Baird Quits: NSW Libs’ One Chance To Get It Right

THE RESIGNATION of NSW Premier Mike Baird today was not really unexpected; with several immediate family members gravely ill, Baird’s decision to quit to enable himself to help more is entirely in character. But NSW’s Liberal government — arguably two years from defeat until this morning’s news — now gets one chance to aright itself under a new leader. Either way, the instability that marked 16 years of ALP rule continues apace.

Yet again, the half-finished piece on the Turnbull government is being delayed on account of things that just happen, and yet again, I am going to be circumspect: not through any shortage of time for a change but because really, the political ramifications of today’s change can be well and truly picked apart over the coming few days. It is probably a little more decent, in the circumstances, to keep discussion of those to a minimum.

But the news that NSW Premier Mike Baird has decided to call time on his decade-long career in politics — including three years as Premier — was to be expected; the poor health of his mother and father has not been a secret, and the revelation his sister Julia has relapsed in her cancer battle is very sad indeed.

Whatever people think of Baird, his devotion as a family man is the stuff of legend; a deeply religious man not always comfortable with personal interactions, he has been misrepresented at times as aloof or dour (or as one newspaper piece put it today, “a dictator).

I have consistently argued in this column that MPs of every stripe, love them or loathe them, are human beings first and foremost: and whilst some have sorely tested my inclination to treat them as such, and others proved undeserving of such basic courtesies at all (Bill Shorten, please note) the fact is that bad things happen to people from all walks of life, and our elected representatives are no different.

I wish Baird the very best for a happy and healthy retirement from public life, and I hope he enjoys the extra time he has to spend with his kids (you don’t need to be in politics to have too little of that). He can walk away knowing that despite the political difficulties that have lately engulfed it, he was jointly the leader of a government that over six years has restored NSW (and Sydney in particular) to the position NSW people believe they should occupy as the drivers of Australia’s economy and the engine room of the country’s growth.

(I could say something viciously parochial as a ferociously proud Melburnian about everything that is wrong with Sydney, but I won’t. This time).

It is always upsetting when elderly relatives enter declining health, and in this sense — with parents only slightly younger than Baird’s — I both sympathise and can relate. Bruce Baird (again, agree or disagree with his political views) was, like his son, a gentleman of politics, and widely liked throughout the Liberal Party. Clearly I know nothing of Baird’s mum, but to have both parents seriously ill simultaneously is a cruel blow.

Add in his sister too, and the Bairds have had more than their fair share of grief to deal with, quite literally.

We wish their family the very best as they work through these very grave health issues.

Despite the successes the NSW Coalition is able to point to in terms of outcomes, it has also mishandled an adequate number of issues to suggest that provided the opposition Labor Party can get its…self…together, the Liberals’ second term in office might well be its last.

Council amalgamations and the ridiculous attempt to ban greyhound racing — along with stunts like the lockout laws in Kings Cross, which have merely transferred drunken and miscreant behaviour to other parts of Sydney in the wee small hours — have added up, and the Coalition now trails in reputable polling of state voting intent just six years after winning two-thirds of the two-party vote at an election.

To date, there is little to suggest the attempts to fix these mistakes has cut much ice with the NSW electorate.

And whilst the junior Coalition partner, the Nationals, has had three leaders of its own in six years (and lost one of its safest seats anywhere in the country through the Orange By-election), the selection of Baird’s replacement — almost universally anticipated to be the treasurer, Gladys Berejiklian — will signal the seventh Premier of the Premier State in just ten years.

The rotating door on the Premier’s office in Macquarie Street, which spun like crazy during the 16-year tenure of the ALP and was credited as a contributing factor to that party’s demise in 2011, is still revolving now: and it is to be hoped that whoever replaces Baird will, election results permitting, stay in the one spot for at least five to seven years to provide some sorely needed stability.

As I said, however, we will leave the politics of today’s announcement for another time; aside from this brief recap, it’s really not the time to explore these issues thoroughly.

But in closing, I think Baird’s departure buys the NSW Liberals one chance — and one chance only — to aright the ship and retrieve their standing under a new leader.

For reasons that extend well beyond the state’s borders, they had sure as hell better get it right.

GST: Labor Should Grow Up And Join Reform Debate

THE SURPRISE of the GST on the reform agenda, partly due to an idea of NSW Premier Mike Baird that admittedly falls short, is encouraging: with rising public spending and an income tax base set to shrink for decades as the population ages, a rebuilt GST is key in fixing structural revenue issues. Labor must abandon its obstruction and empty rhetoric about “cruelty” and “fairness,” grow up, and help find the best outcome in the national interest.

First things first: until or unless his willingness to engage in meaningful discussion turns out to be a stunt or worse still, a subterranean strategy to scuttle meaningful change, South Australian Labor Premier Jay Weatherill deserves acknowledgement for apparently breaking ranks with the other Labor Premiers in being prepared to countenance changes to the GST; the push from some state Premiers to overhaul and bolster the GST may come to naught in the end, but it is refreshing — and surprising — to see a prominent identity from the “modern” ALP perhaps being prepared to actually set partisan politics aside in the interests of constructive policy rather than merely spruik an objective to do so as a way to harvest votes without ever delivering on it.

In fact, the fact a seemingly serious push for GST reform has emerged at all is surprising, for the combination of flat denials of willingness from almost every section of the ALP to even consider overhauling the tax and the reluctance of some Liberals to be the ones to raise the prospect of reform has to date killed any chance to even have a serious discussion around doing so.

The unprincipled charlatan that is ALP of the 21st century has seen to it that an increasing number of policy areas in urgent need of reform — taxation, welfare, labour market regulation and structural electoral reform, to name a few — are politically untouchable, and the GST fits within that subset; so concerned with winning elections at any cost is the Labor Party that it would rather see serious damage inflicted on this country than to permit its growing list of “sacred cows” to even be discussed, let alone reformed in any way.

But as ever, the ALP cares about power, not people.

The unlikely inclusion of the GST on the agenda for state Premiers to consider has come, in part, from an idea proposed by NSW’s Mike Baird that — to be blunt — fails to cut much ice when examined in even cursory detail, but Baird nonetheless deserves credit for getting the matter onto the table at all.

His idea for a straight lift in the GST rate from 10% to 15% without broadening the base (currently just 48% of all goods and services), with half the proceeds going to tax relief for low-income earners and welfare recipients to offset the impact and the remainder being carved up between the states, is at least a start.

But it fails to address the fact that the unhealthy reliance on PAYE tax is unsustainable, with an ageing population that sees that revenue base shrinking, which it will continue to do for decades; and as well intentioned as the Baird proposal undoubtedly is, it apparently places no emphasis on the need to match taxation reform with a program for winding back profligate, wasteful, recurrent government expenditure by past Labor governments — state and federal — that might have been well enough intentioned, but mostly is and was unaffordable.

It’s an unpleasant reality few in the ALP care to publicly admit, but every dollar of electoral bribery spent by a government is paid by a taxpayer — whether in business or a wage or salary earner — and for all the aversion to”cruelty” and infatuation with “fairness” Labor professes, there is little evidence it gives a stuff about the people who actually generate the tax dollars it so lovingly, and carelessly, doles out.

To say this largesse is out of control is an understatement; the line propounded by Liberal politicians (as well as a number of Treasury bureaucrats and economists) that the country has a spending problem rather than a revenue problem is true, and I saw at the weekend an article (a link to which I forgot to save — sorry!) that whilst headline revenues account for 27.3% of GDP, once the Medicare levy, superannuation contribution costs and other ancillary imposts are taken into account, the actual tax take is 33.2% of GDP — and bang on the OECD average, neatly exposing the myth that taxation in Australia is low by international standards.

Yet unless a switch in the focus of taxation is made from taxes on income to taxes on expenditure, that spending problem — if unaddressed, as Labor has gone to inordinate lengths to ensure it is — will soon enough be matched by a revenue problem as well, and it is only an irresponsible politician who can suggest there is no need to cut recurrent outlays or to take steps now to urgently fix the tax base.

I don’t propose to talk about cutting spending today, and in fact, this morning’s article is really only a curtain raiser to an enterprise in GST reform that I’m sure we will be talking about a lot more over coming weeks and months.

Aside from Baird putting the issue on the table — and Weatherill saying he is open to raising the GST and prepared to engage in rational and constructive conversation — Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein has said that whilst his state is disinclined to support changing the GST rate, he is prepared to listen to the arguments for change and reserve his government’s position on any reform proposals, whilst Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett (also nominally opposed to raising the GST rate) wants to examine the prospect of broadening the tax’s scope to apply to a far wider range of goods and services, including fresh food, the impact such changes would have, and the need for compensation for low-income earners and those on welfare and pensions.

I emphasise that any change to raise and/or broaden the GST comes with an obligation to do just that: it is the better-off who will contribute the bulk of the extra consumption tax dollars through higher spending, and those at the lower end of the social ecosystem would need to be compensated — just as they were when the tax was first introduced 15 years ago.

But broadly, there is considerable willingness among heads of government to contemplate tax reform. It is to be hoped some kind of consensus emerges.

Personally, I would like to see the GST doubled to 20% — in line with similar taxes in most comparable countries — with the income tax threshold lifted to, say, $25,000 per annum, marginal tax rates above that level flattened and reduced, and the GST base expanded to cover everything except healthcare, residential rents, education expenses and some financial transactions, with other government imposts like stamp duty and fuel excise abolished.

After increasing pensions and benefits to ensure welfare recipients are unaffected, some of the extra revenue could be ploughed into the states, with the remainder used to help fill the black hole left in the commonwealth budget by the Rudd-Gillard government that has been further exacerbated by the slowdown in Australia’s mining sector.

As a GST is a growth tax, these changes would set the country on a far more sustainable financial footing.

But as ever, the recalcitrant economic flat-earth types at the ALP refuse to have a bar of it.

So-called federal “leader” Bill Shorten refuses to discuss the GST at all, whilst he and others in the party claim their “policies” of cracking down on tax “evasion” by multinationals (read: punishing tax imposts on non-union businesses) and superannuation “reform” (read: punishing those who fund their own retirement without recourse to government benefits) would do the job instead.

But hitting big, offshore-based businesses is more of a pie chart concept than a practical, quantifiable, workable measure that could well do more harm than good if the usual hamfisted Labor way were to drive these companies — and Australian jobs — offshore.

And whilst Labor is obsessed with and racked by class envy and greed where self-funded retirees are concerned, I make the point that whilst Labor complains they don’t pay enough tax (not that there is an amount it would ever be satisfied with) but that these people save the government many billions of dollars annually by not claiming pensions.

You can’t have it both ways.

And as for Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ characteristically dumb-arsed call to lift the Medicare levy, all I will say is that this is an income tax rise that would have to be so large to make a meaningful difference to government budgets as to destroy the incentive to work. But Andrews — like so many of his Labor counterparts — is more interested in catchy sound bites than he is in serious, workable policy ideas.

It’s about time the GST occupied centre stage in any serious discussion about revenue and spending in this country, for it is the one measure that can be adapted to provide a fix to what, if left unaddressed, will become a permanent sea of red ink on state and federal budgets — and not all that far into the future.

Australia is not economically unassailable. Its prosperity cannot be taken for granted. Those leaders on both sides who have shown the courage and the stomach to start this debate deserve to be praised.

But as for the rest of the ALP which — as usual — would prefer to sit on the sidelines throwing populist stones in the hope it can be elected with as small a mandate for tough decisions as possible, it should grow up and take its responsibilities as a party to governance in Australia seriously, and stop trying to maintain a policy firewall contrived in its own petty electoral interests rather than focusing on the long-term good of the country.

 

Newspoll Confirms Thumping Liberal Win In NSW

NSW PREMIER MIKE BAIRD is set to be convincingly re-elected today, with final opinion polls suggesting a ten-point advantage over the ALP after preferences; Newspoll — published in The Australian — reinforces a trend of slight movement away from Labor picked up by a Galaxy poll yesterday, and the consistency of polling suggests an easy win for the Coalition that will provide both the Liberal Party and the ALP with much to ponder federally.

I am going to try to keep this brief, as I have a Liberal Party State Council meeting to attend in Melbourne this morning and I am going to have to get my skates on; with polls opening in NSW shortly and the final (much-awaited) Newspoll now released it’s prudent to make a few remarks about the outcome of today’s state election.

As I noted yesterday, the trend (to the extent there has been one) in NSW polling over the past month or so has seen a slight firming of support for Mike Baird’s Coalition government, with Galaxy’s final findings suggesting a 54-46 margin after preferences, which in turn widened the projected margin of victory from 53-47 results recorded earlier on; today’s Newspoll continues and reinforces the theme, and shows the government ahead by a 55-45 margin and set for an easy state election win.

Readers can access the final Newspoll results here.

It does rather seem that unlike its counterparts in Victoria and New South Wales, the NSW Liberal Party is not going to be forced into the kind of post-election recriminations and involuntary restructuring that now awaits its northern and southern siblings: and it is, to an extent, ironic that the State Council I am going to today will formalise a sweeping overhaul of the party’s elected executive in Victoria, with powerbroker and strategist Michael Kroger to return as state President unopposed in a sorely needed restoration of some real political nous to the division.

It is true the NSW branch has its problems; even so, it is perhaps a tribute to the party’s state director, Tony Nutt — a “Mr Fixit” in the party, who has doubled as the campaign manager for the NSW Coalition — that in spite of whatever obstacles these, and the so-called “Abbott factor” might pose, NSW will continue to be governed strongly by the Liberal Party and in the kind of shape most incoming governments will kill to enjoy at a first-up election win.

Yesterday I noted the numbers polling had produced suggested a win for the Coalition of between 50 and 55 of the 93 lower house seats in NSW, and barring some late and undetected movement that appears out of nowhere, today’s Newspoll — reinforcing both the general quantum of Coalition support and the ongoing mild trend toward the Coalition as the campaign has progressed — makes me think the government’s tally will be nearer the upper end of that range.

For a little perspective, if the Coalition wins 53 or 54 seats, it would compare favourably with the landslide result that swept Nick Greiner to office in 1988 with 59 of the (then) 109 lower house seats; for the ALP — which one might expect to emerge with perhaps 35-37 seats — the result would be only incrementally better than the 31 seats the Coalition held onto in the big Labor win over Kerry Chikarovski in 1999.

Newspoll’s findings, as readers will see, almost perfectly match those identified by Galaxy yesterday.

But Labor has squandered a big opportunity to punch Prime Minister Tony Abbott on the nose again today, for prior to the ill-advised and insidiously race-tinged “fear” campaign it embarked upon over electricity asset leasing, the numbers had hovered dangerously close to the point at which Baird’s government faced the real risk of being forced into minority.

Its leader, Luke Foley, is likely to survive, at least in the sort to medium term; yet after the likely defeat he is going to suffer tonight, it is impossible to imagine he will lead the ALP at the subsequent state election due in 2019.

Foley (as most observers expected, including me) has prosecuted an irresponsible election campaign that tugged a forelock to the union warlords who dictate what the ALP says and does these days; the central issue of the election campaign — Baird’s plan to lease 49% of the state’s electricity assets to generate funds for infrastructure and development — posed a test that the Labor leader has failed, and failed badly.

The appeal to anti-Asian prejudices as a pretext to elect the ALP deserves to be answered with the scorn and contempt of the hefty electoral loss it appears certain to elicit.

And as simply another cardboard cut-out yes man prepared to do and say anything the unions want him to, Foley is hardly positioned to offer NSW voters an exciting alternative at this election or, indeed, at any other.

It remains to be seen just how comprehensive Baird’s win today will be, and in some respects the real contest is for control of the state’s upper house, where the government needs to make gains in the seats last elected in 2007 to make control of both houses a realistic prospect.

But either way, the instant trigger for another move against Abbott in the federal party room is not going to materialise from this election in the form of the loss of another Liberal state government.

The federal Liberals, of course, face their own challenges in the months ahead; not least on account of the looming budget in May. Anything, of course, could result from this, and as I have consistently opined, last year’s shocker inspires little faith that this year’s effort will be any better, and it disturbs me that in “resetting his government neither of the two most glaring problems — Chief of Staff Peta Credlin and Treasurer Joe Hockey — were removed.

On the latter, Hockey will probably get the breathing room he needs to make it as far as his very last chance as Treasurer to turn in a budget that addresses both the ballooning debt and deficit quagmire bequeathed by Labor, and the Coalition’s own political needs: if he is as good as Abbott continues to insist, all I can say is that based on last year’s effort there can only be upside for the government in this regard should Hockey deliver something of real value for once.

But on the former, I am encouraged that Nutt is said to be returning to Canberra after this election in what seems to be at least the partial assumption of Credlin’s duties; anything that diminishes the presence and influence of to ubiquitous Credlin can only be a good thing, and right now Nutt is one of the few senior advisers in the Coalition’s ranks with a sound record of achievement wherever he has been deployed by the Liberals: a reputation that can only be enhanced by the successful oversight and navigation of what presented as a surprisingly difficult state election when it should, of course, been a walkover from the beginning.

Anyhow, I said this morning’s post would be brief: some final remarks ahead of what should be a very strong re-election showing by the Coalition in NSW, and whilst surprises can always materialise where votes and voters are concerned, the nightmare scenario of a repeat of the NSW Liberals’ 1991 debacle appears, happily, not to be in prospect in any way today.

I will of course be watching Antony Green’s analysis of the count tonight — beer, red wine and pizza are something of an election night trifecta in my house on state election nights — and may post again late in the evening or the Sunday small hours but either way, I am certain the Coalition will win this election and win it strongly, the natural correction that was always going to happen after a one-sided walloping four years ago notwithstanding.

 

NSW: Racist Labor Campaign Steers Baird To Certain Win

THE BRAZENLY RACIST campaign deployed by the ALP in New South Wales — attempting to frighten voters about Chinese investment in the state’s utility assets, and appealing to base human prejudice — is rightly set to explode in Labor’s face, with Premier Mike Baird now certain of victory in tomorrow’s state election. It terminates Labor’s slender hope for a cheeky election win, and should bring questions over Labor’s methods into open question.

Say anything to win an election:” when it comes to perceptions of politics and politicians, this dubious “principle” ranks near the top of any list of voters’ gripes about the people who govern them, but in recent times the practice of telling the electorate literally anything to accrue votes — with scant regard for the responsibility, accuracy or decency of such statements — has underpinned a ballooning proportion of Labor’s communications with the voting public.

Now, it seems set to cost them.

NSW Premier Mike Baird can go to the polls tomorrow assured of victory, barring some cataclysmic unforeseen disaster today; in the wake of NSW Labor’s idiotic and reprehensible attempt to damage the Coalition with suggestions Chinese participation in the government’s asset leasing program would compromise national security and drive up electricity prices, the latest Galaxy poll for the Daily Telegraph has found the government’s final standing rests at a 55-45 lead over the ALP.

Coming after two other polls in the past week showing the Liberals ahead by a 54-46 margin on the two-party measure, the three polls more or less validate each other, and confirm two things: one, that the decline in the state Coalition’s vote over the past year was arrested before it plunged into the electoral red zone of uncertain outcomes; and two, that the NSW Coalition — unlike its LNP counterparts in Queensland in January — has actually widening its lead over Labor by a couple of points during the campaign.

It also means that in the event of an unexpected late Labor surge or the “accentuation” of the swing away from the government by NSW’s optional preferential voting system, the Baird government has a buffer of a couple of points before it can be put at risk of losing its majority (a prospect that comes into play with a 2PPV of less than 53%), whereas the LNP in Queensland fronted up on polling day already well inside this prospective killing zone, with final polls showing it on 51% (in the event, the ALP scored 51.1% in Queensland after preferences).

Galaxy finds Baird preferred as Premier over Labor’s Luke Foley by better than a two-to-one margin, leading on this measure by 53% to 25%, and whilst this measure is historically difficult for opposition leaders to head, Foley’s position in the death throes of this state election campaign compares extremely poorly with similar results from other state Labor leaders in Queensland and Victoria (and even the Liberal Steven Marshall in last year’s ill-fated election in South Australia) ahead of the most recent elections in those states.

Readers can access the Tele‘s breakdown of the Galaxy results here; accounting for the final election polls we’ve seen thus far, it seems a swing of 9-10% against the Coalition is in order, which should see it returned to office with between 50 and 55 of the 93 seats in the NSW lower house. Based on the election result in 2011, it faces voters with a notional 69 seats, the results of a number of by-elections since then notwithstanding.

For Baird and the Liberals, it seems the widely anticipated “Abbott factor” will be at worst insufficient to cruel their electoral prospects, and whilst a portion of the swing against the government will inevitably be ascribed to the unpopularity of the Prime Minister and his government, it won’t be decisive: and unlike the election in Queensland in January, this consideration was really NSW Labor’s only real hope for causing another boilover in yet another Liberal-held state.

Just like the unexpected Newspoll on Monday — coloured as it probably was by NSW state voting intention rubbing off on findings around federal support — a state election win in NSW could provide a fillip for the Abbott government which, if skilfully exploited, could see this week used as the bedrock upon which to mount a sustained political recovery (although with another Hockey budget and the patent risks associated with it coming up, we’re not going down that tangent this morning).

I think — despite its problems, the most obvious of which has been the loss of 10 MPs over donations scandals uncovered at ICAC, including former Premier Barry O’Farrell — that the government deserves to be re-elected tomorrow; after a slow start and especially since Baird took the reins last year, the Coalition has gone some way to repair the mess left in NSW after 16 years of Labor government, and has taken steps to kick-start Australia’s largest state economy after the torpor and dysfunction in which it was left in 2011.

I should be clear, however, that had Labor not made an unbelievably unprincipled slip this week — pandering to racial prejudices over the Baird government’s plan to lease 49% of the state’s electricity assets — that tomorrow could well have been on track to see a much different outcome, with an incrementally larger swing enough to at least force the Coalition into minority and with it, inflict a rerun of the infamous 1991 result on the conservatives.

I’m not at all surprised Labor has been crass enough to try to fan anti-Chinese sentiment as a way of garnering support; the increasingly amoral campaign methods used by the ALP have been surfing very close to the line insofar as acceptable political conduct is concerned for some time, and arguably crossed it in Victoria last year as militant unionists donned facsimiles of emergency services uniforms to masquerade as ambulance drivers and firefighters (and to harass and bully people into voting Labor at polling booths, no less).

It is a credit to prominent NSW Labor figures such as Paul Keating and Michael Costa that their has been a blunt and unequivocal put-down of Labor’s latest campaign tactic.

The wanton politics of race have no part in a campaign like this — if there was some actual issue that sat squarely in the middle of legitimate community disquiet over actual events and/or actions, it might be different.

But Labor’s talk about security concerns stemming merely from the fact Chinese companies are interested in investment opportunities the asset leasing program will present is tasteless, to say the least.

Perversely — for all its talk of commitment to minorities and the championing of diversity — Labor has shown its true colours, more than willing to brazenly play the race card when political need suits it. It will be interesting indeed to see whether this shifts votes to the Coalition in the seats that house Sydney’s Chinese community, which is the largest in the country.

But really, this seemingly isolated issue is symptomatic of the insidious disease afflicting Labor more widely.

In NSW, it seeks to win votes by fanning anti-Chinese sentiment, and by threatening to cancel the very licences for coal seam gas exploration in the north of the state it issued itself in its last term in office just a few years ago.

In Victoria, it lined up rent-a-crowds composed of union thugs to pretend to be trusted emergency services personnel, in a ruse that worked, although voters in Melbourne are unlikely to fall for it a second time, and voters elsewhere now know what to expect.

Labor graduated to that disgusting ploy from using union members to pose as “sick” patients on hospital trolleys in Melbourne’s Alfred hospital to advance a wage claim.

Federally, Labor prosecutes a fallacious and malicious personal crusade aimed at destroying Abbott not just politically, but personally as well.

It flatly denies the consequences of its mismanagement of federal finances, and spent part of its last term in office setting up the situation wherein exploding residual federal spending steadily worsens a budget deficit to the point it kills off a Liberal government (so Labor itself, presumably, can return to government to wreak even more damage as a bulwark against “next time”).

On and on it goes. Labor will say, and do, literally anything to win office.

As I have always said, Labor cares about power, not people: and happily enough, this shameful flaw in its priorities is set to explode in the party’s face tomorrow.

When the dust from tomorrow’s election has settled, the Liberal Party across Australia will have been charged with a fresh obligation: to stop shadow-boxing and obsessing over risk aversion, and tackle the hideous Labor ogre for what it is: an unprincipled and reprehensible stain on governance prepared to compromise or sell out anything, literally, in the naked lust for power and the indulgence of union cronies whose violent and wanton militancy should have been left in the 1970s where they belong.

Baird deserves his election win tomorrow, and I have no reluctance in providing an unqualified endorsement for a vote for the Liberal and National parties, albeit one that would have been more difficult to make were his predecessor still Premier.

Yet these considerations are based on issues, facts, and the balance of political realities; Labor’s campaign has ended with a racist taunt and a xenophobic smear.

NSW voters should be thankful that the ALP will not be returning to the Treasury benches in Macquarie Street for at least the next four years.

Federal Newspoll A Big Clue NSW Coalition Will Be Re-elected

ANOTHER BIG MOVEMENT to the Coalition in Newspoll — appearing in The Australian today — is unlikely, as I criticised a similar finding a month ago, to be rogue; rather, as some 30% of the national electorate is readying to vote in a NSW state election on Saturday, it holds a clear sign the Baird government will be re-elected. The poll offers a sliver of hope to the Prime Minister. It remains to be seen if he and his colleagues can capitalise on it.

Opinion polling is a notoriously inexact science — as most readers know — and in an apparent reversal of the prevailing wisdom that the Abbott government is dragging down the stocks of its state-based Coalition counterparts across Australia, it seems today’s Newspoll sees the opposite phenomenon: one popular Liberal state government dragging the federal Coalition up with it as voters in that state are focused on an actual election, rather than the usual hypothetical caveats that apply to polling exercises.

Every indicator from Newspoll today (and you can see the tables here) sees improvement in the Abbott government’s numbers, including the headline finding of a four-point movement after preferences that slashes Labor’s lead to sit at just 51-49: and whilst it’s only an estimate, if NSW voters are readying to re-elect their Liberal state government by, say, a 54-46 margin and such a buffer has bled into the federal figures, that would be enough to offset a 56-44 result for the ALP in the rest of the country.

Of course, such considerations are not as cut and dried as that, but this column is a discussion about politics — especially when talking about routine polling, unless I’m doing something especially forensic with it. I simply think that this movement back to the federal Coalition can’t be dismissed as a rogue result, as wary as I am of it: and that means something else must be distorting its findings. In that sense, it is only necessary to look north of the Murray River to ascertain what that factor might be.

I think there is a mix of things going on here, and whilst I might be wrong to infer the relatively better standing of the NSW Coalition is colouring federal voting intentions in this particular poll, there are sound reasons for thinking so.

For one thing, the two most recent state-based opinion polls conducted in NSW — one by Galaxy, the other a Fairfax-Ipsos survey — both found the Baird government set to receive 54% of the two=party vote in Saturday’s state election: and whilst the state Coalition could be forced into minority if its vote dips below 53%, the movement against the Liberals in that state appears to have halted.

For another, NSW is not generating any of the kind of headaches for the conservatives in its own right that the unpopular, divisive, confrontational LNP government in Queensland did; Campbell Newman was regarded dimly in the end by most Queensland voters, fairly or unfairly. Baird, by contrast, is the most popular political leader in the country at the present time.

And despite Labor’s best efforts to replicate the stunning upsets it engineered at state elections in Victoria and Queensland, the effort in NSW is less cohesive, and the latest example of this can be found in former ACTU leader and senior Labor minister Martin Ferguson tearing strips off NSW ALP leader Luke Foley over his irresponsible and populist standpoints on energy policy, utility sales and relations with the union movement.

But just as NSW seems intertwined with this particular survey, so too is there plenty happening in federal politics to mirror and augment that influence.

It seems some in the Labor Party — to say nothing of the electorate — are finally beginning to wake up to the stupidly dishonest populism and rank opportunism of their so-called “leader,” Bill Shorten, who seems to think he can coast into the Prime Ministership by sitting back and waiting for the Abbott government to make mistakes; it’s a theme we have explored in this column before.

But just as Labor hardheads realise — thanks to “reforms” to their party’s leadership selection process designed by Kevin Rudd to enable him to rule forever, elections notwithstanding — that they are saddled with Shorten, it seems the penny may have finally dropped that the utter dearth of meaningful policy ideas and a sheer vacuity in Labor’s dealings with the electorate have left it dangerously exposed to the risk of being gazumped.

It is perhaps no surprise that the federal Coalition has enjoyed better weather whilst Prime Minster Tony Abbott’s Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, sunned herself — literally — on a holiday to Fiji; it is a great shame she didn’t stay there.

But if the amateurism and poor judgement that have marked the Coalition’s first few months this year again return to characterise its day-to-day behaviour, it will add impetus to calls from those hellbent on seeing Credlin dismissed from her post.

And all of this comes in the run-up to a critical federal budget that many Liberals are dismayed will be delivered by Joe Hockey as treasurer, given the spectacularly ham-fisted fuck-up last year’s effort has proven to be, and especially in light of recent rhetoric from the government suggesting it will be a ho-hum exercise that will do little to rock to boat.

Or make a serious attempt at fixing the budget without squibbing some obvious hard decisions, for that matter.

In this vein, Hockey’s antics in Question Time yesterday (following an apparently leaked story that suggested Foreign minister Julie Bishop’s aid budget is set to be slashed, in a revelation that was “all news” to her) did little to inspire any confidence.

In fact, the japing good time Hockey appeared to be having for himself was a poor look, and it is to be hoped he puts as much energy and effort into crafting a budget worth implementing this time rather than the disparate and unsaleable series of measures aimed at enraging Coalition voters in marginal seats that he passed off as fair and appropriate ten months ago.

And there are signs — the furore over the foreign aid issue one in a long list of them — that the federal Liberal Party is silently falling in behind Bishop, rather than Malcolm Turnbull, as the likeliest replacement for Abbott should his leadership finally be judged terminal.

In turn, this means that any leadership switch in the government is increasingly likely to be accompanied by the dual positives of the departure of Credlin from Canberra and the avoidance of an unedifying brawl between Liberal moderates and conservatives over the merits of Turnbull as an appropriate frontman to attempt to sell to sometimes sceptical branch members and constituents.

So where does all this leave us?

Tellingly, Shorten’s approval numbers — as they always do when the Abbott government’s mistakes are not explicitly driving its poll fortunes — have collapsed, and with just 36% approving and a rising 47% disapproving of his performance, Shorten is once again trending to be only marginally more popular than Abbott.

Is it any wonder the blowtorch is beginning to be applied to this most lightweight of Labor show ponies.

Abbott’s numbers — despite a second consecutive small improvement — are dreadful, as they almost always have been for the past five and a half years, although it is a perverse fact they are no bar to winning an election. Abbott himself has proven as much.

But a conjunction of circumstances has conspired to offer the Abbott government some clear air: what it does with it, of course, rests in its own hands, and the return of Credlin and the imminent 2015 budget should not be underestimated as fertile and febrile resources with which to plunge the Coalition back into the abyss of scathing public opinion.

Yet all of this adds up to the Abbott government being confronted, for the first time in some time, with a sliver of hope: and should Baird survive in majority government on Saturday as seems increasingly certain, there might even be — dare I suggest it — a modicum of momentum behind the government, and a little wind in its sails to boot.

As has been the case for most of the parliamentary term thus far, however, the Coalition will be the master (or mistress, with a nod to Credlin) of its own fortunes: and whilst the chickens might be wandering ominously toward their roosting spots in Labor’s coop, it is the Coalition that will continue to drive the shape of electoral opinion in the immediate sense.

What it does with the tiny opportunity that appears to exist is entirely its own decision.

 

NSW: ALP-Greens Deal A Precondition For Labor Win

FOR A PARTY whose offering is largely predicated on the destruction of the ordered decency of contemporary society, it is ironic the Communist Party Greens should emerge to masquerade as anti-corruption agents; yet such a posture to some extent underpins their lunatic arrangement with NSW Labor as it favours the ALP in Liberal seats touched by ICAC in return for upper house preferences. NSW voters can — and should — just vote “1.”

It is true that we have not spent as much time examining the impending NSW state election — now 10 days away — as I would have liked; between the leadership travails of the federal government and a fairly tight squeeze on the time I have had available to post articles of late, the third election in the eastern states in the space of 15 weeks has inadvertently been “a little neglected.”

And the perception (incorrectly held, in my view) that Premier Mike Baird is coasting toward an easy and thumping win has meant this particular state election has not resonated around the country in the way the bitterly contested contest in Victoria did, or the bated-breath observation directed toward Campbell Newman in Queensland to see how far, and how hard, the LNP was hit by angry, resentful voters.

Yet the NSW Liberals — even more securely ensconced in government than the LNP was in Queensland if measured on its share of the two-party vote, even if this equates to a smaller parliamentary majority — remains vulnerable on 28 March; there are a number of factors that could contrive a narrow Labor win in the Premier State, and these appear to be aligning to what anyone other than a sycophant of the Left ought regard as an alarming degree.

Critical to this equation is the share of the statewide two-party vote required to push Baird’s Coalition government into minority, which past experience (and the NSW electoral boundaries, which lock a huge portion of the Liberal vote into a clutch of seats north of Sydney Harbour) suggests is anything more than 47% for the parties of the Left.

For readers’ interest, the latest electoral pendulum from the ABC’s Antony Green can be viewed here: and note that the ten safest Liberal electorates all sit on or above Sydney’s North Shore.

I make the further observation that the two-party swing to the Coalition four years ago of 16.5% will be reversed to some degree on Saturday week, and whilst the extent of the correction obviously remains an unknown until the votes are counted, the fact opinion polling (to date) suggests an outcome in the vicinity of 53-54% for the Coalition should add some perspective to the huge margins currently buffering the safest government seats on that pendulum, and bearing in mind the Coalition was sent into minority in 1991 with 52.5% of the two-party vote and lost office altogether four years later with 51.8%, the fact this election is going to be close despite the 2011 result should already be accepted as a given.

Much has been made, in mainstream media and elsewhere, of the influence the unpopularity of the Abbott government might exert on the NSW result, and in an echo of the recent state elections in Victoria and Queensland, it seems inescapable that whilst the federal Liberals and the Abbott factor will by no means prove decisive on 28 March, they will nonetheless be “a factor.”

In a mirror image of Queensland Labor’s cynically dishonest anti-privatisation campaign, NSW Labor is running hard against the Baird government’s plan to lease 49% of the state’s electricity assets — the so-called poles and wires — to generate funds to pay for badly needed investment in infrastructure in Sydney; pandering to prejudices that the divestiture of state assets is “bad” and misleading voters with breathtakingly contemptuous talk of higher power prices in a privatised electricity system that is quickly disproven by even a cursory glance south of the Murray, the ALP’s fight against Baird’s asset leasing program is biting hard — just as the equivalent campaign did for Labor in Queensland.

And in this campaign — in a contrast to 2011 — it is the Liberal Party fighting off the corruption tag rather than Labor, with 10 of its MPs being forced to step aside or leave Parliament altogether after being adversely dealt with in ICAC’s relentless crusade against public wrongdoing, especially where laws around the acceptance and disclosure of election donations from property developers are concerned.

Yet whilst all of this might appear to make for rich and fertile soil for Labor to till, it must first be pulled together: and not least in view of the fact that primary support for the ALP sits in the mid-30% range (albeit roughly 10 percentage points higher than the abominable result it recorded in 2011).

Enter — to the surprise of nobody — the Greens.

The evidence of the Greens’ destructive influence, both over the ALP and over governance generally, is well-known and evidenced, with the most recent example being the notorious “Coalition” between the hard-Left party and the Gillard government, which contributed to the destruction of the last federal Labor government as Labor was forced to do the Greens’ bidding as the price for “control” of the Senate: an arrangement that heavily damaged the ALP, but from which the Greens emerged in comparatively robust shape despite the loss of a couple of percentage points of its support.

This time (and a selection of articles from today’s Sydney press can be accessed here, here and here) the Greens have struck a deal with Labor aimed at securing themselves control of the NSW upper house, for like any party mostly disinclined toward assembling a majority of voter support in single-member lower house electorates, the Greens in NSW are happy with the prospect of playing the wrecker in yet another ghastly, proportionally elected upper house on a comparative sliver of the statewide vote.

Telling, however, is what the Labor Party gets in return: a binding agreement to exchange preferences that is skewed toward the NSW Central Coast — and thus toward Liberal-held seats at the epicentre of ICAC findings against sitting MPs that might seem ripe for the taking — and toward a handful of marginal seats lost by the ALP four years ago that constitute the sort of low-hanging fruit the ALP must harvest first if it is to stand any prospect at all of regaining significant ground in NSW next weekend.

The benefits to the ALP are obvious: provided Greens voters follow the card, the prospect of winning an increased number of seats from the Coalition is enhanced by the deal between the two parties.

But what the Greens stand to receive amounts to yet another eye-popping itinerary of wasteful excess and indulgence: a million dollars for Koalas in Campbelltown. A “koala summit.” The declaration of new national parks that would decimate the fishing and coal seam gas industries, the latter being particularly cynical given it was the last NSW Labor government that granted most of the coal seam gas licences in the north of the state in the first place.

And of course, the retention, in state hands, of NSW’s electricity assets: infrastructure that will decline in value in coming decades as new technologies progressively render it obsolete. The value of the land and the proceeds from asset leasing are arguably worth more to the state than the poles and wires are in the longer term. And of course, NSW consumers would be denied the savings from cheaper electricity, but Labor and the Greens — beholden to unions and incapable of telling the truth — don’t care about that.

It is no coincidence that for the first time in its history, the leadership of the state divisions of the ALP up the eastern seaboard (and elsewhere) is held by the party’s Left faction; in turn, this equates in practical terms to excessive influence and control by the union movement, and especially where militant unions such as the CFMEU are concerned.

An object lesson in the destructive course such a government would likely chart in NSW can be found south of the border in Victoria, where the new-ish Labor government of neophyte Premier and imbecile Daniel Andrews is scuttling infrastructure projects at a ten-figure cost to the state whilst deferring or abandoning other election commitments ostensibly built around the safeguarding of Melbourne’s prized and renowned status as the most liveable city in the world.

Ominously, Andrews has flagged funding future projects in Victoria by ramping up state sector debt: a misadventure tried by Labor in the 1980s, that resulted in the near-bankruptcy of the state.

And the little excursion by unions through Melbourne a couple of weeks ago — supposedly in the name of workers’ rights — was contrived purely for political purposes and aimed squarely at a conservative federal government, and was explicitly sanctioned and tolerated by the new Labor state government.

This is a mere glimpse of what awaits NSW voters if Labor triumphs on 28 March. It is what awaits already in Queensland, as that state’s new Labor regime — also elected on the back of Greens’ preferences in an optional preferential voting system — finds its feet, and flexes its muscles.

NSW voters still have the opportunity to avoid all of this, and those soon to vote who do not wish to see their state held to ransom by the ridiculous whims of the Greens or NSW’s militant and thuggish trade unions have a choice.

“Just Vote ‘1’,” as another Labor figure from the north implored Queenslanders 15 years ago: if there are no preferences distributed there can be no Labor win in NSW, and even those voters angry with the Abbott government and disinclined for whatever reason to see their state’s electricity assets leased to private interests would fare better under a re-elected Baird government than any alternative cobbled together by Labor and the Greens.

 

NSW: 11% Poll Swing Puts Baird In The “Newman Zone”

THE PERFECT POLITICAL STORM swirling around the Liberal Party risks engulfing a third state government, with a new Galaxy poll in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph showing an 11% swing against Mike Baird’s administration; the figures put the state Coalition at grave risk of falling into minority status — or worse — and will raise fresh questions around the adverse impact of the Abbott government on the fortunes of the Liberals across the country.

It’s a relatively brief post from me for now, as the renewed demands of a Monday demand my attention elsewhere; I will be posting again later this evening about — you guessed it — the Abbott government and the Prime Minister’s controversial Chief of Staff Peta Credlin, who has attracted an insidious comparison with Margaret Thatcher this morning in another newspaper to the effect she is not for “turning:” the obscenity of likening a politically destructive and jumped-up staffer to the greatest conservative leader of the late 20th century is too offensive to allow to pass without remark, and I simply don’t have time to do justice to the case this morning.

But a story in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph this morning conveys the findings of the latest Galaxy Poll on voting intention for the NSW state election — now just a month away — and its findings of an 11% swing against Mike Baird’s Coalition government would, if replicated, go most of the way toward costing the NSW Liberals the fat parliamentary majority they scored in the landmark 2011 rout of the ALP.

The reason these figures have attracted my attention lies in NSW’s relatively recent political past; it becomes salient to recall that the Greiner government — elected in a landslide in 1988 — was forced into minority in 1991 despite winning 52.5% of the statewide two-party result, and the Coalition lost office altogether four years later under John Fahey in spite of retaining 51.2% of the vote after preferences.

Galaxy’s findings, therefore, of a 53-47 Coalition lead — an 11.2% swing since 2011 — should sound an attack warning siren at NSW Liberal HQ; just like the Newman government in Queensland, they portend a resumption of the gradual leaching away of Coalition support that was certainly interrupted by Baird’s replacement of Barry O’Farrell as Premier, but which perhaps has not been reversed to the extent earlier findings may have suggested or to the extent Liberal Party strategists might have hoped.

An obvious difference between the NSW Liberals and the Queensland LNP is that unlike their northern cousins, NSW’s Liberals boast the most popular leader of any conservative government in the country, and despite Galaxy finding some movement on the measure toward new ALP leader Luke Foley (himself in the traditional “honeymoon phase” of his leadership) Baird remains “preferred Premier” by a thumping 44-26 margin.

But the Galaxy findings — which, if applied and replicated uniformly at an election — suggest that the Coalition is on track to hold 51 seats to Labor’s 39, with three Greens and Independents; given 47 seats are required to win office outright in the 93-seat NSW lower house, it becomes painfully clear that despite his popularity, Premier Mike Baird actually has some very tight parameters to negotiate if he is to secure another term.

With a gaggle of its MPs embroiled in ICAC proceedings — some of whom have already left the Liberal Party and/or Parliament altogether — it is obvious that the Coalition’s edge on the corruption issue over the ALP has been comprehensively squandered: a point of difference that paints the parties in no better light than the party of Eddie Obeid and Ian McDonald that it dislodged from office four years ago.

But there are other disturbing similarities to the result recorded in Queensland last month; like the LNP, the Baird government is running on a controversial platform of privatising the so-called “poles and wires” that comprise NSW’s electricity assets — and this policy, whilst making good sense as a divestiture of assets that will be worth little more than the land they sit on in a couple of decades’ time — has shown its potency as a vote loser in Queensland in February, and in NSW repeatedly since it cost the Coalition dearly at an election decimation in 1999.

Ominous, too, is the fact Labor and the Communist Party Greens appear close to striking a tight statewide preference agreement — a crucial ingredient in working toward any election upset by maximising the number of votes that can be harvested, without exhaustion, under the state’s optional preferential voting system.

And all of this, in turn, casts the spotlight back toward Canberra, and the effect the Abbott government seems likely to continue to exert on the fortunes of yet another Liberal state government.

Preference deals and privatisation programmes should not, in and of themselves, be enough to consign a government with a robust parliamentary majority to either minority or defeat; the corruption issue, whilst an obvious negative, was arguably staunched with the replacement of O’Farrell last year.

And Baird’s popularity should not be underestimated.

But this state election is to be held in a continuing climate of leadership ructions within the federal Liberal Party, and against the backdrop of a deeply and increasingly unpopular federal Liberal government, whose impact on state elections in Queensland and Victoria cannot be described as decisive, but which almost certainly contributed to the Liberal Party’s defeat at both.

With the leadership issue continuing to simmer away — and ample suggestion that anger toward Tony Abbott among his MPs has built rather than subsided since the abortive spill attempt a fortnight ago, accused as he is of reneging on commitments made to remain in office — it seems clear that what is already a likely negative influence on state Liberal support could become an avalanche if any renewed outbreak of hostilities occurs between now and polling day in the Premier State.

This is one poll, and the usual disclaimers on that basis apply.

But we will watch voting trends in NSW with interest; and with the movement remaining so clearly toward Labor, one must wonder whether Baird and his colleagues have already slipped into the “Newman Zone.”

The 1991 and 1995 debacles in NSW take on fresh importance with these numbers, and are a reminder that however badly the Liberals crushed Labor last time, when it comes to a new election four years later, all bets are off.

The Coalition can’t afford to surrender yet another state to Labor in such an embarrassingly short period of time. But from the findings of Galaxy today, even a small additional movement away from the Liberals would risk precisely that.

And for this reason, what we will discuss about Credlin tonight — and the odious spotlight cast upon her in The Australian today — assumes a new and urgent currency.