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Mar 26, 2012

Labor decimated in Queensland

Crikey media wrap: "Can-do" Campbell Newman "can did" on the weekend, leading the Liberal-National Party to a crushing victory of Queensland Labor and winning a likely 78 seats in a 89-seat parliament.

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“Can-do” Campbell Newman “can did” on the weekend, leading the Liberal-National Party to a crushing victory of Queensland Labor and winning a likely 78 seats in a 89-seat parliament.

“It is much more than a loss, it is without doubt a devastating defeat,” conceded Labor leader Anna Bligh, as she announced her resignation as Labor leader and from her seat. Even Newman admitted he was surprised by the scope of the win, telling journalists after the win that “it’s surreal”.

“This is without doubt Labor’s greatest electoral catastrophe,” writes Laura Tingle in The Australian Financial Review.

The Courier-Mail’s Dennis Atkins declared: “History’s been written, records broken and set, and a new force has arrived in Queensland politics.”

William Bowe of Crikey‘s Poll Bludger agrees:

“Suddenly Kristina Keneally’s performance doesn’t look so bad. What happened to Labor in Queensland on Saturday is without any precedent in Australian history — certainly not since the Second World War, prior to which the party system tended to be more fluid. Labor can be assured of only six seats, holds the lead in only seven, and on the best case scenario will win only eight, for a total of 9% of the Legislative Assembly’s 89 seats. That compares with the “cricket team” of 11 members that Queensland Labor famously managed to return in 1974, at what was previously the gold standard for Australian election massacres — and at that time the parliament only had 82 seats.”

Many commentators went with the 1974 “cricket team” sporting analogy.

“That infamous Labor cricket team of the 1970s has now been whittled down to a water polo squad of seven, possibly minus a goalkeeper if Tim Mulherin is unable to secure the seat of Mackay,” writes Michael Madigan at The Courier-Mail.

“The LNP, at only the second state outing for the merged Liberal and Nationals parties, will pull off one of the most comprehensive electoral victories in Australian history, reducing Labor to somewhere between a netball team of seven and a 15-member rugby side,” said Dennis Atkins.

There will probably only be two seats outside Brisbane that belong to Labor.

Queensland is the latest state to turn conservative after years of a Labor government. It makes implementing federal policy even more difficult, notes The AFR‘s editorial:

“For her part, Prime Minister Julia Gillard will have to be more consultative in negotiations with the states to tackle issues such as housing, population growth and infrastructure development and she will no longer be able to push federally dictated reform outcomes onto the states as political authority has now moved so convincingly away from Canberra.”

Tingle also notes the comparison between Bligh selling off state assets and Julia Gillard’s “lie” over a carbon tax: “The caucus just has to look at the way Queenslanders dealt with a leader, and particularly a woman leader, who they believed broke a promise or misled them —  in Bligh’s case on privatisation — to get a deathly chill in their bones.”

In The Australian, Peter van Onselen speaks of similar concerns:

“The parallels are obvious and, unless something dramatically changes when the Prime Minister goes to the polls, they appear likely to add up to a federal replay of what we just saw in Queensland. Voters don’t like being deceived.”

Will Rudd return? asks Geoff Kitney in The AFR:

“Some senior figures said they believed the Queensland result would revive the hopes of Rudd supporters that his leadership ambitions may not be dead. This is like the electric shock that reivves a body that was thought to be dead,’ one said. ‘Kevin is not as dead as everyone thought.'”

But according to exit polls, ultimately this was about state issues and the dirt campaign that Queensland Labor ran, says Dennis Atkins in The Courier-Mail:

“So, let’s deal with what happened. Labor hit the pedal too hard on its “Trash Newman” campaign.

The Textor Crosby material says the top issue that most affected voters was “political behaviour”. This is an unheard-of outcome.

Let’s walk back from this. People hate politics. They hated the Bligh government and they hated the politics the Bligh government played.

They then delivered the most comprehensively political campaign in the history of campaigns. The campaign that came before wasn’t just negative. It was brutally negative – pushing nasty arguments against Labor’s opponents and their families, including the leader’s spouse.

It struck a new low. Labor refused to the death to apologise, legitimising what had been said.

Labor threw everything at it — desperately hoping some mud would stick. It backfired.”

On Sunday Bligh resigned as leader of the party and from her seat as South Brisbane (which had only narrowly maintained), declaring that she was “closing the book” on her political life.

“I apologise today to the people of South Brisbane for any inconvenience and difficulty that my decision will cause them,” she said.

“The size of the loss, the loudness and clarity of the message sent by the people of Queensland is unmistakable and, in fairness to Queenslanders, I don’t believe I should ignore it. I simply don’t believe that Labor can develop an effective Opposition, or rebuild from this point and from this defeat, if it has me as part of its public face and in its ranks.”

But who will be leader now? Many of the most likely leaders-in-waiting — Andrew Fraser, Cameron Dick, Kate Jones — lost their seats. It’s now suggested that Fraser or Dick may be parachuted into Bligh’s South Brisbane seat — although Labor minister Annastacia Palaszczuk is the current favourite to take over as leader.

Jones lost, but she fought a campaign that may influence how future Labor campaigns are run, writes Troy Bramston in The Australian:

“Outgoing MP Kate Jones ran a gutsy and spirited campaign. Intelligent, personable and a talented media performer, she was behind only Campbell Newman and Anna Bligh in the scrutiny placed on her. Party insiders were so impressed with Jones that a run in the seat of Brisbane at the next federal election is tipped.

Although the LNP won a smashing victory, the statewide result was not replicated in Ashgrove. The statewide swing against the ALP was more than 15 per cent. The swing against the ALP in Ashgrove was lower, at about 10 per cent. Seasoned campaign operatives say that a “party leader’s premium” should boost his or her local vote by about a further 5 per cent. So Newman should have achieved double the swing against Labor in Ashgrove.

Newman’s failure to match or exceed the LNP vote statewide was not only because of a campaign to smear him personally, but also because of a new model of community campaigning and grassroots organising.”

The front page of The Sunday-Mail yesterday focused on the new Premier:

Over at The Power Index, Paul Barry offers up nine things to know about Newman, including his chutzpah, his political pedigree and his potential problems.

But Newman needs to thank former leader Lawrence Springborg for combing the Liberals and the National Party into one combined party in Queensland, notes Steven Wardill in The Courier-Mail:

“What Springborg knew after the election loss two years earlier was that the parties would never win in their current predicament.

There was no way they could again present a Nationals leader as the alternative premier during an election knowing that to win, it would mean the Liberal leader would likely assume the position.”

One of those problems will be how Newman responds to the flood commission report handed down a week ago, notes Robert MacDonald in The Courier-Mail:

“And now Newman has to live with an unfunded election promise that could potentially involve many millions of dollars. How much, for instance, might it cost to fully implement the commission’s recommendation the state government consider demanding that all electricity supply conduits below the defined flood level be waterproofed?

But it’s not just the money. It is also the sheer bureaucratic complexity of many recommendations, such as the suggestion that all levees in the state should be regulated, but only after state and local authorities actually agree on the definition of a levee.”

Amber Jamieson —

Amber Jamieson

Freelance journalist in New York

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48 thoughts on “Labor decimated in Queensland

  1. michael r james

    AJH Posted Monday, 26 March 2012 at 11:05 am

    You are right and you are wrong.

    The change in the actual vote was about 15%, technically close enough to deploy the term decimate.

    The result in loss of seats is so much higher, and the dominance by the LNP so great that the main thing this shows up is how undemocratic our electoral systems are in Queensland and Australia. As is well known, when the situation get so ultra-polarized, people go into a bi-polar mode and minority parties suffer–thus, for example, the Green vote decreased.

    The 2009 election was expected to go to the LNP but they were and are such a bunch of unimpressive regressive dimwits and the LNP such a pit of self-loathing that people couldn’t bring themselves to do it. And they shouldn’t have to make such a stupid choice–but that is all our dumb electoral system allows.

    If anyone thinks this is a good thing then they are extraordinarily blinkered. What we need is more points of view in politics and more rational approaches to problems rather than party-political ideological crap. Which do you think we are going to get now?

    Equally if anyone imagines that there is some magical warm embrace of Campbell Newman and the LNP, they are also deluded. Newman will have gained substantial goodwill and room to manoeuvre (which I seriously doubt he will use wisely, based on his history) but equally it won’t take much for a lot of those who just voted for change, to become disaffected. I haven’t seen a single LNP policy that will solve the problems Queensland has.

  2. Amber Jamieson

    Crikey office has been split all morning on the use of “decimate”. Leigh Josey and Bernard Keane strongly support the Latin meaning of the word and believe it should only be used to mean reduced by 10%.

    Luke Buckmaster, First Dog on the Moon and I believe in more modern usage, and note that the Oxford dictionary offers the first definition of decimate as “kill, destroy, or remove a large proportion of”, although we appreciate the historical connotations.

    I personally liked this two little notes. The first from the Oxford dictionary site:

    “Historically, the meaning of the word decimate is ‘kill one in every ten of (a group of people)’. This sense has been more or less totally superseded by the later, more general sense ‘kill, destroy, or remove a large proportion of’, as in the virus has decimated the population. Some traditionalists argue that this is incorrect, but it is clear that it is now part of standard English.”

    And this from dictionary.com:

    “The extended sense ‘destroy a great number or proportion of’ developed in the 19th century: Cholera decimated the urban population.”

    The 19th century! Long live Crikey readers supporting grammar standards from the 1700s.

  3. michael r james

    Edward J et al.

    You have no idea how unhappy I am. In 1979 I quit Queensland and Australia, not to return for several decades. The situation in Queensland was barely credible–regressive is deeply inadequate to describe the Bjelke-Peterson “government” even if it were legitimately elected which of course it was not. As for Fraser and the federal situation, I wrote a note about that last Friday and referred to my previous article. Again, only because of the Murdocracy and our absurd dysfunctional electoral and political system do we end up with these extreme swings and fundamentally illegitimate governments (because the electorate have been forced into an impossible “choice”.)

    Even though types like yourself cannot bring themselves to admit it, it is no accident that the present federal government is one of the best functioning since Hawk/Keating (and yes we are speaking of “operationally”, not politically or populist crapola that people like you like to emphasize).

    The crisis in governance in two-party systems
    by Michael R James Friday, 3 September 2010

    As I have argued in Crikey and elsewhere, we desperately need to change our political culture and the only way I can see how, is to make it more democratic –yes, some version of proportional representation. Yes, where even a loon like Bob Katter gets some say. (And anyway it is a tight contest as to who would win the looniest award, Katter of Barnaby. BTW, Lee R. doesn’t even enter this contest of looniness!)

  4. michael r james

    I have only just read William Bowe’s piece in Crikey today. It reinforces anything I said earlier, including in my published articles about our shockingly awful electoral system.

    [This brings me to the second function of parliament, which is the one that presumes to make the system democratic: representation. While nothing should be taken away from the immense achievement of the LNP on Saturday, it has still not on present numbers cracked 50% of the statewide vote (although late counting may tip it over the line). However, such is the system in Queensland that it has emerged with very few fetters upon its power. This is not a situation Queenslanders tend to lament. The public is very easily persuaded that good government can be equated to “strong” and “decisive” leadership, rather than apparent abstractions like accountability and consensus. Media players are eager to fortify this view, knowing that systems which concentrate power are most responsive the pressures brought to bear by powerful interests. It tends not to register that such issues lay at the root of the abuses of the Bjelke-Petersen era – for which, incidentally, Queensland voters were far more forgiving than they were for Labor’s failings on Saturday. ]
    [There is plainly no clamour for these issues to be resolved by restoring the upper house, which Queensland abolished in 1922. The obvious alternative is to replace the single-member constituency system, which is increasingly a peculiarity of the English-speaking world, with proportional representation. Such a system in its purest form would have given Labor 24 seats, a suitably humiliating total that would nonetheless have left it enough personnel to credibly perform the job of opposition. An Australian public schooled in the notion that power should be wielded singularly and authoritatively would no doubt complain about minority government and the empowerment of marginal groupings, which we are told has had such a disastrous impact in Canberra over the past 18 months. ]
    If I wanted to take the “glass half full” perspective I would say that this should make all Australians (esp. after NSW & Vic elections and subsequent governments) realize something is broken. But no, I have zero faith in that. The fact that we had 21 years of the CP/NP gerrymander & Bjelke-Petersen, followed by almost the same period of Labor and now pundits are predicting similar infinite reign of LNP shows no one (except William Bowe) has learnt anything.

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