Policy matters in political analysis. Only the analysis about what state government is actually for, the focus on schools and hospitals and law-and-order, makes any sense of why Queenslanders voted as they did.
The people of Queensland have permanent interests, rather than permanent friends or enemies in politics. Once you understand that - if you can understand it - you can get past the idea that it is the political class that is fickle and obtuse, and not the electorate.
Queensland's optional preferential system, combined with the significance of parties outside the LNP and ALP, makes a mockery of polling in other jurisdictions. On the ABC election coverage Antony Green once again fought a brave but losing battle with his own software. I was half expecting it to rise up, like Frankenstein's monster, and proclaim Aidan McLindon the next Premier. Green's on-screen troubles pointed to a wider problem in the quasi-profession of political punditry.
Polls predicting Queensland elections have always been crap. Nobody predicted Goss would lose in 1996 (and nobody looked at Kevin Rudd's role in that government to assess how he'd go as Prime Minister, but don't even get me started on that). Nobody predicted Beattie would scrape back in so soon afterward, and everybody was astonished when he was re-elected in successive landslides. They were amazed by 2012, and amazed last night, and the same people will be amazed in 2018 (whatever the result then) too.
Queensland should be the place were political punditry goes to die. Yet there are actually members of the federal parliamentary press gallery who actually tout their experience from one of the worst black holes in Australian journalism. Go here, download the Fitzgerald Commission report and go to section 3.9, and understand why I expect more of political journalism than press gallery denizens can deliver. Those people are as guilty as anyone of treating political game-changing phenomena coming out of that state - Rudd, Palmer to name but two - as a freak show, rather than a predictable phenomenon with strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
All the poll-jockey journalism about Queensland was bullshit. All of it. This is not the worst example of it, but it will stand in for the rest:
Naive people with way too much hope and way too little knowledge of politics looked on in awe as their Great Leader gave his interviews. One of those interviews was conducted by me ...Richardson has always believed members of his own party to be mugs, and he has the backroom boy's contempt for the public mouthpiece. That said, Bob Katter is basically offering economic protectionism without the nasty racist edge of Hanson, and that has no future - but nobody expects yer man Richardson to go into policy detail. He's engaging in after-the-event wisdom against Katter, which is why I have no compunction about doing so here.
Katter’s bad luck didn’t end there. At the last federal election the Palmer United Party appeared out of nowhere and dashed his chances of picking up a Senate spot.Palmer was more successful than Katter because Palmer seemed to have a better understanding of the economic factors shaping Queensland than Katter, who even wears three-piece suits in homage to Ted Theodore and T J Ryan. When Palmer referred to the Chinese as "bastards" on Q and A, the veneer of the sophisticated businessman disappeared, and he became another populist clown. His accommodations with Abbott government policy made it look as though there were no ideas other than the deeply unpopular and half-baked ones put up by the government. Palmer looked like Abbott's dupe, even though Abbott was supposed to be led by the nose by wealthy people like Palmer ... which made the whole show seem like a bit of a circle-jerk really.
The limelight shifted to the new Saviour when, once again, it seemed that many voters were looking for an alternative to the major parties.
Within a few years the PUP will be little more than an unpleasant memory as this Queensland state election campaign is showing.OK, so PUP didn't win any seats - not even serial loser John Bjelke-Petersen, who has been running unsuccessfully for three decades, has been in more parties than Paris Hilton (one of the few hackneyed old jokes about politics that's actually funny), who always gets a welter of free publicity - and whose community just does not want him to represent them. At all. Ever.
PUP did win about 8% of the vote in their enfeebled state. There are Labor MPs heading to George St to replace LNP members as a result of that vote, which is Palmer's main motivation and the main thing most reporting on Queensland missed. The whole idea of creating the LNP was to focus the right-of-centre vote in Queensland. Far from being united, the anti-Labor vote fragmented under Newman - even Pauline Hanson got in for her chop. By contrast Labor's vote did not fragment; there was no big stoush like Farrell-Weatherill in South Australia, nor the bitter warfare that often takes hold in Victoria.
As Mark Bahnisch points out, Queensland has a different political history. The Liberal-National Coalition might unite liberals and conservatives closely but not too tightly in other states, but in Queensland the two-party thing just looked muddled. Goss and Beattie brought a generation of educated people who might normally have been small-l Liberals into the ALP. Now that the unity thing hasn't worked and the LNP brand is essentially one of mendacity, and it complicates things in Canberra, what even is the point of keeping it going?
But Richo isn't on to deal with the big questions. Eventually, he gets over how wacky Queensland politics is. Sort of.
Meanwhile the Labor leader, Annastacia Palaszczuk has an enormous task to restore electoral credibility to her party. Aided by the arrogance of and immense dislike for Premier Campbell Newman, she has had some by-election wins and has several times reached 50/50 in the two party preferred category in Newspoll.Talk about being damned with faint praise, more than half way down the article. At least he resisted the temptation that other commentators often lapse into when discussing Palaszczuk:
- raking over her marital and pregnancy history
- treating her like a placeholder for male alternatives who weren't in the last parliament, or
- whoa, isn't her surname hard to spell!
Labor dropped two or three points the moment Newman announced this snap poll and this was to be expected. Even with two by-election wins, Labor holds only nine of the 89 seats in the Queensland parliament. With a uniform swing of 11 per cent, a result which is well nigh impossible, Labor would win 31 seats and Newman would still be Premier.The idea of a political pendulum was an attempt to order a process that can resist easy definitions, and usually works best when swings are small. The higher the swing, and the greater the fragmentation of the vote beyond two parties (big swings and fragmentation being key features of Queensland politics), the less useful the whole 'uniform swing' construct is. Richo is clearly not the guy to ask about Queensland politics.
Palaszczuk has to climb Everest and then some.Hundreds of people have summited [sic] Mt Everest since an Auckland apiarist first did it in 1953. It's time for another metaphor to describe the impossible.
Imagine the advantages of incumbency the LNP has. In 74 electorates across the state they have staff to burn. Every ministerial office has even more and none of them are doing constituency duties right now — they are all flat out on the election.The LNP stuffed their parliamentary ranks with numpties. If you're going to do that your staff need to be very sharp: a hundred Credlins. Anyone with half a brain went to Canberra in September 2013 or made it to a ministerial office - and even they are having second thoughts by now, and overestimating how valuable their skills are in a flatlining economy.
The LNP coffers are full and Labor’s are near empty. Not too many businessmen will donate to a Labor Party which has no hope of victory with a vindictive Newman ready to pounce on them post the election.Newman can be as vindictive as he likes, if you're running a business in Queensland which relies on state government (in terms of contracts, compliance, or both) and you have no ties to or contacts in the new government, more fool you.
If Labor can achieve a 7 per cent swing they can win eighteen seats. That would do real credit to Palaszczuk and any more would be a tremendous result.Not being in Queensland last night, I watched the coverage from ABC24. Successful Labor candidates like Kate Jones, Jennifer Howard, and Palaszczuk herself talked about low-cost community campaigns rather than the big-money and smart-staffer assaults Richo is used to. Political journos can't imagine elections any other way. They got the standard big-politics treatment of being flown around the state in Newman's jet or transcribing Tim Nicholls' paeans to the economy. They patronised Labor candidates in shopping centres and public parks, forgetting that lo-fi grass-roots campaigns won key seats for Labor in Victoria, too.
Piping Shrike is right in saying that both parties have lost their social base. However thin it might be, Labor are (re)building one, which will make for a patronising and risk-averse politics to replace the fits-and-starts that the Coalition are playing out.
Labor will have its renaissance, but I suspect it is a few years off yet.Yairs.
Much has been made of Jane Prentice's comments on Abbott for their federal implications, and while that angle is more than fair the contrast with state Labor is important, and could not have been more stark. Prentice talked messaging and swings and other political-class abstractions; Kate Jones talked about being approached about politics while walking her dog, or Palaszczuk discussing issues with her father. The contrast was telling and will remain so.
If Shorten starts running campaigns like that the federal press gallery won't be able to use its small array of blunt tools to describe his campaign either. The traditional media will run the whole of the next federal election campaign like this particular example of political journalism failure, where they simply will not be able to describe political events, or what they mean.
Brisbane has one major newspaper, The Courier-Mail, a Murdoch tabloid which went as hard for Newman as it had for Abbott. Its credibility is trashed. Since colonial times, newspaper proprietors have swayed elections and politicians have had to manage them: no more. After Victoria, where both The Age and The Herald-Sun supported the re-election of the Napthine Coalition government, we can now declare the age of the influential newspaper proprietor - and the press gallery doyen - over. Political careers stunted by fear of Murdoch are a thing of the past, there is no excuse for that now.
Grass-roots campaigns like Labor ran in Victoria, and now Queensland, only work against incumbent conservative governments. Volunteers are fired up and can wax lyrical about how things will be better under Labor. Once the Andrews and Palaszczuk governments have become a little shopsoiled, making some hard decisions/blunders, volunteer numbers will dry up and they will have fewer answers to growing concerns.
There are other limits to this approach as well, in terms of the utility of unions. Volunteers descended on Bundaberg and won for Labor a seat that - you guessed it - the pundits hadn't anticipated falling to Labor (even though Leanne Donaldson had been a strong and active campaigner for years and the seat had a long Labor history. One out of the box. Who would have guessed. Back to you in the studio, Richo). Bundaberg is a manual-labour town and union volunteers seemed to receive warmer welcomes than those most Queenslanders extend to blow-ins. In the lightly-unionised Gold Coast there was no grass-roots campaign of this type, against much weaker opposition, so five seats went begging for Labor.
Maybe the grass-roots union campaigns are overstated. The only other conclusion you can draw from traditional media is that there are more bikies in Queensland than one might imagine. See how bad political reporting in this country is? Bad reporting leads to bad political decisions, by politicians and voters alike.
What looks like a good result for the LNP on the Gold Coast, and an overall result where a majority is tantalisingly close, has to be weighed against the fact that their potential front bench is neither that clever nor that cohesive. They have no idea where or how they went wrong. What were the LNP thinking when they complained about unionists backing the ALP? That relationship has been established for over 120 years; while it hasn't always been smooth or even constructive, whinging about it makes you look like you don't understand politics.
With all due respect to everyone sweating on the wording and presentation as I write, so what if Tony Abbott pulls off a ripper speech tomorrow? The only truly great speech he ever made was at his preselection more than twenty years ago, when he beat off people like Kevin McCann and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. Gillard's speech three years ago was quite good, but the press gallery couldn't get past her glasses or her nomination of an election date. Admit it, he's finished. Admit it, he never was any good - at speechmaking or anything else. Liberals like Prentice are, like the press gallery, thrashing about for a plausible reason why they overestimated someone they observed so closely but examined so little.
What the Liberals want is someone with the appeal of Turnbull but who won't do anything to interfere with the policy settings. The policies aren't just unpopular, they haven't been thought through, and those who point this out aren't just patsies to be dismissed lightly. If you think Tony Abbott is high-handed and doesn't consult, wait until you let Turnbull off the leash. But, more on that in the next post.