Labor’s end of empire

The joke I heard on Saturday night proved prophetic. What was the difference between Labor and a Tarago? The car would still have eight seats in the morning. Sure enough as the night progressed, the Queensland election carcrash got worse for Labor. When I caught up with the ABC tally around 6.30pm (Qld time) they were projecting 13 or 14 seats which was in line with most people’s worst assumptions. But as I watched, that number went steadily down. When it got to 4 with the possibility that even Anna Bligh could lose, a total whitewash seemed not beyond the bounds of possibilities. By the end of the night, Antony Green and co were predicting six or seven.

With official party status still in doubt, not many Labor supporters were seeing the bright side. Labor have dominated Queensland since the end of the Joh era and won eight consecutive elections coming into 2012 (the Rob Borbidge interregnum was the result of a by-election). They were slowly coming down from their 2001 high water mark. They took 66 out of 89 in 2001, 63 in 2004 and 59 in 2006 as the long slide took forever to get momentum. In 2009 Labor had a swing of 5 percent against them and polled less than one percent more than the LNP in their first election. But they carried 51 seats to 34. Yet almost from the moment the Bligh Government took office, the electorate decided this was the last roll of the dice.

This time round the percentages favoured the LNP. After three successive defeats for Lawrence Springborg, the party became gradually more urban. John-Paul Langbroek brought the leadership to the beach before party president Bruce McIver catapulted it into the heart of Brisbane with Campbell Newman. Through his own dedication during the 2010-2011 floods as Mayor of Brisbane, Newman countered the one attribute Anna Bligh had going for her – a great wartime leader. Labor pushed enormous resources into defeating Newman in Ashgrove – or at least tying him down there, while ignoring the dangers in the LNP’s own decapitation strategy that saw three future leaders Fraser, Hinchliffe and Dick all a good chance of losing their seats.

In the end none of it worked for Labor.The swing was a further 15 percent and 51 seats became 7 in a state-wide bloodbath. Nine cabinet ministers lost include the beforementioned trio. Rockhampton and a few working class suburbs of Brisbane and Ipswich was all that survived. The LNP will end up with 78 or so of 89 and Queensland is precious close to becoming a one party state. As William Bowe said, this is not a happy state of affairs with Queensland’s parliamentary sessions resembling those of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. Bowe said the Opposition will also be unable to fulfil its committee obligations and has no Senate to beef up the numbers.

Such unfettered power is unlikely to entirely suit the LNP either. There is a large, restless and untried team with which to fill the ministries. MPs in seats such as Brisbane, Ipswich and Waterford will know they are on borrowed time and their demographics will mean a swing back to Labor in 2015. Nevertheless these are good problems for Newman to have in a parliament with ten times as many seats as Labor who will have very limited resources to fight the next election mostly from outside parliament.

Their supporters are still in shock, wondering how a disaster of this magnitude could occur. Denis Atkins nailed much of the late swing away today to Labor’s poor campaign. Bligh’s attack on Newman under parliamentary privilege was so bad, the LNP used it in their mocking ads. Labor’s own last minute ads “don’t give them too much power” was pathetic beyond belief. The Federal Government is looking on in horror as it sees the Ghost of Christmas Future in their own Queensland tilt though it is dangerous to draw too many Federal conclusions.

State Labor’s magnificent standing seven may even diminish further before it recovers. Anna Bligh’s inevitable resignation puts her knife edge seat on the chopping block with defeated cabinet ministers ruling themselves out of a second tilt. Who would want to rule this rabble? As Atkins said, Labor has been eaten by its own political obsession. They deserve “the 15-20 years they will spend in their long, cold winter,” Atkins wrote. That may be no bad thing. Queensland will be a very different place in 2032 and different parties and ideologies are required to face the many 21st century challenges. The state Labor parties across Australia do not appear to have a coherent strategy to face these times.

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