The consistent verdict of the opinion polls is that tomorrow’s Queensland election will be neck and neck. I don’t have any better idea than they do (for those who want to try tipping, Antony Green’s guide is the essential resource), so I thought I’d focus on the more interesting possible result, an opposition victory.

It’s fair to say that six months ago, Lawrence Springborg’s Liberal-National Party merger was widely seen as a failure. It was perceived (accurately enough) as a takeover of the Liberals by the Nationals and commentators doubted that it would ever attract the necessary support from urban voters.

But that picture changed over summer with the deepening impact of the global financial crisis, which last month pushed premier Anna Bligh to take her chances on an early election.

If Springborg wins tomorrow, it will therefore be a remarkable fact that the three elections to herald Labor’s fall from grace — Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland — have all been called well ahead of time with no good justification. The phrase “turkeys voting for an early Christmas” comes to mind. Fortunately for them, the governments of the other mainland states have fixed terms to protect them from such stupidity.

A victory for the LNP will inevitably be seen as triumphant vindication of Springborg’s merger strategy — that’s how politics works. Yet it seems reasonably clear that the opposition is gaining ground in spite of the Nationals’ takeover, not because of it. Labor’s problems are largely
self-induced. Poor management has been compounded by an early election, which is not just unpopular in itself, but clues voters in that the economic problems are expected to get worse.

At a time when the future direction of the non-Labor parties is the major wild card in Australian politics, Springborg represents one clear
option: a turn to the hard right. Success tomorrow will be a powerful recommendation to his counterparts in other states, but it’s not clear whether it amounts to a live option for them. Indeed, it’s a minor miracle that he’s got away with it so well in Queensland.

Let’s be honest, the Nationals represent a very small minority of Queenslanders. The last time the two non-Labor parties ran against each other, in the 2004 Senate election, the Nationals recorded 6.6%. In the last state Newspoll before the merger, taken April-June last year, they were on 12%. For such a party to be on the verge of forming government is a remarkable achievement.

Peter Fray

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