Something funny happened on the way to Queensland’s polling day. The idea that there might actually be a contest in a very uninspiring campaign started to take hold of observers’ minds somewhere around the middle of the second week, after all the madness of the Borg’s Barry White impressions, Anna Bligh’s talk like a pirate day on Cairns FM and the Warwick Capper and Pauline Hanson circus in Beaudesert subsided.

The mood in the Labor camp went from confidence about a narrow majority through calculating what would happen in the event of a hung parliament to the realisation that there was an imminent danger of an LNP majority government.

But no one much else noticed.

One of the most common observations about the campaign is its lack of intensity. Voters aren’t engaging, it’s not being thrashed out around the water cooler, and resigned apathy might be the phrase best suited to the election vibe.

There are some parallels here with the federal election in 2007. A big swing has crept up out of nowhere, ready to sweep aside a long term government. Voters have closed their ears to the incumbents. But the passion, however muted, that did accompany the Kevin07 bandwagon is nowhere to be found.

The absent centre in the middle of the storm is an intriguing phenomenon. It’s left Labor little to do but to conjure up the ultimate scare campaign — “Look! We’re going to lose! Think about what you’re doing!”… but as those who remember similar sentiments in the mouths of federal Liberal Ministers in 2007 might recall, that doesn’t work either. It’s dismissed as impression management, or, well, the voters have stopped listening, so … join the dots. All very postmodern.

How did things reach this pass?

There are a range of obvious explanations — the perils of long term incumbency, the determination of conservatives to unite for one last push at victory because the precipice lies ahead, and so forth. The Labor campaign has been sorely missing Peter Beattie’s skills. There’s a plausible strategic concept, but no deftness of execution, and in a parable of the Bligh government, no political cut through in the messages. Labor has no story to tell about why things are stuffed, and when it became obvious that the Global Financial Crisis was actually safely in Kevin Rudd’s hands, according to voters, no capacity to explain away or shift blame for all the accumulated ills of over a decade’s worth of service delivery gripes.

It hasn’t helped that Anna Bligh’s presentation has been far from assured, and that Lawrence Springborg really just had to avoid the usual campaign implosion voters had come to expect.

When Cyclone Hamish stormed its way in, it didn’t really blow the election off course, because no one was watching the winds of political change build anyway.

Nevertheless, something very interesting is building for March 21, and it’s all being resolutely documented, deconstructed and debated at Pineapple Party Time. The rest of the nation might care to tune in, because the eddies of the flood tide that’s threatening Captain Bligh’s ship of state will set some waves rolling in national politics for some time to come.

Peter Fray

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