26 January 2012

Why the Queensland election matters

The Queensland election is to be held on 24 March, and it should be of no interest to anyone who doesn't live there. It matters because it is a better indication of the 2013 Federal election than any other election to be held in this country before then:
  • Though NSW sets the country's political norms in may respects, last year's election was a freaky, freaky set of circumstances;
  • Victoria was and remains a close-run thing, thanks to Baillieu's failure to entrench himself and devastate his opposition;
  • Tasmania is freaky too, with its huge Greens presence, and its almost total absence of scope for economic growth in the twenty-first century (which is why they haven't made much of the NBN or those Harradine-era telco reforms that preceded it), not to mention its wacky voting system;
  • Western Australia's government has, in contrast to Victoria, both entrenched itself and devastated its opposition;
  • The South Australian election will be held after, not before, 2013; and;
  • NT, ACT and other local government elections: too small, too freaky, who cares?
In 2007 Queensland voters took nine seats away from the Coalition to make one of their own Prime Minister, and when his party dumped him in 2010 they gave the Coalition nine seats back. What will they do next time?

The conventional wisdom is that:
  • Labor will get hosed;
  • the LNP will win with a thumping majority; and
  • the LNP will govern Queensland for a long long time.
We'll see. 89 seats, one House; first to make it to 45 wins. Currently it's 51 Labor, 4 independents, 34 LNP.

Labor has been in a long time, 20 of the past 22 years. Labor people make much of the "new faces" in the Bligh cabinet, but hacks are always overrated because they assume that popular appeal is just some mysterious part of public office. Dumping the rural fuel subsidy and privatising state assets are long-overdue injections of the sort of things the rest of Australia went through in the 1980s, which only emphasises the indictment of Labor's supposed political smarts in getting them to the position they are in now. They won't be thrashed because they are not the rabble that NSW Labor was (and is).

Every new initiative by Labor is an implicit criticism of their own experience ("Why didn't you do this 20 years ago?"). An example of this is the response to the flood that devastated Bundaberg in 1991: a report was commissioned into that flood and it recommended that a levee be built. The mayor, Robert Schwarten, entered state politics on the Labor side and even became Minister for Public Works. Schwarten retires at this election and the levee still hasn't been built. At some point over the next two months someone is going to promise to build that levee, and the voters of Bundaberg will be entitled to believe it when they see it.

The polls have favoured the LNP but in an election campaign like this, so what? Voters are still baulking at Newman, Seeney, Nicholls, Langbroek et al actually running the government. The parallel here is with the first week of the 2010 federal campaign, where Australia realised that a vote for the Coalition means Tony Abbott becomes PM!, leading to Labor getting a second chance. If Newman starts getting rattled or snappy on the campaign trail, or if the boofheads from the bush or the LNP machine override him, Queensland state politics could turn very quickly.

I've had my say on the LNP. Graham Young said this morning on Radio National that the directionless and unelectable nature of the LNP was "cure[d]" by the appointment of Campbell Newman as leader, but in an election contest like this it is wishful thinking. If you put a glacée cherry on top of a cowpat it does not become an ice-cream sundae, and it doesn't matter if you have polls that say otherwise. If Newman promises something to Brisbane voters that rural MPs such as Jeff Seeney do not like, they will simply contradict him. If the reverse happens, Newman will be expected to suck it up in the name of "loyalty". Newman hasn't solved all this simply by turning up. Newman will not fare well over a marathon eight weeks. He's used to being obeyed and not used to being challenged.

This is not to say that Labor are being smart in wearing Newman down over the long run; they too will get tired and prone to mistakes. Newman has take a leaf out of the Tony Abbott playbook by bagging Bligh's unpopular fuel subsidy, but he hasn't promised to reinstate it himself. If Bligh does a Beattie-style mea-culpa and reinstates it, the LNP will have a real fight on its hands.

Ashgrove will not vote for Newman if the rural LNP or the party machine get ahead of themselves. If Newman doesn't win Ashgrove the LNP won't win government, and vice versa. Swinging voters in regional Queensland or even other parts of Brisbane won't vote LNP if Newman is too worried about his on seat, which will mean the people of Ashgrove won't vote for him, which will reinforce etc etc and this is how you get a downward LNP spiral - now, does somebody still want to preach to me about polling and how important it is to react to it?

In NSW and Victoria the Greens pose an existential threat to Labor's inner-city heartland. They pose no such threat in Queensland's unicameral state parliament (though next year, the third-placed Labor Senate candidate will have a run for their money against a Green). The LNP face a direct threat from Katter candidates, particularly those rural areas threatened by CSG or other mining. The idea that the LNP won't enter into a coalition with Katteroids is stupid if the alternative is 24 years out of power.

Federal parliament will sit for much of the Queensland campaign. Of course the MSM are filtering it through their Rudd-Gillard prism frame obsession: what they haven't focused on is that Abbott will do about as much campaigning as Gillard (but without the protection of her bodyguards). Where is the LNP state candidate whose vote will go up as a result of The Situation waddling down their street? Sure, there'll be a swing to LNP and Abbott will claim credit for it. The Canberra press gallery will give him that credit, because they're stupid. The arrogant machine running the LNP will pay even less heed to Abbott in the run-up to the next Federal election than they have. Labor will gain ground in Queensland at the Federal election because the LNP will be deaf to opportunities to grow or hold votes from 2010, wounded from blowing a huge poll lead.

Prediction for next Qld Parliament: Labor 40, independents/other 7, LNP 42. Newman will demand the bigger party gets independent support, especially as most non-Labor seats will be "normally" LNP seats anyway. In a close fight you'd have to back Bligh because a close fight would mean the LNP had squandered it.

If the LNP win such a fight they will chafe against a minority government and go down at the next poll, like the NSW Coalition did 1991-95 (and, indeed, like the Borbidge government did; consider that Borbidge was a more stable leader than Newman has proven so far).

Whoever loses the Premiership, Bligh or Newman, will probably run against and beat "Stinky" Gambaro for the federal seat of Brisbane. The LNP will give it to Newman as compensation for their stupidity, because he can't go back to City Hall with his tail between his legs. They will ignore Abbott's pleas for his frontbencher. Gillard would want Bligh in Cabinet and, after she licks her wounds, she'd leave state politics to others to take on such a challenge.

For more measured, sensible and informed contributions, I recommend Antony Green as well as Mark Bahnisch and the LP crew. Suggestions for other sites are not only welcome but actively sought.


  1. Alphabajangodelta27/1/12 12:32 am

    A pretty sharp analysis I'd say from the standpoint of a voter in Bligh's seat. The LNP retain a structural contradiction in that they are dominated by the National Party both in members and in machine. But they need a Liberal veneer in order to win the urban seats where voters are loath to let the hillbillies run things. The past six months have already seen a fair bit of knuckleheaded LNP internal silliness (eg Peter Slipper) and there's no doubt a fair bit more under the lid.
    Bligh is a good campaigner. She nailed the last election from behind. Newman is renowned for his hot temper and inability to manage dissent and the continuing disjuncture between the Nats and Libs puts their campaign management at risk of big stumbles especially where aspirant leaders like Springborg and Seeney will chafe under Newman's leadership. Labor have Newman largely tied to campaigning in Ashgrove which he needs to win. He doesn't deal well with adverse conditions.
    There's also the odd nature of the campaign duration. Bligh has said there is evidence from the reconvened Flood Inquiry that needs to heard before the poll, which must only be good for her. So far there's no indication what that might be.
    I think if Labor runs a strong marginal seats campaign like Rann did in SA last year they've still got a chance at retaining government. But even with a good campaign a scenario as you've described is probably most likely. In that case a Borbidge style LNP period is quite possible. Many of the public servants that I've spoken to expect a period of absolute chaos due to the incoming Premier's personality traits and the knuckleheaded capacities of the likely ministers who are likely to be 'wide around the arse, and thin between the ears', with no experience of governing.
    The polls are still bad for Labor 41-59 on latest Galaxy but they will tighten over the campaign. Nine points is a lot to make up, but there's still eight weeks to go. Almost alone among my peers I still think it's not yet all over for Bligh.

    1. It isn't, and the LNP will be wearied from having fought her.

  2. This is the sort of article that keeps me coming back to this site. Informed, well written, and not based on a quick poll and a press release.


    I'm not sure that the Qld election can be used as an indicator for the Federal election. For a start, there's still a long time between this Poll and the Federal poll. Also, the Bligh government has the disadvantage of being in government for a long period with a number of failures it can't blame on anyone else. It seems to me that if the NLP can avoid shooting themselves in the foot too badly, and basically run on the platform of not being the Bligh government, they have this election all locked up. Of course this does assume that the NLP will show some uncharacteristic discipline and leave the usual infighting on hold till after the election. Stranger things have happened, and the lure of being in power is a powerful incentive to keep your mouth shut for a few weeks. As for Newman, I think it's going to be difficult to both campaign for Ashgrove and travel round the state to be seen with other candidates as leader. The polling numbers suggest he can do it, but they don't take into account just how many balls he's going to be juggling to pull it off. Still, the NLP doesn't need him to win the seat to get government, just to look like he can win it. If they win the election, having to choose a leader is small potatoes.

    Personally I think a NLP win would be the best thing that could happen for federal Labor. Mr Abbot would strut around like a rooster making a fool of himself assuring everyone this meant his term as prime minister was assured, while the Prime Minister would be able to brush it off as “an election fought on state issues”. The aftermath would be a sloppier opposition and a government that could no longer be held accountable by proxy for anything that goes wrong in Queensland. Also, it would give a good chance that by 2013 there would be enough discontent with the NLP to send a protest vote to Labor federally. It's no coincidence that the Howard government was a time when Labor pretty much had state government locked up. It meant that any state opposition to government policy was a failure of the States, and by proxy a failure of federal Labor. Any acceptance of government policy was proof that the State Governments were smarter than their federal counterparts, and any scandal/failure of the States was a sign of how badly things would look if Labor was in power federally (and also allowed musings on whether we really needed those incompetent wasteful State governments at all).

    1. They can't do discipline, not over such a long period, in a state where the Feds are largely an irrelevance and the infrastructure spend comes out of Brisbane not Canberra.

      Yes, a clownish LNP govt would be best for Gillard but I'm not convinced Bligh will give it away without a fight.

  3. Can I play predictions, too? Thanks.

    LNP to gain power in Qld, but: minority government; and Newman won't get Ashgrove.

    LNP minority government to blunder and bumble their way through, thus negating any criticism of blundering and bumbling Federal Labor minority government.

    Bligh to beat Stinky. Hands down! I'm calling that seat now!

    Federal Labor to win the next election with a seven seat majority.

    1. I put my name to mine :p Can't differ too much with yr efforts though.

  4. Love your work Andrew, but if I were federal Labor I'd hoping like hell the LNP win.

    1. So do you want the full thumping or the mindfuck that comes with a split decision?

  5. Space Kidette27/1/12 9:58 pm

    As a Gold Coaster in a very safe Lib seat, I am not getting any anecdotal evidence, one way or the other. People are largely indifferent with most in my orbit doing the "they're all the same" shrug.

    I know the polls are saying LNP but I think a few here are not too sure about the Campbell element.

    It will be interesting to watch it pan out.

  6. Don't forget the old political truism: Short men don't have the necessary gravitas to win elections and carry their parties to victory.
    Sarkozy realised that there will only ever be one Napoleon and so he got the elevator shoes on to get his win.
    Campbell Newman is a runt. No one ever picks the runt of the litter. They usually only get the sympathy vote. Is that enough to win? I think not.
    Also, he is a Mexican. From Victoria even! If I know my Queenslanders, there will be more than an ounce of suspicion of his Queensland bona fides when it comes to committing a vote to him.
    Finally, it has yet to resurface, but his time as Brisbane Lord Mayor was a case of LEAVING with his tail between his legs, due to the massive Rates increases he imposed on the local denizens in order to fund his Engineering wet dreams.
    As for Labor,I bet Mike Kaiser is still around and about. He orchestrated Anna Bligh's come-from-behind win last time, and though much-despised by all and sundry, his political nous IS respected.

    1. HS, doesn't explain why Bob Hawke beat Fraser, or why Howard saw off four Labor leaders who were taller than him. Suspect Kaiser has his match in McGrath but we'll see.

  7. Good analysis thanks.

    I had tritely said to someone that what goes on in Queensland should stay in Queensland and some of what you have written confirms that and yet other parts have me rethinking that maybe more notice should be taken.

    I have to question though your characterisation of the Tasmanian voting system as wacky

    I can only surmise that you are referring to the lower house system of Modified Hare-Clark with Robson Rotation.

    The system that is used to elect senators in this country is probably more wacky than that used in the Tasmanian Lower House probably because of the bastardised similarities and the utterly crazy above the line voting option.

    The states that use Optional Preferential Voting for single member electorates could be equally described as wacky or at the very least a political fix for a problem that was in reality of no great consequence and has probably caused more problems than it solved.

    At least we no longer have the utterly crazy Modified d'Hondt system in use anymore.

    Footnote: why is my verification word this time waxest? and does it mean most wacky?

    1. I agree with you about the Senate but I meant that Tassie results can't really be extrapolated to the rest of the country.

  8. Love your work. But Robert Schwarten was never Mayor of Bundaberg. Lived his life in Rockhampton and was never a Mayor of anything.

    1. Gah! The one thing you don't check pops up to bite you. Thanks, fixed.