The most important thing about John Howard’s “Australia Rising” speech yesterday wasn’t what he said. It was where he said it – Queensland.

Labor only holds five of the 28 seats in the Sunshine State – but two of them belong to the party’s leader and the shadow treasurer.

The Brisbane Courier Mail hasn’t been slow to draw attention to the fact that Queensland could well be the home to both the prime minister and treasurer after the next election.

It could also have a hell of lot more Labor MPs.

Thanks to Queensland’s population growth, it gained a federal seat in last year’s redistribution. Twenty nine seats will up for grabs.

The ANU’s Peter Brent has observed, “the last time federal Labor got over 50% of the Queensland two party preferred vote was 50.2 in 1990, which translated into 15 out of 24 seats for them.”

Kevin Rudd needs to win 16 seats for Labor to govern in their own right. Both sides of politics say a swag of them could come from Queensland – meaning they might only need to scrape up a few others in South Australia, the NT, Tassie and NSW to be home and dry.

The Liberals have a lot of local issues to deal with in Queensland at the moment. Add the pitch to parochialism and you can see why the state is so important.

Earlier this year, Bank of Queensland head David Liddy said the state’s economy could not continue to grow unless additional infrastructure is put into place. He said Queensland was in a strong position, but could be better.

“It’s the fundamental things that the Government needs to address … basic things like transportation, there’s schools, hospitals, health and there’s certainly water and those things need to be addressed.”

They fit with many of Rudd’s priorities – and his cooperative federalism pitch.

No wonder the PM was in Brisbane. No wonder Rudd hit the ground running campaigning on his home turf when he returned from Washington yesterday.

And get used to the increased focus on the Sunshine State. Queensland is closing in on Victoria to become the second most populous state in Australia.

The balance of political power in Australia is moving north.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey