nation issues, but it's highly unlikely that they're doing so by three points.  Much more detail on the YouGov mystery from William Bowe here.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Questions To The ABS Re Marriage Law Postal Survey

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



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

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

Saturday, August 12, 2017

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

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

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

Thursday, August 10, 2017

EMRS: White Lead Is A Big Problem For Liberals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it constitutional?

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

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

More Section 44 Cases In Spotlight

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

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

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

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

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

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

Status: Resigned and referred

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

Electoral ramifications were covered in the earlier article.

Senator Matt Canavan (LNP, Qld)

Status: Referred, resigned from Cabinet, not voting

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

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

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

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

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

Senator Malcolm Roberts (One Nation, Qld)

Status: Referred

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barnaby Joyce MHR (Nat, New England)

Status: Referred

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

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

Senator Fiona Nash (Nat, NSW)

Status: To be referred

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

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

Senator Nick Xenophon (NXT, SA)

Status: To be referred

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

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

Justine Keay MHR (ALP, Braddon)

Status: Not yet referred

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

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

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

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

A note re Julia Banks MHR (Lib, Chisholm)

In the above cases we know there is an arguable case of ineligibility - how strong or weak it might be being beside the point. I've wavered about giving Banks a section on a similar level to the others but decided that I'll only include MPs in the main list above if there is a clear basis for an argument for ineligibility - not just speculation.  There are many MPs who have not yet proven they are eligible by releasing documents.

Banks was born in Australia but her father was born in Greece.  People in this circumstance acquire Greek nationality (though at one point it is translated as citizenship) but have to apply for registration as citizens to become a "Greek Citizen".  The language is all rather baffling - it seems one can be a Greek Citizen who hasn't exercised a Right to Citizenship.

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

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

MPs The Coalition Has Threatened To Refer

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

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

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

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

A note re Senator Nick McKim (Greens, Tas)

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

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

A note about the government's majority

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

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

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

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

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

Section 44 Suspects (Other Than Citizenship)

Status: Gillespie being sued by "common informer"

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

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

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

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

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

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


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

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Reachtel: It's All About Lyons

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

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

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

Friday, July 21, 2017

Fishy Prospects In The Seat Of Lyons

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Scott Ludlam Mess Scores Four Bob Days Out Of Five

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

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

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