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And the beat goes on: New politics makes quiet entrance as a noble spirit departs


The first Newspoll since the election and the sad passing of our greatest song maker gives Dennis Atkins some food for thought. He says learn from the one, honour the other.

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A couple of threads weaved through Australian life and politics this week, both part of the rhythm of things. One a sad, big coda, the other a return to the regular beat of how we know things.

The second first. After an election just over 10 weeks ago, we’ve had the first Newspoll of Anthony Albanese and Labor’s new term. It’s not surprising but offers some signs of which the government in Canberra should note and make something.

The May election was a change election. Every signal in the lead up to the vote pointed to a country wanting change – especially any change involving the departure of the unlamented and hardly missed Scott Morrison.

There was also a positive mood for something different – “the memo on the new politics”, as Albanese calls it – whether it was around climate change, respect for everyone (especially women) and transparency and accountability in public affairs.

Newspoll tells us three important things. The vote for change was no flash across the southern skies.

In May there was a primary vote for a common set of policies (those mentioned) of just under 50 percent – this is the total of first preferences for Labor, the Greens and the independents identified as “teal” or aligned with that voting segment. On a preferred basis, the vote for Albanese’s Labor was 52.13.

The Newspoll reckons that vote is up about 4 points on a primary basis translating to a preferred vote of 56 percent. This is the affirmation seen after any election when voters agree with the outcome so much a few more join the ownership of the change.

This all suggests that just over 200,000 Australians who didn’t vote Labor in May now say they will. It’s neat to note the indicated Labor vote in the Newspoll published on the day of the last election was at about the same as it is in this week’s survey.

So those approximately 200,000-plus who said they’d vote Labor in the days before May 21, didn’t on the day, now again say they will.

Do with those observations what you will but it’s fascinating to wonder if there’s a roaming Albanese quarter million. A group of voters who wanted to plump for Labor but pulled back at the last moment, not sure about the proposed change, questioning if the alternative was bold or “fair dinkum” enough or in fear of the implied risk.

Of course, these voters might be people churning from all over the place, after all the Palmer vote was cut in half in this poll from what United Australia achieved at the election.

Second, the Newspoll illustrates that the new Opposition leader, Peter Dutton, appears to have what could become a handicap. He is a known quantity. Almost every new leader – especially those who sit on the opposition benches – have a big “uncommitted” number in the response to the “satisfaction” questions, usually about a third or even into the 40s.

Dutton has just one in five people who are yet to make up their minds about him with the rest splitting almost evenly – 37 percent satisfied and 41 percent dissatisfied. He has fewer people to work with and should be hoping he’ll get a more positive break.

This is just one of the concerning aspects of this “just one, early poll” might portend. As some of the better analysts have observed, the 33 percent primary vote share for the Coalition is its second worst ever. This should quieten those who keep going on about Labor’s low (but still winning) primary vote but it surely won’t.

The last thing to say about this Newspoll is the apparent preference distributions. That poll released on the day of the election had a calculated two party preferred outcome for Labor of 53 percent. After all the votes were counted the preferred vote was, as noted, just north of 52 percent, a healthy swing of almost 3.7 percent.

The first post-election Newspoll has a slightly larger primary vote seen in the “centre left” parts of the electoral pie chart but, with what are some refined assumptions about preference distributions, the preferred vote for Labor is now 56 percent.
It looks like a neat new calculation but might highlight an easier path for Labor than the Coalition.

This new poll might not deliver many extra Labor MPs if it was replicated at an election but overall, the numbers on the non-Coalition benches would most certainly swell.

These are early days but the challenges are clear. Labor needs to dig deeply into who those quarter million reluctant Albanese voters are, connect with them and seek to win them over. For Dutton, he needs to make sure what looks like an antipathy towards himself doesn’t solidify.

The coda from the weekend is the passing of someone on whom the title of Australia’s greatest songwriter sits easily.
Archie Roach, a victim of forced dispossession and the booze-soaked bids to quieten the demons in his head and soul, was an honourable successor to Jimmy Little, another First Nations singer who took American Scots-Irish mountain and country tunes and made them uniquely Australian.

Roach soared in the skies where Little flew high. His catalogue is as good as it gets, from the early years song Took the Children Away – first sung on community radio in Melbourne in 1988 – to the last, full finish the circle tune, One Song, written and performed in the months before he died.

Roach said of the cycle: “It’s like confirming to yourself that you haven’t forgotten where you came from; I realise I was from just one song.”

One of Roach’s fellow indigenous singer- songwriters, Goanna’s Shane Howard, who penned the beautiful Solid Rock, spoke for many at the weekend when he united the coda of his mate’s death and the announcement from Albanese of wording for a constitutional referendum on a First Nations’ voice to parliament.

“Let our brother’s passing bring us together and strengthen our resolve to embrace the Uluṟu Statement from the Heart and bring to reality the healing and justice that Archie yearned for in his songs and his big spirit,” said Howard.

Honouring Roach’s life and fulfilling the wish of Shane Howard and others is something big to which we can and should all aspire.

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