Australia will see a super Saturday of five byelections probably in early July, but the results could be as confusing as the latest round of opinion polls.
Attempts to paint the polls in four states as a mini general election are misguided, according to one veteran Liberal MP. He cites the 1982 byelection in the seat of Flinders. The Liberals won it only to lose the 1983 general election.
It was no harbinger of the national mood. In 2018 getting a handle on that mood is not being helped by the latest batch of opinion polls.
Newspoll has it lineball for the government and opposition. Ipsos Fairfax has Labor comfortably ahead.
But an analysis of the most recent published national polls suggests Newpoll is the outlier. The average of the polls gives Labor a 4.5 per cent lead. This maintains the trajectory towards the opposition of the past 18 months.
Polling analysts are somewhat baffled by Newspoll’s secret method that takes into account One Nation votes in WA and Queensland at the recent state elections. It does this while at the same time asking voters to nominate their preference flow.
The government appears more nervous about Super Saturday than the opposition.
Already we are seeing the Liberals employ strange tactics ahead of the by-elections. They have decided not to front up in the hitherto Labor seats of Fremantle and Perth – despite a view in Perth at least they would have a good show of an upset.
The theory is that by not running the Prime Minister they won’t have to put his neck on the line over the distribution of GST proceeds, a red-hot issue across the Nullarbor.
Promises to fix the distribution in Perth could well come at the expense of more generous allocations to Tasmania and South Australia and to a lesser extent Queensland – the other states where byelections will be held.
The Tasmanian seat of Braddon takes in seats that performed well at the recent state election for the Liberals.
In other words, senior minister and WA powerbroker Mathias Cormann is doing his best to quarantine the Liberals from the sort of wedge they are planning for Labor. That’s the one that wants to play humane refugee sentiment in seats like Fremantle and Perth against a presumed hardline in the Queensland seat of Longman.
The gamble may well pay off. Longman, held by the slenderest of margins by Labor’s Susan Lamb – caught up in the dual-citizenship fiasco – changed hands in 2016 thanks to One Nation preferences.
Bill Shorten campaigned in the seat on Monday culminating in a town hall meeting. He’ll need to run hard, as Senator Hanson has issued him an ultimatum: put the Greens last or she will preference the Liberals ahead of Labor this time.
Mr Shorten has no choice but to call her bluff. He throws back at her One Nation’s voting record in the Senate and particularly its support for the corporate tax cuts.
Several polls have shown a clear majority of One Nation voters are opposed to the last stage of the government’s enterprise tax plan.
Labor intends to make sure Longman voters know that Ms Hanson “says one thing in Queensland and votes another way in Canberra”.
The Liberals are pinning their hopes on a relentless character assassination of “Unbelieva- Bill”. But they are running their arguments both ways.
They attack Labor for making promises he won’t deliver, while at the same time attacking him for the tax hikes he intends to use to pay for them.
What is clear from the latest polling results is voters like the tax auction. We won’t really know until the general election just whose bid they will accept.