We’re drowning in polls at the moment, and rumours of polls.
Yet, there is some worth in reporting from on the ground. I’ve been keeping a close eye on the contests in Queensland, and what follows is a poll-free guide to what’s going down. It’s not a prediction, mind.
A few general points are in order before getting down to the seat level.
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Labor’s problems in Queensland — which are real — do have quite a bit to do with Kevin Rudd’s demise and the unpopularity of the Bligh state government. But not quite in the way usually discussed.
It’s more that the removal of Rudd reinforced perceptions of a self-serving and cynical Labor Party, looking for the electoral fix rather than the policy vision. Anna Bligh’s woes are about trust, not so much about the service delivery or government instability factors so important in New South Wales.
Secondly, some chickens are coming home to roost. Labor won in Queensland at state level in 2006 and federally in 2007 on the back of the promise that health and infrastructure could be fixed if only the partisan planets came into alignment. So part of the state parochialism factor is raised expectations from having Queenslanders as Prime Minister and Treasurer. There is a strong view that no one from Melbourne can understand the joint, and Peter Beattie used to get a lot of mileage from blaming southerners for population pressure.
Thirdly, Queensland is not Western Sydney. The age of Hansonism is past, and asylum seekers and immigration are not as salient in Brisbane’s suburbs. Making Sydney the centre of the political universe resonates with Rudd’s warning about the NSW-ification of the Labor party.
And there is a fair bit of residual affection for Rudd.
Having said all that, the government’s campaign in Queensland is being well run, and Wayne Swan’s local smarts are a big factor in that. The pitch to the marginals is a good one, and in many instances, the LNP is greatly hampered by poor candidate selection. This goes back to the time when Labor looked unbeatable, and some of the more promising up and comers decided to wait until the LNP’s “grandfather” provisions expired and sitting members could be challenged — in 2013.
So, to the seats.
At this stage Labor is poised to hold Brisbane, Bonner, Flynn, Longman and Petrie.
The huge central Queensland seat of Flynn is the most likely of these four to fall.
The wunderkind of the LNP, 20-year-old Wyatt Roy, isn’t favoured to take Longman where former state MP and incumbent Jon Sullivan is a canny campaigner, alhough the Longman MP may have done himself some damage with a gaffe about the medical treatment of children with disabilities last night, depending on how widely his remarks are reported.
Dawson, Herbert and Leichardt are toss ups, though I’d anticipate Labor winning at least one of these regional seats. Whatever Peter Beattie might think, the ALP could have done with a better candidate than former Townsville mayor Tony Mooney in Herbert.
Peter Dutton is set to hold Dickson, nominally a Labor seat, after looking a bit shaky in the first couple of weeks of the campaign. Andrew Laming will also hold Bowman for the LNP, despite its extreme marginality, because of Labor disunity related to preselection stoushing, and woes in the campaign. Resources have been pulled out of the Bayside seat.
Forde looks all right for Labor, but its newly created neighbour Wright — a notional LNP seat — might be a surprise, at least being run much closer than expected. The interesting “leafy western suburbs” seat of Ryan, where Michael Johnson was disendorsed by the LNP, could just fall to the ALP. It’s been ripe for picking for some time, and the redistribution has favoured Labor. Johnson’s standing as an independent is a wild card, though he has no chance of winning.
Of great interest too will be the strength of Andrew Bartlett’s vote for the Greens in Brisbane. If he could take it from about 12% to 20% or higher, he’d be doing splendidly. But my impression is that soft Labor voters in my home seat have been swinging back over the past couple of weeks. Despite some excitable commentary, Brisbane is nothing like Melbourne or Grayndler. The closest approximation to a Southern “inner-city lefty” seat is actually Rudd’s seat of Griffith, which he will easily hold. In Brisbane, the ‘burbs begin about five minutes’ drive from the CBD.
Whether or not Larissa Waters can break through into the Senate for the Greens is another intriguing question, but I wouldn’t put a bet on it.
To sum up, my feeling is that Labor will lose between three and six seats it holds or nominally holds. I suspect it’ll be about four or five, including Dickson and Herbert, one or both of Flynn and Dawson and perhaps Leichardt. All of these are regional seats, bar Dickson. I wouldn’t rule out one other Brisbane seat falling too, perhaps Forde or Bonner. But the worst case scenario of eight or nine is possible, if, I think, highly unlikely. If pressed, I’d plump for five Labor losses, though there’s a lot of fluidity and unevenness in the vote.
Labor’s good at closing in Queensland, and if the direct mail is working, I wouldn’t be surprised if fewer than five seats go.
If Labor can snatch Ryan (possible) or Wright (unlikely), then the equation for the net contribution of Queensland to the national ALP column changes. If there are any LNP gains higher up the pendulum, look to Moreton and Blair, though I think both are very long shots.
Overall, though, I don’t think the swing against Labor in Queensland will be sufficient to be a cause in and of itself of a national defeat. Sad as it is for a Queenslander to say, Labor’s chances of picking up seats in South Australia and Victoria and the picture in NSW are probably the key to that puzzle, if I’m right.
But it has been interesting to see more observers come around to what I’ve been saying for just over a fortnight — Labor has contained the swing against it in Queensland.