One sure sign of an opposition
that lacks confidence is that it speaks out against the idea of an
early election. The arguments it uses may be perfectly valid – that an
early election would be unnecessary, hypocritical, destabilising, and
all the rest – but they still convey the message that the opposition is
afraid of something.

So it is in Queensland, where Nationals leader Lawrence Springborg has been pushing hard
to get a commitment from Peter Beattie that he will let the state
parliament run its full term, to next February. Beattie,
understandably, has been coy about the subject; if they’re worried,
best to keep them worried.

On Friday he sounded reasonably clear:
“The election is due on February 7 and in about five months we will
call it”. But he carefully left himself a loophole, saying “there are
only two ways you go to an election – if your three years are up or if
there is some crisis of some kind.” On Stateline
that evening he expanded on the point a little: “no Premier rules out
the fact that you would seek a mandate if there was a particular crisis
or need to do so, and I’m not going to rule that out.”

So the speculation continues that Beattie may use the excuse of Queensland’s growing water crisis
to call an election this year, possibly as early as next month. But my
reading of his comments is that they’re more about keeping his options
open – and of course jerking Springborg’s string – than any serious
intention of going early.

When he does go, Beattie says he
expects “It will be tough”, but comments like this are now so routine
that no-one takes them seriously.
In fact, despite water, the
premier has every reason to be confident. Queensland is at the same
point of the electoral cycle as New South Wales, coming off two
landslide victories in succession. The opposition would need a uniform
swing of 7.5% to take power, even relying on a grab-bag of
independents. It’s not impossible, but it’s unlikely: the most recent Newspoll puts the swing at only 3.5%.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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