This fortnight’s Newspoll is just like old times, with Labor bounding out of their recent trough to record a 56-44 lead, up from 52-48. Labor are up four points on the primary vote to 43 per cent, with the Coalition down three to 38 per cent and the Greens up one to 12 per cent. Kevin Rudd’s approval rating is up three to 51 per cent and his disapproval down two to 39 per cent, and his lead as preferred prime minister has widened seven points from 55-30 to 59-27. Tony Abbott’s approval rating is down three points to 44 per cent, with his disapproval up five to 43 per cent. Also featured are responses on the parties best to handle the economy (Labor leading 44 per cent to 39 per cent) and health and Medicare (Labor leading 48 per cent to 30 per cent). We have also had a confusing set of results today from Essential Research: Labor’s lead since last week is down from 56-44 to 54-46, but Tony Abbott has suffered a striking slump on his personal ratings, with approval down 45 per cent to 33 per cent since last month, with disapproval up from 36 per cent to 50 per cent.
State elections have prevented me maintaining coverage of preselections over the past few weeks, so brace yourself as I open the floodgates. The impending retirement of Bob McMullan and Annette Ellis means Labor preselections are in train for Fraser and Canberra, which are to be decided on April 24 – and as befits the two electorates which serve the nation’s capital, they are proving to be horrendously complicated.
• Michael Cooney, former adviser to Mark Latham and Kim Beazley and current chief-of-staff to ACT Education Minister Andrew Barr, has withdrawn from the race to succeed Annette Ellis as Labor candidate for Canberra after initially being touted as the front-runner. In the ACT Legislative Assembly last week, Liberal MLA Vickie Dunne claimed to have been told by Labor front-bencher John Hargreaves that the Prime Minister was preparing to block Cooney’s ascenscion by having the national executive intervene, a story broadly corroborated by sources quoted in the Canberra Times. Dunne further claimed Hargreaves was willing to surrender his Assembly seat to Mick Gentleman, who lost his seat in the 2008 ACT election, in return for Left support for his wife’s bid for Canberra. If that was indeed in prospect, Cooney thwarted it by withdrawing from the race and throwing his support behind Mary Wood, an adviser to Housing Minister Tanya Plibersek. Wood duly defeated Jenny Hargreaves in a vote to choose Cooney’s successor as the endorsed candidate of the Centre Coalition faction, prompting Hargreaves to withdraw from the race as well. Such is the Centre Coalition’s strength in ACT branches that The Canberra Times now rates Wood the front-runner. Also in the field are Brendan Long, former staffer to Joel Fitzgibbon, and David Garner, former staffer to Simon Crean and Joe Ludwig, both of the Right; and former CFMEU official Louise Crossman, of the Left.
• On Saturday, James Massola further reported “party strategists” were seeking a deal between the Centre Coalition and the Left in which Mary Wood would get Left backing, and the Centre Coalition would support the Left’s Nick Martin bid to succeed Bob McMullan in Fraser. This was to involve the withdrawal of Louise Crossman in Canberra and David Peebles in Fraser, although I’m informed the latter has in fact already done so. However, an attempt by the Left leadership to win the endorsement of its rank-and-file was defeated earlier this week by one vote, which according to a Canberra Times source resulted from concern that such a deal would unite all other factions against Martin, along with doubts the Centre Coalition would be able to retain a united front. A Left source told the paper there was a view the faction would be better off securing an arrangement with Gai Brodtmann, who has stitched together a cross-factional support base in her bid for Canberra. Other candidates for Fraser are University of New South Wales constitutional law maven George Williams, a member of the Right, and the non-aligned Andrew Leigh (professor of economics at the Australian National University), Michael Pilbrow, Chris Bourke, Philip Ironfield, Christina Ryan, Richard Niven, Mike Hettinger and Jim Jones.
But never mind Canberra. What’s going on in Queensland, you ask? Hell, what isn’t.
• Queensland’s Liberal National Party has raised many an eyebrow by preselecting Wyatt Roy, a 19-year-old University of Queensland politics student, as its candidate for highly marginal Longman. According to Madonna King in the Courier-Mail, Roy won the local preselection vote over former Caboolture councillor Peter Flannery and local businessman Steve Attrill on the second ballot after “80-odd local selectors were impressed with his talking ability”, and the decision was endorsed by the party’s state council on Saturday. Mal Brough, who was defeated by Labor’s Jon Sullivan in 2007, has told The Australian he finds it “hard to see how a 19-year-old will connect” with the electorate’s “large component of veterans and seniors”. According to a rumour published in Crikey, Roy’s preselection caused a division between McIver and state party treasurer Barry O’Sullivan, who “has indicated he will withhold funds to the Longman campaign”.
• There’s a similar story in the Brisbane seat of Moreton, where Labor’s Graham Perrett unseated Gary Hardgrave in 2007 and holds a post-redistribution margin of 6.2 per cent. The Liberal National Party has nominated Michael Palmer, the 20-year-old son of mining not-quite-billionaire Clive Palmer, who ran in the safe Labor seat of Nudgee at last year’s state election.
• Also confirmed as a Liberal National Party candidate is Ken O’Dowd, owner of Busteed Building Supplies in Gladstone and further described by the Central Queensland News as a “racing identity”, who will run against Labor’s Chris Trevor in Flynn.
• The Liberal National Party has chosen John Humphreys, formerly a big wheel of the libertarian Liberal Democratic Party, to run against Kevin Rudd in Griffith. Labor has wasted no time in exploiting a comment he made last year calling for the age pension to be scrapped, naturally stripping it of its context: a speech delivered at the “Festival of Dangerous Ideas” in Sydney.
• The status of Liberal member Michael Johnson’s endorsement in Ryan is currently on hold pending investigation of his expenditure records and fundraising activities. Peter Foley of the Queensland Times reports “party sources are speculating Brisbane City councillor Jane Prentice could replace Mr Johnson if he is disendorsed”. Labor’s preselection for the seat is a contest between Steven Miles and Martin Hanson, the former rated the favourite by Emma Chalmers of the Courier-Mail, despite backing for the latter from the Prime Minister’s Labor Unity faction.
• In Bonner, the Liberal National Party is giving Ross Vasta a chance to recover the seat he lost to Labor’s Kerry Rae in 2007.
• Labor’s national executive has installed three marginal seat candidates in what The Australian reported as a deal granting Herbert to the AWU sub-faction of the Right, Dawson to its rival Labor Unity sub-faction and Bowman to the Left. The respective candidates are former Townsville mayor Tony Mooney, who won the nod despite local support for councillor Jenny Hill; Whitsunday mayor Mike Brunker, who was picked over Julieanne Gilbert of the Queensland Teachers Union and finance industry worker Louise Mahony; and “local businesswoman and mother of two” Jenny Peters. The candidate for Bowman in 2007, Jason Young, reportedly lost his Left faction’s backing late last year due to his campaigning against the Bligh government’s asset sales in his capacity as an Electrical Trades Union organiser. Sean Parnell of The Australian reports Brunker faces the difficulty of a “lengthy Crime and Misconduct Commission investigation over his links with property developers”.
• Bundaberg’s News-Mail newspaper reports Fraser Coast deputy mayor Belinda McNeven has been preselected unopposed as Labor candidate for Hinkler, which Paul Neville of the Nationals holds by a post-redistribution margin of 1.5 per cent. Sean Parnell of The Australian reported that Neville fought off unnamed “vultures” to retain Liberal National Party preselection, despite being 69 years old and suffering health problems.
• Sean Parnell of The Australian reports Labor’s preselection candidates for the new Queensland seat of Wright, Andrew Ramsey of the Left and Sharon Murakami of Labor Unity, will face off in a local ballot on April 17.
• Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union assistant secretary Kevin Harkins today announced he would seek Senate preselection. This causes a problem for the Prime Minister, who vetoed his preselection for Franklin before the 2007 election to avoid giving traction to Coalition scare campaigns about union heavies. It was reported at the time that the pill had been sugared with offers of “an elevated union position, increased salary and a future Senate seat”, but Kevin Rudd proclaimed last year that the chances of the latter transpiring were “buckley’s and none”. Harkin nonetheless retains the support of the Left faction for one of the two safe Labor Tasmanian Senate seats, with reports last year suggesting they could go to Helen Polley of the Right and either Harkins or Anne Urquhart of the Left. Incumbent Kerry O’Brien was reportedly set to face demotion to the loseable third position. Harkins was in the news a fortnight ago when it was alleged he had been paying for workers’ party memberships.
• Susan Templeman has been officially preselected as Labor candidate Macquarie. Damien Madigan of the Blue Mountains Gazette reports her main rival, Blue Mountains mayor Adam Searle, withdrew before the March 20 local party ballot complaining a “fair” vote was not possible. Templeman’s only opponent was former policewoman Donna Ritchie, whom she defeated 84 votes to 34.
• Ben Raue at The Tally Room reports Greens state party secretary Tony Hickey has been preselected for the state seat of Sydney, and former Marrickville mayor Sam Byrne has got the nod in Anthony Albanese’s federal seat of Grayndler.
• Wayne Merton, Liberal member for the New South Wales state seat of Baulkham Hills, has announced he will not contest the next election. This looks set to unleash a second round of David Clarke-versus-Alex Hawke turf warfare, with one of the candidates being David Elliott, who last month attempted to topple Clarke from his upper house seat. The Clarke forces will either back Damien Tudehope, Australian Family Association spokesman, or Mike Thomas, deputy mayor of The Hills Shire. Elliott had earlier planned to contest the less attractive prospect of Riverstone, which Andrew Clennell of the Sydney Morning Herald reports now looms as a contest between Kevin Connolly, a Catholic Education Office project officer backed by David Clarke, and Nick Tyrell, a Blacktown councillor. Clennell also reports restaurateur Peter Doyle has won the backing of Peter Debnam to succeed him as member for Vaucluse at the next state election, and is likely to win further backing from Right powerbrokers Chris Hartcher and Mike Gallacher.
• Menios Constantinou of the Wentworth Courier reports Bruce Notley-Smith won last weekend’s Liberal preselection for the New South Wales state seat of Coogee, held for Labor on a margin of 7.1 per cent, with 48 votes against 21 for David Shalhoub and three for Bruce Morrow. Edward Mandla and Justin Owen were late withdrawals.
• The WA Nationals, no doubt flush with funds from the backing of aforementioned Queensland mining not-quite-billionaire Clive Palmer, are screening regional television ads to advance their cause at the federal election. These seem to me every bit as potent as the ones that powered their breakthrough at the state election. There’s this one for Senate candidate John McCourt, and this for Lynne Craigie, who will contest the new seat of Durack against the Liberal member for Kalgoorlie, Barry Haase.