Queensland’s LNP government, led by Premier Campbell Newman, is planning to call a snap election before the New South Wales election on March 28.
Although May 7 is widely tipped as Queensland’s election date, Crikey has learned that the LNP is considering dates in February. As a result, the Labor Party has placed itself on a war footing, with most of its advertising, leaflets, letters, placards and posters ready to go in the new year.
The earlier-than-expected election is being driven by the Coalition’s devastating loss in last month’s Victorian election, which ended Coalition rule after just one term in office. Polling showed that a significant factor was the deep unpopularity of the Abbott federal government and collateral damage from its first “horror” federal budget.
Yesterday’s official unemployment figures will not help the LNP’s case. They showed Queensland and Tasmania as the two states with the nation’s highest seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 6.9%.
In the past four months Newman has spent more than $40 million on government advertising and consultants projecting his administration as “consultative”, “dynamic” and “caring”. The controversial government advertising campaign, which has been referred to the Queensland Auditor-General to decide whether the LNP should pay and not taxpayers, was designed to stop the LNP’s mid-year free-fall in the polls.
It might have arrested the numbers, but it has not reversed them. The most recent survey in Newman’s own inner-Brisbane seat of Ashgrove showed that the Premier was trailing his Labor rival Kate Jones 55-45. If those figures persist, Newman will lose his parliamentary career and the premiership in one fell swoop at the election.
In a deliberate bid to tone down his arrogance rating, Newman told Brisbane radio this week that the election “would be tight” and attempted to claim underdog status.
“The Labor Party could win with the support of independents and minor parties and if that was to happen, that would spell chaos for Queensland,” he warned.
His “disaster” prediction is a well-worn scare tactic. The sub-text is: “Either vote for us or you’ll get chaos.”
However, nobody expects Labor to win. Currently the LNP has 79 seats in Queensland’s single-house parliament to Labor’s nine, creating a deficit too far for Labor to conquer at a single election.
Having decided it cannot win government, Labor is determined to defeat Newman, the pugnacious former Brisbane lord mayor who is Tony Abbott’s principal political ally in the Sunshine State.
After the Victorian election, where federal issues were as volatile among voters as local ones, Queensland Labor is preparing to conduct a referendum on Abbott and Newman, the bogey men of the LNP.
While Abbott barnstormed Queensland in 2013 for his federal election victory over “I’m Kevin from Queensland” Rudd, he will be The Phantom (“The Ghost Who Walks”) during next year’s state election.
Sitting MPs and candidates are not rushing to book Abbott, Treasurer Joe Hockey, Education Minister Christopher Pyne or Health Minister Peter Dutton, a former Queensland police drug squad officer, to speak in their electorates.
For the moment, Newman is supporting every step of the Abbott government’s desperate strategy to remould its image on health, education, pensions and the environment.
Having spent millions to reverse his own imploding popularity, he is hoping the “new” Abbott will help his cause in Queensland and not repeat the toxic influence he had on Victorian voters.