Three slightly less bad polls for Labor have softened the post-leadership crisis slump in the BludgerTrack poll aggregate. Also featured: preselection news and some minor changes to electoral law.
The latest weekly BludgerTrack update accommodates results from Newspoll, Essential Research and Morgan’s multi-mode poll, with the latter looking like it will be a regularly weekly occurrence in contrast to the unpredictable schedule of the face-to-face series it has replaced. This is a somewhat better batch of polling for Labor than the previous week or two, gaining them 0.5% on two-party preferred and two extra on the seat projection. My latest bias adjustments for the Morgan multi-mode polling, based on comparison of its results with the overall poll trend, are +1.7% for Labor, +0.4% for the Coalition and -1.5% for the Greens, compared with +1.4%, +0.9% and -1.5% as I calculated them a week ago.
In other news, I have a raft of preselection action and a review of some minor electoral law changes:
• A bitterly contested preselection to replace Nicola Roxon in the rock solid Labor seat of Gellibrand in western Melbourne has been won by Telstra executive Tim Watts, running with the backing of Stephen Conroy, for whom he once worked as a staffer. His opponents were Katie Hall, a former adviser to Roxon who ran with her backing; Kimberley Kitching, former Melbourne councillor and current acting general manager of the Health Services Union No. 1 branch; Julia Mason and Daniel McKinnon. The 50% of the preselection vote determined by a local party ballot conducted on Monday saw 126 votes go to Watts, 105 to Kitching, 87 to Hall, 42 to McKinnon and four to Mason. Despite a preference deal between Kitching and Hall, that gave Watts a decisive lead going into Tuesday’s vote of the party’s Public Office Selection Committee, where the “stability pact” between the Shorten-Conroy Right forces and the Socialist Left reportedly assured him of about 70% of the vote. Andrew Crook of Crikey reports that Kitching, who had hoped to prevail with support from Turkish community leaders, was thwarted when the “Suleyman clan” (referring to an influential family in western suburbs politics) defected to Watts in exchange for support for Natalie Suleyman to take the number three position on the upper house ticket for Western Metropolitan at the next state election. A dirt sheet targeting Hall over her sexual history and involvement in the HSU was disseminated in the week before the vote, which has led to Kitching complaining to an ALP tribunal that Roxon had falsely accused her of being involved.
• Steve McMahon, chief executive of the NSW Trainers Association (as in thoroughbred horses) and former mayor of Hurstville, has won Labor preselection for the southern Sydney seat of Barton, to be vacated at the election by Robert McClelland. Much more on that in the next episode of Seat of the Week.
• Barnaby Joyce faces opposition at the April 13 Nationals preselection for New England in the shape of David Gregory, owner of an agricultural software business in Tamworth. Another mooted nominee, National Farmers Federation president Jock Laurie, is instead seeking preselection for the by-election to replace Richard Torbay in his Armidale-based state seat of Northern Tablelands.
• Tony Crook, who won the southern regional WA seat of O’Connor for the Nationals from Liberal veteran Wilson Tuckey in 2010, has announced he will not seek another term. The seat was already looming as a spirited three-cornered contest to match the several which had unfolded at the state election (including in the corresponding local seats of Kalgoorlie and Eyre), with the Liberals running hard and early behind their candidate, Katanning farmer Rick Wilson.
• Jason Tin of the Courier-Mail reports Chris Trevor will again be Labor’s candidate for the central Queensland seat of Flynn, having won the seat when it was created in 2007 before joining the Queensland Labor casualty list in 2010. Nicole Hodgson, a teacher, and Leanne Donaldson, a former public servant in child protection, were reportedly set to take on the thankless tasks of Hinkler and Fadden.
A package of electoral law changes made it through parliament last month in the shape of the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Improving Electoral Administration) Act 2013, despite opposition to some measures from the Coalition and Senate cross-benchers Nick Xenophon and John Madigan:
• If a ballot box is unlawfully opened before the authorised time, as occurred at two pre-poll booths in Boothby and Flynn at the 2010 election, the act now requires that the votes be admitted to the count if it is established that “official error” was responsible. The AEC requested the law be clarified after it acted on contestable legal advice in excluding the relevant votes in Boothby and Flynn from the count, which were too few to affect the result. In its original form the bill directed that the affected votes should be excluded, but Bronwyn Bishop successfully advocated for the savings provision when it was referred to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters.
• The Australian Taxation Office has been added to the list of agencies which can provide the Australian Electoral Commission with data relevant to enrolment. As usual with matters that touch on automatic enrolment, this was opposed by the Coalition, Xenophon and Madigan, but supported by all lower house independents and the Greens.
• Pre-polling will in all circumstances begin four days after the close of nominations, giving the AEC two more days to print and disseminate material to the voting centres. The Coalition took the opportunity to move for the pre-poll period to be cut from 19 days before polling day to 12, again with the support of Xenophon and Madigan. The change also eliminates a discrepancy where the date came forward a day if there was no election for the Senate, in which case the election timetable did not have to provide an extra day for lodgement of Senate preference tickets.
• Those casting pre-poll votes will no longer have to sign declaration certificates. A change in the status of pre-poll votes from declaration to ordinary votes was implemented at the 2010 election, allowing them to be counted on election night, but voters still had to sign a certificate. The AEC advised this was unnecessary, but the measure was nonetheless opposed by the Coalition, Xenophon and Madigan.
• The cut-off for receiving postal vote applications has been moved back a day from Thursday to Wednesday, acknowledging the near certainty that voting material posted to those who apply on the Thursday will not be received in time.
• The timetable for conducting electoral redistributions has been amended to allow more time for considering objections raised in public submissions.