Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Early poll beckons
Labor is odds-on for a setback at the Super Saturday by-elections


While all eyes are on Singapore today, the political tempo is ratcheting up at home, where the odds of a spring election appear to be firming. Fairfax Media’s national affairs editor, Mark Kenny, wrote on Saturday that Labor insiders now believe that after two years behind in the polls, the “politico-economic arithmetic” is beginning to tilt the government’s way. That is a key concession, apparently driven mainly by last week’s surprisingly strong GDP figures, which reinforce the government’s “jobs and growth” credentials. The thinking goes that if Labor were to falter in one of the five July 28 by-elections – losing in Longman or Braddon, for example – the government would go early, while the economic breeze is behind them, rather than wait. For now, bookmakers still have the prime minister’s preferred date, May 2019, priced as odds-on favourite at $2.50, but September is closing in at $4.

All year, but increasingly ahead of the crucial Super Saturday by-elections, the government has been trying to flip the focus of leadership speculation onto the Labor side, and so it is somewhat surprising that Shorten’s main rival, infrastructure spokesperson Anthony Albanese, would trail his coat on the cover of Good Weekend, looking particularly prime ministerial. The Coalition’s aim is to destabilise Shorten, not to see him replaced, because, as Jacqueline Maley’s profile piece highlighted, many in the Coalition actually fear facing Albo. This includes Barnaby Joyce, who told GQ magazine last year that “Albo would be a threat. He would talk to my people.”

Maley also highlighted that there is wiggle-room in the interpretation of the party rules that protect Shorten’s leadership, and which were introduced by Kevin Rudd. As things stand, a leader cannot be ousted until 60 per cent of caucus members sign a petition requesting a new leadership election, but, as Maley wrote: “what is often overlooked is that petitions have previously been required under Labor leadership change rules, but the requirement has never been enforced. If a delegation comes to a leader telling him or her that he/she has lost the confidence of caucus, the leader is unlikely to insist upon a full compilation of names.” Not so long ago Albanese was dismissing leadership speculation with the unequivocal response that he was “not available”. Should one of the by-elections go against Labor, it seems clear that he is now ready to serve.

The Left-Right factional jockeying ahead of Labor’s rescheduled national conference in December is in some ways a proxy war between the leadership rivals, Shorten versus Albanese, and so it is significant that The Guardian is today reporting that the Right’s efforts to secure a majority have been dealt a blow by a strong turnout for the Left in Queensland.

Shorten brushed off a late question about his own lack of popularity on the ABC’s Q&A last night, in a performance that was convincing enough in what might be considered Labor heartland in Elizabeth, South Australia, in the wreckage of the country’s car industry. The benefit of Shorten’s many town hall meetings around the country was obvious, as he clapped a former Holden worker who wanted his pride back, asked for a show of hands on the impact of dementia, and wound up thanking the audience: “I tell you what, I love going on this show. Not everyone might have loved hearing it and whatever, but this is more fair dinkum to me than half the rubbish we carry on in parliament, so thank you very much.” Reports this morning concentrated on Shorten’s ambiguous response to a question about whether Labor would end indefinite detention of asylum seekers, and the possibility of a royal commission into aged care [$].

Meanwhile, the policy rollout is accelerating, with Labor confirming on the weekend that it would restore the $84 million cut from the ABC in the last federal budget – a policy that may prove a real vote winner and that comes on the back of major announcements this year including a federal ICAC and the axing of cash refunds of unused franking credits. As Shorten told the Q&A audience: “If we win the next election, it won’t be because we’ve been a small target.” Whenever it is held, Labor is odds-on to win the next federal election: today’s odds have Labor at $1.40, and the Coalition $2.50. Curiously, however, Labor is odds-on to lose in Longman, where the LNP is the favourite at $1.70 to Labor’s $1.90, which could suggest there’s a bit of mispricing going on. A $4 payout on September is looking pretty good.

since this morning

US president Donald Trump has proclaimed that the momentous summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un has gone “better than anybody could have expected” and confirmed that the leaders plan a signing ceremony shortly.

The Australian reports [$] that a plan to stage a Ramadan terror attack at Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market never presented a credible threat, according to Victoria Police.

Also in The Australian: hearings have begun [$] in a defamation case brought by Chinese real estate billionaire Chau Chak Wing against Fairfax Media and former journalist John Garnaut, subsequently an adviser to Malcolm Turnbull, over a 2015 article containing bribery allegations.

Crikey’s political editor, Bernard Keane, has this [$] “incomplete list of evidence that Australia is becoming a police state”.

in case you missed it

ABC business editor Ian Verrender examines how JP Morgan has “flipped” and given evidence against its former biggest local client ANZ, as well Citi and Deutsche Bank, allowing the ACCC to launch its sensational criminal proceedings for cartel conduct. “The issue is not that the ACCC or the Director of Public Prosecutions thinks it has a case,” one financial regulation expert tells Verrender. “The issue is that JP Morgan thinks it is a case.”

Fairfax Media reports that a $500,000 scientific committee created by the Coalition government to monitor the health effects of wind turbines held one face-to-face meeting in two years, failed to provide any official advice and had its work repeatedly rejected by research journals.

The title of Race Discrimination Commissioner should be left untouched and Australians “must be ready to stand up” against any efforts to change it to something less “divisive”, says the outgoing commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane.

The Australian reports [$] that truckloads of sludge contaminated with toxic firefighting foam were allegedly moved from the Amberley air force base near Brisbane and dumped on private properties or mixed into commercial landscape supplies. Meanwhile, Opposition leader Bill Shorten is urging Katherine residents to contribute to a Senate inquiry into per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), after speaking to locals about health concerns during a recent visit to the NT town.

by Mungo MacCallum
The end of civilisation?
On the hyperbolic reaction to ANU’s decision to part ways with the Ramsay Centre

by Lesley Hughes
When planetary catastrophe is your day job
Climate scientists are working hard to keep the apocalypse relevant

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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