With everyone expecting the good ship Labor to sink without trace in this year’s Queensland State election, the biggest unknown is the timing. Anna Bligh made history in the 2009 election as the first woman to win a poll outright at state level. But she won’t be Premier for much longer. Most polls are predicting a 10 percent swing against Labor which applied uniformly would mean the loss of 38 seats and remaining with just a rump of 13 seats in an 89-seat parliament.
(photo: Derek Barry)
There may be a narrowing before polling date but not enough to change the outcome. The election defeat is less a matter of if than when. Anna Bligh can wait until 16 June before calling the election but she will not hold out to the bitter end, however tempting. As former premier Peter Beattie argued last week, that would allow LNP leader Campbell Newman claim time is up for the people to decide the future of Queensland. “The government would be seen to be running scared if there was a delayed election and a winning momentum would move solidly to Newman and the LNP,” Beattie argued. Beattie said Bligh needs to go before the third anniversary on 21 March.
The problem is this year is also the end of the four year terms of Queensland councils. Electoral Commission Queensland manages both elections and wants a clear six-week gap so they can best manage their finite resources. Nearly everyone in local government and media is convinced council elections are happening on Saturday, 31 March but there is no formal statement by the ECQ (whose website says “March 2012”) or the State Government. In the Courier-Mail, Darrel Giles was convinced the council election would be on 31 March which would mean no state election between 18 February and 12 May. But Electoral Commissioner David Kerslake denies this 6-week window in the same article and I cannot imagine Bligh accepting such a demand.
An election on the same day would be a logistical headache and might remind angry voters which party foisted the unpopular council amalgamations on them.But a four weeks’ gap is not beyond the ECQ’s ability to manage. Saturday, March 3 gives Labor time to nut out their election strategy and announce candidates in each electorate before a three or four week campaign. The Queensland ALP website is surprisingly silent on candidate details with only a list of sitting members and the “renew for 2012” option for membership.
The party has yet to announce a candidate for Warrego, one of the safest LNP seats in Queensland (though won by Labor as recently as 1974). Labor will be investing all its resources into defending sitting members rather than encourage new talent to take on other seats. Antony Green’s analysis mapped the 2010 Federal Election result onto state seats and even with the caveat State Labor do better than Federal Labor in Queensland, the news is grim. Green expects Labor to be wiped out on the Gold Coast and in Cairns, lose two of three in Townsville, and also lose Cook, Mount Isa and Whitsunday. He said Labor would also lose many seats in western Brisbane, and key seats in the south-east corridor to the Gold Coast and north towards the Sunshine Coast.
The prospect of a landslide has left Campbell Newman not having to sell policies to win. Newman’s biggest asset is he has not been in government 20 of the last 22 years. His LNP website rebadged as Can Do Queensland is bursting with news and information about fresh-faced candidates, many will soon become first-time parliamentarians. But policies such as “build a four pillar economy” are light on detail about what they would do in tourism, CSG, the environment and education.
Newman can deal in generalities and be a small target while Labor faces the hostility of an electorate fed up with its longevity and a media that wants to see a change of government. Larvatus Prodeo’s Mark Bahnisch doesn’t want a change of government but even he concedes its likelihood in a series of perceptive posts exploring the election. I agree with his conclusions except when he says a Newman failure in Ashgrove would mean an implosion of the LNP statewide will follow.
The LNP could win by a landslide and fail to take Ashgrove. Kate Jones knows the territory and quit cabinet to focus on retaining her seat. One Nation is putting up a candidate, making it unpredictable and may act as a “first past the post” contest. Kate Jones is popular – particularly among the young and the greens who are likely to give her a strong second preference. If only another 30 or 40 jaded looking Labor members had her enthusiasm, then defeat might not be a fait accompli.