A spill already?

Sometimes I think Australia’s two biggest parties take a bit too literally this whole notion that the prime minister is always vulnerable to defeat by his or her parliamentary caucus. Now it’s Tony Abbott’s turn to defend against a “spill“.

47 thoughts on “A spill already?

  1. Changing horses in midstream, but the question is in a parliamentary democracy, do voters elect the prime minister? I don’t see that the voters nationwide voted for the Prime Minister.

    “And for all the feverish talk of giving Abbott six months to lift his game or of cabinet standing behind the leader, there’s another argument circulating that if something is to happen it should happen quickly – well ahead of the crucial May budget. Because otherwise it will be too late, anyway. Abbott’s protection is a general understanding that switching prime ministers halfway through a first term risks infuriating voters – even more than they are already infuriated. That’s why Abbott was so careful with his words on Sunday, saying repeatedly the voters had elected him as Prime Minister.”

    http://www.afr.com/p/opinion/tony_abbott_is_now_on_political_TP8kKkdLKZrdONMJ8z53OJ

    • The only people that voted for Tony Abbott live in Warringah. Many people may have voted for or against a local candidate because of Tony Abbott (or Kevin Rudd0, but that doesn’t mean they voted for PM. Australians elect MHRs and Senators. The Crown wields executive power and it decided that the best way to do that was by taking the advice of the person most likely to command the confidence of Parliament–the Member for Warringah as of this time. If that person no longer can command Parliament, the Crown needs another adviser.

  2. NSW has a general election on 28 March. The LNP would be looking set for re-election except for 2 sad facts. The LNP rout in Querensland was not predicted by any poll.The Queensland LNP tried to spare themselves ‘federal drag’ by keeping Abbot out of the state for the campaign. Abbot holds a NSW seat. He cannot be kept out of the NSW campaign.

    I understand there is huge pressure from NSW MPs and candidates for their federal colleagues to save them from a second rout.

    Pollsters in Australia use 2 methods to estimate preference flows,historical and respondent allocation. It is counter-intuitive,buthisotrical allocation, using preference flows from the previous election, has been accurate until last Saturday. Respondent preferences are complicated by matter like what kind of seat you live in, which parties will run candidates in your seat, and so forth.

    Preferences are optional in Queensland in NSW. The Queensland result happened in minor parties and on preferences. A large proportion of the minor party vote from 2012 moved toLabor. A large proportion of voters who cast single preference in 2012 gave second preferences to Labor. If that same shift in votes happens in NSW then the NSW government is gone as well.

    Abbot may just survive on Tuesday, but if NSW goes as I suggest I cannot see him surviving another electoral rout. The truly terrifying thing for the Liberal caucus must be that the Queensland government was considerably more popular than the federal government.

    Abbot is claiming popular election because it is about the only defence he has left.

    • I don’t know about New South Wales, Alan. The O’Farrell/Baird governments were nowhere near as controversial as the Newman government, and Labor has a worse reputation in New South Wales than in Queensland. I reckon a campaign similar to that run by Jeff Kennett in 1996 will be able to save the NSW Liberals.

      As for popular election, it seems to be that though Australians don’t directly elect their Prime Ministers, they do get attached to ones that led parties into general elections. Voters don’t take kindly to leadership spills, and it is often hard to get rid of incumbent PMs. Remember, it took 3 challenges to get rid of Gillard, and that was with a definite successor, a factor that the Liberals don’t have.

      • Australians don’t like the sudden replacement of a beloved national leader without explanation.

        Gillard was not such a leader and there were no adverse effects in her eventual removal, quite the reverse in fact. Gillard’s party support was always considerably higher than her electoral support. Abbot is now lower in the electoral standings than Gillard was at any stage in her prime ministership. It took three challenges only because of the bloodymindedness of Gillard’s union and faction supporters.

        The chaos of the Rudd/Gillard years is largely a rhetorical invention of Tony Abbot and partly of Julia Gillard. The doctrine of popular election is another rhetorical invention. Abbot is great at rhetorical invention, just devoid of ideas and surprisingly incompetent at governing.

      • Perhaps there is some confusion between the act of removing a leader and the process by which that is done. The process of removing a leader saps oxygen from the government’s successes, and reduces that government’s popularity. Perish the thought, but if Rudd had gone under a bus in 2010, Gillard would have been better off in 2013.
        I don’t think, electorally at least, that Abbott is as unpopular as Gillard. However, the two are close in terms of approval ratings.

      • Had Rudd gone under a bus I believe the trajectory of the Gillard government would have been exactly the same,just a little slower.

        One of the strayer things about this time of troubles is that Gillard and Abbot are actually very similar politicians. They are both focused on achieving power in the no matter what it takes school of graham Richardson, they both haver a strictly limited understanding of broader policy or intleelctual culture, they both make leadership claims based on a highly managerialist idea of competence.

        Strangely enough, both give exactly the same reason for opposing marriage equality (‘man of tradition’ ‘cultural traditionalist’) when the reality was that is a term dictaed dictated by their backers in the party.

        While Abbot is often called a great opposition leader he actually was not. He was great at denunciation and rhetorical invention, but set himself up for a purely negative mandate that caused an electoral collapse as soon as he had to actually do stuff as opposed to denouncing stuff. While Gillard is described as great negotiator she never closed the deal with the Australian people, largely because she always over-promised and under-delivered (rather like Abbot).

        A prime minister has to do more than win elections (which Gillard never really managed in any case). A prime minister needs vision and has to carry the people, and that neither Abbot nor Gillard have ever come close to doing.

      • Alan, I think that without Rudd there would not only have been less distraction, there would have been less rush to judgement, and less panic on the part of Gillard. For instance, the promise of a surplus for the 2012 Budget seemed designed to get Gillard out of a short-term hole (the possibility of a Rudd resurgence). Had Rudd not been around, this might have been thought about more.

        As for Abbott, he was a good opposition leader, in that he opposed the government very effectively. That makes a good opposition leader, but a poor Prime Minister.

      • I’m sorry hd but that’s a horse that just won’t run.

        An example, the catastrophic campaign decisions (don’t talk GFC do talk WorkChoices) were taken before the leaks that supposedly wrecked the campaign. I was enthusiastic about Gillard when she was first prime minister. My enthusiasm lasted about 10 days.

        That is how long it took for her to ‘legitimise’ people’s fears of refugees, announce cash for clunkers, handing global warming to a citizens assembly and trying to pirate the slogan ‘Yes we can’. On the basis of those pre-leak decisions Gillard went on to run the worst campaign since Federation.

        ‘I was scared of Kevin Rudd so I made bad policy and atrocious campaign decisions’ is a splendid exercise in gall, but that’s about it.

        I commend the Maxine McKew book to you which discusses the extensive leaking against Rudd for months before he was deposed.

        Good opposition leaders certainly oppose effectively but they also don’t set up governments that are guaranteed to fail.

      • Alan, I don’t blame ‘fear of Rudd’ for all of Gillard’s missteps. However, some of them can be put down to that, like the surplus promise.

      • For Ruddophobia to work as an explanation of any of the numerous Gillard mistakes in campaigning and policymaking it really has to explain them all or it explains nothing.

        ‘I was cool with Rudd except when I made those surplus promises that were completely consistent with my conservative economic record including my initial opposition to the GFC measures’ looks about as persuasive as the other variants on ‘It was Rudd wot made me do it Yer Honour’..

        Gillard had a long record as backbencher, shadow minister and deputy prime minister of taking extremely conservative positions including an almost visceral opposition to action on climate change. In her initial announcement of a citizens assembly on climate change she said there would be no action unless the assembly agreed. The carbon tax promise did not come out of nowhere it was consistent with what she had been saying privately for months. She did not morph into a social and economic conservative when she became prime minister. She was already there.

        Ruddophobia cannot cannot explain the campaign mistakes because they were all taken before any alleged leaking by Rudd or his supporters. Ruddophobia is not a terrific explanation for later mistakes that were consistent with an established record of fiscal conservatism that predates the leaks by years.

      • Alan, explaining the surplus promise by it being ‘ideologically consistent’ with Gillard’s views doesn’t really work. Gillard may have done silly things, but saying so definitely that there would be a surplus seems very odd, especially given that she presumably knew that she would look like a liar or a fool if there was a deficit, and that she would be shown up before an election. That seems a lot to risk for ideology in the modern ALP, especially in a dismal electoral position.

        Without direct challenge to her leadership, Gillard would have had the freedom to sit tight, saying that she wasn’t certain, or at least trumpet the surplus promise. That would let her reap the same rewards of a surplus, but not look like such a liar if there wasn’t one.

      • hd

        I think we may have to agree to disagree. Gillard expected, the NSW Right and its allies always expects, that fiscal conservatism is popular. That tendency also believes that the electorate has no memory beyond the previous 24hours. It is why they believe that governing copyists of annoucneble and that some announceables, like the Northwest Rail Link in Sydneyforexample, are so popular they can be re-announced many times without ever having to be built.

        Recall that Gillard announced a large grant for the NW Link in 2010 and achieved an immediate swing against Labor in seats that had been waiting for the NWLink for many years.

        You can explain that away by blaming Ruddophobia as well.

        A far more likely explanation is Gillard was merely doing what Iemma and Keneally were doing about the same time in NSW. Governing really badly and announcing lots of things they thought the electorate would like with no intention of ever delivering them.I suppose you could argue that Iemma and Keneally were afraid of challenges from Kevin Rudd as well. You could argue also that the same logic applies to Anna Bligh in Queensland.

        But sooner or later you need to look at what leaders actually do rather than thread elaborate veils of excuse and forgiveness around them.

    • Aren’t governments in Australia usually re-elected twice? Unless the next election produces another hung parliament. Tony Abbott doesn’t like those just like the LNP in Queensland doesn’t like them either. High Political Drama in Australia has spread over the Liberals. I guess no major party is immune from it.

      • A first term government was defeated last November in Victoria. A first term government was defeated, without warning, last Saturday in Queensland. A first term government goes to the polls in NSW on 28 March. Privatisation, particularly electricity privatisation, was an issue in Victoria and Queensland. Like those governments the NSW government is seeking a mandate for further electricity privatisation.

        Until recently the NSW election result was well known on advance because first term governments are never defeated in Australia and there are no warnings in the polls.

  3. None of the answers the question of why both major parties in Australia have taken to replacing their leaders every couple of years. You didn’t see this behavior in the last century, and you don’t see it anywhere else.

    • I suspect it’s economic convergence.

      The first major steps toward privatisation and deregulation of the economy were Labor, not Liberal initiatives. The ALP has been strongly market-oriented since the middle 80s. Despite fulmination from both parties they actually stand very close to each other on economic policy and like Margaret Thatcher are completely convinced that There Is No Alternative. Both sides have made an art form of newly elected governments discovering shock horror fiscal black holes left by their predecessors.

      Somehow the only viable solution is always to cut taxes and services.

      In 2012 Queenslanders decisively rejected a Labor government which had promised not to privatise electricity and then done so. In 2015 Queenslanders rejected a Liberal National government which had kept its promise not to privatise but was now seeking a mandate to privatise. The NSW electorate has been through similar processes, holds similar attitudes, and is being asked to re-elect a government bent on privatisation.

      Under a ‘reformed’ energy market Australia went from some of the lowest household electricity prices in the world to some of the highest. In 1998 the promoters of the ‘reformed’ market promised that competition would lead to lower prices. Household electricity prices more than doubled from 2007 to 2012 and have not stopped or even slowed rising.

      In his reboot speech to the National Press Club last week, the one designed to save his career, Abbot referred to the ‘absentmindedness’ opt people who impede ‘reform’ by electing Labor governments.

      • Why would Labor privatize electricity in Queensland? Not everything that is privatize is better. They should had look at Nebraska which has a “publicly-owned electricity system” and it is a red state and red power albeit the U.S has wrongly reversed the political colors Republicans should be seen as the color of blue, and I am not sure if the Democrats would be seen as Red.

        Not all right-wing parties are extreme laissez faire enthusiast capitalists; some are protectionist, corporatist, and statism.

        https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/thomas-m-hanna/red-state-red-power-nebraska%E2%80%99s-publiclyowned-electricity-system

        The U.S is seen as the a laissez faire enthusiast country, yet Nebraska here proves the exception with public power. The problem is that Queensland has no upper house elected by PR to restrain a majority government, but the same is with Nebraska as it too has no upper house.

        This election in Queensland is a reverse plurality result. LNP wins the most votes, and Labor is in second place in votes. The preferential voting system is an optional ranking of candidates so it defaults towards FPTP results much more so than the Federal Election to Australia’s House of Representatives.

        How come the electoral system isn’t reformed along the lines of the Hare Clark System of the Single Transferable System? That would be much better than introducing an upper house. Is it really good and wise for Queensland to have wipe out elections, and then close elections, it seems like a yo-yo result.

        The LNP doesn’t like minority governments, but if it’s coalition partners on the right Palmer United Party and Katter’s Australian Party would give it a majority so far with the live results; http://www.abc.net.au/news/qld-election-2015/results/

      • “Somehow the only viable solution is always to cut taxes and services.”
        Strange, then, that Abbot’s controversial budget cut services but also raised taxes.

        “Not all right-wing parties are extreme laissez faire enthusiast capitalists; some are protectionist, corporatist, and statism.”
        Most ‘right-wing’ parties aren’t all that strongly, or at least consistently, laissez-faire, certainly not when it comes to ‘social’ issues such as what people want to put into their own bodies (what my personal consumption has to do with society, I haven’t a clue). But even on economic issues, you see few parties’ leaderships calling for eliminating all trade barriers, drastically cutting welfare, reintroducing flat taxes, abolishing the minimum wage, etc etc., let alone actually put them into practice – and if they ever do, it’s in a very inconsistent and/or piecemeal fashion. And you certainly won’t hear any politicians talk about banning bailouts, allowing currency competition, abolishing deposit insurance or privatising roads – some of which are very important for the healthy, sustainable functioning of a free market; but to call for such things risks being branded a nutcase. Politicians are, generally more economically liberal than they used to be, but if the road they’re on is laissez-faire, they still have a long way to go.

    • Strange, then, that Abbot’s controversial budget cut services but also raised taxes.

      The argument is not disproven by the example of a single budget, after all Abbot promised no new taxes or service cuts at all in his ‘no excuses, no surprises’ government’ and justified the tax increases and service cuts by reference to his commission of audit.

      • No, I didn’t say it did, I just found it inconsistent. How about the mining tax debate, doesn’t that somewhat contradict your convergence argument?

  4. Queensland 2015 will not be reverse pluralitty. The 2PP will go quite heavily to Labor. The large shifts from 2012 are electors moving from minor parties to Labor and minor party electors who only voted 1 in 2012 allocating preferences this time. Had this election been decided by first preferences the LNP would have won 50 seats.

    • That’s funny that preferences now are helping the Labor party win office, and not so many the Center Right in Australia. Interesting how the electoral system helps one groups of politicians get elected and then the tables turn and help the other side now.

      Who will be the next Prime Minister after Tony Abbott?

      Isn’t there anything of all these elections that Australia could learn from New Zealand?

  5. 61/39 against the spill motion. That may not be enough for Abbot to continue in office.

    Cabinet members, junior ministers and parliamentary secretaries number 34, so the majority of those retaining Abbot as leader were bound to do so by cabinet solidarity.

      • The ballot was secret. It’s assumed the frontbench followed convention. Almost all challenges come in at least 2 stages and the leader gets their highest vote at the first round. The media is actually speculating that the second challenge could come as early as tomorrow or that the prime minister could be about to resign.

      • While it’s a fair guess that some frontbenchers supported the motion,in theory a frontbencher who did would feel obliged for ensign.No-one has so it’s a reasonable assumption. There are polite fictions as well as conventions in the Westminster system.

        The prime minister appears to be into business as usual.

  6. In other news, the ALP in Queensland has asked the governor to commission them to form government.

    One seat is going to the court of disputed returns because a PUP candidate was ineligible. The ALP holds a majority of the remaining seats with the support of an independent MP. The LNP is making hopeful but deeply unpersuasive noises about continuing as a caretaker government for however long it takes the courts to resolve the disputed seat.

    • This is similar to the situation that the Goss government found itself in 1995. They had won 45 seats to 43 for the LNP and one for a pro-LNP independent. However, the seat of Mundingburra was close, and the LNP challenged the result in the courts. The ALP member was permitted to sit, thus allowing the Goss government to continue for a few months, but the challenge succeded. A by-election was held, which was won by the LNP. That gave them government.

      Given such a precedent, Governor de Jersey would be likely to allow Mark Furner to be seated, and a Labor government to be formed pending a by-election.

      • The court of disputed returns, not the governor, will decide what happens to the representation of Ferny Grove.

        I cannot see the court has much choice but to order a fresh election. There is no way to unscramble the votes of the ineligible candidate from the rest of the election as there would be in a senate election and no obvious reason why PUP electors should be disfranchised by the idiocy of their party. Mercifully there are no facts in issue so the court proceedings should be a lot briefer than they were in Mundingburra.

        That would still make the numbers 43+1/39+3/2 with the Katteristas having a chance to help the LNP form government. I doubt it would be in the interests of either the LNP or the KAP to form a 42+2 temporary minority government. On the other hand, the ALP can reasonably expect to win Ferny Grove when the fresh election is held and that puts them back to 44+1.

      • Alan, I know. However, the LNP argued that, on the basis that there is doubt about Ferny Grove and that a potential ALP government with Wellington as a coalition partner needs Furner to be elected, that they should continue in a caretaker capacity. Furner will be returned as the MLA for Ferny Grove, and the Court of Disputed Returns will decide whether he will stay, or face a by-election. However, it is the job of the Governor to decide if Furner’s vote should be accepted in government formation.

      • I don’t see how the Governor, or anyone, can deny Furner a seat once a writ is returned with his name on it UNTIL the election is voided. Since Labor and Wellington have 45 votes on the floor, any government but Labor would loose control of the House. In that case, how can the Governor appoint anyone but a Labor Government?

    • As Helen Mirren stated as the eponymous character in The Queen: “It is I who asks the question”

      • ^This was in reaction to Alan’s “In other news, the ALP in Queensland has asked the governor to commission them to form government.”

  7. hd

    I say that is wrong. The governor gets to decide who should be commissioned to form a government. If the governor could include or exclude particular MPs you would again have a situation where the governor was substituting his own judgment for that of the parliament. An MP-selecting governor would be no more democratic than a chaos-ending governor.

    The test for a new premier is whether they can secure confidence from the assembly, not whether they can secure confidence from a subset of MPs designated by the governor.

    • I didn’t say that that was what I thought. I said that that was the argument the LNP was using to try and remain in government in a caretaker position.

      • Absolutely. You’d think this was not a good time for the LNP to be showing they’ve learnt nothing and forgotten nothing.

  8. John Quiggin on ‘reform’ and recent elections

    More importantly, the 1980s agenda has nothing to offer on the big issues of the 21st century, including climate change, the information economy, growing inequality and the instability of the global financial system as reflected in the GFC and its aftermath. The advocates of “reform” are all over the shop on these issues, but most are to be found on the wrong side: spouting climate denial, supporting strong intellectual property, supporting policies that exacerbate inequality and ignoring the disastrous failures of the financial system.

    Note that paragraph describes a number of recent ALP governments and leaders as cogently as it describes LNP governments and leaders.

  9. Antony Green confirms that the ALP victory is, in large part, a result of greatly increased preference flows compared with the 2012 Queensland election. That will be unhappy news for the LNP in NSW where OPV also applies.

    And while the state waits to find out the meaning of the viceregal tweet that a premier will be commissioned once the seats are declared, Prof Graeme Orr has commented that the somewhat novel LNP doctrine of no government until any disputed returns are resolved would be a perverse incentive for the nomination of disqualified candidates in marginal seats at future elections.

  10. The final numbers in Queensland are ALP 44, LNP 42, KAP 2, Ind 1. The governor is expected to call for Anna Palasczuk, the Labor leader. The LNP continue to insist they should retain power until the court of disputed returns resolves the seat of Ferny Grove.

    • In other news, Ferny Grove looks unlikely to be overturned. 353 Taverner (PUP) votes exhausted, but the 2PP margin for Furner was 466 votes, which means that his candidacy failed to change the result.

  11. Antony Green estimates the 2PP at 50.9% for Labor so far from being a reversed plurality,Labor is actually slightly under-represented at 44 seats where the 2PP would suggest 45 seats. The LNP had very narrow margins in a couple of seats. The Ferny Grove constiutional fantasy was always just that, and on these figures they would have been very unlikely win any by-election anyway.

  12. Today the state of new South Wales has a general election.

    All of the legislative assembly and half the legislative council face election. The assembly is SMDs, the council is elected by STV with the whole state as a single electorate. The LNP government is very likely to be re-elected, but a hung parliament or a an LNP defeat would almost certainly have repercussions.

    As the opposition leader expressed it, if Premier Baird goes on Saturday night then Prime Minister Abbot goes on Monday morning.

    • The results look like Coalition 52, Labor 32, Greens 3 and perhaps 4. The seat of Lismore remains in doubt with a slight edge to the Greens. The legislative council is still being counted. The Greens will hold 2 inner Sydney seats, which is not entirely unexpected, and the North Coast seat of Ballina where the Coalition Suffered a swing of 32% largely attributed to the importance of fracking as a local issue. Lismore is also a North Coasts eat where fracking matters.

      That is unhappy news for the Nationals who once owned the North Coast and have struggled since the early 90s against independent candidates. The election of 1 and possibly 2 Greens, in these traditional National areas is somewhat of a bombshell. While the Nationals have previously lost seats in these areas to independents they tended be former National candidates much closer to the profile of a traditional Nalional MP.

      Kevin Boneham notes:

      What is striking is the extreme variation in swings by seat, ranging from Oatley where the Coalition received a nearly 4% swing, to Ballina where the swing against is currently running at 32. I have the standard deviation of the seat swings at an enormous 6.7%.

      I suspect, but haven’t had time to check the figures, that the swings in country NSW tended to be larger than in Sydney which would be a reversal of the historical pattern. The 2PP looks to be around 54% to the Coalition.

      In other news the Labor government in Queensland has lost its majority after expelling a Labor MLA for his undisclosed criminal record.It is unclear if the expelled member will remain in the assembly.

      The federal implications are complicated. While Abbot gains in the short term, in the long term people wild raw comparisons between Queensland where the defeated premier had a leadership style very like Abbot’s, and NSW where the re-elected premier is much less abrasive and significantly more personally popular.

      Strange footnote, predictive spellchecking tried to force ‘feral’ instead of ‘federal’, which is odd because ‘feral’ is what Abbot recently called the senate.

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