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 by being the first woman to win a poll outright at state level. But it seems highly unlikely she will be Premier for much longer. Most polls are predicting at least a 10 percent swing against Labor which if 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 some narrowing between now and polling date but not enough to change the outcome. The election defeat is less a matter of if than when. Legally Anna Bligh can wait until 16 June before calling the election but it is unlikely she will hold out to the bitter end, however tempting it might be. As former premier Peter Beattie argued last week, such a strategy would allow LNP leader Campbell Newman to run an campaign against the government, claiming its time 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 said. He said Bligh needs to go before the third anniversary on 21 March.
The problem is that this year is also the end of the four year terms of Queensland councils. Electoral Commission Queensland has to manage both elections and wants a clear six-week gap between them so they can best manage their finite resources. Nearly everyone in local government and media is convinced the Council elections are happening on Saturday, 31 March yet I have seen no formal statement to that effect by the ECQ (whose website merely says “March 2012” or the State Government.
In a New Year’s Day article 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, no matter how well meaning. An election on the same day would be too big a logistical headache and might remind some angry voters who foisted the unpopular council amalgamations on them.
But a four weeks’ gap is not beyond the ECQ's ability to manage. Saturday, March 3 is seven weeks away and gives enough time to Labor to nut out their election strategy and announce candidates in each electorate before running 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 taking you to a membership form. Here in Roma the party have yet to announce a candidate for the seat of Warrego, which is one of the safest LNP seats in Queensland (though won by Labor as recently as 1974). It seems clear Labor will be investing all its resources into defending sitting members rather than encouraging new talent to take on other seats.
Such a strategy seems wise enough given the need to contain a heavy defeat. Antony Green’s December 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 such a landslide has left Campbell Newman in the pretty position of not having to sell many policies to win. Newman’s biggest asset is he has not been in Government 20 of the last 22 years. His LNP website rebadged cornily as Can Do Queensland is bursting with news and information about fresh-faced candidates, many of whom will soon become first-time parliamentarians. But the policies such as “build a four pillar economy” are light on detail about what exactly they would do differently in areas such as tourism, CSG, the environment and education. Newman can afford to deal in generalities and be a small target while Labor faces the hostility of an electorate fed up with its longevity, geed on by a media that wants to see a change of government.
Larvatus Prodeo's Mark Bahnisch would not be among those wanting a change of government but even he concedes its likelihood in a series of perceptive posts exploring the lie of the land in the lead up to the election. I agree with most of his conclusions except when he says a Newman failure in Ashgrove would mean an implosion of the LNP state wide campaign will almost necessarily follow.
It is entirely possible the LNP could win by a landslide and yet fail to take Ashgrove. Kate Jones is proving a skilful and dangerous opponent. She knows the territory and quit cabinet to focus on retaining her seat. The news One Nation is putting up a candidate, shows it will be 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 - despite optional preferential voting. If only another 30 or 40 jaded looking Labor members had her enthusiasm, then defeat might not be a fait accompli.