Shortly after nominations closed for the Queensland Election Owen
Outsider sent off his piece to Crikey. It wasn’t published. At first
Owen was devastated – Crikey obviously did not consider his words of
wisdom very wise at all.

However, it has since emerged that in
fact Crikey either lost the message, or the email never arrived. This
seems an excellent outcome. Owen would like to announce his new status
as seer of seers, prophesier of prophecies, having correctly predicted
every seat in Queensland (with the exception of those still in doubt).
Thank you all.

Actually, I should admit that while my
predictions were pretty accurate, it’s mainly because they were not
very specific. Unlike some braver souls I didn’t conduct analysis of
specific seats and how they would fall. I did predict a 2-party
preferred swing (as far as that means anything in Queensland these
days) against Labor of 2-5%, but that the swing would be stronger in
safe seats. In consequence I expected the coalition to make little
progress in seats. Correct, but not quite as impressive as if I had
foretold the fall of Currumbin.

I focussed more on what potential results would mean for each party. So returning to that theme:

Labor
Well
it’s hard to complain about a result like this. It’s doubtful if it has
much significance for Latham, but that does not mean there’s nothing to
learn from it. Premiers around the country must be rubbing their hands
and thinking, “If we can win these kinds of margins twice in a row in
Queensland of all places, how easy will it be here.” The biggest threat
to Labor in the other states (WA excepted) may turn out to be
over-confidence. It also suggests to me that if Labor does win the next
election, they’ll be well set for a couple thereafter.

The
victories in Toowomba North, Noosa and Keppel will be particularly
sweet – the first two turning flukes from last time into apparently
safe seats, the latter a win against the tide.

Liberals
While
I regard Beattie as the most talented (in a vote-winning sense)
politician in Australia today, the scale of the victory confirms my
theory (previously espoused in several items on Crikey) that the
coalition is in deep and long-term trouble at state level around the
country.

It may be decades before the Liberals are back in
office in some states. Conservatives are much more vulnerable to long
spells in opposition than Labor. It’s very hard to attract talent into
parliament when it looks like the chances of winning any time soon are
slim. The ALP has more of a career path, and on average their MPs would
be earning less on the outside. What is more, a defeated Labor MP can
justify his or her career as standing up for the working class (however
little they may actually do this). What does a Liberal resigned to
permanent opposition say to family and friends about why this is a
better course than earning mega-bucks in the business world?

If
Liberals with talent either stay out of electoral politics, or take the
high-road to Canberra the whole situation will become a self-fulfilling
prophecy. Naturally now and then state Labor governments may fall over
so badly that the opposition wins just by default, in which case all
the Libs have to do is stay ahead of the Greens. However, parties
devoid of talent who win purely through the weakness of their opponents
may not stay in government very long, particularly if the opposition
renews itself.

The most interesting question is whether this
absence of talent will start to infect the federal Liberals, or if they
will actually benefit, sucking the talent out of the state parliaments
to produce a strong team in Canberra.

Nationals
The
performance of the Nationals seems to me to be better than the
Liberals, even though they got fewer votes. Fifteen or so seats is not
a good outcome for them in Queensland, to put it mildly, but in any
other state they’d be delighted with this result. Indeed the percentage
of seats they won is actually higher than at the 2001 federal election
from Queensland.

Nevertheless, the real message is that the
days of National strength in Queensland are over. The next coalition
government will almost certainly have more Liberal MPs than Nationals
as places like the Gold Coast increasingly become Liberal-Labor
contests not National-Labor.

National parties in other states
can take comfort that not every election will see them lose seats, but
have to face the fact that that is the general trend, and over time it
can’t be beaten.

The real problem for both Nationals and
Liberals is in candidate selection. To have four candidates who prove
serious embarrassments in the course of a short campaign such as this
one is pretty damning. If this was caused by bad preselection practises
it may be fixable. However, I suspect it has more to do with the lack
of talent to choose from. Declining membership inevitably makes it
difficult to find candidates who are up to scratch, and this will be an
increasing worry for both parties around the country.

One Nation
Well, to their credit they have,
for the first time, re-elected a sitting MP. Their trio of bigots in
the WA upper house will be so relieved. 47% is a very impressive
primary vote when up against both Labor and National. However, Rosa Lee
Long’s performance is the sole bright spot. When their sitting leader
gets just 20%, and only three One Nation candidates can score over 14%
in their heartland state one can pretty confidently state that they’re
finished. The forces of the far right will presumably rise again, but
probably not for some years, and in a different form. That’s if they
don’t simply stack out the Liberals.

Greens
Not
too shabby, all things considered, but no triumph. Winning a seat with
optional preferential was always going to be a huge task, and the
infighting around the time of calling the election didn’t help. The
Greens need to learn that most of the time preferences are just not
that important, and talking about them rarely boosts the primary vote –
fighting about them certainly doesn’t.

Despite this the Greens
have done quite well. To outpoll One Nation in Queensland is a huge
achievement, and it’s not just because they ran more candidates. The
Greens had more seats over 10%, and their best result was comfortably
higher than that of a sitting One Nation MP. Furthermore, while its
hard to estimate preferences, another 6% would have given Andrew
Carroll a fair shot of winning Mt Coot-tha, adding another to the list
of seats where the Greens are a bigger threat than the non-incumbent
major party.

Whether this performance will translate into
gains for the Greens in Queensland is hard to tell – a senator is
possible, but far from certain. I don’t know whether the Greens are
planning to build on their state vote to genuinely seek seats in
Brisbane City Council, or just make a token effort. If they take the
local elections seriously they would be in with a chance, since Green
votes at local government level are usually higher than state or
federal. Brisbane is such a powerful council that a victory there would
provide a much better foothold than in other states.

Nevertheless
it is clear that the Greens are not about to become the real opposition
in Queensland, in a way they very well might in Tasmania (and might
have in Victoria had they taken the inner city seats where they came
close last time).

Democrats
It’s a pretty damning indictment when saving your deposit in the only seat you contest becomes a cause for celebration.

Independents
While
a triumph for those who held their seats, this election did not
represent a great result for the tide of independents some have
predicted. Four, all sitting, produced outstanding performances, 46%
and up. 34% and victory for Elsa Roberts is also nothing to be sneezed
at. Otherwise however, three scores of just over 20%, and the rest
under 17 are hardly likely to strike fear into the majors hands. Once
again we see that independents, once elected, can be hard to remove but
it’s even harder for them to get their under normal circumstances.

The widely scattered independents who were elected are not likely to combine into a threat at federal level.

It’s
also interesting to note that when the Nationals disendorsed Dan Van
Blaken over his unfortunate past associations, they did not create
another Hansen. Rather than riding to victory on a wave of sympathy,
Van Blaken managed just 15.5%, outpolled by an independent. Is this an
indication that the anti-party trend is subsiding?

Odd Spot
Owen
thought Tasmanian politics could be pretty incestuous, but Queensland
gives it a run for its money. Most notably we had Shane Knuth, brother
to ex-One Nation, ex-CCA independent Jeff, possibly providing the
Nationals with some silver lining in Charters Towers. The Greens, as
usual in Queensland elections, have Anja and Inge Light on the Gold
Coast, but also two Browns (besides Bob), two McLeods, two Stasse’s,
two Harrises (and a Harrison). One Nation has two Coyle’s, two
Mitchells, and two Westbury’s – coincidence, or evidence of a limited
stock of potential candidates?

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW