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Queensland

Mar 12, 2012

It’s time in Qld, but maybe not for Newman

The campaign for next fortnight's Queensland state election has well and truly lived up to its promise as one of the most fascinating in recent Australian history.

William Bowe — Editor of The Poll Bludger

William Bowe

Editor of The Poll Bludger

The campaign for next fortnight’s Queensland state election has well and truly lived up to its promise as one of the most fascinating in recent Australian history.

It has been made so not by the political upheavals, party splits and voter alienation that normally characterise memorable electoral contests, but by a single act of human folly.

But for the Liberal National Party’s decision to foist a prospective new premier upon parliament through a kamikaze attack on a broadly green-left inner-urban seat, the election’s only point of interest would be the size of the landslide awaiting to be inflicted on a tired and discredited Labor government.

The LNP’s strategy is not so much audacious as profoundly confused: it seemed at once so frightened of Anna Bligh’s post-floods poll spike that it reacted with what looked for all the world like a desperate gamble, and yet so confident that it founded this gamble upon a hubristic tilt at a seat with a Labor margin of more than 7%.

The fear was clearly unfounded — one needed only to look at the aftermath of the Victorian bushfires in 2009, when Labor under John Brumby shot to an ephemeral 60-40 lead in Newspoll, to see that Queensland’s electoral rhythms would soon reassert themselves, as indeed they had by the middle of last year. And the confidence would have been correspondingly well placed, had it not been for the time bomb the party activated for itself with the Newman-for-Ashgrove strategy.

So obvious was this folly that even psephologists could see it. In a prescient piece at the time, the plot was hatched a year ago, Peter Brent of Mumble spoke of a “dumb move by a traumatised party”, which offered the government a “tiny hope of survival” it would not have otherwise had. Reminded of the 2006 election, when a Labor government encumbered by the “Dr Death” catastrophe won in a landslide thanks to confusion over which of the two conservative leaders should be treated as the premier-designate, I warned on my blog of “yet another mid-campaign implosion” if “polling were to emerge showing Newman falling short”.

So it has come to pass over the past few days. First came ReachTel’s Ashgrove poll on Thursday — the seventh such poll it has been able to conduct since September thanks to its low-cost automated phone poll methodology — which showed Labor member Kate Jones in a statistical dead heat with Newman, with Jones in fact having a headline-grabbing lead on the published two-party preferred figure.

One could always have argued that it wouldn’t do to read too much into such a result: the variability of polling is such that individual polls should be treated cautiously at the best of times, and ReachTel in particular is a new outfit that has produced some eccentric figures in its polling of other electorates (albeit that these have consistently taken the form of disastrous numbers for Labor).

But the bigger point is that it was never going to take much to activate concerns about Newman’s capacity to win Ashgrove, and hence to place grave doubts about the LNP at the centre of a campaign that should have been all about the disposal of an unwanted old government.

Then came The Courier-Mail’s publication on Saturday of a large-sample poll conducted by Galaxy, which uses tried-and-tested phone surveying and has as good a track record as any pollster in the game. This produced a still worse set of figures for Newman: he and Jones were level on 45% of the primary vote, which after distribution of Greens preferences pointed to a Labor win by a margin of 1.5%.

The final fortnight of the campaign will thus be entirely about what might happen should the result play out as polling indicates, with the LNP winning the election but Newman losing Ashgrove. The LNP has responded with yet more strategic confusion: voters at large are being assured defeat in Ashgrove won’t happen, while voters in Ashgrove are being scared into line with talk of dire consequences (“no plan B”) if it does.

Labor will thus go into the final fortnight of the campaign with a stronger hand to play than it could ever have dared hope.

And yet for all that, Newman still looks a better bet to carry Ashgrove than Labor does to fulfill its part of the bargain by winning the actual election. The reason for this is the one factor in electoral politics that overrides all others: the “it’s time” factor.

I have just spent an improving couple of hours playing with a dataset of mainland state election figures going back to the start of the 1980s, which points to a fairly robust association between a government’s time in office and its two-party preferred vote. The upshot is that a government of Labor’s longevity in Queensland has little right to anticipate a two-party preferred vote north of 45%.

This is even without accounting for the fact that Labor returned to power in 1998 after the fairly brief interruption of Rob Borbidge’s Coalition government, which lasted only from February 1996 to June 1998 — such that Labor has been in power in the traditionally conservative state for all but 2½ out of the past 21 years.

With the LNP merger having largely resolved the issues that helped Labor defy gravity before now, the circumstances of the coming election are such that the proverbial drover’s dog could have led the LNP to a handsome parliamentary majority.

Certainly John-Paul Langbroek, shunted aside so Newman could direct the opposition from the parliamentary visitors’ gallery, would not have had any trouble in persuading the electorate that he offered the requisite safe pair of hands.

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125 comments

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125 thoughts on “It’s time in Qld, but maybe not for Newman

  1. Edward James

    What are you on about William Bowe ? This Queensland State election is an IQ test for taxpayers in Queensland who have been paying attention to the national political stage. Labor nationally is continuing to consume itself. Bob carr has been sucked up to provide something of substance for the voting public. We the peoples are long over due to plough in the dead wood politicians who have for years promised us everything and delivered almost nothing apart from higher interest rates on money which Labor has borrowed in our names. Edward James

  2. guytaur

    Katters entering the fray with real money is a game changer. All assumptions have been that the LNP has to win in the South East corner. With his disgraceful antigay advert. Katter may persuade some previously rusted on LNP voters to switch. Katter has wedged the LNP with it. Support homophobia and keep your base or condemn homophobia and lose your base.
    How big a swing remains to be seen. It shows however that yet again assumption about safe seats re made with real electoral peril.

  3. Edward James

    Ask Katters relative ?

  4. Coaltopia

    In the words of Radiohead: “When I go forwards you go backwards and somewhere we will meet”.

  5. David Allen

    I try not to do prophecy but it’s very, very interesting.

    Newman needs to provide some policy costings pretty swiftly I think. My wife and I will be posting our votes in 48 hours and, Campbrll, no costings – no votes!

  6. Peter Ormonde

    “….has as good a track record as any pollster in the game.”

    Now that needs a bit of fleshing out William. How good are they? How accurate? Any numbers on which to base this testimonial or are they all just shockers.

    Any suggestion as to how these market surveys are allocating preferences?

    And lastly: Would you be up to placing a few wagers at all? Individual seats or overall results.

  7. GeeWizz

    [“Newman needs to provide some policy costings pretty swiftly I think. My wife and I will be posting our votes in 48 hours and, Campbrll, no costings – no votes!”]

    Oh please you were never going to vote LNP, I bet you’ve been a Labor supporter from the day you were born.

    We already know what Anna Bligh is offering Queenslanders because we’ve had a taster. 20% increase in rego’s weeks after the last state election, scrapping of the fuel subsidy at the same time for a double blow on motorists, Billions of dollars of debt and a health system in crisis.

    The problem with Blights election campaign that we don’t know who we will get as leader if we vote LNP is that you DO KNOW who you will get if you vote Labor and thats Anna Blight, which is good enough reason to vote for anyone else.

    Can’t wait to see Labor and it’s hacks ramp up the desperation as the landslide win to LNP draws closer.

  8. guytaur

    @Geewizz

    Awwwww No Fair. How dare someone else use your tactics about a party behaviour changing a vote.

  9. guytaur

    @Geewizz

    Are you for Newman or are you for Katter?

  10. GeeWizz

    [“@Geewizz

    Are you for Newman or are you for Katter?”]

    Like the majority of Queenslanders I am for “anyone but Blight”

    Katter will be hard pressed to win any seats outside of North Queensland where his base is, but I live in Townsville so I may just vote for him as he might have a chance to pick up a couple of seats here.

    What I do know… despite all the spin from the Labor supporters is that no matter if it’s Katter or the LNP picking up seats… in the famous words of one Redhead Footy presenter, Labors GORRNEE.

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