Labor storms ahead in Victoria

There are many things about Australian politics that don’t make a lot of sense from a New Zealand perspective. One is the separation of state and federal governments. It’s funny because here in Melbourne, people seem to be far more interested in state politics, particularly at the moment as the Liberal government is limping along and trying to cling to power. It’s so fascinating that the state parliament’s website crashed on Tuesday because so many people were watching the stream of question time!

As you might expect, most of the state and territory governments are currently held by the Liberal/National coalition. Labor is only in power in South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT. Both SA and TAS come up to their elections soon, and it’s not looking good for the long standing Labor governments in those states.

However, here in Victoria, we’re seeing the opposite. After the Bracks/Brumby government lost power in 2010 Labor has been working their butts off in opposition, and its starting to pay dividends. Leader Daniel Andrews is often criticised for not setting the world on fire, but the solid performance from him and the entire Labor team is really paying off.

Today’s Age had a state political poll, and it’s great news for Labor. The opposition is now 8 points ahead of the government on a two party preferred basis. They lost a number of marginal seats in the lower house on very small margins, and with a swing like this, you’ll be seeing a landslide victory to Victorian Labor in 2014. Still, the election is a year away, and a lot can happen in politics. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens, and being part of the action!

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Green-spill

Having endured many gibes from Green Party members about internal democracy over the years, I have to admit that I did enjoy more than a moment of schadenfreude this morning when I saw the reaction to David Hay’s perfectly legitimate leadership challenge to co-leader Russel Norman.

Regardless of what you think of Hay, he is exercising a democratic right that the Green Party have long-held in very high regard – to the best of my knowledge though, this is the first time anyone has actually challenged a sitting leader.

No doubt the Green leadership will be annoyed – just when they are starting to get traction on offshore oil drilling, this distraction comes along. I know that is how many of the members feel.

I do think it seems odd that a sitting co-leader can be challenged from outside of Parliament, but I figure that it’s an important principle for a minor party to adhere to, given how shallow the talent pool in their caucus can be at times, particularly given their gender quota for leadership (for example, just before the last election the Greens only had three female MPs, one of whom was already a co-leader and one had already announced her retirement).

So here is a handy suggestion for the Greens to help them preserved their much vaunted internal democracy, while still being able to exude stability: a  petition. Institute a rule whereby anyone who wants to challenge a sitting co-leader is required to first get the signatures of a number of Green members. I don’t know what their membership numbers are like, but I’d suggest a threshold of 50 or so members seems sensible.

Being able to challenge an under performing leader is important. But so to is not letting one egomaniac destabilise the entire party.

Polity

My friend and former colleague Rob Salmond is one of the smartest guys I know. Hell, he even managed to get me to understand Bayesian inference!

He has recently left his last job at the Labour leader’s office and has setup his own consulting firm – Polity Analytics and Communications.

As well as a consulting firm, he’s also got a blog up and running. Take a read at polity.co.nz – I suggest you bookmark it, I certainly have.

Labour’s urban targets

After my previous post looking at Labour’s self-declared provincial targets, and potential seats that National might target in 2014, the next natural step is to look at the urban seats Labour might target. Here are some that spring out at me…

Auckland Central

The boundary changes in Auckland Central will make this a harder seat for Labour to win, but certainly not impossible. Over the last two years Jacinda Ardern has continued to work incredibly hard in this electorate, and has a huge public profile.

She’ll likely want to revise some of the campagin tactics she used in 2011, but defeating Nikki Kaye certainly isn’t out of the question next year.

Prediction: Too close to call

Kelston

The second new seat in Auckland, Kelston will be a Labour strong hold. Expect a massive scrap for the selection, with Carmel Sepuloni the likely favourite at this early stage.

Prediction: Labour gain

Maungakiekie

This seat used to be a Labour stronghold, until Carol Beaumont was selected to stand for Labour when Mark Gosche stood down in 2008. The revised boundaries make this an easier win for Labour, though I wouldn’t quite say that victory is certain.

It will be interesting to see if Labour continues to reward failure and re-selects Carol Beaumont, or uses Maungakiekie to bring some much needed fresh talent into Parliament.

Prediction: Labour gain

Hamilton West

Hamilton West is also made more challenging with its new boundaries, however it is still a seat that Labour needs to take seriously, especially if they start to see a lift in the polls.

That said, five time loser Sue Moroney is never going to be able to take the seat for Labour. It’s time that Labour uses Hamilton West to address its talent shortage in the Waikato and get some decent fresh blood in there.

It will be a very hard fight – but it is one Labour needs to take very seriously.

Prediction: National hold

Christchurch Central

In 2011 National managed to win Christchurch Central for the first time in it’s history, with a wafer thin majority of 47 votes.

The new boundaries make this a much safer seat for Labour, and with a decent campaign and an upswing in the polls, the seat is almost certain to return to Labour in 2014.

Again, like Kelston, it’s likely to be a very tough fight for the selection in what is going to over time become a safe Labour seat. I’ve already heard of several challengers, it will be interesting to see who prevails.

Prediction: Labour gain

National’s targets for 2014

I started this blog post by quickly writing up a list of seats which I think National may target in the 2014 elections. It didn’t take me long. Over the last few elections Labour has lost so many of its electorate seats there are virtually no swing seats still in Labour hands.

Which means that a goal of winning electorate seats off Labour is unlikely for whoever is the National leader when the 2014 election comes around. They are almost certainly going to focus their effort and resources on maintaining their current level of support, and perhaps doing some sensible electoral deals to ensure they still have coalition options after the election.

Still, there is a small handful of seats which the Nats may have their eyes on…

Upper Harbour

The only seat in the north island which National is sure to pick up is the new seat of Upper Harbour, at the far reaches of the Waitamata Harbour. Paula Bennett has already put her hand up for the seat, and will almost certainly get it. Interestingly, like the last new seat created in Auckland, Botanty, it is seen as a safe National seat right from day one. I have a theory that this in large part due to how disconnected Labour is to the heavily-morgtaged, hard working and aspirational Kiwis settling in the sprawling subdivisions at the periphery of the large cities, but that’s a topic for another blog post…

Prediction: National gain

Ohariu

Ohariu has been a solid blue seat for many years, and the latest boundary changes will only cement that. The only way Labour has ever had a chance at winning the seat is in a very strange three way split with Peter Dunne – if we had preferential votes for electorate seats, they would never even get close.

While there is still a reasonable chance that Peter Dunne could retain the seat, the days of him ever being able to bring in any more MPs in with him off the list are well gone. 2014 may very well be the right time for National to pounce and take the seat that they should have held for many years in their own right.

Interestingly, the latest boundary changes bring in Wadestown from Wellington Central, and with it, Wellington City Councillor, Jo Coughlan. If National do decide to take Ohariu seriously, expect Coughlan to be one of the leading contenders for the selection.

Prediction: National gain, if they want it

Port Hills

The seat of Port Hills was never natural Labour territory, but thanks to the very hard work of Ruth Dyson and her team she’s managed to keep the seat red. The people of Port Hills like Ruth and the work she does for them, despite the party she comes from.

Unfortunately, the boundaries for Port Hills have changed dramatically, bringing in almost 20,000 people from Banks Peninsular and Halswell from the seat of Selwyn.

Dyson’s only chance of staying in Parliament is if she gets a good list spot, because despite her good local profile, this seat is now very blue.

Prediction: National gain

Mt Roskill

Like Port Hills, Mt Roskill has long been served by a very hard working local MP, Labour’s Phil Goff. Ever since he was first defeated in 1990 and then worked his way back in 1993 he has taken nothing for granted in Roskill. He is a true local icon, loved by the electorate.

Unfortunately, just like Port Hills, the electorate boundary has changed substantially, now taking affluent chunks of Epsom and Maungakiekie, and losing working class New Windsor and Blockhouse Bay to New Lynn.

Phil’s personal majority is large enough that he can probably survive the boundary changes, but when he does move on, so too will the seat of Mt Roskill.

Prediction: Labour hold, while Goff still stands

 

Next in the series will be a look at which seats the minor parties might be targeting…

Cunliffe’s provincial targets for 2014

I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time, but yesterday’s announcement of the proposed boundary changes for the next two New Zealand general elections have finally given me all the material I need!

In New Zealand’s MMP system, the immediate electoral goal of any serious party is to gain enough of a share of the party votes so that they and their allies have enough of the seats in Parliament to form a government.

Because of this, it is easy to take a simplistic look at the voting system and totally write off the need to campaign for electorate seats – after all, if all you need to win government is enough party votes, why would you devote valuable resources to an electorate contest?

There are two very good reasons that campaigning for electorate seats should still be a priority under MMP (though of course, not as important as winning party votes).

The first is that by showing the electorate that you take their interests seriously, and are connected to them at a very local level (in my mind one of the keys to winning an electorate seat) you are more likely to improve your share of the party vote. Swing voters will take your party far more seriously if they have a local champion to relate to.

The second is far more tangible: resources. Electorate MPs get substantially more funding than list MPs (at least $60k – up to over $100k for large electorates, versus just $20k for list MPs). Not only that, but having an MP on the ground makes it far easier for parties to organise and run campaigns (generally – there are some notable exceptions to this on both sides of the equation).

Something that recently got my attention was an article in the Wairarapa Times Age where Labour leader David Cunliffe stated that he aims to win back five provincial seats at the 2014 election. They are: Wairarapa, Wanganui, Napier, New Plymouth and Te Tai Hauauru. My gut reaction was that this looks like a bit of a mixed bag of targets. Still, it’s good to see that Cunliffe is being bold enough to aim to win back seats outside of the major cities.

Now that the proposed boundaries have come out I’m going to take a look at Labour’s chance at winning in each of these seats. In further posts I’ll be looking at which urban seats Labour may target, and also potential targets for National and the minor parties.

So starting off, lets look at Cunliffe’s provincial targets for 2014…

New Plymouth

Despite a spirited campaign, Labour’s Andrew Little failed to unseat National’s Jonathan Young at the 2011 election. Massive gentrification and boundary changes have seen this seat go from being Labour’s safest seat in 2002 to National heartland. Labour will really have to take stock of their chances here after the surprise landslide defeat of Harry Duynhoven – former MP for New Plymouth, cabinet minister and the mayor for the previous term. The proposed boundary changes for 2014 see the electorate take in a large solid rural area to the south, from the Whanganui electorate. This will only further cement Jonathan Young’s majority.

Prediction: National hold

Whanganui

Whanganui is an interesting seat for Labour. As with New Plymouth, it is a seat that it has held in the not too distant past. Labour still wins the polling booths in the city of Whanganui very comfortably, but gets devastated in the rural hinterland. Labour did a reasonable job here in 2011, with their candidate, district councillor Hamish McDouall reducing Chester Borrows’ majority by a thousand. Hamish has just been re-elected as the highest polling candidate to the Wanganui District Council, and appointed Deputy Mayor.

As mentioned earlier, the top part of this electorate has been sliced off for New Plymouth, in exchange it has gained the town of Stratford from Taranaki-King Country. Staford is a fairly solid Labour town.

The combination of a decent boundary change, McDouall’s increased profile and a poll shift towards Labour are all very good portents. Labour will have to work very hard to win this seat, but in 2014 it is certainly in play.

Prediction: Labour gain

Napier

After receiving a disappointing list position in 2011, list MP Stuart Nash fought tooth and nail against the popular, well known local MP and up and coming cabinet minister, Chris Tremain. Despite little outside support and a massive nation-wide swing against Labour, Nash managed to slash Tremain’s majority from over 9000 to less than 4000. Unfortunately he didn’t make it back into Parliament on the list – but despite no longer having access to Parliamentary resources he has been working very hard in the electorate and continued to build his profile.

2014 is going to be a different ball game. Incumbent Tremain has announced he is standing down from Parliament. National will not be able to find a better local candidate, and they will almost certainly go into the race with a lower profile than Nash. Adding to that is a minor boundary change which moves 1500 people in the rural north out of the East Coast electorate and into Napier – this will be a challenge for Nash as it’s not his local stomping ground and it’s unlikely Labour will do particularly well in the area.

Labour still has a hard road ahead of it in Napier, but if anyone is going to put in enough work to turn the seat red, it’s going to be Stuart Nash. It’s now or never to turn the tide in the Hawkes Bay.

Prediction: Labour gain

Wairarapa

Of Cunliffe’s five provincial targets, Wairarapa is going to be the hardest to win. Despite running an excellent campaign in 2011, Labour failed to even dent the majority of National’s incumbent, John Hayes. Hayes is no star performer, regularly slammed by the local paper and in the twilight of his career. It’s likely that he will lose an upcoming selection battle and Labour will have to content with a much stronger opponent. The boundaries in 2014 are not changing, and it will remain a very challenging seat for Labour.

Prediction: National hold

Te Tai Hauauru

The only Maori seat in Cunliffe’s list of provincial targets. It’s a behemoth of a seat, stretching from Porirua in the south right up into the Waikato. Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia has held the seat since before the dawn of time, and despite it being the Maori Party’s safest seat, her announced retirement has squarely put the seat in play.

While the boundaries – which are not going to change for 2014 – make this a very difficult seat to campaign in, this will be a factor both for Labour and the Maori Party. The recent Ikaroa-Rawhiti by-election will provide Labour some comfort, the results there certainly make the Maori Party look like an electoral relic. However Labour will not be able to focus its resources on the seat as it did during the by-election.

Much of the result will therefore come down to who each party selects. I’ve heard a number of whispers about potential Labour candidates, some of which would be very good, and some disastrous. It’s really Labour’s seat to lose next year, but if they make an early misstep and pick a dud of a candidate that could very well happen.

Prediction: Labour gain

Interestingly, all of Cunliffe’s provincial targets are in the North Island (although Labour do already safely hold West Coast-Tasman and Te Tai Tonga in the South Island). And there is significant focus on the Wanganui-Taranaki region. There were are few other seats that I was surprised not to see on the list, Tukituki, Rotorua and Te Tai Tokerau spring to mind.

Stay tuned for my thoughts on Labour’s potential urban targets and those of the National and minor parties. Although these will take a lot more analysis given the proposed boundary changes.

Defending the legacy?

One of the great challenges of moving from government to opposition (and trust me, there are many), is deciding where to draw the line under defending the record of your party while in government.

It is not an easy thing to get right. It becomes even more difficult when your opposition leadership and senior members are all former cabinet ministers, who feel, understandably, that their own personal reputations are on the line.

I watched from outside Parliament in the period 2008-2011 when the New Zealand Labour Party, then led by very senior, able and extremely hard working former ministers at times really struggled with this. I’m not sure how obvious it was to the casual observer, but being able to attack the Government, while maintaining respect for the record of your previous administration, can be extremely difficult.

It has now been over two months since the conservative coalition took power at the Australian Federal election. And it hasn’t taken long for Tony Abbott to have to face his share of political crises. Very shortly after the election there were reports of some rather dodgy expense claims, mainly from coalition polticians. This was followed by the inevitable political scuffle that will eventuate when a party that campaigned against debt tries to raise the federal debt ceiling.

This week we’ve seen a major diplomatic crisis following revelations that Australia tapped the phones of Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife, and eight Goverment ministers.

It’s been a sorry state of affairs, and the diplomatic situation between Indonesia and Australia is rapidly deteriorating.

From a political point of view, aside from the conservative’s showing that international relations is all a bit too complicated for them, I’ve been most surprised by the very strong opposition that Labor has shown.

To his credit, Labor leader Bill Shorten was quick off the mark to call for the Australian Government to apologise…

I believe, for instance, that the example of the United States in the way that it handled a similar issue with Germany provides the opportunity for us to consider the same course of action.

He’s really gone out on a limb – putting aside the fact that this spying happened under a Labor government, and putting the onous back on Tony Abbott.

He followed it up the next day with this classy op-ed in the Guardian:

I can assure the Australian people that the opposition will fully cooperate in the task before Australia. We are willing to join the Abbott government in any effort, briefings or discussions in pursuit of the task of rebuilding trust within this key relationship. Labor wants the Australian government to be successful in restoring our vital relationship with Indonesia. That is what all sides need and want in Australia’s national interest – a recovery of trust.

To be honest, I’m really surprised that federal Labor is taking such a strong oppositional stance just months after a such a solid electoral defeat – but I think it sets a very good precident for things to come.