Tuesday, August 21, 2018


(This article will serve as rolling coverage of spill-related polling and other items.)

Tuesday morning

It's on! Turnbull vs Dutton.  Unfortunately because they are already in the party room, we don't get the wonderful drama of retinues of supporters walking the corridors behind their leader and so on.

Turnbull has defeated Dutton 48-35 but generally a margin that small is not sufficient to ward off a future challenge, which in this case could well happen soon.

Julie Bishop has been retained unopposed as Deputy Leader.

It is worth bearing in mind that with the exception of Malcolm Fraser (who was unsuccessfully challenged by Andrew Peacock) no Prime Minister who has faced a spill has remained in the job until the next election.  (Fraser lost).  Other PMs who have been challenged have all failed to make it to the next election: Gorton, Hawke, Rudd, Gillard and Abbott.  In four of these five cases it took two goes to get rid of the incumbent (it is little-known that Gorton was unsuccessfully challenged after winning the 1969 election with a disappointing margin).

GetUp! Monday night poll

The Guardian is reporting a national ReachTEL commissioned by GetUp! and taken last night before the poll.  The poll has a 51-49 2PP to the Coalition, from which it might be concluded that the 55-45 Ipsos is a rogue.  However, what in fact has happened is that the Coalition has been favoured by the use of respondent preferences.  Primaries were Liberal 31.2, National 3.9, Labor 33.7, Green 11.1, One Nation 7.9, Ind/Other 7.2, "undecided" 5.2.  I have not seen the breakdown of "undecided" but if they are redistributed proportionally then last-election preferences would be 53-47 to Labor, meaning that two points of the four-point difference is down to using respondent preferencing.

There should also be caution given that GetUp! are enemies of Dutton, having attempted to dislodge him at the previous election.  That said I generally find that ReachTEL - while willing to run just about any skewed follow-up question -  are good at not letting their sponsors interfere with the headline primary vote polling.

The poll results are similar to previous polling with Coalition voters supporting Turnbull from among a list of leaders.  In the first head-to-head poll that I've seen, Turnbull is preferred over Dutton 61.9% to 38.1% in a forced choice question.

There is also this:

Voters were also asked if they would be more or less likely to vote for the Coalition if Dutton became leader, and if the party adopted a more conservative policy stance.

Almost half (49.5%) said Dutton as leader would make them less likely to vote for the Coalition. The number was similar (49.7%) among Liberal voters. About 28% said they would be more likely to support the Coalition under Dutton’s leadership, while 23% said their vote would be unchanged.

(my emphasis)

I have been told that contrary to the impression given by the text above, the questions about the prospect of a leadership change and the prospect of a more conservative direction. Unfortunately the conservative direction question was asked first.

Questions about whether voters are more or likely to vote a certain way under certain circumstances are very unreliable. Partisan voters tend to respond dishonestly and other voters may be only very slightly more likely to change their vote. Asking how voters would vote if a change was made is better but still tends to overestimate actual changes.

Will There Be An Election? (Wednesday)

Lots of speculation about a potential early election - firstly in the form of Turnbull trying to avoid a challenge, secondly in the form of Dutton (or any other replacement; as I write there is a rumour re Scott Morrison) gaining the leadership and his government collapsing through crossbench defections or resignations from the parliament.

The first has been ruled out by Turnbull and was never viable.  It would have become immediately obvious that such an action, which would obviously result in a catastrophic result, did not have the support of the party.  The Governor-General might well have refused the request, as happened when Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen tried to procure a new Queensland election while not having the support of his party in 1987.

Regarding the second, Dutton's support on confidence in the House currently potentially consists of 76 Coalition MPs, minus the Speaker, plus reportedly Bob Katter (if there), for a margin of 76-73.  As with the temporary losses of John Alexander and Barnaby Joyce this would give the PM some wriggle room in the case of a crossbench defection or by-election, so it is not at all clear that one or two cases of MPs quitting or defecting in disgust would be fatal.  A defection has been talked about by National Darren Chester while there have been some claims Julie Bishop might quit parliament immediately.  It remains to be seen if any of this will come to anything or if it is all just posturing to try to stop a change.

In the event that a by-election were to occur, if Dutton (or any other replacement) faced a threat of a no-confidence motion, he would have the option of asking for parliament to be prorogued pending the outcome.  An example of this happened in Western Australia in 1971, where Premier Tonkin successfully requested a prorogation after the death of the Speaker caused him to lose his one-seat majority, leaving him unable to provide a new Speaker without being brought down by a no-confidence motion.  This prorogation happened early in the term and was controversial, so it is not clear that the precedent would be followed.  Of course, this could make matters even worse if the by-election then had an adverse result.

Dutton (or any other replacement) might also choose to go to an immediate election, but it is hard to see what the point of that would be, other than to get the loss out of the way as quickly as possible and perhaps avoid having to govern with a very depleted ministry.

Morgan (Wednesday)

Morgan has released one of its quick SMS polls on preferred PM, finding Turnbull leading Shorten 52-44.5 but Shorten leading Dutton 59-36.5.  Unfortunately no voting intention data were released.  Notably Coalition supporters prefer Turnbull over Shorten 86-9 but Dutton over Shorten 72-25. Labor supporters prefer Shorten over Turnbull 74.5-23.5 but Shorten over Dutton 89-9.  Surprisingly Ind/Others supporters supposedly prefer Shorten over Turnbull, a result I don't recall seeing in other polls.

I treat Morgan SMS polls with a high degree of scepticism because we don't know what percentage of invitees respond.  The method would seem prone to some of the same motivated-response issues as opt-ins.  The lack of primary vote data for benchmarking is also a worry.

Tonight there are reports of both ReachTEL and Galaxy in the field.

Thursday 9:40

All over for Turnbull (probably today) as Cormann, Cash and Fifield announce they are withdrawing support.  Turnbull must be finished; we now wait and see whether Dutton will face an opponent. Cormann has endorsed Dutton.

Kevin Hogan has declared he will sit on the crossbench, but will provide confidence and supply.  This alone is unlikely to force an election (indeed not being able to rely on votes in parliament was already a problem for Turnbull with the backbench rebellion over the NEG).  But we need to see what other damage the switch might cause.

Thursday 11:40

It looks like Scott Morrison is a candidate against Dutton, which may well result in attempts to delay a vote beyond today.  We have a CFMEU commissioned ReachTEL with a 53-47 2PP to Labor off primaries of Liberal 30.4 National 2.7 Labor 33.4 Green 10.3 One Nation 8.7 Ind/Other 7.4 "undecided" 7.2.  This would be about 53.9 by 2016 preferences after redistributing the undecided so 53-47 is realistic.  The poll also has leadership preferences of Turnbull 38.1 Bishop 29.2 Abbott 14 Dutton 10.2 Morrison 8.6.  There is a more likely/less likely poll that was asked as Question 2 (I am uncertain yet this is the same poll) that had 22.9% more likely and 55.5% less likely to vote for Dutton - see above about the defects of this sort of poll, but a 50.3% less likely (to 22.9% more likely) from Liberal supporters is extremely damning.

As I write it looks like the House of Reps could be adjourned for today to save the Coalition from a gruesome question time and take away some argument for an immediate vote.  However two weeks without a clear Prime Minister is probably unpalatable (because Australians are impatient) so there may well be a meeting later today.

Thursday 1:40

The current position is that there will be a meeting tomorrow at midday if sufficient signatories request it.  If a spill motion is carried Turnbull will resign. It sounds again like he will quit parliament immediately if this occurs, but the wording of the relevant comments was confused, so I am not at all sure this is the case.  It might well depend on the outcome.

Thursday 3:00

There is now speculation that Julie Bishop will also run.  Multi-candidate ballots are conducted in stages with the candidate with the least votes eliminated.

Thursday 4:10

There is now much stronger reporting that Bishop will run, and speculation Tony Abbott will too.

Thursday 6:30

Tony Abbott has said he isn't a candidate, which doesn't mean anything.  He said the same thing in 2009.  We are still waiting to see if the meeting will even go ahead, as the petition has not yet been presented.  The Dutton camp are complaining a lot about the petition process and confusing it with the "secret ballot" for the leadership.  A vote on the leadership is secret; a process to trigger an extraordinary meeting is not, because the signatures need to be verified.

Thursday 11:00

The Australian reports the party meeting is on tomorrow as the 43 signatures have finally been reached!

Friday 8:30

Despite reported confirmation from the PMO last night, we still have no firm evidence on the party room meeting being on, though it is generally expected it will.  A possible source of confusion was reports that one MP, Karen Andrews, was going to sign in the morning. There are now reports Warren Entsch will be the 43rd signature if necessary (but we still don't know for sure until they are produced if the other 42 exist.)

Friday 10:50

Solicitor-General advice indicates Dutton probably in the clear re Section 44 issues.  Legal commentators I respect on Twitter have suggested the equivocation in the opinion might be considered as a matter of caution and that the opinion is strongly in favour of Dutton's eligibility.  (I've not had time to read it in full yet.)

Friday 11:05

Some new polls today - firstly a new Morgan-SMS that finds that Julie Bishop would be easily preferred to Bill Shorten (by more than Malcolm Turnbull) but still says nothing about voting intentions under any new leader.

Secondly there are widespread reports of a ReachTEL of Dickson (Dutton's seat) finding that the residents of Dickson don't support the challenge (37.6-52.5).  However the poll was commissioned by the CFMMEU who are not big Dutton fans; also, the full order of questions has not been seen.  The question about the challenge was question 3, and may have come just after voting intention questions.

We still have a remarkable dearth of polling about possible voting intention impacts of the spill, unlike the Super Saturday leadup where such polling was available about the Labor leadership.  What we do have suggests the switch to Dutton is potentially catastrophic, so one wonders if the Dutton backers know better or if this is all a hunch that "the polls are wrong" and their man, once established, will pull a Trump. Or maybe they don't even care.  The switch from Kevin Rudd to Julia Gillard lacked reliable polling evidence to support it (and produced only a small bounce that disappeared within weeks) but this is something else entirely.  The switches from Gillard to Rudd and Abbott to Turnbull were well supported and delivered bounces, with some of the bounce being retained until the election - though in Gillard's case it is possible Labor would have recovered to a similar defeat had she not been removed.

Friday 11:25

Still no petition yet!  [Update 11:27 - ABC reporting the petition is in.]

11:50: Strong reports now that PM will quit parliament immediately following the meeting, but we still have to wait and see.  Signatures are being verified with reports the petition has exactly 43 including Entsch.

12:10 Meeting at 12:20.  Antony Green has stated categorically that there won't be a general election this year.  (I am also highly sceptical that there will be - I think the new PM will at least try to avoid a collapse.)

12:25 Not seeing the big supporter retinues behind the leaders often seen in past challenges (the size of which is not predictive). Dutton walked in with Matthias Cormann, Morrison had a few MPs some distance behind him who may have been his supporters, Bishop walked in alone, Turnbull walked in with Sinodinos, Laundy and security detail.  We now await the result.

12:31: Reports that counting is underway.

12:36: ABC reporting spill motion carried, so that's the end for Malcolm Turnbull. The spill motion was a rather close 45-40.

12:39 Bishop, Dutton, Morrison confirmed as candidates by ABC who are obviously getting messages from inside.  No Abbott.

12:44 ABC reports Bishop eliminated.

12:50 Multiple reports that Morrison has won 45-40.

1:04  Josh Frydenberg is deputy with a clear majority but no further detail on the margin yet.

2:25 Turnbull says he will be resigning his seat soon (which definitely sounds like before the next election.)

Regarding the margins of the earlier vote, William Bowe has written:

"Julie Bishop was eliminated after the first round: there are reports the vote was Dutton 38, Morrison 36 and Bishop 11. Josh Frydenberg replaces Julie Bishop after nearly eleven years as deputy, having won 46 votes against 20 for Steve Ciobo and 16 for Greg Hunt. "


  1. Not very pc but what will survive after a nuclear holocaust? Cockroaches and J Bishop as deputy leader of the Liberal party.

  2. Gorton famously lost the PMship after a tied vote (which meant he technically won the confidence motion, but he resigned anyway). But do you know what the vote was in the previous (unsuccessful) challenge?

  3. Not offhand and I don't believe an official margin was released, leading to various accounts. There were two challengers, Billy McMahon and David Fairbairn. An article on Crikey refers to Gorton claiming a 40-25 margin but a journo reporting 34-31. I think I did find another report of the contest once so I'll see if I can find it again.

    1. Thanks for your response Kevin. I had tried to find the info myself, but failed, and was curious why it was so obscure.

  4. Could getup be implying that it's closer than it is to drive up recruitment and donations?

    1. If there was to be a motive then it would be to encourage the Liberals to retain Turnbull, because Dutton being PM does not help GetUp! in their quest to cause Dutton to lose his seat.

    2. Actually if Dutton were to become PM he'd have to spend more time campaigning in other places and indeed other States, which might not help him in Dickson. And some loyal Liberals might be disgusted at the way he undermined Malcolm. So GetUp and Labor and Greens supporters might be quite happy for him to succeed - especially if it takes him a couple of goes and draws out the agony.

    3. But possibly Dickson is the sort of outer suburban seat where a conservative leader like Dutton (or Abbott) would probably be more popular than Tunrbull type?

    4. I have the same view as Jack re campaigning. As PM, Dutton would be spread pretty thin across the country (at least Qld and WA) in a federal election campaign. Not much time for door-knocking in his electorate.

  5. So if there's no f-ing way I would vote for the coalition in the first place, and they ask me "If Dutton was leader would you be more/less likely to vote for the coalition" and I answer "less likely", that's counted as part of the 49.5%? But it's meaningless!

    1. Exactly. These most likely/least likely poll designs are a load of garbage at the best of times. Many voters lie to them, some voters are poor at predicting their own responses, and some might be right in saying they are more/less likely but they might only be 1% more or less likely.

      That's even before the potential for wording to skew the result is considered.

  6. A fact about Peter Dutton most people seem to have forgotten is that he was declared the worst health minister....ever! Now the L/NP are looking to him as leader of the country? WTF has happened to our country?

  7. I don't give two stuffs about who leads this rabble. Sort out the so called leadership and call an election. Let the people be the arbiters of this whole sorry episode.

  8. ABC RN is claiming numbers in the 40's but not sure it is 43 yet

    1. Yes there is a lot of unclarity about this petition and whether it actually has the numbers or not. With so many false reports we can only believe it when we see it has been received.

    2. Yes someone last night even claimed that the bookies were taking bets on the number of signatures. Which presupposed that Malcolm or Dutts would reveal the precise number. Daft!

  9. Hi Kevin,
    Now that it has disappeared from the blog sidebar, what was the final spread of results on that Not-a-Poll for when Turnbull would lose the prime ministership?
    Also, the great surprise of this week has been the amazing act of self-destruction by Dutton to rush to a second challenge without guaranteeing his numbers, but it seems that Turnbull was instrumental in delaying the inevitable long enough for Morrison to pull his support together.

    1. That Not-A-Poll attracted 2492 votes; it had been going for so long that even when Turnbull was obviously toast the weight of old votes couldn't be shifted. Final results were:

      2019 at the election 30.7%
      First half 2018 17.66%
      Second half 2018 (correct) 16.81%
      Second half 2017 10.11%
      2019 after election 8.43%
      2019 before election 5.38%
      2021-22 3.09%
      2026 or later 2.61%
      First half 2017 2.17%
      2023-25 1.61%
      2020 1.44%

      In all 53.26% thought he'd last longer than he did. The same Not-A-Poll with Abbott also overestimated how long he would last.

  10. A couple of points:

    First, the (hand-picked by Brandis) Solicitor-General's 'advice' is hedged, naturally enough, but could be regarded as dubious in light of his earlier advice regarding Barnaby et al being wrong.

    Second, I find the poll putting Bishop ahead of Shorten in a head-to-head to confirm, possibly, my view that a little-changing proportion of Labor voters don't like the thought of Bill as PM as much as the thought of Labor in power. But I wouldn't have thought Bishop had the same faux 'lefty' appeal as Malcolm. Perhaps it's just her impeccable, expensive grooming that appeals? In any case, it is largely irrelevant now, since Bishop is nowhere unless or until Morrison gives her a job, which she will undoubtedly do with the same fashion-plate shallowness as always; vacuity ahead of acuity.

  11. The thing that I don't understand, and p'raps you can help me, Kevin, is that Peter Dutton SURELY knew he was going to lose the vote when he called the second spill motion on Friday. He would need 43 votes to become leader, and he needed 43 signatures on the petition to call the party meeting but there were several people who had said "I've put my name on the signature but won't vote for Dutton". So by simple maths, the number of people who would vote for Dutton would be less than 43. It doesn't make any sense.
    The only way it makes sense is if Dutton truly believed that getting Turnbull out was way more important than getting himself in, but if that were true then most of his actions from Monday through to Friday don't really make sense. Why would he put it out there he's a competitor if he's really not?

    1. The Dutton camp at various stages said that they believed there were another eight MPs who were voting for them but who were not willing to sign the petition. So they were claiming they had 48 votes - 40 of the 43 signatories plus another eight.

    2. Does that mean people were telling the Dutton camp "Yes, I'll vote for you" but bluffing? Surely that's a weighty betrayal that further demonstrates the disunity in the Liberal party at the moment!