Any Queensland election is a tale of two campaigns – not as Dickens would have
it, of two cities, but of the city and the bush.
The Nats’ weak position
explains the leadership brawl. Not just because Springborg doesn’t play well in
Brisbane. Outside the south-east and the hubs of Cairns and Townsville, where
they must win seats, is unfavourable country for the Nats, unless there’s a big
swing against Team Beattie.
Leaving aside the Gold Coast seat of Gaven,
which the Nats wouldn’t have won without the coalition agreement, and the
Sunshine Coast seat of Maroochydore, where Fiona Simpson is a long term
incumbent, Team Borg holds 14 of 32 regional seats.
The Nats face
hurdles in increasing their numbers. Four of five Independents in regional seats
are dug in, having built up very large margins. For instance, despite the
supposed magic of his name, John Bjelke-Petersen will have a hard task taking
Nanango off Dolly Pratt. In other regional seats, the Independents have soaked
up the traditionally conservative vote. Just two Labor seats in the regions have
margins below 7.3%. In Hervey Bay, ministerial hopeful Andrew MacNamara is an
excellent local member.
The Nats’ chances in Keppel, against a 3.8%
margin, reveal one of the little told stories of this campaign. Keppel was the
only seat Labor won off the Nats last time, and is a “sea change” seat. Bernard
Galt recently highlighted sea changers and tree changers migrating to
Queensland, and predicted they might bring Green politics with them. That’s
speculative, but what’s certain is that they won’t bring to the Sunshine State a
pattern of National voting.
In regional Queensland, many seats are
facing fast growing populations where necessary infrastructure doesn’t exist.
Queensland’s growth is at the heart of all Beattie’s service delivery woes. But
ironically, rapidly changing coastal seats are unlikely to be tempted by the
Nats’ politics of the past.
The other wild card is Family First. Because
the election was called early, they’re running in just 40 (largely regional)
seats. Many host large evangelical Christian churches. But FF are outraged at
Springborg’s soft stance on legal prostitution. In an optional preferential
system where Beattie has created a “Just vote one” culture, Family First votes
will largely exhaust.
Underlying the Nats’ problems is the ghost of
Pauline Hanson. Most seats the Nats don’t hold but must win are electorates One
Nation captured in 1998 or did well in.
The Nats are caught between the
Scylla of modernisation, which benefits the ALP, and the Charybdis of
traditional regional culture, which benefits independents. The post-election
leadership stoush arose because the Nats are yet to either recover from the
defection of much of their base to Pauline, or to present a more modern face to
a rapidly growing Queensland.