Writing in The Sydney Morning Herald, political scientist Peter Van Onselen sees Kim Beazley’s defeat as cruelling Labor’s chances in Western Australia.

Part of Kevin Rudd’s pitch was that he would be able to win seats for Labor in Queensland – where the ALP only holds 6 out of 28, and where another seat will be added for next year’s election.

Leaked polling from the Brisbane Liberal marginal of Moreton and Lindsay in Western Sydney was used to justify Rudd’s contention. The internal ALP polling found that Rudd had a much lower negative rating than Beazley and that Rudd as leader would make swinging voters more inclined to vote Labor.

That may well be so, but as Jennifer Hewett noted in the Fin Review, 17% of voters in the sample hadn’t heard of Rudd. Such polls are really exercises in hypotheticals. There’s no doubt that Rudd’s negatives will rise from the 11% reported now that he is Leader and the government will train its big guns on him.

As ANU economist Andrew Leigh points out, there are other very good reasons to discount the Nielsen poll which purports to show a Rudd-led ALP on a 48% primary.

The short answer to the question of how Rudd will affect electoral dynamics in Queensland is that we don’t know yet. No doubt there will be evidence to reflect on from future polls.

But there are two factors which might give pause to those who assume that Rudd’s elevation will automatically translate into higher support in the Sunshine State.

At the last election where the ALP leader was a Queenslander, in 1980, Bill Hayden won 5 out of 19 Queensland seats. Labor’s primary of 42% was the lowest of any state.

1980 was a long time ago, and circumstances in each election are different. But the results do suggest that it will be necessary for Rudd to work on Queensland support, and not just take parochialism for granted. He knows this, but he faces formidable obstacles in uniting the Queensland party behind him.

Rudd is from the smaller of the two Queensland right wing factions – Labor Unity. There is no love lost between him and the AWU, as the spray from Big Bill Ludwig over the weekend demonstrated in spades.

All five AWU members voted for Beazley, including Craig Emerson, whose vote for Latham last time led to a Ludwig veto on his front bench chances. Wayne Swan has a much more powerful position inside Queensland Labor than Rudd.

Despite Swan’s “machine man” image, he has been an effective grassroots politician in Brisbane. As has Rudd, despite his cerebral image. The ALP’s chances in Queensland depend on a reconciliation between the two.

What happens to Swan in the front bench ballot and the allocation of portfolios will be a key to whether this is possible.

Peter Fray

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