Queensland will go to the polls on 9 September, when the Beattie Government will seek a fourth term in office. Due to three-year terms – or two and a half in this case – Queensland has now leapfrogged over NSW to become the leading state in the electoral cycle; the NSW government’s third term is not up until next March.

After two landslide victories, but three recent by-election defeats, Beattie currently enjoys a 31-seat majority. A loss of 16 seats would force him to rely again on independent Peter Wellington, who first put him into power in 1998. So the minimum opposition goal is 17 seats, and it would want 19 to be reasonably confident of putting together a stable government.

That’s not impossible, but it’s a big ask. Antony Green’s guide to the election, shows that a gain of 19 seats would require a uniform swing of 7.9%. Two of the three by-election results returned swings of about that magnitude; only Chatsworth was significantly more. So, taking out the protest vote element, it looks as if the opposition is still some distance short of where it needs to be.

The most recent Queensland opinion polls confirm that view. Newspoll, taken in late June, showed a swing against Labor of only 3.5%. Last Saturday’s Courier-Mail put the swing at 6.5%; probably still not enough, but getting close.

Beattie’s decision to go early, however, changes the dynamics. Voters don’t like early elections, and often punish the government that calls them. My view is that Labor would have been better advised to wait until next year. The premier’s repeated denials that he was planning such a move will not have helped: neither hypocrisy nor panic is an attractive trait.

If the voters do decide to throw Labor out, it’s an open question who would become premier in Beattie’s place. The Nationals’ Lawrence Springborg is opposition leader, since his party currently has 16 seats against the Liberals’ seven. But most of the marginals the opposition needs to win are in Liberal territory, not National, and Newspoll shows the Liberals outvoting the Nationals two to one.

Alone of all the states, Queensland has never elected a Liberal government (Gordon Chalk was briefly caretaker premier in 1968). New Liberal leader Bruce Flegg hopes that he can be the first. But at this stage, Peter Beattie is still the man to beat.

Peter Fray

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