Saturday, May 8, 2021

Senate Surprise: Abetz Demoted To Third

News has just come through that Tasmanian Liberal preselectors have released a ticket with Senator Jonathon Duniam first, Senator Wendy Askew second and Senator Eric Abetz third.  This comes as a surprise after recent Fontcast gossip that suggested Abetz and Duniam would fight out the top spot on the ballot with Askew to be placed third (gender issues notwithstanding).  Askew has only been a Senator for just over two years since being appointed to a casual vacancy.  

Previously Abetz had been on top of the Senate ballot four times in a row since being first appointed to the Senate on a casual vacancy.  Previous pretenders to the top position Guy Barnett and Richard Colbeck were demoted by preselectors to risky positions where they subsequently lost their seats.  (Barnett went into state politics where he has been successful, while Colbeck returned to the Senate after the disqualification of Stephen Parry and topped the 2019 ticket).  

On the ballot for the number 1 position, it has been reported Abetz polled 29 votes, Duniam 26 and Askew 12 but after preferences Duniam won 36-31 with a 10-2 split off Askew.  On the ballot for the second position Askew then won 35-32.  

This followed a period in which there was an unusual level of media interest in my past analysis of Abetz's possible influence on Tasmanian results and the propensity of the few voters who vote all the way to put Abetz last.  I understand that some supporters of Senator Duniam also drew attention to a recent pattern in the House of Representatives in which in 2010 and 2016 (Abetz years) the party won no Tasmanian seats while in 2013 and 2019 it won three and two seats respectively.   (It wasn't always thus, since in the Abetz year 2004 the Liberals won two seats that were both lost back in 2007.)

The fight for top place on the ticket was not a moderates-vs-conservatives fight; Senator Duniam also comes from the conservative side of the party (and is indeed a former Abetz staffer) though he has so far been much less controversial than Abetz.  Rather it represents generational renewal - Duniam is 38 and is Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries and Assistant Minister for Regional Tourism, while Abetz is 63 and has been out of the ministry since Tony Abbott was dumped as Prime Minister.  

What are Abetz's chances?

The Tasmanian 2021 or 2022 Senate contest is significant in that for the first time since the 2013 increase in minor party Senate voting, Jacqui Lambie will not be a candidate.  Her Network is seeking to run Senate candidates but it remains to be seen who they would be and if they would get much support.

The 2019 Tasmanian Senate primary votes were:

Liberal 2.20 quotas
Labor 2.14
Greens 0.88
Jacqui Lambie Network 0.62
One Nation 0.24
United Australia 0.18
Shooters 0.12
Animal Justice 0.09
HEMP 0.08
National 0.08


Note that Labor overtook the Liberals during the count and the actual finishing order was Liberal-Labor-Liberal-Green-Labor-Lambie-(these not elected)-One Nation-Labor-Liberal.

There was a (very unsuccessful) National ticket because Steve Martin had joined the Nationals after replacing Lambie when Lambie was disqualified under Section 44.  

If I imagine Lambie's ticket didn't run at all and redistribute their votes the leaders based on the 2019 results would look something like this (I have done this rather roughly)

Liberal 2.29 quotas
Labor 2.29 (see note)
Greens 0.93
One Nation 0.36
UAP 0.235
Shooters 0.155
HEMP .11


Note re Labor: the Labor figure is bolstered by preferences from Lambie to Lisa Singh who was a prominent below the line candidate from 4th on the Labor ticket after winning entirely on BTL votes in 2016.  

The thing here is that after the first five seats for 2 Liberal 2 Labor 1 Green, nobody has very many votes.  So unless the Lambie Network manages to get a vote close to its 2019 vote, this opens up the sixth spot as a race between Liberals, Labor, potentially One Nation if their vote doesn't crash, JLN or any other fourth party that can muster decent support.  The major parties tend to outperform the minor parties on preferences so the Liberals could be in the mix even off their 2019 vote or slightly higher.  So the third seat is a maybe-maybe not proposition for the Liberals.  In a good year without Lambie on the ballot they should win it.  In a bad year, Labor or a minor party will.  (2019 was about an average year by the standards of recent decades in terms of the Tasmanian Reps 2PP, but would have been a slightly better than average year for the Coalition without the Jessica Whelan mishap in Lyons.)

Historically the Liberals have fairly often won three seats out of six in Tasmania.  This happened in 1990, 1996, 2001, 2004 and probably would have happened in 2013 had that election not used Group Ticket Voting.  Recent cases where they failed were mostly Harradine or Lambie years, except for 2007 and 2010.

The other avenues for Abetz to theoretically win the seat as a Liberal are:

1. He polls so high a below the line vote that he wins the second Liberal seat instead of Askew.
2. He polls a high below the line vote and this assists the party to win three by keeping Askew below quota thus allowing Abetz to run ahead of the party total.

Lisa Singh was unable to pull either of these off in 2019 and I don't think Abetz will be doing anything like it either.  The problem is that even with around 30% of Tasmanians voting below the line, the BTL candidate still receives very weak preference flows.  To achieve feat 1 a primary vote of somewhere around 10% would be needed.  Feat 2 might be achievable off slightly less than that, but not much less, because even if the top two start on, say, 1.8 quotas, the #2 candidate can still get dragged across the line by minor party preferences.  Maybe if no other party had much, 7% for the third candidate could be enough to make a difference.  Singh polled 5.7% in the 2019 half-Senate election.  My feeling is very much that Abetz's fate, assuming he contests (and that the result is not overturned for any unforseen reason) will be determined by his party's total vote.  

The "save Eric" factor may well attract some votes to the party (in the form of BTLs) that they would otherwise not get, as well as Liberal voters voting BTL for him to juggle their order.  But I don't think there will be all that many of the former.  

Update (11 May): In an interview today Senator Abetz claimed his dumping to third was overwhelmingly a case of ageism and sexism.  Abetz tried to claim his election in first position in the 2016 Senate race was evidence of his popularity and as an argument for that said that his below the line vote had caused him to be elected ahead of the top Labor candidate.  The facts on this are that the Labor above the line vote for Tasmania in the Senate race that year exceeded the Liberal above the line vote by one vote.  Abetz therefore needed to get just two more below the line votes than the Labor #1 to be elected first.  The Labor #1 was Anne Urquhart, one of Labor's famously low-profile Tasmanian Senators who only a tiny percentage of the population could name.  Of course Abetz did succeed in this task, but that's no evidence of popularity, since Urquhart's BTL vote was only 1.32% (14.6% of all Labor's Tasmanian BTLs.)  Abetz polled 2.57% BTL, but was outpolled on BTLs by Richard Colbeck in both 2016 (3.97%) when Colbeck's seat was on the line and 2019 (4.35%) when it wasn't.


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  2. I expect that Abetz being in third position will mean that there is significant BTL preference leakage from the Liberal ticket where it hurts/can effect the outcome.

  3. Would be very interested to hear your thoughts on a prospective Hicky senate tilt. The media would love it, with a Hickey vs Abetz fight potentially promoted as the next best thing since the 1971 Rumble in the Jungle. The JLN candidate, whoever that may be, would be unlikely to poll as much as Sue. With Jacqui Lambie's blessing (she spoke well of Sue yesterday) she may potentially capture JLN preferences. I reckon she would stand a good chance, particularly if COVID lingers and the Federal management (or lack thereof) of quarantine continues.

    1. I've also been wondering about a possible Hickey Senate tilt, assuming she doesn't pull off a miracle to grab the fifth seat in Clark. If this Liberal preselection stands, I'll still have great pleasure in giving my last BTL number to Senator Abetz.

    2. That is an entertaining concept! Hickey, if she was interested, would need to either join or very quickly form a party (500 members required) because we saw from last time with Garland that a non-party group isn't viable because of voter confusion. In theory in the absence of Johnston, Hickey could poll at least 15% in Clark and you don't need too much in the rest of the state on top of that to be potentially in the mix. The other thing to be considered here is whether Hickey - if she did want to run at all - might have any interest in running *as* a JLN candidate. For all I know she might not want to go to Canberra and therefore might be totally disinterested.

    3. I get the impression that the main voter demographics of Lambie and Hickey are different, given the location of Hickey`s stronger booths in southern Hobart and Lambie`s more battler demographic. So a separate Hickey party, which Lambie could direct preferences to, would probably be a better party for Hickey.

      A hypothetical Senator Hickey would presumably help a ALP government (if hypothetically one is elected at the next election or the election after) on many non-economic issues but much less on economic issues, where as Lambie would be comparatively the other way around.

    4. The challenge is that parties can direct preferences all they like but in the Tasmanian Senate virtually nobody follows how to vote cards.

    5. Issues relevant to Hickey prospects may include the extent she can leverage the current sexism debate, how well she might be able to quickly build Northern support, how well she may be able to capture the small 'l" liberal vote given that the entire Liberal ticket is quite conservative, the level of support from key independents including Lambie, Wilkie and Johnston. Also, having a strong view on Federal issues would help, eg joining the "Fed Gov have stuffed up quarantine" would be a good place to start.

    6. Hi Kevin, I just noticed a possible glitch with the blog, comments would appear to disappear after pressing "preview".

    7. Hickey is probably best placed to make use of "X or Abetz" campaigning, but the fact Abetz was demoted gets in the way of most other messages to small-l Liberal voters. JLN could help get her started in the North though it isn't a clean fit.

      Is it widely known in Tasmania that Duniam is as conservative as Abetz? It certainly isn't nationally (Duniam is still an unknown)

    8. I suspect it would mostly be political tragics here who had any idea of where Duniam lined up within the party. As with most Tasmanian Senators he is still not particularly high profile.

      Re comments glitch (comments above): not sure what would cause that and can't find any info about it yet. I can preview comments OK without them disappearing so it may be specific to certain browsers/systems/computers/etc.

  4. 2018 state election JLN won 3.16% of the vote without Lambie on the ticket, which i believe is roughly .22 of a quota - doesnt seem enough to really challenge. also it's hard to imagine the greens getting over a quota to be able to distribute preferences to help ALP get the last seat. liberals got over 50% of the vote in the 2018 state election but only 31.5 of the vote in the 2019 senate election, so state/senate voting can't be treated as too much of a guide. interesting times.

  5. This is punditry but I can see this being a deliberate strategic move once Duniam had the numbers.

    The goal will be to get "right of Liberal"/"up yours" voters who voted for JLN or PHON in 2019 to vote for outspoken anti-establishment firebrand Abetz instead and secure the 6th wildcard seat for Liberals.

    Far right social media has an interesting relationship with the Liberals. They include Liberals as part of the various problems they talk about, even if they celebrate Labor losses. However they champion Christensen, Kelly, Molan etc. even as they reliably vote along Liberal party lines. A rogue Abetz campaign will help get these votes to a Liberal ticket.

    I don't think Askew has a constituency like that (or like what Lisa Singh pulled off in 2016, which aimed for Centrist 3rd party and Green voters).

    Meanwhile Liberals may get a small boost from major party swing voters with the news that Abetz is goner, and their Liberal vote isn't a vote for Abetz.

    1. Abetz is not a definite goner, he his election or otherwise is what people who choose to or not to vote Liberal are choosing and and decent Senate campaign can take advantage of that (particularly in Tasmania, with its higher level of STV literacy).

      I suspect a hypothetical Hickey campaign would target moderate Liberal voters on just this point, with the Liberals loosing both Primary votes and #3 BTL preferences to Hickey. If this pushes the Liberal primary (excluding Abetz votes) bellow 2 quotas (probably difficult but maybe not impossible, the Libs were bellow quotas in 2019, all be it with Lambie taking votes off them), it would be very difficult for Abetz to win.

  6. I think "Save Eric" will be a factor, but it will be more "up yours" than anything positive about Eric Abetz. That's also the factor that could get 2019 Lambie voters even though she's to the left of the Liberals on many issues. Something like this:

  7. If abetz has to rely on btl votes I think he's toast as in not a chance. How many did he get last time? 29? I wish I could put my personal opinion of this thing on here but I know it wouldn't get published so not much point. Toodles

    1. Abetz got 8,709 BTLs (2.57%) - by comparison the Labor ticket leader who is extremely low profile got 1.32%. Colbeck got a lot more BTLs than Abetz both in 2016 when he was at risk and 2019 when not.

    2. How many last votes did Erica get?

    3. He got 3202 #58s, which is 40.3% of all #58s. I was told his share of all last places rose slightly once one includes cases where the voter numbered every box but made an error.

  8. It seems to me there may be parallels with Jim Molan's quixotic bid for a Senate seat from lower down the Liberal (and National) ticket. Now, obviously Molan, running in NSW would have needed to attract a much much larger absolute number of votes to achieve the same percentages, and in a state with less of a tradition of voting below the line than Tasmania, but at least in terms of the kinds of voters Abetz would be hoping to attract they seem quite similar. Do you think there are any useful data to be gleaned from Molan's results?

    1. Sorry, I was going to reply to this and got distracted. The significant thing with Molan was he did get 2.9% in a state with no tradition of BTL voting, so there must be potential for Abetz to get at least a few times that if a concerted campaign is run. That said there was an extra factor in the Molan campaign which was the prospect of stealing a seat from the Nationals; this may have made voting BTL for Molan especially attractive to inner city Liberals irrespective of their ideology. I'll be interested to see if we do see a prominent Abetz BTL campaign similar to that for Molan. In terms of areas to target, I suspect they'd especially go for conservative areas in the south of the state, eg Kingston which was one of the few areas where Abetz BTL was higher than Colbeck BTL in 2016.

    2. A significant and successful BTL campaign for Abetz, of the Molan campaign on Hare-Clark steroids variety, could put Askew noticeably under a quota after the distribution of Duniam`s surplus and soak up a lot of ATL preferences getting her elected.

      Molan did better in the strongly Liberal areas, Eden Monaro and Calare, so it was more likely a conservative vote to defeat moderates than an anti-Nat vote, I estimate.

      The Tasmanian Senate election is looking highly likely to be the most psephologically interesting of the coming election.