Well, the Queensland election is all over bar the shouting. And in fact there wasn’t a lot of shouting on Saturday night in a strangely subdued tally room. The mood of Labor strategists could best be described as sombre joy, while the Libs all went elsewhere very early, leaving Bruce Flegg only a few claps from the press table at the end of his (non) concession speech. The Nats were drinking into the night, but there was no joint party for the Coalition – symbolic of the great divide between the two parties. The recriminations began on election night, and will gather momentum over the coming days.
So to the big picture from the Queensland poll. The result is basically status quo from the 2004 election. As I predicted on Friday, very few seats changed hands and the final tally of seats looks like being just about identical to 2004, with just one Coalition gain. There was some swapping of seats, and Labor retained all its by-election losses, but the only real surprises were the strength of the Green vote in Brisbane particularly, and the weakness of the National vote. It was little noticed that the Nats almost lost two regional seats to Labor – Burdekin and Lockyer – and Labor tightened its grip on many seats outside the south-east.
The Greens shouldn’t get too ecstatic about their vote. Labor strategists I spoke to on Saturday night agreed with my proposition that the Green vote was in large part a protest vote against the Coalition as well as Labor. This is borne out by the results from seats like Sandgate where Family First ran as well. The Opposition were so dreadful that many swinging and conservative voters tired of Beattie voted Green in despair.
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There are three simple messages from the Queensland outcome.
The first is for incumbent governments. Beattie was spot on to say that the electorate had given him one last chance. If he simply repeats the two step “I’m sorry, I’ll get on to it” dance which he’s mastered, but doesn’t deliver, the electorate will turn on him, and as with Keating in ’94, never come back to the fold. But Beattie did demonstrate the power of incumbency, and particularly the power of what even Liberals are now calling a “superb” campaign.
The second message is for oppositions. You can’t wait for government to fall into your laps. The electoral ask for the Coalition was enormous, but they should have made gains. Instead they basically went nowhere. Policy laziness, internal division and weak leadership and campaigning get their own deserved reward.
The third message is the Federal implications. It was significant that Federal pollies rushed to deny that WorkChoices was a factor. That’s totally untrue. As our polling for The National Forum showed, it was a factor working for Labor even before it was mentioned in the campaign. And it was no coincidence that a flood of WorkChoices and interest rate negative ads were run by Labor in the last week. The parties were picking up this factor as a vote changer in their polls as well.
Both the Federal Government and Opposition can take some comfort from the result. But if the message for Beattie is that hubris and complacency will be punished if his fourth term plays out like his third, John Howard should take note as well. Because Queensland demonstrated beyond doubt that IR is going to be a big factor in 2007.