Newman will likely be premier, but he’s not home and hosed
THE Liberal National Party will almost certainly win government after the Queensland election on March 24, but it may prove to be a rather more difficult task than many pundits think.
To begin with, the state’s electoral boundaries favour Labor, giving Premier Anna Bligh a six-seat head start, and together with the benefits of incumbency her government is still not dead and buried.
Bligh is an experienced operator who is running an extremely tough campaign.
Because the LNP’s extra-parliamentary leader Campbell Newman is the frontrunner, he is under huge media pressure and scrutiny and many in the media seem to want to take the shine off him because of the LNP’s dominance in the polls.
Moreover, as the campaign ramps up, Queensland Labor will continue to attack the twice-elected former lord mayor of Brisbane who, like Bligh, had performed extremely well during the floods.
Even if the LNP wins the election, it is still not assured that Newman will become premier because, to take the seat of Ashgrove, he needs a 7.1 per cent swing against popular Labor incumbent Kate Jones.
The other wildcard is Katter’s Australian Party, which could win three or four seats in Queensland’s one-house parliament, including that of Mount Isa, in which Bob Katter’s talented son Robbie is standing against the ALP incumbent.
Whether the election results will be close enough for this maverick force to exercise much influence this time around seems unlikely. Nevertheless, Katter’s populist rural socialism and his frenetic attacks on coal-seam gas and the Coles/Woolworths duopoly should not be underestimated, especially in north and western Queensland.
In fact, ALP supporters in the state bureaucracy are ensuring Bligh has all the policy support and details needed for her major election announcements. In addition, all party candidates will have to grapple with new election rules limiting expenditure in state campaigns.
Administration of these rules will be a nightmare for Labor and the LNP, but will favour sitting members, of which Labor currently has a large majority.
Polling repeatedly confirms that Queenslanders believe it is time for change. To some extent they believed that in the 2009 state election but, as is often the case, the electorate didn’t throw out an unpopular government at the first go. Second time around, they almost certainly will.
This is similar to the 1993 federal election when Australians had had enough of Paul Keating and Labor, but then John Hewson promised the GST, which gave Keating one more term. In 1996, Australians removed Keating in a landslide. A similar fate could await the Bligh government.
Surprisingly, the ALP is making some basic errors in the campaign. Having former prime minister Paul Keating in Queensland for a true believers’ dinner last week may have made the faithful happy, but reintroduced one of the ALP’s most unpopular leaders to the state.
The intrusion of federal Labor politics into the election is a negative for Bligh and Queensland Labor. From the carbon tax to a very unpopular federal government, Bligh has not been able to run this campaign solely on her leadership and state issues.
Then there is the highly damaging Labor leadership tussle between Julia Gillard and recently resigned foreign minister Kevin Rudd, who may attempt to use his popularity in Queensland as a stepping-stone back to the prime ministership.
None of this is at all helpful to Bligh. Indeed, the Rudd-Gillard struggle has been the best gift to conservative forces in Australia since Mark Latham became opposition leader in 2003.
Gillard, who is unpopular in Queensland, is unlikely to be making many appearances in the campaign. Her damaging interview on Four Corners, where she refused to answer whether she knew of the move against Rudd earlier than previously thought, only hurt her standing further. As is often the case, in her testy responses Gillard looked and sounded untruthful.
In terms of Queensland politics, one thing is clear. In the foreseeable future, losing state Labor members will not have an opportunity to move to Canberra. There will be no vacancies at the next federal election. Hence, it will be a long winter of discontent for the Labor Party in Queensland.
A Queensland win for the LNP will further strengthen Tony Abbott’s political hand. During the campaign, Abbott will be welcomed by the LNP. His standing in the polls is high and he will be an asset to Newman, who is constantly reminding Queenslanders of the carbon tax and Gillard’s many other broken promises.
As a proven state election strategy, former National Party premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen repeatedly campaigned against Canberra, with great success. In this election, the tables have turned Canberra is now electoral gold for the LNP.
Professor Ross Fitzgerald’s latest book is the co-authored political satire Fools’ Paradise, set in a fictitious Mangoland
The Weekend Australian, February 25 -26, 2012