Political watch with Graham Richardson


The big topic of the week is the Budget 2018, Graham and Brent look at the Budget and talk about the dual citizenship and the A-League grand final plus more.

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Other than Mayo, these by-elections will likely change very little

Political Columnist vSydney
In the case of (as she would see it) The World v Gallagher, the High Court, and not the electorate, has put Katy Gallagher’s promising career on hold. Not only has she resigned to be replaced by the next person on the ALP Senate ticket at the last election, but other MPs have taken the hint and resigned: Justine Keay (in the Tasmanian seat of Braddon), Susan Lamb (Queensland, Longman), Josh Wilson (Western Australia, Fremantle) — all ALP members — have fallen on their swords.

Rebekha Sharkie, from whatever the remnants of the Nick Xenophon Team now call themselves, resigned from the South Australian seat of Mayo. The obvious there is that no Coalition members were involved. The Coalition had already used its numbers to protect Jason Falinski, the member for the northern Sydney seat of Mackellar, who can consider himself a lucky man.

The average punter has never understood what all the fuss is about. If anything, these technical dismissals aid the incumbent in the ensuing by-election. Nobody in New England could accept that Barnaby Joyce, whatever his faults, was not the quintessential Aussie. Similarly, there was a sympathetic reaction to John Alexander in Bennelong.

All the resigning Labor members will stand again for their seats. Few will welcome the High Court decision but its job is to interpret the Constitution, not rewrite it.

The by-election will cost the commonwealth and also the major parties. While I would not be surprised if the Liberal Party did not field a candidate in the safe Labor seat of Fremantle, it will have to field strong candidates in Braddon and Longman. Each would be considered marginal and the major parties will have to spend something like $1 million on each campaign. Given the collapse of Nick Xenophon’s relevance and popularity, it is hard to see how Sharkie can hang on. Alexander Downer held this seat with a comfortable margin for years and it should return to its rightful place in the Liberal heartland.

There is talk, too, of his impressive daughter, Georgina, being picked as the candidate, which would be icing on the Coalition cake. The good news for the Coalition stops there.

Usually, there is an anti-government swing at by-elections and these will be no exception. I am excluding Mayo from this analysis because the massive third-party vote last time seems to have disappeared. In Braddon Jacqui Lambie has announced that she won’t contest the seat following her poor performance in the Tasmanian election. It is hard to see any reason a normal swing against the government would not occur especially in the light of the return of the Hodgman state government with a reduced majority. The Greens vote dipped on that occasion so they will again watch from beyond the sidelines as the major parties battle it out.

Most interest will be in Longman. The Prime Minister’s flagging popularity is at its nadir in deep north Queensland and Western Australia; long bastions of Coalition power, they are ripe for a challenge.

Labor narrowly holds Longman and many Liberals had hoped to win it next time, but there will be no upset. Indeed, the only possibility of a last-minute spoke being placed in Labor’s wheel would be self-inflicted.

Lamb’s estrangement from her mother should never have prevented her from obtaining the necessary documents such as her birth certificate. Here or in Britain a simple affidavit presented to the right authorities would have ensured her success in renouncing British citizenship. It is to be hoped that she has completed every step required by the High Court this time. That Bill Shorten was vague about this when asked by journalists yesterday concerns me.

On Wednesday I sat on a panel with John Howard discussing the budget. The former prime minister expressed the view that he did not believe anybody should sit in the Australian parliament who was a joint citizen. His view is that if you want to be in our political system you should have your allegiance totally for Australia.

By the way, Howard is still as sharp as a tack and more than a match for today’s politicians. He remains a staunch defender of the Coalition and lamented only its direction on education. He is firmly of the view that in this era we are pushing our young people to go to university and ignoring the TAFE sector. He wonders where we will find the skilled tradesmen to build the welter of infrastructure projects that both state and federal governments are announcing. He has a point.

There is some embarrassment for Shorten considering he gave Georgie Gardner of the Nine Network’s Today a “rolled gold” guarantee that because Labor’s vetting processes were so thorough it would not be possible that there could be doubt about the eligibility of any of his parliamentary team. He had two misconceptions. First, the vetting process assumes that each candidate for preselection will tell the truth — a big call. Second, he relied on legal advice about what constituted the reasonable steps that needed to be undertaken to establish citizenship or renounce it. The black-letter lawyers appointed to the High Court were never going to give a benign finding; Labor should seek different legal opinions in future.

In all the hoo-ha surrounding the High Court decision most of us have forgotten that yet another by-election will be held at the same time as the other four. The West Australian seat of Perth was vacated recently by Labor’s Tim Hammond, who could not balance the demands of a young family with the twin tyrannies of time and distance. Hammond had a brilliant political career ahead of him, so to put family before ambition is a nice change. I wish him and his family a great future.

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