Around 11am this morning, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh drove the short distance from George Street in Brisbane’s CBD to Government House in Bardon to ask Governor Penelope Wensley to dissolve parliament for an election to be held on the 21st of March. Bligh might have considered as she drove through Paddington that, as she passed from funky inner citydom to leafy upmarket suburbia, she never left Labor territory. If some such thought passed through the Premier’s mind, it might serve as a metaphor for the stakes of the coming battle.

In fact, Bligh could have driven almost anywhere in Brisbane without hitting a Liberal held seat, and done that at any time since the first Peter Beattie landslide in 2001. It’s not that upper middle class as well as swinging voters have necessarily become enamoured of state Labor, though Beattie’s pizzazz certainly didn’t hurt while the romance lasted. It’s rather that the Liberals and Nationals have presented an unelectable face over the past three elections.

If Lawrence Springborg had gone for a drive around town this morning, he might have been thinking about the traffic jams and the shiny new hospitals, which still generate a drumbeat of horror stories in the media day by day. Springborg and the LNP will be hoping voters focus on infrastructure, education and health, and decide that eleven years is long enough. Bligh, by contrast, will be running against the Nationals and painting the Borg and his crew as both inexperienced and having been round the block too many times without much of a record of achievement. But, above all, Bligh will be arguing that tough economic times require proven leadership — that’s why the election follows on so closely from the state’s budget review on Friday.

The stakes in this contest are high — and at federal level as well. A loss in Kevin Rudd’s own heartland would be unthinkable for the Prime Minister. But — equally — the newly amalgamated LNP would lie in tattered ruins if the Borg can’t surmount the forbidding electoral mountain in his way. And whatever is left — after even a narrow defeat — won’t look pretty. Labor has to be favoured to win this election, but past experience shows that campaigns — which in true Queensland style can be quite mad and surprising despite all the best efforts of the apparatchiks to script them minutely — do matter. It’ll be a fascinating ride.

See Anna Bligh’s poll announcement, made this morning via YouTube.

Peter Fray

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