Cartoonist Mark David shows how Scott Morrison applied his proven skills in the Wentworth by-election:
Many commentators including Laura Tingle, talking to Phillip Adams, said the numerous own goals from the Coalition prior to the election turned enough votes away from the Liberal candidate David Sharma and towards Kerryn Phelps for the latter to win. The latest count shows Phelps ahead 51/49 two party preferred, with Phelps coming from a first preference count of 29.1% as against Sharma of 43.2%.
The swing shown clearly at the ABC is around 19%, ahead of the record, which was 16.1% for Canberra in 1995, leaving aside Wills in 1992, because Phil Cleary was subsequently disqualified.
The Liberals are blaming it on anger about giving Malcolm Turnbull the flick, and are even blaming him for not campaigning for Sharma. Malcolm has says he’s out of politics, this is his focus now:
Mike Seccombe at The Saturday Paper, writing just before the election, did say the Sharma was hard to find during the last weeks, for example:
Some 300 citizens and 14 candidates for the Wentworth byelection braved the wind and slanting rain on Monday night to debate the issues at the historic Bondi Pavilion. But the race’s frontrunner, the Liberal Party’s Dave Sharma, was missing. Much like his party’s climate policy.
Campaign staff told the organisers Sharma had a prior engagement, but the suspicion was that he was being hidden. Much like the recommendations of the government’s inquiry into religious freedom – subsequently leaked this week.
Certainly, the crowd was not happy when the debate moderator announced Sharma couldn’t make it. There were jeers, and laughter at a few shouted interjections that Sharma – preselected even though he didn’t live in the electorate – couldn’t find his way to Bondi.
From the first minute, for two-and-a-half hours it was pretty much open season on Sharma and the party for which he stands. It wasn’t only the other candidates taking shots, either, but also the audience, who expressed their antipathy for Sharma and the Liberals in both their questions and their interjections.
They really let fly:
In Bondi, the speakers’ attacks on the government ranged widely, from funding for government schools to political interference in the ABC to the cruel treatment of asylum seekers, campaign finance, arts funding, Alan Jones bullying the Opera House chief executive, euthanasia, paedophiles, you name it.
However, three themes shone out, says Seccombe. First, people were angry that Malcolm Turnbull had fallen victim to a coup by the party’s right wing, for no given reason.
Second, the government’s cruel treatment of asylum seekers, particularly children held in offshore detention.
Third, climate change. All the major contenders referred to it in detail, and it was the focus of the most questions from the floor. It became the main battleground of this campaign, he says.
John Hewson was very direct in urging a Liberal drubbing in Wentworth to concentrate their minds on climate change.
Alexander Downer in the AFR on Monday said Liberals must stop drinking the poison of factionalism:
It’s mindless and it’s ultimately destructive. The idea is to install your faction’s candidates in every position from Federal Leader to local branch president. It doesn’t matter if your faction’s candidate is a goose … he or she is your goose. It doesn’t matter if you destroy the image of the Liberal Party as the nation’s great party of sound, common-sense and practical government. Better to have the faction’s candidate in place.
Downer suggests that ScoMo would need extraordinary luck for attention-seeking faction operators to keep their heads down and concentrate on door knocking in their own electorates for the next six months.
But he also thinks they will need to remake their whole political agenda. His theory is that if you play the first set in a tennis match and get beaten 6-3, you’ll need to change your game plan if you want to win.
The Liberals are saying Wentworth is not the country, it’s exceptional. Mike Seccombe conceded that, but identified that those three issues – anger over dumping Malcolm (or just presenting as an disorganised rabble, concerned with themselves), the need to resolve Nauru and real action on climate change, are broader than Wentworth.
Already on Monday Phil Coorey reported that ScoMo reckoned it was all about anger over the dumping of Turnbull, so no need for policy change:
“This is not about going one way or the other way, to the left or the right. We are in the sensible centre right of Australian politics,” he said. “That is where the Liberal Party has always been, the sensible centre right. That is who we are standing with.”
So what Alex Turnbull identified as “extremists” of the hard right, to ScoMo is the sensible centre.
Yes, and one of those ‘hard right’ nutters piped up and said, if you change policies on Nauru and climate change you’ll lose six seats in Queensland.
Losing six seats in Queensland has been a constant prospect, according to polling over the last year and a half.
While the by-election was going on Essential Report was taking the pulse of the nation. Poll director Peter Lewis reports in the Guardian that Scott Morrison’s stunts and thought bubbles won’t be enough to win over voters:
- There’s something Trumpian about his strategy: deny reality and then harness all your mastery of bluster to create a new one.
You can start here for Essential, or download the whole report. From Lewis’s summary, we can conclude that most people think Morrison has failed to transform the Liberal party and they want more action on climate change.
An exit poll commissioned by The Australia Institute fingers climate change and coal along with toppling Turnbull as the main issues motivating voters in Wentworth.
While moderates in the Liberal Party called for an extra billion in the Emissions Reduction Fund, ScoMo has gone full bore on two fronts. Firstly he has demanded a default retail electricity bill cut, out of cycle delivered by January 1 (prices are normally changed in June) on threat of commercial dismemberment. See Matthew Stevens and Giles Parkinson.
Please note that the promised savings of $832 pa was based on a single outlier case in SA. The ACCC estimate was that the change would cut between $105-160 annually, or 44 cents per day for a small number of default users. Some will pay more as the best offers are taken off the table.
It’s hard to know, AGL are looking at 16% wiped off their share price. My estimation is only a mug would currently buy shares in AGL or Origin. It’s a case of sovereign risk with a lunatic loose in the precinct. By yesterday some $1.6 billion had been taken off the value of AGL and Origin, the only listed major retailers on the market. The only major happy is foreign-owned Alinta, which has had a strategy of making no money from retail for a couple of years while increasing market share, thus already providing competitive pressure to the majors in the way Aldi did in grocery. Queensland already has 20 retailers competing. The expectation is that smaller ones will be squeezed out by this “big stick” initiative, which also sends a large sovereign risk message to other multinationals thinking of investing in Australia, across the board, not just in electricity.
The second stunt is that ScoMo has invented a new term of “fair dinkum” energy, which means coal. (We all know what happened in SA when they got ahead of themselves with renewables!) He’s starting a tender process, hoping to establish contracts before the election, with the bait that the government will give longer term underwriting guarantees. Canavan has been in Japan promoting the idea of investing in large-scale ‘clean’ coal power.
At the same time, Snowy Hydro are talking about “firm” solar and wind below the cost of current ‘baseload’. BHP are calling for a price on carbon.
Along with earlier threatening gas companies to withdraw export licences, Australia has shown that it is willing to disrupt the entire energy system in an attempt to win an election. Here’s Morrison and the minister for electricity prices and coal-fired power in full flight:
On asylum seekers, during the election there seemed to be hope of some resolution of Nauru by getting at least the children off to New Zealand when Labor, quickly followed by the Greens, indicated a willingness to talk about the ridiculous LNP legislation putting a lifetime ban on those settling in New Zealand from ever coming to Australia, even for a short-term purpose.
The Liberals have long simply demanded that Labor just sign off on the legislation which has been before the house for about two years.
However, when Labor formally offered to talk, the LNP quickly changed their mind, see the New Daily. NZ was never a good idea, said Dutton.
I can only think that (a) they don’t want Shorten and Labor to get any credit, and (b) they would prefer no solution before the election so they can continue to look tough on border control.
All this has made politics as prosecuted by those in power look farcical.
In the reaction against Barnaby Joyce returning to the leadership (see ‘Anyone but Nats’: Rural figures come out against Barnaby Joyce and Nationals), current head of the National Farmers Federation Fiona Simpson said she left the Nats because she couldn’t stand the hypocrisy. There appears to be a similar aversion to the Libs from sensible women.
Now Jane Caro is poised to run against Tony Abbott in Warringah. Chris Graham at New Matilda asks, Could Tony Abbot Be Next? GetUp! Polling Reveals Liberal Vote In Warringah Has Collapsed.
Elsewhere, Julia Banks is said to be interested. I’ve seen a list of eight or 10 seats that would be vulnerable to independents.
It is said that GetUp made 30,000 phone calls in Wentworth. They give options in their suggestions about who to vote for, including sensible independents.
The schmozzle during and after Wentworth has arguably brought the standing of party politics in Australia to a new low. We may see a tipping point where voters want more direct accountability of their elected representatives.
The danger in all this is that the comprehensive society-wide policy work (for example across all sectors of education, innovation, health, housing, retirement incomes, infrastructure) done by Labor during their period of unheralded stability over the last five years will be harder to gain a mandate for, and harder to prosecute, should they be able to form government after the next election.