GhostWhoVotes reports that Newspoll shows little change from a fortnight ago, with the Coalition’s two-party lead down from 59-41 to 58-42. However, it wouldn’t be a current opinion poll if there wasn’t an unpleasant twist for the government, and this time it’s a new low on the primary vote of 26 per cent, down a point on last time. The Coalition are down as well, by two points to 48 per cent, with the Greens up one to 13 per cent. Julia Gillard’s personal ratings have recovered from last week’s disaster, although they are still the second worst she has ever recorded: her approval is up four to 27 per cent and disapproval down seven to 61 per cent. Tony Abbott has failed to hold on to an improvement recorded last time, his approval down five to 34 per cent and disapproval up two to 54 per cent, and his lead as preferred prime minister has narrowed from 43-34 to 40-35.

This week’s Essential Research shows no change in voting intention, and indeed the series has not recorded any shifts worth mentioning since mid-June. The current scores are 32 per cent Labor, 49 per cent Coalition and 10 per cent Greens, with the Coalition leading 56-44 on two-party preferred. Further questions find respondents believe to be the world in general and Australia in particular to be less safe than at the time of the September 11 attacks; little change in opinion on the carbon tax, with support down two points since August 1 to 37 per cent and opposition up one to 52 per cent; continuing broad support for the idea when it is specifically tied to compensation and investment in renewable energy; a belief nonetheless that the current scheme has been rushed; and a confused picture on whether governments should control either or both houses of parliament (though it is clear not many would opt for neither).


• A by-election looms in the north coast NSW state seat of Clarence following the resignation of Nationals MP Steve Cansdell. Cansdell has admitted to signing a false statutory declaration so that a staff member could take the blame for a 2005 speeding offence, which would otherwise have cost him his licence. The last time there was a by-election in the Grafton-based seat, in 1996, the result was a triumph for Labor: months after losing his seat of Richmond at the federal election, Labor candidate won the seat from the Nationals with a swing of 14.0 per cent, adding a handy buffer to what had previously been the one-seat majority of Bob Carr’s government. This time, Labor need not bother fielding a candidate: after winning the seat on Woods’s retirement in 2003, Steve Cansdell consolidated the Nationals’ hold in 2007 before picking up a swing of nearly 20 per cent in the electoral avalanche that was the March state election, pushing his party’s margin above 30 per cent.

• The Prime Minister has flagged support for trials of American-style “primaries” as part of its preselection process for some Coalition-held seats ahead of the next election. In keeping with the recommendation of the post-election review conducted by Bob Carr, Steve Bracks and John Faulkner, 20 per cent of a preselection ballot will be determined by those willing to register as official party “supporters”. Sixty per cent will be determined by branch members and 20 per cent by affiliated trade union members. The NSW Labor Party has resolved to follow a more radical path in five electorates before the 2015 state election, with 50 per cent determined by primaries and the remainder determined by branch members and unions. Two such experiments were conducted last year, by the NSW Nationals in Tamworth and Victorian Labor in Kilsyth. The former was a highly successful effort in which 4293 voters participated in the selection of Kevin Andrews, who duly unseated independent incumbent Peter Draper; the latter was something of a damp squib, attracting only 170 participants and selecting an electorate officer who did nothing to hold back the anti-Labor tide. The lesson seems to be that a degree of community enthusiasm is requried for the procedure to be worth the effort. This is least likely to be forthcoming when the party is not a serious prospect of winning the seat, and most likely in areas where the party is traditionally strong. Herein lies the catch: it is not in such areas where party branches are moribund, which is the very ill that primaries presume to cure. All that being so, trials in Coalition-held seats do not seem greatly promising at a time when every indication suggests seats will be swinging the other way.

• Antony Green has published analyses of the New South Wales election in March and the Queensland election of October 2009. Among other things, these tell us that the respective two-party splits were 64.2-35.8 to the Coalition, with exhausted minor party votes accounting for 12.9 per cent of the total formal vote; and 50.5-49.5 to Labor, with 7.7 per cent exhausting. In New South Wales, Labor’s primary vote of 25.6 per cent was its worst result since 1904, while the Coalition’s 51.8 per cent was its best result since 1932.

• The delicate balance in the Northern Territory’s Legislative Assembly shifted a fortnight ago when Alison Anderson, who won her outback seat of MacDonnell as a Labor member in 2008 and quit the party the following year, joined the Country Liberal Party. The numbers in the chamber are now 12 each for the Labor government and CLP opposition, with Nelson independent Gerry Wood continuing to provide Labor with a decisive vote on confidence and supply.

• The New South Wales government has introduced a bill that will ban donations to political parties from organisations of any kind, and include spending by affiliated unions within caps on party spending during election campaigns. One of the Keneally government’s final acts was to set caps of $9.3 million on electoral communications spending by parties and $100,000 for each candidate, and to ban donations from the alcohol, gambling and tobacco sectors.