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Beattie to win

January 19th, 2004

Although described in the news as a surprise, the timing of the Queensland election was fairly predictable. The government wants to keep the campaign separate from the local council elections in March, and to avoid going after the elections which may turn out badly for Labor in Brisbane following the mishandling of Jim Soorley’s retirement. Since no one wants to campaign over Christmas, the timing is a forced move.

I’m in the happy position of agreeing with the pundits that Labor is virtually certain to win and in welcoming this. The current crop of Labor state governments may be unexciting, but they are uniformly preferable to their opponents.

In the case of Queensland, Labor has an advantage that does not seem to have been remarked on. The only plausible alternative government is a Liberal-led coalition, but for historical reasons, this isn’t on offer. In fact there are only three Liberals in Parliament and of these only one is running for re-election. Instead the Opposition is in effect the National Party (there are also the remnants of One Nation and assorted independents). Even though the Nationals have held office for most of the past fifty years, I don’t think we’ll ever see another National Party premier.

The dominance of the Nationals (previously the Country Party) rested on three main factors. The first was the gerrymander inherited from Labor, which favored rural seats (going back even further in time, the votes of rural workers favored Labor and particularly the Australian Workers Union). The second was the fact that Queensland was substantially less urbanised than other states. The third was the fact that the Nationals held lots of seats that had been rural but had become urban, notably in the Gold Coast.

None of these factors applies any longer. The gerrymander has been replaced by a one-vote one-value system with optional preferential voting, which marginally favors Labor. The share of the rural population has declined – more than 60 per cent of voters now live in the ‘South-East corner’ (Brisbane, the Gold and Sunshine Coasts and Ipswich) with a another large share in coastal cities like Townsville and Cairns. The people living in these areas, even outside Brisbane itself, have no more natural affinity with the Nationals than does the average resident of, say, Newcastle or Geelong, Finally, the National Party lost most of its Gold Coast seats in the wipeout in the last election. Once the advantage of incumbency is lost, the natural alternative to Labor in these seats is Liberal, not National.

In my view, therefore, and barring disasters, it will take three more elections for Labor to lose. The Liberals need one to become a credible party rather than a trivial joke, a second to become the leading opposition party, and a third to beat Labor.

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  1. Homer Paxton
    January 19th, 2004 at 13:00 | #1

    the ALP will win but if I lived in Queensland I would vote for the Opposition on the fact third term Governments are hopeless and even bad Oppositions can be competent in Government as John Howard has showed.

  2. Dave Ricardo
    January 19th, 2004 at 13:53 | #2

    I wouldn’t be so sure that we’ll never see another National Party premier. Even sans gerrymnander, the Nats still held more seats than the Libs in the Borbidge government. If the Nationals can reinvent themselves as a modern conservative party – free of the rural baggage, but with still with conservative social values which will have appeal on the Gold Coast and sunshine Coasts, and the regional centres, they will be in with a big chance. Beattie has for now captured the conservative social value vote, but that can’t last forever.

    Plus, you overestimate the capacity of the queensland liberals to rejuvenate themselves. These people are congenitally hopeless. They were hopeless in government when Bjelke Petersen humiliated them at will, just for the fun of it, and they are hopeless in opposition. And they have no prospect of not being hopeless.

  3. Brian Bahnisch
    January 19th, 2004 at 22:03 | #3

    Dave may well be right. The libs are pretty hopeless here, but strangely do OK in federal elections.

    For the first time in living memory the Libs and the Nats are not running against each other and have split the seats roughly half and half. There was a story in the Courier Mail today, however, suggesting that that the Nats are running in more of the winnable seats.

  4. January 20th, 2004 at 01:22 | #4

    Beattie to win? C’mon John, go out on a limb sometime, take a walk on the wild side…

  5. January 20th, 2004 at 06:41 | #5

    Interesting, and I suspect correct, analysis John.

  6. January 20th, 2004 at 09:14 | #6

    Nats may remain coalition #1 (as opposed to the Libs) for longer than you expect John because the rural seats are easier for the opposition than the urban seats and because those fringe urban areas are relatively red-neck (I mean this in the nicest possible way – after all, I’m including most of my friends and family!)

    How many will One Nation win? 0? 2? more? And will the Greens get a seat? How many independents will keep their setas? These are the real questions… the main election is already over.

  7. Brian Bahnisch
    January 20th, 2004 at 22:49 | #7

    I’ve had a look at the actual seats that the conservatives would have to win to knock Labor over and who is running in them, remembering that the Nats and Libs are not running against each other.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the Nationals are not stupid and that the Libs won’t overtake them in the foreseeable future. The only way would be if Labor collapsed completely in Brisbane without collapsing elsewhere in the state.

    A uniform swing of 9.5% would reduce Labor to a minority of 43 of 89 seats. The 46 non-Labor seats would then be split Nat 23, Lib 15, One Nation 2, Independent 6, assuming that the ON/Ind don’t change. If all the ON and Independents are replaced by Nat/Lib the 46 seats would split 30/16 in favour of the Nats.

    If you had a swing of greater than 10% you would still get a flow of seats to the Nats.

    If Labor was wiped out of the Sunshine/Gold Coasts the Nats would have 6 out of 15 in those areas. They are also running in at least 3 of the near-Brisbane seats.

    Pragmatically if the conservatives want to win they have to depend on the Nats to a large extent outside Brisbane. I understand the Liberal Party organisation is a complete dud outside Brisbane.

    Finally, I wouldn’t write Springborg off. He presents well and is cultivating a calm, clean, young and vigorous persona. Who listens to all that policy stuff? Maybe not this time but possibly next time.

  8. John
    January 21st, 2004 at 07:11 | #8

    Brian, I think this is the problem for the conservatives. The Gold and Sunshine coasts are now more like suburbs of Brisbane than like country towns, but the Nationals ‘own’ them as far as the opposition is concerned.

    This means that Springborg has to appeal to urban voters while continuing to satisfy a rural base that (as we’ve seen) responds very well to the kind of challenge posed by One Nation, or independents like Bob Katter. I don’t think this can really be done.

  9. January 21st, 2004 at 13:45 | #9

    Why on earth would anyone vote for the Coalition in Qld, especially while the Libs still cling to their silver spooned gumby roots?

  10. Brian Bahnisch
    January 21st, 2004 at 23:03 | #10

    bargarz, I don’t know why people vote for the conservatives here. There is a theory that they do when they vote for Beattie. In 1995 Goss’s mob had become arrogant and upset a lot of interest groups, and enough people sent him a protest vote to tip the balance. Well almost, then Liz Cunningham, the Independent for Gladsone tipped him out muttering something about a leaky hospital roof. In my view it could happen again, but not this time.

    John, I agree it would take three elections to elect a Liberal premier. But only if they undergo a dramatic transformation. Then they would still have to re-instigate three-cornered contests and push the Nats out of some of the provicial areas up the coast and Toowoomba. I can’t foresee it happening.

    The Nationals, having had Borbidge as leader, who wasn’t a farmer, looked a bit like a Liberal and in the end couldn’t exert authority over his party, are now trying a leader who is a farmer but doesn’t look like one. He might sneak across the line next time, probably with the help of a string of Independents who all tend to be conservative.

    In my view that is a more likely scenario than the Liberals getting up off the floor.

  11. January 22nd, 2004 at 01:42 | #11

    Excellent analysis. The Libs really are a “trivial joke” at the moment in nearly all parts of Qld.

    Having said that, I expect a landslide for the Liberals in Moggill. Dr Flegg is replacing David Watson, who despite two successive 8% swings against him, was re-elected in 2001. Flegg has been running a long and visible campaign.

  12. Brian Bahnisch
    January 22nd, 2004 at 09:30 | #12

    Not sure about Moggill. Apparently Labor is planning a dirty big road through the middle. It’s one area where the Greens have a chance.

  13. January 23rd, 2004 at 02:14 | #13

    I think it’s actually the member for Blair (a Federal Libera) that is pushing for the proposed road, which is extremely unpopular here … and of course Flegg is opposing it.

    I see the Libs getting over 50% of the popular vote (a +10% swing), and 60% 2PP. The Greens have no chance whatsoever in Moggill.

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