Two big news items from Queensland in the last 24 hours. Standard & Poors has downgraded the State’s credit rating to AA+ and Anna Bligh has called an early election.
The fact that these two events happened in this order is striking. Until six months ago, a government that had been downgraded in this way would be holding off an election until the last possible day in the hope of burying the bad news, or else would have gone early, before releasing the bad budget news that triggered the downgrade. Now, the government calculates:
* Everyone knows that the state’s finances are a lot weaker than they looked six months ago, and that this has very little to do with the government
* No-one who has been watching the news could possibly place any weight on ratings issued by Standard & Poors (or Moodys – Fitch has been marginally better). If credit rating agencies were subject to election, or to any kind of proper market test, these guys would be out of business. The fact that they aren’t is yet another indication that the global financial sector is in need of reform far more drastic than has been contemplated so far
* The policies ‘demanded’ by S&P to keep the rating (drastic cuts in infrastructure spending) would have been economically disastrous
Coming to the election itself, the uncertainties created by the global financial crisis are such that I’m not going to venture a prediction. Overall, the government has done a reasonable job, but not a great one, and it remains to be seen whether the cumulative impact the ethical troubles of numerous ministers, ex-ministers and backbenchers over the years will come back to haunt them. There are also a bunch of policy decisions (including some good ones, like fluoridation, and not-so-good ones like chickening out on water recycling) that need to be taken into account. And it remains unclear how much progress has been made, and perceived, in fixing the health system. The government’s performance on indigenous issues has been lamentable, but that probably won’t cost them many seats.
On the other side, the opposition moved from being unelectable to conceivably electable with the merger that created the Liberal National Party. But they remain deeply unimpressive. This election will be won, or lost, by Labor.