In Crikey yesterday, I spelled out the precise nature of the catastrophe that awaits the Queensland Labor Party this  Saturday, if the Galaxy Poll proves accurate.

Interestingly, during the campaign speculation focused on the identity of the Liberal-National Party premier who might reign if Campbell Newman didn’t take Ashgrove (now a moot point), and indeed Galaxy also found that Lawrence “The Borg” Springborg, languishing on the backbenches precisely because of the manner in which Newman seized the crown from outside parliament, was the popular choice.

Yet unlike in the NSW election last year, when Labor appeared headed for a lengthy spell in purgatory and speculation was rife about who would lead — Kristina Keneally, John Robertson or a third candidate — the rather half-hearted LNP attempts to start a theme about Anna Bligh’s successor have not taken off.

But the leadership of the Labor Party will be vacant next week, and although Bligh will be re-elected with a margin shaved from over 17% to just over 4% in South Brisbane if the polls are right, she will not be that leader.

Labor is now running on the inevitable cry of “don’t give the LNP unfettered power”, which as William Bowe observed, never seems to have worked before.

So, if, as I suggested yesterday, the uniform swing would leave five ministers re-elected, who will lead the ALP?

It will be another woman. It will not be Tim Mulherin, Agriculture Minister and member for Mackay. Rachel Nolan, the Finance Minister, is in trouble in her own seat of Ipswich, and may not be one of the Labor members left in parliament. So it’s Environment Minister Vicky Darling, or Transport Minister Annastacia Palaszczuk.

Cameron Dick, Deputy Premier Andrew Fraser, former Queensland Council of Unions head honcho and member for Brisbane Central Grace Grace, and many other talented MPs are staring electoral doom in the face. The LNP’s much vaunted “decapitation” strategy will succeed not because these members are not talented, or indeed good local members, but because the unwise length of the campaign and its overwhelming negativity have ensured the time for a change tide is swelling.

Palaszczuk, whose father was a minister before her, and who holds the impregnable seat of Inala, will most likely take the reins, perhaps after Bligh continues for a few months to take the unenviable fight up to the new government.

And she will not do badly in the role, in terms of smarts and public presentation.

But, the task for the Labor leader, whoever she is, will be an appalling one. She will have to respond from day one to an administration whose concrete promises are few, and who will justify all manner of unpopular decisions through the claim that it is essential to get Queensland “back on track”. The larger the majority, the more leeway, and Newman will not be minded to proceed as cautiously as Barry O’Farrell has done in similar circumstances in New South Wales.

But the new ALP leader will also have to preside over a party reduced to its base, to its absolute nadir, and needing to reorient itself and chart a course forward.

This path will be well worth watching, because it is almost inevitable that the next federal election will also be lost in Queensland on Saturday. Kevin07 famously descended on the south representing himself as “here to help” and his capture of a large number of Queensland seats sealed John Howard’s doom. Similarly, Labor’s failure to win in 2010 is attributable, in large part, to its very poor performance north of the Tweed.

So where Palaszczuk, no doubt unknown to many outside Queensland, will perhaps have to lead, the next Labor leader federally will have to follow. Because that leader will almost certainly have at best two or three followers in the House of Representatives in the Sunshine State (and you could perhaps still win good money on betting Wayne Swan will not be among them).

Just as Kevin descended on a nation always inclined to forget its third largest state existed, so too, the distressed destiny of the Australian Labor Party will be charted by how well its foundational state, the home of the Barcaldine Tree of Knowledge, weathers the Newman storm that will burst on Saturday, as subtropical storms do burst over Brisbane.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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