Wentworth a tipping point?

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.

36 thoughts on “Wentworth a tipping point?”

  1. There is nothing whatsoever preventing NZ from flying the the migrants to NZ at any time.
    Why haven’t they ?

  2. Aren’t the migrants being detained? Are you suggesting that the NZ Air Force should confront Australian officials on Nauru?

    Are you some kind of warmonger or Kiwi Kwisling??

  3. There is nothing whatsoever preventing Australia from flying the migrants asylum seekers to Australia at any time.
    Why haven’t they ? (Apart from vote winning xenophobia of course.)

  4. Brian

    I would have thought that a voter choosing to vote for an independent would be well aware that, if elected, their MP might not always support the policies of Party A, however well considered that Party’s programme might be. If the voter wanted their MP to support Party A, they should instead vote for the candidate of Party A in their electorate.

    Voters who want their own views and interests represented in Parliament sometimes prefer to support an independent.

    Under our system the governing party simply has to “suck it up” or go to the G-G and suggest a new general election.

    Or, …. I dunno. …. negotiate and compromise.

  5. Mr A

    Aren’t the migrants being detained?

    Nope. They’re free to go anywhere in the entire World they want except Australia, as far as Australia is legally concerned.

    David Leyonhjelms first question clarifies this.

    They are not detained, held, imprisoned in a hell hole death camp or anything else the greens have you believing.

  6. They are not detained, held, imprisoned in a hell hole death camp or anything else the greens have you believing.

    Despite the stated intention of our governments (of both persuasions) to deter others from coming by treating those already here with extreme cruelty, and despite the professional opinion of 6000 doctors that we are sending them crazy (I’m paraphrasing here).

  7. Even in narrowly legal terms freedom to move anywhere is more complicated than that: depends upon their nationality, immigration rules of a couple of hundred countries, and in practice freedom is constrained because of likelihood of imprisonment or worse in a variety of countries because of race, religion, political views, sexual identity or any combination fo the above.

    Australia has a responsibility under duty of care for their conditions of treatment which has amounted to incarceration without legal cause – the conditions under which people have been held are well documented by Australian Government appointed inquiries – the impact of those conditions has caused severe occupational health impacts on those involved in managing the detention – but hey never let reality get in the way of making a political point

  8. Doug
    Is Australia preventing them from leaving at any time ?
    I say no.
    They are free to migrate anywhere except Australia.
    Wherever each individual came from they decided to emigrate, they do not get to dictate where they become immigrants.

  9. The Liberals have moved from moderately progressive educated upper class conservative conservatives to something that might be described as radical right wing yobbos (or the nasty party as some of their critics like to call them.
    Wentworth sounds like the sort of place that would want to support a party that was economically conservative but progressive and educated in lots of ways. Comfortable with someone like Turnbull or Phelps. Unlikely to be impressed by a yobbo like Morrison or a lot of the company he keeps.
    Why should anyone be surprised with the loss in Wentworth?

  10. John, they still needed a record swing to lose Wentworth, but ScoMo tries extra hard and managed it.

    What you say about Wentworth and a yobbo like ScoMo is nevertheless true.

    I didn’t manage to include it, but helen Razer had a spray in ‘I Call ‘Pigsh*t!: Helen Razer On The ‘Historic’ Wentworth Win . It’s a bit of a rant, but in the end she’s right, Phelps is conservative rather than progressive, or at least when push comes to shove she’ll likely support the Libs.

  11. Jumpy, as I understand it asylum seekers housed on Nauru need some kind of exit permit from the Nauru government, which has been regularly refusing same when doctors have ordered medical evacuation to Oz.

    Asylum seekers is their main economic business, so they’ll keep them there as long as Australia pays.

  12. Matthew Stevens in the AFR has written a piece about how Angus Taylor, minister for electricity prices, has called a meeting of industry player where the one thing he can’t discuss is electricity prices.


    It’s illegal.

    because competitors are not allowed to discuss prices with one another, even if that conversation is invited and actively moderated by a minister of the Crown. It is a breach of the competition law and it would trigger cartel action by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

    We have also been reminded that the measures proposed by the government were not recommended by the ACCC. Nor was the ACCC consulted. CEO Rod Sims heard about it through the media like the rest of us.

    Economist Danny Price has an opinion piece Why regulating energy prices is stupid:

    If anything is likely to represent a tombstone for the process of microeconomic reform in this country, it is the latest iteration of federal government energy policy: this week’s reimposition of retail electricity price caps across the National Electricity market (NEM).


    The reality is that more regulation will not address the root cause of our power problems, which is the lack of investment in new generation. More regulation will simply deepen our energy woes because more regulation deters more investors.

    David Rowe’s view:

  13. Posted late yesterday at the SMH is an article by Nicole Hasham headlined Competition chief learnt of controversial energy plan when he ‘read about it in the newspaper’. It begins with:

    The Morrison government failed to consult Australia’s competition chief Rod Sims about a radical proposal to forcibly break up big power companies that refuse to stop electricity price gouging, leaving the respected official to “read about it in the newspaper”.

    Does that look familiar?

    Morrison didn’t consult DFAT before he made an announcement re review to move Australian embassy in Israel.

    What a shambles!

  14. Posted at The Guardian last week is an op-ed by George Monbiot headlined As the fracking protesters show, a people’s rebellion is the only way to fight climate breakdown. It includes:

    Nowhere is the gulf between public and private interests more obvious than in governments’ response to the climate crisis.

    Look familiar?

  15. Geoff M, here is my hypothesis:

    Eventually, after listening to spin doctors for many years, watching opinion polls avidly, and focussing on focus groups, a politician – nay, even a Minister – can be persuaded that

    * the appearance of action *

    is a good substitute for well-considered, reasoned policy, informed by experts, public servants and public fora such as Parliamentary Enquiries or Royal Commissions.

    Pity the Minister.
    Pity the public, who have to watch this kind of nincompoopery perpetrated at taxpayer expense.

    Step forward, Independent MPs and Senators: speak up!

    You have nothing to lose but your seats, and a world (of public respect) to win!

    ~ apologies to Karl and Friedrich, co-authors of a manifesto.

  16. Brian, yesterday evening at 10.25pm.
    To characterise Ms Razer’s piece at New Matilda as “a bit of a rant” is to use masterly Queensland understatement.

    Possibly I have been lucky or unadventurous; rarely have I seen such spittle-flecked invective on a website. (And this isn’t the first time I’ve read Helen’s writing.)


  17. Ambigulous (Re: OCTOBER 26, 2018 AT 3:26 PM)

    Eventually, after listening to spin doctors for many years, watching opinion polls avidly, and focussing on focus groups, a politician – nay, even a Minister – can be persuaded that

    * the appearance of action *

    Most politicians have families. They may have children, grandchildren, perhaps even great-grandchildren. Then there are perhaps nephews, nieces, etc.

    Not acting effectively doesn’t help them.

  18. Here’s the thing about the Embassy thing from my point of view.
    Australia calls Canberra its Capital, Israel put its embassy there out of respect.
    Israel calls Jerusalem its Capital.

    If Hamas don’t like it, stiff shit.

  19. Israel-Palestine problem solved, Jumpy.

    Please inform our Foreign Minister, our PM and the United Nations immediately.

    They all need to hear about this, the sooner the better.

  20. Solved ?
    I don’t think so.
    Perhaps we need both sides to not want to eradicate the other from the face of the Earth.
    So far only one side agrees not to do that.

  21. Ambi, Ms Razer certainly didn’t hold back, but I preferred that people found out for themselves.

    On the ‘big stick’ and electricity prices, there is no use listening to ScoMo because he knows naught about the subject.

    Listening to the minister for electricity prices today, it is clear that if an issue comes up like Liddell again, they want the power to intervene and force a sale.

    He says that if anyone closes ‘fair dinkum’ power they had better have plans to replace it with ‘fair dinkum’ power or else.

    He was to take his plan to COAG today, but the Qld and Vic ministers reported that there was actually nothing to see. He didn’t have a concrete plan. Victoria goes into caretaker mode about now, so all we have is blather.

    What a way to run a country!

  22. Both Labor and the LNP are losing inner urban seats to the Greens or independents like Phelps who support environmental issues and closing down Nauru . The sort of seats with a growing number of young, educated, professional voters. Seats where the voters would be more likely to support a Malcolm rather than scruff like Scott Morrison.
    It may actually be smart of the LNP to avoid the temptation to chase the Wentworth voters and concentrate on scruffier seats where the voters might abandon Labor and One Nation and vote LNP.

  23. Fair point about Ms Razer’s article, Brian.

    On power companies, I heard yesterday an opinion that if the Federal Govt organised power corporation executives to meet to discuss lowering their retail prices, the Govt
    might fall foul of collusion legislation*
    and that the ACCC would likely take a very dim view of any meeting of power execs, specifically discussing prices.

    * anti-competitive behaviour, see “cartels”, “defrauding the public”, “gentlemens’ agreements to help each other out”, “rigging”; see also quote from Saint Adam of Smith.

    Now this is all very well, but what has Official Anti-Competitive Policy done for the present and future of power supply in this country?

    Quiz of the week:
    Which noun best describes the energy supply?
    a) a shambles
    b) a system
    c) a mess
    d) a dirty big ridiculous mess
    e) some poor, huddled enterprises yearning to be free
    f) major efforts at the coal face
    g) “we will get there in a canter”
    h) ‘Lumpy McCoalface’
    i) all p*ss and [not enough] wind

  24. John Davidson (Re: OCTOBER 26, 2018 AT 9:36 PM)

    It may actually be smart of the LNP to avoid the temptation to chase the Wentworth voters and concentrate on scruffier seats where the voters might abandon Labor and One Nation and vote LNP.

    I think I see where you are going with this, but my question is whether there are enough “scruffier seats” for the LNP to retain power, or are they heading towards an electoral wipe-out?

    The Guardian’s Essential Poll conducted a few weeks ago suggests:

    What seems a logical, self-evident, moral imperative to one person can seem like the embodiment of reckless turpitude to another. Our representative democracy may be the forum where these differences are supposed to be mediated but right now it is managing a divided nation.

    What seems to be a stronger consensus for Australian voters is effective action on climate change:

    As the IPCC challenges the world to phase out fossil fuels by 2050, Australians have already formed a consensus that action is required. Sadly, we didn’t have a round of questions about climate change in the field this week to coincide with the report but we do know that the long-running response from voters is that (a) climate change is real and caused by human activity and (b) we don’t think the government is doing enough to address it.

    The LNP with their policies (or rather lack of them) on climate and energy seem to be going against the majority will of the people. Surely that won’t be tolerated for much longer? There’s still a risk of blackouts this summer. Or do you think the majority of Australian voters will remain forgiving towards the LNP?

  25. “scruffier seats”

    Deplorables even.
    The intercity elitist and their acolytes looking down their noses at the rural filth.

    We older, less uneducated, amateur voters are just getting in the way of our betters.

  26. Mr A
    Pray tell, what better word would describe non green type voters that live outside the cities other than “ scruffier “ ?

    I’m on the edge of my seat here !

  27. Well Mr J

    For a start, John has pointed out that highly educated and non-deplorables often look scruffy. So do some inner city Green voters if they’re the hippy garden-in-a-tiny yard/ chooks in the
    Iiving room/composting/solar panel on the outside loo types [see CERES, inner north Melbourne].

    Not the hipsters. Oh no. Sharp. Neater than a wealthy couturiered show pony.

    Then there are the suburban scruffs, which covers a huge range of humans. Might be short of a quid, might use clothes until they fall off, might buy bargain clothes at an Opp shop, might be putting all their spare cash into private school fees or toys for the grandchildren. Might be bogans, might be highly educated. Might be recent migrants, might be fifth generation Aussies.

    You never can tell.

    The Parties certainly know how to target particular segments of our varied population. They spend big on it. They “message”.

    But as to John’s main point: Wentworth was unusual not only because of the social make up of the voters, but for reasons like:
    *resignation of the local MP
    * recent defenestration of an incumbent PM
    * failure of Mr Dutton to grab the prize
    * sniping and whiteanting by the Honourable Member for Warringah, peace be upon him
    * the precarious single seat majority bequeathed to the governing coalition by the resigning MP at his last (and only) campaign as PM and popular Q&A leather jacketed panellist

    Those who say a general election will be different are right. Instead of the Parties focussing on a single seat, they will need to decide which seats get priority in funds and effort. And John may be right: the Liberal Party may well decide to fight strongly in seats where they compete more with ON, Katters, Nats, and conservative Labor candidates.

    Horses for courses.
    Not a new story.

    As to the term “scruffier”, well perhaps we could say
    outer suburban,

    Over here in Victoria, Jeff Kennett got his comeuppance when the RARA (Rural And Regional Australia) voters rejected him, and Labor formed a loose alliance with three Independents. Sounds like Ms Gillard, eh?

    RARA isn’t accurate for present purposes, being too narrow.

    What about Kath and Kim?
    Clearly aspirational, living the suburban dream in noice houses, working, keen on fitness: the opposite of scruffy.

  28. Geoff M on 27th October

    You pointed to the widespread preference that Australians have, for effective action on climate change.

    In the Essential poll that Brian linked to, there is some data to support you.

    Asked to nominate the three most important issues, about 21% included “promoting renewable energy”.

    Note: promoting.

    The responses were broken down by voting intention.
    As you would expect, Green voters were the outlier at 44%.

    ALP at 21%,
    Lib/Nat at 17%
    other parties 21%.

    What heartens me, is that it’s almost uniform support across the whole range of non-Green voters.
    (And non-Green voters are an overwhelming majority of our fellow Australians.)

    Despite the efforts and advocacy of Coalition Parliamentary ‘coal boosters’ and ‘Monash Group coal boosters’, the Lib/Nat voters are only a small distance “behind” all the other voters on this issue.

  29. Ambigulous (Re: OCTOBER 29, 2018 AT 4:25 PM)

    Despite the efforts and advocacy of Coalition Parliamentary ‘coal boosters’ and ‘Monash Group coal boosters’, the Lib/Nat voters are only a small distance “behind” all the other voters on this issue.

    I don’t disagree with you. So, where is the LNP “mandate” to ignore the majority will of the people to act on climate change and promote renewable energy?

    Who is the “base” the conservatives keep talking about?

  30. GM: Howard was always going on about doing things for “Real Australians.” After a while I realized that very few Australians fitted into the definition of the Real Australians that Howard supported.
    The “conservative base” appears to be a small subset of Howard’s Real Australians

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