Campbell Newman has won a resoundingly convincing victory in the Brisbane City Council election, taking over 60% of the primary vote, topping 50% in 24 of the 26 wards, and sweeping the Liberals into what looks like being a 16-10 Council majority in the wards on his coat tails with a swing against Labor city-wide of 5.5%.

Joe Hockey was first out of the starting blocks to make the predictable claim that Newman’s victory indicated a Liberal revival. As former Liberal Vice-President and election analyst Graham Young pithily put it, this is “baloney”.

Anyone actually paying attention to the campaign would know that the Liberal brand was conspicuous only by its absence from Newman’s campaign material, with his Councillors and candidates badged as the “Can-Do team”. Newman took every possible opportunity to express disinterest in party politics, and to claim that his only concern was the people of Brisbane.

Anyone looking for a party moral from the results might consider that the two wards where Labor got a swing were Morningside – smack in the heart of Kevin territory with a hard working local Councillor – and Wynnum Manly where defeated former Bonner MP Ross Vasta copped a resounding rejection to add to his defeat in the federal election. You could then travel down to the Gold Coast, where the Libs’ attempt to move into Australia’s second largest Council crashed and burned.

Campbell Newman won for three reasons – he at least appeared to be addressing Brisbane’s dire transport woes, on personality and because Labor ran an appalling campaign.

Labor effectively conceded the mayoralty in advance, with candidate Greg Rowell failing to articulate a compelling alternative vision for the city. Some Labor sources are pointing the finger at the party’s failure to disengage itself from Newman’s mortal embrace and leave Civic Cabinet. Although select Councillors continued to enjoy Ministerial style pay packets and power while cohabiting with Campbell, their majority in Civic Cabinet as well as Council meant there was little they could effectively criticise him on, having agreed to most of his initiatives.

The Labor campaign team were slow to pick the swing against the incumbents in the wards, and that’s exemplified by the biggest swing of all – 15% – almost sweeping State Secretary Milton Dick away in his bid to win what was the ultra safe ward of Richlands. The reputation of the Peel Street machine will be sorely dented, although some note that recent state and federal campaigns had been effectively outsourced to Hawker Britton. This result will – rightly – provoke a lot of soul searching in Labor ranks.

The result also showed demographic change working against The Greens, perhaps paradoxically. They liked their chances in three inner city wards – The Gabba, Toowong and Central. Although they polled over 20% of the vote in the first two, the Libs topped the poll convincingly in Toowong and Central, and almost came first in The Gabba. A combination of gentrification and Newman’s coat tails relegated the Greens to third place, and counted them out of contention. But Greens Mayoral candidate Jo-Anne Bragg also went backwards – a disappointing result where there wasn’t much daylight between the major parties in policy terms.

Labor’s high profile Deputy Mayor, David Hinchliffe, nearly lost Central, and it will be interesting to see whether his leadership comes under pressure. But Labor will be watching closely to see if the Libs actually start governing like Liberals. Early in Newman’s first term, a consultant’s report commissioned by him recommended the privatisation of just about everything and staff cuts (Council employs over 7000 workers). He ran a mile.

With an inexperienced team and the loss of the restraining impact of a Labor majority, Newman will now have a tough job ahead and no excuses for not delivering. The next term will show whether Brisbane is still a natural Labor city. In another paradox, the Libs will have to go easy on ideology and partisanship to secure that result.

Peter Fray

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